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The place where the world comes together in honesty and mirth.
Windmills Tilted, Scared Cows Butchered, Lies Skewered on the Lance of Reality ... or something to that effect.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Daily Drift

Yes, how many times...!   
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Today in History

1419 John the Fearless is murdered at Montereau, France, by supporters of the dauphine.
1547 The Duke of Somerset leads the English to a resounding victory over the Scots at Pinkie Cleugh.
1588 Thomas Cavendish returns to England, becoming the third man to circumnavigate the globe.
1623 Lumber and furs are the first cargo to leave New Plymouth in North America for England.
1813 The nine-ship American flotilla under Oliver Hazard Perry wrests naval supremacy from the British on Lake Erie by capturing or destroying a force of six English vessels.
1846 Elias Howe patents the first practical sewing machine in the United States.
1855 Sevastopol, under siege for nearly a year, capitulates to the Allies during the Crimean War.
1861 Confederates at Carnifex Ferry, Virginia, fall back after being attacked by Union troops. The action is instrumental in helping preserve western Virginia for the Union.
1912 J. Vedrines becomes the first pilot to break the 100 m.p.h. barrier.
1914 The six-day Battle of the Marne ends, halting the German advance into France.
1923 In response to a dispute with Yugoslavia, Mussolini mobilizes Italian troops on Serb front.
1961 Jomo Kenyatta returns to Kenya from exile, during which he had been elected president of the Kenya National African Union.
1963 President John F. Kennedy federalizes Alabama's National Guard to prevent Governor George C. Wallace from using guardsmen to stop public-school desegregation.
1967 Gibraltar votes to remain a British dependency instead of becoming part of Spain.
1974 Guinea-Bissau (Portuguese Guinea) gains independence from Portugal.
1981 Pablo Picasso's painting Guernica is returned to Spain and installed in Madrid's Prado Museum. Picasso stated in his will that the painting was not to return to Spain until the Fascists lost power and democracy was restored.
2001 Contestant Charles Ingram cheats on the British version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, wins 1 million pounds.
2003 Sweden's foreign minister, Anna Lindh, is stabbed while shopping and dies the next day.
2007 Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister of Pakistan, returns after 7 years in exile, following a military coup in October 1999.
2008 The Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest and most powerful particle accelerator—described as the biggest scientific experiment in history—is powered up in Geneva, Switzerland.

Non Sequitur


Morning routine

Do these in the AM to feel happy the rest of the day.
Try to add one to your routine every week!
1. Stretch
After laying for eight hours, it’s a good way to wake up your body.
2. Write.
Take five minutes to write down everything on your mind — maybe a dream you had, nervousness about the day coming up, or a gratitude list.
3. Drink Something Hot.
Drink Something Hot.
Sit and enjoy a cup of something: coffee, chai, or tea.
4. Eat Something Healthy &Yummy.
Eat Something Healthy & Yummy.
… Because it can be both.
5. Read.
Five minutes of something uplifting.
6. Meditate.
You don’t have to be a monk in Tibet to do this. Just set your timer for five minutes, sit, close your eyes and focus on your breath. If your thoughts wander, bring the awareness back to your breath.
7. Dance.
Put on some music that makes you happy and dance while getting ready.
8. Dress to Impress — Yourself!
Dress to Impress — Yourself!
Put on a colorful outfit that makes you feel great!

In The News

Man tried to enter US via red chile shipment 
Authorities say an immigrant suspected of entering the country illegally attempted to make his journey in an unusual but hot place — a shipment of red chile.U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers working at a New Mexico border checkpoint said the man was discovered Thursday face down among a commercial load of the spicy stuff.
Columbus Port Director Robert Reza says next to the "highly intoxicated" 35-year-old was a bottle of tequila.
The man, who authorities described as a Mexican national, told agents that he climbed into the commercial hopper while it was being staged in Mexico hoping to catch a ride to Chicago. But agents said he got less than 100 yards into New Mexico before he was discovered.
The red chile shipment was later released.

Strange tunnel opens under Lubbock yard
A strange tunnel has been found under the yard of a West Texas home and Texas Tech historians will try to figure out the function of the space.
KCBD-TV  reports the homeowner wasn't sure what happened Sept. 2 when his sprinkler disappeared as the lawn was being watered.
Lee Smithwick says a hole about 3-feet across formed in the lawn. The sprinkler ended up in the tunnel that collapsed.
Officials with the National Ranching Heritage Center as Texas Tech University were summoned.
Curator Scott White says the tunnel is an "interesting mystery." Officials believe the tunnel was built after 1909 because railroad ties were used in the construction. That's also when a railroad line arrived in Lubbock from Plainview.

Chinese police detain 16 accused of running fake Internet news sites to blackmail companies 
Chinese police have arrested 16 people accused of blackmailing companies by pretending to be Communist Party or government officials and threatening to post damaging information about them online, a state news agency reported Sunday.
The four groups were accused of operating 11 websites that said falsely that they were run by the ruling Communist Party or government, according to the Xinhua News Agency. It said they were involved in more than 120 cases and collected a total of more than 3 million yuan ($500,000).
One suspect had help from a local official in the eastern province of Jiangsu who tipped him off when violations by companies were found by regulators, Xinhua said, citing an announcement by the police ministry. The man would pretend to be a ruling party discipline official and demand money not to publicize the problem.
"I just wanted to make some money through reporting stories with negative issues and attracting online visitors," the suspect, identified as Zhong Wei, was quoted as telling police.
Zhong used fake business cards and documents to masquerade as a ruling party discipline official, Xinhua said.
Other companies paid hush money even though they knew the reports about them were false due to fear their reputations might be hurt, it said.
"We've been working so hard to establish a good image of our enterprise, so we'd rather spend money on 'peace' even though their stories were purely fabricated," a real estate company manager was quoted as telling Xinhua.
Other suspects include a schoolteacher who wrote the phoney news items and an engineer who managed websites.

Did you know ...

Can fast food strikes revive unions?

