Friday, August 31, 2012


A new world record entry for the Guinness Book of Records.  The largest number of people dancing in a single syrtaki in Volos tonight.


An amazing arial view (together with the arrival of the Argo) here.

Blue moon

The second full moon in any month is conventionally known as a blue moon and there will one tonight.

It's bad news for lovers of sardines and anchovies, they can't be caught on bright nights. Although the association with Manchester City may be unfortunate, Rogers and Hart's Blue Moon is still a classic. There are so many versions to choose from ...

Here's an early one - Belle Baker recorded in 1935:

This is another 1935 version by Greta Keller. Then there is the incomparable Billie Holiday. And here are some outstanding Jazz instrumental versions by Art Blakey and Stephane Grappelli.

But I am in Greece, so I have to finish with Haris Alexiou singing Panselinos.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Crisis time is here again

Not that it ever went away. Samaras has been begging for time to get some sort of growth in the Greek economy, but the need to maintain the Franco/German alliance now seems to be standing in the way of French support for a less insane economic policy. Both countries are now putting pressure on Greece.  Much of this pressure is played out as a piece of theatre that consists of the stern authorities demanding obedience from the recalcitrant Greek child.  This article is well worth reading as it unpicks the moral drama without denying the need for reform. The point it makes is that,
To suggest that Greece is in a constant struggle to meet the troika’s fiscal goals because of indifference rather than due to the deteriorating state of the economy or because of the political difficulty of passing unprecedented -- by eurozone standards -- austerity measures is pure subterfuge. 
Pointing out that austerity has most certainly been implemented by Greece, and at immense economic cost, the article continues by saying,
The structure of the Greek bailout ensured that nobody in the official sector has lost money and the creation of an escrow account earlier this year guarantees that everyone who has lent to Greece will be repaid. In fact, when one factors in the interest and lower borrowing costs countries like Germany have benefited from as a result of weakness in other areas of the eurozone, the bailouts have turned a tidy profit. If Greece is a bottomless pit, it is the first in the world to return the money thrown into it with interest.
And then we come to yet another conclusion that says that the Troika have got everything wrong,
A crisis that is eminently solvable is instead being tackled in such a perverse manner that it threatens to erode Europe’s very foundations ...Greece is essentially being asked to pull even more of the rug from under the feet of its teetering economy, and risk the fragile political balance in the country, to receive further loans, which will be used to pay back existing debt. As Nomura Research Institute’s chief economist Richard Koo, who argues that the eurozone is experiencing a balance sheet recession, put it in a recent note, “it is as though a team of doctors insisted on administering the standard treatment for one disease to a patient suffering from an entirely different disease about which they knew nothing.”
And still they are not listening.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Back to school

Especially for Glenn Greenwald and Simon Jenkins, here is a simple lesson in logic.

Hypocrisy: particularly foaming at the mouth accusations of.

Just because it is the pot that calls the kettle black, it doesn't mean that the kettle is not black. If indeed the kettle is black, it means that the pot is absolutely correct. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sundry thoughts

Eleni is very frail now. I visited our old neighbour on her trip to stay with her son. At 102 she is no longer mobile and can barely sit upright. But mentally she is a sharp as can be, refuses to take any medicines and can still roar with laughter, especially when I make up for my deficient Greek with mime. My donkey impersonation was especially impressive, if ineffective. This game of charades started with a guess at a rabbit and I gave up when we got to horse, much closer in size. It had to do. I have blogged about her before obliquely here, as well as here and here.

As I left, I pointed out to Eleni's daughter-in-law how her husband must have inherited the same genes for longevity. She looked to the skies and crossed herself in horror – 'Ach! Panagia mou!'


One of the problems with novels can sometimes be the awkward contrivance of the plot as it bends and twists to create a convenient and conclusive ending. There are ways to avoid this, but there are also genres that celebrate contrivance and make it integral to the art form. One such genre is farce and Michael Frayn has written a gem of one set in Greece, though not about it. Skios is a delight and has been long listed for the Booker prize. It is lovely to see something light hearted get some recognition. There is a profile of Frayn and the book here.


How about this for the plot of a farce?

