Showing posts from April, 2010

The real villains in the Euro debacle? The ratings agencies!

The crisis of the Euro is stalked by the ghost of Argentina - the only important industrialized  country that failed in recent memory. That was back in January 2002, when the government announced it would default on $141 billion in public sector debt.  But for the Euro debacle, the real villains are the big credit ratings agencies: Standard & Poor's, Moody's and (possibly) Dun & Bradstreet.

Ok, Greece started the ball rolling with its profligacy and corruption, and Portugal may well pick it up next, to be followed by Spain, Ireland etc. No, not Italy - people who have punned the famous PIIGS, with two II, have got it wrong, they're just the usual bunch of haughty, rain-drenched Northern Europeans who can't stand South Europeans basking in the sun. The correct term is PIGS, with the I for Italy excised. And the on-going wave of speculation attacks on the PIGS is not through yet, and it certainly isn't where Greece is concerned. Because the austerity measur…

The Curious Case of Volcanic Ash and why nobody is doing anything about it

Now we've all learned something airlines have known for a long time: that volcanic ash is catastrophic, it sandblasts planes and shuts down jet engines. And you can't see it in the sky. That's the incredible thing. Looking up, the sky remains blue - with pretty white wisps of what seems innocuous vapour but could be deadly ash.

And so it was when, on a fine spring day, huge ash clouds billowed out of an Icelandic volcano whose name is unpronounceable and impossible to remember and were blown across Europe. We all read about the havoc caused in air traffic all over Europe and beyond, and I won't go over it here. To keep you updated on air traffic is the job of the media.

All I want to do here is make some comments about this - the Curious Case of Volcanic Ash.

First, the consequences of a stop in air travel like this one - 5 or 6 days so far, and who knows for how  long - were far worse than expected. It didn't merely ground some passengers. It grounded an incredib…

Finances of Mass Destruction: is the End in Sight?

At first glance, it would seem speculators are having a field day. Their Glory Age started two years ago. After betting against the American real estate market and successfully shooting mortgages down in flames, sovereign debt is now under attack. First in Dubai, next in Greece, then Portugal, Spain and why not Italy? When it happened in Dubai, we all felt rather removed from it (after all, it was the Middle East and in any case the Arabs are flooded in ill-earned petro-dollars, right?). Now that the problem has reached the shores of Europe, it's a little too close to home for comfort.

Well, what are the speculators really up to this time?

It would appear that the national rate of savings (rather than ratios like debt to GDP) is the key indicator speculators look at. The reasoning is very simple. If a country saves too little, it means it can't keep up with payments on its national debt - because the only way to pay back creditors is through taxation. And when a country is po…

Contemporary Art: from Duchamp's urinal to Manzoni's sh*t in the box to... what next?

Almost a century ago (in 1917), Marcel Duchamp made Art History with his urinal, of which there are five copies today in the most important museums around the world (the original is lost).

Almost fifty years ago (in 1961), Piero Manzoni put shit in a box and pretended to be paid its weight in gold (he was - and got even more...)

Almost fifteen years ago (in 1996), Chris Ofili, a YBA painter of Nigerian descent, "painted" a black Virgin Mary with an exposed breast made of elephant dung.  People were shocked when it was shown in 1999 at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York, and some said (for example Jerry Saltz, the art critic of the Village Voice) that it was because people were used to seeing white virgins. That overlooks the fact there were some famous black virgins in the Middle Ages. No, what was shocking was the dung - and the collage of genitals around her face - not the colour.

A couple of days ago, I received an email message from a supposed art critic who present…

Will you please leave the Pope alone?

I can't believe what's going on in the media!
Ok, pedophiles are awful, despicable people and they hurt children and cause untold suffering that lasts a lifetime. Ok, pedophiles'preferred playground are schools.

But surely they cannot be all concentrated in CATHOLIC schools? I don't believe it. There are pedophiles everywhere, in every country, in every kind of school of whatever religious denomination. It's a very, very serious problem but the whole thing's made worse by the unthinking attention of the media. They love bad news because bad news SELL (whoever heard of good news that sell copy? As everybody knows, good news are no news).

Result? It started with bishops in Ireland that tried to cover up the crimes of subordinates. Or so goes the story. Then, we all know what happened. The story was repeated in France, in the Netherlands, in the US, and of course, worse of all, in Germany, the Pope's native country. One didn't have to wait long to see the …