Friday, September 14, 2012

The workers have no country

These arresting uniforms belong to the judges of the German Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe. Pictures such as this appeared in Irish papers this week, on account of a case before the court that could have affected Ireland.  The issue was to block ratification of Europe's permanent rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), set up to support countries in financial trouble and which cannot function without German involvement.

In the event the court ruled it's OK for Germany to participate in the ESM.

It's a commonplace of Irish journalism, and I'm sure the same in Portugal and Greece, that everything is decided in Germany. In the Irish Examiner the day before the court ruling, economist Ray Kinsella wrote “The shape, and severity, of the forthcoming budget is being determined, not in the Dáil but in Karlsruhe, seat of the German Federal Constitutional Court.”

Last November, the Irish Daily Mirror ran the headline "Germany is our new master" when it revealed Irish budget papers had been to the German parliament before the Irish Dáil saw them.

And under the headline Government denies Germany inspecting our 2012 budget, the Irish Independent on 17 November last reported “The Government has been forced to deny it has allowed Germany to inspect the detail of plans to save €3.8bn in the upcoming budget.”

Synthetic outrage

Many commentators condemned the outrage over this event as synthetic. Here's a typical comment posted on a politics blog: 

I don't understand why so many others, especially in the Irish media, are outraged. Haven't these people been paying attention? We had to be bailed out back in November 2010. We're still beholden to those who bailed us out. Yet the media is acting as if the implications of the bail-out are a complete shock. The penny only finally dropped today. … Germany has been "our master" for more than a year. Ireland is not a sovereign nation. We have been giving away bits and pieces of our sovereignty for the better part of 25 years, but all pretence at being a sovereign nation evaporated last year when, essentially, we entered Chapter 11. That's the way it goes.

To make a red herring even redder, Chapter 11 is a clause of the United States' Bankruptcy Code, which permits the debtor to remain in control of its business operations as a debtor in possession, subject to the oversight and jurisdiction of the court.

My final thought is that when abstractions like “Ireland”, “Germany”, “Greece” and “Portugal” are bandied about in this fashion, it’s time to recall the words of the 1848 Communist Manifesto: The workers have no country.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bronze - an exhibition I'll be sad to miss

Asante Ewer, British Museum. Height: 62 cm. Room 40 (Medieval Europe)

This lidded bronze ewer is something I must see. In 1896 it was captured by British troops from a royal palace in what is now Ghana, but how it got there is a mystery.  It can be dated to 1390-1400, and once belonged to the English royal household of Richard II. 

It's decorated with lions and lying stags, Richard II's emblems.  The jug's front sport the English royal arms current between 1340 & 1405. The neck is decorated with roundels containing a falcon with spread wings. The inscription around the belly is in Lombardic letters and reads:

       He that wyl not spare when he may
       He shal not spend when he would
       Deme the best in every dowt
       Til the trowthe be tryid owte

       ('He that shall not save when he can
       Shall not spend when he wants.
       Give the benefit of the doubt
       Until the truth comes out').

The jug is in the Bronze exhibition at the Royal Academy until 9th December.  An exhibition I should love to visit, but I fear it's unlikely I'll be in London before then.  But as the jug itself belongs to the British Museum no doubt I'll catch up with it there one fine day. 

In the Middle Ages rock crystal from Madagascar ended up in Europe, even though Madagascar was not even known to exist. The ewer turning up in West Africa may be an example in reverse of these complex medieval trading links, according to exhibition curator Professor David Ekserdjian (quoted in The Guardian)

'The Chariot of the Sun', Trundholm, Zealand, Denmark. Early Bronze Age, 14th century BCE.
Bronze and gold, 95 x 60 x 25 cm. National Museum, Copenhagen.
Photo Roberto Fortuna & Kira Ursem, The National Museum of Denmark.

This Chariot of the Sun is 3,500 years old, found in a Danish peat bog. A wheeled horse pulls an incised disk, one side gilded to symbolise the sun, the other plain denoting night. According to the Guardian article, this haunting artefact “is a work of totemic power that can take the viewer across centuries into a different world and different belief system, when the daily passage of the sun across the heavens was a matter of both mystery and life and death,” and is Denmark's greatest national treasure.