Sunday, June 17, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 17.6.18

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 a tale about the dreadful relatives of General Franco.
  • Anyone in Spain willing to take in an immigrant or two, should get in touch with President Sanchez immediately. I doubt the Franco family will be offering any of their several mansions.
Life in Spain
  • I walked a leg of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago yesterday. Boy, is it noticeable how many more 'pilgrims' there are than there were 10 years ago. And how many new places have sprung up in which the better-heeled can rest their heads and have their limbs soothed by masseur(e)s.
  • As if I needed it, there was plenty of confirmation that not a single cyclist on the camino has a bell or a horn on his/her bike and that all of them wait until they're right behind you before demanding your movement out of their way. In varying degrees of politeness. I am beginning to hate cyclists as a group.
The EU
  • Historian Niall Ferguson has joined the ranks of those of us who believe that, longterm, the EU is doomed. See the article below for his reasoning.
  • A propos . . . . The Times headline this morning: The German chancellor’s 13-year rule is on the line as her interior minister prepares to defy her by ordering border controls.
The UK
  • See the second article below on the current farcical situation around Brexit. As of now, the betting is on the worst possible outcome – a BINO. Brexit in name only. This is because every single group involved in the process has shot itself in both feet. So, everyone is limping towards this appalling denouement, under which Britain would effectively remain in the EU but without power or even influence. A vassal state with no friends. Is it any wonder that even fervent Brexiteers now feel there should be a second referendum? Though god only knows what the outcome would be of an attempted return to the status quo ante. Whether it succeeds or fails.
Social Media
  • As we all know, social media have given the mob a foghorn. Worse, the sneaky strategies of the main players are seriously affecting the mental health of young kids. See the third article below. Needless to say, governments will be slow to do something about this.
  • One has to be a masochist to make a comment these days to an online 'debate'. There are hordes of cretins out there in their bedrooms just waiting for the opportunity to accuse you, say, of lying and being an -ist of one sort of another. Or several.
  • I forgot to say, when writing about our beggars, that I'd been stimulated to list them by a NG who asked for a euro for the pharmacy. A new line, to me at least.
  • Walking back to my car yesterday, I noticed a 9 inch/22cm snake on the ground. Suspecting from its markings that it wasn't just a grass snake/slow worm, I approached it gingerly. Research suggests that, yes, it was an adder/viper/víbora. Whose bite can be truly painful, if not fatal.
Finally . . .
  • A couple of weeks ago in the UK, folk suddenly found their bank cards didn't work. Visa has now said the problem was caused by a “hardware failure”. My guess is that someone, somewhere pulled a plug out. Probably a cleaner wanting to use a vacuum cleaner.
  • TV Adverts:-
  1. Once upon a time: Avena contains oats. Now: Avena brings you the experience of oats.
  2. Lloyds Bank: By your side. But still only paying you risible interest on your deposits.
  • I'm still not getting Comments to my email, so I have to remember to check if there's been any. Which is a nuisance.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 16.6.18


1. The EU melting pot is melting down: Niall Ferguson, he Milbank Family senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford

On immigration, Italy’s populists are the future. Merkel is the past

One hundred and 10 years ago the British author Israel Zangwill completed his play The Melting Pot. First staged in Washington in October 1908 — where it was enthusiastically applauded by President Theodore Roosevelt — it celebrates the United States as a giant crucible fusing together “Celt and Latin, Slav and Teuton, Greek and Syrian — black and yellow — Jew and Gentile” to form a single people.

“Yes,” declares the play’s hero (like Zangwill’s father, a Jewish immigrant from Russia), “East and West, and North and South, the palm and the pine, the pole and the equator, the crescent and the cross . . . Here shall they all unite to build the Republic of Man and the Kingdom of God.”

It is rather hard to imagine a similar play being written about the European Union in the early 21st century. Or rather you could easily imagine a very different one. In it, the influx of migrants from all over the world would have precisely the opposite effect to the one envisioned by Zangwill. Far from leading to fusion, Europe’s migration crisis is leading to fission. The play might be called The Meltdown Pot.