Swedish scientists confirm new element discovered

Look for some new works by J.D. Salinger in the next few years

A 10-year-old boy finds a mummy in his grandmother's attic

The Mainstream Media Continues to Ignore Rampant repugican Fueled Racism

Instead of a public outcry against blatant racism, main stream media failed to report the story on every evening newscast across the country.…
gop racism
It should not be difficult to quantify or define racism, but curiously, scholars have not come to a consensus on what does and does not constitute discrimination based on race. However, in general terms racism is views, practices and actions reflecting the belief that human beings are divided into distinct races that share attributes which make that group less desirable, more desirable, inferior, or superior. America is a racist nation despite the people elected an African American man as President twice and civil rights groups’ diligence to give people of color equality. The concept that the white race is superior has plagued this nation since its inception, but over the past four years it has increased in part because of repugican pandering to race-based opposition to President Obama, and in part by the media and Democrat’s reticence to address the racial animus toward people of color. Recently, there were two reports of blatant racism in so-called christian cults that demonstrate the efficacy of teaching that the white race is superior, and belies their namesake’s commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.
Last week a pastor in a North Carolina cult, Freedom House, sent an email to cult members who act as greeters for Sunday morning service asking that only white people stand at the front door to greet the congregation. The pastor’s email was a reminder to volunteers that since fall is one of their busiest times of the year, first impressions matter and that the cult wanted the cream of the crop manning the front doors to bring the racial demographic pendulum of the cult back to the mid-line.” The email also acknowledged the sensitive nature of the request, but contended that quality trumps quantity and it was more important to have fewer greeters at the door if it meant those welcoming visitors represented the congregation’s best.  The revealing part of the story is that the pastor is African American. Her intent was to reflect the cult’s racial diversity, and because African American congregants were not the “moneymakers” the cult needed the pastor was trying to attract a more affluent (read whiter) membership.
The idea that an African American preacher felt the need to signal Black members they were inferior and that the best of the best of the congregation is defined by the white race is blatantly racist and informs the preacher’s acceptance of generations of white supremacists inculcating the population to believe the white race is inherently superior to people of color. That it is being advanced in christian cults is despicable to say the least, but it is a recurring theme evidenced by another report that white cults in the South are teaching people that voting anything other than repugican is a one-way ticket straight to the proverbial Hell and white Southern christians are buying the propaganda in large numbers.
An Alabama legislator described a call from a white repugican cult member who shared an experience in cult related to a local school district applying to be an independent segregated school. The caller explained that during the Sunday service cultists were bullied into supporting the school district” separating itself from the county tominimize the number of blacks that are in our school district. The repugican was disheartened because as a longtime educator supporting integrated schools, she had never considered that the repugican perspective included white supremacy or that is was propagated by so-called christians. The Alabama legislator confessed it is a regular occurrence in many local baptist cults.  Obviously, the repugican woman has not been paying attention to the rise of racial animus and white supremacy permeating the party since the election of Barack Obama as President.
Slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King once noted that the most segregated hour in America is at 11:00 on Sunday during church services that provides a perfect opportunity for white supremacists to indoctrinate and incite fear of the “the other” that conservative talking heads and repugicans parrot in their assaults on the President and people of color in general. The failing of the media, and Democrats, to cite dog whistle and blatant racism inherent in repugican ranks contributes to the problem and it is an important aspect of repugican tactics to promote white supremacy with impunity. Americans who are not infected with racial animus have bought into the idea that calling out racism makes them a racist and it contributes to repugican success at spreading their blatantly racist messages unopposed.
Wingnut media and repugicans are not reticent to inject racism into every news story, political campaign, and opposition to social programs affectin all Americans, and they proceed with confidence knowing full well their racist machinations will never be challenged. President Obama has adhered to Dr. King’s policy of connecting the plight of people of color with America’s economic opportunity inequities, and it is a valid approach. However, it does nothing to identify repugican’s advancing the cause of poverty on the back of racial animus and fear that people of color are robbing them, even poor white Americans, of their “hard-earned success” and the American Dream.
That the white race is superior to people of color is the social contract wingnuts have made with their supporters, and libertarians, repugicans, and teabaggers expand the supremacists reach by opposing issues such as healthcare for all, food assistance, social programs, and immigration reform because they tie them to rewarding people of color at the expense of the white race. It explains why poor white Americans who support repugican policies consistently vote against their own self-interests, and reveals the depth of hatred many white people harbor for people of color. In fact, despite his success and rise to the highest office in the land, President Obama has become the face of “the other” that besides being reviled as un-American is often accused of hating white people.
White supremacists labored in society’s shadows after the limited success of the Civil Rights movement, but that changed with the election of Barack Obama. The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented the alarming rise of racially motivated hate groups since 2008, and few Americans have spoken out against the sheer brazenness of groups calling for race war or blatant racism targeting African Americans. Two weeks ago in South Carolina, 25 African Americans were evicted from a restaurant after waiting two hours to be seated because one white bigot felt threatened by a group of paying Black customers. Instead of a public outcry against blatant racism, main stream media failed to report the story on every evening newscast across the country because if there is one thing repugicans and wingnut-biased media will not allow, it is citing the racism and white supremacy plaguing America and it is why it continues to grow unabated.

The truth hurts


The repugicans’s ‘Handguns in Yellowstone’ Amendment Claims a 3-Year Old Victim

Had guns not been allowed in Yellowstone, a three year-old girl might not have been able to shoot herself in the park this weekend.…
When Senator Tom Coburn (r-OK) attached an amendment permitting tourists to carry loaded handguns in the nation’s national parks onto the 2009 Credit Card Holders’ Bill of Rights, it was an accident waiting to happen. On the morning of Saturday September 7th, in Yellowstone National Park’s Grant Village Campground that accident happened with tragic results for a young girl who fatally shot herself with a loaded handgun. The girl was just three years old.
The national parks had been virtually gun free zones for decades until Coburn, with heavy NRA backing, attached an amendment to the 2009 Credit Card Holders’ bill to have the prohibition on loaded firearms lifted. His poisoned pill amendment was approved by Congress and signed by President Obama into law. Had Obama not signed the bill, credit card reform would have been scuttled and the big banks would have emerged the victor. However, by signing the bill, the NRA benefited from the provision that permitted loaded guns to be carried into the national parks.
Although Coburn touts the bill as having reducing violent crime, once falsely boasting on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that “rapes, murders, robberies and assaults are down about 85 percent since we did that“, the reality is that allowing loaded guns in the parks has not made them safer and it has increased the risk of fatal accidents like the one that claimed the little girl’s life on Saturday. While violent crimes have never been a serious problem inside the national parks, the first year loaded handguns were allowed (beginning in February of 2010) the number of violent crimes rose from 307 to 369 violent crimes or a twenty percent increase. In 2011, the number declined back down to 323 violent crimes, a total that still exceeded the 2009 total.
Perhaps more importantly, the number of homicides rose from just three in 2009 to fifteen in 2010, a five fold increase. Clearly the claim that loaded guns in the parks has made them safer does not stand up to the evidence which suggests otherwise. Rapes and aggravated assaults also rose from 2009 and 2010 after loaded guns were permitted. Of the four types of violent crime, only robberies decreased and they declined only slightly.
Adding guns to the national parks has not reduced violent crime but it has put more young children at risk from irresponsible gun owners that do not secure their weapons in the presence of children. Tom Coburn and the NRA continue to promote loaded guns as essential for public safety, but as is so often the case, the latest incident in Yellowstone reveals that they are more a threat to kill children than they are a deterrence to killing children. Admittedly, Coburn’s culpability for the death of the girl is far less than that of the individuals who left a loaded gun unattended in her presence. The case is being investigated and at this point we do not know exactly what took place, but due to the Coburn amendment, packing heat in the national parks in now legal and the consequences of that law may have proved lethal for this little girl.
Until gun advocates like Tom Coburn value our children’s lives as much as they value the right of gun owners to carry loaded guns anywhere they please, these type of tragedies will be repeated over and over again. The three year-old Idaho girl can now apparently be added to the long list of children killed this year by self-inflicted gunshot wounds in the United States. In our gun obsessed culture where firearms are revered as forms of self-protection while their owners carelessly handle them, adding guns to the national parks was a recipe for disaster. On Saturday, September 7th, 2013 that disaster struck an Idaho family who now mourns the death of a three year old girl, who became yet another child victim of gun violence in America. While this perhaps could have happened with or without Tom Coburn’s amendment, the fact that it occurred in a national park where guns were once prohibited merely underscores our nation’s warped priorities when it comes to firearms and children. Tom Coburn’s twisting of park statistics to justify his ideological position cannot cover the blood stains on his hands. Had guns not been allowed in Yellowstone, a three year-old girl might not have been able to shoot herself in the park this weekend.

