Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 10.12.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics 
  • The new (interim?) leader of Ciudadanos - the rather attractive Inés Arrimadas - is reported to be trying to take the party back to the centre ground, after the disastrous decision by her predecessor to head rightwards. A future coalition member?
 Spanish Life 
  • It must be xmas.
  • If you have a lot of surplus cash, here's something to spend it on. €344 a kilo! Even more than the repulsive percebes.
  • As usual, we've been warned that our roads will be heavily patrolled by the traffic police during the festive season. Every day, every hour and on every road. But I wonder how many checks there'll be on the autovias/autopistas. I can't recall ever seeing any just after the pay stations or on the slip roads. If it's true that the police checks are concentrated on the parallel N roads and secondary roads, this surely means it's the less rich drivers who're being hit with fines.
Galician Life 
  • The local press is boasting that our region comes 4th lowest for operation waiting times, after Madrid, La Rioja and the Basque Country. Though it rather depends on what operation you're waiting for.
  • In contrast, it's reported that 56% of kids here are at risk of malnutrition. And this despite the fact the levels of obesity are high here. The cause would seem to be the same  - poor quality food. So much for the Mediterranean diet. It's a (relatively) poor region, of course. Only better off than Extremadura.
  • Would you believe that here in Pontevedra city, dogs have their own dating apps - Cander and Miahoo? The Galician for 'dog', by the way, is can. Not perro as in Spanish.
  • Talking of canines . . . . There's no breed, in my humble opinion, less worthy of taking the biscuit at a dog show than the ugly, deformed British bulldog. And yet this one, I read, keeps winning competitions here in Galicia. No accounting for taste:-
  • Talking of Pontevedra city . . . I recently cited our newish Moroccan restaurant. I ate there again on Sunday and (again) enjoyed deliciously tender marinaded lamb chops. Well worth a visit if you come to the city. Mention my name . . . Here's a foto to make sure you don't walk past it in Rúa Figueroa, between Plaza Leña and Plaza Estrella:-

Best to go when it's open. Which excludes Mondays and Tuesdays . . .

  • So, how does it differ from Spain? One view here. In strange, whimsical US accents. Possibly of machines.
The UK Election
  • Two ways of looking at the imminent election:-
  1. This election is an unpopularity contest
  2. A hold-your-nose election. Details here.
I'm reminded of the Samuel Johnson comment that: There is no settling the point of precedency between a louse and a flea. Except in this case there's actually a wide gulf between the policies of the 2 unpopular men/biting insects. Not that this has received the attention it deserved in the British media, which has been obsessed with personalities. The writer of the first article cites this brilliant series of Hogarth paintings on the corrupt nature of British elections back in the 18th century. She clearly thinks they're pertinent. As they might be for Spain in the 20th century . . .

  • Click here for an entertaining article on Ffart's court jester - Rudi Giuliani. Extract: The forces that have returned Mr. Giuliani to the stage at age 75 are the same ones that made him a star federal prosecutor as a young man, a memorable mayor of New York in the 1990s and a scorched-earth advocate for Mr. Trump in 2016: his relentless drive to put himself at the center of public life and his very high regard for his own virtuousness.
  • Nice quote therein from the man himself: These morons. When this is over, I will be the hero.
  • And here's a report of his latest (mis) adventures.
  • Words of the Day:  Interinidad: Temporary post; internship. Desprendarse: To part from, get rid of.
  • Stephen Pinker's latest contribution to my vocabulary:- Irenic: Adj: Aimed at or aiming at peace. Noun: A part Christian theology concerned with reconciling different denominations and sects. (A never-ending challenge, it seems to me.)
Finally . . .
  • Pinker cites the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup as the best ever anti-war film. I must take another look at it.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 9.12.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics 
  • Spain has made gains in visibility in Brussels but not in influence, says El País here, in Spanish.
  • I wonder if there are any descendants of, say, Napoleon, Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler who number among the ranks of today's millionaires. Why? Because I've read that all 6 of Franco's grandchildren have achieved this status. Rather like Ffart managed it; with some help from their crooked antecedents.
Spanish Life 
  • Here's The Olive Press with more details of the astonishing ERE case. 
  • Sometimes the depth of criminal activity defies belief. As here.  
  • No one in Spain seems to care much about the closure of village churches but there's great concern that they're losing their main social centre - the bar. In Castilla y León, more than 2,000 of these have gone in the last decade.
Galician Life 
  •  The majority of new jobs created here pay only €735-1100 a month. Or €8,800-13,200 a year. Well below the national average wage of c. €23,000. No wonder some folk have difficulty 'getting to the end of the month'. Unless they live with their parents, I guess.
  •  China has replaced Galicia as the main purchaser of fish from Ecuador and Argentina. I don't suppose the fish care.
The UK Election
  • This is the election that may be decided by that most ectoplasmic and enigmatic tranche of voters — the “don’t knows”. At least a quarter of the electorate is dithering. How, after all that has happened, can they be so unsure?   One broad reason for the rise of these enigmatic people is the breakdown in traditional party loyalties. Today only 16% of the population identifies strongly with one or another political party. In the 1960s the figure was above 50%. Brexit has accelerated that drift, with more affluent and educated voters turning leftwards, towards Labour and the Liberal Democrats, and poorer, less educated voters trooping, a little resentfully perhaps, over to the Conservatives.  What does all this mean for the final week of campaigning? Conventional wisdom has it that the party with the clearest, least ambiguous message scoops up the greater proportion of the undecideds, and that — on the face of it — is good news for Boris Johnson. “Let’s get Brexit done” may have a certain weariness of tone, but it is undoubtedly clear. On the other hand, if the remain voters really are planning to vote tactically, against the Tories, we might find ourselves heading towards a hung parliament.
The EU
  • Protectionism via the 'precautionary principle': The EU bases its regulations on “hazard”, the possibility that a chemical could conceivably cause, say, cancer, even if only at impossibly high doses. WTO rules by contrast require a full “risk” analysis that takes into account likely exposure. . . . Alcohol, for instance, is a known carcinogen at very high doses, though perfectly safe in moderation. The absurdity of the EU approach can be seen in the fact that if wine were sprayed on vineyards as a pesticide, it would have to be banned under a hazard-based approach. And aspirin would never be approved.
  • Music to reader Perry's ears?: The awful truth is dawning on thoughtful Americans; the trashing of norms of behaviour by this president has been enabled by well-meaning but naive liberals who thought those norms were not worth spelling out in class. In place of pride came much ignorance.
The Way the World
  • Efforts to cut vehicle emissions are being undermined because gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles(SUVs) are outselling electric cars by 37 to 1.
  • Words of the Day:  Chinches: Bed bugs.  Chalecos amarillos: Gilets jaunes.
  • Stephen Pinker again . . . Fractal: A curve or geometrical figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Useful knowledge.
Finally . . . 
  • I read yesterday the old dictum that Good fences make for good neighbours. I was reminded of returning from the UK 3 years ago to find that my neighbour had ripped out our entire shared hedge 'to improve my garden so I can more easily sell my house'.  Three years on, she's just managed to do this and the hedge has almost recovered from her vandalism.
  • P. S. Adding injury to injury, she presented me with a bill for €200 as my share of the cost. But in two €100 instalments 12 months apart. 'Because you were so angry when you got home I was afraid to tell you then of the total cost. But the gardener is pressing me for the rest of his money.'

