Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 31.7.18

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. Garish but informative.

Spain
  • Says El País here: The tourism boom and the sharing economy have created an explosive cocktail in Spain’s real estate market. Holiday rentals have become a lucrative business that is proliferating in the centers of the most popular cities, steadily pushing out the permanent residents. Now, local governments are stepping in with a series of measures aimed at regulating the sector and containing these soaring prices. Ultimately, the goal is to prevent city centers from becoming tourist theme parks where the locals cannot afford to live. One can certainly have some sympathy with this objective.
  • So, the Real Madrid footballer Ronaldo has been 'fined' €19m and sentenced to 2 years in jail for tax offences. Not that he'll feel the pain of either the financial penalty or any time in clink. No one sentence to 2 years or less actually goes to prison in Spain. 
  • Smoking is now said to be Spain's biggest killer. No one living here would be surprised at that.
Life in Spain
  • If you're not among the recent categories of residents here, you might figure in this selection of tourist types. From The Local, of course.
The EU
  • Brussels has backed off the war against cash, says Don Quijones here.
The UK
  • Chelsea FC have offered N’Golo Kanté a new contract worth nearly £290,000 a week. So, we haven't yet reached the limit of this obscenity.
  • The minister responsible for trains says that Britain's railways are the envy of Europe. To the extent that Britain's NHS is the envy of the world, I imagine.
Social Media
  • There've been many justifiably critical descriptions of Twitter et al. Here's a good one from the New York Times political reporter, Maggie Haberman: Twitter is an anger video game for many users.
Galicia and Pontevedra
  • More than 300,000 'pilgrims' are expected to do the Camino de Santiago this year, way up on the lowly 10,000 of 1992. The (increasingly crowded) French Way continues to garner the greatest proportion - at 60% - but the Portuguese Way has grown to 22%, followed far behind by the English Way, the North Coastal Way, the 'Primitive' Way and the 'Silver' Way. Then come the remaining 27 – yes, 27 – Ways. All 'authentic' pilgrim routes from the Middle Ages, of course . . . Foreigners from more than 150 countries make up the majority of walkers - 64% - with Italians, Germans, North Americans, Portuguese and French folk leading the pack, in that order.
  • Talking of revenue generation . . . In their relentless campaign to maximise the tax take, over the last 2 months our zealous traffic police have copped 593 drivers using their new laser-based miniradares. Doubtless some of these fines will be merited but I'm equally sure some drivers will have been caught in what can only be regarded as duplicitious traps. There are also reports of drivers arriving for their August holiday without tax and insurance. But these folk really do merit their fines.
  • There's a glut of cocaine in South America, which can mean only one thing for our coast – increased inboard activity – as several countries expand their export activities. Maybe I should buy some shares in companies making ultra-fast speedboats (superplaneadoras).
  • Apart from the local government, there's only one large employer in Pontevedra – a cellulose factory on the outskirts of the city. Its licence runs out this year and it's long been the ambition of the left wing, 'nationalist' BNG folk who run the city council to see the back of it. Notwithstanding the loss of many jobs. But there's a growing suspicion that the (Portuguese) company and the Spanish state have done a deal to secure its continuance. Which, if true, won't go down too well with 'activists'.
Finally . . .
  • I'm still not getting Comments in my email but I am now getting my posts . . . Which I dont need to see, of course.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 31.7.18

Monday, July 30, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 30.7.18

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. Garish but informative.

Spain
  • Looking forward . . . An intolerable strain for Spain?
  • Looking backwards . . . Franco's popularity lives on, this writer claims. Final para: Moving Franco’s remains out of El Valle would be one of most consequential decisions made by any Spanish premier in the post-Franco era. Aside from allowing for the creation of an appropriate memorial to the victims of the Civil War, the exhumation would clear the way for many of the things that the international human rights community, including the United Nations’ Committee on Enforced Disappearances, has for years been demanding from Spain, especially state support for the exhumation and proper burial of those in thousands of Civil War-era mass graves found all over the Spanish territory—the majority of them Republican. Ironically, it is the political stability created by the silencing of the past after Franco’s death that today allows Spain to undertake these painful tasks.
Life in Spain
USA
  • These are words and phrases made in respect of Fart by someone who claims to understand him well, having observed him for years:-
- Childlike temper tantrums.
- His staff, like most other human beings, are only of interest to him as long as they're useful. However, lengthy and loyal their service, if their usefulness was at an end they would be dispensed with.
- He is the only person that matters. His wishes, his feelings, his interests alone counted.
- He remains impoverished when it comes to real contact, cut off from any real meaningful personal relationships through the shallowness of his emotions and his profoundly egocentric, exploitative attitude towards all human beings.
- Incipient megalomania.
- The ecstasy of mass meetings provides each time a new injection of the drug to feed his egomania.
- His methods are, to say the least, unconventional diplomacy – raw, brutal, unpalatable.
- Some comments doubting his sanity reflect the feeling that he has crossed the bounds of rational behaviour in international politics.
- His highly personalised form of rule has eroded all semblance of collective responsibility in policy making.
- The constant Hobbesian 'war against all', the competing power fiefdoms that characterise his administration, take place below him, enhancing his extraordinary position at the fount of all authority and dividing both individual and sectional interests of the different power entities.
- He prefers to let his subordinates battle it out among themselves.
- The inexorable disintegration of coherent structures of rule is not only a product of the personality cult reflecting and embellishing his absolute supremacy, but at the same time underpins the myth of the all-seeing, all-knowing infallible leader, elevating it to the very principle of government itself.
- He has swallowed the myth himself, hook line and sinker. He is the most ardent believer in his own infallibility and destiny. This is not a good premiss for rational decision-taking.
- His narcissistic self-glorification has swollen immeasurably. He thinks himself infallible; his self image had reached the stage of outright hubris.

Except, they aren't about Fart. They were written in 2000 by British historian Ian Kershaw in his book Nemesis. I'm sure you can guess who they were really applied to.
  • Hubris is said to be invariably followed by nemesis. Against that, this writer thinks Fart is on track to win a second term. Can things really be that bad in the USA?
The UK and Brexit
  • There's news this morning of 80% of Brits regarding Mrs May's handling of the negotiations as disastrous. But is that really news.
  • Far more newsworthy is that claim that at least 50% of Brits want a second referendum.
  • Richard North opines in his blog today: I expect the EU to devise some sort of transition period just to buy time and allow more preparation. Sadly though, we must conclude that no amount of planning or organisation could even begin to compensate for the incompetence of the May government and the people advising her and her ministers. Thus, whatever the logical part of one's brain might tell one, there are times when panic is the right thing to do.
Oh, World
  • A Japanese company is paying young women to put ads in their armpits while on on trains and subways where the commercials will be certain to catch the travelling public’s eye. Selling space on the body is not new in Japan and advert agencies have used female thighs in the past.
Galicia and Pontevedra
  • This article by a British wine expert mentions our Mencia red wine, a favourite of mine. Though her preferred bottle comes from nearby León, not Galicia.
  • Interestingly for me, the bottle that cost almost 13 quid in the UK sells for under €8 here. So, I'll be trying it soon as . . . It has lovely, immediate fruit and charm with the racy nerve well in evidence.
Finally . . .
  • Believing that Kershaw's Nemesis was the recent follow-up to his monumental Hubris, I bought the former for my kindle. But when, this morning, I decided to confirm I'd bought Hubris in book form I found I'd actually bought Nemesis 14 years ago . . . But I am enjoying re-reading it. And am noting the parallels. Not to mention hoping that Fart doesn't go so far as to plunge the world into a World War 3.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 30.7.18

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 29.7.18

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. Garish but informative.

