Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 31.7.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spain
  • There's been an odd story unfolding in recent months/years, about an ex-cop used for nefarious purposes over many years by high-level people and organisations in Spain. See here and, in relation to one specific case, here.
  • Lenox Napier reports here on a strange - and not terribly well-received - award down south. He refers to the Spanish custom of 'backslapping'. I suspect he's right that this is a nation-wide thing but I hadn't taken it on board and will now have to look out for it in the (numerous) local papers.
  • Talking of local customs . . . I've reported before on this bizarre event, Specifically, here.
  • As we continue to wait for the AVE high-speed train to Madrid, it's a little depressing to read that the journey time from Galicia to the capital has only been reduced by 2 hours in the last 20 years. Or not at all for the night train. I suspect this is because, although the trains have got better and better, the track remains what it was in the 19th century - unidirectional in many places.
Portugal
  • The tourist boom in Portugal has raised prices for holiday homes in Matosinhos (a little north west of Oporto) to the (very high) level of those of Sanxenxo, the 'Marbella of Galicia'. Which will be good for those who are already quite rich. I didn't know there was a beach in Matosinhos; I thought it was known merely for being close to the airport and a good place to park your car and then get on the metro. But, then, I'm not a beach person:-


  • A recent (Spanish) report said that the Portuguese - a very polite people - are happy to have lots of Spanish folk visit their lovely country but are disturbed by how noisy they are. Who can blame them? In Oporto years ago, I heard just 4 Spanish diners totally dominate the quiet hum of more than 30 Portuguese in the restaurant. 
  • And Portuguese kids don't run around restaurants either. But the people cited in the report were too polite to say this.
The UK
  • It's the summer of the slogan T-shirt. The statement item of the moment is, literally, a statement: a rhetorically inclined T-shirt — its aim perhaps to brag, perhaps to pun, perhaps to make a political, often feminist, statement, perhaps (and this is particularly zeitgeist) all three.
  • I'm reminded of walking through Malasaña a few weeks ago and seeing a chap with a white T-shirt bearing the slogan: I'd like this in black. I suggested to my daughter it'd be better if there were a downwards-pointing arrow below the text. She had the decency to be amused. Even suggested I manufacture it . . . 
Social Media 
  • Dodgy health advice on Facebook is evolution’s way of thinning the herd.
  • As you may already know, but it’s so important that it bears repetition, women have been warned not to try to cool down by putting ice lollies in their vaginas.
The USA
  •  Not for the first time, Fart this week has cited in one one of his tweets a parody site which he thinks is supportive of him.
  • And not for the first time, I'm forced to ask: Can anyone be this stupid?
Spanish
  • That word mentira again . . . A Spanish friend last night confirmed that it can be used to mean an honest mistake. BUT she cautioned against foreigners using this word, as all depended on the context, the relationship between the parties and the tone. In fact, we'd just been arguing about whether there were fewer foreigners in the old quarter this year because, unlike me, they were on the beach. Her point was that, as I was in error out of ignorance (very rare for me . . .), it was legitimate for her, in saying I was wrong, to use the word mentira, even though she knew I wasn't being dishonest. The other thing we agreed on was that Spaniards accuse each other of mentiras far more often than Brits accuse each other of lying. But this possibly has nothing to do with the definitions of the word . . 
  • If the work 'break' in the sentence I cited the other day really does mean what the Brits call an 'estate car' and used to call a 'shooting-brake' - as they seem to -  it's amusing to see that the Spanish have chosen the wrong homonym for this bit of Spanglish.
Finally . . .
  • From the woman who wrote the article about dodgy FB advice: If there’s one thing I’ve learnt after all these years it’s that some people can be really, really stupid. 
  • Pontevedra's flea market last Sunday again seemed to feature a large number of unlicensed gypsy stalls. Some of these were even off the street in which the trading is supposed to take place. I guess there'll be crackdown sometime in the future. After which things will slowly return to what they are now. IGIMSTS. Meanwhile, some fotos:-




Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 30.7.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spain
  • After travelling a lot around Spain, I'm utterly confused by hotel star ratings. So, I wasn't surprised to read yesterday that the situation is chaotic, arising from the fact that each of Spain's 17 regions has its own criteria. The article cited the example of a stunning-looking place somewhere which rates only 1 star, because it doesn't have a lift(elevator).
  • I passed this shop window in Pontevedra yesterday. Down in Toledo, of course, every second shop looks like this:-
  • Odd that the availability of even Samurai swords and huge knives doesn't mean here the sort of knife-crime wave that's afflicting the UK at the moment. Must be other reasons.
  • In my barrio of Poio, they've decided to ban parking just before zebra crossings, to improve the sight lines of drivers. Not before time. The absence of these is an aspect of Spain which has concerned me for some time. But not as much, of course, as the way drivers here negotiate roundabouts . . .
  • The consensus is that we have fewer foreign tourists (guiris) in Pontevedra's old quarter this summer. Perhaps this is connected with the work that's taking place on O Burgo bridge, driving camino 'pilgrims' to use streets outside the quarter when leaving the city. I say 'work' but I've seen no one engaged on this since last Wednesday. Possibly why no one believes the completion date of 'October'.
The UK/The EU/Brexit
  • There's a 3-way stand-off, it says here. Promising.
Social Media/The Way of the World  
  • Below is a post from the blog of reader María. Who'd have predicted that the internet would give a bullhorn to cretins and sociopaths, coarsen political discourse, render politics ever more divisive, allow Russia to interfere in democratic elections, and bring us dozens of new ways to cheat people? Well, not me anyway. But there might just have been someone.
The USA
  • If you're ignorant of how Fart has ridden roughshod not only over the Rule of Law but also over the softer norms and conventions of US administration, click here for an insight. Truly astonishing. And with very long-term implications.
  • Wouldn't you know it, Fart's son is a slum landlord in Baltimore, where "no human being would want to live." Possibly not in one of his places.
Nutters Corner
  • Michelle Bachman says that Fart is 'the most Biblical president ever.' Like a vengeful god, I imagine, rather than like a true Christian.
  • A cartoon made for Jim Bakker:-

Spanish 
  • I've been taken to task for suggesting that the word una mentira can not only (pejoratively) mean 'a lie' but also (non-pejoratively) 'a mistake'. But here's the Royal Academy on it:-
  1. An expression contrary to what is known, thought or felt.
  2. Something which is not true.
In my not-so-humble opinion, the second of these clearly encompasses an innocent mistake. Hence the (frequent?) use of mentira in Spain when there's disagreement without any suggestion of dishonesty.

Finally . . .
  • Yesterday I stumbled on my collection of Punch cartoons from the 1980s. My impression is that they're a lot more cynical and macabre than those of today. And much funnier. But maybe that's more a reflection of my selection criteria than the reality. One example:-

  • One thing's for sure, great cartoonists of that era - Tidy, Haldane, Williams, Albert, Lowry and Ford, for example - took a great deal more care with their sketching than today's lot. A couple of examples, the first being from the incomparable Bill Tidy, with Spanish overtones:-



ARTICLE

Who Said "Advanced Society"?: María, Spanish views from a small town.

Once upon a time, at the advent of the internet, it was thought that having infinite information at our fingertips would make all of us instructed and better informed. We would see information on different subjects discussed in different ways, and we could create our own informed opinions, based on actual information, and not simply speculation or because we accepted verbatim how our brother-in-law explained something.

Um, no. It's turned out that most people only search for information that will confirm their biases. If that information also calls those who opine differently dumb as rocks, even better. When social media, such as Twitter and Facebook showed up, those with cool heads thought it would mean that people of different ideas would share them and learn to live together. Those with cool heads live on a different planet.

A true story follows. 

Jamie belonged to a closed Facebook page that followed the political party she favored. From time to time, she would comment on a post. One day, she posted her opinion on a point in the party's program she differed with. She expected people to agree and others to disagree, both using rational discourse, as she had done.

Rational discourse disappeared with the dinosaurs.

A few people did agree with her, and some that disagreed did use measured language to explain her "error." But the majority called her all sorts of names and intimated that they thought her little better than a slug for even calling into question any aspect of that political party. After about an hour of laughing at some of the comments, she found that she had been blocked from commenting or posting for twenty-four hours.

Given the fact that this political party had always argued against censorship, she found this a bit disquieting. When the ban was up, she posted again, further explaining her thoughts and expressing her belief that censorship was an aspect of the past she had thought would have remained in the past.

The past lives.

