Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Germany: 31.10.18

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.

Matters Hamburg
  • I enjoyed half an hour or so in 'the world's only spice museum' yesterday. Though it didn't quite take my breath away as much as a visit to Bombay's spice market drastically did many years ago. Given their aversion to hot(picante) foods, I wondered if many Spaniards visited the place.
  • I also wondered if this brand had ever been a success in the Anglosphere:-
  • Then I went to take a look at Hamburg's 'Little Turkey', intending to have a kebab of some sort. But I noticed a Persian restaurant and plumped for a chelow kebab there. Which took me back:-
  • But my attempts to dredge my brain for Farsi conversation with the owner were not terribly successful.
  • Walking through the barrio to the main station, I had the impression mine was the only (very) pink face on the street. Well, mine and those of couple of blond women who were standing around with apparently very little to do. Possibly there in a professional capacity.
  • Hamburg's population in 1900 was 0.7m, by coincidence close to Liverpool's 0.8m. Since then, Hamburg's has grown to almost 2m, whereas Liverpool's peaked in the 1930s, at 0.9m, and is now only 0.5m. Their respective metropolitan areas are 5.1m and 2.2m. As I said yesterday, very different trajectories. And wealth characteristics. Bits of Liverpool are very elegant but many parts of Hamburg are.
  • Hamburg is actually growing in physical size as well, with the newish district of Hafen City being expanded into the Ubersee Quartier. Beyond the flashy new Philharmonic building:-
  • Here's a foto taken from this, showing rather more working cranes than you'd ever see in Liverpool docks these days. If you could find what remains of these:-
  • Hafen City contains the Speicherstadt (the warehouse district), which rather overshadows Liverpool's popular but much smaller Albert Dock development. And contains several museums and places of interest such as the phenomenal Miniatur Wunderland model railway complex.
Matters German/EU
  • There's naturally a lot of talk around the future of Mrs Merkel and of Germany, following further setbacks for both her party and that of her main coalition partner in Sunday's regional elections in Hesse. Below is a relevant Times article.
  • Here's a sentence from this with wider import: Parisian spin doctors may see this as a chance for “Jupiter” Macron to be the undisputed voice of Europe. But there is another scenario: that without Merkel the European centre collapses and the European “project” becomes little more than a pipe dream. Which I've always seen it as, of course.
  • Meanwhile, it doesn't look like we'll be sticking to summer time any time soon.
Matters French and Italian (but not Martinis)
  • Here's Don Quijones with his latest comments on the ongoing Italian bout with the European Commission. France has great cause to be worried, it emerges.
Matters Spanish
Matters UK
  • Still on Liverpool . . . The final scenes of this film - The Clouded Yellow – show a woman running through Liverpool docks and using the overhead railway that used to run through them and beyond. Hamburg's fine overhead/underground railway system, in contrast, still exists and has recently been expanded into the Ubersee Quartier. BTW . . . The letters on the train engine MD&HB, stand for the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, still an important institution when I was a kid.
Matters Galician
  • Some camino tips, albeit mostly for 'girls'. Not sure if this includes 'women' these days. Though it might do if women use the term. But not men. Who risk being hung, drawn and quartered for doing so.
Finally . . .
  • A headline in a German newspaper called the Barcelona player, Luis Suarez, 'Baby-Bomber'. Possibly a reference to him displaying a picture of his baby on his undershirt having scored against Real Madrid recently. Baby Bomber??
© David Colin Davies, Hamburg: 31.10.18


1. Merkel’s swift exit will be Europe’s loss: Roger Boyes, The Times

The German chancellor’s end is closer than she thinks and with her may go a chunk of the EU’s clout

The Merkel bubble has burst. Only recently hailed as the true leader of the free world, the anti-Trump, she can now barely lead her own party. The future of the centre-right in Germany is going to be constructed without her. The chancellor has become a spectator. Nobody seriously believes she can serve out her term, shape Europe or continue to be a standard-bearer for liberal values.

Angela Merkel’s decision to go, I’m told, was taken after she watched a performance of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal in Munich this summer. She had been battered for weeks by a row with her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, who had insisted that migrants turning up in Germany should be immediately deported if they were previously registered in another EU country. Merkel resisted. Seehofer was adamant: “I’m not going to be sacked by a chancellor who is only chancellor because of me.” Merkel fudged.

The chancellor, sensing trouble ahead and drained by the row, decided not to take her usual hiking holiday in the South Tyrol. But she and her Wagner-loving husband did find time for a private visit to the opera. Parsifal has always been a favourite: a newcomer, unfrightened by the dangers of the German forest, defeats opponents to grasp the Holy Grail. A metaphor for her own ascent as an east German outsider who saw off plenty of arrogant males. “Music helps clear my head,” she has said of her decision making. This time apparently Wagner gave her insight into an almost complete political life; it was the moment to prepare an orderly retreat from office, if only to head off looming chaos.

Merkel may really believe she is ending her reign on her own terms. In fact her options have run out. The gruelling months of trying to form a government after last September’s election, successive losses in regional elections, and the lurking presence of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in every state parliament are all the enduring consequences of her biggest error of judgment: the opening of Germany’s borders to a barely controlled influx of almost a million migrants and refugees in 2015-16.

