Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Yani Varoufakis, Secretary of Economic Affairs

SYRIZA leader A.Tsipras picked him as his new Secretary of Economic Affairs, the most critical cabinet post next to his own of the Prime Minister. This is simply so because of the audacious promises he repeatedly made to the Greek electorate during campaigns, eventually leading to his sweeping landslide victory this past Sunday. His main theme was braided around (a) getting rid of the Troika monitoring and policy recommendations, (b) renegotiating the servicing of Greece’s debt with its creditors, and (c) rolling back lost benefits and jobs to the "victimised" members of his electorate. In other words, promising to bring back a large part of the "welfare state" that Greeks have been used to during long years of uninterrupted and unverified funding by the EU and its agencies/institutions. Only time will show whether this brand new and youngest ever Greek PM, Alexis Tsipras, «the great white hope of certain European leftwing movements» to bring «change» to the mainly rightwing governing EU Establishment, and «teach ‘em a lesson» remains to be seen. By nature, I don’t believe much in miracles, other than those related to Divine «intervention». However, for sure I am prepared, like millions of other Greeks, to give SYRIZA the benefit of the doubt. Like Belgians here say, «hope helps you live…» Maybe, just maybe, it would take a Leftist Radical Party like SYRIZA, that never governed anything before, to become the government that Greece needs right now. Since the remaining of the larger political parties have miserably «failed» in the past, and almost brought the Greek Nation to its knees, then, what else is left to do? From this point of view, last Sunday’s polls seem to have been, at the least, ...righteous!

The position of Minister of Economic Affairs, under the circumstances, is indeed this cabinet’s most critical ministerial position. It was also critical in each and every cabinet before, certainly ever since «the feces hit the fan» (2008), but, it is far more so now that the new cabinet needs to deliver the (unsustainable to many) promises an ambitious Alexis conveyed to his cheering supporter crowds during the election campaign. Worst of all the «average Greek on the street» genuinely believed him. His landslide proves this.

I haven’t ever heard of Yanni Varoufakis, as I am a Greek of the Diaspora myself, but I learned about him by talking to friends and reading his blogposts and CV, after today's announcement. He seems to have made quite a name for himself, internationally as an economist, and in Greece as a blogger about subjects of national interest focused on finance. He eventually amassed more than 55K votes in the last elections… not bad at all for a newcomer!

Varoufakis is a mathematician and a macro-economist with (a shedload of) academic level studies and published papers and books, especially with math-stats in spades. Also, he PhDed in everything you'd like to know about Industrial Actions. Suitable and valuable know-how, even if it's only theoretical for the most part, if you are made a Finance Minister in Greece right now. He doesn’t seem to have considerable people management experience though (I recall he mentions somewhere that he managed a small team of lecturers in a certain educational project), and he is indeed the stereotype of a reasonably successful career academic, by all means. In other words, he's got lots of experience "talking about things", if you know what I mean. He taught undergraduate and postgraduate classes in various Economics Schools internationally, in capitalist countries (UK, Australia and the US… even worse, in Austin, TX in the US, the epitome of the Capitalist Free World). Despite this type of rightwing credentials and exposure, he was eventually stamped a «Radical Economist» by the International Press earlier today, following announcement of his appointment. In all my ignorance, I am trying to understand what "radical economist" really means. I would have preferred him to be stamped a liberal capitalist, not necessarily a GOP libertarian, but a free market capitalist nonetheless. This is at least what I concluded based on his CV bullets.

