Saturday, June 23, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 23.6.18

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.

Life in Spain
  • Aspiring teachers again . . . Nationwide this week, there have been 300,000 young people taking the relevant maestro oposicion exam in pursuit of only 23,000 posts, some of which will only go to internal candidates. So, more than 13:1.
  • How Spain celebrates the summer, occasionally bizarrely, of course.
  • Advice from The Local on how to avoid sunstroke here.
  • I detect rather large differences between football match commentaries in Spain and the UK:-
  1. British commentators occasionally stop talking.
  2. British commentators never shout.
  3. Spanish commentators major on telling you little beyond what's happening on the screen. A passes to B, who lays it off to C, who kicks it back to A. It's gone out for a throw-in/corner/goal kick. Rather pointless and ad nauseam.
  4. There's little analysis of the strategy and tactics of the teams by Spanish commentators.
  5. British commentators not only do this but, American style, provide lots of statistics and data on the players. Going almost as far at times as to tell us what brand of toilet paper they use. Similarly excessive.
  • If you're planning to join the throngs on one of the 33 caminos de Santiago, the (machine-translated) advice re blisters at the end of this post might be of help.
The EU
  • The EU needs to under-promise and over-deliver, says the Dutch PM, Mark Rutte. Clearly a man of intelligence, and common sense even. In contrast, the (besieged) Mrs Merkel and Napoleon Macron continue to dream their dreams of an 'ever-closer union'. While the one they have tears itself apart over issues to which they seem to have no practical solutions.
  • The French political philosopher, Montesquieu, writing in the 1830s, feared that the American form of democracy contained the innate risk of an unscrupulous populist coming to power and then despotically abusing it. Obviously ahead of his time. Unlike us, he didn't live to see it.
  • On this, I've arrived at the point – probably very belated – at which I think it's pointless to say anything more about Fart. If the US electorate can't see what he is and what he's doing to their country and to the world, then god help them. So, I leave this subject with the table below, which I've been compiling for the last few weeks. I started it after reading that a profile of Fart would read like that of a mafia mob boss. But, like Topsy, it just grew and grew. Any reader who admires Fart is free to provide some compensating positive adjectives. I couldn't think of any. (P. S. I know the Y section is a tad weak . .)
The UK
  • Here's a rather enjoyable video, particularly for any Scousers out there. Or Beatle lovers.
  • In my day, in my Laws faculty, 1-2% of undergraduates achieved a First. Now, the national average is more than 25% and at the University of Surrey - formerly the Battersea College of Technology and, before that, the Battersea Polytechnic Institute – they dish them out to more than 40% of the students. Which is not to say they don't all deserve this honour. Though this is at least a possibility.
  • A new English word for me . . . A bodycon dress is a tight form-fitting dress, often made from stretchy material. The name derives from "body conscious".
  • And a new Spanish word: Tiznar: To blacken. Tiznarse: To cork up. Not very PC these days, of course.
  • The prosecution in the case of El Mulo might well have demanded relatively short jail sentences but, against that, they're also seeking fines amounting to €7.2bn. Yes, billion. As a local paper has pointed out, this is more than the GDPs of the Congo(7.1bn), Monaco(5.3bn) and Andorra(2.6bn).
  • Bizarre things are taking place in a convent up in Valdeflores. Six 'old' nuns have decamped to another convent in Asturias because they can't get on with three 'younger' nuns. And there are allegations of illegal sale of precious old books. I await more reports with interest.
  • And, up in La Coruña, 23 people have been arrested in another large drugs-bust. I didn't know our clans operated that far north along our coast.
  • It must be summer. The bloody accordionists have arrived to add to the year-round plague of beggars. And always with the same limited repertoire, played in exactly the same sequence. Might as well be robots.
The World Cup
  • Inexplicably, VAR wan't used in Serbia's favour when Mitrovic was sandwiched between 2 defenders and wrestled to the ground in the Swiss penalty area. Reportedly, this 'Swiss squeeze' sparked another video technology row. Hardly surprising. One wonders what the official response will be. Meanwhile, here's a relevant video.
  • I wonder if we'll ever see a situation in which, as in rugby, football players never question the decisions of the referee. And merely politely ask for the VAR to be used.
Finally . . .
  • Reading a Times obit of a rather liberal British 'literary socialite' I'd never heard of - Janetta Parladé (b. 1921) - I came across the sentence: If tales of impetuous serial liaisons and neglected children baffle the modern reader, they were nothing new in this family. Well, I might well have been baffled if I hadn't read the diaries of Duff Cooper (b. 1890). Of whom it must be said that, notwithstanding his uncountable dalliances, he was devoted to his only child.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 22.6.18


Blisters on the Camino de Santiago: how to prevent and cure them

Why do blisters appear when walking?

Blisters are one of the most frequent evils that the walker will encounter, both expert and first-time, while walking the Camino de Santiago. Blisters may appear on the pilgrim's feet for several reasons listed below:

Excessive moisture inside the boot caused by sweating. Especially in summer, it is normal for the temperature to rise inside our shoes, causing the foot to sweat much more. This perspiration causes moisture, which causes the skin to wrinkle and increases the likelihood of blistering with rubbing.

Continuous rubbing between the pilgrim's socks, foot and boot. In addition to the excessive perspiration of our feet, we may not have chosen our footwear correctly, we may not have tied it correctly or we may have wrinkled our socks when we put them on. These factors can cause a continuous rubbing while walking, a perfect breeding ground for blisters.

What can we do to prevent their appearance?

Here are just a few tips to help you get ahead of the blisters and prevent them from appearing. If you have already had blisters along the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago, it may be more useful to go directly to the next section.
  1. Avoid wearing new shoes on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. It is very important that you choose the footwear that best suits you, in addition to taking into account the season of the year in which you travel the Jacobean route. Above all, however, it is essential that you break them in at least weeks before you start walking. Walking the Camino de Santiago with new shoes is the most common mistake among inexperienced pilgrims, Don't stumble on the same stone.
  2. Use products such as creams, cooling gel or petroleum jelly on the feet before each stage. This will reduce friction between the foot and the sock as well as make the foot less overheated while walking with some products. The product should be placed on the soles of the feet and between the toes. In our experience, it is one of the most effective ways to prevent blisters.
  3. Choose suitable socks. It is important that you buy cotton socks, preferably seamless models and above all you should remember to avoid wrinkles when putting them on before each stage to avoid blisters.
What should I do if I have already had a blister?

Here are some tips for getting out of the way, whether the blister has already appeared or is about to. The aim is that by following them you can continue to follow the Camino de Santiago without any major complications.
  1. If we are going through a stage and we notice that a blister is forming (but it is still in progress), the best thing is to stop and apply petroleum jelly to the area, so that it stops rubbing against the sock and footwear. We can also put a Compeed patch on the area (be careful not everyone works the same way) or a gauze fixed with plaster, but the first option is more recommendable to avoid wrinkles and rubbing that worsen the blister.
  2. If the blister has already appeared: Never cut or tear the skin off the blister. It would only make things worse, leaving your area unprotected and at the expense of possible infections. It always waits for the skin to break off on its own after a few days.
  3. Sew the blister with thread to drain the liquid that will appear. But always do it in the right conditions, sterilizing the needle with a lighter and using betadine to disinfect the area. With the needle sterilized, you must prick the blister to make the liquid come out. Next, the needle is used to insert the betadine-impregnated thread into the blister to drain the liquid. 
  4. Remember to repeat the same operation after each stage until the blister is cured.