The tea party Tells ‘Commie’ to Get off the ‘Private Property’ of the Capitol

violent teabaggers 
Arizona tea partiers think the Arizona Capitol is “private property”. So when they get a permit to hold an event, they think they can keep out people they don’t like by screaming “Commie!” and other old school insults not fit to print. It’s not as if there wasn’t room for one more…
This anti amnesty event was sparsely attended at best.
Videographer Dennis Gilman uploaded this video to Youtube on Sunday, shot on the public lawn of the Arizona State Capitol on September 7, 2013. Watch here:

Gilman described the video as such:
“This was filmed on the public lawn of the Arizona State Capitol on September 7, 2013 where the “We Are America Tour” added Arizona racist, former State Senate President President Russell Pearce. Pearce is famous for SB1070 and his association and endorsement of neo-Nazi JT Ready, who killed an entire family before killing himself in 2012. The local racists have worked closely with FAIR for years. I was there to film the speakers. It’s a safe guess that if Minute Man Founder Chris Simcox wasn’t sitting in jail for multiple counts of child molestation that he would’ve been a speaker at this event also. Is it any wonder why they didn’t want the “liberal Media” filming them? For my own safety, I refused to leave without a police escort. It took over 7 minutes for any law enforcement to arrive. The video is edited only for length.”
Lots of tough talk from old white men, including “Motherfucker! Get the fuck outta here motherfucker!” and “Commie!” (Apparently if you scream Commie three times and click your heels, liberals are supposed to turn to dust like it’s 1950.)
They tell Gilman to get out of thre because they have a permit and Gilman is not welcome on this “private property.” Gilman asks the tea partier if the Capitol is private property, and the tea partier says, “Yes, it is.” But of course, private property is the ownership of property by non-governmental legal entities and the State Capitol is a governmental entity.
A better argument could have been that he was disrupting their rally, but then, that would mean that scores of tea partiers who whined about their First Amendment rights being stepped on as they disrupted townhalls across America in 2010 were wrong. In the end, the tea party stands for whatever they want right then and there, and there is no consistency on “values”.
Sadly the tea partiers carried signs for American jobs as part of their anti-amnesty push, even as they support tea party repugicans who have killed the job bills President Obama put forward. These poor puppets for the 1% still don’t realize how easily they were used.
But what do you expect from people who are calling a citizen journalist a “commie” and ordering him off “private property” that actually belongs to the state, which they are using in a socialist manner to rage against commies.

Dimbulb: Poor Kids Getting Free Lunch Are Just Like Family Pets

More noise from the lunatic fringe:
On the September 6th edition of Premiere Radio Network’s The Lush Dimbulb Show, Dimbulb compares poor children getting free meals in school to family pets.
When you get a new pet what is the first thing you do to try to bond with it, you want to be the one to feed it right? You don’t want anybody else feeding that new puppy or kitten because you know that that puppy and kitten will bond with you first…

Our Triple Jobs Problem

by Alejandro Reuss 

Let goIf you hear somebody talking about the U.S. “jobs problem,” ask them which one they mean. Let’s talk about three: First, even as unemployment has inched down, the economy has created barely enough jobs to match population growth. Second, this enormous labor-market “slack” has stifled workers’ bargaining power and kept wages low. Third, even with a “tighter” labor market, workers would still be in a weak bargaining position due to the policies of the last thirty-some years, which have undermined unions, the welfare state, and labor-market regulation.
First, the Great Recession has left the United States with an enormous jobs hole. The silver lining of declining unemployment—down from 10% to about 7.5% over the last few years—surrounds a gigantic dark cloud: The employment-to-population ratio fell dramatically during the recession and has hardly budged since. That’s because labor-force participation, the percentage of working-age individuals who are employed or looking for work, has plummeted. A stimulus too small to make up for the collapse in private spending and a premature turn toward deficit reduction have helped keep us in this jobs hole.
Next, high unemployment makes it hard for workers to bargain higher wages or better working conditions. Recoveries and booms bring lower unemployment and “tighter” labor markets, which increase workers’ bargaining power and should make it easier for them to demand (and win) improvements in pay and conditions. This effect typically kicks in, however, only when the unemployment rate gets quite low—below 5%—and the lethargic employment growth during the last four years means we’re a long way from there. With economic growth resuming but wages stagnant, corporate profits now account for a near-record percentage of total income. This helps explain why corporations have been content with policies allowing the crisis to drag on through years of lethargic “recovery.”
Finally, the lack of high-quality jobs is no mere cyclical problem. It has been a central problem for three decades. Mainstream economists tend to emphasize the ostensibly inexorable forces of globalization and technological change, insinuating that the lack of good jobs is an unavoidable fact of life.
As economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) notes, however, there’s not much evidence that technological change is faster now than in earlier eras, nor particularly damaging to ordinary workers (as opposed to technical, professional, or managerial employees). Meanwhile, the current form of economic globalization is not some inevitable course of nature, but a result of the distribution of political power in our society. Elites designed laws and treaties to make capital more mobile across international borders—that is, to make it easier for companies to move (or threaten to move) operations to places where wages are lower and regulations weaker.
The current form of globalization, in turn, is only one of several changes undermining workers’ bargaining power—along with government and employer attacks on labor unions, the weakening of the welfare state, and the rollback of labor regulations. These factors are missing from the mantra that workers should just resign themselves to the new reality, that the “good jobs” are gone and never coming back. But they’re also missing from some well-meaning suggestions for getting those jobs back—whether a more favorable exchange rate, increased education and skills, or industrial policies to create new “blue collar” or “green collar” employment.
Whether a job is good or bad is not, for the most part, an inherent fact of the kind of work done. Manufacturing jobs became “good jobs”—in particular times and places—due to unionization, full-employment policies, labor-market regulations, etc. So-called good jobs in transportation and construction have not “gone” anywhere, but job quality in those sectors has declined due to deunionization, deregulation, and employers’ increasing use of contingent labor.
Meanwhile, so-called bad jobs in hospitality, maintenance, and other service occupations are not uniformly bad. As Paul Osterman and Beth Shulman note in Good Jobs America (2011), food-service workers in Las Vegas, where unions are relatively strong, make about $2 more per hour than in largely non-union Orlando. Hotel room cleaners in Vegas, meanwhile, make about $4 more per hour than in Orlando.
There is nothing that makes food service an intrinsically bad job, any more than something makes factory work or trucking intrinsically good.
The fault, in other words, lies not in our jobs, but in our politics.

