Sunday, February 18, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 18.2.18

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Spain
  • More on the Cheese War between Spain and Mexico.
  • Is it really the right moment for Madrid to be entering the choppy waters of the language of education in Cataluña? Click here and here on this. Looks careless to me but probably refelcts the challenge to the PP from Ciudadanos.
  • In case you didn't read the Parris article I cited, here's a relevant bit: I defy any medical expert to give me the scientific justification for dousing the whole body, every day, in hot water and detergent. Spaniards commonly do this twice a day. Really??? Perhaps he means his Catalan relatives.
The USA
  • Niall Ferguson justifies pessimism in an article below, contrasting with the optimism of his friend Stephen Pinker.
  • Reader sierra has cited an article headed: The NRA Is Releasing A Commemorative Line Of AR-15 Rifles To Raise Money For The Victims In Parkland. I believe it's a spoof but am not absolutely sure. Who could be?
The UK
  • I see that actresses are being urged to wear black at the imminent BAFTA films award shindig. I wonder how many of them will nonetheless manage to look extremely sexy.
  • Meanwhile, here's a funny thing . . . Nearly 40 leading intellectuals have launched a campaign to back Brexit, demanding an end to patronising “propaganda” that dismisses “leave” voters as “idiots”. In the first such intervention since the vote, renowned economists, lawyers, philosophers, historians, scientists and experts in foreign and domestic policy warn it is wrong to see Britain’s intellectual leaders as pro-remain.
  • British daytime TV viewers are bombarded with ads for funeral insurance. So, it's interesting to read that: More than 2m people have taken out over-50s plans but they are 'incredibly bad value’ - frequently paying out less than the total contributions made — and rarely even covering the cost of funerals. Who'd have thought it?
The Spanish Language
  • New phrase to me: Dar gato por liebre. To pull the wool over your eyes; To take you for a ride.
Nutters Corner
  • Views from some (alleged) Christians on the Florida shootings:-
- Christian Activist, Dave Daubenmire: Non-effeminate men would’ve tackled the shooter.
- 'Minister' Carl Gallups: The shooting was a demonic attack meant to weaken the USA through gun control, which would usher in the Antichrist.
- Fox News Host, Todd Starnes: It was down to gays, abortions, and the Devil.

Clearly, there's nothing in their form of Christianity against taking political/personal financial  advantage of a tragedy.

Social Media
  • There are many quotable sentences in this frightening article from Prospect Magazine but I'll make do with this one and leave you to read it: The new surveillance capitalism - Corporate giants have created an entirely new surveillance capitalism. And we're too hooked to care.
Galicia/Pontevedra
  • Acres and acres and acres of eucalyptus trees – a profitable cash crop – are a blight here in Galicia. Down in Portugal, they've seen sense and banned further planting. Which is why, I guess, a Portuguese company has announced plans to do this there. It used to be called Portucel (Portugal + celulosa, I guess) but is now Navigator Company. We could do without them, especially as the eucalyptus trees contribute so much to our summer fires.
  • The skeleton of the oldest Galician yet – 300,000 years – has been found in As Nieves, near the river Miño. 
  • Here. If you're lucky, are a couple of videos of one of our Lenten comparsa groups, signing something satirical, I guess.





Finally
  • Adam Gopnik is a fine podcaster on BBC Radio 4. Here he is with a lovely 10 minute tribute to the Beatles.
Today's Cartoon



THE ARTICLE

Florida shooting: Look again, Dr Pangloss, America is bleeding. Niall Ferguson

A new, optimistic view of the world seems at odds with the carnage in the US

Is the world turning pinker? Is all for the best (as Voltaire’s Dr Pangloss claims in Candide) in the best of all possible worlds — or at least better than in any previous state of the world? Or is the world turning a darker shade — blood red rather than pink? In the wake of yet another massacre at yet another American school by yet another political extremist with yet another screw loose and yet another assault rifle, it is hard to swallow the pinker thesis. I refer, of course, to my friend Steven Pinker, whose latest book makes the (almost) Panglossian case that things have never been better.

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress is a cheerful, contrarian tract for dark times. I would guess that the vast majority of Pinker’s Harvard colleagues and students think the world is careening towards disaster. A man they regard as both a racist and a sexist is president, white supremacists are running amok, climate change is accelerating and a nuclear war with North Korea is within the bounds of possibility.

Here’s what Pinker has to say: “Human welfare has improved dramatically, and it’s improved by almost any measure you like — longevity, health, prosperity, education, literacy, leisure time, and on and on . . . The objective record shows that progress has taken place, and it’s really an enormous success story.”

Or, as he put it in a recent Washington Post interview, “rates of disease, starvation, extreme poverty, illiteracy and dictatorship, when they are measured by a constant yardstick, have all decreased”.

One reason people don’t appreciate this success story, he argues, is distorted media coverage: if it bleeds, it leads, and all that. The other, he concedes, is that all this global progress is less discernible in America, which has (in Pinker’s words) “a stagnation in happiness and higher rates of homicide, incarceration, abortion, sexually transmitted disease, child mortality, obesity, educational mediocrity and premature death” than the rest of the developed world.

Yet even in America, things are not as bad as your Facebook news feed makes them seem — even, Pinker argues, when it comes to gun violence. On the basis of the evidence available as I write, it would be hard to deny that Nikolas Cruz, the gunman in Parkland, Florida, was a terrorist. He boasted in a YouTube comment that he was “going to be a professional school shooter”. He appears to have been involved with a white supremacist militia calling itself the Republic of Florida. He belongs in the same category as young Muslim men who commit indiscriminate murder having expressed allegiance to Isis.

Pinker remains in the pink, emphasising “the tiny number of deaths . . . caused by terrorism compared with those from hazards that inspire far less anguish or none at all”. In 2015, according to his statistics, an American was 800 times as likely to be killed in a car crash as by a terrorist, and 3,000 times as likely to die in an accident of any kind. “Contact with hornets, wasps and bees” killed more US citizens than terrorists did that year.

In America, Pinker argues, the number of “active shooter incidents” (public rampage killings with guns) has “wobbled with an upward trend” since 2000, but the number of “mass murders” (with four or more deaths) actually went down slightly from 1976 to 2011. Moreover, he argues, the policy remedies invariably touted after terrorist incidents — notably tighter gun controls — would be unlikely to make much difference.

I admire Pinker. I agree with him, as I argued at the time of the Las Vegas massacre four months ago, that the facts on US gun violence are often misrepresented. But I think it’s not convincing to dismiss America as an outlier — a trivial exception — in a world that is generally getting better and will continue to do so.

Pinker shares the 18th-century Enlightenment’s faith in cosmopolitanism. He is on the side of “globalisation, racial diversity, women’s empowerment, secularism, urbanisation [and] education” and against the populist backlash Donald Trump has come to personify. This is partly because Pinker believes cosmopolitanism works. “As we continually expand discourse and interaction,” he said recently, “as people from diverse cultural backgrounds continue to sit down and agree about how to run their affairs, things tend to get better.”

