Dawn

Dawn

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 27.1.21

 Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'

Covid


Good news: More here from Spain.


The UK: Here's the Guardian's explanation of the country's awful numbers. But someone has told me this morning that no deaths from flu or 'old age' have been recored this winter. If true, it's also a factor.


Inexplicable: The first 2 sufferers in the UK were from a family of 3. The son and then the mother went down with the virus but the father/husband didn't.


Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain


An example of our culture wars, courtesy of Vox.


Marìa's New Year Same Old: Day 26. I also know of a café which had placed more tables on the pavement/sidewalk and ignored the 2m rule, while reminding me they couldn't serve me inside.


Portugal


The ‘nationalist, far-right’ party, Chega!, got only 1% of the vote in the general elections of 2019. This week, its presidential candidate got 12%. It’s reported that Portugal has not so far seen the same anti-establishment surge from the right that have reshaped the political landscape in some larger EU nations in recent years, although it has seen a rise anti-immigrant violence. Things might be changing for the worse, as here with Vox.


The EU


Europe faces an identity crisis over the vaccine trade war. See here.


The EU and the UK


Probably the majority British view: The EU’s collective approach to vaccination has been slow to order, late to get going, incompetently rolled out, and possibly for reasons of vested interest, riddled with bad bets. The European Commission’s complaint against AstraZeneca is instructed more by the need to find scapegoats for its own failings as anything else. It also seems in some way to have been conflated with the ongoing sense of grievance over Brexit, and the UK decision to go it alone on vaccination strategy, rather than join the collective European effort. Allegations that AZ is deliberately prioritising UK and US markets are essentially just sour grapes. Apparently officially sourced German press reports – now denied by the German health ministry – that the vaccine is largely ineffective among the over-65s have fuelled the flames. AZ is a global healthcare company which is not directly beholden to any country or government; it is as much Swedish as British, and ironically it is run by a French national. It is, moreover, selling its vaccine at no profit to itself, and is establishing local sources of production around the globe as fast as is logistically possible. The idea that it would deliberately favour one country over another is preposterous.


Possibly a minority British view: The EU's vaccine fiasco threatens the very future of Project Europe. The botched vaccination rollout has been a reputational disaster, proving the European Union to be a petty and dysfunctional bloc. . . .  The UK has made serious mistakes – our high Covid death rate isn’t only due to our global connectedness. But the vaccine challenge has been a reputational disaster for the EU – with these latest moves revealing it to be spiteful and dysfunctional, a shabby, protectionist bloc. Full article below.


The USA/Nutters Corner


If you're wondering how all those Christian 'prophets' who said God would give Trump a 2nd term dealt with actuality, this is for you. As the Friendly Atheist says: If God exists, He should seriously smite them for making Him look this bad. Or just laugh. I wonder if any of them have retired from the (profitable)) business of conning the (gullible) faithful. I'm guessing none.


The Way of the World


De-platforming, it is now clear, works. Without the megaphone of social media, Trump is no longer the booming and scary Wizard of Oz but rather the pathetic little man behind the curtain. But the silencing has come at a price. It has shown the enormous power that privately owned social media has. In response, both social media companies and also mainstream news outlets as well as think tanks have stepped up the policing of speech. Likely motivated by a misguided effort to prove they are balanced, these powerful centrist institutions are now engaged in an active effort to silence voices that make conservatives mad.     The social media clampdown combined with the firings at the Times, the Niskanen Center, and Fox News all point in the same direction: Major institutions are now trying to placate the Trumpian right. The cost of Trump’s being quieted as a public voice is that many other voices now are going to be silenced as well. This is too high a price, and reminds us that, though Trump has gone, the real battle for media democracy has just started. Full article here.


Finally . . .  


For Spanish speakers and folks with Google Translate or similar. How to treat your masks:-



THE ARTICLE


The EU's vaccine fiasco threatens the very future of Project Europe: The botched vaccination rollout has been a reputational disaster, proving the European Union to be a petty and dysfunctional bloc: Liam Halligan, Telegraph


The EU’s Covid vaccination programme is a fiasco. So badly has the bloc bungled its vaccine rollout that an escalating row between Brussels and the 27 member states, to say nothing of voter outrage, is damaging “project Europe” itself.


At the start of the pandemic, the European Commission decided that it would take responsibility for sourcing the vaccines, despite its limited competence in the area. It reasoned that its size and the “efficiency” of its bureaucracy would enable it to seize a lead on its rivals in the vaccine race, and show the tangible benefits of European unity.


