Monday, December 31, 2018

Thoughts from Heald Green, England: 31.12.18

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

  • Until this week I thought a 'bag-for-life' was one of those large non-plastic bags sold by supermarkets for around 5 pounds. But they turn out to be the large, white plastic 'multiple-use' bags which folk are supposed to use many times but don't. The end result is the production of even more environment-damaging plastic than with the old, single-use bags. Some wit has labelled them 'bags-for-50-yards/metres'.
The USA/World
  • Bismarckian power politics returned in 2018. Trump, Putin, Xi and Erdogan were among the narcissists, bullies and authoritarians who ruled the roost. But for all their chest-beating – on tariffs, regional disputes and repression at home – they succeeded only in making the world poorer and more miserable. How sad that most of us would include the president of the USA in this list of reprehensibles.
Western Society
  • 'Godfrey Elfwick' is an amusing parodist/satirist. See one of his articles below.
  • As someone has commented about his tweets, in today's loony world, it's increasingly hard to know who's a parodist and who's a right-on social justice warrior (SJW). The BBC recently mistook Elfwick for the latter and reported a comment as if he were. The temptation is to laugh at this but, as I say, it can be so hard to know. Impossible even. We need a war or a plague to set our priorities aright . . . .
  • A new word for me: Retcon. 1. A situation, in a soap opera or similar serial fiction, in which a new storyline explains or changes a previous event or attaches a new significance to it. 2. To employ such a device. Retroactively convert, I guess.
Finally . . .
  • Back in the early 90s, my then wife told me (rather forcibly) that women were entitled to demand a number of good to very good things in their lives. I responded with empathy but also with the comment I'd just read of a prominent feminist of the time that women certainly could have/achieve everything, but not simultaneously. Now - almost 30 years later – I see that Michelle Obama has been saying on her recent book tour: I tell women that “You can have it all, but not at the same time”. Plus ça change . . . Good advice never goes out of fashion.
© [David] Colin Davies


The Winterfest Carol of Godfrey Elfwick

Last night, as I was safely tucked up in bed with a kale smoothie, I was visited by three apparitions, each one determined to change my outlook on the toxic nature of Chr*stm*s.

The first ghost appeared at midnight, a shimmering androgynous specter floating in front of my window.
‘Godfrey Elfwick, I am here to show you the error of your ways. Come with me on a journey into your past…’ they said, proffering me a semi-transparent hand.
‘Erm, excuse me, what are your pronouns?’ I inquired respectfully.
‘I’m sorry what?’ was the answer.
‘Well, do you prefer to be referred to as he, she, they, xe, xie, ze, ve, yo…’

As I listed all 592 currently available pronouns, I could see the spirit’s eyes begin to glaze over, and so I took hold of their hand. My surroundings went out of focus, quickly transforming into another familiar setting.

I saw a handsome teen hipster, sitting by himself in the corner of a school canteen. Chr*stm*s trimmings adorned the walls and ceiling. Other students were greedily tucking into turkey slices and piles of fries, laughing and sharing childish japes. But the young handsome boy (who, of course, was me) sat alone with his plate of parsnips, a disapproving frown clouding his elegant features.
‘Do you see how unhappy you were?’ the spirit declared.
‘Unhappy?’ I replied. ‘No! I was at that moment planning my next protest against the lack of lunch options for vegan, gluten and lactose intolerant students…which subsequently turned out to be a great success.’

The spirit looked a little confused. ‘Oh really?’ they said, ‘Well no matter…take heed, for before this night is through, twice more shall ye be visited by phantoms!’

Once again my surroundings blurred, and I found myself back in bed.

An hour or so passed, and I had almost drifted off to sleep when there came an almighty crash from the kitchen. I went to investigate and found a man wearing a gaudy dressing gown, who was obviously very comfortable in his body positivity, searching through the cupboards and throwing various boxes and cartons on to the floor.
‘Hast thou nothing decent to eat?’ he yelled.
‘Why yes, my Whole Foods delivery came yesterday afternoon,’ I replied indignantly, ‘Can I tempt you with some organic watercress cakes?’
‘What the fuck are they???’ he bellowed, ‘Nah, I’ll pass thanks. We’ve got stuff to do.’

Without first obtaining consent, he grabbed my arm and I was once again whisked to another location.

This time I found myself peering through the window of a house, where a man and woman were arguing.
‘Well if you hadn’t lost your job, we would have been able to buy Timmy a Nintendo Switch this year!’ the woman was yelling.
‘You’ll wake the poor kid up,’ replied the man, whose face I suddenly recognized.

‘That’s right,’ came the voice of the comfortably rotund spirit next to me. ‘That man there was fired from his job after you sent a 10-year-old tweet of his viral, and now he and his wife can’t afford to buy their child any good presents this year. Because of you, Timmy will be opening a PlayStation Classic on Christmas morning. How does that make you feel?’
‘Perfectly happy,’ I said, ‘there is no place in this world for jokes about the larger type of person.’
‘What do you mean?’ asked my awesomely-sized ghostly companion.
‘Well,’ I replied, ‘he had tweeted something horrifyingly detrimental on the subject of, (trigger warning) “fat people” (end trigger warning) which could cause all manner of offense among those of a larger girth.’
‘Oh really? I didn’t know that. Wow. What a bastard,’ said the spirit, and he promptly returned me to my bed.

I must have fallen asleep at some point because at 3am I was woken by the sound of a sinister bell tolling. I’d forgotten to put my iPhone on silent again, bloody WhatsApp groups…I looked up and standing at the foot of my bed was a tall, hooded figure.

It simply pointed at me and in a booming voice filled with toxic masculinity, said ‘LET ME SHOW YOU YOUR FUTURE.’

I suddenly found myself sitting in a Starbucks. The foreboding spirit sat beside me, but it was clear we were invisible to those around us. There was a deathly quiet. Every customer was staring at their phone screen. There was a sign above the counter which said ‘PLEASE REFRAIN FROM OFFENDING PEOPLE: PROBLEMATIC SPEECH IS ILLEGAL.’ Another next to the entrance proclaimed:‘WHITE PEOPLE ARE CHARGED 60 PERCENT MORE THAN MINORITIES IN THIS ESTABLISHMENT.’ 

Suddenly there was a commotion at the counter. A man was having an argument with a non-binary person.
‘But I didn’t KNOW what your preferred pronoun was!’ the man was insisting. A barista pushed a red button on the wall and an alarm sounded.
‘NO! please, you don’t understand!’ cried the man. ‘It was a mistake…he, er she, looked like a man to me…I just…’

At that moment, the door to the Starbucks burst open and several police officers ran in. In an instant, the man was on the ground being tasered.
‘NO! AARGH… I…DIDN’T KNOW…!!!’ he screamed.

The apparition next to me turned and said, ‘THIS IS THE FUTURE THAT WILL BE IF YOU CONTINUE ON YOUR CURRENT PATH.’

