Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 16.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • Here's El País on Spain's bizarre horario, or daily timetable. Nice chart. Apologies if I posted this when it came out last year. It does endorse my contention that you need to take a couple of hours off Spanish events to arrive at the time they'd be taking place in other countries. Which I did last night when we had our second set of fireworks in less than a week. At midnight . . .
  • Here's another El Pais article – A pretty positive take on Spain from an American woman who had her eyes opened as to what the country has to offer.
  • And here's The Guardian on a lovely train option I used when doing the North Coastal Camino last year. To get beyond the outskirts of Oviedo. I wish I could get someone to sponsor my trips.
  • Back to El País for a comment on the parlous state of Spain's real, micro economy. What's really galling to read is that, as the tourist sector soars higher and higher, salary rates are reducing for the already overworked and underpaid workers who provide the usually excellent service in cafés, bars, restaurants and hotels. Profiteering on grand scale.
  • I sometimes wonder whether any businessperson in Spain is honest. Here's El País (in Spanish) on one of the most corrupt of the country's magnates . . . mining 'king' and outright crook – Victorino Alonso
  • I don't have this query about Spain's politicians, of course. We know that all of these are on the take.

Over in Germany, the constitutional court has said it sees “significant reasons” to believe the European Central Bank had overstepped its mandate with its €2.3 trillion bond-buying scheme. So, it has referred the case to the European Court of Justice. Which will take its time and hand down a verdict after the scheme been stopped, as planned, early next year. I guess it makes sense to someone. Don Quijones is on holiday in Mexico with his wife so, sadly, we can't get his caustic comments on this typical EU development.

Even before his astonishingly revelatory press conference yesterday, I was wondering how Donald Trump could have more clearly demonstrated the utter insincerity of his written-for-him Monday statement on Charlottesville. Perhaps by laughing during and after it. Or giving a big wink towards his supporters when he'd finished. As it happens, he gave us all the evidence of this yesterday. I see things have finally reached the point where Republican rats are starting to leave the sinking ship. How much longer can he last? More importantly, what further damage can this batty, blustering, bullying buffoon do to the US and the world before he's gone?

Here in Galicia:-
  • On tourism, I forgot yesterday to quote the foreigner who'd said that visiting the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela was now as bad as visiting the Vatican.
  • Back to the corporate dishonesty issue . . . Not just one but 4 local companies are being prosecuted for taking thousands of excess passengers to the glorious but numbers-limited Atlantic Islands off our coast. In just 2 days.
  • The Ribeira Sacra is another magnificent – but inland – Galician feature. And now you can see it from a hot air balloon. Or un aerostato as they're called here. Click here for info.

Finally . . .  As I was leaving my house last evening, my neighbour, Toni, told me that there's an upcoming fiesta in Vilagarcia, on our be-coved coast. "Is it a fiesta de cocaina", I asked.

Today's Cartoon:-

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 15.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • Here's an interesting follow-up to one of Spain's many bull-running events. Unusual in a not-very-litigious society. An augury?
  • The latest Gallup poll endorses the view that Spain's macro economic recovery is not trickling down to the lower levels of society. A couple of quotes:- 1. The country's poorest residents may be hardest hit by austerity measures, and 2. The growing differences between low-income and high-income Spaniards are a troubling reflection of the rising inequality.
  • A while ago, the newish centre-party, Ciudadanos, entered into a pact with the minority PP administration, to allow the latter to govern. It has now admitted that only c. 20% of this has been implemented so far. I wonder what they expected.
  • Talking of the PP party, its leading (low wattage) light is President Rajoy - the only member of the party who knows nothing about its endemic corruption. He's not known for achieving much and is famous for saying even less. Despite (because of?) this, he's reported to be planning to try for a 3rd term in office. They say that voters in a democracy get the government they deserve. But do the Spanish really merit the unimpressive Sr Rajoy?
The Spanish Language:- My latest discoveries:-
  • Tener patente de corso: To have a licence to do what you want. Lit: To be a  privateer. Corso = corsair.
  • Un piscinazo: 'A dive', as in Louis Suarez in the Real Madrid penalty area. Lit: 'Big swimming pool'.
  • Tener muchas migas: To be full of interest/substance.
  • Gastroteca: A pretentious place serving food. Like a wine-serving vinoteca. Sometimes the same place.
  • Gastrorestaurante: Ditto
Galicia News:
  • The Galician Xunta has distanced itself from comments that there's too many tourists now. Indeed, they want more and have plans to bring them here. And not only from the rest of Spain.
  • In Santiago de Compostela, meanwhile - as I know full well - things have got so bad that you'll have to wait at least 45 minutes to get into the cathedral, through the single door that's now kept open. Nonetheless, the complaint about tourists in that city is not that there's too many of them but that they don't spend enough once they get there. Cheap pilgrim bastards!
  • Our farmers are up in arms against the Hacienda, the Tax Office. For a while now, it's been using drones to find unregistered rural buildings or extensions which should have been declared so that the municipal tax (the IBI) could be levied on them. And now it's demanding documentary evidence farmers are entitled to the cash they get from Brussels. Mainly for leaving their land uncultivated, I think. In theory, at least.
  • Another day in hilly Galicia, another less-than-young farmer dead under an upturned tractor.
  • Pontevedra's Saturday night bullfight didn't merit a full report in Sunday's El Pais. There was just a brief account in a side column, along with reports on 2 corridas in France(!) and one in Gijón on the north coast.
  • The Saturday post-corrida-all-night binge for kids of 12 and upwards resulted in only 4 cases of alcoholic poisoning. And no violence. By the way, if you're female, there seems to be a strict rule for attendance at this - the younger you are, the more you should dress like a prostitute. One wonders if they leave the house like this, bottle of kalimocho in hand.
  • A motorcyclist was recently stopped for doing 150km in a 60km zone. Because it had got wet and he wanted to dry it out, he said. Which was possibly true.
This is the charming garden of the Pontevedra Parador, where I go for a coffee of a Sunday morning. Or, rather, where I go to be ignored by the staff. Who, I guess, recognise that I am not staying there. Or just don't like me. They are civil servants, of course, as the hotel chain is government run:-

Out of their own mouths . . . Pastor Franklin Graham: Shame on the politicians who are trying to push blame on President Trump for what happened in Charlottesville. That’s absurd. Satan is behind it all. He wants division, he wants unrest, he wants violence and hatred.  Pastor Graham clearly knows what he's talking about when it comes to the absurd.

