Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 18.6.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spain
  • Just in case there's anyone under 25 reading this blog . . . Advice on summer life in Spain.
  • And here, for everyone. is The Local on Spanish estival celebrations. In July and, especially, August it sometimes feels there's nothing else going on . . .
  • The way of all extremists, from the Right and the Left.
  • Prostitution and related people-smuggling is a real scandal in Spain. Here - in Spanish - is El País on the subject of shocking maltreatment. In Galicia, as it happens.
  • Last weekend, up near A Lamas, saw one of Galicia's strangest ceremonies - the procession around a church of (live) people in open coffins. I attended it a few years ago and seem to recall that the 'corpses' are infirm folk hoping for a miraculous recovery. Weird. And possibly pagan in origin:-
  • My guess is few people know that Galicia has its own separatists, Resistencia Galega. And that they occasionally indulge in violence. Though this is on a small scale and I don't think they've killed - or even injured - anyone. I believe the last episode was 6 years ago and involved the blowing up of an ATM. Anyway, 2 alleged leaders of RG were arrested in Vigo last weekend.
Portugal
  • More than a couple of decades ago, my elder daughter commented it was a great shame that so many beautiful buildings in Lisbon were in a state of dereliction. Much has changed since then but it's still not difficult to come across tat among the glossy new buildings and the renovated old ones. For example, this was the view from my room in a Lisbon barrio which is being gentrified. I guess it has a certain charm. At least, that's what someone said in a booking.com review . . . 
  • Here's a foto of one of the piles of marble I saw on the edge of Estremoz:-
  • In Elvas , I parked my care in a space in front of this sign but then worried I wasn't permitted to:-

I had no idea what the initials stood for but was sure the receptionist of my hotel 5 metres away would know. But she didn't and just shrugged. So, I moved the car to the public car park 15m away. So far, the internet has only been able to tell me that D.R.A.P.A.L stands for Direcção Regional De Agricultura e Pescas Do Alentejo. But I'm stumped with S.R.N.A. I doubt it's a reference to a Croatian football player. . . Anyone know?

The EU
  • See the article on Italy below.
The USA 
Spanish
Finally . . .
  • Several years ago, a couple of collared doves nested in the bougainvillea just below my bedroom window and I snapped the two-weeks development of the squabs from eggs to first flight. Now, there's another nest, just above the door to the garden, and I'm wondering if this is the same couple, or perhaps their progeny. Either way, it means I can't use this door for a couple of weeks:-

THE ARTICLE

It’s only a matter of time before Italy’s Black Wednesday moment: Roger Bootle, Daily Telegraph

One of the items for discussion at this week’s meeting of the European Council will surely be the situation in Italy. The recent European elections were a great victory for Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League, one of the two partners in the governing coalition. No doubt emboldened by this result, he has called for tax cuts that would, if implemented, surely cause Italy to break the EU’s borrowing limits. The EU Commission is supposedly contemplating whether it should begin a disciplinary process against Italy that could end up with the imposition of substantial fines.

The markets seem to be fairly relaxed about the Italian situation. But you shouldn’t take comfort from this. They are focused on the immediate future. For all the sabre-rattling, the Italian government will not want an early showdown with the commission. And the commission would probably accept some sort of fudge. It will surely strive to avoid fining Italy.

Yet the Italian public finances are in a frightful mess. The ratio of government debt to GDP is now at 132%. Danger territory is supposed to begin at 90%. Even so, excluding interest payments, the government actually runs a budget surplus. Indeed, it has done so for 25 of the last 27 years. Italy shouldn’t have to squeeze its budget still further. The fiscal problem derives from a combination of a heavy weight of debt incurred in the past and very sluggish economic growth, continuing into the present.

A dose of decent economic growth in the future would work wonders. But it is difficult to see how Italy is going to grow at all, never mind strongly. Accordingly, the debt burden may rise. More importantly, even though it has fallen by 3% since late 2014, unemployment is still at 10%. Youth unemployment is over 30%. Since the euro was formed in 1999, the Italian economy has barely grown at all and living standards have been stagnant.

What is the way out? Mr Salvini’s proposed tax cuts might help a bit, although alone they are unlikely to achieve much. What Italy needs in the long term is a root-and-branch reform of both the economy and the political system. But in the short term it needs more aggregate demand.

Yet, if Italy’s sclerotic economy has hardly managed to achieve any growth when its leading trading partners have been growing well, then what is going to happen if and when they experience a serious economic slowdown, such as is now under way?

The answer is that Italy will slip into economic contraction and unemployment will start to rise. It is difficult to see how the Italian people or their political leaders will accept such a result meekly.

The course that would be open to Italy if it were not a member of the euro would be a depreciation of its exchange rate, combined with a more stimulatory fiscal and monetary policy. This is the policy that dare not speak its name. From originally being overwhelmingly staunch supporters of the European project, the Italian people have recently turned distinctly sceptical about the EU. Even so, a majority of Italians still do not want to leave the euro. This is a major political barrier stopping any Italian government from taking Italy out of the euro.

The prevailing attitude towards the euro is not surprising. If there had been a poll of British people before we left the Gold Standard in 1931 I am sure that there would have been an overwhelming majority for staying on it, even though it was the cause of major economic difficulties. Similarly, if you had conducted a poll of British voters on continued membership of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism before we were forcibly ejected on Sept 16 1992, a day that was soon dubbed Black Wednesday, a majority would have voted to stay in. People tend not to like such radical shifts. Accordingly, they need to occur through some sort of shock, without people having a choice in the matter.

In the Italian case, the most promising route to that result is through the introduction of a parallel currency, such as the so-called “mini-BOTs”, that have been touted for some time. (The name derives from the acronym for Buoni Ordinari del Tesoro – short-dated Italian government bonds.) These mini-BOTs are zero interest perpetual bonds. They look like bank notes and could serve as money. If Brussels would at least covertly allow Italy to introduce such “bonds” then they could finance increased government spending, and/or reductions in taxes.

But if the ECB reacted by cutting off, or even limiting, support for the Italian banking system then Italy would be ready with a new currency in waiting. Italy could support the banks with its newly issued currency. To all intents and purposes, Italy would then be out of the euro. This result could be presented as deriving, not from the Italian government’s choices, but from the European Central Bank’s actions.

This could be Italy’s Black Wednesday moment, with the president of the bank cast in the role of George Soros. Before long, Black Wednesday became known as Golden Wednesday, as the British economy surged ahead. This could happen to Italy too. But there is a major political risk. In September 1992, the Conservative Party trashed its reputation for economic competence and, after losing the next general election, it was out of power for 13 years. For Mr Salvini and the League to avoid a similar fate, or worse, might require the greatest political skill – and luck.

No one should expect such events in the next few months, let alone this week. The politics haven’t yet reached boiling point. But unless and until the economy produces some decent growth, you should expect something like this to happen one day. It is only a matter of time.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 17.6.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spain
  • The separatists are beaten off in Barcelona. Thanks to a Frenchman.
  • If you're alone on a large Spanish beach, there's a good chance the next Spanish couple to arrive will sit right next to you, expecting to chat. So, here's some valuable advice for beach lovers to whom this won't appeal.  
  • Which reminds me . . . Driving up from Lisbon yesterday, I regaled my non-Spanish passengers with accounts of how the Spanish love to talk. After these had got out at Oporto, I picked up 2 Galician guys who uttered scarcely a word until we got to Vigo. Galicia is not Spain, as a nationalist Galician friend regularly tells me
Portugal
  • Checking on laws relating to driving I found this bit of advice: On roundabouts, stay in the center lane until you find your exit. Then, carefully merge to the outside lane directly before exiting. This, as  long-time readers will know, is exactly the opposite of the (senseless) advice given in Spain. Or at least this used to be the case. I have read that things have changed but all the learner drivers who practice near my house are clearly still being taught never to go into the centre lane, unless (perhaps) they're doing a U-turn. (En passant, nor do they seem to be taught anything about signalling.)
  • As we know, tourism eventually ruins places that used to be worth visiting, before the hordes arrived. Lisbon has a 'chic' food hall down by the riverfront, where you can't get a shandy, the food and drinks are not great but are expensive and the parking costs you at least an arm and a leg.
  • Outside its tourist hot-spots, Portugal remains remarkably cheap. Except for petrol or, indeed, anything to do with owning and driving a car. Coffees and beers can be half the cost they are in Spain.
The UK  
  • Can you believe it? The UK’s government’s flagship “Help to Buy” equity loan scheme, launched ostensibly to give cash-strapped first-time buyers a leg up onto the property ladder, has dished out billions of pounds of publicly subsidised loans to relatively well heeled homeowners who were perfectly capable of buying their first property without need for outside help, asserts a new report by the National Audit Office. More on this here.
UK Politics
  • Advice for British women:- Ditch your dignity, desperate Tories, and get into bed with Boris, the ‘hot totty’ hustler.  See the nice article below. From one of the female tribe.
Finally . . .
  • This is another painting from the Gulbenkian Museum - A hunchback and an old woman. I couldn't help wondering what he's doing with his right hand. Whatever it is, it doesn't seem to be making her happy . . .
  • And here's another coin from about 2,000 years ago. Seems to predate British colonial headwear of the 19th century. And even the bowler hat of the 20th.