Again, there were rational people who agreed and disagreed. Most of those rational speakers also agreed that censorship had no room in that political party. But the majority simply screamed and laughed at her and repeated the name calling. Jamie's intention had been to post her opinion, and after a couple of hours delete herself from the group. She was forstalled by being blocked permanently from it by one of the admins. The admin screamed in a last comment that she had no right to post her opinion on their group, and to go take a hike.

Given that it was a private, closed group that merely followed the political party, and was not an official channel, she understood that there would be people running it that might be excitable and not very open. But she had explained that the point with which she disagreed was just the one point, not the entire platform, which she agreed with in the majority. Yet, the possibility for discourse, for rational discussion which the page had offered, was simply a chimera. Those who ran it and most of those who had joined it, weren't interested in different points of view. They were only interested in propagating their official truth.

My official truth is that people go bonkers whenever they approach a keyboard.

So, instead of promoting rational discourse, social media and internet are probably sowing the next civil war in this country and various others. We've come such a long way as a society, that we're back at the starting point.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain:29.7.19

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

Note: One or 2 of the items below have been borrowed from Lenox Napier's Business Over Tapas. But none today from The Local . . .

Spain
  • Something else that's going in the wrong direction in Spain.
  • Corruption here in Galicia: The telling statistic is that, in the last 10 years, only 7% of the many trials have resulted in a sentence.
  • Talking about Galicia . . . A special treat for you, if you can read Spanish . . . Satirical cartoons from El Jueves on the region and its people, kindly sent to me by a(non-Galician) friend who knows the place very well:-




  • On a wider front, El País has reported that: The law that regulates the activity of ‘high office’ says that its exercise should be based on "transparency and responsibility", but 100 people in high positions are known to have refused to disclose their assets between 2015 and 2018. Draw. your own conclusions. Perhaps the Hacienda will investigate them under the Model 720 law. And perhaps not.
The UK/The Way of the World
  • As police forces prepare for the government’s ambitious recruitment drive, they have identified a formidable new challenge: hiring millennials. The Home Office has been told that rookies have been “wrapped in cotton wool”, are routinely shocked that police are expected to work nights and weekends and “do not like confrontation”. 
  • School counsellors and mental health service providers are bowing to pressures from ‘highly politicised’ transgender groups to affirm children’s beliefs that they were born the wrong sex, a leading expert has warned. Marcus Evans, a psychotherapist and ex-governor of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust said many experts were living in fear of being labelled transphobic, which was having an impact on their objectivity. See the full article below. I have a particular interest in this in that one of my daughters, at 15, decided she was a man in a woman's body. This turned out to be a temporary concern - born of what the psychiatrist said was a normal teenage identity crisis. She is now married with 2 kids. I dread to think what would happen these days.
The USA
  • This is the president of the USA, who is clearly more concerned with one perceived injustice in Sweden than in the appalling shootings that take place in his own country. Of which there was yet another one yesterday:-
- Give A$AP Rocky his FREEDOM. We do so much for Sweden but it doesn’t seem to work the other way around. Sweden should focus on its real crime problem! #FreeRocky
- Very disappointed in Prime Minister Stefan Löfven for being unable to act. Sweden has let our African American Community down in the United States. I watched the tapes of A$AP Rocky, and he was being followed and harassed by troublemakers. Treat Americans fairly! #FreeRocky

Spanish
  • It sometimes happens that I understand every Spanish word in a phrase/sentence and, of course, any English word thrown into it but I don't understand the sense of the phrase/sentence as a whole. As with Los breaks del segmento del mercado de coches . . . In this case the dictionary of the Royal Academy provides the answer, giving these definitions for the Spanglish word un break:-
1. Carruaje abierto, de cuatro ruedas, con pescante elevado y bancos en la parte posterior, que se utilizaba para excursiones.
2. Vagón de tren que se reservaba para personalidades.
3. Automóvil provisto de un amplio espacio trasero para aumentar su capacidad de carga.
So, it means what the Americans call a station wagon and which is/was been called a shooting brake or estate car by Brits.
  • A real Spanish word foxed me yesterday - Hampón. This means 'thug' /'gangster' and is related to Hampa - a gang of such. I wonder what the derivation is. Possibly from French, says the Academy.
Finally
  • There was a strange procession in Pontevedra last week. Silent and composed of c. 20 women and 2 men, all dressed in black and wearing white plastic masks decorated with flower motifs. At the head of the group was a women - in a long white dress, I think - carrying a bunch of flowers. Anyone got any idea? I doubt it was a tribute to Hamlet's Ophelia, pictured here.
ARTICLE

Politicised trans groups put children at risk, says expert. Counsellors and other mental health providers fear being labelled transphobic: Jamie Doward 

School counsellors and mental health service providers are bowing to pressures from ‘highly politicised’ transgender groups to affirm children’s beliefs that they were born the wrong sex, a leading expert has warned.

Marcus Evans, a psychotherapist and ex-governor of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, whose Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) is the only NHS clinic to provide gender counselling and transitioning, said many experts were living in fear of being labelled transphobic, which was having an impact on their objectivity.

“I believe the trans political agenda has encroached on the clinical environment surrounding and within the Gender Identity Development Service,” Evans told the Observer. “Young people need an independent clinical service that has the long-term interests of the patient at heart. To some extent, this requires a capacity to stand up to pressure coming from various sources: from the young person, their family, peer groups, online and social networking pressures and from highly politicised pro-trans groups.”

The number of children referred annually to GIDS has risen from 468 in 2013 to 2,519 in 2018. Some claim social media is a factor in the increase.In a hard-hitting paper, presented at a conference earlier this year and shared with the Observer, Evans quoted the experience of “Dagny”, a woman who identified as a trans man in her teens, has now detransitioned and says she was influenced by views expressed on the social network, Tumblr.

“One of these unhealthy beliefs I held was the belief that if you have gender dysphoria, you must transition,” Dagny has said. “And anyone that appeared to stand in my way was a transphobe – an alt-right bigot.”

Evans resigned as a governor of the trust in February in protest at its response to criticism from a former member of its council of governors, David Bell, who had raised concerns from 10 members of staff.

“They reported inadequate assessments, patients pushed through for early medical interventions and an inability to stand up to pressure from trans lobbies,” Evans said.

A review of Bell’s concerns by the trust did not “identify any immediate issues in relation to patient safety or failings in the overall approach … in responding to the needs of young people.”

Evans said that since his resignation he had become concerned that the debate around transitioning had been shut down by a vocal minority. “The mind that is free to think or ask difficult questions is treated as a real threat; TV producers and journalists continually report that while people are willing to speak in confidence to them about their reservations about treatment in these areas, they shy away from being named, for fear of being accused of being bigoted and transphobic and sometimes either disciplined or even sacked for speaking their mind.”

Since his high-profile resignation, Evans’s concerns have broadened as parents approach him for advice about their children.

“They confirm that a gender-affirmative approach is being adopted by many school counsellors and CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services),” Evans notes.

“These parents all expressed alarm that, after their children suddenly announced they believed they were the wrong sex, practitioners were immediately endorsing the belief that this was the cause of the child’s distress, rather than offering time to explore perhaps long-standing psychological/developmental issues.”

With waiting times for a consultation taking up to two years, some critics accuse the Tavistock of being too slow to meet demand for its services.

But others accuse it of fast-tracking children on to hormone blockers, a pathway to transitioning, a claim the trust rejects. It said that fewer than half of patients who present to it go on to its endocrine (hormone) clinics. Yesterday, the Times reported that the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health has asked its ethics and law advisory committee to look at the ethics surrounding the rapid increase in the use of blockers to treat under 16s who identify as transgender.

In April, it emerged that five clinicians had resigned over concerns that some children had been sent for life-changing medical intervention without a thorough assessment of their options.

Last week BBC Newsnight reported that the trust had data showing that children who took hormone blockers had reported an increase in thoughts of suicide and self-harm.

The trust said the data, involving 44 children, was too small to draw final conclusions. It said the data suggested the positive outcomes were likely to outweigh the negative .

The Newsnight expose followed an open letter posted online by a former clinician at the Leeds branch of GIDS, Dr Kirsty Entwistle, who warned that “traumatic early experiences”, which might be a factor in a young person’s desire to transition, were not being investigated by medical staff out of fear of being labelled transphobic.

In a statement the trust said: “GIDS is a thoughtful and safe service. It cares for young people at a vulnerable time in their lives. Our experience with this group of patients, which is a highly diverse group, indicates that the choice to do nothing is not neutral and may lead to significant harm.