Finally . . .  Talking of the absurd . . . This foto jumped out of The Times at me this morning. And it wasn't because of the breasts:-

This, would you believe, is a stomach vacuuming - A contortion achieved by emptying your lungs and pulling your abdomen in under your ribcage and holding the inhalation for 20 to 60 seconds. Its aimed at giving you a 'flat middle and six-pack' with minimal effort. More extreme versions, nicknamed “alien yoga” involve contracting and releasing your stomach muscles in a bizarre rolling movement. I'll probably be giving it a miss.  

Monday, August 14, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 14.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • Tourism - long important to Spain - now represents a higher percentage of GDP than the 'booming' construction ever did before its sudden collapse in 2008. It has different pluses and minuses, of course, and Don Quijones addresses them here, while pointing out the likelihood of mid-term reversals.
  • Tomorrow, Tuesday, is a public holiday in Spain. Something to do with the Virgin Mary, I think. So today, Monday, is one of the country's famous puentes, or 'bridges'. When many folk take the day off. Or call in sick. Not a time to be on the roads, says El Tráfico, who warn us the jams will make it a nightmare under a hot sun.
  • A survey tells us that clothes and booze are still relatively cheap in Spain but that telecommunications are a lot more expensive than elsewhere in Europe. As if we didn't know. And, in the case of my barrio, utterly inadequate for 15 of the 17 years I've been here.
Here in Galicia, property sales have begun to boom again, despite the fact that our cities boast many empty flats. One interesting aspect is that more than 50% of sales are now in cash. One wonders why.

As I've mentioned, this weekend saw the start of our annual fiesta in Pontevedra city. It's called Semana Grande, or the Big Week. Possibly because this 'week' runs from the 11th to the 21st of the month. And involves at least 2 spectacular firework display. At midnight, of course.

I'm more convinced that ever there's a Beggars' Bus which goes from town to town here in the Rías Baixas of Galicia. Or it might just be that our fiesta has drawn in the 2 or 3 new ones who've appeared in the last few days. Effectively, they're as itinerant as all the craftspeople who go from one place to another for the now-obligatory Medieval Fair every town offers during the summer. 

Here's a piece of doggerel which this development reminded me of yesterday:-
Hark! Hark! The dogs do bark.
The beggars are come to town.
Some in rags and some in tags,
And some in hand-me-downs

My friends Anthea and Phil told me last night that the last line in their neck of the northern English woods is:- And some in velvet gowns.

And here's a foto of one of the panhandling newcomers. Rather younger than most, I thought. Well, the first time she appeared, I did:-

By the way, I've probably committed an offence by not pixellating her face. But I don't know how to do it.

Which reminds me . . . Those charged under Spain's Citizen Security law - known colloquially as the Gag Law - numbered 3,391 over the last 18 months here in Galicia. The majority of these were for drug-related offences but just over 1,000 miscreants were charged with 'disobedience' or 'resisting authority'. Incidentally, with only 6% of Spain's population, Galicia managed to garner 17% of the national total of these offences. I'm guessing this is connected with our status as the leading gateway for Colombia's cocaine exports. Some of which don't leave the region.

Talking of offences . . . here's a foto that could well get me arrested in the UK, not a smile from the teachers accompanying this snake of kids linked by a rope:-

Finally . . .  I mentioned Hygge yesterday: Here's Private Eye on this topic recently:- "There is no direct translation of the Swedish word Lagom, but on the available evidence we may take it to mean 'lifestyle publishing fad' . . . Alert readers will have noticed that it is a bit like Hygge, the Danish concept of cosiness that singed a thousand bedside tables with unattended tea-lights. Like Hygge or, indeed Ikigai or Simplicité - two other recent publishing wheezes - Lagom is supposed to evoke an entire culture that is assuredly much better than yours. . . . It's all so painfully smugge."

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 13.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • I've complained that August here in Galicia - until a couple of days ago - wasn't living up to its reputation for heat. But at least things weren't quite as bad as elsewhere in Spain. Click here for an astonishing report of recent below-freezing temperatures.
  • Good to see this review of British comedians Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan's trip to Spain. I'm neither an insecure nor a middle-aged male but I still expect to enjoy it hugely.
  • Here's a run through of Spain's most beautiful national parks.
  • And, for Spanish speakers, here's a review of the ultra-right in Spain. More accurately of its virtual non-existence.
  • I love the Spanish affection (obsession?) with having fun. But I'm not so keen on their apparent belief that it's not possible to enjoy oneself without an astonishingly high volume of noise. Which they think is normal, of course - most of them never having seen the Portuguese, for example, having fun. I'm stimulated to write this by the experience of having my eardrums assaulted by the 'firecrackers' suddenly set off only a few metres from my watering hole yesterday midday. To mark, I believe, the official start of our 2-week fiesta. Not to mention the insistent bass boom from a kiddies' attraction in the nearby main square.
  • Correction: Most of you will have realised that the English village of Morpeth I mentioned yesterday was really Morebath. I went back to the book to find evidence of the richness of 16th century English fiesta life centred on saints' days. And discovered that the village's favourite saint of was St Sidwell, whose Wiki page is here. I'm betting that - highly populated as it is - she doesn't figure in the Spanish pantheon. Yet. 

