My Gay Adventures in the Middle East

You’re not gay are you he said. Nope I said. “Hmm” he replied. The trouble with you British he said (now the trouble with the British is a conversation that I have more frequently in the Middle East than you can possibly imagine or maybe you can) the trouble with you British is when you say you are not gay, you are not gay.

John Wreford Photographer

JON_3992

It was one of those balmy Beirut summer evenings, the smell of Nargila smoke mingling intoxicatingly with the car fumes along the corniche, I had strolled alone as I almost always do when visiting the dysfunctional Lebanese capital.

My evening amble had started in romantic enough fashion around the spot that, on Valentine’s Day 2007 the former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri was blown to kingdom come in a truck bomb explosion that had left little to chance.Rafic had been known as Mr. Lebanon and not because he had won a pageant like beauty contest wearing skinny gold shorts, alas, but because he pretty much owned Lebanon, and, as is very well known, Lebanon cannot be owned by a Lebanese.

As is my good fortune I had also walked this very same route that year only a couple of weeks prior to the assassination and again shortly after, debris and…

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Herculean Efforts at The Lemon Grove of Hercules

Sometimes a place is that good that you just have to write about it. Please note that this is an unpaid endorsement of the Limoneto di Ercole country house in Erchie, Italy. Erchie is a pleasant seaside town that is 10 minutes by taxi (EUR€5) from Cetara on the Amalfi Coast on the Gulf of Naples. The Limoneto di Ercole (Lemon Grove of Hercules) is perched on the cliffs overlooking the town.

RICOH IMAGING

What a pleasure this location is! The property is first class and the host is a real gent (Nicola – excuse the incorrect spelling I think). He cannot help enough with advice about everything from taxis to excursions to hikes to motor bike treks to restaurants to shopping to bus timetables to ferries.

The room we stayed in was 5 star with a mezzanine bedroom and an enormous king in the master bedroom. Huge bathroom and a well stocked self catering kitchen.

There is a 450 step / 1.2 km walk down the hill to the town of Erchie if you fancy the exercise. For the walker / hiker it is fine – even with shopping bags on the way back up. The path is lit in the evenings. Lizards and snakes will keep you company all the way 🙂

A view to kill for as it afforded a vista over the town of Erchie and the Gulf of Naples. The entire property is swathed in lemon and lime groves which are carefully manicured and managed by the ever present Isaac.

After a long days hike or ferry hopping there is a grass platform which gets the sun until after 6pm replete with a hot tub! This is one of the best self catering locations I have stayed at globally and I would highly recommend it for travellers of all types (Note: the property closed November to March).

There is a bus stop is outside the front door. Lots of onsite parking. If you are not hiring a car then note that the taxi from Naples airport can be negotiated down to about EUR€120 but I still get the feeling I was had.

An alternative route would be to take a EUR€5 taxi (10 minutes) to Cetara and a ferry to Salerno (20 minutes, no stops, EUR€5 per passenger and EUR€5 per bag) then take the express train to Naples Centrale (35 minutes) for EUR€4.30 then it is a 15 minute taxi ride to the airport for about EUR€20 depending.

Get a train from the same station to Pompei and Vesuvius. Do the Vesuvius hike, allocate a day for Pompei (divert from the crowd and go south to the less crowded side streets and vineyards (near where the mummified bodies exhibit is), take the ferry (Travel Mar is the best company IMHO) to Sorrento and ferry hop the Amalfi coast from Sorrento to Positano to Maoiri to Minori to Cetara and then Salerno and then take the train (30 minutes) back to Naples. See Capri on your way – use Positano as your jump off point for that excursion.

Hiking, water sports, climbing, boating, fishing, sight seeing, food, museums, the locals – they are all here! You can book tickets for most of the above online.

Google it. Google is your friend.

ENDS 

Why I will return to Europe

Returning to Europe is always like coming home to a familiar bed. Even as an Irishman who detests Irish society (the politics, the media, the inequality, the ignorance … not the people) but loves the Irish countryside and the wilds of the Wild Atlantic Way I always look down on Dublin Bay on the approach to Dublin Airport and there is always a jump in my gut, like meeting an old crush.

