Monday, March 07, 2016

Great stuff.

Spanish (non)Government: Are the country's leading politicos just playing at this? Or merely being Spanish? The PSOE leader – who failed to secure an administration last week – has said he'd really like to trust the leader of his potential coalition partners - Podemos - but feels the latter's not really interested in a coalition but is – like right-wing PP leader – aiming for fresh elections in June. Their 'values and ideas', he laments, are not as similar to his party's as he thought they were. Possibly the problem is that, in typical far-left fashion (think the UK's New Old Labour party), Podemos value purity over power. But vamos a ver over the next 8 (long) weeks.

Gypsy Women/Girls: Here in Spain, gypsy kids don't usually stay in education until even 16. So, it's admirable that one young lady is studying in nearby Santiago de Compostela to be a judge. On the other hand, over in Italy, it's reported that the octogenarian Berlusconi has dumped his 30 year-old girlfriend for a 21 year-old gypsy woman. Both of these ladies are clearly on the way up. Or up and down, in the latter case.

The Usual Suspect: I went to the doctor's on Wednesday last, to get the results of tests I had last December. For a minor condition, you'll be relieved to hear. But I didn't get them and had to go back on Thursday. The reason wasn't, as I first thought, that the original doctor had retired or died. It was that the hospital's computer hadn't been able to identify me. As ever, it couldn't cope with the fact that I have 2 forenames and only 1 surname. It thought the second of my forenames was my first surname. Down South, where there there are lots of foreigners, this problem may have been solved. But, up here in the (cooler, wetter) North, it's a very regular occurrence. Spaniards around here simply can't yet get their heads round the idea that, nowhere else in the world do people have 2 surnames. And the children of a family have a different pair of surnames from each of their parents. Who have different surnames from each other. Guaranteed complexity, of course. And rife with the possibility of errors. So, no wonder the Spaniards have a Family Book, which contains all the details. And which they can't believe we guiris don't have.

Finally . . The Mamas and the Papas: I have to admit I'd forgotten how pretty Michelle Phillips was. For those you know this rock-folk group of the 60s, she was the non-gravitationally challenged of the two female members. 

Wiki records that Michelle's first marriage, when she was 18, produced a daughter but lasted only 2 years. Her second marriage, to Denis Hopper was shorter by 1 year, 11 months and 23 days. She tried the institution another 3 times, getting better and better at it, it seems. Her last (latest?) attempt has endured an impressive 15 years. Presumably she has mellowed. Or stopped having the sort of affair which caused her first divorce and her temporary expulsion from the group. BTW . . . The best Ms&Ps' song? Maybe My Girl. At least for us cynical romantics. Or possibly any other hit of theirs. This one features Michelle.

Now follows the Brexit Supplement. But, if it's a smile you're after, scroll down to yesterday's (pay-walled) column by the curmudgeonly Rod Liddle. Like many clever, funny people, Rod used to be a Marxist. Like Catholicism, this gives you an eternally cynical take on the world and the folk who inhabit it. Which is why my daughers were both raised in this religion. Sadly, the strategy only worked for one of them. Ironically, the one with the more pronounced sense of humour. God's ironic will, I guess.


This is an article by one of my favourite Outers, Janet Daley. Who gives her response to one of the usual insults hurled at us.

Why am I considered a bigot or an idiot for wanting Britain the leave the EU?

What kind of community threatens people who want to leave it? What exactly is this thing that we joined all those years ago – a cult? The argument that we were persuaded into membership of the European Union under false pretences becomes almost irresistibly credible. The Common Market as it was then seems to have transmogrified into the Moonies.

To be quite clear, that outrageous claim the French economy minister Emmanuel Macron threw out last week, that all the migrants now camping in Calais could be pushed into Dover, was utterly gratuitous. As responsible people in the debate pointed out almost immediately, the agreement for allowing would-be immigrants to be processed by UK border officials in France is a bi-lateral arrangement between our two countries which has nothing to do with the EU. It would not expire if we left.

Any suspension of it would be a unilateral act of vindictiveness by the French government as deliberate punishment for our withdrawal. In fact, as the responsible people also noted, such a move would be maniacally counter-productive since transferring the processing to Dover would simply mean that those aspiring migrants who are now stuck in Calais would be refused entry to Britain and sent promptly back, with even more chaotic consequences.

But there was an even nastier sub-text to that histrionic warning. Not only was it designed to be shamelessly scarifying, but it implicitly condoned the most unpleasant form of xenophobic anxiety: “You know what we can do to you if you pull out? We can dump all this scabrous human detritus on your doorstep – and you wouldn’t like that much, would you?”

Hardly surprising that the migrants will endure anything to avoid having to stay in France if this is the official attitude toward them. Indeed, the first thought that came into my head when I heard of Mr Macron’s delightful remarks was that if those unhappy hordes were to be sent to Dover they would be handled with more decency and competence than they have been at Calais.

