Saturday, August 24, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 24.8.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • Under Spanish law, stealing something with a value less than €400 is considered a 'falta' (misdemeanour), and not a 'delito' (crime). However many times you re-offend, it remains a misdemeanour and, as an offence, is not cumulative. Those caught will be liable for a fine of probably no more than €50. The consequence of this rather odd situation is that gangs of petty thieves operate pretty openly and with impunity in Spain's major cities. A plague on naive tourists in particular. Barcelona is universally recognised as the worst place for this and here's The Local on the nature and size of the ever-growing problem there.
  • And here's The Local again, on the subject of the damage being done by excessive tourism in Spain. . .  The side effects of tourism are destroying the lives of many local people. But with elected representatives doing little to help, the locals are turning against one of the country’s worst-perceived nuisances: tourists.
  • And here's the last is a trio of negative articles from The Local: What you need to know about the outbreak of listeria, which has cost the lives of 2 people so far.
  • Here in Galicia, some good news is that drones are being successfully used to plant explosive charges in the nests of the vicious Asian Hornet, usually called La Velutina here, though there are several local alternatives.
  • Sitting in a street where one couldn't move for crowded tapas tables yesterday, I took to pondering the quantities of seafood consumed here every day in summer. They are truly vast. And it can't possibly all come from our local waters, whatever your bar owner tells you . . .
  • Talking of eating . . . Our own food hall - El Gastroespacio - duly opened this week. Possibly at least a month late:-

There were around 15 of the 25 kiosks doing business midday yesterday. I do hope it's a success, even if it's not quite up to the standards of those in Madrid, Oporto and Lisbon. My fond hope is that we get some truly international food in due course

The UK
  • Richard North this morning: The one thing that has come from Brexit – exposing the fundamental ignorance of our political classes and our media. This has proved so extensive that there seems no possible cure. It is unwise to expect either politicians or the media to correctly analyse or interpret developments, or to provide advice that can be relied upon. Breaking away from the most comprehensive experiment in political and economic integration is a unique event. And since so many people in authority have little idea of what is entailed in our EU membership, it can be hardly surprising that they have less idea of what might happen when we leave. 
  • My daughter, up from Madrid, had a job interview by phone yesterday. It was successful, possibly because she didn't have to struggle with any these buzzwords, phrases and acronyms which are said to litter job ads in the UK nowadays. BTW . . . I'm familiar with only one of them:-
Laser-focused self-starter 
Thought shower 
Brand architecture 
Low-hanging fruit (the one I know)
Front-to-back scenario
Hit the ground running (Oh, another one)
Take an idea shower
Open the kimono
B2B (back-to-back?)
And then there are job titles such as New media tsar, Co-ordinator of interpretive teaching, and
Conversation architect.
  • Shopping is not what is was in Britain's High Streets. The nice article below on this theme took me right back to my time in Iran. Specifically to sharing a melon in the mosque in Yazd with 2 local youths, on a Friday sabbath. Where and when they really shouldn't have been eating a melon at all, never mind sharing it with unbelievers.
Way of the World
  • Those blasted e-bikes . . . .

  •  I have to admit I've reached the exact same conclusion as the estimable Caitlin Moran but have not yet been able to comply with it. I wonder if she will: With many other people who vaguely work in the world of comedy/satire, I've arrived at the opinion that, when it comes to certain political figures, the fundamental tools of comedy — exaggeration, extrapolation, juxtaposition, surrealism, self-aggrandisement, jarring non-sequiturs and demented fantasy — simply don’t work if the subject of that comedy is using the self-same tools with bigger results. There is no point in using these techniques to prompt a few laughs and some mild thoughtfulness when someone else is using them to, for example, casually refer to using actual nuclear weapons that they have or explain a policy of housing refugee children in cages. So CW isn’t going to attempt to make any more “humorous” observations about the US president. Every week it’s simply going to note what he has said without further comment, reaction or bias. Thus: this week Trump first offered to buy Greenland, then approvingly retweeted someone who claimed that Trump is “the second coming of God”.
  • Word of the Day: Chapuzón. Not to be confused with Chapuza, which means a 'bodge' and is well-known to anyone having things done on their house or flat here. Usually with the option of IVA being excluded from the bill.
Finally. . . .
  • Yesterday's garden score was 2 greenfinches - which would be better called greedfinches - and at least one redwing((zorzal alirrojo), I think. And the robin is still around, probably for the entire autumn and winter now. But still no sparrows.

