Friday, February 16, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 16.2.18

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.

  • Here's an El País list which is in a different class from those of The Local.
  • An interesting looking exhibition in Madrid.
  • If you're a Spanish greyhound – a galgo – this is a terrifying time of the year – the end of the hunting season. When, it's said, many thousands of them are put down. Sometimes by hanging them from tree branches. One of Spain's scandals.
  • This morning I'll make my 4th visit to a notary's office, in an effort to get my identity certified. I gave up years ago trying to understand why things take longer to do here but, in this case – in a country of low ethics, rife with corruption – I feel it's a tad ironic that I'm being treated as if I were the English head of the local drug-running and money-laundering mafia. But I guess I'll get over it. Perhaps I should feel honoured.
  • The number of deaths from firearms is truly horrendous. Indeed, they're beyond the comprehension of Europeans. But, from conversations with American friends over the years, I'm aware that the issue is not as black and white as we tend to see it. For a start, as with drugs, those seeking a solution are not starting from zero. Then, of course, there's America's exceptionally polarised politics and, need one say, an utterly divisive president who parrots the specious argument about mental health states. As if people in other countries don't suffer from these. There's a good – but depressing - article below but I leave you with;
- This relevant fact: The USA's welfare system offers scant help to the mentally ill. But, that should change soon, of course. Now that the NRA has discovered the real reason why 10,000 people year are not-killed-by-guns.
- A pessimistic view on Fart's likely response.
- This exchange:-
NRA member: It's not guns which kill people. It's people.
Sane person: True, it's not guns which kill people. It's people who say 'It's people who say guns don't kill people' who kill people.

The UK
  • That vain clown, Boris Johnson, made a big speech on Brexit this week. Below are 2 articles giving widely different takes on it. Interestingly, both are from 'right-wing' newspapers. I rather think the negative one is more accurate.
Nutters Corner
  • Christian radio host Bryan Fischer on the Florida deaths: If only the students had prayed beforehand . . . God could have prevented this, if only He had known it was going to happen! And I'd always thought the Man in the Sky was supposed to be omniscient.
  • Christian author McGuire: I think Hilary Clinton has a demonic hatred in her — her statement about the ‘deplorables’ revealed what was in her heart. If she had become president, like Jezebel, she would have persecuted, arrested, fined, imprisoned and perhaps killed America’s pastors. She would have shut down the preaching of the gospel and the gates of hell would have broken loose on our nation. Dear God. Do you have to be mad to be an evangelist in the USA? Perhaps not but it must certainly help.
  • Cigarette sales have fallen in the city by 43% in the last 10 years, though the value of sales – thanks to price increases – has remained the same. A caveat – One factor is increased smuggling.
  • I rather doubt there's been anything like a decrease of 43% among young women here. In fact, I suspect it's increased in this sub-group.
  • The Galician Xunta has stopped the city of Santiago imposing a tax on all tourists. The latter says they'll now tax only those who don't stop overnight. God knows how they'll manage to do so. A special toll gate on all the city's exits?
  • Food for thought: British journalist Nicholas Tomalin opined that the 3 qualities a successful journalist needs are; rat-like cunning; a plausible manner; and a little literary ability. I guess he should know.
  • Last night I was emailing a series of 3-second videos of the Carnaval parade to my daughter when Google suddenly suspended my account for 'up to 24 hours'. I think for Receiving, deleting, or downloading large amounts of mail via POP or IMAP in a short period of time. I wasn't aware there was a limit. But am now.
  • I see that Worcester and soy sauces also still come in glass bottles. As do my hot Tabasco and very hot Valentina sauces. But these would probably melt plastic.
Today's Cartoon

Back in the USA . . .


1. Florida shooting: America's gun crisis will never end until its liberals learn to make peace with gun culture: Tom Harris, The Telegraph

“We don’t have handguns in Britain.” Even as I spoke the words, I was aware that they sounded almost apologetic. The conversation was with a former US Navy SEAL (Sea, Air and Land team) who is now helping out at a gun range in New Town, Ohio, where a business trip had taken me last week.

“I’m just really grateful that you’ve taken the time to be here, to fire guns and try to understand what it’s all about,” he replied to my British deference. And then he helped me load 30 rounds into the clip of a Colt semi-automatic rifle.

It was a slice of American life I had always wanted to sample, and had felt the appropriate level of guilt about the ambition. Wouldn’t a visit to such a place, the handling of a lethal weapon, the enjoyment of the activity – wouldn’t all this make me at least complicit in, if not an apologist for, America’s love affair with guns, an obsession that has resulted, in the last 24 hours, in yet another horrific high school massacre, this time in Florida?

“The Second Amendment defends the First,” read a bumper sticker for sale in the immaculately tidy and well-stocked front shop of the shooting range. Silencers, a vast array of ammunition, holsters and just about every kind of accessory your average shooter could want were all available for purchase.

