Saturday, December 15, 2018

Thoughts from Headingley, England: 15.12.18

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.

England
  • My younger daughter took her kids away from the play centre yesterday by car, and asked me to wheel the double buggy home. Which is how - after the supermarket - I came to walk a kilometre with a bottle of red wine in one seat and a bottle of white in the other. The odd thing is that no one commented, thus depriving me of the chance to give my witty pre-prepared impromptu response.
  • My daughters don't read my blog – serpent's teeth and all that – but I sent my (Madrid-based, pregnant) elder daughter the bit about her niece in yesterday's post. Cue outrage that I didn't include this comment she'd told me she'd had during a scan the previous day:- “And that’s the penis. And the testicles. It’s a boy, without a doubt.” I suspect she felt this was a very Spanish approach. Blunt. Sin pelos en la lengua.
Spain
The UK and Brexit
  • British politics is now so farcical, it’s like watching 'The Apprentice'.
  • One of the unique properties of the Brexit spectacle is its capacity to be boring and frightening at the same time. It is grindingly technical and predictable, which are characteristics of a dull thing. But watching something precious – the stability and prosperity of a nation – move on a slow conveyor belt into a grinding machine is also alarming. 
  • With so little time left, there are now three places to go:-
- Option one: exit with a deal almost exactly like the one May has negotiated. By deal here, I mean the withdrawal agreement – the legal text that serves as safe passage to a transition period from where other options for the long term can be developed. The withdrawal agreement can be ratified or not. Its many deficiencies, including the notorious backstop, are intrinsic to Brexit and would be the same for any party under any leader. Changing the prime minister doesn’t change EU law.
- Option two: membership of the EU – the best available outcome in strategic and economic terms, but one that incurs serious political cost by enraging already furious leavers. 
- Option three: exit with no deal. An appalling idea recommended only by fools, liars and vandals who relish chaos for perverse ideological reasons.
  • The Brexiteers’ best route to victory was closed off this week after months of dithering ended up handing the Prime Minister another year in office. Now, the Brexit faction is firmly out of the driving seat for the coming crucial months. They waited too long and strategised too little. At the other extreme . . . The diehard Remainers who will stop at nothing to reverse the referendum result. Their ranks are growing along with their confidence, but in their desperation to annul Brexit, they will overplay their hand. These MPs will hold out for nothing less than a re-staging of the vote with a “remain” option on the ballot paper, for which the EU would likely agree to an Article 50 extension. This could backfire spectacularly. Remainers are very likely to lose a second referendum. British voters will not like being asked the same question twice and the arrogance of the refusal to accept an authentic, democratic result will be deservedly punished. [Perhaps it's not only EU politicians who don't really understand British plebs.]
  • This battle over Brexit is showing the political class at its most un-British: doctrinaire, rigid, kamikaze. When the vast majority of voters — Leave or Remain — just long for a rapid and pragmatic end. I hope this Christmas will provide a firebreak in our political inferno. We should speak to — and actually try to understand — someone who voted a different way. Time to get off social media, whose harsh staccato arguments have degraded political discourse, and talk.
Life in the UK
  • A stand-up comedian has pulled out of a gig at London university after being presented with a list of subjects not to joke about. He was asked to sign a contract “agreeing to our no-tolerance policy with regards to racism, sexism, classism, ageism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, xenophobia and Islamophobia”. According to “student leaders”, this was to ensure the event was a “safe space” providing “joy, love and acceptance”. As someone has said, this was to completely and utterly misunderstand the whole basis of modern stand-up comedy. What a humourless generation will be in charge of the country in 20 years' time. Not exactly the Cambridge Footlights, is it?
The USA
  • So, it's not to be his son-in-law but his golf buddy. President Trump has named his next chief of staff as Mick Mulvaney, a hardline conservative now serving as his budget director, after a chaotic selection process during which several candidates ruled themselves out. Mulvaney is a regular golfing partner of the president and is known for his aggressive attempts to cut back the welfare state.
  • I wonder what the Essentials and Nice to Have elements of Fart's Perfect Bride Spec were. Apart from being a golf mate, I mean. I guess Willing/stupid enough to take on the job was high on the Essentials section.
Spanish
© [David] Colin Davies

Friday, December 14, 2018

Thoughts from Headingley, England: 14.12.18

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.

