Dog bites man. Or did it?

Every journalist knows that ‘dog bites man’ is not a story whereas ‘man bites dog’ makes a great one. I was reminded of this when reading about the banking crisis in Spain, and that in turn sparked off a memory of a half-remembered event.


I was going somewhere by ferry, I think it was to France or just possibly Guernsey, but I really can’t remember for sure and it’s not important. There was a delay of several hours, due to a mechanical fault with the ferry, and we were all offered refreshment vouchers, for which there was the inevitable queue. Some people were extremely disgruntled but most, like myself, were quietly philosophical about it. A local TV news team turned up, slightly pushy female interviewer, cameraman, sound recordist and a large van with the station logo plastered all over it. She, Daphne Blonde-Paddedshoulders, prowled up and down the various lines of people and for some reason thrust her microphone under my nose.

“Terrible isn’t it? How are you coping?”
Coping with what? I gave my considered reply.
“Actually they’ve given us plenty of information, are going to feed us and it’s not so much a problem as a minor inconvenience”.

Not what Ms Blonde-Paddedshoulders wanted to hear so she moved on and tried again.

“It’s terrible. They’re not telling us anything. I’ve been queuing for hours and my family are going to be frantically worried, I’m really stressed out by this horrible experience etc etc etc.”

Bingo. An interview was duly recorded and for all I know duly broadcast. Others who obviously wanted to appear on TV also obligingly gave vent to their newly acquired spleen. Long on emotion but a bit short on facts, never mind, man had obligingly bitten dog.

Fast forward to the run on the bank in Spain, conveniently for those with a bad memory named Bankia, that seemingly never was. Or might have been, depending on your interpretation of what may or may not have happened. Conchita Helena Maria de la Vegas and her team of intrepid, battle-hardened technicians pounce on unsuspecting Bankia employees as they leave work.

“Eh Juan. Tough day, si?”
“Not really, pretty average I’d say…”

Pick another one.

“Juanita, busier than usual today si?”
“Si, a bit. More withdrawals than usual, a few accounts closed….”
“You’d say that people were panicking?”
“I’d say that they were concerned but…”
“But some might have panicked enough to close their accounts and withdraw their money?”
“I suppose some might have been but…”

Bingo! Never mind the ‘buts’. An unstated number people on hearing that the bank was to be partly nationalised had decided to move an unsubstantiated amount of their money elsewhere. Man munches hapless mutt.

So was there a run on the bank or not? When there was a run on the Northern Rock in the UK, there were news-clips of queues stretching around the block. There was no doubt that people were closing their accounts in large numbers. I must have missed those in the reports that I’ve looked at about recent events in Spain. However, shares in Bankia did fall by thirty percent, so bearing in mind the bank has been partly nationalised perhaps a good time to consider buying. It might be instructive to see who buys when that inevitably occurs. Manipulation, surely not.

Queen Angela

Fresh from her successful intervention in the French presidential elections, ‘Iron’ Chancellor Angela Merkel apparently decided to give a few helpful suggestions to beleaguered Greek President Karolos Papoulias, or not, depending on whose version of events you believe. Of course it’s unlikely that a foreign head of government would intervene in the internal electoral affairs of another country… sorry that was a typo, I meant to say that it WAS unlikely, ‘was’ as in used to be. Apparently, Frau Merkel has rewritten the rules. Given her recent track record, President Obama is probably praying nightly that she publicly endorse Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the November elections. To be fair, and why not, it’s more than likely that she just mentioned in passing that the forthcoming Greek elections might be seen in some quarters as a vote on whether the Greek electorate wanted to stay in the Euro or not. That in itself reveals a slight disconnect from reality though as none of the aspiring Greek prime ministers are saying they want to leave the Eurozone, they just don’t want to repay their debts. Well who does, but sometimes you just have to. Of course, if you are unemployed, exist on dwindling state handouts and have no expectations of things improving then it has to be conceded that repaying debts is somewhat problematic. This is where perhaps a combined austerity/growth approach might be the best long-term bet. However, ‘sie wollen sie, die dame is nicht fur das drehen’. That may or may not translate into the immortal words of Queen Maggie the first (you turn if you want to, the lady is not for turning). Fairly shortly after that there was a palace coup and the UK bid farewell to La Thatcher. Queen Angela might have noticed that her loyal subjects, aka the German electorate, aren’t proving to be quite so loyal just at the moment. Either she’ll turn or they will, turn her out that is.