Here's The Guardian on the North Korean imbroglio. Specifically on the treatment by the US's wonderful late-night comedians.

The EU: In the article at the end of this post, an Estonian MP and law professor - Prof Igor Gräzin takes an even more negative/pessimistic view on this 'declining empire' than I do. Interesting stuff. For some of us, anyway.

US Nutter Anne Graham Lotz: While no one can know for sure if judgment is coming on America, it does seem that God is signaling us about something. Time will tell what that something is. Armageddon perhaps, if we leave things to Donald Trump.

Finally . . . There's been a recent fashion in the UK for a Scandinavian outlook on life called Hygge. British columnist and polemicist Rod Liddle says this is a Danish word to describe the feeling of cosiness and contentment you experience just before you decide to commit suicide.

Today's Cartoon:-

Here's the cartoonist of the Voz de Galicia, comparing President Rajoy's concern for Catalan matters (and turismofobia) with his lack of interest in what concerns (almost) everyone else in Spain:-


Out of ideas and desperate to suppress dissent, the EU's days are numbered: Igor Gräzin

More interesting than when history repeats itself are the trends that do not. Consider the lot of two particular struggling empires. Rome’s collapse was preceded by intellectual degradation. Russia’s, on the contrary, saw it reach one of her intellectual peaks just before the tragedies of her fall.

Remember the likes of Yesenin, “Vekhi“, Rachmaninoff, and Malevich. Given the accompanying cultural masterpiece of the European Union is the Eurovision Song Contest, we might well ask whether the EU (or rather, the European Commission) will collapse in gradual fits or in a single blast.

Intellectually, politically, economically and legally, the process will be challenging. The natural and democratic tendency of EU member states to loosen their EU ties is resisted by its professional nomenclature – and particularly the staff of the European Commission, whose livelihoods are solely dependent upon its existence. Thus even referenda on “exits“ might be effectively out of the question: the Commission has more than enough inertial power to prevent civic movements manifesting themselves or making themselves heard.

Like other declining empires, the EU finds itself suppressing internal opposition. What is notable is the combination of the nature of the dissent, and the environment in which it operates. The EU is driven to relabel its democracy to justify its rearguard fight.

All progressive changes in the EU - whether Brexit, the two emergences of the True Finns, the development of various “pirate-movements“, the strengthening of sovereign identity in Hungary, the Czech Republic and so forth - have taken place in a relatively undramatic ways and through the routine course of civic democracy. So there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the further decay will continue the same way.

The raison d’être of the EU made sense some half-a-century ago, but does not exist anymore. Keeping the peace on the Continent failed in Ukraine, Georgia, the Balkans, Trans-Caucasus; and massive terrorism is a war de facto. With the strictly egoistic interests of individual countries in play, accompanied by a certain set of historical accidents, the Commission is no longer fit for purpose.   

Take for starters the existence of the Single Currency. Sitting outside the definition of economist Robert Mundell’s “optimum area", it makes the fragile status of the broad European economy, and specifically its uncompetitiveness, worse. The discriminatory application of Maastricht criteria serves the minority of the EU, and contributes towards “unfair business practices“ (after all: many EU members’ statistical authorities simply lie).

Meanwhile the system itself discriminates against corrective free speech. Political correctness, and the EU generically labelling critical democratic forces as “extremist“, “far Right“ (or “far Left“), both lead to self-alienation through their nomenclature. Ministers who meanwhile stand up for sovereign rights and democratic concerns against the centre are subject to abuse and attack.

Finally, the ideological constraints on the use of police forces (a wariness to act against truly extremist circles at the risk of being labelled “racist,“ or the refusal to prosecute illegal economic migrants as simply illegals) has become an additional risk element.

All these intellectual and ideological factors, set against the new social media foundations underpinning civic society, bring out the lack of charismatic leaders in this phase of change. The EU represents a mentality of mediocracy that has fed institutional idleness.
As there are no leaders in the EU there are no followers either. EU leaders do not lead but merely participate. And so it remains to us - the ordinary people - to wait and watch how a once-challenging idea will fade away. There is no need for us bystanders to be excited, but just to live our normal non-European daily lives.

Against this intellectual void comes the prospect of online cooperation. The socio-political development of Europe will be determined via new media by self-created and self-established civic movements. The future, then, does not belong to the political parties but to the chat-rooms.
The task is not to create and lead this development - it happens by itself! - but to participate and promote the libertarian values within.

Brexit is then not a special case, but just an event in the EU’s decline. We previously saw the "Arab Spring", and one day we will look back at the "Autumn of Europe".

Prof Igor Gräzin is an Estonian MP, law professor and commentator who was also a Member of the last Supreme Soviet of the USSR