England
  • I walked into the village centre this morning behind 4 young people. Three were clearly male – 2 in fashionable drainpipe jeans and 1 in loose trousers that ended just above his ankles. The 4th was wearing tights and so it wasn't until I'd passed them that I could identify his gender as male. Well, his sex, anyway. God knows about gender these days. Assuming I've got that the right way round.
  • I spent much of the morning watching my 2 young grandchildren in a play place. It was very enjoyable. At times. My 3 year old granddaughter - presumably hungry - pointed 4 times to a door and said "The cafe´s through there." What the Spanish call an indirecta. She clearly needs to be more assertive. . .
Spain
  • I think it was Noel Coward who said the Costa del Sol was 'a sunny place for shady people'. No, it was Somerset Maugham and he was talking about the French Riviera. No matter. Here's an article on the Spanish claimant.
  • Here's something that'll ensure the already over-touristed city of Granada is infested with even more visitors. Soon you'll have to book a timed-ticket for the entire city, not just the Alhambra.
  • And here's a video on Galicia, entitiled A Celtic paradise. Which is partly true.
France
  • Professor Brigitte Granville, a French economist at Queen Mary University of London: The biggest danger for monetary union is not Greece, or Italy, it is France. The European Commission is in a serious bind. Any demand for harsh budget cuts in France in this volatile political mood could spin out of control. If they make the French too angry, it’s the end of the euro. And that's to ignore the impact of not doing so on the Italians. Still, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. . . .
Italy
The UK and Brexit
  • Just how much pain, punishment and humiliation can Mrs May take? She's now a duck lacking the basic requirements for lameness - a single leg - after the wind-in-their-sales EU leaders not just rejected her pleas for (legalisitc) help but hardened their demands and conditions. As I've said, why not? They're in the saddle, with 27 whips. In so far as they can be in a boat and on 27 horses at the same time. Which they clearly are.
  • And yet, there's a strong view in the UK media that the developments of the last week have increased the chances of Mrs May's universally disliked deal being accepted, in January if not in December. But you'd have to be chess grandmaster to understand the logic.
  • A couple of fundamental points/questions about the EU from one Brexiteer's perspective:-
- Given the way the EU has behaved during the Brexit negotiations, Remainers can hardly portray the bloc as a body which respects the views of its peoples. Indeed, the bruising experience of the past few years has exposed the central reason why many voted to leave: the gaping democratic deficit at the EU’s very heart. It is this lacuna which has manifested itself in the rise of populist parties across Europe, from the Front National in France to the Five Star movement in Italy and the AfD in Germany.
- Why would we lock ourselves for the next 40 years into an institution that we don’t like?
- Remainers in a second referendum will have to answer this last question. They will have to say why they support moves to deepen the structures of the EU as outlined by Jean-Claude Juncker, the outgoing EU Commission president, in his “road map”. Yes, we might remain for a while outside the eurozone and the Schengen area, the cornerstones of nascent European statehood. But it will become increasingly hard to do so if we decide to remain. And, presumably, those who want to stay will make the case for us to join both. After all, if they think the EU is a good thing, why not commit to it fully?

Meanwhile . . .