Europe is the most diverse continent and after reading this post I clicked and read https://andreasmoser.blog/2017/04/12/return-to-europe/ – I could not agree more with you that the opinion that Europe is not diverse is a liberal myth, mainly proclaimed by liberals who have never set foot outside of their parish let alone their country, or if they have, have done so on one of those sanitised package holiday experiences where the judgment of the experience is “how much like “home” the destination is but just with sunshine or snow, of course”.

Europe is a treasure that most Europeans spend much of their lives denying in favour of cliched experiences at Mount Fuji, Angkor Wat, Kilimanjaro, Table Mountain …. checklists of “must-see” locations and returning tourists who consider themselves to be modern day Livingstone. I disliked Mexico City intensely when I worked there in the 90’s. For many of the same reasons as you state. Thousands of people on every street corner and a nauseating pride in Catholicism. The homogeneity of opinion and experience.

Phnom Penh was similarly cheek to jowl with humanity but interesting to a degree that Mexico City was not. But even there the peoples pride in paying rambling Buddhist monks to pray for their enlightenment each morning on their doorstep betrayed a similarity globally in the obsession with insisting that we are not in control of our own lives.

Of course I completely disagree with you about the Schengen thing but mainly for reasons that are nothing to do with freedom of internal movement – but you already know that and I will not launch into lecture here.

Suffice to say that we Europeans are all glad to have you back and as usual your two stories in this series “Why I Will Return to Europe” and “Back in Europe” were a joy to read and research some of the information that I was not familiar with. Welcome back Mr. Moser.

The Happy Hermit

Originally, I had planned to spend several years in Latin America to take the time to explore every country from Argentina to Mexico. As an advocate for constant change, I have however scrapped this plan and I will return to Europe in May 2017 – after only one and a half years in South America.

There are a number of reasons behind this decision, but if I had to put them into two groups, they would be these: first, South America – with the notable exception of Bolivia – did not fascinate me as much as I had hoped. Second, I realized how diverse, beautiful, interesting and easy to travel Europe is by comparison.

Now to the particular reasons, roughly in order of importance:


The noise

In one and a half years in South America, I have easily sustained the same amount of accumulated decibels as in the previous…

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Back in Europe

After 18 months in South America, I am back in Europe. I have already written extensively about the reasons for my return. Here are the first impressions from the old continent: You cannot imagine how happy I was when I set foot on European soil in Funchal on Madeira. Green, a pleasant climate, wonderful architecture, no more noise, newspapers in English and German for the first time in one and a half years, large parks. I was seriously impressed by Portugal. In Sintra alone, I saw more different styles of architecture than in all of South America. Traveling through Germany by car or train is idyllic. Green everywhere, neat villages, hilly, forests of trees instead of billboards with advertisement.

The Happy Hermit

After 18 months in South America, I am back in Europe. I have already written extensively about the reasons for my return. Here are the first impressions from the old continent:

  1. You cannot imagine how happy I was when I set foot on European soil in Funchal on Madeira.Ankunft Funchal.JPGGreen, a pleasant climate, wonderful architecture, no more noise, newspapers in English and German for the first time in one and a half years, large parks. grün Funchal.JPG
  2. I was seriously impressed by Portugal. In Sintra alone, I saw more different styles of architecture than in all of South America.Pena mit Burg.JPG
  3. Traveling through Germany by car or train is idyllic. Green everywhere, neat villages, hilly, forests of trees instead of billboards with advertisement.
  4. But Germany also appears too spruced up. Everything is clinically clean, as if treated antiseptically every day. Even the roads are so clean that you could eat from them. Hedges and…

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Thoughts of the Day 14

Colombia has neo-Nazis, too & Whenever someone talks of bitcoin and blockchain, I just hear “bla bla bullshit bla bla”.

The Happy Hermit

  1. If I am ever on a quiz show, my telephone joker will be the dude who wrote Wikipedia.
  2. Suki Kim has done impressive undercover reporting in North Korea, fooling both her employer, by pretending that she was a devout Christian, and of course the North Korean government.
  3. The resulting book is Without you, there is no us: my secret life teaching the sons of North Korea’s elite
  4. If I had listened to all the well-meaning advice I ever got, I would lead a boring life.
  5. “Oh, your Spanish is very good,” people all over Latin America tell me. I thought it was a personal compliment until I realized that my Bolivian accent makes me sound more refined.
  6. After my trip in South America, I have an unused but not generally useless package of anti-malaria medicine to give away.
  7. On the other hand, thanks to climate change

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Doves & Hawks & Skewed Reality

The uncomfortable truth about doves and hawks, a truth that doves generally fail to appreciate, is that doves cannot exist without hawks. Hawks cherish and fight for the freedoms and principles that doves enjoy. It is possible to be hawkish and philosophical and to aspire to the principles of peace, love, respect for diversity and co-existence with peaceful but different ideologies.

