April 7, 2012
Everybody Hates ‘That Guy’

Dan Curley, Associate Professor and Chair of the Classics Department at Skidmore College, writes a letter to the Editor of Skidmore News informing them of the historical flaws with their advertisement for a Greek-themed “Bacchanal” toga party:

Dear Editor,

How glad I am to be on a campus with an active and strong LGBTQ community! I read with interest your Facebook advertisement for your upcoming party, the Bacchanal, and I have every wish that the event will be a success. It’s been a long time coming, and you deserve it.

That said, as a public service to any and all groups that have had or will have the notion of hosting classical-antiquity-themed events, here are some ground rules to follow from now until the end of time.

(1) The Greeks did not wear togas, especially not Greek gods. You’re thinking of the Romans. Please do not ever associate “Greeks” and “togas” again. If, however, you want to advertise your party with the catchphrase, “We put the TOGA in Saratoga,” go ahead. You’re welcome.

(2) The word “Bacchanal” is, ultimately, a Latin word, derived from the name of the god Bacchus. Bacchus, as you seem to be aware, was the god of wine and of partying in general. (Though there is more to him than that.) However, since he’s more famous as a Roman god, it’s very unlikely that Greek gods would show up to his party. Hence, please encourage your attendees to unleash their inner Venus (the Roman Aphrodite) instead — if she must be unleashed in public and all that.

(3) Apollo is an exception to this rule, since Apollo’s Roman name is also Apollo. So encouraging folks to unleash their inner Apollo at a Bacchanal is fine — provided that you remember he is a god of enlightenment rather than drunken revelry. In fact, he’s usually so busy providing oracles, making prophecies, and healing the sick, that I doubt he has time for too many parties. Hence, unleashing one’s inner Apollo at a Bacchanal might not be the thing, unless you’re looking to end the party. That bright orb that stings your eyes the morning after and calls you back to reason? THAT’S Apollo. Invite him at your own risk.

(3a) Also, the laurel wreath is Apollo’s emblem. Hence, when you urge your prospective audience to “think laurel wreaths,” you are in fact inviting them to behave like Apollo. (See my remarks under number 3, above.) Please encourage them to “think ivy wreaths” instead: ivy is Bacchus’ plant.

(4) You do know that you have a picture of Mercury in the upper left-hand corner of the Bacchanal Facebook page, right? Just checking. On the one hand, he’s an apt messenger to get the word out about your event. On the other hand, when you call your event the Bacchanal, it’s a little jarring not to see Bacchus himself, or at least his minions: a satyr here, a maenad there. I’ve mentioned ivy. Consider also a leopard or a stalk of fennel topped with what looks like a pine cone. Or a deer being torn to pieces. If tonight you’re going to party like it’s 99, then please at least use the appropriate iconography. I’ll be watching for the posters.

(5) Thank you in advance for not using Greeksigmas(our s-equivalent) as the letter E to make things look more Greeky and stuff. You know:GRΣΣKY. Don’t do that. (You didn’t.) It is rumored that such offenses against the language will cause Alexander the Great to rise from the dead and take names. That wouldn’t be so bad — especially if he came looking like Colin Farrell or even Richard Burton — but (pro tip) you really don’t want to hedge your bets when Alex is in one of his moods. For instruction in the proper usage of Greek letters, I invite everyone to take CG 110: Elementary Greek this fall.

(6) So far, I’ve dished out what I hope will be perceived as good-natured snark. But let me be serious for a moment. Here is perhaps the most important rule of all for any Bacchanal, and one the Greeks and the Romans understood very well: nothing in excess. Forget what you’ve seen on Spartacus: Blood and Sand or HBO: Rome. To truly shatter some stereotypes, have a party that remains safe in all senses of the word. Safe for people to be themselves without judgment, and safe for everyone’s health and well-being. We the faculty and staff (if I can say it myself) care more about your safety and your sanity than you might imagine. This is our campus, too.

(7) Did I mention that the Greeks did not wear togas?

Your compliance with the above rules will be appreciated, both now and in perpetuity.

Wishing you a safe and sound Bacchanal,

Dan Curley

Associate Professor and Chair

Classics Department

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Filed under: greece rome history 
March 16, 2012
Greece on the breadline: cashless currency takes off

jakke:

In recent weeks, Theodoros Mavridis has bought fresh eggs, tsipourou (the local brandy: beware), fruit, olives, olive oil, jam, and soap. He has also had some legal advice, and enjoyed the services of an accountant to help fill in his tax return.

