Last night was the now famous supermoon eclipse. I woke up early to go outside and have a look. Quickly, like a lot of Greeks, my enthusiasm was quenched because of the cloudy sky. These September nights have been warm but cloudy and rainy. Switching from a Mediterranean climate to a tropical one? Check. At least it’s better than turning into Sahara, I suppose.
To my credit, I didn’t immediately give up, either. I sat there for 40 minutes or so, reading and underlining my morning pages from earlier in 2015. Alas, the clouds won that hopeless staring contest. I went back to bed and thought it would be a good idea taking advantage of waking up that early to take a shot at entering a WILD. Instead, I was welcomed with a bout of the worst sleep paralysis I can recall: when my body fell asleep, my consciousness didn’t, and I had hallucinations of a person walking in the apartment, into my room and around my bed. It was pitch black, so the hallucination was consistent, in that I couldn’t see him/her/it, only hear the footsteps. I had to endure this while unable to move any part of my body apart from my eyelids and their contents. All the while, the blood moon was setting behind the cloud cover. During sleep paralysis, no-one can hear you scream. You can’t scream….
Take a deep breath.
It could have been me who took this .gif. It’s a consoling thought.
Nevertheless, for all its photogenic glory, it has to be said that September 28th 2015 will not be remembered for its supermoon eclipse. It will go down as a small footnote in history that on the day NASA announced they found flowing water on Mars there had been a supermoon lunar eclipse less than twelve hours prior. It is a veritable milestone that would have me leaping for joy—if I was any proper kind of science/sci-fi/astronomy nerd to begin with. Instead, all I can think of, perhaps especially after almost half a year of constantly dealing with water as a human right and the current global state of affairs, is how we should be sorting out our shit on Earth first before starting to even think about colonizing other worlds.
Don’t get me wrong, I too get terribly annoyed when other people generally show this kind of flamboyant lack of interest in the vastness of the Universe and the amazing advances in our apparent knowledge of the world. It’s usually such people who shun video games because they’re capitalist toys and refuse to see how they can work wonderfully to promote education or cultural awareness. Similarly, they show open contempt for science fiction as a genre, no matter how eye-opening, poetic or important it might be. They’re not interested to know that Dune, for example, was one of the first books bar none to speak about ecology and sustainability when it was published 50 years ago. No, it’s science fiction. “We have real problems on Earth. Sci-fi is for comfortable middle-class white nerds”, they say, or seem to imply. My very own father told me off when I tried to explain to him the virtues ofThe Dispossessed. As I was saying, under normal circumstances I get borderline offended by these reactions; at this very moment, I can sort of see where they’re coming from.
A lot of the excitement surrounding the discovery of flowing water on Mars has to do with the fantasy of modernity, the wet dream of boundless progress, the Promethean achievement of humankind founding an extraterrestrial colony. While science fiction wouldn’t have you believe it, especially with the likes of Interstellar framing the popular imagination, we’re far, far from thinking about humanity as a separate entity from our home planet. There’s no reason to believe that without Earth we could survive for any length of time. I don’t think we would want to, either. But we’re obviously not taking care of our planet as one would take care of their home. In fact, we couldn’t do much worse if we were actively trying to destroy it.
Colonising Mars as our last hope for survival after we’ve made Earth unfit for humans and broad swaths of other types of life, too, is not something I’m going to support. We’ve been making our bed, we should be honourable enough to sleep in it too—once and for all, if it comes to that. If we can’t live as part of the great ecosystem, we don’t deserve to survive. I would use the cancer analogy, namely that us out-surviving the Earth would be like cancer cells out-surviving the cancer patient who died because of them, but on second thought the analogy wouldn’t be exactly right, as it’s not really possible to kill the Earth the same way a human can die of cancer. Still, if not kill it, we just might see our Earth wither away into a wasteland where it will take many thousands or millions of years for new forms of life to take advantage of the mess we’ll have left behind—if we don’t end up like Venus, that is.
I know you might say that some ideas born out of past science fiction turned out to be possible. After all, “we” (i.e. well-funded Americans) did go to the Moon (don’t take my word for it though) and that was just four years after Dune was released and a single year after 2001: A Space Odyssey did. Back then, people were saying that we’d definitely have at least a couple of bases up there by the turn of the millennium. But here we are, the turn of the millennium’s already fifteen years behind us and I’m not seeing any bright lights up there. So what happened? Could it be that there are some hard limits to our malignant growth? I would argue that yes, and plenty of them, as much as we like to pretend they don’t matter.