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 12.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • Here's The Guardian doing its bit to stop the rampant growth in Spain's tourism industry.
  • Reader Anthea recently overheard woman on the train saying that Spain had so many fiestas only because she has more saints than any other country. This, of course, is nonsense. But it put me in mind of a book I read years ago on the diary of a 16th century priest of the English village of Morpeth. Who went from being Catholic to Protestant, back to Catholic and finally back to Protestant under the kings and queens of a 50 year period. What struck me is how similar England, as a Catholic county, had been to Spain in the number saints' feast-days celebrated in the village. Days long gone, of course. But, in truth, I don't know whether Spain is unique in panning the Vatican's long list of saints for excuses to have fun. But I suspect it is.
  • Still on religion . . . Spain is one of a few European countries which maintains an anti-blasphemy law on it statute books - Article 525 of the Penal Code. But its international ranking is low because there's freedom of religious expression here and because the penalty for blasphemy is usually(invariably?) a fine. That said, the Article actually says:- Whoever, in order to the feelings of the members of a religious confession, publicly disparages their dogmas, beliefs, rites or ceremonies in public, verbally or in writing, or insult, also publicly, those who profess or practice these, shall incur the punishment of a fine from 8 to 12 months [en la pena de multa de ocho a doce meses]  Which doesn't read exactly like a fine to me.
  • Currently it's Italy taking by far the most refugees from Africa. But - after a lull of a few years - Spain is coming up fast and could well overtake Greece as the second most affected EU member state by the end of the year. As to government policy, this seems to be one of the (many) subjects on which President Rajoy remains silent. Corruption in his PP party being the main one, of course. 
Back to refugees . . . Within the EU as a whole, tensions are said to be rising, with not everyone sharing Mrs Merkel's (economics driven) 'liberal' stance. Indeed, an Italian commentator, Signor Pittella, warns that inter-state rancour will grow unless Brussels ensures that "all member states share responsibility" for managing the inflow of migration. Absent this, he added, " there could be a "systemic crisis that threatens the EU itself". Meanwhile, it's just barely concealed panic.

Donald Trump may be a clown but he isn't funny. It's blood-curdling to know that 2 madmen with yellow/orange faces and weird haircuts are taking us to the edge of global destruction. And, if you thought that sane generals would be able to stop the American fool pressing the nuclear button, read the article at the end of this post. Incidentally, given that Trump is so orange - at least on my TV - you'd wonder why the Netherlands hasn't offered him Dutch nationality.

Ken Ham is an Australian theist who was the driving force behind an 'authentic, full-size Ark' recently built in the USA. And complete with the dinosaurs he says must have gone into it. As you'll appreciate, he's not short of daft comments. But his latest is a classic - Atheists can't know what is 'good' or 'bad', as only Christians are capable of this. So, tough shit on all you immoral and moral-compassless Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims, etc. out there. Not to mention us atheists, who have no idea about what's right or wrong.

Finally . . . You might think that flying Economy is akin to travelling in a cattle truck but a US airline is now offering something cheaper - Basic Economy. The mind boggles at the treatment you'll get if, say, Ryanair emulate this. 

Today's cartoon:-

Inevitably . . . 


Starting nuclear war is Donald Trump’s decision alone Pam Nash

Many of the details are secret but if a US president were ever to order a nuclear strike, we know this: the order would be transmitted to the crew who would fire the missiles in a message 150 characters long — about the same as a tweet.

After this week’s sabre-rattling over North Korea the launch procedures are the object of fresh scrutiny. A new generation is learning that America’s nuclear arsenal is on a hairtrigger.

The decision to launch is the president’s alone and there is no failsafe against an unstable commander-in-chief. This was what made Richard Nixon’s “madman theory” — he pushed the idea that he might just destroy Moscow — credible.

In the early years the fear was of gung-ho generals; the system regards them as a far greater threat than an irrational president. This point was made by Alex Wellerstein, a historian of nuclear weapons at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

In 1946 the Atomic Energy Act put the power in the hands of the president. The law was thrashed out in the months after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. The Manhattan Project scientists who developed those weapons regarded the military officials they worked under as war-mongers.

President Eisenhower later gave the military standing permission to use tactical nuclear weapons in certain circumstances — if, say, Russian tanks rolled west over the Rhine. Under President Kennedy, miscommunication almost led both the Soviet Union and the US to launch. It was time for more safeguards.

Before his inauguration President Trump would have been told how to launch a nuclear strike. Accounts of what would happen vary. This one is based on work by Bruce Blair, a former Minuteman missile-launch officer and research scholar at Princeton University.

A call is placed to the Pentagon war room, which must authenticate that the person giving the order is the president. Either Mr Trump or a military aide will be carrying a laminated card known as the biscuit. An aide will also be carrying the “nuclear football”, a briefcase of strike options.

The war room will offer a challenge code: two letters, spelt out in the military’s phonetic alphabet. Mr Trump will read the correct response from the biscuit — maybe “echo, Charlie”.

The war room will then send a launch order to the submarine, air and ground crews chosen to carry out the mission; 150 characters including a war plan number denoting the targets.

Codes contained in the launch order must match codes locked in safes. On a submarine the launch order also contains the combination for another safe containing the keys needed to fire the missile.

For ground-based missiles the order goes to five crews, each with two officers. The crews are miles apart. Two crews have to turn their keys to launch the missiles. Even if three refuse, the missiles go. After the order is given land-based missiles can be on their way within five minutes; for submarines it is about 15 minutes. They cannot be called back.

The US has resisted automating the system. Indeed, after the decision is made by the president, each stage requires two people to act — on a submarine both the captain and executive officer must agree to launch. At the same time, however, the system is designed to neutralise mutiny. In the 1970s a Vietnam War air force veteran, Harold Hering, was in line to become a nuclear missile squadron commander. He asked how he could be sure that a launch order was lawful. He had been taught that it was his duty to resist unlawful orders. He was discharged — for “a defective mental attitude towards his duties”.

Members of Mr Nixon’s cabinet were deeply uneasy with the system. James Schlesinger, the defence secretary, said years later that he had ordered military commanders to double-check with him before launching. Schlesinger was concerned that the president was unstable. His order had no standing in law, however. There is no saying what would have happened if Mr Nixon had ordered to launch.

In the 1980s the idea took root that there was a taboo against using nuclear missiles, and that this was a control on presidents. Don’t be too sure: a Stanford University study published this week showed that a majority of Americans would back killing two million Iranian civilians to prevent an invasion of Iran that might kill 20,000 American troops.

