Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 31.1.18

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.

  • So, the problem of what to do yesterday in the Catalan parliament was solved by simply kicking the can down the road by postponing the much-awaited event. This show will run and run. As if we didn't know.
  • The Spanish government seems to have finally realised that, if you don't impose heavy social security taxes on would-be entreprenurs from day one, you get a lot more entrepreneurs. And a lot fewer people operating under the radar and paying no SS taxes whatsoever. Better late than never, of course.
  • Rather to my surprise, I've established that the lyrics of Spain's dirgeful Eurovision entry doesn't contain the word corazón (heart). I had thought this was a legal obligation for all songs here.
  • I got an 8 page PDF of gobbledygook from my bank yesterday. It stems from the new EU 'clarification' regulations described by Don Quijones as overly complex and counterproductive. But it all makes work for the working man. Especially the bureaucrats, of course.
The EU
  • 'The Project' has undoubtedly been a huge economic success for Germany. Far more so than for, say, the UK. Or even France, its initial partner/driver. This is in large part because of an euro exchange rate which was guaranteed to help German exports from the very outset of the currency. Things, in fact, have gone so well that now Germany is going so far as to greatly understate the true size of its current account surplus in order to deflect mounting global criticism. What you might call a VW approach to the national accounts. Nice to read that this exposé has come from German economists. 
  • What a surprise – Fart's State of the Nation address was replete with superlatives. And a fake fact or two.
  • Fart's administration has imposed a 30% tax on solar panels, because they come from China. Some folk fear this will cost as many as 23,000 jobs as demand falls. Whether these will be offset by jobs in other energy sectors is an open question.
Social Media
  • Things have turned very sour – and dangerous – for the writer of Article 1 below. He was an early enthusiast and (profitable) investor but now thinks strict regulations need to be imposed on the sans-morals, tax-avoiding corporate giants. Some phrases to tempt you:-
- undermining democracy
- fostering psychological addiction.
- brain hacking.
- corrosive effect
- the challenge of extracting the world from the jaws of internet platform monopolies

Anyone disagree?

Nutters Corner
  • See Article 2 below for a caustic view on those lovely people, the US evangelicals. Fart's main electoral base, of course.
  • When I was young - a few years ago – we used to get our exam papers back to see where we'd gone wrong. Why do I mention this? Because my neighbour told me last night that – notwithstanding my superb teaching – her son had failed his English re-sit. And this despite his telling his mother it'd had been the easiest exam he'd ever sat, and the first one for which he'd understood the questions and not had to just guess at the answers. I said I would check the latter on his paper but she told me this wasn't allowed, possibly because the teacher would be exposed as someone who didn't understand the subject he was teaching. So now we're down to go to the school together to confront the man and to demand evidence of (alleged) errors. I won't be surprised to find he doesn't actually speak English.
  • When I used to visit my grandparents at their pub, my (alcoholic) gran's favourite tipple was whisky-and-American/Canada Dry, or whisky-and-ginger ale. And when I worked as a barman, aged 17, one of the drinks I used to serve was pink gin, a combination of gin and angostura bitters. The question again arises: Why on earth do I mention these facts? Well, it's because I now read that the wheel, as it does, has turned and that whisky-and-ginger and (pre-prepared) pink gin are now the fashionable drinks here in Pontevedra. And quite possibly in the rest of Spain.
  • Yesterday I sat next to a pretty young woman who had a large stainless steel ring through her nose. As if this didn't render her ugly enough, she then took out what looked like a reefer and started smoking it. But that's just my curmudgeonish opinion, of course. Her boyfriend seemed taken enough. Possibly because, as you'd expect, her laughter quotient rapidly rose.
Today's Cartoon


1. Why not regulate social media like tobacco or alcohol? Roger McNamee*

Facebook, Google and others can foster addiction – and can be used to undermine democracy

We were warned. The venture capitalist and Netscape founder Marc Andreessen wrote a widely read essay in 2011 titled “Why Software Is Eating the World”. But we didn’t take Andreessen seriously; we thought it was only a metaphor. Now we face the challenge of extracting the world from the jaws of internet platform monopolies.

I used to be a technology optimist. During a 35-year career investing in the best and brightest of Silicon Valley, I was lucky enough to be part of the personal computer, mobile communications, internet and social networking industries. Among the highlights of my career were early investments in Google and Amazon, and being a mentor to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg from 2006 to 2010.

Each new wave of technology increased productivity and access to knowledge. Each new platform was easier to use and more convenient. Technology powered globalisation and economic growth. For decades, it made the world a better place. We assumed it always would.

Then came 2016, when the internet revealed two dark sides. One is related to individual users. Smartphones with LTE mobile infrastructure created the first content-delivery platform that was available every waking moment, transforming the technology industry and the lives of 2 billion users. With little or no regulatory supervision in most of the world, companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, Alibaba and Tencent used techniques common in propaganda and casino gambling, such as constant notifications and variable rewards, to foster psychological addiction.

The other dark side is geopolitical. In the United States, western Europe and Asia, internet platforms, especially Facebook, enable the powerful to inflict harm on the powerless in politics, foreign policy and commerce. Elections across Europe and in the US have repeatedly demonstrated that automated social networks can be exploited to undermine democracy.

The Brexit referendum and the US presidential election in 2016 also revealed that Facebook provides significant relative advantages to negative messages over positive ones. Authoritarian governments can use Facebook to promote public support for repressive policies, as may be occurring now in Myanmar, Cambodia, the Philippines and elsewhere. In some cases, Facebook actually provides support to such governments, as it does to all large clients.

I am confident that the founders of Facebook, Google and other major internet platforms did not intend to cause harm when they adopted their business models. They were young entrepreneurs, hungry for success. They spent years building huge audiences by reorganising the online world around a set of applications that were more personalised, convenient and easier to use than their predecessors. And they made no attempt to monetise their efforts until long after users were hooked. The advertising business models they chose were leveraged by personalisation, which enabled advertisers to target their messages with unprecedented precision.

But then came the smartphone, which transformed all media and effectively put Facebook, Google and a handful of others in control of the information flow to users. The filters that give users “what they want” had the effect of polarizing populations and eroding the legitimacy of fundamental democratic institutions (most notably, the free press). And the automation that made internet platforms so profitable left them vulnerable to manipulation by malign actors everywhere – and not just authoritarian governments hostile to democracy.

As Andreessen warned us, these companies, with their global ambition and reach, are eating the world economy. In the process, they are adopting versions of Facebook’s corporate philosophy – “move fast and break things” – without regard for the impact on people, institutions, and democracy. A large minority of citizens in the developed world inhabits filter bubbles created by these platforms – digital false realities in which existing beliefs become more rigid and extreme.

In the US, approximately one-third of the adult population has become impervious to new ideas, including demonstrable facts. Such people are easy to manipulate, a concept that former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris calls “brain hacking”.

Western democracies are unprepared to deal with this threat. The US has no effective regulatory framework for internet platforms, and lacks the political will to create one. The European Union has both a regulatory framework and the necessary political will, but neither is adequate to the challenge. The EU’s recent judgment against Google – a record $2.7bn fine for anti-competitive behaviour – was well conceived, but undersized. Google appealed, and its investors shrugged. It may be a good start, but it was clearly insufficient.

We are at a critical juncture. Awareness of the risks posed by internet platforms is growing from a small base, but the convenience of the products and psychological addiction to them are such that it may take a generation to effect change from the user side, as it did with anti-smoking campaigns. Recognition of the corrosive effect of platform monopolies on competition and innovation is greater in Europe than in the US, but no one has found an effective regulatory strategy. Awareness that the platforms can be manipulated to undermine democracy is also growing, but western governments have yet to devise a defence against it.

The challenges posed by internet platform monopolies require new approaches beyond antitrust enforcement. We must recognise and address these challenges as a threat to public health. One possibility is to treat social media in a manner analogous to tobacco and alcohol, combining education and regulation.

With the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, the threat from internet platform monopolies should be a top concern for attendees. For the sake of restoring balance to our lives and hope to our politics, it is time to disrupt the disrupters.