Arrogant, Autocratic, Alienating, Anti-intellectual, Angry
Bullying, Boastful, Braggart, Belligerent, Bigoted, Blowhard, Bad-tempered
Chaos-creating, Clueless, Cheating, Combative, Child-like, Childish
Disruptive, Dishonest, Deluded, Divisive, Destructive, Disorganised, Devious
Exaggerator, Egotistical, Egocentric
Fox News-Obsessed, Follicly challenged, Fraudulent, Fantasist, Fast-food-Guzzler
Garrulous, Global-warming-denying, Gaffe-prone
Hyperbolic, Hateful, Heartless, Humourless, Hollow
Idiotic, Insulting, Insensitive, Irreligious, Incompetent, Inconsistent, Ignorant, Islamophobic, Inattentive, Insecure, Inimical, Incoherent, Illogical, Irrational, Intemperate, Inept, Impatient, Intimidatory, Insane?
Kinglike, Kinky, Know-all
Liar, Lazy, Low esteemed,
Misogynistic, Media-obsessed, Menacing, Mad?
Nauseating, Narcissist
Obsessive, Orange-hued, Obnoxious
Paranoid, Putin-admiring, Petty, Pussy-grabbing, Populist, Posturing, Pugnacious, Poseur, Philandering, Phony, Politically inexperienced, Psychologically suspect.
Quixotic, Querulous
Russia-dependent, Rabble-rousing, Reckless, Racist, Resentful
Short-attention-spanned, Self-centred, Self-obsessed, Stupid, Self-vaunting, Susceptible to flattery, Swaggering, Small-minded, Self-interested
Twitter-obsessed, TV-obsessed, Tyrannical, Trade-disrupting, Threatening, Triumphalist, Thin-skinned
Unfriendly, Unfaithful, Unintelligible, Unreliable, Unwilling to listen, Unaware, Untrustworthy, Unpredictable, Undisciplined, Un-self-aware,
Vocabulary-deficient, Vengeful, Victim, Vain. Vulgar, Vindictive
Wearisome, Weird, Whoring, Worrying, Wrathful, Wrong-headed, War-mongering
Yankee . . .

Friday, June 22, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 22.6.18

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.

Life in Spain
  • Teachers in the UK get a qualification and then apply for a job in whatever public or private school they want to. Things are very different here, where teachers are very much civil servants, under the control of their regional government. Having taken the relevant exams – 17,000 applicants for Galicia's 2,000 jobs this week – the successful aspirants are then told where they can teach. Which often (always?) won't be where they live. And if, as in Galicia, the exams demand facility in the local language, success will be denied to those from elsewhere in Spain who don't have it. At least, that's my perception. Happy to have this corrected.
  • Teaching is now a much tougher job in the UK than it is in Spain but at least you're pretty much assured of a job somewhere when you take you've finished your exams. Not so here when there are more 8 applicants for every job. I guess there's always (seasonal) work then as a waiter/waitress for the unlucky ones. Or emigration.
  • An interesting develoment in Madrid.
  • The Local's list of Spain's best tapas dishes. I relish nearly all of them. Certainly not a fan of octopus covered in paprika.
  • If you want to know where all the new laser radar machines will be operating in Spain, go to SocialDrive's FB page here. Be aware that they're movable. I think there's an app that might be helpful in finding out to where . . .
The EUI/Italy
  • Hard-line Eurosceptics have swept all the key posts in the budget and finance committees of the Italian parliament, shattering the brief calm in the bond markets and guaranteeing a showdown with Brussels over spending rules.
  • I REALLY DON'T CARE DO YOU . . . . Where's the full stop/period and the question mark? What an example to set to American kids. And then there's the message itself. . . WTF?
The UK
  • The US ambassador's advice to Britain: When you look at Donald Trump and what he has done, maybe take some inspiration and actually do some of the things he has done. Ye gods! Are all his appointees as mad as Fart? The Germans certainly have reason to think so, at least.
  • Here's an irony. In Colombia, I'm told, many men are given Anglo names, including James. An English World Cup commentator, following polite British custom, pronounced this in the Spanish fashion as Khamess for one of the country's players. But, my Colombian source assures me, it's pronounced 'James' back in Colombia . . .
  • Galicia will lead the rest of Spain in deployment of moveable laser radar machines. As well as 15 in the A Coruña and Pontevedra costal provinces, there'll be 7 and 4 more in the Lugo and Ourense provinces, respectively. This is more – by some margin – than any other region in Spain. And you can be sure that at least some of these will be set up where it's hard to know what the limit is. So, driving will become even more of a calvario here, as you watch the signs like a hawk. Or maybe just drive everywhere at 30kph/18mph. Though even this would be a risk in our cities, where the limit is 20kph/12mph.
  • Even though they don't seem to me to be necessary, new paving stones/cobbles are being put down in various places around the city and in my barrio across the river. I can think of only one reason why this work has been commissioned but maybe I'm being too cynical. It all rather contrasts with neglect of a park in the centre of town.
  • There's another narcotrafico trial taking place in the Pontevedra court. This time of O Mulo and various members of his family/clan. The prosecution have been lenient in seeking only 24 years in prison for the main man. I expect him to get rather less, if anything.
  • 'Til death do us part: The joint funeral took place in Salceda this week of a murdered woman and her assasin, her husband. They're now buried in separate niches, though I don't know if they're adjacent. Or in the same 'family' block.
The World Cup
  • Poor old Messi. A dreadful Argentine team again gave him no chance to shine last night. Or even touch the ball more than one or twice, it seemed to me - in a game of 38 offences and 7 yellow cards, which someone labelled a phenomenal rate of fouling.
  • Needless to say, there was a lot of the foot-stamping I cited yesterday, from both teams. I can't understand how the players think they can get away with it.
  • In the Denmark-Australia match, there was another example of a player going down clutching his face even though he'd been (barely) touched nowhere near it. Same comment applies. Unless it's stopped, we're going to have a player writhing on the ground, grasping his face, if an opponent merely whispers an insult in his ear. Are these guys really so stupid they don't know cameras follow their every move? Theys should be sent off.
  • I fell to wondering whether modern players are actually schooled in the art of ham playacting at bumps which would pass totally unnoticed in a game of rugby.
  • Is this a World Cup with a more than average number of astonishing goalkeeping errors?
  • And of fewer goals, even in decent matches? Despite the VAR-driven penalties.
Finally . . .
  • If you want a good analysis of the Argentinean disaster, click here. It's from the USA, so there are plenty of stats . . . For example: No Argentina player gave more than two successful passes to Messi in the first half against Croatia, a criminal thing to do when a lot of their play revolves around the Barcelona man. 
  • And here's a fine exculpation of poor Messi. As the writer rightly concludes: Messi deserves better than this. His brilliance has bred complacency in those around and above him. Sampaoli insisted that his team would not solely rely on one player, but if anyone was naive enough to believe that trope before the tournament, they surely do no longer. Turning his teammates into a team might just be Messi’s Sisyphean task. He does not deserve censure, only sympathy.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 22.6.18

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 21.6.18

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 news that will have a lot of people in Spain jumping up and down, though not necessarily for joy.
  • There are 7 candidates for the job of leading the ousted PP party, 2 women and 5 men. And it very much looks like the winner could be one of the former. This would be 59 years after Golda Meir in Israel, 39 years after Mrs Thatcher in the UK, and 13 years after Mrs Merkel in Germany. Mind you, a female president doesn't even seem to be on the horizon in France. Assuming Ms Le Pen can be ignored.
  • If you've ever wondered why Spain emerged from the years of La Crisis far better than Italy did, click here for Don Quijones' answer.
Life in Spain
  • I've said (complained?) a few times that lawyers in Spain don't have anything like the status they do in the Anglosphere. Notaries are more important. Demigods, even. But studying law is definitely the thing to do if you want to go into politics. Of the 7 candidates to take over from Sr Rajoy, 4 of them did this and 1 didn't. The other 2 might well have done so also but they're not exactly well-known and I can't find details of their academic careers.
  • Here's the seasonal help you need, from The Local, of course.
  • Good news but all a bit irrelevant to most of us, I suspect.
  • Even better news.
  • So, which first lady won the cosmetic surgery stakes at the white House this week?
  • A necessary correction
  • Amy Sullivan, in the New York TimesDecades of fear-mongering about Democrats and religious liberals have worked. 80% of white evangelicals would vote against Jesus Christ himself if he ran as a Democrat.
  • But . . .  President Fart has suddenly found the capacity he said he didn't have to abolish a law which didn't actually exist. Says it all recently.
  • As does this:-