“The service is thorough and systematic in its approach to exploring with the young people and families the best way of dealing with their distress and the implications of different choices.”

It added: “We believe the opinions described are misinformed and based on a limited view, both of the clinical work undertaken within the service and of the experience of young people seeking help from the Gender Identity Development Service.”

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 28.7.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spain
  • Can the PSOE prime minister avoid yet another general election in November? See here on this.
  • Uber has arrived in Galicia. Or in La Coruña at least. We'll have to wait to see whether violent reaction from taxi drivers ensures it never arrives anywhere else in the region.
  • It might be hard to believe but here in the provincial capital of Pontevedra we have no public transport link to Vigo airport. And, as far as I know, never have had. You can either go to Vigo by bus or train and get a bus from there or go by taxi. Perhaps one day by Uber as well.
  • Talking of transport  . . . . by a stroke of negligent genius, our AVE high-speed train link to Madrid is now forecast to come on stream just as RENFE is forced to reduce its prices because of competition from French, German and Italian operators. That said, I fear the latter will actually happen long before the former.
  • The really good news . . . There's now a museum of Galician wines in the town of San Andrés, O Ribeiro. I'll be taking a look at it this week. Click the flag for the language options. If you like to do pointless things . . . .
The UK
  • Boris Johnson: I've read a lot about him and am very aware of both his great strengths and great weaknesses - I've long said, by the way, that these always go together - and, though I have as little idea as anyone else of what will follow in the wake of his election, I'm convinced that both those who see him as a messiah and those who see him as merely an ambitious clown will be disappointed. Beyond that, I cannot say. Like many others, I have my fingers crossed for the UK.
Social Media
  • Reader María has provided an update on her experience in a Podemos FB group: That morning I made the comment, I was later forbidden from commenting for 24 hours. When my time was up, I made another comment, explaining what I thought, and decrying the censorship imposed on me. I was once again called all sorts of things, though a few agreed with me, and said that censorship was a no-no. The very last comment was probably from one of the admins, telling me that I could post my opinion on my own wall, not on their private page. Then, I discovered that I had been summarily blocked from the group, and could no longer see any posts or even find it on Facebook. Why am I reminded of Lenin and Trotsky? 
  • Instagram obsessed millennials ruined my summer holiday - don't let them spoil yours, too. See  the first article below,
The Way of the World 
  • See the nice article below on the woman who demanded legal redress because beauticians declined to shave her orchestra stalls. [I originally typed 'save her orchestra stalls'. Even more graphic.]
The USA
Nutters Corner
  • The evangelical preacher-cum-crooked-End-Times profiteer, Jim Bakker, predicts there'll be mass murders of anyone to the left of Fart if he loses in 2020.
Spanish 
Finally . . .
ARTICLES

Instagram obsessed millennials ruined my summer holiday - don't let them spoil yours, too
Nicole Mowbray

Ah holidays… The joy of sun, sea and social media if my recent break is anything to go by. At the start of July, my husband and I travelled to Santorini for four days. Famed for its stunning sunsets, whitewashed clifftop villages and blue domed churches, we knew it wasn’t exactly an off-the-beaten-track destination. But it would be a relaxing one, we imagined, with good food and wine, and even better hotels – all our boxes ticked.

It’s a popular checklist. Last year, an estimated 2m visitors (not counting another 18,000 who come ashore daily from huge cruise liners) landed on the Greek island, which, at just 30 square miles, is home to 20,000 full-time residents.

Unfortunately for Santorini, however, it feels as if 1.5m of them are visiting purely to take faux-spontaneous photos of themselves. The statistics bear this out: the Greek islands are among the world’s top 10 destinations to post on Instagram – up there with Marrakech, Tulum in Mexico, Amsterdam, Positano and Bali.

And so, rather than unwinding - away from the pressures of modern life - we found ourselves trapped on an island full of Instagrammers, intent on spoiling all that is sacred about the summer holiday in the pursuit of social media ‘likes’.

Laying by our hotel pool was akin to being extras on a photoshoot. We were forced to watch – pictures obviously only being snapped in envy-inducing prime spots, such as the edge of a clifftop infinity pool - as women queued to get in front of the friend or partner they’d corralled into being their photographer.

Things took on a familiarity which was depressing as it was unintentionally hilarious: swimsuit legs were hoiked up, then pulled down and images checked to see which looked better. Photos were taken with hats on and off, staring out to sea in fake contemplation, gazing at the camera, pretending to find something (nothing) hilarious, looking over a shoulder, in the water, sitting on the edge of the water with a drink in hand - before changing one’s swimsuit, adding more make-up and starting again. Then it was time for the friend to repeat the same agonising process. It was all so contrived and self-conscious, not to mention an extraordinary amount of effort.

Forget beach bags, the Instagram crowd are taking full-on camera bags to the pool. Wannabe-influencers appear to travel with collapsible reflectors to create better lighting, tripods, pocket Osmo cameras used for creating high-quality video. Someone even had a laptop on her sunlounger to edit the photos there and then. One fellow guest was told not to swim behind an American woman having her 110th photo taken, as it “disrupted the light on the water”.

For the first day, I can’t deny, I was enthralled by people displaying their vanity so openly. In the days of film cameras (God, I sound ancient - I’m 40), it was potluck whether your pictures came out at all, let alone if you looked half decent. Even if you did manage to get one you loved, only a handful of people would ever see it.

Santorini wasn’t like this the last time I visited, 10 years ago. Of course, it was still heaving – tourists have flocked here for decades. And it would be churlish to suggest many weren’t taking multiple selfies on digital cameras in the Noughties, too. But they weren’t subjecting everyone around them to a relentless public quest for validation.

The problem is magnified in the iconic caldera-view villages of Oia and Imerovigli, where residents have erected signs asking people not to use drones and reminding them that “This is our home”. But with 5.5m Instagram posts tagged to the island, and counting, they have their work cut out. Others have reported seeing similar pleas elsewhere, with farmers in the lavender fields of Provence resorting to putting up banners reading “Please respect our work” to deter the selfie-tourists (it did not).

Then there are the Instagrammers who risk life and limb for likes - a recent example being the hoardes who have flocked to pose at a beautiful, turquoise lake in the Spanish coastal region of Carballo, only to later learn that it is actually a toxic dump; the azure waters the result of a Second World War-era tungsten mine. One Instagram influencer told Spanish news outlet Publico that she had suffered vomiting and a rash for two weeks after bathing in the “Galician Chernobyl” (pictured below).

Look, I use Instagram. My problem isn’t with the platform itself. It is the fact that - as Men’s Editor of Conde Nast Traveller, David Annand, puts it: “We’ve turned the camera around, focusing not out, but in. Photography no longer encourages seeing; it simply encourages projecting, turning the world’s great vistas into mere backdrops for the self.” And when so many people visit the same place to take a picture of the same church, the same cobbled street, the same infinity pool… are they really experiencing it?

To be honest, I wouldn’t care if it didn’t effect other people’s experiences. Witness the crowds blindly walking (some even jogging along a narrow clifftop hiking path with no barriers), holding their phones in front of their faces, angrily colliding with whoever dares to get in their way. Endure the supposedly romantic dinner, ruined by the couple on the table next door wrestling with a miniature tripod in order to film themselves eating their - by now stone cold - food. At a candlelit restaurant one night, my husband and I looked around the dozen tables hosting our fellow diners to find all but two occupied by couples with both their faces lit-up by their phones as they scrolled, mindlessly, looking at other people’s lives. So much for enjoying the moment.

A friend who lives in Florence described to me the boredom of watching an endless stream of people lining up to take photos sat on the wall of the Ponte Vecchio. “I frequently see people stopping others from taking pictures or asking people to move so they can get an image just so,” he says. “People have always taken pictures, but not hundreds spending 15 minutes in the one spot. It’s not about the view, it’s about them”.

Another pal tells me she and her mother spent a recent visit to the Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech dodging selfie sticks, camera tripod set-ups and people dressed in their YSL-inspired finery posing on raised flowerbeds. Many had brought changes of clothes; the loo was doubling as a makeshift changing room.

Beautiful places like these, and Santorini, are victims of their own success – something that hasn’t escaped the notice of mayor Nikos Zorzos who last year claimed to be concerned about the tourism on his island. While it is one of Greece’s few economic success stories, he told a broadsheet newspaper that he was concerned: “We have reached saturation point. The pressure is too much.”

