Alternative brain drain, alternative science

Rojava

EXARCHIA, 6 June 2017. Reports from Athens suggest that a new “brain drain” is threatening wide-ranging and unanticipated consequences across the fabric of Greek society. While the first groups to emigrate from the crisis-stricken country were highly educated young professionals such as doctors and engineers in search of jobs overseas, the latest sector to be struck by a “brain drain” is the “anarchist” movement. Familiar to followers of the Greek crisis from iconic news footage of riots and urban graffiti, the self-organised anti-authoritarian sector has been a fixture of Greek society for decades. But the indications are that its presence can no longer be taken for granted, thanks to the increasing draw of foreign causes.

One recent report profiled a Greek leftist volunteer working in support of the Russian-sponsored “People’s Republic of Donetsk” in eastern Ukraine out of a representative office in the downtown Athenian neighbourhood of Exarchia, an area known as the avaton” or “ghetto” of “Exarchistan” in typically understated Greek media parlance.  Describing the Ukraine government as a “puppet for some parts of the U.S. regime” installed by a NATO-organised coup, he is quoted as saying, “It’s like the Spanish civil war” […]. “We see this struggle as similar to the fight against Franco. Donbass is the Spain of our lifetime.” Another story centred on a series of photos, claiming to feature an armed “Greek contingent” of anarchists fighting alongside the Kurdish militias against ISIS in a location identified from artlessly spray-painted graffiti as Rojava, near the Syrian-Turkish border. Such tales of Greek “anarchists” leaving the country to fight for foreign causes are beginning to stir fears of an “anarchist brain drain” among experts in Athens and beyond.

The potential impact of an anarchist brain drain could be far-reaching. As recently as last month, the New York Times reported that such was the failure of the Greek welfare state, that citizens had become reliant on dreadlocked and tattooed anarchist volunteers to plug the gaps in healthcare, education and migration policy. Many now fear that the latest wave of emigration will cripple this nascent social care system.

Among those concerned are, somewhat surprisingly, the drivers of Athens’s ageing bus fleet, who are becoming increasingly worried about the potential health effects of radiation from new “telematics” systems installed to track bus movements in real time. The bus drivers are alarmed at the potential effects of new technologies being deployed on buses, also including contact-free ticketing systems, with a number are already complaining of headaches and dizziness. “These machines are dangerous, they give off invisible radiation, I heard that they can give you cancer and impotence,” said Mr Makis, a veteran of twenty years driving the streets of downtown Athens, as he drew deeply on a filterless Camel and jammed his mobile phone against his ear to take an urgent call from a colleague regarding a hot betting tip. “Plus, my priest says they all have a 666 in their serial number, so you can draw your own conclusions from that.”

akyrotiko
DIY instructions for sabotaging contactless ticket scanner (unverified, https://twitter.com/Conclavios/status/830858596846018560

Until now, drivers could rely on the self-appointed guardians of the public interest in the loosely-termed anarchist community to dismantle or deactivate the offending equipment – but with their numbers dwindling, bus drivers fear for their health and their future. “Yes, they burn the occasional bus as well, but they’re good kids, they’re on our side,” nods Mr Makis.

However, as is often the case in Greece, necessity has given birth to invention, and new initiatives are springing up which promise to counteract this latest blow to the crisis-hit population. One of the more ambitious schemes involves the establishment of an Alternative Science Research Centre. Professor Charalambos Psekasmenos, the centre’s founder, says that the threat posed by radioactive tracking devices will be one of their first research priorities. “We already have a prototype shielding device for the cranial area involving ultra-thin sheets of aluminium, but the details are too top secret to disclose.”

Also on the cards is a climate research centre aimed at rebutting the “fake news” that is being disseminated by “mainstream science” relating to the myth of anthropogenic climate change. “We hope to get a grant from the corporate social responsibility budget of the power unions, who take a very enlightened view on this subject, and then apply for matching funding from the centre of Climate Excellence at Trump University,” reveals Psekasmenos.  A recent press release by Greece’s public sector power workers’ union pondered whether “Perhaps the US’s recent departure from the Paris Accord lifts the lid on the ‘fabrication’ known as ‘climate change’?” The research centre will definitely not be concerning itself with any shade of gender studies, as it is well known among “experts” that this is just a means of “experimentating on children’s souls” as a means of  “enslavement to foreign interests” and “illuminati bankers,” that must be resisted at all costs.