Spain
  • Well, here's a provocative article heading for you: Can Spain ever become a normal European country? Click here for the discussion.
  • A bit of abnormality in Barcelona . . . 
  • Here's Don Quijones on the dreadful IT cockup on Banco Sabadell's part. Quote: IBM, the firm appointed by TSB to identify and resolve its IT problems, reported in a brief presentation recently released by MPs to the public that they had seen no “evidence of the application of a rigorous set of go-live criteria to prove production readiness.” Bad planning??? Or bad execution? Or both?
  • Spain has again become the main entry point for those fleeing Africa. How long can it continue?
Life in Spain
  • Training back from Madrid last night, I found myself in one of those places of 4 seats - 2 facing 2 without a table in between. Made worse by the insistence of the woman opposite me on leaving a large bag on the floor between our feet, preventing any movement on the part of mine. Both I and the guy next to me read throughout the 6.5 hour journey but the 2 women facing us merely stared into the middle distance for its entirety. Except when the bag-woman was taking one of the 25 calls from what appeared to be her son. Not the best train trip I've ever had. Actually, I slightly exaggerated there; the bag woman got off at Vigo and I had the last half hour for some welcome leg-stretching. And silence.
USA
  • Here's a bit more on the annual National Prayer Breakfast 'Christian' event I mentioned a few days ago. 
  • Talking of Christians . . . You do have to wonder about people who think that their god is giving them direct, personal - and very convenient - advice. For example on gun ownership.
The UK
  • Rich Russian oligarchs are deserting Britain's public schools, as the economic reality of the new cold war starts to bite. A bad thing? For others than the school owners, I mean.
English
  • England Sevens are the gentlemen of sport - and their relatability is why we should give them more credit. Relatability?? Merriam-Webster: He also maintained an outsized relatability, as the kind of guy who seemed more at ease with commoners than with any media elite.
The UK and Brexit
  • There are several 'splits' among British voters and politicians on this huge issue but Richard North this morning claims that: The most decisive split must now be between those who understand that a "no deal" Brexit will be catastrophic and those who insist on dismissing fears as "project fear". He's in the former camp, by the way, despite being a long-time Brexit supporter.
Finally . . .
  • A plea: Google's Blogger gives me 2 numbers for page views to this blog. One of them is always around 10 times higher than the other, possibly - despite my attempts to exclude them - because of Russian bots. One day last week, the higher number reached an incredible 4,837. I'm trying again to use the allegedly more accurate Google Analytics but if there's anyone out there who can shed light on this issue, I'd be grateful for comments/advice.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 29.7.18

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Thoughts from Madrid: 28.7.18

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. Garish but informative.

Spain
  • This is an interesting take on the new ('accidental') government.
  • And this is a positive take on tourism.
  • I often shock visitors by telling them just how corrupt the politico-industrial nexus is here. But I always stress that, though this type of corruption inescapably adds costs to everything, it's very rare for one to engage in a corrupt practice in daily life – with the obvious exception of paying cash to avoid VAT/IVA. Plus, of course, the customary under-reporting of house price deals, so as to reduce the high transfer tax. However . . . It struck me today – when reading of a scam involving a chain of cheap dental practices – that it's not unusual to hear of large-scale frauds on the public. Such as the huge stamp scandal of a couple of years back. And then there were the crooked estate agents and lawyers of the South who rooked so many foreigners during the construction boom of 2002-2006. So, maybe I should revise my spiel. Individuals here might not practice corruption on a day to day basis but they are certainly at risk of being rooked.
  • There was a demonstration in Puerta del Sol last night. This is what it was about.
  • Coincidentally(??), the BBC yesterday contained this article on Spain's 'enduring machismo'.
Life in Spain
  • As she departed for the UK, my elder daughter asked me to take some CDs back to a public library in the palace of the Conde de Duque, about a kilometre from her flat, to avoid her having her rights suspended for being late. This is what happened once I got there:-
- I arrive at the palace and go through the main portal.
- I walk the 50m across the courtyard under the hot sun to the door of the public library.
- I get near the door and see it's roped off.
- I divert myself left to go up a long ramp in the hope this is the way in.
- I arrive at a bend and realise the ramp goes, not down to the library door below, but up to the main entrance higher up.
- I come down the ramp again and go back to the library door.
- I go under the rope and find the door locked, but with no sign/notice on it, except one giving the summer timetable. 
- I see people working near the door inside. None of whom lets on they've seen me pushing at the door, trying to get in.
- I go back under the rope and meet a guy who asks me if the library is closed,
- I say it seems so and we both walk to the steps to the main door and climb them. The only notice on the door there is that, to get into the library, we should use the door which we've just found to be roped off and closed.
- We go inside and then down several flights of stairs which we assume will take us to the library on the ground floor.
- After several flights of stairs, we find ourselves among construction workers having their lunch in the basement.
- We wearily climb back up the stairs and exit the building.
- My new colleague says he will check at the entrance and so walks 50m back across the courtyard to the main portal
- I wait patiently.
- He returns to say we have to go through a door in another wing into the next courtyard
- We do this and take the second of 2 available doors, to find ourselves on the ground floor of the library, at a door marked Children's Room.
- So, we go upstairs to the adults' room.
- I ask where I need to go to return the CDs.
- Am told to go to the desk in the middle of the room.
- At the desk I'm told that, to return CDs, I have to go back downstairs, via a flight of stairs at the far end of the room
- I go back downstairs and find myself 2m away from the door I originally tried to get through. It's blocked inside.
- I go to the first desk and wait while 2 employees chat to each other.
- After a minute or more, one of them tells me to go to the next desk, where another couple of employees are chatting to each other.
- I do so and one of them breaks off to take the CDs
- I then have to walk the length of the room to get out of a door near to the one where we finally managed to get into the library.
- I exit and walk through the smaller courtyard to a smaller portal which opens onto the street.
Thus is time wasted in Spain, where it sometimes seems that - as stressed so often by the Dutchman, Vincent Werner, in his recent book It is not what it is: The Real (S)pain- service providers are incapable of – or unwilling to – put themselves in the shoes of the customers. In truth, I have more time on my hands now that at any other period in my life, so can be 'philosophical' about this sort of thing. As a younger man, I'd have been beside myself with irritation. Hence my belief that, much as I love to be retired here, I could never have worked happily in Spain.

English
  • I checked out the books of Manfred Görlach cited in yesterday's article on the various Englishes, planning to buy at least one of them. But not at €100-150 a time.
Finally . . .
  • Last evening I set out for a meeting with my visiting Canadian cousin and her 18 year old daughter. Their apartment was in a little street off Calle de La Montera – once famous for its high class shops but now for its many prostitutes. Arriving at the street, I couldn't help but notice 3 of the latter on the corner. But, anyway, I realised that I didn't have the number of the building, only the apartment number – 4C. But I checked out building number 4, just in case, and concluded it was far too seedy to be the right building. As I was talking to the guy sitting in the entrance, one of the ladies of the night (well, evening in this case) passed me with a client. Confirming that it was essentially a brothel. So, I continued my search for 4C and eventually found it in no. 14 Calle de Caballero de Gracia. All's well that ends well. And we saw the lunar eclipse in Plaza Mayor, where I entertained myself by discussing the sale of my cousin's daughter to a Senegalese hawker. No deal was finalised but he did manage to get a foto with her. God knows what he'll claim to his mates.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 28.7.18

Friday, July 27, 2018

Thoughts from Madrid: 27.7.18

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 pagehere. Garish but informative.