•Roger McNamee is a co-founder of Elevation Partners and an early investor in Facebook, Google, and Amazon

2.  Under Trump, Evangelicals Have Become “Instigators of Evil”, says Frank Schaeffer: 

Hearing Frank Schaeffer talk about the deplorable nature of the Religious Right is always a treat since he and his father are as responsible as anyone for helping create it. He has an insider’s perspective on what’s going on in evangelical Christendom, and he held nothing back this morning on AM Joy.

Schaeffer called out evangelical Christians’ racism, how they’re not bothered by Donald Trump‘s bigotry, and Tony Perkins‘ recent claims that religious people like him were “kicked around by Barack Obama” and now they’re backing Donald Trump because “there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”: Tony Perkins has forgotten his own theology and instead replaced it with a theology of revenge on people he disagrees with politically.And that is what is going on here. It’s revenge of White America, it is revenge of evangelical right-wingers. And who they want to punch in the mouth is not just Black Americans, people, to put it in the President of the United States’ words, who live in “shithole” countries, but anybody who disagrees with them.

So they’re willing, apparently, to put up with anything when it comes to moral degradation to see those ends achieved. And I’m glad he put it in terms of revenge. At least there, he misspoke from his point of view, but told the truth.

Schaeffer went on to point out how the Religious Right used to be okay with abortion and the culture wars, too, before they threw their lot in with the Republican Party. Their allegiance to Trump allows us to witness their own demise in real time: Evangelicals switched from being people who advocated for traditional morality to the chief American defenders of, not only relativistic morality, but all that used to be considered sacred being trash. They’re defending a man who has trashed fidelity in his own life and with the words he speaks nationally. They have trashed truth-telling and have embraced this idea of everything being “fake news” that they disagree with. They have even trashed common decency.

So, what we’re now watching, as kind of an appendage of the Trump presidency is one of the greatest downfalls of a religious order, if you want to put it that way, we’ve ever known. It’s only comparable with the first breaking news of the vast international phenomena of child abuse inside the Roman Catholic Church, but at that time, the leaders themselves, at least, were saying “Yes, this is bad” and pretending not to go along. Now the evangelicals have gone to the next step. They have become the instigators of evil themselves.  

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 30.1.18

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.

  • What next? Here's The Local's take on yesterday's situation. Could well be different now. Especially with all the talk of Sr P being sacfrificed to further the cause of secession. Or at least greater devolution. Who knows?
  • OK, here it is. What you've all been waiting for: Spain's entry for this year's Euro(plus Australia)vision crapfest - Alfred & Amaia, with Tu Canción. I fell asleep before the end of it, so am compelled to say: No chance.
  • The latest list from The Local:- The Best Spanish Films of all Time. Maybe.
  • More seriously, here's the same journal on the macro-micro dissonance in Spain's economy that I keep banging on about. The intro: Spain has survived the economic crisis that crippled the country for almost a decade and is widely considered to be well on the road to recovery thanks to an economy that has expanded by an average of 3.3% between 2015 and 2017. But who is reaping the benefits?  'The Local' presents some stark facts about the darker side of Spain’s economic recovery:
  • Two men(egos?) who deserve each other? Piers Morgan’s world exclusive interview with Donald Trump was a towering feat of journalism, yielding scoops by the platterful and revealing the Commander-in-Chief to be thoughtful, humane, witty and a shoo-in for the manager’s job at Arsenal. Don’t take my word for it – just ask Morgan who, not satisfied with cornering Trump for a 45 minute chinwag at the Davos World Economic Forum, was also considerate enough to furnish his own running commentary on how the interrogation was going. Imagine sitting between Twitterdom’s two great self-publicists at a dinner . . .
  • A Guardian columnist says here that we have to change our approach to Fart. Until we stop what we've been doing for a year, she says, we are caught in a cycle of ineffectual reaction. And the joke is on us. Generally speaking, she't totally right.
  • In the cause of balance, below you can find as Article 2 a rather positive gloss on Fart and the achievements of his first year. From the right-of-centre Daily Telegraph.
The Gender Wars
  • Who could argue with this sentiment from Libby Purves in The (also right-of-centre) Times : If we want better men, let’s start with boys. For young males, society prizes aggressive sexuality and grabby materialism over old-fashioned honour and chivalry. That might not be true of all cultures, of course. Even in Europe alone.
Social Media
  • The war seems to be heating up . . . 
  1. Ministers in the UK have been urged to force social media companies to crack down on online grooming after police revealed that they have investigated more than 1,300 allegations of children being targeted in breach of a new law. 
  2. Facebook is announcing a transparency drive to update its privacy controls, following scrutiny in Europe over how it handles user information. It will for the first time publish a set of privacy principles, offer users a “privacy check-up” and create a new data control portal, in response to incoming European data privacy laws.
  3. More than 110 child-health advocates have called on Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to pull the firm’s Messenger Kids app aimed at under 13s, warning of the dangers of social media for children.
  • As many as 20% of Galician women say they don't plan to have kids. Which is a bit of a surprise.
  • Good to see from a letter to the Voz de Galicia that I'm not the only one to observe that drivers  here have no idea how to negotiate a roundabout. Nor any understanding of what the latest guidance is.
Gender Wars
  • Time to stick my neck so far out that my head is way above the parapet . . . Feeling that some women take the stance that: I demand the right to do whatever I like to titillate you but I deny you the right to be titillated, I asked my two adult daughters whether they thought it was inappropriate for me to ask whether it was ever necessary for a woman in the public eye to show cleavage. Rather to my surprise, both of them said it wasn't an inappropriate question. And then it occurred to me that I'd never seen either Queen Elizabeth or Queen Letizia doing this. Don't get me wrong - I'm an admirer of cleavage; it's just that I find the posturing of very under-clad women to be a bit hard to take. As far as I'm concerned, they can keep the cleavage, so long as they aren't . . . well, incongruous. Some might even say hypocritical.
  • The Gypsy Kings are back on the road again. If you fancy a bit of Franco-Spanish gypsy flamenco, click here for UK dates later this year.
Today's Cartoon


1. The 14 best places to visit in Spain: The Times.

Note: I have deleted the hotel recommendations, as being probably not very objective . . .

Madrid has really revamped itself in the past couple of years. The Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums have all got bigger and better, while the centre of the city is smartening up with new boutiques, delis, cafés and gastrobars opening up every week. It’s perfect for a culture-rich long weekend or city break, with great food and a lively atmosphere at night. Madrid may be cold in winter – it is one of Europe’s highest capital cities, after all – but the sky is usually blue and the sunshine strong enough to allow visitors to sit at a pavement café sipping a vermut.

Barcelona is a patchwork of architectural styles, displaying dark, Gothic façades next to the harlequin buildings of the Modernistas and the skyline-piercing constructions of Jean Nouvel or Herzog and de Meuron. A day spent admiring them can be topped off with a sundowner on one of the city’s seven beaches before dinner at any number of Michelin-starred gastronomic temples or humble, family-run tapas bars. Barcelona has a relaxed pace, months of endless sunshine, unbeatable food – with the cultural and design clout of almost any city in the cold north.

The Costa Brava is one of the most romantic, gorgeous, unspoilt stretches of coast in Europe. Gloriously wild in parts and tastefully manicured in others, the Costa has some of the finest Blue Flag beaches in Europe, broad and sandy stretches to elegant horseshoe bays and secluded smugglers’ coves. You’ll also find wonderful, independent hotels and exceptional food. In fact this stretch of the coast is a foodie’s paradise and Catalonia – where the Costa Brava lies – has one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-starred chefs in Spain, not to mention superb, locally produced wines.

Valencia: A decade of bold development has given Spain’s third-largest city some of the most striking architecture in the country, adding to the wealth of elegant Art Nouveau buildings that line the streets, as well as Gothic and Renaisssance monuments. With dynamic museums, a flourishing restaurant scene, lively nightlife, great shops and miles of beach, Valencia is bursting with Mediterranean exuberance. And a walkable centre means you can drift from the medieval monuments in golden stone to the avenues lined with elegant buildings, stopping at pavement cafés along the way.