It was a decision, a sequence of blunders, that eroded trust in her and in her grand coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats. Her self-congratulatory “welcome culture” started to sour in November 2015. She was being driven to a Germany-Netherlands football game in Hanover. The fans were due to sing the Marseillaise before kick-off out of solidarity with the victims of the Paris terror attack four days earlier. But the game was called off because of a new terror alert. Nothing happened and the public began to associate the threat of terror with the arrival of migrants from the Middle East and north Africa. Then on New Year’s Eve, in the large square outside Cologne railway station and under the shadow of the cathedral, dozens of young women reported being sexually assaulted by migrants.

This may come to be seen as the inflection point for Merkel, even if the number of migrants arriving has slowed and the number of deportations has risen. It was the moment when government action made many citizens feel unsafe. It ended up shattering Schengen, exposing those EU states with external borders. It forced Merkel into an agreement with Recep Tayyip Erdogan that would give the autocratic Turkish leader leverage over the EU. And it stoked support for the AfD and for right-wing populist parties across the continent.

The result has been deep disenchantment. Emmanuel Macron, the French president, had counted on Merkel’s co-leadership of the Franco-German axis to overhaul the EU, give it a clearer federal definition and in so doing help him to push through reforms at home. Instead Merkel was caught up in an election campaign then, after a historically poor result, a long scramble for a government. Now she is a lame duck.

Parisian spin doctors may see this as a chance for “Jupiter” Macron to be the undisputed voice of Europe. But there is another scenario: that without Merkel the European centre collapses and the European “project” becomes little more than a pipe dream. Macron without a reliable German partner flounders. Two of the candidates to be Christian Democrat party chairman, Jens Spahn and Friedrich Merz, are considerably more Eurosceptic than Merkel. Without her, the small central European and eastern states are cut adrift. The plans to expand the EU deeper into the western Balkans come apart, opening it up for Russian influence. The European brokerage of the Ukraine crisis grinds to a halt.

Merkel thinks she can impede all this. Her plan: to place an ally as CDU party chairman in December, and to work out a strategy for the European elections in May that will stem the bleeding. The reality: an open succession struggle and the ebbing away of power. Elections in eastern German states in 2019 will see her party trounced and perhaps put the AfD in charge. If she lasts that long, the Social Democrats will desert her coalition, having nothing to gain from association with her. She will be finished off as surely as she once finished off her mentor Helmut Kohl. There will be another messy election.

Germany, still the most powerful economy in the EU, is in the process of marginalising itself. The chancellor is tired; it shows at EU summits, in her sometimes erratic personnel decisions. Thirteen years in power strains the brain and body of a democratic leader. The real lesson from that Wagner performance this summer? Even great works of art can go on for too long, and end badly for some.

2. ECB heading for 'Titanic iceberg' as Italy crumbles and eurozone slows to five-year low: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

Italy’s economic growth has slumped to zero and the eurozone is facing the steepest slowdown since the debt crisis five year ago, prompting fears of a 'policy error' by the European Central Bank.

Eurostat’s flash estimate for the eurozone halved to 0.2% in the third quarter as the region grappled with vanishing global liquidity and a trade shock from China and emerging markets.

The region is uncomfortably close to stall speed yet the ECB is pressing ahead with plans to wind down quantitative easing and will reduce its bond purchases to zero at the end of the year.

“We are moving into ‘policy mistake’ territory," said Lars Christensen from Markets & Money Advisory. Growth is slowing across the world. The ECB needs to change to a dovish stance and start expanding its balance sheet once again. If they don’t do that, we will be moving into a recessionary situation and a re-emergence of the eurozone debt crisis. Italy is already bringing us back to the brink,” he said.

Desmond Lachman from the American Enterprise Institute said the ECB was heading straight for a "Titanic iceberg". He compared the picture to July 2008 when the bank raised rates in the teeth of recession and a financial storm.

Italy’s economy failed to eke out any growth in the third quarter and is close to stalling. This can quickly threaten the sustainability of Italian public debt, which is highly sensitive to the trajectory of nominal GDP.

The insurgent Lega-Five Star government in Rome is counting on future growth of 1.5% to meet its budget targets but this is far beyond reach.

Lorenzo Bini-Smaghi, chairman of Societe Generale, said Italy was “going straight into a wall” and may be in recession by the end of the year, pushing the budget deficit to 3.5% of GDP in short order. “The crash is going to be violent,” he added.

Giada Giani, from Citigroup, said there was no sign of a pick-up in exports. Leading indicators point to a possible decline in GDP over the fourth quarter.

The worry is that Italy could now slide into trouble even if the Lega-Five Star coalition backs away from its budget showdown with Brussels. “If growth tanks, simply reversing the fiscal relaxation plans may not be enough to address debt sustainability concerns,” she said.

Markets may take matters into their own hands. Yields on 10-year Italian bonds jumped 16 basis points to 3.48% on news of the growth shock, causing a further pro-cyclical tightening.Rising yields in this situation is a perverse feature of monetary union. Developed countries with their own currencies and central banks usually enjoy falling yields when growth slows, which acts as a shock absorber. The euro structure amplifies the damage.