There are no checks, no balances. As Mr Wellerstein puts it: the only way to keep any president from launching a nuclear attack would have been to elect someone else.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 11.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • A great deal of attention being given in the British media to the reaction in Spain - well, Cataluña - to excessive tourism. Here's El País (in English) with a censorious attitude to this recent development.
  • According to The Olive Press: The amount of British holidaymakers travelling to Spain has almost doubled over the last 20 years. They mean the number of holidaymakers, of course. Either way, it's still a lot. And many of them are not exactly from the cream of British society. And are thus all known as los ooliganes here in Spain.
  • Talking of Cataluña . . . Here's The Spectator on what - like many of us - it regards as the surreal situation in respect of the region/nation's bid for independence.
  • I enjoy telling people that there's not just one camino - the French Way. Nor even 10 of them. But 33, as described here. And, as I bang on about them all being far more about money than religions or even 'spirituality', I wasn't surprised to hear from Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas, that the long one up from Alicante in the Valencia region has been extended backwards to Garrucha, close of his village of Mojácar in Almería. See this map. How long before it's a second alternative from Málaga? Or even Cádiz?
  • Incidentally, the Spanish bumf on Garrucha stresses it's close to Caravaca de la Cruz, which is described as being as important to Christians as Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela. Really?? Also cited as being in this category is Santo Toribio de Liébana and I've never heard of that place either. My Catholic education was clearly wanting.
Looking wider afield, it's reported that: (Runaway) tourism is now the largest employer on the planet. Some see this as a very great threat that needs to be addressed. The writer of the article at the end of this post avers that: As the prospect of truly effective coordination by governments remains distant . . . So, we have to re-examine the idea that we enjoy an unfettered liberty to travel at will or for pleasure. We have to rethink the impulse that says that a holiday from work – or retirement from work – is an open sesame to exploring the world. We should learn from Henry David Thoreau that one can travel as much – and develop as much as a human being – in one’s own locality as in the far-flung and exotic corners of the globe.

Even wider afield, the writer of this Guardian article fears that the lack of historical perspective is an ever greater threat to humanity. Another of Donald Trump's afflictions, I'd guess

The Spanish Language: Having come across the phrase serpiente de verano a couple of times - and wondered whether it related to the Loch Ness Monster - I finally realised it's the Spanish equivalent of silly season stories. With which British newspapers are currently replete.

Finally . . . If, like me, you've wondered what the hell the gig economy is, here's a definition:- A labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs. Said to be a common problem across Spain. Especially during summer, I guess.

Today's Cartoon:-

How about a whip round for the driver?


Mass tourism is at a tipping point – but we’re all part of the problem | Martin Kettle

Nearly 30 years ago, researching for a Guardian series on global population pressures, I interviewed the zoologist Desmond Morris. During that interview, Morris said something that was hard to forget. “We have to recognise,” he said, “that human beings may be becoming an infestation on the planet.”
Those words came back to me as reports came in about the increasing reaction in many parts of Europe against the depredations of mass tourism. Last week I read a stress-inducing story in the Times about appalling passport-check delays at Milan airport; three days later, I walked through those selfsame passport gates with only a brief and courteous check.

Nevertheless, when places from the Mediterranean to the Isle of Skye all start complaining more or less simultaneously about the sheer pressure of tourist numbers in their streets and beauty spots, as has happened this August, it feels as if the always uneasy balance between the visited and the visitors has gone beyond a tipping point.

Pictures of a wall in Barcelona saying, “Tourist Go Home”, or of protesters in Palma saying, “Tourism Kills Mallorca” should touch an uneasy nerve in anyone whose summer getaway has taken them to places such as San Sebastián, Dubrovnik, Florence, Venice and – further afield – New Orleans and Thailand. For all of these have either taken or are considering measures to limit the relentless pressure from mass tourism by people like you and me.

Predictably, Venice is one of the most agonisingly pressured of all. It embodies the increasingly irreconcilable forces of vernacular life, tourism and sustainability in historic parts of Europe. But that doesn’t stop the millions arriving all the time – 28 million this year, in a city with a population of 55,000, many disembarking from monstrous cruise ships that dwarf the ancient city as they approach the Grand Canal. Each day in summer is a humiliation of most of the things the world treasures about Venice. Not surprisingly, many locals have had enough.

It’s a pattern that is replaying in different ways in other much-visited parts of Europe and beyond. Anarchists in Barcelona captured the headlines by holding up tourist buses in protest against the cost of living that they say is inflicted by tourism, especially by short-term-let companies such as Airbnb, which drive up housing costs. Next week, something similar is promised in the Basque town of San Sebastián.

But these are only the hot spots. The tourism problem runs far wider. Human beings across the world make more than a billion foreign trips a year, twice as many as 20 years ago. In Britain, statistics this week show we took 45 million foreign holidays last year, a 68% increase on 1996. And foreign trips cut both ways. Many of those who were interviewed in the media when the narrow road to Glen Brittle on Skye became jammed with traffic this week were European visitors, attracted not just by the scenery but by the advantageous exchange rate.

The problem shows itself in both supply and demand. There isn’t enough room for the many to walk through the centre of Dubrovnik, or enough public loos on Skye for the visitors. But the number of people wanting to visit such places is rising all the time, fed by greater global prosperity, cheaper air travel and increased overall provision of hotels worldwide. Tourism is now the largest employer on the planet. One in every 11 people relies on the industry for work. Unsurprisingly, few governments want to put a squeeze on such a source of wealth.