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 8.12.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics 
Spanish Life 
  • Here's something on a Spanish treat of this season. I'm very fond of a couple of variations of it but I hang on until at least January to buy them. For this is when a local supermarket puts its excess stock on sale, at prices which reduce month by month. This smart shopping does nothing, of course, for my attempts to keep my weight down.
  • I have, over the years, claimed that Spanish web pages seem to be designed by techies with nil customer orientation. Things have improved since the early days but there are still problems, and not only with the Renfe page. This morning I wanted to check coffee prices on the Mercadona site for various forms of the stuff. I gave up after 5-10 minutes, mainly because it seemed I could get no data without registering with them. In contrast I got what I wanted from the Tesco UK site in about 10 seconds.
  • If that were the only example, I probably wouldn't be writing about this. But last night I looked up a word in the Academia Real's dictionary but was told it didn't exist. Or not, at least, until I'd added the accent over one letter. Seeing this as ridiculous, I checked with a word on the equivalent French site and, despite omitting the accent, was deluged with information.
Galician Life
  • Galicia is no exception to the general rule that every Spanish region must be different from every other. In our case, this is our claim to Celtic-ness. Which is rather damaged by the fact there are few (if any) Celtic words in Galician. There's no doubt at all that the Celts were here in Galicia, but they were also in many other parts of Spain and Portugal too. So no exclusivity. 
  • Anyway, here's our friend Paul with a dissertation on Celtic languages.
  • And here's another way of looking at this, tracking the spread of Celtic languages from 1000 to the present day. They seem to have reached Iberia around 500BC and to have died out by 300CE, pushed out by Hispanicised Latin, in its several forms.
  • No surprise to hear that November was one of the wettest months in the last decade here.
  • Nor - given the ever-increasing number of camino 'pilgrims' - is it a surprise to read that there's been an 'explosion' in Pontevedra city's 'tourism rooms'.
  • Which reminds me . .  I clocked a couple of stalwart pilgrims on O Burgo bridge yesterday. And thought that anyone who'd been doing the camino in Galicia during October or November must have suffered a lot before reaching Santiago. Possibly never dry for a week or 2.
  • I was wrong, by the way, to suggest the railings had been finished on one side of the bridge. There's still about 15m to go.
The UK Election
  • Richard North today: Turnout could prove to be a (if not the) decisive factor, especially as there has been nothing in the campaign which has really set it alight, and the prevailing mood is of despondency and boredom, with widely expressed cynicism about the intentions of all parties. And the weather might well determine the turnout, with rain and high winds forecast.
  • Like most adolescents, Ffart keeps a diary. Last week's entries are reproduced below.
  • Here's a worrying thought . . . If Ffart - as reader Perry confidently predicts - is re-elected next year, he will have 4 more years in power without having to concern himself with re-election. While - as I recently said - he keeps getting older and less cognitively able every second. As one observer has said: Things could get very nasty.  
  • So, how similar are Spanish and Portuguese? Here's Paul again with his answer on this. Again, points made about Portuguese apply largely to Gallego. He says, sticking his neck out . . .
Finally . . . 
  • Signalling by Spanish drivers is, shall we say, idiosyncratic. And, as I see every morning when I approach a T junction signalling that I'm turning right, few people trust it. A good example of why this is so came yesterday morning. As I approached a roundabout, a truck coming the other way turned left across me without making any signal but then, once past the roundabout, pointless signalled right, despite going straight on. I'd be lying if I said this was the first time I'd been bemused by this. Anyway, it reminded me that there's one occasion on which almost all Spanish drivers DO signal - when they've overtaken you on an autovia/autopista and are then pulling in to the right. I guess this is obligatory under the law and may well reflect that Spanish motorways usually have only 2 lanes, not 3 or 4. The real irony here is that UK drivers - while on the whole being pretty good at signalling their intentions - almost never do this. From memory, this also applies to drivers in France, Germany, Holland and Belgium. But I'm happy to be corrected on this.

My Week: Donald Trump*

My aeroplane is very large and very special and it has just arrived for the Nato summit in England where I am very popular. And the Boris guy who wants to be me, so badly by the way, is calling already. “I get it,” I’m saying, “because I am a very stable genius. I’m the cleverest person in the room. Even when I’m by myself. Everybody says! Who? I don’t know. Empty room. What were we talking about?”

Boris says we were talking about me staying out of the UK election. “Sure,” I say. “Even Melania gets it. She’s not confused. She just looks like that. I’m too popular. It would be like having God on your side. Like I do. I think he admires me. You know what? It’s mutual. Whataguy. Speaks to me sometimes. In dreams. Great horns!”

Boris doesn’t say anything.
“Or the Queen!” I say. “I’m like the Queen.”
“In a way,” says Boris.
“Although secretly,” I add, “I bet she’s on your side, too.”
“Oh totally,” says Boris.

As I tell the press conference, I don’t want your NHS. You could give me it on a silver platter and I wouldn’t take it. I wouldn’t even take the platter. I got more platters than you would believe. Mine are gold. Also, I’m impartial. Boris is a great guy, but I have absolutely zero preference between him and your Bernie Corbyn gentleman, who is a threat to your nation and would be so bad, so bad. Him? He might be great, too. It’s possible. Stranger things have happened. Like that show about the talking horse! What even was that? So I’m gonna stay out of it. So far out. The outest. Am I doing this right?

Actually, what I want to talk about is Nato. You know, my friend Emmanuel Macron said it was “brain dead” and I just think that’s so nasty. And I used to love that guy. Not in a gay way. I don’t care how it looked. But you guys are so ungrateful. There were wars! The worst. We’ve all seen the films. It’s like I told Angela Merkel. If it wasn’t for Uncle Sam, you’d all be speaking German. Don’t look at me like that. Such disrespect. My brain is fine.

Melania is trapped inside her new cape. So yellow. I’ve got a break between meetings and I’ve turned on my phone, and there are 17 voicemails from Nigel Farage. Sad. Also, there’s a fun video of all the guys getting accidentally caught chatting on camera.
“Ha!” I say. “They’re trash-talking some chump who had an incredibly long press conference! I wonder who?”
Woody, my ambassador, is curled up at my feet eating from a bowl. Literally like a dog.
“Could be anyone,” he says.
“Am confused,” says Melania.
“We get that,” I say.
“But, husband,” she says. “They are talking about you.”

The FAKE NEWS MEDIA is writing that I overreacted, but I didn’t. I just publicly called Trudeau “two-faced”, derailed everything and flew home, tweeting about it.

“Dad!” says Donald Jr. “I tweeted too! About Trudeau being two-faced! Like in this picture of him, in blackface!”
“I don’t like the guy,” I say. “He’s nasty. And he’s a liberal. And he says mean things about me. But you gotta admire his tan.”

Boris calls, to debrief.
“I’m not happy,” I tell him. “So much disrespect. Macron, Trudeau. Merkel. Even the Turkey guy. Who I just pardoned! For something. I think. Terrible people. Even that Italian, whatsisname.”
“Conte,” says Boris.
“Wow,” I say, impressed despite myself. “You Brits don’t hold back.”
“Anyway,” says Boris, “So grateful. Greater love hath no man, and all that. Strong bond. Athens to your Rome, and what have you. Top show.”

Then I tell Boris I know perfectly well he was laughing with the rest of them, and he goes quiet. Then I ask him how he’d like it if I did go public, but backing the other guy. Calling him the British Trump. Telling people he was just like me. And kept doing it for the next week.
“That,” says Boris. “Would be amazing.”