Doves and hawks employ different methods but seek the same outcome. They occupy the same societal structures and enjoy the same freedoms. Doves tend to believe that these freedoms exist by divine right and do not require defending.

Doves also tend to believe that hawks are mindlessly jingoistic. To counter this is well served by quoting several from Thucydides as follows:

“The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting by fools.”

“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”

“The secret to happiness is freedom… And the secret to freedom is courage.”

“Be convinced that to be happy means to be free and that to be free means to be brave. Therefore do not take lightly the perils of war.”

“Ignorance is bold and knowledge reserved.”

“History is Philosophy teaching by examples”

One can be hawkish and cherish the values and freedoms that doves enjoy. Generally speaking one cannot be a dove and respect hawks. This thesis is well served by an exchange in the comments sections on a Facebook post that I made recently which re-posted this tweet:

The reaction to this post from a old acquaintance (a dove) of mine was:

“Left to me, I’d rather see my sons or daughters arrive home safely from vacation, rather than in this sad manner. There is no glory to be had in such a flight of fancy. There is no joy in such a homecoming. There is only grief behind this picture. And yet, we rush to paint it as some sacred scene, to be hung on walls, in houses where life and purpose, has lost its true centre. Death, decay, and destruction, is ALL the military mind will ever bring to the table. Time for heads to come out of dark holes. Time for The Light to shine!”

The response to this comment from a friend and colleague of mine (a hawk) was:

“When the job is done for right or wrong this is what happens when they are brought home. It will always be that doves disagree with hawks but the doves can disagree with the hawks in our society because the hawks have to fight to preserve the doves right to disagree.

The doves forget this but the doves always have a selective opinion. I do not disagree with you that military minds are narrow. I do disagree with you that the ultimate sacrifice that some people make is not worthy of a post like this on Memorial Day.

It is easy to cry for freedom and liberty and justice and love and peace but there are very significant groups in this world who want the exact opposite for you and the society that you live in and the military, good and bad, are sent to deal with them on your behalf.

This is the way the world works so that you can speculate about love and peace in your country without fear. I want all of the things that you want. The difference is that I am willing to kill those people who oppose them.

You may find this discomforting but that is the way it is and that is the way it always will be and when it stops so will your freedom.”

Which one are you?

ENDS

AI Voice Cloning & Perceived Reality – Fake News Has A New Friend

A Canadian startup called Lyrebird has announced that it has developed a platform capable of mimicking human voice with a fraction of the audio samples required by other platforms such as Google DeepMind and Adobe Project VoCo.

The Lyrebird synthesis software requires only 60 seconds of sample audio to produce it’s synthetic sample. VoCo needs about 20 minutes to do the same.

The quality of the voice reproductions that the software can make are mixed. Some are better than others.

The three founders state that they are addressing possible misuse concerns by making the software publicly available. That may be a little optimistic.

“By releasing our technology publicly and making it available to anyone, we want to ensure that there will be no such risks. We hope that everyone will soon be aware that such technology exists and that copying the voice of someone else is possible. More generally, we want to raise attention about the lack of evidence that audio recordings may represent in the near future.”

James Vincent at The Verge neatly summarizes the worrying outcomes of the combination of trick biometric software, 3D mapping and voice synthesizers.

“There are more troubling uses as well. We already know that synthetic voice generators can trick biometric software used to verify identity. And, given enough source material, AI programs can generate pretty convincing fake pictures and video of anyone you like. For example, this research from 2016 uses 3D mapping to turn videos of famous politicians, including George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, into real-time “puppets” controlled by engineers. Combine this with a realistic voice synthesizer and you could have a Facebook video of Donald Trump announcing that the US is bombing North Korea going viral before you know it.” 

Fake news has a new friend.

ENDS