Increasingly, I believe that the issue of migration will be seen by future historians as the fatal solvent of the EU. In their accounts Brexit will appear as merely an early symptom of the crisis. Their argument will be that a massive Völkerwanderung overwhelmed the project for European integration, exposing the weakness of the EU as an institution and driving voters back to national politics for solutions.

Let us begin with the scale of the influx. In 2016 alone an estimated 2.4m migrants came to the 28 EU member states from non-EU countries, taking the total foreign-born population of the union up to 36.9m, more than 7% of the total.

This may be just the beginning. According to the economists Gordon Hanson and Craig McIntosh, “the number of African-born first-generation migrants aged 15 to 64 outside sub-Saharan Africa [will] grow from 4.6m to 13.4m between 2010 and 2050”. The great majority of these will surely head to Europe.

The problem is intractable. Continental Europe’s population is ageing and shrinking, but European labour markets have a poor record when it comes to integrating unskilled migrants. Moreover, a large proportion of Europe’s immigrants are Muslims. Liberals insist that is should be possible for Christians and Muslims to coexist peacefully in a secular, post-Christian Europe. In practice the combination of historically rooted suspicions and modern divergences in attitudes — notably on the status and role of women — is making assimilation difficult. (Compare the situation of Moroccans in Belgium with that of Mexicans in California if you don’t believe me.) [Or, say, Colombians in Spain]

Finally, there is a practical problem. Europe’s southern border is almost impossible to defend against flotillas of migrants, unless Europe’s leaders are prepared to let many people drown.

Politically, the migration problem looks likely to be fatal to that loose alliance between moderate social democrats and moderate conservatives/Christian democrats on which the past 70 years of European integration has been based.

European centrists are deeply confused about immigration. Many, especially on the centre-left, want to have both open borders and welfare states. But the evidence suggests that it is hard to be Denmark with a multicultural society. The lack of social solidarity makes high levels of taxation and redistribution unsustainable.

In Italy we see one possible future: the populists of the left (the Five Star Movement) and the populists of the right (the League) have joined forces to form a government. Their coalition is going to focus on two things: entrenching old welfare norms (it plans to undo a recent pension reform) and excluding migrants. Last week, to much popular applause, the interior minister, Matteo Salvini, turned away a boat carrying 629 migrants rescued from the sea off Libya. The Aquarius is now en route to Spain, whose new minority Socialist government has offered to accept its human cargo.

Where else can the populists come to power? They are already in government in some way in six EU member states: Austria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Poland. But across the EU there are a total of 11 populist parties with popular support of 20% or more, implying that the number of populist governments could roughly double. It’s just that few countries can match Italy for political flexibility. Imagine, if you can, the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) sitting down with the German leftists (Die Linke) for sausages and beer in Berlin. Impossible. As a result, as Germans found after their last election, there is in fact no alternative but for the old grand coalition of centre-right and centre-left to limp onwards.

Limp is the word. Last week the chancellor, Angela Merkel, collided with Horst Seehofer, her interior minister, who wants to turn away from Germany’s borders any migrants already registered in other EU states. Under the EU’s Dublin regulation, the country where an immigrant first arrives is in theory responsible for his or her asylum application. But in practice migrants can shop around for the most favourable destination, thanks to the Schengen system of borderless travel that Germany belongs to.

In Merkel’s eyes, Germany cannot opt out of Schengen without risking the collapse of the entire system of free movement. Her hope is she can cobble together some kind of pan-European package on immigration at the EU summit in Brussels at the end of this month. But it is not yet clear that her Bavarian Christian Social Union coalition partner (which Seehofer leads) can go along with this. The CSU has state elections approaching in October and fears losses to the AfD precisely on the immigration issue. In any case, the chances of a coherent pan-European migration strategy seem remote. National borders look like a simpler solution.