It doesn’t seem to be a concern for those selling the dream - caldera-view rooms on the island can cost several thousand pounds per night. We saw acrylic Instagram plinths in hotel receptions asking guests to take pictures and upload them, using the hotel’s hashtag  and offering a charging point should they - horror of horrors! - run out of battery. Our taxi driver told us Instagram was the best thing that had happened in decades. “The last time we got so much free publicity was the Amorgos earthquake of 1956, which made Santorini international news for a bad reason,” he said. “This is a way of us showing our beauty and redressing the balance.”

There is no doubt Instagram is a powerful marketing tool – according to travel company Topdeck, 18% of 18-30-year-olds book holidays directly based on posts. But how many would go back to somewhere they’ve already ‘grammed? And how many of us - having  spent several days dodging narcissists taking photographs of themselves - would return?

My husband thinks he has the solution: “Next time darling,” he says, “we’ll just go to Hull in January”.

The Top 10 Instagrammable places to holiday

Travel account @earth has compiled a list of Instagram influencers’ favourite holiday destinations, which are sure to be flooding your feed this summer.

1. Tulum, Mexico

Take a selfie among the historic ruins. Like everyone else.

2. Amsterdam

The canals are helpfully framed with colourful townhouses for pretty snaps. Thanks Holland.

3. The Greek Islands

The obscenely blue waters are even more striking next to the white buildings: made for the Lark filter, right?

4. Mexico City

Two Insta posts for the price of one in a city with both Mayan temples and Spanish baroque cathedrals.

5. The Maldives

Even if you’ve never been there, you know exactly what those over-water villas look like by now.

6. The Algarve

If you angle the camera just right you can make it look like you’re the only people on that “hidden” Portuguese cove beach.

7. Marrakech 

What could be more photogenic than the bowls of spices and sparkling slippers in a Moroccan souk?

8. Positano

This Italian town clinging to the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast is the perfect selfie background.

9. Cappadocia

A Turkish landscape of “fairy tower” rock formations - the most popular place in the world for hot air ballooning.

10. Bali


2. When a trans woman is refused a Brazilian wax, the issue isn’t human rights. It’s balls​: ​Camilla Long​, the Times

When I was at university, one of my tutors was trans. We knew she was trans because we’d heard she might appear in a skirt and/or earrings. Indeed, for my first tutorial she was wearing both. I remember thinking, “Oh look! Bloke with earrings!”, but then everything was so relaxed and normal. She didn’t make a fuss or draw any attention to it. When she later contemplated a full sex change, she told the tabloids: “It’s no big deal.”

No shrieking or posturing or demanding people accept “her#truth”. No thundering into the women’s changing rooms at the local swimming pool and shouting that this was the only place she’d get changed or she’d sue. No insisting people called her a “proud lesbian” or whatever label she’d dreamt up that morning. She was a trans woman, that was it. She just wanted to get on with her life teaching Aristophanes. End credits.

I was always struck by the calm and, indeed, womanly way in which she must have endured all the awful insults, the people openly criticising her figure, her looks, her inability to walk in high heels. It must have been a fitting initiation into the appalling business of being female, this constant close examination of everything she wore and everything she did, her mannerisms, her fashion decisions, the slightest of errors picked over and laughed at.

Why anyone would want to sign up to the painful pinching tyranny of female footwear or the sly horrors of “realistic” make-up is beyond me, but she did and now, two decades later, she is a brilliant professor at a major university.

I often think about her when I read about the cacophonous, illiberal outrages perpetrated by the provisional wing of the trans lobby — people such as the horrifying Canadian trans woman Jessica Yaniv, whose grim behaviour is a grotesque betrayal of her long-suffering sisters. Yaniv has most recently complained to the human rights tribunal in British Columbia because a series of female beauticians had refused to wax her testicles. You’d have thought her complaints, 16 in all, might have been immediately thrown out. No one has a right to walk into a beautician’s salon or, in some cases, her own home and say it’s the law that she touch their bollocks. But apparently Yaniv believes it is her human right to receive this service. It is her human right to be recognised as a woman. It is her right to receive Brazilians from the hands of poor, frightened immigrant women. If they refuse, they are transphobes. If they say no, they deserve to lose their livelihoods, as one beautician has done.

I’d like to say it puts us in the peculiar situation of arguing which is more of a human right: the right of a man-born woman to be recognised as a woman, or the right of a woman-born woman not to have to touch someone’s testicles. But I won’t, because it doesn’t. What it puts us in the position of is having to hold a serious discussion about waxing balls.

Really? How does this even get the air time? Why doesn’t someone just say, sorry, waxing bollocks is simply below our pay grade, off you run and stop harassing women? Stop pretending this is a serious grievance, stop screaming that you feel violated or degendered or whatever it is you don’t feel, because what you’re engaging in is the dismal grey slurp of bog-standard misogyny.

What you’re doing is trying to humiliate women for being women while requesting they satisfy your disgusting fantasies. Because this isn’t about gender or sexuality, it is about male aggression. It is almost as if these activists don’t think they’re making progress unless a woman has been publicly attacked or lost her job. No woman would storm into a salon and demand that someone give a certain type of wax. So why should people be allowed to claim they are women while behaving like men?

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 27.7.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.                  
                                                                                                    Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spain
  • Says a columnist on The Corner, Spain's political instability at home is continuing to undermine her influence abroad, specifically in Brussels. Click here for this.
  • I neglected to point out yesterday that youth unemployment in Spain is very much higher than the overall rate of 14%. In fact, I read yesterday morning that the great majority of young people who return from the UK immediately go back there when they realise that what jobs they can get now pay less than half that what they did when they left in the first place. This, of course, is the result of EU imposed 'internal devaluation' on Spain after the ludicrous construction-driven boom. An entire generation is paying the price for massive greed and corruption.
  • As long expected, a proportion of holidaymakers are now abandoning Spain for the (cheaper) places they used to choose before terrorist activities put these out of bounds. See here on this.
  • Outside my window, the rain is falling from a solid blanket of grey cloud. It doesn't look like the weekend of Operación Salida, when millions of Spaniards take to the road for their annual holiday destinations. Anyway, if you're among this number, here's The Local's advice for you.
  • As I've said, there are at least 39 caminos de Santiago and this year will see in excess of 350,000 'pilgrims' wending their way to the (not really) bones of St James/Iago. A Spanish camino site has provided the list below of categories. They stress it's just a bit of fun but I fear that, in these times of hyper-sensitivity, one of the categories could be considered 'racist'. BTW,  I've only slightly modified Google's translation of the original text. Don't blame me of its idiosycracies . . .
  • Living in Spain and worried about the impact of Brexit? Here's some advice from the British Ambassador: Whether we leave the EU with or without a deal it is vital that you and your friends and family out here living in Spain are properly registered as residents. This gentleman will be holding a Facebook live Q&A on the issue on Tuesday July 30th at 4pm Spanish time on the Brits in Spain Facebook page. 
  • The usual - and believed to be very wrong - official number of Brits resident in Spain is around  300,000. But this only reflects the numbers who've registered with their town hall. Which not everyone does. So, it'll be interesting to see how high the number goes after worried Brits have flocked to the town halls to do what they should have done years ago. 
  • Modelo 720 is shorthand for an infamous 2012 law re the overseas assets of residents in Spain. As of now, it's been declared prima facie illegal by the EU Commission, not per se but in respect of the humungous fines it imposes. When I first came up against it 5 or more years ago, even (expensive) consultants couldn't give me a reliable interpretation of its implementation. And they laughed at my suggestion they ask one or more inspectors from the Hacienda. The main reason was that they felt there'd be as many opinions as the number of inspectors they asked. Another reason was that there was, as yet, no 'case law'. Since then we've had the case of one man fined an amount higher than the total of his assets and this week we've had the case of a young man who was given some money by his father in Italy which the Hacienda arbitralily decided was 'black money' and then did the same thing - fined him more than the money he'd received. Fortunately, a Spanish court has declared this illegal. But the truth is we still remain in ignorance of the application of this law. A major reason is that the Spanish government has failed to respond to the EU Commission demand for a response to its initial verdict on the law within a period of 2 months. And that was over 2 years ago. Life can be rather unclear and arbitrary here. Not surprisingly, it's been reported several times that thousand of Brits have quit Spain since 2012, to avoid any risks to their assets back in the UK. This, of course, has had an (unquantifiable) negative impact on the official number of 300,000 British residents.
Social Media 
  • I reported yesterday someone's comment that social media had coarsened dialogue between us. Here's a case in point - reader María's experience after she'd made a FB comment similar to mine that the 'far left' Podemos party was cutting its own throat and increasing the chance that the far right Vox party would be part of the national government after the possible elections next November:-  Ah, social media. I am, politically, to the left of the PSOE, and have voted for Podemos. I also belong to a closed Facebook page of Podemos voters. Today, I posted that, for the good of the country, and to avoid fall elections where Podemos might very well disappear, and the right dramatically rise, that Podemos should take what is offered them and do the best job possible with it.  I've been called a "facha", "errejonista", "perdedora" and countless other labels in the course of the morning. No wonder this country is going to the Vox dogs. Sad. And worrying.
The Way of the World 
  • Footballer Gareth Bale, unwanted at Real Madrid, might well move to China for a wage of GBP1 million a week. At least insane, if not obscene.
The USA
  • The Scots, the Welsh and the Northern Irish may well complain that foreigners use England when they really mean Great Britain or the UK. Just as Brits use Holland when they should say The Netherlands. Anyway, in an address yesterday, that stable genius, Mr Trump, gave the lie to this, when he said that 'England' was a rarely heard word and that Americans should know it was part of the UK. But perhaps he's right as regards US practice. And levels of ignorance. I guess it's quite possible that Fart has only just learnt this himself. As with the 'Who'd have thought it?' complexity of the healthcare system.
Spanish 
  • Word of the Day: Hoja
Finally . . .
  • Dutch folk are famous for their ability to speak excellent English. In contrast, the English are not so famous for speaking Dutch. Possibly because of the rather guttural sound in, for example, Schiphol. A Dutch friend once gave me a word which contained this sound thrice - achtentachtig. Or '88'. And 2 Dutch visitors this week gave me the challenging - but unlikely - phrase Allemachtig prachtig achtentachtig - 'Very beautiful/great 88'. You can hear it here if you click on the little loudspeaker symbol on the left. Good luck with reproducing it. I'll be eternally grateful to the Dutch for the fact that I'll never have to try.
ARTICLE

