Friday, March 29, 2013

Sorry to say this but: beware conspiracy theorists (or at least intemperate bloggers). And a spot of Britain’s national sport: Teasing The French. I’m sure our Gallic cousins have a useful word for ‘teasing’ which I could employ here just to show off, but, sadly, I don’t know it

All the following notwithstanding, I can’t resist posting a picture which has come my way of the latest euro bank note being issued in Cyprus. Here it is:

A year or two ago, I came across a blog by a former advertising executive call John Ward which he calls The Slog. The name is some kind of derivation from ‘deconstructing bollocks’, and his avowed intention was to try to cut through the - well, bollocks - in which much of our ‘news’ is swaddled by governments, official bodies and, sadly all too often, our media (who, unsurprisingly are more interested in keeping the dollars rolling in than anything else) to try to uncover what’s beneath it all. I found the blog at the previous height of the euro crisis when it looked increasingly likely that Greece would have to leave, causing all kinds of upset.

John Ward refers to his sources, many apparently in influential positions with whom, by his own account, he is in constant touch, and although I have no way of knowing whether or not they are quite as well-informed as he claims, I must, for any lack of evidence to the contrary, take him by his word. That was in the late autumn of 2010, and as that year turned into 2011, John Ward predicted with almost absolute certainty that it was a done and dusted matter that over the weekend in March 2011, Greece would leave the euro. I think I even blogged on it myself.

The plan, he said, had been hatched in Germany and Washington, which, he claimed, was following its own agenda of weakening Europe as a financial market, and the so-called ‘Grexit’ would be underway once the financial markets closed on a Friday. By the Monday Greece was still a member. John Ward gave chapter and verse as to what had happened and claimed that he hadn’t, in fact, been wrong, but there had been several developments which meant the plan to turf Greece out had been put on hold. That was two years ago. I carried on reading The Slog, but in view of that one failed prediction, I did so rather less.

I was also increasingly unimpressed by some of the language and phrases John Ward used. It wasn’t that I was offended, it was that they seemed curiously inappropriate for what would otherwise seem to be a serious commentary. And he, too, seemed and seems to subscribe to the, in my view completely batty, suspicion that the whole euro crisis is nothing less than a German plot to dominate Europe. I mean would you accept as serious your GP’s health advice if he also claimed regularly to talk with elves and goblins? No, nor would I. John Ward habitually refers to ‘Berlin-am-Brussels’, calls Angela Merkel the Füherine and often makes reference to the Fourth Reich.

Looney tunes? I am apt to agree. And though, on the other hand, he does a lot of spadework, digging into this report and that, I rather think it is the kind of spadework which might be undertaken by those intent on ‘proving’ the Moon is not only made of cheese, but it is, in fact, a rare cheese produced only in the Cynon Valley, in South Wales. His latest suggestion is that the governments in the eurozone are planning some huge theft of everyone’s money. Oddly enough, given the government of Cyprus’s plan to grab a percentage of all savings in the island’s banks - a plan swiftly abandoned in the face of savers’ anger - John Ward’s suggestion might not seem quite as batty. But batty it is. I have never been a conspiracy theorist and am always inclined to cock-up theories, so that is where Mr Ward and I must part company.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that I think the whole euro experiment is doomed to failure sooner rather than later and that a bad situation is being made far worse by the day by ill-thought-out ‘solutions’ and remedies. It would be pointless to mention exactly where the euro started going wrong, but I shall do so anyway: monetary union must come after political union not before it, because there simply has to be a credible body governing how it is operated. So from the outset the euro was (in my view - my sister, whose opinion I always respect, disagrees) doomed.

Everything else, for example, reports that Chirac insisted as a favour to the Greeks that Greece should be allowed in as a quid pro quo for supporting German reunification, was a sideshow. Even that fact that a great many countries fiddled their figures to become members is, in essence, not important. Things have gone from bad to worse - horrible unemployment and related miseries in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland - because whatever measures suggested by the ECB and the rest were too timid, politically unacceptable or could simply not be agreed upon.

So we now have the mess we are in, including the utterly bizarre situation where European taxpayers might well have found themselves in the position of protecting the savings of Russians, much of which is widely believed to be criminal money.

I think the problem stems largely from the kind of people running the various European institutions. I think the essence of the matter is that those who staff the ECB and the EC etc are more or less my generation and a little younger, men and women – though, I should imagine largely men – who grew up in the heady days of student politics and idealism in the late 60s, early 70s and in a way simply haven’t outgrown that idealism. They seem to suffer from a panglossian conviction that ‘all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds’ however rocky the road to that world might at present be. (Here in Britain we have a similar problem in that all too many of our politicians in all parties started out as special advisers to other politicians and have limited experience of the world you and I know).

So underlying almost all the measures taken is that they must keep an eye on ‘the bigger picture’ – yes, things might be tough now and, yes, people might have to make sacrifices now, but think of what it is all leading to, the glory of it all.

After all, aren’t we continually told the one aim of the original ‘EU’ when it was first set up as the Coal and Steel Community was to tie France and Germany so closely together that they would never again go to war? And all too often the, in my view facile, claim is made that ‘the EU has kept peace in Europe for the past 60 years’. It is this immature idealism which is blinding the decision makers to the effects their decisions are having. I mean no one in their right mind would otherwise countenance tolerating youth unemployment at more than 50pc (as it is in Greece, Spain and Portugal).

To adapt that hoary saying ‘they can’t see the trees for the wood’. So although these men and women are by no means ‘stupid’, I suggest this mess is largely, almost wholly, the result of infinite bumbling, though for the reasons I suggest above.

. . .

There are few things we Brits like better than teasing the French, and Lord are they teasable. So in that spirit I’d like ‘to share’ (as they say on TV) these three anecdotes with you that are perhaps apocryphal, perhaps not, but which are quite amusing for those of use who aren’t French:

John Kennedy’a Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, was in France in the early 1960s when De Gaulle decided to pull out of NATO. De Gaulle said he wanted all US military out of France as soon as possible. Rusk responded: ‘Does that include those who are buried here?’

There was a conference in France where a number of international engineers were taking part, including French and American. During a break, one of the French engineers came back into the room and announced: ‘Have you heard the latest dumb stunt Bush has done? He has sent an aircraft carrier to Indonesia to help the tsunami victims. What does he intended to do, bomb them?’ A Boeing engineer stood up and replied quietly: ‘Our carriers have three hospitals on board that can treat several hundred people; they are nuclear powered and can supply emergency electrical power to shore facilities; they have three cafeterias with the capacity to feed 3,000 people three meals a day; they can produce several thousand gallons of fresh water from sea water each day; and they carry half a dozen helicopters for use in transporting victims and injured to and from their flight deck. We have eleven such ships; how many does France have?’

A Royal Navy admiral was attending a naval conference that included admirals from the U.S., English, Canadian, Australian and French navies. At a cocktail reception, he found himself standing with a large group of officers that included personnel from most of those countries. Everyone was chatting away in English as they sipped their drinks when a French admiral suddenly complained that whereas Europeans learn many languages, the English learn only English. He then asked: ‘Why is it that we always have to speak English in these conferences rather than speaking French?’ Without hesitating, the British admiral replied: ‘Maybe it’s because the Brits, Canadians, Aussies, South Africans and Americans arranged it so you wouldn’t have to speak German.’

NB Does anyone use semi-colons when they speak? I’ve often wondered. And as I’ve just lambasted John ‘The Slog’ Ward for what I regard as unnecessary national stereotyping, it would be thoroughly remiss of me not to engage in some quite gratuitous hypocrisy. So in that spirit I give you: Jacques!

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