Iran showed me what we have lost: It’s easy to be sentimental as an outsider about traditional bazaar shopping. But at its heart is social connection.  Samira Ahmed,  New Humanist

I am standing high on one of the pillars[actually 'towers'] of silence – the massive stone towers [see] where the Zoroastrians used to leave their dead to the vultures – looking down on the desert city of Yazd in the heart of the Iranian plateau. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been; Yazd’s mud-brick walls offer secret passages at every twisting turn and, like all Iranian cities, its beating heart is the bazaar. I walk through its magnificent cool brick-vaulted colonnades, unchanged since Marco Polo, who followed the Silk Road this way too.

Over six weeks filming in Iran for a BBC documentary series about the history and culture of the Persians, from Shiraz in the south-west to Mashhad in the north-east, the bazaar was always calling me back. It epitomises Persian identity: proud of its history but always absorbing the new into its own traditions.

Part of the appeal is the “slow” consumption idea. Thinking, touching, talking to the seller and deciding why you need the thing. In Isfahan the Safavid Shah built a grand covered bazaar around a massive public green. Traditional crafts such as leatherware, carpets and miniature painting thrive here. I watch one metalsmith at work creating delicately patterned samovars and lamps, a skill passed down still by master to teenage apprentice.

In Shiraz, city of poets and roses, vendors weigh out dried rosebuds, purple-blue borage petals, and spice mixes from layered contour-line piles of ground cumin, turmeric and cinnamon. But ubiquitous, too, are wildly coloured extruded snacks in foil packets, tacky plastic toys and some kitsch carpets with images of baroque Western paintings. The bazaar sells everything people want to buy. Including washing machines, fridges and TVs.

Then there are the clothes. Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique, who wrote about the tyranny of consumerism for the American housewife, would have nodded knowingly at the fabric stalls selling 50 kinds of black chador material. But I hadn’t anticipated the sheer boldness of bazaar displays. In a nation with a legal dress code for women, I walk in my headscarf past aisles packed with sexy feathered and buckled underwear, wondering, “Who will buy?”

Fashion fills the arcades too. Everywhere I see Iranians old and young taking selfies to post on Instagram like their counterparts anywhere else in the world.

I had to buy pyjamas for a sequence we were filming about the Persian origin of the word – it’s from the words for leg garment and the clothing allowance given to imperial soldiers. The shop I chose had a lovely selection of pure cotton patterned pyjama bottoms, laid over the counter in a delicate overlapping rainbow of colours. Sourced in Bangladesh, the shopkeeper told me – a mother running the stall with her daughter, I guessed. The fun was in choosing from the lace-trimmed camisoles in toning colours to make your own set. Why did the experience fill me with such delight?

At the heart was the social connection of it all. When the heat of the day declines, the bazaars come alive again in the evening with all generations finding their own places to go. Iran has its super-fancy malls – the Palladium in North Tehran has a definite Beverly Hills vibe – but they are the exception. I can’t help but compare Iran favourably to what’s corrupted India’s bazaar culture, which saw extreme Western-style consumption, including malls and fast-food brands, flood the nation’s cities in the early 2000s, with little regulation around construction and pollution, and the consequent health crises, including obesity.

It’s easy to be sentimental as an outsider about traditional bazaar shopping, which is undoubtedly time-consuming. But the epidemic of anxiety and loneliness in the West does seem to have a real link to the isolating impact of online consumerism. Iran has its own social and social-media problems – few people are rich, child obesity is noticeable; its theocratic leadership has so far resisted efforts by many ordinary Iranians to loosen the restrictions on their daily lives – but the strong binding sense of life is built around daily public interactions and family bonds, which contrasts strongly with the time-poor frenzy of the average Western city-dweller’s existence.

Back in Britain my local department store had announced it was finally closing after 106 years, the latest casualty of a national epidemic on the high street. People were coming in to commiserate with the staff. Returning from Iran, I wondered if what we are mourning is what they’ve never lost.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 23.8.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • I touched on fashion yesterday, citing the wearing of black underwear beneath white clothes. A young cultural spy has now told me this has been taken a step further here in Galicia. During the summer fiestas, she says, she clocked 3 or 4 young women wearing black bras as tops. I haven't seen that yet but will be on the lookout for it now.
  • Here's The Local (again?) with an analysis of the veracity of Spanish stereotypical images. I concur with their conclusions.
  • More importantly, here's the same journal with advice on Spain's outbreak of listeria.
  • The Galician government is seriously concerned about Madrid's holding back of funds on the grounds that - there being no government - there's no national budget. Here's news of a lawsuit aimed at changing the situation. But presumably not very quickly . . .  [Another true stereotype].
  • Down in Extremadura - in a place called Peraleda de la Mata - the summer draught has revealed 'Spain's Stonehenge'. Built, they say, by folk who'd come west from Anatolia and who eventually headed north to the British Isles around 6,000 years ago. These 144 granite blocks can be seen c. 120km north east of Caceres. Or, if you like, 140km west of Toledo. They're thought by some to have been erected by Celts 4-5,000 years ago. But don't tell the Galicians; their 'national' myth is that they're the only descendants of the Celts in Spain:-

