Category Archives: Greece

Paris in Perspective

As the Charlie Hebdo artist said after the recent attacks in Paris, #ParisIsAboutLife. I tried to broach a tangent to this subject when I wrote the recent piece, Greece in Perspective. I sometimes wonder if I’m not too subtle in my writing.  Other times I know I am, because the message never seems to get across.

Joann Sfar on Instagram
h/t to Independant

Jim Wright wrote a particularly moving piece today that reminded me of the more subtle point I was trying to make with that other blog entry.  Titled The Price of Civilization he goes into precisely why I ended the Greek piece with a reference to war and the Marshall Plan.

I’ve always been struck by the apparent contradiction that the most humane policy ever adopted by the United States was crafted by a General who oversaw so much bloodshed.  But that was the wisdom of Truman and Marshall, overlooked by many these days.

Which is too bad.  Because Jim got it right when he said;

Terrorism, the kind we face today? It comes from the fact that we, us, we keep blowing up civilization and leaving nothing but death and ruin in our wake. Terrorists are like cockroaches, they thrive on chaos and destruction and we’re damned good at creating that chaos. 

Those of us on the liberal side of the aisle like to point at Bush II for creating the problem of Daesh by removing Saddam Hussein from power (as his father predicted would happen during the first Gulf War) but truthfully it is the American people who are to blame. Our own imperial nature which we coyly disguise and defend as capitalism.

We’re the ones who insisted that we wanted out of Iraq as soon as we could get out, instead of actually spending the additional decades it was going to take to make the region into a self-sustaining conglomeration of disparate elements.  The kind of time that was spent helping to rebuild Europe after the war. A Europe that was already embracing self-determination and democracy.

Maybe we’re just blind to it, we inhabitants of the most egalitarian association of completely disparate influences, commonly referred to as the US.  Because, no matter what detractors might say, no where on Earth do you have the mixture of varying cultures like those present in the current US social structure (maybe Oz. Maybe) all of them more or less harmoniously governed as a single nation.  We take the bloodless transfers of power that occur here like clockwork as something everyone experiences, when the truth is that nowhere is there anything like the US when it comes to government, good and bad.

Listening to the Polish election celebrations, where a new isolationist government has been elected, it becomes apparent just how insulated most other places in the world are when it comes to exposure to other cultures.

Even in the conservative bastion of Texas all I have to do is travel to a different part of Austin to experience a whiff of almost any culture you can name. Asian cultures. African cultures. Native American cultures. These flavors are spread all over the nation in pockets. When I lived in Garden City several hundred Vietnamese refugees were dropped just outside of town in a little makeshift neighborhood constructed hastily to accommodate them. There was a lot of grumbling about this, but little violence. Why would there be? It’s a free country, isn’t it? Most of them moved away before too long, apparently to places like Austin where I live now, but we folded them into our society with hardly a hiccup, compared to the experiences of previous generations.  That is what America really is good at.

It is a shame that more people don’t understand this. Even the average American doesn’t get it.  As violent as we are, the thought of seizing control of the levers of government with force occurs to almost none of the citizenry.  This is because there is no need to use violence.  Those interested in getting involved in government do so; the doors are open, come on in and roll up your sleeves. If you are among the conspiracy-minded who doubt this is true, find your local precinct meeting place and show up for a meeting.  You might be surprised.

Yet the government we set up in Iraq was seized by the majority religious faction in the first election held there, and they proceeded to exert their authority over the other minorities in ways that lead directly to the creation of Daesh-held areas of the country in response. We allowed this to happen in a country we had effective control over. What did we do? We left, not that we really had much choice.  But we failed to impart the most important bit of knowledge that all of us should have gathered from our experiences in this free country before we left there. That is to our shame and the world’s detriment.

Freedom doesn’t mean you get to have your way. Freedom means you get to present your arguments. You get to present your arguments without fear of being killed for expressing them. If you are very persuasive, you might actually get to see your arguments accepted by others.

Pointing a weapon at someone will get you compliance, but it will ultimately lead to betrayal and violence, because coercion has a way of backfiring. That is why our military adventurism fails us as a nation. The civilizations we invade at the point of a gun just see the gun. They certainly don’t see the America that the average American actually experiences. The America where guns are frequently a topic of discussion, but almost never used anymore. We all know that when someone points a gun at you, you do what they say. But we also know that the tables will turn, that the aggressor will one day be the victim. Because that is the way of all things human.

