Sunday, June 30, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain:- 30.6.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spain
  • There was much humour, and jealousy about Galicia, the northwestern corner of Spain that was/is undoubtedly the best place to be this week. And it's pretty cool here today too, so far.
  • Alfie Mittington regrets the closing of a famous bookshop in Santiago de Compostela. His comment has reminded me that my Dutch (semi) friend, Peter Missler has written a book about Santiago, sort of. Called The Treasure Hunter of Santiago and available for a mere €3.25 on Amazon. I can assure you it'd be good value at 5 times that price.
  • Peter's other book on George Borrow in Spain - selling Protestant Bibles - can be found here.
UK Politics/Brexit
  • Richard North today: Never have politics been so uncertain, as we now face the prospect of an autumn general election, with absolutely no idea what will follow on after that. 
  • Here is a paradox: The British political landscape, under the strain of Brexit, increasingly resembles a continental European system. The age of two-party dominance looks to be over.  There are similar stories of fragmentation in most EU countries. Ironically, as Britons seek to leave the EU, they are becoming more politically European than they have ever been. See below the very interesting article from which this comes.
The EU
  • From the same article: The rise of the internet dooms the European federalist project as surely as it does the old political parties.  In reality, Brexit is an impossibly expensive and complicated divorce from a spouse who is terminally ill. It’s like seceding from the Holy Roman Empire.
The Way of the World 
  • “Being a tomboy” is slowly being disappeared by the trans lobby. Girls who don’t want to be girls aren’t tomboys any more but 'trans'. A new musical based on Enid Blyton’s 'Malory Towers', for example, will feature a non-binary actor, Vinnie Heaven, as Bill, a girl who has seven brothers and loves horses. This is because the producer, Emma Rice, believes that “Thanks to the progress we have made as a society, people like Bill are now able to express their identity in other ways”.
  • Almost three-quarters of children seeking help to change their gender are girls, the highest proportion recorded, according to figures from England’s only child gender clinic. The numbers, for the year to this April, also show marked rises in younger children seeking treatment. For the first time, the majority of patients referred to the clinic (54%) are aged 14 or under. The number of 13-year-olds seeking treatment rose by 30% in a year to 331. Referrals of 14-year-olds went up by a quarter, to 511. The number of 11-year-olds is up by 28%. The youngest patients were three.
  • The writer Stella Duffy has called the film 'Toy Story 4' misogynist, disablist and racist. I wonder if it really is. Especially as, it's said, Disney have tried to portray Bo Peep as a feminist.
  • The residents of some of the prettiest streets in Britain are becoming increasingly exasperated by the rising number of tourists and bloggers endlessly invading their privacy in pursuit of the idyllic backdrop for their next Instagram post. In Notting Hill, west London, residents say photographers hang off railings, spill sticky drinks outside their homes and eat lunch on their doorsteps, desperate to pose in front of the pretty rows of terrace houses, all painted different colours. Many are inspired by websites which list the “most instagrammable spots” in London, rather than the film Notting Hill, starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts.
 Finally . . .
  • I threw a small pair of binoculars towards an armchair yesterday. Unfortunately, they landed on the glass screen of the fireplace 'cassette'. Trying to put all the pieces together on the kitchen table this morning - so that I could measure the size accurately - I was stumped by the fact that there seemed to be several pieces missing, preventing me from completing the task. Then I realised that I was approaching it as I would a jigsaw, assuming only one side of the glass was relevant. As soon as I'd turned some of the (2-sided) pieces over, everything fell into place. Literally. A valuable lesson for when I break the replacement glass.
THE ARTICLE

Wodehousian Boris Johnson is the past, not the future: Niall Ferguson

Like fears of a European superstate, party hierarchies are passé

Ours is a time of paradoxes. For example, even as information technology has empowered enormous and open-access social networks, politics in Britain continues to be run by the tiny and exclusive old-boy network. The contest for the Conservative Party leadership will decide who is Britain’s next prime minister. Seven of the original candidates were Oxford men. The two remaining candidates, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, are respectively the former president of the Oxford Union and the former president of the Oxford University Conservative Association. Johnson went to Eton; Hunt was head boy at Charterhouse.

Of Britain’s 54 prime ministers since Sir Robert Walpole, 27 were educated at Oxford and 19 at Eton. If Hunt defies the bookies by winning, he will be the second Old Carthusian to occupy No 10. (The first was Lord Liverpool.)

Johnson is believed by some to be the British Donald Trump. Aside from big hair and body mass, however, they have nothing in common. Although born into a wealthy family, Trump was and remains a social outsider, sneered at by Manhattan’s Upper East Side. When he announced his bid for the presidency four years ago, Arianna Huffington said she would cover his campaign in her Huffington Post website’s entertainment section. Johnson was already a member of Britain’s social and political elite before he even got to Oxford.

Trump was early to see the huge political potential of social media, joining Twitter in 2009. He has 61.5m followers. Johnson was late to the game, joining in 2015. He has 614,000-plus followers, 1% of Trump’s total — and fewer than a third as many as the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Trump notoriously communicates at the level of a 10-year-old. Johnson speaks the archaic jolly-good-egg English of PG Wodehouse. Last week, apropos of the Irish backstop, he told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg: “We were the authors of our own incarceration.” Trump would simply have said: “We locked ourselves up.”

“People are yearning . . . for this great incubus to be pitchforked off the back of British politics,” Johnson declared. If MPs failed to deliver Brexit, they would face “mortal retribution”. Boris isn’t Trump. He’s Wodehouse’s spoof demagogue, Roderick Spode, the 7th Earl of Sidcup.

Moreover, this quintessential product of the old elite is three weeks away from being anointed prime minister by another old elite. At the last general election, 46.8m people were registered to vote, of whom 69% turned out. But Britain’s next leader will be chosen by one-third of 1% of the electorate: the 160,000 people who pay the £25 annual subscription that is required to become a member of the Conservative Party.

For most of the 20th century, mass-membership political parties were the organisations that ran democracies. In 1953, the Conservatives could claim to have nearly 3m members. The number of individual members of the Labour Party peaked in 1952 at 1,015,000; there were more than 5m corporate (mainly trade union) members.

Today, as in most European countries, the parties have withered away so that Social Democrats and Christian Democrats alike resemble enthusiasts for an anachronistic hobby such as stamp collecting.

The Tory party looks like a classic case of an obsolescent hierarchy: 97% white, 86% middle class (ABC1), 71% male, 54% from southern England and 44% over 65. Fully 84% oppose a second referendum on EU membership and two-thirds of Tory members favour a no-deal Brexit. Why not just ask the Oxford Union to choose the new prime minister?

Here is a further paradox: the British political landscape, under the strain of Brexit, increasingly resembles a continental European system. The age of two-party dominance, despite a fleeting resurgence in 2017, looks to be over. According to the Britain Elects poll aggregator, four parties now have the support of more than 15% of the electorate. YouGov places the Brexit Party — registered by the true British Trump, Nigel Farage, less than six months ago — level with the Tories on 22%. There are similar stories of fragmentation in most EU countries. Ironically, as Britons seek to leave the EU, they are becoming more politically European than they have ever been.

The final paradox has to do with the logic of Brexit itself. Since the 1980s, British Euroscepticism has rested on the belief that the European Economic Community that we joined in 1973 was inexorably morphing into a federal superstate. Here was Margaret Thatcher in her seminal Bruges speech from September 1988: “Working more closely together does not require power to be centralised in Brussels or decisions to be taken by an appointed bureaucracy . . . We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain only to see them reimposed at a European level, with a European superstate exercising a new dominance from Brussels.”

For a time, especially as the continental leaders forced through their ill-conceived monetary union, this seemed a legitimate fear. Tory journalists, not least the young Johnson, covered every step in the direction of Bundesrepublik Europa with febrile excitement. True, some of the quotes were made up, but the central thrust of Euroscepticism was correct: with its distinctive history, Britain could not possibly tolerate the loss of sovereignty inherent in the federalist project.

The rise of the internet dooms the European federalist project as surely as it does the old political parties. A hierarchical structure of recognisably 1950s provenance, the EU has proved unequal to the challenges of three network-propelled crises: the US-originated bank panic, the Arab revolutions and the trans-Mediterranean migration surge. The political backlash against these failures, of which Brexit is just a part, has been a death sentence for the project of “ever-closer union”.

A new generation of right-wing populists — of whom the most talented is Matteo Salvini of Italy’s League party — has worked out that it’s easier to remain inside the European tent but constantly to bitch about it, than to exit. Soon there will be enough populist governments to erect a permanent barrier to further integration inside the council of ministers. In any case, almost no north European leader takes seriously the proposals for European reform of Emmanuel Macron, the French president. He is the last federalist standing.

