Thursday, December 31, 2015

Superstitions; John Florio's plays; Spain's youth; Lamprey season; Galician pensions; & The NY Honours List

SUPERSTITIOUS SPAIN: I learn from Lenox's latest Business Over Tapas that New Year's Eve is one of the most superstitious days of the year here. Tonight will see millions around Spain rapidly downing twelve grapes in time to clock chimes, or toasting in cava with a ring in the glass. More on this here. Reading it, you'll have to pinch yourself to recall we're in the 21st. century.

SHAKESPEARE: Reading, as you do, about his testamentary document (Will's Will?), I learned of a new claimant to his crown - one John Florio, a learned Englishman of Italian descent. His champion is Lamberto Talassari, whose web page is here. I'm not sure – despite the plausibility of his claim - that he has many adherents. I also learnt of this wonderful comment on this theme from Mark Twain: The plays of William Shakespeare were either written by Shakespeare or somebody else with the same name.

GALICIAN YOUTH: In 2007, the average age at which young folk here left the family home was 29; now it's 32. My guess is this is connected with the rising average age for marriage. It's also reported that 80% of Spaniards below 30 still live with their parents and would need an increase of 98% in their income to be able to buy a flat. The phrase 'lost generation' seems apt on this occasion.

GALICIAN LAMPREA(LAMPREY): This is an ugly fish which was popular in the UK centuries ago and which still is in this part of Spain, caught in the river Miño separating us from Portugal. I've been meaning to taste it for years and finally did so last night. I rather wish I'd left it much longer, to be honest. In contrast, my neighbour can't get enough of it. But, then, he was brought up on the banks of the Miño. And I did enjoy a glass of Mencia red wine from the same area. Incidentally, Henry I of England is said to have died from eating too many of the things. Which, these days, are used mainly as bait in the UK.

GALICIAN PENSIONS: These are to rise in Janaury between €1.40 and €2.60 per month. One hopes the recipients don't go mad and spend it all at once.

FINALLY . . . THE NEW YEAR'S HONOURS LIST: I've been overlooked once again. I'm beginning to lose my faith in monarchy and democratic government.

Note: A reader kindly wrote to me recently to thank me for my blog and to suggest I put 2 (very appropriate) adjectives in my blog description. One of these, I think, was 'irascible' but I can't recall the other one or find the message to check. I'd be very grateful for a repeat.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Sp. Politics; The EU; English Pinglish; Galician Nationalism; & Funny Stories

SPANISH POLITICS: The electorate here is said to have abandoned its fatalistic/feudalistic attitude to corruption and to have recently punished both of the leading parties because of their fondness for it. Strange, then, that the Presidenta of Spain's most corrupt region – Andalucia – is looking to oust the PSOE President in her own favour. It surely makes sense to her; but to the rest of us? I mean, previous Andalucian presidents and current members of her administration are being investigated in respect of a €2-3bn (yes, billion) diversion of EU funds. You'd have thought there was at least a possibility that she'd be a persona non grata to the public. Perhaps she is but can't see it. Time will tell, as ever.

THE EU: To counter recent posts on the imminent death of this monster, there are 2 articles at the end of this blog on why it must survive and why the UK should not leave it. If you're interested, make up your own mind. If not, skip 'em.

ENGLISH PINGLISH: Whatever this is, it's being used to help young kids learn the world's lingua franca. So it must be good. A series of books in both English and Spanish can be bought on a couple of deuvedés.

GALICIAN NATIONALISM: I'm not clear what happened as regards support for this in the recent general elections. The old Galician Nationalist Block (the BNG) had been superseded (I think) by a party called Nos ('Us' in Gallego) and this did very badly indeed. But another new party of the left – En Marea – did rather better and this may well contain nationalist elements. Perhaps a reader could enlighten me. Meanwhile, a spokesperson has said “We have to re-invent nationalism so that it appeals to young people”. Well, good luck with that, mate. The times are rather against you. This ain't The Basque Country. Or even Cataluña. Most people recognise that Galicia would be in a worse state but for Spanish money.

CELTS: Galicians – especially the nationalists – like to see themselves as Celts. And not merely any old Celts but those who settled Ireland. The latest genetic research in the latter suggests that their Celts came from the Middle East (Greek: Keltoi?) But many believe the term is meaningless, having been invented only in the 12th century, and that it's a cultural, not an ethnic, label. But none of this will stop many Galicians believing they're Celtic and, therefore, different from every other group in Spain. Especially from those with 15% North African genes. Being distinct from every other region's populace is important in Spain.

The EU empire’s a mess but we must stick by it 

Despite its inherent lack of democracy and its structural weaknesses, this enormous ship cannot be allowed to capsize

Edward Lucas: The Times

Imperial Europe is taking shape before our eyes. The process is messy and costly. It prizes effectiveness over democracy and national sovereignty. It may end in catastrophe. But our best bet is its success.

The most long-standing bulwark of the empire is the competition directorate — a formidable bureaucratic weapon with prosecutorial powers, charged with maintaining the integrity of the single market. Without it, monopolies and government subsidies would disadvantage consumers.

The fines it can levy have humbled the world’s most powerful companies, including Microsoft, Gazprom and Google. Its scalps also include the European Union’s most important member states.

Close behind it is the energy directorate, which has destroyed Russia’s abusive and discriminatory gas export business, to the dismay of Kremlin cronies, especially in Germany, and to the huge benefit of those once in its grip. The EU’s single market is now bigger than the EU itself — it includes Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. As a country — call it Singlemarketland — it would be the biggest, richest and most powerful economic entity in the world. On trade policy, it can do deals with behemoths like China and America with a clout that no individual member could match.

Next up is the eurozone. Constructed on the basis of wishful thinking, it is now turning into a country — Euroland — with an interventionist central bank, a bailout fund, enforceable fiscal rules (just ask the Greeks) and common banking supervision. None of these institutions were envisaged at the beginning (and had they been, voters might well have vetoed the whole idea).

It could still blow up, but it is now possible to see how the common currency can work. For the foreseeable future, Germany and other exporters in northern Europe will benefit from an artificially low exchange rate. In return, they pay up while the south Europeans try to reform their economies to regain competitiveness. It is the same deal we have in Britain, where the southeast pays for, and runs, the rest of the country.