I looked at the man, his body spasming, his face pleading for mercy.
‘Fantastic!’ I replied.
‘Oh, forget it,’ the hooded specter said. He clicked his bony fingers and I was once more in my own bed: safe in the knowledge that the future was going to be woke AF.

Godfrey bless us, every one!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Thoughts from Heald Green, England: 30.12.18

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.

  • Visiting Spain in 2019? Here's 15 things you shouldn't do there.
  • Meanwhile, if you actually live there, here's a few superstitions to keep in mind for the year. And beyond.
  • If you live in Madrid, this might not what you want to read. My elder daughter will be glad her barrio isn't included, despite being very lively.
  • And if - like me -  you're a Brit resident in Spain, this will make for encouraging reading.
  • Intriguing news of the sort of grant many of us would like to receive but probably never would
The EU/Brexit
  • Richard North and Christopher Booker are authors of a fascinating 2005 book - The Great Deception - about the origins of the EU and the long-standing, unchanging ambitions of its founding fathers. Committed Brexiteers, they were - like most of us – taken aback by the 2016 referendum result and have spent the last two and a half years despairing at and railing against the immense ignorance and even greater stupidity of Conservative politicians, particularly the right-wing Hard Brexiteers. Click here for their overview of the current chaos. It seems laughable now, but their hope was for a flexible exit – the Flexcit – over many years - one which reflected the complexities of the situation and the intricate ties built up over 40 years. They regard a Hard Brexit as madness and see Mrs May's deal as leaving the UK worse off than as a member of the EU. Perhaps, like me, they even think the whole shooting match should be stopped in its tracks and the status quo ante restored. In so far as it could be. Defeat has been well and truly snatched from the jaws of victory. Which some say was the plan of the British and European Establishments all along. After they'd recovered from the enormous shock of the vote.
  • If interested, the full Booker article is below.
  • I've just discovered there's a 2016 EU Referendum edition of The Great Deception. 88% of the 104 reviews are 5-Star. And another 9% are 4-Star.
  • As one reviewer puts it: Remain supporters would do well to read this book and reconsider their own beliefs in the light of hard evidence about the duplicity and real intentions of the EU.
THE USA 2019
  • Here's a forecast from an (American) commentator I respect: Donald Trump will not be impeached. That would be too slow and allow too much scope for partisan exhibitionism. The Republicans are going to have to deal with this problem themselves, or risk being discredited for a generation. [My view for a long time now. I still don't rule out assassination commissioned by party leaders . . . .]. Trump’s removal from power – if not necessarily from office – is now becoming more urgent than was anticipated when the whole Mueller investigation thing was initiated. Proving actual collusion with Russia during the election campaign now looks like an indulgently leisurely pursuit. The last grown-ups are leaving the room. The infant in the White House has been left on his own to play with the toys – untroubled by his ignorance of military strategy, the consequences of global trade wars, or the monetary policies of the Federal Bank. Many American voters might be parochial enough not to be concerned about isolationist withdrawal – even from Nato – but they are remarkably sophisticated about the value of their investments. Ordinary people in the United States participate in the stock market and are keenly aware of the relationship between the health of their pension funds and the state of the Dow Jones. Because the “little people” buy shares, too, there is not such a clear popular distinction between Wall Street and the “real economy” of Main Street. When the markets fall, everybody panics. This is the real reason Trump has shut down the federal government – and blamed the Democrats for refusing to provide the funds for his border wall. (Wait a minute – wasn’t Mexico going to pay for that?) He needed a distraction from the bad news on the stock market, and the departure of his last general over the snap decision to withdraw from Syria. This is all beginning to look desperate and uncoordinated. Someone – or most probably several people – will have to move in and put an end to it. But it won’t be by a Democrat impeachment process. As I say, that would be much too plodding and ponderous.
Finally . . . 
  • My younger daughter is in her 30s and is the mother of 2 young kids. She has clearly learnt a lot over the years but, astonishingly, has yet to master the simple light switch. But, hey, it's her electricity bill now. So, who am I to care, as a mere (but hard-working) guest?
© [David] Colin Davies


Europe’s ‘great deception’ fooled our politicians for decades. Next up, the great disappointment: Christopher Booker.

As we move on from enjoying our last pre-Brexit Christmas to thoughts of the year ahead, only one prediction can be made with absolute confidence: that the national mood next Christmas may not be quite so merry. One of my most significant moments in the 27 years I have spent seriously reporting for The Telegraph on the EU and its impact on British life, was a book I co-authored in 2005 with my friend Richard North. It was called The Great Deception and it brought to light the true origins of the EU, as well as many long-hidden details of its history. What we found in the process of writing it led us to one unavoidable conclusion: the argument that one day we would have to leave the EU.

I mention it now because some aspects of our research have particular relevance to where we find ourselves today. The first is that, to a much greater extent than is generally realised, the “European project” has only ever had one real agenda underpinning everything it does. This is a desire to integrate the countries of Europe so closely under a new system of government centralised in Brussels that it would be extremely difficult for any country to leave it. The original “great deception”, deliberately devised back in the mid-Fifties, was to pretend that the purpose of the European project was to set up an internal free trade area, a “common market” established behind a protectionist tariff wall. But this was only ever intended to be the first step towards the true goal – welding all of the countries involved together into full political union, in other words a “United States of Europe”. This is why, after 46 years of ever closer union, there is now scarcely a single aspect of our national life which is not in some way governed by the EU. There is hardly any branch of economic activity which is not only now dependent on EU law but which has not become enmeshed with that of our EU partners. What I have also long been struck by is how little the British have ever really understood the full extent of this entanglement.

That is why, even before the referendum, Richard and I were pointing out that to disengage ourselves from the EU with minimal damage would require fully informed judgment as well as political leadership of the highest order. Our nation’s real aim, which would have been entirely possible, should have been to liberate ourselves completely from all the political structures of the EU, while retaining access to the single market which, through our exports, today provides around one pound in every eight we earn as a nation. But when Theresa May also chose to exclude us from the wider European Economic Area, which includes other countries outside the EU such as Norway and Iceland, she did so without any real understanding of its implications. That is why, the moment she made that fateful choice, we warned that this would put at risk whole sectors of our economy which rely on integration with the EU to function successfully: from our manufacture of cars, chemicals and pharmaceuticals to our role as the EU’s financial centre; from the rights of our airports to operate and our airliners to fly, to the combination of the Dover-Calais ferry service and the Channel Tunnel, absolutely essential when imports from the EU make up 30 per cent of the food we eat.

Only belatedly have our politicians woken up to some of these dangers, such as the impossibility of finding a rational solution to the Irish border problem. Others have scarcely been recognised at all, including the fact that most of our dealings with the world outside the EU are conducted under the terms set by EU trade deals, from which we will be excluded the moment we leave. 

All along we have been treated to one make-believe non-solution after another, such as the nonsensical idea that it would somehow be perfectly workable for us to walk out without any deal at all. So we are left with a choice between that crazily suicidal option, and a deal imposed by the EU, which will leave us  immeasurably worse off than we are now. 

