Monday, November 19, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Germany: 19.1.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters German
  • My host – who is half English/half German - went to Cologne at the weekend, for a family get-together. This morning he commented that it was all very enjoyable, even though they'd all demonstrated 'German humour'. I have to confess that discussion with him didn't shed an awful lot of light on this (potentially fascinating) observation. Essentially, he said, while they did laugh a lot, they didn't initiate much. But, as he's a determined 'initiator', I feel his comment might be a tad unfair to his relatives.
Matters Spanish
  • More news about this government's revision of their predecessors' crazy policy on solar energy.
  • And here's some corporate news from DQ that might interest one or two readers.
  • A funny feminist form of anti-Francoist protest.
The EU/Brexit
  • As expected: Europe’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has raised the prospect of the UK remaining under EU control until the end of 2022, by extending the Brexit transition for 2 years from the current end 2020.
  • En passant, the British government prefers to call this 2-4 years time-frame, the ' implementation period', not the 'transition period'. Possibly wishful labelling. 
  • Neither term will be relevant if the British parliament – as is very likely - rejects the deal currently on the table and nothing is done to stop the UK crashing out of the EU next March.
  • I'm still betting on a second referendum, rather than the Conservative government simply announcing they'll go along with majority sentiment and withdraw the exit, or a general election bringing in an equally conflicted Labour party. Whose leader laughingly suggested yesterday he could negotiate a better deal than Mrs May. A man whose never negoatiated anything in his life.
The USA
  • Here's a nice article on a book entitled “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power. Great empire, little minds is the catchy headline – a comment of Edmund Burke's. About the British.
© [David] Colin Davies 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Germany: 18.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters Spanish
  • I wonder if I will ever get to try any of this.
  • I see Atlantis has finally been found, again.
  • Among some old papers, I found a blow-by-blow account of a World Cup football match between Spain and South Korea, watched in a Pontevedra bar. In 2002. Some of the things I noted:-
- Constant noise. Do Spaniards know how to stop talking?
- It's as if we were in the crowd at the match. Every good decision is applauded.
- Every move instantly analysed.
- Humour constant.
- Penalties looming. Hearts in mouth every time Korea comes forward.
- Terror now of last minute Korean goal. Even Spanish throw-ins are applauded.
- Extra time. Golden goal. Tangible, palpable tension. Cursing and swearing reach new heights.
- Second goal disallowed. Replays. Utter disbelief. Furore.
- Agitation refuses to die.
- Crowd now turning a little nasty. Every mistake by Spain now triggers an outpouring of Latin scorn.
- The air is purple with swear words I know and probably several more.
- Nil-nil final score. Penalty shoot-out
- Korea win the shoot-out and – unexpectedly and utterly undeservedly – go into the semi-finals while Spain goes into mourning.
- In eerie silence and with immense finality, the bar empties in less that 2 seconds.
At least the final comment answers the question posed in the first.

The EU
  • So long as the political elites in France and Germany aimed at a Bundesrepublik Europa, Brexit was both inevitable and necessary. Now that we are leaving, however, European integration has ground to a halt. With the election of populist governments, it may even be going into reverse. So, why leave now, one might ask, especially on the terms on offer.
Brexit
  • Some pertinent overviews:-
- The only thing that is now absolutely certain about Brexit is that what we voted for in the referendum was not the utter chaos we are looking at today.
- Of course it would be better to remain in the EU than to accept this appalling “deal” – which is not in fact a deal but merely a precondition for a possible one. 


- The Withdrawal Agreement is not a “start”, as Mrs May keeps saying. It’s the end. [of Brexit].
- This is the place at which we were always meant to arrive: the destination determined from the outset by the select group of people who decide these things. 
- The choice of “this deal or no deal” is a complete red herring. The Remainers will stop banging on about a second referendum – which is a non-starter – and demand instead an extension of Article 50. This is a request that Brussels should happily accept.

