An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Something obscene in the state of Crete

On several occasions in the last month we have passed huge lorries parked up in the valley. They arrive in the early morning around dawn and only leave when they have been fully loaded with immense amounts of olive wood. When they leave they are driven down to the harbours at Rethymnon and Souda where the wood is shipped out to Piraeus.

Gypsy lorries pass us on the highway stacked high with old central heating boilers that once burned olive stones: ripped out to be replaced by oil burning ones. The heating oil tankers rush past in the other direction.

Stacks of halogen, ceramic and, electric heaters block the entrances to almost all supermarkets in every winter season now. In the larger supermarkets they nestle beside the air conditioning units that start at a meagre 8 kilowatt ratings. And they sell well.

Plentiful firewood is being exported. Olive wood burns efficiently and with a high calorific value. Olive stones have the same properties as wood since the major component is lignite and the calorific value is similarly high. Olive stones are a natural by product of olive oil production. Olive firewood is also a natural by product of olive production. At the last count there were more than 35 million olive trees on Crete. Neither olive wood nor olive stones need to be imported and the supply of both is self sustaining. The price of these fuels is not controlled by some wide boy commodity dealers in ridiculous coloured jackets.

The price of olive firewood has increased some 15% in five years and we are told that olive stone prices have increased at roughly the same rate. And fuel oil prices? And electricity prices?

I am no expert but I suspect that Crete is one of the few places in Europe that could be powered without recourse to fossil fuels. And from sustainable resources within its borders. Crete has 300 days of sunshine each and every year. There was a plan drawn up in 1990 for solar Crete. Sadly the reality never materialized (if you read closely you'll see that the contractor was to be Enron) and instead the Greek government built another oil fired power station.

I am sorry but, bugger the green eco warrior arguments, simple fiscal probity makes that a dumb decision and one that could have been identified as such by a simpleton. It is a decision that could be reversed: the solar and olive options are still there and becoming more attractive daily. And yet?

And yet the Greek governemnt refuses to even implement an environment ministry despite a Greek being
EU Environment Commissioner (Stavros Dimas - how the hell did that happen?). They refuse to provide incentives to install photovoltaic systems and tie them to the grid (why not make it compulsory on all new builds?). And yet the public here is rushing to a future power economy  that is guaranteed to become ever more expensive and ever more difficult to sustain. And they don't care - they just don't care. The convenience of flicking a switch. of never having to fill a hopper or to chop some wood is just too seductive.


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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Democracy? No - a travesty!

The only real indications that an election is taking place are the sheets of paper posted on shop and office windows, with a photograph and short biography of each candidate.

More than 90% of voters are expected to turn out.

The new National Assembly has to meet within 45 days to approve, from among its own numbers, the president, vice-president and executive Council of State for new five-year terms.

Sixty-three per cent of candidates f are new, standing for the first time.

Fifty-six per cent are under 50 years old. Forty-three per cent are women.

Half of the candidates are chosen by municipal authorities, the other half by organisations, such as trade unions and the women's movement.

Critics call it a travesty of democracy that should be replaced by multi-party elections.

The system, set up in 1976, is possibly the most democratic in the world because money cannot buy votes and delegates are chosen at a neighbourhood level.

Voters are given a list of candidates for their region.  If they do not like one candidate or another, they can tick individual boxes next to names and leave others blank. They are also offered a single box that they can check to support  all listed candidates

A candidate must get 50% of the vote to win.

Compare what is written above with the biased piece that the BBC ran today  and from which the bones of the above are extracted. You will then see why US experts dismiss the above system as a travesty of democracy. This supposedly lighthearted piece from the BBC might which also ran today could give you some deeper insight into what is is that is believed to be a part of an authentic and creditable democracy.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

2 reviews - one author

A couple of book reviews for you today people.

Jean-Patrick Manchette - Three to Kill

This was my first exposure to Manchette and what a very pleasant surprise. The number of literate writers who venture into genre writing is small. You could count them on the fingers of both hands: maybe one hand. Ballard is one, Poe another. Manchette is one too. Credited with single handedly rescuing French crime fiction from the police procedural he writes in a spare, vicious language about men capable of extreme violence. Hardly a word seems wasted and once or twice an excess or a mis-step may be the fault of the translator. This is very good, very consistent, writing. Manchette's man, a high end hi-fi salesman, reluctantly stops to help a motorist who has been involved in an accident, or so he thinks but the man beside the citroen DS has been shot by professionals. The man takes the victim to hospital and abandons him to his fate while he himself goes off on holiday but his life has changed irrevocably. The killers soon come after him - and after his family - but the man is lucky. In a move never properly explained but not explained only because the man does not understand it himself he decoys the killers away from his family and the hunted becomes the hunter. Ten months later he returns to the bosom of his family, his task accomplished. Fast and insightful prose fills the gap I have left you here. Manchette fills up that gap much better than I could. Manchette elevates the crime novel to literature once more, bringing to mind Dostoevsky and Camus. In this slim volume he gives us psychological insight and social commentary spun in a tidy web of well chosen words. I did wonder whether he had read the great Derek Raymond but who cares?