What types of pilgrims exist on the Camino de Santiago?

(Remember that this is simply an ironic list and should not be taken at face value)

Of course we are all different and we are looking for different goals in the Jacobean route, although nobody can deny that some features unite us as pilgrims. That is why we
 started thinking and we came up with this list, partly in a joke, in a certain way, to "pigeonhole" and label the different types of walkers we are going to meet.

These types of pilgrims often mix; They are not closed at all. From your pilgrimage experience, can you think of other types? Share them with us in the comments.

Newcomer pilgrim
We have all been rookie pilgrims once, arriving on the Camino de Santiago with many doubts, but we have come forward in one way or another, with the help of more veteran pilgrims and with open eyes and ears. When we go through it for the first time, we usually carry in our backpack more than we need, footwear plays tricks on us and it is not difficult to avoid blisters. The uncertainty that accompanies us when we leave the door of the house with the backpack behind us becomes joyful when we reach the Plaza de Obradoiro (and sadness when it comes to return).

Veteran pilgrim
The veteran pilgrim is a man toughened by a thousand battles, who know the Camino de Santiago as the palm of his hand, every year he tries to try new alternative routes and usually runs away from the massages of the French Way. He is always willing to help newbies and always end up sharing his best anecdotes and when he finishes the Road he is already thinking when the next one can begin. It has been a long time since they depended on friends or family to embark on the adventure; Doing it on your own is no problem, you always find company on the Camino when you need it.

Adventurous pilgrim
The adventurous pilgrim faces the Camino de Santiago as a new challenge to add to their experiences; usually lacks religious motivations to do so, simply looks for destinations in which to practice sport in the middle of nature and stay fit (and the Camino is perfect for it). As the veteran pilgrim, he is not afraid to discover and travel alternative routes such as the Northern Way or the Primitive Way, he even looks for them. He is not a friend of the pilgrim crowds and does not mind giving up comfort. Take the necessary equipment to travel the Camino de Santiago, but [sic]

Futuristic Pilgrim. [Geoff?😀]
This type of pilgrim is characterized by always having the latest in terms of equipment, with the best trekking shoes on the market, the essential activity bracelet and a Go-Pro adventure camera on the chest to record everything on video. He is more aware of his smartphone, checking his pace at each stage, than enjoying the landscape in front of him. Shares daily on social networks his way through the Camino de Santiago without being able to disconnect digitally. Like the turigrino or the rookie pilgrim, the weight of his backpack ends up taking its toll.

Turigrino
The turigrino is one of the types of pilgrim who has flourished the most on the Camino de Santiago in the last 10 years. In their environment, many family and friends have told him how much fun they have had on the Camino, which has become fashionable, so they want to see it with their own eyes, but without giving up a comfortable holiday. They are simply passing through and are not interested in the spirit of the pilgrim or the camaraderie among walkers. They usually spend very few days in walking, relying on backpack transport services (if they do not carry a trolley directly) and at the time of resting they prefer to opt for hostels and hotels.

Religious Pilgrim
Being a pilgrim with religious motivations is not incompatible with being a veteran or debuting pilgrim. These pilgrims understand the pilgrimage in the same way as the walkers of centuries ago; They seek to complete a spiritual journey and arrive at the Cathedral of Santiago to pay their respects to the Apostle. Given the boom of the Camino de Santiago among the general public - who simply seek an experience - they increasingly represent a smaller percentage of the total. They live the Way embracing all their symbols, such as the scallop shell, the staff or the pilgrim hat and find on the Jacobean route a spiritual and religious context that is increasingly difficult to see in their day to day.

Asian pilgrim
The eastern pilgrim, who comes mainly from South Korea (although many other eastern countries provide walkers), is a kind of visitor who has appeared on the Camino in the last decade. The boom of the Camino de Santiago has also reached South Korea and pushes thousands of walkers every year to travel half the world to reach to Spain. They usually travel it in winter or spring (coinciding with their vacation time) and are usually open and friendly with the rest of the pilgrims. Although many South Korean pilgrims are Christians, the main motivation to travel the Camino is the search for adventure and disconnection from routine.

Bicigrino
Bicigrino is how pilgrims who advance by bicycle are popularly known*. They travel a greater distance in each stage than the pilgrims on foot, so for them it is a perfect way to get to know many places in the north of the peninsula, although going through some stages mounted by bike is very hard. They are sports enthusiasts, they do not carry a backpack on their backs - all their luggage is well distributed in their saddlebags - and they are very well prepared for the unforeseen, with a set of tools and tent, in case they run out of place in the public hostels (where walking pilgrims have priority).

* Not by me. I prefer 'inconsiderate bastards'.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 26.719

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spain
  • So, the PSOE prime minister has failed again to get support for his investiture, and the 'far left' Podemos has increased the chances of a right wing government after a possible/probable general election in November. The 4th in 4 years. IGIMSTS.
  • Unemployment in Spain continues to fall but is still high, at 14%. Or 14.02%, to be ludicrously precise.
  • The Daily Telegraph has an article this week - see here, if you can get past the paywall - on Galicia. The headline and opening paragraphs:- 
The spectacular Spanish region that the British haven't discovered

Galicia is one of those places where people live very well indeed but don’t really feel the need to shout about it – which might explain why, despite being a popular holiday destination for Spaniards, relatively few Britons make it there.
    In the northwest corner of the country, bordered on two sides by the Atlantic and separated from Portugal by the Miño river, it is roughly the size of Belgium – about 180 miles from north to south. Galicia looks more like Cornwall, Wales or Ireland than other parts of Spain and shares with them a strong regional identity, with its own language and a Celtic heritage. 

    The last bit is nonsense, of course, but the basic thrust is accurate. Sadly.
    • Anyway, It's the fiesta season in Pontevedra, which this week centres on the 27th annual Jazz and Blues festival. We have brochures for all the summer events and, separately, for this week's music festival. These used to be in both Spanish and Galician but now they're only in the latter. Perhaps reflecting the fact that the Galician Nationalist Block (BNG) runs the Town Hall. Interestingly, in my barrio of Poio, across the river, the equivalent brochure is still in both official languages. It's also noteworthy that all the brochures are rather less glossy than in earlier years. La Crisis finally seems to have caught up with them. 
    The UK/Brexit
    • Richard North - an ardent but knowledgable and realistic Brexiteer - takes aim at Boris Johnson and his pro-Brexit cabinet here, pulling no punches. 
    The EU 
    • Europe can’t stop laughing at Boris Johnson, it says here. Which might be a tad short-sighted if he's not really just the clown he often affects to be.
    • Meanwhile . . .
    1. The German economy is in free fall, claims Ambrose Evans Pritchard.
    2. Said AEP gives advice to BJ on how to deal with the EU. See the first Article below.
    Social Media 
    • Social media has coarsened our minds in ways that were predicted long ago, says James Marriott in the second article below.
    The USA
    • In the Age of Trump, we are living on a planet of the surreal, says 75 year old Tom Engelhardt 
    • The reason might be that, as claimed by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, the world is run by ignoramuses, wackos and psychotics. Probably a reasonable view if you live in the USA. See here on this.
    Spanish 
    Finally . . .
    • A UK TV ad today reminded me of this 80s hit. And compelled me to seek further examples of the group's talents, here (start at minute 2.47) and here. Nice.
    ARTICLES

    1. My advice to comrade Boris: never, ever try to bluff the EU: Ambrose Evans Pritchard.

    Boris Johnson first entered my consciousness at an excruciating dinner just before the EU’s Maastricht summit in late 1991. It was a revealing little episode in the march of Anglo-European history. He had come over from Brussels after causing weeks of grief for Downing Street with a volleys of journalistic dynamite. I was writing leaders on Europe at Telegraph HQ.

