Sunday, 28 February 2010

Anastacia Callisto Tryfona

The short life of my second daughter, Anastacia Callisto, has taught me a great deal of things. Here's a poor attempt to articulate only one or two of them, as it is not easy to go to sleep tonight...

I don’t remember exactly when, but it was definitely after that twenty-week scan that I suggested Anastacia for her first name. Maybe in anticipation of a miracle - ανάστασις (anastasis) is the Greek for resurrection. Very appropriately as it turned out (she was a beautiful little girl), Catherine named her Callisto - most beautiful (and a moon of Jupiter).

Right now, the night before I let her go for ever, I have a vivid memory of that milestone, twenty weeks into Catherine’s second pregnancy that we found out about her condition. She had a diaphragmatic hernia, a hole in her diaphragm, which allowed stomach and intestine to enter the thoracic area restricting lung growth and pushing the heart aside. Survival depends a lot on how much lung function will be present on birth and whether it is possible to stabilise the patient in terms of blood pressure and heart function among other things.

Twenty weeks later, Catherine had a very difficult labour that lasted nearly four days and ended in an emergency caesarean section. The induction drugs were just not working, their bodies alike wouldn't produce that chemical signal required to initiate labour. It is admirable how she coped with such a tremendously painful process, demonstrating such determination and focus. I will always be grateful to her for going through this torture, only to deliver our daughter safely to the world so she could take her chance to fight for her life.

Anastacia was finally born in the bitterly cold, early hours of 12 February. She was born with very little reserve. Her lung function was really poor. She needed aggressive support with a power oscillator, a powerful machine that regulates the intake of oxygen to her lungs with a finer control than conventional ventilators. Small, controlled bursts of life-giving oxygen at a highly regulated pace. And she was marginally responding to the medication treatment that intended to stabilise her blood pressure and palpitations.

But she fought what seemed to be inevitable for two days, remaining critically ill but relatively stable, during the course of which the doctors at the University Hospital of Wales moved heaven and earth. When their available options were running short they involved a team from Glasgow's Royal Hospital for Sick Children, who in return invited another team from Stockholm. And the MoD offered a C130 to facilitate an attempt to transfer her in Glasgow to receive further treatment in a heart-lung bypass (an artificial lung machine) that might have improved her chances of survival. Her little heart however arrested and gave up just before she was due to move, as the Swedish team arrived with the portable equipment she needed to be able to travel. She died on the 14th.

Although we knew that her chances of survival were split from early on and tried to prepare for the worst with a 50-50 prognosis, that is impossible to do when it gets to that stage. Yes, the surprise element is not there - but the pain is. And you’re always optimistic that things will work out. But there are no words to describe what a father feels when receiving and preparing the dead body of his young child, if not for any other reason, for that gruesome horror alone that bears with it, the cruel denial of every parent's ‘right’: to depart before their offspring.

We are however comforted in the fact that she received loving care and attention by professionals who did not treat her case merely as doing their jobs, but truly cared about her and us. We were amazed at how medics in Cardiff, Glasgow, Stockholm left no stone unturned just because there was a poorly child somewhere. At how midwives were loving and caring. At how all staff treated us. At how people of all or no faith remembered her in their prayers and thoughts and lit candles for her around the world. At the unconditional love and care we received by our immediate family, the love and support of our close and not so close friends and the people who merely knew us or simply heard of Anastacia's case and struggle for life. We are grateful and humbled by this experience.

In nearly 36 years of life, I was approaching middle age whilst thinking that, maybe because of my profession, I was and would remain young in mind. Well, I'd like to think so anyway, but the reality is that I had caught myself many times feeling rather pessimistic and cynical about man and our nature. Self distraction, exploitation of others, racial hate and discrimination, competition for limited resources, war, the emptiness of mass culture, it’s not a great picture for man’s future, is it?

Yes, I now realise how in a true marker of ageing, I had gradually started losing that youthful enthusiasm surrounding some other facets of human nature. The one that makes us wonder what we are and where we come from. The one that makes us compose and enjoy music. The one that pushes us to explore new frontiers. The one that makes us appreciate others. The one that makes us compassionate. The one that makes us fall in love. The one that makes us willing to make a difference in life. The one that makes us what we are.