Italy's bond sell-off is eating into the capital buffers of the banks, which hold €380bn (£339bn) of Italian state debt. This in turn is causing an incipient credit crunch.

The Bank of Italy’s lending survey released last week shows that banks are facing shrinking margins. Borrowing costs are rising for Italian companies. Small business is being squeezed out of the loan market.

“The most sensitive figure in the world right now is Italian funding costs versus Italian nominal GDP (the sustainability threshold) and sadly zero real growth is not adequate,” said Andrew Roberts, head of macro-strategy at NatWest Markets.

Mr Roberts said the ECB had been inching back from its plans to normalize policy. “They are worried that Asia is turning over and taking Europe with it. They don’t want markets getting ahead and pricing in rate rises for next year. That would be an issue,” he said. “Europe is facing a double whammy because the tap of debt accumulation in emerging markets is being turned off and QE is turning into quantitative tightening in developed markets,”.

For now the ECB’s public posture is that the eurozone’s mid-2018 slowdown is a hiccup - partly caused by disruption in the car industry from new rules - and that growth will return to a 2% annual rate next year. Yet the monetary data point to further malaise deep into 2019. “Such a re-acceleration now seems wildly optimistic,” said Simon Ward from Janus Henderson.

His gauge of the money supply - six-month real M1 - suggests no better than stabilization at very weak levels. Growth of the broader M3 measure is falling mechanically as QE is cut off and may reach the danger line of 2% by early next year.

Monetarists say this would leave the eurozone economy vulnerable to recession if there is the slightest external shock. This could come from China, where equities are probing a four-year low and the authorities are having difficulty pulling the economy out of the latest downturn.

For now, the British economy is holding up better than the eurozone. It has outperformed by a wide margin over the last six months. Yet schadenfreude would be ill-judged. Better growth has been sustained only by dipping into the family silver. The household savings rate is close to a 60-year low at 4.4%.

Growth of Britain’s M4x money supply has dropped to a 1% rate over the last four months. This is flashing amber recession warnings for early 2019.

The Chancellor’s Budget offers a cushion by switching from net fiscal tightening of 0.2% of GDP next year to net loosening of 0.3%. Yet this may not be sufficient in itself to offset the effects of a global slowdown and synchronized monetary tightening.      

Britain and the eurozone are in the same cyclical boat.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Germany: 30.10.18

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.

Matters Hamburg/German
  • I went to the City Museum yesterday and passed a happy 2-3 hours wandering through its impressive – but eclectic – displays. Including one on the post-1492 role in its success of the city's entrepreneurial Jews.
  • Hamburg's maritime and shipbuilding past is legendary. As it its present. What struck me yesterday – while marvelling at the large models of the city as it developed over the centuries – is that this happened despite the fact the city is 70km(44miles) from the sea. I guess the river Elbe has always acted for Hamburg as the (man-made) ship canal does for Manchester. Or did back when cotton was king.
  • Both Hamburg and Liverpool were badly bombed during WW2. In Hamburg's case, 60% of the buildings were destroyed. In Liverpool's case, I suspect the figure was bad enough but rather lower. I couldn't help pondering on the rather different trajectories of the 2 cities since then. But, then, Liverpool didn't benefit from the USA's Marshall Plan. And it's finally on the up again. But is way, way behind Hamburg and will never catch up. The fortunes of war.
  • I tried to put my belongings in a locker at the museum but - 16 years after the intro of the euro - the coin demanded was a Deutschmark. Which apparently isn't the same as a 50 cents coin. And I didn't have a euro to test that coin.
  • I did some supermarket shopping last night. There were, of course, plenty of sausages and meats but it took me 30 minutes to find the tiny stand of tinned tuna. In Galicia, there are whole rows of these. The compensation was all the Asian stuff on the shelves.
  • I've mentioned Hamburg's down-and-outs and beggars. Going downstairs to the toilets in a café yesterday, I was rather taken aback to have to pass, in a bend of the stairs, a blanket-shrouded crone, sitting in a chair with a hand-written card on a tiny table in front of her on which was scrawled a request for 50 cents.
  • On this theme, it does seem to be the custom for large numbers of tramps-with-trolleys to congregate around the city's railway stations, all looking rather disreputable. But harmless. And sad.
  • I find it hard to understand how a language which has become a lingua franca can also be exotic. I mean, did the early Ancient Brits have front door mats which read Welcome or Better Late than Ugly in Latin? Maybe they did.
Matters Spanish
  • I'm in 2 minds about citing this. 'Spanish' Halloween traditions go back to at least 2005.
  • Just so you know . . . I'm one of several people who've turned down the chance to take over as manager of Real Madrid.
Matters EU/Brexit
  • Richard North – an ardent Brexiteer who has long been dismayed by the British government's ignorance and incompetence – warns here that it's time to start panic-buying, ahead of the UK crashing out of the EU next March without a deal - if and when Mr's May assurance that no deal would be better than a bad deal will be shown to be as fatuous as it was the day it was made. No one voted for this, of course. And it surely wasn't inevitable.
Matters EU
  • Attitudes to the continuation of arms sales to Saudi Arabia differ between the governments of the UK, France and Spain, on the one hand, and Germany, on the other. I find it hard to imagine the government of the envisaged supra-state – the United States of Europe? - being able to take a consensus decision on matters like this. Can you imagine the consequences if Mrs Merkel's government drove EU policy on this, as it does on so many other issues? Right now, of course, there are vetoes and majority votes. And 'subsidiarity'. But in a unified, even federal, state? Maybe in a hundred years.
Matters USA
  • Here's an article on Czechoslovakian spying on Fart more than 30 yers ago. It's reported that, in the mid-1980s, the Russian KGB chief demanded the cultivation of 'top-level', upwardly-mobile Americans. And that the qualities he sought in potential assets included corruption, vanity, narcissism, marital infidelity and poor analytical skills. They clearly found one such individual. Someone, in fact, who combined all the desired traits. And more.
Matters Galician
  • The region's fishermen are worried – very worried – about the consequences for them of a Brexit and a return to exclusively British fishing grounds. Can't imagine this is terribly high on the agenda of either Madrid or Brussels. If you'll forgive me, they have bigger fish to fry.
  • Word of the day: Ojala.   I'm a bit unsure about the alleged origin as Ma sha allah, or 'God willed it'. I thought it was Alhamdulillah, or 'Thanks/Praise be to Allah'. Either way, it's Arabic. And Islamic. On second thoughts, The Local is probably right on this. But . . . Ma sha allah is past tense, whereas Inshallah is future/conditional and probably the true source. So maybe not totally right. Anyway, not many Spaniards know any of this.
Nutters Corner
  • As you might have noticed, I don't cite US religious nutters any more. There's just too many of them and their pronouncements would be viewed as insane under any other president. Oh, hang on . . . they are even under this one. If you want to track them – and both laugh and cry - this is the chap you need to follow.
Finally . . .
  1. The last German air raid on Liverpool took place on 10 January 1942, destroying several houses on Upper Stanhope Street. By a quirk of fate one of the houses destroyed was number 102, which had been the home of Alois Hitler, Jr, half brother of Adolf Hitler and the birthplace of Hitler's nephew, William Patrick Hitler.
  2. They say the Germans have no sense of humour but when yesterday I walked into a restaurant that specialises in the local delicacy and said “Do your wurst!”, they laughed fit to cry . . .
© David Colin Davies, Hamburg: 30.10.18