“In every crisis there is opportunity,” comments Professor Psekasmenos. “We Greeks are an ingenious race.”


THE USUAL DISCLAIMER: All links are 100% genuine Greek news stories from the last two weeks, strung together with an only slightly exaggerated tissue of fabrication.

MAIN IMAGE: Eleftheros Typos

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Alternative brain drain, alternative science

Earth-like planet “already discovered” by Greek explorers

 

proximab

The discovery of an Earth-like planet orbiting the solar system’s closest star, 4.22 light years away, has caused great excitement among the scientific community and excited the imagination of ordinary people across the globe. Proxima Centauri b, as it has been dubbed by scientists, has characteristics that suggest that it may offer suitable conditions for hosting life, and as such may, in time, offer an escape destination for humans once they have depleted the usable resources of their home planet and/or are driven to escape by intra-planetary strife.

Much of the initial reporting has focussed on the practicalities of establishing the physical characteristics of the newly discovered “exoplanet”, with the viability of human colonisation being seen as a very distant prospect by serious researchers. However, new evidence has emerged to suggest that even this seemingly distant haven has already been “discovered” by enterprising Greek explorers.

paralia

Images retrieved from the European Extremely Large Telescope and subjected to detailed analysis in the laboratory have revealed hut-like structures closely resembling the Aegean “Type 1” buildings of the Middle Anthropocene, including evidence of Greek script. Although scientists were initially excited by the prospect of discovering life on another planet, epigraphers were able to confirm that the etchings were in fact modern Greek writing. One translated as “Freddo €4.50”, apparently refers to a cold beverage popular in the early 21st century AD, whose distribution is confined to the southern tip of the Balkan penninsula. Archaeo-economists note that the price, quoted in the currency of the time, is vastly inflated compared to that prevailing in surviving records from the mother-planet.

Although scientists were initially hopeful that Proxima b offers a water-rich environment, finds in the area of the makeshift structure suggest that bottled water was imported to the site in small plastic bottles, labelled €1.50 each (approximately three times the regulated Earth price of the time).

Other features appear to confirm the Greek origins of the early colonists of Proxima b. There is a hastily constructed track on the approach to the structure that appears to have been cleared by a bulldozer under cover of darkness (incidentally confirming that the planet did indeed rotate about its axis, another condition for supporting life). Concrete bollards made from used 5-litre olive oil tins and rebar demarcated a flat area, clearly destined for “reserved” space vessel parking. The rusting remains of after-market modified beach buggy (circa 2003 AD), with decals advertising surfing gear and Camel cigarettes were also identified at the site.

Scientists are torn as to the significance of this latest find, and some clearly feel that they have been robbed of the joy of discovery: “Just when you think you’ve found a quiet unspoiled spot in a friendly galaxy where you can really get away from it all, you find some wide boy has got there first and ruined it,” said one bitter boffin, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of jeopardising his research grant for three months’s prime telescope time in Hawaii or Mallorca (“depending on the weather and the availability of female co-researchers, but definitely NOT the Atacama desert. No beaches, you see”).

IMAGES: Artist’s impression of the surface of Proxima Centauri b (ESO); artists’s impression of the hut-like structure on Proxima Centauri b (@atlantis_host).

 

Earth-like planet “already discovered” by Greek explorers

Vapour, smoke and mirrors

polakis1

It is now one year since Yiayia first voiced her concerns on the alarming dimensions of the tobacco epidemic in Greece, and the Sunday edition of Kathimerini thoughtfully reported on the latest figures on smoking and “vaping” (“άτμισμα”, “atmisma”, i.e., electronic smoking) in Greece. This report was also well-timed, because the present Minister of Health, Andreas Xanthou has recently announced the planned introduction of legislation to forbid the use of electronic cigarettes in public places. Meanwhile, his Deputy Minister, Pavlos Polakis, a surgeon by profession, openly flouts the smoking ban in work places by lighting up in the canteen in Parliament and at press conferences in the Ministry – part of a lovingly cultivated “Cretan mountain man” persona which also includes composing threatening verse in the traditional mantináda style directed at his adversaries, and Berlusconi-style rants alleging corruption in the judiciary.