None of it has cost him a euro, because he had previously done a spot of electrical work – repairing a TV, sorting out a dodgy light – for some of the 800-odd members of a fast-growing exchange network in the port town of Volos, midway between Athens and Thessaloniki.

In return for his expert labour, Mavridis received a number of Local Alternative Units (known as tems in Greek) in his online network account. In return for the eggs, olive oil, tax advice and the rest, he transferred tems into other people’s accounts.

[…]

Tems has been up and running for barely 18 months, said Maria Choupis, one of its founder members. Prompted by ever more swingeing salary cuts and tax increases, she reckons there are now around 15 such networks active around Greece, and more planned. “They are as much social structures as economic ones,” she said. “They foster intimacy and mutual support.”

The network is currently busy transforming a disused building owned by Volos university into a permanent exchange and barter space. It will host a daily market from next month at which members can meet and exchange without using cash. Several highly successful open-air markets were held throughout last summer, Choupis said, until the weather got too cold.

So this is actually a really cool idea.

Greece basically needs a much cheaper currency that’s basically useless for imports to help its economy recover. In a regular situation, this would happen through a steep decline in the price of the drachma. This can’t happen for Greece, because it’s such a small part of the overall eurozone - so the government is using all kinds of drastic policies like wage cuts to get the same effects. But that’s not sufficient; tems has all kinds of advantages:

  • Consumption needs. This is the most basic upside: if you’re a producer using the euro, then you want to do business with foreigners as much as possible, because they tend to be reliably richer. If you’re using tems, then you basically have to trade within Greece. So this makes more goods and services available within Greece.
  • Social capital. This system is really heavily based on the notion that trading should be a social process. Using a currency unit with very limited legitimacy like this means that you really have to trust people to accept it, so meeting people who are also using tems and interacting with them builds interpersonal trust. The organizers have also promoted this by organizing the open barter events. Networking and trust are really helpful for economic growth, especially in a society like Greece where basic support and infrastructure have been hugely disrupted by the harsh government austerity measures in the last few years.
  • No seigniorage. Because the tems system is set up and managed by a nonprofit organization, there is no temptation for the government to increase its own revenue or stimulate the economy by printing more units - because the people behind the currency don’t actually benefit from such issuance.

You can read more about the nonprofit behind tems here. (It’s in Greek, but Google Translate can help you out.) They seem to be fully aware of all the upsides and going but this in a positive proactive manner. 

However, tems isn’t really a panacea for Greece. It can’t be a full substitute for a devalued currency in the domestic economy. Here are some of the more significant downsides:

  • Limited scale. For whatever wonderful characteristics tems have, adoption has been pretty slow - Volos has around 800 participants out of a population of almost 150,000. This is definitely enough people to run a barter network, and it takes time for such a new system to expand. However, if only well-connected Internet-using people are adopting tems, the benefits might be pretty limited.
  • Motives of operators. From what I can tell, so far the people behind tems have nothing but positive intentions. However, if at some point in the future they become corrupt and start trying to get seigniorage revenue out of tems - from issuance, preferred exchange rates, or however else - then this will effectively make the currency way more difficult and costly to use as an alternative to the euro.
  • Tax collection. The government doesn’t see tax revenue from these alternate-currency transactions. This is great for citizens, because sales tax is a punishingly high 23% - but the government is largely in this position because it’s so strapped for cash. Alternate currencies make the problem even worse.

So yeah. Greek citizens are going rough a really tough time, and it’s reassuring to see people finding ways to get by. But it’s not entirely clear to what extent systems like tems can solve their problem.

LTMC: Jakke’s hard-hitting commentary on-point, as always.

2:07pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZMMjnxI4bbpJ
  
Filed under: politics greece economics 
February 26, 2012
Apple CEO Tim Cook: "We Have More Money Than We Need."

There’s no doubt that Apple is a cash cow. Just last year, many reports started circulating that the tech giant had a larger bank account than the U.S. government, where Apple ended June 2011 with $76.2 billion and the government had $73.8 billion. Now, Apple CEO Tim Cook is saying that the company has more money than it needs.

At the annual shareholders’ meeting on Thursday, which is the first since former Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ death, Cook tried to determine whether Apple should stop hoarding cash the way Jobs has been for years, or if it’s time to stick a hand in the $97.6 billion cookie jar and pay shareholders a dividend this year.

Money quote:

Another suggestion of what to do with the cash was to buy Greece, which is currently experiencing a debt crisis, but Cook said Apple is not interested.

While Athens burns, the iEmperor plays the fiddle.