So an Old Etonian is about to become prime minister because he looks “to the manner born” in the eyes of a tiny, self-selected electorate and is willing to promise them the magical Brexit they still believe in. In reality, Brexit is an impossibly expensive and complicated divorce from a spouse who is terminally ill. It’s like seceding from the Holy Roman Empire.

One day we shall realise what a colossal waste of time and energy all this has been. Speaking of modern networks, we would be vastly better off if we had spent the past three years mining bitcoin.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 29.6.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spain
UK Politics/Brexit
  • Not getting any better.
The EU
  • Who will succeed Super Mario at the ECB? Dunno. Click here for the runners and their respective cons.
Spanish
Finally . . .
  • My Dutch friend and expert on George Borrow - Peter Missler - would like you to know more about the latter's views on Santiago. Click here if you do. I say 'friend' but as Peter always sides with Alfie Mittington, I'm not sure that's entirely accurate.
  • Whatever, I'm grateful to Peter for giving me an excuse to post this foto of someone taking a siesta across the road from the cited San Roque chapel:-

Friday, June 28, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 28.6.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spain
  • The news is of a Europe-wide heatwave, with even UK temperatures forecast to rise to 29 or 30 degrees. Quite low by the standards of parts of central Europe. I hope I'm not guilty of schadenfreude (or even just smugness) to say we're luxuriating today in a  temperature of only 25, softened by sea breezes . . .
  • The BBC reports here on the government's fight against the scandalous maltreatment of (already low-paid)   workers, which defrauds both the employees and the Treasury. 
  • I might have already posted this El País article on Villar de Domingo García and its Roman treasure(s).
  • Desperate times, desperate measures. From the Tax Office, the Hacienda.
  • The Camino de Santiago . . . I've talked of the numbers on the Portuguese Way these days but these are nowt compared to those on the last 100km of the French Way, from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela. Which I've compared to a crowded elevator, or airport walkway. But that's not the worst thing. This is the utterly thoughtless cyclists, most of whom come up behind you at top speed, shouting for you to get out of their way as they get close to you. Sometimes very close. But even these are not as infuriating as those who weave in and out of walkers without any warnings at all. I thought of this again last night when reading this in a forum: Not the biggest fan of the last 100 kms. Rudest locals. Most commercial. The crowds did not bother me at all, but the cyclists turned into real maniacs; walked 400+miles not a problem with one bicyclist; but during the last 100 kms almost got ran over several times. You've been warned!
The USA 
  • Stock exchanges decided they no longer wanted to function like public utilities operating in the public interest to create a fair and efficient market place for stock trading in America and would instead become whore houses for high frequency traders at the Wall Street mega banks and hedge funds. See here for more on this sorry saga.
  • And talking of vicious creatures . . . 
Spanish
  • Word of the Day: Pasta. A versatile word.
Finally . . .
  • Off to Santiago today, with a visitor. Here's George Borrow's take on the place, with his wildly wrong prediction that its glory as a place of pilgrimage would continue to fade away. Though it would be fair to say that the majority of today's 'pilgrims' fall into the 3rd of these categories offered to you as you seek a certificate to prove you've done the last 100km (the Compostela):
  1. Religious reasons
  2. Religious and cultural reasons
  3. Purely cultural reasons.
The question for folk facing these choices is where the most common (and, to me, meaningless) 'spiritual reasons' fits . . .

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 27.6.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spain
  • Details on that heat wave . . .
  • And advice on how to complain about it in Spanish.
  • Spain's impressive cuisine. Well . . . that of the Basque Country and Cataluña.
  • Some more of Spain's pluses.
  • During the phone bum (boom) of 2002-7, Spain's population - as I recall - rose by around 10%, from around 40m to around 44m. Then - during La Crisis - it fell back, as immigrants returned home and young Spaniards fled to seek work elsewhere. But now it's rising rapidly again. Maybe all those unoccupied new(ish) homes will eventually be sold.
  • A friend has told me that at least part of last Sunday's religious procession comprised some of Pontevedra's lawyers. The men I compared to a mafia group. Here they are, carrying a statue of their patron, The White Virgin of Lawyers:-
  • And here's a foto of something bizarre that's recently appeared in front of the city's Fine Arts building, near the Alameda. A dog is about to show its appreciation of it. On behalf of all of us:-

UK Politics/Brexit
  • Now far too boring to comment on. Though the first article below is pertinent. And well worth a read.
The EU
  • The EU will come to regret its economic blackmail of Switzerland. The Swiss have become mere collateral in the EU’s desire to cow Britain into submission. See the second article below.
Social Media/The Way of the World/The USA  
  • Breakthroughs in telecommunications inevitably trigger social rupture, and often wars and revolutions: the invention of the printing press, mass-market newspapers, the radio, terrestrial TV – which drove protests and dramatic social change in the Sixties – and satellite TV. The internet and social media are testing our remaining structures to destruction. If you haven't already done so, see the first article below.
Spanish
Finally . .

  • 17 things not to do when staying in other people's houses:-
    1. When your host says “What can I get you for breakfast?” the answer is “I’ll make myself some toast”. It’s not “What’s on offer?” thereby forcing them to start listing all the cooked options like a brunch waiter. 
    2. Don’t get up late or early, both are equally tiresome.
    3. Unless you have been specifically asked to bring your dog, don’t.
    4. If your dog is discovered to have messed everywhere, clear it up, rather than assume your hosts have it covered. 
    5. When your host says “Would anyone like a glass of rosé?”, the correct response is “How lovely” and not “Ooh, have you got any champagne?”
    6. Do not spring any dietary surprises. As in suddenly announcing you’re not that keen on prawns on prawn night.
    7. Do fit in with your host's plans. If they’ve arranged for you to go to drinks with the Whatsits, on no account say “I think I’ll just stay here if you don’t mind”. They do mind.
    8. Don’t know more about the area than they do. Very tactless. No-one likes to think others got there first.
    9. Don’t as if it would be OK if your other friends who live locally nipped over and had a look around, maybe stayed for supper.
    10. Don’t be a lifestyle stalker. A certain amount of snooping is par for the course, and even flattering. But don’t wander around like an estate agent sizing up the fittings and furnishings and asking how much everything cost.  
    11. Don’t have an opinion on your hosts' recent renovations.
    12. Don’t steal: Apparently some guests think certain items are on the Do Help Yourself list, e.g. books in the spare bedroom, bottled water, hats they borrowed for a walk.
    13. Don’t take back the things you brought if they're unused. Just because no-one ate the gouda doesn't mean it's yours to reclaim.
    14. Don’t pick a fight with their children or the other guests, or alternatively show no interest in the children or the other guests. 
    15. Don’t bang on about anything unless your hosts are clearly dying for you to. 
    16. Don’t use all the hot water.
    17. Do get on the right side of the dogs.

    THE ARTICLES

    1. Remainers' irrational terror of Boris epitomises our toxic new politics: Allister Heath, the Daily Telegraph

    Our national discourse has mutated into a holy war

    What has happened to us, to our politics, to our pragmatism? There was a time when, even after a heated discussion, we could agree to disagree, perhaps after a reconciliatory drink, and part as friends: yet that was before wilful misrepresentation, hysterical catastrophism and ad hominem argumentation became the norm.

    These days, it’s easier to discuss erstwhile taboo subjects such as money, religion or even sex than it is to discuss Brexit or Jeremy Corbyn. People are developing sophisticated political radars to gauge whether an acquaintance is on-side or not before they dare to broach politics.

    Millions are retrenching into their comfort zones: a YouGov poll earlier this year showed that 37 per cent of Remainers would be upset if a close relative married a Brexiteer. The latter remain more open-minded, but both sides are isolating themselves, fuelling a vicious circle whereby misunderstanding builds upon misconception.

    Like in America, our discourse has mutated into a holy war, with two rival theologies pitted against one another, convinced that the other side is not just wrong but also self-evidently morally inferior. It’s a horrendous, civilisation-imperilling regression. We no longer debate: we try to annihilate the other side, destroy our opponents, get them fired from their jobs. We don’t really attempt to convince, either. Our gang can do no harm; theirs can do no right. We are moral; they are immoral. It’s barbaric and it is profoundly illiberal.

    This applies to the battle of Brexit, of course, but also increasingly to all other political issues, from attitudes to crime and punishment to the economy, with the Corbynite machine another driver of polarisation. There are only two tribes, and we all have to be conscripted into one: a simplistic form of Manichaeism is now all but compulsory. There is no third way, no nuance, and no benefit of the doubt.

    The extreme reaction triggered by the possibility that Boris Johnson could become our next prime minister provides a perfect illustration of our descent into post-democratic nihilism. I hope Boris wins, that he assembles a brilliant team and that he delivers Brexit and an economic and political renaissance, against all the odds.

