23 June 2015

Drama queen

My knowledge of economics is rudimentary; I don't claim to understand much beyond the basics of supply and demand so I can't provide insight into this "crisis".  Oh, and that word, "crisis" - a time when a difficult or important decision must be made - the time for decision making seems to stretch for an eternity.

What follows is not a coherent analysis but rather observations on how this affair has been presented for public consumption, what has been highlighted and what has been conveniently overlooked.

 - o O o -

The (Western European) press has continuously presented this “crisis” in the classic good guy/bad guy dichotomy, with a very strong moral slant.  On the one side, we have the profligate, lazy Greek, who wants something for nothing, who doesn’t pay his taxes, who sits around in the sun all day long, sipping ouzo, and other such national stereotypes.  On the other side, we have the virtuous, frugal, hardworking German taxpayer who subsidizes the indolent Greek.  Such sweeping generalizations based on prejudice and stereotyping is only to be expected from certain sections of the press.  After all, one must pander to one’s paymaster.  Oh, yes, I admit, there are odd sob stories that come out now and again about the soup kitchens in Athens and cancer patients not being able to afford their life-saving medication, but these merely fulfil editors’ demands for the “human interest element” in their papers, something for the bored housewife to read during her coffee break, which is a lot lighter than economic analyses. 

It takes two to tango: if Greece borrowed money recklessly then somebody lent them that money recklessly.  But the press doesn’t focus on the lender’s side of the relationship too much.  (Here I remember the US banks that lent money to house buyers with low incomes, knowing full well that the new home owners would not be able to maintain payments for long, default, and the banks could then repossess – we know how that turned out.) By the same token, when Greece joined the EU and the Euro, didn’t those economists and financiers figure out that Greece had cooked the books a little? Would they have us believe that they were duped?

Greeks do not have a monopoly on corruption and tax evasion.  The Siemens scandal, Schäuble’s acceptance of a sizeable donation during Kohl’s term in office, all those Germans with Swiss bank accounts …….. These stories do not make the front page very often.  Then there are those numerous Germans (and other Europeans) who have bought up plots of land in the Greek countryside and built their holiday villas.  Some of them had to oil the wheels of bureaucracy (just like the Greeks) when buying their dream in the sun – especially if the land in question is outside the urban planning zone (which quite often it is).

Greece go it alone with the Drachma?  I don’t see it happening.  I don’t think the Bundesbank, oops sorry, the ECB, would like Greece to repay its debts in a worthless currency.  They would prefer Euros, of course.  And a Greece out of Europe is a loose cannon: not only would the EU’s much vaunted “unity” and “solidarity” be damaged, but Greece would then be free to flirt with other partners.  Russia is already wooing Tsipras – is Putin interested in exploiting Greece’s oil/gas deposits? Or wants to sell his own to Greece?  Both countries share the Orthodox religion and Cyrillic alphabet – tenuous links but perhaps these are enough to form a basis for collaboration.

A final word on the subject of hypocrisy: while Mrs. Merkel and her ministers are dictating to the Greeks how much of a pay cut they should take, the backroom boys are working on a deal to sell German arms to the Greek government, weapons and armaments they don’t need and can’t afford.  What they give to Greece in financial help, they get back in arms sales.  This does not get into the mainstream press.  (I forget the exact statistics, but Greece is something like third on the list of Germany’s top arms buyers – not bad for a country on the verge of bankruptcy).

Is there a solution? I think not. This is a country in the strangle hold of the church, with an inadequate education system, crumbling infrastructure, little computerisation in public life, dysfunctional public services, etc. etc. etc. And this was even before the "crisis".  Greece's creditors are obviously not in the charity business; they expect a return on their money and like everyone else, they want their cut.

So much attention to this Greek drama, and so much (biased) press attention  because if Greece goes down, she's taking some others down with her. And this is what it's all about: self preservation.

Greece has never done anything alone, without help from outside. This goes right back even to the War of Independence in 1821 against the Ottoman Empire. Sympathisers and Philhellenes provided funding. 

18 June 2014

Hypocrisy on a mammoth scale

World Cup, Brazil, 2014

There's this photo that is floating around the internet at the moment which shows a woman rummaging for food inside a rubbish container.  At the same time, sports fans are streaming by next to her, on the street, (perhaps) oblivious to what is happening inside the container.

As it later transpires, the photo originated from 2013.  How it resurfaced a year later, only to be widely copied wholesale is a matter for Internet sleuths to figure out.  It certainly does highlight the social injustices that dominate daily life in the country, but should we need a huge "sports" event like this to remind us of the destitute that live in abject poverty?  At some point soon, the football matches will be over, the tourists will return home, and this woman will still be looking for scraps to eat, but no one will show any interest; there is simply no profit to be made from it.

The poor and the homeless are the pariahs of society, we don't want them to appear in front of us, pricking our conscience.  'Out of sight, out of mind.'  Some local authorities in Britain have built spikes into the ground in shop doorways to make it impossible to lay down.  Tramps have to move on and find somewhere else to doss down for the night.

Bottom line: Brazil does not enjoy a monopoly on poverty.  Perhaps we shouldn't criticise the Brazilians' inaction until all our own citizens are adequately housed, fed and schooled. 