The real tragedy is that, if only our politicians had really understood what we were up against, virtually all of this catastrophic shambles could have been avoided. 

That is a lesson we shall only learn once we have left, which is why next Christmas our national mood will be very different from what it is today.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Thoughts from Heald Green, England: 29.12.18

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.

  • Is there anyone in the country who doesn't know that UK train ticket prices are the highest in Europe, possibly the entire world - especially if you're dumb enough to buy a ticket for a trip the same day. As a recent report puts it:- Rail passengers in Britain pay at least twice as much to travel as those in major European countries. Passengers paid the equivalent of 55p a mile in the past year, compared with 29p in France, 21p in Spain and only 19p in Italy. Fares in Switzerland, often considered the best rail system in Europe, were 28p a mile. This reflects the high public subsidy for networks in Europe. Separate analysis from the EU shows that the UK’s is the only rail network in Europe in which the day-to-day running costs of the railway are completely funded from fare-paying passengers. Anyone with experience of the state-owned and-run 'British Rail' of 20-30 years ago will know that rail transport in the UK is better for privatisation, but is this what was really planned/expected? I rather doubt it.
  • Ticket prices, as usual, will rise again in January in the UK. In Spain, on the other hand: Rail ticket prices will be frozen for 2019 except on medium-distance and Avant connections, which will go up by 3.5% and 7% respectively.
Anti-Social Media
  • Twitter is a compulsion, a heart-pounding addiction, a lightning guide to news and politics in a febrile world, a steady eraser of hours that could be better spent. It is a forum for restless diversion, misunderstandings, instant or long-lasting alliances and feuds. People complain about it all the time or abandon it in despair.
Finally . . .
  • Germany is one of those countries which ban certain forenames, as in Spain. Here's a list of some of these. I'm guessing it'll appear ridiculous to most/all Anglo-Saxons. Interestingly, Adolf doesn't appear on it:-
Moon Unit
Tom Tom
Megwanipiu [A Cree name for one of the seasons]

And here's a second list, entitled in German: Extraordinary exceptions in the assignment of first names. Some examples of first names that seem critical at first glance. Presumably this means they look dubious but are not (yet) specifically forbidden:-
Leonardo da Vinci Franz

Funny people, those Continentals.

© [David] Colin Davies


An Disgusting Tradition?: David Aaronovitch

As I discovered in Barcelona a couple of weeks ago, what can seem like an odd and even possibly rather disgusting tradition can turn out to be a genuinely useful one. And forgive me if you already knew about all this, but I assure you it was news to me.

Outside the big Gothic cathedral of Saint Eulalia (a 13-year-old virgin rolled in a barrel full of knives, subjected to double breast amputation, then crucified and decapitated) they have dozens of stalls selling something called pessebre. This is essentially a cross between a Nativity scene and a landscaped train set, in which people populate a rural tableau with model houses, trees, rocks, Holy Family and traditional figures: Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, innkeepers, a man defecating . . .
Oh yes. When I first saw the caganer, as he is called, a squatting man in peasant clothes in the act of producing a copious movement (sat, if you like, almost on his stool) being sold on many of these stalls, I thought it must be a modern piece of vulgarity. Not so. The caganer goes back as far as the 17th century. In fact Catalans for years have regarded no Nativity scene as complete without him. The question of where exactly to place him in your pessebre is a matter of happy domestic discussion. The church tolerates the custom.

It is right to. Once you get over your surprise and mild disgust, you realise that the caganer is actually a great tradition. It is fundamentally democratic: as novelty caganers sold from some of the stalls make clear, defecation is common to peasants and royalty, Barcelona forwards and popes. The tradition punctures pomposity, it undermines false piety. It is also, unlike Santa, true. We should bring it here to Britain.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Thoughts from Heald Green, England: 28.12.18

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.

  • I thought that this sort of shop – that of a seamstress – had disappeared from England, but obviously not.

  • Another thing I'd mistakenly thought had gone for ever was the early-morning milk delivery. But, no, my daughter has several bottles of fresh milk put outside her front door each morning.
  • I ordered a coffee in café yesterday and - for a capuccino costing 1.70 - was given 6.60 in change from 10 pounds. When I queried this, the teenage girl behind the counter found it impossible to calculate how much she still owed me and eventually resorted to the calculator on her phone. When I was a primary school - admittedly a few years ago - we used to have regular verbal mental arithmetic tests but I'm betting this is one of the things that really have  disappeared. [Yes, the coffee was cheap by modern standards but that might be because there was little evidence of anything related to coffee below the foam. Not the best barista I've been served by.]
  • I thought the percentage of smokers in Spain had fallen, with the rise in female smokers not fully compensating for the fall in male smokers – but this article suggests there are more people than ever indulging in this harmful habit. Not what was hoped for or expected, I guess.
  • News of an enterprising (non)priest. I checked with my ultra-pious Catholic sister and she endorsed my view that God – assuming he exists – would be likely to condemn to Hell a sinner who's mortal offence(s) had been forgiven by someone with no right to give absolution. But I fancy this is a 21st century view. Needless to say, my sister didn't find the news item as amusing as I did.
  • Sorry to get this to you too late for Xmas but you might still find it useful for La Nochevieja. 
  • Here's more specific advice for next Monday night. 
  • And here's news of Spain's preparations for a hard Brexit. Which might yet happen. But, then, anything could.
  • Meanwhile, down in Andalucia, the right-wing parties have formed themselves into a coalition and ousted the socialists who've ruled the region as a fiefdom since the dawn of Spanish democracy, 40 years ago. Making lots of folk very rich in the process.
  • Here in this bit of South Manchester/North Cheshire, some of the local residents have nil familiarity with the correct past tenses of their mother tongue, resulting in usages such as: 'Have you ate your dinner', “When I seen him”, and “As soon as he come into the room”. The thought struck me this morning that this must have being going on for hundreds of years and, more impressively, is impervious to the correct usage heard frequently on the TV or radio. And it's clearly uncorrelated with education, or the lack of it. Weird.
© [David] Colin Davies

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Random smiles from Hoylake, England: 27.12.18

  • This is from Private Eye. Near where I live in Spain, this would not be regarded as amusing, as it's a regular occurrence:-