*according to Hugo Rifkind

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 7.12.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
Spanish Life 
  • Three useful explanatory notes from The Local:-
  1. What and why is the December puente, one of several celebrated by the Spanish during any year.
  2. Odd things Spanish parents do for/with their rug rats.
  3. What is a Roscón de Reyes and when does it appear?
  • And here and here are helpful notes - from a chap called Ian - on the various Spanish pork and beef cuts
  • Talking of pigs . . . It seems we're not the only region in Spain to be facing the challenge of marauding porcos bravos.
  • As I've said 100 times, Spain is a great place to retire to but, as the Dutchman Vincent Werner  controversially alleged - it's not a great place to work in, particularly as a foreigner. The Local - a tad reluctantly - explains why here.
 Galician Life 
  • In yesterday's local paper, this week's (pre-advertised) police campaign in Pontevedra's Zona 10 against vehicle riders exceeding 10kph was pronounced a huge success - as no one was copped. I thought of this outcome when being passed last night in the old quarter by a guy weaving between the many pedestrians at 15-20kph.
  • Earlier in the day, I clocked a police check on the outskirts of Pontevedra as I drove to Santiago. So, were they catching speeders or folk with excess alcohol in their veins after a long/heavy puente night out? Both, of course.
  • Which reminds me . . . Something I've mentioned more than once is the difficulty of staying within the many speed limits on the N550 to and from Santiago. Yesterday, I counted these at 106, in 53km. Or one change every half-kilometre. Or 546 yards.
  • Talking of travelling . . . Hints are already emerging that the AVE high-speed train to Madrid won't, after all in service even by 2021, as only 60% of the track is completed. Possibly 2022, then. Maybe.
  • Here's one - comprehensive - answer to the question asked by absolutely everyone who goes to Portugal. BTW . . . Most of the points made apply similarly to Gallego.
  •  Donald Trump is losing his trade war with China, and running out of economic time. . .  The Faustian pact of his own policy malfeasance is closing in. . . The war has been policy fiasco of the first order even on its own crude terms, ignoring the broader collateral to US credibility and prestige.  See the article below.
  • Phrase of the day: Puntual. Timely or punctual but also 'one-off'.
Finally . . .
  • If you read this blog daily, here are ways you can make it easier to receive it than going to the site and clicking on the link:-
  1. Make it one of your Bookmarks.
  2. Get it via a news aggregator/RSS reader such as The Old Reader or Feedly. See the link to the latter on the right.
  3. Via email. Ditto.
  4. By having it on the list of (lazy) people to whom I mail it as soon as I've posted it. Write to me at doncolin@gmail.com if this is your preferred option.

Donald Trump is losing his trade war with China, and running out of economic time: Ambrose Evans Pritchard, the Daily Telegraph

Donald Trump has got away with his many trade wars over the last 18 months because the US economy has been on steroids, a form of macroeconomic cheating that briefly steals growth from the future but catches up with you.

The rest of the world has been struggling with an auto-led manufacturing slump. This came close to recession conditions earlier this year and touched bottom in August.

The contrast of a seemingly vibrant America and vulnerable competitors went to Mr Trump’s head. He misread the real balance of global economic power. Now the Faustian pact of his own policy malfeasance is closing in too.

Advantage has shifted to others as the cycle rotates. Global green shoots are visible all over the place. China’s Caixin PMI index for manufacturing has rebounded to a three-year high of 51.8. Eurozone M1 money growth accelerated to a blistering 8.4% in November, which may be a false positive but would normally be the harbinger of happier times next year.

Suddenly the US economy is the weak link, uncomfortably close to stall speed and prey to the slightest external shock.  The New York Fed’s instant GDP tracker for the fourth quarter has slipped to 0.77% b(annualised). The Conference Board’s gauge of ‘present expectations’ fell to minus 5.8 last month and is hinting at recession, which is exactly what Societe Generale predicts by the Spring.

The Chinese have Mr Trump over a barrel. The stimulus is fading from his Peronist policies of borrow-and-spend. The Fiscal Impact Measure of the Hutchins Centre shows the tailwind disappearing by early next year and then becoming a headwind.

Last year’s spray of money flattered growth for a few quarters but had a dismal economic return. Unfunded tax cuts pushed the US budget deficit to $1 trillion at a time when the output gap was already closed and the multiplier was therefore inert. It was criminal.

The putative handover to business investment never happened. Companies spent the tax windfall buying back their own stock instead. What is left is a cyclically-adjusted deficit of 6.3% of GDP (IMF data) - four times the UK level - and a debt trajectory heading for 115.8% by 2024.

This year the Fed has kept Mr Trump’s game going with three ‘precautionary’ rate cuts and a $60bn monthly relaunch of ‘not QE’, a strangely discordant action when unemployment is the lowest in half a century.

This monetary bail-out may be enough to power what Bank of America calls the ‘fourth wave’ of the post-Lehman expansion, another mini-cycle of growth before the inevitable denouement. But not if Mr Trump abandons his “Phase One’ trade deal and instead escalates instead with 15% tariffs on another $160bn of goods this month.

The Chinese can withstand another year of stalemate. They have found ways to circumvent tariffs on a grand scale through Vietnam and other conduits.

Capital Economics’ proxy gauge of Chinese GDP shows growth becalmed around 5.4% but  not nearly as bad as in 2015-2016 when capital flight was rampant and the People’s Bank was burning through $100bn of reserves each month. Today the yuan is rock solid.

However, the Chinese know that Mr Trump cannot withstand perpetual trade war because he faces defeat in the elections if Wall Street goes into a tailspin and the US economy buckles in 2020. They are upping the ante and demanding a greater roll-back in tariffs.

They also know that Elizabeth Warren - an ideological protectionist who alarms them even more - has slipped back to 14% in the primary polls and is no longer a hot contender for the Democrat nomination. The incentive to clinch a quick deal is fading. A period of distant hauteur may be better political management for Xi Jinping after the double gauntlet of the Hong Kong and Uygher bills in Congress.

Mr Trump’s London threat this week to walk away from the negotiating table -  “I like the idea of waiting until after the election for the China deal,” to be exact - is an implausible bluff from a gambler losing his wager. The attempt to fortify the demarche with macho side-fights over Brazilian and Argentine steel, or German cars (again), no longer cuts much ice.

An end to the trade truce at this point would be the coup de grace for US corporate capex investment and for the Trump presidency. Companies have been holding back from retrenchment in the belief - or hope - that peak havoc has passed for supply chains and that sanity lies ahead. They would hold back no longer.  “Fear of escalation is destroying business plans. That can turn into a recession very fast,” said Nobel economist Robert Shiller.

Michael Darda from MKM Partners says there are disturbing pockets of stress in US credit markets. Risk spreads on CCC bonds have risen 325 basis points to 11.55% since May, higher than at the onset of the last downturn.

The latest Fed (SLOOS) survey shows a tightening in lending standards across the board and a sharp drop in credit demand. All-economy ‘NIPA’ profits - a better economic indicator than S&P 500 earnings -  contracted at a 0.7% rate last quarter. It needs watching: synchronised belt-tightening by business is the time-honoured cause of recessions.

This is not an economy that can endure much more brinkmanship. Mr Trump has used up all his chips and so far his confrontation with China has achieved absolutely nothing.

