Axiometry, Part IV: “The Right Side of History.”

On the right side of history

Yes indeed, here we are! Axiometry! Looking at commonly used sayings, axioms, and bits of conventional wisdom to see if there really is any wisdom in them . . . or if they’re just full of wis.

. . .

Okay, that one was a bit of a stretch, I know.

Today’s subject is a relatively new one, or one that we hear incessantly, especially in the incessantly obnoxious world of politics. I am, of course, talking about the expression–the very idea–of being on the right side of history.

Blech.

Okay, I kind of tipped my hand there, but let’s be fair: As always, I’ll be subjecting this cultural shibboleth to the same low-budget quasi-legalistic analysis that I test all of my axioms with. Hence the completely made-up neologism Axiometry,

(Technically it’s a portmanteau, I guess, but who cares).

Here we go! Continue reading “Axiometry, Part IV: “The Right Side of History.””

All About Greek Stuff

Getting praise for something you didn't do or have no control over seems hollow, and is both bewildering and annoying.

But enough about birthdays. I'm here to talk about ethnicity.

In case you couldn't tell from the picture at the top of this post, I am an American of 100% Greek descent. And while discussing our differences is a bit of a third-rail these days, Amatopia is all about exploring everything that life has to offer, sometimes with jokes. Sometimes the jokes are even funny.

So here we go. Your ethnicity is an unavoidable part of your life. To quote Mr. Frank Zappa–himself part Greek–you are what you is.

But your ethnicity is one of the many things about you that you have no control over. I didn't ask to be born tall, dark, and handsome. It just happened. Hell, I didn't even ask to be born. And I didn't ask to be born Greek.

Don't get me wrong: I love being Greek. And everyone should love what they are, or at the very least, not be ashamed of it.

This leads to my next point: Shame. It's a powerful tool that must be wielded carefully. In the right hands, it can inculcate beneficial beliefs and modes of behavior. In the wrong hands it can lead to mental and psychological anguish.

Take the concept of white guilt.

Where am I going with this? Am I going to get all racial here?

No. I have no patience for that stuff. But let me tell you something: there's a weird facet to being Greek:

My fellow Americans tend to react to it as though it's some kind of accomplishment to be admired, and that it's "cooler" than what they are.

It's bizarre! I'm like, "Oh, and what is your background? English? That's cool too! Polish? Rock on! Nigerian? More power to you!"

I don't see why being of a particular background is more worthy of praise than any other.

Some of it might have to do with the rarity of Greeks–there are only, what, a million of us in the U.S.? And we're relatively different from the other European groups that make up the country that I guess we're interesting? Maybe the history and cultural impact still holds sway in the national imagination?

I don't know. It's an interesting phenomenon.

But what I WOULD like to discuss are some aspects of being Greek in America. The two My Big Fat Greek Wedding movies have done a lot to highlight Greek culture in America, and thanks to Nia Vardalos, people know that Greeks have a sense of humor and laugh at ourselves. In fact, we tend to prefer laughing at ourselves over making fun of other groups of people.

And before her, we had John Stamos as Jesse Katsopolis on Full House, Telly Savalas on Kojak, and the movie Zorba the Greek, based on Nikos Kazantzakis' novel of the same name.

So I am here to discuss with you, the non-Greek-American audience, some myths and misconceptions, as well as some of the more humorous parts, of being Greek in America. As you'll see, we're no different than anybody else.

We just have better food. Continue reading “All About Greek Stuff”

Travels in Greece, Part III: Why It Matters

So why go on about my trip? What purpose does this have beyond sharing some photos and stories of a voyage to one of the most interesting countries in the world?

I think travel is good. It’s beneficial to anywhere new to you. It is especially good to get off of Planet America once in a while, not to bash the USA, but just to get some perspective about how people in other parts of the world live, act, and think.

See, America is a huge country. Which is great! And while there are regional differences–think New Hampshire versus Kentucky versus California (in a three-way fist-fight, my money is on the Bluegrass State), there is much more similarity between the states than there is between the U.S. and other countries.

Okay, you can argue that Canada, the UK, Ireland, and Australia are all quite similar, but you get my point.