Jean-Patrick Manchette - The Prone Gunman

Derek Raymond first tempted me into writing crime - Manchette is likely to be the writer who brings me back to try it again. Understanding that this genre has attracted some of the greats - Dostoevsky and Camus and Hamsun among others - might make you wonder why and I think it has to do with the onset of the modernists and Freud. When narrative qua narrative has become the domain film and the obvious way ahead for literature is the life of the interior crime springs obvious and eternal as a possible mainspring of the modern and post modern novel.  

This time round Manchette gives us a professional hitman who is retiring as his central character - his hero if you will. Leaving this dangerous profession is by no means as simple as it would be from any more mainstream profession however. An untimely retirement would spoil things for his "station boss" and it soon becomes clear that the next job, the "one more thing", could be fatal for our extremely violent but unconflicted hero. Quite how Manchette makes a professional killer so sympathetic has to be experienced to be believed. But like him we do. We even empathise with him. No mean feat.

Once you are hooked on the hero the action picks up from a frantic pace to a hectic one and soon you are careening through a seemingly logical but eminently crazy helter skelter of calculated violence and mayhem. Every step makes sense. Ears end up on car floors. People end up dead. The logic and the reason are undeniable - Manchette has you in his grip. Sit back in the assassin's passenger seat - a Citroen DS again, take out your Opinel knife and pare your nails - it's a bumpy ride but one you will enjoy. There will be blood but there will also be analysis and commentary.

One to enjoy and possibly Manchette's finest.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Olive Harvest - The Romantic and the Pragmatic

13 = 324 = 712 =75= 81 : that's the accountant's version of this year's harvest.

The four of us partly filled (only partly filled because none of us is strong enough of back to carry a completely filled sack or to hoist it into the vehicle)  thirteen (13) 50 kilogram sacks with olives in a day and drove them off to the olive presses. Weighed out we had harvested 324 kilograms (712 lbs) of fruit. When cold pressed those 13 part sacks converted into 75 kilograms of organic (we use no sprays or chemicals of any description) extra virgin olive oil (acidity 0.4 percent - anything under 2% is virgin and anything under 0.8% is extra virgin). If we assume a specific gravity of 0.912 for extra virgin olive oil that multiplies out to 13 part sacks of olive fruits equals 81 litres of product.

And, as is the case with most accountants; descriptions of anything that involves humanity, that tells you almost nothing about the actual values involved and exchanged during the process. But that's accountants for you. Six (6) hours in the open air, in a beautiful valley, under a warming sun (we sweated copiously) with good company. Six hours of conviviality and shared physical labour: spreading nets, raking and beating trees; sorting twigs and debris from the ripe firm purple black fruits, kneeling or crouched Arab style. Six hours that strain the wrists, the back, the shoulders and, the legs to fatigue levels. Happy fatigue:  satisfied fatigue; an almost smug fatigue if you will.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Famous for 5 minutes? Don't quote me.

There have been a few incidents recently that have made me wonder whether I am either catching the zeitgeist a little ahead of everyone else or whether some influential people are reading my blog and not mentioning it.

Who knows? Whichever might be the case I'm content.

First up there was a Tariq Ali piece in the Guardian the day after my excoriation of Benazir Bhutto that was in a very similar tone to my own piece and even reproduced my little "poor and poorer" figure in a similar position vis a vis the text.

Today my grand old friend the Old Git sent me the following link to a an item in the Telegraph about a concerted assault on Britain's archaic blasphemy laws. Those of you who read my original piece back in early December will recognise not only the key sentiment but also some of the key argumentation.


Digital is dumber!

Here's one that isn't (as far as I can remember) addressed in any of my blogs in the past few years but one that I certainly covered a long time back. It is a topic that has been discussed for many years amongst audiophiles and is one of the main reasons that I still have my vinyl albums.  How long I wonder until someone realises that digital photography contains the same immanent dumbness?

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Metrics bloody metrics

If I were to tell you that in order to measure the effectiveness of the national health system I intend to monitor closely the health of the fittest 5% of the population year on year an publish the findings in the form of a league table would you think me perverse?  Or would you perhaps think me misguided? Mad? So how do we measure the effectiveness of the education system by monitoring the progress of the top performing 5%? 

The UK has become, within living memory, obsessed with measuring things. It started with commerce and gradually infected public services and the utilities. Metrics, targets and, league tables have become part of the new and pervasive language of management. We are expected to take note of these statistics and rankings as some holy grail of efficiency and effectiveness - for everything! Sadly we seldom question what it is that is being measured and rarer still what that metric tells us. Single point metrics like waiting lists cannot tell us about the overall performance of our health system any more than your blood pressure can tell me about your general well-being. No person in their right mind would think to judge a complex system by a single metric.

No more can the continuing performance of the brightest few inducted into an education system designed for the brightest tell us anything useful about the manner in which that system provides for the needs of the rest? Precious little is what those figures can tell us of value. And where one might reasonably ask are the resources to come from to monitor and record the performance of these few? From the rest of the system I figure and likely to the detriment of the mass. And what new metric will we use to measure that degradation? Why none at all.

Bloody nonsense. Bean counting nonsense. Management science? Don't make me laugh.


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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Another New Year

If the new year celebrations are about anything they are about renewal - so look what came into flower today:

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