Next to all this, I’m secretly hoping for disclosure of long-standing alien contact, that moment that will change everything, like Naomi Klein says, only for real. Maybe in that scenario we will be taught how to build a viable multi-planetary civilization together with them and cross the stars that way. But on our own? Now? We’d probably destroy the colony the moment they were unable to pay off their debts to Earth, or make them privatise their water company, like many people were quick to joke about with today’s discovery on Twitter and Facebook.
But all said and done, I see videos like the one above, where you get to do a to-scale virtual tour of our solar system at the speed of light, and go right back to marvelling at how far we’ve come. Suddenly it hits me how difficult, how amazing it is sending missions to moist rocks or giant chewy-cored balloons so far away from here, redefining what is possible.
What vocabulary would a space-faring civilization like in Stellaris develop to describe the vastness of space?
“Unique among SF novels… I know nothing comparable to it except The Lord of the Rings.” ~Arthur C. Clarke
I’ll begin with what I saw when I first checked what my Goodreads friends had to say about their experience with Dune:
Thank the gods it was Kivayan, my friend Kuba from Poland, who first made it clear to me how important it was that I read Dune, and not just the first book, no, the whole original series, because only then would I be able to witness the genius of Frank Herbert’s grand image (that there was my attempt to express “big picture” in a more fittingly epic way). Thank the gods it was him and not someone else’s opinion which would have left this book under my personal radar, where it had been for many years.
Scratch that. It hadn’t been under my radar. I’d been aware of it since I was little, mainly from video games or perhaps Karina—I just didn’t know exactly what it was about. All this desert, the sandworms… It looked boring. Like something too slow, deep or intricate for me to enjoy. And let me tell you, I wasn’t wrong: if I had dipped my toes in the spicy sand before I’d reached a certain point in my life, I’m confident I wouldn’t have enjoyed it at all. If I had to say, I’d place the point in question around the time I started watching Game of Thrones, playing alt-history games and reading books like The World Without Us or The Dark Tower.
I had started being able to enjoy books like Dune, only I couldn’t make the connection in my head and notice the switch. There was nobody to suddenly come up to me and tell me that the famous, apparently super-influential old SF book I’ve always thought I wouldn’t enjoy, actually involves loads of topics I’d find very appealing: religion, feudal politics, anthropology, psychology, history, ecology and many others, creating a narrative about how narratives, and historical narratives in particular, work, which I expect to discover further in the next books. Well, there was someone: it was Kuba. But if it hadn’t been for him and a few other people like Amberclock who told me about Jodorowsky’s Dune or JMG who often mentions Dune in his Archdruid Report posts, I’d still have the impression that the book is a boring classic, that it’s to SF what perhaps Proust is to modern literature: supremely influential and important, but not enjoyable.
Of course, I was wrong. I may be wrong about Proust, too. But that’s the point: we’re talking about preconceptions here.
What surprises me is that, for it’s alleged importance, very few people I talked to about Dune while reading it even knew of it. For a book that supposedly played an important role in the popularisation of ecology as a word as well as a term and for one which is among the all-time bestsellers of the genre, it is forgotten today by most. I’ll go down a path I don’t think it’s fair to go down on, but how many people know of Tatooine and how many of Arrakis, Dune, the Desert Planet that surely inspired it?
Nevertheless, I found its ambience as a contemporary read very comfortable, even if 50 years have passed since it was written. Water as a super-valuable commodity (with all related cultural conventions) feels right and is played perfectly. Arrakis is majestic. Reading about the Fremen was very interesting and convincing, and I thoroughly enjoyed discovering the book’s unknown world by looking up the juicy neologisms in the appendix (every book like this should have one!)
Not all’s perfect with Dune, don’t get me wrong. Its characters can feel one-sided or shallow, even Paul, who at times comes off superhumany… but then, hey, he’s supposed to be the one, isn’t he? The various political actors and the role of spice in all of this aren’t very clear, but you know, it’s one of these books you’ll read again and next time it’ll make more sense.
But the weak points don’t matter. Dune is a classic, period, and I’m happy for once to have truly enjoyed a classic because it’s a classic, not despite the fact. What can I say? Herbert’s foreword to the book reads:
“to the people whose labors go beyond ideas into the realm of “real materials” — to the dry-land ecologists, wherever they may be, in whatever time they work, this effort at prediction is dedicated in humility and admiration.”
It was my first time to cross the Atlantic, indeed the farthest I’d been from home since my last time in Australia in 2002.
