Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 23.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
Spanish Life
  • Looking for a really expensive honey? Try this, from Castilla y León.
  • If you want to know how Spain's Queen Letizia became the ultimate modern royal style icon, you'll have to buy a copy of todays' Daily Telegraph, unless this isn't behind their paywall.
Galician Life
  • The Aussie in the Galician campo has been having the normal little experiences of life in Spain.
  • A bizarre ban on Instagram. Fotos of Galician stew breach community guidelines on the publication of graphic violence, language that incites harassment, violence and bullying or sexual activity. Admittedly, if you're not Galician, the fotos might not look terribly appetising but all the same . . . One wonders how Instagram would react to fotos of percebes.
  • Vigo is sure of snow this Xmas.
The UK, The EU, Brexit
  • The only thing that is clear is that there won't be a Brexit by the end of October.
  • I am soooo looking forward to Ffart, the Musical. Probably already written and just waiting for the loon's departure from Crazy Camelot.
The Way of the World
  • Going to be shopping on line on Black Friday? Beware of this. They know where you live. Inter mucha alia. 
  • So, not only Dynamic Currency Exchange but also Dynamic Pricing. Both cons on the customer. A word to be wary of.
  • Have we reached 'peak insanity'? See the article below.
Finally . . .
  • Catholic readers - if any - might like to know that their church now bans the scattering or even dividing of ashes. These must be buried in an urn, at an astronomical cost, in a small bit of earth. This is to 'retain the dignity of the [carbonised] mortal remains' and is definitely not another money-generating scheme for a church which need billions to fight abuse claims. Tough times.

This is the moment we reached peak gender insanity

“This cloakroom may be used by any person regardless of gender identity or expression,” reads a notice on the toilet door of the bar I’m in on Saturday night. This is designed to give me a hit of self-importance. I have choices, options, both in terms of who I am and how I decide to express that all-important self to the world: a world waiting with bated breath for me to tell them why I’m special.

And yet I don’t feel reassured by this open-minded toilet, because everyone in the bar is drunk, the corridor it’s situated in is dimly-lit – and the only other people queuing outside it are men. So instead what I feel is uneasy, undignified, un-safe.

I’m guessing younger women are getting used to the feeling of vulnerability I felt so acutely on Saturday night. Just as British schoolgirls are getting used to their Mao-esque, gender-neutral uniforms, and “holding it in” all day at school (with the risk of contracting infections): anything to avoid using the gender-neutral toilets.

That’s when they make it into school in the first place. According to a report published earlier this month, an increasing number are so ashamed and fearful of sharing cubicles with male pupils that they’re choosing to skip the loo altogether.

British brands, meanwhile, are getting used to being bullied by the trans lobby, with Procter & Gamble one of the first to capitulate, pulling their Flora ads from Mumsnet following accusations that the parenting website was transphobic. On Saturday, Always sanitary towels caved in, agreeing to remove the ‘Venus’ symbol from the wrapping after LGBT groups complained that not everyone who has periods identifies as a woman.

Which would almost be laughable – look how far we’ve come: fighting over ownership of sanitary towels! – if it weren’t for a more devastating capitulation the very next day. This time, it was the police, who were forced to reveal on Sunday that suspected and convicted rapists are now being logged as female when arrested, if that is how they choose to identify themselves.

In a statement, South Yorkshire Police admitted: “We will accept the details that an individual provides us and treat them according[ly].” While Thames Valley Police agreed that in a situation where a rapist is brought in “a male-born person self-identifying as female should be recorded as female on our source system”.

Got it. Never mind that the legal definition of rape involves non-consensual penetration with a penis, and that by denying the existence of that penis you’re denying the existence of the weaponry used to commit that crime. Never mind that, as Nicola Williams, director of Fair Play for Women, pointed out: “It would be highly offensive to a woman who was raped to have it written down that her attacker was a female.” We’re way too far gone for either common sense or logic.

I’ve always maintained in this column that children are the biggest victims of the gender fad, and avoided looking too closely at the impact on women because… well, because feminists were top of the victim-ometer for so long that I became like a parent who had tuned out the constant whining. And because when Radio 4’s Jane Garvey tried to shed some light on the famous feminist trans feud by hosting a series of debates last year, both sides came off so appallingly that I shut them out of my mind.

But this is an attack on women. And I don’t think the leading feminist campaigner, Julie Bindel, was exaggerating when she said on Sunday: “We’re now moving towards the total elimination of women’s biology.”

This isn’t about feminists, activists, sociologists and the deliberately impenetrable jargon they all choose to use in their very public duels. And it’s not about who gets to claim periods, with all their paraphernalia, either (but have them, please, along with stretch marks, the menopause, and the certainty that you’ve been ripped off by every MOT guy you’ve come across).

This is about fragile young girls still struggling to come to terms with their own changing bodies being forced into preposterous intimacy with boys. It’s about transgender athletes like Rachel McKinnon – who won the Masters Track Cycling World Championships on Saturday for the second year running – killing women’s sports.

It’s about the series of future crimes, assaults and intimidations that will have to happen before someone works out that having a load of drunk men and women using the same toilets in bars and clubs was Not A Smart Move. It’s about rapists being indulged and coddled by the police while their victims are effectively mocked.