Cantabria: Ask any Cantabrian and they’ll proudly tell you the big secret to their beloved land’s success: "In summer we hit the beach, and in winter we go on mountain adventures". It’s this unique combination of landscapes and lifestyles – of breathtaking coast, quiet country, deep valleys, majestic mountains and characterful seaside towns – fused with fantastically fresh food and tremendous historical riches that makes this tiny region of northern Spain such a pleasure to explore. And yet, by Spanish standards, Cantabria remains relatively undeveloped, apart from the odd minor resort area here and there.

Andalucia: Divided from the rest of the country by the natural boundary of the Sierra Morena, Spain's southernmost region is larger in area than the Netherlands, stretching from the Atlantic in the west to the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada and the arid landscape of Almería in the east. Andalucia has more than 500 miles of coastline with a surprising variety of beaches. On the Costa de la Luz on the Atlantic, La Antilla has 14 miles of golden sand, while the coves of the Costa Tropical on the Mediterranean are flanked by groves of mangoes, avocados and custard apples. The 700 years of Moorish civilisation left a splendid cultural legacy, not only in the great cities of Seville, Córdoba and Granada, but all over the region.

Seville: Compact, rich in history and famous for its flamenco, tapas bars and orange trees, Seville is an ideal short break destination. Stay in the city’s old town to explore the cobbled streets of the Santa Cruz quarter and the breathtaking Alcázar Palace. Soak up the atmosphere on the banks of the Guadalquivir, and admire the views from the ancient cathedral tower and recently opened Parasol Metropol. The influence of the city's Moorish past and Catholic present is visible everywhere, most strikingly in the world's largest cathedral and the Giralda minaret, an exquisite example of Islamic architecture.

Malaga: Eating just-caught sardines by the sea is one of life’s great simple pleasures, and the beaches either side of Malaga are the perfect place to do it – particularly after a morning at the Picasso and Carmen Thyssen museums. Unlike some Spanish cities, it does not wind down in summer, and is particularly lively during the Malaga Fair in mid-August, when even the most reserved visitors might find themselves joining the locals for a twirl in the streets. Although there is plenty to see and do, Malaga is really a place to kick back and just enjoy the laidback Mediterranean vibe.

Marbella: Celebrities have always flocked to this sunspot (at 300 days a year, it's a dead cert for topping up the Eurotan), with its swanky designer emporia and megayachts in the harbour at neighbouring Puerto Banus. Marbella is as realista as it gets; it is where Old Spain collides with New Spain, and the result couldn't be more fascinating.

Granada: Autumn and spring are the best seasons to visit Granada, which can get fiercely hot in summer and bitterly cold in winter – although the sight of snow glittering in the sunlight on the Sierra Nevada behind the Alhambra is well worth wrapping up warmly for. October is perfect for strolling through the intricately decorated rooms and voluptuous gardens of the Alhambra, created by the Nasrid sultans, the last Islamic dynasty to rule in Andalucia. Afterwards, wander down into the Realejo district, where a wealth of Renaissance and Baroque monuments were built following the expulsion of the Moors. Now the narrow streets are packed with tapas bars, too.

San Sebastian: It's impossible not to fall in love with San Sebastián. The food alone, in the bars groaning with tapas, here known as pintxos, and the many Michelin-starred restaurants, is the stuff of obsession. Factor in three bewitching beaches – broad sweeps of golden sand fringed by the clear waters of the Cantabrian Sea – alluring Art Nouveau architecture, pulse-quickening panoramas, exhilarating walks, plus one of the world's most glamorous film festivals, and prepare to become besotted.

Bilbao: This confident, bustling little city – small enough to walk around – is now an international art hotspot thanks to Frank Gehry’s titanium masterpiece, the Museo Guggenheim. The less striking Museo de Bellas Artes also houses some of the finest art in Spain. The rejuvenated port nestles in the green folds of the Euskadi’s coastal mountains on the Bay of Biscay. Besides the exciting new architecture of Bilbao’s renaissance, there is a beautiful medieval quarter, the Casco Viejo, on the east bank of the Nervión river – the heart of the city. And the food is sensational. Forget tapas – the Basque version, pintxos, are epic in variety and taste, with a strong piscine influence.

La Rioja: Spain has 69 officially recognised wine production regions spread all over the peninsula, and visiting wineries is an excellent way of discovering little-known parts of the country. La Rioja, the most famous wine area, is also worth visiting for its food and spectacular countryside. Tour through the famous vineyards and villages of La Rioja and sample a variety of wines from nearby estates before venturing to the charming village of Ezcaray for lunch in the Michelin-Starred El Portal restaurant.

Pamplona: Ernest Hemingway’s account of the running of the bulls in The Sun Also Rises turned Pamplona into one of the best-known cities in the world – for one week a year. But outside the booze-fuelled craziness of the San Fermin festival in July, the mood changes dramatically. For the rest of the year, this elegant northern Spanish city is a different prospect. It’s lively enough – especially when the 30,000 students are in residence – but Pamplona’s lovely old town, its stunning vistas and city centre parks and gardens allow you to dictate the pace.

2. Donald Trump has turned out to be a pragmatist who aims to make America great – at any cost: Tim Stanley

In Tuesday's State of the Union, Donald Trump will tell Congress that America is doing great. Amazing. Better than ever. It’s funny how a country can go from “terrible” to “beautiful” in one year, but you don’t have to buy the hype to concede that what was once campaign rhetoric has turned into policy – even delivery. The better we know Trump, the more substance we find. His America First agenda isn’t nice, but it is rational and coherent. And it has profound implications for the very nature of the presidency.

We saw some of Trump’s potential in the Piers Morgan interview this weekend, in which Morgan used shameless flattery to get his subject to open up – like a delicate flower. Here was a Trump we could imagine winning an election: charming, self-aware and, most importantly of all, enthusiastic. An effective salesman believes in the product heart and soul.

Trump has graduated from selling himself to selling America, and he judges success not in terms of equality or diversity or arcs of progress, but in jobs and stock market performance. He is a Darwinian. Life is a series of deals in which there are winners and losers, and his goal is to make America win more.

During the election, he sold this as withdrawal of military forces and protection of blue-collar jobs. In office, he has not only discovered that the Washington constituency for that kind of nationalism is very small but also that American greatness is better measured by its position in the global arena. How much investment can it attract? How much power can it project? Trump is trying to radically restructure the US government in pursuit of these objectives.

As I said, ruthless pragmatism is not necessarily nice. Take foreign policy. The Islamic State appears to have been beaten back to the margins of the Middle East, while an anti-Iran alliance is emerging between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Trump’s strategy is to pick a side, arm it to the teeth and get it to fight on your behalf. America and its friends are winning, but that means there are losers, too.

The US and UK have thrown their support behind Saudi in its repugnant war in Yemen: at least 10,000 civilians are reportedly dead and three million have been displaced. Trump has also accelerated Barack Obama’s reliance upon aerial warfare (there were over 8,000 strikes in Syria alone in 2017) and changed the rules of engagement to speed things up. In the past, everything had to be authorised by the Oval Office. Trump has unleashed the generals.

There’s a story, reported in The Washingtonian, that General Mattis once rang the President to ask for permission to attack a Syrian village. Trump said: “Why are you calling me? I don’t know where this village is at.” Mattis explained that this was what they used to do under Obama. Trump asked who suggested the attack and Mattis replied that it was a first class major. Trump said: “Why do you think I know more about that than he does?” Then he hung up.

Trump is deregulating war. He’s pursuing what Steve Bannon, his former chief adviser, called “the deconstruction of the administrative state”: get bureaucracy out of the way and let generals and businessmen get on with their jobs.

Trump overestimates the scale of his success. He claims to be cutting 1,579 domestic regulation. But hundreds were not going to happen or were already dead; one calculation puts the figure of deregulatory steps taken closer to 67. But those 67 matter. Gone are certain controls on gun sales, mining, fracking and consumer rights. And these reforms go hand-in-glove with a tax bill that could transform the US economy.

