Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 23.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
Spanish Life
  • Looking for a really expensive honey? Try this, from Castilla y León.
  • If you want to know how Spain's Queen Letizia became the ultimate modern royal style icon, you'll have to buy a copy of todays' Daily Telegraph, unless this isn't behind their paywall.
Galician Life
  • The Aussie in the Galician campo has been having the normal little experiences of life in Spain.
  • A bizarre ban on Instagram. Fotos of Galician stew breach community guidelines on the publication of graphic violence, language that incites harassment, violence and bullying or sexual activity. Admittedly, if you're not Galician, the fotos might not look terribly appetising but all the same . . . One wonders how Instagram would react to fotos of percebes.
  • Vigo is sure of snow this Xmas.
The UK, The EU, Brexit
  • The only thing that is clear is that there won't be a Brexit by the end of October.
  • I am soooo looking forward to Ffart, the Musical. Probably already written and just waiting for the loon's departure from Crazy Camelot.
The Way of the World
  • Going to be shopping on line on Black Friday? Beware of this. They know where you live. Inter mucha alia. 
  • So, not only Dynamic Currency Exchange but also Dynamic Pricing. Both cons on the customer. A word to be wary of.
  • Have we reached 'peak insanity'? See the article below.
Finally . . .
  • Catholic readers - if any - might like to know that their church now bans the scattering or even dividing of ashes. These must be buried in an urn, at an astronomical cost, in a small bit of earth. This is to 'retain the dignity of the [carbonised] mortal remains' and is definitely not another money-generating scheme for a church which need billions to fight abuse claims. Tough times.

This is the moment we reached peak gender insanity

“This cloakroom may be used by any person regardless of gender identity or expression,” reads a notice on the toilet door of the bar I’m in on Saturday night. This is designed to give me a hit of self-importance. I have choices, options, both in terms of who I am and how I decide to express that all-important self to the world: a world waiting with bated breath for me to tell them why I’m special.

And yet I don’t feel reassured by this open-minded toilet, because everyone in the bar is drunk, the corridor it’s situated in is dimly-lit – and the only other people queuing outside it are men. So instead what I feel is uneasy, undignified, un-safe.

I’m guessing younger women are getting used to the feeling of vulnerability I felt so acutely on Saturday night. Just as British schoolgirls are getting used to their Mao-esque, gender-neutral uniforms, and “holding it in” all day at school (with the risk of contracting infections): anything to avoid using the gender-neutral toilets.

That’s when they make it into school in the first place. According to a report published earlier this month, an increasing number are so ashamed and fearful of sharing cubicles with male pupils that they’re choosing to skip the loo altogether.

British brands, meanwhile, are getting used to being bullied by the trans lobby, with Procter & Gamble one of the first to capitulate, pulling their Flora ads from Mumsnet following accusations that the parenting website was transphobic. On Saturday, Always sanitary towels caved in, agreeing to remove the ‘Venus’ symbol from the wrapping after LGBT groups complained that not everyone who has periods identifies as a woman.

Which would almost be laughable – look how far we’ve come: fighting over ownership of sanitary towels! – if it weren’t for a more devastating capitulation the very next day. This time, it was the police, who were forced to reveal on Sunday that suspected and convicted rapists are now being logged as female when arrested, if that is how they choose to identify themselves.

In a statement, South Yorkshire Police admitted: “We will accept the details that an individual provides us and treat them according[ly].” While Thames Valley Police agreed that in a situation where a rapist is brought in “a male-born person self-identifying as female should be recorded as female on our source system”.

Got it. Never mind that the legal definition of rape involves non-consensual penetration with a penis, and that by denying the existence of that penis you’re denying the existence of the weaponry used to commit that crime. Never mind that, as Nicola Williams, director of Fair Play for Women, pointed out: “It would be highly offensive to a woman who was raped to have it written down that her attacker was a female.” We’re way too far gone for either common sense or logic.

I’ve always maintained in this column that children are the biggest victims of the gender fad, and avoided looking too closely at the impact on women because… well, because feminists were top of the victim-ometer for so long that I became like a parent who had tuned out the constant whining. And because when Radio 4’s Jane Garvey tried to shed some light on the famous feminist trans feud by hosting a series of debates last year, both sides came off so appallingly that I shut them out of my mind.

But this is an attack on women. And I don’t think the leading feminist campaigner, Julie Bindel, was exaggerating when she said on Sunday: “We’re now moving towards the total elimination of women’s biology.”

This isn’t about feminists, activists, sociologists and the deliberately impenetrable jargon they all choose to use in their very public duels. And it’s not about who gets to claim periods, with all their paraphernalia, either (but have them, please, along with stretch marks, the menopause, and the certainty that you’ve been ripped off by every MOT guy you’ve come across).

This is about fragile young girls still struggling to come to terms with their own changing bodies being forced into preposterous intimacy with boys. It’s about transgender athletes like Rachel McKinnon – who won the Masters Track Cycling World Championships on Saturday for the second year running – killing women’s sports.

It’s about the series of future crimes, assaults and intimidations that will have to happen before someone works out that having a load of drunk men and women using the same toilets in bars and clubs was Not A Smart Move. It’s about rapists being indulged and coddled by the police while their victims are effectively mocked.