And it’s about knowing when we’ve reached peak gender insanity. Please God, let this be it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 22.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • The Spanish PM has visited Cataluña but has opted not to meet with the regional president. A slight? Sr Sanchez has warned that the crisis is not yet over. As if this was necessary.
  • The deputy PM has demanded that said Catalan president should 'stop telling impossible lies'. Something Madrid never does, of course. But, to be fair, she's also criticised right wing parties.
  • This is one (partial) Catalan view of things.
  • And this is an article by someone who thinks that the trial verdicts were 'coherent and consistent'. I wasn't surprised to find that he writes for the right-wing ABC newspaper.  
The Spanish Economy
  • Wolf Street reports that: Ahead of a new general election, the Spanish government has launched its first bailout of the country’s tourism industry. The amount is still relatively small, compared to the bailouts the banks received, but the precedent it sets is huge. When it comes to using public funds to help out non-financial companies in distress, such as well-connected ones in the construction industry, the Spanish government has plenty of form. If the recent downturn in the tourism industry deepens, the amount of funds used to support companies in the tourism industry could mushroom very quickly. Is this permitted by the EU? If not, will this make any difference? And if there's a fine from Brussels in a few years' time, will Madrid ever pay it? Probably not, No and No.
Spanish Life
  • Here's a fascinating guide to Spain from the Franco era. Well worth a read, as it's full of laughs.
  • The rain in Spain . . . It doesn't only fall on Galicia.
  • No huge surprise that the looming Brexit is driving British residents out of the Andalucian woodwork. Much to the pleasure, no doubt, of local town halls, as the numbers determine cash obtained from the central government.
  • We've had reports that German and French train companies will 'soon' be competing with Renfe but here's one Spanish company that now won't be.
Pontevedra Life 
  • Here's what looks like a good idea on how to get shut of the caricature of a man who shames his country and its people. And, even if it isn't, it's pretty funny.
  • Ffart, as you'll know, has backtracked on his plans to hold the next G7 meeting in one of his facilities. Naturally, he characterises the tsunami of criticism as 'hysterical and insane'. Or something like that. Needless to say, it was the reaction within the Republican Party, not that among Democrats and the media, which caused the reversal. He couldn't care less about the latter. A bit of blue on the grey horizon?
The Way of the World
  • The increased and wholly unreasonable demands of the extreme trans activists are usually met with fear and instant capitulation. We are told that terms such as “pregnant women” and “breastfeeding” are now transphobic. It is not enough to accept trans women for who they are, but rather we are now bullied into saying that they are "real women". But they are not. And trans men are still, however much this pains them to admit it, natal females.  That means, in the immortal words of Alice Cooper: ‘Only Women Bleed’.   . . . If this craziness goes any further, women will not be allowed to name ourselves as such, for fear that we will be branded bigots. We will be required to call ourselves 'cisgender', and refer to trans women merely as ‘women’.    Women’s rights are not only being eliminated, but the right to be a woman, is being extended to men. This Orwellian madness has to stop. 
Shysters Corner 
  • That shyster-in-chief, one of Ffart's 'spiritual advisers' . . . .    As untethered from reality as it is possible to be.
  • Word of the Day: Espeleólogo: Caver; Potholer; Speleologist.
Finally . . .
  • This is all you need to know about coffee:-
The health benefits of coffee: everything you need to know

Your daily caffeine fix has surprising health benefits — but how you drink it makes a difference. Peta Bee asks the experts what we should be ordering

Our thirst for coffee has increased massively over the past decade. We drink about 95 million cups a day in the UK, about 25 million more since 2008, according to the British Coffee Association. There are nearly as many ways to drink it, from milky latte to nitrogen brew.

“The coffee bean is a good thing, a natural thing,” says Ian Marber, a nutrition therapist. “It contains 500 plant components and lots of beneficial antioxidants, and has been the subject of hundreds of scientific studies that encouragingly show it can be beneficial in our diet.” There are some nasties, including acrylamide, which is used to make plastic and in large amounts can damage the nervous system, but studies have shown that beneficial coffee compounds tend to offset its effects.

The good news keeps coming. Although last week pregnant women were told to avoid coffee to minimise the chance of losing their baby — particularly during the first eight weeks of pregnancy — most recent studies have been positive. Researchers at the University of Nottingham found that coffee helped to fight obesity by stimulating the body’s calorie-burning brown fat stores into action. It was reported to protect against gallstones in the Journal of Internal Medicine. Surprisingly, a cup before bed makes no difference to quality of sleep, according to a study led by Florida Atlantic University.

Not every cup from the bewildering array of options is brewed equally, however, and the amount of good they do can vary. Here’s a taster:

Made by shooting boiling water under high pressure through finely ground coffee beans.
Average caffeine per cup 80mg
Contains no protein and 5-10 calories per cup. A study published in the Scientific Reports journal by researchers at the University of Nottingham last year showed that a caffeine shot can trigger the activity of brown adipose tissue, a special type of fat that burns calories, and can help with weight loss. A double espresso (or doppio) provides the kind of kick that can be useful before exercise. Neil Clarke, an associate professor in the school of life sciences at Coventry University, says a single or double espresso taken before a workout can increase your resting metabolic rate, helping you to burn more calories at rest. It can also prompt the breakdown of fat. “If you take a coffee before exercise and don’t overeat, studies have shown that caffeine intake might promote weight, BMI and body fat reduction,” he says.

