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Saturday, 17 March 2012

"What is liberty without wisdom and virtue?"

On beloved Greece I waver between 'default-don't default' like a lover picking petals from a daisy "keep the euro, go back to the drach, keep the euro, go back to the drach, keep..." This report  - IMF Country Report No. 12/57 March 2012 - catches me saying "default, default, default..."
Extended Arrangement. The Greek authorities have requested a 4 year Extended Arrangement in an amount of SDR 23.7853 billion (2,158.8 percent of quota; €28 billion) with purchases equally phased and have notified the Fund of their cancellation of the existing Stand-By Arrangement. Euro area member states are expected to contribute a further €144.7 billion in 2012–14. The first Fund disbursement would amount to SDR 1.3991 billion (about €1.65 billion).
Background. Greece’s efforts to address the combined fiscal and external imbalances built up through 2009 have led to a prolonged and deepening recession (the economy contracted for a fourth year in 2011, by 6.9%), and extremely tight financial conditions (some 30% of deposits have left the banking system since program inception, due to loss of confidence in the system and dissaving). Notwithstanding this, Greece made progress under the SBA in reducing its competitiveness gap (lowering unit labor costs by 9½%) and has made considerable progress with structural fiscal adjustment (reducing the primary deficit by some 6% of GDP). However, the competitiveness gap still reaches on average 15-20% and closing this will continue to apply downward pressure on economic activity....Deep social and political tensions and mounting popular discontent with economic policies will likely lead the authorities to call elections after the approval of the arrangement...Greece is expected to close a debt exchange with private bond holders prior to the approval of the arrangement, while Euro area member states have committed to provide financing on highly concessional terms. Indeed the Euro area member states have committed to provide long-term support to Greece on adequate terms, in the event this is necessary, provided Greece continues to adhere to program policies.
Risks. The program remains subject to notable implementation risks. In general, Greece has little if any margin to absorb adverse shocks or program slippages. In the event that policy implementation takes longer or falls short, the economy takes longer to respond to labor market and supply-side reforms, or fiscal multipliers are higher (reducing the growth path), a deeper recession and a much higher debt trajectory would be the likely result. Political risks linked to the electoral calendar create additional uncertainty about policy implementation... The materialization of these risks would most likely require additional debt relief by the official sector and, short of that, lead to a sovereign default. In the absence of continued official support and access to ECB refinancing operations, a disorderly euro exit would be unavoidable, heightening risks to the Fund...Program design—in particular the even phasing of support and tight monitoring framework—helps to reduce these risks. The euro area member states’ commitment to provide long-term support to Greece on adequate terms is also a key consideration for staff’s recommendation to approve the proposed arrangement.
Death by a thousand provisos; a patch work of relentless 'if this' 'if that'; a relentless procession of possiblies, probablies, evasions, dependencies and contingencies. Imagine a physician talking this way about you or someone you love. There's also this devastating opinion from Transparency International on corruption in Greece, published this January...
The report's Executive Summary finds that: ...overall the Greek anti‐corruption system has a number of fundamental flaws, the most significant of which is a crisis of values, typified by broad scale acceptance of and participation in corruption, even though it is condemned. In addition, there are significant structural issues with the executive, the media and the business sector, while the Parliament, the public sector, anti‐corruption agencies and the civil society also have a range of problems...A key conclusion of the report is that corruption in Greece originates mainly from a crisis of values, which has imbued both the Greek mentality and the key institutions of the country. The long‐standing acceptance of corruption and fatalism about the chances of preventing or resisting it, drives petty wrongdoing and perpetuates the bottlenecks in institutions that stall reform. Overall, Greeks appear to show a deficit in terms of social capital and trust in their interpersonal relations. Patron‐client relationships are often accompanied by indifference for the public interest, formalistic interpretation of the law or its frequent bypass. The traditional values that formed the foundation of post‐war Greece are in serious doubt. Greek people live in a state of “corrupt legality”, meaning that the law often condones or even fosters corrupt practices. Corruption is endemic: not limited to any party or social class, nor to the public sector...