The debate over electronic cigarettes continues, with evidence to show that their use as a source of nicotine helps smokers to quit, and other evidence to suggest that new users will get addicted to nicotine and then graduate to smoking “the real thing”. Nicotine itself is harmful to the blood vessels and other elastic tissues, so “vapes” themselves are not entirely harmless to the user. Regardless of the debate, “vaping” has caught on in Greece, and the sales of electronic cigarette products is one of the few domains that has flourished during the crisis, with 300 registered specialty stores and over 1,000 sales points now operating throughout Greece. Kathemerini quotes current estimates of 200,000 systematic “vapers” among the Greek population.

Yiayia, being suspicious of what she reads in the newspapers (ever since being misquoted by the local rag at the tender age of 10), resorted to the primary source, in this case the Hellenic Statistical Authority ELSTAT, which publishes information on all aspects of life and death in Greece (no wisecracks about “Greek statistics” please; no doubt there is the inevitable conspiracy angle here too if you go looking for it, but in my professional experience I always found them reliable, professional and cooperative where population and health data were concerned). Every 5 years a Health Interview Survey (HIS) is conducted, and the findings of the most recent survey in 2014 were published this year (in English). The report shows that the percentage of regular smokers in Greece has fallen from 32% in 2009 to 27.3% in 2014, continuing a welcome trend that we noted in an earlier post. Is it possible that the Ministry of Health warnings on cigarette packets, the health education activities, the anti-smoking campaigns and the restriction on smoking in public places are actually producing results? Perhaps it is also the decreased spending power of smokers in the crisis. Although these findings are encouraging, the idea that more than one quarter of the population are still putting themselves, and the rest of us, at risk, is still alarming and is rightfully described as one of the biggest public health problems facing Greece today.

The rationale for restricting vaping is not clear. Second hand vape may be annoying to those at the next table, in the way that taking selfies or dowsing oneself in Poison are, but at least it is not loaded with the carcinogens of exhaled cigarette smoke. And arguably the government’s efforts would be better directed at enforcing existing laws, starting in their own back yard, rather than issuing new edicts. Although the existing smoking ban is largely observed in public offices and banks, it is acknowledged that its enforcement in bars, coffee shops and eating places has met with spectacular failure. This failure is confirmed by the report cited above, whose figures show that of the people who chose to eat or drink out, nine in ten had recently experienced passive smoking in coffee shops/bars, and eight in ten in restaurants/tavernas. If these numbers are anything to go by, the “vapers” have no more to fear than the traditional Greek smokers from the introduction of legislation to restrict their habit…

Image via kathimerini.gr

Vapour, smoke and mirrors

The “Greek Tobacco Epidemic” – there’s good news and there’s bad news

“The Greek Tobacco Epidemic” is the very apt title of a 162 page report prepared by the Faculty of the Harvard School of Public Health in collaboration with the Hellenic Ministries of Health and Education and the Hellenic Anti-Cancer Society and published in December 2011. It was funded by the George D Behrakis Foundation as part of the “Hellenic Action through research against Tobacco” (HEART) Project. I cite it in defence of what some followers thought were over-gloomy pronouncements in my earlier post on smoking.

Among the multiplicity of data presented in that report are the following numbers: Diseases caused by tobacco accounted for 14.4% of the total Greek health budget, with 53 deaths a day in Greece related to smoking. Bad News indeed. However there was also some Good News: Between 2006 and 2010 the prevalence of smoking dropped by 12% in the 18-24 year age-group. The Good News was confirmed in the European Journal of Public Health in October 2012 in a paper with a less catchy title, “Prevalence and determinants of tobacco use among adults in Greece: 4-year trends”. Based on the Hellas Health III survey in 2010 it was estimated that overall 41% of Greeks (45% of men and 38% of women) were smokers. Comparing the findings with the Hellas Health I survey in 2006, in the “young adult” group there was a fall from 48% in 2006 to 35% in 2010, with “a substantial reduction in the number of cigarettes smoked in all groups”.

