Monday, November 16, 2015

The World; Cataluña; Good news; Bad news; & A modern model?

THE WORLD: At the end of this post is another Times article which I think merits maximum exposure. So stuff the paywall. 

CATALUÑA: What can one say of this unfolding tragedy? Well, nothing better than Don Quijones does here. Samplers: 
  • "This is a genuine economic tragedy" that "could ruin Catalonia", laments the president of Catalonia’s Business Association. "There is a complete lack of governance" and Catalan society is becoming increasingly "divided" and "polarised"
  • The debate on Catalan independence, both in Catalonia and the rest of Spain, is growing more polarising by the day 
  • As the Financial Times warns, the potential consequences of a sharp escalation in tensions between Barcelona and Madrid or a break-up of Spain would be devastating for both Spain and Catalonia, creating grave political and legal uncertainties and doubts about the viability of public finances on both sides of the divide.
  • The good news is that: "Cracks are beginning to open up in Catalonia’s independence movement".

SOME MORE GOOD NEWS: Albeit only local . .
  • I have my laptop back and can again touch-type on a decent keyboard. The cost was less than I feared, at €70. But this did include €35 for a (pricey) new internal cable to replace the faulty one causing the problem. But we are talking Apple here.
  • The really good news is that I didn't lose my hard disk.
  • The lovely lady at our train station was happy to check that my ID was enough to confirm I had a discount card. Unlike the RENFE computer, which said NO. Twice. Ignorant of the fact I renewed it 2 weeks ago. So that's 3 euros I'll never see again.
  • Our Indian summer continues, with temperatures above 25 degrees. Un veranillo de San Martín, as they call it here. Presumably related to Martinmass.

My latest Telefonica saga continues. I popped into their shop in Vigo on Saturday to check whether I needed to return the handset as well as the modem, fearing that, if I did, the date of termination of my contract would be delayed further. Perhaps for eternity. "If it was rented", said the lady, "you do". "But you don't have to return the modem". Something the lady in Pontevedra neglected to tell me last week when I gave her the modem. So, another visit today, to finally end the contract. And to try to get it back.

FINALLY . . . A 15th CENTURY MODEL: I feel sure this lady - in a painting in Segovia´s Alcázar - is the inspiration for all Spain's female TV announcers. Who'd have thought it?

The Times article:

Sacrifices are needed to keep civilisation afloat

By Edward Lucas

We have taken our easy lives for granted for too long. The Paris attacks may mean we have less money – and freedom

When you face an existential threat, you have to make sacrifices to beat it. That was the lesson of the Cold War. It is one we forgot after 1991, and which in the aftermath of the Paris massacre we need to relearn.

At stake is the security order that protects our civilisation. It allows us to enjoy our complacent, self-absorbed lives in a way that we now take completely for granted — except when we are confronted with an AK47 wielded by a jihadist who regards us as the debauched epitome of the enlightenment values he wants to destroy.

That security order has become fragile. It cannot cope with the catastrophic economic, political and demographic conditions of those on our periphery, and the resulting influx of migrants from these failed and failing states. Nor is it managing to deal with the presence of alienated religious and ethnic minorities inside our borders.

Instead, it is buckling: fears about migration have all but broken the Schengen passport-free zone, which has given Europeans their greatest freedom of travel in the continent’s history. Our efforts, both peace-making and war-waging, in Syria, Iraq and Libya have been pitifully unsuccessful. Our counterterrorism services have been warning us for years that they cannot cope with the numbers of potential jihadist terrorists.

On current form, defeat looms. Not that the black flags of the caliphate will fly from the Eiffel Tower, but because the failure of our security order could polarise our society, turning it into a nightmarish mosaic of garrisoned territories and no-go areas.

To recover we need, most of all, to want to win. We are unable to argue convincingly with jihadists because we do not believe in our limp liberal ideas as strongly as they believe in their exciting nihilist ones.

But civilisation is more than just a set of rules. It is a cause. We should fervently sing its praises, practise its principles at home and promote them abroad. That kind of thinking was entirely familiar in the 19th century among the continental liberals who wanted to build nations unfettered by clericalism and feudalism. It was familiar during the Cold War too — we wanted to free the captive nations of the Soviet empire, and to defend our freedom and democracy against the threat of atheistic communist totalitarianism.

