SPANISH DEMOCRACY: Despite the history of the last 40 years, The Guardian remains optimistic that things can only get better. Which is possibly true, even if it currently looks likely that - thanks largely to corrupt, independence-obsessed Catalan politicians - the even more corrupt, anti-democratic, very right-wing PP party will get back into (shared?) power in December.
ANTI-FRANCOISM: The campaigning judge, Baltasar Garzón, has railed against the "quasi official silence" on the dictator's rule. "We have", he says, "a serious problem with coming to terms with what was done and in finding solutions". Garzón has initiated a petition aimed at the conversion of the appalling monuments in the Valley of the Fallen into a Civel War memorial. More here.
SPANISH AURAL ABUSE: Well, well, well. Not before time, some Spanish folk want to reduce the level of noise in restaurants here. "Oír es Clave (Hearing is Key) has launched a campaign - Comer sin ruido or 'Dine Quietly' in English - calling on Spanish restaurants to implement a series of simple changes to improve their sound quality". Ojala (Alhamdulillah)! This is especially important for we foreigners trying and failing to understand several Spanish friends all talking/shouting at the same time. Something which may take even longer to eradicate. More on this here. Meanwhile . . . "The Dine Quietly website includes a list of 20 restaurants where patrons will be guaranteed a headache-free meal in a nice, quiet atmosphere." These are located around Spain and there's even one in Pontevedra - naturally our most expensive venue. Book now. There might be a rush of guiris.
THE EU: A "gigantic sham"??. Well, this commentator thinks so. And I've always thought so. Or at least an impossible dream, pushed through at a ridiculous pace and without a democratic mandarte, in the face of age-old national realities, now being amply demonstrated. As long-term readers will know, I've frequently claimed, the EU will surely one day collapse under the weight of its internal incongruities, a process which now seems to have begun. A sampler from the article: "If national borders may be reinstated by individual governments, and EU budget rules can be thrown out whenever circumstances require, what does the authority of the EU Commission and Council and Parliament amount to? Possible answer: a largely useless, self-perpetuating, massively overpaid bureaucracy presiding over Potemkin institutions whose deliberations count for nothing when the lives of real people living under real governments are at stake". And another: "So the crucial question cannot be put: how do you subsume the contradictory wishes and needs of different countries, each with its own mandated government, under one super-European authority which has no democratic mandate at all?" Well, you can't, of course.
P. S. I initially typed 'Scam', instead of 'Sham'. Surveying the history of huge EU frauds, this might have rung just as true.
FINALLY . . . . TERRORISM: Here's the complete text of another fine article from Niall Ferguson in today's Times:-
The three-headed monster ushering the world to hell
It is usual for horror to be followed by hysteria. The unusual thing about the Paris massacre of November 13 is that the most hysterical reactions have been thousands of miles from the scene.
The calmest man I met last week was Bernard-Henri Lévy, the swashbuckling philosopher, who had just flown in from Paris. Over dinner in New York he was far more interested in discussing the latest success of the Kurdish peshmerga against Isis (also known as Islamic State).
By contrast, it was American politicians who appeared to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Ben Carson, one of the frontrunners in the race for the Republican party’s presidential nomination, called for new “screening mechanisms that allow us to determine who the mad dogs are”.
His rival Donald Trump vaguely threatened to do “things . . . that we never thought would happen in this country”.
Yet mental disturbance is sometimes more dangerous when it is repressed. “The terrible events in Paris” were a “setback”, declared a haggard and at times wild-eyed President Barack Obama in a press conference that was painful to watch.
Bernie Sanders, who dreams of winning the Democratic nomination, offered the Corbynesque analysis that “the disastrous invasion of Iraq” was wholly responsible for “the rise of al-Qaeda and Isis”.
John Kerry, the secretary of state, offered yet more confused causation by suggesting that January’s mass murder of staff at the Charlie Hebdo magazine had, if not “legitimacy”, then at least a “rationale” because the magazine had made people “really angry”.
Let’s come off the prescription medication. The world faces three distinct threats: an epidemic of jihadist violence, most of it in the Middle East, north Africa and south Asia; uncontrolled mass migration from these places to Europe; and the emergence of a fifth column of Islamic extremists within nearly all western societies, including America.
