Thursday, 31 May 2012

NEWREEL: Starve them guilty children!

UNICEF just came out with a bit of news about Portugal. To wit: that many thousands of Portuguese children go to school without having had breakfast. The penniless kids loiter about the school cantinas, but buy nothing… Behold the splendid results of the EU Austerity that will save us! (Those who read Dutch: see this article)

But this is, of course, their parents’ fault. At least according to Ms Christine Lagarde of the IMF in a recent interview (see here). This Iron Salomé in Vuitton Shawls explained that if Greek children suffer, it is the fault of their parents for not paying taxes.

A surprising opinion, since this lady herself does not pay taxes on her roughly 450,000 Euro income. She is, you see, a diplomat. They make far too little, and are far too important, to contribute to the public cause! (See this article!)

She is also a lady with a heart. Not at all like other IMF bigwigs, who sodomise the workers of the world during office hours, only to rape chamber maids in their free time. I am much more concerned, she told the worshipful interviewer, with poor Nigerian children who get no proper  education than with the Greek children who suffer because of the sins of their cheating parents.

Come again?

Since when is the IMF concerned for the welfare of African children, pray tell?

Since when do we need to choose between Nigerian children and Greek children?

And since when do you think that we are so incredibly stupid that we will let you hide your pitiless plutocrat attitudes behind cheap sentimentality over African kids, you heartless harpy?

I never thought I’d say this, but I will do so now: Lady Thatcher is a warm, caring grandmother compared with today’s nauseating international puppeteers.


Spanish Banking (2)

Yesterday I pointed out that, due to the financial crisis that started in the USA in 2008, banks in Northern European countries had to be bailed out by their governments, as happened for instance in Iceland, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Why then, we may ask, were Spanish banks apparently untouched? Why could the bungling PM of the day declare for all to hear that the Spanish banking system was the strongest in the world and would never need help? Why did the excrement only hit the Spanish airco system four years later?

Well, if you happen to have the answer, I will gladly listen to it. All I can do myself is give you the impression I got from listening to a million different forecasts and explanations in the course of the last few years. As I understand it, Spanish banks were playing in a different league and in another stadium than their Northern colleagues. Apparently the part of their reserves invested in the USA was rather negligible. Most of it was invested either in Latin America, which after the Argentinian slump began to grow again round about 2000, and in Spain itself. But there, in Spain, they were deeply, VERY deeply into the mud of the housing market.

This should have hit them as soon as the housing bubble burst in 2008. Except that, due to Spanish bookkeeping laws, Spanish banks did not yet need to show their losses on their balance sheets until 4 years later, i.e. today. During those four years they could maintain the fiction that the sellable and unsellable properties they held were still worth the money for which they had been acquired before the bubble burst. On paper, at the bottom line, they were still rich and healthy, since an abandoned suburban mansion, standing half-finished on the outskirts of Madrid and now gutted by gangs of copper-robbers and fixture-thieves, was still on the books for its estimated sales-price of 400,000 euros, instead of the depreciated ‘true’ value of perhaps 100,000.     

This ticking time bomb was not, of course helped at all by many of those home-owners with mortgages far beyond their means losing their jobs and failing on their payments. It was not helped along either by a more than absurd volume of construction for speculative reasons, without an eye to possible future demand. To give you but one telling number which I remember: it seems Spain has 25 million housing units. And it has some 46 million inhabitants. This means less than 2 inhabitants per house, in a country where families are large and often live together. To call this an imbalance is a masterpiece of euphemism.

Naturally, everybody who understood anything at all of banking knew what was coming. And so some measures were taken, in the vain hope that one might convince a hurricane to turn away from the coast. The now infamous Bankia is the result of that. It is, in fact, a very young financial behemoth, put together two or three years ago by the obligatory merger of several so-called ‘Cajas’, provincial saving banks. If I understand it well, these suffered from two horrid weaknesses. The first was that legally they were not exactly banks, and were therefore not equally – or sufficiently - restricted in the number and volume of mortgages they dealt out. The second was that they were the plaything of local politicians. CEO’s, appointed by the dominant political parties in the province, were given the task to create jobs, growth, prestige projects and fell-good experiences, which might translate into votes for the party. (Northerners may wince at this notion, but it is an integral part of the traditional client system of the Latin south, the Middle East and Africa whether we like it or not, and it works in a way).