But the difficulties of making Euroland work are dwarfed by the latest project: turning the Schengen passport-free travel zone into Schengenland. This incipient superstate is bigger, with 26 countries, against only 19 in Euroland. Hassle-free travel is one of the breakthrough benefits of the past 20 years, something that ordinary Europeans truly value. It is now under threat because of terrorism and fears about uncontrolled migration: once across the Schengen border, you can travel freely, in theory, from the southern tip of Italy to the north of Norway, in search of a better life or aiming to end other people’s.

The Schengen zone was not designed to deal with this. This is why Schengenland just got its own army, the new EU border force, which can be deployed to protect the external Schengenland frontier, even if a member country does not wish it

Moreover, history suggests that empires that do not stabilise their periphery are themselves destabilised by it. Accordingly, Schengenland aims not just to secure its border but to manage what happens beyond it. Schengenland is developing its own foreign policy — doing deals with Turkey with a realpolitische vim that would make Bismarck blush: you keep the migrants out, we give your citizens visa-free travel to the EU. Expect more of that in 2016.

Schengenland is also getting its own police force: in effect a European FBI. Countries with effective criminal-justice systems, such as the Netherlands, France and Germany, are not going to put up with the lapses of ineffective ones (notably Belgium). The imperial police force involves data-sharing, hot pursuit across national frontiers, speedier extradition and close collaboration between prosecutors.

Problems abound. Schengenland wants to share out migrants so that the generous countries (chiefly Germany and Sweden) do not bear disproportionate short-term costs. But countries such as Poland, with fragile public services and sceptical populations, have scant appetite for taking large numbers of migrants from the Middle East (they have already done their bit by taking hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, they note). Schengenland will have to sort that out, trading access to EU structural funds (boondoggle projects for roads, railways and the like) in exchange for help on migration.

One question is how these proto-empires fit together. What say do the minority “outs” have in decision-making by the “ins”? How to stay in the EU but outside Schengen and the euro is the real dilemma facing David Cameron, not the politics of his phoney referendum.

A bigger problem is democracy. National preferences shape imperial Europe, but they do not govern it. If you want a single market in goods, people and capital, you need to stop national governments favouring their own voters and breaking the rules with protectionism. If you want a common currency, then the citizens of Greece cannot vote themselves a slice of German taxpayers’ money. If you want a passport-free travel zone, then you need effective policing inside it and strong projection of power on its periphery. Those considerations trump democracy.

Admittedly, the EU is democratic in that the European parliament scrutinises the commission, which is appointed by haggling among national governments. But this is obscure and distant compared with national general elections. The advantages of the single market, common currency and passport-free travel are not perks for the elite: they benefit the humblest, too. Millions already commute across the Schengenland internal borders. Europeans will not lightly abandon their accustomed convenience. But it will require a big shift for the public to accept that they are part of imperial Europe and to forswear the national sovereignty they have grown up with.

The biggest weakness is that building imperial institutions belatedly in response to crises is so costly and risky — rather like refitting a ship once it is already on the high seas. The architects of these great schemes have been strangely quiet about the shortcomings of their original plans. The costs and constraints are far higher than originally advertised. Voters — be they the British toying with Brexit, exasperated Portuguese and Greeks installing fragile left-wing governments, or the French turning to Marine Le Pen’s National Front — can stall, or even capsize, imperial Europe. The consequences of such a shipwreck would make today’s problems seem trivial.

Leaving the EU would be a disaster for Britain. Business needs to speak up.

Sir Victor Blank - a former chairman of Lloyds Banking Group and Trinity Mirror

There is a great danger in the argument being subsumed by pure emotion, with the Brexit camp playing the “historically proud, independent nation” card. This would be a repeat of the Scottish Referendum battle, where the Nationalists tugged at heartstrings – a blatant stirring of passion that the Union side struggled to counter. In the end, cold reason prevailed. The business community, cautious at first and reluctant to be drawn into the political arena, made its voice heard, presenting a compelling case against Scotland going it alone.

This time business must not wait – the EU decision is too economically significant to leave until the last minute. Put simply, it would be a disaster if the UK quit. Avoiding that should not, and cannot, be left to chance.

Business must speak out because business matters. Politicians may declare their views, so too might the press and other commentators. But it’s business, whether large companies or small to medium enterprises (SMEs), that creates the jobs and generates the wealth upon which this nation so depends. There are currently around 5 million private enterprises in the UK, employing, at 25.6 million people, roughly half the population. Public service, by contrast, employs 5.4 million.

That is why business must not stay silent or be ignored. Industry leaders speak for a far bigger constituency than any politician, journalist or commentator. It is all the more important to speak up, as this referendum’s result will be final – we will not be able to reverse it, or hold another a few years hence. This is one shot, an opportunity to settle an issue that has dogged Britain for decades.

What, precisely, is the message business chiefs must convey? They must assess the contribution that their company can make to our economic well-being and wealth. That means assessing the prospects for jobs and benefits. According to the International Monetary Fund, the UK ranks fifth among world economies (behind the US, China, Japan and Germany). Withdrawing from the EU would threaten that hard-won economic power. I am not saying it will be weakened, but it could well be. Why take the risk?

As a member of the EU, our companies are able to sell, without barriers and tariffs, to a market on the UK’s doorstep of 500 million people. They need only abide by one set of regulations covering the entire, vast and complex region. Our biggest trading partner is the EU. As a non-member these same companies could be obliged to negotiate with each individual country they sell to within the EU. One set of rules would be replaced by a possible 27, not to mention payment of duties.

The ability of manufacturing companies to sell their wares could be damaged. Manufacturing accounts for 54 per cent of UK exports and directly employs 2.6 million people. Another crucial area, financial services, may also be blighted. This is a sector that contributes £127 billion to the UK economy. Around half of that total derives from the City of London. Financial services accounts for 3.4 per cent of UK jobs. Some banks have indicated already they would be required to consider relocating to a centre in the EU and downgrading London. Again, why endanger the City’s world-leading position?

Indeed, would the USA treat the UK in the way it does today if we say no to the EU? Would the Japanese and the Far East continue to invest billions here, if we are no longer inside the market of 500 million people?