Spain
  • El País reports here on the latest development around the possible corruption of Spain's last king.
  • And, down at street level, Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas comments on on the growing problem of Spain squatters (okupas) here. Harder to remove, he says, than those caught in the tentacles of the banks through unpaid mortgages, the okupas are legion. One such, in Puerto Banus, started by renting a holiday apartment then changed the locks. He now runs four prostitutes from the address.
Life in Spain
  • See the article below of turismofobia. Sorry that I don't have time to tart up the machine translation.
  • Be careful if you're buying cheaper 'old' poperties in Spain, says El País here.
The EU and Brexit
  • Says Richard North here about M Barnier's response to Mrs May's latest proposals: There was an unbridgeable divide and the EU has just made it bigger. Negotiations/hostilities are now in suspense until after the summer vacations. Some folk in London might not be getting much of a holiday as they seek to untie a Gordian knot.
The UKand Brexit
  • Now, this really is serious news: It could be “illegal” to pay private pensions to many retired British expats if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal. The Association of British Insurers says pensioners who receive their payments into bank accounts in their adopted countries could be left without cashBut what if they're paid into UK accounts and later transferred?
  • Something about that buffoon Boris Johnson, who might yet become PM.
The USA
  • Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has called Trump' fixer - Michael Cohen - a “pathological liar”. Which must take the biscuit for chutzpah. Or transference?
  • Interesting point: Mr Trump’s most lasting international legacy may be the geopolitical awakening of Germany and Japan; something that US policy has long sought to avoid. Mr Trump’s tactical successes will prove to have come at the price of strategic failure.
Social Media
  • Oh, dear: Reports The TimesAntisemitic posts claiming that the Holocaust is a lie and that Jews are “barbaric and unsanitary” remain on Facebook despite being flagged to the company. Cartoons that depict Jewish people as hook-nosed cockroaches, links to a website selling “holohoax” books banned by mainstream retailers and fan pages for a convicted Holocaust denier are also accessible. Facebook’s community guidelines class antisemitic material as hate speech and the company says that it is committed to removing posts that are reported. However, it does not consider Holocaust denial hate speech
  • Coincidentally: Some $119 billion was wiped off the value of the company yesterday - the biggest one-day fall in US corporate history - as it reported growth far below expectations. Couldn't have happened to a nicer company.
  • A Times columnist this morning: Real corporate power today is wielded by technology companies not banks and the time will come, and soon, that it needs to be curtailed. 
English
  • This is a long and fascinating article on my native tongue. Snippets:-
- The world that is threatened by English.
- Behemoth, bully, loudmouth, thief: English is everywhere, and everywhere, English dominates. From inauspicious beginnings on the edge of a minor European archipelago, it has grown to vast size and astonishing influence. everywhere it goes, it leaves behind a trail of dead: dialects crushed, languages forgotten, literatures mangled.
- The influence of English now goes beyond simple lexical borrowing or literary influence. Researchers at the IULM University in Milan have noticed that, in the past 50 years, Italian syntax has shifted towards patterns that mimic English models, for instance in the use of possessives instead of reflexives to indicate body parts and the frequency with which adjectives are placed before nouns. German is also increasingly adopting English grammatical forms, while in Swedish its influence has been changing the rules governing word formation and phonology.
  • For those wanting to know WTH a 'retroflex consonant' is, here's Wiki on it. And here's the only example of it in English.
Galicia/Pontevedra
  • Still on trains . . .  More than 5 years after the accident, the Santiago bound trains still don't have the latest saftey system they should have had from the outset. This was deadlined for last year.
  • Another death from the Asian wasp.
  • And another kamikaze driver in his 70s causing havoc on an autopista. Are these peculiar to Galicia?
Finally . . .
  • My elder daughter flew to the UK today, where it will be hotter than it is here in Madrid. Possibly in some parts of Britain the hottest day ever recorded, at clost to 40 degrees centipede. As we kids used to put it.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 26.7.18

THE ARTICLE

Tourismophobia, bullshit
!:     Raul Solis

If you report that there are waiters getting 700 euros a month for 12 hours of work per day, of which only four are declared, it's that you hate tourism, if you report that there are flat cleaners who come to work drugged up to clean 20 rooms a day for 1.5 euros each, it's that you hate tourism.

If you report that drunk guiris stay in illegal apartments and vomit up your garden, you hate tourism; if you report that your rent has gone from 500 euros a month to 900, because it is more profitable for the landlord to rent the house illegally for days than for months legally, you hate tourism. If you report that the old small shops and bars in your neighbourhood are now franchises where they pay 700 euros a month to waiters with partial contracts that become dawn-to-dusk days, you hate tourism.

If you report that you studied Tourism and have been living in two countries for several years to improve your language skills and that the hotel where you work as a receptionist now pays you 900 euros a month, it is because you hate tourism; if you report that you are tired of not being able to leave your house because the herds of tourists have blocked your doorway, it is because you hate tourism.

If you denounce that there is a tourist bubble that has replaced the real estate bubble, sustained by low salaries and the expulsion of the local population from the city, it is because you hate tourism; if you denounce that it is immoral to charge 100 euros for a hotel room, while paying 1.5 euros to clean a room to a cleaner or 700 euros to the waiter who serves you breakfast, it is because you hate tourism. If you report that the profits from tourism, a sector that didn't experience La Crisis and which is increasing its profits by more than double digits each year, must be distributed in a balanced way among workers, entrepreneurs and tourist cities, it is because you hate tourism.

If you denounce that the historical-artistic heritage of our cities cannot withstand the current pressure of tourism and that in a few years we may not be able to continue to make a living from tourism because we will have destroyed it because of capitalist greed, it is because you hate tourism.

If you denounce that tourism should be a sector of the future and not just of the present, that tourists deserve to visit authentic, real-life sites, not theme parks, and that local people deserve to be able to combine living in their city with tourism, then you hate tourism. If you report that a worker in the tourism industry can't take a week's holiday each year because his or her salary doesn't allow it, then you hate tourism.

This is the same thing that happened when it was reported that the real estate bubble prevented normal families from having access to decent housing or that construction was destroying our country's environmental heritage and coastline. Those who hate everything but their desire to accumulate profits at the expense of exploiting natural, historical and human resources have found in 'tourism phobia' their key word for not initiating a calm and serious debate after which they won't be able to get away with it and which could put a stop to the excessive anxiety about the accumulation of profits at the expense of the health of women who come to work drugged to be able to bear the pain caused by moving trolleys of dirty laundry and cleaning 20 rooms in four hours.

Tourism phobia, your father. [Bullshit, I think]

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Thoughts from Madrid, Spain: 26.7.18

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. Garish but informative.

Spain
  • A guide to trips along the north coast.
  • Spain wouldn't be Spain if it wasn't trying to use Brexit to force British concessions on Gibraltar, possibly vetoing any future deal reached with Brussels. Latest developments/posturings here.
  • On the train on Tuesday afternoon, we passed a clearly abandoned village in the folds of the Galcian hills. I was reminded of it by this article, about a couple who symbolise Spain's depopulation.
Life in Spain
  • Here's what you need to know if you're daft enought to be planning to drive in Spain in the very near future
  • As my daughter was giving an English lesson in her flat yesterday afternoon, I went to the Plaza de 2 de Mayo, to sit on a stone bench and listen to a podcast. There were already 4 or 5 disreputable-looking layabouts there. And an equal number of the local police, checking their IDs. This done, the boys in blues left 'empty-handed', to the obvious delight of the vagabonds. Within seconds, a couple of teenage girls arrived (or returned), plugged a mobile phone into a portable amplifier and then drowned the busy square with South American music played at 11, forcing them to shout to each other in order to chat. This being Spain, no one turned a hair at this auditory pollution. So, I left. Talking to my daughter about this, she told me the police had ceased preventing loud all-night parties in the plaza, to the detriment of the sleep of her and her partner. She'd successfully made a denuncia against nocturnal noise in the street bordering on the square but wasn't in a position to do the same for these parties. Neither of us could understand why flat-owners on the square seemed to be unwilling to take action. But we have theories. Her Spanish partner's view is the traditional one of: Así son las cosas. Nowt to be done about it. Despite the fact he really does need his sleep.
The UK and Brexit
  • Below is an article from the sort of optimistic Brexiteer I am/was. I say 'optimistic' but that adjective plainly applies more to the intro than to the rest of the article. As of now, says the writer, the outlook is grim. Possibly even catastrophic, with the UK becoming just like everywhere else - an angry nation, openly at war over class and identitarian issues. The writer departs with the question: Why is the establishment willing to gamble everything for its irrational love of a failing super-state? I wish I knew the answer to that.
The USA
  • Some folk think Trump is finally facing up to reality. Real reality, that is, not the one he has on any particular day – or at any particular hour - in his unfathomable head. Click here for a rationale of this (misplaced?) optimism.
  • As Fart can do no wrong for his base, the only hope for the future is that this continues to shrink, as some Republicans at least come to their political senses and plan to replace him before the next presidential election. If not the midterms.
Galicia/Pontevedra
  • Our fish and seafood market in Pontevedra is a thing of wonder. At least on the ground floor. But things have not been going well for traders on the first floor, where there are now just a few veg sellers. But hope is here in the form of a plan to turn this area into something centred on gourmet foods. As usual in Spain, this venture will be at least partly financed by the EU. In other words, by northern European taxpayers. One wonders why. Can Spanish gourmet food aficionados not fund their own luxury aspirations? If not, Stuff 'em. Say I.
  • Which reminds me . . . The Galician government is seeking EU cash to help with dealing with the problem of an ageing population. Why not tax the richer pensioners instead? Probably because the ruling PP party depends on their votes to stay in power.
  • It's 150km between Vigo and Oporto but the 20th century train on 19th tracks takes around 2.5 hours to cover the distance, at an average speed of 60kph. When I first came here 18 years ago, it was 3.5 hours and 43kph. But now it's announced that measures are to be taken to reduce it to 1.5 hours and a phenomenal 100kph. About the same as it takes by car. And one day there'll be an AVE high-speed train from La Coruña to Lisbon, passing through Oporto en route. The 12th of Never, I fear.
  • Prescriptions for anti-depressants in Galicia are 50% up on what they were 5 year ago. Those for stomach complaints are up 65%. Reasons unknown.
Finally . . .
  • A young British historian – Catherine Nixey – has written what appears to be a fascinating book – The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical WorldSee here for info on it. I was about to order it but then read some reviews from older (Christian?) historians who absolutely panned it. So, I think I'll give it a miss and concentrate on Ian Kershaw's second volume on Hitler. Should help to pass the 7 hours on the train back to Pontevedra on Saturday.
© David Colin Davies, Madrid: 26.7.18