  • In the days of apartheid, a Brit arrived at Johannesburg airport. Where this conversation took place:-
- Customs Officer: Do you have any pornography, sir?
- Brit: Sorry, mate, I don't.
  • It's Christmas, so . . . . In general, I have no problem with Christianity or Judaism. My family is full of believers of both kinds. Each feeling superior to the other. Why, I even have very good friends in each category. Indeed, I even have Jehovah Witness friends, and they really do think they are the only true 'Christians'. But when I read stuff like the following paragraph – in a national newspaper – I do wonder if people with faith fully understand how their comments come across to atheists, even to those of us who aren't so-called 'New Atheists'. You know, the ones who talk/proselytise as much as theists do. I mean, what on earth is the writer's definition of 'understand' and 'know' in this paragraph? And how, for him, do these concepts differ from 'believe' . . . When you’re talking about the history of Jesus Christ, it’s actually impossible to remain wholly objective because the more you understand, the more you believe. This much we know: a virgin carried a baby in her womb. She and her husband travelled to Bethlehem, where she gave birth – and the child was venerated by those who had been told of his coming. That child grew up to perform miracles. He was arrested and crucified: he rose again on the third day. He ascended into Heaven. Once you accept this historical record, you are left with a true gift: the promise that he will come again. As I say, he's totally entitled to his faith and the beliefs which support this but, many years ago, it was the Catholic Pascal who said rationality was not consistent with faith. Though I think he thought the latter superior. As all theists do, of course. They have to because - contrary to what the columnist says – the historical evidence doesn't and never could prove there was, for example, a virgin birth or a resurrection. Nor even a trip to Bethlehem for a census.
  • Of course, where I take issue with theists is when they move beyond themselves into interfering in other's lives to impose on them a terrible terrestrial price for their (unproved and unprovable) eternal bliss. And take taxpayers' money to do this. And elect and support Fart in everything he does. But don't get me started. It's said to be the season of goodwill . . .
  • Finally . . . Picking up on the theist theme . . .

The Devil always has the last laugh . . . 

© [David] Colin Davies

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A Boxing Day Message: 26.12.18

As there's bugger all to write about, here's a couple of articles I totally endorse. The boldings are mine:-

1. Po-faced killjoys are getting beyond a joke

Madeline Grant, editorial manager at the Institute of Economic Affairs

A cultural heritage of Chaucerian humour and bawdy puns is at risk from keyboard warriors determined to be offended

Christmas can be a minefield for family drama. Disagreements over the right and wrong way to roast potatoes and whether Die Hard is, in fact, a Christmas film collide with the innate awkwardness of spending time with extended relatives, and, God forbid, the topic of Brexit over the dinner table.

Yet if there’s one way of resolving the high tensions that often emerge at family get-togethers, it’s humour, the lamer the better. Jokes have a wonderful way of cutting through awkwardness and even outright hostility. Perhaps this is why we still cleave to Christmas crackers, despite their usually substandard punchlines: even groaning at awful puns together can be a bonding experience.

What is true at Christmas is also true throughout the year, and at a time when Britain is extraordinarily divided, humour is needed more than ever to help bridge these gaps. Unfortunately, satire has had a very bad year indeed.

I’m old enough to remember when the best response to a bad joke was not to laugh. Yet in 2018, an off-colour or poorly received gag could have cost you your job. Mocking vegans can be a resigning matter, as William Sitwell, former editor of Waitrose’s food magazine, learnt after firing off an ill-judged joke to a journalist in a private email. Twitter has moved from barring accounts suspected of “hateful” conduct or spreading “fake news” to clamping down on spoof accounts. Earlier this year, moderators suspended Godfrey Elfwick[see below], a hilarious if obvious parody of the intolerance of extreme identity politics, political correctness and other tenets of “social justice warrior” ideology.

One only has to hear the hysteria surrounding Jeremy Corbyn’s recent “stupid woman” remarks last week to know that confected outrage is alive and well and isn’t just confined to the left. Over the summer Boris Johnson was subjected to an internal Conservative Party investigation for joking that burkas resembled “letterboxes”, in an article which elsewhere argued against banning the garments. Around the same time, Steve Brine, the minister for primary care, called on Ricky Gervais to apologise publicly for an old joke branding ME sufferers “lazy”.

That is not to say that all these jokes are examples of Wildean wit — they emphatically aren’t. But whatever your views on Gervais, Elfwick, Sitwell or Johnson, these sorts of clampdowns will certainly discourage rather than encourage jokes, and have a chilling effect on our collective sense of humour.

We are already seeing this public offence-taking culture trickling down into ordinary people’s lives.Earlier this year an RNLI lifeboatman was sacked after a manager discovered a tea mug depicting a naked woman with a crewman’s head superimposed on her body, which had been given as a joke secret Santa present. Never has the phrase “storm in a teacup” seemed more apt.

Shortly afterwards, a Staffordshire butcher who hung signs advertising “big breasted birds”, “big cocks” and “horny sausages” outside his shop received an official police reprimand for fear the ads might be causing offence to passers-by.

From Chaucer to Shakespeare through to Fawlty Towers, British humour has always thrived on naughty puns, and yet innuendo no worse than you’d find in a Carry On film is now being policed as if it were hate speech. These are worrying developments indeed.

Some may argue that edgy or indeed smutty jokes are unlikely to bring people together but humour is also deeply subjective. And sometimes only the darkest humour, not anodyne observational comedy, will do.

When my much-loved grandad died suddenly at home, our family immediately dashed round to comfort my grandma, to find that we had beaten the undertakers to it. Grandad had washed up as usual and was still sitting comfortably in his chair as though peacefully asleep, the paper open beside him at the share prices. My grandmother stoically produced a pot of tea and handed round the mugs as usual. When she poured one for grandad, then remarked “Silly me, he won’t be needing this”, we collapsed into helpless laughter. It was the perfect cathartic antidote to our shock and sorrow, briefly alleviating our grief as we all knew how much he would have relished the joke himself.

Jokes bring a creative and joyful jolt to our brains and help people through difficult situations. I’ve noticed that among my friends the medics, who deal with life and death situations every day, have the dryest, bleakest sense of humour of all. One, when asked how his favourite elderly patient was doing replied judiciously: “He’s busy dying.”

A body of scientific research attests to the fact that a good sense of humour can be a powerful defence mechanism for dealing with day-to-day stress and even depression.Given all of the above, it certainly doesn’t take a neuroscientist to question whether the increasingly humourless, safety-obsessed environment we are creating for young people in universities may be exacerbating the student mental health crisis.

At a time when, more than ever, we need humour, our increasingly hypersensitive world will almost certainly mean fewer laughs and even deeper division. We may have survived family Christmas for another year; let’s hope satire can survive 2019

2. The death of Godfrey Elfwick

Andrew Doyle, a stand-up comedian and Spiked columnist,

This spoof SJW tweeter was a work of satirical brilliance.

In November 2016, the Guardian published a comment piece in which the anonymous writer described how he was radicalised into the ‘alt-right’. It started when he watched a few ostensibly harmless videos by the American liberal Sam Harris. From there, he graduated to material of an anti-SJW (Social Justice Warrior) and anti-feminist disposition, before eventually becoming a fan of the dreaded Milo Yiannopoulos. As the writer dramatically put it: ‘The indoctrination was complete.’

Soon after, a well-known Twitter troll called Godfrey Elfwick claimed to be the author. It made complete sense, even though it wasn’t true. Elfwick was a brilliant caricature of the excesses of the liberal-left. He, or rather xe, identified as a ‘genderqueer Muslim atheist’ who was ‘born white in the #WrongSkin’. His ‘transblack’ status began as a satire of Rachel Dolezal, the US civil-rights activist who was born to white parents but identifies as black. ‘I have light skin’, he tweeted, ‘yet I know in my heart I am black and act accordingly’. Elfwick’s #WrongSkin hashtag soon began to trend worldwide on Twitter, fooling many in the process. Even the Mirror and the BBC published articles which did not rule out the possibility that the campaign might be authentic.