We must take care to distinguish each component.
The jihadist epidemic is mostly happening outside the West. Of the 10 most bloody conflicts in the world since 2010, seven are in countries that host Islamist groups (Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya). The total death toll due to armed conflict in those countries between 2011 and 2014 is close to 280,000. In the same period, terrorism around the world has accounted for an estimated 89,000 deaths, of which 80,000 can be attributed to Islamist groups.
The violence is growing, perhaps exponentially. Last year alone, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace, 32,658 people were killed by terrorism, compared with 18,111 in 2013.
The two most deadly terrorist groups were Boko Haram and Isis, which were responsible for half of all fatalities.
Nearly four in five attacks occurred in just five countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria. But the plague of jihad extends as far as the Malian capital, Bamako, where Islamist gunmen took over a hotel on Friday.
The violence is growing, perhaps exponentially. Last year alone, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace, 32,658 people were killed by terrorism, compared with 18,111 in 2013. Islamist gunmen took over a hotel on Friday. Yes, what happened in Paris was horrific. But all the other terrorist atrocities of the past two months were committed outside Europe: in Nablus, Baghdad, Kabul, Ankara, Borno, Sinai, Beirut and Yola.
There is clearly an urgent need to end the civil war in Syria, the country suffering the worst violence. But let’s not kid ourselves. Even if Obama recalled David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal to run a counterinsurgency campaign against Isis similar to the one they ran against al-Qaeda in Iraq, and even if he put Henry Kissinger in charge of a Syrian peace conference, the jihadist epidemic would still infect a dozen other countries.
Threat No 2 is a wave of mass migration to Europe that has been triggered by the Syrian crisis but is by no means exclusively Syrian or even Middle Eastern. Data from the United Nations high commissioner for refugees shows that Syria is one of 10 countries where recent conflict has led to massive population displacement. Such statistics as we have on the “country of origin” of asylum seekers in Germany show they come not only from Syria but also from Albania, Afghanistan, Iraq, Serbia and Eritrea.
At present, continental Europe has almost no way of controlling this influx, which grows larger with every passing month. The 1951 refugee convention binds European Union member states to accept refugees.
Although the German government has now restored the Dublin regulation — which stipulates that asylum seekers can claim asylum only in the member state in which they entered the EU — in practice the entire apparatus for assessing applications has collapsed, as has the hotly contested scheme to redistribute asylum seekers between countries.
One country after another is defecting from the Schengen system of borderless internal travel, but border fences cannot be rebuilt overnight. In any case, it is the external border that is the real problem. The Schengen area has 6,000 miles of land borders and 27,000 miles of sea borders, across which about 220,000 people poured in October alone.
Meanwhile, Americans obsess about their 2,000-mile border with Mexico — even though net flows across the border are now from the United States to Mexico. Even if every single one of the newcomers to the EU were an angel in human form, this would be a disaster, not least because continental labour markets are notoriously bad at integrating foreign-born workers. And no one should underestimate the domestic political backlash.
The third threat is again quite distinct from the other two, though it is not wholly unrelated. That is the threat of a fifth column within western societies of young Muslims who join or at least sympathise with groups such as Isis.
The overwhelming majority are not refugees from Syria or anywhere else. Many are the children or grandchildren of an earlier wave of economic immigrants from former colonies. They are EU citizens. The biographies of the Paris terrorists tell the story.
What links the three threats is the fact that as many as six of the terrorists spent time in Syria and at least two of them were able to use the refugee route through Greece to return to France undetected. This does not mean that the Syrian war or the immigration crisis were necessary for the Paris attacks to happen. Young Muslims are being radicalised all over the western world without going anywhere near Syria.
Americans who think they will be safer by excluding refugees are missing the point. The United States too has its fifth columnists. The Tsarnaev brothers, responsible for the Boston marathon bombings, were little different from the Abdeslam brothers. The ancient Greeks believed the gates of Hades were guarded by a monstrous three-headed dog. Like Cerberus, the monster we confront today has three heads: rampant jihadism, uncontrolled mass migration and homegrown extremists. To defeat it we shall need to keep our own heads very clear indeed.
Niall Ferguson is Laurence A Tisch professor of history at Harvard and the author of Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist (Penguin)