THE ARTICLE

A betrayal on Brexit would push British politics to the extremes: Allister Heath

Can mainstream political parties survive? Or are populists and extremists going to take over everywhere, with cataclysmic effects on the economy, liberty and Western civilisation? 


My great hope for Brexit was that it would save Britain from such a fate, one that I fear risks befalling much of the rest of Europe. The theory was that leaving the EU would reboot UK politics, paving the way for a novel settlement that reconciled liberalism and soft nationalism, globalisation and democratic self-government. Such an approach would have built on the UK’s unique strengths – a wonderful openness to outsiders, a buccaneering commercial spirit, comparatively well-integrated immigrant communities – while neutralising much of the discontent bubbling under the surface.

A new electoral coalition would have emerged, marshalled by the now fully pro-Brexit Tories, and within a few years of leaving the EU Britain would have become like Switzerland or Australia, in control of its destiny and borders and yet pro-capitalist, open to talent and foreign capital, and trading globally. Our tamed elites would have been forced to address the problems of ordinary people, rebuilding the trust shattered by a series of recessions, scandals and lies.

In this “optimal Brexit” scenario, which I suspect would have materialised had Brexiteers taken power in 2016, the Tory government, to keep hold of its new supporters, would have tackled many of the other egregiously unpopular policies that have created such a wedge between voters and politicians. Softness on crime, excessive levels of foreign aid, the madly expensive HS2, politicised human rights rulings that make a mockery of the real thing, the assumption that there will be more bailouts of private companies, and a dishonest immigration policy, all are hated by a vast majority of people.

Fast-forward two years, however, and the outlook is grim. The kind of reformation I was hoping for may still just about be possible, but it is now equally likely that the establishment’s refusal to implement Brexit properly, its decision not even to try for a Canadian style free trade agreement, its pusillanimous inability to stand up for Britain in the face of EU bullying, will instead break our political system.

Britain has a long history of political exceptionalism – extremist parties have been astonishingly unsuccessful here, partly because the governing classes used to believe in compromising with the public and absorbing social change

The consequences of a Brexit betrayal would be catastrophic: there would no longer be any halting the tide of anti-establishment fury that has been building since the early 1990s. Support for mainstream parties would collapse and new ones would emerge. Yes, a centrist business-as-usual grouping may well be one of those that arises from the rubble, but its supporters – the Remain metropolitan base – massively overestimate its potential. It would be small, little larger than the Lib Dems are today. Sadly, the libertarian yet Eurosceptic party of my dreams would be even tinier.

The real winners would be nasty, European-style extremist parties of Left and Rightthat would desecrate our public life. The polling is depressingly clear: swathes of people would vote for a new authoritarian party under certain circumstances, while there is extensive support for hard line socialist positions. The poison of far-Right and far-Left demagoguery would contaminate our body politic, as has already started with the rise of Corbyn and anti-Semitism in the Labour Party; and just like in other countries, millions would end up voting for detestable people with repellent ideas.

Such an abominable outcome would herald the end of Britain’s long history of political exceptionalism – extremist parties have been astonishingly unsuccessful here, partly because the governing classes used to believe in compromising with the public and absorbing social change. A Brexit sell-out, combined with a continuation of all the other discredited consensus policies of the past few decades, would make the UK just like everywhere else - an angry nation, openly at war over class and identitarian issues.

In France, the National Front grabbed 34 per cent of the vote in the second round of the last presidential election and is one lucky break away from power. Emmanuel Macron’s new party has permitted the pretence that populism was defeated in France. It wasn’t: there would be a global outcry at Macron’s calls for pan-European protectionism were they proposed by Donald Trump. In any case, Macron’s popularity is shot.

In Germany, terrifyingly, the AfD sits at around 17 per cent in the polls, the hard-left Linke at 12 per cent and the anti-capitalist, anti-Nato Greens at 11 per cent, a total of 40 per cent who would tear up the status quo. Britain’s chattering classes don’t seem to realise the extent of the damage wreaked by Angela Merkel, one of the most overrated politicians of this century.

The elites attempting to stop Brexit are unleashing a far greater backlash, one that would make leaving the EU without a deal seem like a tea party

In Italy, the populists are in power, as is also the case in parts of Eastern Europe. In Spain, it is “mainstream” to jail Catalan political opponents. In other countries, supposedly centre-Right and centre-Left parties are implementing policies once only advocated by maniacs. As to America, the Republicans are now a party being rebuilt in Trump’s image, and the Democrats are contemplating their own hard-Left experiment.

Brexit was our last chance to escape this madness and show how popular angst caused by economic turmoil and cultural change can be reconciled with free markets and openness. Yet – in the name of their narrow conception of liberalism, and their bonkers belief that we already live in the best of all possible worlds – the elites attempting to stop Brexit are unleashing a far greater backlash, one that would make leaving the EU without a deal seem like a tea party. Their lack of self-awareness is staggering, proof that we should never underestimate the ability of a ruling class, however educated and sophisticated, to act stupidly.

It is still possible to halt the collapse of our politics, and to do so without pandering to or accommodating the racists, fascists and Marxists. But it would require a dramatic u-turn. The government would need to leave the EU properly, albeit hopefully with a deal and with massive tax cuts to cushion any temporary instability, to vocally express its pride in this country, to allow the building of more homes, to introduce a controlled, but crucially not illiberal immigration policy, and to start campaigning in favour of capitalism.

Mainstream, popular policies of the kind routinely embraced by self-governing countries around the world could nip the extremists in the bud and give the Tories 45 per cent of the vote. Why can’t they see this? And why is the establishment willing to gamble everything for its irrational love of a failing super-state?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Thoughts from Madrid: 25.7.18

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. Garish but informative.