I used to be sceptical of the argument that Brexit was about leaving a sinking ship. I am now reassessing my view. Even as the impossibility of reconciling Tory remainers and Brexiteers becomes an existential threat to Theresa May, events in Europe are moving in directions that seemed inconceivable just a few years ago.

In his upcoming book on US immigration, my brilliant friend Reihan Salam — himself the son of Bangladeshi immigrants — makes a bold argument: America must either restrict immigration or risk civil war as rising inequality and racial tension combine.

I hope Salam is right that the American melting pot can somehow be salvaged. But I have no such hope for Europe. No one who has spent any time in Germany since Merkel’s great gamble of 2015-16 can honestly believe that a melting pot is in the making there. Anyone who visits Italy today can see that the policies of the past decade — austerity plus open borders — have produced a political meltdown.

Fusion may still be an option for the United States. For Europe, I fear, the future is one of fission — a process potentially so explosive that it may relegate Brexit to the footnotes of future history.

2. Westminster is embroiled in obscure Brexit detail - but the people just want to get on with it: Janet Daley

The latest eruption in the Tory Brexit wars involves a dispute about whether Parliament will, at some unspecified future date, have a right to amend an amendment. This circumstance will arise only in the unlikely event of our negotiations with the European Union ending without a deal.

Those two preceding sentences will seem perfectly reasonable if you are a professional member of the political/media club, or you have an occupational vested interest in Britain remaining in the EU, or you are an amateur but dedicated obsessive on the subject of Brexit. If you are a normal person they will be largely incomprehensible.

I cannot remember a time when the discrepancy between the perceptions of reality in Westminsterland and the rest of the population has been so extreme.

Of course, the technical detail of political life in advanced societies tends to become a specialised interest. In Washington, they describe the arcane issues which arouse little concern among the general population as “inside the Beltway”. Given the club-like tradition of British establishment life, it has been particularly so here.

But this is different. The fight to the death which is now consuming all the energy and concentration of the governing party – forget the staged distractions about NHS funding or new policing strategies which are designed to get a few days’ news coverage – has become so incestuous and self-referring as to be unintelligible to the folks at home.

This is, at the same time, both risible and serious. The absurdity can be dealt with in the traditional British way – with acerbic irony – but the serious damage is too dangerous to be ignored. The electorate is discovering that somehow, almost imperceptibly, its political class has become immersed in metaphysical gibberish so far removed from the desires and judgements of ordinary people that democratic accountability is becoming impossible.

While the party – both parties in fact, but Labour’s chaos is less important – is locked in what it regards as imperative disputes that must be endlessly litigated, the public sees only pointless delay and the frustration of what it thought it was getting. (Even those who voted Remain tell the pollsters that they now want the government “to get on with it”.)

What sensible ordinary people saw, or thought they saw, last week was a prime minister who succeeded in defeating a raft of pestilential Lords amendments which were designed to obstruct the Brexit process. The ridiculously large number of these amendments was itself seen as mischievous: a vexatious attempt to throw everything the unelected House could think of in the path of the oncoming train.

And they all failed! Hooray, said the folks at home, assuming that the government would now simply be able “to get on with it”. But no, that victory had only been achieved, it seemed, by verbal promises made to the Irreconcilables – the handful of Tory Remainer rebels prepared to engage every last clause and Jesuitical distinction until everyone else is exhausted.

It turned out that, as the opening paragraph of this column disclosed, the Irreconcilables had not been given the right they thought had been promised to amend the future amendment… at which point, most of you with real lives will glaze over. None of this is made any clearer by self-serving attempts to set out what is at stake in the actual negotiations – which is of genuine concern to almost everybody.

The public debate which has become so tediously impenetrable to most real people is now being dominated by those whose financial and professional interests make them absolutely committed to undermining the possibility of an acceptable deal.

This may seem counter-intuitive since a sane person would be likely to suppose that those most deeply involved in, for example, EU trade would be eager for a reasonable deal. But clearly there are some very well-placed and well-funded lobbies which are determined to go for broke: to make sure that Brexit will be seen as so disastrous as to be untenable and even the electorate at large will decide that it is best to call the whole thing off.

