Tragedy or farce?

November 24, 2018

I recently read “Adults in the Room” by Yanis Varoufakis – the former Greek Finance Minister’s account of his experiences trying to negotiate with the EU over the Greek bailout after the financial crisis.  Based on his media profile, I had tended to view Varoufakis as a bit, well, full of himself.  And it’s certainly true that, as the computer-programmed match commentary on my son’s FIFA Xbox football game was almost guaranteed to say if you dribbled the ball around an awful lot without passing to any of your team-mates, “he doesn’t lack for confidence, does he?”  

Despite all that, he makes for quite an entertaining narrator and manages to pull off the seemingly impossible trick of making endless late night negotiations on extremely dull technical issues feel quite dramatic.  I was particularly struck by his numerous accounts of how difficult it was to get the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF to engage with any material he presented in support of Greece’s negotiating position, however much work his team had done to demonstrate its credibility.  

Why was the EU in particular so reluctant to engage?  Well, according to Varoufakis, the EU took the view that Greece’s economic woes were the least of their concerns.  They worried that if Greece were to default on its loans, the markets would take the view that this could happen in other EU countries whose finances were somewhat precarious and the euro would then be threatened.   As a result, their key objective in the negotiations with Greece was to maintain the fiction that Greece could repay its debts – even though they were well aware that (a) this was about as likely as Donald Trump suddenly becoming a tree hugging, hippy environmentalist; and (b) it would put large numbers of ordinary Greek people through severe economic hardship. 

All this made me wonder if there are some parallels here with Brexit, in that the EU’s chief concern in the negotiations with the UK has often seemed to be deterring other countries from thinking about leaving.  I think the UK has handled the negotiations very badly, producing a poorly argued, unrealistic set of proposals that the EU was never likely to agree to – and producing them far too late in the day.  But reading the Varoufakis book made we question whether, even if the UK had come up with a more realistic set of proposals sooner, the outcome might have been the same i.e. the EU would still have said, “no, it’s our way or the highway” – because its primary focus is always on keeping the EU as a whole together.

I’m not sure the parallels are quite so straightforward though, because in the Brexit negotiations the EU has been prepared to allow the UK meaningful choices.  The UK government may not have liked the choices presented to it – which essentially boiled down to a fairly close relationship like Norway’s (inside the EU’s economic project of the Single Market, except for agriculture and fish, but outside its political project) or a much more distant one like Canada’s (based on a free trade agreement).  But at least the UK has been given some meaningful choices, whereas the Greeks were given a choice between a further bailout on extremely painful terms – or crashing out of the euro, which would be just as painful.  If you translated that to the Brexit negotiations, it would be like the EU saying “your choices are (a) staying in; or (b) leaving with no deal at all.  We’re not interested in talking about anything else.”

So whereas the outcome of the Greek crisis had a sense of inevitability about it because of the EU’s well nigh immoveable negotiating position, Brexit strikes me as being more like a farce or a tragi-comedy– it’s an act of economic harm that we have elected to inflict on ourselves, even though we were given choices that would have mitigated much of the damage (and by the way, despite his negative experiences at the hands of Eurocrats, Varoufakis agrees that economically, the UK is much better off in the EU Single Market than outside it).

There is also more of a sense of tragedy to the Greek case because of the severity of their economic situation.  To put it in perspective, it’s worth noting the comparison Varoufakis makes between the UK in the Great Depression and Greece’s position after the financial crisis:

“Between 1929 and 1932 Britain’s economy shrank by 4.9% and unemployment rose from 8 to 17%. […..].  By comparison, Greece has endured six consecutive years of recession, the loss of 28% of its national income, more than one in five workers losing their job, and an unemployment rate propelled from 7 to 27%, with youth unemployment at more than 65%.” 

Now you could say, that’s all very well, but the Greeks borrowed too much, their state doesn’t collect enough tax and they basically brought all this upon themselves.  But I don’t think any population needs or deserves the extent of economic hardship that has been inflicted upon Greece, when alternatives were available (but were never allowed to be put on the table).  It’s not funny, it’s tragic.