  • Here in Pontevedra, they've been cleaning up some of our architectural sites. Here's the one at the city end of O Burgo bridge, where both Roman and Medieval remains can be seen, at or around the level of the approach to the original Roman bridge.

  • As for the current bridge, paving work has progressed slowly but is now past the mid-point. Maybe it really will open in October. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying biking into town via the pretty 'temporary' camino alongside the tributary of the Lérez river.
  • On my way into the old quarter this morning I'll be taking a look at the Gastroespacio, which debut'd yesterday on the first floor of the fish and seafood market.
The UK
  • Not so long ago, Anglo medical practitioners used to mock the 'polypharmacy' of the Continent and the developing world. But now it's been revealed that 2 million patients in the UK are taking at least 7 prescription drugs daily, putting their lives in danger from lethal side effects.
  • The French might well have shot themselves in the foot by predicting huge traffic disruption at the 'choke point' between Dover and Calais after a Hard Brexit. Transport companies are looking hard at using rail and east coast ferries, rather than trucks across the Channel. Who wants to be a prisoner of French politics? Companies in Belgium and Holland are said to be rubbing their hands in glee. As well they might. 
Way off the World
  • Hard to believe - well, no, not really - Tripadvisor and its ilk have made the exceptionally poor district of Dharau in India a tourist hotspot.
  • The Times in the UK provides the Sex Guide Every Teenage Boy Needs in the Me-too Era. Read the article below. Especially if you're a teenage boy.
Nutters Corner
  • Check out this clown, who claims that (Jewish) Bernie Sanders is ignorant of the true significance of the Bible and Israel's role in it. And therefore, doesn't understand true Judaism.
  • More confused right-leaning Christians 
  • Word of the Day: The versatile Bochorno.
Finally . . .
  • Well, the collared doves are definitely back in my garden, and I'm sure I heard the alarm call of a blackbird last night, perhaps because there'd just been the loud cawing of a crow. And the robin is twittering as I write this. Normality is returning, though the feed containers remain full for the moment. The robin never goes near them and the doves and blackbirds confine themselves to hoovering up those seeds which fallen to the ground. But still no sign at all of the many sparrows. Perhaps they've already headed south for the winter. Off-peak flying.
  • After yet another incident yesterday, I'm now convinced that the second I mount my (ancient) bike, I become invisible.

The sex guide every teenage boy needs in the Me Too era

A new, no-holds-barred manual promises to educate young men about relationships. Hilary Rose meets its author, Inti Chavez Perez

A generation ago young men might have learnt about sex from their parents, or their teachers, or friends. They might have learnt from fumbling around on the job. But however they did it, they learnt by talking to someone. Then the internet happened, and social media and online porn. Now they learn by watching, and suddenly the rules aren’t so clear. In a world of limitless information, of Me Too, dick pics and ubiquitous porn, and when the American president boasts of committing sexual assault, what is a teenage boy supposed to think? And how can he set about learning?

“Guys have so many questions about sex, but they don’t always reach out and ask them,” says Inti Chavez Perez, a sex education expert. “There’s this idea that you should already know everything. So many guys tell me that the sex education they get isn’t useful. They don’t learn what sex is, how it’s done. And our cultural images of sex don’t really live up to what sex is like for real.”

A 2016 study by Middlesex University found that 53 per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds had seen explicit material online. A report into child sexual exploitation published in 2017 by the children’s commissioner quoted one young person saying: “Basically, porn is everywhere.” The result is that children tend to think sex is a straightforward affair, usually involving male dominance. The clitoris doesn’t matter, everything works brilliantly every time, nobody has pubic hair and everyone has an orgasm. Which, Chavez Perez says, is so much misleading rubbish, and it’s not just the internet, it’s sexist adverts and romantic films with unrealistic sex scenes. If you watch all that as a teenager, he argues, you are going to be left wondering, when the time comes, why it isn’t anything like that in real life.