And it’s about knowing when we’ve reached peak gender insanity. Please God, let this be it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 22.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • The Spanish PM has visited Cataluña but has opted not to meet with the regional president. A slight? Sr Sanchez has warned that the crisis is not yet over. As if this was necessary.
  • The deputy PM has demanded that said Catalan president should 'stop telling impossible lies'. Something Madrid never does, of course. But, to be fair, she's also criticised right wing parties.
  • This is one (partial) Catalan view of things.
  • And this is an article by someone who thinks that the trial verdicts were 'coherent and consistent'. I wasn't surprised to find that he writes for the right-wing ABC newspaper.  
The Spanish Economy
  • Wolf Street reports that: Ahead of a new general election, the Spanish government has launched its first bailout of the country’s tourism industry. The amount is still relatively small, compared to the bailouts the banks received, but the precedent it sets is huge. When it comes to using public funds to help out non-financial companies in distress, such as well-connected ones in the construction industry, the Spanish government has plenty of form. If the recent downturn in the tourism industry deepens, the amount of funds used to support companies in the tourism industry could mushroom very quickly. Is this permitted by the EU? If not, will this make any difference? And if there's a fine from Brussels in a few years' time, will Madrid ever pay it? Probably not, No and No.
Spanish Life
  • Here's a fascinating guide to Spain from the Franco era. Well worth a read, as it's full of laughs.
  • The rain in Spain . . . It doesn't only fall on Galicia.
  • No huge surprise that the looming Brexit is driving British residents out of the Andalucian woodwork. Much to the pleasure, no doubt, of local town halls, as the numbers determine cash obtained from the central government.
  • We've had reports that German and French train companies will 'soon' be competing with Renfe but here's one Spanish company that now won't be.
Pontevedra Life 
  • Here's what looks like a good idea on how to get shut of the caricature of a man who shames his country and its people. And, even if it isn't, it's pretty funny.
  • Ffart, as you'll know, has backtracked on his plans to hold the next G7 meeting in one of his facilities. Naturally, he characterises the tsunami of criticism as 'hysterical and insane'. Or something like that. Needless to say, it was the reaction within the Republican Party, not that among Democrats and the media, which caused the reversal. He couldn't care less about the latter. A bit of blue on the grey horizon?
The Way of the World
  • The increased and wholly unreasonable demands of the extreme trans activists are usually met with fear and instant capitulation. We are told that terms such as “pregnant women” and “breastfeeding” are now transphobic. It is not enough to accept trans women for who they are, but rather we are now bullied into saying that they are "real women". But they are not. And trans men are still, however much this pains them to admit it, natal females.  That means, in the immortal words of Alice Cooper: ‘Only Women Bleed’.   . . . If this craziness goes any further, women will not be allowed to name ourselves as such, for fear that we will be branded bigots. We will be required to call ourselves 'cisgender', and refer to trans women merely as ‘women’.    Women’s rights are not only being eliminated, but the right to be a woman, is being extended to men. This Orwellian madness has to stop. 
Shysters Corner 
  • That shyster-in-chief, one of Ffart's 'spiritual advisers' . . . .    As untethered from reality as it is possible to be.
  • Word of the Day: Espeleólogo: Caver; Potholer; Speleologist.
Finally . . .
  • This is all you need to know about coffee:-
The health benefits of coffee: everything you need to know

Your daily caffeine fix has surprising health benefits — but how you drink it makes a difference. Peta Bee asks the experts what we should be ordering

Our thirst for coffee has increased massively over the past decade. We drink about 95 million cups a day in the UK, about 25 million more since 2008, according to the British Coffee Association. There are nearly as many ways to drink it, from milky latte to nitrogen brew.

“The coffee bean is a good thing, a natural thing,” says Ian Marber, a nutrition therapist. “It contains 500 plant components and lots of beneficial antioxidants, and has been the subject of hundreds of scientific studies that encouragingly show it can be beneficial in our diet.” There are some nasties, including acrylamide, which is used to make plastic and in large amounts can damage the nervous system, but studies have shown that beneficial coffee compounds tend to offset its effects.

The good news keeps coming. Although last week pregnant women were told to avoid coffee to minimise the chance of losing their baby — particularly during the first eight weeks of pregnancy — most recent studies have been positive. Researchers at the University of Nottingham found that coffee helped to fight obesity by stimulating the body’s calorie-burning brown fat stores into action. It was reported to protect against gallstones in the Journal of Internal Medicine. Surprisingly, a cup before bed makes no difference to quality of sleep, according to a study led by Florida Atlantic University.

Not every cup from the bewildering array of options is brewed equally, however, and the amount of good they do can vary. Here’s a taster:

Made by shooting boiling water under high pressure through finely ground coffee beans.
Average caffeine per cup 80mg
Contains no protein and 5-10 calories per cup. A study published in the Scientific Reports journal by researchers at the University of Nottingham last year showed that a caffeine shot can trigger the activity of brown adipose tissue, a special type of fat that burns calories, and can help with weight loss. A double espresso (or doppio) provides the kind of kick that can be useful before exercise. Neil Clarke, an associate professor in the school of life sciences at Coventry University, says a single or double espresso taken before a workout can increase your resting metabolic rate, helping you to burn more calories at rest. It can also prompt the breakdown of fat. “If you take a coffee before exercise and don’t overeat, studies have shown that caffeine intake might promote weight, BMI and body fat reduction,” he says.

Steamed milk and a single shot of coffee with a bit of foam. The UK’s favourite form of coffee.
Average caffeine per cup 80mg
Calories for a latte with full-fat cow’s milk vary from 140 to 360. You can save some calories by switching to milk alternatives (a small coconut milk latte contains about 80 calories and with oat milk about 130), but you will also lose valuable minerals including iodine, a trace mineral that’s important for healthy thyroid function and fertility.

An espresso with hot water.
Average caffeine per cup 80mg
This is a good choice if you want a caffeine kick with minimal calories. There are only 2-5 calories in a standard cup and 15-20 in the larger mugs you find in some café chains. Like any coffee, it is rich in powerful antioxidants such as hydrocinnamic acids and polyphenols that have been linked to the prevention of cancer and other diseases. A 2010 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that coffee had higher antioxidant levels than red grapes, plums, raspberries, cherries and some types of blueberry.
[In the UK, you'll always be asked, illogically, if you want milk with this essentially black coffee option, turning it into what used to be called ' awhite coffee' but which seems now to be called 'a flat white'. Progress.]

A shot of espresso and a shot of steamed milk topped with frothed, foamy milk.
Average caffeine per cup 80mg
A small, full-fat cappuccino contains about 80 calories and a large about 250. There is protein in the milk, but skip the chocolate powder on top to save 15 calories.