I also picked one of his recent works from his personal blog, a paper in PDF format. It was in its latest revision (4th in fact), humbly titled «A Modest Proposal for Resolving the Eurozone Crisis» co-authored with Stuart Holland (UK), and James K. Galbraith (US), two fellow economists and academics like himself (Holland was also a UK MP for sometime). You see, reading a paper like this helps you find out a lot about someone’s core beliefs. Reading someone’s sentences, analysing the words and terms he uses and trying to understand why he said what he said, and how he said it. Simply reading a CV is not enough if you are trying to figure out someone’s skills and merits. Most of us make a habit of boasting unreasonably in our CVs. Especially career Academics are off-the-charts in describing each and every ‘thing’ they ever got involved into. So, since I can’t possibly look Yanni in the eye and chat with him to see, hear and deeply feel him talking about stuff (like we do with candidates we interview to hire), I decided that the best way to get under his skin was to read what he had to say to the World and how he's been saying it. The aforementioned paper and his various blogposts were the best sources available at hand, I reckoned.

So, I first read his declaration (in Greek) in his blog about why and how he decided to quit his current life and join SYRIZA in last Sunday’s polls, and then I studied (not simply read) his co-authored paper mentioned earlier. Since he was the first author in the list, I’ve reasonably assumed that he actually edited its lion’s share, with the remaining authors simply verifying/correcting.

The strategies Varoufakis describes in his paper seemed to me very much along the lines Tsipras has consistently followed on the question of Greek debt, I must admit… (That would also explain the latter’s decision to appoint him at the post of Finance Secretary.) It’s not too long a paper, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand what they try to convey. Actually they unravel the Eurozone crisis in four components, ie. banking, sovereign debt, investment and social crises, and they try (all but modestly) to formulate solutions to each and every issue with (a slight degree of) intellectual arrogance and (extreme degree of) self-confidence, I’d say. In other words, the author(s) go that far as to suggest to the leaders of the Troika (Commission, IMF and ECB) how to… do their job... properly. Very daring indeed! Now then, some of the arguments they used make occasionally logical sense, but we have heard most of them time and again, even from the likes of liberal, stimulus hungry, anti-austerity evangelists like Paul Krugman, a primus inter pares among my personal favourite economists, for some time now.

However, there is nothing mentioned in the paper to suggest that the current unsustainable position in which peripheral EU countries found themselves has, for the very large part, been caused in the past by their own cabinet programmes and the execution of such programmes and policies. The authors conclude that it is mainly the fault of the better performing countries (the so called «surplus», with Germany on top) and of Troika’s stubborn austerity doctrine that eventually brought badly performing countries to the abyss. IMHO, not admitting openly the huge responsibility of local governments in this clusterf@ck is very much a mono-dimensional SYRIZA-line argument, that proposes that the peoples of problem periphery nations are innocent victims of the riches and the surpluses (not many, but some) of this European Union. To a certain degree, many might agree with a similar point of view, but, knowing my own Greek DNA well, I also know for a fact that, although Greeks have been somewhat victimised by the riches of certain surplus EU members (yep, nobody denies the billions paid to creditors due to exorbitant spreads when times got rough), they got mainly themselves to blame for the largest part. As an Academic, only focusing and offering advice about only one side of the problem, and not mentioning the other side not even once, while being aware of the objective truth (unless he lived under a Parthenon stone for the last 35 years), then what can I say? This paper in my eyes, as a casual non-expert reader, does not discuss the factual truths completely, but rather examines a partial version of these truths, most probably inspired by political motives.

As for the merits of their recommendations, I don’t know… most seemed to me like calling certain old subjects with new names to make them appear different (the cloth doesn't make the priest). What is the benefit, for instance, if investment projects funded by the EIB/EIF fall outside formal national debt? Does this make the actual total debt appear less than it is? C'm on! Is it going to solve the issue that the country is factually bankrupt with no remedy in sight? I’d give it to them though that a couple of their proposed "tricks" were aiming at reducing interest amounts paid to some of their creditors, and all this might be still helpful, at least if, at the minimum, a serious effort is done to ensure LONG TERM national recovery and job creation. Talking about Greece, with virtually no heavy Industry, a castrated agriculture, and only the weather and tourism on their side, these suggested "tricks" are indeed very short term remedies. Not a panacea! It is just an aspirin tablet to cure the Nation's pancreatic cancer.