It may sound paradoxical but yet, in my grief and devastation, the death of my daughter Anastacia resurrected this trust and faith in man and life.

Indeed, because she taught me about decision making and responsibility. Opting to transfer her to Glasgow was originally a decision on a high calculated risk in the absence of portable ECMO equipment that, as it turned out, arrived from Sweden. Risking sending your child to its death away from you en route to further treatment, or sit by her side watching her dying in your hands waiting for a ‘late response’ miracle - that kind of decision making. I now find amusing bankers’ ‘important’ decisions about high-risk investment, or my ‘important’ decisions about buying a car, or moving house.

Because she also taught me that every little second of life is precious, that life itself is a miracle and fighting for it worth the pain that goes inevitably with it. She thus reminded me of how precious are moments - no matter how short - with our loved ones and how we usually take those moments for granted, as we are lost into the routine of our everyday lives.

And she also taught me how there is inexhaustible reserve in true compassion, solidarity and care in the people around me, how we are capable of the greatest things in life, as much as we, the same species, are capable for the worst. And I can only believe and hope that I will lead a life believing in this side of human nature, retaining that youthful look on the wonderful side of our existence. That one that makes us capable of such greatness, despite our unimportance in the universe. The one that Kazantzakis captures in this Zorba excerpt as (allow me to use the Greek version only for the time being please, I promise to translate it in due time for all):

Είμαστε σκουληκάκια μικρά μικρά, Ζορμπά, αποκρίθηκα, απάνω σ' ένα φυλλαράκι γιγάντιου δέντρου. Το φυλλαράκι αυτό είναι η γης μας∙ τ' άλλα φύλλα είναι τ' αστέρια που βλέπεις να κουνιούνται μέσα στη νύχτα. Σουρνόμαστε απάνω στο φυλλαράκι μας, και το ψαχουλεύουμε με λαχτάρα∙ τ' οσμιζόμαστε, μυρίζει, βρωμάει∙ το γευόμαστε, τρώγεται∙ το χτυπούμε, αντηχάει και φωνάζει σαν πράμα ζωντανό.
Μερικοί άνθρωποι, οι πιο ατρόμητοι, φτάνουν ως την άκρα του φύλλου∙ από την άκρα αυτή σκύβουμε, με τα μάτια ανοιχτά, τα αυτιά ανοιχτά, κάτω στο χάος. Ανατριχιάζουμε. Μαντεύουμε κάτω μας το φοβερό γκρεμό, ακούμε ανάρια ανάρια το θρο που κάνουν τα φύλλα του γιγάντιου δέντρου, νιώθουμε το χυμό ν’ ανεβαίνει από τις ρίζες του δέντρου και να φουσκώνει την καρδιά μας. Κι έτσι σκυμμένοι στην άβυσσο, νογούμε σύγκορμα, σύψυχα, να μας κυριεύει τρόμος. Από τη στιγμή εκείνη αρχίζει... [η ποίηση]

"We are little, minute caterpillars Zorba", I responded, "on a little leaf of a gigantic tree. This little leaf is our Earth; the other leaves are the stars that you see wandering around through the night. We crawl on this leaf, we search it with great anticipation; we smell it, it smells, it stinks; we taste it, it's edible; we tap it, it echoes and shouts like a living thing.

And some people, the more daring ones, reach for the edges of the leaf; from this edge we lean with our eyes open, all ears, towards the chaos. We shiver. We feel beside us this great cliff, we hear all of a sudden the sound of the leaves of this gigantic tree, we feel the juices flowing from its roots and our heart pounding. And leaning towards the abyss like this, we feel with all our heart, all of our soul to be taken over by a shiver. And from this moment… [poetry starts]"

I will. I owe it to my little Anastacia and to the people that loved and cared for her.