  • The new PSOE government is naturally looking at all the development 'commitments' it inherited from the PP. This doesn't bode well for the start of the AVE high speed train service from Madrid to our cities. As readers will recall, this was originally promised for 1993 but is now forecast for 2020. I'd be prepared to bet on slippage. Contrast this with the details of all the unjustifiable vanity projects detailed in the report I cited yesterday on misguided infrastructure investments over the last 10 years or more.
  • In 1900, Galicia's population was 11% of that of Spain. It's now 6%. Last year, there were almost 14,000 fewer births than deaths. And the region has lost 65,000 young people (18-35) in the last 4 years. It's not looking good. Maybe that's why President Feijoo has decided to stay her – to fix the problems. Maybe.
  • The Albanian who was running a heroin smuggling operation here has been sentenced to 7.5 years in jail, though I suspect the prosecution asked for around 100, as happens here in Spain. And a family of cocaine smugglers have been sentenced to jail periods of between 1.5 and 10 months. Bloody 'ell, you can get more than that for taking a foto of a policeman on duty.
Finally . . .
  • Inspired by various articles, I've drawn up my list of the 7 Things We've Learned So Far from the World Cup:-
  1. VAR is a success. It's greatly helping to rid the (low scoring) sport of injustices that cause grievances and, some say, fuel after-match violence. Hence more penalties.
  2. VAR should be used more often, especially to stop the fouling that takes place in the penalty area when there are free kicks or corners. No one minds the delays.
  3. The favourite foul these days is the foot stamp.
  4. Players still fall to the ground at the slightest touch in the opponents' penalty area. Or even dive in the absence of a touch, in the case of Portugal's Ronaldo. The usual ploy is to clutch your face in agony even if it was your shin that was briefly touched. Another obvious candidate for VAR usage.
  5. Technology could surely be used to give an immediate judgement on an offside issue, by a loud noise, for example. It will happen, eventually.
  6. Iran have developed an original field formation. Eschewing 2-3-5, 4-4-2, 3-4-3, etc., they've brought us 9-1. Occasionally, 10-0. At least until Spain scored (luckily) early in the second half.
  7. As Iran showed us, such a defensive strategy can nullify even the top-level skills of Spain's tic-tac team. An not just England.
Incidentally, at one moment in last night's match, there were 5 or 6 Spanish and Iranian players all vainly tryng to kick at a ball stuck in the middle of a melée. I was reminded of the way 8 year olds play.

© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 21.6.18

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 20.6.18

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.

  • More details of the new government's plans/intentions to do something about the mausoleum dedicated to Franco. My suggestion is dynamite.
  • It looks as if the Galician president, Sr Feijoo, has pulled out of the competition for the leadership of the PP party. It could be fear of what'll come out about his links to our narcotráfico but, talking to one of his ex-mistresses last night, I concluded there might be other things as well.
  • The Spanish economy is immersed in a virtuous circle of falling unemployment, recovering salaries, rising consumption, and positive trends in the real estate sector. More here on this. Good news for the middle class and the rich. It remains pretty tough at the bottom of the pile, of course.
  • Here's a surprise, a politician not keeping a promise. But can anyone be at all surprised on this one?
  • This El País article on truly scandalous waste on infrastructure projects certainly isn't a surprise. Tasters: There are four main ways in which public money has been wasted: corruption, underutilized projects, useless projects, and inadequate priority-setting . . . All of it was done without a proper cost/benefit analysis, and often on the basis of estimates of future users or earnings supported by a scenario of economic euphoria that was as evident as it was fleeting. . . . At least a third of Spain's airports are unnecessary. . . . As for seaports, the biggest example of wasteful spending is in the port of A Coruña, in Galicia. Still, a lot of people made a lot of money, courtesy of Brussels' largesse in many cases.
Life in Spain
  • Good news, perhaps. But no salad cream as yet. Nor even standard mayo.
  • Yesterday I read in a book by a (US) camino pilgrim that there's a saying here that: How wonderful it is to do nothing. And rest afterwards. Can't say I've ever heard it. But it's true that I've always found inactivity to be exhausting.
The EU
  • Those cages/pens/warehouses/summer camps for kids . . . President Trump’s team is currently reacting to the stories by alternately denying their veracity and defending their effectiveness, and in the case of Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of homeland security, doing both simultaneously.
  • Fart's latest scurrilous outpourings on his policy raise the question: Can an insane person become more insane over time? It certainly seems so.
  • I like the concept of a matrix of mendacity. See here on this.
  • The quotation above is from this rather illuminating article. We are shocked, but should we be surprised?, asks the author. America is both an ideal and a reality, and sometimes the two gel and sometimes they really don’t. Or, as I've said before - The USA has both the very best and the very worst of everything in the world. Fart, of course, is the dangerous champion of the latter. The pendulum will swing back one day.
The UK
  • Seventeen countries around the world have approved cannabis for medical use. Britain isn't one of these. But guess which country manufactures most cannabis products . . . As one columnist puts it this morning: For politicians to continue to deny epileptic children a medicinal cannabis in which Britain leads the world, while expecting them to ingest highly toxic pharmaceuticals, is obscene. Some readers might recall that, when a government-appointed expert recommended legalisation, he was summarily sacked. For giving the wrong answer to the question the government had posed for him. IGIMSTS.
  • If you can bear it, there's an article below on the current (mad) state of Brexit 'discussions' in the UK. En passant, discutir is 'To argue' in Spanish. Makes sense.
  • Galicia is said to have lost 20% of its middle class homes in the last 20 years. Not sure what this really means.
  • And Pontevedra province - despite the drug business - has the lowest (official) per capita income in our region. Less than half of that of the richest place in Spain, Pozuelo - €11.3k against €23.9k.
  • But Galicians, rich or poor, live longer on average - 83.3 years. Must be the Mediterranean diet . . . .
Finally . . .
  • If, like me, you keep half an ear and eye on the British Yesterday TV channel of a morning, you'll know that the words which will incite you to put your foot through the screen are: Dad, it's June. A close second is: Mum would have loved this. Both ads aim at making older folk feel guilty.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 20.6.18


The Westminster Brexit pantomime is letting Brussels avoid its own hard choices : Peter Foster

How they must be laughing in the European Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters.

According to the latest slides from the EU, Britain’s continued security co-operation after Brexit will be subject to a “guillotine clause”, shutting down links if the UK leaves the European Court of Human Rights or is condemned by the court for failing to implement its judgments.

Given Theresa May’s history with the ECHR, it is hard to see this as anything other than a rather exquisite trolling of the Prime Minister by a Brussels negotiating machine that now feels it has the UK in a headlock. Mrs May has long attacked the ECHR, which frustrated her attempts as Home Secretary to deport the hate preacher Abu Qatada. In April 2016, Mrs May said Britain should leave an institution that “adds nothing to our prosperity [and] makes us less secure”. So you can imagine how delicious the irony is now, for the likes of Martin Selmayr and Jean-Claude Juncker, that Mrs May has backed Britain into such a corner that she’ll have to accept the ECHR as a condition of securing a key plank of her Brexit strategy.

