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MOVING TARGETS AUGUST 20, 2011Bearing Gifts to the Needy GreeksBy JOE QUEENAN
Everyone agrees that the Greeks triggered the economic malaise the entire planet is now experiencing. Well, everyone but the Greeks.It was the collapse of the preposterous Greek economy that first imperiled the European banking system, and it was the Greeks' refusal to bite the bullet and fix their problems that has made things worse. Now that the virus has spread to Ireland and Spain and Portugal and Iceland and Italy, no one knows when or where it will stop. And all because the Greeks couldn't get their house in order. Thanks a lot, Greeks!A lot of people think we should just throw the Greeks overboard and let them stew in their own juices, but I disagree. The Greeks to me are like an unbelievably annoying grandparent who once was a lovable, generous type who used to give you fantastic presents on your birthday. The Greeks, after all, gave us "The Iliad" and the Elgin Marbles and the Parthenon and democracy. The Greeks are the ones who stood against the incursions of a marauding Middle Eastern tyrant at the gates of Thermopylae; the Greeks are the ones that took the rough edge off the Romans, who were basically a bunch of slobs. If it weren't for the Greeks, we wouldn't have "Oedipus Rex" or Plato's "Republic" or all those neoclassical buildings in Washington or those brilliant theories by Aristotle or all those great diners that line the Interstate everywhere. Worse still, we wouldn't have all those fantastic comedies by Aristophanes. I know how much those fantastic comedies by Aristophanes mean to Americans. Round these parts, folks can't get enough of them. Just can't.Mindful of the enormous cultural legacy the Greeks have bequeathed us, wouldn't it be a nice gesture if we all chipped in and wired a few bucks their way to help them out of a tight spot? I'm not saying we should pay off all their bills, but maybe if we held a benefit concert featuring George Michael or perhaps even a 50-50 raffle, we could raise enough money to take some of their underwater bonds off their hands and then wait a few decades before redeeming them.Or maybe we could offer the Greek people one million empty houses in Florida and southern California and say, "OK, guys, we give up, see what you can do with them." At the very least, it would stir things up in our housing market.Skinflint fussbudgets are going to protest: Hey, couldn't you make the same argument for the Irish, the Italians, the Spanish? Are we going to bail them out, too? Well, yes and no. It's true that the Irish gave us "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" and The Edge and the New York City police department, but the Irish are also responsible for Riverdance and the music in "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," so no, they get nothing. And while the Italians did give us the Renaissance and Giuseppe Verdi and Sophia Loren, a lot of Americans are still fuming over that unpleasant Il Duce interlude back in the day, so they're off the list, too.
The Spanish log legitimate points for "Don Quixote" and Velázquez and Andrés Segovia and those fabulous tapas bars in Barcelona, but the whole Generalissimo Franco thing has also left a bad taste in many Americans' mouths. So they get nada.
Obviously, it is very difficult to decide which menaced nations to bail out and which to stiff now that the wolf is at the door. I look at it on a cost-per-cultural-unit basis. You get more bang for your buck if you help out the Greeks, because their contributions to civilization are totally out of proportion to the size of their economy. Just on the basis of "The Odyssey," I think they're due a few billion clams.With other countries, it's a lot trickier. Belgium? Brussels sprouts, chocolates and Rubens, sure, but anything on a par with the Acropolis? I don't think so. Portugal? Next question. As for Iceland? Well, let's see: Björk and volcanic ash? Sorry, guys, you're on your own.
But the Greeks are different. They're good friends; they're old friends; they're faithful friends, and the truth is: We owe them. Without the Greeks, we'd all still be hauling hods for the pharaohs.
Put me down for 50 bucks.