Instead the experiment has turned into a catastrophe. The UK has administered 10.3 doses per 100 of our population, including four-fifths of the over-80s. No EU nation comes close. Germany has managed just 2.1 doses per 100, the EU average is 1.9 and it’s 1.7 in France. Other member states, such as the Netherlands and Sweden, are lagging further behind.


Now public confidence across the EU is deteriorating fast. Parts of the German press have accused Angela Merkel of sacrificing lives by overriding the vaccine policy of her own government and entrusting it to Brussels. There have been riots in some member states among populations who can see no realistic hope of an exit from lockdown. That’s why the Eurocrats are lashing out, indulging in dangerous vaccine nationalism and seeking scapegoats for their own failures.


In doing so, however, they are exploding another EU myth: that it is a rules-based body devoted to international law and truth. The commission is threatening to obstruct exports of vaccines made in the bloc, including to Britain, in breach of commercial contracts. We’ve also seen what appear to be attempts to discredit the UK-made vaccine. Such disinformation wars are reckless. The AstraZeneca vaccine is vital – set to be used across the world, given that it is cheap and can be stored in a domestic fridge. The UK is right to be furious.


Of course nobody in the EU is prepared to own up to their mistakes. Instead they are doubling down on the ridiculous suggestion that Brussels has received unfair treatment at the hands of the vaccine manufacturers. But at a time of intense demand, shortages are inevitable. Production is an unpredictable biological process and both AstraZeneca and Pfizer have admitted to understandable delays. 


The bottom line is that, for all the UK’s failings during the pandemic, this country invested much earlier and to a far greater extent in the production, clinical trials and procurement of vaccines than the EU. So did the US – and again, America’s vaccine rollout is far superior.


The commission has displayed its usual combination of cack-handedness, bureaucratic torpor and a tendency to bend to special interests. Having dithered over the summer, Brussels buckled to pressure from Paris, ordering 300 million doses of the GSK-Sanofi vaccine. That bet back-fired – a major trial setback means this “French” vaccine won’t be ready until at least the end of 2021.


Brussels placed no firm order with Pfizer until mid-November – even though its partner firm BioNTech is German and had emerged as a front-runner months before. By then, other customers having moved much faster, the EU was way down the list.


“Obviously, the European purchasing process was flawed,” says Markus Söder, the Bavarian premier among the favourites to replace Merkel as chancellor. “It’s hard to explain why people elsewhere are being vaccinated more quickly with an excellent vaccine developed in Germany.”


As for the AstraZeneca vaccine, the European Medical Agency has claimed its “higher standards” have prevented it so far granting approval. And, even then, there may be further delays as labels for the vaccine are printed in the EU’s multiple languages.


The Brussels-made vaccine fiasco will result in more deaths, a longer lockdown and a deeper recession. As government debt ratios across the bloc spiral upward, a repeat of the 2011 eurozone crisis looms into view.


The UK has made serious mistakes – our high Covid death rate isn’t only due to our global connectedness. But the vaccine challenge has been a reputational disaster for the EU – with these latest moves revealing it to be spiteful and dysfunctional, a shabby, protectionist bloc.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 26.1.21

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'

Covid


Some more good news: A study has raised hopes that a drug - colchicine -  that costs less then 30p and is commonly used to treat gout could reduce the risk of people with Covid having to be admitted to hospital.   


The UK: Almost 500,000 people received their first coronavirus jab last Saturday, a pace that if maintained would allow the government to beat its target for covering the most vulnerable people in society. As of Saturday, nearly 6.4m had received a first dose.  


The reality?: Even with vaccines, we'll still have to learn to live with Covid. The government, the media and the public all need to get accustomed to Covid-19 deaths being a regular winter occurrence.


Galicia: After the latest announcement, we're very close to the total lockdown of last March. But at least we're allowed to take a walk outside the house. Though we can't meet anyone we don't live with. Which won't do much for romance, I guess. 


Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain


Thanks to Franco, here in Spain the go-to insult for those with whom you disagree - be they of the Left, the Right or the Centre - is 'fascist!’. So, it's a tad ironic that the 2 British historians in this podcast agree that Franco wasn't one.