From what we know - the draft is secret - his ‘skinny deal’ does not resolve any of the big structural issues. China’s edifice of subsidies is unchanged. There is no reform of its industrial model or the giant state-owned entities, the Communist Party’s machine of patronage and control.

The clamp-down on theft of intellectual property is what the Beijing promised Barack Obama years ago, and what the Chinese need themselves to become a technological superpower.

They have agreed to buy US pork, as well they might:  swine fever has led to the destruction of 100 million pigs and cut the national herd by a third. Some say it is the biggest animal disease outbreak the world has ever known.

So yes, they have agreed to buy more soybeans and farm produce, and less of the same fungible goods from Brazil or elsewhere. That broadly is what Mr Trump calls “the greatest and biggest deal ever made for our Great Patriot Farmers in the history of our Country”.

The China trade war has been policy fiasco of the first order even on its own crude terms, ignoring the broader collateral to US credibility and prestige. 

Mr Trump now faces a choice: he can double down and lose the White House; or he can capitulate and declare victory. But no country believes his bluffs anymore. 

Friday, December 06, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 6.12.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Life 
  • The Traffic Department has announced that e-scooterists will be liable to a fine of €200 for riding through a pedestrian area. But local councils will be left to decide whether or not to oblige riders to wear helmets. No mention of e-bike riders. I assume they were never allowed to ride in pedestrian areas or on pavements(sidewalks). In theory.
  • Yesterday I read of increasing sexual attacks, which were referred to as Delitos contra libertad sexual. Which literally means 'Offences against sexual freedom'. So, I wonder what the correct rendering would be.
Galician Life 
  • Pontevedra's main square - Plaza Herrería/Praza Ferrería - is not really a patch on others around Spain but is impressive in its own way. Essentially by being quintessentially Galician. Here's how it looked a century or so ago:-

And here's how it looks now, from the same spot:-

Hard to believe that the bench is the same one, though the metal bits might be. Less hard to believe that the one-storey houses along one side have been replaced by 2 five-story flat blocks. Nor that the White house on the left now has 2 more floors. But at least the red-roofed place hasn't been given the same treatment. Anyway, this foto show the entire facade:-

Can the trees in the foreground only have grown that much in 100 years?
  • The O Burgo bridge: One side of it finally has its (ugly) new railings:-

But work has yet to begin on the other side. So, no surprise at the announcement that work will continue over the Xmas period. Which really means that the road at one end of the bridge will stay half-closed, which was unplanned and which will cause serious traffic flow problems over a busy shopping period. In retrospect, my mistake was to assume that, when the council said the bridge would be finished by October, I assumed they meant in 2019, not 2020.
  • More evidence that Galicia's healths service might not be up to the level of that in other regions:-

  • Galicia's winter dish - cocido. Not my favourite:- 

The UK
  • Richard North: The crucial questions which should have been addressed and answered during the course of the election campaign have been unresolved. So now we are left with a scrappy, messy, jumble of noise which has totally failed to do anything but render the so-called "Brexit election" a charade.  Effectively, we will be going into the polling booths blind – those of us who intend to vote. Votes will be cast on the basis of incomplete information, forcing the electorate to take a leap in the dark. Well, not me; I'm not entitled to vote in general elections in either the UK or Spain, despite paying taxes in both. Americans revolted for this reason. Though they were actually British when they did so, of course.
  • The trouble with Trump is that he's self-satirising. 
  • And all his accusations of others are confessions. Here's how he criticised the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, and - in doing so - himself of course.
  • Jimmy Kimmel: No one has never met more people than Donald Trump.  
  • When asked about the place of the British NHS in trade negotiations, Trump decided to interpret the question as though he was being asked whether he would like to buy the whole of the NHS, ship it back to America and re-erect it in the Arizona desert. “Never even thought about it,” he replied. Americans already had “private plans that they absolutely love. We wouldn’t want it even if you handed it to us on a silver platter; we want nothing to do with it.”
  • Given that many  psychiatrists have noted signs of cognitive deterioration, it's a chilling thought that, if Ffart is re-elected next November, he'll be almost 80 at the end if his 2nd term. Unless the Republicans get shut of him before then, of course. Which they surely would.
  • Phrases of the Day: 1. Jurar en arameo. 2. Decir tacos. To swear/curse. Quite a lot of this goes on in Spain, shocking even Spanish-speaking South Americans.
Finally . . . 
  • More success with my metal detector - a 4 metre rod and a can ring-pull. The good news is that both were 5-8cm below the surface.
  • People have rather liked my daughter's vlog on Hygge. So here it is. If you like it, cheer her up by subscribing. It doesn't cost you anything and will greatly brighten her day . . . .

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 5.12.19

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

Note: A few of the items below have been borrowed from Lenox Napier's Business Over Tapas of last week.

Spanish Politics 
  • The New York Times looks at the (regrettable) success of Vox here.
Spanish Life 
  • A few pieces of education news yesterday, none of them good:-
  1. Almost 30% of students at Vigo university drop out in the 3rd year. For some courses the rate is close to 70%
  2. The national rate is even higher, at 33%.
  3. In the international PRISA tests, Spain fell below the EU average and is particularly poor in Maths. All blamed on austerity, I think. But Galician kids did well. See below.
  • It's funny how often this sort of things seems to happen here:-
  1. An Andalucian trade unionist was paid almost €6,000 (six thousand!) a month (a month!) for years (for years!) merely for being a friend of one of the accused in the infamous ERE case
  2. A Galician chap has been convicted of claiming over €127,000 for the pension of an uncle who died 12 years ago.
  • I don't think I've previously posted this warning but apologies if I have: A dangerous Trojan Virus called ‘Ginp’ has been planted in the Android apps of 7 Spanish banks - Caixabank, Bankinter, Bankia, BBVA, EVO Banco, Kutxabank and Santander. See El País on this here, in Spanish.
  • An interesting Spanish/Catalan Xmas custom.  The Spanish are fond of scatological humour.
Galician Life 
  • Another old foto taken in Pontevedra's Plaza de Curros Enriquez:-

  • And how it looks now:-

Hard to believe but the building on the left is now a Burgerking outlet - though MacDonalds is exiled to the city's outskirts. Note that the 2 little houses haven't been expanded upwards, whereas the houses both to their left and right have been. BTW . . . How come the roof and window levels of the 2 small houses are now the same? Subsidence???
  • Here's a new bottle of Corujo (aguadiente/firewater) which I saw in my bar last night:-
  • Hard not to notice the diagram top left and the words O carallo, next to it. A few years ago, I posted information on this extremely popular word and I've reproduced this below.
  • Talking of things dirty in Galicia . . . Here's the latest report from our Oz friend enjoying a new life in the wilds of Galicia.
  • Galician students scored very well on Science in the PRISA tests, averaging 519 points, on a part with Canada and Taiwan. It's odd, then, that several of the courses experiencing high drop-out rates in Vigo university centre on engineering. 
  • There's been a lot of attention given recently to the well-known facial malformations of Hapsburg rulers. Coincidentally, last night I read this comment, from the critic Rebecca West: 645 years of the Hapsburg dynasty produced no genius, only 2 rulers of ability, countless dullards, and not a few imbeciles and lunatics. Any of their descendent still around? Possibly running banks.
  • You have to admire President Macron for standing top to Ffart. I'm sure it goes down well in France but there is the risk of a disproportionate response from the US president. After all, as someone has written:- Trump is so thin-skinned it’s a wonder his bones don’t fall out when he bends over.
  • I get the impression much of America is laughing at Ffart being laughed at by European leaders, though the amusement is inevitably tinged with embarrassment and shame. Who can blame them, as the man shows himself more imbecilic with each passing day.
  •  My thanks to Stephen Pinker for the new-to-me words: carom and altricial. The first of these is possibly American, as   the British word is cannon.
Finally . . . 