Steamed milk and a single shot of coffee with a bit of foam. The UK’s favourite form of coffee.
Average caffeine per cup 80mg
Calories for a latte with full-fat cow’s milk vary from 140 to 360. You can save some calories by switching to milk alternatives (a small coconut milk latte contains about 80 calories and with oat milk about 130), but you will also lose valuable minerals including iodine, a trace mineral that’s important for healthy thyroid function and fertility.

An espresso with hot water.
Average caffeine per cup 80mg
This is a good choice if you want a caffeine kick with minimal calories. There are only 2-5 calories in a standard cup and 15-20 in the larger mugs you find in some café chains. Like any coffee, it is rich in powerful antioxidants such as hydrocinnamic acids and polyphenols that have been linked to the prevention of cancer and other diseases. A 2010 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that coffee had higher antioxidant levels than red grapes, plums, raspberries, cherries and some types of blueberry.
[In the UK, you'll always be asked, illogically, if you want milk with this essentially black coffee option, turning it into what used to be called ' awhite coffee' but which seems now to be called 'a flat white'. Progress.]

A shot of espresso and a shot of steamed milk topped with frothed, foamy milk.
Average caffeine per cup 80mg
A small, full-fat cappuccino contains about 80 calories and a large about 250. There is protein in the milk, but skip the chocolate powder on top to save 15 calories.

Prepared by pouring hot water over ground coffee beans in a filter or cafetière jug.
Average caffeine per cup 95mg
The good news for you is that served black it contains 5-10 calories per cup. The bad news for the environment is that it takes more beans to make, according to research at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

A latte or cappuccino with added chocolate powder or syrup — a hot chocolate and coffee fusion.
Average caffeine per cup 85mg
Little better for you than a hot chocolate, this highly sweetened drink contains a minimum of 65 calories and about 6.3g of sugar but up to 350 calories and 30g of the sweet stuff in a large serving. Opt for a white chocolate mocha and the sugar shock is even greater, with up to 60g of sugar and a ghastly 500 calories per cup. Topping with whipped cream adds 80-120 calories to your drink.

This is now our third-favourite way of drinking coffee. It uses the less frothy steamed milk from the bottom of the jug poured over a shot of espresso.
Average caffeine per cup 150mg
A standard flat white typically contains 105 calories.

What it is A shot of espresso topped with foamed milk. Similar to a cappuccino, but stronger and without the added layer of milk.
Average caffeine per cup 80mg
A regular version contains anything from 80-230 calories. Beware switching to a caramel macchiato: the added syrup can bump the calorie count to 300. Typically syrup shots add 70 sugary calories. Avoid.

An espresso shot prepared with the usual amount of coffee, but half the water. It results in a more concentrated and darker shot.
Average caffeine per cup 80mg
Contains 10-20 calories. An average Americano or filter coffee is approximately 98.75 per cent water and 1.25% diluted plant compounds. “Generally coffee can be helpful in terms of fluid intake and hydration,” Marber says. “But not if you opt for this variety.”

Made from freeze-dried or spray-dried coffee.
Average caffeine per cup 30-90mg
A study at Coventry University showed that that consuming about a dessert spoon of coffee granules dissolved in water 60 minutes before exercise could help people to exercise harder for longer. Instant coffee could also be best for the environment. When Alf Hill, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Bath’s centre for sustainable chemical technologies, analysed the impact of different coffee forms on the planet, in conjunction with Colonna & Small’s coffee shop in Bath, he found that instant came out top.

Made by steeping coffee grounds in room-temperature or cold water for up to 24 hours to produce a concentrated coffee essence that is then diluted with water. It is the hipster coffee of choice. Costa added a strawberry cold brew to its menu in the summer.
Average caffeine per cup 180mg-200mg
There is little evidence for claims that it is less acidic and thus kinder on the digestive system than normal coffee. The calorie content is low at about 5-10 per cup unless you opt for a flavoured brew, which is often sweetened. These varieties rise to 80-90 calories per cup.

One third of UK households own an espresso pod or capsule machine. There are two basic types — those that use metal or plastic capsules that are covered with a foil seal that is pierced by the machine so that heated water can be forced through. Then there are ESE (easy serving espresso) pods, such as those that use Illy or Lavazza coffee, in which the pre-portioned serving of coffee is wrapped in paper filter like a teabag, and placed inside the machine.
Average caffeine per cup 60-80mg
There are potential health benefits from using some pods. Two chemicals in coffee beans — cafestol and kahweol — have been shown to raise levels of damaging LDL cholesterol in the blood. They are present in any coffee that hasn’t been filtered including espresso, moka pot and cafetière coffee, but the tea bag-type pods contain filters that remove them, making them a better choice. Some metal or plastic capsules are lined with filter paper, but it serves only to prevent the grounds from entering the cup and not to filter chemicals.

A stove-top coffee maker that brews by passing boiling water pressurised by steam through ground coffee. It produces strong, concentrated coffee.
Average caffeine per cup 110mg
Many moka pots are made from aluminium and there have been concerns about leeching of aluminium from them as a health risk. However, a 2017 study in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe found the risk to be minimal (and much lower than aluminium water bottles) provided moka pots were not put in the dishwasher, which increases the release of the metal.