Monday, October 29, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Germany: 29.19.18

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.

Matters Hamburg/German
  • The German for 'bakery' is bäckerei. Which probably explains why a pastry-shop/café I noted was called Back-Factory. I thought at first it might be a bacon wholesaler . . . 
  • Which reminds me . . . Unlike in Spain and Portugal, German advertisers and information-providers actually get native speakers to check their translations into English. And it shows. Except for the bizarre shop names, I've yet to see a mistake.
  • Hamburg has more than its fair share of beggars, down-and-outs and homeless doorway-kippers. The contrast between the obvious great wealth of the booming city and these unfortunates is stark. But Pontevedra-style importuning seems very rare. Though there are folk taking collections - 'chuggers' as they're known in the UK. I might have chanced upon a very effective way of not being assailed by these – Carry a city or underground map, so they conclude you're foreign. And it probably helps to look British. I try not to, but . . . 
  • One of the city's attractions – if that's the right word – is a huge flak tower-cum-bunker, on which there used to be 4 large anti-aircraft guns:-

It's the biggest left in Germany, my host tells me, and it's housed various businesses since 1945. Currently closed, it's future use might be as some sort of solar-powered greenhouse, or a hotel, or even luxury flats.
  • My friend resides in a long avenue of elegant 6-storey flat blocks. Outside most of these there are 1 or more small brass plaques. These give the names of jews arrested and deported from the building. This one shows 7 names, 4 of them from one family and 2 from another. The most I've seen is 10 but I'm told there are larger examples. All very admirable by way of atonement. But very sobering.

Matters EU
  • Don't just take my word for it . . .
  1. A Daily Telegraph columnist:- The Continent is being slowly ripped apart: jarring values and contrasting identities demarcate East and West; North and South are, economically speaking, different planets; there is still no unified response to the refugee crisis; nor any coherent strategy for budget reform and boosting productivity in response to ageing and depopulating societies. This all makes the idea that Europeans are strongly enthusiastic about the EU project seem questionable.
  2. A Guardian columnist: Not since the 1930s, perhaps, has Europe’s political stability, cohesion, and broadly democratic consensus been under greater challenge. 
Matters USA
  • Here's the Guardian's take on Fart's rhetoric.
  • Below is an article by Niall Ferguson on how (North) America is edging closer to civil war.
Matters Spanish
  • The Guardian comments here that the Vatican might be unprepared to help the Spanish government deal with the problem of what to do with Franco's bones. Which wouldn't be a great surprise to most of us, I imagine.
Finally . . .
  • Having enjoyed living in Iran - albeit before the Islamic Revolution - I have a soft spot for the country and its people, much misunderstood in the West. So, I was interested and pleased by the article below.
© David Colin Davies, Hamburg: 20.10.18


1. America is edging closer to civil war: Niall Ferguson, Milbank Family senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford

It’s nearer midnight than we thought on America’s Doomsday Clock

At the beginning of the Cold War, the artist wife of the physicist Alexander Langsdorf came up with the image of the “Doomsday Clock”. It appeared in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to illustrate the fear of many physicists, including some who had been involved in the creation of the atomic bomb, that a “technology-induced catastrophe” might be terrifyingly close. Midnight on the Doomsday Clock meant nuclear armageddon.