You only have to become a travel industry consumer, as many of us are doing this summer, to realise that you too are part of this problem, not the solution. We all want to go to places such as Venice. And we are mostly all willing to submit to the indignities and embarrassments that are involved in doing so – whether it’s irksome but necessary security checks or overcrowded departure lounges, no-frills flight regulations, car hire price-gouging and all the rest of it. Rationally, the European mass travel industry is not fit for purpose. I defy anyone to say they like Luton airport. Yet still we come. Few are seriously deterred.

Can anything be done to get the visited and visiting into a more sustainable balance? It is tempting to fall back on Morris-like pessimism and to suspect that it can’t, that the issues are unmanageable. There are multiple genuinely difficult issues involved here. The biggest, in a global sense, is the rise of Chinese tourism. But why should Chinese people be denied the rewards – for they certainly exist – of travel? The tourism industry’s carbon footprint is equally problematic. But if people want to take the planes, and the planes are available, who is to say that this should stop? Closer to home, it is beyond question that many British tourists behave badly abroad. The stag-do and hen-do culture is out of hand. But you can’t restrict access to Italy to those who know their Giotto from their Duccio.

Writing a few days ago, the writer Elizabeth Becker argued that only governments can handle runaway tourism. Governments can control entry to their countries, she said, can regulate airlines and ships, prevent inappropriate hotel development, and use taxes to shape visitor demand and benefit local people, place limits on rip-off prices that distort markets. Yet even Becker admits that most governments prefer things as they are. The prospect of truly effective coordination by governments remains distant.

It would be wonderful if governments could find effective ways to at least mitigate the worst problems. Some, such as those of Thailand and Bhutan, have been bold, even though most restrictions hit hardest at the less well-off and are most easily circumvented by the rich. The role of government action to ensure adequate and appropriate infrastructure in tourist areas is indisputable.

In the end, though, I think we have to take greater individual responsibility too. This will irk those who think of themselves as independent travellers rather than members of tourist herds, but unless we embrace individual and collective restraint more seriously, the destruction and damage to cities such as Venice or beauty spots such as Glen Brittle will simply grow.

We have to re-examine the idea that we enjoy an unfettered liberty to travel at will or for pleasure. We have to rethink the impulse that says that a holiday from work – or retirement from work – is an open sesame to exploring the world. We should learn from Henry David Thoreau that one can travel as much – and develop as much as a human being – in one’s own locality as in the far-flung and exotic corners of the globe.

Travel broadens the mind, they say. But is the person whose air-conditioned tour bus whisks them to a distant glacier in Patagonia or to the Mona Lisa for a quick selfie before depositing them at a characterless international hotel richer in experience than the one who spends the same amount of time watching the birds or the butterflies in the back garden? I doubt it. We may not be an infestation yet. But we are a problem. Travel can narrow the mind too.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 10.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • The Spanish are not great vegetarians. At least 3 restaurants dedicated to these souls in Pontevedra have failed in the 17 years I've been here. Most Spaniards seem to think that jamón is not real meat. And here's an account of what happened when one vegan tried to get the meal she wanted in a restaurant in Fuengirola.
  • Some Spanish regions are planning to impose special tourist taxes, for one reason and another. I'm delighted to say that the Galician Xunta says it won't be doing this. As for fining the likes of Airbnb renters we'll just have to wait and see. Far more likely, is my guess.
  • Talking of tax campaigns, the police say they tested 3,142 drivers leaving the albariño wine festival in Cambados last week and charged 201 drivers for being over Spain's relatively low alcohol limit. Or 6%. So 94% had refrained from having more than one glass. Hardly traditional Spain.
There's a couple of interesting Comments to my bit yesterday on undergraduate literacy. Neither of my 2 daughters - both in their 30s - were taught either grammar or punctuation but, like reader Maria's daughter - picked them up from copious reading. I once commented to an 18 year old employee of mine that she wrote well but seemed to know little about punctuation. "You should see how my 14 year old brother writes", she replied. "He knows nothing about it"

North Korea: See an apposite article from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard at the end of this post. Is there anyone who disagrees with his observation that: If Mr Trump is reckless enough to launch his devastation in a unilateral strike against a chorus of informed warnings, he will bring about the moral collapse of American leadership and set off a pan-Asian arms race. The latent superpower conflict between the US and China will become a real one. Not to mention the immediate deaths of hundreds of thousands.

Here in the Pontevedra province of Galicia, one of our local councils has decided to tackle its perennial civil servant absenteeism problem by paying its employees a plus (bonus), if they work 90% of their contracted hours. As you might expect, this has not gone down well with the media. Or with anyone who puts in a full whack.

Finally . . . Unless you live in the proverbial cave, you'll be aware that gin has undergone a massive rehabilitation since its dog days of the 80s and 90s, when vodka became the fashionable tipple. It's now more popular that it was even in the days of Hogarth's famous Gin Lane (see below). And among a far wider spread of tippler. Here's a few noteworthy points from Gin, Glorious Gin by Olivia  Williams:-
  • Gin sales not just weathered the economic crisis of 2007 onwards but prospered.
  • This, in the UK at least, was largely down to 'weekend millionaires'. People who skimp during the week and then blow on some expensive product at the weekend.
  • After the UK, Spain is 'Europe's other major gin-drinking nation. And it's here where the fashion for balloon glasses started. Not to mention all the other nonsense that now surrounds this favourite drink of mine. After wine, of course.
Today's cartoon:-

Hogarth's Gin Alley . . . 


Global order quakes as Trump blunders into an Asian maelstrom in North Korea: Ambrose Evans Pritchard.

The line dividing North and South Korea was drawn by two young colonels in the middle of the night on August 11 1945. They were thrust into a room, given a map, and told to come with a solution within half an hour. The Koreans were not consulted, and nor were the British or the Chinese. US military planners were focused solely on the surrender of Japan and the rush to pre-empt the Soviet Red Army coming down from the North. One of the colonels happened to be Dean Rusk, a Rhodes Scholar who would later become US secretary of state in the 1960s. He drew the line through the 38th Parallel because it “would place the capital city in the American zone”.  