    But to a vocal minority, the prospect of Boris as PM is absolute anathema: they cannot imagine anybody worse. Corbyn may come for their house and assets, but they don’t care: irrationally, it’s Boris, a social liberal who wants to cut their taxes and likes banks, whom they loathe. With anybody else, they would disagree, even furiously; they would wish them to fail and campaign against them. But with Boris, the response is sheer, unmitigated fury: it’s a reaction that transcends the range of usual political emotions.

    It’s not just that they believe he would be incompetent or wrong or misguided or unfocused. It is more akin to an allergic reaction: Toby Young, the journalist, has described this affliction as Boris Derangement Syndrome, itself a condition brought about by Brexit. They cannot see anything good about Boris, and want to believe the absolute worst in him.

    Many believe that he ought, by rights, to be a Remainer: they see him as a class traitor because educated, internationally minded people are not meant to be Brexiteers. They believe that he didn’t tell the truth in the referendum, conveniently forgetting all of the Remain side’s wild exaggerations. Uber-Remainers are also triggered by Boris as a person: he symbolises the amateurish, chaotic, eccentric Brit, pitted against the expert European technocrat. No wonder the idea that he paints red double-decker buses on boxes has pushed so many round the bend.

    Such pathological hatred is merely the logical end-game of a polity in crisis, where trust has evaporated. In a Centre for Policy Studies panel discussion I took part in this week, the US journalist Megan McArdle argued that the crisis befalling our politics is the product of technological upheaval.

    Breakthroughs in telecommunications inevitably trigger social rupture, and often wars and revolutions: the invention of the printing press, mass-market newspapers, the radio, terrestrial TV – which drove protests and dramatic social change in the Sixties – and satellite TV. The internet and social media are testing our remaining structures to destruction.

    There is a lot to be said for this explanation, but it is best combined with another shift that predates Twitter: the emergence of an ultra-emotional, secular righteousness as the main force on the Left, replacing both Marxist-style class war and consensual social-democratic approaches. Old-fashioned socialism at least pretended to be intellectual; its proponents used to claim that conservatives were the emotional ones. The new Left, by contrast, pride themselves as explicitly instinctive, governed by passion and snap moral judgments.

    The seminal works here are the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, as well as his more recent The Coddling of the American Mind. As Haidt points out, there are six main moral intuitions: fairness, justice, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity.

    The Left judge almost everything by the first two, and don’t really realise that there are moral intuitions other than their own, fuelling their anger; the Right by the last four, though they are usually more aware of the first two, which makes them more puzzled than angry. Such self-awareness is a key differentiator between Lefties, conservatives and libertarians.

    The framework can also explain the row over the EU, though in this case both sides are a combination of Left and Right. Brexiteers tend to emphasise liberty – the right of nations to govern themselves. Remainers are sticking up for the authority of the elites and the establishment. Both sides are loyal, but some to the idea of Europe and others to that of the UK.

    Western societies were meant to have evolved beyond such atavistic modes of behaviour: pure reason, rather than gut feeling, was meant to rule the world. It turns out that beneath a veneer of sophistication, we remain as driven by passion as ever. We are judgmental, tribal animals. It’s a humbling, crushing realisation: progress is impossible and civilisation is always on the brink. Whether or not Brexit happens – and I dearly hope that it does – the UK’s political crisis is not about to end any time soon.

    2. The EU will come to regret its economic blackmail of Switzerland: Pieter Cleppe, Open Europe, the Daily Telegraph.

    The Swiss have become mere collateral in the EU’s desire to cow Britain into submission

    While Brexit negotiations have stalled, tensions between the European Union and Switzerland are ramping up.

    Since 2014, Switzerland and the EU have been trying to amalgamate their existing 120 bilateral treaties into a single agreement. Yet the Swiss refused to concede to EU terms without clarification on certain issues; in response the EU now looks likely to cut off Swiss stock exchanges from the Single Market within days in retaliation for their failure to ratify the treaty quickly enough.

    As a leak last week revealed, their reasons for doing so are, quite transparently, to make an example of Switzerland “in what is probably the decisive phase regarding Brexit”, according to the commissioner in charge of the talks. In other words, Switzerland, a member of EFTA and Schengen, a country that has paid billions into the Brussels coffers over decades, and enjoyed a largely amicable trading relationship, has become mere collateral in the EU’s desire to cow Britain into submission.

    But the Swiss are refusing to back down, threatening to retaliate by banning EU stock exchanges from trading Swiss shares. About 30% of trading in Swiss blue-chips takes place in London. Opposition is not only coming from the right-wing populist Swiss People's Party, but also from trade unions. The Swiss Parliament has instructed the government to return to the negotiating table.

    For the EU, these problems date back to the 1980s, and an initiative by then-Commission President Jacques Delors, who inspired the legendary Sun headline “Up Yours Delors!” following one of his clashes with Margaret Thatcher. Delors, keen to design a uniform system to deal with neighbouring “third countries”, proposed to grant them full access to the single market, but only in return for adopting all the EU’s rules and standards. Lack of a veto over these rules inspired Jens Stoltenberg, the PM of Norway, which did adopt this arrangement, to brand his country a “fax democracy”. It didn’t take sovereignty-loving Swiss voters long to figure this out, and they rejected a similar arrangement in a referendum in 1992.

    Back then, the EU respected this outcome and went on to negotiate a package of bilaterals, granting the Swiss selective market access in return for selective rule-taking. Today, however, the EU dismisses this arrangement, which closely resembles the government’s “Chequers plan” for the future EU-UK relationship, as “cherry picking”.

    There are many parallels between Brexit and the EU-Swiss relationship, and in fact the British government should be ramping up coordination with Switzerland, to counter the EU’s attempts to increase its regulatory powers on the back of disrupting business.

    The proposed framework agreement between the EU and Switzerland contains two issues that would be troubling not just for Swiss politicians, but could be rejected in the Swiss public referendum which will follow if their government concedes to the EU terms. First of all, the agreement introduces an arbitration mechanism, with a role for the European Court of Justice, into the Swiss-EU relationship. Until today, that wasn’t the case - all previous disputes were resolved by politicians. The arbitration mechanism anticipated in the framework agreement is effectively the same as that agreed by Theresa May with the EU in November. The Swiss government seems to have conceded on this issue, but whether it will survive its own direct democracy is another question.

    Secondly, the EU favours “dynamic alignment”, which means that the Swiss would be forced to accept updates of the EU rules they have aligned with in return for market access. It is a long-standing EU frustration that this wasn’t negotiated in the 1990s. The reason was of course the deep Swiss attachment to democracy and suspicion of agreeing to accede to EU rules that aren’t properly understood.

    All in all, the Swiss-EU relationship has been so smooth that the EU’s ultimatums and threats to restrict trade look disproportionate and uncharitable in the extreme. Switzerland has contributed billions to EU projects, and granted free movement, so that today almost one in four inhabitants of Switzerland does not have Swiss nationality, 80 per cent of whom are EU citizens. In short, how can the EU treat a friendly neighbour in this way?

    In 2018, eleven EU countries, including Germany and the UK, opposed the EU Commission when it suggested cutting off access for Swiss stock exchanges. Now the Commission is getting its way, ignoring warnings from Business Europe, the confederation of European industry, not to escalate.

    One EU diplomat told the FT that because “we’re not going to treat the Brits any worse than Switzerland”, hinting that failure to punish Switzerland with loss of market access for refusing to bow would be seen as a dangerous precedent. Though Switzerland will likely manage to mitigate the damage through its protective measures, it would signal that the EU is willing to restrict market access when it fails to increase its regulatory control over a trading partner.

    Given the deep seated love of self-government in both Switzerland and the United Kingdom, two of the oldest democracies in the world, self-destructive attempts to hurt trade in a bid to gain more regulatory control will only fail. When faced with a European country that does not seek to belong to the customs union or single market, yet nevertheless enjoys a smooth trading relationship with the bloc, the EU should not abandon the flexibility that has driven prosperity on both sides, over decades. Instead, it should channel some of its past pragmatism in approaching its future relationship with the United Kingdom.