For decades, well paid jobs have fled abroad. Trump is bribing employers to bring them back. The corporate tax rate will fall from 35 to 21 per cent. Any money returning to the US will be lightly taxed. And new purchases of buildings and equipment will enjoy generous expensing. Trump isn’t rejecting globalisation; he’s trying to do it on America’s terms – just as he insists he isn’t technically anti-immigration, but wants America to be able to decide who comes in. There will be a wall with Mexico, says Trump, but “there’ll be a big beautiful door in it” for anyone with skills.

Is Trumpism working? Well, the economy is doing rather better than predicted. When Trump won the election, liberal economist Paul Krugman said the stock market would “never” recover. The Dow is actually up 44%. Growth is solid.

Black unemployment is the lowest since records began. Apple has announced it will repatriate $250 billion currently overseas and create 20,000 new jobs. Fiat Chrysler is building a new car factory in Michigan worth 2,500 jobs. And, yes, Trump’s tax cuts are aimed at the rich, but roughly 250 firms have let the wealth trickle down in pay and benefits. Some 125,000 workers at Disney are getting a one-time payment of $1,000. Chrysler’s giving away bonuses of $2,000. It’s like a cash grab on a game show.

The good times pose a problem for the Democrats. With the economy and the Middle East going Trump’s way, the most powerful weapon they’re left with is moral disgust. There’s plenty of it out there to tap. The populist president is surprisingly unpopular – he can only attract the approval of around 40 per cent of voters – and many Americans who like the substance of his programme cannot stand Trump as a person. But here’s the million-dollar question: is Middle America really going to vote for decency over prosperity?

The man who stands before Congress on Tuesday night makes for an unusual president. Most politicians who enter the White House succumb to its spirituality, its myth of moral authority. Trump has remained immune – and that’s one thing I admire about him. For too long the presidency has been allowed to accrue imperial powers, while the president himself – no matter how stupid or devious – gets to act like he’s the Pope.

Trump doesn’t bother. His take on the presidency is transactional: “You hired me to do a job, I will do it.” If he fails, and maybe he will, then he’ll lose in 2020. If he succeeds, that means re-election, and a shift in expectations of how the government should be run and what it is for – what the very purpose of America is. Moral beacon or land of opportunity? Perhaps a combination of both is possible, but right now Trump is turning his country into a shining casino on a hill.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 29.1.18

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.

  • Yes, The Constitutional Court has said that Sr P must appear in the Catalan parliament in person on Tuesday - not via a TV screen - and that, first, he must get a judge's permission to stand for election. The court declined to give an immediate decision on Madrid's claim that his candidature is illegal. That will take another 6 days, apparently. At least, I think that's what's happening. 
  • News of one of the oddest of Spain's numerous strange fiestas. The point is made therein that: In Spain, as in Poland, Jewishness is a protean concept. If like me, you were foxed by 'protean', it means 'readily taking on varied shapes, forms, or meanings. Exhibiting considerable variety or diversity'. Very true.
  • Can you believe that Fart's lawyers – although convinced he won't be hung out to dry for collusion with Russia – are desperately trying to stop him testifying before Robert Mueller because they know he is “incapable of telling the truth” and fear he'll lay himself open to prosecution for perjury. Well, yes, I guess that really is credible. As someone has said: It’s not that he knowingly lies but that he occupies an alternate reality. What he says and believes is often different from the demonstrable facts of what happened. He creates his own truth. I once knew a woman like that. It takes time to realise (and believe) what's going on. 
  • In all fairness, I've added below Article 1, which explains why we'd be better off ignoring Fart. The logic doesn't apply to me, of course.
The UK
  • The unhappy Richard North highlights the irony of the mad Hard Brexiteers ensuring there'll almost certainly be a long transition period under a Soft Brexit. This is because they've wilfully ignored the complexity of the consequences of any form of Brexit. As he puts it: Having contributed to screwing up any rational approach to Brexit, Rees Mogg and his pals have contributed to the situation where, despite leaving the EU, we will remain essentially still in it. You couldn't make it up. Little chance for a Common Sense Brexit now, it seems. But I haven't completely abandoned hope.
  • Talking about common sense . . . For those in the UK watching events around that sleazy Presidents' dinner – possibly with a sense of disbelief – Here's one (female) commentator's explanation for it: The furore was predictable in that our[British] society has become grotesquely overheated about sex. The great and the good seems to have lost track of what matters, such that public life is now all about showing how much you deplore male lasciviousness. . . . In the wake of the now farcical #metoo and #timesup campaigns, being seen as very cross indeed about sexual harassment has become the most important thing in the world. She goes on to excoriate those virtue-signalling charities which have returned donations needed by, inter alia, very sick kids, ending with the peroration: When children’s lives are at stake, I can’t help but feel that we’re starting to pay a very real, and tragic price, for this madness. See the full Article 2 below.
The English Language
  • I came across this neologism yesterday: It is chalk full of plenty of other helpful information. I'm guessing the writer meant 'chock full' and wonder how commonplace this error is.
Social Media
  • A surprising renegade explains here why Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple need to be broken up. Read it and join the revolution.
  • Galician travellers are now said to comprise 11% of those using Oporto airport down in Portugal, which is lower than I expected. At dinner on Friday night, I asked Galician friends when they thought the Xunta would see sense and amalgamate our 3 underperforming airports into one useful international facility. The answer was essentially the 12th of Never. As I say, Spanish 'localism' at its very best/worst.
  • Gallegos represent 6% of the 309 people currently being tried for corruption in Spain. Which, as it happens, is exactly the proportion of our population to that of Spain as a whole. Mostly politicians and civil servants, I guess.
  • Another of our daily beggars haunting the city centre is an old guy who's bent over on 2 sticks, bearing on his chest a sign that compensates for the fact his speech is incomprehendible. He used to drag a puppy around with him but stopped the day after I'd told him I'd seen him hitting it with one of his sticks. Yesterday, I was told he'd been seen outside the dog pound, borrowing puppies for his sympathy shtick. This fits with my suspicions but, again, could be an urban myth.
  • Talking to my mother last night about her childhood in her parents' pub in Liverpool, I was surprised to hear her mention the word rotunda. This means 'roundabout/circle' in Spanish and I've been known to go on about how local drivers (mis)negotiate them. But my mother was referring to a cinema. Or 'picture house', as she called it. When I told her of the modern meaning of the word, she told me that, yes, it had been on the side of a roundabout. This is the theatre Google threw up but I'm not sure it's the one my mother talked of.
  • Talking of past times . . . Yesterday I was reading of a famous English anti-Semite of the 1930s. Here he is referring to some outrageous statement he'd made at a public meeting. I wonder if it reminds any reader of the same person who occurred to me: I said that I had many friends who were Jews, and some I admired tremendously, but that I regretted that in this Communist movement there were many Jews. There was no intention of an attack on the Jews as such, but a reference to the component influences in the Communist movement. No one abhors the treatment of the Jews in certain countries more than I do. No?? What if I add: I am the least anti-Semitic person there is? Or change 'Jews' for 'Blacks' and 'antisemitic' for 'racist'?
  • Who TF is Bruno Mars?
Today's Cartoon


Why waste your energy on raging at Trump?: Clare Foges

The anger directed at the US president could be better used to further causes closer to home

In Great Expectations Pip loves Estella “against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement”. Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof rues that living with someone you love is lonely “if the one that you love doesn’t love you”. Byron wailed, “it be my lot/To strongly, wrongly, vainly love thee still”. We have heard much on the agony and indignity of unrequited love but what of the agony and indignity of unrequited hate? What of the corrosive internal curdling when the object of our loathing not only fails to loathe us back but feels nothing for us or our opinions but indifference?

