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And the Oscar for best foreign-language film…

Sunday, 22 February, 2015 0 Comments

… goes to Leviathan. Well, that’s what we hope. Andrey Zvyagintsev’s film exudes contempt for modern Russia. Its story of corruption and cruelty is an indictment of the entire system. A win for Leviathan tonight in Los Angeles will be a black eye for the Putin regime and a victory for creativity. How the characters in the film feel about their country’s perverted history in captured is one of the film’s best scenes: a picnic with some local policemen, lots of bottles of vodka, semi-automatic weapons and an array of Soviet-era portraits — Brezhnev, Lenin, Andropov… the entire gallery of thugs.

Vladimir Medinsky, the Russian Minister of Culture, has called for new guidelines to ban films like Leviathan, which “defile” Russia and her culture.” Leviathan is a glorious defiling; a film that reviles what it loves with grief-stricken rage.

I’ve got my freedom

Saturday, 21 February, 2015 1 Comment

On this day in 1933, the American singer-songwriter Nina Simone was born in North Carolina as Eunice Kathleen Waymon. In 1954, she adopted the stage name Nina Simone: “Nina” (from niña, meaning ‘little girl’ in Spanish) and “Simone” from the French actress Simone Signoret. Her music was a unique mix of jazz, classical, blues, gospel, folk, R&B and pop.

Nina Simone took part in the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches in 1965 but she advocated armed revolution rather than the non-violence favoured by Martin Luther King. His dream was of racial equality, achieved by protest and legislation; her dream was of a separate state for African Americans which, if necessary, would be established by force. Nina Simone moved to France in 1993 and died at her home in the sea-side resort of Carry-le-Rouet in 2003.

Greece as Zimbabwe or Argentina

Friday, 20 February, 2015 1 Comment

What will happen if Greece exits the eurozone? For starters, the banking sector will collapse as everyone tries to move their euros to German banks. Although word on the street is that most have done so already. Athens might consider reintroducing the drachma, but no one would want it, so people would just keep using the euro. This option is not without precedent. Back in 2009, Zimbabwe gave up the pretense of monetary sovereignty and the United States dollar is now the official currency for all government transactions. Just as Robert Mugabe has no influence over the Fed, Greece would no longer have a seat at the ECB but life goes on and there are reports that nightlife in Harare is picking up again.

Instead of going the way of Zimbabwe, Greece might become another Argentina and things won’t be as bad as the pessimists say. Given that what the Argentines call “viveza criolla” is very much at home in Greece, a tango-sirtaki morph may be on the cards. That being the case, here are some useful viveza criolla phrases:

Total, si no robo yo, robará otro.” (In the end, if I do not steal, another will steal.)
Hecha la ley, hecha la trampa.” (Made the law, made a loophole.)
El vivo vive del zonzo y el zonzo de su trabajo.” (The smart guy lives off the fool, and the fool lives off his job.)

Back on the 11th of this month, STRATFOR looked at the two countries in Greece and Argentina, Similar But Not the Same. Conclusion:

Even though Syriza used Argentina’s case as an example during the electoral campaign, and many Greeks are aware of the country’s history, Athens has considerably less room for action than Buenos Aires did. Many of Buenos Aires’ moves since 2001 have been ill conceived and poorly executed, but unlike Greece, Argentina was a fully sovereign country when it made them. Greeks elected Syriza to fix the country’s debt problem without leaving the eurozone and the European Union. Greece’s main problem is that it will be extremely hard for Athens to achieve both goals simultaneously.

The Year of the Caprinae

Thursday, 19 February, 2015 0 Comments

Hundreds of millions of Chinese people are celebrating the Lunar New Year holiday with their families. Today, they’re bidding farewell to the Year of the Horse but we’re not quite sure what it is that they’re welcoming. The New Year’s name is defined by the character 羊, which can mean either sheep or goat. Thing is, the goat is a member of the Bovidae family and is closely related to the sheep as both are members of the subfamily Caprinae. That being the case, we’re going with sheep. For the occasion, then, this is from Songs of Innocence by William Blake.

The Shepherd

How sweet is the shepherd’s sweet lot!
From the morn to the evening he strays;
He shall follow his sheep all the day,
And his tongue shall be filled with praise.

For he hears the lambs’ innocent call,
And he hears the ewes’ tender reply;
He is watchful while they are in peace,
For they know when their shepherd is nigh.