Similarly, Elfwick’s claim to have penned the Guardian comment piece was effective precisely because it was so feasible. The satire was double-edged. On the one hand, Elfwick had accentuated the inherent absurdities of the article in question, exposing the self-parodic nature of the Guardian. On the other, he had successfully duped public figures such as Sam Harris, Maajid Nawaz, and leading Gamergater Ethan Ralph, all of whom had been so quick to take his tweets at face value. The hoax claim was in itself a hoax.

Elfwick’s brand of satire depended on this kind of ambiguity. Those who took his posts seriously were inadvertently enhancing the impact of the joke, especially when they expressed such boiling outrage. It is no coincidence that objections to Elfwick tend to come from po-faced peddlers of identity politics who are unhappy about being ridiculed. The same goes for the ideologues of Twitter, who have an established record of deleting accounts for political reasons and have now permanently banned Elfwick from their platform. 

The circumstances are complicated. Lisa Graves, the satirist behind the most recent incarnation of Elfwick, was reported to Twitter for using an expletive during an exchange on her personal account with another user. The complainant additionally made the demonstrably false claim that Elfwick was an ‘alt-right account’ engaged in ‘targeted harassment’. Before long, all of Graves’ accounts had been subject to a blanket ban. Given Twitter’s curiously draconian response to such groundless accusations, it is hardly surprising that many are assuming that the punishment is politically motivated.

Internet trolling can often amount to little more than unsophisticated mudslinging. But when executed well, it has the potential to reach great satirical heights. Although it’s true that there was much to enjoy in Elfwick’s pranking simply for its own sake, there were also some serious underlying points about the dangers of offence culture and the divisive quality of identity politics. He could find a way to be offended by anything. On the release of the film 12 Years a Slave, for example, Elfwick took exception. ‘Typical of Hollywood to cast a black actor in a stereotypical role as a slave’, he wrote. ‘Why not 12 Years a Bank Manager?’

For the crime of deflating the pretensions of leftist identitarians, Elfwick has repeatedly been dismissed as ‘right-wing’ or ‘alt-right’. But as Graves puts it, ‘Godfrey was a way of poking fun at the extremes of both ends of the political spectrum’. The account mocked the liberal-left by aping their faux-outrage and self-defeating arguments (‘It’s 2018 and women should be free to do whatever feminists say they can’), but was equally adept at needling right-wingers who took such statements literally and responded with hilarious indignation.

It was inevitable that Elfwick would provoke widespread offence given his choice of subject matter. For some, the image of him on the Women’s March in a full burka and pink pussy hat was a step too far. Others were uncomfortable with his take on trans issues. (‘I’ve been secretly putting hormone blockers in my nephew’s Dairylea Lunchables for the past few months. She’ll thank me for it in a few years, you mark my words.’) Many Twitter users took issue with his comments on the recent rescue of boys from a flooded cave in Thailand: ‘Two British white males at the head of this rescue mission. Their privilege is staggering. Ability counts for shit when there’s zero diversity. I demand they be replaced with two differently abled transgender people of mixed race to offer those children a more empowering experience.’

That so many were gulled into believing such self-evidently ludicrous pronouncements points to the degradation of political discourse on the internet which Elfwick sought to deride. Those who were incensed by Elfwick’s jibes at offence culture only served to highlight the necessity of his existence. It’s the same kind of literal-minded reaction that saw satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo lambasted for racism when it depicted justice minister Christiane Taubira as a monkey, even though the target was quite clearly racist nationalists who resorted to such vile comparisons.

‘Satire is angry and optimistic’, wrote WH Auden. ‘It believes that, once people’s attention is drawn to some evil, they will mend their ways.’ The popularity of Godfrey Elfwick points to a growing frustration with contemporary ‘woke’ politics, and the need to counter these regressive trends. As Lisa Graves has said of the current climate, ‘it stifles us’ and ‘creates division’. Elfwick’s pomposity hit exactly the right note, because where there is no impulse to question one’s own certainties there can be no possibility of dialogue. In a sense, then, his self-importance was entirely justified. I’m reminded of a quotation, attributed to Elfwick himself, that was formerly emblazoned at the head of his Twitter page. ‘Imagine, if you will, a lion, with the heart of a bear and the strength of 10 lions. You just imagined Godfrey Elfwick.’

Monday, December 24, 2018

Thoughts from Heald Green, England: 24.12.18

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 UK and Brexit
  • NTR. All calm on all fronts. Before the New Year storm.
The EU
  • A crisis is brewing in Italy that could yet end up with that country leaving the euro. But: This would not necessarily imply an Italian exit from the EU and/or an existential crisis for the union. 
  • Allegedly, native-speakers will instinctively put this noun and 5 adjectives in the 'correct' order, without ever having been taught what that is. There's a rule, apparently:- Towel: damp, John-Lewis, cotton, red, large.
  • I stress that my choice of words is no reflection on my daughter's house-keeping standards . . .
Finally . . . Some Xmas Trivia
  • Coupe glasses have long vied with flutes as the classic shape in which to serve champagne. Now an investigation into the properties of the flattened glasses, legendarily modelled on the bust of Madame de Pompadour, the 18th-century amour of the king of France, has found that they all but guarantee that your drink will go flat. Not only are the coupes less good at keeping in the fizz than the flutes, they were worse than any other glass tested.
  • Taller people are less likely to die in hospital. A study of more than 400,000 critically ill adults admitted to UK hospitals found that shorter height was linked to increased hospital deaths among men and women alike.
  • In Germany this coming week, there'll be yet more showings of Dinner for One. Which they inexplicably find hilarious there.
  • Why the internet has ruined Christmas shopping for ever. But not for me, as it happens.
  • One of the Indonesian beaches hit by the tsunamis caused by the eruption of Anak Krakatoa – Labuhan – was where I and my family used to spend weekends when we lived in Jakarta.
  • Anak Krakatoa means 'Child of Krakatoa'. The latter disappeared after its famous eruption.
  • Krakatoa was, in fact, west of Java, not – as the film title had it – east of the island. Anak Krakatoa still is.
© [David] Colin Davies

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Thoughts from Heald Green, England: 23.12.18

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.

