Tag Archives: Greece

Greece: the downside of globalism

Economists have hailed the era of globalism, the interconnectedness of nations.

One nation’s failures and foibles affect others, just as their triumphs do.

Greece is in trouble — again! And the world is holding its breath.

Man, it pains me to watch what’s happening to the country of my ancestors. I’ve visited the place three times: 2000, 2001 and 2003. I’ve seen the good side of the country. My wife and I have experienced its charm, swallowed up its physical magnificence, gotten a taste of its cuisine and seen first hand the antiquities left over from when it was the “cradle of western civilization.”

Now this.


Greece owes billions of dollars to creditors. It must pay them back or else default. It joined the European Union, converted its currency, the drachma, to the euro, but the EU might kick Greece out. Germany, which has played a huge role in bailing the Greeks out, already is making plans for Greece’s default on the loans it has taken.

International financial markets are on edge. They’re teetering, putting retirement funds — such as mine and my wife’s — at risk.

Why is this all happening? Globalism.

Look, left to its own devices, Greece’s influence on the world shouldn’t be that impactful. It’s a small country. It’s a modern country. Its people are sophisticated and well-educated. But it comprises about 10.5 million citizens, contributing to a gross domestic product of $284 billion annually, which is chicken feed compared to, say, nearby Italy, with its $1.9 trillion GDP.

Still, the countries are linked by common currency, common trade practices and common pressures that ripple their way across Europe — and around the world.

Greece has made a mess of itself and the world might be forced to clean it up.

The push to join nations together in international trade arrangements and alliances by itself isn’t a bad thing. I remain all for it.

These alliances, though, depend on everyone doing what they must to ensure they hold together. Greece hasn’t done it. It continues to resist the austerity measures that others have imposed on it. Its left-wing government also is on the brink of collapse.

Doomsday hasn’t arrived in Athens. It’s getting dangerously close.


Maybe, just maybe, the genes aren't so pure

I blogged earlier today about my hyphenated heritage and how I like referring to myself as a Greek-American.

My parents were Greek. My grandparents, all four of them, were Greek. My grandparents came to this country in the early 20th century.

The object of the blog, actually, was a comment from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — an Indian-American — who’d said he disliked hyphenated ethic designations for Americans. That’s fine. He’s entitled to his view, I am to mine.


Then the thought occurred to me. It’s really occurred to me many times over the course of my life, but I’ll share it here.

My mother’s parents came to the United States from Turkey. They were ethnic Greeks. My grandfather was a merchant sailor who traveled the world before settling in Portland, Ore. My grandmother joined him later, making the arduous journey from Turkey, through Athens, then on to New York. She boarded a train for the West Coast.

The thought? It’s this: Were Mom’s parents really and truly pure Greek?

They lived on a small island in the Sea of Marmara. It was a primitive place. I don’t know this for a fact, but my assumption has been that Turks populated the island as well as Greeks. Yes, Greeks and Turks loathed each other, but some comingling among people of rival ethnicities does occur.

The villages kept no record of births. For all I know, my grandparents’ parents, and their grandparents — and this dates back to, oh, the turn of the 18th century, might have quenched their desires with people of Turkish heritage.

It’s entirely possible.

I don’t dwell on this, given that I cannot prove any of it. Thus, I’ll continue to proclaim my Greek heritage until someone, somehow, in some fashion, can prove that my ethnicity isn’t as pure as I’ve been saying it is.


Proud of my hyphenated heritage

Bobby Jindal says he’s tired of “hyphenated Americans.” The Republican governor of Louisiana and possible 2016 presidential candidate said his parents didn’t come to America to raise Indian-Americans.

So, let’s all just be known as Americans, he says.

Well, OK, Gov. Jindal. I respect your desire to be known as an American without the hyphen.

However, I am a hyphenated American and am damn proud of it.


My grandparents came here from southern Europe. My dad’s parents grew up in neighboring villages in southern Greece. Mom’s parents grew up on a tiny island in the Sea of Marmara, the small body of water that separates European Turkey from Asian Turkey; they were of Greek heritage as well.

They all came to this country to become Americans, just as Jindal’s parents came here from India.

My grandparents, though, never lost touch with their heritage and they passed it along to their grandkids.