What took me to the second-smallest country in South America was yet another you-only-pay-30%-of-travel-costs European youth project. This one’s called Grassroots Youth Democracy. In it, youth from Greece, Italy, Ecuador, Uruguay, India and Mauritius will participate in joint research on the water context of each participating country, which in turn will culminate in a media product and relevant campaign to raise awareness on the issue of water as a basic human right and common good.
Grassroots Youth Democracy is separated in phases and will take most of our time for the rest of 2015. Phase 1, which was the purpose of the trip I just came back from, was a week-long seminar on water rights in general. Participants had the chance to make presentations of what the water context in their specific countries is, and we also made a first draft of the plan we’re going to use for organising this international campaign between ourselves: who’s gonna do what, what our research methodology will be, what we’re going to with the data etc. After all, co-ordinating a local team can be hard; one strewn across four different continents? Yeah.
Phase 2 will take place in May in Rome and will consist of a media seminar: teaching the participants how to use a camera, do interviews, edit videos, update a website and such things I have the skills to help with. Thank you, University of the Aegean!
Phase 3, which will start right after Rome and last until mid-July, will have the participants from the extra-EU countries come to Greece or Italy and do a field research on the water situation in the respective country, that is collect data for articles, videos and other material to be used in the campaign. There will be interviews with NGOs, analysing stats and delving into the unique water-specific problems of that country. In Greece, for example, the participants will look into what happened with EYATH and its privatisation and how it was avoided by the resistance of the civil society through the 2014 unofficial referendum. They will also research the problem of the lack of drinking water in some Greek islands, such as Aegina, and the sometimes even more problematic solutions corrupted authorities have come up with to alleviate the situation. These are just some examples.
Phase 4 will start right after Phase 3 and last until September. Basically it will be like Phase 3, only the other way around: the Italians and the Greeks, of which there’s four of each, will do the same kind of field research in pairs in Uruguay, Ecuador, Mauritius and India. This is when I’m going back to Uruguay for two months, during the southern heart of winter! No Greek summer for me this year.
After all the above, we’ll collect all the data we’ll have got and make something out of it: a small book, an online database, a documentary, a social media assault… a little bit of everything. This will be our awareness campaign (and I hope it will end up a little bit more exciting than I’m afraid I’m making it sound here.) There will be a final conference/presentation of results but not a lot is known about it yet.
To be perfectly honest, Phase 1 in Montevideo, the one that just finished, needed more outdoors activities. The presentations and material discussed on water issues were interesting and our team-building was successful, but after a certain point I found it hard to concentrate on Powerpoint after Powerpoint and group brain-storming activity after group brain-storming activity. Being in the same room for hours on end with little chance of going out in the warm Autumn sun apart from during the short coffee breaks and the lunch (which was admittedly DELICIOUS and very vegetarian-friendly—THANK YOU CRAZY MARIO, cook of La Fonda!) made it much worse. During the first few days we saw practically zero of the city and at the end of each session I felt much more exhausted than I believe I should have.
No matter. In the end it was a valuable getting-to-know-you with the team and we did some important work. We will just have to work hard from here on out.
…what? You want to read about Montevideo and Uruguay, NOT the seminar? What are you, crazy?!
OK, get this: Uruguay is an extremely interesting country, given its small size and low importance on the grand scale of things. Sorry, let me rephrase that, because everything that’s ever taken place on this planet is of extremely low importance on the grand scale of things—low importance as far as human societies go; countries, politics… you know, that sort of thing. I mean, what do you know about Uruguay?
What I knew was that the country’s (now ex-) president donated 90% of his salary to charity and generally lived super simply, and that recently they legalised marijuana. That’s pretty much everything /r/worldnews would let through the filter. Ahem…
Let me tell you: both of these things are true.
José “Pepe” Mujica is seen as a bit of a populist in Uruguay itself, but here are eight reasons why he should be missed by the rest of us, according to The Independent:
1. He donated 90% of his salary to charity. 2. And lived on a farm. 3. He drives a 1987 VW Beetle. 4. And picks up hitch-hikers. 5. He legalised marijuana. 6. He leaves the economy in rude health. 7. He’s just not like other politicians 8. And all that after being shot six times and being put in jail for 14 years for opposing the country’s former dictatorship.
Have a look at the article for a few more details, it’s worth it. What are the chances a guy like this could ever be the leader of your country?
Now, that other thing. “You know that in Uruguay marijuana was recently legalised, don’t you?”, said one of the Uruguayan participants to me before I could even ask her anything about it. “Everybody does it here. Even ten years ago people in suits would light one up after work. The thing is, you can’t go somewhere to buy it. Not like that. You have to be a resident and a member of a marijuana club if you want to purchase it. But many people have a little plant or two at home and will soon offer you some!”
