Thursday, May 30, 2013

The blues of my fatherland... Episode 1.

I started my day by reading this article. As always, accurate and to the point, a routine work from an ever excellent BBC columnist and reporter. I personally retained terms such as the 'crisis generation', 2013 as the 6th consecutive recession year, and unemployment will stop growing in 2015! Does this really mean that we'll get a total workforce exodus to emigration, or that unemployment will hit 100% by then, and Greeks will only be able to work as volunteers with no pay? Is 2015 to be the bottom of a bottomless well?

I'm quite sorry to sound such a cynic, but my own information coming from people I'd trust with my life, tells me a whole different story about the reality in Greece. Not that BBC and other foreign reporters got the news wrong, not at all! They are pretty well informed, but they also have to be politically correct. And not too daring in their statements. Not to hurt irreparably highly placed individuals. Their impact is huge and they need to rethink each and every word they put on paper a dozen times over and again! The one thing they will usually avoid to analyse is how all this came to be. Most non-Greeks have difficulty understanding the Greek thought stream. Their Greek character and attitudes. Most is incomprehensible by aliens. Even, us Greeks in the diaspora have often difficulty grasping the compatriots we left behind. The story is complex, one needs to dig deep in the past to spot the abusers of our national system, who enriched themselves to the point of absurdity without care for the voters that gave them the power. And worst of all, the country is still in the hands of party (big) dogs, who either enjoy highly paid parliamentary positions, or other operational government functions. From Ministers to Prefecture chiefs and City Mayors. So, I decided to... speak. Well, I'm just nobody, but who knows, if other nobodies like me started talking, who knows indeed, we might eventually have some impact. This is my first episode, triggered by the wikipedia page of a PASOK politician. Read along...

The troika asked the Greek government for some years now to privatize state owned businesses. What seems common place in most democracies of the world, it still appears to be the hardest to achieve in the fatherland. What the Britts did in the 80ies to revive their industry and business, Greeks have problems doing even today. Why so?

Take any nationalized Industry. Largely in the hands of government bureaucrats. No difference with what used to be the case in the communist past of many countries of the East. Civil servants applying the rules of a sophisticated bureaucracy, full of holes like Emmental cheese that they only know how to take advantage of, enriching themselves with kickbacks in the process. Well these are the so-called managers behind those government owned enterprises. Agnostic ministers that are supposed to make the business decisions and help these companies flourish. When did they learn it? In the party offices where they spent most of the time when 'Attending college' to become party dogs and grow up the political ladder afterwards?

Take this lady for instance.

Her name Diamantopoulou. Her profession, 'civil engineer'. She never worked as one, and been in politics all her life, but some party animal thought she was a 'leader' material at her 26 (!), and so she was given the position of the Prefecture Chief in Kozani, the youngest ever in history, right under the PASOK party flags. Wow! What a genius! Word has it that many of those early 'leaders' of the Papandreou PASOK generation rolled out of the party offices in the two national capitals (Athens and Thessaloniki) filled with ambitious union 'students' during the early hours of Metapolitefsis (the period after the colonels). The more leftist, and 'revolutionary' the higher you got! So, Mrs Diamantopoulou, just like another one like her, a 'hero' of the student revolt in 1973, Damanaki, eventually made it to Minister, Commisioner in Brussels, and now envisioning an own party within the PASOK movement. What can I say more?

