Archive for January 7th, 2013
Greece is far along the road the US is now traveling. The results are ugly, as Kosts Vaxevanis writes in his Op-Ed in the NY Times:
DEMOCRACY is like a bicycle: if you don’t keep pedaling, you fall. Unfortunately, the bicycle of Greek democracy has long been broken. After the military junta collapsed in 1974, Greece created only a hybrid, diluted form of democracy. You can vote, belong to a party and protest. In essence, however, a small clique exercises all meaningful political power.
For all that has been said about the Greek crisis, much has been left unsaid. The crisis has become a battleground of interests and ideologies. At stake is the role of the public sector and the welfare state. Yes, in Greece we have a dysfunctional public sector; for the past 40 years the ruling parties handed out government jobs to their supporters, regardless of their qualifications.
But the real problem with the public sector is the tiny elite of business people who live off the Greek state while passing themselves off as “entrepreneurs.” They bribe politicians to get fat government contracts, usually at inflated prices. They also own many of the country’s media outlets, and thus manage to ensure that their actions are clothed in silence. Sometimes they’ll even buy a soccer team in order to drum up popular support and shield their crimes behind popular protection, as the drug lord Pablo Escobar did in Colombia, and as the paramilitary leader Arkan did in Serbia.
In 2011, Evangelos Venizelos, who was then the finance minister and is now the leader of the socialist party, Pasok, instituted a new property-tax law. But for properties larger than 2,000 square meters — about 21,000 square feet — the tax was reduced by 60 percent. Mr. Venizelos thus carved out a big exemption for the only people who could afford to pay the tax: the rich. (Mr. Venizelos is also the man responsible for a law granting broad immunity to government ministers.)
Such shenanigans have gone on for decades. The public is deprived of real information, as television stations, newspapers and online news sites are controlled by the economic and political elite.
Another scandal involves the so-called Lagarde List. In 2010, Christine Lagarde, then the French finance minister (and now the head of the International Monetary Fund), gave the Greek government a list of roughly 2,000 Greek citizens with Swiss bank accounts, to help uncover tax fraud. Greek officials did virtually nothing with the list; two former finance ministers, George Papaconstantinou and his successor, Mr. Venizelos, reportedly even told Parliament they did not know where it was. Meanwhile, several media outlets falsely accused some politicians and business figures of being on the list in order to conceal the ugly reality: rich people were evading taxes while their desperate fellow citizens were searching the trash for food.
When Hot Doc, the monthly magazine I edit and publish, made the list public in October, I was arrested and charged with violating personal privacy, but was acquitted. The result didn’t please those in power. So I am being brought back for a second trial (a date has yet to be set) on similarly vague allegations. Throughout the entire process — the publication of the list, my arrest, my acquittal — the Greek media were absent. The case was a top story in the international press, but not in the country where it took place. . .
Learning from experience seems to be extremely difficult—cf. this column today by Paul Krugman, in which he comments in passing on the reason: to learn from a bad experience—a failure of some degree or other—one has to face the fact that he was wrong. The bigger the failure, the bigger the impact such an acknowledgement has on the ego, and many simply do not have the ego strength to withstand such a blow. So they will not admit that they were wrong, and continue unchecked in their course (cf. Congressional Republicans).
That perhaps is why an experiment is so valuable: doing something simply to test an idea or hypothesis, and then any failure is the failure of the hypothesis to withstand the scrutiny of experience. The experiment is designed to court failure of the idea. It can put the failure outside the ego boundary (though not, of course, if the experimenter has already developed a loyalty to the idea before testing it—he may then view the failure of the idea as his own failure, with the usual resulting denial).
But why the frantic effort to deny the obvious lessons of experience? What sort of damage does the ego fear? I think the dread is that everything is lost: if he’s held an incorrect idea, his entire life from the point he adopted the idea has been wasted: it was all for nothing.
That’s not true, of course: he still has lived his life over that time, and recognizing his error does not erase his experiences, it merely allows him to view them in a new light—indeed, the recognition of failure often turns out to be invigorating, a kind of reawakening and new-found freedom that lightens the load and reveals all sorts of new possibilities—but those are evident only after the failure is acknowledged and absorbed so that the scales are fully removed from the eyes. Before that happens awakens the dread of loss, and that dread is enough to keep many imprisoned in their old beliefs, which at some level they probably recognize as wrong. But once that path is chosen, the denial becomes stronger, the chains become thicker, and learning becomes close to impossible.
I suspect that the reverence for “loyalty” also plays a role: suddenly seeing that you were wrong can be viewed as being disloyal to those with whom you were previously in agreement. People who prize loyalty above all else cannot admit error, for that would mean being disloyal. By admitting that you were wrong, you betray those who cling to the erroneous belief.
Of course, getting a BBS shave is not difficult when you start with a two-day stubble and use a slant. But it is nonetheless enjoyable.
The Whipped Dog silvertip created a luxuriant lather from the Ogallala shave stick. One guy reported that his Ogallala soap didn’t do well, but I’m really pleased by the quality of lather I get. (I do have fairly soft water.)
The trusty bakelite slant—a model now no longer available—did a super job with a Gillette 7 O’Clock Sharpedge: three passes, with the BBS area increasing in each pass.
Top it off with a good splash of Captain’s Choice, and we’re ready to reenter the workaday world: The Wife returns to work today.