The wellness brigade’s search for healthy coffee has resulted in several niche caffeine trends:

CBD coffee
Coffee infused with the cannabis derivative CBD (cannabidiol) oil has become the caffeine hit of 2019. Studies have shown that CBD binds to serotonin receptors in the brain, lowering anxiety and boosting mood, and it also has an anti-inflammatory action. Whether it works when added to coffee is, as yet, unproven.

Vitamin Coffee
This box delivery subscription service (a 14-day supply for £5.95; uses three blends of roasted beans mixed with vitamins for a specific health boost. With the defence coffee you get vitamins A and D; with the energy version there’s added caffeine and B vitamins; and the complete powder provides a range of 14 vitamins and minerals for all-round health.

Nitro coffee
Nitrogen — a colourless and odourless gas — is added to coffee to produce a slighty foamy and frothy nitro brew. The gas is said to trick the tongue into thinking it’s tasting something sweeter than regular coffee. It’s said to be less acidic and harsh on the gut, although there is little proof that is the case.

Collagen coffee
A trend that started among beauty bloggers, it involves stirring flavourless collagen powder into your coffee and is said to provide a boost for skin and prevent wrinkles. More likely it will help creaking joints, but you would need to drink a lot to make a difference.

Bulletproof coffee
Made by whisking organic butter and coconut oil into your regular double espresso, it has spiralled in popularity thanks to claims that it will do everything from minimising caffeine jitters to boosting brain power and suppressing your appetite. Scientists are yet to be convinced. And it can add up to 400 calories per cup.

Mushroom latte
Made by mixing mushrooms or mushroom powder (try Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee; £10.98 from with almond or cashew milk, raw coconut sugar and maca powder, then heated in a pan and blended until frothy. Mushrooms do have health benefits, including immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties, but you’d be better off eating them. The drink is an acquired taste.

Turmeric latte
Looks like a latte, but is nothing of the sort. Instead it is derived from cold-pressed turmeric juice (made by steeping the root in water) added to almond, coconut, cashew or cow’s milk. Turmeric has a unique range of compounds and essential oils that are linked to purported health benefits, but there’s not much of it in a latte. Too much turmeric will stain your teeth.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 21.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • The Spanish PM has called for a new chapter in Cataluña. Fat chance. Because . . .
  • Until a government takes power in Madrid with a comfortable electoral majority, no sober attempt is likely to be made by the current Socialist government, or anyone else, to take on the 'independentistas' where they ought to be easy to beat: on the political battlefield. For the foreseeable future, but with unforeseeable consequences, the youths of Barcelona will still be lighting the matches and the adults in Madrid will still be providing the fuel. 
  • Talking of fire and smoke . . . In her latest blog post, reader María points to the dissonance between the very harsh sentences handed down to the Catalan 'rebels' and the leniency normal for corrupt Spanish politicians. It can't help.
  • En passant  . . .  El Español reports that 41% of Spaniards (non-Catalans?) think the sentences are too low. Which gives an indication of the size of the problem.
Spanish Life
  • The slurry of Halloween tat currently infesting the supermarket shelves is testament to an irrepressible human trait - to seize any opportunity, however tenuous, for a celebration. This is actually a comment about UK culture but, if the writer really thinks things are taken to extremes there, she should live a while in Spain. Where absolutely anything and everything is seen as an excuse for fun. Preferably at someone else's expense. It's the main reason I live there, and not, say, in cheaper next-door Portugal.
  • Why I'm applying for Irish, not the (more logical) Spanish, nationality. This sentence rather says it all: A whopping 77% of those who've applied in the last 3 years admit they have no news as to the state of their application and when or even if it will be granted.
Galician Life 
  • Here's a report on all that rain I've been hearing about from friends and neighbours. And the damage they've done. The rains, not my friends and neighbours . . .
  • And here's one on all the retail closures I've mentioned in the last few years. But I suspect none of our many (money laundering?) jewellers have gone out of business. Or ever will.
The UK, The EU, and Brexit
  1. Richard North today: The reality needs restating; The Withdrawal Agreement is just that – it gets us out of the EU. The long-term relationship will be determined by the talks yet to come, and there is where the real battle lies.  With the warring parties exhausting themselves (and the public) with the current "shenanigans", one wonders whether there will be any energy left to fight that more important battle.
  2. See the article below for what might well be the people's view.
  • An attorney for Donald Trump and Trump for President sent a letter to the CNN President threatening to sue the network for what it contends are “biased reporting practices.” It’s unclear what bit of civil law they think is being violated by the network in a case they must know they can’t possibly win
  • President Trump Is in the Private Hospitality Business, and Business Is Booming in D.C. The G7 at Doral is off, but there are lots of other conflicts of interest already booked at his properties. President Trump never did build that wall he promised. You know, the one between his administration and his business. 
Finally . . .
  • Funnily enough, it's hardly rained where I've been for 3 weeks now - a fraction south of Manchester, the (alleged) precipitation capital of the UK. And the sun is shining on my grandson's 2nd birthday today. Not that he seems to care.

Quantum physics is a cinch compared to this incomprehensible farce: Judith Woods, Daily Telegraph

Dear God please make it stop. I'm not sure about the Prime Minister but I fear we will all be dead in a ditch if this purgatorial anguish goes on much longer.

I like to think of myself as reasonably well informed about current affairs but hand on heart I have no idea what happened on super Saturday. None.