And, I suspect, that would have been the nature of much British reaction: by playing on what they confidently expected to be fear and loathing of migrants, the EU bully-boys risked inciting fear and loathing of themselves. I don’t know about you (well actually, maybe I do) but I find myself wondering what sort of people we are in league with here. Are they prepared to say absolutely anything – however hysterical or unfounded – to get the result they want?

The spirit of “communitaire” – of social solidarity – was supposed to be about mutual support between states and the institutionalising of decency and fairness across the populations of Europe who had fought each other to a bloody standstill twice in the last century. How is that to be reconciled with the unforgiving vengeance handed out after any member’s resistance to central diktats – let alone conscientious doubts about whether a country’s membership is in its own best interests?

If this project was constructed to heal wounds and dissolve historic resentments, it seems to be going about it in a very odd way. But perhaps this is all just a phenomenally misjudged clash of political cultures.

The original European project was designed, to put it bluntly, by and for nation states which had disgraced themselves in the 20th century. Some of them had made criminal use of the democratic process to put demagogues and murderous tyrants in power. The great irony is that it is precisely these countries that should be most aware of the danger of promulgating fear and loathing: once you set these forces alight, you have very little control over where they lead.

But, needless to say, Britain’s historical experience is rather different. It has no reason to doubt either the judgment or the courage of its own people whose most remarkable national characteristic is their willingness to stand up to bullies. So when the EU message appears to be an orchestrated attempt to coerce – or frighten – the British electorate, why should anyone be surprised when it has the opposite effect? That brings us to the question of who is doing the orchestrating. The prevailing wisdom – which is to say, the almost universal assumption – is that Downing Street is behind it.

This theory is based on the remarkable coincidences of, say, a visitation by the Prime Minister to Francois Hollande in France or the Chancellor to a G20 summit, miraculously producing startlingly similar warnings – sometimes from people you’ve never heard of – about the very terrible (unspecified) consequences of a referendum vote for Leave.

Such coincidences do not escape the notice of those who are paying attention (who are the ones most likely to vote) and they lead to two possible conclusions: one is that this is a conspiracy of the elites who hold the concerns of ordinary people in contempt, and the other that it is a calculated deception devised by David Cameron with which his EU colleagues are co-operating.

In short, if Downing Street solicited the Macron intervention and the more amorphous Hollande warning that followed, then this is an unedifying cabal with its own self-serving motives. If it didn’t, then we are in a club that has some very unscrupulous members who are prepared to exploit prejudice and anxiety for the sake of an immediate goal.

Both of these possibilities rely on the assumption that the public is so inclined towards Leave that it will not be persuaded to vote Remain without being scared out of its wits. Again, there are two possible reasons for this assumption: Mr Cameron and his EU friends may have concluded that anti-EU feeling is so irrational that reasoned argument and the setting out of a positive case will never be enough, or there is, in fact, no overwhelming, completely convincing, evidence-based case for staying in.

Maybe that is the answer to this whole perplexing cycle of events. The best way to avoid losing an argument is not to engage in it at all: just threaten and alarm those who might be inclined to listen to the other side. Could this be why the Remain campaign has become so vicious and personal with so little apparent provocation from its opponents? Might it be relentlessly negative because it has so little to offer that is actually positive?

Its more moderate spokesmen do not tell ugly horror stories about hordes of migrants arriving in Kent but even they murmur fearfully of “uncertainty” and the amorphous danger of economic instability. Sajid Javid who seemed last week to be trying to restore his reputation as a sound Eurosceptic, said that uncertainty “was the enemy of jobs and growth” – which in the very short-term it may be. Markets particularly do not like uncertainty of any kind and will plummet precipitously at the mere suggestion of something unexpected – only to recover as soon as the momentary fright has passed.

But what Mr Javid calls “uncertainty” goes by other names: flexibility, fluidity, innovation. The capacity to adapt to unpredictable circumstances is what makes free economies strong and productive. It is essential to long-term growth and mass prosperity. Certainly nobody wants to face an immediate future of insecurity but how does remaining in the EU address that worry: by permitting the importation of infinite cheap labour with all the pressures on housing, schools and NHS resources that that involves? By supporting the interests of big corporations to the detriment of small entrepreneurial businesses which actually create more local jobs?

If there is a reasonable, substantial case to be made for Remain, then I would, seriously, like to hear it. In the meantime, I will continue – along with many of you – to be enraged by people who think that I must be a bigot or an idiot to want to vote for Leave.

Rod Liddle, The Sunday Times:-

Yeah, sure, chimps are believers — and my dog’s Pup Francis

Skipper, the half-breed dog I had when I was a child, was a practising Roman Catholic. Let out of the house of a morning he would make his way to St Bernadette’s Church and sit in the porch with a peaceable, slightly smug expression on his face. I know, because on several occasions I followed him. Always ended up at St Bernadette’s.

Maybe he was angling to go to confession: “Shagged a peke, was sick in the kitchen, unable to resist eating other dogs’ excrement.” Three Hail Marys, Skipper, and ponder long on your behaviour.

My mother, when I told her about the St Bernadette’s stuff, was convinced our dog’s motives were different from those I had assumed. “He is there to bite any taigs that come along, and quite rightly. He is as affronted by the Whore of Rome as the rest of us, Rod. Perhaps more so.”