“Many guys don’t know how women’s bodies work, and that makes it quite hard to make the magic happen,” he says. “They don’t understand the importance of the clitoris.”

So Chavez Perez decided to write a book in which nothing was off-limits. What would be the point of limits, he asks. The whole purpose was to get real about sex, so he gets straight down to it. Chapter one, line one reads: “Is my dick normal?” We move quickly on to how to masturbate and a bullet-point guide on how to kiss (“try not to drench the other person’s lips with saliva as they might not like it”). He talks about straight sex, gay sex, dick pics, groping, consent and even offers handy hints on how to take off a bra. One chapter is called “What to do with girls”, while another, headed “Sex — the basics”, offers 21 bullet points for how to make out, from stroking someone’s face to caressing their bottom.

“Sex education in schools doesn’t necessarily speak to a teenage agenda,” Chavez Perez says. “It tells you how not to get an STI, but doesn’t give you the social skills training to actually hook up with somebody. A teenager would say, ‘How do I even get to the stage of choosing to use a condom or not?’”

It’s true that Chavez Perez occasionally takes some things to what can seem like ridiculous extremes. Then again, you might think he’s wisely leaving nothing to chance. Do straight guys really need to be told that if they’re making out with an unresponsive woman, who has her arms folded defensively across her chest, they should probably back off? Some of the advice amounts to what Basil Fawlty would call the bleedin’ obvious. If someone asks about you and your life, they’re interested in finding out more about you. If the object of your interest never wants to meet up, and never gets in touch, it’s a sign that they’re not interested. Well, duh. And President Trump notwithstanding, do we need to spell out to men that groping is wrong and they shouldn’t do it? Chavez Perez swerves the question.

“Many guys are taught that if someone says no then you have to stop. What I’m saying is that they [the other person] have to say yes. That’s very different. Mostly people say it without words, maybe because it’s a bit embarrassing to say things out loud. What I’ve done is translate what is a yes and what is a no. If they have their arms around you, that’s a good sign. If they have their arms between you, it’s not. I don’t think everybody understands unspoken language.”

Chavez Perez, 34, is Swedish, but was born in Spain to a Spanish mother, who was born in Belgium, and a Peruvian father. The family moved to Sweden in search of work when he was four. As a teenager he remembers being interested in gender equality and curious about sex education. He came from a Catholic family where sex was never mentioned, and went to an international private school where it wasn’t on the curriculum. At the age of 18 he was offered training in how to educate his peers about safe sex, and he enjoyed giving out information and free condoms. He went on to pursue a career as a political journalist, working mainly for Swedish public broadcasters, but worked as a sex-education and equality activist on the side. “Then one day I realised I didn’t want to just describe the world, I wanted to change it,” he says.

He went back to college to study andrology (male health) and embarked on a second career giving lectures to midwives about how to be gender and trans inclusive, advising the Swedish government about sex education in schools, writing books and travelling around Scandinavia giving talks and advice to teenagers.  “There’s this idea that sex just happens and then you don’t speak about it, but we are not the same, our bodies are not the same, our ideas of sex are not the same, so we need to speak about what arouses us, and how we want it,” Chavez Perez says.

Parents, he thinks, should be talking more about sex with their children, but not in a big set-piece kind of way. They should be calling out an unrealistic sex scene in a rom-com, where the characters climax in five seconds, or an advert filled with sexual stereotypes. Yes, it can be hard for parent and child, he concedes, but it’s easier if you do it in small steps. (He is in a long-term relationship, but has no children.) Perhaps surprisingly, he thinks the internet is largely a positive phenomenon when it comes to sex and relationships: it has made it easier to meet people, to have dates, to have sex, he says.

Yes, social media and smartphones have increased some forms of sexual harassment, of which the most important he thinks is men sending unwanted dick pics. But sexual violence, he argues, was around long before the internet; he cites his own Spanish grandmother who couldn’t walk down the street when she was young without being heckled appallingly. And groping isn’t even really about sex. “It’s more to do with a guy wanting to dominate, wanting to show other guys how little he cares about other people’s boundaries, and how cool he is in the masculine hierarchy.”

He says it is a sign of the toxic masculinity which young men have it within their power to stop. A guy wolf-whistling at a girl might not think it’s a big deal, but when millions of men around the world think harassment is OK, then every day there are millions and millions of acts of sexual harassment “and we have a problem for the whole of society. Sexual violence is a world health problem and it comes from the individual.”

