Serious numbers

My apologies to any Greeks I may have offended. Apparently, you are not guilty of anything, but are rather the victims of Europe’s failure to apply the principles of Mr Maynard Keynes to its central bank and export/import ratios. So, carry on with the cocktail party. In the meantime the great bonzes have come up with a Munchhausen solution. You remember how the good baron pulled himself, and his horse, out of a swamp by tugging manfully on his own hair? Well, it seems we are going to spend our way out of possible euro extinction using money we don’t actually have, but will feel free to print the moment we’ve sold enough funny paper bonds to enough other nations, institutions and individuals to cover the printing costs. Yes, we’re going to bail ourselves out! The money we fail to earn in the daytime we shall print at night and flash around in bundles the next morning to impress the neighbours. “Pass the marmalade, please, my dear … good heavens, what a stack! I thought it was something by Thomas Pynchon, but it’s 850 billion Euros. My, my, you’ve really been working the mangle this time, Celia.” Of course, the advantage of printing so much money is that the bonds we shall have to “sell” to finance it will be spread so far and wide that no one, but no one will ever again dare to speculate against us, for fear of cutting the very branch they are sitting on. By the way, for anyone who hasn’t tried it yet: if you were to lay 850 billion Euros in € 500 notes end to end in the street, they wouldn’t stay there very long.

The twelve tribes of Europe

Another way to stop the euro rot would be to impose inter-European, ‘cohesive’ taxing.  It would work rather like bees (assuming there are any bees left by the time I publish this), a sort of financial cross-pollination.  Every adult in Europe would, upon attaining majority, automatically become a member of an entirely random tribe, much like being born to a particular star sign. You would never know to which of the, let’s say 12, tribes of Europe you belonged, so you could never gang up against those unfortunate enough to belong to another one. A fixed percentage of your income, no excuses, no deductions, no loopholes (your duty to your tribe is paramount, sonny, pay up or walk!), would be divided up, pre-tax, between all the other members of your tribe, wherever they might live, providing it is within the Euro Zone. Don’t bother me with the math, that’s what computers are for. This would have the effect of balancing the economies within a generation simply through a fairer distribution of spending power. In addition the tribal tax would cause us all to encourage each other to do better, so that we all – at least in relative terms – might benefit.  The Gross Tribal Product of the twelve would be published annually to inspire us. But on your death-bed the principle would be reversed. The poorer your tribe, the more of your meagre personal wealth you would stand to lose, this time to your non-allied fellows.  On that fateful day ‘they’ would finally tell you which tribe you belonged to. “Ah”, you would say, “Sagittarius, just my luck!”, while a bony clerk docks a percentage, inversely proportionate to your tribe’s position in the league tables, from your modest estate. Nothing is as certain as death and taxes. Why should that change?

The thirteenth fairy

So there you are, the thirteenth fairy, doomed to a life of being forgotten on invitations, counted out of receptions, voted into office by default, then overlooked for a cabinet post. Fated to be disregarded and generally little thought of. Being a fairy in the first place was bad enough, but being the thirteenth almost obliges you to be venomous and spiteful. And it’s not like you can just jump the queue – “sorry dear, dropped my wand. Mind if I just slip in here. Oh gosh, look, that makes you the thirteenth … tough budgie, darling. No way do they have enough golden plates and cups, the stingy sods!” – Oh no, you were born to be the thirteenth fairy. The whole thing stretches miserably ahead of you: the spindle, the sleeping stable boys, the mighty hedge of thorns (well garnished with dead princes), the final suitor, the kiss, the wedding (to which you are once again not invited), the baby, the christening party … no bloody invitation again (they just don’t learn in fairy tales) and so it goes and so it goes, nothing but venom and spite and baby princesses and spindles and not enough tableware.