The new frontier was arbitrary, like placing a trench of landmines through the middle of Oxfordshire. There is no ethnic difference between the North and South. As one US official put it: “Korea is the place where you see diplomacy in the raw, diplomacy without gloves, perfume or phrases.”  

Rusk feared that Seoul was indefensible, and he was right: the city was overrun within days when the North attacked in the Korean War. His fateful line is why so much of this great metropolitan area of 24 million people is today within artillery and rocket range, regularly threatened with a “sea of fire” by the Communist Kim dynasty.  

When US defense secretary William Perry asked whether it was possible to carry out a surgical strike on the North in the 1990s, the Pentagon told him that it might leave hundreds of thousands dead. Today Kim Jong-un has an estimated 8,000 rocket launchers and artillery pieces on the border.
A study by the Nautilus Institute said 30,000 civilians might be killed in the first barrage.  I have a personal stake: my grand-daughter is a Korean citizen, and spends part of her time under howitzer barrels below the 38th Parallel.  

Just when we thought the markets were becalmed, with equity volatility at 90-year lows, the ‘August Curse’ threatens to strike again. It was the credit ‘heart-attack’ on Wall Street exactly ten years ago that kicked off what was to become the global financial crisis, and it was Russia’s default in August 1998 that caused the East Asian financial crisis to metastasize.  

This has more in common with August 1914 when the long-simmering tensions between the status quo powers and a rising Germany erupted – in remote territory – into a battle for world domination.  
It embroils us all because it is the first super-charged test of whether US and China can manage their ‘G2’ global condominium. If markets are jittery as President Donald Trump threatens to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on Pyongyang, they should be.  Any misjudgment could shatter the globalised financial and economic system that underpins asset prices. Valuations are stretched to extreme levels on the premise that the international order is in safe hands. Quite obviously it is not.  

Today, the Shiller price-to-earnings ratio of the S&P 500 index is around 30. This is the highest in 150 years of usable data, excluding the two anomalies of 1929 and the dotcom bubble. Bulls argue that this is sustainable because globalisation generates surplus capital, and generates red-blooded economic growth rates of 4pc or so. Well exactly, and what happens if ‘Chimerica’ suddenly goes off the rails?  

Chinese leader Xi Jinping patiently tried to explain the complexities of North Korea to the US president at their meeting in Florida. “After listening for ten minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,” said Mr Trump with disarming candour. That is a start, at least. But how much does this prickly petulant man know about the Korean War – that forgotten “meatgrinder of American manhood” – when the US fatally misjudged Mao Zedong’s red lines, invaded the North, and blundered into a full-blown conflict with China? Does Does he know how close General Douglas MacArthur came to acting on his plan to rein 38 cobalt-H bombs over Northern China, rendering it uninhabitable?

The atomic bombs were never dropped. But as Bruce Cummings writes in his poignant history, ‘Korea’s Place in the Sun’, MacArthur did create a zone of devastation near the Yalu River, flattening “every factory, city, and village” across a thousand square miles. He blew up the irrigation dams that watered 75% of the North’s food production. He reduced Pyongyang to rubble with incendiary bombs. Every city in the North was leveled. Each looked like another Hiroshima. Does Donald Trump know this when he talks of “fire and fury”?  Mr Trump’s wild threats are grist to the mill of Kim Jong-un. The hermit regime thrives on such bluster. It plays to the North’s siege mythology and justifies emergency sacrifice.  

Professor John Kelly from Pusan University said North Korea’s purpose in acquiring nuclear weapons is essentially defensive. The bankrupt regime craves a deterrent to avoid the fate of Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi. “They aren’t stupid,” he said.  

But if hot rhetoric makes sense for Kim Jong-un, it is another matter coming from the White House. The danger is that this shouting match sets off a spiral that provokes Mr Trump into overreacting. If the Trump Doctrine is that US red lines must be enforced, he has maneuvered himself into a credibility trap. The tripwire is set low. He vowed to unleash carnage even if North Korea merely “threatens” the US.  

The military consensus is that the US cannot destroy Kim’s nuclear capability with a first strike and that any such attack risks a retaliatory holocaust in the Peninsular. The crisis can therefore be treated only as a containment question, working with the grain of South Korean and Chinese leadership in diplomatic concert.  

It goes without saying that almost the entire world agrees that Kim Jong-un must not be allowed to miniaturise nuclear warheads or master the ‘re-entry’ phase in a missile attack. All share this objective. But they also have zero confidence in the judgment and temperament of Mr Trump. 

At the end of the day, North Korea remains a Chinese client state.The conciliatory signals from Beijing have been complex and ambivalent. They can be misread.  

If Mr Trump is reckless enough to launch his devastation in a unilateral strike against a chorus of informed warnings, he will bring about the moral collapse of American leadership and set off a pan-Asian arms race. The latent superpower conflict between the US and China will become a real one.  

The US Congress can exercise only so much restraint. As President Richard Nixon famously said in the Oval Office tapes: “the President of the United States can bomb anybody he likes.” If only we had Nixon now.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 9.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • I caught a bit of an ad on TV offering help to Brits who'd lost their deposits on off-plan properties in Spain during the phony, construction-driven boom. Trying to find the company name on youtube, I came across this video and then this one. Might be of help to someone.
  • President Rajoy was in the media yesterday, lauding tourism. Back on earth, here's some information on what 2 places are doing to hold back the rising tide. Canute-like??
Wider afield . . . Don Quijones continues, here, to cast aspersions on the Italian banking industry. And also on the European Central Bank. This, he says to no one's great surprise, is bending and breaking its own rules to keep Italy and, thus, the EU project on the rails. As he puts it: The European Commission has repeatedly threatened to impose fines on Italy for breaching EU budget rules, but if it ever did, it would be the ECB that would end up paying them. Italy, he opines, remains the Eurozone’s weakest link. And with each passing day, as the economy grows more dependent on ECB funding, it grows weaker.