I suppose the above is true for young people, but who knows? It didn’t seem to me that marijuana use was 100% socially accepted in Uruguay, there must be some controversy remaining, but it looked close to it. I say they have the right idea. There really is zero reason marijuana should be as illegal as it is in such big part of the world. Zero. Addiction-related issues, whenever they arise, should be treated medically and psychologically, similar to the way alcoholism is treated, not be a matter of concern for law enforcement. This system has already been adopted in a lot of countries. Have a look at this map caught from the wikipedia article on the legality of cannabis around the world:
But there’s a bit more to Uruguay than that.
What does this flag remind you of? They have the same number of stripes, too. Want another fun fact that goes with the similarity between the flags? Both Uruguay and Greece were de facto created in 1828. But, as I learned recently, the Greek flag as we know it now was standardised during the military dictatorship. Before that it used to be simply this:
This was the state flag and the one we use now was the merchant and national flag, before the former was abolished completely.
Back to the othercountry with blue and white stripes on its flag.
Uruguay’s name comes from the river forming the natural border between it and Argentina. It is the indigenous Guaraní language for “the river where the painted birds live.” Beautiful image, isn’t it? It flows out into the that bay to the left of the map, the famous Río de la Plata — the river plate. It’s a hallmark and a point of reference for both Argentina and Uruguay. Some consider this formation more of a river delta than a bay, but really it’s somewhere in between: in Montevideo and even as far out as Punta del Este, the water is much less salty than normal. There’s no clear point where the río ends and the sea starts. Truly a unique formation.
Next: a brief overview of the country in video form. This video was funded by the Uruguayan Ministry of Tourism. I’m serious.
Uruguay es el mejor país: Uruguay is the best country. A semiotically complete touristic message if I ever saw one. We should try something like that back home.
In fact, there’s plenty of other policy “novelties” this country has going for it we should be trying out in Greece. Barring the relatively high cost of living, the not-too-great wages and the kind of plain landscapes (heh), in a few ways it really is one of the best countries out there. For a start, they have managed to stave off privatisation of their public sector almost completely, only selling off their mobile phone operators. Water itself has become a constitutionally-reserved state-managed human right since a relevant referendum was conducted in 2004. That’s impressive no matter what way you look at it. In addition, same-sex marriage has been legal for two years.
All the above together puts most of the “progressive world” to shame, let alone our backwards little country called Greece. Then again, Uruguay is a secular society, in stark contrast to our country where the embarrassingly rich church is still constitutionally connected to the state, which, just to remind you, means that Orthodox Christianity is taught at schools, priests are paid with our hard-earned IMF and European loan money (and pay no tax in return) and the country is still, for all intents and purposes, exclusivelyOrthodox. I won’t get started with nationalism and Greek superiority/inferiority complexes…
Tell me, how many people would you imagine enjoy the benefits of living in this little country? It’s whole population is barely that of Athens at ~3.5 million people, with roughly half of that concentrated in Montevideo. This bit surprised me, because I’ve always thought of South America as the land of mega cities. To illustrate, nearby Buenos Aires has a metro population of almost 4 times that of Uruguay as a whole, and Sao Paulo, which isn’t such a long way away either, is close to 6 times that.
For its modest count of human residents, this small country is the holder of a different record: it has the most cattle-per-capita ratio in the world: there are roughly 3.59 Uruguayan cows for each Uruguayan person. Impressive as that may be, note that this number still collectively accounts for just ~1% of global bovine populations.
With so much mooing going on, you’d think the guys would have some decent yogurt. Nope… Even the “integral” yogurt, the one most similar to consistency to the ones we enjoy in Greece, contained sugar. This reminded me of Bulgaria, which most Bulgarians claim to have fantastic yogurt—supposedly very successful and sought after in South Korea. Needless to say, this legendary Bulgarian dairy product is nowhere to be found, or perhaps I tried it and just couldn’t tell the difference. What can I say, years of straggisto are bound to leave a mark.
Not all Uruguayan products are shoddy, though. Far from it. Mate (pronounced máte) is for Uruguayans what frappé is for Greeks, or, according to some Greeks, what it used to be, as freddo espressos have become more popular. Mate is an invigorating hot drink, like coffee or tea, ideally shared among a circle of friends. People drink it in wooden cups that slightly look like coconut shells but are made of gourd (or calabash). In it they drink the mate herb tea, which they infuse with hot water poured from a thermos and refill many times. It is drunk with a metal straw-like instrument called a bombilla (pronounced bombisha in Rioplatense Spanish). In the video below you can see an English speaker preparing mate.