Shake a Stick in Post-Financial Collapse America, and One Hits Poverty

by Sasha Abramsky

Empty plate
Shake a stick in post–financial collapse America, and one hits poverty. It’s everywhere: tent cities in municipal parks, under freeway overpasses, along river walks. Food lines stretching down city blocks. Foreclosure signs dotting suburban landscapes. Overstretched free clinics providing a modicum of healthcare to people no longer insured. Elderly people whose pensions have vanished and whose hopes for a decent old age have evaporated. Unemployed men and women looking for clothes for their kids at thrift stores and food for their families at pantries. Mothers begging for free turkeys from churches so they can at least partially partake in the national ritual of Thanksgiving.
By the end of 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 15.1 percent of Americans were living below the federally defined poverty line, an increase of approximately fifteen million people since the start of the century. Fully 34.2 percent of single mothers and their children were in poverty, up from 28.5 percent in 2000. Some of the poor lived in traditionally deprived communities; many others lived in the suburbs. In fact, according to Georgetown University’s Peter Edelman, in his book So Rich, So Poor, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, suburban poverty increased by fully 53 percent. Much of that was due to an extraordinary collapse in the worth of assets owned by middle-class African American and Hispanic families.
In 1984, the median value of household asset ownership for African American families was $6,679. By 2009, as the recession destroyed the worth of homes, that number had declined to a mere $4,900—thirty years of asset accumulation vanished. White households, despite suffering during the recession, by contrast still had a median net worth of $92,000.
The disparate impact of the crisis could be measured in soaring regional unemployment numbers and age- and race-specific poverty data. In Imperial County, California, for example, residents were experiencing a collapse on a scale that most of the country didn’t witness even at the height of the Great Depression. Nearly one in three workers were unemployed, and for the 68 percent of the working population in the county who had jobs, average income was abysmally low, hovering not far above the poverty line.
In Detroit, more than one-third of the total population was in poverty, and upward of two-thirds of children were in families living below the poverty line. New Orleans fared almost as badly: there, more than four in ten kids were in poverty, and, in the African
American community, fully 65 percent of children five and under lived below the poverty line. These numbers were so extraordinary that they made Philadelphia’s abysmal data look almost good in comparison: there, a mere one in three children lived at or below the poverty line. In Indiana, nearly one in ten kids lived in “extreme poverty,” meaning their family incomes didn’t even reach half of the poverty line threshold.10 In northern St. Louis in 2010, the poverty rate for kids stood at a dispiriting 30 percent.
Not surprisingly, in May 2012, UNICEF reported that of the world’s developed countries, the United States had the second highest rate of child poverty, with more than 23 percent of its kids officially poor. Only Romania, still struggling to shed itself of the awful legacy left by Nicolae Ceauşescu’s dictatorship, had worse numbers.
We look at the scale of misery unleashed; shake our heads; listen to that inner voice saying sadly, “What a tragedy”; and then, assuming we’re fortunate enough not to be poor ourselves, we try to get on with our lives. Yet, if we thought a little harder, we’d realize that what we’re witnessing isn’t so much a tragedy as a scandal.
It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. What turns poverty into a scandal rather than a tragedy is the political landscape out of which it bubbles. “It makes a difference if we treat it as a bug or a feature,” argued longtime community organizer and Harvard Kennedy School of Government senior lecturer Marshall Ganz. “Is it a bug in the system for which we provide a safety net, or a feature of the system? It’s a moral, political, and economic crisis. It’s a process of suicide. When countries stratify themselves into a wealthy few and an impoverished many, they go down the tubes.”
For Ganz, poverty was akin to the “miners’ canary.” It was the warning signal of a more general malaise—of school systems in disrepair, healthcare delivery mechanisms that were no longer delivering healthcare to large swaths of the population, a degraded environment, and more. “As long as people think poverty is the problem,” Ganz explained, “they’re missing the whole point. Poverty is evidence of a problem; it’s not the source of the problem. They’re all based on the weakening of collective institutions—the decline of labor, of common interests. The core question is not about poverty, it’s really about democracy. The galloping poverty in the United States is evidence of a retreat from democratic beliefs and practices.”
When people go hungry because of, say, drought or a plague of locusts; when thousands die in an epidemic; when natural disasters convert whole countries into wastelands, religious people say these are acts of God—the less religious might say they are acts of nature. But the process of casting around for someone to blame takes a back seat. Tragedy is, somehow, beyond the realm of the deliberate, the product not so much of malign decisions as of confounded bad luck, of happenstance.
By contrast, when poverty flourishes as a direct result of decisions taken, or not taken, by political and economic leaders, and, either tacitly or explicitly, endorsed by large sectors of the voting population, then it acquires the rancid aroma of scandal. It is a corrosive brew, capable of eating away at the underpinnings of democratic life itself.
This isn’t a story only about those without work. In fact, America’s scandalous poverty numbers also include a stunning number of people who actually have jobs. They are author David Shipler’s “working poor,” men and women who work long hours, often at physically grueling labor, yet routinely find they can’t make ends meet, can’t save money, and can’t get ahead in the current economy.
For these men and women with no rainy-day funds to fall back on, income volatility too often results in instant deprivation. Agricultural laborer Laurentino Loera, a middle-aged man whose life possessions could be carried in a few plastic bags, and who slept nights on the floor of a community center in El Paso, quietly mentioned how a few weeks without being picked by the contractors to work the fields meant having to pawn his one consumer durable item: a small, portable, black-and-white television. For oyster fisherman Byron Encelade, collapsed income meant that he couldn’t buy his grandkids Christmas presents. For 30-year-old massage therapist Lauren Kostelnick, meager earnings meant no health insurance and only being able to shop in thrift stores. For Walmart worker Aubretia Edick, low hourly wages combined with her manager allotting her fewer hours each week meant skipping meals and keeping her upstate New York house thermostat on low throughout the long winter months.
No period since that surrounding the 1929 stock market crash has produced such a vast disparity between rich and poor, a vivid example of Michael Harrington’s argument that, in America, poverty exists hidden in plain sight within the crevices and cracks of the affluent society.
As tens of millions more Americans have come to rely on food stamps to avoid hunger and malnutrition, political figures such as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have accused those on food stamps of no longer possessing the American will to success, of having become permanent charity cases. Barack Obama, Gingrich told audiences around America during the early months of 2012 was a “food stamp president.” In 2011, Tea Party activists, energized by the 2010 midterm elections, proposed cutting a startling $9 trillion from federal spending during a ten-year period.
Absent from all of these discussions were the voices of the poor themselves. What would it mean to cut food stamps?
For 35-year-old Maribel Diaz, a onetime employee of a California-run nutritional program for low-income residents who lost her job when the recession eviscerated the state’s budget, it would mean that she and her three young children would no longer be able to afford fresh fruit and vegetables.
Something that’s fresh, from the farmers’ market, it’s something everyone would want access to. If you are consuming your fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, it’ll prevent you from getting sick. It’s very important to have access to fruits and vegetables. I receive for myself and my kids, Cal-Fresh. If we didn’t have those benefits, we’d basically be hungry. I wouldn’t be able to feed them. We don’t have a lot of access to fruits and vegetables, but we do have some access. If the programs were cut, we’d be hungry, we’d be at food pantries. And they don’t give you no protein. They give you two, three, four cans of canned goods, with a box of cereal. We’d be hungry.I don’t know what we’d do.
For Marcy Glickman, a widow from Los Angeles’s chic West Side whose upper-middle-class lifestyle was destroyed by the medical bills accrued during her late husband’s battle with cancer and by the loss of income after they lost his business, the disappearance of food stamps would push her toward outright hunger. As the family’s finances imploded, with their income declining from more than $10,000 a month to less than $1,000, “I started collecting coupons for groceries, and I remember cutting down our spending on groceries,” said Glickman. Then she began frequenting food pantries, her lean steak and salmon diet replaced by noodles, canned tuna, and beans. “We had to get food stamps. At first I felt embarrassed. But after a while I realized at least we’re eating. At least we’re able to eat; we just have to cut down on everything.”
What would it mean to reduce the services provided by Medicaid? Ask Patty Poole, a Medicaid recipient in the upstate New York town of Endicott, who explained how she underwent surgery to reduce severe swelling in her leg caused by a nasty disease called lymphedema, spent weeks in the hospital, and came out to find that Medicaid in New York would no longer pay for the compression stockings that she needed to keep the swelling from re-emerging. Despite having already been measured for the specialized garment, she was told that due to budget cuts the state was only authorizing the purchase of these stockings for pregnant women or lymphedema sufferers whose skin was so wounded that it had actually broken out in ulcers.
“It made no sense. It would be more expensive to wait till a patient had ulcers,” Poole recalled thinking. Desperate to prevent her recently-operated-on leg from filling up again with fluid, Poole embarked on an odyssey of visits to patients’ rights advocates and doctors. But she couldn’t find a way to get the garment without paying full price, and that price—$900—was quite simply out of her reach. And so, without access to the needed stockings, Poole—who was born with spina bifida and had been disabled her whole life—was reduced to improvisation: spending hours each day carefully covering her own leg with an array of bandages, cotton wraps, and stockings. Some days, it took Poole and her roommate two hours each time her leg needed to be wrapped, and on occasion it would need to be rewrapped three times in a day.
What would it mean to restrict access to Medicaid? Listen to Megan Roberts, whose family ceased to qualify for Medicaid after her husband received a $1 an hour pay raise from the truck mechanics’ company that he worked for. The young couple with four children had recently moved from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to a small, impoverished community in California’s Central Valley so that her husband could take up a new job with the company. His health benefits were due to begin in January. But, a few weeks beforehand, Megan’s appendix ruptured; lacking medical insurance, the family was bankrupted by close to $100,000 in medical bills. Their credit shattered, they resorted to borrowing from one payday loan company after another:
"Five or six days after I was home from the hospital, I got my first hospital bill. About two weeks after that, I got my first failure to pay notice, saying that “you have not paid your $96,000 hospital bill.” The dollar pay raise had knocked us off housing benefits; we went from $612 rent to $1,030 rent. Knocked us off food stamps, so we didn’t get any food assistance. We had no Medicaid, because the dollar pay raise knocked us off that. He was going to get private health insurance through his work in January. But I got sick. We were left with this bill. On April 16 [2007], we filed for bankruptcy."
Reduce Medicaid services, you get more Patty Pooles. Reduce Medicaid access, you get more Megan Robertses.