The USA
  • Nice article on Fart and authoritarianism here.
Spanish
English
  • Here's a list of words that the author says don't exist and are untranslatable. But then goes on to translate them . . .
© [David] Colin Davies 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Germany: 17.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters German/Hamburg
  • I had my first experience of a paternoster lift this week. And discovered here the origin of the name for them. There are an astonishing 230 of these contraptions here in Germany.
Matters Spanish
  • Gibraltar, the UK and Spain are going to cooperate via a committee. I wonder how this will be different from the system of tripartite meetings set up – wisely – by the previous left-of-centre PSOE government and then immediately scrapped by the incoming right-of-centre PP party when it got back into power in 2011(?).
[If you can bear it] Brexit
  • As 5 of Mrs May's cabinet gear up to try to persuade her to go back to Brussels for a better deal – accompanied perhaps by The Light Brigade - some of the EU leaders are complaining that the 'final' one on the table is too soft. Looks like a recipe for progress, doesn't it?
  • At least one British observer thinks Brussels would extend the exit deadline in return for a 2nd referendum. Well, whyever not? Nothing much to lose.
  • The article below is a - possibly balanced – view of said Mrs May.
  • At the Kunsthalle art gallery yesterday, I saw this picture, entitled The Genius of France, between Liberty and Death. It struck me the struggling angel could represent Brexit in the eyes of some, trying to escape Death and reach the embrace of Freedom. Amidst a bloody revolution:-


Spanish
Social Media
Finally . . .
  • Here's a warning about something which is almost certainly not confined to Spain.
© [David] Colin Davies, Hamburg: 

THE ARTICLE

The PM was at her best alone and friendless: Janice Turner, The Times

As a typical only child, Theresa May is unclubbable and gauche but also has the strength not to give a damn

Almost since she took office, I’ve wondered why Theresa May carries on. Imagine you must solve an impossible conundrum knowing your solution will please no one; you must square up to your peers in Europe who mock, pity and delight in your doom; an intemperate opposition, with no clue of its own, shrieks from the sidelines; while your colleagues are self-serving shysters, tweedy totalitarians and privileged bolters who unzip Savile Row flies to hose down your tent.

It’s not as if Mrs May relishes the trappings of power. No kingly Cameronian swanning around Chequers with chums, just weekends at home, at church, browsing her cookbooks with Philip. No preening Tony Blair pleasure in public performance for the most awkward woman alive. She is not young, she has diabetes, she could enjoy city directorships and a nice quiet life. Why rise each morning to fresh hell?

No one in politics “loves” Theresa May, she has few acolytes, no one thrills to hear her speak, her memoirs (if she bothers) will hit the remainder pile. But watching her press conference on Thursday it was hard — even if you’d never vote for her — not to feel respect. When she said, “I firmly believe that the draft withdrawal agreement was the best that could be negotiated”, I’d bet mainstream voters, the non-mad Leavers and just-get-on-with-it Remainers agreed.

She had recognised that freedom of movement, not a customs union (which many don’t understand, let alone care about), was the Brexit red line. And she applied such talents, energy and intellect as she has to win that demand without shafting the economy. While David Cameron skulked in his shepherd’s hut, David Davis could barely be bothered to go to Brussels and every other Brexit backseat driver blathered about how their own pure deal would kick Juncker in the balls, May sweated the detail. She tried. And God, they say, loves a trier, even if the Tories don’t.

In management speak, May’s appointment was a classic “glass cliff”. A 15-year survey of Fortune 500 companies showed that when a firm was thriving it mainly appointed a man as CEO, while women were most likely to be chosen if a company was in peril. In part, ambitious men are reluctant to touch a toxic firm that might taint their reputation, while women are grateful for any chance. Yet also the perceived female virtues — selflessness, patience and stoicism — are seen as more useful in untangling a corporate mess.