The problem with this theory is that no country in history has more systematically tried to put it into practice than America, his adopted home. (Pinker was born in Canada.) In the past few decades, increased immigration from all over the world has driven the foreign-born share of the US population from below 5% to above 13%. On present trends, the share will soon match the historic peak of 14.8% in 1890.

Moreover, immigrants to America now come from all over the world. Back in 1960, when Pinker was a boy, 84% of US immigrants were from Europe or Canada. By 2013 that share was down to 14%. On present trends in migration, fertility and mortality, the Census Bureau predicts that minority groups will outnumber non-Hispanic whites in America by 2044. According to The Washington Post, the most that a Trumpian immigration policy could achieve would be to postpone that by five years.

If cosmopolitanism works, America should not be an outlier. It should not be the country where a significant proportion of the majority-soon-to-be-minority population is experiencing a rising mortality rate, not least because of an epidemic of opioid abuse, to say nothing of the multiple social pathologies described by Charles Murray in his seminal book Coming Apart. It should illustrate not contradict Pinker’s thesis.

Enlightenment Now? Or Benightedness? America today feels like a country where Pinker’s cosmopolitanism has overshot, triggering an increasingly nasty backlash.

A good illustration of the way things are going is the continuing battle over free speech on American university campuses. Scarcely a week passes without protests against the appearance of one conservative or another. The standard accusations are (as in the case of Guy Benson at Brown University last week, or Charles Murray wherever he is invited) that the speaker is, if not a racist (or sexist), then someone whose work has encouraged racists (or sexists).

Protesting students often borrow symbols from 20th-century communists to make their points. The clenched fist on a red background is back in vogue. The irony is that Murray’s work has been far more about inequality than about race. Time and again, he has warned that a cognitive elite formed at the nation’s most selective colleges has lost all touch with the mass of ordinary Americans. Some campus protests illustrate his point.

Students protesting against free speech is just the kind of absurdity Voltaire throws at Dr Pangloss to challenge his optimism. Steve Pinker should watch out for that red fist.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 17.2.18

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Spain
  • Here's The Local on the plight of the galgos I mentioned yesterday. The galgo's size, by the way, is between that of a whippet and a British greyhound. Very nice animals. There are refuges around the country, if you want one.
  • How to be very, very Spanish . . . 
  • Only in Spain? The Valenican authorities have cancelled an art show after realising it was being held by an ex civil servant who'd taken a salary from them for 10 years without ever turning up for work. Click here.
  • A surprise? The income of retired Spaniards who are between 66 and 75 is 6% higher than the national average, according to the OECD. Among its 35 members states, this age group earns 7% less after retirement. But in Spain the opposite happens. It is an atypical case surpassed only by France, where pensioners ages 66 to 75 make 10% more than the national average.
Life in Spain

Trigger warning: Major moans coming . . . 
  • There've been times in my life when I've realised I'd probably done something for the last time. For example, playing the trombone and performing on stage. Rather more recently, I feel I've done my last dinner for Spanish guests. Why? Well, mainly because the reliability of invitees is low and the reciprocity rate is almost zero. The reasons for this? Well, it's rare to be invited inside a Spanish house and, secondly, dinner parties aren't a feature of Spanish culture. It's their loss. 
  • One way or another, I've had quite a lot to do with Spain's notaries over the years. These are civil servants who have a lucrative monopoly over all the formalities which the Spanish state has long imposed on its tax-evading citizens in order to increase the take from them. For the most part, I've found them to be arrogant, inefficient and even incompetent. And, as in all 'professions', some of them are also crooked. My latest unhappy experience with a notary has been trying to get one to complete the short bit of a form certifying I am the person in my passport. After 4 visits and a lot of waiting around, I was given back the document with a large apostilla on it, like this one, but without the relevant 3 lines being filled in:-




When I pointed this out to the clerk, she replied: This is the way we do things in Spain. When I protested that the company which wanted the certification was British, that it had its own processes and rules, and that I was now likely to have problems, she merely repeated: But this is the way we do things in Spain. To which I retorted that Spain wasn't the entire world, while repressing the comment that - understandably - notaries were unknown in the Anglo world. If they were, Shakespeare would surely have penned Let's hack to pieces all the effing notaries in place of merely Let's kill all the lawyers.

The EU
  • Spain's Luis De Guindos is in line for the post of ECB VP, in competition with an Irishman, Philip Lane. The Euro parliament has stated a preference for the latter but the decision is taken at 'government level'. So, horse-trading time among all the EU Finance Ministers. Having held this post in Sr Rajoy's PP government, it's hard not to see Sr Guindos as being tainted by corruption. Not that this will necessarily affect the decision. The FT says here that he's still the favourite. Hardly surprising, given that he has the endorsement of both Germany and France. And it's their club.
The USA
  • A short Q and A:
Q. How did the Florida gunman get his rifle?
A. Federal law allows people aged 18 and older to buy semi-automatic rifles. By contrast, you have to be 21 to buy a handgun or to drink alcohol. Florida has a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases but you can take home a semi-automatic rifle, magazines and ammunition in a matter of minutes if you clear an instant background check on the FBI criminal database.
Q. Where does President Trump stand on gun control?
A. Before he entered politics Mr Trump expressed support for some new gun controls. “I generally oppose gun control but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun,” he wrote in 2000 in his book, 'The America We Deserve'. After the Sandy Hook school shooting of 2012, he praised President Obama’s call for tougher controls.
When he entered the Republican presidential primary in 2015 he embraced the NRA’s stance. He argued, for instance, that government mandated gun-free zones in places such as schools and churches made for “target practice for the sickos”. He has frequently suggested that the best defence against mass shootings is more citizens with guns. The NRA spent $21 million to help get Mr Trump elected.
Q. Is Mr Trump in tune with the country?
A. Polls suggest that a large majority of Americans believe that the right to own a gun is part of their birthright. In October a Gallup poll found that 70% of voters opposed a ban on handguns. In 1959 it was only 36%.
On the issue of whether assault rifles should be banned voters are split down the middle — a shift from the 1990s when a majority wanted a ban. By a margin of two to one they believe that having a gun in the house makes it safer. Most think that new gun laws would have little or no effect on mass shootings.
  • The White House has refused to release a photo of President Donald Trump signing a law making it easier for some people with mental illness to buy guns. Despite repeated requests from CBS News, the White House press office has issued only a one-line response. Mr Trump last year repealed an Obama-era rule allowing the names of certain people on mental health benefits to be entered into a criminal database.
  •  The Republican president's critics noted his own annual budget proposed this week would cut hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for mental health programmes.
  • As for solving the problem, the author of the article below is pessimistic: The US political class, he says, has effectively abandoned any attempt at stopping the everyday drumbeat of smaller-scale shootings. And possibly even the large-scale school killings as well.
The UK
  • There are feuds and feuds. Perhaps, as this shows, the fraternal variety is the best.
  • I expected Brexiteer Richard North to be scathing about Boris Johnson's speech and I wasn't disappointed. Taster: This is ignorance beyond the reach of any remedy, the typical High Tory malaise where those afflicted are so imbued with their own magnificence that they cannot conceive that there is something they don't know. Click here for more good stuff.
Nutters Corner
  • An alt-right journalist in the USA (of course) says that the Florida massacre happened because atheists have been demonising Christians. Not the weirdest of his beliefs, of course.
Galicia/Pontevedra
  • In several years, the owner of my daily watering hole has never spoken a word of English to me. So, I was a tad surprised when, yesterday, he asked me to help him get a subscription to The Guardian Weekly. When I felt obliged to stress it was high level English he'd be trying to read, he looked rather aggrieved.
Finally
  • Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux say they have a 'cherished friendship'. Sadly, this hasn't stopped them divorcing after a mere 2 years of married life, albeit after a prior 4 years together. But they will maintain their deep friendship, they say. That apart, I'm reminded of my second marriage.
  • I'm with Matthew Parris as regards his article (below) on the issue of skin products and, maybe, shampoo. Since I stopped using a deodorant months ago, I've only had favourable comments. From women, as it happens. Maybe I smell more 'masculine' now. Needless to say, the use of all these products increases the use of plastics. A second reason to give up at least most of them.
Today's Cartoon



