Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Ponters Pensées 18 May 2016

Youth (un)Employment: Want to see what the one-size-fits-all has done for young people in the EU's poorer countries? Click here and see how the arrogant, corrupt, self-serving politicians and technocrats and the legions of ivory-tower theoretical economists have blighted their future, not to mention their present. Extacts: Despite Draghi’s bluster, the real problems in the EU, particularly in Greece, Portugal, Cyprus, and Spain, have not been solved – and I mean, not at all. . . . . For some countries, the results are outright horrifying. . . . In Greece 93% of young people feel marginalized “from economic and social life”. In Portugal Cyprus and Spain it's 86%; 81%, and 79%, respectively. These are the countries whose bondholders have mostly been bailed out by the Troika and by Draghi’s promise to do “whatever it takes” to continue to bail them out. . . . Despite Draghi’s bluster about saving the Eurozone economy with his absurd policies, the reality for the youth of some member states’ has become dismal. Time to bring back the firing squads? Keep all the lawyers and shoot all the bankers, financiers, politicians, technocrats, etc., etc.?? Bring anarchy back into fashion? After all, the last 6 months without a government have been a blessing here in Spain.

Russian Propaganda. At the end of this post is a nice article from yesterday's Times. It's an amusing – and accurate – overview of Moscow's games. And it contains some very pertinent comments and questions about RT News, some of which you'll have already read here. For example: Russia Today is a knowing farce, so shamelessly biased that a couple of its presenters (all of whom look like supermodels) resigned in protest during the 2014 invasion of Ukraine, one of them live on air. But the article does pose one answer to the question: Why on earth do they spend so much time and money something so non-credible?

More Signs of Imminent Summer in Pontevedra:
  • The local papers are obsessed with blue flag issues.
  • The Philharmonic Society hosts its last concert of the year in mid-May and goes off the air until at least September. As if good music were seasonal.
Amazon Spain: You'll all be wanting to know the outcome of my enquiry as to why I received a bill for a free book. After following the recommendation of Amazon USA that I resolve this with Amazon Spain, I wrote to the latter several times but received no response. Today I finally called them, to be told that Amazon USA and Amazon Spain are completely separate entities and that the book was ordered (presumably by Amazon USA) from Amazon Spain and so they had to charge me for it. I suggested someone in the latter talk to someone in the former and put the phone down in disgust. You have been warned. Amazon Spain, like most companies here, has not yet got its head round the concept of customer service.

Talking about being annoyed . . .
  1. There's an ad for something on the TV which includes one of the noises your phone makes when you have a message. Not by coincidence, I guess. I'm close to putting my foot through my TV screen . . .
  2. I've just tried yet again to find out how many points I have on my driving licence. As ever, when I seek an access code and enter the details on my licence, the Traffic Department tells me they have no record of me. So, now a trip to the local office to sort this out. Thank God I'm retired and can waste my time.
Finally . . . A busywoman?

Tears in the eyes time for true Brits. Here's the stunning Kathryn Jenkins – in an even more stunning dress – singing a tribute to the queen (I Vow to Thee My Country) during the celebration of her 90th birthday. The queen's, that is. Not Kathryn Jenkins'. If that's not enough for you, leave youtube on and watch the BBC program in its entirety. You can also see Ms Jenkins singing the same song/tune/air here in a less flamboyant dress. Click here for the lyrics, which won't appeal to everyone, of course.

And here's a foto of the luminous Ms Jenkins . . .  Just for Facebook purposes.

Russia lost Eurovision but won the mind games

My absolute favourite anecdote about modern Russia comes from the British author, Edward Docx. At a dinner with the cream of Russian literary society, he happened to mention that the panel of the Man Booker Prize of 2011 was headed by Dame Stella Rimington, the former director-general of MI5.

Docx recalled: “They guffaw ‘Oh, the West! Oh, England! Oh, hypocrisy! You mean,’ they splutter, ‘that the winner of your most famous literary prize is judged by the security services?’ ” Startled, Docx protested that Dame Stella was retired now, and wrote thrillers herself. Sure, his hosts chortled. Like Vladimir Putin is retired from the KGB! And the more Docx blushed and stammered, the more they laughed and laughed.

