Plato: “Too much democracy” to blame for Brexit

schoolofathens

A lost Platonic dialogue has shed light on the puzzling historical episode known as ΒΡΕΞΙΤ, in which the citizens of the city-state Athens in the European south, known to many today as the “cradle of democracy”, voted in favour of withdrawing from the Hellenic world. Extracts of the dialogue attributed to the Classical philosopher Plato (circa 428-348 BC) were found among the crumpled newspaper cushioning a “Macedonian” gold wreath reportedly found under a pensioner’s bed in Somerset, which recently sold at auction for £14,000 (at the time equivalent to just over $20,000, now worth approximately a couple of good laying chickens of no specific breed, and rapidly depreciating). The authenticity of the wreath has been questioned, however the Plato fragment is said to “bear all the hallmarks” of a lost work. Extracts are published for the first time below:

“Some have said that it was a mistake to give a voice to the people on matters of serious consequence, because they lack the judgement to make correct decisions. This is not my quarrel. To the contrary, I hold that it is good and just for well-born Athenians to resolve their petty disputes and pursue to their personal ambitions by calling on the unenlightened hoi polloi to take on the burden of responsibility. For in addition to removing from the wise the labour of having to do the “hard shit”, this allows for the flourishing of the art of demagoguery [lit. that of leading the people], which will be counted as one of the great gifts of this glorious city of ours to the world.

In future generations, true followers for my  political vision will rightly make this primitive practice of consulting the people directly obsolete, such that they will need to invent new names for it in their own tongue, and exercise it only in exceptional circumstances. For now, we call it “democracy”.

My quarrel with our system of democracy is that for too long we have been too soft on our women, our slaves and our metics [resident aliens], so that they no longer know their place, while the rightful citizens of Athens, male and Athenian born, feel threatened in their own polis.

For too long we have delegated decisions on serious matters of state to untransparent and undemocratic processes like the Oracle of Delphi and the machinations of the faceless priesthood in the distant Delian League.

For too long we have allowed the riches of our silver mines to be used to undertake foolish wars and build costly temples, roads and bridges in foreign lands, in cities which arrogantly refuse to pay us our rightful tribute.

The citizens who have cast their vote for ΒΡΕΞΙΤ have simply acknowledged that they need to be led by decent chaps (καλὸς κἀγαθός types), fine graduates of my Academy, classical scholars with the wisdom to make this city great again, and never to be enticed by delusions of empire into disastrous and costly foreign expeditions, like their predecessors.

I believe that those in favour of ΒΡΕΞΙΤ are right to propose an Antipodean-style points system for metics, combined with a Hyperborean trading model. I also hold that it would be a mistake to put a limit on the number of slaves. Slaves and metics, along with the unpaid labour of women, are what make it possible for our citizens to keep their fingernails clean by not engaging in manual labour, and to devote themselves directly to matters of state, in between travelling to support the Athenian sporting prowess in their noble defeats in the numerous Panhellenic Games.”

AGMA_Ostrakon_Cimon

“Those citizens who etched “Metics Go Home” on the metope of the Temple of Xenios Zeus [Hospitable Zeus, patron of hospitality and guests and avenger of wrongs done to strangers] were merely adapting the customary and legitimate practice of ostracism writ large, voting to expel those who have abused our hospitality, without trial or debate.”

Greek PM and referendum veteran Alexis Tsipras welcomed the discovery by stating, “I have always said that Athens has a lot to teach the world about democracy.”


For more nuanced discussions of the fallacy of the “too much democracy” argument in response to the UK’s EU referendum, we direct you to Matt Taibi’s article about Brexit in Rolling Stone Magazine. More on the uses and abuses of Plato in contemporary political analysis can be found in the recent debate about the ascendancy of Donal Trump an others in the Los Angeles Review of Books. For a direct insight into the realities of the first democracy, red in tooth and claw, you can read our earlier post on the evidence of lynchings and mass executions in the early days of Athens. It is not clear which campaign, Brexit or Bremain, Plato would actually side with. Being the original reactionary, he would probably be happy with either, given that they were both led by what we would now call “elites”. I suspect he would have a soft spot for Boris Johnson given his veneration for the Classics.

IMAGES: “The School of Athens” by Raphael; Ostrakon (voting sherd) bearing the name of Kimon, son of Miltiades, a fifth century BC Athenian general, victor of the Battle of Salamis and commander of the Delian League forces, who was exiled (ostracised) from Athens for ten years (via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 2.5).