It's being said that a new Greek language emerged with the coming of US educated Andreas Papandreou. I can confirm that for sure. I left Greece in 1976 and for many years I haven't spoken any Greek. Intensively I mean. After almost forty years, ever since the crisis started I came in contact with old friends, and ever since I'm getting back to the language a lot closer. I'd tell you this. The words they use today are the same as in our dictionaries for thousands of years. But the context, and the specific usage of those terms in that particular context has fundamentally changed. I worked all my life for UK and US companies, and I can tell you, what Andreas did to the Greeks, as a master demagog he was, brought to the country a new jargon, that was skilfully used in opposition to the Communist old fashioned 'demotiki' Soviet influenced slang (about the 'Imperialist US' and more of this BS). Papandreou started for example, for the first time ever in the history of Greek affairs, to talk about 'meritocracy'. About 'innovation' and a 'vision for the future'. His language was taken out of any annual report of any US blue chip in their attempt to sound positive and appeal to the shareholders. The Britts are also masters of such a pompous talk! I was actually shocked to find out this about the Greeks. In my conversation with old friends I revealed to them: I been using this shit for ever in my internal company reporting and have read piles of others' reports and business school papers with jargon like this to the level of vomiting! Especially, the term 'strategy' seems to be the most abused term in the history of man. Raped beyond recognition every single day all around the planet in any site occupied by corporate offices of the sort. Followed by 'corporate vision' and 'the ability to execute'!

If you want a genuine Greek example about my previous claim, here's one. Taken from Mrs Diamantopoulou's wikipedia entry:

Έχει γράψει το βιβλίο «Έξυπνη Ελλάδα», όπου υπογραμμίζονται οι ανάγκες για καινοτομία, στοχευμένη δράση και επαγγελματικές προσεγγίσεις ως απαραίτητες προϋποθέσεις για κοινωνική και οικονομική πρόοδο.

I translate:

She wrote the book "Smart Greece", where she stresses the need for innovation, (the need for a) targeted execution*, and (of the need for) a professional approach as the necessary preconditions for social and economic progress.

(* meaning execution based on achievable objectives.)

When presented in Greek, the sheer audible 'sophistication' of the terms used from a language with more words than any other on the planet, and of a history / evolution of more than 3000 years, well, I bet you, most of today's middle class Greeks who hear this, it seems like music to their ears and are about to get orgasmic. Totally ignorant of the inner meaning of that sentence, but with a huge smile in their face, feeling divinely to be born Greek! This shit is great, they proudly think! Nobody does analyse the real meaning of a sentence indeed, to discover the triviality of its statement, but they just love the sound of it. It sounds intellectual and top-educated. Papandreou and his PASOK clan have led the country with such a BS talk for 30 years indeed. With huge personal paybacks. In the millions of euros! To the total destruction of everything. And leave a country in shambles behind. A fact, for sure! It pays off to talk like Andreas! And so, most Greeks eventually ended up talking like him in their daily exchanges. Thus, no mystery about it, I found myself not grasping at all what the f@ck they been talking about. It wasn't me the problem. It was the holly crap Andreas planted deep inside the brains of the Greek middle class. Sad story...

Back to the über sentence of Mrs Diamantopoulou's Wikipedia... what do we really learn that the 'wise' lady, who enjoyed such a fabulous career inside the Papandreou politics, is trying to tell us? Actually she say this: Innovation is a requirement for progress. How wise indeed! Tell me something I didn't know...

Let's continue then. That statement alone would make a very short sentence. And it's as trivial as hell. Almost needless to say. So, let's add some "execution based on achievable objectives" to make it sound business-like. Cool! But, how much value does this extra wording add to the original statement? Do you really have to be a brain surgeon to understand that 'innovation without execution' is a plain oxymoron? Innovation is about execution. Bringing to market the results of R&D is what's known as innovation, a first semester MBA student will affirm to you. Right? Which, added to the original sentence, is nothing more than a mere redundancy...

And, how about the 'targeted' bit? Have you ever known where untargeted execution will bring you to? Do you have to be a 'Smart Greek' to know? Half brains do know that. Folks with the IQ of a plant do know too! We used to say, if you don't know where you goin' (no concrete objectives and goals) then any (path)way will bring you there. Papandreou knew that, but the process of systematic bullshiting of the Greeks was deep under way and far too late to stop the game. Why would he, anyways. It just worked and added votes to his polls...

And the smart 'arse' who penned the Diamantopoulou entry (maybe, she did it herself and asked another party dog to post it) added the final touch of social and economic attributes to make it sound even more populist. In conclusion, 'Smart Greece' is the story of triviality where loads of political abusers, manipulators and incompetent politicians submerged the country into the abyss of failure and disgrace!

