One of the reasons I took a break from writing this blog was that more and more I was writing about the same issue - the euro crisis and how inexplicably daft various governments are behaving in their ostensible aim of solving it - and I started feeling like the nutter in a bar who perhaps amuses for the first ten minutes you know him, but becomes tedious after 20, insufferable after an hour and is subsequently avoided at all cost whenever next he crosses your path. And who wants to be regarded as a nutter in a bar. But developments in the eurozone have become so bloody ludicrous and many politicians are behaving with such breathtaking inanity that I could and can no longer hold back. But I shall at least - with an eye on all those adverse to nutters in bars - try a different approach.
I shall be 63 in just under six months and it is a commonplace that old folk, or oldish folk, seem doom and gloom at every turn.
So I’ve been asking myself whether what’s going on in the world is any more frightening, threatening and dangerous than 27 years ago, in September 1985, when my dear old dad was just under six months short of 63. Or what was the state of the world in (I think 1953) when his dad was approaching his 63rd birthday. Certainly, for Walter Powell, chain-smoker, primary school head teacher, county councillor (which might have come later) and cricket buff there will have been plenty to worry a worrier: the Korean War, the increasingly bitter Cold War, a piss-poor economy in Britain with rationing barely over, the Empire so obviously well on its way up the swannee and generally a feeling that things should be better. The bright spot will have been that World War II was over and done with, though just how much solace Walter and Elsie, my grandmother, will have gained from that I really don’t know.
In 1985 things did look a lot brighter. The worst of the early Thatcher economic pain was over, money was plenty, the internet was not yet born so people were not immediately being made aware of the latest horror, although Britain’s miners were feeling bitter, having lost the very stupid fight started by that arch ham and undoubted chancer Arthur Scargill. But there was most certainly much to worry about, if not at home or in Europe, but elsewhere.
That is, of course, if you were in a worrying mood. My father, I rather think, wasn’t. He had retired three years previously on a very generous pension, he was happily remarried, he was ‘working on [his] book’ (completed but never, or not yet, published), he lived in a very pleasant part of the country and was enjoying the kind of country gentleman’s life to which he had always aspired, and the prostate cancer which was to develop and eventually kill him at 68 was still several years away. He was, however, a worrier, though I really can’t tell you what he might have been worrying about.
To be honest, I do think there is something in the idea that as folk, especially men, get older, they are more apt to see gloom and doom lurking in every corner. Yet having said that - so take that as a caveat - I do think that on many different horizons extremely ominous storm clouds are gathering.
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As far as the euro crisis is concerned, it might help to try to look at daily and weekly developments as though they were past history. So, for example, what are we to make of Angela Merkel’s suggestion that euro debtor countries should consider handing over their gold reserves to pay off their debts? As a news item you heard an hour or two ago, you might feel inclined to say: ‘Well, why not? Makes a certain degree of sense.’ But reading about it in many years time, as a history student, say, as one of the many factors ‘preceding the great crash of the early 21st century, it might strike you as rather different. Let me set the scene: Germany is solvent and prosperous and is finding it so easy to borrow money that it doesn’t even have to offer a tasty interest rate on what it raises. It has low unemployment and low inflation and whichever way you look at it is doing rather well, thank you very much.
The one cloud on the horizon comes from several other members of the monetary union which are apparently heading towards bankruptcy, where one in four of those of employable age have no job, where pensions and social security payments are being slashed, where its people are so worried that their banking system will collapse that they are withdrawing as much money as they can and getting it out of the country and, finally, where the more democratically inclined political parties of the centre are rapidly losing their support to parties either on the far left or the far right. But because they are part of the same monetary union as Germany, their demise not only could, but most certainly will, be disastrous for Germany. So what does Germany do: it demands that if these countries want help, they should hand over their gold. As sweet-talking goes, as a way of pouring oil on troubled waters that is a lunatic approach.
