Infomercial politics

infomercial

Among the gaggle of smaller parties fighting it out in the single digits in the first wave of opinion polls on the upcoming Greek elections, many sharp-eyed observers have noted a new entrant: a party bearing the innocuous name Centrists Union (Ένωση Κεντρώων). Their leader recently posted a sombre YouTube appeal for greater European solidarity and a touchingly home-made campaign video. Mention their name, or his (Vassilis Leventis), and you are likely to get a very different response from a Greek than you would from an outside observer. If you are new to this, and tempted to see a force for renewal in Greek politics, led by a sensible, straight-talking father figure, untainted by the sins of the old political class, think again. Yes, their polling numbers are a symptom of Greek electorate’s disillusionment in the ancien regime and its younger pretenders, but look closer and you will see the “dark matter” from which a tired political system is replenishing its wasted energy in the perpetual election cycle.

For anyone who was old enough in the mid-90s to stay up watching late night informercials on the numerous private TV channels that broadcast over Athens from unlicensed aerials on the hill of Ymittos, Vassilis Leventis is a legend. He could be seen as a pioneer of a modern political genre, a leader in “infomercial politics” before the age of internet radio and social media. More depressingly, other representatives of the genre have been more successful in recent years in infiltrating the political mainstream; and the reservoir may not yet be depleted. Below, for the benefit of Greek election-watchers, is a guide to the Original, the Upstart and the the dystopian Godfather of Greek infomercial politics; they are not the only ones but they are more than enough to illustrate my point.

The Original: Vassilis Leventis, as his sanitised English-language Wikipedia entry will tell you, started out in conventional politics, and ran for both dominant political parties PASOK and ND in the 80s, and his own Ecological party, never once managing to attract 1% of the vote. As head of the Union of Centrists, which he founded in 1992, he gained a cult following for: his foul-mouthed late-night rants against “establishment” politicians, on at least one occasion wishing death and cancer on them and their families; sucking down and hurling his frappé glass in a rage on camera; being serially pranked on air; providing a ready source material for satirists. You would not know this from looking at him now. In his more recent incarnation as a sober elder statesman, he is known for: “prophesying” the crisis and the July 2015 referendum; “talking sense” as an honoured guest on the mainstream media; eliciting apologies and endorsements from his former satirists; and finally polling over 1% in the January 2015 elections. It is a remarkable apparent rehabilitation (though perhaps not the most suspicious one taking place in Greek frontline politics), in which most recent polls show his party neck and neck with Syriza breakaways Popular Unity, taking a seat in parliament ahead of “establishment” party PASOK, and Syriza’s favoured coalition partner ANEL. Rating: “Buyer Beware”

The UpstartAdonis Georgiadis is perhaps the most successful representative of the informercial politics genre to make it into mainstream politics. Currently with ND, he got his start in politics with LAOS, the far right nationalist party fronted by Georgios Karatzaferis, which had its moment in the noughties before being eventually outflanked on the right by Golden Dawn and finally evaporated after drinking the poison chalice of the junior coalition partner in the “national unity” cabinet under Lucas Papademos in 2011 – not before Adonis had jumped ship to ND to take a seat at the cabinet. However, once again aficionados of the off-peak infomercial would be recognise Georgiadis from from his regular slot «Ελλήνων Έγερσις» (Rise of the Greeks) on Karantzaferis’s TELE-ASTY TV station, in which he and his brother sold, in the style of market traders, translations of ancient Greek authors alongside more apocryphal publications praising the achievements and racial superiority of the Greek people, all the while excoriating their political opponents and ranting against immigration and Zionist conspiracies. While his opponents refer to him derisively as βιβλιοπώλης (bookseller) and τηλεπλασιέ (telesalesman), it is this distinctive confrontational style that has made him popular within mainstream politics, where language tends to be wooden and unspontaneous. He has what the English would call “the common touch”, a gift for communicating to the public without condescending. These days he sells cheap tablet computers pre-loaded with the classics, but he has less need to buy time on fringe TV channels as he is a prized guest on political talk-show panels. Many (even among those opposed to him politically) rejoiced to see him shout down unionists during his tenure as Minister of Health, or more recently in opposition, bait his political opponent (but spiritual idiot cousin) Panos Kammenos of ANEL in parliamentary debates. When cornered, however, his defensive reflex is to promise to seal the borders. He and his wife, a Julliard graduate composer-turned-Greek reality TV star, make a formidable power couple – if you’re into that sort of thing. Rating: “Buy” – if your goal is to restore ND to power at all costs, he would make a strong leadership candidate.

The GodfatherIf you want to gaze into a dystopian future of Greek politics, look no further than Demosthenes Liakopoulos. Like Georgiades, Liakopoulos specialises in selling books by the metre on TV, or more recently the internet. For anyone who has followed the ascendancy of Alex Jones on the US talk radio scene, the name of his website, prisonplanet.gr, should give a fair idea of his stock-in-trade: a few thin strands of ancient Greek history, woven in with hefty yarns of conspiracy theory, anti-semitism, survivalism (most notably his “Delphic Survival Guides”) and alien archaeology into a rich tapestry of hokum. In one of his favoured theories, the Russians (aka. the “ξανθο γενος”, or “blonde race”) under Vladimir Putin will defeat the NATO forces (he claims to have served with NATO) in the Third World War and restore the Greeks as the Chosen People ruling over the restored Roman Empire. In other words, as credible a political agenda as any for Greece in 2015. Should Liakopoulos choose to run for office (and hopefully he has too little interest in earthly politics to do so), he would face almost no opposition, as the only people who have taken the trouble to debunk him are equally obscure Orthodox Christian bloggers. Hypothetical rating: “Buy”if you want to split the Golden Dawn vote.