Prepared by pouring hot water over ground coffee beans in a filter or cafetière jug.
Average caffeine per cup 95mg
The good news for you is that served black it contains 5-10 calories per cup. The bad news for the environment is that it takes more beans to make, according to research at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

A latte or cappuccino with added chocolate powder or syrup — a hot chocolate and coffee fusion.
Average caffeine per cup 85mg
Little better for you than a hot chocolate, this highly sweetened drink contains a minimum of 65 calories and about 6.3g of sugar but up to 350 calories and 30g of the sweet stuff in a large serving. Opt for a white chocolate mocha and the sugar shock is even greater, with up to 60g of sugar and a ghastly 500 calories per cup. Topping with whipped cream adds 80-120 calories to your drink.

This is now our third-favourite way of drinking coffee. It uses the less frothy steamed milk from the bottom of the jug poured over a shot of espresso.
Average caffeine per cup 150mg
A standard flat white typically contains 105 calories.

What it is A shot of espresso topped with foamed milk. Similar to a cappuccino, but stronger and without the added layer of milk.
Average caffeine per cup 80mg
A regular version contains anything from 80-230 calories. Beware switching to a caramel macchiato: the added syrup can bump the calorie count to 300. Typically syrup shots add 70 sugary calories. Avoid.

An espresso shot prepared with the usual amount of coffee, but half the water. It results in a more concentrated and darker shot.
Average caffeine per cup 80mg
Contains 10-20 calories. An average Americano or filter coffee is approximately 98.75 per cent water and 1.25% diluted plant compounds. “Generally coffee can be helpful in terms of fluid intake and hydration,” Marber says. “But not if you opt for this variety.”

Made from freeze-dried or spray-dried coffee.
Average caffeine per cup 30-90mg
A study at Coventry University showed that that consuming about a dessert spoon of coffee granules dissolved in water 60 minutes before exercise could help people to exercise harder for longer. Instant coffee could also be best for the environment. When Alf Hill, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Bath’s centre for sustainable chemical technologies, analysed the impact of different coffee forms on the planet, in conjunction with Colonna & Small’s coffee shop in Bath, he found that instant came out top.

Made by steeping coffee grounds in room-temperature or cold water for up to 24 hours to produce a concentrated coffee essence that is then diluted with water. It is the hipster coffee of choice. Costa added a strawberry cold brew to its menu in the summer.
Average caffeine per cup 180mg-200mg
There is little evidence for claims that it is less acidic and thus kinder on the digestive system than normal coffee. The calorie content is low at about 5-10 per cup unless you opt for a flavoured brew, which is often sweetened. These varieties rise to 80-90 calories per cup.

One third of UK households own an espresso pod or capsule machine. There are two basic types — those that use metal or plastic capsules that are covered with a foil seal that is pierced by the machine so that heated water can be forced through. Then there are ESE (easy serving espresso) pods, such as those that use Illy or Lavazza coffee, in which the pre-portioned serving of coffee is wrapped in paper filter like a teabag, and placed inside the machine.
Average caffeine per cup 60-80mg
There are potential health benefits from using some pods. Two chemicals in coffee beans — cafestol and kahweol — have been shown to raise levels of damaging LDL cholesterol in the blood. They are present in any coffee that hasn’t been filtered including espresso, moka pot and cafetière coffee, but the tea bag-type pods contain filters that remove them, making them a better choice. Some metal or plastic capsules are lined with filter paper, but it serves only to prevent the grounds from entering the cup and not to filter chemicals.

A stove-top coffee maker that brews by passing boiling water pressurised by steam through ground coffee. It produces strong, concentrated coffee.
Average caffeine per cup 110mg
Many moka pots are made from aluminium and there have been concerns about leeching of aluminium from them as a health risk. However, a 2017 study in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe found the risk to be minimal (and much lower than aluminium water bottles) provided moka pots were not put in the dishwasher, which increases the release of the metal.

The wellness brigade’s search for healthy coffee has resulted in several niche caffeine trends:

CBD coffee
Coffee infused with the cannabis derivative CBD (cannabidiol) oil has become the caffeine hit of 2019. Studies have shown that CBD binds to serotonin receptors in the brain, lowering anxiety and boosting mood, and it also has an anti-inflammatory action. Whether it works when added to coffee is, as yet, unproven.

Vitamin Coffee
This box delivery subscription service (a 14-day supply for £5.95; uses three blends of roasted beans mixed with vitamins for a specific health boost. With the defence coffee you get vitamins A and D; with the energy version there’s added caffeine and B vitamins; and the complete powder provides a range of 14 vitamins and minerals for all-round health.

Nitro coffee
Nitrogen — a colourless and odourless gas — is added to coffee to produce a slighty foamy and frothy nitro brew. The gas is said to trick the tongue into thinking it’s tasting something sweeter than regular coffee. It’s said to be less acidic and harsh on the gut, although there is little proof that is the case.

Collagen coffee
A trend that started among beauty bloggers, it involves stirring flavourless collagen powder into your coffee and is said to provide a boost for skin and prevent wrinkles. More likely it will help creaking joints, but you would need to drink a lot to make a difference.

Bulletproof coffee
Made by whisking organic butter and coconut oil into your regular double espresso, it has spiralled in popularity thanks to claims that it will do everything from minimising caffeine jitters to boosting brain power and suppressing your appetite. Scientists are yet to be convinced. And it can add up to 400 calories per cup.

Mushroom latte
Made by mixing mushrooms or mushroom powder (try Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee; £10.98 from with almond or cashew milk, raw coconut sugar and maca powder, then heated in a pan and blended until frothy. Mushrooms do have health benefits, including immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties, but you’d be better off eating them. The drink is an acquired taste.