THE ARTICLES


1. America's real gun problem is below the radar – and DC has given up on solving it

The US political class has effectively abandoned any attempt at stopping the everyday drumbeat of smaller-scale shootings

By any standards the t-shirt was offensive. Quoting "Joe the Plumber" – the poster boy of the American right a few elections back – it read: "Your dead kids don't trump my constitutional rights."

To make things even worse, it was being worn by somebody strolling along the coast of a New England holiday resort a couple of years after the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut. Given the number of Connecticut licence plates in the carpark nearby, I was astonished that the brazen and callous display did not provoke a violent response.

It also indicated that there is something of a class divide over gun policy. The idea of possessing a gun horrifies not only me but all my fellow liberal snowflakes. But, clearly, others do not feel the same way.

Research by the Pew Centre found that 31 per cent of people whose education finished at high school lived in a household with at least one gun. For graduates, the figure was only 25 per cent. It also showed that at 16 per cent, adult gun ownership is rarer in the northeast of the US  than in the midwest, 32 per cent, and the south, 36 per cent.

Gun ownership is far more common in rural areas than in the suburbs, yet it is in manicured, affluent communities that some of the worst atrocities have taken place. In Parkland, Florida, for example, the household median income is $126,905 – more than double the average for the state as a whole. Household median income in Newtown, the site of the Sandy Hook massacre, is currently $123,750, about $50,000 higher than for the state as a whole.

It is these well-off communities that have spawned killers who committed mass slaughter, using expensive assault weapons.

The response to the latest horrific events has been pretty predictable. Florida's Republicans have offered thoughts and prayers but little else, provoking considerable derision. Marco Rubio, who received a significant donation from the National Rifle Association, has suggested the time was not right to debate gun control.

The NRA did at least delete a tweet urging people to buy their loved ones a gun for Valentine's Day. Equally inevitably, the liberal Left has stepped up its demands for tighter gun laws following Wednesday's massacre. But as horrendous as the latest events are, the sad truth is, gun violence is so commonplace in the USA that it takes an atrocity on the scale of Parkland to rekindle the debate.


According to Everytown for Gun Safety, 96 people are shot dead in the US on an average day. As a reporter, I get an alert of shooting incidents and active gunmen on my mobile phone. The death toll has to approach double figures to be of "news interest" – which is a sad indictment of the US.

Even in the sleepy Maine resort where I live, they still talk of a massacre in the 1980s which claimed several lives. Only a few years ago a body was dumped by the side of the I-95 just across from the New Hampshire border.

Most of these incidents – from gang crime to domestic violence – don't involve as many people as your average school shooting, but collectively they account for more deaths. And yet there is very little interest in American politics in doing anything about them, except perhaps when they provide a useful stick to beat one's partisan opponents with.

It looks as if my sense of resignation is shared by American politicians who voice concern after a mass killing, but regard the relentless drumbeat of daily shootings across the country as inevitable. For legislators, action rarely follows the obligatory hand-wringing.

For example, following the Las Vegas shooting, there appeared to be a consensus that "bump stocks" which convert an assault weapon into a machine gun should be banned. Despite the measure being backed by both parties and, seemingly, by the National Rifle Association, nothing has happened. Republicans are now arguing that the issue should be dealt with by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. That idea is on hold, apparently indefinitely.

A measure stepping up background checks was passed by the House of Representatives after it emerged that Devin Kelley, who gunned down 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas in November, had a conviction for domestic violence. But there is no sign of a vote in the Senate.

There is also no sign of a bill to curb the sale of expensive assault weapons and even an attempt to limit clip size was vetoed in New Jersey by Chris Christie, who was the state's governor.

Beneath the radar there have been some initiatives such as the CeaseFire programme in Chicago, which has taken a holistic approach in some of the most violent areas of the city. The initiative uses techniques such as anger management and substance abuse counselling to tackle some of the root causes of the almost daily shootings in violent hot spots.

But these interventions are few and far between, and it is hard to escape the sense that the American political class has pretty much given up. Considering that almost 100 people are gunned down every day across the country that is a disgrace. It should not take a Sandy Hook or a Parkland to act as a wake-up call.


2. This cult of cleanliness is a deadly racket: Matthew Parris

Not every health scare story deserves the front page but this one did. Our age has an obsession with washing and cleaning things, starting with our own bodies. This owes more to a mild form of collective mental illness than it does to hard-nosed medical science. That Times report also mentioned personal deodorants. Except in emergencies I have never used these. It always struck me — on the basis of precaution rather than medical expertise — that anything potent enough to block your pores and destroy the body flora that give scent to our perspiration must be pretty strong stuff. We are unlikely to have a perfect knowledge of the possible collateral damage.

It must be about 25 years since I stopped using shampoo. I have a much cleverer brother with a background in the sciences who had explained to me how to the corporate till shampoo is the gift that keeps on giving. Like nicotine it creates its own demand. A liquified, tinted and perfumed version of washing powder, shampoo strips the scalp of its natural oils. These lend heat-insulating and water-resistant properties to creatures’ fur or feathers. Sebaceous glands in a just-shampooed human scalp register the stripping of oils, then panic and pump out emergency supplies; your hair gets greasy faster and you reach for the shampoo again next morning.

My brother pointed out that animals do not use shampoo, yet when did you last see a rabbit with a greasy hair problem? So, on a South American expedition where we didn’t need to look our best, I stopped shampooing. For many days my hair got greasier. Then, washed with warm water alone, it started becoming less greasy. Everything stabilised — and has been stable ever since. After that I hardly ever used shampoo; my hair lost the artificial shine that shampoo does impart but has never been greasy, and I get far less dandruff than before.

