Journalists reporting on Greece

I was relatively late to the world of Twitter as a source of news. Naturally, one needs to follow a few journalists as well as informed individuals and institutions in order fully to appreciate its special immediacy. When it comes economics, I follow, amongst others, Paul Mason from Channel 4 TV in the UK and Simon Nixon from the Wall Street Journal and the Times of London. What these two journalists have in common is a passion for Greece and for reporting on the nature of the current Greek crisis and potential – though unknowable – solutions.

Paul MasonMason has taken to vlogging on a daily basis, usually from a cafe with an ATM in view of himself and/or the camera (left). He’s reflective and tries desperately to understand and articulate what is going on and what is needed from both sides to, at least temporarily, avert a potential conflagration across the Eurozone and Europe more generally. It seems to me that his tolerance of the Greek government and its leadership is based on its democratic legitimacy, the flawed logic of austerity as a means to economic growth and, perhaps, the sense that this crisis does have the potential to bring about a change in the global system of sovereign debt relief that, largely, benefits rich countries at the expense of the poor. He is not anti-capitalism.

By contrast, Nixon, is a conservative steeped in the belief in the legitimacy of the global system as it is. The crisis in Greece seems to have brought out worst in him. The tweet below, for example, demonstrates his belief in his own ability to diagnose the problem; namely, Syriza, and Yanis Varoufakis particularly.

So, for Nixon, there seems to be little recognition of any culpability for the previous, seemingly corrupt, Greek governments; the Euro project itself; the EU or monetarism. Only Syriza. My Twitter feed was overwhelmed on Tuesday evening with Nixon’s tweets from the “yes” demonstration in Athens. Whilst it was impressive, it is not surprising that there is a polarisation of opinion and that people take to the streets to express it. It does not make it right or viable. Ultimately we do not know. We cannot know.

Twitter, however, remains the most immediate way of following fast-moving stories.

Grexit

Tspiras_28_6_15When I was at university back in the 80s, I took a course entitled Political Sociology. Essentially it was a study of power. The core text was Stewart Clegg’s Frameworks of Power, an extremely difficult text (for an undergraduate), but every week ahead of the seminars, a chapter was consumed and prepared to present.

Clegg introduced me to the concept of Organisational Outflanking. This post is a partial celebration of this concept and a very good example of its employment. Say what we might about Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister (above left), he is a fine exponent of the art. It does not matter how poor is the hand that one is dealt, it is still possible to outflank opponents by doing something unexpected. Tsipras announcing a referendum in the home of democracy was a master stroke. The creditors (the EU, the IMF and the ECB – the so-called Troika) were not expecting that. It took a little while for a response, the best indicator of a successful outflanking, as it were.

In writing this, I risk the wrath of Greek friends and colleagues who are being hurt by this crisis. Let us not forget that the crisis that we continue to try to deal with was caused by the banking sector, not the people of Greece. Moreover, Greece’s continued membership of the Euro was managed – conceivably fraudulently – by the banking sector for its own ends. That wonderful banking institution Goldman Sachs made a lot of money out of helping the then Greek Government to hide the true extent of the deficit in contravention of the Maastricht Treaty.

Locking poorer members of the European Union into a currency regime managed from the heart of Europe’s strongest economy, Germany, is a nonsense. When the going gets tough, countries devalue their currencies to render products and services cheaper. Without that lever, what other options are available to Governments? Erm…asking the Troika for money to pay back the Troika and the transfer of state assets, healthcare provision, etc.? 50 per cent unemployment of young people is but one unacceptable consequence of this.

I’m glad to see that Nobel Prizewinning economist, Paul Krugman, reported in Business Insider seems to have come out in support of Tsipras. Summed up in a nutshell:

“Over the past seven years, Krugman argues, the financial noose Europe has placed around Greece’s neck has strangled the Greek economy. Each time Europe has loaned Greece money, it has demanded spending cuts in return. And these spending cuts — austerity — have further damaged the Greek economy.

In the past, every time the situation has come to a head, Greece has caved. And, in the process, it has transformed itself into little more than a financial slave state mired in an economic depression.

There is no way Greece will ever be able to cut its way to prosperity, Krugman argues. And history suggests that any argument to the contrary is crazy.

Given that Europe refuses to restructure Greece’s debt in a sustainable way and allow the country to try to grow its way out of its misery, Greece has no choice but to default and withdraw.”