It’s depressing to contemplate Chavez Perez’s central thesis, that many young men have to learn the most basic rules governing consent and appropriate behaviour from a book. Then again, at least they’re learning it somewhere. “Guys feel bad about their bad behaviour. Many people think that teenage boys do stupid things because they’re stupid, but they’re not. Many times when they do things to show how cool they are, they get home and they ask themselves why. We have to teach guys their own value. The first step towards respecting others is to respect yourself.”

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 22.8.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • Nice to read that 'ecotourism' is on the way up here in Galicia. Along with transhumancia, whatever that is. See here, if you're as ignorant as me.
  • As for the challenge of cohabiting with nature . . .  The boar-hunting season is approaching here, aimed at preventing ruination of crops. And confabs are being held to decide what to do about wolves devouring - or at least killing - more and more sheep up near Ourense. And then there's the plague of starfish which are voraciously eating their way through the beds of almejas(clams) in our estuaries.
  • Talking of the Ourense province . . . Interesting to read that the hottest place there is a village called A Mezquita. Or 'The Mosque'. And they say the Moors never settled this far north . . .
  • I read in a UK paper that skirts, having headed south for a while, are now heading back up north, to 'baby-doll' length. I can't say I've noticed these developments here in Pontevedra, where it seems to be obligatory to show maximum thigh, at least in summer. And, in some cases, rather more. That said, some with-it women do seem to be sporting the in-fashion floor-length summer dresses which are rather more attractive than bare-buttock-displaying apparel. IMHO.
  • BTW . . .  Some of these long dresses are colourfully horizontally-striped, which has the unfortunate effect of making their wearers look like a block of Neapolitan ice cream. Or a deck chair. 
  • Talking of what women wear . . . I suspect my mother would have died rather than wear black underwear beneath white clothes. Nowadays, this seems to be compulsory. At least here in Pontevedra . . .
The UK
  • I read that Immingham is the busiest port in the UK. Shamefully, I had no idea where it was. Between Hull and Grimsby, in the Humber estuary, I now know.
  • I can't help feeling it's a tad extreme to claim that the 'Eagle Fly' carousel in the Tatzmania theme park displayed Nazi sympathies because of its Swastika-like seat arrangements. Of course, it all went viral at the speed of light, leading to a close-down and fulsome apologies. It seems like an over-reaction to me but then I'm not German or living in repentant Germany.
  • Tomorrow is the 80th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact – the infamous non-aggression pact of 1939 between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. It is observed as a day of remembrance for victims of Stalinism and Nazism in 10 EU countries, the US, Canada, and Georgia. But the pro-Kremlin media is still adamant that the USSR was reluctant to sign the pact and  had no other choice; that the pact did not trigger World War II, the USSR cannot be blamed for it, that Poland wanted to attack the USSR and that all of it was Hitler's idea anyway. Such sophistry puts me in mind of a current-day leader.
The Way off the World
  • We now know that Elton John bought carbon offsets to balance the effect of the private jet trips of you know who. As someone has commented: Some have even compared these schemes to the sale of papal indulgences – ecclesiastical pardons of sin that served as neat revenue-raisers for the Catholic church.  . . . This modern form of absolution is facing heightened scrutiny amid concerns it may actually be harming the environment. 
  • On the subject of the hypocrisy of celebrities who moralize about climate change, this sounds about right: A simple explanation for this is that it is a way of flaunting their special status.  Hypocrisy is the ultimate power move. It is a way of demonstrating that one plays by a different set of rules from the ones adhered to by common people. Hypocrisy demonstrates how unaccountable one is to conventional morality. Such displays work because, unlike wealth, status is inherently subjective. The more of it you are perceived to have, the more of it you actually have. . . . Why do we get so upset when celebrities moralize about climate change? Because, in doing so, they are violating an unsaid social contract. You can be rich, fabulous, and showy, but you can’t tell us how to live. The problem, in other words, isn’t that celebrities flaunt their rich lifestyle but rather that they moralize about it. See the full article here.
Nutters Corner
  • Christian 'prophet', Mark Taylor, claims that God has told him that if, Trump does not begin to arrest well-known Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, people like him and those who believe the same putrid crap he does will begin to murder those politicians themselves and “drag their dead bodies through the streets.” A supporter to be truly proud of.