The Australian journalist Richard Glover, meanwhile, has attracted a sizeable Antipodean “no ’poo” cult. Shampoo manufacturers became alarmed. I started receiving from claimed experts unsolicited dossiers of photographic evidence (through microscopy) that fewer dust particles lodge in detergent-washed hair than in hair washed only in water. That of course is obvious: if you stripped your body of all natural oils then less dust would stick to it. Your skin would also fall off.

The cleaning and cosmetics industries are worried with good reason. Globally they rake in hundreds of billions of dollars, and a handful of huge companies dominate a notably small field. The UK cosmetics business has a market value of more than £9 billion. Aware that they could be more seriously targeted by environmentalists than has yet happened, their industry body runs a website, thefactsabout.co.uk, encouraging visitors to “sort out which are myths or scares”. The site’s tone is a blend of the helpful and the defensive. They have a lot to protect, employing some 200,000 people within British cosmetics alone.

Most cleaning and cosmetic products are retailed in disposable plastic containers, the rest in disposable glass. And for all of them, the tills just keep on ringing while the plastics are washed out to sea.

The Colman family used to joke that the family fortune rested on the mustard left on the side of the plate after dinner; but the cleaning and cosmetics industries are wise to keep quiet about the comparable boast. Not only do most consumers grotesquely overuse the bleaches, disinfectants, de-greasers, detergent gels, scouring pastes (toothpaste), ammonias, chlorines and chemical-based dyes and perfumes that constitute the house-cleaning, body-washing, disinfecting industry, as well as the creams and cosmetics used (as the 18th-century Spectator editor Joseph Addison put it) “to adorn that part of the head which we generally call the outside” but they discard, wash or wipe away most of the product, unused. Shower gel is the most egregious example. Most of it, perfume, dye, detergent and all, goes straight down the plughole. What genius on the part of the bodywashing industry so to dilute the core product (detergent) that it slips through the consumer’s fingers and is washed away.

At a friend’s house recently, and with the slightest of colds giving me a slightly raw throat, I emerged from the bathroom as from a First World War trench, choking on chlorine gas. “It’s my husband,” said my friend. “He puts half a bottle of household bleach down the loo every day, ‘to kill germs’ he says.” This is the gas, but in lower concentrations, that exterminated troops in 1914-1918.

Freudian theory may be all over the place, but at its core lie some vast intuitive truths. Since long before Lady Macbeth’s compulsive sleepwalking hand-washing movements we have half-sensed the unconscious connection between guilt and dirt. Germ theory, and its monstrous commercialisation by the post-war American “hygiene” industry, has put a booster rocket under the cleaning, sterilising and disinfecting sector. For a while Americans (turning their attention to what Addison might have called “that part of the head which we generally call the inside”) even called mental health “mental hygiene”.

Postwar concepts of hygiene distorted our notions about the relationship between cleanliness and health. I defy any medical expert to give me the scientific justification for dousing the whole body, every day, in hot water and detergent. Spaniards commonly do this twice a day. Many Japanese people have gone completely crazy, spending much of their lives immersed naked in thermal springs, showering and soaping themselves twice before, and once after, every immersion.

This column goes no further than Tom Whipple himself in quantifying the harm our cleaning mania may do to ourselves and our planet. But the truth is we do not know. The risks to the ozone layer from chlorofluorocarbons (or the link between cleaning fluids and PM2.5 particles) have been discovered late: long after refrigerators (or bleaches, or pesticides) had been certified as safe.

But this we do already know: stuff that destroys living organisms, strips oils or “dissolves” dirt should be treated with caution. What kills germs could kill humans too.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 16.2.18

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Spain
  • Here's an El País list which is in a different class from those of The Local.
  • An interesting looking exhibition in Madrid.
  • If you're a Spanish greyhound – a galgo – this is a terrifying time of the year – the end of the hunting season. When, it's said, many thousands of them are put down. Sometimes by hanging them from tree branches. One of Spain's scandals.
  • This morning I'll make my 4th visit to a notary's office, in an effort to get my identity certified. I gave up years ago trying to understand why things take longer to do here but, in this case – in a country of low ethics, rife with corruption – I feel it's a tad ironic that I'm being treated as if I were the English head of the local drug-running and money-laundering mafia. But I guess I'll get over it. Perhaps I should feel honoured.
The USA
  • The number of deaths from firearms is truly horrendous. Indeed, they're beyond the comprehension of Europeans. But, from conversations with American friends over the years, I'm aware that the issue is not as black and white as we tend to see it. For a start, as with drugs, those seeking a solution are not starting from zero. Then, of course, there's America's exceptionally polarised politics and, need one say, an utterly divisive president who parrots the specious argument about mental health states. As if people in other countries don't suffer from these. There's a good – but depressing - article below but I leave you with;
- This relevant fact: The USA's welfare system offers scant help to the mentally ill. But, that should change soon, of course. Now that the NRA has discovered the real reason why 10,000 people year are not-killed-by-guns.
- A pessimistic view on Fart's likely response.
- This exchange:-
NRA member: It's not guns which kill people. It's people.
Sane person: True, it's not guns which kill people. It's people who say 'It's people who say guns don't kill people' who kill people.

The UK
  • That vain clown, Boris Johnson, made a big speech on Brexit this week. Below are 2 articles giving widely different takes on it. Interestingly, both are from 'right-wing' newspapers. I rather think the negative one is more accurate.
Nutters Corner
  • Christian radio host Bryan Fischer on the Florida deaths: If only the students had prayed beforehand . . . God could have prevented this, if only He had known it was going to happen! And I'd always thought the Man in the Sky was supposed to be omniscient.
  • Christian author McGuire: I think Hilary Clinton has a demonic hatred in her — her statement about the ‘deplorables’ revealed what was in her heart. If she had become president, like Jezebel, she would have persecuted, arrested, fined, imprisoned and perhaps killed America’s pastors. She would have shut down the preaching of the gospel and the gates of hell would have broken loose on our nation. Dear God. Do you have to be mad to be an evangelist in the USA? Perhaps not but it must certainly help.
Galicia/Pontevedra
  • Cigarette sales have fallen in the city by 43% in the last 10 years, though the value of sales – thanks to price increases – has remained the same. A caveat – One factor is increased smuggling.
  • I rather doubt there's been anything like a decrease of 43% among young women here. In fact, I suspect it's increased in this sub-group.
  • The Galician Xunta has stopped the city of Santiago imposing a tax on all tourists. The latter says they'll now tax only those who don't stop overnight. God knows how they'll manage to do so. A special toll gate on all the city's exits?
Finally
  • Food for thought: British journalist Nicholas Tomalin opined that the 3 qualities a successful journalist needs are; rat-like cunning; a plausible manner; and a little literary ability. I guess he should know.
  • Last night I was emailing a series of 3-second videos of the Carnaval parade to my daughter when Google suddenly suspended my account for 'up to 24 hours'. I think for Receiving, deleting, or downloading large amounts of mail via POP or IMAP in a short period of time. I wasn't aware there was a limit. But am now.
  • I see that Worcester and soy sauces also still come in glass bottles. As do my hot Tabasco and very hot Valentina sauces. But these would probably melt plastic.
Today's Cartoon

Back in the USA . . .