For many years it was the bulletin’s editor, Eugene Rabinowitch, who decided where the hands on the clock stood. After his death a committee took over, meeting twice a year to adjust the clock. During the Cold War the closest it came to midnight was in the years 1953-9, when the Doomsday Clock showed two minutes before midnight. The scientists also thought the years 1984-7 were pretty hairy: it was three minutes to midnight for four straight years.

All of which goes to show how absurd such exercises are. No matter how many reputable scientists endorsed the Doomsday Clock, historians today agree that the most dangerous moment in the Cold War was the Cuban Missile Crisis. But the Doomsday Clock was at seven minutes to midnight throughout 1962 and went back to 11.48pm the following year. Rather disconcertingly, the atomic scientists currently think we are back to two minutes to armageddon today.

I have no doubt that somewhere in academia someone is busy devising an American civil war Doomsday Clock. Any day now they’ll publish it under the headline “Two minutes to Fort Sumter”. But just how close is the United States to the kind of internecine slaughter that began when Confederate forces opened fire on South Carolina’s best-known fort in April 1861?

As I’ve argued on this page before, there is a kind of cultural civil war already being fought on social media. With the mid-term elections just over a week away, that culture war gets more febrile by the day. (I especially enjoyed the latest self-flagellating ravings of the professor at Emory University who decided to denounce himself for sexist thoughtcrimes. He really would have enjoyed Mao’s Cultural Revolution.)

Of course, the culture war is no more a real war than the trade war Donald Trump has launched against China. Nevertheless, the news last week that amateurish pipe bombs had been posted to a dozen of the president’s best-known critics, including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, the hedge fund billionaire George Soros and the actor Robert De Niro, provided the cue for new prophecies of a second American Civil War.

The arrest on Friday of a Florida man named Cesar Sayoc, 56, was greeted with cries of “Gotcha!”. His van was covered in pro-Trump stickers including one reading “CNN sucks”.

“Trump owns this!” declared a normally sober Washington correspondent. I wonder. I don’t much like Trump’s regular criticisms of the mainstream media and occasional glorification of body-slamming. But a direct causal relationship to a nut posting a bunch of homemade bombs?

Strange how in June last year the same journalist omitted to tweet, “Sanders owns this!” after the Republican congressman Steve Scalise and three other people were shot and wounded by James Hodgkinson, a left-wing supporter of Bernie Sanders. You may say that Sanders’s rhetoric was never as inflammatory as Trump’s, but these are fine distinctions. In 2016 Sanders called Trump “particularly dangerous and un-American”, accusing him of “bigotry”. In July of this year he called Trump “our idiot president”.

Yesterday’s massacre at a synagogue in Pittsburgh makes matters much worse. Trump is no anti-semite, but some alt-right elements routinely abuse Jews. But then again, the hard left has its anti-semites too.

That people on both sides of the political divide are using intemperate language is undeniable, even if the left will always insist the other side is worse. That there is a potential for an increase in US political violence seems clear. By European standards there are terrifying numbers of lethal weapons in private hands. But civil war?

Some of the people who make this argument can be dismissed as scaremongers. When a Canadian novelist fantasises about Trump being assassinated, the United States tearing itself apart and all the nice Americans moving to Canada, it’s better to avert your gaze. Same drill when a marine turned chat show host calls for red states to secede if a future Democratic administration comes for their guns.

But when a colleague at the Hoover Institution, the historian Victor Davis Hanson, warns that we are “at the brink of a veritable civil war”, we all need to pay attention. The same goes for the National Review’s Reihan Salam, whose new book argues that without root-and-branch immigration reform, the US will come apart at the seams. I also take seriously the work of Peter Turchin, who has been arguing for some time that several leading indicators of political instability (notably inequality) are set to peak around 2020, making the US “particularly vulnerable to violent upheaval”.

Hanson’s argument is that the tensions arising from globalisation, the internet, campus leftism and illegal immigration have led to an ideological split that is also geographical. The toxic atmosphere puts him in mind not only of the 1850s but also of the 5th century BC, when “stasis” (meaning internal strife) tore apart the ancient Greek city states.

Like our colleague Morris Fiorina, I am inclined towards the optimistic view that most normal Americans find the culture war exhausting. As I argued here last week, the evidence suggests that the extreme right and extreme left are two noisy minorities. They would be lost without one another, but they turn everyone else off.

Hanson, who still sees further polarisation as avoidable, makes a crucial point, though. History repeatedly shows that “zealous and sometimes warring tiny minorities can escalate tensions, nullify opposition and bully the silenced majority to sanction — or at least not object to — violence”.