Like the rest of the nation I settled down in front of BBC News as a preternaturally patient Huw Edwards explained over and over again the implications of the Letwin Amendment and how it might impact on the Mr Benn Act and it all kept whizzing straight over the top of my head.

When Letwin was passed  (like port, to the Left) I still sat there, stupidly waiting for the vote on the Brexit deal. I was aware that something unexpected happened but I didn't fully grasp that it meant nothing expected would happen.

Some stentorian voice announced that the meaningful vote had been voided of meaning. Even that nonsensical observation made more sense than what actually occurred, which is to say, nothing. Not a damn thing.

Instead we find ourselves Junckering down in No Man’s Land for yet another phoney war between monstrous egos and elected representatives and other elected representatives and one million marching in the street demanding a People's Vote amid a blizzard of metaphors.

The PM likened reaching an agreement with the EU to summiting Everest. Right now it feels as if we are all queueing up in the Death Zone tied to each other, tied to Europe. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

Starved of the oxygen of common sense, the body politic is starting to perish, minute by minute, cell by cell.

Nobody has even noticed that the first casualty, democracy, has long since given up the ghost and hurtled down the mountainside to certain oblivion.

We've spent three years blindly trusting politicians to deliver the result of the referendum. I fully admit that I am a passionate Remainer. Or at least was a passionate Remainer. I'm now a passionless, disillusioned husk of a voter who just wants to get this thing – anything – over the line.

Was it only last week that Europe’s intractable to leaders were glad handing “greased piglet” Boris and glibly congratulating one another on a triumph of statecraft? The pound immediately leapt for joy and heading for its best six-day run against the dollar since 1985. Even hatchet-faced Dominic Cummings managed to crack a smile.

But wrangling with Europe over customs and tariffs was a doddle in comparison to persuading the House of Commons to carry out the settled will of the people. The worst aspect is that it's also bloody impenetrable, no offence Huw.

I am entirely au fait with the reasonable if inhumane concept of Schrödinger's cat. I understand enough about quantum physics to know it is silly and impossible.

But Lord help me, I haven't got so much as a toehold on what is afoot in this wretched Parliament, brought to its knees by the endless squabbling, wilful obscurantism and petty betrayals. 

No wonder then that the electorate are strung out, angry and exhausted by the endless machinations that are exacerbating deep uncertainty, fostering rancour and causing us to haemorrhage faith in the system and those who run it.

Will Brexit be done and dusted by Hallowe’en? I fear it won’t even be over by Christmas. Truthfully, retrenching in a ditch never sounded so appealing.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 20.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • Someone has come up with a brilliant alternative to the problematic option of burying the Franco bones in Madrid . . . Instead, put them in the basilica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Sadly, though, this might just create another problem or ten. That said, the idea is so stupidly provocative, it'll probably become the official strategy of the Francoist Vox party.
Spanish Life
  • To rent or buy in Spain? Here's the answer.
Galician Life
  • Here's a 10m history of the region. Even if you don't understand Spanish, the pictures will be enough.
  • The demolition of illegal properties in the region is said to have reached an historical high. Given the number of these, this might not actually be a big number in absolute terms.
The UK/The EU/Brexit
  • See the first article below.
  • I fear the utterly bored British nation will commit collective suicide before the end of October.
  • The next G7 meeting will be in a Ffart Miami 'facility'. He just doesn't care, does he? Nor his core supporters. Even Fox News has criticised it.
  • Says Niall Ferguson: Elizabeth Warren had a serious chance of becoming president. But, if you factor in social media, she will probably lose to Trump. And the same goes for anyone else the Democrats might choose to nominate. The reason is that Brad Parscale’s digital campaign for Trump is already miles ahead. See NF's full article below.
The Way of the World
  • UK police forces are recording suspected and convicted rapists as female if they no longer wish to identify with their male birth sex. Six forces disclosed that if someone is arrested for or convicted of rape, the official record will state the gender they chose to identify themselves as.
Social Media 
  • If you haven't done so already, see the article below.
  • Spanish is consolidated the 2nd most spoken language in the world. 580m people, 7.6% of the world's population, speak our language. Of these, 483m - three million more than a year ago - are native Spanish speakers. In addition, almost 22m people study Spanish in 110 countries. It is the third most used language on the internet, where it has great growth potential.
Finally . . .
  • I see quite a few young people driving very expensive cars in the UK. These can be bought for around €500 month over some years on a PCP scheme. Yesterday it struck me that this is probably less than a day's (untaxed) income if you're dealing. Along country lines. A rapidly growing problem, it's said.

1. Johnson's Brexit deal leaves me utterly depressed, even though I would grimly vote for it: Ambrose Evans Pritchard, Daily Telegraph.

So we await the next Brexit cliff-edge in 14 months. Project Fear will repeat itself. Even if Parliament backs the Johnson deal, we will have to go through this painful ordeal again.

The Withdrawal Agreement merely permits the UK to start talks on a trade deal. It lets us pay £33bn in order to play. Less has been resolved that most commentary seems to suggest.

I fear a horrible moment of disappointment when people discover what this means. I fear too that hopes of a post-deal economic boomlet and a surge of pent-up investment will come to little. Businesses still have no clarity.