Turmeric latte
Looks like a latte, but is nothing of the sort. Instead it is derived from cold-pressed turmeric juice (made by steeping the root in water) added to almond, coconut, cashew or cow’s milk. Turmeric has a unique range of compounds and essential oils that are linked to purported health benefits, but there’s not much of it in a latte. Too much turmeric will stain your teeth.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 21.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • The Spanish PM has called for a new chapter in Cataluña. Fat chance. Because . . .
  • Until a government takes power in Madrid with a comfortable electoral majority, no sober attempt is likely to be made by the current Socialist government, or anyone else, to take on the 'independentistas' where they ought to be easy to beat: on the political battlefield. For the foreseeable future, but with unforeseeable consequences, the youths of Barcelona will still be lighting the matches and the adults in Madrid will still be providing the fuel. 
  • Talking of fire and smoke . . . In her latest blog post, reader María points to the dissonance between the very harsh sentences handed down to the Catalan 'rebels' and the leniency normal for corrupt Spanish politicians. It can't help.
  • En passant  . . .  El Español reports that 41% of Spaniards (non-Catalans?) think the sentences are too low. Which gives an indication of the size of the problem.
Spanish Life
  • The slurry of Halloween tat currently infesting the supermarket shelves is testament to an irrepressible human trait - to seize any opportunity, however tenuous, for a celebration. This is actually a comment about UK culture but, if the writer really thinks things are taken to extremes there, she should live a while in Spain. Where absolutely anything and everything is seen as an excuse for fun. Preferably at someone else's expense. It's the main reason I live there, and not, say, in cheaper next-door Portugal.
  • Why I'm applying for Irish, not the (more logical) Spanish, nationality. This sentence rather says it all: A whopping 77% of those who've applied in the last 3 years admit they have no news as to the state of their application and when or even if it will be granted.
Galician Life 
  • Here's a report on all that rain I've been hearing about from friends and neighbours. And the damage they've done. The rains, not my friends and neighbours . . .
  • And here's one on all the retail closures I've mentioned in the last few years. But I suspect none of our many (money laundering?) jewellers have gone out of business. Or ever will.
The UK, The EU, and Brexit
  1. Richard North today: The reality needs restating; The Withdrawal Agreement is just that – it gets us out of the EU. The long-term relationship will be determined by the talks yet to come, and there is where the real battle lies.  With the warring parties exhausting themselves (and the public) with the current "shenanigans", one wonders whether there will be any energy left to fight that more important battle.
  2. See the article below for what might well be the people's view.
  • An attorney for Donald Trump and Trump for President sent a letter to the CNN President threatening to sue the network for what it contends are “biased reporting practices.” It’s unclear what bit of civil law they think is being violated by the network in a case they must know they can’t possibly win
  • President Trump Is in the Private Hospitality Business, and Business Is Booming in D.C. The G7 at Doral is off, but there are lots of other conflicts of interest already booked at his properties. President Trump never did build that wall he promised. You know, the one between his administration and his business. 
Finally . . .
  • Funnily enough, it's hardly rained where I've been for 3 weeks now - a fraction south of Manchester, the (alleged) precipitation capital of the UK. And the sun is shining on my grandson's 2nd birthday today. Not that he seems to care.

Quantum physics is a cinch compared to this incomprehensible farce: Judith Woods, Daily Telegraph

Dear God please make it stop. I'm not sure about the Prime Minister but I fear we will all be dead in a ditch if this purgatorial anguish goes on much longer.

I like to think of myself as reasonably well informed about current affairs but hand on heart I have no idea what happened on super Saturday. None.

Like the rest of the nation I settled down in front of BBC News as a preternaturally patient Huw Edwards explained over and over again the implications of the Letwin Amendment and how it might impact on the Mr Benn Act and it all kept whizzing straight over the top of my head.

When Letwin was passed  (like port, to the Left) I still sat there, stupidly waiting for the vote on the Brexit deal. I was aware that something unexpected happened but I didn't fully grasp that it meant nothing expected would happen.

Some stentorian voice announced that the meaningful vote had been voided of meaning. Even that nonsensical observation made more sense than what actually occurred, which is to say, nothing. Not a damn thing.

Instead we find ourselves Junckering down in No Man’s Land for yet another phoney war between monstrous egos and elected representatives and other elected representatives and one million marching in the street demanding a People's Vote amid a blizzard of metaphors.

The PM likened reaching an agreement with the EU to summiting Everest. Right now it feels as if we are all queueing up in the Death Zone tied to each other, tied to Europe. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

Starved of the oxygen of common sense, the body politic is starting to perish, minute by minute, cell by cell.

Nobody has even noticed that the first casualty, democracy, has long since given up the ghost and hurtled down the mountainside to certain oblivion.

We've spent three years blindly trusting politicians to deliver the result of the referendum. I fully admit that I am a passionate Remainer. Or at least was a passionate Remainer. I'm now a passionless, disillusioned husk of a voter who just wants to get this thing – anything – over the line.

Was it only last week that Europe’s intractable to leaders were glad handing “greased piglet” Boris and glibly congratulating one another on a triumph of statecraft? The pound immediately leapt for joy and heading for its best six-day run against the dollar since 1985. Even hatchet-faced Dominic Cummings managed to crack a smile.

But wrangling with Europe over customs and tariffs was a doddle in comparison to persuading the House of Commons to carry out the settled will of the people. The worst aspect is that it's also bloody impenetrable, no offence Huw.

I am entirely au fait with the reasonable if inhumane concept of Schrödinger's cat. I understand enough about quantum physics to know it is silly and impossible.

But Lord help me, I haven't got so much as a toehold on what is afoot in this wretched Parliament, brought to its knees by the endless squabbling, wilful obscurantism and petty betrayals. 

No wonder then that the electorate are strung out, angry and exhausted by the endless machinations that are exacerbating deep uncertainty, fostering rancour and causing us to haemorrhage faith in the system and those who run it.