It might be that my sisters and I have a fairly unique distinction of being “full-blooded” something, rather than a mix of various heritages. Perhaps that’s why I have this particular desire to identify myself as a Greek-American. It’s easy to say. Most people know about Greece and its profound contribution to the development western civilization.

They also ought to know about the ancient rivalry that persists to this very day between Greece and Turkey, nations that have gone to war with each other more times than I can even count.

Having proclaimed my pride in my hyphenated heritage, I take a back seat to no one in my love of the country of my birth. For that matter, all four of my grandparents — all of whom chose to move here — felt the very same way about their adopted home.

Jindal spoke to the First in the Nation summit in New Hampshire. “I don’t know about you, I’m tired of the hyphenated Americans. No more ‘African-Americans.’ No more ‘Indian-Americans.’ No more ‘Asian-Americans,’ ” Jindal said, drawing applause.

Fine, governor. That’s your call.

Me? I’ll stick with the hyphen. It’s a source of pride.

Degree not a requirement for White House

The mini-hubbub over Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s academic credentials is rather funny.

Some Democrats are snickering at Gov. Walker’s lack of a college degree, suggesting that he’s somehow not qualified to be elected president of the United States — an office he’s considering seeking next year.

The GOP governor’s background was criticized, for instance, by former Vermont Gov. (and physician) Howard Dean, who sought to make light of Walker’s lack of a degree.

Walker attended the University of Wisconsin, but dropped out short of obtaining his degree.

I won’t belabor the point, but I should point out that degree-less men have served already as president. Indeed, a college degree isn’t a requirement for holding the Most Powerful Office in the World.

Let’s see, who can I cite as an example of what we’re discussing here?

Oh, yes. Harry Truman comes to mind.

You know, Give ‘Em Hell Harry acquitted himself well as president, getting thrust into the office upon the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in April 1945; he then had to decide quickly whether to use┬áatomic bombs to end World War II; he had to act to save Greece and Turkey from communist rebellion after the war; he then had to send U.S. troops into battle to stave off another communist invasion, in Korea — and then┬árelieved General of the Army Douglas MacArthur of his command in Korea for challenging civilian authority over the military.

President Truman did all right during his eight years in office, even without his college degree.

Do I intend to vote for Gov. Walker next year? Probably not. There’s a lot of things I dislike about his public service record. His lack of a college degree isn’t one of them.


Overseas travel awaits

This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on impending retirement.

You’ve heard about my plans to travel in a recreational vehicle with my wife throughout North America.

That’ll happen in due course. Some of it’s happening now as we take our fifth wheel out for long-weekend excursions. Retirement beckons. It’s coming closer every day and soon enough we’ll be free to hit the road.

However, we have some places we intend to see abroad as well.

My wife and I have compiled an official list of places we intend to visit once we decide we’re tired of working. More or less in order of preference, but not entirely so, here they are:

Australia: Neither of us has been close to the Down Under continent yet. I’ve been to Southeast Asia a time or three over the years. My wife has been to Taiwan twice with me. Australia is calling our name.

We have been communicating with a friend in Adelaide ever since we met this individual on another trip, in 2000, to Greece. We’ve indicated our desire to see him. He is receptive to our visiting him in the state of South Australia.

My fascination with Australia goes back to when I was about 13. My dad was entertaining a job opportunity in the coastal town of Rockhampton, between Sydney and Brisbane. I studied all I could then about Australia, anticipating a huge move. Dad didn’t pursue the opportunity. We stayed put. My interest in Australia, though, has remained high.

My wife has agreed that Australia should be at or near the top of our foreign destinations when the time arrives.

Greece: We’ve been there twice together already, in 2000 and 2001. I returned a third time in 2003. It is the land of my ancestors. My wife fell in love deeply with Greece almost from the moment we landed in Athens.

She has told me on more than one occasion: “Of all the places we’ve seen this is the one place I could return to again and again.”

It is magic. The scenic splendor is breathtaking. The antiquities are staggering. The people are charming.

We’re going back.

Israel: We’ve been there as well. We spent a week in the Holy Land after I had spent four weeks there leading a Rotary International Group Study Exchange. We stayed in Jerusalem and saw quite a few holy sites during our time together there.