Plato: “Too much democracy” to blame for Brexit

Know your Brexit from your Grexit

Tizian_085

It’s that time of year again, when our elected leaders kick the ball into the stands, and ask the “sovereign people” to get them out of a pickle by posing a “once in a generation” EU-related question. Last year it was Greece, this year it’s the UK. Are you having trouble telling your Brexit from your Grexit, your Greferendum from your Breferendum? Or do you still think they are halitosis remedies? We have put together a handy disambiguator for the confused.

GREXIT REFERENDUM

BREXIT REFERENDUM

“That is the question…”
Do you agree with this expired bailout ultimatum which requires a postgraduate degree in economics to understand and definitely won’t fit on the ballot paper, YES (NAI) or NO (OXI). Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

(or, if you are Welsh, “A ddylai’r Deyrnas Unedig aros yn aelod o’r Undeb Ewropeaidd neu adael yr Undeb Ewropeaidd?”).

Ah, but it’s really about…
Austerity, national currency, national dignity, the European Project, the Establishment, the Germans. Self-determination, trade agreements, national security, the Establishment, the Germans, but mainly IMMIGRATION (Polish plumbers, Syrian refugees, ISIS terrorists and everything in between – excluding Russian and Chinese oligarchs, and global kleptocrat property investors).
Ah but it’s really, REALLY about..
Ingenue politician’s (in)ability to lead own party. Ingenue politician’s (in)ability to lead own party.
Any wider consequences of Grexit/Brexit I should be concerned about?
The first step towards the end of the world as we know it. Allegedly. The first step towards the end of the world as we know it. Allegedly.
The Government Line
OXI REMAIN
How much time do I have to decide?
How long does it take to print ballot papers? Referendum announced 1am on 27 June 2015; referendum held 5 July 2015. Since Maggie was ousted. But officially… Referendum pledged January 2013; polling date and question announced February 2016: official campaigning started April 2016; referendum to be held 23 June 2016.
Any aggravating factors?
Capital controls. Y’know, access to cash, money transfers etc. … How’s the traffic to Glastonbury?
Where do I get the information to help me decide?
Scripted political addresses, mass rallies, poster campaigns, social media war. Information packs, debates, Q&As, campaign “battle buses”, facts, “facts”, factoids, rebuttals, fearmongering, flotillas, social media war.
Any good internet memes?
#thisisacoup #CatsAgainstBrexit #Mutts4Remain
What country will I wake up in if OXI/LEAVE prevails (according to OXI/LEAVE proponents)?
Venezuela (Chavez era): a resource-rich, “socially equitable”, fiercely independent world power. Norway: a resource-rich, “socially equitable”, fiercely independent world power.
What country will I wake up in if OXI/LEAVE prevails (according to NAI/REMAIN proponents)?
Venezuela (Maduro era): toilet paper shortages Guernsey
How would a Marxist firebrand/Keynsian economist vote?
OXI: Alexis Tsipras and Yianis Varoufakis, supported by US-based Nobel prize winning economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, and promoted by UK-based embedded cheerleader Paul Mason. REMAIN: all named in left hand column; readers are advised not to attempt new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s “RELUCTANTLY REMAIN” acrobatics in the polling booth, as it will almost certainly be counted as a spoiled ballot.
How would an ordoliberal German Finance Minister vote?
OXI means OUT, NAI means OUT. IN is IN, OUT is OUT.
How would a xenophobe vote?
OXI if you’re a Greek who dislikes foreigners;

OXI if you’re a foreigner who dislikes Greeks.

LEAVE if you’re in the UK;

REMAIN if you’re Jeremy Clarkson and your gut tells you so;

LEAVE if you’re outside the UK, in the EU but anti-EU (see France’s Mme Frexit);

REMAIN if you’re outside the UK, in the EU and desperate for allies to support your xenophobic agenda (see Hungary’s Orbán);

LEAVE if you’re a self-absorbed populist outside the EU (see Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump).

Does public discourse conform to “Godwin’s Law” (“As an online discussion continues, the probability of a comparison to Hitler or to Nazis approaches 1”) (a.k.a. the Basil Fawlty Asymptote)?
Yup. NAI supporters were branded γερμανοτσολιαδες, δοσιλογοι, Τσολακογλου (German collaborators/appeasers).

Ironically, OXI-supporting Golden Dawn are renowned for their love of Nazi insignia and adulation of Adolf Hitler.

Yup. REMAIN supporters have been branded traitors, David Cameron has been likened to Neville Chamberlain. Leading LEAVE campaigner Michael Gove slyly likened experts to Nazis.

Ironically, LEAVE-supporting UKIP are the ones who recycled Nazi anti-immigration propaganda.