You may think that a few cranks in a body of 300 won’t make that big a difference, compared to the huge volumes of vested interests represented; but it speaks volumes about the paucity of talent on Greece’s political scene that such characters could conceivably be seen as a breath of fresh air. And if you are tempted to laugh too hard, remember this when Donald Trump gets the keys to the White House.

Infomercial politics

Greek scientists discover perpetual election machine

antikythera

Greek scientists believe they have made a discovery which casts doubt on the first and second laws of thermodynamics, by creating a mechanism capable of sustaining a permanent election cycle. Until recently it was believed that this was impossible to achieve because friction would eventually run down the usable energy in the electoral system. However, the mechanism’s defenders argue that it is the exercise of power in government that increases entropy in the system by exposing politicians to friction, whereas electoral campaigning appears to “re-energise” them. Until this discovery, perpetual motion had been considered an “epistemic impossibility” within the current understanding of physics.

To support their claims, the team behind the discovery point to the empirical finding that the last time a Greek government completed its four-year term was 1989, while since then national elections have taken place on average every two years.

The scientists claim that their discovery can in fact be attributed (like most things of value) to the ancient Greeks. The so-called “Antikythera mechanism”, a 2nd century BC calendrical device, was discovered in a shipwreck around 1900 but has only recently been subjected to rigorous investigation using modern scientific techniques. Scholars have puzzled over the function of the device for decades, but this most recent interpretation suggests that it links the frequency of electoral cycles to the movements of the celestial bodies. Using the ancient device as a prototype, the researchers created a modern “perpetual election machine”. The team of Greek scientists hope to use their breakthrough to fuel a recovery in the Greek economy, which is more commonly described as a “black hole”, and thus make the definitive Greek contribution to the unifying “theory of everything”.

Sceptics argue that perpetual elections actually rely on regular infusions of energy from outside the “systemic” parties, and point to the potential role of mysterious so-called “dark matter” in sustaining the continuous election cycle. They have committed to publish their findings in a future post on this blog.

POSTSCRIPT: A first publication of the results of research into political “dark matter” can be found here.

Image from io9.com

Greek scientists discover perpetual election machine

Seven signs that prove Alexis Tsipras was switched with a double

Before and after
Where is the real Alexis Tsipras? Photos: AP and Getty Images.

Athens is alive with rumours that the man presenting himself as recently resigned Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is in fact a double, put in place by a neoliberal cabbal to scupper his revolutionary anti-austerity agenda that threatened to disrupt the sinister “European Project”. It is rumoured that Greece’s creditors, in a bid to halt the populist radical leftist revolution in Greece and avert a Europe-wide insurrection, put in place a plot to replace Mr Tsipras with a double acting on their instructions. The swap is said to have taken place during the all-night summit in Brussels on the night of the 12th July, during which the final negotiation of the third bailout package took place. Veteran Tsipras-watchers say the signs are clear, while some even claim to have spoken to a secret source in Brussels who revealed how the swap took place.

The shocking story was allegedly revealed by a stagiaire at the European Commission headquarters, who refuses to reveal his identity because he fears for his life. The source claims that the accounts leaked to the media about the marathon negotiations, enlivened by gossipy details about the protagonists, were in fact a complete fabrication to conceal a plot that seems taken out of a spy novel. It was Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi who, under the pretence of palling around, administered an incapacitating Krav-Maga grip to Tsipras during the first coffee break (proof for some that he, like other world leaders, is in fact a Mossad agent). Under the pretence of a “deep technical” meeting, the neoliberal plotters then ushered Mr Tsipras’s negotiating team into a separate room, while they prepared his double to take on his role and sign up to a carefully crafted so-called “Agreekment”.

Italian PM and Mossad agent Matteo Renzi practices his grip on Greek PM Alexis Tsipras, overseen by neoliberal kingpin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Brussels, Belgium, June 25, 2015. REUTERS/Yves Herman TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Italian PM and alleged Mossad agent Matteo Renzi practices his grip on Greek PM Alexis Tsipras, overseen by rumoured neoliberal kingpin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Brussels, Belgium, June 25, 2015. REUTERS/Yves Herman TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The plotters are allegedly betting on the phenomenal personal popularity of Mr Tsipras to keep him in power so that he can implement the loan agreement that he – or rather the double put in place by the conspirators – fraudulently signed. They are banking on Tsipras’s reputation as an enigmatic personality to cover their tracks.