Castellano (Spanish) is famous for the ruggedness (and frequency) of its swearwords. But in respect of one word, it can't hold a candle to Gallego (Galician).

In Spanish, the word is Carajo and in Galician it's Carallo. Here's how it's described in the document I have in front of me:-

CARALLO: Pronounced smoothly and clearly, without emphasis or stress, it means the male member.

!!!CARALLO!!!: As an exclamation, it can indicate astonishment, admiration, and, especially, assent.

An on-line dictionary gives this for Carajo: Fuck! Damn it! (Very informal).

And Google Translate is very specific with Carallo:- Cock.

These are the examples of common (!) usage among Gallego speakers given by said document:-
Carallazo - Blow. Annoyance.
Carallada - Drinking spree. Binge.
Carallán - Joker
Caralludo - Denotes quality
Escarallado - Broken. Dislocated.
Escarallación -Peak, height.
Escarallar - To damage. Dying with laughter.

But the variety and richness of the meanings of carallo are almost limitless, given that it's used to both praise and denigrate. To say something is good and to say quite the opposite. It can also express tiredness, resignation, amusement and an infinity of states of mind, depending on the context. Here's some examples[all in Gallego]:-
Resignation: Ay que carallo!
Joke: Bueno, carallo bueno!
Rudeness - Vai o carallo!
Enquiry - Que carallo e iso!
Contrariness - Tócache o carallo! [Touch your cock]
Offence - Iste carallo é parvo! [Your prick is a fool!]
Temperance - Cámate . . . carallo! [Calm down, prick]
Threatening - Ven . . . C . . . Ven! [Come on, prick. Come on!]
Denial - Non carallo. Non!
Rotund denial - Nin carallo nin nada![Neither prick nor nothing!]
Oath making - Me cago no carallo! [I shit on my prick]
Anger - Me cago no carallo . . . carallo
Praise - É un home de carallo [He's a man of prick]
Doubt - O carallo vintenove! [The 29th prick]
Strangeness - Pero . . . Que carallo pasa? [But . . . What the prick is happening?]
Contempt - Pásame por debaixo do carallo! [It passes me below the prick! (?)]
Animation - Dalle, carallo. Dalle. [Go for it, prick. Go for it!]
Whimsy - Salíume de carallo! [????]
Evaluation - Non vale un carallo! [It's not worth a prick]
Fatality - Ten carallo a cousa! [Have prick the thing! (???)]
Frustration - Xa estou o carallo! [Now I've had it up to my prick]
Meteorology - Fai un tempo de carallo! [It's prick weather!]
Distance - No quinto carallo [In the 5th prick]
On many occasions, it's used as a conversational catchphrase or as a wildcard in a long phrase or in difficult situations:-
Entón, chegou Pepiño e un servidor díxolle: carallo, Pepiño. Que carallo fas aquí? Then Pepiño arrived and a waiter said to him: Carallo, Pepiño, what the carallo are you doing here?

To finish, and as a concession to the rich and flourishing literature of South America, here's a fine phrase: MANDA CARALLO NA HABANA!!, which was apparently uttered by Christopher Columbus himself, when the the Catholic Kings: LO MANDARON AL CARALLO! [Sent him to prick]

Finally . . . Here's a few phrases from a Spanish dictionary:-
Me importa un carajo - I couldn't give a shit
Irse al carajo - To go down the tubes
¡Vete al carajo! - Go to hell!

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 4.12.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics  
  • It's reported that the far-right Vox party has even attracted some previous socialist party PSOE supporters. Hard to understand. Especially when you read articles like this one. Is it too much to hope Vox will rise and fall as quickly as Ciudadanos? After all, such is the complexity of Spain's political scene, just about everything is possible. Or nothing, when it comes to getting. functioning government.
The Spanish Economy
  • The collapse of Thomas Cook hit Spain hard. Hotel occupation was 2% down in October.
Galician Life
  • This is an old foto taken from Pontevedra's Plaza de Curros Enriquez:-

And here's the same view today. As in nearly all other fotos of Pontevedra's old buildings, a floor has been added to the place on the left. This has also lost a third of its total, possibly by fire. Whatever the reason, it's given the modern building a rather odd, lanky appearance:-

I trust everyone appreciates the pun around the name of the language school on the first floor. Nothing to do with me; the owner is an Irish lady. BTW . . . The drogeuría at the front and the farmacia at the side are not the same place. The former deals in cosmetics, OTC products and knick-knacks. The latter, in drogas/medicamentos.
  • Right now it's hard to believe but it's alleged that, with an annual total of 1,472 hours of sun - Pontevedra could meet 100% of its energy requirements via solar panels. The current total is 5-15%. Way to go.
  • The Galician government - La Xunta - has cultural centres all over the world. There's one in each of the UK, France, Portugal and Belgium. But in Germany there are 9 and in Switzerland, 12. No idea why but it might be connected with the numbers of Galician emigrés.
  • There was a feature recently in the local press on one of the super-fast speedboats favoured by smugglers to bring drugs from a large vessel into our coves. The aspect that fascinated me was the large picture of the Virgin del Carmen in the middle of it.
  • Here's the car of the drugged-up imbecile who was hit by a train on the railway tracks in Abegondo earlier this week, looking like you'd expect it to:-
  • I know now why I was woken by a helicopter the other morning. There was a massive multi-force raid on the gypsy settlement below my barrio, involving not just the national police but also Guardia civil officers armed with sub-machine guns. As per this pic:-

I should point out that the woman in the foreground is not about to hit the GC officer with a sword; she's carrying a dustpan in her right hand to go with the brush in her left. Anyway, there were several arrests - for drug(heroin) trafficking offences, of course - both there and, oddly, in a shoe shop in the city centre. 

 The UK 
  • It's reported that 13 ex bankers have been jailed in Italy over a scandal that necessitated the state bailout in 2017 of the world's oldest bank, Monte Dei Paschi di Siena. In the USA there have been similar jailings. Whereas in the UK: No senior bankers have been jailed for their actions before, during or after the 2008 financial crisis.
  • You'll all recall that Carly Simon song You're so vain. Well, satirist Craig Brown has put words into the mouths of various folk, including Ffart, here:-

All too plausible, ain't it? The essence of good satire.
  • The man is is London this week attending a NATO conference, in the middle of a British general election campaign. Unsurprisingly, the Conservatives are worried about the effect of his inane ex cuffo remarks. Because: To say the president has a habit of making comments that aren’t necessarily helpful to his friends is a bit like saying our PM has a habit of hanging out with women who aren’t necessarily his wife. It keeps happening, and it may be compulsive, and a lot of people get screwed.
The Way of the World
  • From Private Eye:-

  • Phrase of the Day: Tomar el testigo. To pick up the baton. As in taking over from a drug baron in your barrio who's currently a tad hampered  by being in jail.
Finally . . .
  • It's not only Renfe. The Correos tracking page also tells you virtually every time you try to use it that they can't deal with your request. But at least with Correos, if you immediately try again, it changes its mind. Which isn't true of Renfe and it's much longer ticket-buying process.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 3.11.19