For Pip, Maggie and Byron we can substitute every Briton who last night fulminated, raged and tweeted through Donald Trump’s interview with Piers Morgan, and who have made hating the man their daily hobby over the past 18 months. With some weariness the president confirmed what we may have guessed: when it comes to the endless vituperation from his British critics, he just doesn’t care. In his own words, “I don’t care. I don’t care. It’s just one of those things, I don’t say anything. You know why? I don’t care.” The hate is unrequited. The hate barely registers as a blip on the radar. Yes, he may have been acting cool to preserve his pride. Yet ultimately, why should he care? It would be understandable if he was reluctant to visit Britain if he expected a hostile reception, but would missing the trip keep him awake at night? We are not, after all, the ones who will pass judgment on his presidency at the ballot box in less than three years’ time. We are not his electorate.

Sometimes it can seem that large chunks of the British public forget this. I know people who follow American politics more closely than our own — who moan at the latest filibuster, vilify Sean Hannity of Fox News and refer to Capitol Hill as though it is down the road. They have obsessively followed Trump v Comey, Trump v Bannon, Trump v Mueller. The presidential preoccupation has infected our media coverage, with American politics taking up more and more airtime. Over the past year I have marvelled at the number of times largely irrelevant machinations thousands of miles away have made the news here.

Of course, we all enjoy the spectacle of American politics. Compared with the present state of dishwater-dull Westminster, Washington is Hollywood. It is Air Force One, helicopters on the White House lawn, helmet-haired news anchors with machine-gun delivery. American leaders can give spine-tingling, sweeping speeches about the winds of change blowing from the mountains to the deserts, in a way that British leaders can’t: “The winds of change are blowing from Accrington to Bournemouth!”

So I upbraid no one for enjoying the soap opera of US politics. What palls is the British hate affair with Donald Trump. It palls because Trump-haters have convinced themselves that they are genuinely contributing to a better world. By retweeting some presidential blooper and adding a satirical “Sad!”, they can feel a buzz of self-righteousness: I am taking on the enemy of the world! I am on the side of the angels against Bogeyman No 1!

The truth is that it is all the most monumental waste of time. It is so circular. It goes nowhere. The tweeters are preaching to the long-ago converted. Yes, those across the Atlantic who protest and campaign against Trump might be able to affect what the president thinks and does but people in Britain tweeting, ranting or rioting against him won’t make a blind bit of difference.

What have the 1,863,708 signatures on a petition to deny Trump a state visit achieved? Nothing but the slight cooling of relations with a nation that will be a vital trading partner after Brexit. Our collected outrage might force Theresa May to make some mealy-mouthed hint at her displeasure with Trump (as with the Britain First retweets) but this, sadly, is unlikely to move the dial on anything in Washington.

The Trump-haters could argue that international condemnation might at least awaken the senses of the American people and make them reconsider their options at the next election. Somehow I doubt it. Trump’s isolationist, go-it-alone instincts don’t spring from nowhere but from deep in the American psyche. Many in America believe much of the world hates their country and are understandably defensive about it.

If there are mobs on Whitehall hurling eggs at the presidential motorcade, then sure, east coast liberals may think, “I told you so!”, but for those in the rust belt it might be taken as evidence that, finally, here is a president whose willingness to put America first has earned him enemies around the world. Indeed, Trump often seems to welcome the vilification as a badge of honour. On New Year’s Day he wished his “enemies” and “haters” a “Happy and Healthy New Year”. The tweeters and petition-signers in Britain are playing into his hands.

So, Trump-haters: lose no more hours, days or weeks in railing against a man whose actions you cannot influence and whose voters you will not convert. Unfollow him on Twitter. Release yourself from the daily updates. Expend your energy where it can make a difference: campaigning to change policy at home, getting as interested in your backyard as you are in the Beltway, raising awareness of causes you can affect. Why spend the next few years hysterically, hyperbolically hating the democratically elected leader of another country? It is someone else’s fight. It is a waste of our time.


The Presidents Club furore shows how overheated about sex we have become:  Zoe Strimpel

I don’t have children so I can’t be 100 per cent sure. But I’m pretty sure that were my child gravely ill and in need of costly treatment, my main concern would be whether she or he was getting the best treatment – not the niceties of how the hospital funded that treatment.

If my child’s life was in danger, I can confidently say that if the hospital needed more money to provide the best treatment (are there any state-funded hospitals that don’t?), I’d damn well want it to find that money by whatever means.

The nation’s leading children’s hospital, Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), has shown that it holds a different view.

Between 2009 and 2016, GOSH received £530,000 from organisers of Presidents Club, the now-disgraced (and shut-down) all-male fundraising dinner. But last week, as the sex scandal that destroyed the annual gala gathered force, GOSH melodramatically sent back all the monies raised by it – as did, among others, the Evelina London Children’s Hospital, which had accepted the pledge of £650,000 to fund a high-dependency space within a new intensive care unit, whose construction is already under way.

In my view, the only plausible checks on funds where children’s lives are at stake are murder, torture, human trafficking or any other systematic brutality. The Presidents Club money hadn’t been made through any of these. It had, rather, come from the overstimulated loins of 300 podgy businessmen at a dinner perving over 150 hostesses paid to parade around in short dresses, corset belts and high heels.

Since the sleazy dinner hit the headlines last week, with tales of the kind of bad behaviour that one might expect to accompany such an event, the response has been both bizarre and utterly predicable.

Bizarre, in that an alien visiting Britain for a day might wonder why a dinner in the ballroom of a posh central London hotel in which nobody died or was wounded or even violently attacked was being treated with the seriousness of, say, a hostage situation (if the alien knew about hostages) or the collapse of a government (if the alien knew about governments).

The furore was predictable in that our society has become grotesquely overheated about sex. The great and the good seems to have lost track of what matters, such that public life is now all about showing how much you deplore male lasciviousness.

To me, it seems clear that the charities’ refusal of the Presidents Club money was not about women’s rights in any real sense. It was about reputation management and image alone.

Not even the children who could benefit from the donations won the day here; a smarter approach, surely, would have been to demand a doubling of the donation. As a friend sensibly put it: “Why not hit the Presidents Club men where it hurts? Their wallets.”

Thankfully, money is not all to be lost. At the end of last week, the resourceful City chief Dame Helena Morrissey announced an alternative glamorous fundraising event to recoup the money sent back – this one with a 50:50 gender split.

What I find disconcerting is the way charities such as GOSH seem to be acting through vogue or fear, rather than sense. In 2016, 60 charities received donations from the President’s Club. The money was perfectly fine then; it seemed to be generally accepted that sexy ladies paid to be sexy have always made (and no doubt will always make) the City go round. But in the wake of the now farcical #metoo and #timesup campaigns, being seen as very cross indeed about sexual harassment has become the most important thing in the world.

The grim and ironic results of this obsession were neatly illustrated by reports that a small charity felt it had no choice but to return its £100,000 Presidents Club donation – the result being that it is to cut three members of staff.

The truth is, I struggle to see what all the fuss is about. Clearly, many of the men behaved boorishly – as one might expect of an all-bloke shindig – and those who crossed the line seriously should pay a price. But we seem to forget that for the hostesses who chose to take this job – skimpy dress code included – non-violent lechery may have been an occupational hazard they deemed worthwhile for the money.

It’s all very well for the political elite, such as Margot James, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, to drawl with disgust on Newsnight, as she did on Wednesday night, about the ghastliness of the “women paraded around in the sort-of paid-for hostess role”. Would Ms James have preferred them not to be paid?

Run! Hide! The predatory male, seemingly coming to a dinner or a party near you (warning: he may well be wearing a suit…), means that the great and the good must scramble to distance themselves from anything that looks seedy. Let them. But when children’s lives are at stake, I can’t help but feel that we’re starting to pay a very real, and tragic price, for this madness.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 28.1.18

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.