High profile casualties?
Older gent photographed enjoying an Aperol spritzer during NAI rally trolled on social media. Labour MP, REMAIN supporter and mother of two Jo Cox, attacked and killed in real life by man identifying himself as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”.
Will this answer the question once and for all?
As black is white. Definitely. Maybe.

We hope this has been helpful. Those of us entitled to a vote have cast it, and may our British friends make the right decision. No pressure. As the summer solstice aligns with a full moon, we’re absolutely confident nothing can go wrong!

Image: Titian’s “The Rape of Europa”.

 

 

Know your Brexit from your Grexit

NYC (1975) to Athens (2016): an inspiration and a warning

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An upcoming visit to Athens as Atlantis Host’s chaperone puts Koutofrangos in a nostalgic frame of mind as he casts back to his formative teen years in New York City and environs. On a late June weekend, we will have to toss a coin to decide whether we go to see Laurie Anderson curate an evening of multimedia performance, or Patti Smith give a track-by-track concert performance of her classic 1975 album “Horses”. During the many extended trips to Athens in recent years to visit AH’s Aunt Cassandra and tour the family estates aboard the late Uncle Aristo’s yacht, the Bucephalas, I have been struck, squinting through the privacy glass onto litter-strewn streets, by the apparent similarities between Athens of the Crisis Era (2009 – present) and the New York of the 1970s. I often ponder on this, as the marina’s brand new courtesy Porsche Cayenne whisks us through the smog-choked air of central Athens south to leafy Vouliagmeni and a simpler way of life.

The timing is apt for such a comparison as 1970s New York City is having “a moment”. People too young to have experienced it, and others too old or brain-damaged by their youthful habits to actually remember it, have come together in a celebration of the “City” (as anyone raised within a fifty-mile radius of the place refers to NYC) and its iconic age of collapse, filth, graffiti, dank, fetid subways crawling with gangs of muggers, Bowery panhandlers, Con-Ed summer “brown-outs”, and abandoned tenements.

So let’s set the scene. In the mid-1970s, when Gerald Ford was president (“Who?” I hear you ask) and Abe Beame the height-challenged mayor, New York City teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and default. So dire was the state of the City’s finances that many (including, famously and misquotingly, President Ford himself) pronounced it doomed, a decaying, corrupt heap of poverty, crime and filth that was beyond salvation. The classic New York Daily News article “Ford to City: Drop Dead”, is worth reading in full to appreciate the depth of the center-periphery animus (for extra thrills, try replacing “Ford” with “Schäuble”, and”Beame” with the name of any recent Greek Prime Minister). Those businesses that didn’t go broke, fled, as did almost one in eight residents. Entire office buildings and tenements, not to mention storefronts, sat vacant. Whole blocks were commandeered by squatters. By the end of the decade, the streets teemed with the homeless. Buildings were abandoned by their owners because of high taxes and low rents. Many burned to the ground. The problem was compounded by misguided efforts to rationalize fire-fighting resources confronted with shrinking budgets. Building-by-building, the Bronx disappeared.

Police, firefighters and sanitation workers walked off their jobs with Swiss train-like regularity. Indeed strikes by the the sanitation department stand as bookends to the decade, commencing with a nine-day strike in February 1968 that left the City buried under tons of rubbish, to be repeated again in December of 1981 ending only days before Christmas. The intervening decade was dotted with wildcat work stoppages whenever the City attempted to freeze or cut wages and pensions. In places the uncollected refuse climbed to the second floor of buildings, swirling down streets in the winter winds. In January 1971, 20,000 NYC police officers phoned in sick with a case of what was dubbed “blue flu”. On 6 November 1973, 10,900 NYC firefighters refused to leave their stations for five and a half hours while 80 fires burned in the city, chanting “Scab! Scab!” at volunteer crews of trainees and administrators hastily drafted in to respond to alarms. A coalition of police, firefighters and others went so far as to print a scaremongering handout for distribution to tourists entitled “Welcome to Fear City”.

My senior year of high school, living on the Queens – Nassau border (I am part of what Manhattanites derisively refer to as the “bridge and tunnel crowd”) , neatly coincided with the Son of Sam murders of 1976 and 1977 that paralyzed New York and the ‘outer boroughs’ as every part of the City that isn’t Manhattan is known – amplified through the now-classic prose of Daily News columnist and poet – hack laureate of those same outer boroughs Jimmy Breslin. David Berkowitz, the psychopath convicted of the murders, was eventually arrested at his home in the Bronx.