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

  • I doubt that this is the sort of endorsement any EU country really wants - especially when you know why it's been given.
The Spanish Economy
Spanish Life
  • I had wondered where he got it from. In retrospect, I guess it could have been worse. So he was possibly lucky.
  • This lady - a prominent opponent of Brexit here in Spain - makes some points re the UK NHS which might well be valid. But she views the Spanish system through rose-tinted glasses. In Galicia, at least, there certainly are patients on stretchers (or gurneys) in the corridors. This is particularly true of Urgencias, where it can be several hours before you see a doctor. This is because people face the same challenge as in the UK of getting an immediate or early GP appointment and use the hospital Accident and Emergency department as a substitute. It makes me wonder just how much of a 'post-code lottery' Spain is, given that healthcare is devolved to the 17 regions and some are far richer than others. I also wonder how Lenox Napier sees things.
Galician Life
  • I mis-stated yesterday the promised year - I nearly typed 'expected'- for the arrival of the AVE high-speed train to Madrid. It's 2021, not 2020. And today's papers report only one side of the track will be ready then. Whether this means that this'll be used by trains going in both directions - as happens now - or whether there'll only be a service on one direction, I can't tell you.
  • Continuing the series of foto contrasts . . . Here's a view across the river to the facade of the basilica of Sta María La Grande, a while ago:-
    Today, it's impossible to get a view from at or near the same spot, thanks to the existence thereabouts of the AP9 autopista, a cement factory and the barracks of the Guardia Civil. But you can get an idea of the urban development from this zoomed camera shot, taken from my eyrie:-

    The little white (fishermen's) houses in front of the church were much closer to the river back then, as land reclamation has since narrowed the latter.
    • And now - still on the city of Pontevedra - here's a treat for your eyes, and possibly your ears . . 

    BTW . . The Campillo mentioned in the song is just to the left of the church as you look at it. Not so long ago, they discovered some of the medieval walls of the old city below it.
    • I occasionally report on our kamikaze drivers who travel the wrong way down the autovias or autopistas. But today came a report of one youth who drive his car onto and down the railway tracks. Until he met a train coming the other way. Drugged up, of course. Not the first, I think.
    • The make-up of foreign tourists this year:-
    - Germans: 16%. Mostly single women on the camino, it seems to me.
    - French: 13%
    - Portuguese: 9%
    And the countries of the fastest growing groups of guiris - China, Canada and Switzerland.

    • Not what you expect to hear about this country but croneyism and nepotism during the Nazi period were responsible for a production rate of planes at a level disastrously below that of the Allies. The alcoholic idiot friend of a Goering who was out in charge eventually topped himself.
    • But not before he turned the design of this plane into something termed either the Reichsfeuerzeug (Reich's lighter) or the Luftwaffenfeuerzeug (The Air Force lighter) by its unhappy crews. This was thanks to him specifying a single engine - not 2 - on each wing, leading to overheating. 
    The USA
    • Last week, it says here, was a quiet one for Ffart. Only 87 lies.
    Way of the World
    • A racehorse owner who had a winner at Royal Ascot this year has been accused of being a key figure in a £4 billion crypto-currency fraud. See the Times article below. Here's a foto of said gentleman, next to one of the 'lady' founder of OneCoin, Ruja Ignatova. A happy couple:- 

    • I might well have featured this language/dialect before over the years. No harm in repeating it, though.
    Finally . . .
    • I took another look at the above peon of praise in song to Pontevedra. And noted that the old houses at 1m20 were demolished a few years ago, to allow the construction of a high-rise government building, just in front to the basilica de Sta María. In fact, you can see the building in the second foto above. It was a shame to see them go.
    • And, of course, the O Burgo bridge - at 3m32, 4m09 and 4m15  - doesn't look like that now! 
    • So, a bit of a fraud . . .
    • The good news is that the left hand bit of the street shown at 3m46 is now the site of our newish Moroccan restaurant. 

    A racehorse owner who had a winner at Royal Ascot this year has been accused of being a key figure in a £4 billion crypto-currency fraud.

    Amer Abdulaziz Salman, 56, was named in criminal court proceedings as being involved in the OneCoin pyramid scam.

    A New York court was told that Mr Abdulaziz, the owner of Phoenix Thoroughbreds, laundered money that had been invested in the OneCoin scheme through a racing investment fund.

    The allegations prompted a strong statement of denial from the company.

    Phoenix said it “categorically denies” all allegations made against it and Mr Abdulaziz in “legal proceedings against OneCoin and its conspirators in the US”.

    The claim emerged as Mark Scott, a US lawyer, was convicted in New York of fraud and money-laundering charges in connection to allegations around OneCoin.

    During that trial, Konstantin Ignatov, the brother of Ruja Ignatova, the OneCoin founder, agreed a plea bargain deal with US prosecutors.

    According to a report in the Racing Post, when giving evidence during Scott’s trial, Ignatov told the court that Mr Abdulaziz was “one of the main money-launderers for Ruja”.

    The newspaper said that it had seen a draft transcript from an interview last year between Scott and FBI agents after the lawyer was arrested on suspicion of money-laundering.

    Scott is reported to have claimed that an investment fund in Dubai named Phoenix was sent millions of dollars that had allegedly been invested in OneCoin.

    The newspaper said that Mr Abdulaziz launched his company Phoenix Thoroughbreds in 2017 as an equine investment fund and that he claimed to have raised $250million. Mr Abdulaziz is a prominent figure in the racing world on both sides of the Atlantic.

    Last year his horse Signora Cabello won the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot and Advertise triumphed at this year’s Commonwealth Cup.

    Tens of thousands of Britons invested about £100 million in OneCoin and were among victims from 175 countries when the scheme began to unravel in the autumn of 2017.

    The statement from Phoenix said that the business and Mr Abdulaziz “have acted according to the law at all times, and will vigorously contest all allegations of wrongdoing”.

    It said it would “fully cooperate with relevant authorities should they require any assistance” and that the fund was “currently seeking legal advice and will take appropriate action against those involved in the publication of false and defamatory statements”.

    It is understood that Mark Scott, 51, will be sentenced for his role in the OneCoin fraud early next year.