Well done, your Ladyship! Και εις ανώτερα...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Every now and then, approximately this time of the year, as the academic semester comes to an end and students rush to final tests, I decide to clean-up my loft, and office space, and workshop, and actually where I live and breath. I left the rest of the house to the Mrs, but up here it's my kingdom on earth.

I have a habit of keeping useless stuff all the time, for cases of 'emergency', sorta "one never knows, innit?'. So, I came to accumulate piles of paper versions of user guides and manuals for all sorts of hardware and software that I keep acquiring every single year, like my life depended on it. I mean, on getting new toys for boys, that is. You don't wanna know how many still functional amateur camcorders I have purchased in the last 20 years and how many I still keep intact, because, like I said, 'one never knows'. There have been a couple that I bought and never used. Pathetic! Same with digital cameras. For most, I can't even find their cables, battery chargers, and other accessories. And this is only one small sample of electronics items I keep and need to get rid of. Just for kicks, I got 3 damaged Macbooks and one iMac lying there too.

For the last three days, I have been cleaning up. Yet, I am nowhere close to wiping away one third of what I need to do. Why do I keep all these things? Why does anyone keep anything? We came naked to the world, and on D-day, we're gonna leave everything behind. The day cometh, and my siblings will rush into the loft to probably pick up one thing or two, for sentimental reasons, I reckon, and the rest will massively disappear in the direction of the garbage collection container park. I only hope they won't do to my coffin what others did to William's (the Bastard) ! Sure thing!

As I am sorting out books and manuals, memories come back from software packages I used to work with 20 years ago. Especially computer games! Microsoft Flight simulator! Remember? The game was the most popular in simulator software, but not the best. My pal Shaun from Dublin convinced me the ATP simulator was way better than Microsoft's. I wouldn't know. I bought a copy, tried it once, kept crashing my planes during landings, got bored and tired, abandoned it, stored the user guide away with all it's flight maps of the US and Europe, and never looked back!  How about Myst, and Riven? My Goad, these were real games! First time ever we submerged into the fantastic virtual worlds of 3D! Remember, folks? 

As I dig deeper, I discover more pieces of hardware from obscure companies that ceased to exist many years ago, and I am like: What was I thinkin'? Why the hell did I keep buying those things? I believe technology is a serious addiction, after all. I must have spent a fortune on those things and everything became totally useless in the course of time, with no residual value whatsoever. What was their added value then? Only an early user experience it was. Trying things before others could. As I watch people struggling with small digital camera's these days, or their Samsung smartphones to shoot pictures, and feeling proud like they invented sliced bread,  I remember the time I was experimenting with my Nikon D1 ever, that cost me then the best part of 7K in today's euros! When was that again? 15 years ago? 20? I lost count. Just a two point something megapixel gear that I used to create images that even today look way better than any other of today's 'cameras' with multiples of resolution.Shooting those pictures so long ago, I felt almost orgasmic about the results. When most of my peers and friends were still struggling with color negatives, I was busy learning color management and going digital with one of the highest quality brands. Yep, I believe my added value of those hardware items, worth the money I spent on them, was the user experience from being a pioneer, tasting so many of the technology marvels that eventually changed our daily lives.