    Wednesday, June 26, 2019

    Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 26.6.19

    Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                      Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
    Spain
    • Surprisingly - to me, at least - Spain doesn't figure in this list of the Top 20 countries as regards 'brand image'. Less surprisingly is that, thanks to Brexit,  the UK has suffered a large fall from 12th to 19th place:-
    Japan =
    Norway +4
    Switzerland -1
    Sweden =
    Finland +8
    Germany -3
    Denmark +2
    Canada -3
    Austria +1
    Luxembourg =
    New Zealand =
    United States -5
    Netherlands +3
    Italy +4
    Australia -7
    UAE +3 [???]
    France =
    Singapore -4
    United Kingdom -7
    South Korea =
    • BUT . . .  The days of Spain playing a bit role in Brussels are finally coming to an end. Madrid has a great opportunity to shape EU politics and policies over the next 5 years.  . . . Madrid is finally learning how to play the EU game. This is especially important now that Spain seems set to become a net contributor to the EU budget. More on this here.
    • Meanwhile . . . . How to deal with the problem half of Spain will have from today . . .  here, here and here.
    UK Politics/Brexit
    • Richard North on the 'plans' of Johnson and Hunt: Neither of these is a serious proposal offered by serious men. They do not take us any further forward and do not deserve to be treated seriously. Nor will they be [by the EU]. Whether leavers or remainers, we deserve better than these cretins, whose delinquent approach to such a vital subject is a colossal betrayal of the nation.
    • The Times: If Tory leadership contenders are serious about crashing out of the EU, they need to be honest with the public about what this would mean for trade. Fat chance, I would have thought. But the Times is slightly more optimistic than me: There are signs that the intensity of the leadership contest may yet bring clarity to a public debate that has until now been shamefully lacking. 
    Social Media/The Way of the World 
    • Offence archaeology, the dark art of online excavation to uncover long-forgotten offensive comments or unorthodox views in order to have a person ‘cancelled’, as the young now call it, is big business.   It’s not just the already-famous who are under scrutiny. Just this week, a grandfather has been sacked from his job in a supermarket for sharing a sketch on Facebook after a colleague complained it was Islamophobic. . . . Regardless of who it is directed at, offence archaeology is an ugly practice. It assumes the worst in people and unscrupulously takes comments out of context.  . . . The demand for social media purity suggests not just that we are intolerant of people who hold different views from ours but that, more significantly, we have swapped intellectual risk taking for the dull security of conformity. It seems we no longer have room for the quirky, the idiosyncratic or the eccentric genius. See the full article below.
    • Useless men: See the second (amusing) article below on the application, in the UK, of new rules on how men and women can be portrayed in ads.
    Spanish
    Finally . . .
    • Half a hat off to this guy . . . At an English fete, a mime artist - swathed head to toe in check cloth - offered a £100 prize if he could be identified correctly. But the self-styled "Mystery Man" literally turned out to be a mystery when he vanished after pocketing an estimated 300 quid in cash. Not a scam you could pull off twice, I imagine
    THE ARTICLES

    1. Our obsession with 'offence archaeology' is robbing young people of a carefree childhood: Joanna Williams, the Daily Telegraph

    Whether directed at sixth-formers or celebrities, scouring online to find offensive views is an ugly practice

    Exams are over and school is – almost – out for summer. But there is no slacking off for anxious teens worried about university places and future careers.

    According to a new report from the LSE, growing numbers of young people would prefer to delete their social media accounts altogether, concerned that someone, at some point in the future, might poke around and find something inappropriate.

    Silly photos, jokes with classmates, hastily expressed opinions and arguments that got out of hand: all must be purged. The risk of public shaming or opportunities being rescinded makes hitting delete imperative.

    Sadly, these teenage fears are not irrational. Offence archaeology, the dark art of online excavation to uncover long-forgotten offensive comments or unorthodox views in order to have a person ‘cancelled’, as the young now call it, is big business.

    Last year, Toby Young was forced to step down from an appointment to the Office for Students following the discovery of his past fondness for tweeting the downright idiotic.

    In Roger Scruton’s case, offence archaeologists similarly trawled through academic papers and published essays in search of phrases that could be used to justify cries of ‘I’m offended!’. After initially holding out against his sacking, the government caved to the naysayers when Scruton's remarks were selectively quoted in a New Statesman interview, removing him from public office shortly afterwards.

    It’s not just the already-famous who are under scrutiny. Academics have been hauled before disciplinary committees to account for social media posts challenging new ways of thinking about gender. Just this week, a grandfather has been sacked from his job in a supermarket for sharing a Billy Connolly sketch on Facebook after a colleague complained it was Islamophobic.

    Regardless of who it is directed at, offence archaeology is an ugly practice. It assumes the worst in people and unscrupulously takes comments out of context.

    One line taken from a conversation or a joke between friends may bear little relation to its intended meaning. Ransacking social media in search of something outrageous allows those pointing the finger to avoid difficult arguments while simultaneously assuming the moral high ground. It’s disreputable and dishonest. So today’s teenagers who have grown up on social media are perhaps right to be concerned about their digital footprint. But their worries are a sad reflection on the state of the adult world.

    Over several decades, grown-ups have colonised and shrunk children’s access to the real world. We impose curfews and restrictions on them, driven by fear of traffic, or predatory paedophiles, or shame at not being thought a sufficiently-diligent parent. Alternatively, we cram our children’s evenings and weekends with supervised playdates and improving activities. The days of kids calling for friends to hang out together in parks or on street corners are largely over.

    The attraction of social media for teenagers is that they can create a space free from adult interference where they can make friends, experiment with who they want to be and share jokes and wacky opinions. Whether on or off-line, it is vital teenagers be allowed this.

    No one emerges into adulthood with a fully-formed range of woke opinions. We all need to be able to take risks, test the boundaries, experiment and make mistakes.

    Unfortunately our censorious and unforgiving culture no longer seems able to tolerate young people’s transgressions. Kyle Kashuv survived last year’s shooting at his school in Parkland, Florida, and went on to win a place at Harvard. Now, following the revelation of racist Facebook posts he made aged 16, Harvard have rescinded their offer. The fact that Kyle says he no longer holds these opinions and regrets making the posts is of no importance.

    Our inability, as adults, to recognise the impetuousness of youth and to forgive mistakes tells young people that they must constantly watch what they say, that they are being socialised into a world where mistakes are no longer permissible.

    Teenagers feeling compelled to delete their social media accounts means we have successfully robbed them of the space to express outlandish, outrageous and perhaps even wicked thoughts. As a result, they are denied the opportunity to gauge the reaction of their peers, modify their views and sometimes change their minds.

    The demand for social media purity suggests not just that we are intolerant of people who hold different views from ours but that, more significantly, we have swapped intellectual risk taking for the dull security of conformity. It seems we no longer have room for the quirky, the idiosyncratic or the eccentric genius.

    Of course, something else entirely may be happening. Being a mother to three teenagers means I am all too familiar with their devious ways. They may well talk, straight-faced, of deleting social media accounts all the while having simply moved to new adult-free platforms with ramped-up privacy settings. At least I hope so.

    2. Don’t ban the Philadelphia ad… dads really are dopey: Allison Pearson, Daily Telegraph.

    I am sad to report that a fundamental human right is under threat. The right, that is, of women to laugh at men and, of course, vice-versa, although there is so much less material because women are always sane and right, aren’t we, ladies?

    An advert for Philadelphia cream cheese that portrays dads as a bit dopey could become the first to be banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) under its new gender stereotype rules. The ad in question shows two first-time fathers who get so distracted by eating cheese that their babies end up on a conveyor belt of Philadelpia on toast. A full 32 complaints have been made about this scandalous and grossly unfair portrayal of male ineptitude. A spokesperson for the ASA says: “Complainants have challenged whether the ads break our new rule banning harmful gender stereotypes by implying that fathers are not capable of caring for babies as well as mothers.”

    Is Dopey Dad really “a harmful gender stereotype”? In which case, I must have made up that incident 18 years ago when I got home from a work trip, the door opened and Himself was standing there holding our baby son, who was contorted into a rather hunched position. On closer inspection, this turned out to be because Daddy had dressed our offspring in one of his big sister’s doll’s outfits.

    “Darling, Tom’s wearing a Baby Annabell outfit,” I said.
    “Is he?” he said amiably. “You know, I thought it was a bit small.”

    Dopey Dad or harmful gender stereotype? Hmm, give me a minute to think about that.

    In the interests of fairness, I asked several friends for their best father-child stories. One said her husband had taken their daughter out for lunch. Just as the little girl announced she needed the loo, daddy’s burger arrived. Given the choice between child safety and food, guess which Daddy chose?

    “Florence went to the loo all by herself and she was only four,” my friend recalls. “When she came out, she took the wrong turn, went up some stairs and wandered into a hen party. Luckily, the bride-to-be managed to track down my husband, who was totally oblivious and still eating his burger. It took me months to forgive him.”

    Such stories are hardly unusual. Prime minister David Cameron, you may recall, left his daughter Nancy in a pub. Another friend tells me that her husband reassured her one evening that their two small sons had already had dinner. At midnight, she was shaken awake by Sam who wailed that he was hungry. “Please can I have dinner, Mum?” Daddy, the child explained, “bought us sandwiches and crisps”, but they got locked in the car.

