I bought a USB pen for €7 yesterday. As is customary in Spain, the shopkeeper asked me if I wanted it gift-wrapped as a present . . . It reminded that my ex-wife - accustomed to this gratis practice here - was offered this for the many presents she'd bought in John Lewis's in the UK and then presented with a bill for more than 20 quid for it. I think she actually fainted.
As Russian foreign ministers go, Mr Sergey Lavrov is a delight. No one could possibly outdo him when it comes to feigned outrage such as that displayed around the accusations of Russian hacking into the emails of the US Democratic party. A ridiculous joke, he spluttered when tackled on this. This, of course, is the essence of Moscow's response to any and every accusation against it.
As regards this hacking, where on earth will it end? President Obama tells us he's threatened Putin with retaliation and there can be little doubt the USA is capable of this. Will we see all the lights go out in Russia? Or merely Moscow's?
Over in Italy, one of the reforms wanted by the outgoing prime minister was the abolition of one of the same 4 layers of government we have here in Spain - the provincial administration that sits between the regional government and the municipal council. Surprise, surprise this was felt to achieve nothing but increased bureaucracy and greater corruption. Similar proposals have been made here but there's a greater chance of Hell freezing over before it happens.
Which reminds me . . .
Years ago I was told that the mayor of a local town - subsequently the president of the provincial government - had risen from being a poor doorman to being a millionaire and, of course, a great benefactor of the town. This week he was in court, facing accusations of corruption. Denying everything and refusing to testify. And looking quite smug.
Which reminds me . . .
The Spanish government has 'temporarily' abandoned the anti-corruption measure of making illegal cash payments for goods and service above €1,000. Apparently, the nation's shopkeepers felt that just before Xmas was not the best time to bring this in. On this, I wasn't too surprised to read last week that the Spanish are the most resistant in Europe to moving from cash to cards.
For a common-sense view on Brexit, see the article at the end of this post.
The latest Most Irritating Ad on British TV is, almost inevitably, for a supermarket chain - Christmas: Morrison's makes it. But it has to be said the competition for this award was pretty tough.
Pontevedra's shopping scene changes so frequently I'm beginning to think it might well be true that many owners here aren't really dedicated to the retail business. Here's yet another household stuff outlet, just opened in time for Xmas:-
And this, until recently a furniture shop, is now yet another place selling ladies' dresses and accoutrements. Just what we needed:-
Finally . . . An interesting email this morning, from a lady called Henrietta. She apparently runs a 'school for dissolute and lusty schoolgirl students' in Mexico. For some reason, Google felt this was spam.
Your daily smile, from The Times' cartoonist:
The £50bn 'Brexit Bill' is merely the futile gambit of a deluded elite which is swiftly losing control: Douglas Carswell
The notion that Britain faces a £50 billion “Brexit bill” from the EU is a nonsense. While the UK must honour any existing obligations while we remain members of the EU, those obligations end the day we leave.
There is no need for the UK to pony up any additional contributions towards a club we are about to leave. Any legacy obligations to be honoured after departure day, such as payments towards Eurocrat pensions, are likely to be small.
In general, we should ignore many of these stories about politicians playing hardball over Brexit. It might be fun for pundits to focus on some of the personalities involved in any Brexit negotiations. But if we want to understand the shape of what is to come, it makes much more sense to look at where our interests lie. Do that, and it's much easier to work out what sort of arrangements we are going to see.
Once we are a self-governing country again, it will still be in the interests of ordinary people on both sides of the Channel to cooperate. And those interests, not preening politicians, will shape cross-Channel relations.
It will, for example, still be in our mutual interest to trade. The EU last year ran a trade surplus of more than £70 billion with the UK. They are not going to impose restrictions on cross Channel-trade, when they are the principle beneficiaries from that trade, on the day we depart.
It may also be in our mutual interest to keep working together in several areas. Universities will still want to collaborate. Intelligence sharing isn’t suddenly going to stop.
While the free movement of people will come to an end, it will be in Britain’s interest to have some sort of arrangement – with caveats – governing the free movement of workers. Unless the EU is about to start insisting that its citizens require exit permits, that's not an arrangement that will require any EU consent.
Again and again it is interests, not politicians and their posturing, that will shape UK/EU relations.
Part of the EU’s problem is that it is built on the conceit that political fiat should be central to arranging human economic and social affairs. Reflecting that, its perhaps not surprising that some Eurocrats will want to put in place all manner of elaborate arrangements governing what happens once we leave.
But our departure is not contingent on any acceptance of such arrangements. And if the EU elite overplay their hand – by for example demanding we pay a big Brexit bill – we should simply call their bluff and bid them goodbye. We have a pretty good fall-back position.
In every age, powerful elites in almost every society have sought pretexts for control. Today, our elites use the idea of interdependence between nation states as a pretext for them exercising top down decision making.
Ever greater interdependence between states has been endlessly invoked by the EU elites as a reason for the rest of us to submit to more supranational decision making. You could almost say that the EU is built on the Cartesian conceit that international interdependence requires supranational supervision.
It’s a nonsense. Global interdependence is increasingly self-arranging and self-sustaining. Grandstanding elites are not a central to human affairs as they imagine.
Trade does not happen between states as a favour, but because it is the interests of producers and customers across borders to make the exchange.
EU students don’t flock to UK universities because they seek approval from officialdom. They do so because it suits them – and indeed our universities – to have those open arrangements.
The idea that the UK might pay some sort of tribute towards the EU after we have left has more than an echo of pre-modern mercantilism about it.
In pre-Enlightenment Europe, of course, kings and emperors demanded tribute as a precondition to trade. How odd that the EU project, which the true believers still insist is contemporary and modern, should retain such an antediluvian outlook.
Perhaps if the Eurocrats behave and think like the Habsburgs or Bourbons, they will go the same way.