Sceptics – not surprisingly all champions of the European Project and the New World Order – have questioned this account, pointing to the supposed absence of any corroborating evidence. However, veteran CIA-watchers, 9/11 Truthers, and Bilderberg-paranoics point to the historical precedent of the 1960s CIA “Paul is dead” plot, one of the stranger – yet ultimately successful – American psy-ops weapons of the Cold War. As is now widely acknowledged, the ‘real’ Paul McCartney of “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver” was replaced by an impostor in late 1966 after a fatal CIA-engineered London car wreck. The double, subsequently revealed to have been a mechanic from Evesham, pushed back (under the careful direction of CIA musical torture experts) against the experimentation of Lennon, Harrison, and Starr to drag the group firmly towards the bathos of MOR sentimental pop, the first fruit of which was the McCartney contribution of “Lovely Rita” to 1967’s “Sgt. Pepper’s” album. The White Album’s “Back in the USSR” was an arrogant and out-of-control CIA’s confident boast that the US would eventually bring down Soviet society through the contagion of ‘bubblegum pop’, undermining the revolutionary zeal of Soviet youth. Tellingly, the official Brezhnev-era Kremlin view of the Beatles was that they represented the “belch of Western Culture”. The bogus McCartney went on to a famously regrettable post-Beatles career, first forming the much-satirised ‘band’ “Wings” (created to buy the continued silence of the late Beatle’s wife Linda), and effectively ended with the imposter’s co-penned “Ebony and Ivory” with Stevie Wonder in 1982 and “Say Say Say” with Michael Jackson in 1983.

In an example of the classic ‘double bluff’, the modus operandi of “switching” was revealed in the straight-to-video film “Moon Over Parador” in which an unemployed actor, portrayed by CIA alumnus Richard Dreyfuss, is hired to stand in for a fictional South American dictator after he dies prematurely. By revealing the switching technique in forensic detail through the vehicle of a supposedly fictional film, the CIA was then able to dismiss assertions of US government fingerprints on reactionary, counter-revolutionary undertakings such as the infamous toppling of Salvador Allende in Chile, with the pat rebuttal that such claims were “straight out of a bad Hollywood movie”.

So-called “Αλλαγιστές”, or “Switchers”, point to seven incontrovertible signs that Tsipras was forcibly replaced by a trained double during the “Night of the Long Knives” in Brussels:

1. The most compelling clue is also the most obvious: Tsipras’s abrupt policy volte face, described as “kolotoumba” (summersault in Greek). According to the “Switchers” only a swap could account for the sudden and rigorously sustained transformation from a populist, ever-shifting finger-in-the-wind leftwing firebrand who once vowed to “tear up the memorandum” and called on voters to say “No” to a new bailout, to a muted, consistent pragmatist resigned to implementing a new, and much harsher, austerity programme. The growing press consensus suggesting that his “pragmatic turn” may be a sign of evolving political maturity, is, according to the “Switcher” version of events, a coordinated PR campaign designed to rationalise what to the expert eye is clearly a case of identity theft.

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A heavily made-up “Tsipras” resigns on Greek state TV last week.

2. Since the Agreekment summit, Tsipras, once an approachable “man of the people”, has avoided close interactions with the public and opposition politicians, and only appears in brief, carefully stage-managed events. “Switchers” note that he has spent minimal time in parliament even during a number of crucial debates. They point to the fact that his media engagements are limited to scripted addresses and pre-recorded interviews with “tame” outlets, and draw attention to the increasing amounts of makeup worn by “Tsipras” in order to make him look more like the original. Physical differences are subtle but noticeable: the post-Brussels “Tsipras” carries a heavy paunch and has a propensity to break out in cold sores – a known side effect of high doses of non-invasive chemical cosmetic surgical procedures. Further, there is reason to believe that this guarded stance has less to do with avoiding opportunities for close examination by Syriza insiders of the physical differences, and more to do the growing consensus that the “double” is in fact not a native Greek speaker whose handlers cannot risk allowing to engage in spontaneous conversation. Inverse proof of this theory is offered by the fact that the “new” Tsipras appears to speak much better English than the one who came to power six months earlier.

3. In the month since the summit, Tsipras’s behaviour has become increasingly erratic, which originally sparked rumours of frequent visits to an un-named private Swiss clinic as a result of his coping with bouts of nervous exhaustion, schizophrenia and manic depression by self-administering powerful drugs supplied by a private Chinese medical advisor. If these new accounts are true, the reality is much more sinister.

Former Finance Minister Varoufakis smells something fishy, according to conspiracy theorists. Photo EFE.
Former Finance Minister Varoufakis smells something fishy, according to conspiracy theorists. Photo EFE.

4. The “new Tsipras” (code-named the “Manchurian Candidate” by Merkel and her inner circle), has acted according to the conspirators’ plan, distancing himself from many of his former inner circle by disowning what they describe as a “Plan B” for a Euro exit. One of these, flamboyant former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, recently threatened that if convicted of high treason over his Plan B, he would  “be able to expose them for what they are. What, “Switchers” ask, could he possibly have to reveal that he has not already spoken about in his numerous media interviews and blog posts? Who is he threatening to expose? According to the “Switchers” the only secret he could possibly be guarding is the reality of the “switch” and the identity of the post-Agreekment “Tsipras”.

ND leader Meimarakis gives a coded welcome to the new agent of the
ND leader Meimarakis gives a coded welcome to the new agent of the “European Project”, accordiing to “Switchers”. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

5. An inner circle of “Pro-Memorandum” Greek neoliberal politicians on the payroll of both the CIA and Mossad are involved in the plot. ND leader Antonis Samaras, previously known as Angela Merkel’s agent in Greece, withdrew from the party leadership to make the new “Tsipras” look more credible. The creditor puppet-masters feared that a side-by-side comparison of the two leaders’ statements pre- and post-Memorandum would clearly reveal that they are in fact identical, since they were also scripted in Brussels. His successor, ND interim leader Evangelos “Vangelas” Meimarakis, gave a coded sign to his handlers acknowledging the swap, when he shook hands with “Tsipras” at the first parliamentary debate after the Brussels summit.