The current state of limbo will cause multinationals to continue unwinding their manufacturing supply chains. This risks bringing about the very GDP slippage that the Remain academy keep predicting.

The hated level-playing field clauses in the May deal - hated because they turn the UK into a legal and regulatory colony of the EU - have been removed. But be careful. The Political Declaration is clear: we will have to agree to these clauses anyway in order to secure a free trade deal. That is how the EU will try to keep us in the cage.

We will again be faced with the choice of submitting to these demands or retreating to WTO trading terms - made harsher by the punitive loss of fast-track procedures for customs clearance and rules of origin. We will again hear warnings of “crashing out” with no trade deal. Stories of 15-mile lorry jams across Kent will be recycled. Vested interests will re-stoke hysteria.  

We will be vulnerable to the same diplomatic and economic blackmail. In the words of Sir Ivan Rogers, the former UK Brexit negotiator, the EU’s aim has always been to “maximise leverage during the withdrawal process and tee up a trade negotiation after our exit where the clock and the cliff edge can again be used to maximise concessions from London -  so that they have the UK against the wall again in 2020”.

Sir Ivan is brutally honest - and correct - about the character of the EU and its proto-imperial reflexes. While he may not have intended it, his analysis leads only to two conclusions: revocation of Article 50; or a traumatic no-deal rupture that reshuffles the pack entirely. Anything in between these two is not a stable political equilibrium and is ultimately unworkable.

This is not to criticise Boris Johnson. He was dealt a bad hand. The original sin of Brexit talks was to let the EU dictate sequencing and separate with Withdrawal Agreement (and the exit fee) from the future trade deal. Perhaps Article 50 made this unavoidable.

Given the limitations, the Prime Minister has pulled off a diplomatic victory of sorts. As I argued yesterday, this was possible only because the EU itself is acutely vulnerable to an economic shock at this juncture. It is close to recession and it has no monetary defences left against a deflationary vortex if mistakes are made.

But again be careful. You can interpret the exuberant back-slapping at the EU Council on Thursday in different ways. Relief at avoiding a no-deal - yes, certainly - but also satisfaction that Brussels now has the UK more or less trapped.

This may be too gloomy. Boris Johnson may soon win an election and possibly a landslide - unless this Rotten Parliament refuses to allow a vote and succeeds abusively in forcing him to remain in office, a political prisoner with no working majority and no effective government.

If he does win, the negotiating dynamic with Brussels will be different in 2020. The EU will not be able to play off Westminster tribes against each other so easily. The cliff edge for the UK will be less severe since the May/Johnson deal does resolve a string of technical issues such as nuclear ties under Euratom or landing rights for aircraft, etc.

This makes a WTO walk-out more plausible, and therefore more menacing for the EU as it tries to preserve its £95bn trade surplus with the UK (while offering no reciprocal access for services, of course).

It may also be clearer by then that the EU is in deep economic trouble. Citigroup’s recession barometer for the US over the next year has risen to 70pc. The New York Fed’s indicator is a whisker shy of its peak before the Lehman crisis.  If the US rolls over - and the underlying data from China is getting worse too - the eurozone will face a combined banking crisis and an industrial car crash. This changes the psychology.

Besides, the Labour Party has made an error by demanding ‘dynamic alignment’ with the EU’s environmental and labour laws, implicitly telling the British people that this country is incapable of setting its own laws and running its own policy. What happened to the once-great patriotic Labour Party?

In reality the UK has been a star performer in environmental policy over the last decade. Its carbon floor price has driven coal out of the power market, in contrast to German reliance on coal. The UK has committed to a vast expansion of offshore wind. It is the first major state to write a net zero emissions target by 2050 into law.

It will become clearer over the next year that Boris Johnson is outflanking Labour with his own green agenda - though a free-market, pro-growth variant - and that he may go some way in shooting Labour’s fox on worker protection as well. For one thing that the EU certainly is not, is pro-worker, whatever the Social Chapter purports to be.

It is a corporatist regime that lets companies exploit wage arbitrage and carry out cross-border plant relocations to hold down wages. That is why the Swiss trade unions oppose their country’s EU deal. They say it degrades Swiss protection policy. Why is Jeremy Corbyn never probed on this?

So yes, British and European politics may look different in a year. Everything is fluid. Sometimes you have to take the Guicciardini approach to life: accepting that seemingly intractable problems often fade away before they reach you. The Machiavelli reflex of trying to pre-empt every hazard can make matters worse.

I agree with the verdict of Martin Howe from Lawyers for Brexit that the flawed Johnson deal is a “tolerable price to pay for our freedom” and I would vote for it stoically tomorrow if I were an MP. But be under no illusions: the long struggle is just beginning.

2. Donald Trump could Facebook himself a second term: Niall Ferguson, Milbank Family senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford

Mark Zuckerberg’s commitment to free speech is good news for the president.

An unusual thing happened last week. Mark Zuckerberg gave a speech with which I mostly agreed. Regular readers will know that I have frequently criticised the chief executive of Facebook. My book The Square and the Tower contains some harsh words about his company — and particularly its conduct in the fateful election year of 2016.

However, speaking at Georgetown University in Washington last week, the Facebook co-founder took a stance on the issue of free speech that pleasantly surprised me. First, he got his history right. “Giving everyone a voice,” he argued, “empowers the powerless” whereas “the most repressive societies have always restricted speech the most”. Correct. “Pulling back on free expression . . . often ended up hurting the minority views we seek to protect.” Also correct.