  • So, Ffart didn't cancel his state visit to Denmark in a fit of childish pique because yet another woman was 'nasty' to him but because this is the way to make the world respect the USA more than it did under Obama. Could anyone be more self-deluded?
  • For those with some knowledge of the dismal science . . . How negative interest rates screw up the economy.
  • Words of the Day:-
  1. Aguadilla.
  1. Sorgo: Sorghum
Finally . . .
  • I read that the British police have much the same power as their Spanish colleagues to fine you for whatever they thinks amounts to distraction. Nowadays, this includes talking on a hands-free phone, wearing earphones, touching your satnav/GPS and eating or drinking anything. Here in Spain, I believe it even includes resting an elbow on the window frame. And very possibly putting a CD into the player or adjusting the radio except via switches on the steering wheel. The hard-to-refute logic of this total-reduction-of-risk attitude is the penalisation of anything which takes your eyes off the road or a hand off the steering wheel. So, can it be more than 10 years before gear/stick changes are adjudged dangerous and we're all compelled to drive automatic cars? Assuming any of us are still actually doing anything by way of driving a car by then.
  • There's definitely a robin in the garden this morning. Still the sole representative of the avian community.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 21.8.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • It's hard to avoid references to Benidorm this week. Here's another one, possibly giving one more reason to stay away from the place.
  • I sometimes wonder how God gets through his/her/hir day, given the millions - if not billions - of requests which come his/her/hir way via the prayers of the faithful. Here in Galicia, one very public case is that of a priest who recently held a Mass in which the deity's help was sought to have the potholes in the village's road filled in. And then, of course, there are the millions of - apparently ineffective - prayers which have been offered up over more than 20 years in respect of the arrival of the AVE high-speed train here in Galicia. Presumably they didn't meet whatever criteria God uses for celestial intervention. As with prayers in respect of mass slaughters in the USA, I guess.
  • I'm compiling a list of things that have or haven't changed in the 19 years I've lived in Pontevedra. One which doesn't seem to have changed is the risk you run venturing onto zebra crossings. As you might have guessed, I had to stop in the middle of one yesterday morning when a car in the far lane didn't stop. The 3rd time in a week. Plus one in the nearside lane which was undertaking a car which had stopped in the far lane. You need to have your wits about you. The accident statistics suggest quite a few older folk don't.
  • Cycling into town these days, I'm using our newish bridge - Puente Das Correntes - while the O Burgo bridge is being converted into pedestrian only. To get to the former, I ride alongside a small river that's a tributary of the Lérez river. At the moment, this path is a temporary camino stretch and is far prettier than the usual route up the main street of the barrio of Lérez. These paths join up just after the Alba marshes and I wonder if they'll make the temporary one a permanent 'variant' option. If so, it won't please the owners of the café O Recuncho do Peregrino (The Pilgrim's Corner/Refuge), a fair share of the revenue of which must come from 'pilgrims' leaving the barrio via the normal camino route.
The UK
  • Is there anyone who doesn't believe Prince Andrew was involved with Geoffrey Epstein's young friend? Apart, perhaps, from his grandmother.
The Way of the World 
  • Google - as you might expect - is so culturally (North) American that, when I typed 'main street' yesterday, it came up as Main Street. Thrice. Just as it did right now. Doesn't happen with 'high street'. 
  • Dear dog:  A UK homeopathic pharmacy with a royal warrant is selling a water and alcohol solution containing bits of the Berlin Wall. Homeopathic nutters believe it contains a “spiritual force” that can help imbeciles break down barriers in their lives. It costs a mere £72 for a 100ml bottle of 96% alcohol solution “in medicating potency”.
  • Is Ambrose Evans Pritichard's pessimism proving to be well-founded? See his article below.
  • Is Ffart actually getting oranger?
  • Amusingly(?), it's reported that - having got everything so embarrassingly wrong in 2016 - there's not a single US pundit of any colour who's prepared to state that Ffart has little or no chance of getting a 2nd term next year. Whatever his current popularity ratings. And whatever the hubbub about a faltering economy and even recession. 
  • Word of the day: Zigzaguear. Guess.
  • I wonder what the difference is between unos fuegos de artificio and un espectáculo pirotécnico. Of our 3 recent midnight firework displays, 2 were in the former category and 1 in the latter.
Finally . . .
  •  I fancy I caught the 'song' of a robin in my garden yesterday morning, as well as the earlier sight of the 3 young thrushes/blackbirds. Hope springs . . . But absolutely  nowt this morning. The skies are still devoid of winged creatures. Except insects, of course.

It's too little, too late to prevent a global recession as we enter the 'pre-slump window': Ambrose Evans Pritchard, Daily Telegraph.