On 13 July 1977, in the midst of a heatwave of historic proportions where temperatures  approached 100° F, the worst blackout to hit the City since 1965 plunged the entire region into darkness for 24 hours. Looting and arson began almost immediately, and the chaos and wanton destruction wrought in those few hours – particularly in the poorest neighborhoods like now-fashionable Bed-Stuy – was plainly visible the next day. More than 3,000 were arrested and the prisons were bursting at the seams. Inmates set mattresses alight.

In the midst of all this, the fabled New York Yankees played in a near-empty baseball stadium in the smoldering Bronx , where pieces of concrete routinely fell into the stands during games while long-suffering New Yorkers were being attacked by packs of rats within sight of City Hall. No one was thinking, much less talking, regeneration. Even so, that summer marked a turning point, at least in hindsight. The Yankees went on to win the World Series. A complete unknown, Rupert Murdoch bought the New York Post in late 1976, the liberal tabloid rival to the New York Daily News, and proceeded to reinvent it as a right wing New York spin on a British red top with its screaming, hysterical headlines (the most famous came in 1983, “Headless Body in Topless Bar”). In many ways, the aggrieved, polarized, violent and dysfunctional public discourse that is today the hallmark of American politics – leading inexorably to our current Trump moment – was born in the violence and destruction of that year.

Let’s be clear about something that New York had that Athens does not (yet) possess in anywhere near equal measure: fear. NYC of the the ’70s was a place of palpable anxiety and paranoia. No lesser a personage than composer Philip Glass, recently recalled in an interview for the BBC how the City in the 1970s was a scary place (he drove a cab to earn extra money, at a time when cabbies were routinely robbed, or worse still, murdered).  In hindsight, there could not have been a more apt soundtrack to the decade than the Bee Gees Saturday Night Fever hit Stayin’ Alive.  Random murders and muggings were the norm, and the print, radio and television news of the day gave it wall-to-wall coverage (though thankfully, back then we didn’t have rolling 24-hour news or the internet). Violent crime rates hit a plateau in the ’70s and stayed there until the late ’90s, when nation-wide demographic changes already at work combined with more intelligent policing (not supposedly ‘get-tough on crime’ policies as former mayor and self-mythologizer extraordinaire Rudy Giuliani would have you believe) finally resulted in a startling decline. The appallingly-awful Death Wish was released in 1974, a cartoon-ish celebration of urban vigilantism that made Charles Bronson’s career, and confirmed everyone’s suspicions that New York should be left to go to Hell on its own.

And yet every trip into the City as my teenage self felt akin to boarding Apollo 11 and heading to the moon. It was scary, edgy, but exciting. I attended poetry readings in the Village and bought Galway Kinnell’s Book of Nightmares at the long-closed Eighth Street Bookshop. I searched out obscure classical recordings at Record Hunter on Fifth Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets (’42nd Street’ itself a shorthand for sleaze and debauchery) . Beer was cheap at the White Horse Tavern, a favorite watering hole of Jack Kerouac and Dylan Thomas during his reading tours in the US. The myth is that he downed a large number of whiskey shots (18? 36?) at the bar and died the following day at St. Vincent’s Hospital down the block, more likely of misdiagnosis than alcohol poisoning per se. The hospital, a more than century old Catholic institution dedicated to serving the poor, who no longer [can afford to] live in this part of Manhattan, has closed and now is home to luxury high-rise condos that were selling last year for $3500/sq ft. This was a heady environment in which to engage in discreet underage drinking, a dog-eared copy of the Collected Poems in hand.

The beauty of all this decay was that notwithstanding the sleaze and grime, New York City became a magnet for creativity. As Glass points out, the City had something that made it a beacon for artists: cheap housing.Thanks to affordable housing (or simply sleeping rough in Central Park), the result was a critical mass of talent and cross-fertilization between the disciplines: performance art at The Kitchen, The Wooster Group’s Spalding Gray and Willem Dafoe, A R Gurney and Christopher Durang at Playwrights Horizons, La Mama, PS1, Mary Boone and Julian Schnable, Arto Lindsey, Elliot Sharpe, John Zorn, the aforementioned Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson and Patti Smith, Television, the Ramones, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Robert Mapplethorpe, Kool Herc and Hip Hop’s emergence in the South Bronx, CBGB, the Mudd Club, the Talking Heads (and of course the short-lived palaces of cocaine-fueled sexual ambiguity, flammable fashion and disco glamour that were Studio 54 and its dry ice fog-filled rival Xenon …but we don’t really want talk about that). All of this was made possible because rent was cheap (or better, free) and performance spaces plentiful. Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee were cutting their teeth at NYU Film School. French avant garde composer Pierre Boulez was at the helm of the New York Philharmonic. The city was broke, falling apart at the seams, rife with crime and social problems, and had never been more culturally vibrant, perhaps because as one recent commentator observed“there was no need to pretend that everything was all right.” 