  • Catalan MPs will vote on Tuesday on whether to re-elect Sr Puigdemont as their president. Madrid has been pulling out the stops to prevent this but suffered a major setback when Spain’s State Council rejected its plan to dispute Sr P's s candidacy at the Constitutional Court. Undaunted, Madrid has now taken this step and we await the next move in this farce. Unless this was it: Last night Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled that Sr P could be sworn in only if he was physically present and that he would require a judge’s permission to attend. Said the Speaker of the Catalan Parliament: It seems comical but in the end it’s very grave. Amen to that.
  • As tourists turn away from the USA – one wonders why – Spain's numbers continue to soar, and the country has now replaced the USA as number 2 in the global rankings, after France.
  • I think I might have mentioned this bizarre saga before.
The EU
  • New EU Mifid II rules - intended to make the real cost of investment funds more transparent - have resulted in an unclear system, with costs that cannot be compared and more confusion for investors. Well, what do you expect when a committee of 28/27 takes decisions on very complex issues?
  • President Trump’s ambition to expand the American economy at a pace not seen since the years of George W Bush suffered a setback yesterday when an official estimate showed that growth was slower than expected at the end of 2017. Annual growth was 2.3% last year, below Mr Trump’s goal of at least 3%. I guess we can now expect Fart to give us a totally different take for 2017 plus unbounded optimism for 2018. Reality rarely fazes him. If ever.
  • Is this why there's so much unhappiness in the USA? And possibly elsewhere, especially in the Anglosphere.
The UK
  • The head of politics at Surrey University, Italian Roberta Guerrina, claims that Brexit is the greatest modern-day threat to gender equality and women’s reproductive rights. I hadn't realised it was that bad.
  • Years ago, I heard a BBC podcast on towns in China which had been created purely to produce genuine copies of Old Masters. One of these - Dafen Oil Painting Village - has now decided there's more to be made from China's burgeoning middle classes via original works.
  • Talking of Chinese progress . . .  Tech giants of the East, not the US, are now the world rulers-in-waiting. Until recently, I was among those who assumed that the world would be divided up in the following way: the titans of Silicon Valley — Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google — would take everywhere except China, which would be dominated by Chinese rivals Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (BAT). But what if it is BAT that takes everywhere except America? Well, we'll soon know, as this is what is happening, possibly assisted by Fart's intention to make America great again by concentrating on the home market. See the full Sunday Times article below.
The Spanish Language
  • I came across the word cagadito yesterday and assumed it meant 'little shit'. But, no. It does come from cagar (to defecate) but means 'very similar to'. Or 'lookalike', perhaps. However, the related noun cagado means: coward/fearful/gutless. Researching this on the site of the Royal Academy gave me the chance to see all the (malsonantes) expressions in everyday Spanish involving said cagar. En diez, en la leche, en el mar, etc., etc. Not to mention: Que te cagas. 'Very good/excellent', says the RAE. As in Un coche que te cagas. A car which makes you shit yourself. See what the South Americans mean about rude Spanish discourse?
Nutters Corner
  • The American guy who didn't actually get off the ground in his homemade rocket last year, says he'll try again on February 3. Well, maybe
Social Media
  • America’s tech giants were subjected to a severe bashing over the course of the week, the latest barrage of criticism that has seen them become public enemy number one, the pariahs of the corporate world. Facebook and Google insist they are listening and ready to co-operate but beyond the sound bites there is little evidence of willingness to address the criticism, even less a sense that they know how to fight back. Calls for regulation are now coming from every angle. It is only a matter of time before an era of impunity for tech’s big guns comes to an end. Join the revolution!
  • As I've said, it's very unlikely the man accused of murdering a local woman (El Chicle) could ever get a fair trial in front of a jury. The local media, at least, is dogged in recording every 'related' event. Including the phone calls and visits to him of his wife and daughter. All rather nauseating, in truth. But not exclusive to Spain, of course.
  • The city had more than 117k visitors last year. Oddly, the final quarter was the one most up on the previous year. The very good weather that might well be sign of AGW?
  • My blatant attempt to get more readers on Google plus has had immediate impact. Having fallen to 57 from a peak of 58 readers, it's now reached 56, Bkoody good job I'm not making money from this blog.
Today's Cartoon


Jack of all online trade trumps Davos Donald: Niall Ferguson

Tech giants of the East, not the US, are now the world rulers-in-waiting

The most interesting man at Davos was not He Who Must Not Be Named. (In the style of the Harry Potter books, I’m going to omit the name of the Dark Lord, otherwise known as the president of the United States. To be frank, I’m bored with him.) No, the most interesting man at this year’s World Economic Forum was a rather scrawny 53-year-old former English teacher from Hangzhou in eastern China whose business is poised to take over the world economy.

Jack Ma is the founder and chairman of Alibaba, the ecommerce company that you probably think of as the Chinese equivalent of Amazon. You’re wrong. I’ll get to why you’re wrong in a minute. But first: Jack.

Silicon Valley has its fair share of egotists, but none can match Ma. If you didn’t catch it, watch his immensely self-indulgent yet captivating martial arts movie, which was one of the pop-cultural highlights of last year. Titled Gong Shou Dao (The Art of Attack and Defence), the 22-minute film features t’ai chi enthusiast Ma battling a succession of martial arts masters including former wushu champions Jet Li and Donnie Yen and retired sumo champion Asashoryu.

This is what being worth $43bn (£30bn) makes possible: you can hire the best cinema choreographers in the business — such as Yuen Woo-ping, who co-ordinated the fight scenes in The Matrix and Kill Bill films — and get them to make your home movie. It’s wildly over the top, of course, but can you imagine even Elon Musk having the chutzpah to do that?

Two weeks ago I visited Hangzhou and took a trip to the sprawling campus that is Alibaba’s headquarters. In the heart of it, surrounded by brand-new office blocks, is an incongruous black-roofed compound built in the ancient Chinese style. “That’s Jack’s office,” I was told.

As a boy growing up in the impoverished, chaotic China of the Cultural Revolution, Ma Yun (to give him his Chinese name) studied English, cycling miles from his home to meet the few English-speakers at the international hotel in Hangzhou, offering them free guided tours to build up his language skills. Yet that did not make him especially employable in the China of the 1980s. He was rejected by the police. He was even rejected by KFC. He applied to Harvard — 10 times. More rejections. He was reduced to lecturing in English at a local college.

In early 1995, Ma took a trip to America and had his first encounter with the internet. Unlike Jeff Bezos, who started Amazon to sell books online, Ma from the outset envisioned an online marketplace for everything. He ran the name Alibaba past a San Francisco waitress. “What do you know about Alibaba?” he asked her, to which she replied: “Open sesame.” (Presumably if she’d said “Forty thieves” it would have been back to the drawing board.)

So what else makes Alibaba different from Amazon? Two things. First, Ma moved faster than his American counterpart, Bezos, to diversify his business. In particular, Alibaba pioneered electronic payments, establishing Alipay to allow online purchases with no transaction fees.

Today few things impress the western visitor to China more than the ubiquity of electronic payments. Everyone pays for everything with smartphones. Although Tencent’s WeChat messaging app now offers a rival service, it was Alipay that blazed the trail, not only with online payments but also with money-market funds (Yu’e Bao) and a growing range of online financial services, now spun off as Ant Financial. One day I’ll fully understand why America fell behind in financial technology. Maybe it was regulation. But whatever made Alipay ubiquitous in China in a way that PayPal isn’t in America, Ma was surely a part of it.

As an investment, Alibaba has been a dream. If you bought stock in its 2014 New York initial public offering, you’ve tripled your money. True, the past year was a great one to own the stock rose 67%. But Alibaba’s share price doubled.

The second thing that sets Alibaba apart from Amazon is the sheer scale and speed of growth of the Chinese ecommerce market. Notice, too, that Bezos — especially since he acquired The Washington Post — is at daggers drawn with Him Who Must Not Be Named. Ma, on the other hand, couldn’t be on better terms with Xi Jinping.

“The political and legal system of the future is inseparable from the internet, inseparable from big data,” he told a Communist Party commission last year. Technology, he went on, would soon make it possible to pre-empt criminal acts. “Bad guys won’t even be able to walk into the square.” Put differently: if the Chinese government wants data from Alibaba, Jack’s not about to say no.

All this matters a great deal because one of the implications of You Know Who’s “America first” policy is that the rest of the world is up for grabs. In his (by his own standards) bland speech at Davos, the Dark Lord repeated his sales pitch to global businesses to invest in the United States. His administration’s slashing of the US corporate tax rate and sweeping deregulation mean that many probably will. However, if multinationals such as Apple are going to move production back to America, what does that imply for the rest of the world?