Given the restrictions, it's hard to believe the highest number of flights into Heathrow in January came from Spain. Can these be for some of the people I'm hearing more and more about - the Brits (c.800,000?) who'd been living below the radar here. Not on the local padrón, not officially resident and not paying the right amount of tax, if any. Presumably they’ve decided it’s better to go ‘home’ than face the Hacienda, despite (because of?) spending many years here.


Banking frauds are not confined to any one country, of course, but I was interested to note that the main participant in a Deutsche Bank fraud was a desk in Spain, which sells hedges, swaps, derivatives and other complex financial products. And that, while the investigation initially focused on Spain but was extended to the rest of Europe, it is believed only Spain and Portugal-based clients were affected. I was reminded of an assertion from a Spanish reader some years ago that Spain was not as corrupt as I perhaps implied it was but merely a country of 'low ethics'.


An odd tale from here in Galicia. So . . . Wasn't her ID number on every document? If so, and it made no difference, what was the point of it?


Marìa's New Year Same Old: Day 25.


The UK


No one who's lived in both the UK and Spain will be surprised at this report on respective alcohol consumption.


The UK and the EU


Just what was needed  - the politicisation of vaccine deliveries: The Times: Amid concerns about the level of supply, the EU has told Pfizer and other drug companies that they must secure its permission before exporting vaccine doses to Britain. Brussels has announced plans for new controls on the export of vaccines in response to public anger at the slow pace of immunisation programmes in the EU. The intervention will raise fears that Britain’s supplies of the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine, which is made in Belgium, could be disrupted. Germany has suggested that vaccine exports could be blocked to safeguard supplies within the EU. Imagine how EU governments would react if the USA did this.


The Way of the World


The impact of Covid-19 is fuelling a 21st-century revival of spiritualism.


Unscrupulous breeders are producing dogs which face a lifetime of health problems. Lilac and merle coloured breeds, for example. And stumpy-legged creatures resembling toads. But which cost up to £10,000 each. I give you the American bully dog. Which can't breathe properly. But looks nice . . .



Finally . . .  


Maria has advised of another English-looking mansion in the North of Spain - the Palacio de Hornillos in Cantabria:-




Finally, Finally . . .


My thanks to those who yesterday cheered up my daughter locked down with 2.75 young kids - by reading her latest blog post - on Ebay failures. Hers, I should add.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 25.1.21

 Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'


Covid


Starting with some more good news: A new nasal spray - currently being trialled - could block Covid.  


Astonishingly . . . A review of 61 studies and reports suggests that at least 1 in 3 people with Covid don't have any symptoms. Details here.


Some bad news on the impact on the mental health of front-line workers.


An anti-measures view . . . No amount of shutting borders, banning flights, bankrupting businesses, cancelling surgeries, denying children a decent education or wrecking havoc on people's mental health has delivered us to the promised land of a Covid-free existence. Vaccines are the only real solution.


Looking back 12 months:  The lesson from this pandemic?: If you don't act quickly and wisely, you'll be chasing your tail for eternity. And, in the process, badly damaging everyone and everything. Except Amazon and Pornhub.  The lesson for the next pandemic?: Ditto.


Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain


There's no much doubt about 'typical winter weather' in England. But what about Spain? Here's one answer.


For years, I've been telling newcomers to Spain they'll like/love this country more if they lower their expectations and accept different norms. But, truth to tell, there are things you can get used to - such as unpunctuality and false commitments - but there are others which just seem to go on niggling and niggling. Roundabout behaviour is clearly one of these for me. But there are others. I was reminded of this by this comment on queue-jumping by someone who's been here, like me, 20 years: What fascinates* me is how many locals will talk for hours at the counter to the butcher or fishmonger, totally oblivious to you standing in the queue behind them. Once they’re at the front of a queue, no-one and nothing else matters at all.


*I think he really means 'irritates'.


Just in case you didn't get to the end of yesterday's long-ish article on rural depopulation, here's the relevant bit:- Spain is expected to lose more than half its population by 2100; already, three-quarters of Spanish municipalities are in decline. Picturesque Galicia and Castilla y León are among the regions worst affected, as entire settlements have gradually emptied of their residents. More than 3,000 'ghost villages' now stand in various states of dereliction. This rural abandonment has contributed to the resurgence of large carnivores. The Iberian wolf has rebounded from 400 individuals to more than 2,000, many of which are to be found haunting Galicia's ghost villages, as they hunt wild boar and roe deer – whose numbers have also skyrocketed. A brown bear was spotted in Galicia last year for the first time in 150 years.