The most vociferous of these lobbies are certain sectors of the financial and business community which have particularly strong ties to globalisation: for whom the fewer impediments there are to the export and import of goods, money and people, the better. Even the vaguely interested public has largely caught on to the significance of this: they are aware that what large international corporations want is not necessarily what is best for them and their local communities.

So they are fairly inured to the protests of the CBI and the conglomerates who protest in such a well-orchestrated way against anything but the softest of Brexits (Brexit In Name Only) - which would be the worst possible outcome. But there is an army of smaller players – more sympathetic creatures with less rapacious reputations – who are also proclaiming their anxieties, and often finding sympathetic media outlets for their fears.

It is worth remembering here that business has always had to adapt to succeed and prosper: indeed that is the name of the game in a free market economy. In spite of that, business has always hated uncertainty. So talking to company spokesmen about possible changes to trade regulations and procedures is a bit like talking to farmers about the weather: it’s always too dry or too wet, too hot or too cold. But it is flexibility that enables businesses to prosper even if they are loquaciously fearful of the need to alter their procedures. The lesson is: don’t take all this protestation of new things being “impossible” at face value.

So where does all this leave Theresa May and her government? In spite of a quite well-played manoeuvre with her rebels, and her own party being ahead in the polls, Mrs May’s own credibility with the public has apparently crashed. That is the one thing that the Irreconcilable Remainer rebels seem to have accomplished. I hope they’re happy.

3. Social media is so addictive it should carry a health warning, leading charity says

Social media is so addictive for children that the Government should classify it as “social harm” and make it carry health warnings. 
Charles Hymas & Anna Mikhailova

5Rights, a children’s charity founded by Baroness Kidron, accuses internet giantsof deliberately keeping children online for as long as possible so they could profit from collecting their data.

An investigation by the charity identifies five psychological features designed by the tech industry to keep children online, including reward mechanisms such as likes, hearts and comments to elicit a dopamine hit, and competition for popularity through counting friends, followers, and retweets.

The charity says apps and websites should “clearly and succinctly” state when they use such hooks, alongside warnings of the potential impact on children’s mental and emotional health, their education, sleep patterns and concentration.

“The tech industry needs to look at their stratospheric share prices, then at our children can decide which is more important,” said Baroness Kidron, who as Beeban Kidron directed the film Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and the award-winning television series Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.

Her charity said it was supported by titans of the tech industry including Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the world wide web, Nir Eyal, the behavioural psychologist, and Sean Parker, Facebook’s co-founder.

It said the Government should name, grade and label the impact of persuasive design features in software and conduct impact assessments.

Baroness Kidron said there were parallels to The Daily Telegraph’s Duty of Care campaign to impose a legal duty on firms to safeguard children’s well-being and welfare online.

She said: “It’s the duty of online services to treat children according to their status as a child. It’s not the responsibility of the child to adapt to the commercial needs of these firms.”

The 5Rights report recommends redesigning services to make it as easy to get offline as it is easy to get on, and setting functions such as auto-play of videos, notifications and summonses to the off default rather than on.

There should also be “streak holidays” so Snapchat-obsessed children can get a break from amassing consecutive days online, save buttons so children can leave an activity, and an end to the personalisation of services to extend their use meaning that companies are able to mine even more data.

“It is unreasonable to design services to be compulsive and then reprimand children for being pre-occupied with their devices,” says the report.

Alex Chalk, the Tory MP who led a parliamentary inquiry into social media, said: “It is becoming increasingly clear that social media companies have deliberately sought to hook young children without any thought for the consequences."

A spokesman for Facebook and Instagram said: "We recognise that people are concerned about how technology affects our attention spans, relationships and our children in the long run. That’s why we recently pledged $1 million towards research to better understand the relationship between media technologies, youth development and well-being, as well as the factors that can pull people away from important face-to-face interactions."

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