Ma has an answer to that question. “Ecommerce is not for big companies or developed countries,” he said. “It’s for developing countries, young people and small businesses. We should not let world global trade be controlled by 60,000 big companies. We should make technologies and policies to encourage 6m, 16m or 60m businesses . . . Alibaba will make it happen.”

That’s smart. Every emerging market in the world lags behind China when it comes to ecommerce, from the nuts and bolts logistics of delivering packages to the high-end application of artificial intelligence to consumer credit. Ma’s new mission is to roll out the Chinese model not in America or Europe but everywhere else.

“Five years ago,” he said at Davos, “Alibaba sent 80,000 packages to Russia and Russia’s postal system crashed.Today 1m packages go from China to Russia per day.” A similar process of expansion has taken Alibaba to India and southeast Asia.

Until recently, I was among those who assumed that the world would be divided up in the following way: the titans of Silicon Valley — Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google — would take everywhere except China, which would be dominated by Chinese rivals Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (BAT). But what if it is BAT that takes everywhere except America?

The chatter at Davos was that He Who Must Not Be Named had been put in his place by some harsh words from the billionaire investor George Soros. But for me it was Ma who offered the better riposte to “America first”. In Verdi’s opera Attila, the Roman general Ezio says to Attila: “You can have the universe, but leave Italy for me!” Perhaps unwittingly, You Know Who just made a similar offer to Ma. “You make America great again,” replies Jack, “but leave the universe to me.”

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 27.1.18

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.

  • At least one Spaniard took exception in the national media to The Times article I recently cited on how to become Spanish. His reaction is printed below, in both Spanish and (improved) Googlish. His opening salvo - totally correct - is that There's no doubt that the British envy us. They love Spain, they love our rhythm of life and they love our traditions. Despite this, there is always someone who tries to use typical English humour, full of irony and insults, to mess with Spain and the Spanish. I doubt that Sr Sanchez was really angry but, if so, it might well be that, like most Spaniards, being unfamiliar with other cultures, he doesn't really understand why foreigners - not  just the English - make these observations. Specifically, since the Spanish - when they're not being self-critical - see themselves as a noble people, they're angered and hurt when it's pointed out that some of the things they do are considered impolite - even very rude - in other cultures. That said, whenever foreigners like me who live here are asked what's the best thing about Spain, we invariably answer 'The Spanish people'. So they must be doing something right. 
  • Sanchez claims that the writer of the article - Chris  Haslam - doesn't know Spain well. I beg to differ. I suspect he does and that he also knows, like me, that the way to interest and amuse readers is not to go on about how wonderful Spain and the Spanish are - there are countless laudatory guides for this - but to write about what intrigues, amuses, impresses and irritates the writer. While regularly stressing that, despite all that, he/she loves living here. As I'm sure Haslam does.
  • The other factor at play here is that, sad to say and frequently admitted by the Spanish, they suffer from an inferiority complex. Which, by and large, the British don't. Meaning they can live with mockery/criticisms, even taking pride in them. Witness the positive reaction to How to be an Alien, which astonished its Hungarian author, George Mikes. Who'd feared being lynched after his first edition. For comments like this one: Continental people have sex lives; the English have hot-water bottles.
  • By the way 1: When I showed the Sanchez article to the owner of my regular bar last night, she vehemently endorsed the observations on her fellow Spaniards. 
  • BTW 2: Even Spanish-speaking South Americans are shocked at the 'robustness' of Spanish discourse. 
The EU
  • Who would have thought that: The French are the world’s biggest consumers and producers of 'Nutella', despite it being largely composed of sugar and palm oil?
  • Given that he's a compulsive liar and a superlative-obsessive, the important question arises: What percentage discount should we routinely apply to Fart's statements? Possibly it depends on what he's talking/rambling about. Me, I'd start with 100%
  • Some discount examples:-
  • Fart at Davos 
- He talked about the voices of the forgotten - a constant theme here among the "super-haves" who are coming to a creeping realisation that the system has to change if faith in the capitalist system is to endure. 
- America, Mr Trump said, did not want a trade war, it wanted fair trade. Which may come as a surprise to countries like South Korea, smarting this week following the imposition of tariffs on US imports of solar panels and washing machines.
-  Larry Fink, the CEO of investment company BlackRock: America is still a trading nation, one which gains far more economically from globalisation - world trade - than it does from protectionist measures. And that brute economic truth means that Mr Trump has to play a different tune here - to the business leaders and investors who decide where to place their cash - than maybe to the left-behind voters of the US rust belt. Today, economic reality softened the president.

Nutters Corner
  • Here's another fantastically disingenuous comment from President Fart, who boasted in the 90s that the press slavishly printed every one of the many false stories he gave them: As a businessman I was always treated really well by the press… and it wasn't until I became a politician that I realised how nasty, how mean, how vicious and how fake the press can be.
  • A pastor who coiled venomous snakes round the arms and necks of his congregation has been killed by a viper he preached with. As his father was.
The Culture/Gender Wars
  • Exactly what form these take depends, of course, in which culture you're living. For example, whenever a Spanish woman puts a hand on my arm, hand or thigh when talking to me, I enjoy telling her that, in the UK, I'd be able to sue her for sexual harassment.
  • The other thing is that the experience of working with women on, say a Cadbury conveyor belt, might educate you to the fact that it's not only men who can talk and behave like men. Similarly, being a young waiter at a hen party.
  • An older (I guess) feminist has a go at younger feminists in the second article below
Social Media
  • An interesting intervention by George Soros. I hope he's right.
  • A Galician woman has come second in a Best Sandwich competition in Madrid: Her offering comprises:- Garlic Dublin prawns, Iberian bacon and fried eggs. Hardly nouvelle cuisine, then.
  • The retaining wall around the first hostel that camino pilgrims come to in Pontevedra is as high as the one opposite my gate. So probably equally illegal. One thing's for sure: it's falling down. Said pilgrims are well advised to cross the road at this point.
  • Galician companies are reported to be paying 30% more for their energy than their German counterparts/competitors. I guess it makes sense to someone.
  • Have you noticed that this post is replete with Hungarians called George?
  • Possibly some useful advice on protecting your computer from Meltdown and Spectre.
Today's Cartoon

From The Times again:-


1. El diario británico ‘The Times’ se burla de todos los españoles: Rafael Sánchez

El diario británico ‘The Times’ se burla de todos los españoles

No hay ninguna duda de que los británicos nos envidian. Les encanta España, les encanta nuestro ritmo de vida y les encanta nuestras tradiciones.

Pese a ello, siempre hay alguno que trata de usar el típico humor inglés, lleno de ironía e insultos maquillados con humor para meterse con España y los españoles.

En este caso ha sido el diario ‘The Times’, el encargado de publicar un artículo escrito por Chris Haslam, en el que este periodista no duda en llenar su artículo de tópicos españoles, dejando claro que de España conoce más bien poco.

En el artículo, Chris Haslam asegura que los primeros pasos para convertirse en español es “aprender el idioma, ponerse moreno y saber diferenciar las tapas de los pintxos“, aunque reconoce que “queda mucho para que puedas hacerte pasar por otra persona que no sea un guiri”.

Continúa llamándonos maleducados, afirmando: “Primero, olvídate de las nociones de educación, discreción y corrección anglosajonas. Ser español significa entrar en un bar, empezar a besar y a abrazar a extraños, gritarle ‘oye’ al camarero y tirar al suelo todo lo que no puedas comer o beber.Menos los vasos. Eso es demasiado. Pero puedes tirar los ‘por favor’ y los ‘gracias’. Son muy innecesarios”.
“También tienes que desbloquear esa boca sucia. El español hablado, o más bien gritado, está lleno de obscenidades de asombrosa inventiva y conciencia anatómica, y no importa a quien le estés hablando”, escribe.

Además, destaca que todos los españoles son impuntuales: “Llegar 30 minutos tarde a cualquier lado está considerado, de hecho, bastante pronto y grosero”.