Closed adoption system helping traffickers

File - Newborns are seen in incubators at a hospital in Sidon, Monday, Oct. 31, 2011. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)
by India Stoughton 

Adoption is often seen as a benevolent act. Rather than being brought up in an orphanage, a parentless child is given a home, stability and a loving family. In Lebanon, however, the closed adoption system has helped to transform the practice into something less than benign: a business. When Daniel Ibn Zayd was adopted in 1963, the details of his biological family were fabricated. “In the paperwork we have from the orphanage it lists family name, mother, father, birth date, birthplace,” he explains. “You grow up thinking that this is true.
“It was my fellow adoptees in France who enlightened me to the fact that these [were] false names ... There was a kind of comfort in knowing that link was there if I needed it, and the minute it was ruptured, then I felt this need to establish that link.”
Ibn Zayd, who runs Transracialeyes, a platform for adoptees worldwide to discuss intercountry adoption, moved to Lebanon from the United States in search of his biological family 10 years ago, but in spite of contacting the orphanage from which he was adopted, he has been unable to track them down.
According to the United Nations, children separated from their parents during war or natural disasters should not be adopted. “Even if both their parents are dead,” reads UNICEF’s statement on intercountry adoption, “the chances of finding living relatives, a community and home to return to after the conflict subsides exist. Thus, such children should not be considered for intercountry adoption.”
This does not help a generation of children adopted during the Lebanese Civil War, who over the last decade have been returning in their hundreds to uncover their origins.
Adoption in Lebanon falls under the personal status code, and is governed by religious authorities. The practice is forbidden in Islam. Instead, muslim children are usually raised together in orphanages.
“The main reason for prohibiting adoption in islam is to prevent the adoptive family from giving their surnames to the adopted child, in order to safeguard the biological lineage,” explains a representative of the Dar al-Aytam al-Islamiya, a muslim organization that cares for orphaned children.
“The adoption ban in islam was one of the major breaks between post-islam and the Jahiliyyah, the pre-islamic period,” explains Zeina Osman, who specializes in the anthropology of childhood. “christianity allows adoption but they don’t allow cross-adoption ... so you can only adopt another christian.”
In Lebanon, where premarital sex is frowned upon and illegitimate children are often stigmatized, the paperwork does not disclose any information about the child’s birth family. This is ostensibly a way to protect the biological mother, who is not legally obliged to recognize the child or sign the birth certificate.
The practice of falsifying or omitting names from adoption documents not only makes it almost impossible for adoptees to trace their biological families, it also facilitates the illegal trafficking of babies out of the country, says lawyer Youmna Makhlouf.
Makhlouf explains that trafficked children often have no papers at all. “We have people now who are coming back and asking about their origins and sometimes ... you don’t find their papers,” she says.
“[This] means that the child was trafficked, because if [not] he would have been registered.”
Child trafficking was common practice during the Civil War.
“Things were much less regulated then,” Osman explains. “You had a huge orphan trade happening. A lot of people would come – from Europe mainly – to try to get children and they had very famous people that would try to broker adoption.
She adds: “For a lot of [these adoptees] it’s impossible to find records of who their parents are.”
There are two practices that constitute trafficking under Lebanese law, Makhlouf explains.
In one, the child is smuggled out of the country under the guise of being the adoptive parents’ biological child, and registered abroad. Another form of trafficking is when the legal process is adhered to, and the child’s papers applied for, but money changes hands, meaning that someone makes a profit from the adoption process.
A law introduced in 1993 criminalized child trafficking, making accepting money to facilitate adoption punishable by imprisonment.
“We have this article, but is it really being put into action?” Makhlouf asks. “We know that Lebanon has a high number of child trafficking [cases], but we don’t see any action within the criminal system penalizing the people that are committing this act.”
Nina was adopted by Dutch parents in 1983, at the height of the war.
“They knew this Lebanese woman who served as an adopting agency,” she explains. “She was like the mediator. There was no official agency except for her and her husband, who was a Protestant reverend ... Her story is that doctors would come to her because they knew that she was finding families for children.”
“The adoption thing gave me a lot of issues in life,” adds Nina, who grew up in the Netherlands. “I love my parents, my family is amazing, but I always felt out of place ... it made me very insecure, because I didn’t really know where I was from.”
Nina moved to Beirut for work three years ago. She decided to try and trace her biological family, but the Armenian Evangelical cult that processed her adoption has since closed down. Her papers – a health certificate from the American University of Beirut’s Medical Center, a document from the cult and a Lebanese baby passport – only have the names of her adoptive parents.
Nina’s parents say that while the process of getting approved for adoption in the Netherlands was complicated, the formalities in Lebanon were relatively simple. The process of adopting their two sons, in 1978 and 1979, took less than a week each time, they explain, although when they adopted Nina it took three weeks for her passport to be issued.
Certain paperwork was required, such as signed and authenticated statements confirming the adoptive parents were members of the church, did not have any children of their own and had enough money to raise a baby. But Nina’s father says no one checked the content of the papers, just the signatures needed to make them official.
Prior to each trip they were contacted by the broker, who told them whether the child up for adoption was a boy or a girl and the age. This was the only information they ever received.
In spite of the hurdles, some Lebanese adoptees have succeeded in reconnecting with their biological families. Dida Guigan, one of five Lebanese children adopted by a Swiss couple during the war, spent 10 years in search of her biological mother.
She finally found her after appearing on Lebanese TV, only to discover that she had been living in Switzerland all along. She had been taken there for psychological treatment, Guigan explains, after attempting suicide when, as an unmarried mother, she was forced to give her baby up for adoption.
Today the process is more rigorous, says Osman, but adoptions are still closed, denying children the right to basic information such as their ethnic and religious background, their exact date of birth and their medical history.
Nowadays, just three religious institutions are licensed by the state to carry out adoptions. In spite of this, illegal adoption still takes place.
“It wasn’t only something that happened during the war, it’s still happening,” says Zeina Allouche, who has worked with children’s organizations for 25 years. “We hear that intercountry adoptions from Lebanon cost $75,000.”
She emphasizes that adoptive parents are often unaware they are involved in human trafficking, as they believe money they hand over is going toward the biological mother’s medical bills or to support the orphanage.
Due to the stigma surrounding adoption, many Lebanese families who adopt pretend that the child is their own.
“Of course you have secret adoption,” Osman says. “I know that even Dar al-Aytam al-Islamiya do this with people they know. It’s very secretive of course ... [but] if you have enough wasta [connections] you can go through this whole process of acting like you got pregnant and gave birth and this child is actually yours.
She says the two people she knows that have been adopted are officially known as their parents’ children.
Allouche says she has also heard rumors that even muslim children are sometimes adopted.
“In Dar al-Aytam al-Islamiya they have invented a new way to do adoption and it costs only $10,000,” she says. “muslims are cheaper than christians.”
The Dar al-Aytam al-Islamiya did not respond to a question about the adoption of children under their care.
“In very rare cases,” said a spokesperson, “the organization may allow orphans to be fostered by trusted families.”
“This procedure is called “ilhak” [joining], provided that the child will be monitored and followed up continuously by the organization. In return, the fostering family will provide the child with financial support, education [and] love.”
Makhlouf stresses that were a full adoption to take place, as Osman and Allouche claim, it would violate Lebanese law.
In spite of the fact that christians can legally adopt via the cult, some christian adoptive parents also opt to pretend that the child is biologically theirs, an act which Makhlouf says constitutes fraud.
The director of a Beirut-based christian charity organization, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Daily Star he helped to facilitate the adoption of a baby girl by checking the pregnant mother into a small mountain hospital under the name of the adoptive mother. This meant her name appeared on the paperwork in place of the birth mother’s name.
“It was very easy,” he says.
A question about the child’s religious background is met with a long silence. “Look,” he eventually replies, “I didn’t wish to know.”
He says this arrangement was the easiest way to get the papers.
“The nuns are allowed to make the papers, but it will take one year to get the ID,” he says.
A doctor at the hospital gave them the required papers, he explains, and the couple – who are Lebanese expatriates – are now going through the process of registering the baby as their own, which they must do before leaving the country with the child.
“You cannot register a child as being your biological child,” Makhlouf says. “There are criminal texts against this ... It is a legal issue but I think that people just close their eyes.
“Usually when you talk to people who do this, they will tell you ‘It’s in the best interests of the child – what are we doing wrong?’ They don’t see that this child is going to have psychological problems afterward.”