I pray, when Alexis, with Yanni under his arms, appears in Brussels to (hopefully) re-negotiate the current debt servicing, that they both indeed maintain, above all, an attitude of humility. Tsipras was so far quite successful to get where he wanted by supplying abundant (populist) rhetoric for internal consumption that seems to have worked. However, Greece’s creditors have the International Law on their side. The last five years Greece has received a lot of help by its creditors. At the same time, these same creditors, having lost billions in the haircut, learned their lesson well, recapitalised their operations, and reconfigured their investment portfolios by better spreading risks. For sure, non-Greek banks did that in spades. I recently heard a financial reporter on the local (Flemish) TV say that, although the previous Greek debt haircut factually bankrupted one of the banks here, this time over the Belgian banking exposure to Greece defaulting would remain sub-minimal… now, if this is true for Belgium, it must be true everywhere else. That means, from a negotiating point of view, the only thing that can play to Tsipras advantage is simply a spirit of «humility» and of realistic argumentation that won't drive his creditors up the walls... Unfortunately for him, his creditors have not been sampled out of his supporter electorate. And above all, such creditors love their money, very much indeed. Too much to be accurate, as they are born and raised devote capitalists, who don’t believe either in charity, or listen to any arguments of "social inequality and wealth redistribution". For Greece’s sake, both Alexis and Yanni will have to forget what they have been preaching until now domestically, or else they both risk to experience personally the wrath of the same voters who gave him a landslide last Sunday. History, clearly teaches them that. Not any history… simply the 3 thousand year long history of their own homeland. Amen.

UPDATE: Unfortunately my prayers weren't heard. Not even a week passed since they 've been in charge and the gaffes performed by a whole array of new Ministers are beyond belief. Without an official announcement yet by the PM of his cabinet's planned programme, ambitious fresh ministers rushed to irresponsible statements about new measures that will kill the vast majority of troika inspired policies implemented by the previous two cabinets. How do you spell 'populist' my dear?

Our man Yani Varoufakis announced formally today to Eurogroup Chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem that the cabinet rejects troika altogether and demands an international conference of creditors to decide a proposed 50% haircut of the debt. Dijsselbloem reacted stating that the Eurogroup is the proposed 'Conference'  and there was no need for another one. And he then rushed literally out of the room. BTW, Varoufakis intends not only to negate everything the previous governments implemented but also launch his own new style of business attire, with casual jackets, no ties at all and colorful shirts hanging above his jeans trousers. The ridicule so far knows no limits. I have no idea what these people continuously smoke for breakfast, but they are either too stupid to understand the seriousness of the situation and the damage they are inflicting to their homeland or extremely arrogant and equally incompetent, or all of the above! I'd put my vote on "all of the above" and some more...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Alkinoos Ioannidis - The small suitcase (Μικρή Βαλίτσα)