Certainly these are Theresa May’s political skills, perhaps her only ones. By every other metric she is a terrible politician and certainly not a leader to inspire. Even more than Gordon Brown she is an overpromoted first lieutenant who has never conceived an original thought. As shallow as Cameron was, he had the charisma to project a modernising credo and, at times, the apposite phrase to make the nation feel good.

May has no lateral thinking or big-tent appeal. All her fine phrases about “fairness and opportunity” in her first Downing Street address and her social justice speech on uneducated white working-class boys, black men in prisons, young people unable to afford homes, led nowhere. Rather, she pushed on with austerity and universal credit, and authored the scandal of Windrush.

Nor can she lighten the mood with a good joke or an impromptu phrase. She has no hinterland: her supposed passion for fashion feels like a lingua franca adopted, like Cameron’s football fandom, for the purpose of voter small talk. Beyond the text before her, she is wooden, tongue-tied, excruciating when she tries to be cool or informal, dancing for trade deals. Yet she didn’t even have the self-knowledge to reject a personality cult election strategy where her uncomfortable nature was thrust squirming into the spotlight, gibbering about wheat fields and reciting “strong and stable government” on a loop.

But on Thursday she did, all things considered, look strong and stable. She is an only child — as am I — and we may be poor collaborators, worse delegators, unclubbable, cussed, solipsistic and gauche. But, boy, are we good at standing alone, not caring what the world thinks of us beyond the very few people we love. Nasa often selected only-children as astronauts because they aren’t lonely even in space. An eldest child says: “Hey, everyone, let’s do it this way!” An only child says: “I don’t care what you do, I’m doing it my way.”

By Thursday, the worst was over for May, all that tiresome persuading, listening and taking on board criticism. She’d done it her way and if people didn’t like it, well, bring it on! As she stood for three solid hours in parliament riding every blow, she reminded me of Hillary Clinton’s 11-hour interrogation by the Benghazi inquiry. Later, at her press conference, indomitable, even cracking jokes, her hunched persona was unbound: she was Mrs Thatcher baiting Labour on the day she resigned, crying: “I’m enjoying this!”

Max Hastings once wrote that in battle he’d trust Cameron over Boris Johnson: the latter would run off with all the provisions, the former would get them all out alive. In fact, both fled the field of combat in the end.

For two years Remainers applauded every EU salvo against a workable exit, yet want a second referendum even if it immolates the last tatter of social fabric. Brexiteers would rather tip Britain into a Leninist “the worse, the better” no-deal chaos than approve a fudge. Amid the ruins of our political consensus and a war-weary electorate, at least Theresa May did her best.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Galciai: 16.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters Spanish
  • More here, from the Guardian, on the government's admirable plans to stop the prescribing of quack medicines.
  • And here's The Local on some specifics, acupuncture for example.
  • As we all know, Spanish is a very largely phonetic language. So, spelling is easy, yes? Well, no, it seems. School leavers and undergraduates are getting worse at it, for one reason and another. See El Páis on this here, in English. Note; Having a few years ago regularly read social media messages from British teachers, I can assure you that this problem isn't confined either to Spain or to students. But, then, English isn't a phonetic language by any stretch of the imagination.

