Saturday, December 31, 2011


I had my suspicions before, now I have the proof. Santa is a Nazi.

UPDATE for Mikeovswintonneedstogotospecsavers. Another angle - open palm, short fingers. Even more suspicious.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Latins and Teutons

So why can't the Greeks be more like the Germans? That should sort all the problems out, surely.

Matthew Iglesias writes in Slate:
Blaming the whole mess on the comparative torpor of Latins places a convenient moral framework around complicated economic questions, and affirms prior beliefs about who does and doesn’t work hard ... It’s true that Germans and Greeks work very different amounts, but not in the way you expect. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the average German worker put in 1,429 hours on the job in 2008. The average Greek worker put in 2,120 hours. In Spain, the average worker puts in 1,647 hours. In Italy, 1,802. The Dutch, by contrast, outdo even their Teutonic brethren in laziness, working a staggeringly low 1,389 hours per year.
 He continues with an old truth:
 ... countries aren’t rich because their people work hard. When people are poor, that’s when they work hard.
As Amartya Sen has written
... cultural generalizations ... can ... present astonishingly limited and bleak understandings of the characteristics of the human beings involved. When a hazy perception of culture is combined with fatalism about the dominating power of culture, we are, in effect, asked to be the slaves of an illusory force.
Hat tip John

Sunday, December 18, 2011

In Greece

It is good to be back in Greece. After months of disaster stories in the press, it is reassuring to see that it still exists and that the village has splashed out on a new public Christmas decoration. The old metal tree-shaped frame on the jetty has given way to a wooden boat draped with sailcloth and illuminated by fairy lights. Village gossip persists, the people are still here, the winter is mild and pleasant, even if the skies are grey and the sea is splashing over the paraleia as the weather gets cooler. The lane is still firm under foot, the legacy of a warm, dry autumn, the grass has hardly grown and only the clover has flourished. The citrus trees are in fruit, the bright colours of the pitted skins contrasting with their dark green leaves.

Yet the crisis is real enough and it continues unresolved, consuming its human sacrifices that signally fail to propitiate the gods of the markets. The sigh of relief at a half-formed and ill-constructed non-solution will soon give way to the inevitable failure and then ... ? Who knows? All I can say is that this is a country that deserves better and that for some unfathomable reason the stillness of a mild winter's night, broken only by the crackling of olive wood burning in the grate, brings me happiness.

The world has lost two fine democratic voices this week in Vaclav Havel and Christopher Hitchens, both exceptional writers, both intolerant of stupidity and totalitarianism. The contrast between their vigorous and thoughtful urgency with the stumbling, indecisive ideological orthodoxy of the EU is disturbing. Watching European leaders in action reminds me that it is not just evil that is banal, so is banality and it too carries its own dangers. There is nothing barbaric about our European elites, but they are careless. And European democracy is one thing not to be careless with.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The year of the dog

Hitler, Stalin (twice), Gandhi, Churchill, Nixon, Mark Zukerberg - all have been Time magazine's Person of the Year. Now they are joined by ... Loukanikos the Greek riot dog.

Well, this year's award is really a collective one to all the protesters who have challenged the established order all over the world, but Loukanikos gets an honourable mention and a picture spread.

Starting with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia that kicked off the Arab Spring and ending with the protests against the fraudulent elections in Russia, this has been an extraordinary year when the quiescence of a population cowed by fear or sated by the excesses of consumerism can no longer be taken for granted. Time's decision not to nominate a single person is down to their view that this year "leadership has come from the bottom of the pyramid, not the top". Perhaps, given the quality of political leadership we have seen lately, the selection of a dog in preference to any of this uninspiring bunch of presidents and prime ministers is all that needs to be said.

Hat tip KTG

Monday, December 12, 2011


There is a superb, angry summary of the Erozone summit agreement by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Torygraph of all places.
Europe will now have its austerity union, a revamped Stability Pact. Budgets will be vetted "ex ante". Structural deficits will be capped at 0.5pc of GDP. Sinners will be punished automatically once they break the 3pc limit, and submit to suzerainty. Commissars will tell them how to treat trade unions, what to tax, and what to spend.
It is not remotely a fiscal union. There will be no joint debt issuance, no EU treasury, no shared budgets, and no fiscal transfers to regions in trouble.
 And, making the obvious point that this non-union is the flawed solution to the wrong problem:
This is not at root a debt crisis. By endorsing fiscal fetishism, EU leaders are silently colluding in the Neo-Calvinist illusion that budget excess caused the debacle. They know this to be untrue. Ireland ran surpluses for years, reducing its public debt to 12pc of GDP at one stage (Germany is 82pc). Spain ran a surplus of 2pc of GDP. Italy has long had a primary surplus.
It is a trade and capital flow crisis, a regional variant of the US-China imbalance. The damage was hidden during the boom by cheap German, Dutch, and French capital -- and cheap Asian and Mid-East capital rotated through London banks -- flowing into southern Europe. It was cruelly exposed as soon as creditors shut off credit.
In other words, debts and deficits are the symptoms of a systemic crisis, not its cause.

So what is going on? A rehashing of Herbert Hoover, the rediscovery of the economics of Pierre Laval or a "Medieval leech-cure treatment" that "can only drain the lifeblood from large parts of wasted Euroland"? This will not end well.