I always liked this kid, and I am glad I was proven right after I saw him performing this last weekend, on a live show at the Yallino Music Theatre in Athens, Greece. Despite a bad cold he'd been struggling with, poor thing, he managed to perform a superb show that lasted longer that anyone could have ever expected. I personally consider this singer-songwriter one of the best ever born under the sun, certainly among the known and celebrity Greeks, alive or dead. His talent is limitless in terms of song composition, lyrics, his virtuosity in playing various musical instruments and the quality of his own vocal chords (technically and in terms of sound color and passion). Above all, his quality in terms of musical track record can only compare to Manos Hadjidakis. I am sure, if Manos lived today, he would certainly envy Alkinoos for his musical writing-singing skills, but he would have also wanted him to sing his songs instead of producing his own. I have owned for years most of Alkinoos albums, and went on to buy his latest only this last Sunday (cover shown here) without the shadow of a doubt! His skill in combining local folk sounds by traditional Greek instruments (bouzouki, Cretan lyra, laouto) with the classic sounds of orchestral string instruments (violin, viola, cello and contrabass) is beyond your wildest dreams. Actually this combination takes place in two dimensions. First, in terms of harmony among the two types of instruments offering to the listener the finest taste of Greek sound dressed in the best quality possible acoustic colour, and second, in terms of combining traditional dance melodies with classic jazz scherzos and state-of-the-art electronic patterns. I witnessed the cello and violin being played in staccato like it were a guitar or a bouzouki in ways I have rarely seen before, with his band musicians's virtuoso fingers (cello, violin and contrabass) only tapping the strings on their instruments's fingerboards. The pleasure was simply unheard of. I have rarely felt so much energy as Ioannidis had found ways to lead his entire orchestra into a powerful trance that drove the audience into extreme and spontaneous applause. Entirely different than the trances people enjoy in vulgar mega dancings with vulgar DJs with electronics and massive speakers that on their own could fill an entire theater like the one I attended to. The singer-songwriter also writes his own versions of Rap music, probably in order to address younger audiences, and for sure comparing theirs to these songs the big Rappers of the world would simply flush. A great musical personality he is indeed. Unfortunately, dickheads in Greece prefer many other ridiculous performers instead. Appears as if contemporary Greece is no more appreciative of quality music. Should we blame the current financial crisis for this too?

Talking about Greece, the only negatives in Alkinoos performance were the following few (and had nothing to do with the artist; his only personal issue were related to his germs, but as I already suggested, no-one witnessed any negatives on his performance because of that):

a. Theater/venue management: HUMONGOUS FAIL!!! Allowed far too many people into a dangerously packed area with so many standing up during the whole 4 hours performance. In an unfortunate case of say, a fire accident, at least several hundred panicking people would have been stampeded, to say the least. I felt quite uncomfortable with being in the middle of that assembly.
b. Allowing smokers to smoke. Especially female smokers chain-changing cigarettes during the entire show. To the theater management's credit, there was airco provided , but in Greece, with audiences chain-smoking like Turks (Greek expression) no reasonable airco could do the job.
c. Behaviour of the audience. Bad mannered, awfully raised, smoking jungle chimps, without respect to anyone among the rest of us, who came to enjoy the artist and his orchestra, shouting most of the time, giggling, laughing loud, talking loud to their companions like they were in a bar, showing off, turning their backs to the orchestra and trying to spot a partner of the opposite or same sex to get laid as part of their Saturday night out. Mostly women it were those misfits, with blond badly dyed hair (someone must have told them that Greek men like sexing in blond), heels adding 20 cm to their ugly legs, horny faces drooling with cheap make-up. Some looking like 5-euro whores, out-of-tune scream-singing the lyrics a second earlier before the artist sang them himself, just to show off they knew the score! Such a chaos is only possible in Greek theaters. To think that 'theater' itself was invented here 3 thousand years ago makes your heart bleed. Sheer animals in a jungle. I felt sorry for the artist and all other artists in general performing in Greece, having to cope with this type of rude monkeys to earn a living. A shame really. Showing disrespect to both artists and to those few like myself, non-smokers, who came here to enjoy the sounds of a rare musical talent, staying speechless, and almost mouthless, breathing from the nose alone, hoping for the possibility in so doing to filter out the nicotine from the tobacco polluted ambient air.

UPDATE: I found this on Youtube from the show I attended and wanted to share it with you. As far as "I rest my case" on my arguments about the disrespectful Greek audience, it is obvious from this clip. Judge for yourselves.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Cinematic depiction of Pluto abducting Persephone to his underworld kingdom.

