Thursday, July 27, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 27.7.17

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:-
  • So, President Rajoy had his day in court yesterday, claiming that he knew nothing at all about the endemic corruption in a PP party he's been a senior member of for quite some time. See The Guardian on this here. I don't know if Sr Rajoy explained how come his initials were on the (ex)Treasurer's brown-envelope-payments list but I doubt anyone one in Spain believes a singe word of his testimony. Though the court might well choose to. For one reason and another.
  • I've recently asked if Spanish women - who still look just as feminine as ever - are nowadays trying to out-masculinise the worst of men. Here's some evidence for this.
  • Fish names can be hard to get right in Spain. They differ form region to region and even from town to town along Spain's long coastline. This comment results from attempts to find out what whitebait are in Spain - having ordered them, I thought, in Oporto on Monday. Take for example small hake. These are known as pescaditas, pescadillas and pescadiƱas even in Galicia alone. But there's also the word carioca, which usually in the Hispanic world means someone from Rio de Janeiro. But not here, where it probably means the smallest - hopefully legal - version of the fish. In Pontevedra at least. As if that wasn't enough, this site also gives pixota. BTW . . .  the word in Spanish for hake is merluza. it's a fish very highly rated in Spain but thought of as too bland in neighbouring France. I'm with the French on this. Though I adore deep fried cariocas. Pick the fish out of that.
While accepting that it's all about public posturing prior to detailed Brexit negotiations, it's hard to be impressed by the public comments (threats?) of either the UK or EU lead negotiators. As someone has written of the EU contingent: European negotiators have a choice of how to handle the Brexit talks. Sniping at the counterparts and digging their heels in may delight their political leaders, but does little to help build towards a deal being done in time. It's time they had a reality check and realised compromise is not a one-way street. If they can't bear to give ground, and think reality has to bite for the British instead, they cannot be surprised if they find themselves left at the table with no deal done and a massive bill to pick up. I'm not sure either side really understands where the other is coming from. Nor where it's prepared to go.

Here's Don Quijones' sceptical view of the monster that is now Amazon. In his/her view: It’s eroding opportunity and fueling inequality, and it’s concentrating power in ways that endanger competition, life and democracy. Quite a charge-sheet.

Below this post is a nice article of the bloody-mindnesses of the people Donald Trump relies on for his surely limited tenure of the US presidency.

Yesterday, I went to Vigo for with lunch with friends. On the way out of the train station, I snapped this diagonal pillar, the one my head hit when I was walking while reading a text message last time I was there. What a stupid place to put it!

To reach this point, I had to climb the stairs, while virtually every other passenger took the escalator.

This is why Spaniards are getting fatter. Nothing to do with all the factors usually cited. It's because they're lazy!

A few years ago, I posted fotos of the single and two-storey houses that were fast disappearing from Pontevedra. Yesterday, while taking a short cut, I happened on this one. Nowhere near as pretty as the earlier ones but interesting just the same:-

Today's cartoon:-

I don't see how three-quarters of the world can be starving - this restaurant is always packed.

Why Trump diehards are blind to reality David Aaronovitch

From communists to right-wing populists, it is human nature to ignore all the evidence that your beliefs were wrong

At what point do you, I, anyone or any group committed to a certain view admit that we were wrong?

On Tuesday, at a rally in Ohio, up to 7,000 people were told by Donald Trump that “with the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln . . . I can be more presidential than any president who has ever held this office!” And they gave him a great cheer.

President Trump’s point was that he has little time for “being presidential” (ie dignified, measured and unifying) because he is too busy actually doing things. But he could be if he wanted to be, believe him. More than Reagan, more than the Roosevelts, more than Washington. It was possibly the least presidential thing any American ever heard uttered by a president. And his audience still cheered.

So what would stop them applauding him? Obviously not his Twitter vendettas, nor the absence of any concrete achievement (apart, of course, from the ban on transgender people serving in the military). Not his bizarre disavowal of his own attorney-general Jeff Sessions, nor even the attempts at collusion between his campaign team and agents of the Russian government. Polling of Trump supporters suggests that they see all these problems either as part of an attempt to persecute their hero, or as utterly unimportant. Worse, the criticism entrenches their view.