As Home Secretary, Mrs May fought Tory sovereigntists on her back benches to join schemes like the European Arrest Warrant and the real-time crime-fighting database Schengen Information System (SIS II), but is now in danger of losing access to these assets.

The ECHR isn’t, of course, even part of the EU machinery, which only adds to the indignity. Such is the power of Brussels it can order a departing member to accept membership and pay obeisance to an institution it does not even control. What next?

Recall that this is the same European Commission that circulated an internal report to EU Brexit ambassadors that highlighted UK shortcomings in its handling of SIS II data - as a deliberate warning not to trust the Brits on data-sharing, on security, on human rights.

The UK provided much of the muscle and political impetus for these systems that plenty of Europe, including the German interior minister, does not want to see impaired by Brexit. But the British Government cannot unlock such commonsense because it is too preoccupied fighting with itself.

These things are noteworthy (we could talk about Galileo too) because they speak to the current balance of power in these negotiations as the paralysis and parliamentary squabbling continues in Westminster.

All that remains, in the eyes of some on the European side, is for Mrs May to bang the canvas in submission and accept that Britain will agree to EEA status via a series of humiliations that end in EU membership in all but name, and no seat at the table. In essence, a colony of the EU. The EU side fails to understand the real limits of what Mrs May can sell at home. Forcing complete vassalage on the UK risks playing into the hands of those who would support a truly destructive rupture, which the EU doesn’t want. But such protests just feel like a negotiating ploy to European capitals that are bored by British vacillation and, in the case of Berlin and Paris, are not minded to loosen their choke-hold as they fight their own battles over migration and the eurozone.

The worst part is that if the UK could get its collective act together, there is the potential for a deal that asks very difficult questions of an EU facing crises on multiple fronts, a deal that puts a tempting pragmatism over hardcore principle.

There is a strong rational argument on both sides for staying in the single market for goods (in which the EU runs a surplus with the UK) while diverging on services and coming to an arrangement on free movement. For now this is ruled out as impossible, but privately senior EU officials and diplomats admit that were it to be proposed, the EU27 would have to take it seriously, since it resolves economic issues in the EU’s favour and, for countries on the flanks of the eurozone who are already feeling marginalised, creates a potential template for the future. If the EU were to reject such an offer, it would be a nakedly ideological defence of rules which - as we are seeing on the migration question - are increasingly succumbing to realpolitik.

But for now, the political debate in London makes such considerations moot. Michel Barnier is not wrong when he says the UK must get more ‘realistic’ about Brexit - since only then can the UK force the EU to do the same. The debate in Westminster still doesn’t recognise the real choices that confront the UK: to crash out (at vast cost); to fall into EEA-equivalent (politically unsustainable vassalage) or - if we don’t throw our hands up and remain after all - something in between.

It may already be too late for ‘something in between’, which would throw up complex questions about the boundaries between goods and services, require the UK to make a solid offer on migration and - inevitably - have a discussion about money.

Mrs May is responsible for this mess, to be sure. She played straight into the EU’s binary logic, first by triggering Article 50, which put the UK in a two-year ratchet (“ze clock is ticking”) and then by drawing hard lines over the single market and customs union membership. The result has been a negotiation almost entirely on Europe’s terms, while Westminster debates the pipedream of a Brexit ‘dividend’ and a ‘deep and comprehensive partnership’ that seems to rule out having much to do with the other side.

There is, surely, still a deal to be done. But until realism arrives in Westminster the EU side does not even need to trouble itself with considering what that might actually be. It can simply continue to issue ultimatums and wait for Mrs May to run up the white flag.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 19.6.18

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.

Life in Spain
  • I've said many times that the most important thing in Spain is to have fun. And that fiestas play a huge part in achieving this. They also display the Spanish ability to be very hard-working and efficient, something that isn't always quite so obvious. And also inventive. I'm prompted to write this by reading that a town up in our hills - Pontecaldelas – is having its Entroido de Verán this weekend. Entroidos are normally associated with the start of Lent but Pontecaldelas has extended the concept to summer. Their fiesta goes as far back as to last year. So, this is their second go at it. Another chance for various groups of scantily-dressed females aged 5 to 65 to dance through the town's streets.
The World
  • See the first article below on concerns for the global economy, all thanks to you-know-who and his deep ignorance about economics and trade.
  • I listened yesterday to a podcast on the coming of robocare to solve the problem of old folk not being taken care of properly. Right on cue, a Chinese company has launched a robot which tell stories. See here for a general article on this. Can't find the one I read last night.
  • Click here for an article which plausibly answers the questions: Does Fart genuinely believe these ridiculously and demonstrably false assertions? Does he assume that much of the public will believe lies just so long as he repeats them?
  • When one looks back at the USA of the McCarthy era, it's hard to believe it actually happened. I suspect people in 50 years time will view the Fart era in much the same way. Unless, of course, one of his progeny has succeeded to the position of Emperor by then.
  • Meanwhile, you'd never guess that Fart was the grandson of immigrants, would you? Albeit white and Christian - Trump's ancestors originated from the German village of Kallstadt on his father's side, and from the Outer Hebrides in Scotland on his mother's side. All of his grandparents and his mother were born in Europe.
The UK
  • The writer of the second article below believes he knows why Britain's youth are so 'useless'.
  • Ain't this the truth . . . . I have begun to realise that many advocates of a Brexit which involves Britain staying entirely inside the single market either aren’t honest or are in denial about the trade-offs it would involve. They actually believe that, if Britain stays inside the single market, the EU will generously allow our government to continue to have a formal role in shaping its rules and regulations. This is, in fact, a total delusion, naivety bordering on negligence. . . . Any political party or business lobby group that tells its members we can keep shaping the EU’s rules after we leave is dealing in fantasies. And that’s a charge they usually level at Brexiteers.
Nutters Corner
  • Pastor Perry Stone insists that many world leaders are Luciferians who pray to Satan before their meals. No names or dates. But he wants you to know it’s totally true.
  • We have several sets of semi-feral cats in Pontevedra city, fed and watered by their neighbours. Naturally, they breed prolifically and I've occasionally wondered where all the offspring end up. Possibly in a glue factory. Anyway, I see that the council has put up a notice on the one I regularly pass, saying that sterilisation is under way.
  • Our lady judge who was discovered to have a sideline as a Tarot card reader has also been found to engage in a striptease act in Las Canárias. Quite a woman, it seems.
  • I am thinking of establishing an 'authentic' camino that goes through my garden. I have to make money somehow from all those people seeking a 'spiritual' experience. Like having their wallets emptied, for example. Though there's a lot of competition for that . . .
Finally . . .
  • A UK TV advert: Funeral Plans - Do something amazing for your family. Like burying them alive, I guess. Which would be truly amazing. Unlike waiting until they're dead and boringly sticking them in a coffin.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 19.6.18


1. Just the Fear of a Trade War Is Straining the Global Economy

Only a few months ago, the global economy appeared to be humming, with all major nations growing in unison. Now, the world’s fortunes are imperiled by an unfolding trade war.

As the Trump administration imposes tariffs on allies and rivals alike, provoking broad retaliation, global commerce is suffering disruption, flashing signs of strains that could hamper economic growth. The latest escalation came on Friday, when President Trump announced fresh tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods, prompting swift retribution from Beijing.

As the conflict broadens, shipments are slowing at ports and airfreight terminals around the world. Prices for crucial raw materials are rising. At factories from Germany to Mexico, orders are being cut and investments delayed. American farmers are losing sales as trading partners hit back with duties of their own.

Workers in a Canadian steel mill scrambled to recall rail cars headed to the United States border after Mr. Trump this month slapped tariffs on imported metals. A Seattle customer soon canceled an order.

“The impact was felt immediately,” said Jon Hobbs president of AltaSteel in Edmonton. “The penny is really dropping now as to what this means to people’s businesses.”