In video or film shooting we use the term cinematic to express resemblance to shooting and editing techniques used in feature films. Traditionally we consider a shot being "cinematic" when:

1. It is shot at 24 frames per second (fps). Traditional feature titles shot in film have had this frame rate, whereas traditional video uses 25fps (PAL) and 30fps (NTSC). This is kind of weird though. Does all of a sudden shooting or cutting a scene at 24fps make it... cinematic??!!! Anyways...
2. The shot is stylised, graded or colorised. All these are synonyms of the same editing process whereby shots are undergoing a series of digital color transformations to create a sense of 'sphere' conform the movie's storytelling.
3. Bokeh. The effect of shallow depth of field. Larger digital capture sensors combined with the right lenses, and set at widest possible apertures, create the necessary cinematic shallow depth of field, a.k.a. the bokeh effect. Bokeh is a term first appeared in Japanese. This effect is considered highly cinematic. Furthermore, the effect of changing focus from a near point to a further point is also considered highly cinematic and is known as focus-racking. If there is excessive ambient light that makes it hard to maintain large aperture settings at the common shutter speeds used (ie shutter speeds of 1/50th or 1/60th of a sec), often cinematographers and camera operators use Neutral Density a.k.a. ND filters, practically diminishing by a number of stops the quantity of light entering the lens all the way to the sensor. All this happening in the service of bokeh and implied cinematic affect. This is actually the main reason that all of a sudden shooting video with traditional DSLRs, the so called VDSLRs (V for video), became so fashionable and even employed professionally by Hollywood and Indie filmmakers around the world.
4. Camera movements. Using cranes, dollies, sliders, tracking, droning, panning, and handheld shooting techniques, as well as time-lapse shots and sophisticated motion control, makes scenes even more cinematic. Of course, the far more expensive and complex CGI techniques used in large multi-million dollar productions can not be afforded by low budget filmmakers and play far above the league of most professional and/or amateur filmmakers. Camera movements are indeed among the most powerful tools in cinematography to render scenes and shots cinematic.
5. Soundtrack used. The role of background sound and music in providing cinematic experience is beyond any conceivable doubt. Sound is the invisible fourth dimension (the three other being the spatial dimensions we live in) in making a scene sequence 'feel' like a movie.

But is that it? If I do shoot some scenes and edit them together following the cinematic rules per the points above (there maybe more, but those 5 points I found to be the most important mentioned in the literature of the film industry), can I then claim my work is cinematic? Short answer: probably not. For amateur video shooters without film-school education, even most probably not. "It's not the vestment that renders someone a priest", claims a Greek proverb. In other words, it's not because you shoot 'cinematically' that your shots become cinematic. Point 1 above, about 24fps, is the living proof of this argument. I bet you, you may shoot a scene at 24 fps and the same scene over again at 60fps... you ain't gonna see the difference. I don't anyway. If someone does, please tell me and teach me to do the same. I doubt there are many around who can tell the difference, despite the far too many that claim they can.

If that's the way it is, then, what do you need to become cinematic? Short answer as well. You need a story. In fact, cinematic is by definition everything that is related to (visual) story-telling. All of the techniques used in the five points above and many more so (new being invented as we speak in shoots of new feature films around the world), are used to serve storytelling. In the same sense, a simple novel, a short story, and a still picture or a sculpture can also be cinematic. Anything that tells a reader or viewer a story that engages him/her, and makes her/him experience it with some degree of human emotion is "cinematic". Literature in all its styles and forms is mostly cinematic, scientific papers and books are mostly not. 

In all arts in general, the human emotions triggered by the artwork largely depend on a subject's past experiences, as claimed by the philosophers Gadammer and (his infamous mentor/teacher) Heidegger in the first half of the 20th century. For this reason, among other, emotions triggered by artworks are rarely identical among experiencing subjects. I mentioned 'among other' because emotions also depend on a subject's general culture, genetic material, his/her upbringing, and spoken language. Presumably, all works of art do trigger emotions among their target subjects. Joy, sorrow, awe, disgust, laughter, tears, and more. Do artists need to trigger emotion in order to pass their underlying message to targets more efficiently? The stronger the emotion, the deeper the understanding and future recollection of the message; this is a scientifically proven fact. Subsequently, could we thus claim that all art is cinematic too? I don't think so. Genuine art most certainly creates human emotion among its target subjects, but it doesn't necessarily have to have a story to tell. 