William Blake (1757 — 1827)

Year of the Sheep

The demise of the Daily Telegraph

Wednesday, 18 February, 2015 0 Comments

“On 22 September Telegraph online ran a story about a woman with three breasts. One despairing executive told me that it was known this was false even before the story was published. I have no doubt it was published in order to generate online traffic, at which it may have succeeded. I am not saying that online traffic is unimportant, but over the long term, however, such episodes inflict incalculable damage on the reputation of the paper.”

So writes Peter Oborne, the former chief political commentator of the Telegraph. His account of the demise of a once-great newspaper is painful to read, but Why I have resigned from the Telegraph must be read by all who value press freedom. Before addressing the scandals that forced his hand, Oborne documents the small but significant erosions of standards in the newsroom:

“Solecisms, unthinkable until very recently, are now commonplace. Recently readers were introduced to someone called the Duke of Wessex. Prince Edward is the Earl of Wessex. There was a front page story about deer-hunting. It was actually about deer-stalking, a completely different activity. Obviously the management don’t care about nice distinctions like this. But the readers do, and the Telegraph took great care to get these things right until very recently.”

The abandonment of quality was quickly followed by a surrender of principle. Peter Oborne makes his case by citing examples of the paper’s cowardly response to the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong and its own suppression of the HSBC scandal. Both are profoundly shocking. “A free press is essential to a healthy democracy,” Oborne says and he reminds us that, “There is a purpose to journalism, and it is not just to entertain. It is not to pander to political power, big corporations and rich men. Newspapers have what amounts in the end to a constitutional duty to tell their readers the truth.”

The greater tragedy here is that the perversion of the Telegraph is happening at a time when Vladimir Putin is demonstrating that the news is just one more tool to be perverted for propaganda and disinformation. The West needs truth tellers to defeat this assault on its values and the Telegraph should be in the front line defending us at this dangerous time. Thanks to the brave intervention of Peter Oborne, we now know what needs to be done to save the Telegraph from the enemies within.

The genius of Grexit

Tuesday, 17 February, 2015 0 Comments

The word “Grexit” combines Greek’ and ‘exit’ and it refers to the possibility of Greece leaving the eurozone. The term was coined by Citi economists Willem Buiter and Ebrahim Rahbari in a February 2012 note and it has spread rapidly since then. One sign of its genius is that it no longer needs translating.

German: Grexit-Wahrscheinlichkeit steigt auf 50 Prozent

Italian: Grexit, l’Italia rischia 61,2 miliardi

Spanish: Ni Grexit ni Grecovery

Dutch: ‘Grexit is niet te vermijden’

French: La fantasme du “Grexit”

Estonian: Repliik: Geuro ja euro või grexit

Portuguese: Grexit: como seria a saída da Grécia do euro

Swedish: Grexit dåligt alternativ för EU:s skattebetalare

The Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic

Monday, 16 February, 2015 1 Comment

Graeme Wood: “In September, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the Islamic State’s chief spokesman, called on Muslims in Western countries such as France and Canada to find an infidel and ‘smash his head with a rock,’ poison him, run him over with a car, or ‘destroy his crops.’ To Western ears, the biblical-sounding punishments—the stoning and crop destruction—juxtaposed strangely with his more modern-sounding call to vehicular homicide. (As if to show that he could terrorize by imagery alone, Adnani also referred to Secretary of State John Kerry as an ‘uncircumcised geezer.’)”

In his splendid, terrifying essay in The Atlantic, What ISIS Really Wants, Graeme Wood points out that this was not just trash talk on the part of Adnani: “His speech was laced with theological and legal discussion, and his exhortation to attack crops directly echoed orders from Muhammad to leave well water and crops alone — unless the armies of Islam were in a defensive position, in which case Muslims in the lands of kuffar, or infidels, should be unmerciful, and poison away.” This leads Wood to conclude: “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”

What we are enduring is not so much a clash of civilizations but a clash between civilization and uncivilization in the guise of a belief system that draws inspiration from a poisoned well. A very poisoned well.

Copt victims of ISIS

Bestie unabandoned

Sunday, 15 February, 2015 0 Comments

Forty years after his glory days with Manchester United and a decade after his untimely death, George Best remains a star. Despite disastrous relationships with wives and lovers and a public battle with alcoholism that he eventually lost, fond memories of this gifted footballer remain undimmed. Bestie: A Portrait Of A Legend was the title of the biography he co-authored with Joe Lovejoy and the the byname was perpetuated during the Share a Coke campaign last year. Voltaire said, “The best is the enemy of the good.” Best, the soccer god, was the enemy of the mediocre. In a word, Bestie was best.

Bestie

True Love on the Faroe Islands

Saturday, 14 February, 2015 0 Comments

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers.