    Monday, December 02, 2019

    Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 2.12.19

    Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                      Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
    Spanish Politics
    Spanish Life 
    • Spain's TV is sensationalist and, at times, repulsively so. This is an abhorrent example of how far the producers can go beyond wherever the line should be.
    • If you want to see the Aurora Borealis, Spain is a good place to do it from.
    Galician Life 
    • There aren't many old buildings left in Pontevedra city's premier shopping street. In fact, this might be the only one surviving:-

    Until recently it was being used as a carpark but, bearing in mind its location, it was inevitable that it'd end up as this:-

    I guess it wasn't surrounded by high-rise flat blocks in its early years.
    • In an article in a UK newspaper yesterday, the writer described 'Northern Spain' as if it were Andalucia - "too hot and below an endless blue sky that will distract you from your work". Far being it for me to perpetuate the Spanish myth that it rains every day of the year here, but I doubt that the columnist has ever been within 500km of Northern Spain.
    • On the other hand . . . October and November have been so wet that all the seeds inside my birdfeeder have sprouted. But the sun shone yesterday and is rumoured to be here for a few days more. 
    • And dawn today was promising:-
    • Talking of this morning  . . . . I was woken at 7.15 by a helicopter hovering over Pontevedra city, in the dark. My guess was a suicide attempt in the river. Checking with a couple of local radio stations via the Radio Garden app didn't throw any light on the subject.
    • Back to O Burgo bridge . . . They've almost finished installing the railings on one side. I guess they'll start on the other 'soon'. Perhaps the bridge and the AVE high-speed train to Madrid will be completed at the same time 'in 2020'. Long after earlier promises.
    • Meanwhile, as the huge new crossing at the end of the bridge continues to prove hazardous, I've taken to wearing reflective arm bands in the evening. The problem is that, as sight lines are poor and the crossing so big, a sizeable percentage of drivers opt to overtake cars which have stopped to allow you onto it. Meaning they flash past you as you reach the centre of the side you're on. I'll report on the first accident . . . 
    The UK 
    • This is a nice article - from the Left - on the state of the UK state. I liked the phrase: the dishevelled void that is British politics.
    • And below, as the first article, is an equally depressing view from the Right.
    The UK, The EU and Brexit
    • Britain's departure will mean a (growing) financing shortfall for an expanding budget. As you'd expect, the Germans, Dutch and Scandinavians - all net contributors - are reported to be unhappy about being asked to cough up more. While Spain, Portugal and Italy are bitterly resisting the CAP cuts and Eastern Europe states the cohesion fund cuts.
    Social Media
    • I can't be the only one fed up with WhatsApp, says the writer of the 2nd article below.
    • Like reader Perry - and one or two Leftish US commentators - historian Niall Ferguson thinks/fears Ffart will be re-elected a year from now. If so, says NF: Trump would give free rein to his isolationist instincts and — perhaps just as dangerous — his tendency to mix his own private interests with US national security. If you were shocked by Trump’s pressure on the Ukrainian president to dig for dirt on Joe Biden, or if you share Bolton’s suspicion that Trump’s lenient treatment of his Turkish counterpart is connected to the Trump Organisation’s interests in Istanbul, then brace yourself for more and worse. Can this really be possible?
    • I've heard this said once or twice over the years. Nice to have an explanation for it.
    Finally . . . 
    • Wanting to find a watch and ring which I believe were both lost somewhere in my garden, I bought a decent metal detector. I haven't found either of them yet but at least I have evidence that the detector works. I give you . . . The Poio Hoard, to set alongside this one:-


    1. The more we see of our political leaders, it seems we like them less: Jeremy Warner, Daily Telegraph

    This is a deeply dispiriting election which seems almost wholly to have turned its back on the real world

    I’ve seen some very odd UK general elections in my time, but none quite as odd as this one, for it is not primarily a contest on the substantive issues of our time, less still is it about meeting the multiple economic challenges coming down the road at us, from artificial intelligence to climate change and an ageing demographic. Nor even is it truly about settling the paralysis of Brexit.

    Described by some as the most important election in a generation, it is in fact one about to be determined by something much more banal – which leader is least unpopular.

    Jo Swinson, it seems, is very unpopular; people unkindly but increasingly say that they cannot bear her, which is unfortunate for the Lib Dems, whose strategists had ill-advisedly gone for a presidential-style campaign, believing she would be a big beneficiary of the massed ranks of the disfranchised – those who cannot vote for the madnesses of the modern Labour Party but equally cannot forgive the Tories for the rupture of Brexit.

    Yet from what I hear, it is not so much fear of “vote Lib Dem, get Corbyn” that is driving the voters away, as that they simply don’t much like Ms Swinson. She’s not got the stardust the Lib Dems were hoping for, and even with an open goal to aim at, has been unable to match the Cleggmania of 2010.

    An Ipsos Mori poll conducted last weekend found that 50 per cent of those surveyed had an unfavourable view of her, against just 19 per cent who looked on her favourably, a sharp deterioration on the week before.

    Despite his charms, Boris Johnson isn’t that popular either. The same Ipsos Mori poll found that only 33 per cent are currently favourable towards Mr Johnson and 47 per cent unfavourable, again a deterioration on the week before. The more we see of our political leaders, it would seem, the less we like them. Well, there’s a surprise.

    Yet fortunately for Mr Johnson, the most unpopular of the lot is Jeremy Corbyn. At 59 per cent, he has a commanding lead in the unpopularity stakes, against just 24 per cent who like the look of him. Even this finding might somewhat overstate his real standing. Where might these favourable voters be, pray tell? I’ve yet to meet one.

    It’s not so much his policies the electorate doesn’t like; it’s just him. His biggest flaw? Not nationalisation of everything in sight, not his delusional plans for tax and spend, nor even his ambiguity on Brexit, but that he is judged not to put UK interests first, and is therefore not be trusted with the commanding heights.

    What people dislike about him most is that he’s plainly got a problem with patriotism. Whatever their other faults, no previous Labour leader that I can think of could be similarly accused. As one campaigner admitted to me on the doorstep the other day, “our biggest headwind is unfortunately Corbyn himself.

    “Everywhere we hear it. It’s hard to get your message across when people think there is a fundamental issue with the leader”.

    No such problem troubles Mr Johnson, not because of his relative popularity, but because other than “get Brexit done”, there are no policies to sell. The strategy behind the Conservative Party manifesto seems to have been to say as little as possible.

    The Tories have in effect become the status quo party, which I suppose is not so surprising given that they have already been in Government for nearly 10 years now.

    Why have they been so immensely modest in their proposals?, asked Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, last week. “Because to do otherwise would either mean resiling from their pledge to balance the current budget or would mean being up front about the need for tax rises to avoid breaking that pledge”. Quite so.

    The Conservative Party manifesto, “Get Brexit Done, Unleash Britain’s Potential”, is as empty of substantive solutions to either of these things as the Gobi desert. It was 59 pages of pure nothingness. This I suppose makes for a pleasing contrast with Labour’s doom loop of incredulity, and possibly has the merit of keeping us all guessing. What could they mean by “unleashing Britain’s potential”? Nothing in this document justifies such hypobole.

    Now admittedly there is something to be said for do nothing governments. The most terrifying words in the English language, Ronald Reagan was fond of saying, are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help”. You can have too much policy, too much problem solving, too much interference, too much vision.

    Even so, you’d have thought that a party committed to getting Brexit done would have more to say about what awaits the other side. So why are the Tories are holding back? It is because hard choices await, and none of them are likely to be popular with the voters. Never mind what to do with Brexit itself.

    Let’s take Boris Johnson’s “guarantee” of net zero in carbon emissions by 2050, “with investment in clean energy solutions and green infrastructure”. This is an easy guarantee to make if only because it is almost completely meaningless. The target date is so far in the future that he’ll be long gone by the time we reach it.

    But in any case, if it is to be reached, it will require an early start, including thumping great carbon taxes to drive the necessary energy transition, and equally thumping great carbon tariffs to prevent the emissions simply being offshored to China, India and elsewhere. These will need to begin in the next parliament, causing fuel bills to soar.

    There may be ways of mitigating the impact, but it is going to be a tough sell nonetheless for a party which has put a “triple lock” on headline tax rates. Hard as you might look, you won’t find a mention of carbon taxes in the Conservative manifesto.

    Incidentally, there is no mention of them in the Labour Party manifesto either, despite the fantasy promises of a “green new deal”. One thing is certain; without big incentives to switch from hydrocarbons, nothing will happen.