“Tienes que aprender a cómo comer. Empezar el día desayunando una tostada de sobrasada y un cortado, y no pedir mantequilla. Este es el país del aceite de oliva. Deja cualquier cosa que estés haciendo a las once de la mañana y tomate una cerveza y un bocadillo. Eso te debería bastar hasta la hora de comer, a las 14h. Vas a tomarte un menú del día de tres platos, y te llevará entre dos y tres horas. Luego échate una siesta”, sigue diciendo.

“Siguiente, tapas. Siempre podrás identificar a los británicos. Ellos son los que entran a un abarrotado bar de tapas y no pueden creerse que haya mesas libres. Eso es porque los españoles ven con desagrado las mesas. Las tapas se comen en la barra, mientras gritas al camarero y lanzas cosas al suelo. Menos los vasos no lo olvides”.

Sobre la cena, este redactor, afirma: “La hora de cenar es a las diez de la noche. Empieza con una cerveza o un vino tinto helado, porque los cócteles son para después de cenar, y asegúrate de comerte todo lo que pides. No te pases con las propinas, estate indeciso sobre los toros y, finalmente, lleva siempre tu teléfono al cuarto de baño. Esto es para: A: Para revisar los mensajes de tu amante. B: Porque todos los sensores de luz de los baños de la Península Ibérica se apagan a los cuatro segundos”.

The British Times newspaper mocks the Spanish

There is no doubt that the British envy us. They love Spain, they love our rhythm of life and they love our traditions.

Despite this, there is always someone who tries to use typical English [i. e. British] humour, full of irony and insults, to mess with Spain and the Spanish.

In this case it has been the newspaper 'The Times', which published an article written by Chris Haslam, in which this journalist does not hesitate to fill his article with Spanish topics, making it clear that he knows Spain very little.

In the article, Chris Haslam says that the first steps to becoming Spanish is to "learn the language, get brown and know how to differentiate tapas from pintxos", although he admits that "there is a lot more to do before you to pass for someone other than a guiri. "

He continues calling us rude, stating: "First, forget the notions of education[good manners], discretion and Anglo-Saxon correctness. Being Spanish means going into a bar, starting kissing and hugging strangers, yelling 'Oiga! to the waiter and throwing everything you can't eat or drink on the floor. Minus the glasses. That's excessive. But you can forget 'please' and the 'thank you'. They are very unnecessary".

"You also have to unlock your dirty mouth. Spoken, or rather shouted, spanish is full of obscenities of amazing inventiveness and anatomical awareness, and it does not matter who you are talking to", he writes.

In addition, he emphasizes that all Spaniards are unpunctual: "Arriving 30 minutes late is everywhere considered quite early and rude, in fact".

"You have to learn how to eat. Start the day having a slice of toast with sobrasada and a piece of cold meat, and don't ask for butter. This is the country of olive oil. Leave whatever you're doing at eleven o'clock in the morning and have a beer and a sandwich. That should be enough until lunchtime, at 2pm. You are going to have a three-course day menu, and it will take you two to three hours. Then take a nap", he continues.

"Next, tapas. You can always identify the British. They are the ones who enter a crowded tapas bar and can't believe there are tables free. That's because the Spaniards look on tables with displeasure. Tapas are eaten at the bar, while you yell at the waiter and throw things on the floor. But not glasses, don't forget".

About dinner, the writer says: "Dinner time is at ten o'clock at night. Start with a beer or an iced red wine, because cocktails are for after dinner, and make sure you eat everything you ask for. Don't tip, be uncertain about bullfighting and, finally, always take your phone to the bathroom. This is: A: To check your lover's messages. And B: Because all the sensors in toilets on the Iberian Peninsula turn off the lights after 4 seconds".

2. Older feminists aren't lobotomised - today's young women should show respect: Joanna Williams

Recent surveys have shown that younger women are far more likely to perceive themselves as victims of sexual harassment 

Women in revealing black dresses, matching underwear and high heeled shoes, waiting on rich and famous men at a secretive annual fundraiser has, for over three decades, passed without note. Not any more. This week, an exposé decries the sexual harassment the hostesses apparently had to endure. 

The story of the Presidents Club Charity Dinner seems to confirm what #MeToo campaigners have been telling us for the past three months: vulnerable women need protecting from sexually predatory men. There is no room in this tale of woe for women who enjoyed the glamour and excitement of the evening and wanted to make some money. In the eyes of today’s feminists, men have fun while women suffer in silence. 

Once, feminism had more confidence in the ability of women to handle themselves. “I want the woman on a train who feels a man's hand where it shouldn't be … to be able to say quite clearly, ‘Stop!’” claimed Germaine Greer this week. Not for the first time, her views have been met by outrage. The idea that women can be strong enough to challenge unwanted advances horrifies a younger generation of feminists who argue men, not women, should change their behaviour. 

With the #MeToo movement, we are moving away from sexually liberated women able to say yes - or no - to men’s advances towards the rehabilitation of the guileless woman who swoons at the prospect of an unwanted kiss and trembles at a misplaced hand. Men, as Margaret Atwood has pointed out are now, “guilty because accused,” while women are cast into the role of perpetual victim. 

Voices criticising #MeToo are beginning to grow. “A hand-on-the-knee 15 years ago is not serious enough,” claims Miriam Margolyes, “it’s obvious what’s assault and what isn’t.” Catherine Deneuve signed a letter condemning a new puritanism and defending sexual freedom: “Rape is a crime, but flirting, even persistently or cack-handedly, is not.” 

For the most part, these critics are from a different generation than today’s young activists. Feminists who cut their teeth in the 1960s are now chastised for not listening to the voices of “survivors”. Old women, the young tell us, are “fake” feminists, “has-beens” suffering from “internalised misogyny” which has left them “lobotomised to the point of no return.” The young stake out the moral high ground with claims of sensitivity yet perceive no problem with ageism. There is no insult too degrading it can’t be hurled at a second-wave feminist. 

This ugly intergenerational conflict represents more than just differences in priorities and tactics. Recent surveys have shown that younger women are far more likely to perceive themselves as victims of sexual harassment. A recent YouGov poll showed two thirds of 18-24 year old women thought wolf whistling was always or usually sexual harassment compared to just 15% of women aged 55 or over. Almost a third of young women think that winking is a form of sexual harassment. 

Younger women argue they are more sensitive to abuse because they have grown up expecting equality. Rather than putting-up and shutting-up they are emboldened to speak out. An alternative explanation is that the constant repetition of stories about the gender pay gap and everyday sexism, along with a refusal to celebrate the success of women in education and employment, has taught young women to see themselves as victims. A cosseted generation has come to find victimhood attractive; it brings with it a platform and moral sanctitude. Today's young feminists breathe life back into outdated attitudes towards sex, at the heart of which is the innocent woman forever saying no. 

But today’s young feminists need to hold off insulting the women who fought for the freedom and equality they now take for granted. In 1971 Catherine Deneuve put her name to another public letter. “I declare that I am one of them. I declare that I have had an abortion,” signed Deneuve, at a time when abortion was illegal in France and doing so could have led to her imprisonment. The signatories were derided as a “sluts” but they no doubt helped bring about a shift in French attitudes towards abortion. Almost half a century later it is feminists who are calling Deneuve a slut. 

An older generation of feminists can remember a time when women did not have the freedom and equality they enjoy today: a world without access to contraception and abortion, without equal pay, with marriage bars, dress codes, chaperones and curfews. Each new liberty was hard won. They deserve respect, not derision, from today’s young women. 

Older feminists recall expectations on them to be chaste and entirely passive in sexual relationships. Their role was to say no and tame male instincts. The freedom to say yes to sex, to have agency and desires, was so momentous that winking, knee-touching and unwanted kisses barely registered. Risk-taking was better than imprisonment by social convention. 

Today's young feminists breathe life back into outdated attitudes towards sex, at the heart of which is the innocent woman forever saying no. Hostessing at secret all-male dinners might not be everyone’s preferred career choice but the freedom for women to take on this job, without chaperones or curfews, is surely worth defending.