We were unable to see a lot of other sites. We didn’t get to Galilee. We saw only a small part of Bethlehem. There were many other sites we left unseen. Time wouldn’t allow it.

Germany: Four years ago on a tour of Taiwan, I met a young journalist who lives in Bavaria, which I call “the pretty part of Germany.” He and I struck up an immediate friendship. We communicate regularly. He has invited us to visit him and his young family. Oh, how I want to see the mountainous region of southern Germany. We’ll get there.

Africa: I’ve long had a fascination with the wildlife of Africa. I want to shoot some of it — with a camera. The idea of a photo safari sounds like more fun than I deserve.

The Netherlands: The trip to Israel five years included my making some friends from The Netherlands. They traveled with our Rotary group. One of the Dutch group and I have remained in contact in the years since then and he, too, has extended the invitation for my wife and me to visit him there. How can I say “no” at the chance of seeing such a spectacular region of Europe?

We’re not yet ready to quit working. Indeed, I intend to keep writing for as long as I am drawing a breath.

It’s a big world out there and we’re excited about seeing more of it.

Remembering good old Christmas days

This feeling of reflection is hard to shake this time of year.

Allow me another remembrance I hope resonates with others who come from big, boisterous families.

Christmas often — not every year, mind you — brought the Kanelis side of my family together for Christmas dinner and revelry at my grandparents’ house at 703 N.E. Beech Street in Portland, Ore. It was a wondrous time, made possible by a very matriarchal grandmother who was the glue that held our family together.

She and my grandfather produced seven children. My father was the oldest of their brood. Of those seven kids, five of them produced children of their own. They totaled 12 first cousins. One of my aunts married a man with three children, so we acquired three more cousins via marriage, making 15 all together.

One of my uncles was away most of our time growing up, serving in the Army, where he retired eventually in 1970 as a full-bird colonel. Every so often, he and my aunt would make an appearance at one of these family gatherings.

And on┬árare occasions, my maternal grandmother — my mother’s mother, my “Yiayia,” about whom I’ve written on this blog — would attend one of these events. Now that was a treat, as she would regale my paternal grandfather with off-color stories and have him and our aunts and uncles in stitches.

My Grandma Kanelis — Katina was her name — was an old-country cook of the first order. She was a Greek immigrant who cooked everything from scratch. Easter dinners always included a lamb, as in the entire animal,┬ábutchered and hanging from tenterhooks in the basement. Turkey was the main course at Christmas.

We’d laugh until we hurt. The cousins would run through the house, and around the yard (weather permitting, of course) and we would gather around a very large table in the dining room to enjoy the meal my grandmother had prepared.

My aunts would sing Christmas carols — loudly and mostly pretty well.

We’d all tell other that we needed to do a better job of staying in touch. But as with most large families, sometimes you did and sometimes, well, things got in the way and you wouldn’t see each other until Grandma invited us all over for the next big family gathering.

We didn’t do this every Christmas, but often enough to leave a lasting impression at least on me — and I’ll presume on other members of my family. I know my sisters remember those times.

That all came to an end in September 1968. Grandma suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized. She was set to come home after being treated — and then her heart quit. She was just 72 years of age when she died and as I tell folks today, 72 is “sounding younger all the time.”

The glue had been peeled away.

Ours was like many families that featured strong women. Indeed, my maternal grandmother — who I’ve mentioned already here — also filled that role. She would live another 10 years after Grandma Kanelis died.

Christmas has this way of bringing back memories such as these. I will cherish them forever.

My advice for others who have similar memories is to do the same. Believe me, they’ll make you smile.


Ancestral homeland climbs back

Greece is the land of my ancestors … all of them.

My mother’s parents emigrated to the United States from Turkey, but they were Greeks through and through. My father’s lineage goes back to the southern peninsula of Greece.

So, when news of Greece is bad, I ache a little bit more than I would if the news were about, say, Sweden or Poland. The Greek economy has been in the news a lot lately. And when the news is good, such as when Greece played host to the spectacular 2004 Summer Olympics, my pride swells.

My heart is gladdened just a bit with news from Reuters News Agency that the Greek economy — you’ll remember, when┬ámuch of Europe was trying to bail them out with cash — has come back.