  • Say no more . . . An option on the coffee machine in the John Lewis department store:-

  • Spain – often in the van on social issues – belatedly enters the 21st century on the issue of the definition of 'rape'.
  • This is one of someone's best 10 wines of 2018: 2011 Bodegas Ysios Rioja Reserva. Usual sort of guff to go with the recommendation: Ysios - named after an Egyptian goddess of magic who had oversight of winemaking - is a boutique winery that is part of the Campo Viejo family of wines. Made in a more modern style, this Rioja wine is crafted of 100% Tempranillo and sourced from vineyards that average 35 years. Deep red with tinges of purple in the glass despite having a little age. Ripe blackberries and raspberry on the nose. But this is no fruit bomb. After all, this is Rioja. Nice juicy palate of fresh dark fruit, vanilla, spice, and cedar. It was both intense and powerful as well as elegant. Smooth and round with well integrated tannins. Just a very nice wine all around. It’s had a few years in the bottle and seems close to hitting to its prime but can go a few more years. Seems to cost upwards of €22 a bottle in Spain, 30 dollars in the USA, and 27 quid in the UK. [BTW . . It's cost me some time to get that last bit of info. My son-in-law's internet access controls were so tight I couldn't get access any site sniffing of alcohol. Even that of the Wine Society.]
  • Another take on the Andalucian success of the Vox party. And its implications for Spain.
  • I often tell North European friends they have no idea of how much of their taxes passes through sticky hands in Spain. For example - per the article just cited - 1. The appalling ERE scam, which fleeced around one billion euros for Andalucia's leaders. And: 2. A fake training scheme scandal which may well end up amounting to even more.
The UK and Brexit
  • Richard North – possibly the most knowledgable person in the UK on this issue – suspects that there's evidence for the government's increasing confidence that Mrs May will get her almost-universally-un-admired deal approved by parliament in January. Heralding several more years of tortuous negotiations during which all the court cards will be in the hands of Brussels. As I've said, returning to the status quo ante would be better than this. But this is politically unachievable, they say. Probably correctly. But, anyway, North says parliamentary acceptance will arrive after the evidence accumulates on the adverse effects of a "no deal", when enough MPs are finally convinced that this course of action would be economic suicide, drowning out the prattling "ultras".
  • Below is an interesting article on the anti-democratic elitism of both the EU and British establishments.
The EU
  • Another article on the various challenges the new empire faces, which it – so far - shows little evidence of properly dealing with. Opening para: After muddling through a series of profound crises over the past decade, the EU now finds itself confronted with a political meltdown in Britain, a potential trade war with the US, and mounting security threats on its periphery. To address these and other challenges, Europe will have to make decisions it would rather continue to postpone. And the final para: Whereas 2018 was a year of confusion, 2019 will be year for decision-making. European leaders must face up to the brutal realities of a changing world. Only then will voters trust them to forge a new path toward a future of peace and prosperity.
  • A friend this week asked if I knew the origin of a favourite word – doolally. I guessed India. Which was right, as it relates to a lunatic asylum in the town of Deolali. Hence the correct expression: “He's gone doolally”, not “He is doolally”
Finally . . .
  • My 'smart'phone appears to have gone dumb. When the battery indicates 23-30% it switches off and then shows 2-3% when I switch it back on. But the very second I plug in a charger it again shows the higher percentage, and stays at it even after I unplug the charger. It's a bloody nuisance. Especially as I bought a new battery because the old one was doing the very same thing.
  • I leave you with what I've read is the bestselling track of 2018. Melodious, it ain't. Come back almost anyone from the last 50 years.
© [David] Colin Davies


Hard-line Remainers reject democracy itself in elitist attempt to subvert Brexit: Richard Tombs.

The most disturbing aspect of the Brexit debate is not the risk of traffic jams at Dover or possibly having to pay £7 every two years to visit our beloved Continent, but the anger, contempt and loathing that has erupted on both sides. Each blames the other. Yet the two are not equivalent. Brexiteers have insisted – sometimes, no doubt, in outspoken terms – that our political institutions and practices should be respected, and that national sovereignty as understood for centuries should be upheld. As Burke said of the Glorious Revolution, it was done not to overthrow but to defend “laws and liberties”.

Hard-line Remainers, in contrast, have been and are willing to push their campaign beyond legitimate politics as previously understood. First, they have encouraged foreign authorities to resist the policy of the UK, and have thereby done much to sabotage that policy. Second, they have attempted to delegitimise legal votes, using arguments that would take us back 150 years and more – essentially, that ordinary people are incapable of taking a major national decision and that they must therefore be overruled.

I am a member of a group of academics called Briefings for Brexit, and we have been reflecting on this “Remainer Revolt”. We have noted that civil servants detest disruption. We have suggested that the issue has become one of “identity politics”, with vehement Remainers motivated less by affection for the EU than by contempt for those they think support Brexit – above all the white working class. We have identified Tory Remainers with those who think that all that really matters in politics is delivering material benefits to the masses.

Yet I felt something was still missing. The penny dropped when I read the vocal Remainer and former MP Matthew Parris in the latest Spectator. For him, Brexit means “trusting the people”: “I don’t,” he writes. “Never have and never will.” Rejecting the idea of “an unseen bond between parliament and people”, he sees its job as curbing “the instincts of the mob”. The enlightened elite must govern by subterfuge if necessary.

How far backwards elitist rejection – principled rejection, if you like – of democracy takes us. Even in the 1830s the prescient political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville, aristocrat though he was, acknowledged that ordinary people had a shrewd grasp of things within their experience. Gladstone, our greatest liberal, considered the popular electorate more moral than the elite.

Nearly 200 years after Tocqueville, how much wider is popular experience of the world than he could have imagined. Yet a lady in Newnham (Cambridge’s miniature Islington) told me recently that she had only understood Brexit because her Leave-voting gardener and cleaning lady had explained it: it did not occur to her that their views had any value – though her own were, to use an apt term, nebulous. She could not conceive that their experience of working and bringing up families could have given them a knowledge of the world as valid as her view from the ivory tower.

If such arrogance had any justification, it would be the surpassing excellence of elitist rule. All those Old Regime states were run by experienced and sophisticated professionals, and all are on the scrapheap of history. What of their present-day successor, the European Union itself, that magnet for Europe’s new post-national aristocracy? Its boldest creation, the euro, condemns millions of Europe’s young to unemployment or forced migration. Its trading policies impoverish poor countries and add to the tide of migrants. Its supra-national power is undermining Europe’s fragile and painfully achieved democracies – the real danger to peace and order.

And our own political elite: do they consider themselves so infallible and trusted that they can override a referendum and a general election? By what power could they legitimately do so? The phrase “the sovereignty of parliament” is freely bandied about, but that sovereignty is limited. Moreover, it is the institution of parliament that holds sovereignty, not its confused and disunited members. If they cannot in conscience carry out a programme on which they were elected, their honourable course is to resign, not to break their promises and certainly not to intrigue to undermine them.

The Remain-Leave debate is no longer primarily about the EU, if it ever was. It has become, as Parris disarmingly admits, about who governs, and by what right. Not for the first time in our history, we have a relatively small but influential faction, utterly confident of its own intellectual and moral entitlement, which often appears to despise its own country and prefers to pledge its loyalty elsewhere. We saw it with the Puritans and their successors. We saw it with those who acclaimed Stalin’s Russia as a higher civilization. In each case, intellectual stubbornness blocked out reality.