My daughter in Madrid ignored my exhortations and left various Brexit-related matters until late last year. These included getting her TIE and changing her driving licence. Things are going OK as respect the former, but as regards a Spanish driving licence: The service is misleading and chaotic. Each person you talk to gives a different opinion on the law and the process. But at least she has proof of her pre-deadline attempts to initiate the process and hopes these will satisfy whoever she talks to at a future cita.


Which reminds me, although I'm entitled to an EHIC/GHIC from the British government, my daughter isn't. She has to get a TSE from the Spanish government. If you're working permanently here, this will apply to you too, assuming you're paying social security taxes. Click here.


Marìa's New Year Same Old: Day 24. I’ve said flu cases are down; Maria adds whooping cough and chicken pox.


The Way of the World


Do people want to be free? Or do they prefer security at any price? See the first article below. The worrying bottom line: Perhaps the most important thing we have learned from this deranging time in our history is that fear remains such a strong human impetus that it can easily stampede all the principles assumed to underpin democracy. Does this make it more likely that governments will be prepared to close down all social interaction again, in response to future crises? Almost certainly, and maybe not just for disease epidemics – perhaps for crime waves, terror threats, rioting or mass unrest of any kind. After all, look how easy it was this time.


Thanks to the internet, modern dating - ‘sexual bargaining’ - is complicated, superficial, cold-blooded and hostile.  See the 2nd article below. Can the clock ever be turned back?

 

English


The word ‘alibi’ was first attested in Edward Grimestone's 1612 General History of Spain. Possibly through Dutch, it comes from Latin, where it literally translated to ‘elsewhere’ or ‘another place’. More on it here.  


I've never seen the 'Grocers' apostrophe' used like this before, as in the plural of country - countrie's. Perhaps unintended.


Finally . .


The Miramar Palace of  yesterday . . .Wiki endorses my view it’s a mish-mash: It has a purely English style and presents some neogothic ornaments. Elsewhere I’ve read it’s built in ‘Queen Anne English cottage’ style.  Reader Eamon has cited a similar mansion, Richthofen Castle in Colorado, USA:-



Built in the styles of Gothic and Tudor Revival. So, another melange/mezcla. 


Finally, Finally . . .


My younger daughter’s latest blog post - on Ebay problems.


THE ARTICLE


1. Do people want to be free? Or do they prefer security at any price? The extraordinary argument that it's okay to sacrifice freedom for security has returned: Janet Daley, The Telegraph.


The present emergency has raised a question that we thought was answered: do people value safety more than freedom? The great political argument of the twentieth century between a totalitarianism that promised lifelong protection, and open democracy which took the riskier path of liberty seemed to have been settled when communism collapsed and its Western acolytes, for the most part, gave up the fight. Or at least re-framed their position in a way that could accommodate the winning side.


Democratic socialism (or “social democracy” if you prefer the more benign title) made an attempt to meld the two visions into some acceptable consensus about how societies could incorporate economic security with individual self-determination. These solutions varied from country to country and from one political party to another - and teetered constantly on the edges of credibility. The Middle Way between government guarantees of what Gordon Brown used to call “social fairness” and free market economics never seemed satisfactory.


But the really big philosophical choice had been made when the Berlin Wall came down. For human beings to lead fulfilled adult lives, they had to be free to take decisions that might involve risk to themselves and possibly even to others, for which they could be held personally accountable. And furthermore, they were fully aware of this truth, which is why they were determined to fight for freedom even when that fight involved very considerable danger.


Of course, in the present context, the notion of risk is quite immediate and absolute. Liberty is no use to you if you are dead, and few people would claim that you should have the right to put other people’s lives in jeopardy. And we are not, however much political rhetoric has been expended, in anything like a war with a sentient enemy. By shutting down so many of the most fundamental personal freedoms we are going further than most countries would ever have done in wartime but we are not handing any sort of moral victory to the enemy – because there is no enemy. This is not an ideological battle with an alien force. It is an argument we must have with ourselves.


I don’t propose to engage yet again in the dispute over the present lockdown restrictions – whether they are effective and how urgent it is to lift them. What interests me is how public opinion has responded to these measures. Do people want to be free? Or do they want to be, above all else, safe? Both, paradoxically, but when it comes to an unavoidable choice which way do they go? It isn’t the imposition of these measures that needs examination here but the willingness to comply with them: the positive eagerness to embrace such unprecedented repression to the point of demanding more of it.


