Saturday, February 09, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 9.2.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • More on Spain's would-be-immigrants problem.
  • Here's a headline you don't see too often: Man in Spain arrested as police find his girlfriend chopped up in freezer.
  • Spain and chocolate.
  • International Living has Portugal ahead of Spain as the best place in to retire to. I must take a look. It's only 30m away from here . . . 
  • Like me Alfie Mittington is surprised at the high percentage of Spaniards who say they speak a second language. He wonders, reasonably, if they mean one of the other 3+ languages spoken apart from Castellano here - Catalan/Valenciano, Gallego/Asturian or Basque. And possibly Andaluz. And Portuguese for those who live near or frontier. Or English for the many thousands who work in Gibraltar. Anyway . . . I'm guessing not many Castellano speakers lay claim to speaking Basque.
The EU
  • Talking of unity . . On Thursday, France took the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassador to Italy. Relations allegedly fell to their lowest level since WW2.
  • I really shouldn't cite this letter to The Telegraph but I have to admit to laughing at it: From Ian Prideaux, London: SIR – If Mr Tusk would like to know what hell would be like in Europe, he just needs to reflect on how it was the last time the Germans ran it.
The EU and Brexit
  • The Guardian article posted below identifies the men it believes Donald Tusk had in mind.
  • The British government is holding meetings in Spain to assure Brits that all will be alright on the night. Most of these will be in tourist/expat hotspots but I might go to the one in Santiago at 6p, Monday 18 Feb, in the Salón de Convenciones, Edificio CINC, Cidade da Cultura de Galicia, Monte Gaiás. I've long wanted to take a look at this white elephant/vanity project.
The UK and Brexit
  • Richard North today accuses Jacobs Rees Mogg of downright lying when he claims the extreme Brexiteers had a plan. In RN's words: We have Jacob Rees-Mogg making it up as he goes along. He asserts that Tusk's claim that "we do not have a plan" is just false. Change or Go which preceded Vote Leave, he writes, "produced a 1,000 page document setting out the options while the ERG has continued to develop these ideas". Therein lies the classic dissimulation from this man who seems rarely to resort to mere fact, when he can tell a lie or swerve round the truth. . . The document was part of a stratagem to help David Cameron renegotiate our membership of the EU. Its function thus was not to speed our removal from the EU but to help keep us in as full-blown members. To assert now that it can be taken as evidence of Vote Leave having an exit plan is to stand history on its head. 
  • RN has long asserted that Mrs May is consciously lying to the public. The author of the second  article below takes up this theme. Incidentally, the newspaper has changed its headline to what it is below from: Our PM has been engulfed in lies, pantomime and post-truth, but it won't stop us leaving the EU. Must have got cold feet about the 'lies' bit. I see that foto caption now reads: Theresa May's near-lies are becoming increasingly obvious.
  • I sense the view is growing - long held by me - is that it's all about Parliament being made to 'force' Mrs May to do what she wants to do anyway but can't say so - delay Article 50. As I've said, we've got months - if not years - of this ahead of us. I'm checking on how to return to Catholicism and then enter a monastery. 
  • If you want to see the risible Fart at his excruciating best/worst, see:-
- 25 seconds in here.
- Or 8m50 here. Or jump to 10.22
- Or all of this
- Or just the start of this, tho' it's worth staying on to hear the octopus joke.

The World
  • Having studied 60 different cultures around the world found, researchers at Oxford University concluded that all communities/societies are held together by seven universal moral rules, which include deferring to superiors and respecting the property of others. Although many western cultures are moving towards more liberal, less hierarchical organisations, they add, the new research suggests that traditional power structures and basic values of charity and fraternity are the cornerstones of successful societies.
  • The USA might well be an exception right now.
Social Media
  • It's time to get serious about reining in Facebook, says the writer of the second article below. The UK, he says, need to follow the German example of not believing the company's lies. Ain't that the truth.
Finally . . .
  • I'm pleased to say that my 2nd attempt to get my 10 quid via Western Union at Correos went quickly and smoothly. But, even so, it took a lot longer than it would have done if I'd been able - as before - to fill in a form as I waited my turn. But now everything has to be typed into a computer and problems arise when the clerk can't find either Gran Bretaña or Inglaterra in the list of countries. Then, of course, you have to wait for the computer to print out a copy of something and the clerk has to go to the printer to get it. Progress. Hmm

1. ‘A special place in hell’: which Brexiters did Tusk have in mind? The leading contenders for the European council president’s broadside 

Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, has speculated that there might be “a special place in hell” for those people who promoted Brexit without having “even a sketch of a plan” for how to deliver it. If he is right, who is most likely to end up roasting in the eternal fires?