Approaching the situation from the economic angle, a very recent publication in the British Medical Journal with another unsexy title, “Estimates of price and income elasticity in Greece. Greek debt crisis transforming cigarettes into a luxury good: an economic approach”, aimed to assess smokers’ sensitivity to cigarette price and consumer income changes, and to project health benefits of an additional tax increase. Using a statistical model the authors estimated that depending on the level of tax increase, revenue could rise while smoking could be reduced and smoking related deaths averted. Also Good News, if somewhat hypothetical. Along with increased taxation, the authors recommend that now is the time for “focused antismoking campaigns, law reinforcement (to ensure compliance with smoking bans)” but also “intensive control for smuggling”, thus keeping a one foot on either side of the fence.

Concerning focused antismoking campaigns, the HEART project, introduced above, remains ever active. It is sponsoring the 6th Three-day Conference “Education for a World without Smoking”, with scientific coverage of such topics as quitting smoking, passive smoking, the electronic cigarette and contraband tobacco. It was opened on 9th December with an event for schoolchildren at the Hellenic Ministry of Education, Research and Religion by the President of Greece Prokopis Pavlopoulos, who tossed back his white mane and presented awards to the children with winning entries in the contest “I learn not to smoke”, confessing that he himself started smoking at their age and has regretted it ever since. He was recently caught on camera cadging a light off the Mayor of Thessaloniki at an official event (above). The Minister of Education, Nikos Filis, looked on with a somewhat sheepish expression, as well he might, when his colleagues in the Ministries of Economy, Development and Tourism, Citizen Protection and Mercantile Marine and Island Policy were publicly supporting the other “Stop Smoking” movement – NO to contraband cigarettes (www.oxistaparanomatsigara.gr).

oxistaparanoma
Yiayia was initially heartened when she opened the Sunday newspaper one weekend last month to find a full-page advertising spread dominated by a huge 100 euro note mutilated by a charred-edged cigarette burn. “At last” she thought “An antismoking campaign that will hit Greeks where it hurts – their pocket”. But she looked closer and found that the campaign was anti contraband smoking, and the hurting pockets were the state coffers. She looked even closer and found that she was being invited by 4 tobacco companies, 3 ministries, the municipalities of Athens and Thessaloniki, the Consumers’ Institute, and the Greek federations of tobacco processors, kiosk owners and agricultural cooperatives to join them in their fight against contraband cigarettes and loose tobacco. They even, helpfully, provided the telephone number for the hotline of the revenue office and its e-mail (kataggelies@sdoe.gr) for easy “κάρφωμα” (karfoma – nailing, i.e., snitching) of offenders one might happen to meet. So, in effect, the message was “DO smoke legal tobacco products and lower the country’s primary deficit”.

The full extent of import and sale of untaxed tobacco products is not known. A recent government estimate put the potential gains from a crackdown on contraband at €800 million annually.

Meanwhile, many Greeks are turning to alternative smoking experiences. The increase in the numbers of smokers rolling their own cigarettes is obvious to anybody who takes a walk around. One incentive is the price – it works out cheaper – particularly if your source is contraband. Another is the impression that you cut down on consumption, which may be true, as a lot of time is taken up with all the process of opening your kit, shaking out the shreds, licking the paper, etc.; or you cut down on risk, which is not true. Many smokers in Greece who wanted to reduce the risk have switched to “electronic cigarettes” – now one of the few growth sectors in the Greek “high street”. NOBACCO, one of the marketers of e-cigarettes in Greece, with 22 new shops in Athens, 15 throughout the rest of Greece and numerous other outlets, claims in its advertising that the “British Ministry of Health” says that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than cigarettes. Perhaps so – they don’t have the carcinogen content of cigarettes; however, their active ingredient is one of the constituents of cigarettes, nicotine, which contributes to cardiovascular damage. It is difficult to find data on legal sales figures for loose tobacco or e-cigarettes – an internet search just throws up advertising of the products.

It appears, then, that a combination of antismoking legislation, albeit loosely enforced in the case of bars, coffee shops and restaurants, antismoking campaigning and economic pressures, is resulting in a reduction in smoking in Greece, with fewer young people starting and seasoned smokers cutting down, switching to e-cigarettes or rolling their own. Less revenue, but less burden on health and health costs.

