Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Kempe Quarterly 6

My good friend Bob Kempe has submitted his latest Quarterly. Please feel free to comment!


Most non smokers do not appreciate the contributions and the value that smokers bring to our economy.
Many of them do not even know about it.

Maybe we should have either a National Smoker’s Week or a Smoker’s Appreciation Day.

Smokers bring a least three values to our economy, an economy which is now struggling.

1.They pay taxes, a big chunk of the cost of a pack or carton goes to taxes a lot of which go to the Federal government. This means that either non smokers do not have to pay as much in income taxes and/or the Federal Government does not need to borrow as much from friends like China and Saudi Arabia.

2.Then comes Social Security. Smokers do not get as many Social Security checks as non smokers. They say the Social Security trust fund is in trouble and smokers cause it to be less trouble than if they quit.

3.Now comes Medicare. Lung cancer is pretty rough and costly, However it does not last forever, and the trend is the longer living non smokers do have ailments and some are expensive. But whatever the condition of the Medicare fund is, it is a little better because of each smoker.

I heard someplace that on average smoking one cigarette cuts the life of a smoker by 7 minutes. With a little arithmetic that shows that a carton of 200 cigarettes just about equals one day of life. Next time you go into the store and see all those cartons on the shelves you can know for each of those cartons there is one less day of Social Security payment.

I quit smoking on my 43rd birthday, and those who know me know that was a long, long time ago. I had two objectives; I wanted to feel better and I wanted to set an example for my kids.

As they say, you can’t win them all, or one out of two ain’t bad.

I did meet one of those. I do feel better. When I smoked I had a lot of colds. Since quitting I rarely have a cold, and whatever my health is I know it is better since I kicked nicotine. On the other hand, my kids smoke. They must figure the seven minutes of pleasure from a cigarette is worth the seven minutes they trade for it.

It has been said that an ex-smoker is like a reformed whore at a Sunday school picnic, intolerant and intolerable. Ok, that’s me.

When I quit, I read a book on it. That book was sold with a money back guarantee. if you bought the book and read it and did not quit smoking, send it in to the publisher and the publisher would send your money back. The name of the book was “How to Stop Smoking”, by Herbert Breen. It is unfortunately is long since out of print.

Some of the things I remember about it was the price of the book then was approximately the cost of a carton of cigarettes, if you quit for a week, you broke even.

I did religiously practice some of the thoughts and disciplines in the book. Two of them I remember were;

1.For anyone who even bought that book, do not consider smoking as a habit, treat it as an addiction. On quitting, never ever have one, not one, puff from a cigarette, cigar or pipe, never ever one, not one.

2.Another one I remember is after quitting, tell everybody you quit and exactly when you quit, or how many day or weeks or hours it has been. Just tell them, just tell everybody.

My hope, my objective from writing this: at least one reader one will be inspired to quit smoking.


Robert A. Kempe

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Albanian expatriates remitted home over 500 million drachmas

It is estimated that between 500,000 and 900,000 Albanians reside and work in Greece acccording to a posting by cameria@yahoogroups.com on 2.24.09 by a Sam Vaknin(3.13.08) who stated that

"In the late 1990s, Albanian expatriates remitted home well over 500 million drachmas annually."

During Greek Ambassador Alexandros Malios's lecture on Southeastern Europe a few months ago at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University to which my wife, Jane Christo, and I had been invited, Ambassador Malios stated - rather forcefully I thought - that "Albanians came to Greece with nothing - absolutely nothing - and now they own businesses and have invested in Greece!"

Thus, while Albanian workers in Greece send money back home, Albanian business owners in Greece are reciprocating by employing Greek workers!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ponzi/Madoff pyramid schemes and Albania's 1997 "Lottery Uprising"

An article by Kerin Hope in Athens on May 14, 2009 titled "Positive Growth Forecast for Albania" stated that Albania appeared as "an unlikely bright spot on Europe's economic map" because of its modest economic growth compared to other European nations. Notwithstanding the world's current economic downturn created, in part, by the Ponzi-like Madoff pyramid schemes in thre USA, Albania's positive economic progress was truly good news, however, it did bring to mind how Albania also experienced financial pyramids in the mid-nineties.