6. If you play “Tsipras’s” resignation speech backwards, you can hear Syriza’s pre-election manifesto, the so-called “Thessaloniki Programme”.

laiki-enotita
Popular Unity logo – a coded message, according to “switchers”.

7. Many have pointed out that the logo of the new breakaway “Popular Unity” party, which appears to show the star of Bethlehem, is inconsistent with the Stalinist ideology of the party. “Switchers” say that it is in fact a coded message, reflecting the belief that the “real” Tsipras will “return from the dead” to lead his faithful back on the path to anti-austerity and the re-birth of a reinvigorated and expanded internationalist, communitarian Magna Graecia.

Compulsory re-education.
Forced re-education.

“Switchers” are divided on the whereabouts of the “real” Alexis Tsipras. Some say he is being held on the mythical “Island of Dr Schauble” in a lake deep in the Black Forest. According to this version events, he is undergoing a ’round-the-clock re-education programme which consists of being forced to watch, in a nod to “A Clockwork Orange”, the Aliki Vougiouklaki classic «Η κόρη μου η Σοσιαλίστρια» (“My Daughter the Socialist”) on a loop until the opening bars of the Internationale or the colour red provoke bouts of uncontrollable nausea and vomiting. Others claim that he has started a new life as a double for Matteo Renzi’s cousin, a successful shoe salesman in Milan, who in turn is standing in with the help of expert make-up as Cuban leader Raúl Castro in order to usher in a reconciliation with the US.

With contributions from Koutofrangos.

Seven signs that prove Alexis Tsipras was switched with a double

What would J.C. do? Campaign memo to the Greek opposition

Carville-e1397415259347

To:         Evangelos Meimarakis; Stavros Theodorakis; Fotini Gennimata

From:     James Carville (J.C.)

Date:     23 August 2015

Re:         Campaign advisory contract proposal

Sorry for the group email, guys, but it’s late and I’ve just arrived in Athens after what must have been, what, three? four? five? flights. Hard to believe there ain’t a direct connection between DC and Athens?! You’d think Christine would have fixed that, what with all the air miles her guys clocked up.

So first things first, compadres: for the life of me I can’t figure out which one of you is ‘leading’ the opposition. Been locked in my hotel room all day and night watching the news, and quite frankly can’t tell y’all apart. Maybe it’s the heat, but it seems like the more fringe you are, the more TV time you git.

Okay, so let’s just make sure I’m on the right page – the big, shrill woman that reminds me of my fifth grade Spanish teacher Miss Hernandez, who’s always looking pissed off and delivering lectures (beats me what they’re about and my translator Loulis has yet to enlighten me – not that the boy’s playing with a full set of crab traps anyhows), she’s don’t run the country that right? And the guy that looks like my history teacher from senior year, the boring one with the white attempted beard fluff, glasses and the creepy beady eyes, he doesn’t run the country either? And the young-ish guy (at least compared to the rest) with the full head of black hair and the permanent smirk, Loulis tells me he’s not the head of the opposition – because I assumed he must be as he’s hardly on television – he’s actually the guy in charge? Or used to be? He’s Mr Popularity?

Dang pooter down a well, y’all got problems, a right ol’ mess on your hands, and I’m not sure I can do much. I’ve seen gumbo that was clearer than this so-called political ‘system’ you got here. Bolsheviks and Neo-Nazis out-poll most of you sensible middle-of-the-road types. Not that it helps that so many of you guys got THE SAME LAST NAME! I thought it was like Iceland or something because you couldn’t possibly all be related. Going back through the briefing papers you sent, it gets REAL confusing. Except that Loulis tells me it’s not just that y’all got the same names – you actually ARE related. Kinda like Hillary and Bill and Jeb and Bubba and ol’ George Herbert Walker. You’d think we’d come up with a few folks to run the country who aren’t TOO GENETICALLY CLOSE TO MARRY. Let me tell you right here that nothing feeds public cynicism with politicians like NEPOTISM. But I’m gitting ahead of myself.

So Loulis tells me that even though you guys PERSONALLY weren’t holding office over the past five years when the whole economy when down the bayou, y’all belong, or used to belong, to the parties that were supposedly running (or should that be ‘ruining’) the country. That y’all are tainted with a stink as bad as the smell in Daddy’s Dodge after Grandma left a pot of boiled crawfish in the trunk for a week after the church summer supper. Ain’t no way they was EVER gonna get that smell outta that dang car after that.

So the way I see it, the voters, they’ve got a point. They’re pissed off. Young-ish guy who’s never on the television says he’ll do it different, his hands are clean, everybody votes for him. Why not?

Well turns out the guy’s a complete turkey, deep fried, sanctified, butterball-stuffed and sliced. Either y’all elected a LIAR or an IDIOT. Neither is any reason to throw a fais do do. So Greece is mal pris – and that ain’t half the truth. But no point gittin’ all boude ‘bout it. Let’s do something to fix it.

Best I can tell from looking at the numbers, there’s the negative issue of ‘politics as usual’ and ‘the usual suspects’ practicing the politics as usual. This new guy is, well, NEW, but if he ain’t practicing the old religion, by golly I’m a pork tamale. Way I hear it, having signed onto a crazy bad deal with the lenders, he’s gone and re-hired all the civil servants that was hired and then laid off by the previous governments, namely you guys. I’m a Democrat and we don’t have no problem with guvment. Guvment is a good thing, but like everything, moderation brothers and sisters, moderation. Just cuz you like a bit of Uncle Claude’s hooch don’t mean you got to finish the whole dang barrel. Do you really need TEN FOLKS to sell you a postage stamp? Hell no! And what’s wrong with this picture? Aren’t the comrades usually on the side of the guys in the hard hats down the hole, however ersatz?