Said EU
  • Siren voices continue to warn that, economically, things are going to get very bad very quickly. Which will make the consequences for EU states of a Brexit even worse than they fear. A couple of views:-
  1. Ambrose Evans Pritchard: The balance of economic terror over Brexit has shifted over the last year. The eurozone is more vulnerable to the shock of no-deal rupture on punitive Macronesque terms than it was at the point of peak hubris in December 2017, when EU negotiators set the trap of the Irish backstop.
  2. Jeremy Warner: Throughout Europe, the UK included, economic growth has slowed to a snail’s pace. Business investment is on hold, and sentiment almost everywhere is turning down. Outside Germany and its satellite states, Europe remains an unmitigated disaster area. In withdrawing monetary support, the European Central Bank answers to the supposed needs of the Eurozone’s German core, but in so doing further threatens economic recovery and therefore political stability in the still severely compromised periphery. . . . Inbuilt contradictions at the heart of Europe’s single currency are again coming back to haunt it.
  3. Ambrose Evans Pritchard again: The ECB is to halt its €2.6 trillion programme of bond purchases this month despite the deepening economic slowdown in the eurozone and the lack of any safety buffer against a deflation shock. The 4-year blitz of emergency stimulus saved the European banking system and helped lift Europe out of an economic slump but has failed to generate self-sustaining momentum. Core inflation remains nailed to the floor at 1.1%. Such a low level at this late stage of the cycle raises the risk of deflation and poisonous debt dynamics in the next recession.   . . .Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, said quantitative easing had been a resounding success given the impossible circumstances. It was the “only driver of this recovery” at crucial moments. . . . Critics say the ECB waited too long before launching QE in early 2015 - 6 years after the US Federal Reserve - and allowed the deflationary forces to become lodged in parts of the system. It may now be trapped. The window is closing as the ageing global expansion fades. Mr Draghi warned of “downside risks” to the economy but stuck to his line that the sudden slowdown over recent months is a hiccup caused by one-off factors and disruption in the car industry. The ECB tweaked its forecast slightly but is still banking on growth of 1.7% next year. . . .“It is the usual soothing babble from the ECB,” said Ashoka Mody, a former bail-out chief for the International Monetary Fund in Europe. “They are seriously underestimating the pace of the slowdown. China’s stimulus has run out and this is causing a world trade slowdown, with cascading effects through the global economy.” Professor Mody, now at Princeton University, called it a grave policy error to declare ‘mission accomplished’ and cut off stimulus when it has failed to meet its inflation target and while growth is crumbling.  . . . Italy has one foot in recession. It faces an incipient credit crunch. Germany contracted in the third quarter. The Sentix index of business expectations for the eurozone has fallen to minus 18.8, the lowest since the EMU banking crisis in 2012.  . . . Gilles Moec, from Bank of America, said his tracking model shows that growth has stalled to an annual rate of 0.55 and that core inflation is trapped in a range of 0.7% to 1.1%. “We believe the ECB is well aware of this, and its repeated messages of optimism have more to do with the political need to do away with QE than with its actual assessment of the current situation.” This is a polite way of saying that the ECB has hit a host of political constraints and is being forced to abandon stimulus too early. Bank of America suggested that the ECB is knowingly issuing inflated growth estimates in order to justify its actions. Some might deem this an astonishing situation.
Hey ho . . . For amusement . . . 

The USA
  • Of course it's credible . . . Trump says he's considering his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as his next Chief of Staff.
Spanish
  • Word of the Day: Jaleo.
© [David] Colin Davies

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Thoughts from Headingley, England: 13.12.18

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.

England
  • The hipster movement is so entrenched here now that most barmen look like they've come from a shack in the Ukrainian outback. Given the accents of some of them, this might well be the case.
  • I detest painting and avoid it like the plague. So, it's something of an irony - not to mention an exaggeration - that I nearly froze to death early this morning putting an undercoat on the doors of my daughter's garage and shed here in Headingley. Of a flat she really should sell!
Spain
France and the EU
  • M Macron's concessions will massively impact on France's budget and her abiity to end the 11 year run of above-3% deficits. Will France be warned about this? Or, god forbid, punished like Greece and Italy? Here's a few comments on this:-
- Emmanuel Macron’s bid to buy off France’s “gilets jaunes” protesters with instant budget handouts threatens to blast through eurozone’s fiscal limits, fatally damaging his credibility as the champion of the European project and the guardian of French public accounts.
- The package of short-term measures announced in a theatrical mea culpa on Monday night leaves Macron’s putative “grand bargain” with Germany in tatters.
- [From Rome] France should face the normal (disciplinary) procedure from the Commission. It would be quite wrong if Italy is subjected to all this criticism while the French do what they want.
- The new measures will leave France with a bigger budget deficit than Italy’s on every key measure, putting Brussels in a delicate position as it prepares sanctions against the rebel Lega-Five Star coalition in Rome.