The Trump administration portrays its confrontational stance as a means of forcing multinational companies to bring factory production back to American shores. Mr. Trump has described trade wars as “easy to win” while vowing to rebalance the United States’ trade deficits with major economies like China and Germany.

Mr. Trump’s offensive may yet prove to be a negotiating tactic that threatens economic pain to
force deals, rather than a move to a full-blown trade war. Americans appear to be better insulated than most from the consequences of trade hostilities. As a large economy in relatively strong shape, the United States can find domestic buyers for its goods and services when export opportunities shrink.

Even so, history has proved that trade wars are costly while escalating risks of broader hostilities. Fears are deepening that the current outbreak of antagonism could drag down the rest of the world.
Before most trade measures fully take effect, businesses are already grappling with the consequences — threats to their supplies, uncertainty over the terms of trade and gnawing fear about what comes next.

“Just talking about protectionism is causing trouble,” said Marie Owens Thomsen, global chief economist at Indosuez Wealth Management in Geneva. “It’s an existential risk to the world economy.”

After two years of expansion, airfreight traffic was flat over the first three months of the year, according to the International Air Transport Association. Dips have been especially pronounced in Europe and Asia.

Container ships, the workhorses of global commerce, have seen no growth in freight since last fall in seasonally adjusted terms, according to a key index.

A gauge of world trade tracked by Oxford Economics, a research firm in London, recently registered its weakest showing since early 2017.

“Let us not understate the macroeconomic impact,” the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, warned this past week about trade conflicts. “It would be serious, not only if the United States took action, but especially if other countries were to retaliate, notably those who would be most affected, such as Canada, Europe and Germany.”

Threats to trade are emerging just as the global economy contends with other substantial challenges.
The Trump administration’s decision to reinstate sanctions on Iran has lifted oil prices, adding pressure to importers worldwide. Europe’s economy is weakening, with Germany — the continent’s largest economy — especially vulnerable. Central banks in the United States and Europe are withdrawing the cheap money they sent coursing through the global financial system after the crisis of 2008, lifting borrowing costs.

The Trump administration has embroiled the United States in increasingly acrimonious conflicts with huge trading partners.

The United States last year imported more than $600 billion in goods and services from Canada and Mexico, the two other nations in the North American Free Trade Agreement — a deal Mr. Trump has threatened to blow up. Americans bought more than $500 billion in wares from China, and another $450 billion from the European Union. Collectively, that amounts to nearly two-thirds of all American imports.

“If you seriously disrupt any of these three, you’re going to feel the effects,” said Adam Slater, lead economist at Oxford Economics. “If you disrupt all three at once, you’re going to feel it quite severely.”

In Houston, still recovering from the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Harvey, the steel tariffs loom like another storm on the horizon. The Greater Port of Houston, a network of nearly 200 terminals lining 25 miles of channel, is one of the busiest seaborne cargo hubs on the planet. It is also a major local employer, and the largest importer of steel in North America. Steel imports have been surging, especially pipes used by the energy industry.

Sixteen years ago, when President George W. Bush put tariffs on steel, imports fell substantially. Such memories now stoke modern-day fears. “We’re kind of in a wait-and-see mode,” said Roger Guenther, executive director for the Port of Houston Authority.

For companies that make steel and aluminum, the American tariffs have presented a direct and menacing challenge to their businesses. At Alta, the steel mill in Edmonton, the metals tariffs delivered an immediate crisis. Roughly one-fifth of the company’s business involves shipping steel to American customers. Suddenly, the border separating Canada from the United States was effectively enshrouded in fog. The company redirected rail cars destined for customers in the United States, incurring extra freight charges reaching 100,000 Canadian dollars (about $76,000).
Lawyers for some of Alta’s customers have suggested that certain products might be classified to avoid tripping the American tariffs, which apply only to specific types of steel. Yet for now, the company is waiting for rulings from overwhelmed American customs officials. “We do not know when we will get an answer out of the U.S. government,” Mr. Hobbs said. “Nobody, including the U.S. border protection agency, knows what to do.”

Across Europe, steel makers fret about an indirect consequence of Mr. Trump’s tariffs — cheap Chinese steel previously destined for the United States, now redirected to their continent.
“We have seen increases,” said Mathias Ternell, international affairs director at Jernkontoret, a Swedish steel industry association in Stockholm. “This is what Swedish companies and European companies worry about the most.”
Mr. Trump portrays trade hostilities as a necessary corrective to the United States’ trade deficits with other nations. But economists and business leaders note that many imports are components that are used to manufacture goods at American factories. For buyers of steel and aluminum inside the United States, the tariffs have increased prices, discouraging investment. Electrolux, the Swedish manufacturer of household appliances, recently postponed plans to upgrade a stove factory in Tennessee, citing uncertainties created by the tariffs. In the suburbs of Austin, Tex., Matt Bush, vice president of a small company that makes structures used in office buildings and retail spaces, said steel tariffs would force his company to pay as much as $50,000 a month extra for metal. “You have to imagine all the people who are purchasing raw steel and aluminum for input into their business are in the same predicament,” he said. “And it’s probably staggering how far that reaches.”

Spain has emerged from a depression to become one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. Trade conflict is directly challenging that trajectory. In the Spanish city of Toledo, Extol, a company that makes parts for the automobile and railroad industries, has recently seen customers demand supply contracts lasting no more than three months, rather than the usual one-year duration. With the price of aluminum rising, buyers are reluctant to commit, said the company’s chief executive, Fernando Busto.“We are watching events with enormous worry,” Mr. Busto said. “The political decisions of Donald Trump are resulting in turbulence and volatility.”

Far beyond the realm of metal, the impact of trade skirmishes are rippling out, hitting small businesses and consumers.

In Mexico, anxiety about trade has persisted ever since Mr. Trump took office, given his threats to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, and his designs on constructing a wall along the border. Ordinary Mexicans have absorbed the hit as the peso has plunged in value, raising the cost of everyday goods from the United States. “That president is driving us to bankruptcy,” said Gustavo Ferreyra Olivares, a fruit seller who has operated a stall at a covered market in Mexico City for 35 years. “Trump is the one who has raised the prices.” Most of the fresh fruit at his stall was grown in Mexico. But Granny Smith apples nestled in molded cardboard bore the USA label. So did a pile of glistening Gala apples, and neat lines of Red Delicious. Under Nafta, Mexico has grown into the world’s largest importer of American apples. But sales are down because the price has gone up by nearly one-fifth in the past week alone. The Mexican government recently imposed 20 percent tariffs on American apples in response to Mr. Trump’s duties on steel. That will make it harder for Mr. Ferreyra to sell his American produce. He envisions farmers hurting on the other side of the border, too. “Mexico is a big importer of apples,” he said. “If we decide to boycott them, they will all have to stay up there.”

Global commodities markets are wrestling with the impacts of trade conflict, especially as China seeks alternatives to American suppliers. In recent years, as the ranks of China’s middle class have grown, so has the national appetite for pork. Raising growing numbers of pigs has forced China to import increasing volumes of American soybeans. But China has taken direct aim at American farms in retaliation for Mr. Trump’s metals tariffs, threatening duties on soybeans from the United States. Chinese pork producers have turned their sights to Brazil and Argentina, the only countries that now produce enough soybeans to offer a potential alternative to the American supply.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Jesper Pagh sat in his office in Copenhagen and watched the result — rising prices for soybeans on world markets. Mr. Pagh oversees the livestock feed business at the DLG Group, an agribusiness conglomerate that supplies customers in Sweden, Germany and Denmark. His company has traditionally tapped South America for soybeans. Now, Chinese competition was increasing the cost. American soybeans were suddenly available, but they presented a mismatch. Europe imports soybean meal, not the beans. In the United States, the crushing plants that make meal were already tied up by domestic customers. A veteran of the commodity world, Mr. Pagh is accustomed to prices that fluctuate. His company relies on long-term supply contracts, limiting its vulnerability to price shifts. Still, here was a new variable.
“It’s another factor that’s affecting the volatility and the level of nervousness in the market,” Mr. Pagh said. “It’s not something that really keeps me awake at night, but, of course, it can escalate.”
Ian Austen reported from Ottawa and Elizabeth Malkin from Mexico City.