The most troubling analogy I heard last week was between the 2020 presidential election and that of 1860. My interlocutor noted that Abraham Lincoln won a four-way race in 1860. If a centrist, say the Ohio governor John Kasich, runs as an independent, if the Democrats nominate a progressive (Kamala Harris, anyone?) and if Trump seeks re-election, we could have a somewhat similar situation.

The implication is not comforting. For the election of 1860 made clear that the divisions over the issue of slavery had become unbridgeable. Lincoln’s victory was swiftly followed by the secession of seven Southern states and the formation of the Confederacy.

True, there is no single issue in today’s culture war. True, the time on the civil war Doomsday Clock looks more like 11.08 than 11.58. But when I tell you who drew the 1860 analogy to my attention, you’ll know why I’m troubled. Reader, it was Steve Bannon.

2. Don’t vilify Iran while sucking up to the Saudis: Edward Lucas, The Times

In many ways the Islamic republic is a more tolerant, pluralistic society than our regional ally

Iran, hard though it may be to imagine, was once our ally, while Saudi Arabia was regarded with revulsion and suspicion. In 2001 I ended a stint as a war correspondent in Afghanistan by flying in a rickety cargo plane out of Fayzabad, the capital of a sliver of territory still controlled by the country’s recognised government, which was backed by the West — and Iran.

Fayzabad had a conspicuous if taciturn American presence, but my fellow-passengers, bright-eyed young men from the presidential bodyguard, were off to Iran for training. I chatted to them and their Iranian escorts, saying how moved I had been to see the candlelit vigil held in Tehran after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington a few weeks earlier. The Taliban, we agreed, were barbaric. So too were the Saudis, both for their repressive, sectarian domestic policies and for sponsoring people who flew planes into skyscrapers. Iran had every interest in ridding Afghanistan of this extremist scourge. Perhaps we could co-operate on other things too.

That never happened. Saudi Arabia is, supposedly, our indispensable ally. For all its faults it sells us oil, buys our weapons and provides vital help on counterterrorism. Iran, by contrast, is supposedly our indisputable enemy: a thuggish theocracy with menacing ambitions.

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and the preposterous lies the Saudi authorities continue to tell about it, should prompt us to ask if we are still right to favour one obnoxious regime over the other.

On many issues Iran looks better. By the (admittedly dismal) standards of the region, its political system is a paragon of pluralism. Among Muslim countries, only Tunisia, Turkey and Lebanon offer anything like the same levels of participation and contestability. Saudi Arabia is only now allowing women to drive. In Iran they can hold high office, get a first-rate education and live independently. On minority rights, Iran has blackspots but the secretary of the National Security Council, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, is an Arab. Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader, is half-Azeri. The Saudi record is of ruthless repression.

It is a similar story on religious issues. Iran has hundreds of Christian churches and the biggest Jewish population of any Muslim country besides Turkey. You can go to a synagogue in Tehran. In Saudi Arabia, where all non-Muslim religious observance is banned, you cannot even buy a Bible, let alone go to church.

Iran’s foreign policy is the real problem. Though revolutionary fervour has ebbed since the days of Ayatollah Khomeini, it intervenes in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and backs the rebels in Yemen and the Shia underground in the Gulf states, while issuing murderous threats to Israel. Some of this is a hard-headed response to past wrongs, such as western support for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq during the war of 1980 to 1988. Iran does not want extremist Sunni Islamists to triumph in Iraq or anywhere else — and least of all in Saudi Arabia. The presence of its fearsome proxy, the Hezbollah militia, on Israel’s Lebanese and now Syrian borders is in Iranian eyes the best deterrent against any future American or Israeli attack.

Yet the experience of recent years is that Iran is at least open to negotiation. It has stuck to the nuclear deal despite the Trump administration’s withdrawal. That could have been the basis for discussions about other issues too.

Moreover, Saudi foreign policy is equally problematic. It has brutally bungled the war in Yemen. Though the regime has good backstage relations with Israel, it is Saudi private and public money that supports the most toxic Wahhabi form of Islam in other countries, financing Islamic schools and teaching materials that preach violent hostility towards other religions and cultures, including non-mainstream versions of Islam.

None of this is to say that we should switch sides. For all its lies and incompetence, Saudi Arabia is still a useful ally. Iran behaves abominably on many issues, not least in the persecution of those believed to have ties to the West. The cruel treatment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman detained since April 2016 on spurious charges, and the vindictive harassment of relatives of journalists working for foreign broadcasters are just two examples. But it is not clear to me that keeping Iran in the deep freeze while toadying to the Saudis regardless of their behaviour is going to make any of this better.

Instead, we should make it clear to the princely potentates in Riyadh that we have other options, and to the Iranian leadership that détente is possible and welcome. European countries are already getting ready to sidestep renewed US sanctions with a special-purpose vehicle, in effect a bank, which will allow European companies to do business with Iran without having any contact with dollars or the US financial system. Such efforts deserve our support too.