This political dimension tossed one more venomous ingredient into the brew: political protection, read: impunity for the executives. Since a great many of the political leaders (from both main national parties and several of the great provincial parties) were at least partly responsible for the mess, and since it is likewise part of the client system not to crack down on those who are loyal to you, the bankers involved were not immediately called to account, but were expected to cover up the damages as well as they could, until an easy way out might be found, or the mess might be blamed on the other political party. This is one more aspect which postponed the arrival of the hour of truth.

Thus not only did the Spanish rules of bookkeeping mask the problem for a number of years, but it turns out that the bigger banks have been lying through their teeth to cover up the true size of the problem. Bankia – which is merely the 4th financial entity of the country – last February still pretended to have made a 300 million profit over 2011. It now turns out there is a 3 billion loss! And as the scandal grows, the estimate of the sum it will take to keep the behemoth afloat is doubling every week. It was 4 billion two weeks ago, then turned into 8 or 9 one week ago, today it stands at 19 billion Euros, even though the sum of 24 billion has already been whispered! (The entire hole in the balance sheet seems to 40 billion).

In fact, the thing is simply bankrupt. But once again, like Freddy and Fannie, like ABN Amro, Fortis and… well, you name them: it is too big to fail. And so a solution must be found. Since this post is already long enough itself, I’ll dedicate next Saturday’s post to that dire question (tomorrow being Cookbook Friday).

Meanwhile I would earnestly welcome comments from those whose understanding of this tangle is better than my own! Alfred B. Mittington, aged and brilliant as he may be, is still young at heart and very much willing to learn!

[PS In roughly the middle of his blog, Colin Davies today (May 30) has a piece of news on a possible Eurobond Light which seems to be in the making so as to finance Southern debt at reasonable cost, while preserving national say and sovereignty in the North. Let’s see how that works out.]

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Spanish Banking (1)

From here on the banks of the river Minho, I cannot help but get the impression that you world citizens out there are somewhat baffled by the situation of the Spanish financial system. So – noblesse oblige! - I ought to give you my take on it, were it not that – expert as Al Mittington may be in innumerable fields of human knowledge – he is (i.e. I am) no less baffled by it, dear reader. Nonetheless, let me give it some try, making use of my one advantage: I live across the road from the place…

The original problem of the Spanish banking system is not too difficult to grasp. It roughly goes like this. Spain entered the European Union in the early 80s, after a 40-year autocracy which had kept its development dismally low. The huge potential for growth, plus generous EU subsidies, generated a vital, booming young economy in the 80s and 90s. This was fine and deserved. Unfortunately, due to a psychological peculiarity in the Mediterranean mind, the sector that grew and flourished most was not industry or services or IT, but construction (known in Spain as ‘ladrillo’, or ‘brick’). Cheap housing, tourist hotels, office towers and utility buildings sprang up like mushrooms with a vengeance and a submachine gun. By the mid and late nineties, this original success story was pushed over the edge of wisdom and sustainability by the arrival of two new factors: deregulation and the Euro. The first made sure that developers could start pharaonic projects even easier than before, and that banks could take greater financial risks. The Euro, for its part, lowered Spanish interest rates to German levels, since the ECB rather predictably set policy which was good for its most successful participant, the Bundesrepublik.

The result was that an initial success story turned into a humongous bubble. Developers could not gobble up fast enough the cheap and easy credit that the banks were willing and allowed to hand out. Private citizens borrowed to their heart’s delight, buying houses way beyond their means, often taking out mortgages (which the banks gladly provided) which covered 100 % of the real estate price, reserves for its renovation, funds for furniture and fixtures, a neat sum for a new flashy car and – no I am not making this up! – an extra few thousand for mama’s mammal enlargement. Additionally, very average middle class families – rather than buying stock or putting their wealth away in saving accounts which yielded little interest - began to invest in speculative house-buying. They would inscribe for new, still-to-be-built apartments, paying for their acquisition through cheap credit and at the price level of year N, with the object of selling the property, once finished, in year N+4 for the risen price of that year (real estate prices understandably rose much faster than inflation under pressure of the ever growing demand). The proceeds from these profitable operations – say 25 % - were then ploughed back again into the next endeavour. An additional factor which drove the price level up was the arrival of foreign buyers, from such cold places like England, Germany, France and Holland – looking for holiday homes on the sunny Spanish coasts.