Not only does the EU buy our exports, its companies invest here and create jobs. According to the latest available figures, 46 per cent of all foreign investment in Britain hails from EU countries. We’re the Number 1 destination for foreign direct investment in the EU.
"While Britain’s is the fifth biggest national economy on earth there is one that towers over all of them. It’s the collection of national economies that is the EU itself"

Overseas money pouring into Britain is a lifeline for our economy. On our own, we’re nowhere near big enough to build the factories and offices that are funded by foreign cash. Some of that inward investment comes from the EU itself, supplying funding to the regions of greatest need. Over the next six years, Cornwall, Wales, Scottish Highlands, Northern Ireland and Northern England can look forward to receiving £8 billion in EU aid. That would vanish if we voted to depart.

EU funding also goes to universities to help them research future technologies. Britain is earmarked to collect £7 billion from the EU’s Horizon 2020 fund – investment that would also cease. Our SMEs actually receive more funding from the EU for hi-tech research than those of any other EU member. That lucrative tap would be turned off if we went alone.

While Britain’s is the fifth biggest national economy on earth there is one that towers over all of them. It’s the collection of national economies that is the EU itself. That firepower enables the negotiation of valuable free trade deals for its members. The EU has entered into agreements with the US, China, India, South Korea, South Africa and Mexico. Britain on its own would not have the clout to drive a similar bargain; British companies would

The EU continues to push for new agreements. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks between the US and EU are on going. TTIP alone could be worth as much as £10 billion a year to the UK economy. Similarly, a proposed EU-Japan tie-up could be worth £13 billion to the UK.

If we left, we would still have to face the same issues that we must contend with today – except we could no longer turn to the EU for support. Immigration would still continue to haunt us. But suddenly we might find the French less willing to cooperate, and simply waving immigrants on their way towards Britain instead.

Of course, some aspects of Brussels drive us mad. Hopefully these can be reformed by the Prime Minister in his talks with EU premiers. But we should not lose sight of the bigger picture. Britain has prospered hugely since joining the EU. Compared with the uncertainty of leaving, this fact alone is compelling enough reason for staying. Business leaders must get on the front foot, assess the benefits of membership and communicate them firmly. To do so is to fight for Britain’s economic future.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tourism; Taxation in Spain; Europe's woes; & Moore tales.

TOURISM: It's now a lot cheaper to fly to nearly all resorts around the world than it was back in 2013. The exception is Spain. One wonders why? Outstanding value for money? Increased demand? Local cartels? Attacks on the cheaper flat-renting option? Your guess is as good as mine.

TAXATION IN SPAIN: The Tax Office (La Hacienda) has carried out its threat to publish details of those almost 5,000 organisations and people who owe them more than a million euros. These appear to be 1. companies (largely property development operators and realtors) which have gone bust and 2. people who can afford tax advice. But the list is eclectic, involving politicians and bankers (naturally); the ex-president of Real Madrid(€1.3m), an historian/writer(c.€2.5m); the Ciudad Real airport; Spanair; Pescanova fish company; a fashion firm; a health centre; and even a judge.

EUROPE: Things are not looking good for the EU. The writer of this article believes 2016 may even see its collapse. Sampler: The EU is in desperate trouble. The edifice of federalism is crumbling, broken by its own ruinous contradictions and spectacular failures. The creators of the European Union promised to bring peace and prosperity. But through their grandiose folly, they have fuelled only debt, despair and disintegration. . . The EU lacks any kind of democratic legitimacy, which means that the end could come sooner than the politicians imagine. . . . 2016 could be the year that the EU falls apart . . . Anger could turn to open rebellion in 2016. . . Carnage on the streets could be the ultimate symbol of their failure, and the catalyst for their downfall. Picking up on the last point, Don Quijones says we Europeans have a stark choice between passivity (“resignation”) or revolution. His/her counsel is that: Before you make your choice let me first make a few of my own personal observations vis-a-vis our current situation and future outlook:.
  1. In case you hadn’t noticed, we are already owned, lock, stock and smoking barrel, by the international cartel of too-big-to-fail banks.
  2. Pretty much all our political representatives and institutions, whether at the national or EU level, have also been bought off by the same banks
  3. Said banks are, to all intents and purposes, bankrupt, both financially and morally
  4. Democracy has absolutely no role, beyond a figurative one, in the European Union.
  5. As the real economy (i.e. everything that is not the stock exchange) continues its descent into the abyss, businesses will continue to close down, jobs will continue to vanish at an alarming rate and taxes will continue to rise.
  6. Most importantly of all, the global financial system’s days are already numbered.

Click here for the full article from this Barcelona-based commentator. Is there really any prospect of the revolution that the situation demands?

FINALLY . . . ON A LIGHTER NOTE: Ex-Bond player, Roger Moore, has told 2 tales I've laughed as recently:-
  • Judi Dench was almost run over by a London taxi. “The cab driver wound down his window and bellowed, ‘Mind where you’re going, you stupid bitch.’ Unperturbed, Dench replied: ‘That’s Dame Bitch to you.’ ”
  • Asked if he keeps in touch with his old friend Tony Curtis, Moore replied: “Not since he died, no.”

Monday, December 28, 2015

Democracy; Non-corruption; Facebook problems; Typos; & a funny(?) tweet.

DEMOCRACY: One sometimes feels that Americans think democracy is democracy and that installing their brand of it in backward countries such as, say, Iraq and Afghanistan, will be a panacea. In reality, it's often merely a change to a different form of tyranny ('of the majority') and to increased corruption. Young democracies are usually very far from perfect. And so it was/is with Spain's 40 year old stab at it. Here, the general elections of last Sunday have given us some hope that the country can move on from the initial phase of seriously compromised elected governments. Where the politicians of both major parties have shown themselves to be as corrupt and as egregiously greedy as any African dictator. That said, the elections left neither a single party nor a feasible coalition with the prospect of reliable power. And so we have a lame-duck outgoing administration and the prospect of another election early-ish next year. Which no one except the said administration wants, as it's most likely to improve the position of the latter at the expense of smaller parties currently with wind in their sails and a sniff of power. So, we wait with baited breath and fingers crossed. And with a huge helping of scepticism at to the continuing purity of the new kids on the block. Politics, as they say, is a dirty game. Whatever the stage of a democracy.