The EU/the UK/Brexit
  • All bets are off. As, indeed, they have been for some time. Only a lunatic would claim they know what will happen now. So, my prediction is for No Brexit. Not a No-Deal Brexit, but no Brexit at all. Total victory for the EU pseudo-empire in its objective of preventing a theoretically free, sovereign nation from leaving its 'voluntary' association. Honest Brexiteers such as Richard North have always said this would happen if the UK proposals were not sensible for both parties. Which, thanks to the combination of ignorant, extremist, ambitious Brexiteers and an incompetent Prime Minister, they weren't from the outset. As I wrote yesterday, it's an opportunity lost. As to how the UK will eventually arrive at a No Brexit and stay in the EU, returning to the status quo ante, there's an awful lot of muddy water to flow under the bridge until then. And a helluva lot more pantomime. Which could well start with a Prime Ministerial resignation within 24 hours . . .
  • I say the status quo ante but, of course, for a time at least, the UK won't be the member it used to be. Which could well be a relief to the other members.
  • Sorry, I've failed to resist the temptation to cite articles. The 2 below give an insight into why Brexiteers of all stamps consider Mrs May's deal too bad to support. As do all the Remainers, of course. As I think I've said before, Mrs May has proved that you can displease all the people all the time. Perhaps the main reason for this – apart from incompetence – is that she was always a Remainer. So, if I'm right that the UK will stay as a full member of the EU because there'll be no Brexit of any kind, she should be able to look back on the last few tough years with some personal satisfaction. She will have acted, as she always insists she is doing, in the interests of the UK, as she sees them at least. But at what a price!

Spanish

Matters Galician
  • Reader Sierra has advised that, while some autopistas will cease to be toll roads, some existing free highways could well go in the opposite direction. Especially in Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria. Which would make my trips to Madrid and to the ferry port of Santander very much more expensive. I have long wondered/worried when this would happen. Particularly as regards the relatively recently completed A8 along the north coast.

© [David] Colin Davies, Hamburg: 16.11.18

THE ARTICLES

1. Theresa's May Brexit plan concedes our sovereignty in a way even worse than if we stayed in the EU
: Iain Duncan Smith, MP - a former secretary of state for work and pensions

In December last year, the Prime Minister surprised us all by proposing to accept a deal with the EU in which we were committed to the Northern Ireland backstop. On top of that, the UK agreed to pay the EU £39 billion to allow the UK to have a two-year transition period after the end of the Article 50 process. Although we would have left the EU we would remain locked to the customs union and the single market, bound by all regulations and overseen by the European Court of Justice.

This, Oliver Robbins, her civil service negotiator, told her was required to unlock future trade talks. I begged the PM not to sign up to the arrangement. I said that if she did sign, that would mark the end of her negotiations because two of the critical things the EU wanted were about to be handed to them without anything in return. Sadly, she did not take my advice, and the EU, far from entering trade talks, continued to demand further concessions.

The EU knew they had us over a barrel. They only had to sit tight, say no to all our demands and we would be forced to concede. In an attempt to break the subsequent deadlock, the PM launched the Chequers plan – filled with yet more concessions – at the Cabinet, again maintaining the EU would accept this hybrid complicated sharing of the EU rule book and we would get on with trade deals. The EU, of course, refused to countenance it.

Finally this 500-page document – which on inspection looks just like all the demands the EU has made from the beginning, dressed up as an agreement – was produced. Anyone reading it can see that the EU have waited until the UK became so desperate to get a deal, they simply picked up their original document, turned to the last page and said “sign here”, and we meekly agreed.

We have allowed the EU to stop us leaving the backstop/customs union when we wish, as they have an equal say in that decision. We have the sovereign right to withdraw from the UN, Nato, even the EU, but not from this perpetual membership of the customs union. Welcome to the Hotel California.

On top of that we will be stuck suffering extensive interference from the European Court of Justice. We have conceded our sovereignty in a way we haven’t even had to do in the EU and we are paying £39 billion for the privilege.

It didn’t need to be like this. It still doesn’t. The Prime Minister should at once tell the EU this is unacceptable and it will not get through the House of Commons. She should demand that we pursue a different course, one that keeps our borders open without border checks and doesn’t require membership of the customs union. She should also tell them that the UK is content to leave without a trade deal, and trade on WTO terms – 90% of global growth will be outside the EU anyway.

