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.

  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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


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.

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