Anastacia Callisto Tryfona. A baby with severe congenital diaphragmatic hernia. Born at 3.24am on 12 Feb 2010 and died in the early hours of 14 Feb 2010. Safe journey my Darling.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Πολιτική και σχολεία

Μια καλή φίλη προώθησε το παρακάτω link από το 'ριζοσπάστη' καθώς και ένα άλλο κείμενο υποδεικνύοντας σχετικές παρεμβάσεις ακραίων πολιτικών στοιχείων σε σχολεία δευτεροβάθμιας εκπαίδευσης(!), εκφράζοντας διαμαρτυρίες για τον τρόπο διδασκαλίας της ιστορίας, ή την (δικαιωματική!) έκφραση απόψεων από πλευράς καθηγητών στο ίδιο τους το μάθημα.

Αρχικά χαμογέλασα, γιατί το θέμα είναι πραγματικά γελοίο. Σιγά σιγά όμως συνειδητοποίησα ότι επειδή για κάποιους στο ΛΑΟΣ και το ΚΚΕ (αστείο είναι που αυτές τις μέρες δεν μπορείς να ξεχωρίσεις τους σοσιαλιστές από τους συντηρητικούς και τους κομμουνιστές από τους ακροδεξιούς...) δεν έχει τελειώσει ακόμα ο Εμφύλιος, δεν έχει καταρρεύσει η χούντα των συνταγματαρχών και δεν έχει ξεχαρβαλωθεί το καθεστώς του υπαρκτού σοσιαλισμού στην ανατολική Ευρώπη, υπάρχουν δεκαπεντάχρονοι μαθητές στη χώρα μου που πάνε από την τάξη στο... κόμμα για να δώσουν τον καθηγητή που τόλμησε να μιλήσει για το Στάλιν!

Δεν μπορώ και εγώ με τη σειρά μου ως εκπαιδευτικός να μην καταδικάσω αυτές τις 'παρεμβάσεις'. Η αποστολή του δασκάλου σε όλες τις βαθμίδες είναι να εμπνεύσει μεταξύ άλλων τους μαθητές του να σκέφτονται. Δε χρειάζεται να συμφωνούν με τις απόψεις του δασκάλου, χρειάζεται όμως να τον ακούν και γιατί όχι να αναιρούν τις απόψεις του με τα δικά τους επιχειρήματα - όχι με παρεμβάσεις των βουλευτών του κάθε ΛΑΟΣ και κομματικών εντύπων.

'Έεε ρε γλέντια', θα έλεγε εκείνος ο αείμνηστος ο καραγκιοζοπαίχτης...

Αριστερά και Λαζόπουλος

Λοιπόν, πρέπει να ανανεώσω αυτό το blog ή να το παρατήσω! Αλλά θα κάνω μια τελευταία προσπάθεια να δημοσιεύω πλέον μικρότερα αλλά σχετικά επίκαιρα posts. Η αρχική μου προσέγγιση ήταν για μακρύτερα και περιεκτικότερα κείμενα, αλλά α. ποιος έχει ώρα να γράφει και φυσικά β. να διαβάζει τα κατεβατά μου! Για να δούμε εφ' εξής λοιπόν...

Εν'όψη ευρωεκλογών, πριν λίγο καιρό έγραψα στους φίλους μου στο facebook αυτό (για video από Λαζόπουλο που πετάει μια ατάκα για το ρόλο της αριστεράς)

Δείτε εδώ (όχι την... Πετρούλα, στα 9.35)

"... Η αριστερά είναι σήμερα υπεύθυνη για το δικομματισμό, γιατί δε δημιουργείτε καμία προοπτική, αυτή είναι η αλήθεια. Είστε μαγαζάκια γκρίνιας. Η αριστερά δεν είναι για γκρίνιες, είναι για ανατροπές ..."

Ασχέτως με το ποιος/τι είναι ο Λαζόπουλος (αν μας ενδιαφέρει...), αν συμφωνεί κανείς με τη χιλιοεπαναλαμβανόμενη και συνεπώς βαρετή, είναι αλήθεια πλέον, εκδοχή του stand up comedy του, αν κακώς αναλώνει το τεράστιο ταλέντο του σε προσωπικές τηλεοπτικές αντιμαχίες με τιποτένιους, ανάξιους λόγου χαρακτήρες, νομίζω ότι δεν μπορεί κανείς να του αρνηθεί ότι το αισθητήριό του της πολιτικής είναι όξυ, τεκμηριωμένο (με την επιστημονική έννοια του όρου, 'grounded') βαθιά σε μια ιδιαίτερη ικανότητα να αφουγράζεται την κοινωνία και να (ανα)παράγει σατυρικό έργο.