Will Brexit be done and dusted by Hallowe’en? I fear it won’t even be over by Christmas. Truthfully, retrenching in a ditch never sounded so appealing.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 20.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • Someone has come up with a brilliant alternative to the problematic option of burying the Franco bones in Madrid . . . Instead, put them in the basilica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Sadly, though, this might just create another problem or ten. That said, the idea is so stupidly provocative, it'll probably become the official strategy of the Francoist Vox party.
Spanish Life
  • To rent or buy in Spain? Here's the answer.
Galician Life
  • Here's a 10m history of the region. Even if you don't understand Spanish, the pictures will be enough.
  • The demolition of illegal properties in the region is said to have reached an historical high. Given the number of these, this might not actually be a big number in absolute terms.
The UK/The EU/Brexit
  • See the first article below.
  • I fear the utterly bored British nation will commit collective suicide before the end of October.
  • The next G7 meeting will be in a Ffart Miami 'facility'. He just doesn't care, does he? Nor his core supporters. Even Fox News has criticised it.
  • Says Niall Ferguson: Elizabeth Warren had a serious chance of becoming president. But, if you factor in social media, she will probably lose to Trump. And the same goes for anyone else the Democrats might choose to nominate. The reason is that Brad Parscale’s digital campaign for Trump is already miles ahead. See NF's full article below.
The Way of the World
  • UK police forces are recording suspected and convicted rapists as female if they no longer wish to identify with their male birth sex. Six forces disclosed that if someone is arrested for or convicted of rape, the official record will state the gender they chose to identify themselves as.
Social Media 
  • If you haven't done so already, see the article below.
  • Spanish is consolidated the 2nd most spoken language in the world. 580m people, 7.6% of the world's population, speak our language. Of these, 483m - three million more than a year ago - are native Spanish speakers. In addition, almost 22m people study Spanish in 110 countries. It is the third most used language on the internet, where it has great growth potential.
Finally . . .
  • I see quite a few young people driving very expensive cars in the UK. These can be bought for around €500 month over some years on a PCP scheme. Yesterday it struck me that this is probably less than a day's (untaxed) income if you're dealing. Along country lines. A rapidly growing problem, it's said.

1. Johnson's Brexit deal leaves me utterly depressed, even though I would grimly vote for it: Ambrose Evans Pritchard, Daily Telegraph.

So we await the next Brexit cliff-edge in 14 months. Project Fear will repeat itself. Even if Parliament backs the Johnson deal, we will have to go through this painful ordeal again.

The Withdrawal Agreement merely permits the UK to start talks on a trade deal. It lets us pay £33bn in order to play. Less has been resolved that most commentary seems to suggest.

I fear a horrible moment of disappointment when people discover what this means. I fear too that hopes of a post-deal economic boomlet and a surge of pent-up investment will come to little. Businesses still have no clarity.

The current state of limbo will cause multinationals to continue unwinding their manufacturing supply chains. This risks bringing about the very GDP slippage that the Remain academy keep predicting.

The hated level-playing field clauses in the May deal - hated because they turn the UK into a legal and regulatory colony of the EU - have been removed. But be careful. The Political Declaration is clear: we will have to agree to these clauses anyway in order to secure a free trade deal. That is how the EU will try to keep us in the cage.

We will again be faced with the choice of submitting to these demands or retreating to WTO trading terms - made harsher by the punitive loss of fast-track procedures for customs clearance and rules of origin. We will again hear warnings of “crashing out” with no trade deal. Stories of 15-mile lorry jams across Kent will be recycled. Vested interests will re-stoke hysteria.  

We will be vulnerable to the same diplomatic and economic blackmail. In the words of Sir Ivan Rogers, the former UK Brexit negotiator, the EU’s aim has always been to “maximise leverage during the withdrawal process and tee up a trade negotiation after our exit where the clock and the cliff edge can again be used to maximise concessions from London -  so that they have the UK against the wall again in 2020”.

Sir Ivan is brutally honest - and correct - about the character of the EU and its proto-imperial reflexes. While he may not have intended it, his analysis leads only to two conclusions: revocation of Article 50; or a traumatic no-deal rupture that reshuffles the pack entirely. Anything in between these two is not a stable political equilibrium and is ultimately unworkable.

This is not to criticise Boris Johnson. He was dealt a bad hand. The original sin of Brexit talks was to let the EU dictate sequencing and separate with Withdrawal Agreement (and the exit fee) from the future trade deal. Perhaps Article 50 made this unavoidable.

Given the limitations, the Prime Minister has pulled off a diplomatic victory of sorts. As I argued yesterday, this was possible only because the EU itself is acutely vulnerable to an economic shock at this juncture. It is close to recession and it has no monetary defences left against a deflationary vortex if mistakes are made.

But again be careful. You can interpret the exuberant back-slapping at the EU Council on Thursday in different ways. Relief at avoiding a no-deal - yes, certainly - but also satisfaction that Brussels now has the UK more or less trapped.

This may be too gloomy. Boris Johnson may soon win an election and possibly a landslide - unless this Rotten Parliament refuses to allow a vote and succeeds abusively in forcing him to remain in office, a political prisoner with no working majority and no effective government.

If he does win, the negotiating dynamic with Brussels will be different in 2020. The EU will not be able to play off Westminster tribes against each other so easily. The cliff edge for the UK will be less severe since the May/Johnson deal does resolve a string of technical issues such as nuclear ties under Euratom or landing rights for aircraft, etc.

This makes a WTO walk-out more plausible, and therefore more menacing for the EU as it tries to preserve its £95bn trade surplus with the UK (while offering no reciprocal access for services, of course).

It may also be clearer by then that the EU is in deep economic trouble. Citigroup’s recession barometer for the US over the next year has risen to 70pc. The New York Fed’s indicator is a whisker shy of its peak before the Lehman crisis.  If the US rolls over - and the underlying data from China is getting worse too - the eurozone will face a combined banking crisis and an industrial car crash. This changes the psychology.

Besides, the Labour Party has made an error by demanding ‘dynamic alignment’ with the EU’s environmental and labour laws, implicitly telling the British people that this country is incapable of setting its own laws and running its own policy. What happened to the once-great patriotic Labour Party?

In reality the UK has been a star performer in environmental policy over the last decade. Its carbon floor price has driven coal out of the power market, in contrast to German reliance on coal. The UK has committed to a vast expansion of offshore wind. It is the first major state to write a net zero emissions target by 2050 into law.

It will become clearer over the next year that Boris Johnson is outflanking Labour with his own green agenda - though a free-market, pro-growth variant - and that he may go some way in shooting Labour’s fox on worker protection as well. For one thing that the EU certainly is not, is pro-worker, whatever the Social Chapter purports to be.

It is a corporatist regime that lets companies exploit wage arbitrage and carry out cross-border plant relocations to hold down wages. That is why the Swiss trade unions oppose their country’s EU deal. They say it degrades Swiss protection policy. Why is Jeremy Corbyn never probed on this?