The UK and Brexit
  • As we near the end of this momentous week, here are Richard North's perspicacious observations as of this morning:-
- Against all expectations of a week ago, she Mrs May  come away with 63% of the vote of the parliamentary party. 
- The "ultras" have been left without their moment of glory. Now, they're too late. The ERG have shot their bolt - the best they had to offer was not nearly enough. Its leader, Mr Rees-Mogg, has nowhere to go, but back to his constituency. His brief reign is over – his capacity to rain on Mrs May's parade is seriously curtailed. Yet, even now, he lacks the self-awareness to realise that, as far as he is concerned, it is "game over".
- Mr "Oaf" Johnson's leadership ambitions are also over.
- None of the other contenders are going to get a look in either. This is the palace coup that failed – organised by a bunch of political second-raters who have been outsmarted by the vicar's daughter so comprehensively that they didn't even see her coming.
- Nor is the game-play over. We'll have to wait to see whether Mrs May brings back a piece of paper from Brussels to wave at the crowd
- By the time the MPs get back from their Xmas break, they will be a more subdued lot. And, no doubt, businesses and others will have been working hard to point up the dire consequences of a "no deal" Brexit 
- With the ERG effectively silenced, reality may well start to focus minds. By mid-January, therefore, the scene will be set for the deferred vote to be re-instated. That Mrs May might win it no longer looks impossible
- But, needless to say, Mrs May has a long way to go before she makes her version of Brexit happen, if at all.
- The truth is that she has staged a miraculous recovery that puts Lazarus to shame. She is still there, in Downing Street. Others - notably Mr Johnson – are not. And now, they never will be. If she never achieves anything else, to have kept the oaf out of office is an achievement indeed.
- But the greater prize is yet to come. It will be Mrs May who will be leading us out of the EU.

North even goes so far as to say: Given the way the events have played out, a cynic might even suggest that Mrs May set all this up herself.  Could well be.

The EU and Facism
  • An overheated view?:- Things are spiralling out of control in Europe, faster than many predicted. Outside of Brexit, there is strong anti-EU feeling in Hungary, Spain, Italy, Greece and France. The EU is in danger of crumbling, and people afraid of losing power are prone to extreme acts of dictatorial control. How long before the EU truly becomes the authoritarian force that people from both ends of the political spectrum have always feared. Full article here
  • The Empire strike back?
The USA
  • Brilliant:-

Finally . . .
  • Alfie Mittington writes again on the surname theme. I nearly fainted when reading the last sentence:- The useful criterion would be to ignore every word in the name which is, or resembles, a preposition or an article. As you do yourself quite adequately by not starting those minor words with a capital letter. Laurens van der Post (the 'van' is not a Christian name as in Van Morrison, but the simple Dutch for 'of', i.e. a genitive preposition) therefore would have to go under 'P' of 'Post'. I do admit that 'Le' in 'Le Carré' poses something of a challenge. One would need a French historical linguistic to enlighten us if such 'Le's' (Bar Le Duque for instance) are perhaps older forms of the genitive. By this logic, though, should we ignore O' and Mac, filing O'Reilly under R and MacAdam under A??
© [David] Colin Davies

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Thoughts from Headingley, England: 12.12.18

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.

England
  • I'm penning this in a café where there are at least 30 customers. The table next to me comprises 10 women and 1 man. And yet I can still hear myself think. And, if I really wanted to, I could follow each table's chatter. How different from Spain. Where simultateous shouting is obligatory. Or at least essential, as everyone else is doing it. A nice change.
Spain
  • The 'shameful' extent of corruption in Spain, at least among the political and commercial classes, if not among the general populace.
  • A topical article. Which you might recall from last year.
  • Let's hear it for Sevilla . . . The Top 10 cities in the world as voted by readers of Telegraph Travel:
1. Cape Town
2. Tokyo
3. Vancouver
4. Seville - having risen streadily in recent years.
5. Sydney
6. New York
7. Venice
8. Florence
9. Rome
10. San Francisco

When I was there recently, the city was overrun with tourists. This accolade will surely make things worse. Or better, if you like to be in (a lot of) company. If I ever go for a 4th time, it'll be in mid winter.
  • A fascinating - and quite possibly accurate - comment from Lenox of Business Over Tapas: In Spain, the titles on the spines of books are always 'upside-down'. Irritating indeed, especially when the book is flat on the table. This is down, apparently, to the Moors, who understandably started their books at the back. The Spanish followed the tradition as far as the spines went. I should add, it's not always 'down' . . . 
Germany

Google translates the caption as: It's already bubbling; the rebellion begins.