So it will be with the violence in Paris that we all witnessed yesterday. The perpetrators of violence will either die violently or be subjected to French justice, a good bit more genteel than American justice. But Paris will go on just as before. Cities are for the living.

In the end, that may be the best response to terrorists everywhere.  The best response to those people who encourage us to do violence out of fear. Create a civilization, a society, that can withstand their attempts to destroy it with fear.  To slowly smother those who believe that there are things worth dying for with the millions more of us who know that there are many things worth living for. To go on living as if these fear-mongers never existed in the first place.

To pay the costs of establishing a civilization that can withstand the trials of living.  Like Marshall did after seeing so many good men die. You either go on living or get busy with dying.  There aren’t any other choices.

Greece in Perspective

This was the piece I was working on before writing Sidelined by Illness.  It is important enough that I felt I needed to post it belated as it is.  Or maybe it is still current. In any case…

When I was in high school and later in trade school, I sacked groceries after school as a way to help the family.  It was common in those days (1980’s) for high school students to have jobs on the side, and it was common for children to start working as soon as they showed interest in work, if not being forced to work simply to feed themselves.

We were a poor family. My mother was on her own at that point, had been on her own for several years. Dad had remarried, but found the chore of raising 5 unruly children too much to deal with so he sent us back to our mother in Texas to live. Mom was trying to get an education at the time, living in what would loosely be called ‘campus housing’ (Avenger Village next to what was then TSTI. An interesting history if you are into that) so the 5 of us crammed ourselves into whatever housing she could afford on the wages for whatever jobs she could get.

Which wasn’t much. It was also typical back then for women to leave college once they had found a husband, sexist as that statement might sound; but women weren’t expected to be wage earners, bread winners. They were expected to be mothers and housewives and to put up with whatever their husbands asked of them. So mom started a family with no real job skills of her own beyond the ability to raise children, and when she finally refused to put up with dad’s behavior she was on her own with 4 kids and no skills.

We interrupted her education again, but she never complained about it. She just went back to working at fast food joints, bars and restaurants, the odd convenience store job as the demands for housing, clothes and food for her growing children required.

I had already had my first job by that point, my one and only experience with fast-food work (a job you couldn’t force me to do again) if you count work that dad found for me to do the fast-food work was my 3rd job, having worked off and on in his gas station for change to buy comics and sodas with, and then worked in the fields hoeing weeds with a one-armed hispanic friend of my fathers (he could work faster with one arm than I could with two and 20 years less mileage on the meter) but in any case I was no stranger to having to work to get the things I wanted, so back to work I went, paying for my own car as a senior, as well as feeding the family whenever I could afford it.

Which wasn’t often, and not often enough.  There were many days where there simply wasn’t enough food.  Oh, we never really starved, mother was sure of that. We survived on government issued milk and cheese, bread when we could get it.  Proud as my mother was, she wasn’t willing to turn away a hand-out of perfectly good food.  She wouldn’t take food stamps (to this day she refuses them, looks down on people who take them) but she would work at almost any job that was offered. As I said, sometimes three or four jobs at once. So we didn’t starve even if we didn’t have much adult supervision.

So here I was working at a grocery store, often hungry, my job being to haul people’s groceries out to their cars for them, making minimum wage.  Rumor has it that in other states bag-boys (as we were called) got tips. Not in Texas.  In Texas you only tip the cute waitresses and the bartenders who give you a little extra alcohol in your drinks. You certainly don’t tip uppity teenagers who carry your groceries for you.  Teenagers should learn to work hard, because hard work is all you can look forward to in this life.

Part of my job was cleaning the store at closing time (I can mop a floor clean enough to eat off of to this day) Part of that job was taking out the trash at the end of the day. Boxes went into the recycler even back in the bad old days, but there was always trash generated during the day that had to be taken out.  Sometimes in this trash there were unopened containers of food. Being an innovative lad, I would arrange things at the end of the shift so that I could drive around back and pick up the food that I deemed safe to eat, and take it home to my family.

That was, until the new night manager took over. The night manager took an instant dislike to me. He knew I was a poor kid, up to no good.  Set the manager against me so that I was watched specifically to be caught setting food aside.