US and European stimuli have come too late and this week's Jackson Hole may be a wicked disappointment

With each passing month of trade conflict, the world economy slips closer to stall speed. A partial cease-fire between the US and China – or the US and Europe – is not in itself enough to keep recession at bay.

The White House has flagged another package of tax cuts to keep the wolf away. Mere talk of ‘stimulus’ has brought instant relief to battered August markets, but beware. Donald Trump requires the support of Congress to do anything. House Democrats are in no mood to extend him a lifeline. Their political price will be exorbitant. Nothing will be done soon in any case.

One can only smile at the pretence that tax cuts will be funded by “Chinese tariffs”. China does not pay the tariffs. Importers in the US pay the tariffs (tax). To rotate this back into the US economy via tax cuts is not fiscal stimulus. It is neutral. If that is all Donald Trump has up his sleeve, fetch your tin helmets.

In the meantime, companies have frozen investment plans across the globe. The longer this goes on, the greater the damage. Call it time-decay.  Standard & Poor’s says firms are sitting on $6 trillion of cash and waiting. They are not going to spend much beyond maintenance investment as long as Trump keeps threatening to shut down the Pacific trade relationship – not to forget his parallel threat to impose 25% tariffs on European, Japanese, and Korean cars in November.

S&P’s capex diffusion index for North America has collapsed to minus 35. This is the steepest deterioration of any region in the world, though the EU and Japan are close behind. The capex freeze sets the world on a ratchet course towards recession unless something is done to stop it.

Trump’s tax cuts were supposed to unleash a wave of US corporate investment, delivering self-sustaining growth once the sugar rush of fiscal stimulus faded in 2019. The ‘happy hand-over’ never happened. All he got was debt – on track for 117% of GDP by 2023 (IMF) – and a budget deficit over 4% at the top of the cycle. Trade wars have undercut core premise of Trumponomics.  My view is that the current global soft patch looks deceptively innocuous.

We have entered a pre-slump “window” where the slightest shock is enough to crystalize recession – a blue chip profit warning? Liquidity woes at a large German bank? Iranian retaliation in the Strait of Hormuz? – at which point metastasis kicks in.

Some $16 trillion of debt trading at negative yields tells us it may already be too late. This includes the entire maturity curve of German, Danish, Dutch and Finnish bonds, as well as Portuguese debt out to eight years, and the junk bonds of Telecom Italia. This signal is of course distorted in a Europe of negative policy rates, but that begs the question why Frankfurt has to keep them so low and why it is eyeing minus 0.6% next month.

The Europeans never really overcame the deflationary virus, and now the threat is returning in earnest. That is poisonous for Italian debt dynamics.  The euro project cannot endure sustained deflation. It as simple as that. The currency bloc is not Japan. It has no treasury, joint debt instrument, or automatic lender-of-last-resort, and is not a cohesive state or an ‘optimal political area’ (to misuse Mundell).

There is a wicked twist to deflation in a zero-yield world. What normally happens in downturns is that inflation falls but yields (i.e. borrowing costs) fall even faster. This acts as a counter-cyclical stabilizer and – crucially – prepares the way for recovery. The self-correction mechanism is jammed. Jonas Goltermann from Capital Economics warns that real yields might actually rise if recession takes hold. This would be pro-cyclical tightening into the teeth of the storm. We are back to our old friend Irving Fisher from 1933: ‘The Debt Deflation Theory of Great Depressions”. If you are not disturbed by this, you ought to be.

Richard Clarida, the Federal Reserve’s high priest, knows the danger. He says the Fed must be extra dovish when rates are already so close to the ‘zero-bound’ and buffers are so thin. Yet somehow the Fed has allowed itself to fall behind the curve anyway.

Nothing much is likely to change at the Jackson Hole conclave this week. Last December’s rate rise was ill-judged. The Fed persisted with reverse QE (bond sales) for too long. Real M1 divisia money was allowed to contract in early 2019. The Fed did not start cutting rates until July. Chairman Jay Powell called the quarter point tweak a mid-cycle insurance move rather than the start of rapid-fire easing.

This was to defy market pricing in futures contracts. It smacks of insouciance at a juncture when the US yield curve is inverted on every metric, the US Cass freight index has fallen by 5.9% (y/y), and the world manufacturing contraction is getting worse. Trump accuses the Fed of “horrendous lack of vision”. He wants immediate rate cuts of at least 100 basis points, with QE for sauce. In this he is correct even if his own actions have led to this impasse. He is not going to get what he wants. Krishna Guha from Evercore ISI says the Fed will stick to its steady-as-you-go message. Fed staff argue that jobs and consumption (not leading indicators, nota bene) are holding up well. “We think Powell will convey that the Fed is in preemptive mini-easing cycle/mid-cycle adjustment mode in the spirit of 1995 and 1998, not super-aggressive easing to ward of recession mode,” he said.