Long live the Ikarians

The inhabitants of one Greek island defy the laws of longevity, finds Andrew Anthony, as he asks the locals to share their secrets
Gregoris Tsahas has smoked a packet of cigarettes every day for 70 years. High up in the hills of Ikaria, in his favourite cafe, he draws on what must be around his half-millionth fag. I tell him smoking is bad for the health and he gives me an indulgent smile, which suggests he's heard the line before. He's 100 years old and, he says, aside from appendicitis, he has not known a day of illness in his life.
Tsahas has short-cropped white hair, a robustly handsome face and a bone-crushing handshake. He says he drinks two glasses of red wine a day, but on closer interrogation he concedes that, like many other drinkers, he has underestimated his consumption by a couple of glasses.
The secret of a good marriage, he says, is never to return drunk to your wife. He's been married for 60 years.
"I'd like another wife," he says. "Ideally one about 55."
Tsahas is known at the cafe as a bit of a gossip and a joker. He comes here twice a day. It's a one-kilometre walk from his house over uneven, sloping terrain. That's four hilly kilometres a day. Not many people half his age manage that far elsewhere.
In Ikaria, a Greek island in the far east of the Mediterranean, about 50 kilometres from the Turkish coast, characters such as Tsahas are not exceptional. With its beautiful coves, rocky cliffs, steep valleys and broken canopy of scrub and olive groves, Ikaria looks similar to any number of other Greek islands. But there is one vital difference: people here live much longer than the population on other islands and on the Greek mainland. In fact, people here live on average 10 years longer than those in the rest of Europe and the United States - about one in three Ikarians lives into their 90s. Not only that, but they also have much lower rates of cancer and heart disease, suffer significantly less depression and dementia, maintain a sex life into old age and remain physically active well into their 90s. What is the secret of Ikaria? What do its inhabitants know that the rest of us don't?
The island is named after Icarus, the young man in Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun and, according to legend, fell into the sea close to here. Thoughts of plunging into the sea are very much in my mind as the propeller plane from Athens comes in to land. There is a fierce wind blowing - the island is renowned for its wind - and the aircraft appears to stall as it turns to make its final descent, tipping this way and that until, at the last moment, the pilot takes off upwards and decides to return to Athens. Nor are there any ferries, owing to a strike.
"They're always on strike," an Athenian back at the airport says.
Stranded in Athens for the night, I discover that a fellow thwarted passenger is Dan Buettner, author of a book called The Blue Zones, which details the five small areas in the world where the populations outlive the American and western European average by about a decade: Okinawa in Japan, the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica, Loma Linda in the US state of California and Ikaria.
Tall and athletic, 52-year-old Buettner, who used to be a long-distance cyclist, looks a picture of well-preserved youth. He is a fellow with National Geographic magazine and became interested in longevity while researching Okinawa's aged population. He says there were several other passengers on the plane who are interested in Ikaria's demographics.
"It would have been ironic, don't you think," he notes drily, "if a group of people looking for the secret of longevity crashed into the sea and died."
Chatting to locals on the plane the following day, I learn that several have relations who are centenarians. One woman says her aunt is 111. The problem for demographers with such claims is that they are often difficult to stand up. Going back to Methuselah, history is studded with exaggerations of age. In the last century, longevity became yet another battleground in the cold war. The Soviet authorities let it be known that people in the Caucasus were living deep into their hundreds, but subsequent studies have shown these claims lacked evidential foundation.
Since then, various societies and populations have reported advanced ageing, but few are able to supply convincing proof.
"I don't believe Korea or China," Buettner says. "I don't believe the Hunza Valley in Pakistan. None of those places has good birth certificates."
However, Ikaria does. It has also been the subject of a number of scientific studies. Aside from the demographic surveys that Buettner helped organise, there was the University of Athens' Ikaria Study. One of its members, Dr Christina Chrysohoou, a cardiologist at the university's medical school, found the Ikarian diet featured a lot of beans and not much meat or refined sugar. The locals also feast on locally grown and wild greens, some of which contain 10 times more antioxidants than are found in red wine, as well as potatoes and goat's milk. Chrysohoou thinks the food is distinct from that eaten on Greek islands with lower life expectancy.
"Ikarians' diet may have some differences from other islands' diets," she says. "The Ikarians drink a lot of herb tea and small quantities of coffee; daily calorie consumption is not high. Ikaria is still an isolated island, without tourists, which means that, especially in the villages in the north, where the highest longevity rates have been recorded, life is largely unaffected by the westernised way of living."
But she also refers to research that suggests the Ikarian habit of taking afternoon naps may help extend life. One extensive study of Greek adults showed that regular napping reduced the risk of heart disease by almost 40 per cent. What's more, Chrysohoou's preliminary studies revealed that 80 per cent of Ikarian males between the ages of 65 and 100 were still having sex. And, of those, a quarter did so with "good duration" and "achievement".
"We found that most males between 65 and 88 reported sexual activity, but after the age of 90, very few continued to have sex."
In a small village called Nas, at the western end of Ikaria's north shore, is Thea's Inn, a bustling guesthouse run by Thea Parikos, an American-Ikarian who returned to her roots and married a local. Ever since Buettner set up with his research team here a few years back, Thea's Inn has been a base camp of sorts for anyone looking to study the island's older population.
It's a good introduction to Ikarian life, if only because the dining table always seems to bear a jug of home-made red wine and dishes made from garden-grown vegetables. Whatever household we enter over the next four days, even at the shortest notice, invariably confers the same appetising hospitality. Yet Ikarians are far from wealthy. The island has not escaped the Greek economic crisis and about 40 per cent of its inhabitants are unemployed. Nearly everyone grows their own food and many produce their own wine.
There is also a strong tradition of solidarity among Ikarians. During the second world war, when the island was occupied by the Italians and Germans, there was substantial loss of life through starvation - some estimates put the death toll at 20 per cent of the population. It has been speculated that one of the reasons for Ikarians' longevity is the Darwinian effect of survival of the fittest.
Vangelis Koutis, 97, who left Ikaria at 14 and returned to the island when he was 70.After the war, thousands of communists and leftists were exiled to the island, bringing an ideological underpinning to the Ikarians' instinct to share. As one of the island's few doctors told Buettner, "It's not a 'me' place. It's an 'us' place."