    I am not saying that men can’t take care of small children. I am saying that, as a rule, men are not used to putting their own needs second, they are quite casual about safety and hygiene and all the stuff women are fanatical about, and if cricket or football are on, they are rendered deaf and blind to anything else, including a dirty nappy or a house fire. Oh, and they have a very poor grasp of what constitutes appropriate clothing. Like Matt, who gave in one morning and let his tantrumming daughter wear a bikini top and tutu skirt to school. Fine, you might think, but not on the day Her Majesty the Queen was making an official visit.

    Matt wouldn’t have clocked that Royal visit, of course. It was on a letter in the book bag. Has a man ever read a letter from school in the book bag? Not on purpose, no. We leave that to Mummy.

    Sorry, you are never going to convince me these are gender stereotypes that can be ironed out of the human condition by banning certain advertisements. This is just how most people are. I notice that the ASA ban covers adverts that depict a man or a woman “failing to achieve a task specifically because of their gender such as a man’s inability to change nappies or a woman’s inability to park a car”.

    Well, I don’t know about you, but my inability to park a car is legendary, a much-loved family joke. Do I think Himself can reverse backwards at speed into a small space while I try the same space five times and then drive away mortified because, on average, the male has far better spatial awareness than the female? Yes, I do actually.

    Not all women are bad parkers, not all men are good ones but, for the most part, the “stereotype” is true. Yet the ASA is forbidding advertisers from using that joke because the shrill demands of identity politics dictate that facts about male and female differences are suppressed to suit a political agenda.

    Look, I’m really glad we’ve come a long way from the adverts of my childhood, when women were still tethered to the twin-tub and a lying voice crooned: “Now hands that do dishes can feel soft as your face with mild green Fairy Liquid.” Today’s TV ads show blokes doing the domestic chores and changing the nappies.

    A big improvement, you might think – and yet, according to the Office for National Statistics, British women still do almost 60% more housework than men, and childcare remains a predominantly female preserve. We have all observed that phenomenon, pointed out in The Second Shift by Arlie Hochschild, whereby a man who does a bit more round the house than the average guy is viewed as “exceptionally helpful”.

    “Oh, isn’t your husband marvellous with the kids?” may well be the most infuriating phrase known to woman.

    I reckon Philadelphia cheese should fight back against the unsmiling ASA and its farcical gender stereotypes rules. Philadelphia’s only crime is to tell the truth about Dopey Dads, and give a lot of overburdened mums a good laugh to boot. In the enduring differences between masculine and feminine is the place where humour resides, and much of the fun of being alive, quite frankly.

    Our obsession with 'offence archaeology' is robbing young people of a carefree childhood

    Whether directed at sixth-formers or celebrities, scouring online to find offensive views is an ugly practice

    Exams are over and school is – almost – out for summer. But there is no slacking off for anxious teens worried about university places and future careers.

    According to a new report from the LSE, growing numbers of young people would prefer to delete their social media accounts altogether, concerned that someone, at some point in the future, might poke around and find something inappropriate.

    Silly photos, jokes with classmates, hastily expressed opinions and arguments that got out of hand: all must be purged. The risk of public shaming or opportunities being rescinded makes hitting delete imperative.

    Sadly, these teenage fears are not irrational. Offence archaeology, the dark art of online excavation to uncover long-forgotten offensive comments or unorthodox views in order to have a person ‘cancelled’, as the young now call it, is big business.

    Last year, Toby Young was forced to step down from an appointment to the Office for Students following the discovery of his past fondness for tweeting the downright idiotic.

    In Roger Scruton’s case, offence archaeologists similarly trawled through academic papers and published essays in search of phrases that could be used to justify cries of ‘I’m offended!’. After initially holding out against his sacking, the government caved to the naysayers when Scruton's remarks were selectively quoted in a New Statesman interview, removing him from public office shortly afterwards.

    It’s not just the already-famous who are under scrutiny. Academics have been hauled before disciplinary committees to account for social media posts challenging new ways of thinking about gender. Just this week, a grandfather has been sacked from his job in a supermarket for sharing a Billy Connolly sketch on Facebook after a colleague complained it was Islamophobic.

    Regardless of who it is directed at, offence archaeology is an ugly practice. It assumes the worst in people and unscrupulously takes comments out of context.

    One line taken from a conversation or a joke between friends may bear little relation to its intended meaning. Ransacking social media in search of something outrageous allows those pointing the finger to avoid difficult arguments while simultaneously assuming the moral high ground. It’s disreputable and dishonest. So today’s teenagers who have grown up on social media are perhaps right to be concerned about their digital footprint. But their worries are a sad reflection on the state of the adult world.

    Over several decades, grown-ups have colonised and shrunk children’s access to the real world. We impose curfews and restrictions on them, driven by fear of traffic, or predatory paedophiles, or shame at not being thought a sufficiently-diligent parent. Alternatively, we cram our children’s evenings and weekends with supervised playdates and improving activities. The days of kids calling for friends to hang out together in parks or on street corners are largely over.

    The attraction of social media for teenagers is that they can create a space free from adult interference where they can make friends, experiment with who they want to be and share jokes and wacky opinions. Whether on or off-line, it is vital teenagers be allowed this.

    No one emerges into adulthood with a fully-formed range of woke opinions. We all need to be able to take risks, test the boundaries, experiment and make mistakes.

    Unfortunately our censorious and unforgiving culture no longer seems able to tolerate young people’s transgressions. Kyle Kashuv survived last year’s shooting at his school in Parkland, Florida, and went on to win a place at Harvard. Now, following the revelation of racist Facebook posts he made aged 16, Harvard have rescinded their offer. The fact that Kyle says he no longer holds these opinions and regrets making the posts is of no importance.

    Our inability, as adults, to recognise the impetuousness of youth and to forgive mistakes tells young people that they must constantly watch what they say, that they are being socialised into a world where mistakes are no longer permissible.

    Teenagers feeling compelled to delete their social media accounts means we have successfully robbed them of the space to express outlandish, outrageous and perhaps even wicked thoughts. As a result, they are denied the opportunity to gauge the reaction of their peers, modify their views and sometimes change their minds.

    The demand for social media purity suggests not just that we are intolerant of people who hold different views from ours but that, more significantly, we have swapped intellectual risk taking for the dull security of conformity. It seems we no longer have room for the quirky, the idiosyncratic or the eccentric genius.

    Of course, something else entirely may be happening. Being a mother to three teenagers means I am all too familiar with their devious ways. They may well talk, straight-faced, of deleting social media accounts all the while having simply moved to new adult-free platforms with ramped-up privacy settings. At least I hope so.

    Tuesday, June 25, 2019

    Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 25.6.19

    Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                      Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
    Spain
    • HT to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for this nugget: El País reveals a surprising genetic study: ‘After 8 centuries of Muslim domination that began and ended in the south of the Iberian Peninsula, one would expect that the genes of Arab and North African origin would have left their mark on the current inhabitants of the south much more than those of the north. However, recent research from the University of Granada has not found the slightest evidence of it. The current Andalusians are so similar to the rest of the Spaniards, and in fact to the rest of Europeans, that a Martian geneticist who knew nothing of history would be unaware of the Arab occupation of the peninsula. My guess is that some folk will find this conclusion controversial. 
    • Galicia is reported to have 2,000 'a-legal' cemeteries. I wonder what on earth that means. Probably nothing to the occupants, who are no longer on earth but in heaven or hell. Maybe. Meanwhile, only a few of the cemeteries have been 'regularised' under a law of 2014.
    • Back in 2010, as a result of the ludicrous construction boom between 2002 and 2008, Galicia had more than 39,000 unsold new houses. This total is now a mere 22,000, after a fall of only 6% in 2018. Around 20 of these are in a row right behind my house. Deteriorating rapidly. I wonder if they'll ever be sold. Meanwhile, they're almost certainly on some bank's books, at a grossly inflated market value.
    • Shoppers' Note: Be careful at the summer sales.
    • Liturgical note: Sunday's procession was, in fact, in honour of the feast of Corpus Christi, not of the feast day of San Juan. The former falls 60 days after Easter (or on the Sunday thereafter) and so is moveable. This year it coincided, on the 23 June, with the feast day of St John, 24 June. Hence my confusion.  
    UK Politics/Brexit
    • Along with numerous articles on Boris Johnson, I've just read an updated biography of the man. To say the least, he's hard to characterise/summarise, being a mix of people as diverse as Churchill and Trump. And both brilliant and stupid. And both principled and unprincipled. As of now, I find it impossible to say whether he could deliver any sort of Brexit other than the hard Brexit which is the default option in the absence of an agreement with the EU.
    • On this, Richard North writes today that Johnson's 'fruit salad of verbiage' delivered in a recent BBC interview contains a proposal which has nil chance of flying. I guess one day we'll know if this is true or not. At the moment, though, the probability is of yet another extension of the UK's departure in October, in the teeth of fierce resistance from M Macron and other EU leaders.
    • For those really interested, there's a couple of perceptive articles on 'BoJo' here (from The New Statesman) and here (from The New Yorker). Both US journals, of course.
    The EU
    • The institution is currently concerned with little but the horse-trading taking place in respect of the successors to various big-wigs. Needless to say, there seems to be some skullduggery taking place. The sort of thing that allowed the hapless Luxemburger, Jean Claude Juncker, to come through as the about-to-depart President of the EU Commission. Mrs Merkel might or might not get her choice for this post. If not, I think we can sure that the head of the European Bank, the ECB, will be German. Possibly the more powerful job.
    Nutters Corner
    • Shyster Jim Bakker: If Donald Trump doesn’t win in 2020, Christians will suddenly die. 
    The USA 
    • Here's how the country's appalling evangelicals will try to prevent this happening.
    Spanish
    Finally . . .
    • As you'll surely know, paracetamol is an analgesic. In the UK, it's sold in supermarkets but only in limited quantities of a small tablet size of 500mg. Here in Spain, it's only available in pharmacies and yesterday I was offered 500, 650 or 1,000mg tablets. I opted for the last of these - in a box of 40 - and wasn't too surprised to see the legend on the box that it should only have been available on prescription . . . 

    Monday, June 24, 2019

    Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 24.6.19

    Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                      Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
    Spain
    • More here on Sr Rivera's attempts to make the Ciudadanos party something it - allegedly - wasn't a couple of years ago - a right-of-centre party that attracts PP party voters.
    • Advice on how to approach the summer sales in the high street.
    • Back in 2006, we had devastating fires throughout southern Galicia and there was much talk of forcing landowners to remove undergrowth in their (particularly eucalyptus) forests. I read yesterday that laws were finally introduced last year and that prosecutions might take place this year. But can things really have been as dilatory as this?
    • There was a religious procession in Pontevedra city yesterday, in honour of San Juan, I think. When it was over, the table next to mine on a bar terrace could have been a parodic scene from the Franco era. Four or five men in blue suits, white shirts, and sunglasses, with greased back hair curling up at the nape. Plus a couple of over-thin and over-tanned women dripping in gold jewellery. For a moment, I felt I was at a mafia convention. Possibly local politicians.
    • Lawyers for the Pamplona rapists - La Manada - say they're considering an appeal against the increase in the jail sentences arising from the conviction for rape at the Supreme Court. I wonder if the same system applies as for motoring fines . . .  If you lose your appeal, the amount goes up. I hope so.
    • The ancient Universitat de Barcelona is reputed to be the best in Spain. Here's The Local on what you need to know about it.
    • Perhaps because rain was expected. many of the traders in Pontevedra's Sunday flea market didn't turn up yesterday. This mean that 75% of what was on offer was tat from the (illegal) gypsy 'traders'. But, anyway, here's a set of large 'candlesticks' that was available from an authorised seller. I can't imagine anyone normal wanting them in their home. But maybe in a casa rural:-


    UK Politics/Brexit
    • I wonder how many Brits are losing the will to live.
    The Way of the World
    • Glastonbury Music Festival: Camp Kerala is the last word in festival glamping* luxury. It sells itself as “the caviar of accommodation” and offers VVIP treatment that verges on parody. Once guests have paid £15,000 for their stay, they can enjoy 24-hour service, chauffeuring around the campsite by golf buggy and the use of a hairdresser and spa with “a comprehensive range of massages and facials”. They can also sample the extensive list of wines, featuring Dom Pérignon Rosé 2003 at £575 a bottle, while enjoying a menu of tempura squid with Szechuan and fennel salt, 35-day aged organic steak and a “power salad” of baby kale, wild garlic and caramelised lemon dressing.
    The USA
    English
    • Just to ensure you're up to speed, from this morning's reading . . .
    1. *Glamping: See here.
    2. Hopepunk: A new optimism movement, in which millennials reject dystopian dramas in favour of feel-good entertainment. See more here.
    3. Guyliner: Click here. Pretty obvious, I guess.
    4. More affordable: Less than ludicrously expensive. As in: Eyewear by luxury fashion house Kenzo for a limited time only. All glasses are priced from €199 for two pairs - making catwalk-inspired designer specs more affordable than ever.
    Finally . . .
    • In the last few days, I've seen several references to a book by Boris Johnson's sister, called The Oxford Myth. The book, not the sister. In it, there's an article by him I'd like to read. The book's not available on Amazon.es but someone is offering a used copy on Amazon.co.uk for a mere £323.99. I think I'll give it a miss.

    Sunday, June 23, 2019

    Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 23.6.19

    Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                      Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
    Spain
    • Midnight Madness anyone?
    • Here and here are complementary - but not complimentary - articles by the estimable Guy Hedgecoe on the leader of the Ciudadanos party, Albert Rivera. [BTW . . .Why is he not Alberto?]
    • As well as establishing a fine international airport in Oporto/Porto that now outclasses and outperforms all of Galicia's 3 'international' facilities, the Portuguese have somehow managed to give incentives to businesses in the north of the country which have persuaded many Galician companies - especially those in the automotive industry - to set up operations there. The Galicians are, naturally, unhappy about this but don't seem to have any ideas on how to reverse the trends,. Possibly because their 'localist' politicians waste too much time and energy being  . . .  well, localist. So, fighting with each other.
    • I see that the articles-which-are-really-ads for a private school in Galicia are labelled Publireportage in the top RH corner. I wonder how many readers notice this.
    • Percebes are goose barnacles. They used to be merely animal food in Galicia until successful marketing for these 'aphrodisiacs' resulted in them selling for as much as €300 a kilo. So the incentive to collect and sell them illegally - by furtivos - is great. One criminal has just been done for using a torpedo propulsor to enable him, it's reported, to travel 6 miles under water. I assume horizontally and not vertically. In this way the was collecting 40 kilos a day of the repulsive things.
    • Galicia's annual deaths are now twice the rate of its births. There can be only one outcome . . .
    UK Politics
    • The Times: Karl Marx observed of successive French revolutions that farce followed tragedy. The danger is that the story of this Conservative leadership and, therefore, the tenancy of No 10 is becoming farce followed by farce.
    Brexit
    • Richard North: Both candidates for the Tory leadership are offering false prospectuses on the flagship policy of Brexit. And, worse than that, they are putting forward scenarios that anyone with the slightest bit of knowledge should know is false.  That suggests one of two things. Either the candidates are so thick that they don't realise what they are offering simply won't fly, or they think we're so stupid that we won't notice.
    The EU

    • France: Investors paying to lend money to France is a sign markets have gone mad. See the first article below.
    • Germany Things are not looking too good for the country's corporate giants. Or some of them, at least. See the second article below.
    The Way of the World 
    • Reader María follows up here on the subject of the selfie zombies. Reading her post,†  I was reminded of the reminder I have on the back of my bedroom door: We are not here to to get all we can out of life but to try to make the lives of others happier. A sentiment expressed by William Osler.
    Shysters/Nutters Corner
    • Jim Bakker: If Donald Trump Doesn’t Win in 2020, Christians Will suddenly die. Bakker makes a fortune from selling longline foodstuffs to gullible Christians awaiting the End Times and/or The Rapture.
    Finally . . .
    1. A dumb phone-bomber . . .

    2. Every time I mistype 'Spain' as Sapin I'm reminded of the claim that the country obtained its name because it was once overrun by rabbits. They say.

    THE ARTICLES

    1. Investors paying to lend money to France is a sign markets have gone mad: Matthew Lynn, the Daily Telegraph

    It has some of the biggest government debts the world has ever seen. It has the highest state spending of any major economy, crippling taxes, chronic unemployment, a fragile political system, and history of defaulting on its debts. And yet, despite all that, the markets have decided to pay for the privilege of lending it money. The country is of course France, which this week for the first time ever saw the yields on its massive debts turn negative.

    But hold on. Surely that is completely crazy. We have grown used to record low bond yields over the last decade, and rates for countries such as Japan, Switzerland and Germany have had a minus sign in front of then for some tine. But they are all at least completely rock solid. France isn’t anywhere close to the same league.

    Every great asset bubble has a point where the market loses touch with any form of rationality. For the bond markets, negative yields on French debt may well be that point – and one day we will look back on it as the peak before the sovereign debt bubble finally burst.

    After a decade of low inflation, and with central banks around the world printing money like crazy, yields on government debt keep on falling and falling. Countries have been able to borrow for virtually nothing for years, and increasingly for less than nothing as well. Once yields turn negative, you lend a state £100, and then five or 10 years later they pay you back slightly less than £100, so long as everything goes to plan that is.

    It isn’t exactly a great deal, to put it mildly, but given that many banks and pension funds have to hold an asset that is a hundred percent safe, and if you expect prices to remain flat or fall slightly over the next few years, then it makes a weird kind of sense. Japanese rates went negative first, followed in the last few years by Switzerland and then Germany.

    The latest signs of deflation, an economic slowdown, and signals of yet more quantitative easing to come from the European Central Bank meant that a few more countries joined the negative yield club this week. Austria and Finland were among them, but the most significant new member was France, which saw the yield on its 10-year debt drop down to -0.0012pc. President Macron may have plenty of problems, but the cost of servicing his country’s debt isn’t one of them – which is just as well really when you pause to consider just how much of the stuff there is out there.

    Up until now, all the countries with negative yields have at least been rock solid, with stable revenues and strong finances. But France? Let’s take a look at a few of the numbers. At the close of 2018, according to calculations by Bloomberg, France’s total debts came to a mighty €2.31 trillion (£2.06 trillion).

    Another €80bn of borrowing is scheduled for this year, mainly as a result of President Macron’s concessions to the gilet jaunes protestors, which means the total will be up to around €2.4 trillion by the end of this year. At that level, it will easily overtake Italy as the fourth most indebted country in the world (the top three, in case you were wondering, are Japan, the US and China, but they all have the significant advantage of being a bit bigger). True, its debts are not quite as big as Italy’s as a percentage of GDP, but they are growing much faster, and they are already close to 100pc of total output.

    Can France ever start to re-pay all that money? There isn’t much sign of it. France hasn’t run a budget surplus since way back in 1974, which is before Macron was born. State spending accounts for an eye-watering 56pc of GDP, the highest in the developed world. According to the OECD, France now collects 46pc of GDP in taxes, overtaking Denmark as the country that squeezes the most money out of its long-suffering citizens. The OECD average is a mere 34pc. Is it possible to get even more revenue out of the economy? The violent response to a modest rise in diesel duty last year suggests not.

    It is not about to grow its way out of trouble either. Unemployment is stuck above 8pc of the workforce, and labour reforms have only made a modest difference so far. The trade deficit keeps getting worse and worse and growth even in a good year struggles to get to 1pc. Perhaps most worrying of all, France owes all that money in a currency it doesn’t control, and can’t print, and most of it is borrowed abroad (unlike Italy, which mostly borrows from its own people). True, it has an okay record on re-paying its debts - it hasn’t defaulted since 1812 – but even so a French sovereign debt crisis seems inevitable one day. It is only a matter of time.

    The really important point, however, is surely this. It was already fairly crazy, and worrying, to have negative yields on Japanese or Swiss debt. It is Alice-through-the-looking-glass economics, and it has never been likely to end well. But at least that debt is almost certainly secure. Investors are not risking anything. Both countries are solvent, and can print money if they have to. A negative yield on French debt is simply irrational. And when the market does something completely bonkers, it is always a sign of a bubble about to burst.

    It may not happen this year, or next year. But it is certain one day.

    2. The demise of Deutschland AG: why Germany's once untouchable giants are gripped in scandal and crisis: Lucy Burton, the Daily Telegraph.

    With VW, Deutsche Bank and Lufthansa in crisis, what has gone wrong with Germany Inc?
    In the home of schadenfreude, misery loves companies. Germany’s once seemingly untouchable national champions – from VW and Deutsche Bank to Bayer and Wirecard – have been gripped by scandal and crisis. Business rivals are asking each other how much worse it can get for Deutschland AG.

    “This is not what ‘Made in Germany’ stands for,’” says one senior German business executive. “There is a sense of embarrassment that some of the country’s few global champions seemed to act ruthlessly, bending the law and incurring legal fines for misbehaviour.”

    It has certainly been a rough period Europe’s powerhouse. Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank, once a symbol of German economic might, is now Europe’s most troubled big bank despite repeated efforts to revive fortunes and move on from past misconduct.

    Described by analysts as “the Punch and Judy clown that keeps getting up again,” it is currently under scrutiny over its links with Donald Trump, is expected to unveil sweeping cuts next month and faces a US investigation for possible money-laundering lapses.

    It is not facing challenges alone. Wolfsburg-based car maker Volkswagen is trying to move on from its 2015 diesel emissions scandal but, alongside its German rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz owner Daimler, it could be hit with further fines by EU regulators over claims they colluded to block the development of clean air technology.

    Then there’s Bavaria-based payments giant Wirecard, which has this year been hit with claims of fraud and accounting irregularities (the company has denied the allegations). And Leverkusen-based Bayer, the German chemical behemoth which acquired Monsanto for $63bn (£49.5bn) last year and now faces thousands of lawsuits over claims that Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup causes cancer.

    Bayer, which has seen its shares plunge since the deal, was the “poster child for consistent value creation by German corporates” and the volatility caused by the legal drama has rocked investors, says Berenberg analyst Sebastian Bray.

    But it is not just scandal-hit firms that are being dragged down. Last month Thyssenkrupp, the German lift company, said it would slash 6,000 jobs after abandoning plans for a merger with Tata Steel. Last week Cologne-based Lufthansa, Europe’s biggest airline, and Munich-based chipmaker Siltronic both issued profit warnings, the former squeezed by competition from low-cost rivals and rising fuel costs, and the latter hit by the US crackdown on exports to China, Germany’s major export destination.

    “The issue for German companies is the over-reliance on exports which is great when global trade works [but] nowadays trade is questioned, the currency doesn’t offer incremental benefits and technological trends move away from German core skills,” says Arndt Ellinghorst, an analyst at Evercore who used to work for Volkswagen. “This drives the need for transformation away from machinery and engineering into software and digital. German labour and education can manage that change but it will take time and likely involve a recession.”

    Others argue that the problem with these companies goes much deeper and reflect a wider problem with business culture in Germany. Michael Huenseler, a fund manager at Assenagon Asset Management in Munich, says the fact that firms in multiple sectors have faced issues shows that “corporate governance has been part of the problem” and the “power of the CEO” is where the difficulty lies.

    One London-based restructuring boss, who asked not to be named, says his company avoids doing work in Germany because there has traditionally been a hierarchical structure where people don’t tend to question management and investors keep quiet.

    “In many classic companies in Germany, hierarchies are very pronounced and the management approaches are often power-oriented. Unfortunately, the management style is often too top-down,” agrees Michael Wolff, a professor at the University of Gottingen.

    “Traditionally, institutional investors have [also] played a subordinate role in assessing the corporate governance structures of German companies. Hardly any pressure was exerted on poorly performing companies and their supervisory boards. Due to the growing importance of institutional investors and their demand for professionalisation of supervisory board work, more systematic pressure is now being exerted.”

    Bayer acquired Monsanto last year and now faces thousands of lawsuits over claims that Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup causes cancer Credit: Jeff Roberson
    Recent shareholder meetings show that investors are finally starting to put their foot down. The 9,000 Frankfurter sausages, 9,000 pretzels and 13,000 slices of cake Deutsche Bank ordered for its nine-hour shareholder meeting last month failed to appease investors, with one shouting “we are faced with a pile of ----” and “if Pope Benedict XVI can resign, why not [Deutsche chairman] Paul Achleitner?”.

    BMW also faced criticism at its recent shareholder meeting, while last week Wirecard was criticised for being “managed like a start-up”. In April, investors delivered Bayer chief executive Werner Baumann and his team an unprecedented vote of no confidence during a marathon, 12-hour meeting.

    “The acquisition of Monsanto was carried out without asking the shareholders. As a result, the majority of investors at the last [AGM] voted against the relief of the management board. This is unique in German economic history,” says Wolff. “The loss of reputation is enormous and the pressure on the board has increased significantly.”

    Deutsche Bank chief executive Christian Sewing is under pressure to revive the business
    Sacha Sadan, who is in charge of corporate governance at Britain’s Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), says he expects scrutiny to grow on German companies in future. LGIM, for example, opposed 36 German companies in 2018 compared to just 19 the year before.

    Germany’s listed businesses are feeling the pressure as foreign investors such as LGIM, which manages around £1 trillion worth of assets, make their demands known.

    The advisory arm of London-based Hermes Investment Management last year called on Deutsche Borse chairman Joachim Faber not to serve his full three-year term, to 2021, months after the German exchange giant faced allegations of insider trading. Faber is stepping down next year.

    Meanwhile, in an eight-page letter published earlier this year, Sadan called on German corporates to hire an “independent counter-power” onto their board and to increase diversity at the top. He also warned that the common practice in Germany of asking a former member of the management board to be chairman of the supervisory board – the country operates a two-tier board structure – creates “an inherent conflict” of interest.

    “You’re seeing an ever-increasing importance of foreign institutional investors in the German market which means that for the first time there’s a more fundamental reflection of where governance should go,” says Joerg Rocholl, president of the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin. “It was unheard of in the past that there could be no approval of the advisory board [in Germany] – this is definitely something that is completely new. I would expect this trend to continue and for investors to take a more active stance than they have done in the past. It will certainly have an impact on management.”

    Some think now is a good time to invest in German businesses. Frédéric Guignard, a fund manager at Aviva Investors which has holdings in German software group SAP and medical conglomerate Fresenius, says there are plenty of opportunities as companies are currently undervalued. “Germany’s economy has historically been more reliant on exports than other European countries, and the country is highly exposed to the automotive, chemicals and industrials sectors. These sectors are currently suffering from the ongoing trade war between the US and China. We think this situation is creating opportunities for patient, long term investors,” he adds.

    Saturday, June 22, 2019

    Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 22.6.19

    Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                      Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
    Spain
    • Spain might have had a general election 2 or 3 weeks ago but there is still no government. This is because the losing right-wing parties - particularly Ciudadanos, I think - are refusing to let the investiture of the PSOE minority administration take place. Though it can only be a question of delay, albeit with the risk of yet another general election, if the impasse is not resolved within 2 months. Hey ho.
    • Important Trial 1: The Supreme Court has unanimously declared the members of the infamous Pamplona manada guilty of rape and not just the lesser crime that a lower court convicted them of 'in the absence of violence'. Sentences have been increased. Any other verdict would have been very hard to justify. Or believe even. Whatever the letter of the current law says.
    • Important Trial 2: Commenting on the trial of Catalan separatist, an organisation called Open Democracy has said: The degree to which the law is used and abused for political purposes in Spain is directly descended from the Franco regime’ This is because the law permits politically motivated 'persons '- in this case the far-right Vox party - to instigate prosecutions.
    • In today's not-so-Catholic Spain. the birth rate has fallen by almost 41% in the last decade. More here on this, from The Local.
    • Also from The Local . . . Everything you need to know about Madrid Pride 2019, the biggest such festival in Europe.
    • I wonder what it means . . . Here in Pontevedra we used to have 4 bullfights during the big August fiesta. First it was reduced to 3 and this year there'll be only 2. But we will have some big names, it seems, for the 12 concerts that'll take place then. Not that I've heard of any of the artists, I must admit.
    UK Politics/Brexit
    • Can there be anyone in the UK who can stand the thought of a month's canvassing by the 2 remaining candidates for leadership of the Conservative party? That said, it's good that they haven't got any critically important matter they should be applying what passes for their intelligence to.
    The Way of the World 
    • After re-visiting the Alhambra in Granada and the Grand Mosque in Córdoba last year, I moaned about the number of visitors being more interested in taking selfies than in looking in awe at what was around them. The writer of the article below feels even more strongly about the aficionados of the practice. Or selfie zombies as he calls them.
    The USA 
    • In this book Mr Facey Romford's Hounds, the 19th century author R S Surtees says of someone: He was a real Trump, no mistake. I gauge this to be a compliment, along the lines of 'outstanding'. Though my kindle only gives the definition relating to a superior suit of cards in bridge. Anyway, it's a shame to see the term so debased, even if it is obsolete. Though I guess one can be outstanding in negative as well as positive ways.
    Spanish
    Finally . . .
    • I like wolves. So I was pleased to read that they have a positive role in the prevention of the spread of TB in cattle. Presumably by eating the sick ones. [I typed TV, which would have been surrealistic . . .]
    THE ARTICLE

    Selfie zombies have made Europe's cities a no-go zone: Oliver Smith, Daily Telegraph.

    Today has even been declared National Selfie Day, Lord help us
    I don’t really enjoy city breaks any more. Since the advent of cheap flights, I’ve gorged on weekends in Venice, Paris and Prague, but now I long for peaceful surroundings: quiet Greek islands and Umbrian villages.

    Perhaps it is a symptom of age. The wrong side of 35, I simply can’t keep up with the pace of urban life. More than that, however, I believe it is because I can no longer bear the sight of so many narcissistic tourists.

    A thousand theses could be written on the scourge of the selfie and the egotistical culture it epitomises. Yet far from being lambasted, some want to celebrate its influence on society – today has even been declared National Selfie Day, for pity’s sake. Precious few places are free from its grip, but nowhere is a person more overwhelmed by the selfie brigade than on a city break.

    Visit a major attraction in any European city and they will be everywhere – gurning, snapping, assessing the results and returning for more. So alarming are their antics that they genuinely detract from the enjoyment of sightseeing.

    Even art galleries are not immune. On a visit to the Uffizi, I couldn’t get close to Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus because the crowds were six deep. But hardly anyone was there to admire the artwork. They were facing in the opposite direction, trying to get the perfect shot of themselves – with Botticelli’s masterpiece poking over their shoulder. Having succeeded, they didn’t pause to actually examine any brushstrokes, but dashed off in search of Primavera, Venus of Urbino, or whichever painting was next on their checklist.

    I just don’t get it. Why would you want your face in every photo, and not a shot of the place you’ve come to see? Better still, why not put the phone down for a moment and try soaking up your setting?

    In search of answers, I sought the opinions of wiser people than myself.

    “I’m always mesmerised by the vanity,” says Sophie Campbell, a Blue Badge guide who’s shown more than her fair share of tourists around London. “I guess I’m from a generation where showing off was swiftly snuffed out, so I’m always embarrassed by these displays: the artfully cocked head and the sucked-in cheeks. When they first arrived, I imagined that selfies would quickly become uncool. But the appetite for them seems undiminished.”

    Taking photos of our holidays is nothing new, she adds – “remember those awful slideshows we had to sit through when people came back from somewhere” – but the focus is now on the person, with the destination merely a backdrop. “It’s social media that’s made the difference, and selfies are an extension of that,” says Sophie. “People seem to be living their lives through the lens of social and they’ve got to look good and do interesting things.”

    Greg Dickinson  @Greg_Dickinson
     'Selfie' was Word of the Year for 2013 and 6 years on it shows no signs of going away, so here's a question. Do we like the selfie? A fun, expressive way of sharing  travel experiences. Or do we loathe the selfie? A symbol of 21st-century self-obsession. Discuss.

    Emma Gregg @Emma_Gregg
    They're a bit like children. If they're ours, we love them unconditionally. If they belong to our favourite people, they're adorable. On the other hand, if they're somebody else's, and they're mucking about, it's a different story...

    To an extent, I can understand this desire to brag, and I am certainly not free from guilt. I enjoy recounting my adventures to friends, and I take photos too – some of which I will share on Instagram. But it’s beautiful places I showcase, not my own ugly mug.

    “It infuriates me too,” says Simon Parker, a regular contributor to Telegraph Travel. “It’s not just selfies, it’s people randomly posing in front of things, as if to prove they were there. I think it all taps into our narcissistic modern age. We are obsessed with our own faces.”

    Is the urge to publish holiday selfies a sign of insecurity, Simon wonders. “Perhaps, subconsciously, we’re hijacking that famous place to make ourselves appear a bit more beautiful, learned, sophisticated or cultured than we really are. By placing yourself, visually, in the context of a recognisable destination, you’re saying: ‘I’m not at work. I’m living my best life. I’m living a more expansive and enjoyable life than you are’.” .

    This desire to brag is clearly strong, and people are willing to take risks for the perfect photo. Recent years have seen dozens of selfie-related deaths in locations including Yosemite and Plitvice Lakes National Park.

    Perhaps I should feel pity, and not irritation, for those who live their lives – and holidays –through the social media prism. I’m able to switch off and breathe in my surroundings, without the need to prove anything. They pick their holiday based on how Instagrammable it is, and can’t go 20 minutes without snapping their own features.

    But I can’t – they are just too annoying.

    Rob Crossan, another contributor to Telegraph Travel, thinks I’m a “po-faced Luddite”. He argues: “What is the one thing everyone always does in a travel selfie? Yep. Smile. Berate the selfie and you’re berating instant, harmless happiness. So lighten up. And stretch out that forearm.”

    As long as it irritates me, and impinges on my enjoyment, I’d question whether it is “harmless” – and if it involves a selfie stick, danger is definitely lurking.

    “Have selfies ruined European cities? I wouldn’t perhaps go that far, but I know selfie sticks are dangerous,” concludes Simon Parker. “Just last week I almost got trampled by a scrum of selfie stick-wielding tourists in Oxford. All of them were walking, with their phones about three feet ahead of them, watching themselves on the screens! Like a real time iPhone movie of themselves. The world has gone mad!”

    And this Luddite has just added Oxford to his list of cities to avoid.