Friday, May 03, 2013

I read today that:- “A famous Islamic traditional teaching about sexual pleasure says that when God created desire, He made it in ten parts. He gave nine parts to women, and just one to men.” I don't disagree, though I do think it's a little understated. Luckily for men, though, until the pill came along, they were able to keep this a secret for hundreds, if not thousands of years. As for religions other than Islam, I don't recall anything like this forming part of the Catholic catechism. So I'm forced to conclude that Allah was wiser (and/or more experienced) than the Christian God.

Talking of whom . . . We've had another Spanish politician dismiss protesters as Nazis. “They tried to pin things on me, like they did with the Jews”, he spluttered. Appropriately, his forename is Jesús. Who really was Jewish, of course.

And still on Jesus . . . “A Spanish nun has come up with a board game about Jesus Christ that has sold 5,000 copies in Spain since its launch in March and is already in demand in South America.” The game is for adults and children aged 7 and above. But presumably not those who were recently refused First Communion as they hadn't 'reached the age of Reason'. Anyway, it's called La Alegría de la Fé ('The Joy of Faith') and costs a mere €50. Which seems rather a lot in a recession-cum-depression. More here.

Just going back to sex for a second - The artist whom I mentioned yesterday - Tracey Emin – launched herself onto a millionaire career with a piece of installation art comprising a tent on which she'd stuck the names of everyone she'd slept with. I found it astonishing; I couldn't believe anyone had been to bed with her. Perhaps they were all hard of seeing. By the way, if you thought the tent was bad, it was nothing compared with her next artful piece, My Bed.

Returning to the theme of defending oneself against maniacs with machine-guns in the USA, here's some good news for women. I guess there'll be a kids' version coming along soon.

Here's a Pontevedra shop which hasn't closed but of which the name is something of an oxymoron:-


While we're in Galicia, here's an example of the mindset around our 3 small, uncompetitive airports:- “The help given for Ryanair by Santiago airport adulterates the market and prejudices that of Vigo.” Well, yes. That's business for you. Airlines favour one airport over another. And when there's three of them where there should be only one, they play them off against each other. Grow up.

An international survey suggests that Spain scores better on civil liberties than Germany, France and the UK. Though not so well on corruption. No surprise there.

Interesting - The results of a new poll suggest that surveys are a waste of time.

I'm about ready to give up on the battle to stop people writing 'less' when they should write 'fewer'. The rule is very simple but it seems only my daughters – after years of having it drummed into them - know it and abide by it. Small mercies.

Finally . . . Here's a decent article on the EU and where it goes – or doesn't go – next. I can't just cite it as you wouldn't get past The Times' paywall.

Europe’s leaders must soon choose one of three solutions to the worsening situation. All involve more pain – Ruth Lea

It sometimes feels like I’ve read more articles about the problems of the eurozone than any of us have had Italian pasta dishes or glasses of French wine. There is a danger that we’ve become so familiar with the crisis that we’ve become bored. But it’s not boring for the Spanish people; it’s frightening.

Last week Britain narrowly avoided a triple-dip recession but Spain has suffered seven consecutive quarters of shrinkage. Protesters weaving along Madrid’s Gran Via yesterday were waving “austerity kills and ruins” banners. You can understand why. Spanish unemployment stands at 27 per cent. Youth unemployment is more than 50 per cent. Read those numbers again. They’re terrifying.

Free marketeers and fiscal conservatives should not feel obliged to defend the austerity measures that are being imposed to maintain this dysfunctional currency bloc. The spending cuts and economy-flattening tax rises are much harsher than anything being imposed by George Osborne.

Far from getting better, the problems within the eurozone — the economic fire on our doorstep — are intensifying. Across the eurozone unemployment reached record levels this week. Even Germany, the supposed powerhouse of the European economy, is stuttering. The country may grow by just 0.5 per cent this year, while overall eurozone GDP falls again.

More broadly, Germany’s masterplan to turn every other eurozone country into mini versions of itself is meeting stiffer and stiffer resistance. One by one, the nations asked by Brussels and Berlin to make heavy budget cuts are saying enough is enough. Resistance from Greece, Spain and Italy might have been predictable. Unhappiness from the Netherlands should be more worrying for Angela Merkel. And most significant for the unity of the European project has been the battle of leaked memorandums between Paris and Berlin that we’ve seen break out over the past two days.

One day we read about French unhappiness at German “egotistical intransigence” on fiscal discipline. François Hollande’s socialist party complained that Germany, along with Britain, was responsible for the problems by pushing the right-wing policies of “deindustrialisation, deregulation and disintegration”. The next day we read about German unhappiness about France as the continent’s “biggest problem child”. “French industry is increasingly losing its competitiveness,” declared the German government memo. France and Germany are supposedly Europe’s unbreakable alliance.

Austerity measures are now under attack from many quarters — and not just inside Europe. Back-pedalling on austerity policies was the hot theme of the recent IMF meeting. Germany’s public response to all the commotion will have two predictable ingredients. Some slippage in fiscal targets will be permitted but not much. Germany’s Iron Frau will want to remain resolute ahead of September’s federal elections. Many of Mrs Merkel’s voters resent bailing out the peripheral eurozone countries. They think Greece and Spain have already been given enough help from German taxpayers.

If extreme austerity is too high a price for maintaining the existing arrangement, something more dramatic must happen to stop what looks like a long-term decline of the European economy (though the Germany is highly competitive). There are basically three options: economic and political union; reconfiguration; or break-up. All three options have significant downsides.

Economic and political union would include sizeable fiscal transfers from the richer northern countries, principally Germany, to the beleaguered southern countries, with a “pooling” of sovereignty, euro-speak for “loss of national sovereignty”. Whether there is the political appetite for such a radical move in the name of European solidarity remains to be seen. I suspect the brutal truth is that no one knows.

Even last summer there were cracks in the apparent determination of the eurozone’s political elite to maintain the integrity of the currency bloc. Expectations of Greece’s exit, intensified with all the destabilising consequences for other vulnerable members, including Spain and Italy. Spanish and Italian bond yields increased alarmingly. Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, then announced he would do “whatever it takes” to support the euro.
There was then a flurry of activity and the delineation of what exactly was needed, including banking union, to establish a “genuine economic and monetary union”. These activities indicated some willingness to build a meaningful political union.

Mr Draghi’s announcement, in particular, was extraordinarily successful in calming worries of a break-up and the existential threat to the eurozone receded. But as the threat receded, so Europe’s politicians retreated from the necessary decisions to build this union. Last December’s summit was, in particular, a damp squib. Germany’s willingness to bear the cost of supporting the eurozone in the longer term has to be questioned, given its ageing and sceptical electorate. And this is despite Germany’s deep commitment to the European project of “the ever closer union of the peoples of Europe”.

Turning to reconfiguration, the eurozone could split into two currency areas — a northern euro for Germany and its economic allies and a southern euro for the less competitive Mediterranean economies. The southern euro would then devalue sharply against its northern counterpart, injecting much needed competitiveness into the southern economies. But there is no appetite for this — and there would also be the issue of France. France should, arguably, be part of the southern euro. It has lost competitiveness in recent years and runs a huge trade deficit with super-efficient Germany. But it is politically inconceivable that France would agree to such an arrangement.

Finally, there is either a partial or even complete break-up of the currency area. I have little doubt that the shrinking of the euro to the core northern countries, with the other member states reverting to their own currencies, would ultimately prove to be more sustainable than the current arrangement.

Europe seems to be waiting for a magical solution but no such solution exists. One of the three painful options is necessary. But will a choice be made soon? I’m not optimistic.

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