Nearly all elderly Ikarians have a story of suffering, though few are keen to tell it. Kostas Sponsas lost a leg in Albania when he was blown up by a German shell. He was saved by fellow Ikarians, without whose help he would have died from loss of blood.
He recently turned 100 and is more mobile than many younger men with two legs. Each day he pays a visit to the office of the shop he set up decades ago.
"If I feel tired, I read," he says. "It rests my mind."
He was determined not to get depressed after losing his leg as a young man, instead remembering his grandfather's advice.
"He used to say to me, 'Be grateful that nothing worse has happened.'"
In terms of longevity, it was wise counsel. Depression, sadness, loneliness, stress - they can and do take time off our lives. Sponsas' own tips for a long life are that he never eats food fried with butter, always sleeps well and with the window open, avoids eating too much meat, drinks herb tea - mint or sage - and makes sure to have a couple of glasses of red wine with his food.
Sponsas' son, a large middle-aged man with a broad smile, is with him when I visit, fixing a broken door. Family is a vital part of Ikarian culture and every old person I visit has children and grandchildren actively involved in their lives.
Eleni Mazari, an estate agent on the island and a repository of local knowledge, says, "We keep the old people with us. There is an old people's home, but the only people there are those who have lost all their family. It would shame us to put an old person in a home. That's the reason for longevity."
Sponsas agrees: "To have your family around you makes you feel stronger and more secure."
Just a minute's walk from his house in the picturesque port of Evdilos is the spotless home of Evangelia Karnava. In Ikaria, if you ask people their age the answer they give is the year they were born. Karnava, a tiny but formidable woman, was born in 1916. She radiates a fierce energy, gesticulating like a politician on the stump. She lost two baby girls to starvation during the war but she's not someone haunted by tragedy. Instead, she speaks of her other three children, seven grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and her great-great-grandchild.
"I'm going to live to be 115," she says. "My grandmother was 107."
She certainly looks as if she's fit for a good few years yet. She cleans her own flat and goes shopping every day. What's her secret? She pours out glasses of Coca-Cola for her guests. "I can't live without it!" she says.
Buettner appreciates the irony. He has been studying the diets of the various blue zones he's visited for clues to a healthier lifestyle that can be transported to post-industrial Western societies. Cigarettes and Coca-Cola were not meant to be part of the programme.
The phrase "blue zone" was first coined by Buettner's colleague, the Belgian demographer Michel Poulain.
"He was drawing blue circles on a map in Sardinia and then referring to the area inside the circle as the blue zone," Buettner says. "When we started working together, I extended it to Okinawa, Costa Rica and Ikaria. If you Google it now, it's entered the lexicon as a demographically confirmed geographical area where people live measurably longer."
So what does it take to qualify?
"It's a variation," Buettner says. "It's either the highest centenarian rate, so the most centenarians per 1,000. Or it has the highest life expectancy at middle age."
All the blue zones are slightly austere environments where life has traditionally required hard work. But they also tend to be very social, none more so than Ikaria. At the heart of the island's social scene is a series of 24-hour festivals, known as paniyiri, which all age groups attend. They last through the night and the centrepieces are mass dances in which everyone - teenagers, parents, the elderly, young children - takes part. Sponsas says he no longer has the energy to go on until dawn. He will now usually take his leave by 2am.
One evening, the island's star violin player, whom we first met at Tsahas' favourite cafe, invites Buettner, me and several others back to his house to hear him play. He says he often grows exhausted while performing at festivals but that the energy and enthusiasm of the people keep him going. He plays some traditional folk tunes, full of passion and yearning and heart-rending beauty, and mentions with pride that Mikis Theodorakis, the composer of Zorba the Greek, was among the leftists exiled on the island in the late 1940s. Theodorakis later recalled the experience with pleasure. "How could this be?" he asked. "The answer is simple: it's the beauty of the island in combination with the warmth of the locals. They risked their lives to be generous to us, something that helped us more than anything bear the burden of the hardship."
One of the things Buettner has found that unites the elderly inhabitants of all the blue zones is that they are unintentionally old: they didn't set out to extend their lives.
"Longevity happened to these people," he says. "The centenarians didn't all of a sudden at 40 say, 'I'm going to become 100; I'm going to start getting exercise and eating these ingredients.' It ensues from their surroundings. So my argument is that the environmental components of places such as Ikaria are portable if you pay attention. And the value proposition in the real world is maybe a decade more life expectancy. It's not living to 100. But I think the real benefit is that the same things that yield this healthy longevity also yield happiness."
I ask a number of men in their 90s and 100s if they do any keep-fit exercise. The answer is always the same: "Yes, digging the earth."
Nikos Fountoulis, for example, is a 93 year old who looks 20 years younger. He still has a smallholding in the hills of the island's interior. Each morning he goes out at 8am to feed his animals and tend his garden. He used to dig charcoal as a younger man.
"I never thought about getting old," he says. "I feel good. I feel 93, but on Ikaria that's OK."
The island's greatest charm is that it is an unselfconscious place. That could soon change: the spread of tourism is bound to have an effect. Ikaria is protected by its remoteness and limited access but is now at the mercy of blue-zone tourists, those relentless hordes of blue-rinsed travellers looking for the elixir of eternal life. Buettner, though, is doubtful his book will lead to planeloads of Floridian retirees crowding the island.
"What are they going to do?" he asks. "They're not going to be able to descend upon the woman milking a goat."
On the day I leave Ikaria, I come across a man in a baseball cap sitting in a chair outside his house in Evdilos. He is called Vangelis Koutis and he's 97. He left the island when he was 14 to join the merchant navy. He travelled all over the world and finally settled in Canada. But, like a lot of Ikarians, he decided to return home in later life, in his case when he was 70. I ask what brought him back.
"Fresh air," he says, "the best climate in the world and the friendliest people I've ever met."
With that, he returns to enjoying the sunshine on a beautiful spring afternoon. It's hard to imagine many other places offering quite so pleasant a time for a man in his 90s. Life in the blue zone is good. And that may be the real secret of why it's also so long.

The 'Wild' Story Of Cheryl Strayed And Her Long-Lost Half-Sister

In addition to Wild, Cheryl Strayed is also the author of Torch and Tiny Beautiful Things.
 In addition to Wild, Cheryl Strayed is also the author of Torch and Tiny Beautiful Things. 