Second, Zuckerberg recognised that the internet has fundamentally transformed the public sphere. We are no longer in the old world of newspapers, radio and television: “People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world — a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society.”

I like the coinage of the Fifth Estate. In case you’ve lost track of those pre-French Revolution categories, the First Estate is — or was — the clergy, the second the nobility and the third the middle class. The fourth, the press, came later and should now be called the old media.

Pity me: I come from what little is left of the Third Estate and write for the fourth. The former is being hollowed out between the plutocratic “one per cent” and the populist masses; the latter is barely surviving the loss of advertising revenues to Facebook, not to mention Google. Small wonder that I have been a Zuckerberg critic. His Fifth Estate seems to have it in for both of mine.

The third and most important point of his talk was a trenchant defence of free speech. Facebook, he said, will “continue to stand for free expression, understanding its messiness, but believing that the long journey towards greater progress requires confronting ideas that challenge us”.

That will not mean applying a strict first amendment standard — remember, that binds only the government not to restrict speech — but something close to it. So far as possible, Facebook will not allow terrorist propaganda, child pornography, incitements to violence, misinformation “that could lead to imminent physical harm” and political messages by foreign bots masquerading as Americans. Otherwise, it will err on the side of free expression.

At a time when, not least in universities, there are ever-louder demands to prohibit “hate speech”, Zuckerberg’s opposition to the “ever-expanding definition of what speech is harmful” and his pledge to “fight to uphold as wide a definition of freedom of expression as possible” are very welcome. No trigger warnings. No safe spaces.

It is also refreshing to hear this affirmation of free speech at a time when the Chinese government is so clearly demonstrating the link from authoritarianism to censorship. It has been easy to criticise the National Basketball Association for its craven repudiation of the manager of the Houston Rockets, who had expressed his support for the Hong Kong protesters. That is the price of doing business in China. Last week I received the Chinese translation of The Square and the Tower. The sections on Chinese social and political networks were conspicuous by their absence. You either play by the Communist Party’s rules or you exit the Chinese market.

As Zuckerberg said in an interview last week, there is now a clear contest on the internet between “American companies and platforms with strong free expression values” and their Chinese rivals, which will censor whatever the government in Beijing tells them to. Right again.

The test of your commitment to free speech is how far you are prepared to tolerate not only views you disagree with — hate speech — but also views that are downright mendacious: fake speech. Last month Facebook unveiled a new policy not to moderate politicians’ speech or fact-check their political adverts. The policy was swiftly put to the test when Donald Trump’s campaign released a 30-second video advert accusing former US vice-president Joe Biden of corrupt conduct in Ukraine. When Biden’s campaign asked Facebook to take down the ad, the company refused. Elizabeth Warren — Biden’s rival for the Democratic nomination — countered by creating a fake ad of her own that claimed Zuckerberg and Facebook had endorsed Trump.

Warren has called Facebook a “disinformation-for-profit machine”. If elected president, she has pledged to break the company up. But, like her European counterparts, she fails to see that in asking Facebook to decide which political ads air and which do not, she is implicitly ceding far more power to the company than it wants or should have. Do we want free speech on the internet, with all its nastiness? Or do we want censorship, which historically tends to be associated with a much more profound nastiness? To me, that’s an easy one.

Yet there is a price tag associated with a free-speech Facebook and we should not ignore it. The presidential election of 2020 will be only the third in which the internet has been the decisive battleground. And the internet will matter even more in 2020 than it did in 2016, when it mattered more than it did in 2012.

In my previous column I noted — on the basis not only of opinion polls but also of prediction markets — that Warren had a serious chance of becoming president. But I now want to argue that, if you factor in social media, she will probably lose to Trump. And the same goes for anyone else the Democrats might choose to nominate. The reason is that Brad Parscale’s digital campaign for Trump is already miles ahead.

According to data for the year up to September 19, published by The New York Times last week, the Trump campaign has spent $15.9m (£12m) on Facebook and Google ads, more than the total spent by the top three Democratic candidates combined. While the Democrats do old-school things such as debating on cable television, Parscale and his team are aggregating the mobile advertising IDs of the entire voting population, matching location data from phone usage to other information they have.

In my book I argued that Facebook — not Russia — was the crucial factor in the 2016 election. From June to November 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign spent $28m and tested 66,000 different ads. Working closely with Facebook, Trump’s people spent nearly twice as much ($44m) and tested nearly a hundred times more ads (5.9m).

Facebook — and Google — will matter even more next year. One side fully understands that and it is not the Democrats. Zuckerberg is right: it is not his job to come between Parscale and Facebook users. But we should all clearly understand what this means: it very probably means a second Trump term.