There was a brand of cookie that came in paper bags back then (even more now) No matter how many times the night stockers were told not to open the boxes with box cutters, without fail, they always opened them with box cutters and slit the bags open. This happened so routinely that if the staff wanted a quick snack, there was always a bag or 10 laying around that the stockers had made unsellable by cutting the bag. Of the 20 or so people working in the store who knew this, I was the only one specifically targeted for reprimand for setting the cookies aside.

Starting at about that time, this petty little modo would check to make sure that I destroyed all the food deemed unsellable. Slice open the milk jugs. Shred the bread bags. Whatever it took.  If people wanted food they would have to buy it through the front door.  No one was getting free meals from the dumpster at their store.

This is the mindset of the average working-class American, in a nutshell. If you want anything, you work for it. If you don’t work for it, you starve. If you can’t work for it, you will starve even sooner. Handouts are for layabouts and slackers; no one who takes a handout is worth anything in life.  Sick people are different; but sick people get better.  That poor soul in the wheelchair, we feel sorry for him, but we don’t give him more than enough to keep him off the streets.  We certainly don’t give layabouts enough that they can survive on without work; and if they do work their benefits are cut off.  If you can work you don’t need any help.

You might well ask at this point What in Hell does this have to do with Greece? The title of the piece is Greece in Perspective.

Yet another person on Facebook blocked me over this difference in perspective.  No amount of reasoning with this person was going to break through her preconceived notions of the unworthiness of those layabout Greek people. No recitation of facts concerning the equally ruinous nature of US policy; of our loophole filled tax structure, underfunded and understaffed taxing authority, the low tax rates that the wealthy enjoy (if they pay any taxes at all) Nothing would dissuade this person from her single-minded determination that Greece should be made to suffer for its peoples laziness.

Never mind that an entire country cannot be compared to one person, whose laziness might or might not be determinable just by looking at them. Never mind that wealthy US business firms instructed Greek authorities on just how to cheat the system, the same firms that then later had to go begging to the US government for bailouts (which shouldn’t have been given in my estimation) in order to avoid the same penance that the Greeks are now willing to go down in flames over rather than pay.

Because they can’t pay. Because Greece isn’t Germany, in the same way that Germany isn’t the US, and that whole regions and political entities cannot be summarized in the behavior of a single individual.  Because you can’t get blood out of a stone no matter how hard you squeeze it.

Sometimes people really can’t provide for themselves.  Sometimes lazy people really aren’t lazy at all; sometimes the seemingly lazy lay-about really is sick.  Laziness is itself a survival trait, a reward for not expending energy the body might need to go that one last inch to get to water.

The final straw for me on this subject was when an acquaintance of mine described his daughter as lazy, because instead of going to college and following the track he had planned out for her, she got married and had a child.  Her husband is working, risking his life in the military. She’s working even if she doesn’t have a job.  She’s raising a child, and that is the hardest work of all. Lazy isn’t the word to describe this person.  You can question her intelligence, but not her willingness to struggle with life.

Sometimes the demands placed on people are just too high. Looking at Greece today we would be better served to remember Germany right before World War Two, rather than dismiss them as that slacker kid who mooched off of you back in college. The missed opportunity of all missed opportunities. Watching the suffering of the German people under the debt burdens laid on them following World War One, the rest of the world could have had pity and eased the burden, given them hope.  Instead we hardened out hearts and forced them to do the thing that made sense to them, empower the only man and his political party that gave them hope.

Shall we descend into war and chaos? Or will we be more like General Marshall? General Marshall who, after the destruction of World War Two and understanding that hopelessness was what motivated the Germans to such desperate acts, proposed what became known as the Marshall Plan.  Altering from that time forward how victors treat the vanquished.  Or so we should hope.

A bit of perspective, to brighten your day.

“The cost of war is constantly spread before me, written neatly in many ledgers whose columns are gravestones.” – General George C. Marshall.



Forbes

As it turns out, Greece is not populated by layabouts and ne’er-do-wells. They actually have the most working days per year of any of the European Union nations, according to statistics,

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that workers in Greece put in an average weekly shift of 42 hours, even more than Germans who only manage 35.3. 

So willing to work harder than most of the rest of the people in Europe, just not rewarded at the same rate as the rest of Europe. I wonder where I’ve heard that before? As usual, the people who do the work are rewarded the least. The people who hold the investments make all the money. Just FYI, it looks like Greece is no longer out in the woods financially. So I guess that is good news.