It was a bubble, but who was going to stop it? Even those who understood that such an upsurge could not go on forever (and believe me: there were many simpletons and supposed experts who claimed that the market would never come down again!) could barely bring themselves to do so. The national governments (of both left-wing and right-wing vintage) reaped huge profits in taxes direct and indirect, which enabled them to please their voters and their citizens. What is more: the booming bubble created jobs… So very many jobs that Spain could ever absorb three or four million foreign workers, largely from Latin America and the Maghreb. GNP surged as the bubble grew, which brought the further delight of making Spain more important on the international scene (who of us does not remember PM Zapatero – that student leader playing at elder statesman - claiming triumphantly that Spain had surpassed Italy in GNP, was now the 8th economic power on the globe, and would soon overtake France!?) The same sort of blind, flight-forward attitude reigned supreme in the governments of the Autonomous Provinces, while on a municipal level mayors and aldermen – even the incorrupt - were happy to play along, since selling off low yield agricultural soil to developers for a high price was just about their only substantial source of income. Etcetera etcetera. Everybody was a believer, and everybody in the end discovered that the deities they had worshipped and obeyed were but hollow statues cast in plaster…

In 2008 Lehmann Bros. tumbled and the domino effect started. Northern banks with lots of investments in the States ran into trouble and had to be bailed out. The European economy hit a slump, which translated immediately into the so-called Sovereign Debt Crisis. That is to say: the crisis slowed down southern economies that had borrowed far too much because the Euro interest rate was far too low in comparison with their productivity. Consequently southern governments suddenly found themselves owing debts they could not possibly repay. Their net income went down as their interest rates went up. An evil spiral had set in, more particularly because the most effective time-proven method to take the pressure off the kettle – devaluation of the national currency (effectively lowering salaries and export prices in a single sweep) – was no longer available to the individual Euro countries. Debt crisis was thus added to economic crisis. And that is where we still are today.

Enough for today. Tomorrow we will take a look at the Spanish banks that stir up such fears at the moment. 

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Open Letter to the Irish Electorate

Aldeia Viriato, 28 of May, 2012.

Hail Ye Sons and Daughters of the Emerald Isle! Hail!

Although all citizens of the European Union are of course equal, some Europeans obviously are more equal than other Europeans (needless to add that our Brussels Masters consider all of us to be pigs). You, of all the citizens of our continent, are the only ones who – in these coming days - get to vote in referendum on that splendid new Austerity Pact which the EU wishes to impose upon our sovereign nations so as to save its Divine single currency and its unlimited despotic sway.

How you cunning devils ever wrung that concession from the implacable Eurogues I do not know. I suppose there was a lot of free whiskey involved, and perhaps some willing carnal favours by red-haired beauties who sacrificed themselves and their virtue for the national cause… But however that may be: the astonishing fact stands, and it opens the prospects of some funny farce and vaudeville.

Let there be no misunderstanding, my most beloved sons and daughters of Eire: we all know that no matter what you vote, this Austerity Pact is going to be imposed. The best you may do is to gain the right to vote again, and again, and again, until the Correct Democratic Answer has been returned, just as happened on various previous occasions. And yet it would be a pity to forego the opportunity of seeing the Brussels vaudevillains wriggle in despair!  

Therefore please vote NO in the coming referendum, so that we may all witness – between here and Bloomsday – the amusing spectacle of their rapid turn-abouts, the instant Presidential Decree Making, the panicky excuses and warped logic which the Beurocrats and their well-paid retainers will toss into the media so as to Destroy, in the name of Stability and Prosperity and Peace, the last vestiges of Democracy! Make the Truth visible! Force them to show their dirty hands! The whole of Europe is counting on you!

Most respectfully yours,

Alfred B. Mittington (author of ‘MontesquiEU in County Mayo?’, Rebelpress Unltd: Ballyhaunis 1993)

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Label Collection: Toxic Mayonnaise

Now that we have seen some of the very best and some of the most bizarre, it is time to see some of the absolute worst Mayos that unscrupulous money-makers have manufactured. Two shocking examples of toxic sauce force themselves upon our gastronomic conscience and summon us loudly to forewarn our readers of taste and sophistication against their consumption.

E12. Uncle William. Cordoba, May 1993. Pesetas 160 for 375 ml.

The pits! The bottom! The Absolute Zero! A lower life form than the common jellyfish! In designing this... this... chemical waste, the manufacturer must have been inspired by the stuff that spiders use to spin a web. It sticks to the knife and will not let go! It has the texture of cheap Jell-O. It seems to emit light, yet is not truly transparent. After 6 months in the fridge (why, yes, even for the honest junky some jars are simply anathema!) the contours cut into the surface of the paste were still identical to the last time a fork stirred it! And on top of all that, it was completely tasteless (well, on second thoughts, perhaps that was its only virtue)! But what can one expect from... from - matter, let us say, that comes cheaper per kilo than waste paper?