Και είναι, για μένα τουλάχιστο, πραγματικά τούτος ο ρόλος της αριστεράς.

Όσο για το Λαζόπουλο, αμφιλεγόμενη ίσως προσωπικότητα, αμφιλεγόμενο για πολλούς έργο και με ίδια συμφέροντα ίσως, αλλά έτσι μπορεί να ένιωθαν και οι αρχαίοι για τη σάτιρα του Αριστοφάνη.

Sunday, 22 March 2009


Over two years ago I wrote on my previous institution's 'inside security' blog the post I've reproduced below. It was inspired by the row that rocked celebrity big brother at the time, with the late Jade Goody at the heart of it. It reflects my then (and current) perception of the 'celebrity' culture and the damage is causing to our rights to privacy - arguing that besides the big brother state, is us too that are responsible for it.

However, Goody's decision to take this publicity to the end had a massive effect in raising awareness of cervical cancer, and regardless of any exploitation by media etc., that in itself is of great value for our society and will helpfully contribute to many early diagnoses and positive treatment. My Greek ancestors were nearly obsessed with their posthumous reputation (υστεροφημία), aspiring to lead a life and manage achievements for which they'll be remembered and celebrated by those who survived them and the many generations after them. I don't know about Jade's past, but in my opinion her last act has secured her just that... Rest in peace.

The 'feel Goody' effect: The real death of privacy is inside us
January 30th, 2007

Now that the BB furore has calmed down, there's a thing or two that came to my mind in retrospect. You'd say though, hardly are the societal effects of reality TV and d-list ‘celebrity' media exposure an issue of information security and privacy. Or maybe not?
Let me explain myself. I bet, if you live on this island, you know who Jade is. I know too. On the top of my head I can remember that she was in big brother, a series of other, otherwise successful, low-end TV productions, exercise DVDs, magazine covers, you name it. I also know that she is not married, has one or two kids, a boyfriend that is younger than her and that her mother has had recently a glamorous makeover. Oh, and of course, she was in the centre of the racial controversy in celebrity big brother.
Blimey! How did I end up knowing that much about her? You see, the thing is, as Clark Gable puts it, ‘Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn!', for reality TV - and especially for Jade. But unless you live in an area that is poorly serviced by satellite or cable TV signal (and even then...), you must have seen her somewhere on that telly. She's right there, in your face, whether you want to know about her or not.
I understand the public's thirst (including myself in there) for insider knowledge of public figures' lives. The Queen, Tony, the Archbishop, my wife's all favourite Colin Firth, Jonathan Ross, Stephen Hawking etc. etc. Yes, we do like to know about the private moments of the people that rule us, bless us, drag us to war, make us laugh, make us wiser. Many are the reasons; if not for any other reason, it is for that selfish instinct, that feeling that, they too are mortal and as a consequence, we too have a chance to have an impact in life as human beings. Sociologists would argue many other reasons but I'm not one. I'm satisfied with just this one.
But this, and any other reason related to the necessity of public scrutiny of important figures' lives, cannot really explain why the media, and in consequence the public, are obsessed with the literally (extra-)ordinary lives of people like Jade. The ‘common' people from Nasty Nick, to the Badger, to Teddy Seringham's girlfriend. Hardly can those people affect us, as a mass, as the public in a collective manner. But more than they themselves do, I think that it is us who need their fifteen minutes of that glorious, temporary fame of the ordinary.
For good or for bad, judging the Queen or Tony, even for aspects of their personal lives, you inevitably become political. There's a political dimension throughout their lives as they are figures we relate to in this respect. Everything they do, including their vacation abroad, may become a political issue - such as the volume of the emissions from the PM's holiday plane in an age of global warming. But what is there in concern for someone like Jade? Following their private lives is different, from their anonymity, to the brief celebration of their commonality, to their inevitable downfall, we experience emotions by proxy - participating in their success, but primarily savouring their bitter failure from the comfort of our IKEA sofa. This kind of ‘celebrities' exists merely to the satisfaction of a judgemental, cannibalistic instinct - like the one satisfied by the morituti of the roman coliseum, in, the otherwise civilised, Rome.
I bet I have managed to get you confused by now. In the beginning of this post, I tried to make it as if information security and privacy were involved in all of this. Well, they do. There's a disastrous effect of this repeated, habitual violation of the privacy of the ordinary man. The ‘feel Goody' effect, stemming from the need of satisfaction of that savage instinct of experiencing one's self-destruction by proxy, is that we accept de facto the violation of the privacy of ordinary life, such as Jade's. And in doing this, we accept the violation of our own's. So much for the concerns of civil libertarians for the fearful technology and Orwell's big brother society - it's all going out of the window the moment we switch our telly on to watch BB.
At the end of the day it's neither the cameras nor the ID cards alone that signify the end of privacy; the true causes may as well be found and deep inside the human soul.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