    We were to meet the embattled Prime Minister John Major for peace talks at Brooks’s, the 18th Century Whig club on Pall Mall, and the haunt of then Telegraph editor Max Hastings. The fifth man at the diner à cinq was Charles Moore. Mr Major - as he then was - aimed to persuade us that he was not going to sign away the pound and lock Britain into a European proto-state. But his pitch was shockingly off colour. He swore profusely in a faux tirade of nationalism, cursing the amiable German Chancellor as “that bastard”.  The Prime Minister would never yield to Johnny Foreigner. He banged the table so hard that the glasses almost crashed to the floor. As we left Boris shook his head in astonishment. “That was a disgraceful spectacle,” he said.

    John Major did resist Europe weeks later at Maastricht,  “game, set and match” in his tennis parlance. What he did not understand - but a younger Jean-Claude Juncker grasped at once - is that by keeping Britain out of the great federalising project of monetary union he set the long fuse on Brexit.

    Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s first Brexit negotiator, told Parliament this month that Maastricht necessarily created an unstable equilibrium. A non-euro outsider would be in constant tension with an enterprise subject to monetary union's integration logic. This could not endure.

    Sir Ivan told colleagues as early as 2006 that British withdrawal was coming. The rupture could have happened over the Lisbon Treaty - midwife of a European supreme court - or again over the Fiscal Compact. It does not really matter what finally precipitated Brexit. A bust-up was in the Aristotelean nature of things.

    I later took over Boris’s old job in Brussels. He asked me to write occasional snapshots from EU ground zero for the Spectator. At no time during those years did I ever detect any deviation from his core view that the EU was amassing unhealthy powers.  He liked to joke that one day units of EU-badged border troops would be deployed to "help" smaller EU states that strayed from the righteous course. As indeed they surely will. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia know how such forces work.  He shared my view entirely that the EU was creating an upper layer of executive government beyond accountability, with a Caesaropapist structure at odds with British democratic self-rule.

    Eight years as Mayor of London may have softened this but it came as no surprise to me when he embraced Brexit after months of soul-searching and agony, well aware that polls deemed it a forlorn political cause. Nor did it shock me that he drew up two versions - for and against - to thrash out the arguments before he jumped. I did much the same myself. The salon view that Boris latched onto Brexit out of pure opportunism is glib to the point of absurdity.

    So my advice to Boris after so many years in the trenches together is: never, ever try to bluff the EU. Your own bluff will be called with interest. That way lies abject capitulation and the pitiful fate of Syriza in Greece.  Alex Tsipras tried to have his cake and eat it. He gained power on a campaign to tear up the EU-IMF Troika "memorandum" and end austerity, while also telling the Greek people that they could keep the euro.  The European Central Bank slowly reeled him in. It cut off liquidity - critics say illegally - to private Greek banks that had done nothing wrong. When the cash machines were down to €40 and financial collapse was days away he bottled it. He could not bring himself to back the parallel currency of Yanis Varoufakis and ejection from the euro. Tsipras crawled back to Brussels and swallowed terms even harsher than the original Troika diktat.

    The EU does not have the same hold over British banks but it has other ways to ratchet up the pressure. The lesson of the last decade is that the EU's soft empire institutions have become very powerful and are no longer all that soft, usually deploying the ECB as enforcer.

    Frankfurt gave secret orders to an elected Italian government to carry out sensitive labour and fiscal reforms in 2011, and then forced it from office via a rollover crisis in the bond markets. There was no whisper of protest from the EU’s missionary press corps or Euro-MPs over this unconstitutional abuse. But that is the point. Nothing restrains the machine.

    A regime can of course be both powerful and brittle. Such was the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Hands of steel, feet of clay. Monetary union remains fundamentally dysfunctional. The German-Italian gap has not closed. The currency bloc already has one foot in a Japanese deflation trap.

    Interest rates are minus 0.4% even before the next global downturn starts in earnest. Fiscal policy is paralysed by the apparatus of institutionalised Hooverism. It is a ghastly financial accident waiting to happen. Or as euro-founder Otmar Issing says wearily: “One day the whole house of cards will come tumbling down”.

    You might say that the EU should think twice before risking a no-deal Brexit that could crystalise such a denouement. But it would be an error for Boris to weigh that too heavily in his calculus. Euro politicians were not alert to their own vulnerability in 2008 and they are not alert now.

    Should Boris persist in threatening no-deal after entering Downing Street, he must mean it. He must be willing to embark on a radical strategic shift, shelving all thought of an EU accord while the country switches focus to a fast-track trade deal instead with the US. From this there would be no coming back. Such a course might be a positive shock of Schumpeterian creative destruction for the British economy - indeed, I think it would be -  but the destruction would come first.

    It is possible that the EU elites would offer Brexit concessions worth the name if faced with concrete evidence of this fateful pivot, and if they concluded that their most lucrative market (a £95bn surplus) and their biggest defence player was going to absorbed into the American orbit permanently. That would be to ‘lose’ the UK a second time. But they will not be swayed by “do or die” bluster, or talk of withholding the £39bn alimony fee, or tabloid threats.

    If Boris has no stomach for such a storm, he should tack the other way and play the "Nixon in China" card. He should present himself to Berlin and Paris as the authentic Brexiteer who can deliver the ERG hold-outs where Theresa May failed, so long as the EU gives him a surgical change to the Irish backstop. He should then smile and play for time until the Europe's internal contradictions come back to the fore.

    What he must not do is to oscillate between defiance and submission, pleasing no-one in the hapless manner of Mrs May. Pick one or the other, comrade. 2. How social media has coarsened our minds: James Marriott

    2. A book about the perils of TV written 34 years ago is scarily prescient of the age we live in

    Few writers are prophetic. An American media studies professor called Neil Postman was. In 1985 he published Amusing Ourselves to Death, a polemic that warned society was becoming trivialised by its addiction to electronic media. Postman died in 2003 and never lived to see how prescient his book would become.

    Try this: “When a population becomes distracted by media, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversations become a form of baby talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then the nation finds itself at risk. Culture death is a clear possibility . . . ”

    Postman’s principal target was television but I reckon those words are more relevant now in the age of Twitter and YouTube.

    His great insight was that the way we entertain ourselves matters. Entertainment shapes society, it shapes our public debates, it shapes how we think. When our media changes, society changes. The first Book of Kings, the product of a largely oral culture, praises Solomon for having memorised 3,000 proverbs. After the discovery of writing our conception of intelligence changed — memory mattered a lot less. Nobody nowadays would say of an acquaintance, “He’s a really smart guy, memorised an absolute tonne of proverbs.” (This counts as progress.)

    Postman thought television was a “cultural revolution” to match the advent of the alphabet. The same can be said of social media.

    Until recently, our culture was shaped by books. The 19th-century French historian Alexis de Tocqueville noticed that when Americans got into political rows they argued “in dissertation” — that is they made lengthy and curiously impersonal speeches at each other. In a culture dominated by print, people spoke like books (it’s part of the reason why characters in Victorian novels speak in long, complex paragraphs that seem unrealistic to us). In the 19th century, an opinion, however erroneous, was likely to look like something you might find in a book: reasoned and supported by evidence.

    Postman argued that television favoured glibness and appearance over intellectual substance, changing the very nature of opinions. “It is probably more accurate to call [those opinions] emotions rather than opinions,” he wrote. That rings even truer today than it did in 1985. An opinion formed on the basis of reading an outraged tweet is qualitatively different from one formed on the basis of a long newspaper article or a book: you’ve formed an emotion not an opinion.