NON-CORRUPTION: Read this Don Quijones article for a scarcely believable example of the sort of thing that happens here. Not illegal but surely highly immoral. To say the very least. Unknown to them, Spanish taxpayers will be paying for this chicanery for decades.

FACEBOOK PROBLEMS: Regular readers will know that – until yesterday – I've had to post a foto along with my text to (somehow) bypass a computer which daily decided my blog was offensive. So, I naturally had sympathy for the owners of a village pub in Wales which had its Facebook page banned “because of a complaint over 'racist or offensive language'”. The pub's name is The Black Cock. Apparently, this didn't happen to the pages of The Black Cockerel and The Three Cocks in nearby villages. But one is forced to ask what it is about the Welsh and cock(erel)s?

FIANLLY . . . TYPOS: Since the UK press farmed out its proof-reading to teenagers in the Antipodes, there've been numerous howlers to enjoy during my morning trawl of the major papers. But this is one of the best, in yesterday's Daily Telegraph: Renault back on F1 starting grid after £1 Loctus deal. Presumably the kid responsible was too young to recall the era of triumphant Lotus. So much so that (s)he perpetrated the mistake twice.

P. S. No need to thank me. I was going to post a link to the DT's list of the year's 40 Funniest Tweets. But I read them first. And, since I didn't even smile until I got to no. 1, I decided to save you the pain. If you insist on knowing what this was, it's no. 8 in this DT list. I can't guarantee that you'll smile, of course.

Although I don't need to post a foto now, I thought male readers would appreciate a snap of my lunch-time companions of yesterday:-

 I trust you all noticed I was reading Bertrand Russell before being joined by 3 beautiful women. Perhaps this is no coincidence . . . 

BTW . . . They're all spending this week in Lisbon. So, if you're down there and bump into them, introduce yourself as a friend of mine. That should guarantee you absolutely nothing. But I'm sure they'd appreciate you buying them a drink.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The weather, now and later: English, Spanglish and Shakespeare: & Randomness.

WARM WEATHER: The British media is going bonkers about "Probably the warmest winter since records began under Alfred the Great". Nonsense. I clearly recall an Xmas day of the same 15/60 temperature only 20 years ago. Ironically, when I was going to the shed to get some coal for the – rather unnecessary - fires in the sitting and dining rooms. Which reminds me . . .

AGW: Here's the inimitable Clive James on the recent jamboree in Paris.

ENGLISH: One of the differences between Brits and Americans is that the former only use the word 'backside' as a polite word for 'arse'('ass'). But the Americans says things like 'At the backside of the storm', meaning behind. Which is another polite Brit term for 'arse'. There are probably 20 more.

SPANGLISH: In an unsympathetic article on President Rajoy, a Spanish commentator wrote that he'd suffered from bulling when he was a kid here in Pontevedra. I suspect this was a typo for 'bullying'. Which now appears to be a Spanish word. Along with un lifting, un footing, un spinning, un jumping, un parking, un bullfighting, un dreaming, un writing, un jogging, etc. I may have made up one or two of these.

SHAKESPEARE'S ENGLISH: A nice leading article (un leader?) from The Times: Shakespeare is universally recognised as the greatest writer in English. No one, however, regards him as the most readily comprehensible. Teachers introducing his work to fresh generations have now happened on a consistent and illuminating observation. Children who speak English as a second language tend to have more confidence in dealing with Shakespeare

The grammar and vocabulary of modern English differ radically from Shakespeare’s. No one now uses constructions like “What sayst thou?” or “I know not where to hide my head”. Yet even Shakespeare’s contemporaries complained about his impenetrability. Ben Jonson railed against “some bombast speeches of Macbeth, which are not to be understood”. Educators like Jacqui O’Hanlon of the Royal Shakespeare Company maintain that, because Shakespeare feels like a foreign language for everyone, children who have English as an additional tongue are unfazed by him and often have a swifter grasp of his work.

What to conclude? First, Shakespeare really is for everyone. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in the United States recently courted controversy by commissioning playwrights to translate the Bard into modern English. It is a well-intentioned but misguided venture. Shakespeare’s language is hard because his ideas are complex and his nuance is constantly debatable. Yet with good educators and actors, and a grasp of language, even children can relish and appreciate the work. Second, the ability to speak more than one language is precious and enriches Britain. When politicians misguidedly fear that English is not spoken widely enough, they should be reminded that it’s a language every immigrant wants to know. English is a tongue, with a literature, with the brightest of futures among its non-native speakers.

FINALLY . . . RANDOMNESS: One has to get used to this in Spanish life. For example, when you go shopping and find that they're either out of stock or out of business. Here's 2 more of the latter from the very centre of Pontevedra.

This has been a few things but the last one was an expensive looking centre of laser treatment for one thing and another.
Walking past this shop for divers the other day, I wondered how long it would remain in business. I suspect the beggar is one of our many Romanain residents.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A 2nd Transition? A Spanish vignette; The Spanish Ages of Man; & Romeo and Whatsername.

A SECOND SPANISH TRANSITION?: That is the question: And there's a couple of views on this from the other side of the pond at the end of this post.

A SPANISH VIGNETTE: A couple of years ago, a winning lottery ticket worth €4.7m was left on the counter of a kiosk. If the owner doesn't turn up soon, this will go to the doubly lucky outlet owner. So far, 317 claimants have guessed at the distinguishing feature of the ticket only knowable by the buyer. But none has got it right. There'll presumably be more of these brazen liars before the seller gets his paws on the winnings. I wonder how many there'd be in a society of higher ethics. Or if false claimants were prosecuted.

THE SPANISH AGES OF MAN/WOMEN: A couple of Galician women were killed by a (speeding?) motorist a few days ago, when they were crossing a road at night. They were close friends, aged 68 and 69. I know the Spanish have the greatest longevity in Europe but were they really 'middle aged' as the local press put it. I certainly hope so.