What do I have to do then? Still keep the old junk, hoping it's to become a collector's item eventually, or do I get rid of them? It depends. Some technology is so good that bleeds your heart to get rid of. Again, my rule is, if you haven't used a particular item in the last five years, what is the chance you are gonna use it in the next five? If the answer is a loud 'none, zip, nothing' the item has to go. There are still exceptions. For instance, I still keep all my equipment that I used to develop photographs with chemicals. I have an entire system from Durst to develop color photographs under strict and minimal temperature tolerances as the paper was flowing thru it's different baths in total darkness! Amazing experience. I remember, it took me longer to clean the darn thing after usage, than doing the developing job itself. The hours I spent in total darkness to experience the ability to print beautiful color pictures, you just don't wanna know. Others played golf, or chased broads. I developed photographs on paper, from color negatives and positives. I still keep my 4x5 inch enlarger, as at the end of my analog photography pastime, I have been playing around with the mother of all cameras, a Toyo, a large format technical camera. It was such a beauty. I felt like a genuine photographer then. It's all gone now. Who has the time to go look for consumables for those things. Digital photography is miles ahead in terms of quality results, and it only takes a few secs to shoot, upload, and take care of the aberrations of your digital negatives in Lightroom or Photoshop. I remember what the experts used to write in articles: "Digital photography will never be able to replace the quality of analog! Not in our lifetime, anyway". Little they knew. Mind you, there are still traditionalists out there preferring analog to digital. And old fashioned Polaroid film! They used to hate Polaroid then, but it seems to get more popular as time passes by. But quite as well, there are still many out there preferring noisy vinyl records to lossless digital, because the sound feels 'warmer' to their ears. I wouldn't know. Not in my age, with a reduced response frequency spectrum, cut-off after a couple of KHz. If I were a dog, maybe... 
Like the French say: Des goûts et des couleurs, on ne discute pas...

So far I must have carried down more than 200 kgs of old manuals and junk hardware. But, like I said, I haven't even scratched the surface. The clue is, you need to keep going, and never think you'll fix it all in a day. Takes time and patience. And the added bonus is the memories to experience the past again, especially when you find some pictures you forgot even existed. Like my youngest son on visit today, who helped me carry some of the waste downstairs, who had the time of his life remembering a software game (for Skateboarders) he used to play with his friends 15 year ago. He couldn't believe his eyes when he saw the user guide of that thing. Like I said, cleaning up makes you quite sentimental! Not?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Spring raindrops

Spring raindrops, a set on Flickr.

Spring in Belgium is not about sunshine and mild temperatures. Other than the daylight getting longer, and the sun trajectory closing to the center of the sky sphere, for the rest the weather we experience is more like autumn than spring. Extremely humid that is, with scarce sunshine, temperatures in the single digits, and if we are lucky reaching mid tens. Drizzle rain and chilly winds. However, plantation does it's own thing. Per it's biological clock, it gets time to grow new leaves on trees and plants and the most beautiful green comes to light and boasts its colors with pride. For plants, raindrops are quite good. Leaves do love the sunshine too, especially plant flowers do, and they rush to hide their precious petals away, when the drizzle stubbornly takes over.

I often photograph the green in spring. In days like today, the last bank-holiday of the season after Easter and before college exams, with not much else to do, I don't mind walking in the ultra thin drizzle raindrops, that feel more like a humid wave as the one from cooling sprinklers that spread their humidity upon vacationers in hotter venues. The only difference with here, it was simply around 10 degrees today, instead of 42.

I'm often using a telelens and a wide aperture to keep a shallow depth of field and to also move as close to the leaves as possible, and 'feel' what they feel, if they had a mind and soul, as they lie there, spread all over with raindrops sparkling like tiny rough precious stones. The leave green looks shiny and brilliant too this way, and it shows you a million different shades of green, from reddish and yellowish to bluish. With a billion variations of the green.

Despite the rain and cold nature takes its course one way or another. As I looked at the green in my garden, with a heavenly silence surrounding the space around me (as most people were hiding away in the safe shelter of their homes and resting), I felt like being inside a Japanese Zen. Green washed in raindrops as far as my eyes could see, as the growing greenness had hidden from sight all faraway buildings, and only my garage cabin insisted in showing off it's ugly gray concrete walls, the metal prefab roof and its remotely controlled ports made of synthetic material...

The known physical phenomenon of surface tension kept the drops hanging on leaves in positions that defied gravity. The same tension helped the raindrops to form little round bullets of water that kept dripping off when added mass from new rain eventually forced them to follow the laws of Newton, and seek shelter in the soil beneath. The scores of spider webs were also revealed to unassuming insects by the rain that formed tiny drops upon the web fibers. The hosting spiders themselves looked like they vanished too and had abandoned their treacherous web to the mercy of the drizzle.