THE ARTICLES

1. Florida shooting: America's gun crisis will never end until its liberals learn to make peace with gun culture: Tom Harris, The Telegraph

“We don’t have handguns in Britain.” Even as I spoke the words, I was aware that they sounded almost apologetic. The conversation was with a former US Navy SEAL (Sea, Air and Land team) who is now helping out at a gun range in New Town, Ohio, where a business trip had taken me last week.

“I’m just really grateful that you’ve taken the time to be here, to fire guns and try to understand what it’s all about,” he replied to my British deference. And then he helped me load 30 rounds into the clip of a Colt semi-automatic rifle.

It was a slice of American life I had always wanted to sample, and had felt the appropriate level of guilt about the ambition. Wouldn’t a visit to such a place, the handling of a lethal weapon, the enjoyment of the activity – wouldn’t all this make me at least complicit in, if not an apologist for, America’s love affair with guns, an obsession that has resulted, in the last 24 hours, in yet another horrific high school massacre, this time in Florida?

“The Second Amendment defends the First,” read a bumper sticker for sale in the immaculately tidy and well-stocked front shop of the shooting range. Silencers, a vast array of ammunition, holsters and just about every kind of accessory your average shooter could want were all available for purchase.

The guns themselves were safely behind the counter: hand guns below glass, rifles of bewildering complexity and power in racks behind where the salesmen stood. A single word of interest in any weapon and within seconds you could hold it, look through the scope and gauge its weight and balance.

My host, a senior and well-respected local businessman, owned “about ten” guns, keeping them in a gun safe he had bought specifically for the purpose. Although a member of this particular gun range, it had been so long since he had fired one that he had forgotten the code for the safe, and only released the door on his fifth attempt.

“Guns don’t kill people…” said his colleague who accompanied us to the range. I could have responded with the much-tweeted joke: “No, guns don’t kill people – people who say ‘guns don’t kill people’ kill people. With guns.”

Instead I bit my tongue and took careful aim at zombie bin Laden. That was the paper target I had chosen from the range of jokey images available from the front desk, probably out of deference to my buddy, the former SEAL.

As soon as I fired my first shot, I was more aware than I ever expected of the power and deadliness of the weapon in my hand. This was no Hollywood prop or plaything: this was a device that could end the lives of everyone in the vicinity, including me. I had expected a rush of blood to the head; instead, it ran cold in my veins.

However grateful for the experience and for the hospitality shown by my gun-totin’ friends, I was immensely relieved when we replaced the weapons in their secure cases and headed towards the local chicken wings restaurant.

My hosts that night were no redneck hillbillies. They were sophisticated, law-abiding, intelligent, successful people who just happen to enjoy collecting and firing weapons. When the anti-gun lobby fires off its latest salvo in reaction to the most recent massacre, it’s often aimed at the wrong target (forgive the allusion).

There is a large and resentful community of gun owners in America who feel they are unjustly made to feel like the perpetrators of every outrage, even if they themselves are responsible citizens. The language used by politicians (mostly Democrats but also some Republicans) alienates the innocent deer-hunter while having no effect whatever on the lonely, aggrieved psychopath with a Smith & Wesson .357 revolver in his backpack.

None of this is to say that America doesn’t have a problem with guns; it surely does. The absurdly high levels of gun crime and associated death each and every day of the year makes that abundantly obvious. The warning for politicians who wish to do something about it comes straight out of the Einstein book of misquotes: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Demands for gun control follow every civilian massacre as sure as night follows day, and yet no progress seems to be made. If anything, the determination of Americans to hold ever more tightly to their weapons grows with each sickening event.

Worse, this debate has become just one part of America’s self-defeating and circular culture wars. To liberal New Yorkers and assorted East Coasters, gun owners can be put in the same categories as evangelical Christians who believe in creationism and who oppose abortion and feminism, while law-abiding gun owners grow ever more resentful of the liberal elite who seek to leave ordinary citizens at the mercy of gangsters and villains who will always carry and use guns, whatever the legal framework currently in effect.

Neither of these stereotypes is wholly accurate, but neither is prepared to shift ground. The more consensual approach, the more conciliatory language demanded for this crisis – and it is a crisis – is as distant today as it has ever been, perhaps even more so. American politics has led this great nation to a point where it is utterly, perhaps irreconcilably, divided, on guns – as in much else.

Politics should be about the art of creating democratic solutions, but for the time being, the goals and fears of these two Americas are so far apart, so utterly opposed, that a solution is simply unachievable. It is quite possible that, with the right national leadership and – crucially – with the right use of language, some form of compromise – say, on the availability of the most high-powered automatic weapons, flame throwers and rocket-propelled grenade launchers – can be reached.

But even such a modest stop forward looks depressingly far off, and will continue to be so while the two sides refuse to make the effort to understand each other, while they wilfully misrepresent and demonise each other. If the only thing Americans have in common is the stars and stripes, then many more families are going to share the agonies of those who have suffered such loss in the Sunshine State this week.

2.  Detail be damned. Boris articulated a coherent vision for Brexit with real conviction: Janet Daley, The Telegraph.

For weeks – no, months – we in the commentariat have been demanding that somebody in the government outline a “vision” for the post-Brexit future. We understood (most of us did anyway) that the concrete details of the proposals could not be aired publicly while negotiations were underway. But we wanted some idea of the philosophical foundations, the moral justification and the economic logic on which this process was based. What was it all about on a larger historic scale?

That was what Boris Johnson offered. Then the media piled in on him for not giving any concrete details. As one of those commentators who have been pestering for a “vision”, I am quite prepared to accept this speech on its own terms. And on those terms, it was excellent. There seemed to be real coherence and conviction and – always a Boris strong point – sound historical evidence for his case.

The establishment has tended in the past to be unforgivably smug about winning what it considered to be the single point of public debate at issue: in the first UK referendum on remaining in the Common Market, it simply decided there was no need for any further expansion or explanation of what had been accepted. The Eurosceptic losers were consigned to the dustbin of history. Because no attempt was made to conciliate and to consult, those who had lost became alienated and irreconcilably bitter. He did not wish to see that happen again with today’s Remainers who were becoming – he did not say this but we all knew it – the toxic irreconcilables de nos jours.

The British are not isolationist. They are in fact – as maritime, island nations tend to be – among the most widely dispersed and habitually travelled peoples on earth

So he outlined the liberal, internationalist case for Brexit with considerable persuasive eloquence. All three of the most alarmist strands of the Remain case were addressed, or as he put it “turned on their heads”. On security and defence, he said that it was inconceivable that the UK would turn its back on a commitment to defending Europe which goes back much further than any EU treaty. This is patently, indisputably true and to claim otherwise, as some EU spokesmen have done, is nothing short of slander.

