12192014Fri
Last updateWed, 17 Dec 2014 4pm

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Islamic finance doubles in size with demand forecast soaring to new heights

Islamic finance doubles in size with demand forecast soaring to new heights

When a Muslim cleric told Ahmad Salim that sharia ...

Serbia finally recognizes Kosovo passports

Serbia finally recognizes Kosovo passports

Kosovo continues to enjoy its independence, but st...

‘Corruption of EU mision in Kosovo has grown exponentially’

‘Corruption of EU mision in Kosovo has grown exponentially’

The European Union's €1bn flagship foreign mission...

Croatia finds no easy access to EU prosperity

Croatia finds no easy access to EU prosperity

At midday, the main food market in Croatia's pictu...

Serbia unhappy as Russia cuts gas deliveries over unpaid debt

Serbia unhappy as Russia cuts gas deliveries over unpaid debt

Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to cu...

Many Fear 'Anti-European' Government Coalition in Bulgaria

Many Fear 'Anti-European' Government Coalition in Bulgaria

As Bulgaria's newly elected MPs convened at the fi...

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World Global

Massive Oil Spill Threatens Bangladesh's Sundarbans

3 DAYS AGO
Massive Oil Spill Threatens Bangladesh's Sundarbans

An oil tanker carrying 358,000 liters (almost 100,000 gallons) of furnace oil sank in the Shela river on December 7, spilling oil over more than 60 kilometers (about 37 miles) of the Sundarbans. Located on in southwest Bangladesh, the Sundarbans is the largest single block of tidal mangrove forest i...

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Erdogan to EU: Mind your own business!

4 DAYS AGO
Erdogan to EU: Mind your own business!

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday responded to the European Union for criticizing the recent arrests of dozen of journalists and other prominent people in Turkey, telling Brussels to "mind its own business."

After South Stream Cancellation, Balkan Countries Left Hanging

12 DAYS AGO
After South Stream Cancellation, Balkan Countries Left Hanging

Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov, whose country was pinpointed by Moscow as being responsible for Russia's decision to cancel the construction of the South Stream pipeline, stated Wednesday that Sofia hadn't received yet an official notification from Russia involving its decision.

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Economy

After Russian Ruble, Turkish Lira Hits Record Low - Other Currencies To Follow

2 DAYS AGO
After Russian Ruble, Turkish Lira Hits Record Low - Other Currencies To Follow

The Turkish lira weakened to a record low of 2.4140 against the dollar on Tuesday after a fall in the value of the ruble in Russia, a fellow emerging market, and concerns about mounting political risk amid a row with the European Union over a government recent arrests of prominent journalists and op...

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Malaysia to double international student intake by 2020

4 DAYS AGO
Malaysia to double international student intake by 2020

The number of students from the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa furthering their studies in Malaysia is expected to double by 2020 following promotions conducted continuously via the Education Malaysia (EM) office.

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Kuwait tries to play down oilfield dispute with Saudi Arabia

1 MONTHS AGO
Kuwait tries to play down oilfield dispute with Saudi Arabia

Kuwait has played down a row with Saudi Arabia over its decision to halt production at an offshore oilfield jointly operated by the two Gulf neighbours.

Oil Minister Ali al-Omair said the dispute over operations at the Khafji field would not affect strong ties.

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Bulletin Board

German Journalist: ‘German politicians are US puppets’

1 MONTHS AGO
German Journalist: ‘German politicians are US puppets’

"Now the Americans are even considering blowing up a nuclear power plant in Ukraine and then insisting that the culprits were either separatists or Russians," claims the German journalist Udo Ulfkotte, former correspondent from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of the largest German newspapers. He...

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Serbian society and war crimes

25 DAYS AGO
Serbian society and war crimes

...the occasional stupidities of the individual can easily lead to a constitutional stupidity... This also ultimately leads observation from the realm of personal qualities to the idea of a society burdened with mental defects. Of course, one cannot transpose to whole societies what happens psycholo...

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Another Serbian Organizer Involved in US’ Covert Op, This Time in Cuba

7 DAYS AGO
Another Serbian Organizer Involved in US’ Covert Op, This Time in Cuba

Using a Serbian promoter, for more than two years, a U.S. agency secretly infiltrated Cuba's underground hip-hop movement, recruiting unwitting rappers to spark a youth movement against the government, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The idea was to use Cuban musicians "to ...