FINALLY . . . . ROMEO & JULIET: I switched on the TV last night to find myself watching a 2013 version of this Shakespeare soap opera. Happily for me, I'd hit upon scenes involving Lesley Manville as the nurse, and Paul Giamatti as the friar. For these were the best performances of the film. Naturally, I went to the reviews on IMDB, to find these ranged from 1 to 10. Utter crap or brilliant. Reading them all and half-watching the film, I veered towards the top half. Yes, it disobeyed the basic rule that Romeo shouldn't be prettier than Juliet and some of the acting was below par. And then there was the modernised Shakespearean English! But other things – such as the scenery, some of the acting and the cinematography – were damn good. And the final scene had me in tears. But, then, what doesn't these days? The take I enjoyed most was this one, taking the purists to task for their hatred of the film:- I love Shakespeare and R&J is probably my favourite. There is some bad about the film but also some very good. This particular version is rewritten in "loose" Shakespeare. It's still poetic and melodramatic but the words are easier to understand. I would NEVER fault anyone for trying to bring literary classics to modern teens. So if this does it for them then that's fine by me. And some of the key scenes are mostly intact. This version is still quite [American for 'very'] enjoyable.

Incidentally, it was disappointing to see how many intelligent commentators don't know when to use its and it's. Most of them, in fact.


The Washington Post

Can Spain weather its post-election political transition?

ON AN optimistic reading, Spain’s contemporary history is impressive, even inspiring. After four decades of the stifling Franco dictatorship, Spain made a peaceful transition to democracy in the late 1970s, emerging as a reliable bulwark of both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. After the Great Recession of 2008, Spain weathered a debt crisis, adopted economic reforms and now ranks among the fastest-growing economies in an admittedly sluggish Europe: The International Monetary Fund projects Spain will grow about 3 percent in 2015 and another 2.5 percent in 2016.

Yet as the results of Spain’s national elections Sunday show, the Spanish people are not inclined, just now, to see things in a positive light. Looking backward at their political development since Francisco Franco, they see not the consolidation of healthy democracy but the entrenchment of a political duopoly in which decreasingly distinguishable conservatives and socialists take turns enjoying the perks of office. Looking ahead at their economic potential, they see not enough growth to make up for the past half-decade’s worth of losses in purchasing power. Spain remains mired in debt, yet accompanying deflation makes the debt burden harder to bear, thus defeating the purpose of the fiscal discipline Europe’s paymaster, Germany, demands.

So the voters denied a parliamentary majority to the right-of-center Popular Party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and to the opposition Socialist Workers’ Party, awarding sizable blocs to two new parties, the ultra-left Podemos and centrist, anti-corruption Ciudadanos. The political possibilities range from a minority government led by Mr. Rajoy, whose party finished first with 29 percent of the popular vote, to a multiparty left-wing coalition like the one that just took power in neighboring Portugal. The former would be unable to do much of anything; the latter might take Spain in dangerous directions, if Podemos’s ideological flirtation with the leftists of Venezuela and Greece is any indication.

Unlike for many other European countries, parliamentary coalition bargaining is a new experience for post-Franco Spain. Some instability was foreseeable, almost inevitable, given the impact of Europe’s multiple crises on traditional political elites everywhere in Europe. Spain’s short-term difficulty could yet lead to opportunity, if its leaders respond constructively, with broader and deeper reforms, to the cry of their people — whose concerns include not only the economy but also the established parties’ corruption and insular thinking. Flexibility and support from Germany, as well as the United States, would help, too, as Spain’s hard-won democratic institutions cope with what might be the most difficult, and most fateful, political transition since the dictator died in 1975.

The New York Times

Spain’s Anger Management - Miguel-Anxo Murado, Spanish author and journalist.

Is this the dawn of a new era in Spanish politics, as some suggest? Judging from the results of last Sunday’s election, we can safely say that the old era has, at least, been dealt a severe blow.

The conservative People’s Party, which just four years ago won a landslide election victory, has now lost more than three million votes. The case of Spain’s other major party, the Socialist Party, is perhaps more telling: It has spent the last four years in opposition, while its Conservative rivals were implementing unpopular austerity policies, yet it lost more than a million votes as well.

The two big parties that have dominated Spanish politics for decades are being punished not for what they’ve done — or not just for that — but for what they represent: a way of doing politics that many Spaniards now deem obsolete, a two-party system that is suddenly seen as the root of many of the country’s ills and is now being challenged by the emergence of new parties. The left-wing Podemos, the heir to the social protests that swept Spain in 2011, took more than 20 percent of the vote Sunday and is set to redefine mainstream politics, perhaps not just in Spain.

In fact, Spain’s was never meant to be a two-party system, and technically it isn’t. The electoral law is fairly proportional. It is in the allocation of seats to the different electoral districts that there is an in-built bias that provides the two bigger parties with extra seats. This is in part a legacy from the 1970s, the years of transition from military rule to democracy, when stability was highly prized.

Then there is the country’s geography. When the Constitution was drawn up, Spain was still largely a rural country and it made sense to give a strong voice to the many small provincial capitals, even if that meant over-representing them in Parliament.

But there is another factor that is mentioned less often. This dominance of two parties, one on the right and the other one on the left, reflected something deeper about Spain, where that right-left divide has always been very profound.

And it continues to be, apparently. Even as new parties have appeared in the Spanish political landscape, the sum of those on one side of the divide and the other remains little changed. Whether we want to refer this back to the divisions born during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 depends on how much we want to dwell on historicist cliché.

But why have Spaniards now turned on their once favorite parties?

Not for ideological reasons. Rather, the transformation we are witnessing is moral, perhaps moralizing. The economic crisis came to many Spaniards as an epiphany. It wasn’t even the crisis, so much as the high-profile corruption cases that were uncovered at the same time.

Of course, there had been scandals before, but the contrast between the pain of so many families, in a country that, seven years after the financial crisis, still suffers from unemployment at 21 percent, and the lavish lifestyles of a few corrupt politicians who were caught red-handed was like a slap in the face for society as a whole.

And that is when Podemos, which translates as We Can, took off. Founded as a far-left party by a group of university professors and led by a charismatic, ponytailed young leader, Pablo Iglesias — a namesake of the founder of Spanish socialism in the 19th century — Podemos pointed a finger not at this or that particular government but at what it termed as “the regime of 1978” (the year of Spain’s Constitution).

By then, people were so angry that, initially, even lifelong Conservatives gave their support to his avowedly left-wing movement. Podemos’s poll ratings skyrocketed.

That was less than two years ago. A few things have changed since then. Podemos has moderated its discourse substantially, especially after the fiasco of the failed attempt to defy the European Union authorities by a similarly populist left-wing party in Greece, Syriza, made many Spaniards fearful of bucking the eurozone economic orthodoxy.