According to a letter titled "Financial Collapse"(The New Yorker, THE MAIL, Page 3, April 27, 2009), "(During) Albania's experience with financial pyramids in the mid-nineteen-nineties...as many as two-thirds of the Albanian population invested in schemes, with little or no prospect for long-term payouts. At their peak, the investors' liabilities approached half of Albania's gross national product. The result, in 1997, was a large-scale financial collapse accompanied by general revolt.

Known locally in Albania as the "Lottery Uprising," it ended with more than fifteen hundred dead, the goverment replaced, foreign nationals evacuated, and seven thousand UN peacekeepers on the ground. It is likely that no other society has ever been so completely saturated by pyramid schemes that the state is brought to the point of failure."

Yes, pyramid scehmes are economically disasterous for all involved, but they are also politically dangerous. That made the good news about Albania's current positive economic outlook and stability doubly welcome. Bravo Albania!

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers (Albanian, that is)

Recently, I had an important medical appointment and waited patiently at my T Stop for the streetcar that would transport me only four stops located near my destination. Clearly, I realized that something was amiss because the T service was very slow that particular morning.

Since my T Stop was located at a red light, I decided, on the spur of a moment, to see if I could "hitch a ride" to my not-too-far-away destination. So, when I saw a male driver with an empty seat beside him, I asked - quite politely - if he would mind driving me only 6 blocks so I wouldn't be late for my medical appointment. Alas, I was refused three times in a row, but, after realizing that I might be late for my important appointment, I decided to make one final request for a lift.

Then, a black SUV stopped at the red light so I asked the driver if he might consider driving me the 6 blocks. He looked at me for a moment, and then responded, "OK, get in." As we drove away, I expressed my thanks profusely, and the man responded simply "No problem" in a foreign accent I couldn't quite place. I then dared to ask him where he came from, and, after a slight pause, he stated, "I'm from Albania." With barely-concealed delight, I gently inquired - in the Albanian language - "Po ka ku te kemi?" that means in English "Where do you come from?" The man slowly turned his face to me in utter amazement as a broad smile came across his face and then insisting that he would drive me right to the front entrance of my appoinment(located on a side street). The man even offered to wait for me so we might have coffee afterwards!

To respect the privacy of that Albanian person, I won't reveal his full name other than to inform you that his first name was Genci. I was quite proud of the fact that - after three turndowns - I was able to get to my medical appointment on time - thanks to the kindness of an Albanian stranger!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

In Search of Faiku

I was pleased to be a participant on the panel discussion "Remembering Faik Konitza: An Albanian Luminary" at Harvard last week that was so ably planned and chaired by PhD candidate, Ardeta Gjikola. The panel was created in part because Faik Konitza, was himself a graduate of Harvard University in 1912. I had selected as my topic "In Search of Faiku" that described a 1988 visit to the village of Konitza in northern Greece with my wife, Jane, and our young son, Zachary, to locate the birthplace of our illustrious Albanian patriot, Faik Konitza.

Also speaking about Faik Konitza was panel participant, V. Rev. Arthur Liolin, Chancellor of the Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America, whose topic "Impressions on Konitza" presented a series of interesting and little-known information about Faiku when he served as Minister of Albania to Washinton, D.C. in the 1930s and about Konitza's many joint actvities with Fan Noli to establish the Pan-Albanian Federation VATRA. Father Liolin also described Faik Konitza's efforts to establish a significant Albanian newspaper in the USA including the short-lived newspaper "Trumpeta" that Konitza published in Saint Louis, Missouri in 1932, an example of which he showed to the audience much to their surprise and delight. Of course, Konitza co-founded with Fan Noli the much more sucessful organ of VATRA, the popular Albanian newspaprer, DIELLI, that is published to this day in New York. Father Liolin also described cataloguing activities of the extensive Fan Noli Library adjacent to Saint George Cathedral in South Boston and touched on Faik Konitza's "missing" personal library of some 2000 Albanian books each containing his personal bookmark. Father Liolin also presented to the audience a sample of Konitza's personal bookplate - to spur interest by others in helping to locate some of Koniza's missing books.