Good filmmakers know that every scene counts and every scene needs to advance the story narrative and create the intended emotions among their viewer community. Every object used on stage and appearing in the film's frames is put there for a reason. Nothing is accidental in good filmmaking. Therefore, there's a lot of planning going on before even shooting begins. The film Director, the story Author, the Scriptwriter, the DP and the Film Editor continuously exchange opinions about the raison-d'-être of each and every shot and scene in the final cut. The visual and/or technical quality of a given shot, or the masterly interpretation of a character role by an actor are not simply adequate to make it acceptable for inclusion into the final cut, unless they do 'advance' the story properly. In that respect, the role of film editors is extremely important. Among the series of takes and coverage shots available to them to cut a scene, they have a critical responsibility to select those shots, and  cut them in ways most suitable to the actual script. In the filmmaking trade's literature, there are countless examples, about the same scene being cut in a number of distinct edits, based on the same available shot coverage, and, not amazingly, the results actually appearing to advance the visual story in more than one ways. The positioning and sequence of cuts in the scene, their viewing angles, focal lengths and camera movement applied, each one of them cause viewer emotions with distinct, stereotypical characteristics. It's like emotions are transmitted to human subjects during projection following a visual code language that viewers come to learn over time by watching movies in theaters or on TV. There are literally dozens of books written about the subject. Unfortunately, most of those who write such reference material are not professional experts in psychology! They are mostly film practitioners, theoretical and/or empirical. 

I am often amazed by the ability of professional cinematographers and editors to creep into their Director's mind and understand his/her intents and express them clearly in the final product. The team members must have mutually compatible chemistries. This is why, some great directors often stick to their winning teams and make films with the same crews as well as casts of actors. It's often even so that some outstanding actors are only used by certain Directors in their movies and are rarely seen in other productions. Some Directors even go that far to provide their own cinematography and editing too, if they don't sufficiently trust others (Cohen brothers, Steven Soderbergh, etc.). Each frame, to use Darren Aronofsky's claim in a recent interview, when at a given moment he has been talking about his film 'Fountain', has been carefully planned beforehand to the level of (his own) obsession and with so much passion, in order to best serve his narrative and the film's message the way he personally intended. No doubt why with only six films (masterpieces indeed) in his portfolio he is recognised as a real Master of the craft. The other critical element that I admired in Aronofsky was his ability to articulate the basic message of his each and every film in very simple terms. If you come to think of it, in filmmaking most often it all starts with the central theme and message of the film. What is the film to be all about? What are we left with when all is said and done? What has mostly impacted us when we exit the theater or power off the TV? Did we really get the message? To make sure this happens, Aronofsky mentioned that great Film Directors (he referred to Fellini and Kurosawa in particular) were able to convey their message in each and every scene of their movies. As an example, he referred to Marcello's dilemma about choosing between 'getting a life' or continue 'chasing hot chics' in Fellini's 8 1/2.

Unbelievable but true... the more someone enters the domain of filmmaking the greater respect one develops for filmmakers and videographers alike. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Alexander's tomb? Only time will tell...

Since the beginning of August I am following the news about the excavations of a monumental tomb at Amphipolis, Greece, allegedly Alexander the Great's. Before then, I wasn't even aware there was a place called Amphipolis. And when I heard about first, I thought it was somewhere near Athens! So much for my history and geography genius. Listening recently to friends from my youth, I was told that I should have also been nearby during school trips in the 1960-ies, and I must have definitely seen the Lion of Amphipolis.

The lion was found in ruins during the Balkan Wars, early half of last century, near its current position, a few km away south-west from the tomb hill, at the banks and bottom of the Strymon river. The ruins were put together by a team led by Swedish archaeologist Oscar Broneer and a Greek sculptor in the late 1930ies. The project was supported by the US Ambassador Vy (?), a friend of Greece. The monument can be still admired today if you make a stop there during you travels on the Egnatia highway. That's a hundred steps away, literally, from the Strymon river banks as it flows towards its delta to the Aegean sea.