Now I gotta admit I like a guy who knows how to buy votes, but if that ain’t a lizard down grandma’s nightie for you guys, I don’t know what is. Seems like everybody’s too busy ‘strategizing’ and being ‘civil’ to react to anything. Jump down the sumbitch’s throat! That’s a gift he handed you and I don’t see y’all doing nothing! Those folks, they ain’t never gonna vote for you anyway, but you have a better weapon – all those other poor folks who ain’t had NO JOB for five years. Don’t be scared of a few thousand civil servants – WHACK that mutha with a BIG STICK.

Like I said before, the BIG negative for y’all is that you’re all TAINTED and there’s no UN-tainting y’all. Face it friends, unless you want to see the country down the CRAPPER, you need FRESH FACES AND NAMES, fer cryin’ out loud.

So recommendation Numero Uno: start putting some YOUNG folks with energy on the television whose uncle / dad / grandpa / brother / sister / cousin AIN’T already been prime minister / party secretary. YOU GIT THE PICTURE??

Now for the positive: these poll figures I’ve seen all say that these same dang voters are DESPERATE to stay in the European Union, notwithstanding WHATEVER THE HELL that referendum business was about. The other guys, my old Spanish teacher and the History teacher guy, they want to leave and take you back to the drachma. I seem to recall the drachma was something like 300 to the Euro way back, no? What do you think it will be now? Try 3000 to the Euro. Maybe 30,000, it’s any sumbitches’ guess (I got Loulis watching my Asia portfolio right now and I can tell you Mr Euro’s looking pretty dang good). Any currency you need to use SCIENTIFIC NOTATION to describe in order to buy a pack of chewing gum is NOT A SMART IDEA.

Recommendation Numero Deux: You need to start HAMMERING that fact home EVERY DANG TIME YOU OPEN YER DAMN TRAPS.

And I see on the BBC that all yer pretty islands near Turkey have become the vacation destination of choice for all those poor Syrian folk. Hey at least those guys have money to spend and only want to hang around long enough to take a selfie and get on the next ferry / bus / train / plane to Germany. Now let’s think for a minute. Your friends the Turks are more than happy to facilitate these folks getting in a boat and sending them your way. What happens when Greece is no longer part of the EU? That gum will be stuck to YOUR shoe, Bubba. Oh yeah, you can talk tough about sealing the borders like that armadillo-haired rabid old water moccasin Trump and his Mexicans, but, seriously? You got about a million miles of coastline, and Turkey just itchin’ to send a problem yer way. And you didn’t get the Nazi vote last time either, so my advice is to quit the goose-stepping. The EU money your government hasn’t even bothered to apply for to help (FER THE LOVE OF THE ALMIGHTY, the EU guy in charge of it is ONE OF YER OWN – if he’s even human! Ask for the damn money!), well THAT MONEY WON’T EXIST ‘COS YOU WON’T NO LONGER BE IN THE EU. MUY MUY grande problemo, amigos.

And so that leads me to recommendation Numero Trois: It’s bad enough being on the southern frontier of Europe with the Middle East and Africa goin’ down the can on your doorstep as a member of the EU. How’s that gonna feel when you’re all by your lonesome, compadres? The other guys use immigrants to SCARE y’all – you should use them to remind people that EUROPE is there to help in precisely this situation. Observe how your slick young neighbor over in Italy used the trouble down south to change the subject AND look statesmanlike. That’s how it’s done, my friends. Get out there and be seen doing something. It’s more than mister invisible nice guy is doing. IT’S A CRISIS AND THE GUVMENT HAS DECIDED TO WALK AWAY. Turn it to your ADVANTAGE!!

So, friends, I see it like this: the country is actually divided between a PRO-EUROPEAN MAJORITY (M-A-J-O-R-I-T-Y), and a XENOPHOBIC, ECONOMICALLY ILLITERATE, FANTASIST, NATIONALISTIC MINORITY.

You three gotta sit down and form a new party. A PRO-EUROPE party. ONE PARTY. Not another dang coalition, but an ACTUAL PARTY. Bury the hatchets, suck it up, and JUST DO IT. Face it, the jig’s up for the old ways. Now is your HISTORIC MOMENT. Seize it! – don’t sit there and twiddle your komboloï (thanks Loulis, finally earning your per diem). These old tribes are a fat possum round yer necks, ‘bout as welcome as a gator at a garden party. Sure, y’all are gonna lose this crazy-ass next election (excuse me, but don’t you guys have enough trouble finding money to pay bus fare without holding two full elections and a referendum in one year???). Lay the groundwork now for a ‘new political dialogue’, rather than crap like the old-rope-with-a-new-name Syriza jerk offs. New blood on the frontlines. You can’t pretend the past don’t exist, but give people something to talk aboutTHAT IS POSITIVE. I like that crazy mutha from Thessaloniki, the stoner dude. He makes sense, tells it like it is, has got brass balls. And look at him – he’s holding onto his job! IT CAN WORK. The old ways are broken as a raccoon in a grits mill. These new guys, they just playing the GAME like it’s always been played. Point that out EVERY TIME YOU TALK TO THE PRESS.