An extradition request from Sweden for a man accused of sexual offences, including one count of rape, is finally granted after an exhaustive process of appeals. The wanted man then skips bail and claims political asylum to protect his right to free speech in the embassy of a country with a lousy reputation on free speech, because of the danger that he could be extradited to the USA from Sweden to face the death penalty, despite there being no extradition request and the fact that Swedish law will not permit the extradition of anyone who may be subject to the death penalty. In the meantime he gathers a range of celebrity supporters who either ignore the charges or excuse them ('bad sexual etiquette') and repeat all sorts of strange claims (including it being illegal not to wear a condom in Sweden, which makes me wonder how long it will be before the Swedish population dies out). Transformed into a celebrity victim of the new world order, he gives a balcony speech. Let's call it a drama of self-righteousness, self-pity and self-preservation.

No. Too far fetched.

There are some positives to come out of the affair. It has given an opportunity for an unpleasant individual to be ridiculed, confirms suspicions that there is not an excess of sanity out there and has given the Guardian the opportunity to once again provide a platform for more lunacy.

Meanwhile – here are some facts.


And all the while I get a visit from a stray cat that looks like Hitler.

More here

Monday, August 20, 2012

The aesthetics of oppression

I now have mixed feelings about this trial. On the one hand, we expect a guilty verdict. Compared to the judicial machine, we are nobodies, and we have lost. On the other hand, we have won. The whole world now sees that the criminal case against us has been fabricated. The system cannot conceal the repressive nature of this trial. Once again, the world sees Russia differently from the way Putin tries to present it at his daily international meetings. Clearly, none of the steps Putin promised to take toward instituting the rule of law have been taken. And his statement that this court will be objective and hand down a fair verdict is yet another deception of the entire country and the international community. 
Yekaterina Samutsevich

Read it all together with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina.

Free Pussy Riot.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


I sometimes have conversations about Israel/Palestine, both online and face-to face, with younger people and they disturb me. Their support for Palestinian statehood, something I have long shared, can often be scarcely differentiated from an anti-Israel sentiment that simply assumes the inherent wickedness of the state. It isn't hatred; it is disdain. Above all, what worries me is their certainty. Doubt does not trouble them, nor do they think of Israelis as anything other than oppressors. Does it ever cross their mind that they are Jews, or that the history of the conflict is inseparable from Jewish history and experience? I don't think so. As a result, they carelessly leave an intellectual door ajar and sometimes I wonder what it is that seeps in through the crack from the room beyond.

And so I come to a remarkable series of thirteen posts by the poet George Szirtes about his sense of his own cultural inheritance. It will be well worth your time to read them all. Whenever I read his poetry, I get a feeling that each word is casting a shadow, dappled layers of meaning, which lays bare a moment in time. In the darkest corners of those shadows lurk the ghosts of the worst of the twentieth century. They are not his own experiences; they are a room that he has necessarily passed through. He wrote these posts to try and explain, "…my feelings about Israel, a country I have never visited, based on a religion I have never practised, and a culture I have never shared". And he shows precisely where those young people go wrong.

The metaphor George chooses is a yellow room, taken from a Chagall painting. It is atmospheric and enigmatic; an intimate, welcoming, refuge. Outside it there is an inescapable sense of unease. The only moment that jars is in his eighth post.
Roughly similar number of Middle Eastern Jews and Arabs left or were expelled from their previous dwelling places in the 1948 period (c 800,000 Palestinians, c 700,000 Jews from Arab homelands). 
The problem here is not that it isn't true, there was a mass displacement of both peoples with all the pain that involved. But unlike the population exchanges between Greece and Turkey in the 1920s, the experience was not symmetrical. Jews had a refuge to move to, one that they were now determined to defend. The Palestinians had nothing, only the camps, only exile. And so they had to invent their own refuge, a room of their own. For the older generation it was constructed from memories of their old homes, something real that they had known and for which they kept the keys and deeds as sacred icons. The younger generation moved in and decorated it with unreality. Palestine became an Eden; one that could be recovered because they had not fallen, they were pushed. It was not made of the mundane; it was a dreamland, a golden room. People kill and die readily for glorious fictions.