I was fortunate to find, from very early on, a blogger site called Amfipoli News that posts updated and of reasonable quality articles multiple times a day, 24x7. Since the discovery of historically significant findings in the tomb hill (aka known as Kasta), the Amfipoli News blogger seems to post almost exclusively articles related to the works. Most of the info and pictures I have summarised in this post I have borrowed from that blog. It is true that other blogs run 'professionally' by the main Media establishments in the country are not half as good, and I have abandoned those altogether. Sheer waste of time and Internet space.

So, the known facts are the following: (Click the Google maps satellite view above for a larger view. The arrow shows the exact location and the inset shows a closer view from above of the Kasta hill.)

There is a round hill of a circumference 500m, along which an impeccable marble wall 3m (10 feet) tall was unearthed. At the south-west side of the hill, facing the ancient city of Amphipolis, archaeologists discovered an entrance to the tomb that for more than two millennia was hidden away, under tones of earth. The surrounding marble wall was also hidden inside the soil 3m deep! Nothing to witness from the outside for thousands of years. The 15m tall Lion monument mentioned earlier was recently proven to have been removed from the top of the Kasta hill, presumably during Byzantine times, and was demolished to pieces to serve in the construction of a Byzantine dam at the Strymon river. It was eventually found a few km away at the banks and bottom of that river. Until recent years Kasta was merely a hill in the community of Mesolakkia (Amphipolis area). Feeding place for goats and wild rabbits.

The compelling event that triggered the start of archaeological excavations was the discovery of few ruins as late as back in the autumn of the year I was born... 1953! Same year that Jozef Stalin passed. It took modern day Greeks 60 years to decide it was worth looking at that hill seriously. In the meantime, the US has flown astronauts to the moon and brought them back safely. An entire electronics and computer industry has popped and changed out lives for ever. The Soviet Union emerged from its Stalin era, scared the sh*t out of us in the West for decades, during the so called 'Cold War' (better that than the current hot wars against jihadists) and subsequently fallen apart. Another infamous Wall was raised in Berlin and decades later torn apart. Steve Jobs was born, raised, created Apple Inc, gave us an entire iCulture that changed our lives, and passed, far too young of pancreatic cancer. Half of the original Beatles passed too. The US (once more) has flown to Mars and beamed pictures back to earth. We entered a new millennium for crying out loud! We have even flown to the end of our solar system and continued to travel away from it, for billions of miles. We dug a hole into the ozon layer and almost started filling it back. And only now after all this has happened and much more, ourselves, 'lightning speed' Greeks, we are finally about to discover our greatest hero's tomb. Sitting under our nose for that long! We been sitting on it for 60+ years, pissing against the wind, leaving that tomb hill to the mercy of hungry rabbits and stray goats, looters and tomb-raiders. Better late than never though, one could claim.

Thanks to the current project manager, a very serious person, Mrs Peristeri, excavation works advance at the necessary high pace. Like I said, better late than never. Here's what we publicly know they have found so far:

Starting at the top of the outside marble wall, there's 13 stairs leading downwards to a first chamber (θάλαμος). The entrance to that chamber was concealed by a large stone wall. After  that wall was taken down, the first monumental discovery of this project emerged. A pair of sphinxes facing each other, missing their heads and wings. Needless to say, workers and archaeologists had to pour away the sand and soils covering all these structures. The original architects of the monument took good care to fill in all chambers and gaps with sandy soils to discourage and potentially trap inside ambitious raiders and looters. 