The elimination or at least diminution of endemic corruption in government takes generations. Reform starts with defining - in dramatic debate - that what has historically been regarded as the normal form of things is unacceptable. People were grappling with this in England two centuries ago. A set of principals - hardly politically neutral - grew from the rhetoric of censure directed by the Irish constitutionalist and parliamentarian, Edmund Burke....
...at Sir Warren Hastings during the latter’s seven year impeachment trial – begun in 1788 - arising from activities, including allegations of personal enrichment, that Hastings had been associated with while championing British trading supremacy in India.
The Trial of Warren Hastings, Westminster Hall 1788-1795
Hastings is an ambiguous figure among those looking for a reputable list of candidates for public statuary. He lost his wealth defending himself, but in the long drawn-out process, Burke forged the principle that enrichment via public service is unacceptable. Others regard Hasting’s treatment as unfair. Hasting’s was hair-shirted in the matter of material possessions, and even were Burke’s allegations true, why, said his supporters, should victors be unable to enjoy their spoils?
Fraught with controversy and vendettas over which historians still argue, Hasting’s long and ultimately unsuccessful impeachment helped establish a distinction between policies aimed at keeping India open for British trade and ones responsible for the welfare of her subject peoples. . Ideas about the 'good' rooted in evangelical and utilitarian thought helped grow a culture of administrative probity that, ever since, has challenged the view that commercial interest is automatically national interest. Those who rule aren’t 'victors' and what some call 'spoils' others see as public property to be distributed solely for the public good.
Sir Stafford Northcote
Sir Charles Trevelyan
Charles Trevelyan spent 14 years fighting norms of nepotism and patronage, instilling alternative ideas about good government into a colonial civil service. He brought these ideas home as the main author in 1854 of the Northcote-Trevelyan Report...
...famous for requiring public appointment by competitive exam, but equally important for establishing a case against the present way of doing things, and for defining a new values for public service. In 1854, in twenty three tersely argued and utterly readable pages the Northcote-Trevelyan Report (transcript) affirmed the values of our present civil service...
...still relevant to the government of the Republic.
From the first page of the Northcote-Trevelyan report: ...The great and increasing accumulation of public business, and the consequent pressure upon the Government, need only to be alluded to; and the inconveniences which are inseparable from the frequent changes which take place in the responsible administration are matter of sufficient notoriety. It may safely be asserted that, as matters now stand, the Government of the country could not be carried on without the aid of an efficient body of permanent officers, occupying a position duly subordinate to that of the Ministers who are directly responsible to the Crown and to Parliament, yet possessing sufficient independence, character, ability, and experience to be able to advise, assist, and, to some extent, influence, those who are from time to time set over them...
Some would say you’d have to go back beyond Northcote-Trevelyan, to the Act of Settlement passed under Queen Anne in 1701, which severed pecuniary links between members of parliament and servants of the crown. The drama of separation between different parts of the state is far older in Britain than it is in Greece. We have corruption still, but it's not endemic in the way it is in the Republic. Furthermore, though we may still behave corruptly, we are thoroughly aware that it is shameful and disgusting; and we are not, by and large, involved - actively and passively - at all levels, in a 'long‐standing acceptance of corruption and fatalism about the chances of preventing or resisting it'
"My friends, we all ate together" "Τα φαγαμε ολοι Μαζί" as Theodoros Pangalos, Deputy Prime Minister says at 02.40...