Another relatively new party, Ciudadanos (Citizens), a kind of center-right Podemos, anti-corruption but business-friendly, also entered the race in a bid to prevent Podemos picking up the entire protest vote.

Both new parties did well in last Sunday’s elections, especially Podemos, which came close to overtaking the Socialist Party. But the success of what has come to be known as “new politics” is incomplete. The two-party system has taken a serious hit but retains over half the electorate, and it may well bounce back if the vast experiment in anger management of the election goes awry.

The first test for new politics couldn’t be more daunting. The election has left a Parliament so fragmented that it may not be even possible to form a government. And instability, the usual price of change, is the last thing Spain can afford just now, while it is still slowly recovering from the financial crisis and faces the challenge of the independence movement in Catalonia.

To address this and other pressing issues, all the parties agree on the need for constitutional reform. But when it comes to deciding what kind of reform, they are either vague or only agree to disagree. The parliamentary majorities needed to change the Constitution will be far more difficult to muster now, in any case.

The new situation also offers opportunities. One of the ills of the two-party system was the absence of a culture of compromise. Easily won parliamentary majorities made politicians dismissive of pacts. Bipartisanship is as rare in Spanish politics as a unicorn. Voters themselves tend to frown upon coalitions, which they regard as betrayals. That will have to change now, and fast.

Finally . . . My Boxing Day dawn. Not that it's actually Boxing Day here in Spain . . 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Greetings; The Bulls; Francoist reminders; & Nice Spanish villages

CHRISTMAS: Yesterday was the big day/evening here, when half of the world's supply of shellfish was consumed by the Spanish at a huge evening meal. But today is the big day in the Anglosphere – or at least in Britain. So it's time to post here – with a hat-tip to my friend, Dwight - this all-encompassing greeting produced by some wit in the US of A:-

For My Politically Correct Readers:

Please accept with no obligation,  implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of  the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted  calendar year 2016, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in theWestern Hemisphere.  Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability,  religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee. 

By accepting these greetings, you are accepting the aforementioned terms as stated.  This greeting is not subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting.  It implies no promise by the  wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for herself/himself/others, and is void where prohibited by law and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher.  This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the  issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is  limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wishee.

For My Normal Readers: 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New  Year!

And now a bit of controversy . . . a positive take on La Fiesta Nacional (bullfighting) by an anthropologist.

And some good news: The left-wing newish mayor(ess) of Madrid is getting shot of 30 street names which honour people, places and events of the Franco military uprising against the 1936 government. Not before time.

Looking ahead to 2016, here's a Spaniard's view of 10 nice villages to see. I hope to do all of them.

FINALLY . . . The obligatory foto:- Courtesy of Facebook themselves – who “care about” me and my memories – here's a foto from a previous Xmas of 2 young women who claim to be my daughters. Poor deluded creatures.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Hospital biz; Giving blood; Nuns in Spain; A Beautiful gaffe; & Galician nationalism.

HOSPITAL BUSINESS: I went for a couple of routine annual checks yesterday. Needless to say, I had to go through the ID-proving, insurance-card-producing, chit-signing & photocopying procedure twice. My first appointment was at 10.30 but even private hospitals here seem to operate on the basis of giving several patients the same time slot. There were 5 people when I arrived and about 10 when I left. Perhaps they were already way behind. I didn't get to see the doctor until 11.15 but, in compensation, I heard these useful phrases for the first time:-
  • Take a deep breath: Coge un aire fuerte. Lit. Take a strong breath.
  • Breathe normally: Respira normalmente.
  • Breathe out: Echa lo. Lit, 'Throw it out'. It's a versatile verb, echar. Used with taking a siesta as well. Inter alia.
Narurally, I left my umbrella in the waiting room and had to go back for it. This was unfortunate. For, when I'd arrived, I'd been asked if I'd drunk a lot of water in advance. I'd said not, thinking: “WTF didn't someone mention this to me before”. So, I'd been compelled to drink a litre of very cold water as fast as possible, which gave me nausea. Worse, as the doctor pressed on my bladder I felt a very strong urge to pee and, once I was dressed, I had an urgent need for a toilet. The last thing I needed was to have to first retrace my steps. Why didn't I go to the toilet first?, I hear you ask. Well, because it was on another floor and I'd already discovered the lifts took an eternity. I'd used the PROHIBIDOS stairs to get down to the Imaging section but didn't fancy emerging via the door right next to the nurses' station. But the worst news of the morning was that the pretty nurse in the Lab wasn't the one to greet me with her smile and chat; it was some bloody new guy. I didn't even get to see my friend, Miguel – the super-hyper efficient blood sucker. So it was a good thing I was only dropping off a sample and didn't need to donate blood. Which reminds me . . .

DONATING BLOOD  For those who know nothing of the British comedian, Tony Hancock, here he is in his classic sketch on this theme. He was heavily drinking by the time he did this and averse to learning his lines. If you look, you can see him reading from cards beside the camera. In fact, in one scene you can briefly see the edge of the card. Nonetheless, it's one of his best. He later committed suicide, of course. Well, he could hardly have done it earlier, could he? . . .

LITTLE PEOPLE: When I came out of the hospital, it was to find myself behind 3 nuns, 2 of them supporting the one in the middle. The 2 outriders were tiny and the nun in the middle was minuscule, even taking into account the fact she was bent over. I tried to snap them all in the street but had to make do with just 2 of them at the clinic desk.

This was confirmation, as if I needed it, of my long-standing theory that any young woman below a certain height – say 150cm – is compelled by law to become a nun. It's about time, it seems to me, that this was repealed. Unless there's only room in Heaven for very short people. Like La Menina/The Dwarf.

SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI . . . Here's a cartoon for those who heard how poor Miss Colombia – a real beauty – had the Miss World crown snatched from her head after just 2 minutes of glory. Albeit for an even prettier Miss Philippines. Hope the former didn't have nits . 
. .
There's been a mistake. We gave some gold, frankincense and myrrh to Miss Colombia.