It doesn’t, of course, help that in the not too distant past Germany - though I must and will stress a very different kind of Germany - was in a similar position of lording it over various other nations in Europe, thereby allowing those who want to do so to make - in my view wholly unjustified and gratuitous - jibes about das Herrenvolk and Das Vierte Reich. But is no one in Germany aware of the growing bad blood? Are there no siren voices in Berlin telling the German government to soft-pedal a little, take it easy, this isn’t working out as we would like it to? Apparently there aren’t.
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I’m well aware, or think I’m well aware of the economics of it all and forgive me but I can’t hold back from commenting that I, as well as many, many others, warned that this whole fuck-up was going to happen at some point. The only - the only - unknown factor was when it would happen. But that is all water under the bridge now. The disaster is upon us, inexorably bearing down on us like some huge tanker cannot slow down and which cannot be turned around.
The economics are stark: we’re now damned if we do and damned if we don’t. It is not going to end peacefully. I don’t expect there to be any civil wars but I do expect any number of mischief makers to seize the opportunity to make their mischief, whatever that might be and whatever they hope to achieve from it. There will be fighting, there will be riots, there will be deaths, there will be appeals for calm. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world other events will worsen the situation. The era of cheap goods from China, who export from China and import into Europe gave everyone a feelgood factor, is now over. There is an upward pressure on wages in China and many firms who went there to benefit from cheap labour are now upping sticks and moving on to other countries, such as Vietnam.
The situation in Syria is getting worse by the day. There is no way out for Assad and his supporters, so they will undoubtedly fight until the bitter end, unless Russia can persuade that gang to relinquish power. But who would then take over? The situation in Syria, we are continually being told, cannot be compared to the revolution in Libya. Libya is a sparsely coastal strip with massive of desert. Syria isn’t. Libya might be tribal, but as a rule they all regard themselves as being in the same club. They don’t in Syria. Syria is split between Sunnis and Shiites as well as between Islamists and Western-orientated folk. Should a war in Syria bother us?
Well, various fools are calling for what they regard as a universal panacea of ‘Western intervention’, not doubt on ‘humanitarian grounds’, yet they dont’ seem to have learnt the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan of leaving well alone. But whether or not the West ‘gets involved’, as far as I know (i.e. from my superficial reading of news magazines and listening to the radio) a war in Syria would to a large extent be a proxy war between Saudi Arabia, that beacon of Middle Eastern freedom, and Iran, that other beacon of Middle Eastern freedom and the West would be best to keep well out of it. Israel, of course, couldn’t and could well become ‘collateral damage’, no doubt creating as much collateral damage of its own as it goes downs.
And all this would be going on while Europe and the EU crumbles.
Am I merely being too gloomy? I am suffering from just a standard bout of pre-retirement Angst. I bloody well hope I am. Though I rather think I’m not.
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Then, of course, there’s Ireland. Honest Ireland which played by the rules, upset no one, made a lot of good friends (as usual), and generally played it straight, but is still being burned by the big boys. For about the umpteenth time in its history. No wonder those poor Irish saps turn to drink. They have a referendum coming up in which, as I understand it, the question will be: Do you, being of sound mind and sane judgments want to screwed and taken to the cleaners by Tweedledum? Or would you prefer to be screwed and taken to the cleaners by Tweedldee? God bless the Irish. At least they can laugh at themselves.
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I know that by writing what I am about to write I shall be seen as hugely ungrateful, but I can’t resist it: Bloody Google really get up my nose. They are fucking everywhere! These past few years you couldn’t install anything with a bloody Google toolbar being installed while you weren’t looking. Now I am getting a warning every time I access my blog to post or edit that my browser will soon no longer be supported. Well, why not? I use Firefox because I am used to using Firefox and I like Firefox and I update Firefox every time Firefox - politely - asks me whether I want to update Firefox. The crucial difference between Firefox and bloody Google - and a difference I appreciate a great deal - is that Firefox doesn’t impose on me, take me for granted, do things behind my back and generally behave like to complete pain in the arse.
So my - Google - blogspot will soon no longer be supported on Firefox. Why not? Only because Firefox isn’t bloody Google, that’s why. Why don’t the Islamic terrorist do something useful for a change and go and blow up Google HQ. Call themselves terrorists!