David Davis: An ardent Brexiter from the first hour, Theresa May’s bluff and blustering first Brexit secretary was nonetheless so blissfully ignorant of the EU’s workings that he promised, a month before the referendum in June 2016, that Britain would be able to negotiate individual trade deals with Germany, France, Italy and Poland (the EU, as the government has since learned, negotiates collectively). Within minutes of a vote for Brexit, Davis predicted, German CEOs would be “knocking down Chancellor Merkel’s door demanding access to the British market”. Davis also reckoned that within a couple of years, “before anything material has changed, we can negotiate a free trade area massively bigger than the EU”, blithely assuring the House of Commons in October 2016 that there “will be no downside to Brexit, only a considerable upside”. If you have “a good eye and a steady hand, it’s easy enough”, he said. 4/5

Boris Johnson: One of the prime promoters of the sunlit, unicorn-rich uplands that await once Britain has freed itself from the shackles of an EU on the brink of collapse, the former foreign secretary pledged Brexit would permit “continued free trade and access to the single market” while allowing the UK to “take back control of huge sums of money, £350m a week, and spend it on our priorioties such as the NHS”. The cost of leaving “would be virtually nil, and the cost of staying would be very high”, he observed during the referendum campaign. And of companies’ more practical concerns about the possible impact on their bottom line, he reportedly remarked: “Fuck business.” Brexit, Johnson proclaimed – quoting Shakespeare’s Brutus – was a time for Britain “not to fight against the tide of history, but to take that tide at the flood and sail on to fortune”. 5/5

Michael Gove: Three months before the referendum, the then justice secretary – who recently conceded a no-deal, crash-out Brexit would be catastrophic for Britain’s farmers – was boldly assuring voters: “The day after we vote to leave, we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want.” A transition period would in fact be pointless, Gove argued in November that year: “I am prepared to take the economic hit to secure the economic benefits of not being in the single market and being outside the customs union. I simply want … a quickie divorce.” 3/5

Liam Fox: Another true keeper of the Brexit flame untroubled by anything as inconvenient as reality, the international trade secretary was still blithely assuring anyone who cared to listen even a year after the referendum that the free-trade agreement Britain would be able to strike with the EU would be “one of the easiest in human history”. 3/5

Daniel Hannan: The Eurosceptic Conservative MEP and “Brexit brain” has long been painting a rose-tinted picture of Britain’s departure from the EU radically at odds with what has transpired since the vote. In May 2015, for example, Hannan promised that nobody, “absolutely nobody, is talking about threatening our place in the single market”. Without the UK’s contributions to the EU budget, he was explaining a few months later, “we could give everyone a 60% council tax cut”. 4/5

Nigel Farage: The original Brexiter, the former Ukip leader has been – in Tusk’s words – promoting Brexit without a plan pretty much since he was first elected as an MEP in 1999. “The 23rd is our golden opportunity – let battle be joined,” he trumpeted as his longed-for referendum day was finally announced, explaining three days before the vote that the EU was a “hopelessly outdated, stagnant, failed project” and leaving it would instantly “revitalise our democracy”. Brexit would leave Britain absolutely “free to cooperate and trade with our European neighbours”, Farage promised, while “taking back control of our own destiny as a nation and being free to blaze our own trail in the world”. Slogans aplenty, then. Detailed plans – not so many. 5/5

2. Our politicians are engulfed in pantomime and post-truth, but it won't stop us leaving the EU:  Sherelle Jacobs.

The public will not be fooled by the smoke and mirrors of these Brexit "negotiations"

Has Brexit chaos sucked Britain into a post-truth fifth dimension? Keeping up with our Government’s EU “negotiations” increasingly feels like dunking one’s head into a hallucinogenic vortex where nothing is as it appears, and everybody is lying, or trying to distract us from reality.

First, there is Theresa May’s extraordinary talent for performative deception as she struggles to run the clock down before trying to ram her deal through the Commons one last time. This week she has acted out what will surely go down as the most farcical piece of diplomatic pageantry in British history, starting with an excruciatingly pointless trip to Northern Ireland and ending in equally pointless talks with an intransigent EU.

The PM’s near-lies are  becoming increasingly obvious too. Last week, she put her weight behind an amendment saying that the backstop should be “replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”. Now she is now insisting that what Parliament really means by this is that there should merely be “changes made” to it. And, right on cue, the EU has today been quick to insist that these "changes" cannot be in the actual Withdrawal Agreement, but in the Political Declaration. Which means they aren't "changes" at all.

Brexiteers, who are also running the clock down in the hope of a no-deal, have also become sucked into this ridiculous truth twisting. They have encouraged this elaborate charade of tinkering with the Withdrawal Agreement, even though it has long been patently clear that the EU will not give an inch.