The guns themselves were safely behind the counter: hand guns below glass, rifles of bewildering complexity and power in racks behind where the salesmen stood. A single word of interest in any weapon and within seconds you could hold it, look through the scope and gauge its weight and balance.

My host, a senior and well-respected local businessman, owned “about ten” guns, keeping them in a gun safe he had bought specifically for the purpose. Although a member of this particular gun range, it had been so long since he had fired one that he had forgotten the code for the safe, and only released the door on his fifth attempt.

“Guns don’t kill people…” said his colleague who accompanied us to the range. I could have responded with the much-tweeted joke: “No, guns don’t kill people – people who say ‘guns don’t kill people’ kill people. With guns.”

Instead I bit my tongue and took careful aim at zombie bin Laden. That was the paper target I had chosen from the range of jokey images available from the front desk, probably out of deference to my buddy, the former SEAL.

As soon as I fired my first shot, I was more aware than I ever expected of the power and deadliness of the weapon in my hand. This was no Hollywood prop or plaything: this was a device that could end the lives of everyone in the vicinity, including me. I had expected a rush of blood to the head; instead, it ran cold in my veins.

However grateful for the experience and for the hospitality shown by my gun-totin’ friends, I was immensely relieved when we replaced the weapons in their secure cases and headed towards the local chicken wings restaurant.

My hosts that night were no redneck hillbillies. They were sophisticated, law-abiding, intelligent, successful people who just happen to enjoy collecting and firing weapons. When the anti-gun lobby fires off its latest salvo in reaction to the most recent massacre, it’s often aimed at the wrong target (forgive the allusion).

There is a large and resentful community of gun owners in America who feel they are unjustly made to feel like the perpetrators of every outrage, even if they themselves are responsible citizens. The language used by politicians (mostly Democrats but also some Republicans) alienates the innocent deer-hunter while having no effect whatever on the lonely, aggrieved psychopath with a Smith & Wesson .357 revolver in his backpack.

None of this is to say that America doesn’t have a problem with guns; it surely does. The absurdly high levels of gun crime and associated death each and every day of the year makes that abundantly obvious. The warning for politicians who wish to do something about it comes straight out of the Einstein book of misquotes: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Demands for gun control follow every civilian massacre as sure as night follows day, and yet no progress seems to be made. If anything, the determination of Americans to hold ever more tightly to their weapons grows with each sickening event.

Worse, this debate has become just one part of America’s self-defeating and circular culture wars. To liberal New Yorkers and assorted East Coasters, gun owners can be put in the same categories as evangelical Christians who believe in creationism and who oppose abortion and feminism, while law-abiding gun owners grow ever more resentful of the liberal elite who seek to leave ordinary citizens at the mercy of gangsters and villains who will always carry and use guns, whatever the legal framework currently in effect.

Neither of these stereotypes is wholly accurate, but neither is prepared to shift ground. The more consensual approach, the more conciliatory language demanded for this crisis – and it is a crisis – is as distant today as it has ever been, perhaps even more so. American politics has led this great nation to a point where it is utterly, perhaps irreconcilably, divided, on guns – as in much else.

Politics should be about the art of creating democratic solutions, but for the time being, the goals and fears of these two Americas are so far apart, so utterly opposed, that a solution is simply unachievable. It is quite possible that, with the right national leadership and – crucially – with the right use of language, some form of compromise – say, on the availability of the most high-powered automatic weapons, flame throwers and rocket-propelled grenade launchers – can be reached.

But even such a modest stop forward looks depressingly far off, and will continue to be so while the two sides refuse to make the effort to understand each other, while they wilfully misrepresent and demonise each other. If the only thing Americans have in common is the stars and stripes, then many more families are going to share the agonies of those who have suffered such loss in the Sunshine State this week.

2.  Detail be damned. Boris articulated a coherent vision for Brexit with real conviction: Janet Daley, The Telegraph.

For weeks – no, months – we in the commentariat have been demanding that somebody in the government outline a “vision” for the post-Brexit future. We understood (most of us did anyway) that the concrete details of the proposals could not be aired publicly while negotiations were underway. But we wanted some idea of the philosophical foundations, the moral justification and the economic logic on which this process was based. What was it all about on a larger historic scale?

That was what Boris Johnson offered. Then the media piled in on him for not giving any concrete details. As one of those commentators who have been pestering for a “vision”, I am quite prepared to accept this speech on its own terms. And on those terms, it was excellent. There seemed to be real coherence and conviction and – always a Boris strong point – sound historical evidence for his case.