THE ARTICLE

Ditch your dignity, desperate Tories, and get into bed with Boris, the ‘hot totty’ hustler: Camilla Long, Times

Not a great week for Tory women, was it. Grasping, unlikeable, unelectable — and that’s just Esther McVey. On Monday, Maria Miller was wanly wheeled out to make excuses for Dominic “I’m not a feminist” Raab, cracking a weak joke about how she’d persuade him to be a feminist one day (don’t worry, not sure they want him).

On Friday the jangling vowels of Priti Patel scratched like nails down the world’s biggest blackboard on Radio 4’s Today programme, defending what she described — and this is where my ears pricked up — as Boris Johnson’s “track record when it comes to women”.

Johnson was in fact a great supporter of women, she said, an outstanding “champion of female education”. He had campaigned for many, many minutes on his “girls’ education programme”, a brilliant global scheme that he had used to reach out to the most vulnerable women in society.

I thought: she’s not. She’s not going to pretend that Boris, of all people, was God’s gift to marginalised women, was she? No one’s ever going to believe that. Why would she bother? The only “girls’ education programme” he’s seriously conducted has been in and around the wine bars of Westminster.

Agreed, it’s been a tireless and dedicated scheme, in which he has indeed reached out to many vulnerable young women, often on a one-to-one level, late into the night, offering a strict timetable of chemistry, biology and opera. But to pretend he’s some sort of feminist panacea is ludicrous — the last gasp of a doomed party.

In many ways I wish Patel had been more honest. I’d have preferred it if she had said, yes, there have been three mistresses on record, an abortion and at least one love child, but we’re absolutely desperate. Who else do you want up against the Euro bastardi — a robot who can’t remember whether his wife’s Japanese or Chinese? Or a man who claps funny and whose wife has to write him encouraging notes?

Boris may not be viewed as “sufficiently moral” by his critics, but we already know that he isn’t “sufficiently moral” and never has been. So the question now isn’t, what are the awful things that Boris has done? But: why aren’t the awful things stopping him?

It says everything about the mind-bending horror of Brexit that we are now considering putting a man who once wrote car reviews for GQ magazine at the highest level of negotiation (of a Ferrari: “it was as if the whole county of Hampshire was lying back and opening her well-bred legs to be ravished by the Italian stallion”).

So great is the Tories’ collective terror over the mess of their own making that they are actively willing to lie about a man who didn’t even excel at a novelty job — yes, they are putting Dick Whittington forward to oversee the next stage of negotiations. You wouldn’t let Ken Livingstone anywhere near it, so why does the mayoralty of London qualify Boris? If he were one iota more strategic, he might even feel suspicious — am I just cannon fodder? Why do these locusts want me now, when they’ve spent decades laughing at me?

This has led to a bizarre “minestrone”, as he would say, of emotions in which I find myself revolted by his personal conduct but also desperate for him — anyone — to make it all go away. I’m worried about his sexual incontinence, yes, but only to the extent that incontinence of any sort is bad at the negotiating table. I’m worried about his ability to lie as well, but only because he gets caught so often — so inept. And can we rely on a man who schedules the break-up of his 25-year marriage at the same time as he’s meant to be doing all this? It’s simply disorganised.

So here we are: the Tories are offering us the first philandering prime minister since Lloyd George; the first prime minister to have written about the “hot totty” at a Labour Party conference; the first prime minister to have put up a Pirelli calendar in his office; the first prime minister to have promised the electorate that “voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts”.

He’s unsuitable as prime minister in a million ways, but the Tories are in such a panic, they’ve ignored the small print. On and on they go, pretending he was the best foreign secretary and a brilliant promoter of women, a man who not only supports their rights but “will defend” them, said Patel, as if we somehow should be grateful. As usual in Boris’s life, the loudest cheerleaders are women. He’s like a crippling payday loan they’re rushing to take out, even though they know it’s bad and he’s bad, and they are the ultimate victims.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Thoughts from Lisbon: 16.6.19



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

Note: One or two of the items below have been borrowed from Lenox Napier's Business Over Tapas of Thursday

Spain 
  • Not a good development in Madrid. Unless you're a fan of Vox.
  • More bad news.
  • And even more bad news. I remember these mosquitos from Indonesia. They're ferociously aggressive. To be avoided.
  • Talking of badness . . . If I ever knew, I'd forgotten that the notorious Italian family - the Borgias - were actually Spanish. From Borja, in Aragón. They spoke Catalan in the Vatican and held bullfights in St Peter’s Square. Though they're famous for things far worse than this, of course.
Portugal
  • Entering the metro station at Olaias - which, from outside, was nondescript, to say the least - I was astonished - nay, staggered - to find myself in a vast futuristic hall which wouldn't have been out of place as the main station in, say, New York. A few fotos:-







  • Here's a bit on it from Wiki. Click here for a lot more fotos.
  • As for buying a ticket . . . Well, the process is different from that of Oporto. Here in Lisbon, the system is very much like Madrid's, in that you have to first buy a card - at €0.50, against €2.00 in Madrid - and then put on it one or more rides - at only €1.50 each. So, no need to employ someone to stand by the machine explaining to confused foreigners how it works.
  • I might have complained about beggars in Pontevedra but I've never had the experience there of one of them aggressively pursuing me for 50m, loudly demanding (I guess) a donation, as happened just before I reached the metro station.
  • Here's one of the things that makes Spaniards think the Portuguese are more British than other Iberians:-

  • Another is their quietness, of course. Or 'dullness', as the Spanish put it.
UK Politics

The USA
  • This is a coin from about 2,000 years ago, seen at the Gulbenkian museum yesterday. Looks to me like the inspiration for Fart's hairstyle . . . 

Finally . . .
  • I guess it had to happen but I didn't know whether to be pleased, impressed, insulted, annoyed or depressed. A young man offered me his seat on the metro train yesterday . . . I pretended to be amused and declined it. And then walked up the exit stairs while he took the escalator, along with virtually all the other passengers. The youth of today, eh!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Thoughts from Lisbon: 15.6.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spain 
Portugal
  • I forgot to say that I could swear I saw a sports version of the (in)famous Sinclair C5 flash past me in the other direction on a quiet road the other day. Painted a gold colour, which was matched but the helmet of the driver. Of course it could have been some other 'car' but the C5 is what it reminded me of.
  • Talking of vehicles . . . I parked my car behind the hotel of my friends last evening, only for a passing police patrol to stop and advise me not to do so, as the spaces were reserved for staff from the nearby police station. I wonder if this would happen in Spain these days. Or would the police have waited until I'd gone and then slapped notice of a fine on my windscreen?
  • Something that is totally different from Spain - an early-morning café where the TV is off and there is no loud conversation/arguments taking place between the customers.
  • This is how they start off making those roads made of rows of small bricks. Sometimes in parallel line and sometimes not, as here:-
  • I was checking on Lisbon metro lines last night and came across this claim: The ticket machines are user-friendly, logical and provide instructions in multiple languages. I beg to differ in the case of the first adjective. Unless the system is different from that of Oporto. I'll find out today.
The Way of the World 
  • See the article below, arguing that comedians must have the right to experiment with ideas. Even in this time of snowflakes.
Spanish
  • Word of the Day: Monda.
Finally . . .
  • At a restaurant in Ericeira yesterday, there was a very modern couple at the next table. He was chatting non-stop to a friend on his phone and she was occupying herself by reading the labels on the olive oil and vinegar bottles.
THE ARTICLE

The Jo Brand scandal has revealed the Left's hypocrisy, but the answer isn't yet more censorship: Konstantin Kisin, a comedian and the host of the TRIGGERnometry podcast

We comedians must have the right to experiment with ideas

While heads in Westminster were fixed on the Tory leadership race, a scandal was erupting over the radiowaves. Comedian Jo Brand, speaking after a number of European election candidates were covered in milkshakes last month, quipped that since “certain unpleasant characters are very easy to hate… why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid?”.