    We’re familiar with the idea that apps such as Facebook and Twitter have been engineered to trigger our emotions. Twitter’s 280 character limit is designed to prevent coherent thought. Social media engineers know that the more outraged we are, the longer we’ll spend on their products.

    Postman was acute in spotting the influence of TV on other media. Political debates began to favour appearance over substance and he spotted that some newspapers were beginning to ape the style of TV. That gravitational power now belongs to social media. A leaked “content grid” handed out to employees of the London Evening Standard advised reporters to write about “incidents that will anger/terrify/or shock the audience”.

    The influence of social media is everywhere in public life. The style of the Twitter “clapback” — responding to criticism with a vicious put-down that delights your supporters but does nothing to persuade your enemies is ubiquitous. It’s been perfected by everyone from Donald Trump to the Democratic senator Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

    The modern urge to “cancel” sinning celebrities, banishing them from public life, is connected to the prevalence of the “block” function on social media apps. We’re used to the idea that if we don’t like someone we can simply remove them from our minds. As electronic media triumphs, traditional media such as books and newspapers are embattled. Figures published this year show that sales of novels are in steep decline. We’ve swapped a form of entertainment which by its very nature fosters empathy and deep thought, inserting us deep into other consciousnesses, for one that has been designed to make us hate each other.

    Anyone railing against modern technology risks sounding fogeyish but this is undeniably depressing. Again, Postman was prescient. He framed his argument with reference to two dystopias: George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, which he thought was wrong, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which he found prescient:

    “What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.”

    Postman offered the hope that people would evolve to become more sophisticated and sceptical consumers of modern media. For all Postman’s thundering, TV never destroyed society. The “culture death” he feared never arrived. But are we smart enough to outwit Mark Zuckerberg? Our situation still looks perilous.

    Thursday, July 25, 2019

    Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 25.7.19

    Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                      Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
    Spain
    • If you're a true Galician nationalist, you believe that almost everything was invented here. Including the kilt, it seems. My thanks to reader Eamon for this citation. I won't reveal his location as some nationalists can be quite sensitive. They already know mine . . .
    • A truly Spanish tale? . . . .
    - Two days ago, one of my neighbours honoured(?) me by asking me to cook 2 curries for 15 people who were due to attend her birthday dinner last night. So, I gave her a list of 10 items to buy and yesterday morning she messaged me to tell me she'd got them all. I replied that I didn't believe her and she then admitted she hadn't got the cardamom pods but insisted she had everything else. When I told her I still didn't believe her - I have a lot of experience of her familiarity with the concept of truth - she admitted that she hadn't got the cloves either. So I scoured the health food and spice shops of Pontevedra and finally got these. Starting the preparations for cooking, I discovered she hadn't got the almonds, the ground coriander seeds or the turmeric. So, in total 5 out of the 10 items. And then - to my (almost) disbelief - I discovered that, instead of the shin beef I'd asked her to get for the - wait for it - beef buffad curry, she'd bought pork. "Because the woman in the supermarket told me it'd be better". And the 3ko of chicken breasts I'd asked her to get was half in thin slices. Inappropriate for a curry, of course.
    - The quintessentially Spanish element of all this? Even at 5pm, she didn't know how many guests would be turning up. Even her best friend, she said, 'might have a family do to attend'. At 5.30, I heard her inviting someone who'd just called her. Presumably to replace one of the 15 who'd dropped out since Monday.
    - To top off the day, I got a message in the evening saying that her dog was a nuisance for her guests and so she was putting him in my house. Where he still is as I type this, at 10.08.
    - Finally on this . . . One of her 2 daughters - who both flitted in and out, offering to help but disappearing after starting a task - filmed me shouting, real chef style, at their mother in frustration. I might post the video here one day.
    - Oh, I forgot . . .  It took me at least 5 requests before I finally got the glass of wine I desperately needed.
    - I've just received a message giving me a thousand thanks and telling me how much she loves me. I've replied that, in that case, she can come and vacuum the floors of my house. Which she never will, choosing to see this as a joke.

    The UK
    • Boris Johnson: He's not really a British version of Fart, but it is true that he can't knot a tie properly, leaving the wide end dangling way down below the narrow end, a la Fart. Is it really possible that no one has told him how ridiculous this looks? Or is it quite deliberate, furthering his dishevelled schtick?
    The Way of the World/Social Media
    • Columnist Matthew Parris:- I argued last week that people are not necessarily “racists” for feeling irritated when their way of being is attacked by others who seem to stand outside their culture; and that we play into the hands of unpleasant rabble-rousers like Donald Trump if we spray the word “racist” around undiscriminately. Afterwards, friends called to ask if I was OK. Why the (kind) concern, I asked? “You’re in a Twitterstorm” they said. I was unaware of this. I don’t entirely know what a Twitterstorm is. How many other Twitterstorms have I been in without knowing it?  . . .  I cannot understand why people get so upset by what is said about them on social media. It’s a world you visit voluntarily, and you don’t need to.
    The USA
    • Once upon a time, these were scarcely credible reports:-
    1. Trump gave a talk to a group of conservative youth and gave them an incredibly twisted lesson in civics, claiming that Article II of the Constitution gives him “the right to do whatever I want as president.” This betrays both his total ignorance of the Constitution and his deep-seated desire to be an actual dictator.
    2. He also lied and claimed that the tariffs he’s created have meant foreign countries have contributed “billions and billions of dollars” into the U.S. Treasury:
    You constantly have to pinch yourself to remind yourself this is not some tinpot dictator in a banana republic but the president of the USA. Who might well get a second 4 year term in office.

    The most depressing aspect? The young 'conservatives' in his audience cheered him to the rafters.

    Could this happen in any other Western democracy?

    Spanish 
    • Word of the Day: Corto.
    English
    • Going back to the long S . . . Wiki says that it was differentiated from an F by having a 'nub' on the left, as opposed to on the right for the F. Well, maybe. Here's an example from the writings of William Penn which shows - see 'mischief' - that it was hard to see this nub. Even in this (very) enlarged version of the text:- 
    No wonder it fell out of use. Hard to understand why it ever existed in the first place. Something to do with buying printing equipment from Germany, I believe.

    Finally . . .
    • Thanks to Brexit, UK temperatures are forecast to reach record levels today, possibly hitting 40 in some places. Here in Spain, Madrid's peak is predicted to be a 'normal' 35%. While Sevilla's will be a 'cool' (for them) 37. Here in Galicia, we're expecting a high of only 22. And rain, of course. It's a public holiday after all. The feastday of St James/Santiago, the patron saint of Galicia. And of arthritis, I've just discovered.

    Wednesday, July 24, 2019

    Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 24.7.19

    Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                      Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
    Spain
    • Is Spain really The New Italy, as least politically?
    • The Local: What you need to know about this week's scorching heatwave in parts of Spain. Which is not so vicious here in Galicia, much to the relief of all the Spaniards who wend their way here in July and August. Say the experts, such a trip won't be beneficial in 20 years' time, when we'll have the current climate of Madrid. Which will have that of Morocco. Madrileños and Andalucians will have to go to, say, Brighton for their 'cool' annual vacations.
    The UK
    • Mrs May leaves her job today. One that she'd wanted since childhood. The same is true of her successor, Mr Johnson. As this isn't impressive as the prime qualification for the position of prime minister, the signs are not good. 
    • Near term, I doubt Boris will be pleased that Fart sees him as a British version of himself. It will apparently come as a surprise to Fart that he's singularly unpopular in the UK. 'They' really don't 'love' him 'over there'.
    • If you've heard or seen an interview outside the Houses of Parliament during the last few years, you'll be familiar with the voice of this guy. He's still shouting 'Stop Boris!' this morning, so perhaps it's time for him to move on. Though his shout of 'Stop Brexit' still has currency, I guess.
    The EU
    • In contrast to the USA, there's not a lot of enthusiasm among European politicians for Mr J. See the article below.
    The USA
    • I've been compiling a list of Fart's stock phrases. Here's what I've got so far. Additions very welcome:-
    - He's a wonderful person who'll do a fantastic job: Said of anyone he's just employed.
    - He's a loser: Said of 'wonderful persons' who've been let go or who have resigned.
    - I hardly know him: Said of malefactors he's known for decades.
    - I never liked him: Ditto. Said of malefactors he's 'partied' with.
    - Many people say . . . : The introduction to a massive lie which he knows is untrue.
    - I don't know but people tell me . . : Ditto
    - Believe me . . : Ditto
    - I'm a very stable genius: Perhaps the untruest statement in the history of mankind.
    - We have to/are going to do something about that: Said of any activity which he doesn't like.
    - The biggest, best, most wonderful, amazing. . . : Said of anything/everything he does or claims responsibility for, even if it happened years ago.
    - That I can tell you . . . : Used to reinforce a lie or half-truth.
    - Bad news - i. e. criticism of me - is not free speech: Speaks for itself.
    - They love me here/there . . : A contender for the biggest untruth in the history of mankind.
    - It's fake news: Well, I don't really need to explain this one.