On what he called the “aesthetic and cultural” point – that exiting the EU would somehow repudiate our ties with a shared European heritage – this was, he said, absurd and falsified by the evidence. The British are not isolationist. They are in fact – as maritime, island nations tend to be – among the most widely dispersed and habitually travelled peoples on earth. (If you want to witness parochialism, he might have added, go to the United States where half the population do not even own passports.)

So the war with the Treasury squad which has captured Philip Hammond goes on

On the economic future, he reiterated what are now the familiar arguments about global opportunity and a commitment to free trade. This was the one area where he did offer some specific political statements to interest the Westminster gossip mill: there could be absolutely no possibility of “permanent congruence” with EU law and regulations. To continue to shadow the single market and customs union rules without participation in the forming of them would be to negate the whole purpose of our exit. So the war with the Treasury squad which has captured Philip Hammond goes on.

But significantly, he made it clear as well that he accepted the need for conformity to the EU legal and regulatory systems during the transition period – thus distancing himself from the hard-line Brexiteers who have sworn to resist this. So you might say that he cut it down the middle – that he repudiated both the Cabinet Remainers and the hard-core Brexit gang. I suspect that he would say that that was the whole point: he was looking for a compromise position – a middle way consistent with a liberal ideal. That was what this speech was for, wasn’t it?

3. Can any of us believe a word Johnson says?: David Aaronovitch, The Times

The foreign secretary’s speech could have been statesmanlike but he settled for petty bluster and fantasy

The speech began as if addressed to a skittish and anxious patient in need of reassurance. She’d got it into her silly little head that Brexit meant Britain turning its back on the world. Doctor Johnson reached into his big, soft bag and rummaged around. “Let’s see if we have something to help you,” he told her and us. And brought out a pack of old aspirations, a couple of hints of big things to come, a reference to the Babylonians and a used peroration.

The purpose of the address, as stated in advance, was for Boris the great healer to appeal to Remainers because, in his own words, “If we are to carry this project through to national success — as we must — then we must also reach out to those who still have anxieties”.

That’s not something that ardent Brexiteers have been good at. Earlier this week, for example, Lord (Digby) Jones tweeted: “Attention all Remoaners! Stop doing Barnier’s work for him! This undermining of our country’s negotiating with the EU HAS to stop. We’ll end up with a lousy deal & you will be to blame.” And I wondered who the tweet was actually intended for. Was there a single Remoaner who would read that and think, “Man’s got a point, don’t want that on my conscience, better reel it in”?

Ever since the referendum they didn’t expect to win, leaders of the pro-Brexit forces in Britain have alternated between triumphalism and surliness. Insecure in victory, they have blamed everyone else when things have not gone their way: judges, civil servants, the BBC, teachers, the EU, big business and Anna Soubry. Meanwhile, just about everything they predicted would have happened by now has not.

I’m not saying that most Remain voters were watching David Davis’s recent performance in front of the Commons Brexit select committee but they certainly have the sense of it. In the summer of 2016, three weeks after the referendum and two days before joining the cabinet to oversee our exit from the EU, Mr Davis wrote that he “would expect the new prime minister, on September 9, 2016, to immediately trigger a large round of global trade deals (and) that the negotiation phase of most of them would be concluded within 12 to 24 months.” When he was reminded of this by the committee’s chairman Hilary Benn, Mr Davis replied that he’d said it before he’d become a minister; that was then and this is now and then guffawed. What a hoot. I got everything wrong, so they put me in charge.

That’s what a clued-up Remainer sees, and sees too the Brexit impact assessments that were both voluminous and nonexistent, the Treasury regional assessments that forecast a loss of GDP under almost every kind of Brexit, and the Irish border fiasco that’s only temporarily frozen by an impossible fudge. They see other government business grinding to a halt because of the dominance of Brexit, and the cabinet divided on what it wants more than 18 months after the referendum. And when they raise any of this, it’s all been Mogg and mockery and a vox pop from a pub where someone says that we ought to be out by now.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and Boris Johnson may well think that the Brexit crisis is the hour and that the cometh-ing man could be him. So imagine what the speech could have been, had it been given by someone who was both sincere and courageous. He could have said, “Yes, I get it. I’ll be candid. It has all been far more complicated than many of us had believed. Yes, many of the assumptions we made — like David Davis’s — were simplistic and wildly optimistic. Some people have actually been rather ridiculous. And no, we may have miscalculated the negotiating priorities of the other EU members. And yes, the assessments from the Treasury, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and the Bank of England are unlikely all to be wrong. We will indeed take a hit. It will take a long time and be a long haul before we begin to see any benefit from this. But the decision has been made and we must do the best we can with it, and make it to the nearest thing which you and I want to see (even if many of my more nationalist colleagues don’t) — an open, global society and economy. And we need you to help us with this.”

“Tell the truth”, says Hotspur in Henry IV Part I, “and shame the devil”. What stopped you, Boris? Was it that your other briefers were at the same time spinning the speech as “Boris warns Theresa about a soft Brexit”? The line most likely to be read by the dwindling electorate for the leadership of the Conservative Party? The “me not Mogg” line?

Given the supposed purpose of your speech, what was all that stuff about not accepting EU rules during the incongruously named “implementation phase” (also known as the “WTF do we do now period”)? For whose benefit was the repetition of the fiction that leaving the EU frees up vast amounts of money for the NHS? Since no forecast makes us anything but poorer for some time to come, how does that work? How can you square the ending of freedom of movement into Britain from the EU with your virtual promise that Britons (Boris mentioned stag parties to European capitals) will themselves be free to move? Oh yes — “if we get the right deal on air traffic and visa-free travel . . .” If, if, if. We’ll have totally open agricultural trade with the rest of the world while “protecting our rural economy”. Our regulations will be simultaneously more stringent and far laxer than the EU’s. In your answer to the critical question about trade you replied, “We can have as frictionless trade as it is possible to devise”.

Oh yes. We’ll leave the single market of our neighbours but we could maybe build a Channel bridge or extra tunnels to show how amazingly connected we are. Great. That’ll ease the pressure on the Great Southern Lorry Park that we’re going to need in Dover.

Devise what you like. In Henry IV Part I the bragging Glendower tells Hotspur, “I can call spirits from the vasty deep”. “Why, so can I, or so can any man,” replies the warrior, “But will they come when you do call for them?”