Her remarks immediately triggered outrage from many on the right of the political spectrum, including Nigel Farage, one recent victim of ‘milkshaking’, who branded the incident ‘incitement to violence”, and called for a police investigation, reportedly now under way.

As a genuine centrist, who identifies with neither left nor right, I quite understand public anger at the obvious double standards at play. Had a right-wing comedian joked along similar lines about, say, Diane Abbott, they would expect to be sacked within hours, their TV career over, their reputation in tatters. The offending comic would immediately face accusations of racism and sexism from the great and the good, and might even be ostracised from public life.

However, the answer to this depressing state of affairs is not to subject Brand to the same knee-jerk response. Those who criticise ‘Snowflake Millennials’ cannot now call for heads to roll when comics joke about things that upset them. You don’t fix political double standards by treating everyone equally unfairly.

Context matters. In this case, Jo Brand, a well-known and hugely accomplished comedian, was performing on a Radio 4 programme called Heresy, a talk show which aims to challenge received wisdom and dogma through humour. In other words, she was joking. And everyone knows this. Even if you ignore this background, Brand made her intent crystal clear by adding “I’m not going to do it, it’s purely a fantasy”, for good measure.

I doubt Brand would consider it one of her best jokes and the timing is unfortunate to say the least, but we comedians must have the right to experiment with ideas because, the truth is, we often don’t know whether something is funny until we say it. What’s more, comedians don’t always mean everything we say. Shocking, I know.

The desire to take words literally has infected public discourse. When Nigel Farage called on the police to investigate Brand, the ever-vigilant Twitter mob responded in kind. Had Mr Farage not said that if Brexit is not delivered he would, “don khaki, pick up a rifle and head for the front lines”? But did anyone in the country genuinely interpret this as a threat of armed insurrection and not a metaphor?

Sadly, this is the world we live in: fighting faux battles about things we intentionally misunderstand so we can pretend to be offended. And while the outrage may be fake, the consequences are very real.

Last year, Count Dankula, a YouTube comedian, was found guilty of breaching the 2003 Communications Act for posting a video in which he trained his girlfriend’s pug dog to perform a Nazi salute. The comedic intent of the video was undeniable. So undeniable, in fact, that the police struggled to find anyone who was genuinely offended by it. It was only when officers started showing the video to people who might be offended by it that they managed to secure a suitable complainant.

One of the most dangerous implications of the case was the Scottish court’s appalling decision to accept the prosecutor’s assertion that “context is irrelevant”. The notion that the environment in which words are uttered and the intent behind them has no impact on their meaning is absurd and dangerous nonsense – by this logic, John Cleese should be urgently extradited from his ‘hideout’ in the Caribbean to face charges of glorifying Nazism in Fawlty Towers.

As if to make this very point, later in the year, Liverpool teenager Chelsea Russell, was found guilty of a ‘hate crime’ for posting rap song lyrics by Snap Dogg, a black artist, on her Instagram which contained the n-word. She was placed on an eight-week, 8am-to-8pm curfew, fitted with an ankle tag, ordered to pay £500 costs and an £85 ‘victim surcharge’. Her conviction was eventually overturned on appeal but the fact that she was found guilty in the first place is terrifying.

It is our failure to take a stand against these ridiculous prosecutions that now allows the police to investigate a comedian for telling a joke, something that should never happen in a free society. Too many of us have been willing to turn a blind eye as our freedoms have been eroded, and some, particularly those on the progressive Left, have cheered on this creeping authoritarianism.

But framing the battle over freedom of expression as “Left vs. Right” is both unhelpful and inaccurate. Free speech is not a political club with which to batter your opponents – it is a universal birthright and a cornerstone of Western civilisation. We must defend it, even when doing so is personally uncomfortable.

When I turned down a "safe space contract" sent to me by SOAS students for a gig at their campus in December, within hours Kate Smurthwaite, a radical feminist, called me a ‘Nazi’ on national radio. It was a stupid thing to say and a ridiculous accusation but it’s the price we pay for living in a free society. Besides, I’ve now got a niche – I’m the only Jewish Nazi comedian in the world!

Friday, June 14, 2019

Thoughts from Lisbon, Portugal: 14.6.19

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

Note: One or two of the items below have been borrowed from Lenox Napier's Business Over Tapas of yesterday.

Spain 
Portugal
  • Smiling again: The Spanish are always smiling. The Portuguese, rarely. Even when you greet them with a smile. Worse than the English really. The only person who's spontaneously smiled at me was a (very pretty) young woman in the centre of Estremoz, whom I'm pretty sure wanted to entice me into having an eye test in the nearby vehicle. Unless it was a brothel on wheels. Either way, not really very spontaneous. Is this why the Portuguese are said to be the Chinese of Europe? I know that's said about the Dutch but this is because of their commercial expertise/aggression. In Portugal, I feel that all those years I've had to spend learning to make direct eye contact and smile at strangers have been wasted . . .
  • I might generalise about the Portuguese disinclination to smile but there are, of course, exceptions. The lady in a cake shop in Portalegre yesterday could not have been more friendly, for example.
  • Portuguese towns are astonishingly quiet. In Portalegre they play music - not loudly, of course - through speakers on the walls of houses and shops. At least in the old quarter. If not, you might succumb to the delusion you were in a cemetery. 
  • And I do wonder how shops here make money. I rarely see a customer in them. Perhaps I walk past them at the wrong time of day.
  • I've heard it said that it's a legal requirement in Spain that there be a non-toll road as well as a toll road to your destination. So, you have the N6 as well as the A6 if you want to avoid the latter's toll as you get near to Madrid from the West. This doesn't seem to be the case in Portugal, as - driving from Portalegre to Lisbon - you have no choice but to continue on toll roads after your original N road morphs into an A road, with overhead cameras in gantries. Followed by the A1 with traditional pay stations.
UK Politics/Brexit
  • The full name of the man/oaf who's expected by most to be the next prime minister is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, usually known as merely Boris Johnson. Or BoJo. I'd  never heard or seen the bizarre name Pfeffel but found this on it: This most interesting and unusual surname is an Anglicized form of the Germanic surname Pfaeffle", a derivative of "Pfaff", from the German "pfaffe", cleric, parson, or "papst", pope. This is an example of the sizeable group of early European surnames that were gradually created from the habitual nicknames. More here.
  • Says Richard North of him todayNow would be a good time to remind ourselves how awful Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson really is. But we've already been there, pace Max Hastings and his 2012 article headed: "Boris Johnson: brilliant, warm, funny – and totally unfit to be PM".
The Way of the World 
Spanish
Finally . . .
  • An interesting message in my Spam box this morning, 3 times:- Linda Dierks. FUCK YOU!!! I HATE YOU . . . I wonder if this is the lady in question.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Thoughts from Elvas, Portugal: 13.6.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spain
  •  A new 'Spanish practice'?
  • The Portuguese - unlike the Spanish - don't shout when they talk. On the other hand, they don't smile as much either. Service can be rather desultory. And slow. I waited 20 minutes before the waitress came out onto the terrace yesterday in a bar/restaurant in Sines.
  • One cultural difference is that here in Portugal - as in other countries - they put the salt on the table so that you can decide for yourself. Not, as so often in Spain, liberally douse your chips with the stuff.
  • Another is that Portuguese, like the English, eat their words. So Setúbal become Stúbal. Actually, Shtúbal. This is not supposed to happen with Romance languages . . .
UK Politics/Brexit
  • Richard North takes into account the views of 2 prominent columnists - one from the Right and one from the Left - and sums up Boris Johnson as: A habitual liar, a cheat, a conspirator with a criminal pal, a cruel betrayer of the women, an idle man who is a philanderer, an incompetent, self-obsessed and intellectually vacuous. Not surprisingly, he concludes that: His election to leader would be the most devastating political miscalculation the party ever made. This is a mistake the nation cannot afford. 
The EU
  • The Italians are angry. They see themselves as good Europeans who are being punished - by Germans - for things that France and Germany have got away. They might well have a case.
TRAVEL NOTES
  • Yesterday, I drove for quite a time through the Alentejo Region south and east of Lisbon. I had no idea there were so many cork oak trees in the world. Little else, in fact, until you get to the wine-growing areas up near Estremoz and Elvas.
  • Estremoz is famous for its marble. On the city limits there are huge dumps of the stuff. Inside the city even the pavements and surface of the huge fair ground/parking area in the centre are made of granite. As, of course, are the floors and pillars of Sao Francisco church.
  • It's hard to avoid tolls in Portugal but I managed it yesterday for a while, eschewing the fastest route to Estremoz and taking old roads on which mine was usually the only car. Irritatingly, Google Maps kept telling me they'd 'found a faster route' and obliging me to say I wan't interested in it.
  • Portugal's prices shouldn't by now amaze me but they still do, with coffee at less than a euro and food similarly less expensive than in Spain.
  • Ironically, both my lunch and dinner yesterday - grilled sardines and prawns in garlic, respectively - were things I can easily get in Pontevedra. 
  • In the tapas/pestiscos bar I ate into last night, I ran into another wine problem. No, they couldn't give me a glass of either white nor red wine, nor even a half-bottle. Only a full bottle. But the waiter took pity on me and went to see if they could oblige me. Which they did, at the expensive (for Portugal) of €2.50. But it was at least twice as big as what I usually get for that price in Pontevedra.
  • Elvas has a truly impressive fortress, the ramparts of which stretch right around the old quarter:-
  • I quote: The Elvas fortifications are the most accomplished of 17C  military architecture in Portugal.The sombre, well-armoured merlons contrast with the white facades of  the houses within. Fortified gates, moats curtain walls, bastions and glacis[?] form a remarkable defensive group, completed to the south and north by the 17C Santa Lucia and the 18C Graça forts, each perched on a hill.
  • It also has an impressive aqueduct, which I was surprised to come upon as I drove into the town. I wondered why it wasn't as famous as Segovia's but later read it'd been built in the 17th century and not by the Romans.
  • Elvas gets a lot of tourists from nearby Spain, which explains why the text in explanatory plaques features Castellano ahead of English. Not normally so in Portugal, I believe.
Now to tour the old quarter and then on to Lisbon for tonight and tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Thoughts from Setúbal, Portugal: 12.6.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spain 
  • News of a wonderful discovery. And an equally wonderful dispute.
  • The Local explains here the Spanish equivalent of Ne'er cast a clout 'til May is out.
  • And here the same estimable publication tells us (again?) about Spain's 'breathtaking natural parks'.
  • Something to see when next in Madrid
UK Politics/Brexit
  • Anyone watching the contest to become British prime minister has to wonder about the cognitive skills of many Conservative candidates. Put simply: are these people stupid? 
  • Richard North adds his own comments here to a tremendously trenchant take from The Economist here. (If you can't access this, see it below. There are a couple of quotes from it below).
The Way of the World 
  • In the classic essay “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity”, the late Italian economic historian Carlo Cipolla warned: “A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit.” He explained: “Stupid people cause losses to other people with no counterpart of gains on their own account. Thus society as a whole is impoverished.” 
The USA
  • Some people sound stupid or ignorant because they are stupid or ignorant. 
Spanish
  • Word of the Day: Seta
Finally . . .
  • I'm down in Setúbal in Portugal, where apparently they've never heard of white wine. In fact, in the first bar I went into, they didn't have red wine either, just port. So I made do with a shandy(panaché). After which I had choco frito - the local delicacy, I think - in a nice tapas(petiscos) bar. Where the waiter - once again - gave the lie to the Spanish myth that everyone in Portugal speaks perfect English.
  • Earlier yesterday I decided to have my annual hamburger at a Macdonalds, only to be defeated by the touch screen. So I moved along the food hall to Burger King, where they had real people taking your order. In English, as it happens.
  • Until the 3rd or 4th time of typing, my bloody computer kept changing choco into chocolate. Which would have given Fried Chocolate. Which I think you can only get in Scotland. Or is that fried Mars bars?
THE ARTICLE

