Greece blogging

I'm in Athens for the next few days, so I'll be doing some posting on Greece's economy, culture and politics.

The flag of Greece, which I like very much, has nine stripes. They represent the nine syllables of the phrase "Ελευθερία ή Θάνατος" ("Freedom or Death", " E-lef-the-ri-a i Tha-na-tos"), the five blue stripes for the syllables "Έλευθερία" and the four white stripes "ή Θάνατος". They also represent the blue of the sky and sea and the white of the waves and clouds. "Ελευθερία ή Θάνατος" was the war-cry of the 1821 revolution that led to the establishment of the modern Greek state, and it is the national motto.

Greece is home to the largest merchant fleet in the world. The fleet has a capacity of roughly 3.5 deadweight tons per each inhabitant of Greece. My namesake, Aghios Nikolaos (St Nicholas) is the patron saint of sailors.

Greece is a big defence spender. With the exception of Israel, it is the only liberal democracy (I was aching to say 'proper country', but refrained from doing so) that features in this list of the top 25 military spenders expressed as a percentage of GDP. This metric is an underestimate of the amount of resources Greece allocates to the military, as all able-bodied Greek males are still required to serve in the army for at least a year. I did not find it to be a pleasant or educational experience. The best way to see conscription is as a particularly inefficient tax, which in most philosophical systems would also not score well on fairness grounds. I find 'social engineering' arguments in favour to be very weak indeed.

Of course, a lot of military spending is about buying influence from the arms-selling countries rather than for strictly military purposes. The US, Russia and France are major providers to the Greek armed forces. My personal experience mainly revolved around toys from France, although I did not get to play with them in any notice-worthy way.

Another namesake, Nikos Kazantzakis, is more than enough reason to learn Greek. Willem Buiter is a fan. Contrary to popular belief (I blame Shakespear) modern Greek is fairly easy to learn, although I will admit it's not the easiest language to master.

by datacharmer | Monday, December 17, 2007
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