After the extraction of the sandy soils another prohibitive wall appeared at its other end. Taking down the upper part of that wall revealed the second breathtaking discovery of the tomb. A pair of Caryatides extending their arms together to form an entrance below them. Only parts of their bodies were unearthed to this day, the following days scheduled to clear out the wall in front in its entirety and reveal them girls in all their glory. Unfortunately one of them had her face missing probably because of pressure from the ceiling exercised upon the head of the statue. The second lady only misses her nostrils, and for the rest she looks pretty solid.

The pencil drawing depiction shown earlier shows the first two chambers as they were found. The drawing is signed by the architect who is in charge for years now of the restoration of Parthenon and the Acropolis in Athens. It clearly shows what I described so far. 

The second chamber, shown in the drawing as still covered with soil up to half its total height is where the team is working as we speak. As they dig further, they encounter ambient temperatures and humidity conditions like being in caves. The back of the chamber wall appears to only have one gate in front, not as glorious as in the previous two passages. The ceiling and walls show damages that could turn lethal if the whole structure is not urgently supported with the necessary means. Indeed, along the excavation works, supporting structures are set in place to keep the entire chamber from collapsing. Even large amounts of the hill soils are being dug away to lighten the gravity forces from the soils from the outside, on top. These folks are leaving nothing to chance.

Needless to say, the side walls, and the floors were found to be decorated in marbles and stones and a few rests of colours. The original engineers who built that 24 centuries ago made sure it was built not to be entered easily by your typical looter. The tools necessary to enter from this gate to the final tomb/s (one doesn't know yet) would be highly sophisticated for a small team of looters trying to enter the tomb. Peristeri mentioned ironically that she hasn't found any human remains of skeletons yet of those presumably perished in their effort to enter, thus responding to those with an 'opinion' that the tomb was previously looted and all valuables removed.

The army was called in the meantime to safeguard the works from curious passer-by's and potential modern day tomb raiders. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras follows progress personally, step by step, literally by the minute, and the main opposition party is sitting on burning coal. We suspect they asked their own 'expert' professors and wise noses to publish articles diminishing the work of the team in charge. They'd wish that not much was eventually found as the discovery of Alexander's tomb would mean their collapse in the next polls for reasons only comprehended by Greek Political Party dogs! The entire charade by so-called experts, historian, architects and archaeologists, not involved in the works whatsoever, criticising shamelessly Mrs Peristeri and her team is beyond belief. Modern day Greeks, hardly yet recovering from the financial cluster-f*ck they managed themselves into, have plenty of time to critic the real doers and express their useless opinions about a matter they are standing so far from and are so remote to. "Opinions are like a-holes, everybody's got one", said Confucius and few select intellectual and poisonous Greeks are a living proof of that saying.

I can only applaud the works of the experts as well as their attitude towards the Public. They appear to be genuine professionals. Everytime I surf to the Amfipoli News blog my heartbeat speeds up, and the day I saw the Caryatides pictures I couldn't hold the emotion. Imagine what those expert workers felt when they saw it in real. "We all wept" mentioned Mrs Peristeri yesterday...

How far are they still from the real thing? Some simple geometry math can easily help you calculate that. They have now reached 23m towards the centre from the stairs. There are about another 50m to the actual centre of the circle, if one assumed the tomb to be located at that spot. If the original architect wanted to fool potential raiders even more, he might have created a sort of a maze leading to blind spots. Who knows what they are going to find in the next days, or months. A picture taken of the area by academic researchers years ago with soil penetrating waves/rays (I am unaware of the exact technology used) shows strange concentrations below the hill of areas supposedly looking solid, like interior walls, and more chambers. They seemed to move in various asymmetric directions all over the place, which kind of supports the 'maze' hypothesis. That university study dates from more than ten years ago. Even then nobody asked the right questions about what to do with that hill. Civil servants sitting on their fat ass then were too busy looting the national cash safes instead. Anyways. Besides all that, it currently sounds extremely intriguing and promises to overwhelm the planet with a worldwide sensation. The greatest archaeological discovery for more than 100 years, to say the least.