Reuters reports: “Seasonally adjusted figures showed the euro zone weakling posted three consecutive quarters of growth this year, even though it had only been expected to exit what the government has
called Greece’s ‘Great Depression’ in the third quarter.”

What has pulled the Greek economy out of the ditch? Some economists have suggested tourism has given Greece its heft. The country has discounted lodging prices and the country continues to be a magnet for tourists looking for a little culture, sunshine, beautiful landscapes and a walk through some of the grandest antiquities on the planet.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting my ancestral homeland three times and I plan to return. My wife, who’s made the trip with me said, “Of all the places we’ve been, this is the one place I want to see again and again.” That, folks, is high praise.

So I’m glad to read about the good news about Greece that has gone largely unreported. The media were certainly quick to tell us about the gloom and doom.

According to Reuters: “The news is a boost for Greece’s government, which has been promising austerity-weary Greeks better times ahead.”

I hope to read more about those “better times” when they arrive.



He was a great man

Men achieve greatness many ways. Some seek it. Occasionally it falls on others. Still others become great simply by being who they are, by playing by the rules, and living good lives.

I want to introduce you to a great man I once knew.

His name was Ioannis Panayotis Kanellopoulos. The English translation is John Peter Kanelis. He was my grandfather. We called him “Papou,” which is the Greek term for grandpa.

He was born 129 years ago, on Oct. 12, 1885, in a tiny village on the southern peninsula of Greece, the Peloponnese. He would marry my grandmother, who lived in a nearby village, in 1919.

They had moved to America by the time they married. They brought seven children into the world, starting with my father, Peter; then, in order, came Tom, Eileen, Alice, Elizabeth, Constantino and Sophia. All the children became successes. They all had some heartache and grief along the way, but they have done well.

They owe it to their upbringing.

Papou wasn’t an educated man. He never learned how to drive a car. He toiled as a laborer in a Pittsburgh, Pa., steel mill. Then the Depression hit. He then sought to manage a hotel in Bellows Fall, Vt. That endeavor didn’t work out.

My father — as the eldest child —┬áthen helped herd the entire family across the vast country, to┬áPortland, Ore., in the late 1930s.

Papou then operated a shoe-shine stand in the basement of a major downtown Portland department store. That’s what he did for the rest of his working life. He shined shoes. He snapped the buffing rag so smartly it sounded almost like music.

I’ll acknowledge that my grandfather didn’t do a lot of grandfatherly things with me or, as near as I can remember, with any of his grandkids. We didn’t go on outings with him and my grandmother;┬áneither of them drove. I recall a couple of memorable all-inclusive family outings on the Oregon coast that included a whole host of aunts, uncles, cousins and, yes, my grandparents.

My grandmother died in September 1968. My grandparents were married for 49 years. Papou would live until 1981, when he passed away at the age of 95 — which is not bad for a man who smoked stogies daily for nearly his entire adult life.

I want to remember him today as a great American because of the simple dignity with which he lived. He didn’t achieve outward, look-at-me greatness.┬áHe didn’t call attention to himself. He simply achieved greatness by being who he was.

He came to the United States of America in search of a better life than the one he left behind in that tiny Greek village. By God, he found it.

Happy birthday, Papou.

Remembering a great American

This blog post is adapted from a column published July 5, 1998 in the Amarillo Globe-News.

“You know your grandmother died on the Fourth of July just to make sure we would remember her.”

So said my wife on July 4, 1978, the date of my grandmother’s death. She was right. I do remember that date. All of us in our family remember it.

And oh, do I remember this remarkable woman. My grandmother was an immigrant, but was as much of an American as any native-born U.S. citizen I’ve ever known. Her life, as well as that of her beloved husband, is a testament to the American Dream, the one in which people attain freedom and relative prosperity in a land they embraced as their own.

My grandmother’s life provides a cautionary tale to those who think we have too many “foreigners” living here, who forget this land was built by people just like my grandmother. Her life, while it didn’t produce great material wealth for her or her family, did produce a family whose members have fought for their country, who have lived honorably and prospered in the face of hardship, heartache and tragedy.

A slice of my grandmother’s story is worth sharing on the Fourth of July.

