A Greek Tragedy

acropolisI’ve got nothing against the Greeks.  After all, democracy is still one of the biggies and you can’t argue with Socrates, Aristotle and Plato.  Plus, there’s Herodotus, Pythagoras, Euripides, Archimedes etc. etc. etc. and Venus de Milo still has the best ass known to man.  Okay.  That said, there’s been a lotta sunshine on the Acropolis since Pericles and the boys were calling the shots in Europe.  These days, aside from Adrianna Huffington, nobody takes the Greeks seriously.  Why?  They don’t pay their bills.

I don’t care what your particular pet theory on the current Euro/Greek monetary fiasco is: call it First World waste, corporate banking greed, aliens, Elvis back from the dead — it doesn’t matter — nothing escapes Economics 101.  Here’s the deal.  Whine all you want about the evils of modern capitalism, it’s still just a pumped-up version of the barter system.  I work for you; you give me coloured paper.  I give the coloured paper to KFC; they give me chicken.  And on and on.  It’s that simple.  You can complicate it with mutual funds, venture capital, bonds, debentures, George Soros and Bill Gates, but at the end of the day, it comes down to coloured paper.  And if you don’t manage your coloured paper properly, you’re going to get screwed and some faceless banking vulture is going to drop by and pick your bones.  Don’t believe me?  Quit paying your credit card for a couple of months.  This has been our monetary system since before Diocles was counting his drachmas.  The thing that astounds me is the Greeks, who basically invented it, have now decided the system doesn’t apply to them.  They believe they can spend what they want, when they want, and somebody else should pick up the tab.  It’s kinda like they’re giving anyone who actually pays their bills the financial finger.

I wonder what Aesop would have made of this whole mess.  I’m certain that he would have come up with some kind of a tale.  Unfortunately, it’s been a lot of years since Greek thinking and innovation shaped the world.  Today, Aesop wouldn’t have a voice because Greece has become just another silly little country living on the kindness of strangers — and very pissed off with themselves because of it.

I Met a Marxist in Ireland

A Shop Window in Rome
A Shop Window in Rome

I met a Marxist — not the craft-beer-and-Prius kind but the real meal deal.  He was one of Lenin’s Lads and proud of it.  We eyed each other, like wary animals, across an ad hoc Irish pub party, casually exchanging a few beer-whet barbs through the crowd.  He was younger, better informed and quicker on the wit than I was, but I haven’t been afraid of Marxists (not the real ones, anyway) since Brezhnev dropped the collective ball in the early 70s.  Besides, I had the advantage: I’d been there before, many times.  Eventually, sensing a game of “let’s you and him fight,” the party metaphorically parted so the two of us could get at it.  I seldom walk away from an intellectual punch-up, so I figured what the hell.  My new friend, however, had a few things on his mind.  After a couple of pleasantries, he looked at me and said, “The fascists are coming.”  It took me a few seconds to realize he didn’t mean me, and from that revelation on, we spent the rest of the evening agreeing to agree.

The far right movement in Europe is not only alive — it’s on a roll.  Statistically, it’s the fastest growing political movement west of the Urals.  In fact, many Euro-centrist politicians are moving right to accommodate this new political reality.  FYI, I’m not talking about black jacket, Neo-Nazi skinheads — although they are the far right’s willing allies — I’m talking about Mom and Pop fascists.  These are ordinary people (of an increasingly younger demographic, BTW) whose traditional social and political views see the 21st century European landscape as a comedy of errors which the current politicos either can’t (or won’t) put right.  They have lost their faith in Europe’s left and right wing revolving door governments, each one more inept than the last, and want, above all else, stability.

This movement has its roots firmly planted in two separate but equal gardens of discontent.

First, the ever-expanding European economic crisis: a financial disaster which has now taken on a destructive life of its own.  For

These Products Weren't Commonplace
These Products Weren’t Commonplace

the last half century, the uncrowned heads of Europe have been spending money as if they were Midas’ mistress; when they ran out of ready cash, they just borrowed more.  Now the piggy banks are empty, the credit cards are maxed and the banks are demanding their pound of flesh.  Take one guess who’s being asked to pay the bills!  Those same folks who are getting financially pistol-whipped by their governments’ fiscal irresponsibility — which, in some places, verges on criminal negligence.  Across Europe, people have watched their savings, insurance, homes, pensions and jobs vanish.  Officially, unemployment sits somewhere north of 10%.  Unofficially, it’s much higher, and among young people it’s close to 50% (in parts of Portugal and Spain.)  These numbers are biblical in their devastation.  Elections come and go, governments rise and fall, but there’s no relief in sight.