Lest it be construed that I share in this generalisation, I do. When I'm in Greece I'm part of it. Stamatis at our local shop in Ano Korakiana gives me a receipt for even a loaf of bread; so do lots of traders on Corfu, but when these aren't offered in other places we've not insisted.
Σταμάτης Ζαββανης
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I've gone back a few weeks on the weather, as I do when I come to the Highlands - this time for a few days. For the train journey I set aside a day - another for my return, but yesterday I flew without hold baggage to Inverness and am at Brin Croft in less than a morning.
Above Strathnairn, Inverness-shire
I drove my mother to Beauly where we had tea and scones, bought a locsl cheese - a Clava Brie and two haggis's
"Actually it's haggi" laughed the girl behind the counter. If they're under 30 all women seem like girls to us now. We visited Campbells - Aladdin's cave of tweed, tartan, woollens, wooden counters, huge scissors; received by the two elegant sisters in tweed and their brother in dark suit, all of whom my mother had "watched grow up". They knew her by name as also my late aunt who'd lived just up the road at Fasnakyle in the 1950s. Mum wanted to buy me a coat for my 70th birthday. The second one I tried felt and looked swell.
Last time we went shopping it was to Mothercare to get things for Amy's baby due in just over a week; and this time it was something for me - more mothercare.
Up the esker with Lulu
I have extended the range of my walks from Brin Croft taking Lulu over the esker and up the hill through the woods to gaze over the strath and enjoy the easy isolation.
The recognition of silence. Taking it for granted is no longer impossible anywhere. As we've poured concrete on solid ground, impregnated the heavens with artificial light, we have blighted the landscape of sounds. Surroundings not overwhelmed by the infliction of exploding fossil fuel and amplified music will not be recovered on their own. They must be striven for on the threshing floor of politics, informed by research, with intelligent methods - measurement and calibration. We are mapping soundscapes, via acoustic ecology - inventing a language. This from the US:
The National Park Service will preserve, to the greatest extent possible, the natural soundscapes of parks. Natural soundscapes exist in the absence of human-caused sound. The Service will restore degraded soundscapes to the natural condition wherever possible, and will protect natural soundscapes from degradation due to noise (undesirable human-caused sound). NPS Management Policy, Chapter 4.9 Soundscape Management.
I recall an old lady, a right troublemaker, hard to talk to, irritating, who said to me back in earlier days of campaigning for allotments instead of houses on the Victoria Jubilee
"I wanted to have an place on which to grow things and instead I've become a troublesome old bag bitching to be allowed to go on doing that"
My animosity is directed at the internal combustion engine. I'm not stupid.I know its enormous benefits and I know that to excoriate it is to sound insane but I regret it, as Dr Joad warned on The Brains Trust (my stepfather's words on this clip from the 1980s). I regret it even as I rely on it.