Hey, maybe we’re the mugs here. Maybe Britain’s deep state does, indeed, have a department terrified of the day when the sorts of people who still shop in Daunt Books might rise up, perhaps invigorated by a particularly incendiary passage in some barely readable Ghanaian novel about a shepherdess. The water cannon would blast, and their spectacles would be knocked into the gutter, and yet still they would fight, bookishly, on. Taking Britain back, one iambic pentameter at a time.

And so to Eurovision. Russia, as you may have read, is convulsed with fury that, at the song contest’s final in Stockholm on Saturday night, victory went to one sequinned dirge rather than another. Or, to be more precise, that the Russian entry (written, as it happens, by a pair of Brits) won the popular vote, but did less well in the eyes of newly established national juries. This meant it lost out to Ukraine’s effort, a song about Stalin’s 1944 deportation of the Crimean Tatars, with resonances of Russia’s military action in Ukraine today.

I’m going to take a punt and assume most people listening didn’t necessarily get the “Tatars” bit. Because with Eurovision — how to put this? — the lyrics tend not to be the focus. Indeed, told that they’d just heard a song about the actions of Stalin, I suspect most listeners would have been about as surprised as their counterparts in 1968 had somebody told them that Spain’s winning entry La, la, la (chorus: “la lalala lalala lalala, la lalala lalala la”) was about the common fisheries policy.

Still, Russia is properly miffed, and in a manner that is hard for British people to take seriously. We have a longstanding derision for all things Eurovision that borders merrily on the xenophobic. As well we should. This is the land of the Beatles, for God’s sake, and there we are, sending a pair of flight attendants in leotards to do sonic battle with Scandinavians dressed as zombies and the daughters of Urals oligarchs doing thinly veiled karaoke to Celine Dion. Occasionally, though, it’s worth reminding ourselves that for some places, particularly the sorts of places in which you could make a killing in the 1980s by smuggling in Levi’s, Eurovision is something more. It is geopolitics.
Hence Russian rage. As of yesterday, Moscow politicians were talking of boycotts and bemoaning long-running western plots to demonise all things Russian, lumping Eurovision together with other supposedly manufactured controversies over athletics doping, official homophobia, transgressed airspace, and the invasion of Ukraine. All of which you might notice aren’t actually manufactured at all. This was positively calm, however, when compared with the response of Russia Today, the Kremlin’s answer to the BBC World Service, which has a long history of taking conspiracy theory right past the threshold of “merely preposterous” and elevating it almost to the status of performance art.

One article, I think written in cold blood, alleged that Eurovision’s new jury panels were the result of a fundamental western distrust of democracy. Drawing together Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, “the military/industrial complex”, Jeremy Corbyn, the “Blairite establishment” and the EU referendum, it suggested that the British jury had the approval of Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary. Which would be marginally less mad, I suppose, if that jury contained people such as Dame Stella. Only it didn’t. Among others, it contained a 22-year-old singer-songwriter from Chelmsford, and a woman who was once the vocal coach for S Club 7.

Do they mean this stuff? Does this world-view truly reflect what any Russians think? I’m not sure. I have visited Russia many times, and the eye-rolling disdain many ordinary Russians have about the posturing of their own government can be a joy. Russia Today, even abroad, is a knowing farce, so shamelessly biased that a couple of its presenters (all of whom look like supermodels) resigned in protest during the 2014 invasion of Ukraine, one of them live on air.

Yet the genius of Russian propaganda is that it delights in this cynicism, and harnesses it, to throw back at everybody else. Brazenly, it invites its audiences to believe all media behaves in this way, and it, alone, almost admits it. It exists to spread, through its own glaring untrustworthiness, the suspicion that western media must be just a little bit untrustworthy, too.

This is the point of outrageous Russian outrage over Eurovision. It seeks not to convince, but to unnerve. To tarnish. Even in Moscow, they must know that no western government would bother fixing a song contest, or even a book prize. My God, the effort, and for what? Sow the seeds of paranoia, though, and they take root in a thousand tiny cracks. Next year, I bet, the Eurovision voting system will be overhauled again. Nobody will care; nor should they. Yet another tiny piece of western self-confidence will have fallen, like yesterday’s sequin, into the dirt.

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