And this is the essence of the conflict. Two peoples have become deeply entwined in tragic histories. They have more in common than is often admitted and that is why I repeat the slogan whenever I can that to be pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli at the same time is not a contradiction. It is a necessity if we are to untangle these enmeshed tragedies. To practical minds, the two-state solution stands as the starting point for coexistence.

All of which brings me back to these perfectly decent young people and the ideologues who fill them with righteous ardour. It's odd, they never seem to mention the word Jew. Instead they use hopelessly inappropriate analogies – 'colonial settler state', 'apartheid state' and the like. Anything to avoid even thinking that they are talking about Jews and that this noble cause could have anything to do with Jewish people. There is a reason for that of course. We gentiles have a room too. It is part of our history and we don't want to think about it. If we do, it might dilute certainty with ambiguity. The room isn't yellow. Sometimes it is made out of rough planks, sometimes of cement and occasionally it is constructed from neatly dressed stone placed on a picturesque mound in a beautiful northern city. This room is part of our cultural inheritance and it is intrinsically tied up with Jews. It is the room in which we kill them. And so I think I know what bothers me. It is the smell seeping through that half closed door. I can recognise what it is now.

It's gas.

Follow these links to read all the posts in order: 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12; 13

Friday, August 10, 2012

Friday cat blogging

It is summer and stray cats can spot a mug a mile off.

One is very relaxed with modern technology.

Computer and cat in perfect harmony

The others are just relaxed

Monday, August 06, 2012

Reasons to be cheerful

1. Linda Grant is enjoying the Olympics:
What has happened to London is that, in the space of a few days, it has become filled with hordes of individuals and families who are happy. Who are delighted to be in London, delighted to watch their sport played the very best it can be played, delighted to wave a national flag with the enthusiasm that comes of knowing that, unlike our English football squad, we're actually going to win something. The last time so many people were enjoying themselves as much in London must have been VE Day.
2. Charlie Brooker is enjoying the Olympics:
So yes, thanks, Olympics, for confounding my inner cynic, and not being awful. And for, I suppose, on balance, I admit, I confess, in a whisper – actually being quite good.
3. Holiday makers are coming back to Greece to enjoy themselves - and they will:
Ordinary tourists who might have cancelled holidays when the debt-stricken country seemed close to economic meltdown, two months ago, now appear to have had a change of heart. Over the past few weeks bookings have rebounded to the point that industry insiders expect arrivals to be on a par with those of other peak years, hitting 16 million by the end of 2012.
4. The Daily Mail, once again, make themselves look stupid:

Down with the miserablist tendency!

Friday, August 03, 2012

Sporting class

Peter Wilby bemoans the fact that,
Only football, eschewed by many public schools because of its proletarian associations, remains almost entirely dominated by state school alumni at the top level.
Er, hasn't he heard of Rugby League then? The sport was founded as a specific response to the attempts by the Rugby Union to exclude working class players who were beginning to dominate the upper echelons of the game. I have posted in more detail on this before.

In many ways his article is a fine piece, but Rugby League is a classic example of the interweaving of social class with sport, which is historic, systemic and not solely the result of educational inequality. Ironic too that a working class sport with a strong Northern regional identity should escape the notice of a London-based left journalist writing about social exclusion and social exclusivity in British sporting life.


Much of his analysis (of state school failure, not private school facilities) seems to have fallen apart with a raft of gold medals over the weekend by, er, former state school pupils.  Read John Harris.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

In memoriam

Another day in the death of liberal adult education. Hull's Centre for Lifelong Learning, where I spent nearly fourteen years of my working life, formally closed yesterday. It isn't alone. The slow eradication of a service has been almost silent. The press are not really interested, nor do they understand it. Only the millions for whom adult education was both an opportunity and a lifeline mourn.

Here is a story from the other side of the world.
He is one of South Africa's best loved musicians, has toured internationally and made an album that sold half a million copies. But for Sipho "Hotstix" Mabuse there was always something missing: an education.
Forty-four years after he dropped out of school, Mabuse has gone back to the classroom and passed the exams he missed.
Hotstix comments:
"The best empowerment you can give to people is to give them an education. Those who rule over the ignorant will rule in perpetuity."
Draw your own conclusions. I just feel sad.