    For those of us who worry about the economic reform this country so desperately needs, this is a deeply dispiriting election which seems almost wholly to have turned its back on the real world.

    While Rome burns, the main parties busy themselves with point scoring irrelevances, such as the manufactured row over non-appearance in media leadership debates and interviews.

    Small wonder that Channel 4 News used a melting block of ice in place of Boris Johnson for its leaders’ debate on climate change. It was otherwise a non-event that left viewers scrambling for the remote. A million trees here, a billion there, who any longer is counting?

    In this land of the blind, we cry out for hard-headed pragmatists, those who have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat but are possessed of the authority to carry the nation with them. Answer comes there none.

    2. I can’t be the only one who's fed up with WhatsApp: Bryony Gordon

    What did we do before WhatsApp? It’s a question I hear asked quite a lot, usually in settings that have been organised over 500 messages in a WhatsApp group, such as class coffee mornings or birthday parties or any situation,  really, that involves more than two people. My answer is heartfelt, but inevitably not the right one. What did we do before WhatsApp? Well now, let me think.

    Before WhatsApp, we didn’t shudder in fear every time a notification buzzed on our phone.
    Before WhatsApp, we could read messages and forget to answer them without looking like we were ghosting our friends.
    Before WhatsApp, we could not read messages without looking like we were ghosting our friends.
    Before WhatsApp, we didn’t feel like stalkers, staring angrily at the blue ticks next to the message we sent our husband, and the time that he was last seen.
    Before WhatsApp, we didn’t have to spend time working out how to ‘mute’ groups. We didn’t find hundreds of pictures of other people’s pets and children in our already clogged camera roll.
    Before WhatsApp, we didn’t have to worry about how passive aggressive we looked by leaving a group.
    Before WhatsApp, we didn’t receive a barrage of voice notes.

    It’s this last thing that really bothers me. I mean, I’m willing to deal with all the other irritations of the platform just as long as it stays primarily a place for text messages. Text messages, even the text messages with ticks attached to them, are manageable. They just sit there, in a safe space, all the information you need from them available to read whenever you manage to get round to it – on the Tube, in a meeting, during a particularly boring theatre production.

    Whereas a voice note requires a quiet space, or a set of headphones, and a pen and paper to note down all the information that lies within it. It’s another invasion into my space, an extra thing to have to process. I mean, listen (just as I am forced to every time you decide to ‘drop’ me  a voice note): WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST CALL? WHAT IS WRONG WITH A PHONE CALL? Why are you walking around speaking all your thoughts into your handset, like a Kardashian? Just call me, or text me, but for the love of Mark Zuckerberg, please do not send me some bastard hybrid of the two!

    Oh, I get it. Voice notes are really useful when you’re supposed to be keeping your eye on the road. But  in that case… just keep your eye on the road, and send me a text when you’ve parked up. Texts are for  succinct pieces of information. Calls are for something more intimate. And WhatsApp is never a good place for intimate things.

    It’s a mess of people – often people you don’t even know – wittering on to each other about travel plans and dinner reservations and oh my goodness, look at this cat gif. The voice note has  no place there. In fact, I have no place there. I just want human  contact, a conversation with someone sitting in front of me – not another excuse to digitise humanity, and keep it at arm’s length.

    Sunday, December 01, 2019

    Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 1.12.19

    Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                      Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
    Spanish Politics 
    • Will there ever be a functioning Spanish government? Not if the Catalans can help it, it seems.
    The Spanish Economy  
    • In other countries, losing out to foreign competitors in a tender is a normal business risk. Here in Spain, it apparently amounts to 'snubbing' the local operators, however unqualified they are to win.
    Spanish Life 
    • When it comes to tolerating noise, the Spanish aren't 'normal' or 'average'. Whether for genetic or conditioning reasons, they're able to ignore - and talk through - levels of noise which would be intolerable in other cultures. I thought, again, about this yesterday as I was trying  to read a newspaper while the little dog below the next table yapped incessantly. To the irritation of no one except me. I wish it were easier to raise one's threshold. To this and other things, of course. I have tried. And I have had some success, I believe.
    • A plea from an unhappy chap. Not the first, nor surely the last, person to find himself struggling with a 'huge wall of bureaucracy' in Spain. Getting your money back from a bank or the Hacienda is a Herculean task in Spain. Even if you live here, know the ropes and speak Spanish. Which he doesn't.
    Galician Life 
    • Here's the little San Roque chapel down by the Pontevedra bullring, as it was some time ago:-

    And here it is as it is now:-

    It seem to me the chapel's been expanded into a small church, and the bell tower moved and doubled in size. And the bullring is another building that's been extended upwards.
    • I feel I should record we saw the sun yesterday. And it's predicted to return tomorrow, to tease us for 3-4 days.
    • The other good news is that the 3rd member of the sub crew - unlike the 2 Ecuadoreans, a local lad - has been apprehended.
    The UK
    • Surveying the political scene this morning, Richard North opines that We deserve better. Fat chance. 
    Way of the World
    • Final words on the astonishing OneCoin scam:-
    - The woman who set it up is now thought to be living in one of Frankfurt's poshest districts, and defying the authorities. One wonders how she can get away with it.
    - Some of the pyramid-sscheme shysters who made a fortune from it now claim they didn't know OneCoin was a scam and have moved on to a remarkably similar DagCoin. Not to be confused with DigCoin or Dogecoin.
    - As the BBC journalist puts it in episode 8 hereIt would be comforting to think that this was just the work of one evil genius. That would be easier to understand and easier to stop. But Dr Ruja has identified and exposed the weak point in our social immune system which have allowed this to happen. She knew that there'd be enough people either desperate enough or greedy enough or confused enough to take a bet on OneCoin. She knew that truth and lies are getting harder to tell apart when there's so much contradictory information online. And she knew that society's defence against OneCoin - the lawmakers, the police and also us in the press - would struggle to understand what was happening. And she knew that, by the time we realised it, she'd be gone. Maybe, above all, Dr Ruja understood an even more difficult truth - that the difference between a straightforward scam and the complicated but legal word of finance and money isn't as clear-cut as we think it is. OneCoin wouldn't be possible unless we lived at a time when people really do make millions simply be betting on cryptocurrencies, complicated derivatives and high-frequency currency deals. OneCoin sounds plausible to so many people because it is plausible. Dr Ruja pulled off one of the scams of the century but it was only possible because the conditions were in place. Those conditions are still in place.

    Social Media
    • Instagram is steering paedophiles towards accounts belonging to children as young as 11, who should not be on the platform in the first place. Predators who follow users posting photos of young models, dancers or gymnasts are shown a stream of other images they will like and targeted with personalised recommendations of accounts to follow. Among the suggested accounts are newly created profiles belonging to children who would otherwise be almost impossible to find unless you had their user name
    • I was musing, as one does, on the fact that Spanish uses the same word - llave - for both 'key' and 'spanner'. (Actually, I think llave inglesa for an 'adjustable spanner/monkey wrench'.) And then, only a day later, I saw this cartoon playing on the word, in a comment on the state of the once-rising Ciudadanos party:-

    Finally . . .
    • No, the second letter didn't arrive yesterday. So, if it arrives Monday, this'll be 7 days after I posted it, and 4 days after its companion. I can only assume there's inefficiency in both Spain and the UK. Where the postal service is a government-run monopoly. But that's possibly just a coincidence.