Saturday, December 30, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 30.12.17

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.

  • Not many folk on the streets of Malasaña at 9.30 in the morning. Just me and the very efficient street cleaners essentially. But, anyway, here's a foto of a facade not a stone's throw away from my daughter's flat. If you look hard - or even not so hard - you'll see why it's famous. And it's not just for the masculine items:-

A one-time brothel, I believe. Which I might have featured before . . .
  • And here's another famous frontage, even closer to her flat:-

The EU
  • Here's the BBC's take on the coming year.
  • Fart, says, Ben Macintyre is the Greatest Showman reborn.  See below his amusing article comparing him with the infamous Barnum.
The English Language
  • While researching the answer to my own question - Why is English softer than both Celtic languages the Teutonic languages of the post-Roman invaders? - I came across this wonderful - and often hilarious - page of views on the languages of others. All done with good humour and civility. And in excellent English. I particularly liked this exchange between a Norwegian and a Dane:-
Norwegian: Danish sounds like drunk Norwegian.
Dane: Can confirm. That's the way it sounds to us also.

Nutters Corner
  • Ghanaian footballer Mohammed Anas earned a man-of-the- match award after a game between Free State Stars and Ajax Cape Town yesterday. He began his post-match interview with: “Firstly I appreciate my fans. And my wife. And my girlfriend." 
  • Reader Maria has commented on the craziness of English. So, she might appreciate this article as much as I did - on why it's so weird. Incidentally, it rather endorses my guess as to why English is not as harsh as German or Dutch. It's thanks to the common-sense Scandies of the 9th century.
Today's Cartoon
  • Blame my sister for this. The non-Catholic one, of course.


Trump is the Greatest Showman reborn: Ben Macintyre

Like the impresario P T Barnum, the president is a master manipulator who values entertainment over truth

The release of The Greatest Showman, starring Hugh Jackman, has provoked an intense historical tussle in the US over whether Donald Trump is, or is not, the modern embodiment of Phineas Taylor Barnum: the Victorian theatrical impresario, sometime politician, fixer, circus owner, occasional bankrupt, real estate magnate and skilled manipulator of the news, much of it fake.

Salon website called Trump “the second coming of P T Barnum”. Samuel L Jackson described the president as “more P T Barnum than politician”. The Financial Times called him a “huckster-president in the Barnum mould”, whose “mix of deal-making nous and showbiz brazenness is one reason he won the election”. Trump’s family welcomes the comparison between the president and the most notorious showman in American history: “He is P T Barnum,” says his sister.

The similarities are striking. Both Trump and Barnum exhibit the skills of born salesmen, more concerned with profitable entertainment than strict truth. Barnum said that he did not care what people thought of him so long as they talked about him, a principle Trump lives by. Both men became more famous and popular with every fresh gust of notoriety.

Like Trump, Barnum poured his cash into gaudy architectural excess and built numerous monuments to himself, including a Moorish palace that he named Iranistan, a blingtastic multi-storey monstrosity with turrets.

Trump’s detractors claim he has sold America a fraud, based on Barnum’s apocryphal dictum: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” But his supporters also welcome the comparison, pointing out that Trump, like Barnum, symbolises a part of the American Dream: the self-made, hard-driving extrovert, deploying entrepreneurial and theatrical gifts to appeal to the common man.

Like the Apple founder Steve Jobs and music impresario Jay-Z, Barnum and Trump melded hype, swagger and business acumen into myth, making them almost unstoppable, infuriating to contemporaries and, to many Europeans, incomprehensible.

Barnum’s obituary in The Times in 1891 described the showman as a “noteworthy and almost classical figure, typical of the age of transparent puffing through which the modern democracies are passing”.

Throughout his life he sold everything and anything: as a teenager he was hawking oysters, illustrated Bibles, ale and lottery tickets. Mostly he sold fantasy, including tincture of bear fat as a cure for baldness, and a plant that could turn black people white. One of his earliest human exhibits was Joice Heth, a black woman who claimed to have been George Washington’s nurse. This would have made her 161 years old. She was a sensation.

Then came the rope-dancers, midgets, albinos, Siamese twins, Jumbo the Elephant, and the famed Feejee Mermaid, which appeared to have a human head on the finned body of a fish, a masterpiece of taxidermy, fakery and false advertising. His American Museum offered hoaxes — which he called humbugs — alongside bona fide marvels. He imported the Swedish Nightingale, the singer Jenny Lind, who was greeted by 40,000 fans at New York docks and played to 93 packed houses with rapturous reviews (Barnum had more than two dozen journalists on his payroll).

He took his menagerie on a world tour: Queen Victoria was amused when 2ft-tall “General Tom Thumb” play-fought with one of her poodles.

Barnum wrote The Art of Money Getting; Trump brought out The Art of the Deal. Both men were brazen in their pursuit of profit and both books were bestsellers. Barnum was a product and reflection of his age, just as Trump reflects our own. In the words of the historian David McCullough, “Barnum was loud, brassy, full of bombast, vulgar, childish, surely just a little crooked — the ultimate, delightful phoney from a delightfully phoney era”.

Barnum’s audiences were less interested in reality than spectacle. They were, as this newspaper’s obituary writer noted, “willingly deceived”. The same is true of many Trump supporters. The show is what matters, not its literal truth.

No one,” Barnum declared in his autobiography, “can say that he ever paid for admission to one of my exhibitions more than his admission was worth to him.” He was right: the lure of his shows lay not in whether they genuinely lived up to his extravagant claims but in their ability to draw audiences into a magical, half-real exhibition.

The same is partly true of Trump. Many in his audiences do not care whether his claims are strictly accurate or not, any more than Barnum’s spectators were concerned whether the Feejee mermaid was a hoax. They wanted to believe, and no amount of scoffing by the elite was going to shake that conviction.

The so-called Barnum effect has been coined to describe the psychological phenomenon in which people tend to believe positive depictions of their personality even when a description is so generalised it could apply to anyone. The technique is common in astrological predictions that are interpreted as “personal” by the reader when they are actually deliberately vague: “You are coping with insecurity this month . . .” and so on.

The effect, also known as the Forer effect, is said to have derived from Barnum’s observation, “We have something for everyone”, but it should not be confused with mere gullibility: we all tend to extract particular, individual relevance from the most sweeping and imprecise information, particularly when this reinforces our self-image.

Part of Trump’s success lies in the Barnum effect: millions of Americans hear his broad slogans about putting America First and believe the message is directly addressed to them. “It’s a Barnum and Bailey world,” sang Ella Fitzgerald. It still is, and no one knows that better than Donald Trump, the Greatest Showman in modern politics.


jan frank said...

Hate to say it, but there is a (inter)national spelling bee held every year in the Dutch language. Usually the Belgian speakers of Flemish win it, to the disgust of the Dutch, since the Dutch reckon the Belgians are the stupid ones (bit like the English think of the Irish). Dutch, at first sight, looks "spell it as you say it and vice versa" but once you get to the details it's very idiosyncratic and illogical in its spelling.

Colin Davies said...

Thanks, Jan. I guess I shouldn't be surprised as I've chatted with my friend Dutch Peter 1 on occasions about Dutch spelling and the attempts to standardise it in the last century or so.

As for Dutch sounding like it looks . . . not the double vowel letters, to an native English speaker. They seem to be the 'wrong way round'. But I can't swear to that.