The same theme of the "missing" Konitza library was greatly expanded upon by the third and final speaker on the panel, Agron Alibali, LL.M, whose topic "New Findings on Konitza from American Archives" outlined in great detail his own extensive and ongoing archival research for new data about Faik Koniza including his long search for the missing Faik Konitza library. In a dramatic presentation, Alibali held up three newly-found books from that long lost library and he also described how he eventually located a single book of the Faik Konitza library among the personal possessions of the late Sara Panarity, the widow of longtime DIELLI Editor, Qerim Panarity. Indeed, Alibali recounting of his careful search for clues that might lead to the missing library intrigued the audience.
I have included below my talk titled, “The Search for Faiku, ” and I would encourage any of you who may have any comments or remembrances to post them.


Dudley House, Graduate Lounge, Graduate School or Arts and Science, Harvard University
April 28, 2009 4 to 6pm

In Search of Faiku

Van Christo

"Te lidhim besa besen, te leftojme per te drejtat e per nderin e Shqiperise dhe t'u refejme te huajve se rrojme e duam te rrojme me nder ne vendin tone."
"Let us pledge our sacred word that we will fight for the rights and honor of Albania and to show the world that we live and want to live with honor in our land."

The words of Faik Konitza were echoing in my head on a hot afternoon in August of 1988 as my wife, Jane, our then 10-year old son, Zachary, and I drove into the city of Janina in Northern Greece. We had just completed the long trek by rented car from Salonika in the east traveling in a westerly direction through Kalambaka, Meteoria into Metsova, through the Pindus Mountains until we finally arrived in Janina. Although Jane and I had visited Janina several years earlier, I was especially excited because, this time, our stay would be a little longer in that interesting city so I'd have the opportunity to take a trip about 25 miles north near the Albanian border to visit and explore Konitza, the birthplace of Faik Konitza.
My first real introduction to Faik Konitza was his own incompleted book "Albania: The Rockgarden of Eastern Europe" (edited posthumously by Qerim Panarity and published by Vatra in 1957). Konitza's name, however, was not unknown to me because as a young boy in the mid-1930s visiting Misho family relatives in Brookline, Massachusetts, I can still remember heated discussions between my cousin Llambi Misho, my uncle Lazi Christo, the ever-articulate Fan Noli, and others where the names "Faiku" or "Konitza" were prominently mentioned. Since I was too young at the time to have any clue about who Faik Konitza was, I did, nonetheless, get the strong impression that my elders were talking about a very important Albanian person.
In any event, here we now were in Janina ready to begin the "Search for Faiku."

It was with a sense of great expectation that on the morning of our planned trip to Konitza, I brought my road map downstairs to the hotel clerk so he could advise us about the best route to Konitza. I must confess that the clerk was a bit puzzled when I stated that we wanted to spend "a whole day" in Konitza which he said was just a small town, and that there were other, more interesting places that he thought we should visit. Nonetheless, Jane, Zach and I jumped into our car and began the final leg of our "Search for Faiku." As we drove towards Konitza and the road became narrower, the scenery seemed lovelier as we came closer to the mountains that are the border between Albania and Greece.

The heat that morning had created a certain haze over the mountains, and as we got closer to Konitza, which is located on the side of a mountain, the houses seemed to glow and shimmer in the sun. Although I had imagined Konitza in my mind's eye as a rustic village, when we reached the outskirts where, after driving down a steep, winding hill, we saw that Konitza was a bustling community lined with shops, banks, and cafes on each side of streets surrounding a small town square.

I parked the car, and then we entered a small coffee shop where I could plan my strategy about getting more information about Faiku or, perhaps, even locating his birthplace. However, I had learned from several earlier experiences in that part of Northern Greece, that you had to be a little careful about telling someone that you were an "Albanian." That seemed rather odd to me because, according to a journal written by an Englishman, Stuart Hughes, about his tour of Konitza at the beginning of the 19th century, Konitza was then comprised of some 800 houses of which 600 were Albanian and only 200 were Greek!