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Special Interest

Education through Islamic History

1 MONTHS AGO
Education through Islamic History

From the very earliest days of Islam, the issue of education has been at the forefront at the minds of the Muslims. The very first word of the Quran that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was, in fact, "Read".

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) once stated that "Seeking knowledge is mandatory for all Mu...

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Montenegrin Church and Religion

10 MONTHS AGO
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In the area of present-day Montenegro (formerly the Roman province of Praevalitane), Christianity started to put down roots early. The first episcopacy was formed in the fourth century when the native populace consisted of Romans and Romanized Ilirs. (See "Iz Povijesti Hriscanskih Crkava u Crno...

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Jewish scholar lectured on 'How Islam Saved the Jews'

7 MONTHS AGO
Jewish scholar lectured on 'How Islam Saved the Jews'

David J. Wasserstein, a professor of Jewish History at Vanderbilt University, lectured on "How Islam Saved the Jews" on Thursday, April 24, at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

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Health

Fatness, Leptin and Leptin Resistance: Everything You Need to Know!

1 MONTHS AGO
Fatness, Leptin and Leptin Resistance: Everything You Need to Know!

Many people falsely believe that weight gain (and loss) is all about calories and willpower.

However, modern obesity research disagrees... and scientists are increasingly pointing their fingers at a hormone called leptin.

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Cinnamon, Ginger and Onions Strongly Protect Us from Colds and Flu

11 MONTHS AGO
Cinnamon, Ginger and Onions Strongly Protect Us from Colds and Flu

In the fall as the weather gets cooler ailments tend to affect our Lungs in the form of coughs, sinus issues, colds and flu. In Traditional Chinese Medicine autumn relates to the metal element which corresponds to the Lungs. The taste that strengthens the Lungs is pungent: the spicy flavor of f...

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The 11 dangerous nutrition myths

4 DAYS AGO
The 11 dangerous nutrition myths

There is a lot of misinformation circling around in mainstream nutrition.

I have listed the worst examples in this article, but unfortunately this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Here are the top 11 biggest lies, myths and misconceptions of mainstream nutrition.

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Life and Style

Western IQs dropped 14 points over last century, researchers say

1 YEAR AGO
Western IQs dropped 14 points over last century, researchers say

A new study from researchers in Europe claims that the average IQ in Western nations dropped by a staggering 14.1 points over the past century.

"We tested the hypothesis that the Victorians were cleverer than modern populations using high-quality instruments, namely measures of simple visual re...

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Marriage is not a Bed of Roses, Marriage is a Responsibility from day one!

1 YEAR AGO
Marriage is not a Bed of Roses, Marriage is a Responsibility from day one!

Many people take the institution of Marriage as a Tradition and a family norm to get married, however, marriage is not just a symbol of getting authority with the community or family but a responsibility which has actually no equal.

Marriage is not a Bed of Roses as most people may tend to feel or t...

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The Sunnah Beard: the latest trend amongst non-Muslims in Philadelphia USA

6 MONTHS AGO
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There's not a woman in Philly who would rock a burka just to make a fashion statement.

But when it comes to Muslim-inspired menswear, well, that's another story. Regardless of their religious affiliations, certain Philadelphia men, mainly African-Americans, have adopted the style of wearing lon...

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Technology

The Arabic Automata

1 MONTHS AGO
The Arabic Automata

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the end of 5th century, the western and central part of Europe was swept down by many barbarian tribes and fall into so called Dark Ages for some five centuries. During this time, the centers of world's art and science moved to the east—to the eastern Ro...

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Honeybees trained to find Balkan land mines

1 YEAR AGO
Honeybees trained to find Balkan land mines

Mirjana Filipovic is still haunted by the land mine blast that killed her boyfriend and blew off her left leg while on a fishing trip nearly a decade ago. It happened in a field that was supposedly de-mined.{cmp_comments idkey='447c'[url=http://www.balkanchronicle.com/index.php/tech%2...

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Dire warning: Due to massive solar flare storm you could lose power, communications

2 YEARS AGO
Dire warning: Due to massive solar flare storm you could lose power, communications

The largest solar storm since 2005 is now in progress, causing fluctuations on the power grid and disruptions to the Global Positioning System. The ongoing strong proton storm is in full fury. And it's getting stronger; a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) impact also impacting us, traveling at 1,400 miles...