What is Good News for some is Bad News for others, and vice versa. Still, on the rare occasion that Yiayia decides to dine al fresco by the sea she inevitably ends up at the next table to the couple who light up between all the many dishes they order.

Photo from newsbeast.gr

The “Greek Tobacco Epidemic” – there’s good news and there’s bad news

It’s official, we are being sprayed

NbNW

As the Greek parliament convenes to vote on legislation for the adoption of the measures agreed as a condition for the latest bailout package (μνημόνιο, mnimónio, meaning memorandum), an epidemic of amnesia appears to provide support to the popular theory that the “we’re being sprayed” (μας ψεκάζουν; mas psekázoun). The theory holds that the white vapour trails left in the sky by aeroplanes (“contrails”, short for “condensation trails” in the sinister parlance of “systemic” scientists, “chemtrails” to the enlightened) contain a blend of chemical and/or biological agents that are dispersed in the atmosphere with the aim of keeping the general population in submission, or in more evolved versions of the theory, to prevent certain elements in the population (generally, the embattled white working class) from reproducing.

While there has been a consistent effort by authorities to dismiss chemtrails as a conspiracy theory, the latest evidence from Greece appears to provide the “slam dunk” that its proponents have long been hoping for. As the vote approaches, figures across the political spectrum are become more and more vocal in their opposition to legislation that they supported in principle only a month ago. Mnimonio deniers include cabinet members of the government that signed the latest agreement, then called elections to secure the mandate to implement it. A number MPs of the governing Syriza party whose voting record shows they voted “yes” to the agreement in the previous session are now taking to the streets to demonstrate against some of its provisions. More emphatic proof of the phenomenon of mass amnesia is provided by statements by members of the opposition parties, some of whom voted “yes” not only to the latest package, but to the two preceding ones, and who now threaten to vote against. When challenged on their apparent u-turn they have been heard to respond “we did not vote for this” before mumbling something incomprehensible about propping up the government.

Chemtrail experts point out that, although it is possible to impute individual motives to each of these groups, it would be impossible to imagine such a broad consensus across the political spectrum without some kind of psychotropic intervention. They speculate that a recent military exercise (codename: Parmenion 2015) undertaken with much fanfare under the close supervision of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Defence Minister Panos Kammenos was a desperate, but ultimately failed attempt to counteract the spraying with an airborne antidote.

Meanwhile on the streets, ordinary citizens confronted with fare hikes on public transport, one of the first tangible effects of the latest financial measures, showed a similar reaction. “Who voted for these clowns?” demanded Katina, a civil servant catching the bus to work, where she was reappointed by ministerial decree on the eve of the government’s re-election. “I can’t believe they are doing this to us,” said a downcast Mitsos, hastily tucking away a rainbow flag that had been adorning his backpack since the 20th September election night celebrations.

Prior to these discoveries, it was estimated that up to one in three Greeks believed in the theory of chemtrails. Supporters hope that the new findings will help to convince a greater portion of the public, which is already prone to similar beliefs, even reflecting them in their choice of elected representatives. Already, two in three Greeks subscribe to the “truther” belief that 9/11 was an inside job, while three in four believe that the Greek crisis is the result of a deliberate plan orchestrated by foreign powers, so supporters of the spraying theory see plenty of scope for increasing their market share. They also point to evidence from the skeptical camp to support their aspirations. A report by the Skeptic Society citing academic studies on the subject points to the thought process known as “global coherence”: “Someone who believes in a significant number of conspiracy theories would naturally begin to see authorities as fundamentally deceptive, and new conspiracy theories would seem more plausible in light of that belief.” The same report also notes that belief in conspiracies tends to increase under conditions of anxiety and loss of control.

More reports from the world of science coming soon on this blog.

Image: Still from “North by Northwest” (Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1959).

It’s official, we are being sprayed

Greeks flock to the “big round ballot box” in critical vote

garbage-can1

In a show of enthusiasm that has confounded even the most jaded students of the democratic process, today Greeks turned out in droves to cast their votes in what has come to be referred to as the καλάθι (kaláthi, which translates as basket, referred to colloquially as the “big round ballot box”).