But that did not fit with the serene expression on Skipper’s face. He did not resemble the Reverend Ian Paisley. He did not froth or snarl. He was at peace when in St Bernadette’s, both before and after we had his balls cut off.
The possibility that some animals believe in God and perhaps have developed primitive religious rites and ceremonies is back in the news. Last week a biologist revealed that she saw chimps worshipping at a tree.

Next week some anthropologist will argue, with great force, that voles follow the Nicene Creed or that beavers are monogamous because of their strict Presbyterian upbringing, rather than because it is evolutionarily advantageous.
The chimp stuff was noticed by an Irish scientist called Laura Kehoe. She was in Guinea watching chimpanzees. She noticed a scarred tree, in front of which there was a pile of stones. What’s all that about, she wondered.

And then she saw the chimps approach the tree. Some hurled stones at it with fury, others built a “primitive cairn” next to its trunk. Ah, it is a sacred tree and they are making a shrine of it, she concluded — a little peremptorily.

I suppose throwing rocks at a tree does resemble, a little, the Muslim ritual of “stoning the devil” on the hajj during Eid al-Adha, in which pious Muslims pelt three walls with seven stones apiece. Laura did not make this connection — perhaps because buried within her is a certain valuable instinct for survival. I have mentioned it because, of late, I have become bored with my head and do not much mind being separated from it.

Cue a certain amount of hysteria. The scientists are supposedly “baffled” by this strange chimp behaviour. But not sufficiently baffled to prevent themselves from reaching the most unlikely of conclusions — that chimps might believe in some form of vengeful and boringly static deity. All hail the not-very-tall African tree god. The notion that the chimps enjoyed throwing stones at a tree and also enjoyed building small piles of stones because they are lovable cretins does not seem to have occurred to them.

It does not matter how eminent the biologist or anthropologist, there is always a tendency to anthropomorphise animal behaviour. The most eminent of them all — the Canadian anthropologist Lionel Tiger — was not immune. He wondered if chimps held religious services of a morning after breakfast when they sat down quietly for a while, rather than thinking they were simply letting their food digest in a sensible manner.

The suspicion is that the more narcissistic we become in our behaviour, the greater our propensity to insist that these idiotic traits are shared by animals, as if this exculpated us all. In 1930s Germany a school was founded to “realise” the potential of dogs: the Hundesprechschule. These dogs did amazing things. One of them, when asked who Adolf Hitler was, responded in fluent German: “Mein Führer!” According to the SS, at least. If you bend your ears hard enough all dogs say “Mein Führer”, or something close.

We are the only mammals possessed of those arguably interconnected concepts — wishful thinking and religious belief.


Alfred B. Mittington said...

I am shocked and stunned to see that you use so American a term as 'Administration', where plain 'Government' would really be the civilized way of describing a PM and his cabinet…

Are you going soft??


Colin Davies said...

Well, if you were a real writer of good English, you'd have realised it was because I'd used 'government' in the title. And we don't favour repetition, having a massive vocab to choose from. And who ever said 'admistration' was American? Do you really believe I couldn't find it in use in, say, the 17th century in Britain?

Stop bothering me, you old crank.

Eamon said...

I have a health card issued by the National Health department here in Coruña. It has several bits of information on the card which help to identify me. I won't give all that is written on the card but the first line is as follows. 380923 DX OX 1 017. First set of digits 38 year of birth, 09 month, 23 day of month. DX D for first letter of my surname. X indicates no second surname. O Letter o indicates second letter of my surname. X indicates once again no second surname. 1 figure one indicates male (zero if female). 017 can't remember what it stands for.

Eamon said...

I should also add that any information from the hospital has written next to Réxime: INTERNACIONAL PENSIONISTAS. Guess that warns them to expect someone who can`t speak perfect Spanish or perhaps means they can bill, in my case, the UK Health Dept. for extras.

Alfred B. Mittington said...

So. If I understand your point halfway well, Leon Tolstoy could not, in the course of that marvelous 1,800 page book, use the words War and Peace again? Jack Kerouac was not allowed ever to repeat the word Road, when describing his interminable comings and goings from west coast to east coast and vice versa? And Madame Bovary unfortunately had to be designated as Lady Emma, That Woman or Hey You throughout Flaubert's masterpiece??

'If you were a real writer of good English…' Just love that phrase. And - with your definition of what it is - I count my blessings not being one…


Colin Davies said...

Your faiure to understand the obvious are now legion.

Did I say before in my life'?

Did I say in this decade?

Did I say this year?

Did I say this week?

Did I say today?

Did I say in the last hour even?

You added your own senseless, straw man qualification and then criticised it. Not only can not no write good English, you can't even read it!

Keep counting your blessings. Ignorance, they say, is bliss.

Colin Davies said...

Thanks, Eamon. I have one of these too. But it is for public hospitals. When I came here - not to work and before my retirement age - the Spanish government obliged me to take out private insurance and this hospital was a private one. Which has copied my ID card at least 20 times but still can't identify me!