In the play, Hotspur is defeated by Prince Henry who is destined to cast off fat, sly, jolly Falstaff and become a great king. In real life, it is the swaggering, mendacious Falstaff who seems to have won. But we don’t have to agree with him. The biggest reason that many Remainers cannot be reconciled, Boris, is that they don’t believe a word you say.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 15.2.18

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Spain
  • El País covers here the 'quagmire' of corruption in which the PP governing party is sunk.
  • And here the same newspaper reports - surely not to anyone's surprise – that the current and previous PP presidents of the Madrid regional government – are now implicated in one of the numerous corruption scenarios.
  • But none of this seems to matter to President Rajoy, who insists it was all a long time ago, that none of the accused are now in his government[!], and that people should concentrate on his economic achievements. Astonishingly (for non-Spaniards), despite the fact that 85% of Spaniards (and 62% of his own PP party) feel he should stand down, Rajoy's said to be considering a 3rd term from 2020. Which would be a gift for Ciudadanos. But it surely won't happen. Will it? It might. Spain is different.
  • Yesterday it was reported that one of the many businessmen being investigated for bribery of PP politicians 'has the right to lie to the judge'. This is not the first time I've heard that this is enshrined in Spanish law but I wonder whether it applies only to the preliminary judicial investigation and not to any subsequent trial.
  • Trigger warning: Moan approaching. . . When a service of my car is a month away, the Honda agent in Vigo starts bombarding me with emails and even phone calls. Last year, these even continued after the service had been carried out. In contrast, I've twice emailed them this week about setting up an appointment to fix a window switch, to no effect. The reason, I guess, for this differential treatment is that one 'service' can be set up on and operated by a computer, while the other needs human agency. This rather seems to endorse my view that Spanish companies only play at customer service without really putting their hearts into it. Whatever, I'll now have to call them today. The Devil takes the hindmost here.
  • To be more positive . . Here's CNN on how to set up 'the perfect' trip to Spain.
The USA
  • In 45 days this year, there've been 18 shootings in US schools. I'd venture a guess this is more than in all other civilised countries combined. And yet that benighted country appears to be moving inexorably towards the NRA 'solution' of arming teachers and students. As the plot of a dystopian novel, this would surely be considered preposterous.
  • Meanwhile, the irreligious Fart offers his prayers and says, fatuously, that no one should be murdered in an American school. Possibly the truest thing he's ever said in his life. But words, as we know, are cheap. Especially his.
The UK
  • Here's how to find out which of the newly defined British classes you belong to. The traditional labels have been obsolete for some time, of course, and this is just the latest attempt to put people in boxes for the benefit of ad agencies and marketeers.
Social Media
  • If you weren't already worried enough about Facebook, here's news of their attempt to redefine classes.
The Gender Wars


Galicia/Pontevedra
  • In 2013 - before reality intruded into her life - a Galician woman of unknown age gave more than €53,000 to a 28 year old local con-man whom she'd only 'met' on the Badoo dating site. He would have been in court in Vigo this week if it weren't for a strike by court staff there. The other inexplicable thing about this is that El País chose to put a foto of the Pontevedra court house above its report on it.
  • Rugby is played here in Galicia. As for why, perhaps the name of the Vilagarcía team provides a clue – Os Ingleses. Until the mid 30s, the entire British fleet used to visit this coast every year, to play against the local men and with the local women.
Finally
  • Reducing the use of plastic is a tough call. The only things that come in glass these days seem to be jam(jello) and chutney.
  • Is this the very essence of a 'bum rap'?
Today's Cartoon

The world's first dating site? . . . 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 14.2.18

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Spain
  • I've been known to say that notaries – while almost unheard of in the Anglosphere – are virtually demi-gods here. The latest evidence of this is response of a law firm to a request that one of their members certify my identity. “Sorry, but you need to go to a notary for that”. You'd think I'd asked them to certify I wasn't a drug-dealer or a money launderer. I'm forced to wonder whether this is also evidence of the fact no one trusts anyone here. I can understand that. Personally, I don't even trust notaries.
  • Commenting on the current political scene here, someone has quoted a phrase of Galician writer Camilo José Cela which is said to be a truism here: In Spain, he who resists wins. Rajoy personified, perhaps.
  • On a lighter note – Here's The Local's latest list: 10 unmissable San Sebastain pintxos.
Germany
  • These is the Daily Telegraph's list of the possible future political stars there, once the current mess is cleared up and Mrs M has departed the scene:- 
- The ambitious finance minister - Jens Spahn, 37, CDU
- The opposition rival - Andrea Nahles, 47, SPD
- The rising star​, Daniel Günther, 44, CDU
- The steady pair of hands - Manuela Schwesig, 43, SPD
- The 'crown princess' - Julia  Klöckner, 45, CDU
- The opposition stalwart​ - Malu Dreyer, 57, SPD
- The mini-Merkel - Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 55, CDU
- The dark horse - Olaf Scholz, 59, SPD. Mayor of Hamburg.
One or more of these names will surely become rather more familiar than they are now.
  • Here's the opening from Private Eye's Letter from Berlin this week: Germany’s political zombies are a horrifying sight. Angela Merkel, Horst Seehofer and Martin Schulz hope to lead a new grand coalition, despite German voters last September delivering their parties’ worst results in almost 70 years. Bereft of ideas and shorn of popular support, it is a political old guard that clings ever more desperately to its patrons in big business. There have been signs of what is to come even during the post-election caretaker government. In December Germany performed a U-turn on the continued use of the dangerous herbicide glysophate in the EU, which it had been blocking. The reason was simple: that evil American firm Monsanto, which is the main producer of glysophate, has been bought by our wholesome German chemicals company Bayer, which means glysophate is now good for us. So, perhaps not so different from the rest of the world as we've been led to believe.
France
  • France doesn't have a legal age under which a minor cannot agree to a sexual relationship – although the country’s top court has ruled that children aged 5 and under can't consent. We've been reminded of this because of the trial of a 29 year old man accused of sexually abusing an 11 year old girl. His defence say she's not a child and invited the sex. Hmm. Spain's age of consent, in contrast, was recently raised from 13 to 14, and the minimum age of marriage from 14 to 16.  All rather odd to Anglo readers, I suspect.
The USA
  • The word 'oligarch' is normally reserved for comments on Russia. But the excoriating article below addresses the situation in the USA. Truth to tell, I've no idea whether it's accurate or OTT. But the author certainly has good credentials.
The UK
  • Here's Don Quijones on the latest bank scandal there, centred on Barclays - charged with obtaining 'unlawful financial assistance' from the lovely government of Qatar. DJ points out that Barclays boasts one of the longest rap sheets of any bank in Europe. Quite a feat, he says. The majority view seems to be Barclays won't be punished for its odd deal with Qatar.
  • The tidbit of good news in that report is that the British government is more serious about separating banking investment and high-street activities than their counterparts in either the EU or the USA. (Interestingly, I mistyped 'counterparts', omitting the letter O)
    Dear god. Rolls-Royce is developing a 4 x 4 SUV – the Cullinan A vast high-sided ultra-luxury off-roader based loosely on the Phantom. On reflection, perhaps I should have put this under Germany.
Spanglish
  • Un Pick-Up. Complete with capital letters. No idea why. In this case, an emergency vehicle.
The English Language
  • New word, learnt this morning: Galantines. As in Galantines Day. When a group of unattached females get together to celebrate their freedom. 
The Culture Wars
Galicia/Pontevedra
  • In an article on a beer venture in which I am invested, I read that there are 700 bars in Pontevedra city. Even more than I suspected. Our population is about 80,000, I think.
Today's Cartoon

A propos . . . Yes, I know it's a repeat:-



The Deadly Rule of the Oligarchs: Chris Hedges

Oligarchic rule, as Aristotle pointed out, is a deviant form of government. Oligarchs care nothing for competency, intelligence, honesty, rationality, self-sacrifice or the common good. They pervert, deform and dismantle systems of power to serve their immediate interests, squandering the future for short-term personal gain. “The true forms of government, therefore, are those in which the one, or the few, or the many, govern with a view to the common interest; but governments that rule with a view to the private interest, whether of the one, of the few or of the many, are perversions,” Aristotle wrote. The classicist Peter L.P. Simpson calls these perversions the “sophistry of oligarchs,” meaning that once oligarchs take power, rational, prudent and thoughtful responses to social, economic and political problems are ignored to feed insatiable greed. The late stage of every civilization is characterized by the sophistry of oligarchs, who ravage the decaying carcass of the state.