In the midst of all of this, savvy investors like William Ponsoldt (late of Panama Papers fame) and the well-connected (a certain scion of property development wealth named Trump comes to mind) snapped up empty well-located, future landmark properties for next to nothing, fixed them up and flipped them for a fortune in the ensuing, more prosperous decades. With hindsight, this was a bet that you couldn’t lose. At the time, as you stepped over piles of rotting garbage, avoided newspapers swirling at eye-level in the wind and rats nipping at ankles, dodged junkies in the doorways of empty storefronts and vainly tried to shake off panhandlers who would follow you for blocks haranguing you for a handout, such an investment looked pretty foolhardy. Insane even. But who knew?

All that has transpired in New York since the ’70s has its roots in this fantastically fertile soil. First SoHo was colonized, then the East Village. By the early ’80s even distant outposts like Park Slope in Brooklyn were becoming desirable and as a result, unaffordable. As the economy improved, the City recovered. By the ’80s, when prime rates began their gradual, stuttering climb-down from a staggering 21.5% in December 1980, there seemed like there was a Gap on nearly every corner. Money was now visible, just like the homeless. Wall Street chancers like the Boeskys and the Milkens became the models for Tom Wolfe’s “masters of the universe”.  An artist or performer arriving in the City had to seek shelter in obscure, freaky and quite frankly dangerous corners of the outer boroughs like Williamsburg.

Now, a mere decade after the terror attacks of 9/11  and barely pausing for breath in the latest recession, the City is largely a museum to these lost times while Williamsburg’s property market outpaces Manhattan’s. The City remains a draw for the creative class, but mostly for wannabes with money from expensive private universities, subsidized by their double-income professional parents. They are overwhelmingly white and upper middle class, happy to drop thirteen bucks on a jar of artisan pickles.

In other words, be careful what you wish for. Behind all the nostalgia surrounding 1970s NYC is the simple truth that no one can afford to live there anymore who doesn’t work for a hedge fund, a law firm with a healthy client list of, er, hedge funds, or is a rich kid aching to open the next artisanal mayonnaise cum yarn-and-saketini-bar  in Bed-Stuy where Uma Thurman’s brother can’t even afford a home. Or perhaps a porridge restaurant in less-hip Park Slope. Although there is hope for the “old” New York, as the homeless return. Today’s NYC is cleaner, safer, more prosperous and desirable, but also much more unequal and unaffordable for the vast majority of working people, let alone the creative revolutionaries who still flock there to starve, even as their ’70s pioneers like Patti Smith are leaving.

In conservative circles, the resurgent NYC has become the poster child for the view that, in today’s parlance, “austerity works”, and the blueprint for the “tough love” remedies applied more recently to cities like Detroit and countries like Greece. In truth, it was the gravitational pull of the world’s then financial capital combined with the global economic pendulum swinging the other way. There floated in the air a general Reagan-era perception that things were getting better (perception, mind you, not reality for most people).  In the late ’80s and ’90s Wall Street and the investment banks came back in a big way. And at least when the good times returned and the tax coffers recovered, money was ploughed back into infrastructure, policing, and the scrubbing clean of those subway cars. New York was no longer the city of the Ramones; it now was the metropolis of Bright Lights, Big City and The Bonfire of the Vanities. Yes, New York was pulled back from the brink, but the underlying changes wrought tilted the board heavily in favor of wealth. This wasn’t the result of bootstrapping capitalism so much as it was a willingness to hand the city over to the finance industry and turn its housing stock into, in the words of my midtown dentist whose office looks out at one of the more egregious examples of oligarch chic, “a safe deposit box for the world’s super rich“.  Most of the time these billionaire warehouses sit empty. The economic and cultural contributions to the City of these peripatetic plutocrats, like their counterparts in central London, is almost zero.

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Flicking through the complimentary glossies as I peer out the Cayenne’s windows at the gritty urban homesteaders in Gazi, Psyri and Metaxourgeio (our driver is lost), I nearly choke on my freddo to see that already, according to this month’s Vogue, “Downtown Athens is Basically Brooklyn by the Sea”. According to the guide, “you’ll find local brews, grain bowls, flea markets, brunches, fine delicatessens, and beard balms.” They are of course referring to Brooklyn, circa 2016. The city, and the country, are already colonized by the artisan-mayonnaise-and-thirteen-buck-jar-of-pickles crowd. They’ve been here all along, dancing into the wee hours on the ashes of the 2004 Olympic dream.