February 13, 2012
Dispatches From Greece

Nikos Konstandaras reflects on the recent violence and upheaval in Greece:

What is lost in the fire may be greater than that which we feared to lose. The neoclassical building that housed the Attikon cinema was one of the most beautiful in Athens, among the very few that reminded us of what our city could have become if we had respected its past, if we cared about its present and its future. Perhaps it was a fitting sacrifice – a symbol of our rush to destroy because we cannot create, an expression of our need to abandon memories and pass into the future, blackened with ashes and rage.

What is lost in the flames may be greater than the incomes that will be reduced, greater than percentages of wages and pensions, greater than deposits lost and hopes abandoned. What is at greatest risk is our identity, our civilization. If we cannot stay in the eurozone, if we find ourselves on Europe’s edge, we will be defeated, humiliated and alone.

Nikos fears a return to pre-EU practices:

We will not lose only in the economic sense, but we will quickly surrender to behaviors that always plagued us and which our accession to Europe did not manage to eliminate. It is not a coincidence that we are champions in the number of European Court rulings against us for human rights violations, for crimes against the environment, for our malfunctioning justice system, and so on. If we were already so indifferent to our country’s future, to our quality of life, if EU regulations could not limit our sloppiness, incompetence and indifference, what will make us better when we find ourselves in proud isolation?

I don’t have much to add except to say that the Eurozone experiment, while noble in its intent, may very well have been doomed from the start.  Monetary union without fiscal union is a recipe for disaster.  Dozens of countries with dozens of different demographics, variations of governance, tax schemes, entitlement infrastructure, civic cultures, etc. cannot reasonably be expected to operate on a unified currency without also expecting some degree of financial dissonance.  If the governing body of the fiscal union has no tools to address that dissonance other than pushing draconian austerity measures on people, then the currency is essentially doomed from the start.  And if the other countries in the union don’t want to subsidize the debts of financially insolvent countries, then they shouldn’t have a monetary union sans fiscal union in the first place; the necessity of intra-union monetary transfers is almost guaranteed to happen given the great variance betwixt member states in all the factors mentioned above.

2:15am  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZMMjnxGLe4Ns
  
Filed under: politics greece economics EU 
September 16, 2011
shortformblog:

Well, that lived up to @Reuters’ pitch: “Check out Reuters.com right now for a stunning set of images of a man in Greece who lit himself on fire after denied a loan renegotiation.” Holy cow. Click for more, obviously. Note graphic content. (Nodas Stylianidis/Reuters)

Hmm…are we gearing up for a “Greek Spring?”

shortformblog:

Well, that lived up to @Reuters’ pitch: “Check out Reuters.com right now for a stunning set of images of a man in Greece who lit himself on fire after denied a loan renegotiation.” Holy cow. Click for more, obviously. Note graphic content. (Nodas Stylianidis/Reuters)

Hmm…are we gearing up for a “Greek Spring?”

(via shortformblog)

June 17, 2011
Wallstreet Rallies Amid Optimism Over Greece (Or Why The U.S. Needs To Care About Greece)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated that private investors would not be forced to take losses in the next package of loans. The loans would help Greece avoid a default, which would be disastrous for global markets and could push other weak European nations like Portugal and Spain into their own debt crises.

June 16, 2011
Fraudulent Conveyances, Colonial Financial Regs, And The Greek Fiscal Crisis

From an article entitled "The Financial Road To Serfdom," Prof. Michael Hudson discusses a type of predatory lending practice while making the distinction between illiquidity and insolvency in the context of Greece’s financial crisis: 

 At issue is language regarding the legal rights of creditors vis-à-vis debtors. The United States has long had a body of law regarding this issue. A few years ago, for instance, the real estate speculator Sam Zell bought the Chicago Tribune in a debt-leveraged buyout. The newspaper soon went broke, wiping out the employees’ stock ownership plan (ESOP). They sued under the fraudulent conveyance law, which says that if a creditor makes a loan without knowing how the debtor can pay in the normal course of business, the loan is assumed to have been made with the intent of foreclosing on property, and is deemed fraudulent.
            This law dates from colonial times, when British speculators eyed rich New York farmland. Their ploy was to extend loans to farmers, and then call in the loans when the farmer’s ability to pay was low, before the crop was harvested. This was indeed a liquidity problem – which financial opportunists turned into an asset grab. Some lenders, to be sure, created a genuine insolvency problem by making loans beyond the ability of the farmers to pay, and then would foreclose on their land. The colonies nullified such loans. Fraudulent conveyance laws have been kept on the books since the United States won its independence from Britain.

h/t azspot

6:30pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZMMjnx69SFp8
  
Filed under: politics greece 
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