FINALLY . . . For the first time in ages, the number of 'Followers'to this blog moved yesterday; it went down by 3. My guess is these are Galicians rendered incandescent by a comment of mine elsewhere that it isn't worthwhile for me, as a foreigner, to learn Gallego on top of Spanish. Apparently some nationalists really believe that I should. Astonishing. But they do like to be angry with everyone else. Nature of the beast.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sp. Politics; El Gordo Lottery; The Funny tax office; The EU; & New Words.

THE POST-ELECTION SCENARIO: The Times says that ('enigmatic') President Rajoy is 'on the ropes'. Best place for him, is almost certainly the majority view here. Let's hope he fails in his attempts to keep his job and the PP party in government. Right now, the only thing preventing new elections next year is the observation that Rajoy and the PP would be the biggest beneficiaries of this. So, a 'coalition of the losers' seems to be the best bet. But which one? As negotiations proceed, the chances are growing that the PP will dump Rajoy in favour of the ubiquitous female VP known – unaffectionately – as 'The Dwarf'. But semi-officially as La Menina, the Lady-in Waiting. She made a good show of looking unhappy with the election setbacks for the party. Inerestingly, the person being lined up to take over from the leader of the PSOE socialist party is also a woman – the president of utterly corrupt Andalucia. Plus ça change . . .

EL GORDO: As usual, I didn't win anything in yesterday's humungous Xmas lottery draw. But, then again, as usual I didn't buy any tickets for it. BTW - The winning number was 79140 and the prize was a mere €4m. Which I, for one, wouldn't really know what to do with. Except to keep it from ruining my daughters' lives. Possibly by giving most of it away. Surely something that would increase my popularity with them.

A LAUGH FROM THE TAX OFFICE: I've mentioned the horrendous Model 720 law of 2012 which hits foreign residents with property back home – or other assets above €50,000 – even harder than Spanish nationals. In a 3-page letter which tells you which initial fine (of the several) you'll have to pay, much of the text is taken up with the claim that the Tax Office (La Hacienda) went out of its way to publicise this outrageous development. As lies go, this is a pretty big one. The Hacienda did nothing to tell those most likely to be hit by it. A coincidence? I think not. Still, the politicians managed to get away with everything. So, not everyone is in the same doomed boat. I do hope no tax inspectors are reading this.

THE EU: Want to feel both disgusted and impotent?? Read the leader from today's Times at the end of this post. Once again, we're not all in the same boat. And guess who isn't. If this isn't enough for you, try this article on how the EU benefits the far-right in France. And this, about the impact on EU plans/dreams of the Spanish election.

FINALLY . . . NEW WORDS: Anyone know what these mean - streamt and strinkled? Saw them somewhere, as a pair.

And the Facebook foto: Find the future Lady President in this famous Velázquez painting, Las Meninas. She's either a Lady in Waiting or a dwarf. My guess is the latter.

And a welcome to our new Dutch reader(s).


Bureaucratic Bonanza in Brussels

The EU gravy train is back on track and at full throttle

Most European commissioners, officials, staffers and members of parliament are now on holiday until January. They may be hoping that public anger over their profligacy will have died down by then, but by rights it will burn on well into the new year.

At the end of what was supposed to be a two-year pay freeze for Brussels bureaucrats, they have awarded themselves a 2.4 per cent rise, backdated for six months. A further 2.4 per cent rise has already been approved for next year and another, larger, increase is expected for 2017. On retirement, unlike most public and private sector workers the world over, European civil servants retain the rare luxury of final salary pensions.

Ten thousand Brussels officials already earn more than David Cameron when their tax-free expatriate allowances are taken into account. Another 2,000 or so in the next salary band are closing in on the euro equivalent of the prime minister’s £142,500 salary. The number of EU judges doubled this year alone. Each is paid £197,000 annually, excluding the backdated Christmas bonus. As the EU workforce expands, so does its footprint: work is proceeding on a £280 million new home for the European council, which will meet there only six times a year.

As a homage to EU insulation and recycling guidelines, this building will restore and re-use thousands of old window frames. It is a monument to double-glazing and, like so much European administration, to double standards. At a time of willed or imposed austerity for most member states, the EU’s administrative class is growing in number and self-importance and awarding itself pay rises no other sector of the European economy can afford. No wonder patience among British voters is wearing thin.

In May this year Lefteris Christoforou, a centre-right Cypriot MEP, asked the European Commission what “the so-called Brussels bureaucracy” costs the EU and its member states. Four months later he received an answer that avoided the question except to put the “burden stemming from EU legislation” at £91 billion. In fact annual spending by the seven institutions of the EU has risen to £107 billion despite an undertaking two years ago to cut it by ten billion euros a year. That pledge translated into cuts in regional aid, but was undermined by an inexorable rise in the cost of Europe’s civil service and of its MEPs. The European parliament’s monthly excursion to Strasbourg costs £150 million a year. It wastes hundreds of thousands of working hours, with no justification except a 1992 treaty clause that France refuses to revise because of a marginal benefit to its economy.

The expansion of the Brussels bureaucracy since 2000 is in part a result of the expansion of the EU to include the bulk of eastern Europe. Defenders of the EU’s loose budgetary controls also point to its spending as a 1 per cent share of the bloc’s gross income. This is small compared with spending by national governments or the US federal government, but the truth is that there is no valid comparison because there is nothing quite like the EU. No other group of democratic states sets its remit and priorities with so little deference to democracy. Its budget commissioner tells The Times today that she hopes to set up a new public database to bring transparency to EU spending. Good luck to her, but why did it take so long?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Elections; Xmas shopping; The 3 Wise Men; and the ever-amusing RT TV.

THE ELECTIONS: THE DAY AFTER: If you're not interested in politics (or the future of Spain), skip this, rather long, section.

  • So, no one won. Everyone lost. Fascinating. The people of Spain have spoken. And have confused and disappointed absolutely everyone, with the possible exception of left-wing Podemos.
  • Is this the final end of Francoism and of a 'centre-right' party (PP) with far-right elements??
  • Will we see the resignations of the leaders of both the PP and the PSOE parties??
  • Oh, the irony of having the party that has given Rajoy one of the biggest headaches of his premiership – President Mas of Cataluña - now possibly holding the key to Spain's stability. 
  • Naturally, the stock market fell.


THE LOCAL 3: While Spain’s main parties may be scrabbling to form a pact after no clear winner emerged from Sunday’s general election, one group who can surely bask in victory are Spanish women, who will enjoy their biggest representation ever in the country’s parliament.


