Letter from Thessaloniki

I liked the old days when we still had airplanes and television and dry martinis and pornography Paul E. Erdman writes in chapter one in his bestseller of twenty-plus years The Crash of ’79. This Halloween image isn’t inapt, since Paul E. Erdman’s novel appears to trade on the grotesque – entirely fictitious? – story of a terrorist attack with six nuclear bombs that had exploded in the Middle East. The difference in his case was that the madman in the story was the late Shah of Iran who had procured atomic weapons. After his attack: the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, of Kuwait, of Iran, would remain totally inaccessible for at least 25 years. In this compelling novel, the result was the greatest economic disaster in history. The Arabs were through as a world power – and as a threat to Israel. Of course, the Western industrial powers were through too, as the book concludes. No more witches, bats, owls, ghosts, death, and monsters this year. The actual Halloween spookarama remains effectively creepy by just watching the news on TV night after night. Last Friday, The Times of London reported that intelligence sources have disclosed that Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network have acquired nuclear material for possible use in their terrorism war against the West. Let’s remind ourselves that in 1998 bin Laden issued a statement titled The Nuclear Bomb of Islam, which said: It is the duty of Muslims to prepare as much force as possible to terrorize the enemies of God. Tomorrow, in times when the unthinkable is so frequently thinkable, not just because it happens to be Halloween, or All Hallows Eve – a feast that has roots and overtones of Satanism and devil worship – it is rather difficult to have fun with childish, ghostly perils. Now there are modern-era ghost sightings and adventures, such as hacking and computer viruses. Indeed, nowadays even worse than the not-very-likely prospect of a nuclear attack against the West – deliberate or by accident – is the infection of our PCs with germs. Of all the machines that men have built for processing information, the one connected with hacking has become the most scarily misused – and misreported. Presumably, in order to give answers to indigenous alarmists, and to inform the Greek private sector of new potential threats, a conference on Hacking and Security on Cyberspace is being organized today and tomorrow (conveniently scheduled for Halloween) in Athens by the General Army Staff (GES), in cooperation with the University of Athens. Yet in a season of fright and gore, it is a small solace to perceive some wise words on the practical definition of democracy – which, of course, is the ability to change governing parties peacefully. Words that are worth quoting. While attending official celebrations commemorating the patron saint of Thessaloniki last weekend, Greece’s president, Costis Stephanopoulos, referred to the issue of consent and understanding between political forces: Political parties are not destined to consent, he said, they are destined to contradict each other.

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