Athens and Greece remain in a state of decline unparalleled since the Great Depression; real unemployment rates for the population as a whole remain suspended at a gravity-defying 24.1% and the rate of unemployment for 15 – 24 year olds currently a jaw-slackening 51.4%. Unemployment in NYC in 1975 stood at 10.7%. To put that in perspective, the UK unemployment rate for January – March of this year stands at 5.1% for the population overall; in the US, it was a mere 4.7% in May. Even allowing for the undercounting of the long-term unemployed in the US, the picture in Greece is profoundly troubling.

Yet throughout the crisis the dense cluster of craft cocktail lounges, hip cafes, trendy wine bars and bleeding edge foodie havens around places such as Agia Irini and elsewhere in downtown Athens are heaving with a crowd of local hipsters seemingly flush with cash. Even as the whiff of tear gas lingers in the air above the wide boulevard of Panepistimiou from the latest dust-up between koukolofori and the batsi, the party barely skipped a beat. Businesses close and soup kitchens proliferate, and through it all a disconnected population of shallow trendsters stare unblinking at their shiny new iPhones. It’s urban blight, Jim, but not as we know it.

Long time observers will note that many of these symptoms predate the crisis and were there even below the gleaming facade of noughties prosperity. There is no doubt that homelessness has got worse over the past five years, swelled by the newly jobless and evicted; but as the Greek crisis meme took hold many a lazy European photo editor eager to sate the appetite for crisis porn used more easily obtainable photos of marginal groups that have unfortunately inhabited the darker corners of the city for years: Roma scrap metal collectors and intravenous drug users labelled as newly impoverished Athenians. The riots? Some of the worst took place in 2008, when the coming crisis was barely a glimmer in a doom-merchant’s eye. Similarly, urban blight-as-opportunity was already blossoming nicely in downtown Athens when the crisis hit, in the hangover of the half-assed Olympic regeneration.

Relaxing over an artisanal raki and obscure regional delicacies with Athenians, one often hears the rumour repeated of prominent Greek families and politicians snapping up pieces of the neglected “historic centre” for a song, even busing in illegal migrants and drug dealers to drive out long-time residents and drive down real estate prices. Some sizeable property deals have been transacted more transparently. And you don’t need a conspiracy theory to explain why. Middle class Athenians started moving to the suburbs in droves as soon as the new metro, suburban railway and tram system made commuting feasible; the economic migrants who provided cheap labour in the pre-crisis years also left when jobs dried up, leaving a hollowed-out city centre. If anything, the first years of the crisis brought a mini-regeneration of sorts, increasing the density of hipster bars and trendy food joints, as the first wave of redundancy packages and early retirement bonuses was re-deployed as seed capital for small-scale gastronomical entrepreneurship in cheap storefronts.

Contrast this with New York in the 1970s. Having experienced Manhattan and New York up close in that decade, I can assure you even the “nice” bits of the City were grim. It beggars belief nowadays if you tell a visitor that festive, manicured Bryant Park behind the grand and lustrously-restored New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, in the shadow of the gleaming glass and steel Bank of America tower, was an absolute, you-gotta-be-kidding-me no-go area in its day, the inspiration for the 1971 Pacino crime-and-drug terror vehicle, “The Panic in Needle Park”.

These days, when New Yorkers  gather to overcome collective trauma, there is one song that keeps recurring on the playlist. It’s not the self congratulatory “New York, New York” or the schmaltzy “New York State of Mind” (although they are also part of the cannon);  it is Billy Joel’s eerily titled “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway”, written in 1976. The lyrics describe residents fleeing an apocalyptic New York (“They burned the churches up in Harlem/Like in the Spanish civil war/The flames were ev’rywhere/But no one really cared/It always burned up there before”), told from the perspective of a survivor in Florida forty years later. It was sung at the memorial for the victims of 9/11 and at the relief concerts after Hurricane Sandy, as a reminder of the City’s collective near-death experience and triumphant rebound. It is a reminder that the City didn’t die in the ’70s, like everyone expected. Indeed, the city described in the song bears little resemblance to the City that emerged from the ashes a mere decade later, and the re-make of Escape From New York will be pure science fiction as compared to the only slightly heightened reality of the City-as-prison-camp ’80s quasi-documentary original. That is, unless the new version features corporate lawyers and private equity types fleeing the unspeakable horrors of the insane housing market for Buffalo. In many ways, the post-’70s recovery puts the City’s post-9/11 resurrection in the shade. New Yorkers in 2001 had already stared down the dark barrel of the gun and knew at once that there was not going to be any return to those days. And there hasn’t.