Spain
  • Spain has long-standing laws which forbid construction within a certain distance of the sea. My understanding is that this margin has increased in recent years. But this article suggests the law is being respected more in the breach than in the observance.
Life in Spain
  • So . . . If you're a guiri resident in Spain, which is your tribe? En passant, I've never seen any foreigner of the type said to head for Galicia.
  • Last time I went to the notary with my elder daughter in respect of a gift to her, the secretary made 3 serious mistakes in the draft deed (escritura). This time – in another office – the secretary just managed to switch the numbers of our passports. On the whole, though, things were quicker this time. But the fee for a few minutes' simple work was still outrageously high. Presumably fixed by whatever the Notaries' cartel is called. What a racket the (French inspired) notary system is.
  • You may recall that I cited a while ago an extraordinary peon of praise for Spain from a Brit called James Rhodes. He's still at it, to more popular acclaim, and here's Guy Hedgecoe's nice take on him. 
Portugal
  • I knew that the Portuguese economy was motoring along now, after years in the doldrums. But I didn't realise it was because they'd cast off the cloak of austerity. Keynes might well be gloating in heaven.
The UK and Brexit
  • Yet more articles in support of the Norway option in today's British papers. An extract from one of them: Interest in the Norway option has intensified since the white paper was released. More thoughtful Brexiteers [i e. Richard North] have always favoured it, as the smoothest way of exiting the EU with the minimum of economic damage, and a reflection of the fact that the vote in June 2016, of 51.9% to 48.1%, was not conclusive enough to make the case for a hard break. It appeals because: It retains the best of the economic benefits of EU membership, while leaving the other 27 to pursue the rocky road towards closer political union. In short: The best Brexit outcome, EEA membership, is staring us in the face. As it has for some for years now.
Galicia/Pontevedra
  • Having trained down to Madrid yesterday, I was going to write today about the attempted whitewash of the already 5 year-old official enquiry into the dreadful Santiago train crash – 'an accident waiting to happen' - and then I saw this in ThinkSpain. Which says it all.
  • I've travelled on the night train many times but this was my first train trip to Madrid in daylight. The positive highlight was the astonishing changes in scenery. I knew of these, of course, from doing the journey by car but this time I could look out of the window. The negative lowlights were the slowness of the train and, on a single track, the need to stay marooned in some derelict station or other while a train coming the other way passed us. Still, better than crashing into it headlong, I guess.
  • I think I saw evidence of works dedicated to the AVE high-speed train up near A Gudiña. My impression is that, as well as tunnels, there are viaducts to be be finished. And that the latter are years off completion. More than 2, I mean. But I could be wrong, of course.
  • The train was 20 minutes late in Zamora, Segovia and Madrid but no announcement/apology was made, this being well within the Spanish margin of 'punctual'.
Finally . . .
  • 55.000 camino 'pilgrims' passed through Pontevedra last year. This year's forecast is 80,000. Well on the way to 100,000 in the Jacobeo Year of 2021
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 25.7.18

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 24.7.18

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. Garish but informative.

Spain
  • The newish Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has gone himself into hot water by using the prime ministerial plane to fly himself and his wife 263 miles to see The Killers [nor me] perform at a rock concert. On the contrary, he says he had a lot of official engagements in the region and the concert was tacked on the end of these. I see no reason to doubt him . . .
  • Not terribly surprising but, now that the heat has been taken out of the situation, support for independence in Cataluña has fallen from 49 to 47%. If the PSOE government continues to be sensible, I expect it to fall further. To the point when a legal referendum would make sense.
The UK and Brexit
  • Today sees yet another article – the first one below – headed something along the lines of: Time to get serious about the Norway option? As I've stressed, the original proponent of this – the very angry Richard North – fears it's too late now for it. Possibly later. After next year's unavoidable apocalypse.
The UK
  • When my (then) stepson was 13, I was shocked by his spending more time tarting himself up in the bathroom than either of my teenage daughters, as I waited to drive him to school. So I wasn't surprised to read the first article below, headed: Vain men aren't real men. Is there anything less attractive?
The USA
  • A novelist friend of mine has asked me: Should I write a novel about Donald Trump's conversion to Catholicism, and his embrace of Holy Purity and total poverty. ​He joins with anchorites on The Sinai. When he dies, the odour of sanctity is bottled by Ivanka and sold in pious outlets worldwide. I said yes, of course, while wondering whether Trump's name would still be on everyone's lips by the time he got it published.
Galicia/Pontevedra
  • As it's another grey day here, I'm a tad fed up at hearing all the moans about the continuing heatwave in the UK.
  • You'll recall I was summoned last Thursday to make a witness declaration next Friday, and that I called them and then made this the next day. Well, yesterday, I received – again by special delivery – exactly the same letter. Needless to say, when I called them, they told me to ignore it. Is it any surprise that things move slowly in the judicial sphere?
  • To be positive . . . A Galician chap has invented an escalator for salmon, so they can more easily head up river, against the current. The diagram looks very impressive.
Finally . . .
  • There's a local public holiday here on Wednesday – St James, I think. Which might explain why I couldn't – 5 days ago – get a birth on the night train to Madrid tonight. And now have a 7.5 hour journey ahead of me at 3.30 today. Some people feel that money would have been better spent improving the traditional rail service between Galicia and the capital, as opposed to the now 30-year late high-speed AVE train. But what a joy it will be when it finally arrives. Assuming it does.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 23.7.18

THE ARTICLES

1. Why it's time my fellow Brexiteers took a second look at the Norway option

With Brexit negotiations in a mess, it is better to leave imperfectly than never leave at all.


This is an article about Brexit options and the importance of keeping them open, remembering that the primary goal of Brexit is – what? To get us out of the EU and its Looney Tunes plan to build a United States of Europe.

The beautiful simplicity of that proposition has been lost since Theresa May took over the process. We are living through Mrs May’s Brexit. She defined what a “real” Brexit would look like, she set the red lines and then she messed up the 2017 election, leaving her without the majority she needs to do the obvious.

For instance, why are we debating the future of the Northern Ireland border? Under normal circumstances, Westminster would have accepted the EU’s proposal to set a customs border down the Irish Sea, with checks in Liverpool rather than County Armagh.

But you can’t do that if your government is propped up by the DUP – who, by the way, have turned out to be far better negotiators than the soppy old Tories. We shouldn’t have sent David Davis to negotiate with the EU, we should have sent Arlene Foster. If we had, the EU would have ended up paying us to leave.

Now there are just weeks to go before we’re supposed to agree the final terms of our exit with Brussels and Mrs May has laid out two options: her deal or war. It’s a testament to her political abilities that so many MPs think “war” is the better option.

Her deal isn’t all that bad, as it stands. The problem is that it opens bidding with such a generous offer on goods – the EU sets the rules, we take ’em – that the EU will cheerfully ask for more, having already intimated that it would be required for services too.

And we will probably grant it. After two years of foot-dragging, surrenders and sheer political incompetence, few of us trust Mrs May, the one who is really doing the negotiating, to hold firm against Brussels.

When she insists that the alternative to her plan is no deal – what Jimmy Carter used to call the “Moral Equivalent of War”, or Meow – I suspect her message is designed not to spook the Europeans but to remind Brexiteer MPs that there is no majority for Meow in Parliament (no one wants food shortages or queues at Dover).

The problem with her gamble is that if no deal really is as apocalyptic as the Government says it is and if domestic support for her flawed plan collapses, which looks likely, then thoughts are going to turn towards a third option, which Mrs May has herself hinted at: staying inside the EU. To prevent that, Brexiteers have got to start promoting alternative plans of their own.

Here’s one: whatever happened to the Norway option? Leavers talked a lot about joining the European Economic Area during the referendum (along with Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein), partly because it reassured voters who’d prefer a soft exit. The surprise referendum victory turned Brexiteers dizzy with success and they pushed for even greater divergence.

But if they think again about Norway, they’ll find it achieves the fundamentals that Euroscepticism promised by taking us out of some of the EU’s greatest traps, such as the European Court of Justice and the Common Agricultural Policy.

Most importantly, Britain would be out of the political EU project. As a sovereign power, we would be free to “pay to play” within the Single Market. Yes, we’d have to swallow many EU rules, but it would avoid a cliff-edge for businesses and leave us free to sign trade deals outside the continent.

The major political headache would be immigration, because the EEA offers just an emergency brake. But I’m afraid to say that the great sell-out on Britain’s borders has started anyway. Aside from the Government’s generous offer of settled status to around 4 million EU citizens, Mrs May’s customs plan includes a “mobility framework” that will fast become open borders in all but name.