So yes, British and European politics may look different in a year. Everything is fluid. Sometimes you have to take the Guicciardini approach to life: accepting that seemingly intractable problems often fade away before they reach you. The Machiavelli reflex of trying to pre-empt every hazard can make matters worse.

I agree with the verdict of Martin Howe from Lawyers for Brexit that the flawed Johnson deal is a “tolerable price to pay for our freedom” and I would vote for it stoically tomorrow if I were an MP. But be under no illusions: the long struggle is just beginning.

2. Donald Trump could Facebook himself a second term: Niall Ferguson, Milbank Family senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford

Mark Zuckerberg’s commitment to free speech is good news for the president.

An unusual thing happened last week. Mark Zuckerberg gave a speech with which I mostly agreed. Regular readers will know that I have frequently criticised the chief executive of Facebook. My book The Square and the Tower contains some harsh words about his company — and particularly its conduct in the fateful election year of 2016.

However, speaking at Georgetown University in Washington last week, the Facebook co-founder took a stance on the issue of free speech that pleasantly surprised me. First, he got his history right. “Giving everyone a voice,” he argued, “empowers the powerless” whereas “the most repressive societies have always restricted speech the most”. Correct. “Pulling back on free expression . . . often ended up hurting the minority views we seek to protect.” Also correct.

Second, Zuckerberg recognised that the internet has fundamentally transformed the public sphere. We are no longer in the old world of newspapers, radio and television: “People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world — a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society.”

I like the coinage of the Fifth Estate. In case you’ve lost track of those pre-French Revolution categories, the First Estate is — or was — the clergy, the second the nobility and the third the middle class. The fourth, the press, came later and should now be called the old media.

Pity me: I come from what little is left of the Third Estate and write for the fourth. The former is being hollowed out between the plutocratic “one per cent” and the populist masses; the latter is barely surviving the loss of advertising revenues to Facebook, not to mention Google. Small wonder that I have been a Zuckerberg critic. His Fifth Estate seems to have it in for both of mine.

The third and most important point of his talk was a trenchant defence of free speech. Facebook, he said, will “continue to stand for free expression, understanding its messiness, but believing that the long journey towards greater progress requires confronting ideas that challenge us”.

That will not mean applying a strict first amendment standard — remember, that binds only the government not to restrict speech — but something close to it. So far as possible, Facebook will not allow terrorist propaganda, child pornography, incitements to violence, misinformation “that could lead to imminent physical harm” and political messages by foreign bots masquerading as Americans. Otherwise, it will err on the side of free expression.

At a time when, not least in universities, there are ever-louder demands to prohibit “hate speech”, Zuckerberg’s opposition to the “ever-expanding definition of what speech is harmful” and his pledge to “fight to uphold as wide a definition of freedom of expression as possible” are very welcome. No trigger warnings. No safe spaces.

It is also refreshing to hear this affirmation of free speech at a time when the Chinese government is so clearly demonstrating the link from authoritarianism to censorship. It has been easy to criticise the National Basketball Association for its craven repudiation of the manager of the Houston Rockets, who had expressed his support for the Hong Kong protesters. That is the price of doing business in China. Last week I received the Chinese translation of The Square and the Tower. The sections on Chinese social and political networks were conspicuous by their absence. You either play by the Communist Party’s rules or you exit the Chinese market.

As Zuckerberg said in an interview last week, there is now a clear contest on the internet between “American companies and platforms with strong free expression values” and their Chinese rivals, which will censor whatever the government in Beijing tells them to. Right again.

The test of your commitment to free speech is how far you are prepared to tolerate not only views you disagree with — hate speech — but also views that are downright mendacious: fake speech. Last month Facebook unveiled a new policy not to moderate politicians’ speech or fact-check their political adverts. The policy was swiftly put to the test when Donald Trump’s campaign released a 30-second video advert accusing former US vice-president Joe Biden of corrupt conduct in Ukraine. When Biden’s campaign asked Facebook to take down the ad, the company refused. Elizabeth Warren — Biden’s rival for the Democratic nomination — countered by creating a fake ad of her own that claimed Zuckerberg and Facebook had endorsed Trump.

Warren has called Facebook a “disinformation-for-profit machine”. If elected president, she has pledged to break the company up. But, like her European counterparts, she fails to see that in asking Facebook to decide which political ads air and which do not, she is implicitly ceding far more power to the company than it wants or should have. Do we want free speech on the internet, with all its nastiness? Or do we want censorship, which historically tends to be associated with a much more profound nastiness? To me, that’s an easy one.

Yet there is a price tag associated with a free-speech Facebook and we should not ignore it. The presidential election of 2020 will be only the third in which the internet has been the decisive battleground. And the internet will matter even more in 2020 than it did in 2016, when it mattered more than it did in 2012.

In my previous column I noted — on the basis not only of opinion polls but also of prediction markets — that Warren had a serious chance of becoming president. But I now want to argue that, if you factor in social media, she will probably lose to Trump. And the same goes for anyone else the Democrats might choose to nominate. The reason is that Brad Parscale’s digital campaign for Trump is already miles ahead.

According to data for the year up to September 19, published by The New York Times last week, the Trump campaign has spent $15.9m (£12m) on Facebook and Google ads, more than the total spent by the top three Democratic candidates combined. While the Democrats do old-school things such as debating on cable television, Parscale and his team are aggregating the mobile advertising IDs of the entire voting population, matching location data from phone usage to other information they have.

In my book I argued that Facebook — not Russia — was the crucial factor in the 2016 election. From June to November 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign spent $28m and tested 66,000 different ads. Working closely with Facebook, Trump’s people spent nearly twice as much ($44m) and tested nearly a hundred times more ads (5.9m).

Facebook — and Google — will matter even more next year. One side fully understands that and it is not the Democrats. Zuckerberg is right: it is not his job to come between Parscale and Facebook users. But we should all clearly understand what this means: it very probably means a second Trump term.