It is going to be tough with the banks closed. It is not just the people at the ATMs, but the economy more generally.2015-06-29 10.12.07 The whole point about banks is they deal the means of exchange of value; i.e. money. And when they are shut, this becomes very difficult. In response, we either find other stores of value such as gold (or as happened in Douglas Adams’ Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, the leaf) or we merely exchange things on the basis of a perceived equivalence.

The outcome – either the Troika gets real and accepts that we are dealing with real people and not inanimate institutions, or Greece goes it alone. It has been done before. But if that happens, Europe has to take a close look at itself.

By contrast:

L&M for men

2015-06-22 07.27.35L&M has brought back the unshaven man after 3 years (left). Be free, they say AND be an individual, seems to be the strapline. I think the woman on the left needs to be careful, she might find her hair ignited rather than her heart.

The Confederate flag

Confederate_Rebel_FlagBen Hallman in the Huffington Post notes that “[t]he Confederacy was the most vile and harmful political invention in United States history. It was founded on the explicit principle that slavery is the “natural and normal condition” of black people, and that they should be ruthlessly exploited to the benefit of their white masters. More Americans died in the bloodletting that followed than in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.”

I was bemused to learn that the flag still flies legally on State Government land in Columbia, South Carolina. Even more that the president of the USA cannot intervene and get it down (and outlawed). It like the Berlin Government flying the Swastika over its government buildings.

Ben Hallman’s article can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/pr6yxjg

Flag: William Porcher Miles (1822-1899) – Wikipedia

Cigarette advertising – Vive death

2015-06-18 22.32.27Munich’s Laim S-Bahn station is the place to see the most recent billboards featuring cigarette brands. Last night I saw two splendid examples; one for Pall Mall (left) and the other for that oh so French fun brand of death, Gauloises (bellow right). There’s also a Lucky Strike effort (below left).

Pall Mall move away from the Pall Mall sex couple and revert back to selling on the basis of those rather smart packages. The strapline does not translate very well, but let me try ‘way ahead on taste’. How would you know? Better than those coffee flavours by Lucky Strike?2015-06-19 20.17.19

Much more accessible is the Gauloises campaign, Vive le Moment! Here we have a bunch of blokes falling into a pool. Great fun. It’s a warm day, let’s fall into the pool and be cool and cooled. Better to drown than to die of cancer, I guess.

2015-06-19 19.58.21Finally, Lucky strike persists with the strikethrough campaign. “Lots of meaningless advertising” states the original. Strikethrough and you get some more meaningless advertising: “more content”. Yeah. Lethal chemicals. Keep up the good work.

University of Brighton degree show 2015 part 2 – fine art and sculpture

2015-06-12 18.07.01I think the show this year is exceptional. Forgive me for omissions, with few exceptions, the pictures were all brilliant. They are also diverse in styles and subjects. Thematically, food seems to be important this year. Anna Choutova (left) presents a huge jar of olives; Louis Staples’s avocados (right) 2015-06-12 18.08.16are almost graphic design and  his melting butter (bottom left) positively spreadable. There is a hint Paul Nash about the image in terms of colour and surrealism. Talking of which…

2015-06-12 18.09.40A positive highlight was most certainly some familiar surrealism. Again, the artist’s name was absent, but we were at least given an email address and the name of the paintings. First, then, And onto Man, Nothing Shall Pass (right) 2015-06-12 18.11.14positively dripping Dali. The lion with a zip on its back is intriguing. At first I thought it was a switch. But when I looked again more closely I saw the teeth of the zip. I trust the lion is being zipped up.

2015-06-12 18.12.35The same artist is responsible for An Allegory of Pride (The Seven Vices and Virtues of Tragedy, left). The title invites the return of the lion, this time in a very Magrittian ensemble of characters, locations and colour.

Nettle Grellier presents a delightful picture (below right) simply entitled Outside In. The 2015-06-12 18.15.58theme is flowers, birds, sunlight, fecundity. It has a feelgood factor about it without being overly challenging. It is a bit of a tapestry that, ultimately, asks, what is inside?

2015-06-12 18.20.29It is almost as if Dexter Gonzales (left), gives us a possible answer to that question with his exquisite view of a garret. Many of us have inhabited these kinds of spaces in our lives. This image looks warm and inviting. Often they are neither.  Gonzales cleverly uses frames to limit his images. It works.