Thanks to Alan

Saturday, December 10, 2011


So Britain is out in the cold as it stands aside from a deal to impose a permanent winter of austerity on a Europe that craves summer. Cameron has upset everybody by vetoing a treaty imposing the wrong remedy on the basis of a wrong diagnosis even though he agrees with the diagnosis and is busy applying the same wrong remedy to the British economy.

Here is Paul Krugman:
Maybe it was always thus, but the relentless wrong-headedness of the Europeans, their insistence on seeing their crisis as something it isn’t, and responding with actions that deepen the real crisis, has been a wonder to behold.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Literature, history and conflict

I found this fascinating interview with the Israeli novelist, David Grossman, on Normblog. Grossman is a writer whom I admire and I found his latest novel, To the End of the Land, memorable and haunting. Its structure is irregular, it does not offer any type of conclusive ending, instead it is a picture of relationships on a journey, falling through space and time. It is a meditation on ordinary lives shaped by conflict, uneasily escaping from and reconciling with reality by turn.

Norm highlights the concluding paragraph:
There is something in literature so contrary to the general dimension of war. War is all about effacing the other and self-effacement; it’s all about generalizations and sweeping definitions and demonizations. Writing is about specifying individuals, being very attentive to them and caring for them. It insists on nuances.
 This is interesting enough, but, I was drawn to something he said earlier:
We live in a very violent region, which makes people react sometimes in a terrible way ... We are all prisoners and imprisoned. The difficulty of being a human being, being a mentsch even, in such an inhumane and anti-mentsch reality, it’s an environment that is so poisoned with hatred and fears and prejudices and racism that one fights hard in order not to surrender to [these poisons]. It is so tempting to surrender to this way of thinking: demonizing the other, idealizing ourselves, believing the other understands only the language of power and therefore we have to, against our will of course, treat them only with vigor—all of these unbearable ways of seeing reality, which in a way are realizing themselves, it’s a kind of self-fulfilling way of looking at the world.

...It’s not only an abstract thought here; it’s very practical. People are challenged to make sharp, immediate decisions in order to stay alive, especially when they serve in the army. All these extreme dilemmas, which are really dilemmas for Greek tragedies, they are our daily bread, ours and the Palestinians. It is so hard to mitigate all these contrary urges and pressures and yearnings to remain human. Sometimes I compare it to walking in the middle of a huge storm with only one candle in your hand. How do you keep it lit? How do you protect it?
The importance of history as a discipline stands out, developing a narrative that expresses and explains the collective experience of both peoples. On all sides it is assailed by pseudo-history as propaganda, selecting and distorting to support one side or another, to provide a narrative that comforts prejudice, feeds contempt and breeds hatred.

But the drama of conflict, the instinct for survival, the choices that each individual makes with all the consequences that flow from them, what has the historian to say? Yes, it is possible to write about ironies, coincidences, misunderstandings; but fear and grief, or, what Grossman builds his novel on, the absolute terror of the possibility of grief? It is there that we need our artists, maybe walking hand-in-hand with historians, for what they can do is explain the reality of individual experience. Both explore a different dimension of truth and, at its best, history is a profoundly literary subject.

Does it make a difference? Here is the conclusion of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's 1970 Nobel Prize Lecture:
We shall be told: what can literature possibly do against the ruthless onslaught of open violence? But let us not forget that violence does not live alone and is not capable of living alone: it is necessarily interwoven with falsehood. Between them lies the most intimate, the deepest of natural bonds. Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence. Any man who has once acclaimed violence as his METHOD must inexorably choose falsehood as his PRINCIPLE. At its birth violence acts openly and even with pride. But no sooner does it become strong, firmly established, than it senses the rarefaction of the air around it and it cannot continue to exist without descending into a fog of lies, clothing them in sweet talk. It does not always, not necessarily, openly throttle the throat, more often it demands from its subjects only an oath of allegiance to falsehood, only complicity in falsehood.

And the simple step of a simple courageous man is not to partake in falsehood, not to support false actions! Let THAT enter the world, let it even reign in the world - but not with my help. But writers and artists can achieve more: they can CONQUER FALSEHOOD! In the struggle with falsehood art always did win and it always does win! Openly, irrefutably for everyone! Falsehood can hold out against much in this world, but not against art.
Grossman is more cautious:
Stories today cannot change reality; they unfortunately cannot change the world. Literature doesn’t have representatives in power centers, or financial markets, or parliament, or army headquarters. But maybe it can help us so that this world cannot change us.
If Solzhenitsyn is too bombastic, Grossman is too bashful. Totalitarian regimes have long understood that they need to suppress art in favour of kitsch, one of the great achievements of humanity is that they have always failed.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Capitalism is doomed (perhaps)

The tide has turned, Tunbridge Wells is now in occupation:


"We met the Church Warden last night, who happened to be a very convivial chap, the following morning we met the Vicar, who seemed to somewhat sympathy with our cause, however in the last hour, at apprx 12:30 midday today (being Thursday) the Police have shown up, although the Police have been wonderfully friendly, I do believe that they perceive that there may be an issue with regards to us remaining on this site."

 Via Wealden Progressive Movement

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Sunday sanity

Why the public sector also pays for the private sector - in a neat dialogue from Tim Harford:
This is a modern economy. Everybody pays for everybody else’s salary, except the subsistence farmers and survivalists, who look after themselves
Nice, read it all.