The Fifth Estate has indeed empowered the powerless. But not only them.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 19.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • Looking at the mayhem in Cataluña, one wonders if Spain has politicians of sufficient calibre to solve this problem. Or even just address it. Not much evidence of such, I'm afraid. But, then, we get the politicians we deserve. Whether we're in Spain, the USA or the UK. But possibly not in, say, Russia, Or Turkey. Or Syria.
Spanish Life
  • The annual sheep show in Madrid.
  • The Olive Press here offers 31[sic] 'facts' aimed at helping you, if you're moving to Spain. They relate mostly to the southern and eastern coasts and some are questionable even there. But I liked the ones about driving and roundabouts . . .
Galicia Life
  • It's reported that the number of households complaining about early morning noise from nearby bars and discos has reduced by half in 10 years. But still totalled 107,000 last year. Fines imposed range from €300 to €30,000. You must have to be recalcitrant to justify the latter.
The UK/The EU/Brexit
  • Richard North: Standing aside from the media hype, it has now been possible to start the long process of getting to grips with the new text, and to begin to try and understand some of its implications. This will take some time and anyone who claims to have a complete grasp of what it entails is either a liar or charlatan – or both.
  • Undaunted, The Guardian has a go at it here.
The EU
  • French and German divisions over another Brexit delay are about a struggle for European dominance. See the article below.
The UK
  • I had a dinner with 2 English friends and 1 Spanish friend on Wednesday night, in a large pub offering a wide range of international dishes that couldn't possibly be cooked from start to finish in 15 minutes. Or at all. For, at 8.15, we were told the kitchen was closed, as the staff had all gone home at 8. To our Spanish member, this was inconceivable. And it wasn't too credible to the rest of us either. Anyway, we went next door for a curry and had a very good meal there. Though our Spanish colleague complained that the Biryani rice was the 'hottest thing I've had in my life'. Until she tried the (mild-to-us) sauce that came with it.
  • Yet more proof that 'every Ffart accusation is a confession': "Ms Pelosi needs help fast. She had a total meltdown in the White House today. It was very sad to watch. Pray for her, she is a very sick person." 
  • Par for the course. Ffart has chosen one of the Prosperity Gospel shysters to be be a member of the federal education board.
  • Ffarts's Ffraudulent Ffinances.
The Way of the World
  • Fed up of your old-fashioned analog rosary beads? Well, here's an (uncheap) PrayerBit for you.
Shysters Corner 
  • Possibly the very worst/best. Crooked Jim Bakker has enlisted Ffart's “spiritual adviser” Paula White to help him collect the money of gullible believers who 'need' his buckets of gunge ahead of Armageddon. During his show this week, White told viewers they had to donate thousands of dollars so that Bakker could build a new studio. She added that there was a 'Treasury Department' in Heaven paying close attention to how viewers spent their money.
  • Word of the Day: Llovizna. Drizzle; mist. Apparently it's rained every day since I left Galicia on 30 September, 19 days ago.
  • Reader Perry has kindly provided these additional positive adjectives which have - assuming they existed in the first place - fallen into desuetude. Possibly like desuetude:-
- Gruntled
- Combobulated

  • Check your irony meter . . . Smart doorbells designed to prevent crime are having the opposite effect as thieves simply rip them off the doorframe and sell them on the black market. The devices, made by the Amazon-owned company Ring, have a camera that records visitors as they approach the door and streams the video to the homeowner’s mobile phone. But with a retail price of between £90 and £450, they are proving too much of a temptation.

Brexit extension: The French and German power struggle behind the row: Bruno Waterfield, Brussels, the Daily Telegraph

French and German divisions over another Brexit delay are about a struggle for European dominance.

President Macron’s political star is in the ascendant as Angela Merkel’s fortunes are waning, and the French leader is pushing her to one side.

Mr Macron regards Brexit as consolidating his political power and prestige, transforming the EU into a more European project dominated by France. Mrs Merkel worries that Brexit will damage the EU and views the prospect of no deal as a historic mistake that could break the western alliance that has kept the peace since the Second World War.

At the summit dinner last night Mr Macron blocked EU enlargement to include Albania and North Macedonia, taking on Mrs Merkel and wielding his veto.

During confidential talks between the European leaders on Thursday, the German chancellor warned them not to pretend that the EU would not grant another Brexit delay if Boris Johnson’s deal were defeated in the Commons. Yesterday the French president defied her to do just that, warning that there would be no extension if MPs rejected the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement, potentially leading to a no-deal Brexit on October 31. His undermining of Mrs Merkel’s position illustrates his political ascendancy and his growing confidence to challenge her dominance of the EU. Diplomatic sources do not expect Mr Macron to veto an extension if it is requested. It is widely known, however, that he wants Brexit to be over as soon as possible.

It is really a tussle for power between the EU’s political giants: Mrs Merkel, once dubbed the “Queen of Europe”, and Mr Macron, who has styled himself as Jupiter, king of the Gods.

The German chancellor regards Brexit as a defining moment of her career and fears that an acrimonious divorce, especially no deal, would set back international relations and represent a serious historical reversal. Mr Macron views Britain’s departure as an opportunity to secure French dominance when it has been eclipsed in the EU by Mrs Merkel’s Germany for a decade. With Britain out of the way, he believes that France would become Europe’s leading military and political power.

No longer preoccupied with her own political survival as she prepares to leave office next year, Mrs Merkel, 65, is thinking about her legacy. As she leaves the stage, Mr Macron, 41, has his eye on the main chance of installing himself at the top of the EU. If history is involved, it is his own sense of personal destiny to get Britain out of the EU so that France can be stronger.

Mrs Merkel wants Britain to remain in the EU as long as possible in the hope that Brexit is reconsidered. But although Mr Macron will not pull the trigger on a no-deal Brexit, he is eager for Britain to be gone.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 18.10.19

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

Note: One or two of the items below have been borrowed from Lenox Napier's Business Over Tapas of yesterday.