The UK and Brexit
  • As an 'Xmas Special' of a Conservative party leadership election looms ever larger, Richard North warns us here that game-playing politicians who are ignoring - or at least are ignorant of – vital facts will be making the next few weeks a 'turgid exercise in applied tedium'. To which he adds the self-evident truth: 'We will all be be glad when it's over'. But it's not as bad as a nuclear war, I guess. One has to be grateful for (very) small mercies. And the amusement of Fart in (Twitter) action.
Spanish
  • Word of the Day: Lucir.
Finally . . .
  • Always ready to be an irritant, Alfie Mittington asks whether I would file the author Daphne du Maurier under D. Well, yes, I probably would. But - unusually for him - it's a good question. I suspect I wouldn't put a book by, say, the Earl of Arran under E or O. But we don't have many surnames in English of the Le/De/Du/Von/Van form, so I don't really know what the norm would be for foreign (sounding) surnames. Of Brittanic equivalents . . .  O'Reilly would go under O, I believe, and MacAdan under M. As for truly foreign names . . . A (different) Dutch friend says that 'van Dinter' would appear as 'Dinter, van' in their phone directory. But I checked on the brand name Le Creuset and at least that one is 'filed' under L. Opinions welcome. Where would you put a book by Laurens Van de Post, for example? V, D or P??
© [David] Colin Davies

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Thoughts from Headingley, England: 11.12.18

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.

England
  • I've been searching in charity shops for copies of John Le Carré novels. This is a commission from a strange Dutch friend back in Galicia who prefers to read them in English. That's not why he's strange, by the way, but – anyway - my purpose here is to note that all English books have their titles running in the same way, from top to bottom. You do have to incline your head when running along a shelf and this is a bit of a nuisance. But it's nothing compared with the same task in Spain, where there's no standardisation. So, you can imagine what a real pain in the neck such an exercise is there.
  • There's an endless supply of charity shops in England, of course. One sometimes has the impression hollowed-out High Streets have been entirely given over to them.
  • By the way . . . Le Carré's novels are invariably to be found under C. I eventually discovered. Maybe his forename really is John Le . . .
Spain
The UK and Brexit
  • Richard North here asks – after yesterday's bizarre events – who is going to blink first. The bed-blocking, intellectually inflexible Mrs May or the buffoonish, discourteous, cretinous MPs who harangued her in the kindergarten of Parliament yesterday. His final comments: Whether Mrs May's deal survives, nobody can even guess. But if it's her deal or no deal, she still has the whip hand. Apart from the brain-dead "ultras" and the increasingly pathetic Ukip rump, the message that a "no deal" Brexit is bad news has generally sunk in. And the person standing between a deal and disaster is Mrs May. I just wonder how many loud-mouthed MPs are going to take it to the wire and beyond, when the reward for caving in is the status quo, i.e. the interim period, for a couple of years, compared with the certain disaster of a "no deal" Brexit.
  • Meanwhile, yet another vast non-surprise from across the Channel: The EU rebuffs Mrs May's plea for help. Why on earth would they go along with it? Everything is going swimmingly for them. They are technocratic civil servants with huge power and no electorate to answer to. As they always have been. And they've had lots or practice in thwarting the popular will - France, Ireland, the Netherlands and, most obviously, Greece. Oh, and Italy right now. They have, it's said, a higher purpose. As demonstrated by the introduction of the euro and all the economic consequences such a blatantly political initiative was bound to bring in its wake. Happily for Germany, as it turned out. As some said it would.
  • Anyway, an apt cartoon from the Times:-
Spanish
Finally . . .
  • I snapped Boris Johnson hiding from the consequences of his recklessly vainglorious contribution to Brexit opposite Sainsbury's supermarket in Headingley this morning:-


© [David] Colin Davies