Eight reasons Tory MPs keep getting it wrong: Simon Kuper

When it comes to Brexit, poor cognition is the curse of Britain’s governing class

Anyone watching the contest to become British prime minister has to wonder about the cognitive skills of many Conservative candidates. Put simply: are these people stupid? They include several Brexiters who have put Brexit at risk by repeatedly voting against real existing Brexit. Now most of them are promising to renegotiate the UK’s withdrawal agreement with the EU, even though the Europeans insist they won’t renegotiate, having already refused to do so with Britain’s last two prime ministers, Theresa May and David Cameron. Plainly, the EU cannot cave and give Britain a sweetheart deal, or else every member state would want one and the single market would fall apart. Yet Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn plans to renegotiate, too.

Most Tory candidates also speak cheerily of “no-deal Brexit” as if it were an end state, and Britain could live happily ever after in autarky, sealed off from a continent with which it has traded since the Bronze Age (and where it currently buys insulin and time-sensitive cancer treatments). Meanwhile, Conservative MPs, the people choosing the shortlist of two candidates, keep making basic factual errors about Brexit.

What explains the poor cognition of Britain’s governing class, which, unlike voters, is supposed to grapple with policy detail? Here are some possible explanations:
• Many Tories are cynics faking it. They publicly back no deal, knowing it would be a disaster, but are counting on the rest of parliament to stop it. They just want to sound hard, because they live in fear of deselection by their hard-Brexiter local parties. Tory MPs know that the job market for ex-Tory MPs is currently pretty weak.
• The corollary: there is no political advantage in grasping reality if your voters don’t. Steven Sloman, cognitive scientist at Brown University, points out that most people cannot describe the workings of a toilet. The EU and the international trade system are even trickier. Sloman says the only way to handle complex issues is therefore to listen to experts. Politicians sometimes did that, until populism came along.
• Widmerpoolism. Kenneth Widmerpool, the creation of English novelist Anthony Powell, has become a byword for the blind will to power. Educated at a school modelled on Powell’s Eton, Widmerpool builds a glittering career (including a stint as MP) on tireless manipulative infighting. Powell’s insight applies here: after correcting for birth, power goes to the people most committed to getting it.
• An inability to admit past error. If you have supported Brexit for years, you will look silly if you let new information nuance your views. Recall how Dominic Raab was mocked for confessing he “hadn’t quite understood the full extent” of the UK’s dependence on the Dover-Calais crossing for trade. Karen Bradley received similar treatment for admitting that she only discovered while Northern Ireland secretary that Northern Irish nationalists “don’t vote for unionist parties and vice versa”. It’s safer for politicians to be consistently wrong.
• If your genuine beliefs contradict reality, deny reality. Tory MP John Redwood is a fanatical Brexiter. So when he wrote that the UK’s exit bill on leaving the EU was “Zero. Nothing. Zilch”, as if Britain held all the cards, he was probably forcing himself not to see reality. A related Tory trait is what the French call volontarisme: the notion that willpower can change reality.
• Denying reality proves your fanaticism to other fanatics. Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski tweeted in February: “Britain helped to liberate half of Europe . . . No Marshall Plan for us only for Germany.” In fact, as thousands of people swiftly told him, Britain was the Plan’s largest beneficiary. Yet Kawczynski stood by his false claim for two weeks. By holding firm against reality, he signalled his loyalty to the cause.
• Laziness. In the British gentleman-dilettante tradition, many Conservative politicians leave boring detail to civil servants. Added to that is the callowness of today’s Tories, the luckiest members of the luckiest British generation in history. When you know your class will always prosper, you can afford airy gambles. Hence Cameron’s bet that a referendum would put the European issue to bed, reunite the Tory party and see off the threat from Nigel Farage.
• Stupidity and ignorance. Some people sound stupid or ignorant because they are stupid or ignorant. That could explain the Tory MP Nadine Dorries’s complaint that May’s deal would leave the UK without MEPs after Brexit; or MP Andrew Bridgen’s belief that “English” people are entitled to ask for an Irish passport (that Ireland is a forgotten British possession probably played a role too).

Ignorant people can succeed if success depends on other, unrelated qualities. Many companies promote good-looking people. The Tory party promotes articulate public schoolboys.

In the classic essay “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity”, the late Italian economic historian Carlo Cipolla warned: “A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit.” He explained: “Stupid people cause losses to other people with no counterpart of gains on their own account. Thus society as a whole is impoverished.” Let’s hope the next prime minister is merely a bandit.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 11.6.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spain 
  • I did wonder about this chap's comments.
  • A useful article from The Local on what to do if involved in a car accident.
  • Below is an article on Spanish dishes that use chorizo and 2 relevant recipes. Happy cooking!.
Brexit
  • For some of us, the real issue is democracy. There's a nice article on this below.
The EU
  • Germany is braced for catastrophic Trump auto tariffs - which could create a perfect storm for Europe. See the article below.
The USA 
  • George Conway speaks truth to power.
  • A while ago Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron planted an oak tree in the garden of the White House, symbolising their friendship. But relations between them have since frayed and the tree has died. Who can be surprised?
Spanish
Finally . . .
  • It seems that greenfinches throughout Galicia, at least,  have learned about my strategy to get seeds to the sparrows by chucking them on the lawn. There were 12 of them on the grass last evening, And just one spunky sparrow . . 
