Her name was Diamondoula Panisoy Filipu. We called her “Yiayia,” which is Greek for “grandmother.” This endearment did not come just from the 10 grandchildren who knew her. Neighbor kids — and their parents — called her Yiayia. So did the grocery clerks down the street. Same for the mail carrier and the milkman.

Yiayia was proud of her Greek heritage and she touted it whenever possible. She was equally proud of being an American. She stood in line to vote at every election. I’ll repeat: Every election.

Yiayia was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, the kind we refer to in Texas as a “yellow dog Democrat.” She truly would vote for a yellow dog than vote for a Republican.

She prayed for Franklin Delano Roosevelt every Sunday in church. She displayed pictures of John F. Kennedy on a kitchen credenza. She voted in 1972 for George McGovern even though she could barely pronounce his name. I took her to vote that Election Day and asked, “Who did you vote for, Yiayia?” She looked at me sideways and said, “Nee-xohn,” laughed and then assured that of course she voted for the Democrat.

Returning to the “old country” never was an option for Yiayia. The old country was Turkey. She was an ethnic Greek whom the Turks expelled from the island of Marmara after World War I. The Greeks did the same to Turks living in Greece. Yiayia set foot in Greece one time: a brief stop in Athens en route from Istanbul to New York. She had no desire to return. Yiayia was “home” in the United States of America.

My “Papou,” George, died on Jan, 22, 1950 after visiting his month-old second-born grandson — me — at my parents’ home in Portland, Ore. He suffered a heart attack after pushing his car out of a snowdrift. Yiayia mourned him the rest of her life.

She kept on being proud of her standing as an American. She never took for granted the wonderful life she and Papou carved out for themselves and their family in this country.

Nor did she take for granted the political system that gave her a voice in the very government she adored. Yiayia and Papou were socialists at heart. They loved big, benevolent government. When given the chance to vote, she exercised that right with a gusto few of us know today.

Yiayia believed she may been more of an American those who were born here. She chose to come here, she would say. Native-born Americans were citizens by accident of birth; they made no sacrifice. They didn’t struggle with finding their way across a vast country with no knowledge of the language spoken there.

My uncle recalled this story about Yiayia’s journey to her new home in America: “When she got off the ship in New York, she had no idea how to get to Portland other than she had to take a train. She asked someone how to get to the train station. He told her where it was and asked her where she was going. She told him ‘Portland.’ He said it was only about an eight-hour ride.

“Five days later, she arrived in the other Portland, the one in Oregon.”

Intrepid? They should put Yiayia’s picture next to the word in the dictionary.

My wife may be right about Yiayia’s death. It is as if she planned it that way. It is easy to write about someone as unforgettable as her nearly four decades after her death. It also is easy to remember that she stood for so much of what we celebrate today.

Yiayia embodied unbridled love of God, family and her country.

I remember her as a great American.

Olympics have ended; world can breathe now

Russia closed its Sochi Winter Olympics in fine fashion Sunday.

It ended without any terrorist incident, which had been the talk of the world in the days leading up to the lighting of the Olympic torch.

Mission accomplished, Russia.


The Russians’ Ring of Steel, which comprised several thousand military and law enforcement personnel, had been deployed around the Olympic venues to ensure that no suspicious individuals or groups got in. I take my hat off to the Russians for protecting the spectators and athletes from harm.

This does beg the question: Were the alarms sounding prior to the Olympics justified?

Members of the Congress were there, declaring they had evidence of “credible threats” to the Olympics. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul, R-Texas, actually suggested that the Russians might want to consider canceling the Olympics because of these threats, which he deemed to be valid and potentially disastrous.

Not to be derailed, the Russian organizers — with plenty of help from other governments — proceeded with the Olympics and they turned out to be quite the affair.

The 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens faced similar questions and concerns about terrorism, given that it was the first Summer Olympics after the 9/11 attacks. The Greeks were thought to be terribly lax in their anti-terror preparation. However, they too were able to pull off a successful Olympic event.

Congratulations are due the Russians. They might be our foes in some key geopolitical disputes at the moment, but they managed to stage a successful Olympic spectacle. They spent a ton of money on it, about $50 billion.

Given that they headed off any terrorist attack, it likely will be deemed worth the cost.