Change must come one way or another – and now.
2. This ghost of a prime minister has humiliated her country and lied to its people. She must go, and go now: Allison Pearson. Daily Telegraph

Who will rid us of this terrible prime minister? If there was any lingering sympathy for Theresa May surely every last jot of it must dissolve as the details of her dastardly Draft Withdrawal Agreement start to become clear. Mrs May is much too insipid a figure to inspire hatred. It would be like hating a mop or a seagull. But I actually felt cold fury as I read just one clause which begins, “For the purposes of this Agreement all references to Member States in provisions of Union law … shall be understood as including the United Kingdom and its competent authorities, except as regards… decision-making.”

There it is in black and white, the very thing the PM assures us is not happening. The UK will be regarded by the European Union as a member state because that is what, by law, we will be, only without any power. The eunuch in the room. And the person who leads our country seriously believes this “delivers the Brexit the British people voted for”. I know. There you were thinking the British people voted not to be a member state of the EU!

It’s simply staggering. The PM who assured us in her stirring Lancaster House speech that “no deal is better than a bad deal” had the effrontery to stand outside Number 10 on Wednesday night and say, in effect, “any deal is better than no deal”.  Jacob Rees-Mogg found a typically courteous and elegant formulation for this dissembling: “What my Right Honourable Friend says and what my Right Honourable Friend does no longer match.” If you translate that from eighteenth-century Moggese, he’s calling the Prime Minister a liar. And he’s right.

 Fib after fib. At her Wednesday press conference, Mrs May told the assembled media that she had “the confidence of the Cabinet”. Except it now emerges that, at the end of the Cabinet meeting, a furiously deceived Dominic Raab told the Chief Whip he was resigning. To lose one Brexit Secretary may look like misfortune, to lose two looks like that is a job in name only only because the man actually running Brexit is a senior Remainer civil servant. All credit to Raab who refused to get on a plane to meet Michel Barnier and pose for the Neville Chamberlain Memorial Handshake.

Yet more lies. Last year, the PM told her Cabinet she had got a good deal and not to worry about that small technical business with the Northern Ireland backstop. Having deceived her own colleagues, Mrs May now hopes to fool the British people. In her statement last night, she said that her deal would end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK. No, it wouldn’t. As Esther McVey said in her superb resignation letter, the people have “always been ahead of politicians on this issue and it will be no good trying to pretend to them that the deal honours the result of the referendum when it is obvious to everyone it doesn’t”.

Hear bloody hear! Give that woman Theresa May’s job. Give anyone Theresa May’s job, frankly. Boris. A random shopper in the Waitrose frozen-food aisle. Larry the cat. Lulu. Margaret Thatcher (I know she’s dead, but there’s no harm wishing). Cliff Richard. Ant’n’Dec. Literally anyone stands a greater chance of being a better leader of the Conservative Party than Theresa May.

They will say that this is not the right time for a leadership election. They will say that it’s immensely self-indulgent of the Conservatives to have a Vote of No Confidence with only four months to go until we allegedly leave the EU. Well, they’re wrong. We can’t struggle on with a ghost prime minister who has humiliated her country and lied to its people. We can’t nod along when they praise her “resilience” when what they really mean is pig-headed obstinacy and an inability to admit she’s wrong and change course. We can’t allow her to defy the single biggest vote in our history and let down the 82.4 per cent of the electorate who backed parties who said they were committed to leaving the EU at the general election.

As they prepare to cast their votes, I beg Tory MPs not to cling to nurse for fear of something worse. The something worse is already upon us. We need a new leader, one who will fight for their country. We need a chess Grandmaster to wrangle with Brussels not the runner-up in the 1973 Towcester Tiddlywinks Competition.

At her emergency press conference, far from resigning (if only), Theresa May was at her most robotically indefatigable, determined to sell her deal which has pulled off the remarkable trick of uniting people of all parties in their contempt for it. She insists she is acting in the best interests of the British people.

No, Prime Minister. To do that, you must go. And go now.  