THE TELEGRAPH 2: POLITICAL UPRISING: Spain risks months of political paralysis and a corrosive showdown with Germany over fiscal austerity after insurgent movements smashed the traditional two-party system, leaving the country almost ungovernable.


THE TIMES 1: AN END TO CRONY POLITICS: The Spanish general election has called time on the country’s two-party system. Although the incumbent Popular party of Mariano Rajoy has won a slender majority of votes, he will struggle to form a stable government. Two insurgent parties, the centrist Citizens party and the left-leaning populists of Podemos, now control almost 110 seats in the 350-seat lower chamber. They can block or enable any new government line-up.

The result thus marks the death of Bipartidismo, the bipartisan order, by which Spain has been governed since the end of the Franco dictatorship in the 1970s. Many older Spaniards will be uneasy with this outcome. The alternation between the Popular party conservatives and the Socialists has made out of Spain a stable and important member of the western alliance. It has also, however, encouraged cronyism and corruption; the two big established parties still hold sway in the countryside but to young urban voters, they stifle new ideas and are bywords for stagnation.

Pressed by Berlin and Brussels Mr Rajoy took an axe to public spending and in so doing made it impossible to repeat his landslide victory of 2011. His showing on Sunday reflected this dismay: the Popular party’s share of the vote has dropped from 44.6% to 28.7%. That is too thin a basis to run a minority government in a country whose system awards the largest party remarkable clout within the legislative process. The prime minister in his rush to retain power may be tempted to offer the Socialists a grand coalition such as the one run by Angela Merkel in Germany. The Socialists show, however, no enthusiasm for such a deal and it would not serve Spain well.

Spain’s interests are best met by a governing coalition that continues to exert fiscal discipline and that does not allow the country to disintegrate chaotically. It should be a government that starts to overhaul the politicised judiciary and that puts an end to the unacceptable delays in investigating corruption. The Spanish constitution must be reformed and the electoral system changed to reflect the electoral drift away from a two-party carve-up. Policies have to be more closely focused on alleviating unemployment, which still hovers at about 21 per cent of the workforce. For young people, the mainspring of the upstart parties, Podemos and the Citizens, unemployment is particularly severe and many are choosing to emigrate.

Podemos and Citizens, movements born out of frustration, agree on many points but not at all on the management of the economy. The Citizens party has an affinity with European liberals: it wants to minimise the role of the state, rejects an industrial policy and has strong ideas on modernising the economy. Podemos wants to end or roll back privatisations. A more natural alignment could be between the Popular party, perhaps with new leadership, and the Citizens but in the complex post-election arithmetic, this would still need the help of separatist members of parliament.

A government that made any major concession to the breakaway of Catalonia would present problems for King Felipe of Spain. It might spark a constitutional crisis. The horse-trading has begun, a new election in February may well be needed but it would be wrong to read the vote as a call for a Syriza-style revolution. The Spanish vote was not a declaration of bankruptcy of the political class but rather an urgent call for it to enter the 21st century.

THE TIMES 2: THE 4 MOST LIKELY ELECTIONS: The party which gains the most votes forms a minority administration which seeks to pass legislation with the help of smaller parties. Polls suggest this will be Mariano Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party (PP), which would mean an austerity agenda would prevail. 

If the PP fails to gain enough seats to form a minority government, it may make a pact with Ciudadanos (Citizens). Albert Rivera had ruled out a pact with the PP or the Socialists but the Citizens leader said on the eve of elections that he would not stand in the way of the party which gained the most votes — which analysts took to mean he might favour the PP. Citizens supports continued reduction of the country’s debt and economic reforms. 

More worrying for the markets, and investors, would be an alliance between the Socialists and Podemos, on the far left. Pablo Iglesias, the Podemos leader, has attacked the Socialists and the PP as part of la casta (the elite), but if he fails to form a pact with Pedro Sánchez, the Socialist leader, it may allow the PP to return to power. Many fear that a pact between Podemos and the Socialists would unravel labour reforms designed for growth. 

A less likely outcome might be a coalition between the Socialists and Citizens. To have enough seats to attain a majority — 176 — this coalition may have to include Podemos. This would also threaten labour reforms and fiscal discipline, which economists suggest are essential for Spain’s economy to grow.

And now to something completely different . . . .

XMAS SHOPPING: I went into town to do mine yesterday. I only buy books, on the grounds that everyone should be forced to read more, and because I like the idea of trees being cut down. As ever in Spain, the shop I went to was chaotic – no apparent order to the books and so a need to ask the (busy) assistants everything you want to know. And when you've been pointed to the right section(s), you then have to constantly move your head from side to side to read the titles, as no one in Spain has realised it'd be a good idea to have these all written either from top to bottom or vice versa. Nonetheless, I managed to do all my shopping in around 30 minutes.

There were longish queues outside 2 shops and I wondered what was being sold in them. I should have guessed it was tickets for the 2 huge lotteries of the year, one of which will be held this morning. Though the chances of winning – unless you're a corrupt politician – are infinitesimally small, huge sums are spent on this. An average of €60 for each person in Galicia, the local press said yesterday. The politicians, by the way, buy the winning tickets as a way of laundering black cash. One such claimed in court he'd won 8 times. Not that he expected anyone to believe this, just accept it as true.

THOSE 3 WISE MEN: They came from Spain, says the Catholic church. Specifically from the centre of global wisdom back then, Andalucia (Al-Andalús). So says Pope Benedict XVI in his 2012 book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. Last time I looked, this wasn't exactly east of the Middle East. But who really cares? Is there any intelligent person left who believes everything the Bible records?

FINALLY . . . RT TV: It's been amusing to see the change of the channel's focus (target?) since the downing of the Russian jet by Turkey. It's become the latter state, of course, and there's been no limit to the scorn and the number and variety of accusations hurled at it. These include the insistence – by Putin, no less – that it was done to somehow assist the USA. The previous target of the West (particularly the USA) has, temporarily no doubt, been relegated to also-ran status.

And the Facebook foto: This, they say, is what Jesus really looked like:-

The truly amazing thing is how close this is to the hilariously botched resotoration job done by a woman in Spain a couple of years ago . . .

So, was she divinely inspired?