These deviant forms of government are defined by common characteristics, most of which Aristotle understood. Oligarchs use power and ruling structures solely for personal advancement.

Oligarchs, though they speak of deconstructing the administrative state, actually increase deficits and the size and power of law enforcement and the military to protect their global business interests and ensure domestic social control. The parts of the state that serve the common good wither in the name of deregulation and austerity. The parts that promote the oligarchs’ power expand in the name of national security, economic growth and law and order.

For example, the oligarchs educate their children in private schools and buy them admissions into elite universities (this is how a mediocre student like Jared Kushner went to Harvard and Donald Trump went to the University of Pennsylvania), so they see no need to fund good public education for the wider population. Oligarchs can pay teams of high-priced lawyers to bail them and their families out of legal trouble. There is no need, in their eyes, to provide funds for legal representation for the poor. When oligarchs do not fly on private jets, they fly in first class, so they permit airlines to fleece and abuse “economy” passengers. They do not use subways, buses or trains, and they slash funds for the maintenance and improvement of these services. Oligarchs have private clinics and private doctors, so they do not want to pay for public health or Medicare. Oligarchs detest the press, which when it works shines a light on their corruption and mendacity, so they buy up and control systems of information and push their critics to the margins of society, something they will accelerate with the abolition of net neutrality.

Oligarchs do not vacation on public beaches or in public parks. They own their own land and estates, where we are not allowed. They see no reason to maintain or fund public parks or protect public land. They hand such land over to other oligarchs to exploit for profit. Oligarchs cynically view laws as mechanisms to legalize their fraud and plunder. They use their lobbyists in the legislative branch of government to author bills that increase and protect their wealth, through the avoidance of taxes and other means. Oligarchs do not allow free and fair elections. They use gerrymandering and campaign contributions to make sure other oligarchs are elected over and over to office. Many run unopposed.

Oligarchs look at regulations to protect the environment or the safety of workers as impediments to profit and abolish them. Oligarchs move industries to Mexico or China to increase their wealth while impoverishing American workers and leaving U.S. cities in ruins. Oligarchs are philistines. They are deaf, dumb and blind to great works of art, reveling in tawdry spectacles, patriotic kitsch and mindless entertainment. They despise artists and intellectuals who promote virtues and self-criticism that conflict with the lust for power, celebrity and wealth. Oligarchs always unleash wars on culture, attacking it as elitist, irrelevant and immoral and cutting its funding. All social services and institutions, such as public housing programs, public parks, meals for the elderly, infrastructure projects, welfare and Social Security, are viewed by oligarchs as a waste of money. These services are gutted or turned over to fellow oligarchs, who harvest them for profit until they are destroyed.

Oligarchs, who do not serve in the military and who ensure their children do not serve in the military, pretend to be great patriots. They attack those who oppose them as anti-American, traitors or agents for a foreign power. They use the language of patriotism to stoke hatred against their critics and to justify their crimes. They see the world in black and white—those who are loyal to them and those who are the enemy. They extent this stunted belief system to foreign affairs. Diplomacy is abandoned for the crude threats and indiscriminate use of force that are the preferred forms of communication of all despots.

There is little dispute that we live in an oligarchic state. The wealthiest 1 percent of America’s families control 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, a statistic similar to what is seen globally: The wealthiest 1 percent of the world’s population owns more than half of the world’s wealth. This wealth translates into political power. The political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern, after examining differences in public opinion across income groups on a wide variety of issues, concluded, “In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover … even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

Oligarchs accelerate social, political, cultural and economic collapse. The unchecked plunder leads to systems breakdown. The refusal to protect natural resources, or the economic engines that sustain the state, means that poverty becomes the norm and the natural world becomes a toxic wasteland. Basic institutions no longer work. Infrastructure is no longer reliable. Water, air and soil are poisoned. The population is left uneducated, untrained, impoverished, oppressed by organs of internal security and beset by despair. The state eventually goes bankrupt. Oligarchs respond to this steady deterioration by forcing workers to do more for less and launching self-destructive wars in the vain attempt to restore a lost golden age. They also insist, no matter how bad it gets, on maintaining their opulent and hedonistic lifestyles. They further tax the resources of the state, the ecosystem and the population with suicidal demands. They flee from the looming chaos into their gated compounds, modern versions of Versailles or the Forbidden City. They lose touch with reality. In the end, they are overthrown or destroy the state itself. There is no institution left in America that can be called democratic, and thus there is no internal mechanism to prevent a descent into barbarity.

“The political role of corporate power, the corruption of the political and representative processes by the lobbying industry, the expansion of executive power at the expense of constitutional limitations, and the degradation of political dialogue promoted by the media are the basics of the system, not excrescences upon it,” the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin wrote in “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism.” “The system would remain in place even if the Democratic Party attained a majority; and should that circumstance arise, the system will set tight limits to unwelcome changes, as if foreshadowed in the timidity of the current Democratic proposals for reform. In the last analysis, the much-lauded stability and conservatism of the American system owe nothing to lofty ideals, and everything to the irrefutable fact that it is shot through with corruption and awash in contributions primarily from wealthy and corporate donors. When a minimum of a millionollars is required of House candidates and elected judges, and when patriotism is for the draft-free to extol and for the ordinary citizen to serve, in such times it is a simple act of bad faith to claim that politics-as-we-now-know-it can miraculously cure the evils which are essential to its very existence.”

The longer we are ruled by oligarchs, the deadlier our predicament becomes, especially since the oligarchs refuse to address climate change, the greatest existential crisis to humankind. The oligarchs have many mechanisms, including wholesale surveillance, to keep us in check. They will stop at nothing to maintain the sophistry of their rule. History may not repeat itself, but it echoes. And if we don’t recognize these echoes and then revolt, we will be herded into the abattoirs that tyrannies set up at the end of their existence.


Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, New York Times best selling author, former professor at Princeton University, activist and ordained Presbyterian minister. He has written 11 books.

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