So I invite Trumpites to try out this scenario. Suppose that, last year, Iranian intelligence had procured information about Trump’s business deals. Imagine that Chelsea Clinton, her husband and five or six other Clinton advisers had met an intermediary linked to the Iranian government to explore what that person could offer by way of dirt on the Trumps. Would his supporters have (a) dismissed this as flimflam or (b) demanded immediate punishment?

OK. It’s a rhetorical question and the example I’ve chosen suits my prejudices. Some other examples don’t. For a start, I come from a family that got some very big things spectacularly wrong. My parents were motivated by a desire for the meek to inherit the earth before and not after they died. Mum and Dad became communists and communists understood that the Great October Revolution in Russia, 100 years old this autumn, had brought a new world into existence.

They fought for workers’ rights and better conditions and an end to racism and exploitation and so on. They sacrificed a lot: money, careers, time. And they embraced some of the biggest lies of the 20th century. They believed that the show trials of the Thirties and late-Forties were proper processes and that the purges were a regrettable necessity. People who said different had been duped by the “bourgeois press” (these days known as the “mainstream media”). Then in 1956 the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, told the world that almost everything the bourgeois press had said about Uncle Joe Stalin was true and all the stuff the loyal British communists had been saying was utterly false. And even then some communists wouldn’t believe it. I had a little red soft spot for Fidel Castro until the turn of the millennium.

In her 2010 book Being Wrong the American writer Kathryn Schulz examined the problem of admitting error. There were the usual problems of “confirmation bias”: actively looking for things that help your argument and dismissing things that don’t. Take the tendency of partisans to complain that polls are wrong or even rigged when they go against you, and to cite them approvingly when they’re favourable.

But Schulz looked beyond this to the strategies that people devise to avoid an admission of outright error. Her great example was the fate of the Millerites, a sect of Christians who convinced themselves that the world would end on October 22, 1844. So they stopped planting and harvesting, gave their houses away and prepared to be received into the bosom of the returning Redeemer. They called what happened next, ie nothing, the Great Disappointment. But what they did not do was declare themselves to have been wrong.

Instead they adopted, says Schulz, five defences. And I invite readers to ask if any of them seem familiar. The first was the “time-frame” defence: the Second Coming is still coming so I was just out by a little in my calculations. Let’s see how it turns out, time will tell, and so on. I’ve used that myself over the war in Iraq, I’m afraid.

The second was the “near-miss” defence. It almost happened as I said it would, or as Schulz puts it, “if I hadn’t been wrong I would have been right”. This is a close relative to the third, the “out-of-left-field” defence. It was going just as I said it would and then something utterly unexpected happened. But, as Schulz says, “just about any event can be defined as unforeseeable if you yourself failed to foresee it”.

Fourth is the “I was wrong but it’s your fault” defence. I was badly advised, trusted the wrong people, failed to act on my own best instincts. And fifth is the “better safe than sorry” defence. Thinking what I did and seeing what I did, it would have been wrong for me to act otherwise. You might summarise this as “I did what I thought was right”. Remind you of anyone?

I’d add one of my own: the “it would have been just fine if it weren’t for you” defence. If Brexit fails it will have been the fault of the naysayers who talked down the country. The saboteurs, uncrushed, will try to turn my rightness into wrongness.

If pointing out to someone that they’re wrong merely confirms their sense of rightness, what are you to do? Tell them they’re right and make them think that because it’s you saying it they must be wrong? Nudge them through an affirming niceness into an unnoticed change of mind?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so pessimistic. Often people who are less committed than my parents were deal with wrongness by deciding that they weren’t as bothered over the big question as others assumed. So they ease themselves into a mental accommodation. The historian James T Patterson likes to point out that John Kennedy received 49.7 per cent of the vote in the 1960 presidential election. Shortly before his assassination in 1963, nearly 60 per cent of Americans recalled voting for him. After his death that climbed to 65 per cent. 

We can be obstinate but we can also be agile. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover in a year or two that most of the people at that rally in Ohio on Tuesday had gone to see Trump out of mere curiosity.

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