Tolkien is not your classic Valentine’s Day quote source, but his timeless sagas have much more to do with the true nature of enduring love than the modern industry that’s devoted to churning out “romance.” Our guess is that he would have loved Eivør Pálsdóttir, who sings in English and Faroese, one of four languages descended from Old West Norse spoken in the Middle Ages, the others being Norwegian, Icelandic and Norn. Life on the Faroe Islands may be hard but this does not mean that it lacks passion. Even Death can be persuaded to reconsider his grim business if shown True Love there.

Pamplona rises again

Friday, 13 February, 2015 0 Comments

The brand-new Museo Universidad de Navarra is expected to bring a stampede of art lovers to Pamplona and it might, in time, rival the economic impact of the annual running of the bulls during the festival of San Fermín. Talking of matters taurine, there’s a wonderful moment in The Sun Also Rises where the protagonist, Jake Barnes, arrives in Pamplona, sees the cathedral, enters and prays. This is Hemingway at his finest:

The Sun Also Rises “I knelt and started to pray and prayed for everybody I thought of, Brett and Mike and Bill and Robert Cohn and myself, and all the bullfighters, separately for the ones I liked, and lumping all the rest, then I prayed for myself again, and while I was praying for myself I found I was getting sleepy, so I prayed that all the bullfighters would be good, and that it would be a fine fiesta, and that we would get some fishing. I wondered if there was anything else I might pray for, and I thought I would like to have some money, so I prayed that I would make a lot of money… and as all the time I was kneeling with my forehead on the wood in front of me, and was thinking of myself as praying, I was a little ashamed, and regretted that I was such a rotten Catholic, but realised that there was nothing I could do about it, at least for a while, and maybe never, but that anyway it was a grand religion, and I only wished I felt religious and maybe I would the next time.”

Rarely has irony been expressed so elegantly.

Strong tobacco from Stark

Thursday, 12 February, 2015 0 Comments

“The truth is that, in contrast to many eurozone countries, Germany has reliably pursued a prudent economic policy. While others were living beyond their means, Germany avoided excess. These are deep cultural differences and the currency union brings them to light once again.” So writes Jürgen Stark, a former board member of the European Central Bank, in today’s Financial Times. “The historical and cultural differences that divide Europe’s union” is the title of the piece and it reveals all one needs to know about the division and disunion at the heart of the euro experiment.

In some ways, the comments are more revealing than the article.

This man needs to read Michael Pettis.The self satisfaction is nauseating.While the “bailout” of the German banks was going on, Siemens was flogging submarines and other much needed rubbish through a vast system of bribery and corruption. senior muppet

For the Greeks it was wonderful for many years to be able to run a political system of patrimonial privilege funded by transfers from outside the country, but that is a self-exciting system in need of a negative feedback loop – which it finally got. The upshot is that now the Greeks are being compelled to consider a choice between maintaining their old social contract or continuing to receive transfers from outside, but not both. In such cases one would normally expect a society to make the most strenuous efforts to avoid the choice. But in their anger at the unfairness of it all, the Greeks now look capable of actually, voluntarily making that choice. Amazing! This moment will not last, but in this moment all kinds of potential surprises now lurk. Whatever

Nice piece of Teutonic my-opism. German non-keynesian economics work as long as there are other countries willing to generate excess demand through borrowing and you can export to (US, China, Souther Europe). It is recipe for disaster for continental size economies. This is not a theoretical debate, the results are painfully obvious. True Finance

Sorry the disasters of the early twentieth century were German disasters. No other country was so bad. You simply cannot read across from a completely awful Germany to anywhere else. Nicki

If Mr Stark is right about the “deep cultural differences” between Eurozone countries, then why on earth did they create a common currency in the first place? This article is basically a list of all the reasons that the Euro should never have come into existence. If the Euro is to succeed, Eurozone countries must work more closely to coordinate their economic policies. It is obvious now that they cannot do so. I have always hoped that the UK would eventually join the Eurozone, but Mr Stark has finally removed the scales from my eyes. Gordon Brown was right after all. Little Briton

Meanwhile, in Spain, six years into its depression, 5.46 million people don’t have jobs, two million households have no earned income, youth unemployment is at 51.4 percent and home prices are down 42 percent. No surprise, then, that the neo-Bolivarian Podemos party is pulling ahead in the polls. The latest Metroscopia survey gave it 28 percent. The ruling conservatives have dropped to 21 percent and the once-mighty PSOE, the Spanish Workers Socialist Party, has fallen to 18 percent. The message to Jürgen Stark is clear: The elites can defend the euro, but they will lose their political base.