The establishment has tended in the past to be unforgivably smug about winning what it considered to be the single point of public debate at issue: in the first UK referendum on remaining in the Common Market, it simply decided there was no need for any further expansion or explanation of what had been accepted. The Eurosceptic losers were consigned to the dustbin of history. Because no attempt was made to conciliate and to consult, those who had lost became alienated and irreconcilably bitter. He did not wish to see that happen again with today’s Remainers who were becoming – he did not say this but we all knew it – the toxic irreconcilables de nos jours.

The British are not isolationist. They are in fact – as maritime, island nations tend to be – among the most widely dispersed and habitually travelled peoples on earth

So he outlined the liberal, internationalist case for Brexit with considerable persuasive eloquence. All three of the most alarmist strands of the Remain case were addressed, or as he put it “turned on their heads”. On security and defence, he said that it was inconceivable that the UK would turn its back on a commitment to defending Europe which goes back much further than any EU treaty. This is patently, indisputably true and to claim otherwise, as some EU spokesmen have done, is nothing short of slander.

On what he called the “aesthetic and cultural” point – that exiting the EU would somehow repudiate our ties with a shared European heritage – this was, he said, absurd and falsified by the evidence. The British are not isolationist. They are in fact – as maritime, island nations tend to be – among the most widely dispersed and habitually travelled peoples on earth. (If you want to witness parochialism, he might have added, go to the United States where half the population do not even own passports.)

So the war with the Treasury squad which has captured Philip Hammond goes on

On the economic future, he reiterated what are now the familiar arguments about global opportunity and a commitment to free trade. This was the one area where he did offer some specific political statements to interest the Westminster gossip mill: there could be absolutely no possibility of “permanent congruence” with EU law and regulations. To continue to shadow the single market and customs union rules without participation in the forming of them would be to negate the whole purpose of our exit. So the war with the Treasury squad which has captured Philip Hammond goes on.

But significantly, he made it clear as well that he accepted the need for conformity to the EU legal and regulatory systems during the transition period – thus distancing himself from the hard-line Brexiteers who have sworn to resist this. So you might say that he cut it down the middle – that he repudiated both the Cabinet Remainers and the hard-core Brexit gang. I suspect that he would say that that was the whole point: he was looking for a compromise position – a middle way consistent with a liberal ideal. That was what this speech was for, wasn’t it?

3. Can any of us believe a word Johnson says?: David Aaronovitch, The Times

The foreign secretary’s speech could have been statesmanlike but he settled for petty bluster and fantasy

The speech began as if addressed to a skittish and anxious patient in need of reassurance. She’d got it into her silly little head that Brexit meant Britain turning its back on the world. Doctor Johnson reached into his big, soft bag and rummaged around. “Let’s see if we have something to help you,” he told her and us. And brought out a pack of old aspirations, a couple of hints of big things to come, a reference to the Babylonians and a used peroration.

The purpose of the address, as stated in advance, was for Boris the great healer to appeal to Remainers because, in his own words, “If we are to carry this project through to national success — as we must — then we must also reach out to those who still have anxieties”.

That’s not something that ardent Brexiteers have been good at. Earlier this week, for example, Lord (Digby) Jones tweeted: “Attention all Remoaners! Stop doing Barnier’s work for him! This undermining of our country’s negotiating with the EU HAS to stop. We’ll end up with a lousy deal & you will be to blame.” And I wondered who the tweet was actually intended for. Was there a single Remoaner who would read that and think, “Man’s got a point, don’t want that on my conscience, better reel it in”?

Ever since the referendum they didn’t expect to win, leaders of the pro-Brexit forces in Britain have alternated between triumphalism and surliness. Insecure in victory, they have blamed everyone else when things have not gone their way: judges, civil servants, the BBC, teachers, the EU, big business and Anna Soubry. Meanwhile, just about everything they predicted would have happened by now has not.

I’m not saying that most Remain voters were watching David Davis’s recent performance in front of the Commons Brexit select committee but they certainly have the sense of it. In the summer of 2016, three weeks after the referendum and two days before joining the cabinet to oversee our exit from the EU, Mr Davis wrote that he “would expect the new prime minister, on September 9, 2016, to immediately trigger a large round of global trade deals (and) that the negotiation phase of most of them would be concluded within 12 to 24 months.” When he was reminded of this by the committee’s chairman Hilary Benn, Mr Davis replied that he’d said it before he’d become a minister; that was then and this is now and then guffawed. What a hoot. I got everything wrong, so they put me in charge.

