Monday, February 05, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 5.2.18

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.

  • An amusing feature of this time of the year is women of a certain age sweltering under the winter sun in fur coats. Which they're wearing for the simple reason that it's February. Oh, and because they must be seen to possess an expensive garment. Regardless of the temperature.
  • The island of Tangier lies off Virginia coast and, yes, its inhabitants are called Tangerines. But what they're famous for is not their name but their 16th century south-east English accent and vocabulary. The challenge they face today is that the island is rapidly disappearing, and is now only a third of the size it was when the first colonists landed in 1608. Whether this is because of wave erosion or rising sea levels due to AGW is, of course, polemical. The AGW-denier, President Fart, has promised to save the island. Need I say that his solution is a wall? A second one, in fact. On the west side of the island to go with the one on the east side. Let's hope it's a more real prospect than his Mexican fantasy. The good news is that both Republicans and Democrats support the use of taxpayer moneys for this project. So, it might actually happen. If not, say some, the island will be gone within 25 years. Accent, vocabulary an' all.
  • Food for thought, from the article on attention-seeking I cite below: There was a time when spree killing almost did not exist. Guns existed. So did bombs and knives and vans. So did violent and disturbed people. Indeed the world is now generally less violent than it used to be. Yet spree killings grow more frequent. A study at the Harvard School of Public Health found that mass shootings in the US in which at least four people died occurred, on average, once every 200 days between 1982 and 2011. Then once every 64 days between 2011 and 2014. Eighteen of the 30 deadliest mass shootings in the US since 1949 have occurred in the past 10 years, including all of the worst five. What else can we call these but crimes of attention, made possible by new media?
The UK and Brexit
  • Both Leavers and Remainers are in hair-pulling despair at the current situation. Sad to relate:-
  1. The fact is that we are embarking on a vast experiment, the like of which no one has ever experienced. Immediately after the referendum, it could have gone either way but, as time passes and the incompetence of government becomes ever more apparent, the chances of a successful outcome look increasingly remote. 
  2. This Brexit mess cannot go on, says Matthew d'Ancona here. It has become a grotesque pantomime. Few Tories now dispute the length and gravity of the charge sheet against Theresa May. But, if she were to be defenestrated by her colleagues, there would then be a period of bedlam as the Tory party fought with teeth bared and daggers drawn to settle not only its future but the future of Britain’s relationship with the EU. It would be ugly, protracted and almost entirely destructive. . . This is a clinically dead government and Theresa May must stand down now. It's time to flick the [general election] switch and see what happens. Hard to argue against.
Nutters Corner
  • The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church: Putin's rule is a miracle of God
That God bloke, he's so hard to fathom sometimes. Strange indeed are the ways of the Lord. 

Culture/Social Media
  • Attention-seeking is the defining need of our times, says self-confessed attention-seeker,  Leo Benedictus, here.
  • Britain has been overwhelmed by a whole new moral climate, with new rules – and a lot of fear, claims the writer of the article below.
  • Courtesy of both The Guardian and its sister paper The Observer, here's a paean of praise to our seafood.
  • As I drive down to my parking spot across the river from Pontevedra's old quarter, I usually pass one or more gypsy males on the way to or from the permanent camps at the bottom of the hill. They invariably have their heads covered by a hood or a scarf. Not because of fashion, I guess.
  • I''ve paid Amazon €3 to deliver a CD and am wondering why it won't arrive, they say, until more than 3 weeks after despatch. Are they using a real snail for snailmail?
Today's Funny

A video I included earlier doesn't work. So, click here for it.


Britain has been overwhelmed by a whole new moral climate, with new rules – and a lot of fear:

We have been gripped by a righteous hysteria that inverts the notion of innocent until proved guilty

It’s hard to know whether to condemn or applaud Manchester Art Gallery. It has taken down one of its famous paintings, Hylas and the Nymphs, on the grounds that its pre-Raphaelite nudity raises “tricky issues” of gender, race and representation.

The decision is either idiotic or an ingenious publicity stunt. I suspect the latter and that the painting will soon be back, and crowds with it. The effect of this artistic exercise could be to show how easy is to manipulate the #MeToo hysteria currently sweeping Britain: that it’s possible to surf this tsunami, as well as be swept away by it.

