Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Thoughts from Salamanca, Spain: 10.10.18

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.

Travel News
  • Yesterday we drove back to Spain - to magnificent Salamanca - but stopped first, for a coffee, at Vilar Formoso on the Portuguese side of the border, and then in Ciudad Rodrigo once in Spain.
  • The former's proximity to Spain raises the price for a coffee there from €0.7-1.00 to €1.50, which compared with the red wine at €0.60 a glass in a bar in Guarda the previous evening.
  • We knew we were back in Spain when we saw a brothel on the outskirts of Ciudad Rodrigo; when both the noise levels and the prices of soft drinks rose dramatically; when we were accosted by a panhandler; when a taxi driver looked decidedly unsure about stopping for us at a zebra crossing; and when people walked in front of us as if we didn't exist. But at least there were no old men smoking in the caf├ęs/bars. And we got a tapa with our drinks. And it was good to be able to understand what everyone was saying around us. Not to mention the waitress in the restaurant where we lunched.
  • A final cultural difference . . . An attractive young women we spoke to yesterday assured us that men stared at her a lot more in Spain than in Portugal. More macho, I guess.
  • My previous visit to Ciudad Rodrigo - at least 10 years ago - had been very brief. This rather longer one was well worth it, as it's a truly delightful place. But I'm sure that, back then, it still displayed at least one of the two breaches in its walls made by the besieging British troops under Wellington in 1812, during the Peninsular War/War of Independence. But not now. There's been a restoration program, I suspect. Or maybe I only recall noting the evidence of repair (mentioned here) when I was last there.
  • Incidentally, one of the British generals killed in the (successful-for-others) siege was named Crauford. He's cited as a 'friend of Spain' in a plaque at the site of the 'Little Breach' but I confess to thinking they'd got his name wrong, and that it should have been Crawford. Which struck me as not a good thing to do to a friend.
  • Oh, yes. I noticed a yellow arrow near the impressive cathedral in Ciudad Rodrigo. Need I tell you the town is now on a camino? Specifically, the Camino de Torres I mentioned yesterday
  • This is my 6th or 7th visit to Salamanca. Hopefully it won't be as memorable as the last one, when I had to repair to the hospital after possibly the worst night of my life – very probably as a result of eating a sandwich of underheated chicken on the drive down from Pontevedra. Anyway, I spent the first day of our camino on the Via de Plata stretched out on a hospital bed, with a drip in my arm. But attended to by a very attractive, tactile South American lady doctor. Who gave me a hug as I left. You don't get that on the NHS . . .
Matters Spanish
  • I did wonder about this.
Matter Portuguese
  • In my haste to summarise my caminho/camino findings yesterday, I missed another Portuguese option, beginning in Caceres, passing through Viseu and ending in Braga. An old Roman route. It's called the Via de Estrella/Estrela and its trajectory can be seen in detail here. Not well signposted, I understand. And it doesn't feature in the 40 caminos on the Mundicamino page.
  • So, Viseu has at least 2 caminos going through it - one due northwards to Chaves and the other north westwards to Braga. But I could be wrong. Or by next week, it could have a third going directly to to Oporto.
  • The road from Guarda to the border is now a 4-lane highway, not the 2-lane road I recalled from my previous drive along this route, years ago. I wondered where the old road was and whether it'd been incorporated into the new one. Which is a toll road, 'policed' by cameras in overhead gantries. Answers came in a conversation I overheard in the Turismo office, where a lady was warning 2 Spanish travellers of the latter and advising of the need to buy a pre-paid card as they entered Portugal. She added that, as the old road had indeed been transformed into the new highway, there was no parallel un-tolled road to take as a option. This, she stressed, made the tolls illegal under EU law. But, because of the parlous state of the Portuguese economy, Brussels turns a blind eye to this flagrant criminality. I told the Spanish couple they could opt for not buying a card and take the risk of being fined by the police at some time in the future. The Turismo lady added this could well happen if they stopped at a petrol/gas station once in Portugal. Which, given that the price for this is about 20% higher than in Spain, I doubt many clued-up drivers will do anywhere soon.
Social Media
  • Reader Perry queries whether the Times columnist I cited yesterday proffered any solutions. I think not but you can check the full article below. In fact, I also wondered about how on earth to turn the clock back to more civil times, But came up with nothing for now.
© [David] Colin Davies: 11.10.18


Identity politics is killing off healthy debate: Rachel Sylvester  The Times.

Universities are on the front line in a culture war that stifles disagreement and is threatening liberal democracy

It is a year since the Eurosceptic Tory MP Chris Heaton-Harris, then a government whip, wrote to universities requesting a list of the names of professors involved in the teaching of European affairs “with particular reference to Brexit”, together with copies of each syllabus and links to the course. He was accused of a “McCarthyite” attempt to undermine academic freedom with his “sinister” demand for information, which was sent out on House of Commons headed notepaper.

Lord Patten of Barnes, chancellor of Oxford University and former Tory chairman, described it as “offensive and idiotic Leninism”. David Green, vice-chancellor of the University of Worcester, condemned the letter as “the first step to the thought police, the political censor and newspeak”.

Mr Heaton-Harris has since been promoted to minister in the Department for Exiting the EU. Many of the universities complied with his request — of the 59 institutions that responded to his letter, 28 provided him with most or all of what he asked for. But now Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, has made a significant ruling warning that disclosing discussions about Europe could harm academic independence and undermine rigorous debate.