The twenty-first century

But hey, welcome to the 21st Century, where spiteful is the new nice and thirteen is everybody’s favourite number. Game-show hosts, talent judges, DJs, celebrities and journalists … each seems to vie with the others to say the most hurtful and vituperative things about the contestants, their fellow celebrities, etc. Generation of vipers! The ostensible reason for all this poison is our desire not to be PC, but rather to outdo the outdone and do the undone thing whenever and wherever possible. Underlying it all is the commonly held idea that anyone in the limelight has only themselves to blame and is therefore fair game. Its ultimate effect, however, is to serve as a stringent disincentive to the majority of good citizens. Don’t aim too high. Don’t strive to be exceptional. Don’t exploit your talents and, above all, don’t enter any kind of public service. Eventually, the only people who will fail to take this very obvious hint will be those either too stupid to notice, too meretricious and shallow to care, or too hard-nosed and insensitive to be upset: in other words, with a few inspiring exceptions, exactly the crowd we’ve got now. Am I shocked? No, and that’s the scary bit.

As for today’s successful princes, they are very few, but still among us, like the pilot who landed safely, with all his cheering passengers, on the Hudson River. The news-people acclaimed him a hero. But he just said he was doing his job correctly, no more, no less. A million YouTubers commented that “we should all be like him”. But it hasn’t happened yet, and anyway, it would considerably impede traffic on the Hudson if we were.

The Tehran Seven

There’s a video doing the rounds [http://united4iran.com/2010/05/replicating-the-prison-conditions-of-the-7-bahai-video-of-worldwide-solidarity/] in which people from all over the world show their support for the seven leading lights of the Iranian Bahá’í community who are currently entering their third year of jail time, simply for the crimes of being good and doing good. One may well ask: “How can a government justify doing such a thing to such people as these? You only have to look at them, it’s so clear they have dignity and grace.” Of course, but that is also the answer. The Tehran Seven have been imprisoned by a regime that lost all trace of dignity and grace long, long ago. Thus there is a logical conclusion to be drawn here: If you possess integrity, honesty, dignity and grace in today’s Iran, then prison is your natural domain. There really isn’t anywhere else within the country’s borders that you can, with good conscience, call home. All honourable citizens of that once great nation should turn up at the gates of their local jail and demand to be admitted as felons.

The fifth in a series of school attacks in china

Some events leave you unable to reason effectively. A state of numb shock dulls your usual acuity. When I try to think about the recent spate of kindergarten and primary school attacks in china, I find that my brain won’t work. I keep seeing my grandchildren. A fog descends on my ability to cope with facts. When I emerge from this fog something else emerges with me: certitude. Not the certitude that I am looking at evil in its pure state, but the certitude that I am not. Indeed, I am absolutely certain that evil does not actually exist. Just as darkness is the absence of light, thus that which we perceive as “evil” is only an absence of good. This is not especially comforting, because I’m left with no devil to blame, no identifiable ‘state or axis of evil’, only my own moral laxity. And meanwhile, the damage I do to myself in the dark (Ouch! who moved that coffee table?) is as real as the darkness itself is unreal. And unless I believe that some other power – something or someone outside the debate on good or evil – has laid down the necessary guidelines to educate my vacillating will and inspire my choices, I’m left alone with my individual responsibility facing the irresponsibility of others … or the reverse.

A vector for my own free will: I’m free to screw up, free to fly, free to heal and free to kill. No, this does not comfort me, but then why should I be comforted? Because we can, every one of us, always do something about increasing the levels of light and goodness in the world. And unless we are engaged in that, then we deserve little comfort. What does comfort me, however, is my own observation. Each time I observe an act of goodness, freed from all motives of self or even of kith and kin; I find myself gazing into the face of a benevolent and infinitely loving God. Similarly, each time I observe an act of gratuitous evil, whether spawned by vanity, self-loathing, unleashed by madness or “justified” by some fearful “ism”… I find, once again, that I am gazing into the face of God: tearful, disappointed, but endlessly patient and infinitely caring. For the many of you who cannot see any particular difference between organized religion and organized crime, this thought might be of some value.

Edwin Drood

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