Spending a length of time in another country makes you think about your home. I had some particularly interesting thoughts and feelings, given that I and my entire family is Greek, and so is my wife’s. I’ve written about the changing nature of America and what being an “American” even means anymore, This was underscored in Greece, which has a cultural cohesion we just don’t have in the United States.

It’s interesting, because the United States has historically been billed as “A Nation of Immigrants.”

Or has it? This is actually more of a modern conception. The first few great waves of immigration, including the one my family came to these shores during a century ago, were actually tightly controlled affairs. And the integration was not as smooth as we’re lead to believe.

And of course you have the African-American population, who were brought here as slaves and then, even after the abolition of the slave trade and then, finally, the institution of slavery, had difficulty integrating into the wider white-dominated society. And they were here from the founding!

So going to any monoethnic, monocultural nation is a bit of an eye opener.

And it was kind of nice! Being Greek in America, you don’t exactly stick out like a sore thumb, at least from a visual standpoint (though most people guess my ethnicity on the first or second try). But there are only about a million of us here, we are a minority religious denomination, and not everybody understands the glory of moussaka, souvalki, roasting lamb, pig, or goat on a spin, spanakopitabalkava, or bougatsa.

People in America do get gyros. But I digress.

Anyway, I liked being around people who got the food, the music, the dancing, the religious traditions, and all of the other cultural touchstones.

And it got me thinking . . . it’s good to keep places what makes them unique, that keep Greece Greek, Japan Japanese, Saudi Arabia, Egypt Egyptian, Brazil Brazilian, and so on.

We see this sentiment to a degree here among the states as well. “Keep Austin Weird” comes to mind. Or how New Yorkers want to keen New York NEW YORK. The South doesn’t like the Damn Yankees moving there. Some in Oregon and Washington claim that Californians irrevocably changed their states. Hell, people in New Hampshire get pissy when Massachusetts residents pack up shop and move to the Granite State.

How do you preserve these state cultures then? Discourage people from moving there? How?

It’s a weird thing, but it really makes you wonder. We like to believe in freedom of movement, but there are also issues of national sovereignty. Obviously, nations can do things that U.S. states cannot. But do they? Should they?

Tough questions, and interesting ones. Do I have any answers. Absolutely not. But travel just makes a guy think about these things.

Anyway, that’s why this whole experience is important. Not my experience. Just travel in general. I highly recommend that if you have a chance to visit a foreign country, you take it.

In my life I have been to Canada, England, Greece, Austria, Germany, and South Africa. Each have offered insights into not only my life, but my homeland of the United States. Each have been worthy experiences. I only wish I had the time and the resources to travel more.

Where would I like to go next? That’s an interesting question. There are places in the U.S. I am yet to see. I’ve spent time in most of the coastal South and parts of the Midwest. But I’ve never been to California outside of L.A., never seen the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, or the rest of the mountain west.

As far as other countries, I definitely have a bucket list: Italy, Hungary, France, China, Japan, Australia, India, Egypt, Israel, and Russia come to mind. As you can see, I’m into places that have a lot of ancient history. Maybe I’ll make it to these places someday. And maybe I won’t. We’ll see.

But what I do know is that I’d love to go back to Greece again, and soon.

So now a little fun: Some of my favorite things about Ellada–that’s Greece in Greek-talk–and some things that I find a little . . . less-than stellar. Continue reading “Travels in Greece, Part III: Why It Matters”

Travels in Greece, Part II: History Abounds

The Lion of Amphipolis.

When traveling, some people like to do nothing more than do nothing. 

I am not one of those people.

Yet despite my proclivities, the rather loose structure of our stay in Greece, coupled with the need to do things four-year-old appropriate, resulted in many days spent visiting, drinking coffee, and wandering around. 

Which, coupled with the lack of Internet during the duration of the trip, was kind of nice. 

But we did manage to sneak a few forays into some interesting parts of the old country. Here are a few of them. 

Amphipolis

Amphipolis is an ancient city in northern Greece, in the Macedonia and Thrace regions. The city played a pivotal role during the Peloponnesian War, acting as the center of the Athenian’s presence in Thrace. It’s strategic importance was due, in large part, to its position by the River Strymon, which opens up into the Strymonian Gulf and the Aegean Sea beyond.