Have we stumbled onto something that was thought to have been extinguished in modern life, at least in the West, but was really a still powerful (maybe ineradicable) force in society? It’s certainly true that when the Soviet system crashed, a great many of the citizens who had lived under it were terrified and appalled: they had genuinely believed the communist state to be the guarantor of stability and survival. But the chaos into which Russia descended, having sold off all its publicly owned assets in a corrupt fire sale, had a great deal to do with that. This wasn’t freedom: it was anarchy and instant impoverishment.


But in the West, there was a glorious moment of belief in the value of enterprise and individualism. In Britain, this had come about as a reaction against the producer-capture of the public services by Leftwing trade unions. So furious was the reaction against state control and nationalised industry, that Labour had to reinvent itself as a party committed to capitalism. Freedom won that round hands down, helped very considerably by the ability of political leaders of the day to identify and articulate the dissatisfactions that really were dominating everyday life.


Is that the formula? For freedom, or security, to dominate public consciousness, must there be that critical combination of ordinary experience, and leadership which knows how to capture and express it – thereby gaining popular trust? If that is so, then it might help us to understand what is going on around us today. The attraction of freedom is that it embodies hope. That is the whole point of it: the hope that people will behave well when they have choices, and that a better future can be created out of human ingenuity and endeavour.


The longing for security, on the other hand, is based on fear: the belief that life (and other people) are so inherently threatening that only an all-powerful institution (or state) can ensure your survival. So it is not difficult to see how the Covid pandemic could present an opportunity for political leaders to craft a message that makes use of fear which will win out over any possible dissent.


Fear will always be a more urgent driver of behaviour than hope, and it is much easier for governments to act on. With enough enforcement and authoritarian regulation, you can deliver a reasonable degree of safety from almost any danger, and righteously suppress any contrary argument. Freedom, on the other hand, is a much more problematic thing to defend. It needs (by definition) constant debate, examination and re-definition. It is an exhausting business that requires an enlightened populace and a government willing to engage in ongoing disputation of quite an abstract kind. Most politicians would be inclined to dislike the precariousness that this involves. (Margaret Thatcher and her mentor, Keith Joseph, were among the few who relished it.)


Perhaps the most important thing we have learned from this deranging time in our history is that fear remains such a strong human impetus that it can easily stampede all the principles that were assumed to underpin democracy. Does this make it more likely that governments will be prepared to close down all social interaction again, in response to future crises? Almost certainly, and maybe not just for disease epidemics – perhaps for crime waves, terror threats, rioting or mass unrest of any kind. After all, look how easy it was this time.


2. The new language of love reveals modern dating's cold-blooded chaos. 'Vulturing’, ‘doxxing’ and ‘eclipsing’ are just some of the terms on a list drawn up by the CPS to help its lawyers understand young people: Zoe Strimpel


Back when I began writing about dating as a columnist for a now-defunct London freesheet, the topic wasn’t taken at all seriously. It was sordid fluff and entertainment, providing voyeuristic distraction for tired commuters. With its high-stakes clash of the sexes, however, I always thought dating was more interesting than it was given credit for, and eventually went back to university to study it academically. But it was hard to get people to take it seriously even then.


It is gobsmacking how much has changed. Dating is finally being appreciated as the ultimate Petri dish of sexual and social relations that it is. In particular, as the great and the good have twigged, if you want to understand the challenges facing young people today, you must boldly enter the jungle of digital semiotics – the slang – through which intimacy is now conducted.


The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is the latest example of an august institution doing just that. This is not the first time it has tried to keep up with changing mores, but its latest guide to key terms, published last week, shows an organisation truly trying to grapple with the pressures faced by the many millions using online dating to find complex combinations of romance, love and sex. The CPS wants its lawyers to understand the ‘new normal’, so that they have a better grasp on the context in which consent is refused, given and abused. This will help it better aid mostly female victims of sexual crimes, many of which now originate online on people’s phones.


Crime aside, however, the new CPS guide is extremely revealing. It shows how complicated but also how superficial, cold-blooded and hostile the sphere of romantic – and sexual – bargaining has become. The guide features a range of outlandish-seeming terms – but for those accustomed to the bewildering dynamics of the contemporary dating swamp, they make perfect sense.


Many deal with the deployment of photos and the manipulation of information in order to maximise options and power. Thus, a ‘thirst trap’ is a sexy selfie posted, almost always by a woman, to attract attention and therefore to accrue power. This is not to be confused with ‘thirsty’, which means desperate for sex, and is generally something someone asserts, sleazily or mockingly, about someone else, rather than in relation to oneself.