Reporting was contributed by David Montgomery in Austin, Tex.; Rachel Chaundler in Zaragoza, Spain; Christina Anderson in Stockholm; Gaia Pianigiani in Rome; and Cao Li in Hong Kong.

2. Young people think they own the future because no one has ever told them they're useless: Tom Harris

Ever eager to draw parallels with, and lessons for, contemporary geopolitics, historians have repeatedly and constantly studied the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. The rise of Christianity, the weakening of central rule from Rome, the calamitous decision to split the empire into two distinct regions – it all contributed to the dark day when the Visigoths appeared outside the walls of the former capital of the civilised world and set about sacking it.

But perhaps a new generation of academics will focus on the elephant in the room: no, not the Alps-traversing pachyderms so successfully exploited by Hannibal, but the crucial, fatal fault line running through Roman society throughout its history: the fact that there was a lower age limit for those aspiring to be members of the Senate.

America has unwisely emulated this ageist example by insisting that its own senators must be at least 30, whereas a member of the House of Representatives must be at least 25 years old when they stand for election.

This goes against everything we have learned about modern politics, for surely, if political discussions on social media are anything to go by, young people – especially those under 30 – are the wisest of us all.

I was reminded of this fact (and it is a fact, #endof, as they say on Twitter) on Saturday while amusedly scrolling through tweets from the Labour Live event, where teenagers from right across Tottenham congregated to celebrate politics and share ideas about how to spend other people’s taxes. There had been a demonstration by young people (naturally) against Labour’s policy of supporting Brexit. They had even dared to unfurl a banner telling the Great Leader to “Stop Backing Brexit” just as Jeremy Corbyn started delivering his standard “inspirational” speech.

The demonstrators were swiftly ushered from the scene, no doubt to be “re-educated” by the Unite trade union. But the incident reminded me of an oft-claimed consequence of Britain leaving the EU: namely, that the opportunities of the younger generation have been pole-axed.

We hear this a lot these days, and we heard it in the wake of the 2014 independence referendum in Scotland too: it’s not fair that oldies get the same say as youngsters, to whom, let us never forget, the future belongs. Let’s face it: if you’re over 40 you’re well past it anyway so why aren’t you on a cruise ship somewhere in the company of similarly reactionary and racist people waiting for the dude with the scythe to pay a visit?

How did the current generation of under-35s get their remarkable self-assurance and unquenchable confidence that they and they alone know all the answers? Partly it’s down to the extension of the teenage years; through no fault of their own, more young people stay in the family home during and after university than was the case a generation ago. And it’s also down to university itself: encouraging half of all school leavers to go to college or university means not only putting off the day when you have to face up to reality and earn a living for yourself, but also the inculcation of a whole new type of smart-alex-ness.

But it’s also their parents’ fault. An examination of fridges across the land will reveal on their surfaces, optimistically fastened by an array of colourful and whimsical magnets, the biggest collection of talentless, skill-free tat that has ever found its way into a school bag and back out again. “Oh my, how amazing! Well done, Tiffany!” “Is that me? What a brilliant likeness! You’re such a talented artist, Rupert!” No, they’re really not.

Self-confidence is everything. Go to any school awards night and you’ll hear the head teacher orgasmically exclaim about how confident “these amazing young people” are. Just don’t ask them what the justification for that self-confidence is. We have raised a generation of people that believes (wrongly) that being able to dance and mime (badly) to a Beyoncé song or who can achieve perfect attendance throughout the school year or be acclaimed as showing “good effort” in religious studies is a sign that they own the future.

Not all of this is new. Mark Twain may or may not have said that when he was six, his dad knew everything; when he was 16, his dad knew nothing, and when he was 26, he was amazed at how much the old man had learned in ten years. What is new, and worrying, is this unchallengeable belief that youth itself lends a wisdom that older people simply cannot grasp, and that such an unwillingness to relinquish their wrong opinions makes older people unworthy of the same democratic say in the future of our country.

Naturally, neither age nor youth guarantees wisdom: that’s why we have democracy. After the argument, we can make a decision by casting a majority vote for one or other policy. And neither age nor youth has the right to overturn that decision, however strongly you feel about it.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 18.6.18

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.

  • Spain's Caminos de Santiago continue to develop. There are now 33 of them and at least one new one appears every year. All 'authentic', of course. And all profitable for those with businesses along them. Hard to imagine that the camino was dead on its feet in the 1960s, with maybe 5 pilgrims a year passing through Pontevedra city.
  • Until a couple of years ago, we only had the Camino Portugués going through here. Now we have 4.
  • One of these departs from the traditional – increasingly popular – Portuguese route and heads over the mountains, past a monastery and then down to the coast at Cambados. There you can either walk along the coastline or board a boat or a kayak and take a short sea route to the point where St James' (Sant Iago) crew-less, stone boat made landfall after bringing itself from the Holy Land. Or so some believe. Though I can't imagine there are many of these in these enlightened times.
  • Somehow or other the island of Cortegada has now got in on this act. As if pilgrims left the land, took a look at it and then retruned to the camino.
  • And some people claim the Spanish are not very commercially minded or entrepreneurial!
Life in Spain
  • Here's an example of the sort of thing wealthier 'pilgrims' can expect to find on the Camino these days. Click here for more on the lady.

  • The yapping dog was at it again yesterday, forcing me to leave the terrace of my watering hole. Again, no one else seemed to even notice the incessant barking, least of all the 2 women it was demanding food from. One wonders if genetic developments have given Spaniards noise filters the rest of us don't have. Or merely very high level of noise-tolerance.
The World
  • Only a few months ago, the global economy appeared to be humming, with all major nations growing in unison. Now, the world’s fortunes are imperiled by an unfolding trade war. As the Trump administration imposes tariffs on allies and rivals alike, provoking broad retaliation, global commerce is suffering disruption, flashing signs of strains that could hamper economic growth. See this NY Times article here.
  • Liberal democracy is dying as the world converges on authoritarian beigeness, says Allistair Heath in the first article below.
  • See another article on its existencial crisis below.
  • Fart and his family are being prosecuted by New York state for fraudulent use of moneys donated to the Trump Foundation. Is anyone surprised? God's will, I guess the evangelists will tell us.
  • Here's something on the latest of Fart's Hitleresque lies.
  • Hang on . . . Praise for Fart. George Monbiot says that Fart was right to kaibosh the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As he puts it: He is right to demand a sunset clause for Nafta. When this devious, hollow, self-interested man offers a better approximation of the people’s champion than any other leader, you know democracy is in troubleRead the article here.
Social Media
  • Yesterday I cited the well-established major downside of the internet. Lionel Shriver is a case study in the new digital inquisition, says Fraser Nelson in the 3rd article below.
  • We had a huge treat in the centre of the city yesterday – the Gimme-a-ciggie bawling-beggar Miguel appeared with his shirt wide open and hanging out of his trousers, and displaying a truly vast gut. Not to mention his underpants. Panhandling seems to fund a good life in Pontevedra.
  • Things seen in yesteday's flea market in the city:-

Finally . . .
  • Click here if you think our Western society is based on Judeo-Christian beliefs. And if you have an open mind.

© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 18.6.18


1. The EU is facing an existential crisis – but it is migration, not Brexit, that will be its undoing

Alongside sunburnt Brits, they are one of the modern staples at Southern Europe’s popular tourist spots: Arab and African men selling tourist tat. These men (and occasional woman) come from many places. Some will have escaped conscription or slavery in Eritrea; others have gone in search of a better life from a poor but peaceful village in Tunisia or Senegal.

If they can raise enough cash and get a spot on a boat crossing the Mediterranean, their odds of getting to Europe are high – 98% make it. That is why people keep trying. But once here, joining society isn’t easy. Even those with strong legal asylum cases have to wait months to be assessed. So they end up sleeping rough and hawking fake designer handbags.

When I was a student, I used to think that a land without borders could be a cosmopolitan idyll, where different peoples exchanged ideas and voted freely for governments with their feet. But now we’re seeing what it really looks like: squalid camps in train stations and ports, a thriving people-trafficking industry and a growing underclass of informal workers in places that already have millions of unemployed. As a result, we’ve seen the rise of far-right parties across Europe and the start of what could well be a gradual erosion of the EU project.

The migration surge has been fuelled by technology and growing wealth, which have for the first time brought the means to flee conflict and migrate economically within the reach of millions.

The EU hasn’t created this situation, but with its migration policies, it has removed from national governments the means to address it and, with its legal structure, it has neutered Brussels’ ability to step in instead, since national politicians can’t agree on an approach. And the more that pro-EU politicians try to collectivise policy, the more they fan the flames of populist revolt.

Italy’s disorderly government has raised the temperature. Last week, new interior minister Matteo Salvini ordered Sicilian ports to turn away a ship of 629 migrants from Africa. “There are no homes and jobs for all Italians, let alone for half the African continent,” he said.

Since the “Balkan route” into Europe was closed by Hungarian and Austrian barbed wire fences, Italy has been the entry point of choice into Europe. Last year, over 172,000 migrants arrived there by sea. This year, it’s 61,000 so far. Italy’s unemployment rate, meanwhile, is 11%.

Ignoring this politically explosive context, French president Emmanuel Macron quickly accused Mr Salvini of “cynicism and irresponsibility”.

When the rejected boat found safe harbour in Valencia, under Spain’s socialist government, Mr Macron promised to allow its passengers residency in France – provided their asylum claims are valid. This, of course, is part of the problem.

Assessing claims can take years and Italy is overwhelmed. Rather than become part of a processing backlog, which may require documents they don’t have, most migrants disappear into the black market when they arrive. Nearly 1% of Italy’s population - or 500,000 people - are now thought to be illegal immigrants, most of whom arrived in the last five years.

Of course, the prospect of life in Italy often isn’t the lure for migrants. Many would prefer to end up in Germany or Sweden: places with plenty of jobs and generous asylum systems. Pointing out the pan-European nature of the problem, Rome has for years been begging Brussels for help in policing the Mediterranean and taking in migrants. But the EU won’t pay up and can’t alter its rules on distributing migrants because national governments won’t agree.

Now, the migration issue is even wearing away the solid consensus politics of Germany. Shaken by the sudden rise of the hard-right AfD party, Germany’s centre-right is fracturing. The anti-immigration hardliners are led by Horst Seehofer, interior minister and leader of the Bavarian CSU party. He has threatened to pull out of Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition and collapse the government if she won’t agree to start turning away many non-EU migrants at the German border. Ms Merkel is now scrambling to convene a hasty intergovernmental meeting to get agreement on migration reforms before the EU-wide summit at the end of June. She’s unlikely to succeed.

The problem is that on migration, as with the euro, Europe is stuck. Its pro-Brussels politicians would like to share out new migrants more evenly between member states, relieving Italy and Greece and requiring more of Germany and France. But these same politicians face furious challengers at home who are determined not to let that happen. 

Anti-EU politicians, meanwhile, fall into two camps. The first, like Italy’s government, castigate the EU for piling the burden into frontline states and refusing to help them. The second, in power in Hungary and Poland, rage against the EU for trying to make them accept any migrants.

The result is that the EU cannot do much to alleviate the migration pressure, but nor will it let national governments take control. We are therefore likely to see a gradual erosion of the EU legal order as governments take matters into their own hands whether Brussels likes it or not, erecting fences, building detention centres and turning away boats.

Over time, power will move organically away from supra-national EU institutions, back towards governments and the negotiations between them. Ms Merkel’s desire for an intergovernmental migration summit is itself a clear sign of this shift.

The more that Eurocrats resist this trend, the more unpopular they will become. And that will manifest itself in the European Parliament, one of its three main power centres, where voters are likely to start installing more Eurosceptics.

Mr Macron is already scared that Marine Le Pen’s vote share in next year’s EP elections could exceed his. Those elections will be the first held without Britain, but instead of withering away, its Eurosceptic groups will simply start to realign.

I still don’t expect the EU to collapse dramatically, as many Brexiteers have been forecasting for years. But its sacred cows - like free movement and the Schengen zone - will become vulnerable. Its edicts will start to lose force and its authority will shrivel.

Hopefully, this will herald a peaceful and pragmatic transition to a looser, less federal EU. For migrants, more power for national governments will mean a much harsher environment. What’s not clear is whether national governments will have any more success than Brussels in slowing the demographic tide.

2. Liberal democracy is dying as the world converges on authoritarian beigeness  Allistair Heath

It is all too easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to mock Francis Fukuyama. Writing at the end of the Cold War, the American academic proclaimed the End of History: ideological competition was over, he argued, and liberal democracy had triumphed as the final, ultimate form of government.

This turned out to be hopelessly optimistic. It is possible, we have discovered, to adopt a version of capitalism, as China and Russia did, without embracing free speech and free elections. But Fukuyama had put his finger on a crucial trend. Globalisation is indeed spreading to politics and bringing about the same sort of convergence we see in every other field, from fashion to food.

This is not happening in the way predicted 29 years ago, when America was the uncontested hegemon and much of the world was still classified as “underdeveloped”. Emerging economies today may be in love with Apple and McDonald’s, and are often more pro-capitalist than us, but they – or at least their ruling classes – have proved immune to our political values. In fact, we no longer believe in many of them ourselves, such has been the extent of our philosophical decay.

The shocking reality is that the great democracies, including, tragically, Britain, are becoming steadily less libertarian and less democratic; at the same time, the rising Asian powers are becoming less oppressive overall, primarily thanks to their partial embrace of economic freedoms.

The two models are meeting in the middle, and the result is terrifying. Political systems are becoming less distinct and the old ideological power blocs (such as “the West”) are blurring or even gradually merging into one uniform mush (Bruno Maçães, a former Portuguese minister, talks of the rise of a “Eurasia” dominated by the EU, China and Russia, three entities that share a distrust of liberal democracy).

In a brilliant article for Quillette, the political scientist Clay Fuller calls this new consensus “authoritarian liberalism”. He predicts that, if it continues, it will encourage some to push for a nightmarish world superstate on the basis that “effective global governance would be possible for the first time in world history”.

I prefer to call this emergent global political model “managerialism”. If you want to find some of its more vocal proponents, look no further than the pro-EU “rebel” MPs slowly but surely killing off Brexit: their contempt for real democracy is matched only by their preposterous self-regard. They are typical card-carrying authoritarian liberals, convinced that they know better than we do what is good for us.

Managerialism is now the dominant ideology among the educated classes around the world. It is based on the idea that popular voting is fine as long as it doesn’t change anything, of heavy government intervention in a nominally private economy, extensive social control and a move away from traditional, liberal individualism to an obsession with groups.

There is no one managerialist model: it exists on a broad continuum which ranges from semi-liberal democratic to outright dictatorial. It’s not a new concept either, merely the triumph of Thomas Hobbes’s vision for top-down, “enlightened” authoritarianism and the defeat of John Locke’s rights-based, individualistic liberalism. In Britain’s case, this implies undoing many of the political gains of the past few hundred years.