And for the love of bourbon and mother’s milk, stop being pussies! Hit ‘em hard, OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN, with the same, clear message. I DON’T CARE if it’s your annual summer vacation on some dang beach. If you don’t fix this TODAY, y’all are gonna be on PERMANENT VACATION. Repeat after me: IT’S THE CLIENTELISM STUPID! (OK, need something catchier). Find some YOUNG ENTREPRENEUR TYPES who can TALK and don’t dress like an insurance salesman from Houma to STICK THEIR NECKS OUT and point out HOW MUCH DAMAGE these idiots are doing. Don’t just sit there and commission polls – get out there and face the ZYDECO! Bunch of DAMN ELITES HIDING IN THEIR PARTY OFFICES – that dawg don’t hunt, brothers and sisters.

So here is the Big Idea: STAND FOR SOMETHING. You’ve got nothing to lose, so give people an ACTUAL DAMN CHOICE. Rather than a dozen different parties and candidates running for every damn seat in your parliament, make is SIMPLE for people. THINK BIG. Git off yer asses and WORK THE STREET. This crisis is your opportunity. If the government won’t lead, then y’all have a duty to. And if you aren’t up to it, y’all should JUST GO HOME and stop pretending to give a chaoui’s pecker for yer country.

This is YOUR moment, brothers and sisters. NOW SEIZE IT OR GIT GOIN’. Over and out.

J.C.

PS Invoice is attached.

PPS The country may be broke but I see you folks got some money in the kitty.

Image from dailycaller.com

What would J.C. do? Campaign memo to the Greek opposition

Bittersweet moments for equality: First Greek woman PM

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If all goes as expected, this week will see a great moment for equality in Greece, when the country gets its first female Prime Minister. But before we pop the cork on the pink champagne, let’s pause for a moment to savour the real significance of this event.

First of all, the first woman Prime Minister will be appointed, not elected. Last week, the elected Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras submitted his resignation after losing his parliamentary majority in a recent key vote. If the existing parliamentary parties fail to put together a new governing coalition (the most likely scenario, despite their insistence to go through the motions), elections will be declared and a caretaker government will take over during the pre-election period. According to the Greek constitution, the acting Prime Minister is likely to be the President of the Supreme Court, who at this moment happens to be one Vassiliki Thanou-Christofilou.

The likelihood of seeing a woman Prime Minister in Greece elected on merit still seems fairly remote. At the last count (which predates the present parliament) the proportion of women MPs was a little below the global average at 21%. However, women in leadership and key cabinet positions made up a much smaller percentage (5%, or 1 out of 19 cabinet appointments). And it is hard to point to examples of senior female politicians who, however able, did not ride in on daddy’s coat tails.

You might say that Vassiliki Thanou is an accomplished woman in her own right, being only the second woman ever to reach the top of the judicial ladder in Greece. But aside from sporting that spectacular species of bouffant flick rarely sighted since the days when Margaret Thatcher and Nancy Reagan exchanged pleasantries at Cold War era summits, why don’t we get such a sisterly vibe from Prosecutor Thanou? Vassiliki Thanou is a career prosecutor but only a recent appointee to the head of the Greek Supreme Court (Άρειος Πάγος: Areios Pagos) and the circumstances of her appointment raised some eyebrows. Sceptics pointed to a number factors in her appointment that suggest that politics may have been at play: the timing (3am on the 29th of June, barely 48 hours after the controversial snap referendum was called by Tsipras on the European bailout deal); the fact that she was not the most senior in line for the appointment (though order of seniority is dictated by custom rather than by law); and her own highly politicised career. As President of the Supreme Court, Thanou would also preside over the Electoral Court, which would have the task of resolving any challenges to the referendum, hence the added suspicion around her appointment. If you are familiar with the level of political and media scrutiny that surrounds the appointment of Supreme Court justices in the United States, you will be shocked at the ease with which this appointment was ushered in.

Still, if you come from a country with robust institutions, you might think that a judge is a “safe pair of hands” to see the country through a brief transitional period – and no doubt this is what the Greek constitution also envisioned. But in present-day Greece, the judiciary as a whole have lost any kind of reputation for rectitude and impartiality that they may have once commanded. As public trust in all government institutions has taken a nosedive since the start of the crisis, the judiciary has tumbled with them. Local experts and international observers have been pointing out for some time that the colossal inefficiencies, perverse incentives and political entanglements of the Greek judicial system stand as a roadblock in the way of creating the climate of trust and stability required for a healthy economy, not to mention urgently needed reform of Greece’s ailing public institutions. A recent comparative global study of legal quality found that Greece is a world-beater by quite a margin in unfairness, inefficiency and injustice, even compared to developing and Third World countries.

Thanou is seen by her critics to exemplify many of these pathologies of the judicial status quo: a prosecutor with a strong activist streak, she has come to particular prominence during the ongoing crisis. As a Supreme Court judge, she argued against to constitutionality of one of the more unpopular and onerous tax collection measures linked to the bailout, the property tax collected via electricity bills (the so-called χαράτσι – harátsi – named emotively after the Ottoman tax imposed on members of non-Muslim faiths). As president of the judges’ union (Ενωση Δικαστών και Εισαγγελέων Ελλάδας) she took a vocal stand against the Samaras government and its economic policies, calling it “totalitarian” on at least one occasion. As a unionist she also held out against cuts in judges’ pay long after the rest of the senior civil service had shared the pain. She also took the initiative of writing to European Commission President Juncker to ask him to intervene on behalf of Greece in the ongoing bailout negotiations, a move disowned by several senior fellow judges as overreaching.