Shall we recover from our present political, social and cultural tussles? I believe so. But not through the usual British fudge, in this case presenting a surrender as a compromise. The readiness of the Government to let the EU pick our pocket – who can blame Michel Barnier for obliging? – has produced a “deal” that risks condemning us to years of internal recrimination and wrangling with our neighbours. A second referendum is so patently a ruse, and its leaders so politically discredited, that only the most blinkered or cynical could propose it as a means of reconciliation.

The only way left to restore calm now is a “managed no deal”, for which all sides are preparing. Most Remainers are not hard-liners but understandably worry about economic apocalypse. If and when that does not materialise – and with sensible preparations it will not – then our politics will go off the boil, and ex-prime ministers will resume what Dr Johnson called the innocent employment of making money. We are not, after all, in as febrile a state as the United States, France, Italy, Spain or even Germany. The Brexit vote calmed down our politics, eliminating Ukip and strengthening the two main parties. Once carried out it can do so again.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Thoughts from Heald Green, England: 22.12.18

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.

  • Here's a cartoon for reader Eamon in La Coruña:-

  • Here's The (ever-helpful) Local with advice on seasonal food and drink.
  • El País explains the attractions of the newish, far-right Vox party here.
  • This is a bit worrying, not that I used domestic flights.
  • Here's a reference I came across to fine eating in Galicia. I researched a bit but could find nothing more than this drivel from Private Eye's “Pseuds' Corner”: Contrasting events of the week: In 'The Birth of Tragedy', Friedrich Nietzsche creates a distinction between two elements of human instinct: the Apollonian (formal, rational, structured) and the Dionysian (passionate, chaotic, ecstatic). In restaurant terms, it’s the ball-bearing precision of foodie icon @luxeat’s Yashin Ocean House dinner vs the last days of Rome mania — and whatever the hell else was happening — at a gathering of British food heroes in Galicia. See it as a primitive personality test, perhaps: which to choose?
The Netherlands
  • I wrote recently from there of the country's marvellous bike paths but also of the danger of speed-limited scooters that are allowed to use them. It turns out that these aren't the only vehicles causing consternation, injuries and even deaths around the Netherlands. There are e-bikes, hoverboards, Birò cars, stints, mopeds and snorfiets (which might be the same thing). Cue consternation and legislation in some cities. More on this here. But no mention of segways, which are banned on pavements in the UK, but not Spain. These were banned in the Netherlands back in 2007 but more recently the law seems to have been relaxed. Which seems rather contrary to what's reported above. Funny people. But quite nice, for the most part.
  • Friends in Germany had already surprised me with this situation. Not what we've come to expect from the efficient Teutons.
The UK and Brexit
  • I read stuff like this and am encouraged: How about no-deal, then? Chaos, blockades and tariff wars are highly unlikely. There will be some nail-biting short-term turbulence and sabre-rattling on both sides, maybe even some temporary shortages, but both sides have so much to lose from an enduring stand-off that self-interest will prevail.
  • Then I read Richard North, as here, and return to pessimism and depression
  • Above all, I wish I could believe that things will go as Ambrose Evans Pritchard hopes they will at the end of the article on Germany below.
  • Says the BBC: This week in Washington has distilled all the chaos, upheaval, drama and conflict of the first two years of the Donald Trump presidency down to its purest form. It's been a bungee jump from high to low, then careening everywhere in between - and it's not altogether clear that it won't end with the loud and final thud of an impact on the ground. The evidence for these claims is in the article.
Anti-Social media
Finally . . .
  • This song is the Christmas Number One in the UK. Dear god.
© [David] Colin Davies


No-deal Brexit risks a rude economic shock for Germany and fragile eurozone: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

The German car industry is reeling. Share prices are starting to reflect existential risk. A no-deal Brexit would be an unwelcome shock

There is no such thing as Theresa May’s Brexit deal. The Withdrawal Agreement is merely a legal contract to pay £39bn, with the Irish back-stop for good measure.

In exchange, Britain secures a transition phase with no veto rights, bound to accept all fresh EU law even when it threatens the national interest.

On payment of the exit fee we also secure the ‘privilege’ of starting talks on a deal. The terms of that deal must be agreed by all 27 EU states (unlike the Withdrawal Agreement).

This will be a negotiating nightmare. We will face the same cliff-edge in two years, but with less leverage and unanimity to contend with.  

Whatever Mrs May now says, the UK will probably end up having to accept the full single market for goods and the customs union, freedom of movement, fishery quotas, and the full writ of the European Court, in order to get any trade deal.

The package will be a sort ‘Norway double minus’ with barnacles. The EU will lock in goods trade, but exclude services. We will have sacrificed the biggest part of our economy for nothing, entirely on terms that favour Brussels. Personally, I prefer to have the showdown right now.

The EU’s own circumstances have deteriorated dramatically over the last year. This matters. The first ‘recession’ casualties of Brexit have been Germany and Italy, not Britain, mirabile dictu.

While Italy has little trade exposure to the UK, it has secondary exposure through the interlinkage between the Milan-Turin industrial hub and Germany’s export machine, and that machine is in trouble.

The IFO index of manufacturing sentiment for exporters released this morning has gone off a cliff. IFO singled out a clear culprit: “German exporters are beset by fears of a hard Brexit,” it said.

The warnings are suddenly coming in thick and fast. Eric Schweitzer, head of the German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK), warned that “Brexit threatens massive consequences for the German economy”.

“We must be clear what this is all about. More than 750,000 jobs in Germany depend on exports to Great Britain. Just-in-time production and supply chains are at risk,” he said.

Dieter Kempf, president of the German Industry Federation (BDI), said the situation has become “explosive” as the clock runs out. “We have only got three months left and nobody should be playing games. Without an agreement there is no transition phase, which our companies badly need,” he said.

For the last two years Germany’s industrial lobbies have adopted a dismissive tone on Brexit, deeming it a sad spectacle of economic self-harm, with minor implications for them. They would not rescue Brexiteers by pushing for a friendly market deal. The integrity of the EU project matters more.

It has not been hard to keep up this mantra. The British government has yielded at each stage. What Deutschland Inc was  not expecting is that Parliament might block the Withdrawal Agreement altogether, leading to a hard Brexit by default.

This has begun to concentrate minds. People are digging out a report by the IW Institute in Cologne warning that a hard Brexit could slash German exports to the UK by 57pc.

Needless to say, Germany is being hit by multiple shocks, but Brexit is clearly one of them. The much-needed fall in sterling has clipped German imports and led to import substitution at the margin.  The current account deficit has improved markedly when adjusted for full-employment (the relevant metric).

Germany is paying the price for relying on a structural trade surplus to underpin its economic model. Over a fifth of that global surplus is with Britain (€54bn)

The EU’s net exports of goods is siphoning off 4.5pc of British GDP each year, a large drain in aggregate demand. In a WTO hard Brexit - with no quick reversal to free trade - the EU would “crash out” of the British market, to borrow a phrase.