The Fifth Estate has indeed empowered the powerless. But not only them.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 19.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • Looking at the mayhem in Cataluña, one wonders if Spain has politicians of sufficient calibre to solve this problem. Or even just address it. Not much evidence of such, I'm afraid. But, then, we get the politicians we deserve. Whether we're in Spain, the USA or the UK. But possibly not in, say, Russia, Or Turkey. Or Syria.
Spanish Life
  • The annual sheep show in Madrid.
  • The Olive Press here offers 31[sic] 'facts' aimed at helping you, if you're moving to Spain. They relate mostly to the southern and eastern coasts and some are questionable even there. But I liked the ones about driving and roundabouts . . .
Galicia Life
  • It's reported that the number of households complaining about early morning noise from nearby bars and discos has reduced by half in 10 years. But still totalled 107,000 last year. Fines imposed range from €300 to €30,000. You must have to be recalcitrant to justify the latter.
The UK/The EU/Brexit
  • Richard North: Standing aside from the media hype, it has now been possible to start the long process of getting to grips with the new text, and to begin to try and understand some of its implications. This will take some time and anyone who claims to have a complete grasp of what it entails is either a liar or charlatan – or both.
  • Undaunted, The Guardian has a go at it here.
The EU
  • French and German divisions over another Brexit delay are about a struggle for European dominance. See the article below.
The UK
  • I had a dinner with 2 English friends and 1 Spanish friend on Wednesday night, in a large pub offering a wide range of international dishes that couldn't possibly be cooked from start to finish in 15 minutes. Or at all. For, at 8.15, we were told the kitchen was closed, as the staff had all gone home at 8. To our Spanish member, this was inconceivable. And it wasn't too credible to the rest of us either. Anyway, we went next door for a curry and had a very good meal there. Though our Spanish colleague complained that the Biryani rice was the 'hottest thing I've had in my life'. Until she tried the (mild-to-us) sauce that came with it.
  • Yet more proof that 'every Ffart accusation is a confession': "Ms Pelosi needs help fast. She had a total meltdown in the White House today. It was very sad to watch. Pray for her, she is a very sick person." 
  • Par for the course. Ffart has chosen one of the Prosperity Gospel shysters to be be a member of the federal education board.
  • Ffarts's Ffraudulent Ffinances.
The Way of the World
  • Fed up of your old-fashioned analog rosary beads? Well, here's an (uncheap) PrayerBit for you.
Shysters Corner 
  • Possibly the very worst/best. Crooked Jim Bakker has enlisted Ffart's “spiritual adviser” Paula White to help him collect the money of gullible believers who 'need' his buckets of gunge ahead of Armageddon. During his show this week, White told viewers they had to donate thousands of dollars so that Bakker could build a new studio. She added that there was a 'Treasury Department' in Heaven paying close attention to how viewers spent their money.
  • Word of the Day: Llovizna. Drizzle; mist. Apparently it's rained every day since I left Galicia on 30 September, 19 days ago.
  • Reader Perry has kindly provided these additional positive adjectives which have - assuming they existed in the first place - fallen into desuetude. Possibly like desuetude:-
- Gruntled
- Combobulated

  • Check your irony meter . . . Smart doorbells designed to prevent crime are having the opposite effect as thieves simply rip them off the doorframe and sell them on the black market. The devices, made by the Amazon-owned company Ring, have a camera that records visitors as they approach the door and streams the video to the homeowner’s mobile phone. But with a retail price of between £90 and £450, they are proving too much of a temptation.

Brexit extension: The French and German power struggle behind the row: Bruno Waterfield, Brussels, the Daily Telegraph

French and German divisions over another Brexit delay are about a struggle for European dominance.

President Macron’s political star is in the ascendant as Angela Merkel’s fortunes are waning, and the French leader is pushing her to one side.

Mr Macron regards Brexit as consolidating his political power and prestige, transforming the EU into a more European project dominated by France. Mrs Merkel worries that Brexit will damage the EU and views the prospect of no deal as a historic mistake that could break the western alliance that has kept the peace since the Second World War.

At the summit dinner last night Mr Macron blocked EU enlargement to include Albania and North Macedonia, taking on Mrs Merkel and wielding his veto.

During confidential talks between the European leaders on Thursday, the German chancellor warned them not to pretend that the EU would not grant another Brexit delay if Boris Johnson’s deal were defeated in the Commons. Yesterday the French president defied her to do just that, warning that there would be no extension if MPs rejected the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement, potentially leading to a no-deal Brexit on October 31. His undermining of Mrs Merkel’s position illustrates his political ascendancy and his growing confidence to challenge her dominance of the EU. Diplomatic sources do not expect Mr Macron to veto an extension if it is requested. It is widely known, however, that he wants Brexit to be over as soon as possible.

It is really a tussle for power between the EU’s political giants: Mrs Merkel, once dubbed the “Queen of Europe”, and Mr Macron, who has styled himself as Jupiter, king of the Gods.

The German chancellor regards Brexit as a defining moment of her career and fears that an acrimonious divorce, especially no deal, would set back international relations and represent a serious historical reversal. Mr Macron views Britain’s departure as an opportunity to secure French dominance when it has been eclipsed in the EU by Mrs Merkel’s Germany for a decade. With Britain out of the way, he believes that France would become Europe’s leading military and political power.

No longer preoccupied with her own political survival as she prepares to leave office next year, Mrs Merkel, 65, is thinking about her legacy. As she leaves the stage, Mr Macron, 41, has his eye on the main chance of installing himself at the top of the EU. If history is involved, it is his own sense of personal destiny to get Britain out of the EU so that France can be stronger.

Mrs Merkel wants Britain to remain in the EU as long as possible in the hope that Brexit is reconsidered. But although Mr Macron will not pull the trigger on a no-deal Brexit, he is eager for Britain to be gone.