The BBC looks like it’s being swept away. I felt sorry for Lord Hall, its director-general, as he tried to explain why its former China editor, Carrie Gracie, wasn’t paid as much as other foreign editors. He could have pointed out that she hadn’t really moved to China, or that the correspondents with similar job titles are at different stages of their careers. But to quibble would seem like defending sexism, which the BBC cannot afford to do. It had no choice but to plead guilty.

For far too long, a secretive and illegal BBC pay culture has inflicted dishonourable choices on those who enforce it. This must change.Carrie Gracie

This all fits a pattern. An institution is accused of sexism, or something worse. It is terrified by the claim, especially because it was probably true in the past – so it might have credibility now. It’s possible to plead that the allegation hasn’t really been proven, but it seems like there’s no point. It tends to act guilty, and go along with the accusations of its worst critics. Resistance seems to be useless, and capitulation the only answer.

Take the Church of England. When a woman claimed that she had been abused by the late Bishop George Bell some 70 years ago, the church panicked. As with many churches, genuine cases of abuse will have been covered up in the past – so this time, without any proper investigation, it behaved as if Bishop Bell was guilty and his name was posthumously blackened. Only after campaigning – much of it by Charles Moore – was it established that there was not the slightest piece of evidence against him.

The Church had good reason for paranoia, and seemed keen to atone for previous trespasses. But to rush so far the other way, to automatically assume guilt, exposes a new kind institutional failure. We have seen it in the police, too, terrified they’ll be accused of dismissing accusations of historic sex abuse. Their fear means that nonsense allegations have been allowed to pursue Lord Bramall, Paul Gambaccini, Ted Heath, Harvey Proctor and Cliff Richard. All of them innocent – yet all subject to months, sometimes years, of vile accusations.

The most recent panic is from the Crown Prosecution Service. It has struggled to secure sexual assault convictions in the past, and was quite rightly criticised. So it set out to hire more specialist prosecutors. But it now seems that they, too, have overreached and pushed ahead with cases so weak that they collapsed in court. This has happened so much in recent weeks that the CPS decided, a few days ago, to review all rape cases, as it seeks to find out how many more men it has wrongfully put on trial.

At least this is a formal justice, which is more than others can hope for. The actor Ed Westwick has been dropped by the BBC after what he called “unverified and probably untrue social media claims” of rape made against him. There have been no police charges, and none might come – but the damage is done. He is now being edited out of BBC’s dramatisation of an Agatha Christie novel, Ordeal by Innocence.

It’s a whole new moral climate, with new rules – and a lot of fear. The notion of being innocent until proven guilty has been inverted: it’s unlikely that Mr Westwick will be on our screens again unless he manages to prove his innocence. And while it’s easy to accuse the BBC of cowering in the face of the public anger, we journalists can’t talk. When the hacking scandal led to the biggest criminal investigation in British criminal history, newspapers were all caught up in the hysteria. A handful of prosecutions and short sentences shows just how little criminality there was.

I have a friend who has a copy of the Metropolitan Police’s confidential report into the scandal, showing how the police and the CPS had ruled that voicemail intercept was not a crime – then changed their minds at the last stage. But he won’t talk about it, because he thinks no one is interested in hearing such an argument. The mood matters, he says, and there are times where truth is no defence.

This kind of cultural McCarthyism may well get a lot worse before it gets better. The corporate world hasn’t felt the force of this, but might in April when larger employers are forced to publish their gender pay gap details. A crude comparison often shows women behind, especially if it fails to distinguish between full-time and part-time work. But when Korn Ferry, a consultancy, looked at data for nine million workers worldwide it found that, for the same kind of jobs with the same employer, Britain’s gender pay gap is a negligible 1 per cent. Will employers be capable of making this point?

The real problem is not that women are paid less for the same work, something that’s been illegal for almost 50 years. It’s that women are more likely to be found in the lower echelons of companies who tend to pay less. And why might this be? It needs a new discussion: about workplace culture, childcare costs and general life choices. But this is the kind of conversation that it’s only possible to have when the shouting stops – which might not happen for some time yet.

It’s striking to see how many institutions are terrified in the face of these moral tsunamis, which are moving with incredible pace and power and sweeping away much that lies in their path. The answer ought to be simple: to answer insinuation with facts, hysteria with calm. And not to panic, over-correct – or swap one form of institutional bias with another.

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