Secondly, many Europeans believe their culture is under attack — not only by radical Islam from without, but by their own politicians from within.  For the past two (maybe three) decades, they’ve been subjected to ever increasing volumes of feel-good rhetoric, yet the Moslem ghettos get bigger, more radical and immigration (legal and otherwise) increases.  They see a seemingly infinite conflict stretching out before them like some endless Orwellian misery.  More and more, politicians are being physically attacked and even killed.  Political commentary and satire are being intimidated, and artists, the very soul of any society, are being murdered or go into hiding.  These are not the hallmarks of a vibrant, dynamic culture.  Nor do images like that of Drummer Rigby, hacked to death in broad daylight, instill confidence in an already sceptical population.  And the brazen taunts of the unrepentant murderers add powerful punctuation to the message: “Your leaders are impotent.”

But They Weren't Hard to Find
But They Weren’t Hard to Find

There are no short answers to either of these questions, but the longer the powers that be dither around looking for one, the closer the fascists get to finding it.  Golden Dawn in Greece, Democracia Nacional in Spain, Casapound in Italy, BNP in Britain: the list is long and it’s growing.  Even the powerful National Front in France, once the darling of conservative politics, is now seen by many as too mainstream, too willing to compromise right-wing ideals for a slice of the political pie.  There are other forces at work in France these days, and they showed up in huge numbers (over 200,000 in Paris alone) to protest Francois Hollande’s gay marriage law.

My newfound Marxist friend didn’t want to fight with me over petty politics; he wanted to warn me that conditions in Europe are changing, and that even though the factions are small and scattered fascism is on the move.

Oddly enough, since I’ve been back in North America, Vladimir Putin and his Russian Duma have passed a law outlawing “gay propaganda” (whatever that means) by an astounding margin of 436 – 0.  A little closer to home, in my country, a provincial sports federation has banned turbans from the soccer pitch.  They say it’s for safety reasons, but a shocking 87% of the people in the province support the ban.

Olympics: A Postpartum World

The Olympics are over, and for those of us who have been going solid walls of TV coverage for the last two weeks, there’ll be a day or two of decompression – postpartum depression, if you will.  Since there’s only one way to “get the athlete off your back” and that’s going cold turkey, there will be some minor side effects.  They might include (but are not limited to) engaging in meaningless tests of skill with your friends or relatives, listening to various national anthems on YouTube and experiencing an uncontrollable urge to visit Jamaica.  Not to worry, though: these cravings will pass with time, and normal (whatever that is) will happen again, whether you like it or not.  Good luck!

Incredible as it seems, while you and I were gone, the world was carrying on without us.  Ironically, just as Team GB (Great Britain, for the uninitiated) was proving it could still run with the big boys, David Cameron’s coalition government was showing some serious signs of Banana Republic instability.  Davey boy needs to get his political house in order before the Olympic honeymoon‘s over, or he’s going to be relegated to shouting insults from the other side of the aisle.  Bad as that seems, Europe’s problemo numero uno is still the red ink that’s hemorrhaging out of Greece, Italy and Spain.  It’s obvious that the cozy relationship Angela Merkel had with her Gallic neighbours died when the French people au revoir-ed Sarkozy in May.  Angie better start cracking the Euro whip, or, overwhelmed by his own ideology, newly-minted French president Francois Hollande is going to try retrofitting his 20th century politics into Europe’s 21st century problems.  The last thing Europe needs right now is another dose of what got them into this mess in the first place!

Meanwhile, over in the desert, Bashar al-Assad is going for the gold as Syria’s candidate for dick-tator of the year.  At last count, he had out-Mubarak-ed Mubarak, and with the help of his Iranian buddy Ahmadinejad, was going for the full Gaddafi.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t we just slap the crap out of Muammar for half the malfeasance this guy is getting away with?  Assad is hanging onto power in Syria by his eyebrows, and if he thinks his friends in Tehran are going to pull his almonds out of the fire, he ought to give his head a shake.  As of the massacre in Aleppo, the only way Assad is going to end his days is Syria is getting dragged through the streets of Damascus in his underwear — and there’s nothing he can do about it.  Prolonging the agony is not going to save him.

It’s not all bad news, though: in America, Mitt Romney has named his running mate, Paul Ryan.  Ryan is a game changer.  Suddenly, the American presidential election is a whole lot more than just uber-cool Obama versus Massachusetts’ answer to The Man from Glad™.  It’s now a campaign of ideas.  Finally, somebody’s going to have to start talking about all the red ink America’s been accumulating (I’m looking at you, Barack) and offer something more than “hope” as a solution.  This may be the first time — ever — that an incumbent president had to run against the other party’s vice-presidential choice!  But what the hell!  We may even get beyond Wheatley versus Pedro (ala Napoleon Dynamite.)  Who knows?

Tons of other stuff happened while you and I were watching Usain Bolt dismantle the record books and rebuild them in his own image.  For example, somebody discovered a huge island floating in the Pacific, north of New Zealand.  It’s called a ‘pumice raft,” and it’s made of coagulated rocks from an undersea volcano.  Apparently, this thing is as big as Belgium!  And, oh yeah: the Americans went interplanetary again and landed a rover on Mars.  The pictures are fantastic.

So, don’t get too bothered about your Olympic hangover.  There’s plenty of other things going on in the world.  Besides — football season starts in less than three weeks, and the World Series is right around the corner.