A strip of despair

The continuing drama in Palestine concerns me greatly these days. The incompetence of international establishments to provide the grounds for a long-lasting resolution in the Middle East leaves me with a bitter reassurance that institutions such as the UN have become as much ineffective as the League of Nations they replaced. Meanwhile, more people get killed.

I know this is a complex problem and it is not my job, nor expertise, to provide views for simplistic, or otherwise, solutions for it. But I am also concerned about the aftermath of the disproportional use of force by the state of Israel, in theory against the forces of Hamas, but at large against Palestinian civilians.

The inappropriateness of the means that Israel uses to resolve a situation that is (obviously) irresolvable by raw military force is striking. My view is that serving a short-sighted political ambition, the Israeli administration is probably rushing to establish a new status quo before the new US president gets in power, whilst at the same time keeping domestic voters reassured of their adherence to the (vote-attracting) hard line. Indeed, the psychology of security (1) in this situation would assure this: Israeli civilians confronting a realistic threat manifested in the form of frequent rocket launching, blended with unfounded claims for the rise of a new antisemitism (2) are more likely to support 'decisive' action of their government, than to oppose a humanitarian disaster of an 'alien people.

And to me this issue is deeply political, it has nothing to do with antisemitism or Muslim fundamentalism - religions or races. Such overweight military action is in line with the ill conceived doctrine of confronting systematically, standardised if you like, global terrorism; the means matching the also inappropriate phraseology of 'war' against a new 'axis' (of evil). And indeed there is a huge problem arising from this approach. George Lakoff in his analysis of metaphors of terror (3) analysed, a lot better than I can do here, what this problem is.

It is my firm opinion that it was a gross mistake of the Bush administration to bag under the same blanket all sorts of existing groups branded under 'terrorist' or 'revolunionarist' identities. That 'classification' of the infamous 'with us, or against us'. Nonetheless, Hamas and Hezbollah in reality have nothing to do with the Tamil Tigers, the Kurdish Workers' Party, far-leftish urban guerrillas etc. Putting them altogether, blatantly ignoring most of the crucially differentiating socio-economical, cultural and political factors around them and grossly recognising only a few (e.g. their religious identity) reduces our analytical capability to understand them and to put their actions in context. Without this understanding there can be no solutions or effective strategies devised.

Furthermore, using the same raw military force to confront all of them on 'equal' terms, be they states (Iraq), elected governments (Hamas), loosely structured coalitions of crooks/bandits/religious fanatics/morons etc. it can only force them to get together, share and exchange for real. The increase of suicide attacks employed by traditional groups which, under conventional circumstances, did not consider historically such modus operandi is a telling sign. The changing profile of such attackers, now often being women, is another. Global terror as a concept, I think, is shaped not because of genuine intentions of those groups to collaborate (their own interests are far too diverse to allow for that and even competing), but in their unity against a response from the states in power that is indiscriminate and disproportionate ('my enemy's enemy is my friend').