To add ugliness to injury, the bottle was adorned with this PLASTIC label (for crying out loud!) which demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt that the rogue who brought it forth and sold it was aware of his crime against gastronomy. Why else would he try to pass of his merchandise as an English product, in a country that still detests the Limeys for Gibraltar, the Invincible Armada, and its unselfish help during the Peninsular War?

F13. Heinrich Hamker. France, August 2001. 500 ml for FF 3,50 (!!!)

But is that perchance a standard trick of these unscrupulous grease-mongers? A stealthy strategy of the whole food fraud cartel? One would certainly think so on discovering the most suspicious similarities with this here brand!

What you see here, dear reader, is not a Mayonnaise but a public scandal. Produced by a German Lebensmittelwerke (roughly: a food-refinery) from the Ruhr and sold anonymously on a save, foreign market, where people can never claim damages (what innocent Frenchman knows the word for ‘reparation’ in German I ask?), this stuff, this liquid, this goo… this… this… JUNK was mixed from LINSEED OIL, whose main application is for paints and varnish, tied up and held together by some many E-numbers that the Financial Times’ stock-market report looks like child’s play in comparison with its list of ingredients!

We shall waste no time, breath, ink or pixels on a description of its taste, except to say that it is a pity Dante did not know it when he wrote Inferno. We shall not comment on its quality and the obvious attempts of Heinrich Hamker Kraftwerke to win WWI 80 years after its conclusion by means of culinary warfare. And we will not say anything against the European Union for allowing such horrors unsanctioned onto the free market of our continent, except to repeat our earlier contention that it is high time Mayonnaise, like Champagne, Bordeaux Grand Cru and Roquefort Cheese, ought to be declared an Appellation Controlée as soon as humanly possible!

According to the upper right-hand corner of the label, Heinrich Hamker’s Lebensmittelwerke are based on the town of Bad Essen, the latter word of which means ‘to eat’ in a civilised tongue. Ah, Nomen Est Omen indeed! Bad Food this is! Do not swallow it except in case of attempted suicide!

Saturday, 26 May 2012


Watch that idiotic Songfestival with its hordes and cohorts of 20-year old fausse-blonde lamebrain barbie-dolls done up in silicones, push-up bras and botox hopping up and down on stiletto-heels they cannot walk on to the beat of the guitars they know not how to play so as to sing a song that barely escapes through their bungled nose jobs and 



[Postscript 27 May 2012: Alas, dear readers, it was not to be. The Prize of this Inane Festival was carried off by a dark-haired Swedish teenager (BUT WHO EVER HEARD OF A DARK-HAIRED SWEDE? SHE MUST BE DYING HER HAIR!) Our Formidable Grannies did, however, come in second. So my congratulations to them for their performance, and to you, dear reader, for your efforts and your votes! Both of you did well! Bravo!]

Friday, 25 May 2012

Cookbook: A Revolting Sandwich

Occasionally, dear reader, it is necessary for the well-meaning, dedicated cookbook author to point out to his readers what a bunch of petty, unadventurous lamebrains they really are.

Hence the above title for today’s recipe.

For I have no doubt that, when you read what I propose you eat tomorrow, you will collectively burst out in screams of disgust and refusal, showing by your immature response that you are but culinary baboons. No, I will not tell you what it is. I will simply tell you what to do.

Take a slice of your preferred bread. Spread butter on top. Now spread peanut butter on top. Now spread Mayonnaise on top. Close your eyes, hold your breath, overcome your prejudice, and eat.

What’s that I hear? Jowls of disgust? Hollers of despair? Indignant denunciations of bad taste? Yukkie, Ugh and Gag??

I thought so. You are, dear readers, petty unadventurous lamebrains. But fortunately for you, ol’ Al is here to help. Heed his wise advice! Do try this recipe! Overcome your irrational loathing. And then you will see, as I saw dozen and dozens of times everywhere and any time I introduced this heavenly snack, that as soon as you have eaten one, you will warm to the idea, the taste will grow on you, and you will soon be craving for a second, and a third, and a fourth, and so on!

And once you have acquired the taste, you may wish to experiment a little more. I myself occasionally sprinkle some freshly ground black pepper on top. At other times, I add a few very thin slices of onion. And some Indonesian friends of mine mixed the Mayo with a spoonful of hot pepper paste called Sambal Manis, which – if not my favourite variant – is a sure recipe to wake up in the morning after a night of heavy drinking when you got to get to work.