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Democracy vs Mythology: The Battle in Syntagma Square

parthenon-4-sale

I have never been more desperate to explain and more hopeful for your understanding of any single fact than this: The protests in Greece concern all of you directly.

What is going on in Athens at the moment is resistance against an invasion; an invasion as brutal as that against Poland in 1939. The invading army wears suits instead of uniforms and holds laptops instead of guns, but make no mistake – the attack on our sovereignty is as violent and thorough. Private wealth interests are dictating policy to a sovereign nation, which is expressly and directly against its national interest. Ignore it at your peril. Say to yourselves, if you wish, that perhaps it will stop there. That perhaps the bailiffs will not go after the Portugal and Ireland next. And then Spain and the UK. But it is already beginning to happen. This is why you cannot afford to ignore these events.

The powers that be have suggested that there is plenty to sell. Josef Schlarmann, a senior member of Angela Merkel’s party, recently made the helpful suggestion that we should sell some of our islands to private buyers in order to pay the interest on these loans, which have been forced on us to stabilise financial institutions and a failed currency experiment. (Of course, it is not a coincidence that recent studies have shown immense reserves of natural gas under the Aegean sea).

China has waded in, because it holds vast currency reserves and more than a third are in Euros. Sites of historical interest like the Acropolis could be made private. If we do not as we are told, the explicit threat is that foreign and more responsible politicians will do it by force. Let’s make the Parthenon and the ancient Agora a Disney park, where badly paid locals dress like Plato or Socrates and play out the fantasies of the rich.

It is vital to understand that I do not wish to excuse my compatriots of all blame. We did plenty wrong. I left Greece in 1991 and did not return until 2006. For the first few months I looked around and saw an entirely different country to the one I had left behind. Every billboard, every bus shelter, every magazine page advertised low interest loans. It was a free money give-away. Do you have a loan that you cannot manage? Come and get an even bigger loan from us and we will give you a free lap-dance as a bonus. And the names underwriting those advertisements were not unfamiliar: HSBC, Citibank, Credit Agricole, Eurobank, etc.

Regretfully, it must be admitted that we took this bait “hook, line and sinker”. The Greek psyche has always had an Achilles’ heel; an impending identity crisis. We straddle three Continents and our culture has always been a melting pot reflective of that fact. Instead of embracing that richness, we decided we were going to be definitively European; Capitalist; Modern; Western. And, damn it, we were going to be bloody good at it. We were going to be the most European, the most Capitalist, the most Modern, the most Western. We were teenagers with their parents’ platinum card.

I did not see a pair of sunglasses not emblazoned with Diesel or Prada. I did not see a pair of flip-flops not bearing the logo of Versace or D&G. The cars around me were predominantly Mercedes and BMWs. If anyone took a holiday anywhere closer than Thailand, they kept it a secret. There was an incredible lack of common sense and no warning that this spring of wealth may not be inexhaustible. We became a nation sleepwalking toward the deep end of our newly-built, Italian-tiled swimming pool without a care that at some point our toes may not be able to touch the bottom.

That irresponsibility, however, was only a very small part of the problem. The much bigger part was the emergence of a new class of foreign business interests ruled by plutocracy, a church dominated by greed and a political dynasticism which made a candidate’s surname the only relevant consideration when voting. And while we were borrowing and spending (which is affectionately known as “growth”), they were squeezing every ounce of blood from the other end through a system of corruption so gross that it was worthy of any banana republic; so prevalent and brazen that everyone just shrugged their shoulders and accepted it or became part of it.

I know it is impossible to share in a single post the history, geography and mentality which has brought this most beautiful corner of our Continent to its knees and has turned one of the oldest civilisations in the world from a source of inspiration to the punchline of cheap jokes. I know it is impossible to impart the sense of increasing despair and helplessness that underlies every conversation I have had with friends and family over the last few months. But it is vital that I try, because the dehumanisation and demonisation of my people appears to be in full swing.

I read, agog, an article in a well-known publication which essentially advocated that the Mafia knew how to deal properly with people who didn’t repay their debts; that “a baseball bat may be what’s needed to fix the never ending Greek debt mess”. The article proceeded to justify this by rolling out a series of generalisations and prejudices so inaccurate and so venomous that, had one substituted the word “Greeks” with “Blacks” or “Jews”, the author would have been hauled in by the police and charged with hate crimes. (I always include links, but not in this case – I am damned if I will create more traffic for that harpy).