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Germany: 15.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters Hamburg/German
  • I'm a tad confused about Germany's/Hamburg's approach to rubbish disposal. In contrast to the policy of other countries, it seems that here you don't have to separate out plastic. And you might even be allowed to include some glass items in the garbage bags you chuck into the street bins. But possibly not those on which there's a deposit. But there are separate street bins for paper, at least.
  • Twice a week, I gaze out of my bedroom window onto a street market which stretches a long way underneath the U-train rails that run down the middle of the wide Isestrasse. There's some wonderful foodstuffs there, and even a stall selling a very wide array of spices and herbs. I fancy I'd be a regular patron, if I lived here. But not for the cheese. Or the cucumber.
  • I'd also be a regular customer of the supermarkets offering a nice selection of Asian foods and sauces. Not to mention Portuguese vinho verde at prices not much above those back home.
Matters Spanish
  • Good news for Brits. And others, I guess.
  • As I've said more than once, planning is not usually a Spanish thing. But they seem to have drastically changed their approach to their Xmas shopping. Impressive. 
  • One of the biggest negatives of La Crisis was the emigration of talented young people without employment prospects here. The government is now trying to woo them back, it says here. One wishes it luck, of course.
  • Do you find labyrinths amazing? If so, this article on Spain's best 5 is for you.
Some glaze-eyed readers might wish to pass over this section . . . 

The Brexit
  • Just in case you live in a cave, here's a few of this morning's British headlines:-
The Times: May papers over the cracks as split cabinet back Brexit deal. PM faces furious backlash. 
The Telegraph: Cabinet backs Theresa May's plan but leadership challenge could come amid Tory fury.
The Guardian: Theresa May's Brexit plan: a split cabinet, a split party and a split nation
‘Collective’ decision by ministers to press ahead – but Brexiters may back push for no-confidence vote
Politico Europe: UK Cabinet approves draft Brexit deal, Prime Minister Theresa May predicts ‘difficult days ahead.’ Theresa May’s Brexit deal: That was the easy bit.
  • And here's Richard North's final para of his post today:- It is possible to see a scenario where the UK is locked in perpetuity into a customs union with the EU. The issues relating to the single market and regulatory checks is by no means clear and, it seems, are still not fully resolved, leaving areas for future dispute. But there is ample material to support an assertion that this is Brexit in Name Only (BRINO). This is exactly the fudge that should never have been accepted by Mrs May.
  • My favourite summation: Mrs May had a weak hand and played it very badly.
  • My own view is that every sensible Brexiteer would take the view that, if this is where we were bound to end up, we should never have initiated a Brexit in the first place. Of course, one should add the rider that there were exit plans – most obviously Richard North's Flexit – which could well have avoided this outcome. But the incompetent British government ignored them. Possibly because - like its Prime Minister - it didn't really want a Brexit.
  • Mrs May said last night: It's either this best possible Brexit, a no-deal Brexit or no Brexit at all. If feasible, I'd go with the last of these, accepting that an opportunity has been lost and it would be sensible to accept defeat. Though this, of course, would be seen as a betrayal of those who voted in 2016 for a Brexit. But it's never going to happen as it would mean the Tory party losing power for quite possibly a generation. And one thing the party is good at is resorting to pragmatism that keeps it in power. So, I imagine Mrs May will get what she wants but won't last very much longer as party leader and Prime Minister. Because, as a Times columnist puts it: Mrs May knows with her head and her heart that this deal is worse than the one we are relinquishing. It is her fate and her legacy to leave the nation with something she knows is a bad deal. The fact that it is also just about as good as she could have got is no consolation. An ungrateful party, which simply has no idea what it wants, may punish her simply because she has finally come to a decision.
The USA


Matters Galician
  • HT to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for this item . . . The courts have caught up with some of the folk who, over the years, have flagrantly ignored the law about building properties close to the sea. Which was not exactly a secret.
Finally . . .
  • It's not only the Spanish who are fed up with the tourist hordes. Some Dutch volk have had quite enough. But I hope they don't mind me taking a look at their village next week . . .
© [David] Colin Davies, Hamburg: 15.11.18

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