And talking about Hot Stuff: tomorrow, yes, TOMORROW is the day that you may and must vote during that idiotic Eurovision Song Festival so that the First Prize goes to   

Don’t forget to watch and don’t you fail to vote for them! If you don’t your Karma will suffer! For God Himself is also of that generation!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Golden Quotebook: On Growth

This evening, our dear President Haiku Herman van Rompuy will be hosting an ‘informal dinner’ for 27 heads of government, to speak ‘informally’ about how to stimulate Growth in the European economies. (Growth, you know: that change that happened before we had the Divine Euro). As such affairs go, the only thing growing will be the waistlines of the participants. However, let me take advantage of the occasion to treat our dear Herman, and you dear readers, to this more than poignant quote:

The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.

- Alex Carey, an Australian Social Scientist -

Of course, for ‘Corporate’ one might just as well read ‘EU’.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Saturday Snapshot on Tuesday: No Smoke Without Pyre

The nerds who make up the Anti-Smoke Lobby are not the most subtle characters, dear reader. Great Inquisitors rarely are. Blinded by a loathing of other people’s pleasures, no measure is too ludicrous or absurd in their eyes, as long as it serves their Utmost Goal: pestering the rest of humanity.

Take the present mayor of New York. The fine fellow, whose name I care not to recall, has recently proposed a smoking ban inside the city’s apartments (read: roughly 90 % of living space in his Rotten Apple), because – will you believe it? – cigarette smoke may escape beneath the front doors, and find its way, like a demonic guided missile, into the public corridors, and from there it may skip in underneath the front doors of non-smoking neighbours. And that is an awful health risk and an aggravation to those angelic smoke-free taxpayers…

Which is all good and well… But this in a city suffering from 24/7 traffic jams in the narrow gorges of the motorways in between high-rise buildings where no breeze ever reaches. Is the mayor also going to do something about the level of pollution from poisonous combustion motor exhaust fumes? Nay, of course not! Because car driving, you see, is not a pleasure. It is a need and a privilege of tax-paying citizens. So the minor health risks involved must simply be accepted and tolerated…

Anyway… Today’s snapshot I did not make myself. I plucked it from Facebook, where it made many people laugh as loudly as it made me moan. Because I am unsure if this is a Japanese joke or if it is real:

The trouble is that, if only a joke, I have no doubt that there are many many anti-smoking nerds out there (some, I guess, from Liverpool) who are delighted by the idea. Not because it allows people to smoke without bothering their neighbours, but because it reminds them of this:

Enough said! Now for more important matters! Only 4 more days to go until that inane Eurovision Song Festival, which you absolutely MUST watch so that you may

 Vote the Buranova Babushkas!!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Mayonnaise Label Collection: American Star (R1)

1997 Russian Advertisement

The Russian market for Mayonnaise in the summer of 1997 was - as many other things as well - utterly confused. Only one thing was clear: the country, recently escaped from the Soviet straightjacket and still fresh in the strangle­hold of capitalism, was looking to the West for its culinary redemp­tion as well. And as such thing usually go under the circumstances: it mis­took every overpriced imported luxury item as a priori better than its own, honest, home-grown pro­duct. We need not tell our jaded Western readers that this belief is nonsense - but such wisdom is only gained after 30 years of un­bridled, conti­nuous, tedious consumption of Too Much. And what else can one expect in a society where countless people did indeed believe that a new bank which appeared overnight would pay them a 100 % return on their savings? A lamentable state of affairs. One can only hope that the dark clouds of delusion have now been scattered by fresh gales of realism…

As for Russian Mayonnaise, one could of course buy it in shops and super­markets, but the best deal was often to acquire one's daily dose in the small kiosks that lined the sidewalks at the metro- and railway entrances, the way limestone sphinxes once lined the causeways to Egyptian temples. In the­se cheap, omnipresent glass & cardboard contraptions, the true trade of the new free marke­t economy was taking place, petty star­ting entrepreneurs selling at rock bottom prices such basics as cigarettes, booze, cheese, sandwiches, chocolate and yes: Mayonnaise as well! With opening hours of 24/7 and an immense variety of choice, the system worked brilliantly (for those who had money, that is). But, as such thing also inevitably go in a market trying to find its balance: quality differed immense­ly, supply was often illogical and prices fluctuated like the ocean in a typhoon. A state of things which brought forth as many pleasant surprises as instances of ludicrous fun. Of the latter, a good example is the story of my acquisition of

R1. American Star. Petersburg, July 1997. 
Rub 11.000 (roughly € 2) for 960 ml.