So let me deal with some of that media Mythology.

  • Greeks are lazy. This underlies much of what is said and written about the crisis, the implication presumably being that our lax Mediterranean work-ethic is at the heart of our self-inflicted downfall. And yet, OECD data among its members show that in 2008, Greeks worked on average 2120 hours a year. That is 690 hours more than the average German, 467 more than the average Brit and 356 more than the OECD average. Only Koreans work longer hours. Further, the paid leave entitlement in Greece is on average 23 days, lower than most EU countries including the UK’s minimum 28 and Germany’s whopping 30.

  • Greeks retire early. The figure of 53 years old as an average retirement age is being bandied about. So much, in fact, that it is being seen as fact. The figure actually originates from a lazy comment on the NY Times website. It was then repeated by Fox News and printed on other publications. Greek civil servants have the option to retire after 17.5 years of service, but this is on half benefits. The figure of 53 is a misinformed conflation of the number of people who choose to do this (in most cases to go on to different careers) and those who stay in public service until their full entitlement becomes available. Looking at Eurostat’s data from 2005 the average age of exit from the labour force in Greece (indicated in the graph below as EL for Ellas) was 61.7; higher than Germany, France or Italy and higher than the EU27 average. Since then Greece have had to raise the minimum age of retirement twice under bail-out conditions and so this figure is likely to rise further.

  • Greece is a weak economy that should never have been a part of the EU. One of the assertions frequently levelled at Greece is that its membership to the European Union was granted on emotional “cradle of democracy” grounds. This could not be further from the truth. Greece became the first associate member of the EEC outside the bloc of six founding members (Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux countries) in 1962, much before the UK. It has been a member of the EU for 30 years. It is classified by the World Bank as a “high income economy” and in 2005 boasted the 22nd highest human development and quality of life index in the world – higher than the UK, Germany or France. As late as 2009 it had the 24th highest per capita GDP according to the World Bank. Moreover, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s Centre for International Comparisons, Greece’s productivity in terms of real GDP per person per hour worked, is higher than that of France, Germany or the US and more than 20% higher than the UK’s.
  • The first bail-out was designed to help Greek people, but unfortunately failed. It was not. The first bail-out was designed to stabilise and buy time for the Eurozone. It was designed to avoid another Lehman-Bros-type market shock, at a time when financial institutions were too weak to withstand it. In the words of BBC economist Stephanie Flanders: “Put it another way: Greece looks less able to repay than it did a year ago – while the system as a whole looks in better shape to withstand a default… From their perspective, buying time has worked for the eurozone. It just hasn’t been working out so well for Greece.” If the bail-out were designed to help Greece get out of debt, then France and Germany would not have insisted on future multi-billion military contracts. As Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the MEP and leader of the Green group in the European Parliament, explained: “In the past three months we have forced Greece to confirm several billion dollars in arms contracts. French frigates that the Greeks will have to buy for 2.5 billion euros. Helicopters, planes, German submarines.”
  • The second bail-out is designed to help Greek people and will definitely succeed. I watched as Merkel and Sarkozy made their joint statement yesterday. It was dotted with phrases like “Markets are worried”, “Investors need reassurance” and packed with the technical language of monetarism. It sounded like a set of engineers making minor adjustments to an unmanned probe about to be launched into space. It was utterly devoid of any sense that at the centre of what was being discussed was the proposed extent of misery, poverty, pain and even death that a sovereign European partner, an entire nation was to endure. In fact most commentators agree, that this second package is designed to do exactly what the first one did: buy more time for the banks, at considerable expense to the Greek people. There is no chance of Greece ever being able to repay its debt – default is inevitable. It is simply servicing interest and will continue to do so in perpetuity.

And the biggest myth of them all: Greeks are protesting because they want the bail-out but not the austerity that goes with it. This is a fundamental untruth. Greeks are protesting because they do not want the bail-out at all. They have already accepted cuts which would be unfathomable in the UK – think of what Cameron is doing and multiply it by ten. Benefits have not been paid in over six months. Basic salaries have been cut to 550 Euros (£440) a month.

My mother, who is nearly 70, who worked all her life for the Archaeology Department of the Ministry of Culture, who paid tax, national insurance and pension contributions for over 45 years, deducted at the source (as they are for the vast majority of decent hard-working people – it is the rich that can evade), has had her pension cut to less than £400 a month. She faces the same rampantly inflationary energy and food prices as the rest of Europe.