Now, she may well get to steer a caretaker government through what would already be, even without the elections, a critical period in which several reforms must be implemented in line with Greece’s latest bailout agreement. Among these is the reform of the civil procedure. Any Greek who has struggled through the 800+ business days it takes on average for a simple court case to be concluded would see this as a move in the right direction. However, those opposed, including the incumbents within the judicial system, and the populist media, have succeeded in presenting it as a creditor diktat designed to speed up bank foreclosures on primary residences. Another is the opening up to competition of the legal profession with the aim of reducing legal costs. Whether the acting Prime Minister will be “sober as a judge” in allowing such reforms to proceed remains to be seen.

In any case, first woman Prime Minister, in by a technicality and under a bit of a cloud. Please don’t judge us too harshly for it.

Image: Photo from iefimerida.gr

Bittersweet moments for equality: First Greek woman PM

Hey babe…

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Babe…

[showered, clean shirt, tucked in, just enough product to keep the quiff neat, but looking appropriately sleepless]

Μωρó μου (babe)…

I’ve done a lot of thinking… I think it’s time to show some commitment. I know things between us have been rough lately. But that’s because I’ve been fighting for us, babe. Because I really care. [look defiant!] You know, I was the one who told your ex to p*ss off and stop making unreasonable demands. I made the whole world listen. When your family tried to come between us I wanted to tell them to p*ss off too, but you know I can’t do that.

Yes, I know I promised a lot, and I haven’t been able to deliver like I wanted [puppy eyes]. But I’ve shown willing. I did take you to the 2-D Transformers movie, and er… a bunch of other things that I can remember now… but when we’re back together for good I promise you it’s going to be 3-D all the way. I’ve got some pocket money already, we can go out tonight.

You know, I’ve fallen out with loads of people over this. People I thought were friends, but who betrayed me. What you gonna do? H8ers gonna H8

Babe, [puppy eyes again] I know I’ve driven you to the brink, but I’m sorry. Our most beautiful days are still ahead of us. I know only I can make you happy. You have to trust me on this.

So.. whaddya think?

(wink)

Hey babe…

Who is buried at Amphipolis?

If you want the short answer, it is “any hope of a reliable answer anytime soon.”

This time last year, the news was full of excitement over the unearthing of a monumental tomb at the site of Amphipolis in northern Greece. Fast forward one year, and the site of the discovery has gone quiet, while the controversy over it has moved almost entirely into the field of politics, from where it will be almost impossible to extract it in the near term. The neglect has come about only in part because of lack of funding from we have got used to calling “the cash-strapped Greek state”. The whole affair, though, is rooted in deeper pathologies of the public management of archaeology in Greece that go back well before the crisis.

This sad outcome was almost inevitable given the timing and history of the excavation. Amphipolis was not “discovered” in 2014 – the existence of a site (or more precisely multiple sites) has been known for a long time. The surrounding area on the estuary of the Strymon river is strewn with fragments of ancient masonry and nearby a monumental lion sculpture stood forlorn for decades, having once graced the 1,000 drachma note, while locals are known to have conducted their own “investigations” in the surrounding hills. The area is mentioned in historical documents since classical times; the plain of Amphipolis was a famous battlefield in Classical times and the port became Alexander the Great’s main naval base in Europe. It was not entirely surprising, then, that the hill of Kasta turned out to contain a monument of human construction.

What gave it an entirely new level of prominence was its adoption as a cause celebre at the highest levels of the Greek government, and the personal involvement of the then Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras. At the time, Samaras was leading a crumbling coalition that had spent the past two years passing unpopular legislation in order to meet the demands of Greece’s international creditors. The opposition was gaining power and threatening to force elections. But he knew the worst was yet to come; his government’s programme was front-loaded with tax rises and spending cuts, and they had left for the end the harder elements of the “bailout package” like labour and pension reforms, which could be their undoing in government.

Like every Greek government during the crisis, the Samaras government’s dominant political rhetoric was one of victimhood: they had fought the reforms but their hand was being forced by an international front against the suffering Greek people. This message may have been adequate for keeping a lid on popular discontent, but it was wearing thin. What better for boosting public morale and reminding the Greeks of glories past, than the discovery of what looked like an intact Macedonian tomb? Even better, Samaras personally had built his political career in the early 1990s on the “Skopje affair”, a political dispute with the neighbouring Former Yugolsav Republic of Macedonia which was deeply entwined with the “Greekness” of Alexander the Great and focused on the right to use of the name “Macedonia” and the royal symbols of the House of Macedon. This was a gift too good for him to ignore. Samaras lent his personal support by visiting the excavation, funding was fast-tracked, and the media kicked into gear, treating the project like reality TV, with daily updates and behind-the-scenes gossip. It was the main topic of conversation in Greece over the summer holidays and into a difficult autumn, and the daily discoveries also made their way into the international news. The included spectacular finds: the sheer size of the monument and the quantities of marble used in its construction were only rivalled by a beautiful mosaic inside the chamber, depicting the abduction of Persephone by Hades. There was much speculation over who was buried in the tomb. Was it (in declining order of desirability) Alexander himself? Or his mother and son? Or one of his generals?