11 June 2013

The Empire is not quite dead yet

Butlers sells pretty things for the modern home all over Europe (and a bit outside its borders, too).  According to the New Order of Things, very little of the stuff (none?) they shift is made in Germany.  But there is nothing new here.  

Among the knick-knacks for sale are a variety of porcelain knobs for drawers and ceramic hooks à la Victoriana.  One such wall hook is decorated with a postage stamp showing Queen Victoria.  My first question upon seeing consumer goods is always "How much?" - My second question is always "Where is it manufactured?"  In this instance, the answer is India.

I wonder if the Indians who churn out these wall hooks realise that somebody is taking the Mickey, or thumbing their noses at them (i.e. exploiting them).  Even if they do, they may well be too young/poor to know who the well nourished woman is, or too hungry to care.

Funny how things turn out: decades have passed since all that rhetoric about "independence" from the imperial occupiers and the coming of "democracy" and "free market forces", yet India still has to churn out goods with the face of the Empress emblazoned on them.

Picture source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Victoria

11 November 2012

To the flat hunter in Switzerland ...

..... looking for a flat to buy in Karl Marx Allee, I'm sorry that the blog post you stumbled upon didn't have anything to do with real estate and that you probably cursed Google Search under your breath (or out loud, come to that) for wasting your valuable time.  Still, you would have obtained a very general idea of the neighbourhood.  Personally, if I had the money to buy a flat in Karl Marx Allee, I'd buy one somewhere else where I would be allowed to change my old, draughty windows, if necessary.  And if my address read 'Hauptstraße' instead of 'Karl Marx Allee' that would be okay too.

19 July 2012

What Olympics?

Somewhere along the line the message seems to have mutated into something completely different.

The first Olympic games were a time for sportsmanship, reconciliation and endeavour.  Hostilities were suspended, wars put on hold for a few days and warriors left their shields and swords at home in order to compete on the track.  No gold or silver prizes, only accolades and laurel wreaths.  Honour and glory attach to the victor's name, nothing else.

Today, instead of wars being suspended, they are intensified.  Crimes are committed against not just the Olympic spirit but against the very athletes themselves.  And on Olympic grounds as well.  These days, warriors do not leave their armour at home.  They take it with them into the games, to "protect" athletes and audience.  The army patrols the streets as if we lived under foreign occupation.  Honour as a prize has been sullied by the offering of cash, lucrative deals, exclusive rights, sponsorship, and monopolistic diktats.

Now here's a radical thought.  Organisers have no right to call the Olympic Games by that name.  Because there is not one atom remaining of the original Olympic ideal.  No connection whatsoever between 776 BCE and 2012.  How should we rename them?  Barclays Athletics Meet?  McDonald's Jamboree?  At least these are more honest.

10 July 2012

Best foot forward

The hosiery department in the city centre store is decorated with huge posters of Manhattan, depicting sky scrapers and concrete jungles.  The connection with legwear is a bit obtuse.  After all, ladies all over the world wear hosiery and not just in Manhattan.  Why should a Munich store adorn its walls with pics of Manhattan?  Why not calming, Alpine scenes?  Probably because The Other is what sells tights and socks.  The association with the Exotic gets us dipping into our purses to splash out on new tights.  Pictures of home are too mundane, too dull, too .... ordinary.  

I bet if you visit a New York department store you'll see posters of (OK, maybe not Munich) Paris and London.  Just the right thing to lend an air of chic, European elegance to a new packet of tights.

p.s. legs belong to someone else

8 July 2012

The various and devious ways of railway managers

It is a rare and wondrous occasion when a suburban train arrives at the time stated in the timetable, and even more wondrous when it drops you at your destination when you expect it to.  I have abandoned my little timetable book at home; it seems a waste of time consulting it when the contents therein bear little connection to reality

I sense that administrators are becoming more duplicitous in how they present delays/cancellations to the travelling public.  For instance, if a train is cancelled the station announcer doesn't just come out and say "Sorry, people, the 13.00 is cancelled."  Instead he says "The 13.00 train will arrive 20 minutes late."  The thing is, however, that trains run every 20 minutes, so does that mean that at 13.20 two trains will arrive, the delayed 13.00 together with the punctual 13.20?  I think you know the answer to that question.

Another psychological trick is to unplug the departure board.  Here the great unknown is at play.  The only certain information you are given is which are the next two trains, and you know which one the first is because it's already standing right in front of you in the station.  Thanks a lot!  Will your desired train be arriving in the next twenty minutes?  Beats me!  Just stick around and wait a while.

Railway managers are skilled masters at redefining our concept of time.  The departure board boldly announces your train will arrive in one minute (an optimistic assumption, if ever I saw one).  That digit "1" stubbornly remains in place on the board for at least seven minutes - I know, I've timed it with my ordinary, quartz-operated wristwatch.  I am led to the conclusion that I must be stuck in a time warp in another dimension. 

Still, I wouldn't change places with London commuters at this particular point in time, what with the Olympics and all that.  I've read that Transport for London (what was wrong with the old name, London Transport?) is handing out pearls of wisdom for commuters stuck in a Tube station in the bowels of the city: if your train is late/delayed a good alternative is to walk.  Oh, how droll!  Let's all traipse home across the city to the counties.  I wonder how Boris will be getting around during the Games?
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Squeaky Door by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.