I think I’ve written enough for now. I congratulate you if you made it this far! Here are some pictures for your viewing pleasure, half of which are taken by me and the others by Martina.
There is a Milonga at the centre of Montevideo, a public place where people of all ages meet a few times per week to dance and learn Tango.
The song below can be heard most evening at the Milonga and, as I was told, features in the playlists of most tango meetings. It’s called the “Greek tango.” I’m sure you know it.
To ξέθαψα από τη βιβλιοθήκη μου. Ούτε που έχω ιδέα πώς έπεσε στα χέρια μου αρχικά. Το όλο εγχείρημα πρόκειται για μια παρουσίαση του πώς λειτουργεί το Ευρωπαϊκό Κοινοβούλιο και η ΕΕ σε θεσμικό επίπεδο μέ πρωταγωνιστές ευρωβουλευτές, βοηθούς τους, εταιρείες κτλ.
Το σχέδιο δεν είναι άσχημο αλλά η ιστορία (ακόμα κι αν όλο μαζί είναι άντε 32 σελίδες!) είναι τελείως αδιάφορη και δεν εκπληρώνει τον σκοπό της, δηλαδή να κάνει τους ευρωπαϊκούς θεσμούς να φαίνονται λιγότερο ανούσια περίπλοκοι ή τρομερά βαρετοί και γραφειοκρατικοί.
Βρήκα ενδιαφέρον πώς, τόσο το 2003 που εκδόθηκε το Λαβωμένο Νερό όσο και μια δεκαετία μετά, το 2013, η ιδιωτικοποίηση του νερού και η εκμετάλλευση του από διάφορες επιτήδειες εταιρείες παραμένει κεντρικό πολιτικό ζήτημα. Επίσης ενδιαφέρον για μένα προσωπικά η απεικόνιση των διάφορων αιθουσών του κτιρίου του κοινοβουλίου στις Βρυξέλλες (υπάρχει και δεύτερο, στο Στρασβούργο, στο οποίο μεταβαίνουν με έξοδα της ΕΕ όλοι οι ευρωβουλευτές για τις συνεδριάσεις τους τακτικότατα — ουδέν σχόλιον), τις οποίες επισκέφτηκα πρόσφατα και έτσι μπορούσαν να φανταστώ πιο ζωντανά την εξέλιξη της δράσης που διάβαζα.
Ειρωνικό και τραγικό μαζί πόσο έχουν αλλάξει οι φιλοδοξίες και η κατάσταση της Ένωσης 10 χρόνια μετά. Όλα προσχεδιασμένα από μια μεγάλη συνωμοσία; Μια ένωση η οποία ποτέ δεν είχε δημοκρατικές βλέψεις αλλά οι θεσμοί που προέκυψαν ήταν ένα ευτυχές ατύχημα (looking at you, Υοuth In Action, Erasmus κτλ); Μια ελίτ που καπηλέυεται μια «δημοκρατία» που από την υπερβολική της αδράνεια δεν μπορεί να κάνει τίποτα για να αποτρέψει την πρώτη; Μεγάλες ερωτήσεις για τις οποίες οι απαντήσεις μου είναι απλά ανεπαρκείς.
Why do lots of people only buy lottery tickets only when there’s the ‘biggest jackpot ever’ going on? Don’t they realise that their chances only become slimmer? People seem to be impressed with the large sum of money as if winning the normal, non-jackpot amount is somehow insufficient, as if somehow the extra amount of money can somehow counteract the worse chances of winning. Explain that, people out there who insist that humans are beings of logic!
Why do some people… write like this… on digital media…? They must realise that it reads as if they’re hesitating… unsure… I really hate it… But one can one do… Perhaps there should be an update on punctuation for the digital age… Include stuff like sarcasm marks to replace the dizzying amount of :P, replace Latin questionmarks with Greek ones (;) when typing in Greek and abolish or replace ellipses, whose only purpose nowadays seems to be to either make people look mysterious or aloof through the net or help the insescure ones find some security in the written word…
Why are library PCs so horrible and slow, lacking basic software such as audio drivers? Oh yeah, libraries are supposed to be silent… but I’m not asking for speakers, just for a way to use my fucking headphones! Why is it forbidden to install even updates to the existing software?
Why when the weather is freezing cold, water on the street is very particular if it feels like freezing or not?
Why do I feel obliged to write these things when I know I should be writing my Babel assignment instead?