2015-06-12 18.30.49Sophie McKenna’s work (left) is beguiling. Look closely and there is not much to say. Move away, and any number of things come to mind, most of them relating to nature. I can see an aerial view of roaming Wilderbeast (or their continental equivalents). I can see bees, trees, clouds. The cloud element is helped by the scratchy swirls that would not be out of place on a weather chart. Probably I write nonsense?2015-06-12 18.31.50

Human identity is a perennial topic for artists. There were, for me, three particular examples of note. First, Alexander Kay’s Existence I (right). This nude is both erotic and tormented. The environment is not friendly, though she may ordinarily 2015-06-12 18.40.04be in some passionate embrace. If she is, this is armageddon. Is is the existence merely feeling human?

Second, is James Hicks’s self portraits (left). The mirror seems to distort the image (not least the impossible walking shoes). It is not a comfortable image, but the artist has some guile in presenting himself in this way.

Finally, Ellie Seymour’s disconcerting portrait (right)DSCF1111 is part of a series entitled Misshapen I-V. As the title suggests, the images are deliberately distorted in a bid to subvert media representations of feminity, without, it seems, rejecting it completely.

Perhaps the darkest and most unnerving work this year is that of Victoria Jenkins (below left). These three enclosed figures are trapped, despairing, claustrophobic. The materials used include a resin that compounds this feeling. Like a tar pool that trapped early 2015-06-12 18.36.38mammals.

There was not much portraiture this year. The most photoreali2015-06-12 18.23.53stic of the small sample was the series of self portraits by Sam Glencross. This one (right) depicts the artist at 17 (though the panel said 21), devoid of neck. Frowning. The eyes are a cold blue and the hair…a problem in later life.

2015-06-12 18.34.52It is worth, briefly, going back to food. These fried eggs (left) by Amber Manser are perfectly edible.

2015-06-12 18.54.03And so to sculpture. Sculpture is not the most accessible form for me. There are three observations from this year’s show.

Robert James Gordon’s, Stay, is simple in its effectiveness. A resin dog sits infront of a mirror. Look into the mirror one can also see his piece, Upwardly Immobile. This piece depicts a very young child in a harness suspended from a not-inconsiderable height. The child is so young that there is a degree of abandonment about it. The title also suggest limited life chances. Suspended between ambition and reality. Hunger, loneliness. 2015-06-12 18.55.12

I must say to the curators of the sculpture exhibition, the aviary with living birds is not art. Please do not incorporate live animals into exhibitions.

The final example of grotesqueness is captured in the work of Rachael Power (right). Essentially, this DSCF1115work is a walk-in vagina installation. The author herself is attempting to reclaim the vagina as an aesthetic entity from the pornographers. She seeks to return the penis to its ‘protective roots’. The installation certainly appropriates the penis and even at the rear of the installation creates a second vagina from the male body.

download_20150615_225544 Finally, Rose Harris (left) presents a spread of wonderful aesthetic prints. The eye is drawn to this lucious example (left). The detail in the leaves is tremendous. It is like a carving. And whilst it was the first collection that we saw, I leave my review with this image as symbolic of the show overall. Apologies to the textile artists. Somehow we both missed the galleries and ran out of time.

University of Brighton degree show 2015 pt 1

Here is my annual review of the best (in my humble opinion) of the degree show. In light of the recent election result and my passion for students and young people more generally to engage with the political process, I highlight in the first instance the work that prompts thought about change and the environment.

First, let us start with the graphic designers whose task is surely to help us navigate the complex environment in whichDSCF1127 we live and to alert us to dangers both real and imaginable. There were seven exceptional examples in this year’s show starting with Hannah Jeffery (right). It never ceases to shock to learn just how few examples of these extraordinary animals there are left; largely because of poaching and game hunting.

DSCF1120Next, Amy Fullalove who asks, how do we alert future generations to the dangers associated with a huge nuclear waste repository in Finland (Onkalo)? I think these symbols (left) will do the trick!

Sasha George (below right) has another approach. Now this is my interpretation, and hence it might be entirely wrong. The artist seems to have presented a series of six extraordinary pictures depicting DSCF1129nature reclaiming human despoliation. There is a toppled Statue of Liberty (somehow on land); trees growing through houses and abandoned vehicles. The array of animals – tigers, bears, birds and fauna is fantastic. And to me at least, it shocks.