Our behaviour encourages the Saudis to treat us with contempt, as the story of an exiled Saudi dissident, Ghanem al-Dosari, attacked in central London on August 31, exemplifies. Video footage of the incident shows Mr Dosari being punched. When an English friend intervenes, the attackers say: “F*** London, the Queen is our slave.” They later tried to bribe the friend not to give a witness statement, with one of them saying: “I’m speaking on behalf of his royal highness, the police will not show up. We can arrange for anything. This is London, it belongs to us.”

Self-respect, as well as self-interest, suggest that we show them it doesn’t.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Germany: 28.10.18

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.

Matters Hamburg/German
  • Another cultural difference . . . Both at a birthday gathering last Wednesday and at a wedding anniversary dinner last night, there was a great deal of handshaking but, until I started it, very little kissing. Even among old friends. Spaniards would have been agog at the formality/'coldness' of it all.
  • The dress code for the dinner, by the way, was 'Elegant Sportswear'. I had no idea what this meant but donned my corduroy jacket and decent trousers. It turned out to mean anything from a formal DJ to casual jacket and jeans. But at least the women put in a bit more effort.
  • A couple more odd shop names . . . Christ (a jewellers) and Marc O'Polo (clothes from the famous Irish fashionista).
  • I went with my friend (and host) to a flea market yesterday. It was much larger and more varied than its Pontevedra equivalent, but very light on heavily rusted farm equipment and tools.
  • At the market, I partook of a Portuguese beef stew. It tasted exactly like my mother's Irish stew. Not sure what this tells us.
  • Talking of Portugal . . . Someone told me last night that the suicide rate there was very high. I was a tad incredulous but – possibly wrongly – put it down to having to listen to gloomy Fado songs all day long. In fact – see the chart below – there are several developed countries with higher rates. And Portugal's, ironically, is only fractionally worse than Germany's. The UK doesn't appear on this list but its rate in 2016 was 15.00 per 100,000. So, higher than both these 2 countries.
  • It's a big day in German politics today – Elections in the Hesse region. Mrs Merkel is expected to take a beating on a scale which would end her coalition. Vamos a ver.
Matters Spanish/Galician
  • If you're still a Facebook user, there's something new for you to click, when reading 'news' there.
  • The Spanish PM has had his thesis declared valid. Or at least not invlalid. Which is good news for the newish government 
  • Here's something from the V of A on happenings in Spain's 'non-colonies' down in North Africa.
Finally . . . 
  • Click here for 2 hours of Fado songs. Don't blame me if you feel like hanging yourself at the of it. And don't let the first one mislead you!
© David Colin Davies, Hamburg: 28.10.18


