Monday, February 4, 2013

European Austerity Revisited, Accepting Change, Superbowl and Michaelangelo

Am I or Am I Not a Pundit?

Joe Flacco, Raven Quarterback and Superbowl MVP

Take a look at last week's posting on this blog where I commented on how often "pundits" are wrong.   Before Sunday's Superbowl, five "experts" voiced their opinion as to the game's outcome.  Four said San Francisco would win, with only former Steeler coach Bill Cowher picking the Baltimore Ravens.  He agreed with my prediction of a 24-20 Raven victory as stated on this blog.  Baltimore won by three points, 34-31.  So I was one point offHa.




Another Look at European Austerity

Consistently, week after week, the posting most frequently visited on this blog, other than that week’s current one, is the posting of May 10, 2012, which highlighted an article entitled “Europe Says No to Austerity.”   Most of the “hits” on this article are from Europeans, even though I presented the article as a lesson from which the economy of the United States can benefit.

Looking deeper into the cause of any nation’s economic ills, Eurpean or otherwise, it is clear that lack of growth in its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is undesirable.  GDP, to economists, is the sum of the market value of all goods and services produced in that country in a given period.  Without such growth, new jobs cannot be created, unemployment reduced and consumer spending thereby increased.  Without growth, people tend to sit on their money in view of their not knowing what tomorrow, or next year, will bring.  Similarly, businesses do not invest either.  Why start or expand an enterprise in Toledo, Spain or in Toledo, Ohio without the economy showing a need for it in terms of there being customers for it?


So money just sits in banks, which are not eager to lend in an uncertain environment, and the economy stagnates.  In such a situation, tax revenues decrease and government has difficulty in paying its bills and honoring its debts.  This is the situation in which some European countries find themselves and which can be in the future for the United States.

Austerity is one way of bailing out a government which finds itself in the situation described above.  Reduced social benefits and less spending at all levels (government, business and individual) may free up enough resources to enable a country to pay its bills, honor its debts and nurture an economic climate which rebuilds credit at a reasonable interest rate and attracts investments sufficient to increase its GDP.  But doing it that way will be painful and take a very long time. 

  This is the approach which the European Central Bank would like to see before it bails out countries like Greece which cannot do it on their own.  Austerity is not fun.  While such a “lean” economy may ultimately lead to a solution of the problem, being “lean” may deteriorate into being emaciated and ultimately into starvation during the process.  The illness may be cured, but the patient may have died along the way.

There is another school of thought which believes that a country’s GDP can be rejuvenated by increased government spending on unemployment benefits, subsidization of new work-creating projects, and social welfare spending.  None of the money disbursed this way is ever saved, sat on, or put under a mattress as it might be in an “austerity” mode.  All of it is quickly spent, and that spending should result in an increase in the GDP.  Availability of resources to do this in European countries which are at the point of insolvency also depends on the cooperation of the European Central Bank.

The real answer is a combination of both approaches.  There must be some austerity, but not to the point where it becomes painful, but there also must be a flow of cash into the economy from government sources which will be spent immediately.  The solution to the problem of increasing a country’s GDP is not a national one.    It involves the buyers of that nation’s bonds, those who advance it credit, and they are located throughout the world.   While the problem may be a national one, the solution is a European and in fact, a global one.  And those who think this is Europe's problem are closing their eyes to the fact that all of the world's economies, included that of the United States, are interconnected.  Ask not "for whom the bell tolls ...."
Jack Lippman


Sid’s Corner

ACCEPTING CHANGE                                                                                               

Over many years I explored what came to be called New Age philosophies and eventually settled on Zen Buddhism when I became a year-round Floridian in 2001.

The simplicity and non-dogmaticness of Zen are grounded on the tenet that the world is just the way it is…not the way you wish it to be. Our suffering is caused by our wanting to cling to events in our lives that we like and to strive to change what we don’t like. The key to non suffering is to embrace what is in your life…to accept without resignation.

When people in my community asked me to facilitate their learning to meditate some years ago, I utilized Zen’s concept of Isness and Soto Zen’s meditation practice of Zazen (just sitting) as the basis of what became a weekly, Sunday morning gathering of just sitting, of just being…sans doing…while simply noticing the mind’s incessant chattering.

Many who came did so because they wanted to cope with some stressor in their life…blood pressure, death of a beloved, caretaking of a loved one, chronic pain, et al. Some came, some left, some continue.

An old adage states that when you teach, you learn the subject twice. And so it has been for me these many Sundays. But now I am struggling to apply the principles to my own personal situation that is taxing my embracing of what is now my life’s condition.  

This week I had to get a cane and a handicap parking sticker because I need the former to walk which entitles me to the latter. I now have the appropriate symbols that pronounce me a member in good standing of generation Golden Ager…more appropriately called Rusty Ager.       


Although I knew this day was in the offing since I was sixteen when I had my first bad back attack sixty-four years ago, I was able to hold it at bay via Yoga, exercise, stretching, massage, chiropractic manipulation, Feldenkrais, et al. In recent years I had to give up walking and tennis when my knees and hips joined the arthritic onslaught in my back. Now it appears that shooting pool will have to perish as well.

So the “teacher” now has to apply the principles being taught to his own circumstance…his own Isness. I have to follow an ancient Zen master who, when his son died and was accused by a disciple to be suffering, responded, “Sadness, yes! Suffering, no!”.   

I must remember that being human is to experience joy and sadness; being Zen is to accept the Isness of either.

Sid Bolotin



Michaelangelo's Diet

The other day, I heard an expert on Italian food comment (on NPR) that Michaelangelo, who lived to the ripe old age of 89, had a very limited diet.  He loved pears and supplemented them with bread from the local bakery, wine made from his personal vineyard's grapes and devoured a particular kind of cheese which was available only during the month of March in his area.   This information should debunk the idea that Michaelangelo sent out for pepperoni pizza while he was up there working on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.



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