DSCF1125Next Lossie Ng Lei (left) takes on global warming with a challenge to feel the difference that 2 degrees makes with a set of oceanic images and a push towards veganism (as a solution).

Next, Beth Ducket (below right) who is in fact a print maker rather than graphic design. It is not clear exactly how explicit the artist is about the impact on the environment of consumption, but even by accident the reproduction of so many receipts makes a clear point. Her accompanying script could even be MarxistDSCF1117 with references to alienation (meaninglessness) and mass production/consumption. Perversely the artist has reproduced by hand the receipts on the one hand claiming artisanal value but also this wonderful ability to see art in the mundane and a deep commitment to classification.

My penultimate choice goes to an artist whose work seems not to have been labelled. I do not know DSCF1123whether this work is a critique of modern communication technology or a celebration of it (left). Every individual in the series of six pictures is completely consumed by a mobile phone. If it is a critique, well done. If it is a celebration, we really are doomed.

Finally in this section (fine art and sculpture to follow), Holly MacDonald is going to go far withDSCF1131 her caricatures of British politicians. There are two in this example (right). And they are brilliant and correct.

Thinking very aloud – Laurie Taylor at the University of Brighton

LaurieTaylorI’ve been listening to Laurie Taylor on the radio for many years. Originally earmarking my Sunday evenings as must listen nights. More recently I have just downloaded the podcasts of his social science review show, Thinking Aloud (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qy05/episodes/downloads). On 11 June I saw him in the flesh speaking on the theme of ‘escaping academia’ – something that us modern-day academics dream about.

The 45 minutes – which seemed like 10 – were packed full of often amusing anecdotes. But like all the best speakers that I know, the anecdotes were woven into the speaker’s more profound and less accessible conceptual points, drawing in the audience in the process.

Taylor talked at length about his early career at York University – a world apart from the reality of working in a university in 2015. More significantly he identified some of his most influential texts/theorists. In particular, Erving Goffman (whom he met in a restaurant in the US and who disrupted the situation by ordering dessert first to make a point about ritual); Michel Foucault’s ( particularly, it seems, Order of Things, 1965), Ernst Bloch and Anthony Giddens.

This made me briefly think about the key texts that had most influenced me. These are indisputably Steven Lukes’ Power: A Radical View; Stewart Clegg’s Frameworks of Power and Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunoch.

But how does one get into radio? In Taylor’s case, he received a phone call from an unnamed BBC person who asked him whether he agreed with, if I recall, an increase in postal charges. His answer swiftly captured ideas about the art of writing being lost if charges for letters increased. The enquirer then asked him to make the opposite case. Bemused, Taylor proceeded to talk about how telephones provide opportunities for real-time communication and ideas development, discourse, etc. The enquirer then asked if Taylor would care to come on his radio show later that week. Seemingly the enquirer was Robert Robinson and the programme was Radio 4’s Stop the Week.

I will not publish my phone number on this blog; but interested radio show hosts, please email me.

Picture: BBC

Das Gewitter

2015-06-06 21.55.2735 degrees heat has been imposing itself on central Europeans over the past few days. It is not to my liking as a English bloke from the north used to fog in the middle of summer. I do, however, love a good electrical storm. From a safe distance.

The weatherman on the TV on Friday night promised some activity on this front. First the clouds came over, then a breeze got up. Finally the flashes and thunder. Not a classic, but I did manage to capture a lit-up sky2015-06-07 22.47.10 on my phone. It required a little patience.

Actually tonight, I got some real lightening!

Tandem Tour 2015 – early thoughts

tauber_kaartIt is time to start thinking seriously about this year’s tour. We have decided to stay quite close to home this year and take on Northern Bavaria (or more precisely, Franconia). The aim is to start from Regensburg and follow the Tauber Altmühl Radweg (left), skirt around Nürnberg, head up to Coburg and finish up in Leipzig.

Early days. A couple of guides  have been purchased, but because our plan does Main_radwegnot form a part of a registered long-distance route, we have to mix and match the maps (and make one or two of our own).

Camping last year was a decidedly damp and cold affair. The long-range weather forecast for August is not yet out…

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