Sri Lanka35.3 suicides per 100k1
Lithuania32.7 suicides per 100k2
Guyana29 suicides per 100k3
Mongolia28.3 suicides per 100k5
South Korea28.3 suicides per 100k4
Kazakhstan27.5 suicides per 100k6
Suriname26.6 suicides per 100k7
Belarus22.8 suicides per 100k8
Equatorial Guinea22.6 suicides per 100k9
Poland22.3 suicides per 100k10
Latvia21.7 suicides per 100k11
Hungary21.6 suicides per 100k12
Slovenia21.4 suicides per 100k13
Belgium20.5 suicides per 100k15
Angola20.5 suicides per 100k14
Ukraine20.1 suicides per 100k17
Russia20.1 suicides per 100k16
Japan19.7 suicides per 100k18
Estonia18.9 suicides per 100k19
Bolivia18.7 suicides per 100k20
Croatia17.5 suicides per 100k21
Central African Republic17.4 suicides per 100k22
Serbia17 suicides per 100k24
Uruguay17 suicides per 100k23
France16.9 suicides per 100k25
Austria16.4 suicides per 100k26
Finland16.3 suicides per 100k27
Thailand16 suicides per 100k28
Bulgaria15.9 suicides per 100k29
India15.7 suicides per 100k30
Sweden15.4 suicides per 100k32
Sierra Leone15.4 suicides per 100k31
Switzerland15.1 suicides per 100k33
Moldova14.8 suicides per 100k34
Swaziland14.7 suicides per 100k35
Trinidad And Tobago14.6 suicides per 100k36
United States14.3 suicides per 100k38
Kiribati14.3 suicides per 100k37
Argentina14.2 suicides per 100k39
Cuba14.1 suicides per 100k40
Portugal13.7 suicides per 100k41
Germany13.4 suicides per 100k42
Iceland13.1 suicides per 100k43
New Zealand12.6 suicides per 100k44
Slovakia12.5 suicides per 100k45
Denmark12.3 suicides per 100k48
Laos12.3 suicides per 100k47
Canada12.3 suicides per 100k46
Netherlands11.9 suicides per 100k51
Cameroon11.9 suicides per 100k50
Cambodia11.9 suicides per 100k49
Australia11.8 suicides per 100k52
Romania11.7 suicides per 100k55
Ireland11.7 suicides per 100k54
Bhutan11.7 suicides per 100k53
Haiti11.2 suicides per 100k56
Luxembourg11.1 suicides per 100k58
El Salvador11.1 suicides per 100k57
Montenegro11 suicides per 100k59
Norway10.9 suicides per 100k61
Gabon10.9 suicides per 100k60
South Africa10.7 suicides per 100k62
Zimbabwe10.5 suicides per 100k63
Lesotho10.4 suicides per 100k64
Papua New Guinea10.3 suicides per 100k66
Paraguay10.3 suicides per 100k65
Sudan10.2 suicides per 100k67
China10 suicides per 100k69
Turkmenistan10 suicides per 100k68
Chile9.9 suicides per 100k72
Nigeria9.9 suicides per 100k71
Singapore9.9 suicides per 100k70
Dr Congo9.8 suicides per 100k73
Botswana9.7 suicides per 100k74
Republic Of The Congo9.6 suicides per 100k75
Nicaragua9.5 suicides per 100k77
Togo9.5 suicides per 100k76
Benin9.4 suicides per 100k78
Mauritius9.3 suicides per 100k81
Seychelles9.3 suicides per 100k80
Uzbekistan9.3 suicides per 100k79
Burkina Faso9.2 suicides per 100k82
Chad8.8 suicides per 100k83
Turkey8.7 suicides per 100k84
Djibouti8.6 suicides per 100k86
Maldives8.6 suicides per 100k85
Spain8.5 suicides per 100k90
Rwanda8.5 suicides per 100k89
Cape Verde8.5 suicides per 100k88
Fiji8.5 suicides per 100k87
Mozambique8.4 suicides per 100k92
Ethiopia8.4 suicides per 100k91
Yemen8.2 suicides per 100k93
Burundi8 suicides per 100k94
Italy7.9 suicides per 100k96
Solomon Islands7.9 suicides per 100k95
Costa Rica7.7 suicides per 100k99
Namibia7.7 suicides per 100k98
Guinea7.7 suicides per 100k97
Ecuador7.5 suicides per 100k100
Kyrgyzstan7.4 suicides per 100k103
Comoros7.4 suicides per 100k102
Vietnam7.4 suicides per 100k101
Belize7.3 suicides per 100k104
Uganda7.2 suicides per 100k105
Timor Leste7.1 suicides per 100k106
Tanzania7 suicides per 100k107
Ghana6.9 suicides per 100k108
Dominican Republic6.8 suicides per 100k110
Saint Lucia6.8 suicides per 100k109
Georgia6.7 suicides per 100k112
Eritrea6.7 suicides per 100k111
Kenya6.5 suicides per 100k114
Bahrain6.5 suicides per 100k113
Qatar6.4 suicides per 100k117
South Sudan6.4 suicides per 100k116
Zambia6.4 suicides per 100k115
Brazil6.3 suicides per 100k120
Guinea Bissau6.3 suicides per 100k119
Liberia6.3 suicides per 100k118
Gambia6.2 suicides per 100k121
Colombia6.1 suicides per 100k123
Senegal6.1 suicides per 100k122
Bosnia And Herzegovina6 suicides per 100k126
Nepal6 suicides per 100k125
Malta6 suicides per 100k124
Mauritania5.9 suicides per 100k127
Vanuatu5.8 suicides per 100k130
Malaysia5.8 suicides per 100k129
Peru5.8 suicides per 100k128
Mali5.7 suicides per 100k132
Samoa5.7 suicides per 100k131
Oman5.6 suicides per 100k133
Israel5.5 suicides per 100k140
Afghanistan5.5 suicides per 100k139
Libya5.5 suicides per 100k138
Bangladesh5.5 suicides per 100k137
Malawi5.5 suicides per 100k136
Panama5.5 suicides per 100k135
Tunisia5.5 suicides per 100k134
Armenia5.4 suicides per 100k142
Somalia5.4 suicides per 100k141
Mexico5 suicides per 100k143
Morocco4.8 suicides per 100k144
Cyprus4.7 suicides per 100k146
Madagascar4.7 suicides per 100k145
Myanmar4.3 suicides per 100k149
Albania4.3 suicides per 100k148
Greece4.3 suicides per 100k147
Niger4.1 suicides per 100k150
Kuwait4 suicides per 100k152
Tajikistan4 suicides per 100k151
Iran3.6 suicides per 100k154
Honduras3.6 suicides per 100k153
Tonga3.5 suicides per 100k155
Saudi Arabia3.4 suicides per 100k157
Philippines3.4 suicides per 100k156
Azerbaijan3.3 suicides per 100k158
Jordan3.2 suicides per 100k159
Algeria3.1 suicides per 100k161
Lebanon3.1 suicides per 100k160
Iraq3 suicides per 100k163
Venezuela3 suicides per 100k162
Indonesia2.9 suicides per 100k165
United Arab Emirates2.9 suicides per 100k164
Saint Vincent And The Grenadines2.7 suicides per 100k167
Syria2.7 suicides per 100k166
Egypt2.6 suicides per 100k168
Guatemala2.5 suicides per 100k169
Pakistan2.1 suicides per 100k170
Sao Tome And Principe2 suicides per 100k171
Bahamas1.8 suicides per 100k172
Jamaica1.4 suicides per 100k173
Brunei1.3 suicides per 100k174
Grenada0.5 suicides per 100k175
Barbados0.4 suicides per 100k176
Antigua And Barbuda0 suicides per 100k177