Dating today allows access to lots of information about dates, or potential dates, without having to interact with them. You can hoard it instead, and then use it at the right moment. One example of this is ‘vulturing’, which means staying in the shadows on social media, watching for someone’s romance to fizzle so you can swoop. ‘Doxxing’, far more sinister, means harvesting someone’s online information in order to harass them, while ‘exoskeletoning’ is contacting an ex’s new squeeze – easily done thanks to social media.


If this all has a stalkerish vibe to you, then you may be interested to learn about ‘eclipsing’, in which someone becomes obsessed with the hobbies and interests of the person they are dating.


Perpetual awareness of options, and an infinity of distractions, sets the tone of courtship today. ‘Roaching’ means hiding the fact that you are dating numerous people at the same time, while to be ‘sidebarred’ is to be on a date with someone who is looking at their phone in front of you. Phones offer a cascade of stimulation and the illusion of total choice in the human meat market; no wonder the numbing rudeness of sidebarring has become so common, it has come even to the CPS’s notice.


Then there’s the fact that with choice comes bad choices. Enter ‘fleabagging’, named after the romantic car-crash Fleabag character created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, to denote repeatedly choosing incompatible people to date.


If you are long-married or lucky enough to have sought and found your romantic kicks offline, then these terms may seem strange; both overspecific and meaningless. But for those who have dated in the past seven or so years since Tinder came on the scene and changed the whole landscape indelibly and forever, they perfectly represent a familiar chaos. In particular, they capture the twin evaporation of accountability and coherent communication patterns. If communicating used to stand you a decent chance of a timely reply – eg, call was generally met with response – now your call may or may not be met with a response, timely or otherwise, and there is no understanding which it will be or why. I’ve had men disappear in the middle of a back-and-forth conversation, only to pop up three weeks later like nothing happened.


In the good old days (the 2000s and earlier), communication was simpler and more to the point (“Are you free on Friday?”). Now there is a battlefield of text to navigate, a world of emojis to select, and endless grades of tonal subtlety to manage, from the use of full stops (can be seen as passive-aggressive) to length of silences between messages to selfies to send – all without any rules or standards of decency.


Much can go wrong, and does. As the CPS has rightly realised, what happens online can be almost as distressing as, and sometimes more, than what happens offline.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 24.1.21

 Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'

 Covid


The EU: More here on the slow roll-out of the jab. The target of 70%of all adults to get it by 'the summer' is  beginning to look impossible. BUT . .  The chart could change in the coming months, depending on new vaccine developments and better policy coordination. The question remains, however, whether that's enough.


Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain


There is the occasional resignation in Spain of someone implicated in malfeasance. For example: The chief of the military quits after skipping the vaccine line. More on this here


This is an (ex?)royal place in San Sebastian:



It's said - by a Spanish commentator - to be in the classic English style. I wonder about this, even though the architect was, indeed, English. It seems a bit of a mish-mash to me, though I am reminded of the club house of the Wallasey Golf Club, as you approach it from the 18th fairway. 

The re-wilding of Spain's 'ghost villages.'


Marìa's New Year Same Old: Day 23.


The Way of the World


The degeneration of public debate . . . See the article below.


An apposite comment:



Finally . . .


A surprising item on the shelves of a Mercadona supermarket:-



THE ARTICLE


Piers Morgan’s idiotic rants reduce subtle arguments to soundbites. The row over the retired judge Lord Sumption calling some lives ‘less valuable’ shows how debate is being demeaned:   Matthew Syed: The Sunday Times

 

Deborah James is a fabulous person. Diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer in 2016, she has become an inspirational campaigner, writing a bestselling book and columns. We have become close friends (our daughters used to attend the same school), have a mutual interest in psychology and share a podcast producer.


Deborah was thrust into the spotlight last week after a BBC debate with the retired judge Lord Sumption. Sumption set out his now familiar disagreements with government policy over lockdown. He also made the point that in a world of scarce resources, it is sometimes necessary to ascribe relative value to human life. In essence, he argued that if you face the awful decision of saving the life of a 90-year-old or that of a nine-year-old, you should save the latter.