That’s what a clued-up Remainer sees, and sees too the Brexit impact assessments that were both voluminous and nonexistent, the Treasury regional assessments that forecast a loss of GDP under almost every kind of Brexit, and the Irish border fiasco that’s only temporarily frozen by an impossible fudge. They see other government business grinding to a halt because of the dominance of Brexit, and the cabinet divided on what it wants more than 18 months after the referendum. And when they raise any of this, it’s all been Mogg and mockery and a vox pop from a pub where someone says that we ought to be out by now.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and Boris Johnson may well think that the Brexit crisis is the hour and that the cometh-ing man could be him. So imagine what the speech could have been, had it been given by someone who was both sincere and courageous. He could have said, “Yes, I get it. I’ll be candid. It has all been far more complicated than many of us had believed. Yes, many of the assumptions we made — like David Davis’s — were simplistic and wildly optimistic. Some people have actually been rather ridiculous. And no, we may have miscalculated the negotiating priorities of the other EU members. And yes, the assessments from the Treasury, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and the Bank of England are unlikely all to be wrong. We will indeed take a hit. It will take a long time and be a long haul before we begin to see any benefit from this. But the decision has been made and we must do the best we can with it, and make it to the nearest thing which you and I want to see (even if many of my more nationalist colleagues don’t) — an open, global society and economy. And we need you to help us with this.”

“Tell the truth”, says Hotspur in Henry IV Part I, “and shame the devil”. What stopped you, Boris? Was it that your other briefers were at the same time spinning the speech as “Boris warns Theresa about a soft Brexit”? The line most likely to be read by the dwindling electorate for the leadership of the Conservative Party? The “me not Mogg” line?

Given the supposed purpose of your speech, what was all that stuff about not accepting EU rules during the incongruously named “implementation phase” (also known as the “WTF do we do now period”)? For whose benefit was the repetition of the fiction that leaving the EU frees up vast amounts of money for the NHS? Since no forecast makes us anything but poorer for some time to come, how does that work? How can you square the ending of freedom of movement into Britain from the EU with your virtual promise that Britons (Boris mentioned stag parties to European capitals) will themselves be free to move? Oh yes — “if we get the right deal on air traffic and visa-free travel . . .” If, if, if. We’ll have totally open agricultural trade with the rest of the world while “protecting our rural economy”. Our regulations will be simultaneously more stringent and far laxer than the EU’s. In your answer to the critical question about trade you replied, “We can have as frictionless trade as it is possible to devise”.

Oh yes. We’ll leave the single market of our neighbours but we could maybe build a Channel bridge or extra tunnels to show how amazingly connected we are. Great. That’ll ease the pressure on the Great Southern Lorry Park that we’re going to need in Dover.

Devise what you like. In Henry IV Part I the bragging Glendower tells Hotspur, “I can call spirits from the vasty deep”. “Why, so can I, or so can any man,” replies the warrior, “But will they come when you do call for them?”

In the play, Hotspur is defeated by Prince Henry who is destined to cast off fat, sly, jolly Falstaff and become a great king. In real life, it is the swaggering, mendacious Falstaff who seems to have won. But we don’t have to agree with him. The biggest reason that many Remainers cannot be reconciled, Boris, is that they don’t believe a word you say.


Sierra said...

Problem solved:

Cari said...

As someone who has never owned a gun, and will never will because I can’t fathom why I’d ever want to...I have to add my 2cents to this discussion. Guns have been around forever, school shootings haven’t. And that tells me that it’s not just about guns, and that we’re missing the point. There is something drastically wrong with the American culture that there are so many guns floating around and that we are having this number of school and mass shootings. What’s wrong? Well for the past 20 years rates of narcassism have grown - I’d hazard a guess the celebrity culture along with increasing numbers of violent TV programs and violent video games has a LOT to do with this. Anyone who can shoot innocent people, is by definition seriously mentally disturbed. Narcassism also belongs to the mentally disturbed. If we had no celebrity culture (worshipped by all) and we had no media that would cover the story 24/7 for days on end , these mentally distrurbed narcissistic people wouldn’t get their turn on the media red carpet and we these shootings would mostly go away.

Colin Davies said...

Thank-you, Cari. I agree that it's an immensely complex, multi-factorial issue and that it is a reflection of the much larger question of where US society is going. It's hard to be optimistic but I'd be the last person to claim I understand things perfectly or that I know what the solution is. But there will be more data in my post later this morning which seems to endorse the belief that both facts (such as the easy availability of assault rifles) and attitudes have done in the wrong direction in the last 50 years. The result is that the sides are further apart than ever and the solution - whatever it is - further away than it ever has been. The only certainly is that there will be more school killings and a lot more hand-wringing and egregious nonsense from the NRA and Trump. Frankly, I don't know how they sleep at night. Though I suppose some of them - but not Trump - must believe what they say.

Perry said...

I refer to your amuse-gueule vis-à-vis the day of the spinsters or galantines day. I rather suspect you have been misled, as my understanding is that a galantine is a French dish of de-boned stuffed meat, most commonly poultry or fish, that is poached and served cold, coated with aspic. I am not sure how that describes a group of unattached females getting together to celebrate their freedom; boned or de-boned. It's either innuendo or in the end you do!