And speaking of the Aegean Sea, did you know that its name comes from King Aegeus?  Father of the mythological hero Theseus, King Aegeas threw himself into the sea when Theseus failed to return from his quest to vanquish the Minotaur in the labyrinth of the Cretan king Minos. 

Oh wait! Theseus lived! So what happened?  Continue reading “Travels in Greece, Part II: History Abounds”

Delayed Gratification in Music

Music is the best. 

So is delayed-gratification. 

If you’re an adult–a successful one, I mean, regardless of what it is you have found success at–you are likely familiar with and practice the concept of delayed gratification, which is itself a function of self-control. 

By this, I mean the idea that you forego a short-term pleasure or gain now so that you can set yourself up for better, more lasting pleasure or gain in the future

This can also be thought of as long-term thinking (eternity sure is a long time, don’t you think?).

Or you can think of it as the future vale of something, such as money, the idea being that a dollar is worth more in the future than it is now, thanks to, let’s say, investing it. 

Or maybe delayed gratification can be seen as avoiding a Pyrrhic victory. See, in 280 and 279 B.C., King Pyrrhus of Epirus, a region of modern-day Greece, defeated the Romans in two battles. However, these battles inflicted such heavy losses on his own army that Pyrrhus is reported to have said that any more such victory would undo him. 

Pyrrhus later lost the war.  

So what does all this have to do with music?

A lot, really. The concept of delayed gratification can be applied to art in general in that it’s all about rhythm and timing–think set-up and payoff.

What better medium than music to discuss this? Continue reading “Delayed Gratification in Music”

Becoming a Nightmare: When Your Name Lives On

You've all seen the movie. You all know the story. 

Three hundred Spartan warriors making their last stand against the dreaded Persian army at the Gates of Thermopylae, the narrow pass that would be their grave. King Leonidas' defiance against the Persian King Xerxes. Unimaginable bravery against impossible odds. 

(Leave off the fact that the whole thing was kind of silly because the rest of the Greek city-states weren't there on account of the Olympic Games).

The 300 knew they were going to die. But they knew that, if they could just hold off the Persians a little bit longer, they could buy their people enough time to amass a counterforce. 

Bravery. Skill. Belief in something bigger. And the superior position. 

But the Spartans were betrayed! A malcontent Spartan tipped the Persians off about a rear entrance through the pass. And so the Spartans died before they perhaps should have, though they did end up saving all of Greece, due to the machinations of one rogue Spartan. 

Ephialtes. 

In the 2006 movie 300, adapted from the comic book of the same name, Ephialtes is depicted as a deformed hunchback who was unable to sufficiently be a part of the phalanx and, insulted by Leonidas' refusal to let him prove his bravery, sold his own people out to the enemy. 

In reality–and while the movie did get a lot right–this backstory to Ephialtes is innacurate. He might have just been a dick. 

But do you know what the word Ephialtes means in Greek?

Ephialtes means "nightmare." Continue reading “Becoming a Nightmare: When Your Name Lives On”

Book Review: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Jane Austen is chick lit.

Yeah, I know. So the next question is: Why is such a manly man of manliness like me reading her?

Let’s get some stuff out of the way first: My brother, who is also quite manly, enjoyed and highly recommended her. And then there’s my good buddy the author, English scholar, and manly man who recommended them to me. So my manly credentials remain intact.

And second, most importantly, if something is good, it’s good, regardless if I’m a member of its so-called intended audience.

I recently finished reading Sense and Sensibility, Austen’s first novel, and let me tell you, it’s good. And I think men should read this book, and Jane Austen in general. Why?

Because it’s good for men to read things written by women to understand their perspective.

There. I said it. No, I haven’t gone full feminist. But I am concerned by how messed up man-woman relations are in the twenty-first century. In reading Sense and Sensibility, I’m struck by how nice it is to enjoy a story where men are manly and women are womanly, each sex exhibiting strengths, weaknesses, and in general complimenting each other the way those in healthy relationships should. Throw away all of the social stuff regarding the limited opportunities for women at that time and enjoy the story for what it is. Continue reading “Book Review: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen”