Saturday, May 11, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 11.5.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • Someone knowledgable answers a few questions about Vox.
  • Someone famous - though not in my house - is annoyed with Vox.
  • With wind in his sails, Spain's PM goes for broke in Brussels.
  • It very much depends where you're standing. Spain's evangelicals don't 'have presence' in 331 towns of more than 5,000 inhabitants. So . . . More than 10 million people in Spain live in places that have not been reached by the gospel. I suspect the RC church would disagree.
  • This is the wine I drank a lot of a year ago, when down in Andalucia and I couldn't get Godello. Or even Albariño. The comment that: It is available in Mercadona and most other supermarkets is fanciful. Spain is far too regional for that!
  • More from Slow Travel in Unsung Spain.
o Old-fashioned teaching methods still dominate in almost all Spanish mainstream schools - tests and simple memorisation.
o Spain is first and foremost a social country where silence among people is much rarer than in many other populated countries on the planet. Even  in empty cafés there's always, at the least, a TV mounted on the wall  - just 'Spanishing in the background' as Goytisolo puts it. In Spain, silence is never golden. Spanish people are completely accustomed to continual noise and often joke about this fact.
o In Madrid (and in most other Spanish towns and cities) there has been precious little forward planning.
The UK
  •  ‘Feeble Britain’ needs is a damn good shake. See the article below.
  • And business there is in critical distress.
  • That famed efficiency . . . My German spies tell me that the date for the opening of the Berlin-Brandenburg Airport - like that of the Madrid-Galicia AVE - keeps going backwards. Or is it forwards? Originally 2011, it's now a (non-believed) late 2020. The reason for the new difficulties is now a list of defects. In total, the inspectors listed 11,581 defects in the main terminal, 9407 of them "significant". No wonder 2021 is emerging as the new favourite. For now.
The UK/Brexit
  • Donald Tusk says the chance of Brexit being cancelled could be as high as 30%. I would put it higher.
The EU
  • The latest score-card for the Project.
  • On the subject of how democratic the EU is, raised yesterday . . . Voters are not good at proposing detailed policy. They are not supposed to be. What they are quick to spot, however, is when they are being patronised or disdained. This disdain is inherent in the structure of the EU. 
  • This is political genius for you.
  • That trade deal with China . . . Of course, it is possible that a quick settlement might be reached . . . But . . . The US-China trade war is going to take years – perhaps decades – to fix. It was always ridiculous to expect it to be wrapped up quickly. There are 3 reasons for that.
  1. First, with a buoyant economy and with the Democratic Party veering off to the extreme Left, Mr Trump is very likely to be re-elected next year. There is little incentive to change strategy now.
  2. Next, tariffs may be having an impact. Sure, the cost is mainly paid by US companies and consumers. But the trade deficit is coming down. Tariffs may not work in the textbooks. But if they can restore some vigour to blue-collar America, they are going to be popular.
  3. Finally, many of the gambits in this conflict are purely negotiating tactics. Mr Trump is not nearly as good at working out a deal as he likes to claim but he is not completely hopeless either. In truth, any US president in 2019 would be rattling sabres with the Chinese as the two biggest powers try and work out a way of living together.
There are going to be bluffs, walk-outs, threats, cancelled deals, bans on technology and blocked take-overs, because that is all part of the haggling to reach an agreement. It might look bad on the surface but it doesn’t always mean a full-blown trade war.

China and the US are engaged in a long battle for dominance of the 21st century economy. That isn’t going to be resolved this month, not this year and probably not even in this decade. It will carry on to the end of this president’s term and perhaps well in to the next one. Like the Cold War, it will ebb and flow.  One day it will be settled. Simple demographics mean China will likely be the ultimate winner.

Finally . . .
  • Life in Spain: My neighbour, the lovely Ester, sent me a message at 10 this morning, suggesting a walk at 1030. I countered with 4pm. She replied they'd still be lunching then. So I asked about 5 or even 6. No reply yet . .  My guess is that, as Ester's brother is visiting, they'll still be lunching then.

Right now, what ‘Feeble Britain’ needs is a damn good shake. Judith Woods.

Big-Baby Britain. Boo-Hoo Britannia. Welcome to our enfeebled Kingdom, United only by a collective neediness, pleadiness and mewling insistence that every single one of us is a special-and-delicate flower.

I’m not sure precisely when Britain’s backbone went missing, but can we have it back, please? We could display it in the Natural History Museum now that Dippy the Dinosaur has gone on tour; and what a thing of awe and wonder it would be.

Hard as it is to believe in our current lactose-intolerant, risk-averse, poor-me society, but Britain was once famous for its mettle (and, indeed, metal), its stiff upper lip and indomitable bulldog spirit.

These days, we’re better known for our safe spaces, weepy historical revisionism and hypochondriac insistence that we’re all suffering from some sort of disorder. Surely there must be some middle ground between emotional constipation and emotional incontinence?

Now, before anybody bursts into tears, let me just get my disclaimer out of the way; I do realise there are people out there suffering from clinical depression, acute anxiety and associated chronic issues. My heart goes out to them. I’m no stranger to such crises myself, so I know from personal experience the horror of feeling morbidly low or being gripped by entirely irrational but inescapable fight-or-flight fear.

The point I’m making is this: surely not everybody in the country is mentally ill? Because from where I’m sitting, it looks suspiciously as though we are facilitating, medicalising and infantilising the entire population.

Recent days have seen universities criticised for being too eager to offer shy or lonely students counselling, rather than encouraging them to join a society of their peers, make friends, get over themselves and get on with their lives.

Then we have a new app for millennials who find making phone calls too stressful, despite (oh, irony of ironies) being on their phones 24/7.

Using technology that was originally developed to assist deaf people, those snowflakes whose only affliction appears to be acquired helplessness will soon be able to use Live Relay to text and have an electronic voice read out their words. Talk about creating an unhealthy co-dependence.

I have a teenager at home who also refuses to make phone calls. Sorry, I mean she “suffers from a phobia”. This is the catch-all phrase that can handily cover just about anything; her friends variously have phobias as diverse as “taking public transport”, “loading the dishwasher” and, my favourite, “being on her own”.

Now, I remember when I was 16 and I too disliked phone conversations, late buses and doing the dishes – but back then, it was known as just being a teenager. As for being on my own when I wish I had company, that’s essentially part and parcel of the human condition.

Unfortunately, we live in a hair-trigger age, where panic rather than reason is the first response, and outsourcing the problem is preferable to knuckling down and sorting it out oneself.

It’s why patients make emergency appointments to see their GP because their child has nits. And also why overweight people are now being “prescribed” bicycles on the NHS to help them get fit.

There’s nothing stopping the former from going to the chemist for a fine comb and chemicals shampoo. Or the latter from hiring or buying a bike off their own bat to take control of their health. But people who are struggling with weight problems are more likely to follow doctor’s orders because they want the input of a higher authority.

You could say it’s all in the mind. But the mind is notorious for playing tricks – often at our own behest.

Among young people, catastrophising normal emotions and repackaging them under the quasi-medical term “phobias” isn’t just nonsensical, it’s disempowering and dangerous.

But the trouble with online communities, Facebook friends and echo-chamber hyperconnectivity among schoolmates is that there’s nobody to disagree or dispute the self-diagnosis.

If our teenagers, tweenagers and tots spent far less time on their phones and a bit more in adult company, they would learn – eavesdrop – about the complex realities of the world. Their world. They might even learn to adapt and self-motivate rather than calling a helpline or posting lachrymose quotes on Instagram.

That’s not to say the unique pressures of modern life don’t cause stress; they do. But far better to counter them with optimism, gratitude – and increasingly, mindfulness – than immediately write a prescription or rope in a professional.

Coping strategies are a great idea because they raise awareness of mental health issues in a low-key way as well as enabling individuals to help themselves.

What I find alarming is that so many youngsters positively clamour to be given a label.

I know parents terrified of disciplining their 12- and 14-year-olds for fear of upsetting them. I would call the resultant meltdowns common-or-garden tantrums, but I have been warned not to say so because that would be perceived as “belittling their pain”.

God forbid we should ever reverse the progress we have made in de-stigmatising genuine mental illness thanks to the courage of high-profile sufferers – ranging from Prince Harry to former Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain – speaking out.

Ask anyone who is tormented by this sort of pain and they will assure you they would give anything not to be in the vice-like grip of depression or panic attacks.

Which is why I’m concerned about a worrying trend towards over-using “mental illness” as a badge of honour, or as an umbrella term to cover any circumstances that are remotely challenging or upsetting.

We need a nuanced debate about the difference between clinical illness and perfectly normal, if distressing, emotions.

Ordinary – happy – life invariably brings with it knocks and bumps along the way. Sadness, loneliness and self-doubt are not comfortable, but they affect all of us at one point another (with the possible exception of Jeremy Clarkson, Donald Trump and Piers Morgan, who are inversely afflicted with too much self-belief and self-satisfaction).

The crux of the matter is that unless we foster a sense of personal responsibility, resilience and robustness in the next generation, they will never voluntarily stand their own two feet or recognise the merits of self-reliance.

Feeble Britain is not a place any of us should be proud of, or want to live in.

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