Back in 1995, Cheryl Strayed hiked 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail along the West Coast of the United States. After the three-month journey, she came out on the other side stronger in every way: better able to cope with her divorce, her past drug abuse and her mother's death.
Strayed described the life-changing trek in her 2012 bestselling memoir Wild, and received countless emails from readers describing how connected they felt to her story. But there was one message that stood out in particular:
"Back in late June or early July I was reading one such email ... and I was just about to move onto the next email when the woman who was emailing me said that we really were connected, that, in fact, we have the same father," Strayed tells NPR's Rachel Martin.
The woman turned out to be Strayed's half-sister, but the reader didn't know that when she checked Wild out at her local public library. "She was just interested in books on travel," Strayed explains. "She's not a hiker but ... that hiking boot on the cover caught her eye. And she was just halfway into chapter one when she said she sat bolt upright in bed and realized that we had the same father."

Interview Highlights

On whether the sisters had ever tried to find each other before
"I've looked for her a few times — just punching her name into the Internet. I knew her first name and I assumed her last name was that of my father's, and nothing ever came up. And I didn't know if we would ever find each other, honestly. She knew I existed. I don't even think that she knew my first name. She just knew that she had older siblings that my father had another family before she came along and she had no idea that I was a writer. She didn't know anything about me except when she read the description in my book of my early life, my mother and my father, she knew that father was hers, too. I don't name my father in the book but she recognized him."
From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
On re-establishing connections to this part of her family, including her half-sister's mother
"It's been a really interesting reconnection all around. Neither one of us have a relationship with our biological father and we both had very similar experiences with him. But what's really cool is we can connect in other ways."
On whether they've met yet
"We are half-sisters and I do hope that someday we'll meet. ... We haven't spoken on the phone. I'm sort of phone shy. I've not suggested that. ... I prefer to write about my life, I guess than to talk about it."
On the big questions she's been asking herself
"It's been really pretty interesting to think about: What is family? And what is a connection? You know, obviously this isn't someone I grew up with. I'm meeting her as an adult. And like I said, our connection is through this man who neither one of us has a relationship with now. And so how are we sisters? And how do we proceed?"
On what tipped her half-sister off
"I haven't asked her what specifically was the thing that tipped her off. ... What I think is really interesting is frankly the things that she wrote to me about her experience with my father [that] I recognized. ... We so often think, OK if we don't name somebody they won't be recognizable in what you write, but actually I've had the opposite experience, not just with my father in the book, but other people. I think that one of the things the writer does obviously is really try to describe accurately not just the way somebody looks but the way they are, the way they seem to others around them. My impression is that that is what my sister felt when she first came to the descriptions about my father — about our father."
On the unexpected ways that life unfolds
"I think that the trick to writing a memoir and the trick to writing fiction is always to have this consciousness of what it really means to be human, and what the human experience is. And the human experience is full of serendipity and surprise and situations taking a turn that you didn't expect.
"As shocked as I was to be reading that email ... I also had this feeling that I knew that was coming. I knew that someday life would turn on itself and I would be standing there facing this woman who shares my father."

The Fears and Phobias of Famous People

by Eddie Deezen

Okay, let's level with each other. Is there anyone out there reading this who isn't afraid of something? Come on, I know it's hard for some of us to be open about stuff like this, but you can be honest. You'd have to think that with all the varied and unique experiences each of us has had in our respective lives, some fears have developed.

Well, don't feel bad about it. I would think having a phobia or two (or three or whatever) is pretty much inevitable. These fears are nothing to laugh at or ridicule. On the contrary, they are pretty much a part of "the human experience." Let's take a look at some major fears, dislikes, and full-out phobias of some well-known people.

Gustave Eiffel, the designer of the famed Eiffel Tower, was terrified of heights.

LSD advocate and guru Timothy Leary was deathly afraid of barbers. He started cutting his own hair at the age of nine. He even refused to enter a barber shop.

Megan Fox hates paper. Megan says it's not a full phobia, it's more like the people who get chills from fingernails scratching on a blackboard. Megan says she has to have a paper cup around to immediately wet her fingers to turn the pages if she is reading a script or a book. She hates dry paper.

Matthew McConaughey is scared of revolving doors. He will not get anywhere near a revolving door. He's also afraid of tunnels. He's not scared of being in a tunnel, but he is scared of the point where you have to enter a tunnel.

Johnny Depp is terrified of clowns. Says Johnny, "There's something about the painted face, the fake smile. There always seems to be a darkness lurking under the surface, a potential for real evil."

Nicole Kidman is afraid of butterflies. Once, bravely, she tried walking through a butterfly exhibit at a museum, but couldn't make it. As a young girl, Nicole wouldn't even enter her home if a butterfly was sitting on the entrance gate.

Christina Ricci can't stand to be around houseplants. She is also deathly afraid of being in a swimming pool alone. She always imagines "a magic door is going to open and a shark is going to come out."

Billy Bob Thornton is deathly afraid of antique furniture. He is not comfortable being in a room with any furniture that goes back before 1850. (It must have been hard to film The Alamo. Almost as tough as it was to watch that movie!)

Roger Moore (James Bond) -yes, agent 007 himself- cannot pick up a gun without uncontrollably blinking.

Alfred Hitchcock was terrified of eggs. The director of Psycho just hated eggs, especially runny ones (who doesn't?).

Yes, irony of ironies, Walt Disney, who gave the world Mickey Mouse, was indeed, afraid of mice.

Composer Fredric Chopin and storyteller Hans Christian Andersen were both very scared of being buried alive. Andersen always kept a sign around whenever he slept, which said he wasn't really dead, he just looked that way, and that he really was sleeping.

Stage fright? Some of the greatest actors and performers in history have been stricken with this phobia, including Marilyn Monroe, Barbra Streisand, Gracie Allen, and even Sir Lawrence Olivier. It is actually a tribute to these great talents that they were able to give such incredible performances under the circumstances.

Fear of water is Michael Jordan's Achille's heel. A childhood friend of his died in the ocean and his armed locked onto Michael's before Michael could wrest himself free. Ever since, the water scares "Air" Jordan.

According to legend, Stephen Spielberg is afraid of insects.

Donald Trump has a phobia about shaking hands.

Woody Allen was treated by psychoanalysts for 40 years (hmm, didn't seem to help much). "I've been killing spiders since I was 30," says Allen about one of his legion of fears and phobias. He is also deathly afraid of showering in a shower where the drain is in the middle of the tub. Woody's list of fears also includes stage fright, sunshine, children, hotel bathrooms, cancer and other diseases, heights, crowds, and small rooms. Woody also had claustrophobia and agorophobia.

Ailurophobia? What the heck is that one? Fear of cats, for some reason, was suffered by many of history's most dynamic leaders and conquerors, including Julius Caesar, Napolean Bonaparte, Alexander the Great, and Benito Mussolini.

Fear of flying is a pretty common fear. Tony Curtis tried hypnosis to cure it. Even the great Elvis Presley fought off this one, but he did refuse to fly early in his career. Muhammad Ali, Ronald Reagan, John Madden, Cher, Florence Henderson, Johnny Cash, and sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury were also stricken with fear of flying.

Keanu Reeves is afraid of being left alone in the dark.

Pamela Anderson is (ironically?) afraid of mirrors.

Sheryl Crow is scared of heights.

Okay, let's end this inevitably "endless" list. Bela Lugosi, yes, "Dracula" himself, was afraid of blood!

Random Celebrity Photos


Eleanore Whitney and Betty Grable c. 1938
Eleanore Whitney and Betty Grable c. 1938