For other nations, managerialism is a vast improvement, and the averaging out of political models across the world a gain for them. North Korea could soon become the perfect poster child: if Donald Trump’s gamble pays off, it will remain a dictatorship but embrace tourism and trade. Dissidents will still be persecuted but the public will no longer live in the Stone Age. Saudi Arabia is another example: it will still be an absolute monarchy but it will treat women less appallingly.

What makes this convergence so striking is that the West is changing just as much as the developing nations. We are giving up on Enlightenment values, largely because we no longer believe in them; bizarrely, some in the West now even look kindly upon Vladimir Putin’s kleptocratic state.

In Europe and America, the changes have included a massive increase in the power of judges, unelected central banks that egregiously manipulate the economy, the post-9/11 surveillance states and ever-creeping paternalism and social control.

Even more remarkably, previously defunct ideas are back: there is once again an offence of blasphemy, punishable through Twitterstorms. Free speech is outmoded, seen as a form of oppression. Cultural Marxism is running rampant. Right and Left are embracing identity politics. But it is the EU that has done more than any other institution to undermine genuine liberal democracy. Its nomenklatura has deprived the public of any say in the biggest questions, from immigration to economic policy.

There are two problems with all of this. The first is that managerialism isn’t an efficient form of governance: at some point, the eurozone will collapse, China will undergo a catastrophic financial and economic crisis and Russia will go bust.

Elite rule doesn’t work: it is over-exuberant, detached from reality and lacks an error-correcting mechanism. William Buckley, the conservative sage, was spot on when he said that he “would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the Boston telephone directory than by the 2,000 people on the faculty of Harvard University”.

The second is that managerialism is unpopular. Brexit is being overturned but it won an astonishing victory against a Remain side that massively outspent it. Emmanuel Macron has admitted that the French would vote for Frexit if given half a chance.

There is huge, pent-up populist anger across the EU, and the rage of the Brexiteers when they find out they have been conned will be something else. The Italians could detonate the entire edifice and if they don’t somebody else will. Many voters in Asia would love to adopt full fat liberal democracy if only they were given the choice.

It will take time, but countries that refuse to succumb to authoritarian liberalism will be proved right. They will emerge as havens of free-thinking, innovation and stability, and attract capital and talent. I suspect that those that choose to resist the managerialist onslaught will include Switzerland, Australia, Israel and some Scandinavian countries. It is unclear which way America will go.

Britain almost broke away; but it seems that the tide of history was too strong for Theresa May’s hapless government. Still, history never ends, and supporters of liberal democracy will live to fight another day, in Britain and across the world.

3. Lionel Shriver is a case study in the new digital inquisition: Fraser Nelson

About a year ago, The Spectator’s staff met to discuss who we’d most like to sign as a new columnist. The conversation was over in minutes: everyone wanted Lionel Shriver. Her writing has it all: humour, insight, variety, elegance and – perhaps most of all – courage. Unlike most novelists, she has something to say on every topic imaginable, from psychology to cryptocurrency. My pitch: that we would not be able to shower her with money but we could offer her complete editorial freedom – and readers with a decent sense of humour. That swung it. To our delight, she accepted.

There wasn’t much sign of humour in the social media lynch mob that has been pursuing her in the last week, furious about her latest column. She had mocked Penguin for its new policy of hiring authors based on whether they reflect a “diverse” society. This diversity is established by a tick-box exercise so long that it contains (to Ms Shriver’s amusement) options for both “bi” and “bisexual”. Proof, she said, that ‘diversity’ has been “removed from the language as a general-purpose noun”. What about seeking good writers, in whatever shape they come? Her column was        funny, rational – and argued with her usual gentle fearlessness.

Uproar then followed and she was plunged into the court of Twitter opinion, charged with ableism, classism, homophobia, racism, transphobia – and worse. After a few days, the mob got its scalp: she was dropped as a judge from fiction awards run by Mslexia magazine. The magazine’s editor says she was aware that quotes had been taken out of context. But “the way it has been taken up by the media” meant that the damage had been done. An “atmosphere” had been created that’s “very discouraging for particular groups of women writers” – so Ms Shriver had to walk the plank. To be accused is to be guilty: a digital Salem.

This is another landmark in the ability of social media to shape and distort debate in the outside world, with chilling implications that are still not properly understood. It did not matter that Ms Shriver said nothing to discourage women writers, or that she is a living inspiration for many of them. It only mattered that she had been accused with enough force, by people seeking to cast her as a bigot. Her army of readers will not be so persuaded, but her treatment sends a message out to others: if you have reservations about the orthodoxies of the day, best keep them to yourself. Anything you can say can be amplified, twisted, held as evidence – and used to convict.

You’d be surprised how many television producers anxiously check Twitter after their shows. Or how many in public life, whom you’d imagine to have the thickest of skins, reach for their social media reviews as soon as they come off air. The historian Niall Ferguson has spoken about how startled and taken aback he was after the first online attacks – to be taken to task not for ideas or evidence but for being a covert racist, Islamophobe or homophobe or worse. If you’re used to handling critics by reasoned argument, and facts, you can have no idea how to handle a Twitterstorm.

As he has found out, the social media mob is at its most lethal in the world of academia, with a ready audience in a generation that is worryingly relaxed about the idea of people being hounded off campus. I was at my alma mater, Glasgow University, earlier this week and heard Sir Anton Muscatelli, the principal, speak about how the importance of free speech needs to be rediscovered from time to time. He quoted from a 1974 report from Yale University, commissioned after concern that too many invited speakers were being no-platformed and hounded off campus. Intellectual growth, the report said, depended on the ability to “discuss the unmentionable and challenge the unchallengeable.” Free speech, it said, guards against the “tyranny” of “majority opinion as to the rightness or wrongness of particular doctrines, or thoughts.”

A new type of this tyranny is now emerging from the digital world, with “wrongness” of thought being rigorously policed and victims swiftly punished – whether guilty or not. My colleague Toby Young, a writer so committed to education that he set up an all-ability state school, found his career in school reform ended by the discovery of a few daft comments he made on social mediaalmost a decade ago. Ought a 3am comment outweigh a decade or more of experience? Those who sacked Toby Young over his ancient tweets saga gave an answer: yes, it does now.

As Michael Gove said in a speech last week, the same pattern can always be seen: any original thinking which challenges fashionable norms is scrutinised for political acceptability. If it fails this test, the author is then attacked personally. The aim is to besmirch a reputation, to use social media to cast slurs and portray the target as toxic. Perhaps an offending sentence can be found, taken out of context and twisted for damaging effect. Then the mob can move on to whoever might be inviting their target to speak. Once this formula works on one victim, it’s tried on another.

In a strange way, the hysteria has made Lionel Shriver’s point perfectly. Take one of her critics, Amrou al-Kadhi, who recently signed a six-figure deal to write a book about becoming a drag queen. They (to use the preferred pronoun) said that when publishers are more open-minded, people from such diverse backgrounds can be signed up. But a point was omitted: the author is also an Old Etonian with a Cambridge degree, so is furnished with the sort of CV that always serves as a fast-track into the establishment. So does this make them an embattled member of minority group, or a product of extraordinary privilege?

Ms Shriver was simply saying that a writer’s background should not matter, because quality of writing should speak for itself. People like good, interesting books – which is why even the trolls on Twitter will not be able to inflict any serious damage on her career. But what of the other writers who are just starting out, seeking a publisher – and share her general persuasion? They will have learnt, from this imbroglio, that it’s best to keep certain opinions secret. And that when it comes to diversity of opinion, there is still a battle to be fought.

Search This Blog