THE ARTICLES

1.  Spanish dishes for a feast: Angela Hartnett

Spanish food has a similar heritage to Italian cuisine: to me, it’s all about seasonality and not messing around too much with great-tasting produce. Spanish dishes have a little more spice to them, but the ingredients are the stars of the show: paprika, roasted red peppers, olives and ripe tomatoes.

Spanish cured hams are really special: chorizo has a real kick to it and beautiful oil comes from it when you fry it slightly. It gives heat to the butter bean stew below and adds an extra dimension of flavour: it’s essentially a glamorous pork sausage.

GAZPACHO
Spanish dishes have a little more spice in them, but the ingredients are the stars of the show. Here, ripe tomatoes and olives are used to create a super-light gazpacho, perfect for an al-fresco dinner party. Something you can make ahead and keep chilled in the fridge as a summer starter.

Prep time: 10 minutes    Serves four


INGREDIENTS
1kg very ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
1 bunch of basil, leaves torn and stalks chopped
1 banana shallot, finely chopped
1 small cucumber, peeled and chopped
100g stale white bread
3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

3 tbsp sherry vinegar
100ml olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Dash of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce, or to taste
A little tomato juice, if needed
Chopped black olives, to serve

Method
Combine the tomatoes, basil, shallot, cucumber, garlic and bread in a large bowl. Add the sherry vinegar and olive oil, along with a dash of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce.
Toss everything together and leave covered in the fridge to marinate overnight.
The next day, blitz the mixture in a blender until you have a thick soup with a bit of texture (it doesn’t need to be smooth). If you need to loosen it, add a drop of tomato juice, and check the seasoning. Add Tabasco or Worcestershire sauce if needed. Serve in chilled bowls with a drizzle of olive oil and black olives.

CHORIZO, RED WINE AND BUTTER BEAN STEW

Prep time: 15 minutes ¦ Cooking time: 30 minutes

SERVES  4

INGREDIENTS
350g dried butter beans
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme
½ bulb of garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 stick of celery, roughly diced
1 small fennel, chopped
2 red peppers, deseeded and diced
1 smoked dried chilli
300g cooking chorizo, roughly chopped
1 x 175ml glass of red wine
200ml chicken stock
Handful chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves, to serve

METHOD
Soak the butter beans overnight in a large bowl of cold water. The next day, drain them then add to a fresh pan of cold water. Bring to the boil then add the bay, thyme, and halved bulb of garlic, and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for an hour then remove from the heat and leave the beans to cool in the stock.
Heat the oil in a separate pan and sauté the chopped and diced vegetables, and the chilli, until the vegetables are soft, but not coloured.
Add the chorizo and lightly fry until cooked through, then add the drained butter beans along with the red wine. Simmer to reduce the liquid to a thick sauce.
Pour in the chicken stock and stir the ingredients together. Simmer for 20 minutes, then serve with a scattering of freshly chopped parsley.

Like a lot of stews, this gets better the next day when the flavours have infused. I’d be tempted to eat the leftovers cold the next day for lunch.

CHICKEN AND CHORIZO EMPANADAS
These empanadas are a great sharing dish – to serve as nibbles, to eat as a snack as a packed lunch almost like a Cornish pasty, or to bring to a BBQ as a summer canapé. The work is in making the dough and the filling, but you can make them ahead, throw them in the oven and they're done.

Prep time: 35 minutes, plus resting time ¦ Cooking time: 1 hour

MAKES  16

INGREDIENTS
For the filling
2 chicken thighs
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp finely chopped onion
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 Romano pepper, finely diced
100g cooking chorizo, roughly chopped
A pinch of chilli flakes, lightly crushed
A pinch of fennel seeds, lightly crushed
A handful of basil leaves, torn

For the pastry
400g plain flour
150g cold butter, diced
1 egg, beaten, plus extra for an egg wash

Method
Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4.
Place the chicken thighs in a roasting tray and season. Roast for 30 minutes until cooked through, then remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, make the pastry. Sift the flour into a bowl add a pinch of salt. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Make a hole in the mixture and add the egg to it. Use a knife to mix in the flour to form a dough. Add a splash of cold water to bind it together, if needed.
Briefly knead the dough then bring it together in a smooth ball, cover with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
While the pastry is resting, remove the skin from the chicken thighs and take the meat off the bones, shredding it into strips. Leave to one side.
 To make the filling, heat the oil in a pan and sauté the onion, garlic, and red pepper until they are soft but not coloured. Season while you cook.
 Add the chorizo and the crushed spices and cook for three minutes, then remove from the heat and add this to the shredded chicken. Mix well and check the seasoning, then finally add the basil.
Turn the oven up to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6.
Roll the pastry out to a thickness of about 3mm and cut out 16 discs. Cover with a damp cloth so they don’t dry out.
Put a generous spoonful of filling on one half of each disc and fold the other half over, sealing the edges with a little beaten egg and crimping with your fingers.
Place on a lined baking and brush with beaten egg. Bake for 25-30 minutes until a nice golden brown.

2. Germany braced for catastrophic Trump auto tariffs - which could create a perfect storm for Europe

Germany is braced for catastrophic car tariffs that could send the country into a deep economic shock and create a perfect storm for Europe, experts have warned.

US taxes on car imports could act as a massive jolt to the bloc’s economy, wiping €14.5bn (£12.9bn) off GDP, according to analysis from investment advisers, Redburn. The firm’s economists believe a “nasty turn” in EU-US trade tensions is coming, which when combined with market nerves over Italian debt, could shake the eurozone.

If the US presses ahead with tariffs, Germany, which relies on carmaking for a fifth of its manufacturing activity, could see 0.28pc shaved from its GDP alone, Redburn claims.

A darkening world economic outlook, including a slowdown in Germany’s major export destination China, mean US tariffs could tip the country into stagnation or even recession.

The country’s government predicts its economy will grow by just 0.5pc in the year ahead, even without the imposition of import levies. This has serious repercussions for the eurozone as a whole. Germany is the bloc’s biggest economy and the source of one-third of its economic output.

Redburn predicts a broad-based rise in trade tensions between the US and EU, following research in Brussels.

November marks the deadline for the Trump administration to impose tariffs on European car exports to the US. If it presses ahead with the levies, the EU is set to retaliate.

Resolution is unlikely to come easily. The EU remains resistant to opening its market to US food standards.

Rows over the security implications of including Chinese telecoms firm Huawei in EU 5G networks, the Russian gas pipeline to Germany, Nordstream II, and digital taxes on US tech giants such as Google and Facebook, risk serious trade spat escalation between the US and EU.

It comes as tensions over Italian public finances mount between Brussels and Rome.

The country’s massive debts, worth more than 130pc of its GDP puts Italy “on track for imposed austerity either from Brussels or the market”, Clemmie Elwes of Reburn said.

Brussels has already triggered a procedure whereby it can fine the Italian government billions of pounds as punishment for overspending.

Rome will have to present its 2020 budget in the autumn, and Brussels will hope this shows a commitment to prevent public debt rising.

If it fails to do so, the European Commission is unlikely to want to push the so-called excessive debt procedure to the point where it could threaten Rome’s membership of the single currency. However, “this doesn’t mean that Italy cannot be pushed by market overreaction towards Italexit”, Ms Elwes said.

This would likely cause significant financial stress for the country raising its borrowing costs, forcing the imposition of capital controls.

Italian banks, already risking a doom loop of balance sheet stress because of their large holdings of sovereign bonds, could require emergency liquidity help from the European Central Bank (ECB), as was the case during the Greek debt crisis in 2015.

There is also little ammunition in store to counteract the downturn that could result from the dual shock of car tariffs and an Italian debt crisis,analysts found.