A kind if somewhat impulsive woman friend called Anna-Alisa Belous bought me this jar in a kiosk late one evening as we were headed to paint the town... Eh, no… Better not red; crimson, let's say! It was a very sweet gesture, but of course it implied that I had to drag a giant li­tre-bott­le of Mayonnaise through one White Saint Petersburg Night (bright daylight in which the whole world can see you till 3.30 a.m­.), two nightclubs, a hotdog res­taurant, four metro-stations and an illegal taxi. It was a miracle the Militia never stop­ped us to ask what we thought we were doing in the wee hours of the morning dragging a mam­moth jar of Mayo through town. Likewise, only Dame Fortune protected us from being mugged by a Mayonnaise addict of small pecuniary means, who understandably could not resist the temptation when so callously provoked by the sight of a foot-high Mayonnaise jar in the hands of a decadent dollar-carrying bloody foreigner. (I would have forgiven him his act of despair, reader!)

So a mortal risk we took! But it was well worth the trouble, for this jar kept me supplied all thro­ugh my weeklong visit (1), with a Mayonnaise whose quality wasn’t bad at all. At heart it turned out to be a very tasty, yet truly Yankee sauce; neutral and all-purpose (neit­her too sour nor too salty nor too sweet), and consequently one of those brands that everybody likes and that goes with everything, without inviting undue enthusiasm in an expert. Not­hing wrong with it therefore, except perhaps, the rather triumpha­list Stars ‘n’ Stripes plastered all over the la­bel. Modesty, gentle­men!, I would like to tell the New Jersey manufacturer. So you won the cold war; but please don't ruble it in!

(1) In fact the jar was so big that in the end I had to empty out a third of it by spoon the morning before departure, since one does not take open Mayonnaise jars through Russian customs, and one NEVER throws a decent Mayonnaise into the trashcan if one can help it. The flight back, in a bobbing Tupolev, was somewhat uncomfortable as a result…

Oh, and speaking of Russia: only 6 more days to go until that silly Eurovision Song Festival Event, where you absolute MUST

Vote the Buranova Babushkas!!

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Book of Burning Questions (5)

Time for a confession! Over the last few weeks, dear reader, I’ve been racking my brain to find an adequate response to that most intriguing scholastic paradox whether Almighty God can make a stone so heavy that He cannot lift it Himself. And – believe it or not - I give up. Yes, I must admit it! I bow my head to the inevitable! There are in this sorry world logical enigmas in the face of which even the near omniscience of Alfred B. Mittington stands helpless! So I fear you will have to content yourselves with the following Cool Answers to these Burning (Theological) Questions:

Q: How many angels can you make dance on a pin?
A: If you turn the sharp end up, I assure you that each and every angel you put on top of there will dance.

Q: Does God ever play dice with the world?
A: Yes. But when He does He cheats a little. He throws dice loaded with meaning.

Q: What was God doing before he created a special inferno for the inquisitive?
A: He was probably playing Divine Doctor with Sophia from next door.

[PS Those of you who grasp all three of the above Cool Answers are kindly invited to make suggestions as to the solution to the ‘Stone Paradox’. Both of you, that is… ]

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Who’s afraid of Et Dona Ferentes (3)

Well, yes… Despite it all… Despite a thousand denials, over ever so many months, they are going to allow it to happen. What was forever unthinkable, unconceivable, unimaginable, intolerable… What should never be spoken of, or mentioned, or even whispered, they all today concede. 

Barrosso and Schäuble, Kroes and Merkel, Weidmann and Westerwelle, Lagarde and the BCE, Der Spiegel, Finch and Moody’s… They admit that a Greek exit from the Eurozone is in the works, now that the Greek electorate will not obey and vote willingly to kick their country down the drain of decade-long penury. So they are going to let Greece exit from the Euro in the wild way, for the wrong reasons and in the wrong manner.

The rationale, or ‘valid’ excuse if you will, is that - after 2 years of adjustments and preparation - Europe and the European banks are now strong enough to withstand and survive a Greek exit. Or, in the words of sharp-eyed Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (Telegraph of May 8): "Patience among the creditor countries is running out" (…). Germany's media says finance minister Wolfgang Schauble is itching to force Greece out of the euro as a salutary example, sure that Europe is strong enough to withstand the shock. This is an illusion waiting to be punctured.

As I said before: wise leaders are few and far between these days. No Marshall Plan for Greece is being contemplated for all we can tell, yet time is quickly running out, for it is the markets that set the pace now, and panic that calls the shots.