Psephologists are still trying to get to grips with the record turnout (45% abstention despite compulsory voting), and how to interpret it, in a debate that will no doubt play out over the coming months and years. Some suggest that this phenomenon can be explained with reference to the “garbage can model of organisational choice“. The seminal 1970s theory of decision making viewed organisational systems as “a collection of choices looking for problems, issues and feelings looking for decision situations in which they might be aired, solutions looking for issues to which they might be the answer, and decision makers looking for work”, an eerily prescient description of Greek political life in the twenty-first century. According to the model, problems, solutions, participants, and choice opportunities flow in and out of a “garbage can”, and which problems get attached to solutions is largely due to chance. The model appears to provide a good fit for the current situation but further study is required.

Others, examining the contents of the ballot box, have discovered intriguing graffiti, which they claim alludes to much more ancient precedents. Crumpled images of leading politicians with phallic objects scrawled on them suggest to some ancient fertility rituals or good luck charms, intended to signal approval to the bearer and ward off evil. However, students of Classical antiquity point to a parallel in the “ostraka“, pieces of broken pottery on which Athenian citizens etched the name of the person they wanted banished from the city (hence the modern word “ostracism”). They suggest that this practice provided a last minute physical solution to Facebook’s failure to deliver on schedule the virtual “dislike” button in time for the Greek elections. A third interpretation links the graffiti to other modern expressions of evolved politico-moral discourse such as those favoured by celebrity gossip pioneer Perez Hilton (nsfw).

A third group of theories points to the calendrical coincidence of the Greek elections with the final of Eurobasket 2015, an international tournament of sporting prowess in which teams compete to pass balls through a hoop, also known as a basket, or καλάθι. While the Greek national team failed to make the final four in the tournament, most Greek males in particular would claim a greater attachment to the outcome of the Lithuania vs. Spain match than the result of the elections.

As usual, we will continue to report developments in this ongoing debate on this blog.

Greeks flock to the “big round ballot box” in critical vote

BREAKING NEWS: Groundbreaking Greek innovations in language, metrology, TV

640px-Plastic_tape_measure

Last night’s marathon experimental session held at the studios of Greek state TV station ERT by a multi-disciplinary team of scientists produced rich results across several fields of enquiry, proving once again the Greek talent for innovation.

The first clear result was an addendum to the dictionary definition of “debate”. The new definition includes the following succinct sub-definition: “A height contest”. The addition was made after Conservative Nea Demokratia leader Evangelos “Vangelas” Meimarakis made several joking references (in a “joking-but-not-really-joking” manner) to the split-screen camerawork, which he implied was framed so as to diminish his (physical) stature relative to his debating opponent Alexis Tsipras of Syriza. Mr Meimarakis returned to the topic after being asked to comment on the debate, however other sources suggest that his irritation had more to do with ERT’s decision to air allegations by a small-circulation newspaper about his personal property dealings during the afternoon broadcast zone. While neither alleged action produced effects clearly visible to the naked eye, the Nea Demokratia team’s sensitive instrumentation was able to bring these findings to prominence.

In addition, the session was able to produce an important advance in the field of metrology, the science of measurement, by establishing an alternative measurement method for height. Rather than following the conventional practice of using a tape measure calibrated against the international prototype metre held at the Bureau international des poids et mesures in Sèvres, the new method uses three hours of television time under strict conditions established by the frontrunners in the Greek elections. Syriza and Nea Demokratia will be lodging a joint patent application for their discovery and are widely tipped as leading candidates to share a Nobel prize.

On a more commercial front, Syriza and Nea Demokratia intend to establish joint global rights over the the new TV format for political debating, which they believe will have global appeal and could prove even more lucrative than previous successful reality TV formats, such as Big Brother and The X Factor. They plan to target traditionally neglected niche audience segments, such as the care home market, as well as promoting the format as an alternative insomnia cure.

Assessing the importance of these discoveries, experts noted that this was a great day for science and innovation, which surely bodes well for a Greek economic recovery. They also noted that none of these discoveries would have been possible without the spirit of cooperation established between the rival teams of scientists in the context of this experiment. They agreed that this was the most promising sign so far for a new era of progress in the political field.

Image: Tape measure from http://www.bargello.cz/ licensed under GNU Free Documentation License.

BREAKING NEWS: Groundbreaking Greek innovations in language, metrology, TV