A quarter point will be trickled out in September. Evercore said the Fed will switch to “super-aggressive” in a heartbeat if the economy buckles. It will cut rates to zero and throw the kitchen sink at the US financial system. Well, good luck with that. By then the Fed will be chasing its own tail.

It has let the Wicksellian natural rate of interest slide faster than it is cutting rates. It is therefore tightening. My presumption is that markets will spit out a quarter point offering with disgust. Once it becomes clear that neither Europe nor the US are in fact delivering either monetary or fiscal stimulus on a scale required to head off recession there will be a nasty moment of discovery.

One reader asked what I am doing with my pension fund. Answer: 40% bonds, 50% cash, and 10% equities. I have battened down the hatches. This does not feel to me anything like the refreshing pause of 1998 or 2016.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 20.8.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • A bit more on Benidorm . . . The highest of its many skyscrapers is Intempo. Standing 198m tall, it looks like a massive letter M with gold façades and, since it was built in 2006, has never been occupied - a reminder of the Spanish property debacle. But now it has new owners and there are plans to offer flats in it costing up to €1m. Surely, if you can afford that, you would want to live somewhere a little more appealing, But I guess it's true what they say; there's no accounting for taste.
  • Which reminds me  . . . It's sad to see people sinking - or floating - to this level.
  • Galicia boasts a fair number of public wash-places - lavaderos - where one can still see village women washing clothes. Sadly, one such woman was found drowned in a local tank last week. No foul play is suspected. Possibly because her name isn't Epstein
The UK
  • Elton John says he's paid to 'carbon offset' the trip of Duke and Duchess of Sussex via a private jet to his French home. How does this work, then? Thousands of trees planted somewhere? A huge vacuum cleaner built at his expense to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere?
  • Still all on holiday. Nothing happening anywhere.
  • Putin, sporting his tie a la Ffart . . . Dictator chic.

The Way of the World 
  • Why even contemplate doing this? . . . What it's like to see the Mona Lisa in its new 'holding pen' at the Louvre. . . After 22 seconds I was told to move on.
  • A new reason to worry about the way things are going - Amazon is testing a new tool which 'detects human fear'.
  • Imagine these people happily accepting Ffart as their new leader . . .  But, as the author says, it'd be fascinating to watch .
  • Fox News tell us that 36% of Americans approve of Ffart's handling of the aftermath of the El Paso and Dayton shootings. Some folks must be very easy to please.
  • Words of the Day:-
  1. Trapo
  2. Imán: Magnet. I wondered whether this word was Arabic in origin but, no, it comes from the French un aimant. I had thought this meant 'a lover' but this, of course, is un amante. Same root, I guess - attraction.
BTW: If you're looking up a Spanish word in the Royal Academy's dictionary, you need to know that, if you don't put on the relevant accent, it won't find it. Which seems strange, even wrong, to me.

Finally . . .
  • It's very, very odd. I'm used to a fair amount of birdsong - especially blackbirds - in my back garden, and some strange bird sounds from the trees in front of my house. But last evening I realised there was absolute silence, both front and back. Not a sound of a bird anywhere. Even stranger, not a single bird in sight. Not even one of the seagulls which normally appear within minutes of me chucking bread on the lawn. Nor the ever-present collared doves or wild pigeons. And especially not the greenfinches and the sparrows which spar for the seeds in the feeder. The food I put out 3 days ago, I now realise, hasn't been touched. It's as if a plague of hawks descended and devoured them all. Or some bastard with a shotgun blasted them all out of the sky. But, hang on, there was a raucous magpie(urraca) in the garden this morning. But surely that can't be responsible for this avian dearth. Maybe - it being August and this being Spain - they've all packed up and gone on vacation. Or at least to the beach.
  • Even odder . . . Later in the evening, there were no birds in sight on the terrace where I take my evening tiffin. And then a thought struck me . . . We've had fireworks at midnight 3 times in the last 8 days. Maybe every bird within a few kilometres has been frightened off. At least for a while. Not a question of bird brains, then.
  • But the bloody dogs are still barking. 
  • And the rats are still stealing the bread.
Postscript: There were 3 thrushes - or maybe female blackbirds - in my garden this morning, making a liar of me. Fleetingly.