For better or worse, despite the deprivation, Athens hasn’t had this kind of collective near-death experience (yet). Even without the courtesy Cayenne, it is still possible to live in a bubble where the worst thing that can happen is your posh hairdresser strategically defaulting; it is certainly possible as a visitor to avoid any contact with anything more terrifying than a long line at an ATM, and thank goodness for that, given the city’s heavy reliance on tourism. Athens, and perhaps Greece as a whole, have managed to muddle along. With each day, week and month that passes of half-hearted reform, blatant cronyism, and political dysfunction from every quarter, a certain comfort has been found in misery. Indeed, in all of this, some see the only glimmer of hope for urban renewal in another crisis, that which has left a new wave of migrants and refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and a host of other troubled regions trapped in Greece in the past year.

I do wonder what Patti and Laurie will make of it, if they get a chance to hang out in Athens, 2016. Our choice of concert venues next weekend are the recently opened Piraeus Academy which models itself on London’s Brixton Academy, and the Metamorphosis gala opening weekend at the new Renzo Piano-designed Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Faliro. Meanwhile, the Mayor of Athens spirits away the city’s public art for safekeeping from theft and vandalism, and the world continues to turn. Indeed, in all of this, some see the only glimmer of hope for renewal in another crisis, that which has led refugees and migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and a host of other troubled regions trapped in Greece.

Image credits: NEW YORK: New York subway photo: Danny Lyon via ohbythewayblog.blogspot.com; “SKIPPED, 1977″ photo: Susan Lorkid Katz, courtesy the Museum of the City of New York via 6sqft.com; photo of CBGB by David Godlis via medium.com; photo of Xenon by Bill Burnstein via midcenturymodernmag.comATHENS: New Hotel via Vogue.com; “Hipstorical” by @atlantis_host (artful blur, photographer’s own); Metaxourgeio owl/elephant graffiti by Koutofrangos; Baba au Rum via iefimerida.com; homeless graffiti via metaxourgeio.wordpress.com.

 

NYC (1975) to Athens (2016): an inspiration and a warning

Bild it and they will come

vraxonisida

As the ranks of assorted banksters and humanoid lizards of the Washington Consensus prepare to gather in Dresden to plot the next financial crisis, the shadowy Bilderberg Club has made quite a splash by announcing the venue of its next conference – an uninhabited rocky island off the coast of Greece.

It is understood that the venue, already dubbed “Summer Davos”, will provide a more secure location than the English stately homes, French chateaux and Alpine lodges that have been favoured up until now. It will also provide a much-needed change of scene for the secretive global elites: leaked copies of the conference feedback forms published by Wikileaks show many of them scrawled with the message: “NO MORE CHINTZ PLEASE!!!”

Organisers have named the tiny island of Aigileia, nestled between the east coast of Greece and the larger island of Euboea (pronounced you-bee-ah) as the venue for the next meeting. It came as no surprise to Bilderberg-watchers that the island does not appear in Google Maps, but experts believe they have identified it as the landmass marked “Styra”, currently inhabited only by an indigenous variety of rock-eating goats.

Aigileia
REVEALED: The secret Bilderberg venue that Google doesn’t want you to know about.

“Agileia” first came to popular attention when the Greek Deputy Finance Minster and free camping enthusiast Dimitris Mardas first spoke of his vision of hosting an “Island of Arts and Philosphy”, where global leaders would be entertained by Shirley Bassey and Beyoncé, bringing the country prestige and inward investment beyond our wildest dreams. At the time he was widely dismissed as a crank, however it now appears that his vision is taking flesh.

It is thought that the island will offer a variety of accommodation choices, from luxury cabanas (the “Panama List”, named after the Bilderberg set’s favourite diversionary ploy) and high-tech underground lairs (the “Stavros Suite”, named after the middle name of Bond villain Blofeld) to more relaxed “glamping” tents featuring a dedicated all-female armed guard (named the “Gadaffi” after the simple Bedouin stylings of the deceased Libyan despot).

The announcement has caused a buzz in the world’s press rooms, where media strategy is already being adjusted to cope with the demands of the new venue. One veteran of the annual “Bilderberg watch” said to us in confidence: “Land based venues had made it too easy for any amateur pretending to be a journalist to rock up and claim to be “infiltrating Bilderberg”. I’m kinda sick of queueing with weedy Guardianista wannabes and beefy Texan conspiracy jocks to get through the hole in the fence… In the old days Bilderberg was a baptism of fire for the elite press corps, now it is a total media circus, there is even a press centre with free wifi and fake bellhop uniforms for hire.”

