Saturday, February 11, 2012

Beware of Greeks bearing gilts, something about socialists, heads and hearts, and I’ve realised why country and western music pisses me off

There can be no one in the world who thinks that what is now going on in Greece can still all be sorted and that it will eventually all end with laughter, handshakes and ouzos all round. I also think it is clear to anyone but a blind bat that Greece will go bankrupt and leave the euro. Imposing yet more austerity on a nation the majority of whom no longer have a drachma to their name is as futile a solution as urging a corpse to lose a little more weight (‘Look, we can’t quite get you in the coffin. Any chance, y’know . . . ?’) We’re told that almost half of all those of working age under 24 are out of work and have no prospect of finding a job and there has been violent protests on the streets, with the police
being petrol-bombed and I heard a report on the radio last week that to save money hospitals are only operating every few days. Those with the wherewithal to do so are moving their money out of the country as fast as they can, and to say the outlook is bleak is an understatement.

The coalition government has been engaged in more than pointless negotiations about even how even more money can be saved in order to qualify for another bailout. The Greek parliament will vote on that austerity package in the next few
days, and there is a very real possibility that it will be voted down. But whether or not it is voted through - and remember, what parliament will be voting for will be whether to shit on the voter even more, all for the greater good of the euro and EU - is utterly irrelevant. Part of the deal to form a coalition government was to bring the 2013 general election forward. It is now to be held in April and will be a field day for extremist parties of every kind. I think what the EU has achieved in Greece is a new definition of ‘fuck-up’.

The whole issue is one of those curious matters which, when individual elements are considered, they make a certain sense. It’s just that when you look at the big picture you start to realise the total lunacy at play. I’m not yet again going to go through the litany of reasons why the euro was an ill-conceived notion in the first place, only because it

would be pointless to do so. When Greece has left, the commentators tell us Portugal is next and then it might well be Ireland. After that the currency will have lost so much credibility that surely to goodness it will somehow or other have to be revamped. But don’t bet on the idiots in Frankfurt, Berlin, Brussels and Paris who got the EU into this mess doing the right thing. If there’s some way to fucking things up even more, it’s a sure thing they will find it.

. . .

Several hundred years ago when I was at college, a number of my friends belonged either to International Socialists or Solidarity. Both were on the Left - bet you didn’t see that coming - and, if I remember rightly, were at daggers drawn. I am pleased to say, although they will perhaps not be too pleased to hear me say it, that all those of my friends who were members are now doing very well, holding down well-paid jobs, many have their own business (I am thinking of one in particular) and generally have become what their younger selves agitated against so zealously. C’est la vie. That was in the late Sixties/early Seventies, and since then or students seem to have become less politically engaged. In fact, there was a time in the Eighties in Britain well all they seemed to want to do was to own both a collection of ties and a Volva and have a weekend cottage in Dorset. But I knew that somewhere or other lurked the spiritual descendants of Arthur McDonald, Ian Renwick and the rest (I can’t remember any more names off-hand), and now I think I have found them.

Tracking down images to go with the entry above, I came across a website for an organisation which calls itself ROAR (Reflections on a Revolution) - our young left-wingers are always rather good at coming up with heroic names for their groups. I read through several off the pieces and, us usual, they are of varied quality and depth of thought, but it is an interesting site nevertheless. You can find it here. I don’t mean to sound patronising, but it is reassuring that at least some of our young are still going through a left-wing phase. It is so disheartening to meet anyone under 25 who is a convinced conservative, yet they do exist.

. . .

There is a quote by someone along the lines of ‘If a man is not a socialist by the time he is 20, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 40, he has no brain’ I thought it was by Churchill and tried to track it down. And it is, in fact, by
Churchill, but it was not an original observations. While tracking it down, I am across another blog which quoted yet another party, who in turn quoted a book called Nice Guys Finish Seventh: False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations by Ralph Keyes, written in 1992. Keyes come up with several variation of that observation. Here they are:

Any man who is not a socialist at age 20 has no heart. Any man who is still a socialist at age 40 has no head
— Georges Clemenceau

On response to being told that, someone called Bennet Cerf is quoted as saying:

If he had not become a Communist at 22, I would have disowned him. If he is still a Communist at 30, I will do it then.

A young man who isn’t a socialist hasn’t got a heart; an old man who is a socialist hasn’t got a head
— Lloyd George.

The earliest known version of this observation is attributed to mid-nineteenth century historian and statesman François Guizot who is quoted as:

Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head.

If you want more Churchill quotes, you can find some here.
There are some great ones, of which my favourites are:

Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all


He has all of the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire

which could well have been by Wilde. Incidentally, I have chosen to picture of Churchill as a young man, because we invariably only get to see those of him when he was more or less in his dotage, and it is good to remember that he, too, was once young.
NB I had never heard of Bennett Cerf and have just looked him up. It seems he will not be that unknown to American readers.

. . .

I’ve often wondered why I loathe country and western music, and now I think I know why. Musically, it is very, very attractive, especially to a guitar player. A country and western (hereafter referred to as country and western) tune will rarely consist of more than three chords. If it does, the additional chords will be related e.g. if G, C and D feature prominently - which they are likely to do - Em, Am and F might also show up. But anyone searching for the added sophistication of a sixth, major seventh, diminished or 9th and 11th chord would be best advised not to waste their time. Yet musicians who play country and western professionally are usually very, very good, and it’s not just because of the the three-chord trick.
What I have realised is that however much I might like the music, it’s the mawkish sentimentality of country and western music lyrics which pisses me off terminally and the truths which undoubtedly truths, but which are no more than skin-deep and trite truisms, the kind of truths which strike you was ineffably profound when you are pissed and a lot less so the following day as you search for those elusive paracetamol.

Ironically, there are several country and western lyrics which do hit the nail on the head, or, at least, do so up to a point. This particular entry was brought on by me turning on BBC2 to watch the France v Ireland Six Nations match and finding that it had been called off because of a frozen pitch and that instead a series of excerpts from country and western concerts were being screened. One was Kris Kristofferson and his then wife singing Me And Bobby McGee, a song which contains the splendid and very true line ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose’. Well, yes and no. Yes, it’s catchy and true. But no, there is far more to the concept of freedom and, anyway, the line is not intended to covey a truth but a sentiment. Unfortunately, at heart country and western is merely music to feel sorry for yourself too, and although I, like everyone else, have often felt sorry for myself, I don’t feel it is an admirable emotion or one to be encouraged.

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