But lack of wisdom and foresight is not our leaders’ worse shortcoming. Something even more perverse is silently at work as well, not in all and at all times, I guess, but in many and more often than it should. Rather than to allow an uppity country an orderly exit from the single currency, the Brussels Elite of Eurogues prefers to plunge it into incomparable misery, ‘pour encourager les autres,’ as Voltaire wrote so shrewdly in Candide about a beheaded ship captain: as an example to the rest of them, so that nobody else gets the notion of standing up to the Powers That Be…

So what may we expect in the weeks to come? I foresee that, while they play lip service to solidarity and sound economic policy, our fine leaders will do their very best behind the scenes to make the exit as painful and catastrophic as possible, so that the contagion of Grexititis will not spread any further. For there is one thing which these Eurogues fear far more than a national catastrophe in Greece: and that is a speedy Greek recovery once they’re out of the stranglehold of the single currency. It would mean that a country can escape and… live! After initial disaster, Argentina and Iceland both pulled off precisely this trick, and Brussels knows so.

This would mean all bets are off, so it must be avoided. After all: Brussels has an obvious double agenda in this crisis. On the one hand they need to get the continent back on its feet. But that must be done in such a way that their much-increased power and freshly gained supremacy gets consolidated. And I am unsure which of the two has the higher priority when push comes to shove... They may even go so far as to kick Greece out of the European Union altogether. For these uppity Hellenes obviously do not deserve that the European blessings of Prosperity and Democracy be wasted on their black souls!

Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes! spoke old Laocoön in Virgil’s Aeneid. ‘I fear the Greeks even if they come bringing gifts.’

But whose toxic boons should we Europeans be fearing now, I wonder?

Recommended further reading (and hearing)

To see Professor Paul Krugman’s dire predictions for the immediate future (and there is no reason to think why all of a sudden he would be wrong this time), click on the link to this article (but take a brandy first). You may also wish to look at his somewhat less depressing further analysis in this article called poignantly 'Apocalypse fairly soon'

Then, any honest person of common sense should watch this video of Nigel Farage, a Euro-MP who not only is somewhat outspoken (he famously called Haiku Herman van Rompuy a ‘wet rag’ and a danger to democracy), but also has the courage to go to Greece in person and tell the Greek the full truth straight in their faces (let us see President Barroso do the same thing…)

Finally, if you want a real good laugh (followed by the sort of despair that can only be solved by another stiff shot of brandy) read this article from the day before the Euro was launched, and see what tremendous Prosperity and Democracy the Europhiles claimed that the single currency would bring. But for God’s sake: who invented these idiots??

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Mayonnaise Label Collection: Kewpie (J1)

Having seen – in last Saturday’s post - one of the best pre-fab Mayonnaises ever bottled (Dutch Duyvis), let us now proceed with one of the most astonishing, extraordinary and bizarre brands to come from the other side of the globe:

J1. Kewpie Mayonnaise. Frankfurt, July 2000.
No price, 500 grs. (2012 price: approximately € 6)

The Japanese belong to the yellow races. There is nothing wrong with that.

Mayonnaise is a yellow sauce. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Mayonnaise (On the contrary!)

Yet birds of a feather do not always successfully flock together. This brand, which for some obscure reason known only to its importer “JFC International”, found its way to a German airport supermarket, might as well be re-baptised Hara-Kiri Mayonnaise; for the correct translation of ‘Hara-Kiri’ is ‘cutting the belly’. And that it does, dear reader, most convincingly!

Because of the wasabi mustards used in its manufacture, Kewpie Mayonnaise is immensely spicy (Banzai!! cries the palate). It is sour like nitric acid (Morituri te salutant!! answer the taste buds) due to a merciless cocktail of yuzu juice and rice vinegar, sharp as samurai katanas. It overwhelms the flavour of anything it is eaten with – no, wait, worse: like a high-tech guided taste-killer, it assassinates the tang of every dish that inadvertently finds itself on the same dinner table!

All this is, to put it mildly, somewhat in contradiction to the cuddly, innocent babe-style image that the brand tries to cultivate, witness that little android-fellow printed on the cellophane wrapping of the plastic squeeze bottle. To put it in a nutshell: this sauce is so very strong and spicy that the last thing you want to do is to feed it to your toddler or your underage child! As a matter of fact, it is so hot it really ought to be X-rated.

So where does this unlikely logo come from? Well, I guess it roots in that same habit of Optimistic Denial that induces factory hands in the Japanese chemical industry to start the working day singing cheerful poetic company songs about blooming flowers and twittering songbirds, as they contemplate, outside, the deep brown, barren wasteland of the local Ruhr that their industry has left. 