Media outlets have already kicked off a bidding war for the services of best-of-breed seaborne paparazzo talent, poring over portfolios of grainy long-lense shots of a paunchy Leonardo Di Caprio with the cast of the latest Victoria’s Secret show partying on Puff Daddy’s yacht off Cannes. It is even thought that some Greek outlets are looking to resurrect the home-grown know-how nurtured in the glory days when Onassis entertained Jackie-O on Scorpios. “I would dearly love a picture of Henry Kissinger unzipping his wrinkly human suit to reveal his true reptilian nature, or a video of the Giant Vampire Squid wrapped around Sheryl Sandberg” one picture editor said, “but I will happily settle for a decent pap shot of Christine Lagarde reliving her synchronised swimming days in the Aegean.”

The Greek government views securing the prestigious conference as a success not only in symbolic and political terms, but also as a potential boost to tourism revenues. Already specialist tourism operators have been offering so-called “conspiracy cruises” in Greece, and although these will be embargoed for the duration of the conference, it is anticipated that the venue will become a pilgrimage destination for the global conspiracy community. Skeptics, however, caution against complacency: the last Greek venue to be used by the Bilderberg Club in 2009, the Astir Palace resort in Vouliagmeni, is currently at the centre of a planning dispute after being sold off as part of a controversial privatisation plan.

The triumph is also a personal one for some in the top echelons of the Greek government. During the conference, the waters around the island will be patrolled by a crack amphibian team of the Greek navy led by Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, who is said to have personally requested the assignment. “I really need that frog-man outfit to complete my lifesize G.I. Joe collection,” he is thought to have confided to a close aide. The conference will be opened by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, long believed by conspiracy theorists to be in actual fact a neoliberal ringer for the erstwhile leftist firebrand, installed by a cabal of globalists in July 2015 to implement their sinister plans.

“It is great to see such hands-on involvement by high-ranking members of the Greek government,” confirmed one of the shadowy Bilderberg organisers on condition of anonymity, “however, what we look for above all in a host country is a compliant leadership, one that is 110% behind our agenda. We are confident that we have that here in spades, but in any eventuality we are lining up a contingency plan.”

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Bild it and they will come

“ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ”: students defend Ancient Greek in curriculum

pnyx

The Union of Greek Secondary School Students have expressed their alarm at a statement by Greek Education Minister Nikos Filis, in which he hinted at a reduction in the compulsory teaching hours of ancient Greek in the high school curriculum.

“It is well known that Ancient Greek is the bedrock of a rounded education, and moreover it is an essential part of our national heritage. We are against any move that would threaten its teaching in schools, and we believe that 12 years is the ideal age to be exposed to it.” The students presented their position in detail, stressing the value of Ancient Greek not only as a foundation for better appreciating the richness of Greek culture and language, but also as a way to teach civic values.

Pressed to offer an example, Menios (Agamemnon) Atridis, 14, from the 2nd High School of Argos, quoted in the original his favourite passage from Pericles’ Funeral Oration from  Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian Wars: “Φιλοκαλοῦμέν τε γὰρ μετ’ εὐτελείας καὶ φιλοσοφοῦμεν ἄνευ μαλακίας”, which translates as “We cultivate refinement without extravagance and knowledge without effeminacy”.

To his friends’ riotous applause, he explained that this was not only a classic example of the art of rhetoric, but also a seminal exposition of democratic values. In it, the great Athenian General Pericles uses the occasion of the funeral for the war dead of the first year of the Peloponnesian wars to remind his fellow citizens why democracy made their city a superior power to oligarchic Sparta.

The budding classicist went on to stress the passage’s relevance to life in modern Greece: “Normally, the word μαλακία (malakía) would earn you a clip round the ear, but this makes it totally legit. I know the English translation sounds, well, a bit “gay”, but in Greek it’s even better because it means (whispers) ‘w*ank’. Get it? ‘We philosophise without w*ankiness’! That’s classic! Respect to the ancients!”

The students were outraged when they heard the statement by the Minister, in which he was recorded saying that teaching three hours per week of Ancient Greek and only two of Modern Greek in the first year of high school was “unnatural”. “Dude, did he really say “παρά φύσιν” (pará físin)? You know what that means, right? C’mon, it’s from Diodorus Siculus, it means literally “against nature”, as in, you know, “up the -“. At this point unfortunately the interview was terminated by an intervention by the Headmaster.

It is understood that many female students are also planning to protest against a leaked draft of a proposed “code of conduct”  for parents, which forbids the use of the word “princess” as a term of affection because “all children are different but equal”. “My friends and I are planning to march on the Ministry dressed as our favourite Disney heroines and sing “Let it Go” from Frozen over and over until Mr Filis relents on this unreasonable demand.”

 

“ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ”: students defend Ancient Greek in curriculum