However, we were obviously American tourists, and all during our trip, I was pleased that the local people had always been eager to help us. Now, I thought to myself, if only I could find an Albanian, then, obviously, my task would be a much easier!
I then recalled what had worked for me in Istanbul when Jane and I were once in a small restaurant where I did find some Albanians. So, in Konitza, I decided to utilize the same technique: I had looked intently at the faces of people seated around me in a restaurant to see if I could find one or two that - somehow - looked "Albanian." After I picked out what I thought might be a couple of good possibilities, I quietly approached the person with a smile on my face and politely asked "A flisni Shqip? (Do you speak Albanian?)." Well, that was probably not the wisest thing for me to do because after I did that a couple of times, the people I approached were very careful to avoid eye contact with me. Alas, that "A flisni Shqip?" technique that worked so well for me in Istanbul didn't work for me at all here in Konitza!

Then, I decided to go into a bank to exchange some American money but really to make an inquiry about where I might be able to find an Albanian. The bank clerk directed me to "a small fruit shop". The shop was, indeed, small and very modest with a few figs and some peppers, a lot of onions, and a case full of candy. After I entered, I informed the young woman behind the counter - alternately in English, Albanian, and the few Greek words that I knew - that I was an American interested in learning something about the Albanians of Northern Greece and especially about a man called Faik Konitza, who, I understood, was born right here in Konitza and who went on to become the Albanian Minister to America during the 1930's. The young lady, wanting to be helpful, understood enough to send a young boy to find a man called Spiro. After a few minutes, Spiro arrived, and after I told him that my father's name was also Spiro, he took me by the arm outside and pointed to an area a distance away on the lower side of the hill where he believed the Konitza family once lived. Much to my amazement, Spiro also informed me that he had heard that Faiku was somehow related to the most famous Albanian of all time, Skanderbeg! However, my sense, again, was that Spiro, as well as other Albanian-speaking people of Northern Greece, was very guarded when they spoke Albanian, and they rarely elaborated on their Albanian origin.

Driving from the town center toward the rural area outside of Konitza proper, I searched unsuccessfully for a local resident walking by who might be able to provide us with some positive information about the site of the Konitza home. There was no one in sight but eventually we came upon a rather grand-looking house located some distance away that I believed was fitting for the residence of a Bey (which Faiku was). A brick-and-stone structure rising two stories high, the house, surrounded by a fence, was located on gently sloping land away from the main road. An iron gate leading to the entrance of the house was partially open, and as we walked up the path towards the front door, we saw a sign that read "Museum." Although the building was old, it had obviously been renovated. Regrettably, the door was locked so we looked all around again hoping to see some sign of human life but to no avail. The place and the area were deserted.

So, reluctantly, we drove back into Konitza but spent a pleasant few hours walking around and looking at some of the older buildings. We were especially struck by a small, old arch-shaped Roman footbridge that was located in a lovely setting on the way out of town.

The time that we spent in Konitza held a certain kind of magic and unreality for me, and, to this day, I believe that I did walk on the same ground that Faiku walked on when he was a child in Konitza, and that my eyes saw some of the same sights that he saw, and that I may even have touched the home of his early youth. As I learned more about this extraordinary Albanian who went on to become a great champion of Albanian nationalism and independence, I began to realize that my "Search for Faiku" was just beginning.

There is no more fitting salute to Faik Konitza - a great man - than his own, truly inspirational words, so let me - again - leave you with:

"Te lidhim besa besen, te leftojme per te drejtat e per nderin e Shqiperise dhe t'u refejme te huajve se rrojme e duam te rrojme me nder ne vendin tone."*
"Let us pledge our sacred word that we will fight for the rights and honor of Albania and to show the world that we live and want to live with honor in our land."

Faik Konitza - i perjetshim qofte kujtimi i tij (may his memory be eternal)