Religious identities and fundamentalism in this case is not much more than an excuse that both sides buy in in need of a quick justification of the deeper, political causes of the conflict - competition for land in a crowded part of the world and the right to exercise autonomous political will. Just as the Northern Irish conflict had deeper roots than the Protestand/Catholic identities. The recycling of global terror and security justification by Israel, accompanied by an implied, underlying religious fundamentalism argument is a distorted view of the world in this context and the sooner we understand that, the sooner we will stop its later backfiring. There is a true need, more that ever before, for ceasefire and diplomacy. Meanwhile, more people get killed.




Saturday, 20 December 2008

A Systems insight into the Athens riots

I grew up in a suburb of Athens, in its not so privileged west side. And although I am not a particularly nostalgic type I do follow with some interest the Greek news, particularly now that the fragile socio-political situation seems at the end of its tether. And to most, this violent eruption of youth wrath, manifested in red paint, rocks and firebombs thrown against an evidently poorly skilled, outdated in design and heavy-handed mechanism of public order may seem bizarre, even unfounded. But my own memory is still sharp and here's my interpretation of why this happens.

Recalling my own experiences from the late eighties, adolescence in Greece was not easy – and not a lot have changed since then. The poorly implemented, sterile state school curriculum tries to engage pupils in dry and uninteresting subjects, often heavily influenced by the most unimaginable of stakeholders (e.g. the Greek Orthodox Church). Not only does this fail to develop creative learners, but also drives even the most competent of the pupils, and primarily their parents, to complement their tuition with private supportive classes.

I was personally lucky to attend schools with a few inspiring teachers who were doing their best within their limitations to provide us with quality education, and I will always be grateful for this, but the majority of the Greek kids aren't. Most teenagers in Greece will spend six to eight hours per day at the state school, two to three at private, complementary tuition of key subjects and a lot of those will allocate other as much in learning at least one foreign language at the same time – in private language schools of course. Most of those kids will spend their weekday working probably harder than their parents. And the weekends, well, they may attend additional music classes to learn to play the piano, or the guitar.

Whether through own initiative, peer, or parental pressure most kids will go through some hard years in preparation for university entry exams, the sort of equivalent of A-Levels. But they have to do it painstakingly, with disproportional effort. The Greek Generation Y, much like my own in the past, spend more time in classrooms and public transport between them, than in learning whilst making the most of their age. And that all would be acceptable, if at the end of it there was a clear vision of an outcome, a promise of good things to come.

But the harsh reality for most twenty-odd year-olds is that they're facing a global recession with an anticipated starting gross income of around £15K - irrespective of gaining a degree or not. Leaving most to pursuit a civil service appointment, similarly underpaid, but at least with less pressure, ample vacation leave and secure pension package. The disproportionately large Greek civil service sector, serving throughout the life of the modern Greek state some short-sighted political interests (i.e. appointments in exchange for votes) will become the envy of another, soon waisted generation.

Ironically this week we discussed with my postgraduate students in my introduction to systems module how the loss of the vision is by definition a compromise of quality. Opportunities for creative growth of the Greek people and their country are lost in poor vision and incompetent politicians' short-lived ambition for re-election and of most grown-ups' obsession for a place in civil service. Islands of meritocracy are merely enough to provide an excuse of a fair system in the eyes of most, where institutionalised corruption forms inherent part of everyday life – from a simple MOT inspection to a planning permission, you learn how the system is flexible.

And to most, as I said in the beginning, this eruption of wrath of the pupil and student youth is gross, mislead, unfounded. They do not understand how the great privilege of those kids currently flooding Athenian and other cities' roads is that their vision is pure and how therefore they can see it all as it should be. Let me make myself clear here, I do not approve of any violence as expression of political will – this is the easy way. Any moron can cover his face and pick up a rock. But our fathers and theirs, and the ones before them, even maybe most of us of the gen X, are now well blinded of how they are responsible for damaging my place of birth and its youth's hope for a brighter future. And it is those kids' right to not aspire to follow us; I am glad every now and then they decide to exercise it...