This is because Germany’s reluctance to spend its stimulus or enter into full risk sharing by way of closer monetary union in the eurozone is “deep-rooted”.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 10.6.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spain
  • Only Poland, Portugal and Greece are cheaper places to retire to than Spain, it says here. Poland is off the list for me but Portugal is increasing in its attraction. I'll be travelling there this week, checking it out, while meeting up with friends in Lisbon.
  • Ten of the best Spanish wines?
  • As I've said, it's the time of the Oposiciones, the civil service exams. There are reported to be almost 19,000 applicants for just over 2,000 teaching posts. For all the 'administrative' posts available this year, there are said to be 70,000 applicants. And each of these has spent an average of €1,500 on 'training' for the exams. A nice little business for the many academias around the city. 
  • It's not uncommon for museums and art galleries around the world to have numerous items in their basement. But do many have more than 50% of their artefacts there? I ask this because this seems to be the case in Pontevedra, following the closure of the old museum and the opening of the new glass and granite monstrosity which is the new museum and art gallery. I have wondered about this. But ,even if so, the latter is still well worth a visit.
  • One of our (several) local papers has been running an 'article' on a 'British' private school. Its text is pretty indistinguishable from the paper's normal text but in the top right-hand corner there's the word Remitido. Which we can perhaps translate as Supplied in this case. I guess quite a few readers will be fooled by it, seeing it as an objective report. Which is possibly the aim . . .
UK Politics
  • Richard North this morning: There is one thing you can guarantee about our wonderful British media. Whatever subject it addresses, it will always go for the lowest common denominator.  And so, when the [Boris Johnson] comes up with an insane scheme for re-opening Brexit negotiations with the EU, the media ignores the detail and picks up on the headline-grabber, his threat to withhold the so-called "divorce bill" – when they can drag themselves away from speculating about who took what drugs. The fact that Johnson's overall plan is insane, one which would bring our relations with the EU to the point of collapse, goes without comment. This is a catastrophe in the making yet it is so far under the media horizon that you'd have to dig down to Australia to find it. Will anyone be able to believe it in 100 years' time?
The EU
  • Is Germany really on the edge of recession? See the first article below.
The Way of the World 
  • It's s complicated world these days, full of bear-traps. See the article below by a lesbian feminist who was attacked by a man in a skirt claiming to be a woman.
The USA 
  • A personal axiom I've (jokingly) cited over the years is: What is the point of power if you can't abuse it? That was pre-Fart. I recant it now.
  • Trump’s war on science and reality continues. He has disbanded scientific advisory panels and reversed their recommendations on a vast range of environmental issues. It’s truly horrifying.
Finally . . .
  • Another micro canine, smaller than a cat. This time in the lap of a Portuguese visitor. Needless to say, it disturbed my peace with its yapping.
  • As for 'my' sparrows, I continue to fail to find a way to give them a chance against not just the greenfinches but also 3 or 4 collared doves and a couple of fat wood-pigeons. However, the sparrows themselves might have shown me the way. They feed off the seeds which have dropped to the floor, below the feeder dominated by the greenfinches. So I will scatter some there in future. Even though this attracts rats . . . 
  • Said collared doves may be about to nest in the bougainvillea outside my bedroom window. In the meantime, their incessant dawn-time cooing has forced me to move into the bedroom of one of my daughters. Life is tough sometimes.
THE ARTICLES

1. Germany braced for catastrophic Trump auto tariffs - which could create a perfect storm for Europe: Anna Isaac, Daily Telegraph

Germany is braced for catastrophic car tariffs that could send the country into a deep economic shock and create a perfect storm for Europe, experts have warned.

US taxes on car imports could act as a massive jolt to the bloc’s economy, wiping €14.5bn (£12.9bn) off GDP, according to analysis from investment advisers, Redburn. The firm’s economists believe a “nasty turn” in EU-US trade tensions is coming, which when combined with market nerves over Italian debt, could shake the eurozone.

If the US presses ahead with tariffs, Germany, which relies on carmaking for a fifth of its manufacturing activity, could see 0.28pc shaved from its GDP alone, Redburn claims.

A darkening world economic outlook, including a slowdown in Germany’s major export destination China, mean US tariffs could tip the country into stagnation or even recession.

The country’s government predicts its economy will grow by just 0.5pc in the year ahead, even without the imposition of import levies. This has serious repercussions for the eurozone as a whole. Germany is the bloc’s biggest economy and the source of one-third of its economic output.

Redburn predicts a broad-based rise in trade tensions between the US and EU, following research in Brussels.

November marks the deadline for the Trump administration to impose tariffs on European car exports to the US. If it presses ahead with the levies, the EU is set to retaliate.

Resolution is unlikely to come easily. The EU remains resistant to opening its market to US food standards.

Rows over the security implications of including Chinese telecoms firm Huawei in EU 5G networks, the Russian gas pipeline to Germany, Nordstream II, and digital taxes on US tech giants such as Google and Facebook, risk serious trade spat escalation between the US and EU.

It comes as tensions over Italian public finances mount between Brussels and Rome.

The country’s massive debts, worth more than 130pc of its GDP puts Italy “on track for imposed austerity either from Brussels or the market”, Clemmie Elwes of Reburn said.

Brussels has already triggered a procedure whereby it can fine the Italian government billions of pounds as punishment for overspending.

Rome will have to present its 2020 budget in the autumn, and Brussels will hope this shows a commitment to prevent public debt rising.

If it fails to do so, the European Commission is unlikely to want to push the so-called excessive debt procedure to the point where it could threaten Rome’s membership of the single currency. However, “this doesn’t mean that Italy cannot be pushed by market overreaction towards Italexit”, Ms Elwes said.

This would likely cause significant financial stress for the country raising its borrowing costs, forcing the imposition of capital controls.

Italian banks, already risking a doom loop of balance sheet stress because of their large holdings of sovereign bonds, could require emergency liquidity help from the European Central Bank (ECB), as was the case during the Greek debt crisis in 2015.

There is also little ammunition in store to counteract the downturn that could result from the dual shock of car tariffs and an Italian debt crisis,analysts found.

This is because Germany’s reluctance to spend its stimulus or enter into full risk sharing by way of closer monetary union in the eurozone is “deep-rooted”.

2. The man in a skirt called me a Nazi — then attacked me: Julie Bindel

One radical feminist can handle verbal criticism of her stance on trans issues. A brush with a violent activist last week was another matter

On Tuesday, having given a talk at Edinburgh University about male violence towards women and girls, I was attacked on my way to the taxi that was taking me to the airport. A man, wearing a long skirt and with lots of dark stubble, started screaming and shouting at me, calling me a Nazi and Terf scum (an acronym for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist”).

I recognised the man from an earlier protest. A group of about 50 people, many young “woke” students with the requisite orange or blue fringes and a couple of trans women, had been holding signs with slogans such as “No Terfs on our turf” and chanting “Die cis scum” (a “cisgender” person is one who is not transgender).

The event, which the protesters had tried hard to get cancelled, was on women’s sex-based rights. In light of previous proposals by the government to allow a person to change their gender based on their own self-definition, some institutions and even local authorities have already put the policy in place despite it not yet being law.

As a result, male-bodied trans women have ended up in women’s prisons, hospitals and sports teams. Men self-identifying as women are now allowed into many women’s changing rooms. The ladies’ pond on Hampstead Heath, in north London, which for almost a century had provided a haven for female swimmers (there is also a men-only pond and a mixed pond nearby) now admits trans women despite the fact that most of them retain their penises.

The university event went extremely well, despite a group of trans activists attempting to set off stink bombs in the hall. The organisers had endured threats, bullying and intimidation since it was advertised, mainly because I had been invited. (In 2004 I wrote a column in which I railed against a trans activist who had tried to get a rape crisis centre in Canada closed down because it would not accept him as a volunteer.) A number of academic staff joined in with the students, claiming my presence on campus would cause “literal harm” to trans people and that I spout “hate speech”.

I was the final speaker, focusing on the amazing feminist activists I have met in countries around the world who are countering male violence such as prostitution, rape, sexual assault and forced marriage. My speech went down well and as I left the hall I received a standing ovation.

I went outside to wait for my taxi, followed by the security staff. As I was saying my goodbyes a man, who had clearly been waiting around the corner for me to emerge, ran up and began screaming in my face, calling me “scum”, “Terf” and “bigot”. He lunged at me and was a split-second away from thumping me full in the face when three security guards pulled him away. I took out my phone to try to record the attack. As I did this, the attacker lunged at me again and had to be restrained.

How have we arrived at this shocking state of affairs, where feminist campaigners are called “Nazi scum” and are no-platformed — denied a forum — for speaking out on behalf of marginalised and abused women?

I have been labelled a bigot, a Nazi and a transphobe since I wrote that column in 2004. It matters not that I have since apologised for some of the language I had used, because unless feminists totally capitulate and adopt the Stonewall mantra of “trans women are women”, we are labelled “transphobic bigots”. My view on transsexuality is that trans women are trans women, as distinct from natal females. It is impossible to change sex, it is only possible to live as the opposite sex.

I have experienced abuse for my views these past 15 years for the simple reason that I refuse to accept the Orwellian concept that it is possible for a man simply to declare he is now “a woman” because he “feels like a woman”. The attack has left me feeling anxious and depressed. By coincidence, I had ended my speech by railing against the way women, rather than the perpetrators, are often blamed when we are raped or suffer domestic violence.

I have been beaten up, but not for a long time. Being a lesbian and a radical feminist brings with it certain dangers because there are some serious misogynists out there. But the transgender activists and their allies, a mix of woke bearded blokes and queer-identified female students, argue that they are on the “right side of history” because they are “calling out” transphobic feminists and are defending trans people.