Only splinters of those grand ideas remain. We still believe in secularism and science, but not so strongly that we are willing to confront bigots and myth-mongers. We feel too guilty about our mistakes, real and imagined, to assert ourselves. We value safe spaces over winning arguments. The postmodernist ideas that truth is relative and morals are a social construct sap our ability to say convincingly that we are right and that our cause is righteous; that our civilisation is better, kinder, humbler and fairer than anything created by the jihadists’ self-aggrandising brutality, or by the resentful bombast of Russia or China.

We also need to accept that we are not dealing with people who share our worldview. International law, diplomacy and institutions are good ways of settling differences with people who accept the rules of the game. Jihadists don’t (nor for that matter does Mr Putin). Faced with adversaries who will ruthlessly use force and take risks in pursuit of victory, seeking compromise is a guarantee of defeat, not of peace.

If we want to win, we must accept that our lives will be less comfortable. We may have less money. We may not be able to do everything we want the way we want to do it. But just as during the Cold War, these constraints and sacrifices are the price of keeping our civilisation afloat.

For a start, we need to accept that business and finance are the servants of our civilisation, not its masters. Our business model is based on the idea that money is neutral. So our bankers, lawyers, accountants and estate agents, in London but also in other global financial centres, recycle the petrodollars of Saudi Arabia and others who promote the most noxious form of Islam, contemptuous and hostile to Jews, Christians, apostates and atheists. They do the same with fortunes that Putin’s henchmen have stolen from the people of Russia. If we disentangle ourselves from these regimes, our pockets will suffer, but at least we will no longer be in business with the people who want to destroy us.

The European Union needs to start behaving like the great power that it is. History suggests that empires that do not stabilise their periphery end up being destabilised by it. That is happening to the great liberal empire-in-all-but-name that is run from Brussels and Frankfurt. With 500 million people and a GDP of more than £1.2 trillion, the EU is more than capable, if it wishes, of projecting economic and military power beyond its borders. It needs to do so. That will mean more constraints on national sovereignty. We accepted such limits under American leadership during the Cold War. We must accept them again now. No one country can win alone; together we have a chance.
Finally, we must accept that subversion and propaganda are real threats, not bogeymen invented by the security services. Our enemies are fighting their information war with our technology. Why is it acceptable for jihadists to have free rein on social media or in the comment fields of mainstream news organisations? We would not allow our enemies to spray-paint their hateful slogans on the streets of our cities. So we should not let them use the information superhighway either. This does not constrain free speech. It constrains anonymity.

During the Cold War we put huge efforts into tracking and counteracting communist mischief-making in trade unions, the media, academia and other parts of public life. We also countered Soviet disinformation, both in public responses and in tracking down the route it took into the media. This approach was sometimes controversial, and we certainly made mistakes. But it was necessary and, ultimately, justified.

Now we need to revive it. It is time for the liberal-minded to stop flinching about co-operating with “the state”. Fighting Islamist extremism is not helping the state. It is self-defence, in a struggle we are losing not because we are weak but because we are weak-willed.

Query: Am I callous to be sick of rolling-news reporters vamping from Paris? Yes, I know I can switch it off. And I do.


Alfred B. Mittington said...

Well, let's have a moment of light relief.

The other day, I heard an eloquent Catalan joke that Catalonia will indeed be independent, for the simple reason that the Spanish tanks cannot afford the forbidding rates on the Catalonian tollways.


Sierra said...

Not just the rolling-news reporters, also the business news programmes. Bloomberg relating the affects on the market - currently the CAC 40 is down 0.01% on the day! Still it must be welcome for the Paris hoteliers, all those media people on expenses.

Q10 said...

Thank you Colin for the interesting Edward Lucus piece. He appears to be proposing some kind of isolationist policy.

Disentangle ourselves from Arab finance
Project European economic & military power beyond our borders
Deny jihadists access to social media
Accept the resulting privations

Can I see democratic European countries voting for privations? Nope, but at least it’s a positive suggestion, so a welcome breath of fresh air, albeit impractical.

Am I callous to be sick of rolling-news reporters vamping from Paris? Certainly not, but it could be a while before normal service is restored, especially if the Pistorius story takes another turn. Anyway, I thought you watched RT, don’t tell me they’re doing Paris too.

Good article by Nigel Lawson HERE where he issues a stirring call to arms. Recommended

Pleased to hear your laptop’s back.

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