That’s a key point. Mrs May’s plan – which, remember, is currently the only plan on the table – crosses so many red lines that all the old objections to the EEA seem moot. And any compromises that come with EEA membership need only be temporary. We could join it and stay: maybe encourage other EU countries to defect, too. Or, if we don’t like the EEA, we can explore building an alternative, Canadian-style trade deal with the EU in our own sweet time.

Exit via the EEA gets us back to how many of us always saw Brexit: not as an outcome but a mechanism. Brexit puts us outside the EU. It’s up to future PMs to decide what kind of country we want to be once our ability to make real policy choices has been restored.

For something like EEA membership to happen, Mrs May would have to go. A serious Brexiteer would have to replace her, someone who could sell the proposal to MPs and the public. MPs will be easier to convince because EEA membership offers pretty much everything so many of them say they want – except for the most hardline of Remainers.

And once we are out of the EU, the notion that we should return to it will be as politically unpalatable as bringing back cock fighting. The question will be settled. Britain will in charge of its own destiny.

2. Vain men aren't real men. Is there anything less attractive?

When I was in my late teens I caught my boyfriend laughing in the bathroom mirror. He wasn’t laughing at himself (which would have been disturbing enough) but admiring his own laugh – which was disturbing enough for me to dump him.

This long-buried memory bubbled up at the weekend when I was sent a survey detailing the ‘vanity statistics’ of British men. According to the interiors retailer, Furniture123.co.uk, men are officially now the vainer sex, stopping to admire their reflections 28 times a day, while we sneak in just 21 peeks. That 31 minutes equates to almost eight days spent in concentrated male self-worship per year.
The memory of the ex with the choreographed laugh bubbled up again yesterday, as I read the outraged (mainly male) reactions to a British headmaster’s declaration that for young men now “the most important goal in life is to look like a male model.”

Andrew Halls, head of King’s College School, Wimbledon, had warned on Sunday that reality TV shows like Love Island were propagating “impossible images of perfection” that “can lead to an obsession with going to the gym and taking diet supplements which is far more common than many realise.”

Yearning for a return to an Orwellian Britain, where people were celebrated “for their ‘mild knobby faces, their bad teeth and gentle manners’”, Halls urged young men not to buy into the Love Island philosophy “where physical defect is a form of curse.”

Wait a second, the Twittersphere protested: haven’t young men (teens especially) been insufferably vain since the beginning of time? Women shouldn’t have the monopoly on vanity, should they? And in any case isn’t caring about how you look a valid and healthy form of self-respect? Yes, no, and hell no. Not to the extent the ‘Mr fifteen-packs’ mannequin men on Love Island do it. Because although both the survey and Andrew Halls were right, neither went on to point out that this isn’t vanity, this is narcissism.

Vanity (an obsession with one’s appearance) is both irritating and off-putting in either sex, but we made our peace with the strengthening male strain of it decades ago, when Beckham kicked off his twenty-year long preen-athon by donning a sarong, action stars began freezing their foreheads and unironically discussing their grooming regimes in public, Obama detailed the “seven almonds a night” he limited himself to in order to stay svelte and teenagers stopped nicking their mums’ beauty products and started buying their own.

Just the other day I witnessed a man on an LA restaurant patio produce a black powder compact with ‘FORMEN’ emblazoned across the front and start unselfconsciously blotting as he talked. To be fair, there’s nothing like unwanted facial shine to ruin a good night out.

Narcissism, on the other hand, is a malignant state of self-centeredness that is noxious to the point of making it difficult to forge significant or lasting relationships, or indeed feel empathy, gratitude or remorse. It’s a millennial disease fuelled by social media first and foremost – and yes, the poolside parade of threatened masculinity that is Love Island. It’s epitomised by the mango-haired US president’s scrupulously de-chinned Twitter profile picture, and I’m not going to lie: it’s a problem.
Because here’s the funny thing about male narcissists: although they appear supremely confident, they’re actually deeply insecure. And they’re not really interested in sex either (on account of it necessitating more than a cursory interest in another human being), which is why the whole premise of Love Island is fraudulent.

Oh and it’s also why millennials are the least sexually active generation in 60 years. Then again when you’ve got free porn on tap and the most mesmerising creature you’ve ever laid eyes on permanently within reach, why would you bother?

But the sex thing is important because it means that the plucked eyebrows, the French face creams, the surgical interventions and the spray tans are not about making yourself attractive to women, as they might have still been even twenty years ago, but self-seduction.

Equally those physiques are not gym-honed in order to carry animal carcasses home to your woman or protect her. They’re not even going to be used to help a woman with her shopping or hold the door open for her, let’s face it. No: they’re built up and designed with pure self-gratification in mind.

Which is probably why the mannequin men headmaster Halls is referring to are so repugnant in their perfection. Not unlike the Ken doll my six year-old left out in the garden the other day. With his shiny plastic abs glinting in the sun and his sculpted glutes packed into a tiny pair of nylon trunks, he looked just like a Love Island contestant. About as manly too.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 23.7.18

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. Garish but informative.

Spain
  • The widespread view is that the new leader of the PP party will take it (even further) to the Right.
  • I couldn't help noticing that his (blonde) wife resembles Mrs Macron. Indeed, the couple together look rather similar to the Macrons. As do the leader of Ciudadanos and his (blonde) wife. Telegenic, I guess. As Mr and Mrs Blair used to be . . .
  • Someone has described Sr Casado as 'A robot created in the factory of [ex-president] Aznar'. Sounds about right.
  • You have to laugh at Casado's assertion that No one is going to lecture us on corruption.
Life in Spain
  • If you live here and feel some food prices have been rising sharply, you're right. Fruit and veg in particular. See here.
  • There might be a huge backlog in Spain's slow-moving courts – especially in post-strike Galicia – but this is no reason to change cultural norms. When, last week, I told the clerk of the court that I couldn't make the appointment for this week, she replied it would have to be either the next day or some time in September, as nothing happened in August. As if I didn't know.
  • My comment yesterday about there being no 5 centimo coin was, first, an afterthought and, secondly, totally wrong. There are 5, 2 and even 1 cent coins. My excuse is that I was thinking about no one these days quoting prices in duros (5 cents), as they did to me in a village near Malaga back in 2001. But this is probably wrong as well. I can imagine it happening in a village up in the hills.
The UK and Brexit
  • What was I saying about the Norway option? See the articles below. 
  • Nice comment: Brexit has become like one of those obscure theological debates, where seemingly trivial doctrinal differences that few outside the priesthood fully comprehend manage to incite extreme passions and seething anger
  • Richard North remains pessimistic: Whatever else, we are not going to see the adoption of the Efta/EEA option under our current prime minister. This stupid woman has convinced herself that it "would mean continued free movement, ongoing vast annual payments and total alignment with EU rules across the whole of our economy, and no control of our trade policy". If that was true, it would be unacceptable. That Mrs May believes it to be true makes it unacceptable to her and her followers. And that puts it out of reach as a solution for the time being. we can all live in hope that a last-minute solution will be found. But only fools will embrace the current situation or look upon it with any degree of optimism. We are sleepwalking into a political crisis, the like of which has not been experienced in living memory.  . . From our point of view, we must never accept that a "no deal" is the end of the matter, or abandon hope that, some day, we can get things moving in the direction of the Efta/EEA option. This requires an intensification of effort, to overcome the ignorance and misinformation that has so damaged perception of the option.
  • Christopher Booker: The full implications of leaving the EEA were never explained in the referendum campaign, and they have never been understood by our politicians since. But in eight months time, they will begin to be brought home to us. To put it mildly, we will not be happy.
The UK
  • Utterly depressing news . . . Thirty-four per cent of Brits think Johnson would do a better job than Mrs May in negotiating the Brexit. Though, on reflection, this is not so surprising. Or even depressing. Almost anyone in the UK would do a better job. Certainly depressing, though, is that the majority of Tory voters think Johnson should lead the Conservatives into the next election. A poor man's Trump. God forbid.
The USA
  • If Trump were to go, Mike Pence would be in charge. Watch this video for a coruscating view of the man from a fellow Republican.
Russia and The USA
  • Historian Niall Ferguson affirms that, if future historian are any good, they will ask is: What did Trump and Putin actually discuss in private, with only interpreters present? He speculates: If I know Putin, it will have been the big-picture geopolitical stuff, and then hazards this guess at what was said:-
VP: What is the point of our constantly being at odds, Donald?
DT: Beats me.
VP: These sanctions are the work of your corrupt Congress. They are pointless. I am not giving back Crimea, and you know it.
DT: That’s a fact.
VP: True, I occasionally try to liquidate my political opponents, sometimes in foreign locations such as Salisbury, sometimes unsuccessfully, but your CIA has been doing that kind of wet job since time immemorial.
DT: There’s no denying it.
VP: Who are our real enemies?
DT: The Chinese. The Iranians. I’m kind of sick of the Germans too.
VP: You’re talking my language. I don’t much like those guys either. Here’s the way I see it. If you and I can work together, I can help you and you can help me. We cut a deal in the Middle East. We screw the Iranians — I don’t need them any more in Syria. We put the squeeze on the Chinese before they take over the world, including my back yard in central Asia. And we remind the Germans how much they fear us and need you.
DT: I like it.
VP: But just one thing, Donald.
DT: What’s that?
VP: No one must find out what we just agreed. So when we do the press conference, make sure you play your usual game with the press.
DT: Leave it to me.
VP: You know what the historians will call you and me one day, Donald?
DT: No — what?
VP: The Double Negatives.
DT: I don’t see why they wouldn’t.
Galicia/Pontevedra
  • I don't know what happens in real federal states such as the USA and Germany, but here in this pseudo-federal state major taxes can differ markedly from region to region. Capital gains taxes and inheritance taxes and property transger, for example. It's all a bit of a mess and the tax office (the Hacienda) appears to be gearing up for standardisation. The Galician president has insisted this is a devolved competency and that it'll never happen. I wouldn't be so confident. The new PSOE government needs higher tax revenue. What would be easier than to modify low-tax regional schemes?
  • As if we really needed it, there's a new autovia – the A57 - being built to connect the north-south AP9 while bypassing Pontevedra in the hills to the east. Some work is taking place in one place and other stretches have been identified and even approved. But I note that the press reports don't mention even a tentative date for completion. Possibly wise.
  • There's a vicious kind of Asian wasp that's killing people here in Galicia – 2 farmers in the last week or so. It's called the velutina here, based on it's real name of Vespa velutina. Almost as dangerous as our kamikaze drivers.
Finally . . .
  • I wonder why Americans say cohabitate, when Brits say cohabit.

© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 22.7.18

THE ARTICLES

1. Britain's politics have been broken by Brexit, leaving the Norway option as the only viable way forward
After another turbulent week at Westminster, epitomised by Tories screaming abuse at one another as if on opposite sides of the house, Brexit is once again in a state of limbo.

Even though agreed by Cabinet, the Chequers white paper was essentially dead on arrival. No deal is better than a bad deal, Theresa May famously said. About the only thing everyone agrees on is that Chequers is very bad indeed; so bad in fact, that Brussels would be biting the Prime Minister’s hand off to accept it if negotiators thought there was any possibility of it being the final negotiating position.

Brexit has become like one of those obscure theological debates, where seemingly trivial doctrinal differences that few outside the priesthood fully comprehend manage to incite extreme passions and seething anger. There is not just the overarching schism between Leave and Remain, but schisms within schisms, and heresies so arcane that even their advocates struggle to define them.

The result is total gridlock. Understandably, markets grow ever more concerned about an accidental, no deal outcome. That certainly seems to be the logic of the present impasse; if nothing else can be agreed, then there is nothing to negotiate, and Britain will tumble out on World Trade Organisation terms.

Even so, I can’t see that happening; on present parliamentary arithmetic, it wouldn’t be allowed. My bet is still that once the politicians have fully exhausted themselves, we’ll end up with an ultra soft, Norway or European Economic Area type Brexit. Hardliners will just have to suck it and hope that it’s no more than a staging post to a more comprehensive divorce down the line. One thing looks ever more certain, however; it won’t be Mrs May who delivers it.

2. The shambles that is the Brexit negotiations is entering its dog days: Christopher Booker

The last days of July were known to the ancient world as the “dog days”, associated with oppressive heat and drought, causing human affairs to become feverishly unreal and men (and dogs) to lose their marbles.

Certainly, recent days have lived up to that billing, most obviously in the ever more glaring shambles we are making over Brexit. First, we had Chequers and Theresa May’s tortuous “final offer” White Paper. It prompted a stream of ministerial resignations but was almost immediately dismissed by the European Commission as wholly unworkable. Then came those fractious Commons debates, which showed that scarcely a single MP has any idea of what an impossible situation we find ourselves in.

This was followed by Liam Fox warning the EU that, unless it accepts Mrs May’s “fair and reasonable” offer, several of its economies, such as that of Ireland, would face severe damage, amounting to tens of billions of pounds. No mention of the far greater damage we are risking to our own economy.

Finally, any sense that we might be fast approaching a denouement to the mess we have made of our negotiations could only have been confirmed by the Commission’s 16-page “Communication” on Thursday, warning all concerned that they must urgently prepare themselves, with or without a deal, for the very serious consequences of the UK’s decision to withdraw itself from every aspect of the EU’s economic system, to become what is termed a “third country”.

This followed the 68 Notices to Stakeholders issued by the Commission since March, setting out the legal repercussions of our decision to become a “third country” for almost every sector of our economic activity (how many British politicians have read them?).

Economic chaos now seems inevitable. And this will be the result of a quite unprecedented failure by our entire political class, so lost in its soap bubbles of wishful thinking that it has never begun to appreciate the reality of what we were up against

The latest paper reminds us that our decision to leave not just the EU but also the wider European Economic Area (EEA) makes it inevitable that, even with an agreed deal, we shall face often fatally time-consuming border controls all along our new frontiers with the EU (Ireland included).

So enmeshed have we become with Europe over four decades that previous Notices to Stakeholders have already pointed out just how much of our national life is now only legally authorised under EU regulations, from our driving licences and our right to fly into EU airspace, to those “passporting rights” that have helped London to stay the financial centre of Europe.

Yet we now have barely three months to sort all this out before October, when we were supposed to have signed a final deal: all because our politicians have frittered away 17 months putting forward nothing more than fantasy “non-solutions”, not one of which could have worked.

Barely imaginable economic chaos now seems inevitable. And this will be the result of a quite unprecedented failure by our entire political class, so lost in its soap bubbles of wishful thinking that it has never begun to appreciate the reality of what we were up against. Worst of all is the realisation that virtually all of this mess was avoidable, if only Mrs May had not made her fateful Lancaster House decision to leave the EEA, our membership of which could alone have ensured continued “frictionless” trade “within the market”, which, until then, she told us was what she wanted.

The full implications of leaving the EEA were never explained in the referendum campaign, and they have never been understood by our politicians since. But in eight months time, they will begin to be brought home to us. To put it mildly, we will not be happy.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 22.7.18

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. Garish but informative.