The men who join in the abuse and vilification of feminists are little more than misogynists but now have permission to scream insults in our faces and still be seen as progressive. Until the liberals who defend this behaviour see it for what it really is, feminists will continue to be silenced and abused.

The vast majority of transsexual people, many of whom I count as allies and friends, detest this behaviour. We all should.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 9.6.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spain
  • The Spanish government is unhappy with the UN's view of the current trial of Catalan 'coup plotters'.
  • Should I really be amused that, in an attempt to do things by the deadline and keep EU subsidies, the folk constructing the AVE high-speed train to Galicia are concentrating on only one side of the track. This, after all, is the defining characteristic of the current (19th century?) line - only one track. Meaning trains have to stop from time to time to let one pass in the other direction.
  • In Galicia at least, the Age of Big Data and AI means that the highest marks in the university entrance exams are now being demanded for maths courses, with 100% employability guaranteed. Medical and related subjects continue to demand very high marks and - in total contradistinction to the Anglo world - law degrees continue to demand only low marks. Suffice to say that most of Spain's politicians are lawyers . . .
  • To get very serious  . . . Way back in late 2012, Spain almost surreptitiously introduced a new tax law relating to the reporting of overseas assets held by residents here, both Spanish and foreign. In itself, there was nothing wrong with this law ('Modelo 720') but the penalties both for non-compliance and even the tiniest of errors were/are beyond humungus. It's hard now to avoid concluding it was a try-on by a tax authority which can be as unprincipled as some of its targets. Inevitably, claims of illegality were made against the level of the fines and these were upheld in early 2017, when the EU gave Spain a couple of months to respond to its prima facie verdict of illegality. But Spain didn't bother to reply and now - a mere 2 years later and almost 7 years after the introduction of the law - the EU says it'll be taking Spain to court. At this rate, the forecast 2 years ago of 10 years before resolution begin to look optimistic. Meanwhile, the uncertainty and arbitrariness of decisions continue and those of us who've been hit with 'illegal' fines for lateness continue to wonder if we'll ever get even some of our money back. Personally, I rather doubt it. One of the downsides of living in Spain. Which, incidentally, many thousands of Brits are reported to have ceased to do in the years after the promulgation and (confusingly arbitrary) implementation of this law. But tax advisers, gestores and asesores are not unhappy with this situation, of course. For them it's a gift from heaven. Especially when what you end up paying for advice which runs:- "On the one hand . . .  On the other, . . . ". Anyway, see the EU's press statement on this below. It'll be interesting - and informative - to see what the Spanish government does next. Especially as Portugal is now offering huge financial incentives to foreign pensioners who move there. Some of us live very close to Portugal and much enjoy visiting it.  I don't suppose any of us is holding their breath.
UK Politics
  • In what might amount to the death throes of the party, contenders for leadership of the Conservative party are competing to see who can come up with the most stupid and unrealistic plan for Brexit. One wonders what the EU technocrats are making of this. Is it any wonder that they don't t trust - and never have trusted - 'democracy'?
The USA 
  • Fart has told the execrable Fox News that he had “automatic chemistry” with Queen Elizabeth. As if that wasn't beyond belief, he went on to add: There are those that say they have never seen the Queen have a better time, a more animated time. Clearly, self-delusion is just one of the things to which there is no limit.
  • English columnist Hugo Rifkind has got hold of Fart's diary of the days he was in Europe last week. You can read it below. 
Finally . . .
  • Well, another scrape with death yesterday, when a driver hurtled from the right as I was halfway round a roundabout, forcing both off us to screech to an emergency stop. She made the standard Spanish apology of palms joined as if in a prayer of supplication, but I wasn't mollified. If this blog ever suddenly ends, you'll know why. Especially if I continue to use zebra crossings in my barrio . . .
  • Still on driving . . . El Tráfico is considering ways to stop (normally geriatric) drivers going down motorways in the wrong direction. Sometimes fatally. Galicia seems to have a disproportionate number of these.
  • Finally on driving . . . I'm in the final stages of developing a new game, called BOSAR. Betting on signals at roundabouts. 
THE ARTICLES

1. The EU on Modelo 720

Commission refers SPAIN to the Court for imposing disproportionate sanctions for failures to report assets held abroad

The Commission decided today to refer Spain to the Court of Justice of the EU for imposing disproportionate penalties on Spanish taxpayers for the failure to report assets held in other EU and EEA States (“Modelo 720”).

Currently, Spain requires resident taxpayers to submit information on the assets they hold abroad. This includes properties, bank accounts and financial assets.

The failure to submit this information on time and in full is subject to sanctions that are higher than those for similar infringements in a purely domestic situation, and which may even exceed the value of assets held abroad. The Commission considers that such sanctions for incorrect or belated compliance with this legitimate information obligation are disproportionate and discriminatory. They may deter businesses and private individuals from investing or moving across borders in the Single Market.

Such provisions are consequently in conflict with the fundamental freedoms in the EU, such as the free movement of persons, the free movement of workers, the freedom of establishment, the freedom to provide services and the free movement of capital.

For more information, please refer to the this press release.

Taxation: Commission refers Spain to the Court for imposing disproportionate sanctions for failure to report assets held abroad: Brussels, 6 June 2019

The Commission decided today to refer SPAIN to the Court of Justice of the EU for imposing disproportionate penalties on Spanish taxpayers for the failure to report assets held in other EU and EEA States ("Modelo 720").

Currently, Spain requires resident taxpayers to submit information on the assets they hold abroad. This includes properties, bank accounts and financial assets. The failure to submit this information on time and in full is subject to sanctions that are higher than those for similar infringements in a purely domestic situation, and which may even exceed the value of assets held abroad.

The Commission considers that such sanctions for incorrect or belated compliance with this legitimate information obligation are disproportionate and discriminatory. They may deter businesses and private individuals from investing or moving across borders in the Single Market.

Such provisions are consequently in conflict with the fundamental freedoms in the EU, such as the free movement of persons, the free movement of workers, the freedom of establishment, the freedom to provide services and the free movement of capital.

Background

The European Commission opened the EU infringement proceedings in November 2015 with a letter of formal notice, followed by a reasoned opinion on 15 February 2017. Since Spain has not yet complied, the Commission decided today to bring the matter before the Court of Justice of the EU.

2. My Week: Donald Trump [according to Hugo Rifkind]

Monday
We’re about to land, and it’s an honour for me to be arriving in Britain and it feels very special and highly presidential and by the way, Sadiq Khan, the Muslim, is such a nasty stone cold loser. And I didn’t say Meghan was nasty, so nasty she’d say that, real trash.

Actually, I have such respect for your royals, including Prince Charles, because I was very close with his wife, who was so beautiful and who I came on to like a train and I’m not saying anything necessarily would have happened there but honestly what a tragedy that was and . . . oh hang on, we’re on the ground.

Out on the tarmac there’s this little bald guy who I reckon is Prince Edward.
“No,” he says. “I’m the US ambassador. We’ve known each other 50 years?”
“Sure!” I say. “And I respect you, and your service is highly valued and also I don’t have a tissue so I need to blow my nose on your tie.”
“Yes sir,” says the ambassador.
“Also this dinner tonight?” I say. “I didn’t bring the right jacket, so I’ll need to wear yours.”

Tuesday
Such a special evening in Buckingham Palace which is so classy that we might even redesign some of our bathrooms to look like it. Today, a press conference with the prime minister.
“So look,” I tell the press, “I know Boris and I also just met Jeremy. And I don’t know anything about Michael Gove but I hear he was a journalist for The Times and I once met a guy from there who looked like the man who gets eaten by a dog in Ghostbusters, so I could maybe call him and ask. But I’d never interfere in your politics, although Sadiq Khan, wow, terrible, and Jeremy Corbyn wanted to meet me although I said no, and not just because he wanted me to go to something called an allotment and none of us know what that is. Also the NHS is totally on the table for a trade deal and isn’t this going well, those crowds, so big, you wouldn’t believe it.”

Wednesday
Up late tweeting abuse at Bette Midler. What a psycho. Today the ambassador says we have to go to Portsmouth for a D-Day ceremony, and I ask why we didn’t do that on Monday, and he says the D doesn’t stand for “Donald”, but actually I disagree.

And later, I’m with the Queen, who is an amazing lady, and who knows why but she looks sad.

“Is one right in thinking,” she says, softly, “that you’ve never served?”
“I own a lotta restaurants,” I shrug, wondering what this has to do with anything. “But I’ve always just paid other people to do it.”