All was not going to plan, however, and as the excavation progressed it failed to live up to public expectations, the media cycle moved on, and cracks begun to appear in the official story. While the excavation itself was like a reality-TV version of an excavation, the backdrop was a living caricature of archaeology in Greece.

On the one hand, we had the high priesthood of the archaeological service guarding the entrance to the shrine. The excavation director, the head of the regional unit of the Greek archaeological service, now cocooned in political patronage but under the spotlight of daily media scrutiny, appeared protective of “her” site and the preferred interpretation of the findings, and drip-fed information directly to the press. Any attempt at interpretation that diverged from the “official” one was greeted with a backlash of criticism. A respected archaeology professor who dared to suggest some of the finds looked (o heresy!) Roman was so savagely pilloried that a petition was started on her behalf in defense of academic freedom. While we might sympathise with the excavator’s plea for time to properly study the evidence outside the media glare, this was not really a debate on the facts, it was a debate over access. The excavator’s repeatedly stated defence that can be summarised as “only I have excavated the site, only I can interpret it,” only makes sense in a universe where local archaeology directors build fiefdoms around controlling access to the evidence. Access imparts authority, influence, and ultimately patronage. The Greek archaeological service, like of the civil service, is highly politicized, both in the party-political and the personal sense, and this kind of control is vitally important in gaining and maintaining power. This is not to denigrate the people who work diligently within the service, but it limits what they can achieve.

Why is this a problem? Should we not trust the experience of a senior archaeologist in doing her job? Well, no; or at least no more than any practitioner in a scientific field. An archaeological excavation has been called an “unrepeatable experiment”. What this means is that the results can’t be replicated in the normal scientific manner. Those conducting it have a duty to document and preserve the evidence so that future generations can re-evaluate it as objectively as possible in the light of new findings. That is how knowledge progresses. Even with the best of intentions, it is unlikely that this will be the case here. A Prime Minister in a hurry, an excavator given preferential access to resources, media in a frenzy, the implicit promise of the next Vergina, none of these are factors conducive to careful, methodical work.

Then there is the question of resources. There is now concern that after a winter of neglect the monument will be “buried” under the weight of the tumulus and the spoil from the excavation, as the funds for stabilizing the site have not yet been released. This is of course bad news, and it has been all too easy to blame “the crisis” or capital controls for these deficiencies. But before getting too sentimental about this specific site it is worth pondering that the vast majority of Greek antiquities, once unearthed, are “buried” again. Some are buried intentionally for preservation, but that is a very small minority. Mostly, the physical sites are left to decay because they are judged insufficiently interesting to develop for tourism but too important to plough or build over. They remain in a state of limbo, fenced in from the public but open to the elements and to plunder. The artefacts recovered from the excavations crowd the store rooms of museums, often without proper recording and identification, so in effect “buried” metaphorically.

All the time, new excavation projects are funded and inaugurated, creating yet more demand for storage and conservation, but not resulting in any marginal increase of knowledge about the past. When you visit any of the regional museums, many of them charming and well cared for (when they are open), you should bear in mind that the one or two rooms of carefully selected items on public display are just the polished tip of a crumbling, dirty, uncatalogued iceberg of finds in the apothiki (αποθήκη: store room). This cannot be blamed entirely on the current crisis, it is the way that archaeology in Greece has functioned for decades. Resources have always been contested, but the priorities of the archaeological service have never been seriously examined, even as funding became tighter. Funds, largely European and thus not directly affected by the Greek state budget, are held up by a weak and ill-equipped administration, and routinely misdirected and squandered through lack of supervision. Amphipolis is these problems writ large.

Then, there is local politics. In the midst of the crisis, who can blame the modern Amphipoleans for spotting a legitimate opportunity to profit from the antiquities in their backyard? Controversy over the interpretation of the monument is not good for business, and nor is lack of funding for the site’s development. These locals are now threatening to vote based on the government’s treatment of the site, much as they would over a local factory closure.

Finally, national politics. What has happened between then and now is, of course, a change of government in January. They say that those that live by the sword can expect to die by the sword, and once Amphipolis lost its political patronage, the swords came out. On the anniversary of the excavation, the newspaper Avgi, the official organ of the governing Syriza party, summarised the conclusions of a report by a Ministry of Culture inspectorate which challenges the interpretation of the monument, and criticised Samaras for expediting the excavation for political gain.

Why should we care about a petty archaeological squabble, even if it is used as a political football? Well, we are constantly being told that tourism is the “heavy industry” of Greece, and that it will provide one of the engines of growth that will return the country to a healthy state. The national heritage is part of this equation, unless we picture tourism as a series of gated golfing resorts surrounded by slums on the Caribbean model. So, if only out of self-interest, we should care more about how it is managed for the common good.

Some say the Greeks feel a more urgent need to find Alexander now because their own leadership is so sorely lacking. Nowadays, we are more likely to find Alexander in the eyes of an Afghan refugee who has recreated (approximately) the land route of his returning armies from their furthest eastern conquests to the Aegean. But rather than falling back on the usual fatalistic attitude perhaps we should reflect that taking charge of our future includes taking charge of our past, and not expecting the earth to deliver treasures on demand. The treasures are already there if you dare to open the door to the apothiki and let in some light – and maybe some fresh ideas. But that is the subject for another post…

Image: The lion of Aphipolis on a 1,000 drachma note issued by the Bank of Greece in August 1942. Source: From The Archivist’s Notebook.

Who is buried at Amphipolis?