Spain
  • I had a sneaking suspicion that the (very few) PP party 'activists' voting for a new leader wouldn't go for either of the female candidates. Sure enough, they elected the much-lower-profile, less-experienced Pablo Casado. Maybe because he isn't tainted as much with the endemic corruption of the party over the last god-knows-how-many decades. Or maybe merely because he has cojones.
  • As I suspected, the judge who's furious with the German court for insulting him, the Spanish judicial system and, indeed the entire nation was born in 1963 and attended school, college and university during the decades before and after Franco's death. One can be sure that his (far?)right-wing views are impeccable. Here's his Wiki page.
Life in Spain
  • It's commonly said the Spanish don't do tipping, in contrast with the Americans who suffer guilt pangs if they don't leave 20-25%. I thought of this yesterday when I saw that the folk before me at my table had left 10 centimos on a bill of €8. Or 1.25%. Not uncommon. Fortunately there's no longer a 5 centimos coin.
The UK: Brexit
  • After 2 years of farce and government incompetence, these seem to be the basic camps in the UK:-
- Leaver pessimists: Knowledgeable people like Richard North who've always supported a flexible, progressive exit - in his case the Flexit. North et al believe the chance for this has gone. Also in this box is the writer of the article below, who believes that chaos will ensue primarily because the the Commission has made a succession of bravura mistakes, rooted in arrogance and ignorance of the strength of the British commitment to its own democratic institutions and the character of its people.
- Remainer pessimists: These fear that Hard Brexiteer fanatics (led by Jacob Rees-Mogg) will ensure a failure to reach agreement with Brussels, leading to an apocalypse when the UK crashes out of the EU next year.
- Leaver (and some Remainer) Optimists: For example, Simon Jenkins of the Guardian. These believe that common (and business) sense will prevent a No Deal Brexit and lead to last-minute compromises which will avoid chaos and allow things to carry on more or less as before. Possibly on the EEA or EEA/Efta model. One of which might or might not be the Norway Option increasingly being talked about by all sides. How much this resembles North's Flexit, I suspect only he could say.
- Remainer Optimists: These believe that Mrs May now has no chance of getting any option through parliament (for which, ironically, they thank the Hard Brexiteers such as Rees-Mogg) and that the UK government will have no option but to swallow humiliation and stay in the EU. Possibly after another referendum which reverses the result of the last one.
  • As for me, I've always been an optimist along the line of Jenkins, and I find his column persuasive. But I know that Richard North is far more knowledgable than anyone else commenting on this saga. And he has rejected the panglossian Jenkins view thus: If people really had the first idea of what "no deal" actually meant, in detail, there would be such a storm of protest that no politician could even think of pursuing this line. But as long as they have their heads in the sand and, with the complicity of the media, practice mushroom management on the rest of us, the coming disaster will be on us before the majority realise how damaging it will be. So . . . . On balance, I fear pandemonium next year. But I'd have to be stupid to bet on any particular outcome. Unless the odds were fantastic and a tiny outlay could bring me a small fortune.
Russia and The USA
  • In the context of his (secret) discussions with Putin, Trump has taken to citing 'security for Israel'. The suspicion is that this is a softening-up of the electorate in advance of the announcement of a deal with Russia over Syria. Leaving Assad in power, of course.
  • Meanwhile . . . The federal indictment of Maria Butina, charged with being a Russian agent, has attracted plenty of media attention this week — but mostly for the wrong reasons. Many stories about her case have been filled with salacious allegations about her sex life . . . What has been missing in the media narrative is the indictment’s ominous significance. The Butina case is almost certainly the opening move in a brand new front in the Trump-Russia investigation. And there's a Spanish connection. Read about it here.
Galicia/Pontevedra
  • Here's El Pais on the subject of phony camino signs. Porriño gets a mention.
  • Yesterday, I tried a new place for my pre-prandial coffee at 12. It took 15 minutes to arrive and, at €1.50, was the most expensive I've had outside Madrid. Possibly because it's on said camino. Won't be going there again.
Finally . . .
  • Twice in the last week or so, one of my neighbours has asked me to go and wake up her son as he was late for college. I could do this because their back door was open. Last night, the son in question asked me if he could pass through my house and garden to get to his house. He confirmed that their back door is always unlocked. I wish the bastards who broke into my house by removing my kitchen window had known that.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 22.7.18

THE ARTICLE

The EU's rejection of our final offer is a disastrous move that exposes the arrogance at its core:  Janet Daley

So presumably this is it. We have finally arrived at the end – or the beginning of the end – of our spectacular game of chicken with the EU. It must be clear now who is prepared to sit longest on the track in the path of the oncoming train. Michel Barnier has thrown out what Mrs May claimed was her last and best offer. He will not bend, perhaps having been misinformed by hubristic Remain campaigners that the political discontent in Westminster will cause her to give way. But she will not – cannot – retreat because she knows the real truth about Westminster and the electorate.

This ending, however, still has the capacity for mystery and re-interpretation. There are serious signs of illogic and derangement where you might have least expected them. Theresa May, under as much pressure as seems humanly endurable, remains weirdly calm – at least in public – while the immaculate Michel Barnier appears suddenly to have lost his way, or at least to be sending out confused signals. How else to explain the EU Commission’s (which is to say, Mr Barnier’s) odd decision to warn, in characteristically apocalyptic terms, of the consequences for the EU of a no-deal Brexit?

What a cataclysm that would be, the Commission exclaimed, in the terms it is accustomed to use when addressing feckless British negotiators. Established trade arrangements would break down. Britain would lose its access to thriving markets. Just think of the chaos and collapse that would follow for that hapless country. Oh, wait. Actually that argument applies on the other side of this negotiation too: the peoples of the EU, we can now disclose, have a very great deal to lose. Hence last week’s unprecedented set of warnings to the households and businesses of Europe, as the prospect of no-deal becomes more and more plausible – thanks largely, as Mr Barnier did not say, to the intransigence of the EU Commission.

The guidance warned of the enormous cost in lost sales, reduced trade, slower growth and higher tariffs. Billions in national export income would be threatened just as thousands of expensive new customs procedures would need to be instituted. So tumultuous and far-reaching would these consequences be that every family and every enterprise in Europe must begin now to make contingency plans (detailed instructions enclosed) for this dire eventuality.

So for once, the alarming message is not being directed at the UK - whose fate Mr Barnier has presumably written off - but to those member states of the EU who are generally regarded as its greatest and least critical enthusiasts.

Once again the ghost of Project Fear stalks the land, only this time it is dragging its chains through the very heartland of the European project. Yes indeed, it is not the usual malcontents of the Visegrad East or the Club Med who face the greatest economic cost from the UK crashing out but the stalwarts of EU solidarity: the French, the Dutch, the Germans and – good grief – the Irish, on whom so much negotiating capital has been spent.

Could it be that, quite suddenly, it has occurred to the EU Commissioners that pushing the UK government to the brink and beyond, so that no-deal becomes the only politically possible option, might not have been so clever? Mr Barnier, in his statement last Friday, may have presented the expected categorical rejection of the UK government’s White Paper on the predictable grounds – that it abrogated the integrity of fundamental EU principles – but he also implied that this need not be the end of the story. (More work to be done, more discussions to be had, always further possibility of agreement, blah-blah.)

What are we to make of this? For the Commission to dismiss the White Paper, which blatantly engaged in “cherry-picking” bits of the single market and transgressed the sanctified free movement rule, was to be expected. But why couple that with a calculated campaign to spread alarm and despondency among European states about the most likely result – a no-deal exit? It is just possible that the Commission (like its Remainer friends here) is genuinely confused and worried: it has over-played its hand and must now try to prepare the ground for the ensuing calamity by implying that this ending was inevitable. We were, they might be preparing to say, just upholding the precious Fundamental Principles: the resulting damage isn’t our fault. Who knew that the British would be so intransigent? To judge by the latest statements from the Commission’s best friend, Leo Varadkar, the EU mood has become vaguely hysterical. As the Brexit Blog has noted, Dublin’s threat to ban British planes from flying through Ireland’s airspace would, carried to its logical conclusion, mean that Mr Varadkar would have to take a boat to future EU summit meetings. Has everyone gone mad?

There are a very small number of plausible explanations for these events. One is that the EU Commission (which is to say Mr Barnier and possibly Jean Claude Juncker, at least before lunch) are engaged in a rational, calculated effort to establish that they always understood the risks of their own hard line in these negotiations: the outcome may have been regrettable but it could not have been avoided given the need to preserve the Fundamental Principles. I would give that account seven out of ten on the scale of likelihood.

Another possibility is that they are actually preparing the ground for some major concessions to Britain by scaring the living daylights out of all those French farmers, Italian olive oil producers and German car makers who, as they now admit, have so much to lose. That seems to me to rate no more than one out of ten, since a climbdown of this order would be a gross humiliation for Team Barnier. Then of course, there is the most likely explanation of all: that the Commission has been in bad faith all along. That it made a succession of bravura mistakes, rooted in arrogance and ignorance of the strength of the British commitment to its own democratic institutions and the character of its people.

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