Good to welcome to Nutters Corner, a first class member of the breed - 'Pastor' Robert Jefress - who is responsible for this bit of wisdom: When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary - including war - to stop evil. In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un. As one atheist commentator puts it: This is what modern Christianity has become. Forget Jesus. Forget peace. Forget turning the other cheek. It’s about incompetence, brute force, rash thinking, and using God to justify the worst kinds of human behavior. The only good news is that these mad theists are slowly but steadily reducing as a percentage of the US population. Let's hope the world survives to see them become as politically irrelevant as they are in most (all?) other developed nations. But the evangelist pastors aren't the only nutters in the US-North Korea imbroglio, of course. 

Attached is article articulating fears which have dogged me for years - on the ability of modern graduates to write proper English. 

But, anyway, It's bullfight (corrida) time of the year again here in Pontevedra city, as part of our 2 week annual fiesta. Dedicated, I think, to the Wandering Virgin. These days we can only afford 3 bullfights, which must be a huge disappointment to the peñas (competing groups of aficionados) whose members don't necessarily attend the corridas but who, rather, spend the evening and night drinking, vomiting and urinating – but not fighting - in and around Plaza de Teucro in the old quarter. Not a night to go there then, unless you're happy to be sprayed with red wine.

Finally . . . Last week I dug my 33 year old Raleigh bike out of the garage and had new tyres fitted to it. Yesterday, I parked my car as usual on the other side of the river and biked, rather than walked, into the old quarter. Although I doubted anyone would steal my old crock, I still secured it to a fence with the security chain. Or, rather, I didn't - as I couldn't remember the combination number of the lock. So I pretended to secure the bike by making it look as if the chain was locked. Which was a bit of a waste of time, as I'd only passed it between bits of the fence and neglected to pass it around any part of the bike.

Today's cartoon:-


My fellow lecturers won't say it in public, but students today are moaning, illiterate snowflakes:  Tibor Fischer

When I tell people who have had nothing to do with universities recently that I’ve taught British undergraduates who are simply incapable of writing a correct sentence in English, most smirk in disbelief. Perhaps because I’m a writer of fiction they assume I’m indulging in some dramatic exaggeration. When I raise this with fellow lecturers, however, they nod mournfully.

There is still a mania that everyone should go to university and every endeavour should be a degree (whether sculpting or golf management). It’s had a very bad effect on education.

There’s an “everyone must pass” attitude, which is compounded by the “sick note” epidemic. The student who is currently suing Oxford University because it allegedly “didn’t take her anxiety seriously enough” isn’t an unusual figure.

Lecturers don’t like to speak out about this because life is precarious in the academic world, but in private I don’t come across anyone who disagrees with what I’m about to say. Here goes.

Almost every fourth essay you have to mark has a cover sheet pleading extenuating circumstances: Asperger’s, autism, anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, dyspraxia. In my day, extenuating circumstances meant that your family had died in a car crash a month before your finals.
And if you don’t pass, no need to worry because you’ll almost certainly have the chance of a resit or a resubmission. Essentially, if you can be bothered to turn up, you’ll get a degree.

When I suggested to my department head that it might be beneficial to axe one or two students to gee up the performance of the rest, he commented, without any hint of irony: “We can’t fail them, because then they’d leave.”

I taught English literature for four years at Christ Church University in Canterbury. I taught some 120 first year undergrads, of whom I asked the question: “What is a sentence?”

Only six came up with the formula: subject, verb, object (and two of them were foreign students). They hadn’t heard of this grammar stuff. Some were even shaky on what an adjective is. And these weren’t physicists or business studies students, this was the literature class.

Everyone is guilty. The Labour Party for comprehensive education (I went to a comprehensive. It was indeed egalitarian, in that everyone got a mediocre education). Margaret Thatcher for the turn your shed-into-a-university policy. Tony Blair for abolishing the requirement for foreign languages.

And then of course the Equality Act, which requires Universities to make “reasonable adjustment” for those less able. What a gloriously flexible, litigious word “reasonable” is. Again, I doubt many academics will go on record with this, but I had experiences with students who had some “disorder” who were extraordinarily able in using their disability to their advantage.

It’s the job of a university to strive for excellence (although that’s tricky to define in the arts). This idea that a university is in some way in loco parentis or a carer obliged to wipe bottoms is misguided.

It’s wonderful if universities can provide that sort of extra-curricular support. But that’s not their purpose. It’s their job to set a high standard, and it’s the students’ to reach it, whatever their difficulties.

In the humanities we seem to have a system where many students pay a lot of money, learn very little and gain very little employability. The students I mentioned who are functionally illiterate represent perhaps only one per cent, three, five? But there they are, at university.

The real problem is the much larger group who don’t really have the tools to benefit fully from a course, which is quite often not that demanding.

The educational absurdity of Dickens’s Dotheboys Hall in Nicholas Nickleby is being recreated in our arts faculties, where all you need to do is read a couple of books (or watch the DVDs), rehash some platitudes about racism, gender stereotypes, climate change and say Foucault to scrape a degree.

I can’t think of a solution to this, but I suggest we stop kidding ourselves that things don’t need to be tightened up. Or as one of my despairing colleagues proposed: “Why doesn’t the government just give everyone a PhD and get it over with?”

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