A few minutes later, Sumption made an intervention while Deborah was making an eloquent contribution of her own, and stated that her life was “less valuable” than others. It was a clumsy, indeed crass, contribution from the former judge, but it would have taken an inattentive viewer to have failed to understand what he meant. For those two words made sense only in the light of the broader discussion and his fundamental point that, while all human life is precious, we nevertheless sometimes face dilemmas in which not all lives can be saved.


But I do not wish to get into a discussion of Sumption’s views here (as it happens, I largely agree that it is sometimes necessary to weigh human life, but I disagree that it is in the public interest to lift restrictions on social distancing). Instead, I want to focus on what happened next. An hour or so later, a clip of his intervention, stripped of all context, was posted on Twitter. Instant headlines followed. As the “scandal” went viral, the story metastasised from one about how to make complex moral judgments to one about an evil judge seeking to euthanise people. About 99% of the coverage, in other words, focused on about 1% of what he actually said.


Then it got worse. The following morning, Sumption was invited onto Good Morning Britain to discuss a poll on the pandemic. In the event, he was hijacked by Piers Morgan, who constantly pressed him about his appearance on the BBC. ITV even played the clip of his intervention, again stripped of context. Four times, Sumption attempted to explain that the intervention was, indeed, clumsy, but should be seen as part of a broader contribution in which he acknowledged that all life has intrinsic value. Four times, he was interrupted by Morgan, the exchange ending when Sumption threatened to curtail the interview.


Why did Morgan act this way? Because he also had an eye on how a clip from his own show might play on Twitter. Sure enough, a little later, a segment of their exchange was pumped onto the internet. By this stage, we were left not with a parody of Sumption’s position, but a parody of a parody. It was as if a two-word intervention had come to stand for the world-view of a human being. In years to come, I suspect that few will remember anything of the incident beyond a vague sense that Sumption is sinister, perhaps wicked.


I have gone into this episode in detail not because I hold any brief for Sumption, but because of how it symbolises a wider catastrophe unfolding in our public life. In a wise essay in 1953, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin contrasted two types of thinker: the hedgehog and the fox. The hedgehog has one big idea. It reduces everything to this one idea. Everything else is filtered out. The fox, conversely, has lots of ideas. It likes to see the broader context, how concepts fit together, and is anxious to bring more information to light.


Berlin’s point — although he made it subtly — is that it is psychologically easier to be a hedgehog, but to understand a complex world, it pays to be a fox. Neither meaning nor truth is contained in bare facts, assertions, data points, viral clips and simplistic headlines: rather, truth is contained within a context — how one thing relates to many other things, and how parts fits into more complex wholes.


The tragedy is that the world is being dragged — almost without our noticing — towards ever more extreme hedgehoggery. Twitter users argue on the basis of 280-character caricatures of one another’s positions. Television interviewers seek not to elicit information, but to provoke viral controversies. Readers respond to the headlines of articles rather than the words beneath them. Empathy has been sacrificed in the rush to misconstrue and misrepresent. Nuance has been destroyed in a bonfire of contrived outrage.


Morgan is, perhaps, the archetype of the world into which we have arrived, a parasite on the contours of democracy. He is a cunning operator who spotted the opportunities of Twitter early, learning to surf the waves that to outsiders seem arbitrary, but to him have become like second nature. He takes artificially emphatic stances, conveys false certainty, caricatures positions, strips away ambiguity, seeks scapegoats for complex problems and cajoles guests into simplistic answers that mislead the public — and then seeks to humiliate them when they think better of returning to the studio.


He becomes a temporary hero to the deluded souls for whom he becomes a cheerleader — at present, it is those who support restrictions over Covid — but they don’t see how he is systematically demeaning public debate upon which we all ultimately rely, or how he will soon be off to adopt another position, riding soap boxes like waves. He doesn’t seem to care about what soap box he is on, provided it is topical and divisive.


But let’s not reduce this to Morgan, for platoons of people have been sucked into the vortex of this cesspool — individuals whose rationality has been corrupted by the deep infrastructure of this perilous age. It perhaps goes without saying that Twitter is a huge culprit, a digital cancer whose catastrophic influence on our consciousness has yet to be fully grasped. Its algorithms are like acid, silently eating away at the fabric of how we converse, engage and grow in collective wisdom. Its influence has seeped into every medium; by proxy, into every life.


Yet I refuse to lose my optimism, the belief that with courage we can transcend this malaise. Two and a half millennia ago, Socrates argued that rationality and shared understanding would ultimately defeat their opposites. It may take a sea change in attitudes to ensure that his words remain prophetic. But we can do it. In fact, we must.