Thursday
After that I went to Ireland to see my friend whose name I do totally know but I just always call him “my friend” anyway, and I told him we both wanted borders and walls, and he said Ireland really didn’t, though, and I said “but what about all the Mexicans?” and that sure shut him up.

Then I told him America was with him against the EU, and he said he was the EU, though, and honestly it made me think that my friend Nigel is right that some of these people simply aren’t onside at all. And then I went off to my Irish golf course, which is not the whole reason I came here, by the way, who even said that, such terrible lies.

Friday
Also, there was a thing in Normandy. Almost forgot. I talked about the importance of the US and Europe standing together against fascism, and Angela Merkel looked incredulous. Losers are always so bitter.

Also I hung out with the Queen again, and then the kids and I agreed there’s definitely a model for us in her operation, except we Trumps are obviously much more down to earth. And then I flew back to Ireland for another round of golf, and the boys went to the local pub, and actually that reminds me we gotta send someone back there to pay for their drinks because obviously none of us carry money.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 8.6.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spain 
  • Here, from The Local, is what you need to know about the wealthiest and the poorest places in Spain.
  • I'm guessing that exactly 0.000% of the Spanish population is surprised that Repsol has been heavily fined for petrol price-fixing up here in NW Spain.
  • The delays to the completion of the AVE high-speed train track from Madrid to Galicia are getting serious. The EU says they'll cost the region some subsidies. Which will, of course, delay things even further. IGIMSTS.
  • An amusing local priest.
  • As elsewhere in at least Europe, Spain is now restricting the sale of the analgesics paracetamol and ibuprofen to smaller tablet sizes. In addition, you can only get these at pharmacies, not in supermarkets as in the Anglosphere. Too much nannying?
  • I've been trying - without success - to find ways to ensure the sparrows in my garden are not completely ousted from the feeding station by greenfinches. The latter seem to be permanent residents this year, which is new. I wonder if this - rather than global warming - lies behind their decision to move north. 
  • Yesterday I expressed may disgust at 'insults to the canine race'. As I walked into town a bit later, I saw this example. Smaller than the average cat. As my brother used to say: It's amazing what you see when you don't have your rifle with you.

UK Politics
  • Never in the history of this country have its people been so ill-served by their elected representatives.  
The UK, the EU and Brexit
  • This is nice analysis from Politco. Extract: In her failure, May has managed to do exactly what Brussels sought to avoid: exporting Britain's domestic crisis to the rest of Europe. In doing so, the prospect of an imposed no-deal crashout on October 31 has increased, as the pressure builds on EU leaders to put an end to the saga, regardless of the costs.  . .  Some senior officials in London and Dublin now fear the process is leading inexorably to a no-deal exit, in which everyone loses and the very thing the backstop is designed to avoid — a hard border — is introduced immediately. IGIMSTS.
The EU
  • German exports and industrial production have suffered the biggest drop in 4 years. So, the Bundesbank has cut his forecast of 2019 growth from 1.6% to just 0.6%. Which doesn't sound much but really is. Recession looming?
  • The article below gives an insight into British antipathy to the European Court of Human Rights.
The USA 
  • According to Fart, the earth's moon is 'part of Mars'. As someone has said, no wonder he doesn't want us to see his school reports.
Spanish
Finally . . .
  • My measures aimed at ensuring 'my' sparrows survive include buying a second feeding station and then moving it to the front garden when the greenfinches took over that as well. But it didn't work, as the sparrows seem to be unaware there's a front garden. So now it's back in the rear garden, some way away from the first one. No signs of success yet . . .
THE ARTICLE

We should take back control of human rights: Jenni Russell

Critics are right to say the ECHR has strayed from its founding principles and is infringing too much on our sovereignty.

On Tuesday morning I listened to a radio lecture and changed my mind on a key subject. This doesn’t happen much, to any of us. Evidence shows once we have an opinion we tend to stick to it. Life is too dense and complicated for us to spend time reviewing our attitudes or researching each one. But this lecture made me realise I’d jumped to a conclusion from false assumptions. Sadly this may not be an isolated case.

The title of the lecture was so dull and worthy that I’d never have tuned in unless by accident, and because the alternatives were worse. I promise it’s better than it sounds. Human Rights and Wrongs, was one of this year’s Reith Lectures by the former supreme court justice Jonathan Sumption. It was an eloquent attack on the role of the European Convention of Human Rights in British law, and an argument for why we should withdraw or distance ourselves from the judgments made by the court in Strasbourg, of which our courts must take account.

Withdrawing from the ECHR is a Tory policy I have always opposed. David Cameron’s government came to power promising to replace our membership of the ECHR and its court with a British Bill of Rights. I was indignant about this, and my logic was simple: human rights are good, so a Human Rights Act is excellent, and a court that enforces them is better still. Also, Churchill was one of the prime movers behind the creation of the ECHR after the Second World War, so what could be more inspiring than that?

The convention had been drawn up as a noble response to the horrors of totalitarian regimes. It was designed to lay out rights that would protect Europe’s populations from losing fundamental freedoms to any future authoritarian governments. Of course these should be defended. If the Tories wanted to leave, this was because they were pandering to some Little Englander notion that all things European should be resisted or because they wanted to make life meaner for people. This could only be beastly Tories being beastly.

Well, no. Sumption’s argument is that human rights are an excellent and important concept. But in an irreligious age they are not handed down by a god and they do not exist in a vacuum. They are a social and political choice, made by human beings, to define some rights as so fundamental and so widely accepted that they are no longer a matter of legitimate political debate.

He argues that only a couple of categories of rights truly fit this description. The first are those that protect us from arbitrary death or repression at the hands of brutal regimes, outlawing random killings, detentions or injury, and ensuring independent courts and equality before the law. The second guarantees the functioning of a democracy; freedom of speech and association, and the right to take part in free and regular elections.

Any rights beyond these basic ones may be very desirable and sought after, but as long as there is “room for reasonable people to disagree about them” then these are no longer human rights but political decisions, which must be argued about and decided by the people who are to be bound by them. They should not be imposed by a distant court as matters beyond debate.

This, says Sumption, is what has gone wrong with the functioning of the ECHR. Its original statements of rights were limited; no torture, due process of law and so forth. But it has become what he calls a dynamic treaty, interpreting those principles increasingly widely in mission creep. And since the Labour government of Tony Blair decided to make us subject to Strasbourg’s decisions by passing the Human Rights Act in 1998, those judgments have the power to override our common law or current acts of parliament.

That has created immense legal confusion and a financial bonanza for lawyers. The British courts can strike down any law or regulation that they find incompatible with the ECHR, and those rights are being constantly widened. Article 8, for instance, guarantees the right to private and family life, the privacy of the home and of personal correspondence. It was intended to protect citizens from the Big Brother of a totalitarian surveillance state. But Strasbourg has gone way beyond that, developing Article 8 into “a principle of personal autonomy”. Anything that intrudes upon personal freedom can fall under it.

Under Article 8 the court has ruled on: eviction for non-payment of rent, environmental and planning law, the recording of crime, artificial insemination, employment rights, homosexuality, extradition, immigration and deportation, child abduction, the legal status of illegitimate children, and much more. None of these, as Sumption says, is an area found in the language of the convention and none has been agreed by the signatory states. They are contentious and therefore far from fundamental. Their inclusion has “transformed the convention from an expression almost universally sacred, into something meaner . . . and the result has been to devalue the whole notion of universal human rights”.

We are all familiar with some of the key rulings of the human rights court. It blocked the deportation of the Jordanian radical cleric Abu Qatada for fear that evidence based on torture would be used against him there. It decided that prisoners should be given the vote, and it ruled against Christians who said they were fired for refusing to carry out marriage ceremonies or give sex advice to gay couples. Sumption’s point is not that the judgments are necessarily wrong, or that the additional rights it is creating ought not to exist. He welcomes some of them. It is that these are decisions for each country to arrive at. As he says, “one can believe that one’s fellow citizens ought to choose liberal values without wanting to impose them”.

This argument has particular resonance now in the age of Brexit. The ECHR is not part of the EU, even though it is frequently confused with it, and I’ve lost count of the Brexiteers who tell me one of their chief reasons for leaving Europe is “so we can deport terrorists’’.

But there is a huge demand in this country for greater sovereignty. In the case of Brexit, I am all for sharing sovereignty with fellow Europeans over trade issues like the regulation of car parts or drugs because the bargain is clear; following the rules gives access to an enormous, profitable market.

The law on social issues is a different matter. We should be able to choose, debate and develop our own rules on how to live together. Taking laws out of our hands makes opposition feel illegitimate and makes dissenters bewildered, sullen and cowed. David Cameron was right. Democrats should take back control, replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights and returning greater power to our own parliament and courts.