A good friend’s grandad, Panagiotis K., fought a war 70 years ago – on the same side as the rest of Western democracy. He returned and worked 50 years in a shipyard, paid his taxes, built his pension. At the age of 87 he has had to move back to his village so he can work his “pervoli” – a small arable garden – planting vegetables and keeping four chickens. So that he and his 83 year old wife might have something to eat.

A doctor talking on Al Jazeera yesterday explained how even GPs and nurses have become so desperate that they ask people for money under the table in order to treat them, in what are meant to be free state hospitals. Those who cannot afford to do this, go away to live with their ailment, or die from it. The Hippocratic oath violated out of despair, at the place of its inception.

So, the case is not that Greeks are fighting cuts. There is nothing left to cut. The IMF filleting knife has gotten to pure, white, arthritis-afflicted bone. The Greeks understand that a second bail-out is simply “kicking the can down the road”.  Greece’s primary budget deficit is, in fact, under 5bn Euros. The other 48bn Euros are servicing the debt, including that of the first bail-out, with one third being purely interest. The EU, ECB and IMF now wish to add another pile of debt on top of that, which will be used to satisfy interest payments for another year. And the Greeks have called their bluff. They have said “Enough is enough. Keep your money.”

____________________________________________________________

My land has always attracted aggressive occupiers. Its vital strategic position combined with its extraordinary natural beauty and history, have always made it the trinket of choice for the forces of evil. But we are a tenacious lot. We emerged after 400 years of Ottoman occupation, 25 generations during which our national identity was outlawed with penalty of death, with our language, tradition, religion and music intact.

Finally, we have woken up and taken to the streets. My sister tells me that what is happening in Syntagma Square is beautiful; filled with hope; gloriously democratic. A totally bi-partisan crowd of hundreds of thousands of people have occupied the area in front of our Parliament. They share what little food and drink there is. A microphone stands in the middle, on which anyone can speak for two minutes at a time – even propose things which are voted by a show of thumbs. Citizenship.

And what they say is this: We will not suffer any more so that we can make the rich, even richer. We do not authorise any of the politicians, who failed so spectacularly, to borrow any more money in our name. We do not trust you or the people that are lending it. We want a completely new set of accountable people at the helm, untainted by the fiascos of the past. You have run out of ideas. 

Wherever in the world you are, their statement applies.

Money is a commodity, invented to help people by facilitating transactions. It is not wealth in itself. Wealth is natural resources, water, food, land, education, skill, spirit, ingenuity, art. In those terms, the people of Greece are no poorer than they were two years ago. Neither are the people of Spain or Ireland or the UK. And yet, we are all being put through various levels of suffering, in order for numbers (representing money which never existed) to be transferred from one column of a spreadsheet to another.

This is why the matter concerns you directly. Because this is a battle between our right to self-determine, to demand a new political process, to be sovereign, and private corporate interests which appear determined to treat us like a herd, which only exists for their benefit. It is the battle against a system which ensures that those who fuck up, are never those that are punished – it is always the poorest, the most decent, the most hard-working that bear the brunt.  The Greeks have said “Enough is enough”. What do you say?


Nassim Nicholas Taleb is the Lebanese-American philosopher who formulated the theory of “Black Swan Events” – unpredictable, unforeseen events which have a huge impact and can only be explained afterwards. Last week, on Newsnight, he was asked by Jeremy Paxman whether the people taking to the streets in Athens was a Black Swan Event. He replied: “No. The real Black Swan Event is that people are not rioting against the banks in London and New York.”

BOOK OF THE MONTH Zomia-women

The Art of Not Being Governed

The focus on Zomia is driven by the fact that the region is the largest remaining area that has not been integrated into a nation state. Indeed, for over two thousand years, the people living in the highlands of Zomia have lived outside the reach of the lowland government. The standard view of these "hill people" is that they are remnants of the pre-state period and represent a primitive form of living. Although book is focused on Zomia, it should be noted that governments and those involved in international development efforts tend to hold a similar view towards those living outside the reach of the state in other settings as well. Indeed, this view underpins the efforts to 'fix' the various institutions in societies around the world in the hope of bringing modernity to people who are viewed as primitive.

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