It seems odd to be making noises about protecting silence. I've been doing it for years; asking people to turn off sounds in 'quiet coaches' on trains, gently hinting in a restaurant, in which I'm the only one, that they might instead of turning up the muzak for me actually turn it off; lobbying against late night parties in public places; politely cursing out of the theatre a persistent cougher, complaining - effectively - about beach buggies in the Forest of Dean, motorbikes on canal towpaths in the Midlands, the massive TV screen whose sound and sight blights a public square in front of Birmingham Council House ("I shrug and more or less ignore while silently wishing for a destructive laser beam"), confetti commentary, the ill-advised introduction of screens on Central Trains purveying newsak and commercials, noisy mobiles - treble culture - the general ability of too many people to tune out their neighbours, treat them as invisible, regard them as immaterial to their own use and enjoyment of noise.

Leaf blowers, snow mobiles, jet skis, strimmers, motor mowers, chain saws, rotavators, road drills...how we humans intrude, invade and blight the soundscape.

Back in - was it 2001 - I took a snap of a 'noise map' of the city that Birmingham City Council Environmental Services had made up with government support.
Noise mapping spreads across UK. London noise map. Scottish noise mapping. Welsh noise mapping
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Here's a Greek poet who's been awarded a prize but refuses it. Dinos Christianopoulos, Ντίνος Χριστιανόπουλος, awarded Greece’s grand literary prize announced that he declined the offer, referring to his 1977 poem Against, Ενάντια
Είμαι εναντίον της κάθε τιμητικής διάκρισης, απ΄ όπου και αν προέρχεται.... 
Είμαι εναντίον των βραβείων γιατί μειώνουν την αξιοπρέπεια του ανθρώπου. Βραβεύω σημαίνει αναγνωρίζω την αξία κάποιου κατώτερου μου - και κάποτε πρέπει να απαλλαγούμε από την συγκατάβαση των μεγάλων. Παίρνω βραβείο σημαίνει παραδέχομαι πνευματικά αφεντικά - και κάποτε πρέπει να διώξουμε τα αφεντικά από την ζωή μας...
Είμαι εναντίον των χρηματικών επιχορηγήσεων, σιχαίνομαι τους φτωχοπρόδρομους που απλώνουν το χέρι τους για παραδάκι. Οι χορηγίες μεγαλώνουν την μανία μας για διακρίσεις και την δίψα μας για λεφτά΄ ξεπουλάνε την ατομική ανεξαρτησία μας. 
Είμαι εναντίον των σχέσεων με το κράτος και βρίσκομαι σε διαρκή αντιδικία μαζί του. Πότε μου δεν πάτησα σε υπουργείο, και το καυχιέμαι. Η μόνη μου εξάρτηση απο το κράτος είναι η εφορεία, που με γδέρνει. 
Είμαι εναντίον των εφημερίδων. Χαντακώνουν αξίες, ανεβάζουν μηδαμινότητες, προβάλλουν ημετέρους, αποσιωπούν τους απροσκύνητους΄ όλα τα μαγειρεύουν, όπως αυτές θέλουν. Δεξιές, αριστερές, κεντρώες - όλες το ίδιο σκατό....
Είμαι εναντίον κάθε ιδεολογίας, σε οποιαδήποτε απόχρωση και αν μας την πασέρνουν. Όσο πιο γοητευτικές και προοδευτικές είναι οι ιδέες, τόσο πιο τιποτένια ανθρωπάκια μπορεί να κρύβονται από πίσω τους. Όσο πιο όμορφα τα λόγια τους, τόσο πιο ύποπτα τα έργα τους. Όσο πιο υψηλοί οι στόχοι, τόσο πιο άνοστοι οι στίχοι.
I recognise Cavafy, but who's the other poet on DC's wall?
I am against any sort of honouring distinctions, wherever they may come from …
I am against awards because they diminish human dignity. To award someone means that I recognise the value of someone who is otherwise below me – and at some point we must finally get rid of the condescension of the Greats. To accept an award implies acknowledging intellectual masters – and at some point we must throw out the masters from our lives … 
I am against sponsorships, I detest the desperate writers who have sold their souls off and are ready to receive rewards. Patronages intensify our mania for awards and our thirst for money; they sell off our personal independence.
I am against any relations with the state and I am in a constant opposition to it. I have never set my foot in a ministry, and I am proud of it. My only link with the state is the tax-office, which skins me. 
I am against the newspapers. They demolish values, they bring to the surface nobodies, they promote their subservients, they silence those who have not submitted to their authority; everything they say they make it up, exactly as they want it to be. Those on the Right, the Left, the Centre – all the same shit… 
I am against any kind of ideology, in whatever colour they try to sell it to us. The more attractive they are and progressive, the more likely it is small people to be behind them. The more beautiful their words are, the more suspicious their deeds. The more high the goals they set, the more tasteless their verses. 
I am, above anything else, against all type of personal ambition , that leads us daily to little and large compromises. If today we are full of shakers and movers, and those leaches who serve them, it is not just due to the filth we all live in; it is also due to all the concessions we have made and all our weaknesses. If the street-cleaner’s back has broken, we are responsible as well for throwing our cigarette in the street. And if our literature has ended up being lousy, couldn’t it be also the fault of our own lousiness. 
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Why can I not buy a radio tuned only to BBC R4? I keep its live stream on my laptop tool bar - indeed the computer has become our 'television' and 'radio' via the internet. I'm less keen on the smaller screen of a handheld device for this transition.

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