The structural effect would be to shift some of that demand back into the UK economy. This would have a cushioning effect, ceteris paribus. The EU economy may be five times as big (not seven times as often claimed) but such a switch would be a pure loss them.

As ex-Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab writes in this newspaper, some of the funds currently transferred to the EU could be used under WTO rules to shield specific sectors such as car production - smaller than people think in GDP terms.

I would go further. In an emergency the Government could nationalise parts of the car industry and redirect the plants to supply the UK internal market, buttressed by investment in UK subcontractors. President Obama nationalised General Motors temporarily - and successfully - in 2009. Sovereign states can do what they want.

The question for the German political class is where the pain threshold lies when so much else is going wrong beside Brexit, and whether it can risk a full-blown slump in a eurozone that no longer has any monetary defences against deflation and that is uncomfortably close to a fresh sovereign debt crisis.

Many of the latest problems track monetary tightening by the US Federal Reserve. Liquidity is draining away in Europe’s offshore lending markets for dollars, squeezing European lenders. Deutsche Bank’s share price has halved this year to an all-time low of €7.64.

The surging dollar and a doubling of LIBOR rates this year have set off an emerging market crunch. China’s slowdown is deepening. Tentative monetary and fiscal stimulus have failed to gain traction. Capital Economics said the true level of growth in China has dropped to 5.5pc - based on proxy measures - and will continue falling to 4pc by mid-2019 before touching bottom.

This is a Chinese recession.  Germany is taking the full brunt, as it typically does in global economic downturns. The country is highly leveraged to the world’s trade and industrial cycles.

By curse of timing it comes at a moment when the German car industry is reeling from the diesel conspiracy and the systemic threat of electric cars, with Donald Trump’s threat of 25pc tariffs still hanging dangerously.

Volkswagen had to accept humiliating terms on a €5bn debt issue in November, treated like a fallen angel. Alliance Bernstein says Germany’s car companies are trading at levels hinting at bankruptcy risk. Plainly they are in no fit state to cope with a full-blown Brexit shock.

That would bring the guillotine down on 750,000 car exports. Britain is Germany’s biggest single car market - bigger than the US or China - and an integral part of its production system. This is the sort of problem that Berlin must think about as the British government activates its no-deal plans and puts the army on stand-by.

My fear is that Berlin will try to head off this threat by offering Theresa May just enough legal pomade on the Irish back-stop to slide the Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament, without really changing the substance.

Sir Ivan Rogers, former chief Brexit negotiator, has issued a devastating attack on the wishful thinking and incompetence of the Government and much of the Brexit movement for the last two years. His lecture to Liverpool University has been republished by The Spectator and is a mandatory read.

He argues that the EU will grind us down mercilessly over the transition phase, running the clock until our backs are pressed against the wall and we forced to yield to all demands on abject terms.

Inadvertently, he makes the case for resistance. He implies that the EU will exploit the UK vassal status as a taker of EU law and regulations to inflict grave harm, and he paints an insider portrait of a truly villainous EU machine in Brussels determined to ensure that Brexit is agonizing, unworkable, and punished.

On cue, the Commission announced with some relish that its no-deal contingencies will “be very damaging for UK financial services”. Why does an EU official insert such language, and why does Jean-Claude Juncker let it go through?

Sir Ivan almost admits in his tirade that the EU cares not a whit about its good faith commitment as a WTO member to avoid impediments to trade, or its legal obligations under the Vienna Convention and Article 4 of its own Lisbon Treaty.

If that is the case, Theresa May’s Withdrawal Deal leaves us is great national jeopardy.  Nobody knows exactly what would happen in a no-deal rupture because so much depends on how EU would respond, and how it judges its own vulnerabilities. The contingency plans released today tell us little. They are an exercise in pressure.

But we do know exactly what is going to happen to us if we persist on the Prime Minister’s current course. A no-deal outcome is a big risk, but the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement pose an even bigger risk.

We are not so weak, and the EU is not so strong, that submission is necessary. The sooner we regain our nerve and break completely free from this tightening trap, the safer we will be.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Thoughts from Heald Green, England: 21.12.18

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.

I'm indebted to Lenox Napier of the comprehensive Business Over Tapas for some of the following items.

  • Who can you trust these days? Yesterday I had to drive from Hoylake back to Heald Green – via Knutsford - and had the choice of either doing it all by motorway or mostly cross-country on the A roads. As I'd read last week a forecast that there'd be 3 hour delays yesterday on the notorious M6, I decided to take the slower, more scenic and very much more nostalgic route across country, passing Chester and Northwich. Needless to say, when I crossed over the M6, the traffic was flowing smoothly.
  • The Spanish tax office – the Hacienda - is reported to be preparing a raid on the owners of Airbnb-style tourist apartments. From January, the tax-office will begin to receive information from web platforms and other intermediaries giving the identity of the owners of the rented properties.
  • Political patronage Spanish style – in a region already infamous for its many thousands of rather under-employed civil servants . . . . Susana Díaz, the outgoing president of the Junta de Andalucía, has been promoting people to administrative posts at the rate of over one per day. 
  • As for the new right-of-centre coalition administration there, the horse-trading is proving less than productive at the moment. But Lenox advises that the likelihood is that a government of Partido Popular and Ciudadanos will be agreed by 27 December, with the lesser-supported latter providing the President. Cue more political patronage, but of people of a different stamp/'outlook'. . .
  • Spain’s population grew in the first half of 2018 by 121, 564 and, by the end of this year will be c. 46.9m. Interestingly, immigrants compensated for a fall in the Spanish birthrate below the replacement level. These tend to me culturally, linguistically and religiously rather more similar to the locals than is the case in other countries. Making assimilation rather easier. Unless they're gypsies, of course.
The UK and Brexit
  • NTR, except another day has passed with nothing at all being resolved.
  • I continue to believe there'll be an extension of the withdrawal notice period, as a prelude to a second referendum. When all hell will break loose in the UK. Possibly even civil war. The Brits haven't had a good war for ages now. And the last one of the (un)civil type was more than 350 years ago. Long overdue. As is a Revolution, since the last (Glorious) one of these was in 1688. The country needs shaking up.
  • Meanwhile, I've set up an organisation to promote a UK-wide boycott of all goods of EU origin. Especially French wines and German cars. Oh, and Belgian chocolates. And Dutch flowers. The list of things Brits can do without grows by the hour. Those arrogant technocrats will be sorry!
  • On a personal note, I'm resolved to reject all proposals of marriage from Continental women. Which should break a few hearts.
Finally . . .
  • Reader Perry advises he won't be paying to read cited articles from The Local. Well, as I've said, if you have a Mac with the Reader option and if you get The Local from an RSS aggregator such as Finder or The Old Reader, it seems that the notice you get saying you've reached your free monthly limit doesn't appear if you've instructed your Mac to automatically convert all their articles to Reader view. But, again, please don't tell anyone . .
© [David] Colin Davies