Meanwhile Italian technocrat, unelected Prime Minister ‘Super Mario’ Monti has asked journalists to stop asking so many questions about the Italian economy. They have problems but it’ll be OK in the end. It probably will, but ‘Super Mario’ needs to remember the old adage, dog bites man no story but man munches mutt is big news. The folks who strive to bring you ‘breaking news’ 24/7 can’t just sit in front of the cameras and say ‘nothing has happened in the last ten minutes’, they have to say something, even if they later change the story to fit the facts. In the meantime, the moneymen circle like interested vultures seeking an opportunity for a quick snack, but you can’t only blame them, own any shares do you? It’s nice to see them increase in value (remember that?) and the dividends can come in handy.

Now here’s an interesting thought. Given that most commentators now seem to agree that Greece ‘cooked the books’ when applying to join the euro and most if not all of the ‘gang’ already in decided to turn a blind eye, who is actually to blame for this mess? Well you certainly can’t accuse former Icelandic Prime Minister Geir Haarde, although he was accused and convicted of complicity in the 2008 Icelandic banking crisis. Perhaps there’ll be a choice of demonstrations in Europe this summer. ‘What do you think we should do today, play ‘pass the tear gas canisters’ with the local gendarmerie or shall we converge on Brussels and see how many politicians we can get into the dock?’

Meanwhile

On the other side of the World, newly appointed Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr was having difficulty remembering which Chinese Government official said what to him during a series of meetings in Beijing.

Australian Foreign ministers seem to have difficulty with their memories. The last incumbent. Kevin Rudd, seemed to forget that he was no longer Prime Minister, having previously been effectively knifed in the back by Prime Minister Julia Gifford. Knifed or did she use a stiletto? Never mind, Foreign Minister Carr finally decided that it was probably his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, who told him that that “the time for ‘Cold War alliances’ has long since passed.”

No doubt he was also subtly reminded that twenty five percent of Australia’s exports go to China, which also appears to own most of the Australian mining industry. Be a shame if China went broke then, wouldn’t it, but I’m sure that that wasn’t mentioned. No, what prompted the comment was the recent deployment of American marines to Darwin. Under a recently signed defence agreement, America can station troops in Northern Australia, conveniently or inconveniently close to places where China currently enjoys economic dominance. Particularly handy if America ever decided that they were fed up with long-tern friend the Philippines being pushed around by China over the Scarborough Shoals, a collection of coral atolls about one hundred and twenty-odd miles away from the Philippines, Subic Bay in fact, and five hundred away from the Chinese mainland.

Speaking of Subic Bay, the former US navy base in the Philippines, China didn’t press its claim on the Scarborough Shoals until after the US navy had vacated the base. Funny old thing that. It’s all about fishing of course and just recently Beijing’s least favourite client state, North Korea, has detained twenty-nine Chinese fishermen for illegally fishing in their territorial waters. You can’t really blame the Chinese fishermen for being confused; they fish everywhere else in the Pacific region.

Meanwhile, back at the Scarborough Shoals the Philippines has suggested UN mediation over the sovereignty issue whilst China has suggested that they have a bigger navy than the Philippines.

Beginning to join some dots up? I can’t verify this but I believe that Lee Kuan Yew, Singaporean elder statesman and regional realist, once remarked that you could say what you liked about America, but if they were asked to leave a country they left, unlike some others who refused to go. I wonder to whom he was referring?

All in all

A bit of a mess all round. Nothing a good war wouldn’t sort out though, which is a worrying thought. That brings me on to my next short topic.

I was slightly amused to read reports that two Turkish Air force fighters were scrambled to intercept an Israeli reconnaissance flight over Northern Cyprus. Just to join up a couple of dots, nobody except Turkey recognises The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) as an independent state. Israel and Greek Cyprus, if I may put it like that, have recently begun joint development of offshore gas fields, which of course Turkey would rather like to get their hands on. Allegedly the Israeli aircraft penetrated TRNC airspace ‘four or five times’, but the intercepting Turkish aircraft were unable to visually confirm the Israeli Aircraft type. Strange then that they should be so certain that it was an Israeli aircraft. Equally strange, given that non-friendly air forces frequently intercept each other’s aircraft and film them that the Turks didn’t get close enough to do the same.
Maybe the Israeli aircraft was under orders to avoid any possible confrontation.
Maybe the Turkish aircraft were under orders to avoid any possible confrontation in case the Israeli aircraft wasn’t (think about that for a moment).
Maybe it wasn’t an Israeli aircraft, but you can always blame them, everybody does.
Maybe, if any of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s senior military officers, or at least those who aren’t in the slammer accused of plotting a military coup, dare mention it, maybe Israel was testing Turkish air force reaction times.

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