They are furious that Mrs May has only pretended to pretend to try to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, rather than merely pretending to reopen it. In the low-rent Brexit version of the dream-within-a-dream Hollywood film, Inception, they take exception to the lie-within-the-lie, not the lie itself.

Then there is the deliberately distracting pantomime politics of Donald Tusk. In the run up to yesterday’s talks, he deliberately sparked a Twitter storm of outrage by saying there was a special place in hell for Brexiteers, in an attempt to cast eyes away from the growing fissures in the 27 member states’ negotiational stance.

Worst of all, Remainers are trying to manipulate this chaotic post-truth climate, by seeking a way to not only stop Brexit, but also escape blame for doing it. As the unexpected defeat of Cooper-Boles showed, some are trying to achieve this by talking up a vote to delay Article 50, and then backing out of voting for it themselves at the last minute.

Through these grubby tactics, they hope they can deceive more foolhardy colleagues into doing their dirty work for them and taking the fall for it. Others have deluded themselves that they can thwart the will of the people through disinformation campaigns, claiming that a second vote is democratic, that the people were “lied to” or have “changed their minds”.

These unprecedented new levels of deception in British politics are an insult to the intelligence of us, the general public. They are also eerily redolent Algerian-French philosopher Jacques Derrida warnings more than 20 years ago about how political lies threatened modern civilisation.

In 1993, disgusted at the failure of successive French presidents to acknowledge to the crimes of the collaborationist Vichy regime, the controversial thinker toyed with the concept of the “hyperbolic growth” or “hypertrophy” of deceit. He conjectured whether conversion to the "absolute lie" rather than the attainment of “absolute knowledge” might one day signify the something resembling the "end of history”.

His musings were in turn inspired by the equally despairing German political thinker Hannah Arendt who, in her 1971 essay Lying in Politics expressed her disgust at a leaked version of the Pentagon Papers, which suggested that America had covertly ramped up its activities in the Vietnam war, secretly bombing Laos and Cambodia.

It made Arendt almost nostalgic for pre-modern lying, which was merely concealment of truth. She feared that modern lying of Pentagon proportions would eventually lead to the total annihilation of the very reality to which lies referred.

As brain-numbing reality-mangling, self-procreating untruths infect the whole of the British body politic, it is tempting to wonder whether Derrida and Arendt were onto something. Is Brexit information chaos, sponsored by an incompetent and dishonest Government, just the latest layer in a new world order built on illusion?

It is tempting to despair at the situation. But what Westminster elites - and even compelling Western thinkers like Arendt and Derrida - have never quite grasped is that the great antidote to state-sponsored disinformation and institutional deceptions is populist truth.

Arendt groped towards it cynically when she famously said that society's lies would reach a point where the lying becomes "counter productive"; bombarded by untruths, the audience would eventually be forced to ignore the line between truth and falsehood altogether in order to survive. People would construct lies to suit their own lives, beliefs and agendas, in other words.

I do not share Arendt's pessimism. Although "the people's truths" are sometimes prone to simplification of exaggeration (“we haven't changed our minds about Brexit” really means “‘most of us haven't changed our minds”;”the people voted for Brexit” really means "52 per cent of those who voted did"), these narratives are more reliable than elite assertions because they are anchored in ordinary people's feelings and experiences.

Remainers are correct to scrutinise the blueprints of Brexiteers and the factual carelessness of NHS figures on the side of a bus. But those politicians who think this, along with the information confusion of the post-truth era, gives them enough yarn to spin the lie that they are justified in wanting to stop or water down “a historic mistake” like Brexit are committing a grave error.

The only message that will cut through among all this preposterous pageantry and deliberately dull, grey government ambiguity is the narrative of ordinary people up and down this country: “The people voted for Brexit and politicians are trying to thwart democracy”. No amount of Westminster spin doctoring and sophistry will erase  this basic truth. Before making their next moves, let's hope Theresa May and Remainer MPs reflect on this.

2. Time to get serious about reining in Facebook: Iain Martin

The tech giant’s promises to clean up its act are not believed in Germany and we should no longer believe them here

During Sir Nick Clegg’s recent visit to Europe, in his role as spin doctor for Facebook, an ungenerous thought popped into my head. Does the former Liberal Democrat leader believe the rubbish he is talking on behalf of the tech giant, or has it not yet told him the truth about what it does?

Questions about the extent to which promises can be trusted are particularly relevant when considering the intentions of Facebook, and Google, for a simple reason. We are at a critical moment in an epoch-defining battle in which we try — before artificial intelligence and robotics make the next leap and things really get out of hand — to ensure these companies work in our interests, rather than us working for them as digital slaves harvested for our data.