In response to a freedom of information request following Mr Heaton-Harris’ letter, she concluded that the vice-chancellor of Worcester was right to refuse to release emails containing the word “Brexit”.

“If the university is required to put this information into the public domain,” the ruling states, “the commissioner agrees that those views would be likely to be much more cautious and risk averse in the future and those concerned would be inhibited from providing a free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation.”

Professor Green sees it as a landmark judgment. There was “a clear attempt to misuse the law for coercive and illiberal purposes,” he says. “This is a real victory in protecting academic freedom and the basic human right to engage in open debate and not surrender to sinister attempts to chill discussion and to bully.” Having grown up in 1950s America, with a father who was a scientist in the Air Force Research Laboratory at MIT when McCarthy demanded a list of “reds”, he is acutely aware of attempts at political interference. “There’s a new form of McCarthyism,” he told me. “The language is all about ‘a war’ and ‘the enemy’ as opposed to fellow citizens having a rational debate. Wherever it comes from on the political spectrum it’s to be opposed.”

As politics turns into a culture war, universities are finding themselves on the front line, under fire from left and right. On one side, academics are accused of pro-European bias, on the other they are criticised over their attitudes to gender and race. Trevor Phillips, the former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said at the weekend that the hounding of Nigel Biggar, the Oxford University professor who suggested there were some good elements to the British Empire, showed a worrying slide towards “Stalinism”. The feminist writer Germaine Greer and the veteran gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell have both been “no-platformed” by student groups over their supposedly “transphobic” views.

One researcher, James Caspian, was refused permission to study cases of people who have surgery to reverse gender reassignment because his university thought the thesis could be “politically incorrect”. Angelos Sofocleous, a philosophy undergraduate, was sacked by his student newspaper after retweeting a comment that “women don’t have penises” — an opinion that his critics said could “belittle trans experiences”.

Perhaps not surprisingly there has also been a rise in “silent seminars”, where students refuse to express an opinion on controversial issues for fear of causing offence. Frank Furedi, emeritus professor of sociology at Kent University, says young people are self-censoring because, unable to differentiate between critiquing an argument and criticising a person, they believe that disagreeing with someone may be a “cultural crime”.

Instead of encouraging diversity of thought, the education system seems to be narrowing the scope of acceptable opinions. At the Tory conference in Birmingham last week, a secondary school teacher told a fringe meeting that she did not dare to admit she was a Conservative at work because the staffroom had become a “socialist convention”. One minister says: “Left-wing identity politics has provoked right-wing identity politics. There’s an unhealthy situation where both sides feel that people can only speak from the silos into which they’ve been put in the culture war. It’s about facts rather than emotion and it’s narrowing the scope within which you can have a proper free exchange of ideas.”

The phenomenon has also infiltrated the arts world. The novelist Rose Tremain says it is increasingly difficult for authors to write from their imaginations: she is convinced that the BBC recently turned down a television series based on The Road Home, her award-winning novel about immigration, because she is not a young Polish man, so her text cannot be “authentic”. If writers can only draw on personal experience, then literature will become narcissistic and narrowly focused, she says.

The bitter row over the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice in the US is symptomatic of a wider trend on both sides of the Atlantic. Politics is about whose side you are on rather than what you believe. The liberal protests against his confirmation following allegations of sexual assault were mirrored by a surge of support for the Republicans among conservative voters ahead of the midterm elections, in what Donald Trump’s allies are already calling the Brett bounce.

From Trump to Brexit, Scottish independence to climate change, politics is increasingly polarised along identity rather than partisan lines. Margaret Thatcher used to talk of cabinet ministers approvingly as “one of us” and now social media divides everyone into tribes. Virtue-signalling to friends is combined with vicious denunciations of enemies. The language of “mutineers” and “saboteurs” on the right is matched by attacks on “traitors” and “melts” on the left. MPs who refuse to conform face deselection or even death threats. There is a lack of civility that derives from the fact that people are playing the man (or woman) and not the ball.

If politics is no longer about persuasion but personal identity, then it is much harder for anyone to change their mind. But a liberal democracy depends on rational debate rather than emotional allegiance. It is based on constantly questioning, challenging and testing ideas. The “will of the people” should be an expression of these freedoms, not an excuse to divide and rule.


Maria said...

Oh, yes, the political debate is now practically based on emotional memes and almost Stalinist purges of those who wish to debate and discuss. I am a member of a Facebook page of the Spanish left. I remain because from time to time, some thinking member uploads a timely article or discussion. Otherwise, if someone ever deviates, they're called "facha" or "troll." Sometimes, an ad for a page on the opposite side of the political spectrum appears, and I check it out to see what they say. And they are exactly the same. A closed group of Hitlerites vs. our closed group of Stalinites. If this is what political debate is now, we're cooked.

Alfred B. Mittington said...

Craufurd is correct, my dear friend. Black Bob Craufurd. It's how it was spelled at the time.

Take my word for it, or check:

And if you don't even trust the wiki-people, perhaps you ought to read footnote 5 to chapter 21 of Bible in Spain by our mutual Dutch friend Peter:


Colin Davies said...

I thought I'd made it obvious i knew i'd made a mistake but . . .

Sierra said...

Re: quote from yesterday's article regarding Spain taking over from UK after Brexit - "..responsible handling of the migration crisis.."

Wonder if policies will rapidly change after this:

The alleged 750,000 empty properties left over from La Crisis will rapidly fill at this rate