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The Prancing Jacana

November 9, 2018

The Prancing Jacana by Steven John Halasz is (for me at any rate) what Graham Greene liked to call “an entertainment”:  it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it has an intriguing thriller-style plot that ticks along at a nice pace, but it’s also written with a literary sensibility and manages to deal with some serious issues along the way.

Caroline Parker, a best-selling American author of crime fiction, has set her latest novel in Senegal – where it has just been banned, having offe...

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Self-publishing: a review of Amazon KDP

October 3, 2018

So, I have finally got around to putting my novel up on Amazon using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) - having previously only made it available on sites that would let me offer it for free (such as Smashwords).   I am hoping I can persuade Amazon to make it free for at least some of the time by pointing out that they are being undersold by numerous other sites, where it is free.  

But if I can't, I guess there is still some benefit of having it up there for people who prefer the convenience of ...
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Micro-reviews (August 2018)

August 29, 2018
The Speed of Sound, The Bees and The Three Body Problem

The Speed of Sound by Thomas Dolby

Thomas Dolby has had an unusual career – he had some success in the eighties as a solo artist, a film music composer and a producer of other artists (e.g. Prefab Sprout and – rather less successfully, as he freely admits - Joni Mitchell).  But he became increasingly disillusioned with the music industry and switched to being a tech entrepreneur, eventually coming up with the software that enabled mobi...

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Micro-reviews (June 2018)

June 22, 2018

Station Eleven
, The 7th Function of Language and Night Heron

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

The central premise of this novel is not especially new – a virus wipes out most of human race and civilization as we know it collapses. However, the approach is a bit different from most treatments of this scenario.  These tend to focus on either the event itself and its immediate aftermath, or a point in time when it’s become something of a dim and distant memory and a new post-apocalyptic ...

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Publishing: the hedge fund approach

June 3, 2018

A hedge fund (De Montfort Capital) is offering new writers a salary of £24K a year and support to develop their careers.  Part of me thinks this approach to publishing is quite laudable - but part of me thinks it's slightly mad.  The bits I liked were the upfront commitment, the 50% royalty on sales and the support  - which is a striking contrast to most publishers, whose usual model involves a paltry royalty rate, limited help with editing, promotion etc and only committing themselves once ...
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Obooko revamped

May 28, 2018

Free ebooks platform Obooko has just undergone a (much delayed) revamp, with a much cleaner look and some improvements to the way you can browse/filter titles.  My experience with Obooko has been good in terms of the upload process etc, but less so in terms of downloads (click here for more details, including tips on how to create different types of ebook files for uploading to Obooko).  I've been on there since 2013 but my downloads remain stuck in the low hundreds - although others have don...
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Micro-reviews (May 2018)

May 14, 2018
Theory of Bastards, Munich and The People's House

I've tended to write longish reviews on this blog and I'll probably carry on with that for some books - especially self-published ones.  But I thought I'd have a go at doing some shorter reviews alongside these.  Let's see if I manage to keep it up.  At any rate, it's got to be better than just feeding star ratings into the hungry maw of Big Data (aka Goodreads/Amazon in this case).  Here goes:

Theory of Bastards by Audrey Schulman

Set a few year...

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Bad Faith by Jesse Tandler

April 30, 2018

We seem to be living through an age that puts an unhealthy premium on “authenticity”.  Politicians who are said to have this characteristic are excused any number of glaring faults - just look at Donald Trump or, closer to home, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and (at the opposite end of the spectrum) Jeremy Corbyn. They can say or do things that would be career-ending for other politicians – but they are tolerated, even praised for this, because they are regarded as being “true to themse...

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Me Blackberry Fool, You Apple Tart

March 12, 2018

"Me Blackberry Fool, You Apple Tart" by Amelia Slocombe is chick lit, which is not usually my genre of choice - but it caught my eye because one of the characters is a lawyer in a London law firm, which happens to be what I do for a living too.  I have also made a bit of a thing of trying to be a bit more open-minded when it comes to books which I have a tendency to dismiss as "not my thing", especially when it comes to free fiction by self-published authors (as in this case).

Having said that...
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About Me

Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books and occasionally blogging about other stuff.
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