Our two black tulips in the front garden looked like some jeweler decided to turn them into million dollar jewels for some vain sheikh from the oil rich Gulf States. In short, the colors of leaves and flowers looked simply stunning and the light played the most unusual games of light and dark. Needless to say, my 5D M-III Canon and its 135 fixed focal glass is the best gear on the planet to manage to capture this greatness. And the magic of internet is the next big thing that will allow you to verify the truth of my story, by linking to the Flickr set I posted here above.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sam Dillemans - Authors


Sam Dillemans - Authors, a set on Flickr.
Remarkable expo of more than 300 portraits of known authors (creators), painted between 2010 and 2012 by Belgian expressionist painter Sam Dillemans; superb work and quite a few original painting techniques. A ingenious creator of masterpieces of the plastic arts. (I shot the photographs on a Canon PowerShot S110, and when its battery died, I did the rest with... an iPhone 5! Pas mal...) 

I didn't quite like expressionism in the past. I found it to be an articulation of some form of anger, or a cover-up for the ...lack of painting skills! I'd never think of Ingres or any of the Flemish primitives of the 15th Century becoming expressionist. These artists were genuine masters of the strictly visual aesthetic painting craft and sketching skills. On the other hand, Rouault's head of Jesus (that I first saw at the museum of beaux arts in Ghent) seemed to me a peculiar waste of paint.

Sam Dillemans - Humo Magazine
First time I saw Sam Dillemans in a Woestijnvis documentary, I was struck by his power, obsession, self-criticism, tense motivation, persistence, personality in general, but I wasn't sure I liked his work, nor was I capable of totally grasping what he said about the arts and his canvasses. I even thought he was being slightly pretentious, not to mention arrogant. After visiting the 'Authors' I felt otherwise. I am not an art critic, nor I know that much about visual arts, but I have 'painted' amateur stuff all my life to know how extremely difficult it is, and how much skill you need, to paint meaningful portraits. Looking at Dillemans portraits I became more than convinced that the man is a talented painter who didn't get to that by an intricate play of nature and inherited information stored in a few thousand chemical connections in his genetic double helix, but by an immense motivation to become one of the great Masters, and by sheer hard labor, an insanely hard toil that often insulates and isolates him from the rest of the world for years. 'The hardest struggle is standing in front of a white canvas', Picasso once said, and Dillemans added, 'if it was so for him, imagine how hard it's gonna be for the rest of us'. This is a struggle that Dillemans fights every single day that he spends in his atelier. At the same time, he exercises (boxing) like an obsessed too, to maintain his physical strength and health condition, and make sure he lives to become 90, and continue painting until then. By doing that, to be able to potentially reach the perfection of a Michelangelo, or a Rubens. He sets his targets that high indeed, because only then will he be able to achieve the excellence he is after. Only hard work can lead to the answer. I said that again and again...

In 'Authors', Dillemans painted famous creators and artists, literature, visual, performing. He calls them all 'authors' by virtue of the meaning of the word in English. Reminds me of Jobs's campaign 'Think Different' in the nineties. Besides, few of the characters used in that campaign (Callas, Picasso, etc...) are also among Dillemans's portraits. By definition, such painting subjects had a huge personality, each one of them, men or women. Writers, poets, performers or plastic and visual artists. It almost seems to you like magic, when you look real close at any of the Dillemans Authors, and typically feel like lost in the thousands of colors and dry brush strokes of paint mass, forming quite a plastic texture on top of the canvas, and then, very clearly, like out of nowhere, you recognise the personality (not just the figure) of the painted subject by the play and relative position of few equally sophisticated as simple strokes of Dillemans's brush on decisive positions of the underlying canvas. It's a cause of awe for the viewer. And adoration of the Master.

The expo runs until Sunday June 16th. Don't miss it!