The Kewpie logo – it turns out - was adopted from the plastic Kewpie dolls, a kind of winged Manniken Piss without the pee (despite the name), based on Ms Rose O’Neill’s 1909 illustrations in the Ladies’ Home Journal. Soon after publication, these figurines became so very famous and popular, that all sorts of products were named after it, like Kewpie Hamburgers in the USA, Kewpie condoms in Sweden (1), and – ever since 1925 – this Kewpie Mayonnaise manufactured by the Q.P. (sic) Corporation, a Japanese food manufacturer. All of which, if you ask me, only adds absurdity to injury of your gastric system…

Mannikin and Mayo from the Kewpie site

But what is the harsh truth? The harsh truth is that hosts of honest Mayonnaise addicts chose this dreadfully over-spiced sauce as their absolute favourite brand! I find this hard to believe and more difficult to accept, but there you have it. As far as I am concerned, the only truly good quality of the brand is its texture. That comes close to perfect. When one squeezes the bottle, a true and most decorative star-shape emerges. But does one ever want to squeeze the bottle? Not if one can help it! For it is made from a soft, fluffy, slightly greasy plastic, as horrid to the touch as it is dreadful to behold, which gives the inescapable impression that one is cruelly pinching one’s sister’s favourite doll in forbidden places, or handling a bottle of Rising-Sun-tan oil.

As for its chemical composition – and I suspect that several mad scientists have contributed to that one – it is and remains a mystery. Only those with a working knowledge of Japanese may figure it out from the label. But please, Oh ye kind and merciful people with a working knowledge of Japanese: 

Please don’t tell us?!! 

It also comes is bottles nowadays

P.S.: Kewpie Mayonnaise is not widely available in stores. The truly adventurous and the mentally insane may however go search the internet, where a large variety of unscrupulous postal order companies offer to sell you squeeze bottles of 350, 500 and 1000 grams!  

P.P.S. Those who wish to learn more about the Kewpie doll, visit this Kewpie site, from which I pinched the third picture above (with apologies...). And those who wish to have a special visual experience ought to type 'Kewpie Mayonnaise' into the Google Image search machine and see what comes up. The things people do with Mayonnaise! Astonishing!

(1) Explicable, since the name Kewpie derived from Cupid, the Latin winged god of erotic love, and the Swedes are animals when it comes to makin’ whoopee.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Nobody Writes Of The Colonels

There is a famous old saying that Victory has many fathers, but that Failure is an orphan. That notion is generally true, but it is different in the case of Greece. Today in Greece, failure has an untold number of papas. There is a Mr Papandreou, a Mr Papademos, a Mr Papoulias, and so on and so forth…

One such ‘paternal’ name is, however, conspicuously missing. A name which surely means nothing to most of you young folks, but which is graven into the uneasy memory of anyone over 50. That name is Papadopoulos. More fully: colonel Georgios Papadopoulos, military dictator of Greece from 1967 to 1974.

I won’t bother you young ones with too many dull history lessons. Let me just tell you this: back in 1967, faced with an economic slump and fearing a possible take-over of the government by the far left, Papadopoulos and a number of fellow colonels stages a coup d’état which ushered in one of the more unpleasant military dictatorships in the post-war period.

Does all that ring a bell of some sort?

The Greek Army… Nobody writes of them, nobody speaks of them, nobody takes them much into account. And yet they may slip into the picture, rather unexpectedly, very soon. To tell the plain truth: I am completely ignorant of what the attitude of the present Greek army is. But I do know that no Mediterranean country is ever very far removed from a military coup. Some of you may shake your heads in disbelief and mutter that such a thing is Unthinkable, Alfred! Well, what can I say? I can only counter that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent Reunification of Germany was pretty unthinkable. The caving-in of the Glorious Euro was unthinkable. The sinking of the Titanic was – guaranteed - unthinkable.

So. Now that the EU is once again bringing unparalleled prosperity and democracy to European nations; faced with a possible radical left-wing victory in the coming June elections; in combination with complete economic unravelling, and a substantial support of a neo-Nazi Greek movement (1), is it really so unthinkable that the Greek military begin to play with the notion of taking matters into their own drastic hands, ‘to save the Fatherland’ from enemies within and abroad? This time they may even bring back old King Constantine, who is still alive and kicking somewhere in London, I believe…

Let’s just hope that I am very very wrong, and that my apprehension may soon be dismissed as the nonsensical paranoia of a silly old man…

(1) Try this one on for size: in an interview in the Sunday Telegraph of 12 May, the Greek deputy PM Theodoros Pangalos pointed out that in those places where the Greek police voted, the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party did not get the usual 7 % but scored 25 % of the vote!