Monday, October 6, 2008

The weirdest country in Europe

SARANDE, Albania -Here and there on the Mediterranean waterfront around Sarande, a little town currently publicized with wan hope as "the southern gateway for tourism into Albania," you can spot evocative relics of communist paranoia: the concrete-and-steel bunkers erected under the personal supervision of Enver Hoxha.
He was the Stalinist who ran Albania for four terrifying decades. He created a society so hysterically secretive that the few journalists who managed to enter were immediately relieved of any potentially dangerous printed material they were carrying. The late James Cameron, a first-class British author, discovered that at the customs office he had to surrender the books he carried with him around the world, his complete Jane Austen.
Hoxha believed that rows of pillboxes on every stretch of coastline, each of them big enough to hold a soldier and a gun, would fend off foreign invaders -- who, in Hoxha's imagination, were forever plotting against Albania. The idea was mad as well as costly, but no one questioned Hoxha. He built 700,000 bunkers, about one for every four Albanians. This used more than three times as much concrete as the Maginot Line, the enormous installation that failed to protect France against Germany in the Second World War.
Hoxha has been dead since 1985, his statue in the capital city of Tirana long ago pulled down. Albania even passed a law making any form of politics that smells of "Enverism" illegal. But even though Enver is gone, his bunkers remain. They are too expensive to destroy and may be there for centuries. A few provide minuscule homes for the poor, a few are painted with the names of football heroes. Young Albanians have discovered that with a certain ingenuity it's not impossible to make love inside them.
They are a melancholy sight but they are by no means the most appalling structures to be found around Sarande. Bunkers speak eloquently of a dead ideology, but elsewhere in Sarande a visitor comes upon graphic physical evidence of post-communism, the era that Albania is still enduring and the nightmare of chaos and incompetence from which the whole nation is trying to escape.
In Albania, corruption became a major industry after the fall of communism. Citizens were no doubt glad to see a version of democracy and a version of private business being born in the 1990s. But, having been taught for 40-some years that capitalism is in essence crooked, they took this description literally and embraced the new era with excessive enthusiasm. In retrospect, it seems inevitable that the most extreme of communist states (Hoxha remained a pure Stalinist long after Stalin died) would turn into the most corrupt of post-communist states.
This horror story acts itself out in microcosm at Sarande, just across the Ionian Sea from the handsome Greek town of Corfu. Along the waterfront, not far from the casino named Caesars (in Vegas style, with no apostrophe) and the woebegone little space on the seashore called Heaven Beach, are at least three dozen waterfront buildings, intended to be hotels or condos, that remain unfinished concrete shells with no doors or windows. Pathetically, they are sometimes painted in turqoise, canary yellows or pink, suggesting Mediterranean beach homes. They were abandoned two or three years ago. Elsewhere in town there are many more structures in the same state. Some look so poorly built that it seems likely they'll fall down before they're ready to be occupied.

For more Info Visit here

Do You Want to Believe? (broadcast Friday, October 3rd, 2008)

New research indicates that in situations in which a person is not in control, they're more likely to spot patterns where none exist, see illusions, and believe in conspiracy theories. In a series of experiments, researchers created situations in which people had less control over their situation, and then tested how likely the participants were to see imaginary images embedded in snowy pictures. The researchers also had participants write about either a situation in which they had control, or a situation in which they didn't, and then presented stories involving strange coincidences. People who had written about a situation in which they were not in control were more likely to draw non-existent connections between the coincidences, the researchers found.

"People see false patterns in all types of data, imagining trends in stock markets, seeing faces in static, and detecting conspiracies between acquaintances. This suggests that lacking control leads to a visceral need for order – even imaginary order," said Jennifer Whitson, one of the authors of the report. We'll talk with her about the finding and what it means. Teachers, find more information about using Science Friday as a classroom resource in the Kids' Connection.

For more information visit