    Here's someone  else's article on this subject of Fart's Favourite Frases.
    • Geoffrey Epstein: The plot thickens . . . The editor's note at the end of the article is quite trenchant.
    Spanish 
    English

    • As you do, I've been reading the sayings of William Penn, the man who gave his name to Pennsylvania, and I've come up against the 'long S', the one that looks like an F.  Wikipedia tells me this (German) letter fell out of printed use at the end of the 18th century but is still found in handwritten letters of the 19th century. And that: The long S (ſ) is an archaic form of the lower case letter s. It replaced a single S, or the first in a double S, at the beginning or in the middle of a word (e.g. "ſinfulneſs" for "sinfulness" and "ſucceſsful" for "successful"), and in ligature form (e.g. "Tiſſick" for "Tissick"). More interestingly are the humorous uses of the long S.  . . . ſays Wiki: In a Flanders and Swann monologue the word Greensleeves is pronounced as Greenfleeves and the word song as fong. In a Stan Freberg skit, "The Declaration of Independence, or, A Man Can't Be Too Careful What He Signs These Days", the character Benjamin Franklin mispronounces the phrase "pursuit of happiness", as "purfuit of happinefs". And, best of all:  In an episode of The Vicar of Dibley the dim character Alice, attempting to use an old Bible that uses the long S, reads to the congregation "... and He shall be thy f- ffuu" before being rescued by the minister Geraldine with an emphatic "succour"!
    Finally . . .
    • My cycling into town in the last few days has brought me into contact with the bike path alongside the river Lérez. This is very much a Spanish bike path and not, say, a German or Dutch bike path. This means that pedestrians walk on them and not on the parallel path for non-cyclists. And cyclists - sometime perforce - will use the pedestrian path. Yesterday, I even had to ride round a couple who were actually walking over the big white sign of a bicycle. After almost 20 years, I still don't understand the Spanish attitude to rules, apart from the obvious fact that they consciously disobey 'minor' rules they regard as a personal inconvenience. In this case, though, this can't apply. Either their radar is so bad they don't notice there's a dedicated track - painted a different colour - or they just don't care that there is. And that they are inconveniencing cyclists. Who, unlike their German and Dutch counterparts, don't shout angrily at trespassers. Perhaps things would change if they did.
    ARTICLE

    Boris Johnson is the British version of me, says President Trump: Boer Deng, David Charter, Washington | Bruno Waterfield, Brussels | Tom Parfitt | Steven Swinford

    THE USA

    President Trump has offered Boris Johnson his highest possible praise by declaring that the new prime minister is the British version of himself. “We have a really good man who’s going to be the prime minister of the UK now, Boris Johnson. Good man, he’s tough and he’s smart. They’re saying Britain Trump. They call him Britain Trump,” the president told an audience of young Republicans at an event in Washington. “People are saying that’s a good thing. They like me over there, that’s what they wanted. That’s what they need. He’ll get it done. Boris is good. He’s going to do a good job.”

    He went on to praise Nigel Farage, who was attending the event in Washington. “I’ll tell you what, he got 32% of the vote from nowhere, over in UK….thank you Nigel,” Mr Trump said. “I know he’s going to work well with Boris, they’re going to do some tremendous things.”

    Mr Farage met Mr Trump yesterday morning at the Turning Point USA event and told The Times afterwards: “He [Mr Trump] thinks a Johnson-Farage alliance would be unstoppable and would deliver Brexit. He sees it very clearly. It would need Boris to be incredibly brave. He would have to call a general election and accept that a significant number of his own MPs would leave the party. I have said my levels of trust in Boris and the Conservative Party are very low, but if he really means it and is absolutely determined to deliver a clean break Brexit then of course I’d talk to him.”

    Mr Trump wasted no time in congratulating Mr Johnson on winning the leadership contest as world leaders joined in to toast Britain’s new prime minister. “Congratulations to Boris Johnson on becoming the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He will be great!” he tweeted.

    Commentators noted that the leaders of the US and Britain had much in common. Mr Johnson’s father, Stanley, quipped: “They’ve got the same kind of hairstyle, I suppose. I think they will get on”.

    In June, Mr Trump made clear that he would welcome Mr Johnson’s victory, calling the former foreign secretary someone “I’ve liked… for a long time”, even as he criticised Theresa May. The two men spoke by phone when Mr Trump stayed in London on his state visit.

    John Hannah of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, a think tank, said: “The relationship with Theresa May was always very frosty, very cool. The president obviously likes Johnson so I think things can only go on an upward trajectory here.”

    Mr Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, also congratulated Mr Johnson in a tweet, though her message accidentally referred to him as the “next prime minister of the United Kingston”.

    George Holding, a Republican congressman and chairman of the Congressional UK caucus, said: “I am excited to congratulate Boris Johnson on becoming the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. I look forward to working with the Johnson Government to strengthen the Special Relationship that has bound our two nations for generations.”

    THE EU

    What’s going on in Great Britain? asks Stern in Germany, while Der Spiegel sees Boris Johnson as Alfred E Neuman, cover boy of the American humour magazine Mad.

    President Macron, who has described Mr Johnson and other campaigners for Brexit as liars, said he would telephone him after the new prime minister takes office tomorrow. “I want very much to work with him as quickly as possible and not just on European subjects and the continuation of negotiations linked to Brexit, but also on international issues on which we coordinate closely with Britain and Germany like the situation in Iran,” Mr Macron said. He praised the “courage and dignity” of Mrs May and, in a veiled warning to Mr Johnson, said she had served British interests and the Brexit vote but “never blocked the functioning of the EU”.

    Speaking alongside the French leader in Paris, Ursula von der Leyen, the newly appointed president of the European Commission who will take office on the same day Britain is due to leave the EU, stressed the scale of difficulty over Brexit in the months ahead. “I’m looking forward to having a good working relationship with him. There are many difficult issues we will tackle together. We have challenging times ahead of us,” she said. “It is important to build up a strong working relationship because we have a duty to deliver something which is good for the people in Europe and the UK.

    Reflecting widespread hostility to Mr Johnson, Vytenis Andriukaitis, the EU’s health commissioner, accused him of being a “virtuoso” of “cheap promises, simplified visions, blatantly incorrect statements”. The Lithuanian, who was born in a Soviet gulag, compared the Conservative leader to Boris Yeltsin, the first president of post-Communist Russia, whose rhetoric and empty promise, such as introducing a market economy in 500 days, have been blamed for the rise of Vladimir Putin. “A different Boris, of course, but there was something in the way of doing politics that was similar: many unrealistic promises, ignoring economic rationales and rational decisions,” he wrote on a commission blog. “These decisions led to a new autocratic constitution and finally paved the way to Vladimir Putin… Hopefully, it will not be the case for Boris Johnson.”

    Michel Barnier, the EU’s lead Brexit negotiator, said: “We look forward to working constructively with prime minister Boris Johnson when he takes office, to facilitate the ratification of the withdrawal agreement and achieve an orderly Brexit. We are ready also to rework the agreed declaration on a new partnership in line with European Council guidelines.”

    Frans Timmermans, Jean-Claude Juncker’s deputy at the commission, who has previously described Mr Johnson as “borderline racist”, said that while the EU would work with the “colourful” leader there was no question of negotiating a new Brexit deal. “The world’s politics is rife with colourful people these days and if you can’t deal with them there is not much you can do,” he said.

    RUSSIA

    In Moscow, Alexei Pushkov, an influential pro-Kremlin senator, said that Boris Johnson becoming prime minister signalled an imminent exit for Britain from the EU. “Under Johnson, the break up with the EU is inevitable,” he said. “At the same time, there will be increased internal instability in Britain, where about 50 per cent of people are against Brexit. In foreign policy, not much will change.” Leonid Slutsky, head of the international affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, said that Mr Johnson’s appeal was in his eccentricity. “They are fed up with stuffed-shirts, they need a scatty guy who rides a bicycle and talks like it is, having his own tough and far from tolerant position on Brexit.”