Recognising that politicians are waking up across the West, and trying to work out how to legislate after scandals on self-harm, privacy and disinformation, Facebook is trying to convince consumers that it can change its ways. Deciding whether it is telling the truth matters.

We have a choice. If we believe Facebook’s promises that it can change, then we may need only to fine-tune some existing regulation and hope it improves behaviour. Doubting Facebook’s intentions will require us to be much tougher, to use new anti-trust law and innovative interventions to break it and other companies into bits.

The evidence suggests erring on the side of not believing a word Facebook says. Even when it is caught behaving badly and rapaciously, the company still plays the innocent. The latest manifestation of this sharp practice was highlighted by the ruling issued yesterday by the Federal Cartel Office in Germany. Facebook has come face to face with that country’s anti-trust laws and the German desire, shaped by negative experiences in the 20th century, to protect its citizens’ privacy.

The tech company has been ordered not to combine user data from its WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook applications without specific consent. This follows a three-year investigation into breaches of anti-competition laws. In essence, it is highly profitable to lump all that user data together and sell the predicted behaviour to advertisers.

Facebook, rather than admitting it had been caught by the German government, rejected the ruling, claiming that it faces tough competition and must harvest data in the way it does to stay in business.

Remember, in the fourth quarter last year Facebook made $6.88 billion in profit. That being so, bleating about tough competition takes some cheek. Rightly, German officials pointed out that Facebook was being sneaky in the way it presented its numbers in relation to the German market. The Federal Cartel Office said Facebook, via its various products, had 95 per cent of the relevant social media market.

An essential new book by Shoshana Zuboff, a Harvard professor, makes the case that this is about much more than market dominance and the construction of enormous monopolies that are used to extract profit at margins all but unknown in other businesses. In The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, she charts how the combination of algorithms and our data is used to suggest to us what we might want, thereby changing behaviour and making citizens the commodity.

On top of that, the entire business model of Facebook and Google is based on the conceit that they are not publishers. They prefer to pose as neutral platforms that enable people to put stuff out there in a “let it all hang out” spirit of public goodwill. That’s why the profit margins are huge. Policing content properly, on grounds of accuracy and taste, is expensive.

It is not just the Germans who have had enough of this tech chicanery. The European Union is becoming more active. In the US, a new Congress may be more aggressive. In Britain, ministers are competing to offer promises of tough action against self-harm videos.

Facebook, via Clegg, has called instead for politicians of good faith to work with honourable companies such as itself to resolve these difficult ethical questions. Ralph Waldo Emerson comes to mind, saying: “The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons.”

Digital reform must be designed by legislators and officials with cold hearts and clear heads, rather than by the spin doctors of companies who have created the mess.

There are risks in getting the legislative response wrong, of course, and doing another kind of damage to the social fabric. Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson, an enemy of the free press and enabler of the Marxists who have taken over the Labour leadership, gave a speech this week in which he proposed what amounted to a ministry of the internet to direct such companies.

In the wrong hands, excessive digital regulation can be dangerous. Getting it right is going to involve striking a delicate balance, protecting free expression while harnessing innovation, but also enforcing competition and consumer rights.

In Britain, the Conservatives must get hold of this soon — properly, under a new prime minister, rather than just talking about it on television. They will have to break up monopolies, and improve the public realm, or it will be the Corbynite far left that does it, using tech regulation as cover for all manner of tyrannical terrors.


Sierra said...

Perhaps ywe shouldn't believe everything we read in The Telegraph - seems to be trying to become the successor to the News of the World:

"It's quite the hole that the Telegraph has dug itself into. Last week they had to retract a story on Melania Trump after the notorious US lawyer, Charles Harder (the guy who took down Gawker) sent them a letter demanding an apology and damages.

The Telegraph's piece was written by Nina Burleigh, the author of a book about Melania that has been published in the States – and is therefore protected under the First Amendment. But as the Telegraph is bound by UK law (where it's much easier to sue for libel) Harder saw a chance to pounce on them for a sizeable settlement for the same story; one he could never have dreamed of securing back home.

The Telegraph instantly shat themselves. Media wags have dubbed it the fastest retraction, apology and payout in newspaper history. But in their haste to make amends they ended up going so far over the top that they threw Burleigh under the bus, pretty much suggesting that she's a liar. In a British publication. Meaning that she can now try to sue them over here too.

Which – surprise, surprise – she is!"

Colin Davies said...

I read the paper and like one or 2 writers but gave up on the paper years ago. Have never been able to read BJ's crap.

Colin Davies said...

@ Sierra. Hadn't seen that. But have now seen this step by her and her lawyers.