Spanish Politics
  • Here's an overview on the Catalan mess from the NY Times, positing the right question. To which no one really knows the answer. 
  • Meanwhile  . . . The riot report card.
Spanish Life
  • Incredible Spain:-
  1. A cliffside abbey
  2. Divers stunning places.
  • This article on Spanish eating and drinking habits claims that, if you spend a while in Spain, then at some point you'll inevitably find yourself with a large glass of Calimocho. Well, maybe if you're below 35. It also talks of 'green grocers', who are presumably in the van of one of today's movements. And possibly also woke. Maybe even XR.
  • Talking about people being ahead of the herd, here's a welcome report from the city of Alicante.
  • Useful for drivers? BTW . . . The Spanish law is harsh. In the UK, you're given time to display your licence at a police station. But, then, there isn't the same obsession with proving your ID in the UK as there indubitably is in Spain. In the USA, things might well differ from state to state.
The UK/The EU/Brexit
  • Richard North is considerably less euphoric than most this morning. Click here for his sprays of cold water, as he tries to peer through the murk in search of possible/probable outcomes. You might lose the will to live before the end of his post.
  • The Local reminds us here of what a Brexit deal will mean for Brits resident in Spain
  • Shysting at its very best. All premised on the imminence of the End Time(s), which have been coming for quite a while now. And have led to several major disappointments. But rarely embarrassments. Let alone apologies.
  • Word of the Day: Quejona: Complainer; whiner; moaner. Oddly, I can't find this in the Royal Academy's dictionary, where quejoso/a is preferred. But there are synonyms here.
  • A chap on the radio said he was couth, kempt and shevelled. Thus describing himself with 3 words no longer used in British (nor American?) English. Though you might stumble across one in an Indian newspaper, I guess.
Finally . . .
  • I was in Liverpool again yesterday. Such is the pace of construction there that I was convinced the several new tall buildings on the right as I moved from Wapping Street to Upper Parliament Street hadn't been there the previous week. 
  • And, while stopped at the traffic lights on the latter street, I snapped this:-

My impression is that much of this residential development is for the ever-growing student population. Though maybe not in (luxury-oriented?) Parliament Square.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 17.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics 
  • There are numerous reports and videos on the Catalan developments on the net. Choose your side/perspective and read on. Or look at a selection of both and remain confused. Or clear and angry.
  • Here's the BBC, trying to be objective and balanced, and so upsetting everyone.
  • HT to Lenox of Business over Tapas for the citation of this video from the Spanish government - Everybody's Land - to stress/prove the strength of Spanish democracy. Interesting timing. 
Spanish Life
  • Readers Perry and María have written on how it works being an autonoma in Spain or a sole trader in the UK, highlighting some significant differences in the promotion of entrepreneurialism in the 2 countries. More specifically, the opposite of this in Spain. So harsh are the ab initio social security and tax provisions here that the Tax Office (the Hacienda) has been known to advise would-be autonomas not to rpor anything until they have sufficient revenue to bear them. In other words, to operate 'on the black'.
Galicia/Pontevedra life
  • The autumnal rains have arrived in force, I'm told. For once, I'm happier here in Heald Green, where the sun's shining today
  • Another successful triathlon event in Pontevedra city.
The UK/The EU/Brexit
  • Richard North this morning: Today will be as unpredictable as ever, as we all struggle to understand what is going on in an environment that gets madder and madder by the day. [Postscript: It's just been jointly announced that a deal has been struck, which some already say is worse than Mrs May's. So, will it get parliamentary approval???]
  • It's not only in Spain that one is in danger on the pavements. Yesterday a woman passed me on a bike doing at least 20kph. Given that I was switching a heavy bag of groceries from hand to hand as I walked, we can all imagine what would have happened if this had been happening just as she reached me on the relevant side.
  • Here's what's said to be proof of Ffart's craziness. Do we really need it?
  • Well, just in case, here's a bit more evidence.
Finally . . . 
  • I saw this machine on the wall of the priest's house next to my daughter's church. I asked her if it was for dispensing indulgences in return for cash. She replied that it was a defibrillator, as it says on the tin . . .  



Thank God, thank God—the beacon light
Is breaking beautiful through night;
Urge the boat through the surge, once more
We are beside our English shore.

    Oh! weary nights and days to me
Have set and risen upon the sea;
I never wish to sail again
O'er the interminable main.

    ‘Tis wonderful to see the sky
Hang out her guiding stars on high,
And mirror'd in the ocean fair,
As if another heaven were there.

    And glorious is it thus to go,
The white foam dashing from the prow,
As our ship through the waves hath gone,
Mistress of all she looked upon.

    But weary is it for the eye
To only meet the sea and sky;
And weary is it for the ear
But only winds and waves to hear.

    I pined for leaves, I pined for flowers,
For meadows green, with driving showers;
For all the sights and sounds of life,
Wherewith the air of earth is rife.

    Farewell, wild waves, again I come
To England and my English home;
Thank God, thank God, the beacon light
Is breaking beautiful through night.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 16.10.19

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

Note:  Today is one of those days when nearly all of the stuff I read last night and early this morning is negative. Not my fault . . .

Spanish Politics
  • While the rest of the world ponders whether the Catalan trial sentences bowed more in the direction of politics than justice, the nasty (insane?) folk who kicked off the whole shooting-match are complaining that the long jail sentences weren't anywhere near tough enough and threatening to seek a judicial review of them. With people like this now in the political mainstream, one despairs of a  solution.
  • Meanwhile, here's a Catalan view of the 'extremism at the heart of the Spanish national project'. I can't say this increases my level of optimism. But I can, at least, agree that there's a fundamental fragility about Spanish national unity.
  • And here's a report on more police violence in Cataluña. You'd have thought that Madrid - desperate not to go on losing the international PR battle - would have pulled out all the stops to prevent this but apparently not.
The Spanish Economy
Spanish Life
  • Spain's employed folk are decidedly malcontented, it says here.
  • I think I suggested it was time to reconsider the National Day and its concomitant militarism. Here and here people have a go at the very basis of it - the achievements of Cristóbal Colón. Or Christopher Columbus, as he's known in the Anglosphere. I can't see this going down well in Spain.
  • A must-read if you're a 'native' teacher of English in Spain. Of course, one can complain loudly about abuses but, if there's no effective system to back up the law, it'll be largely in vain. The practical realities will determine how you're treated by the unscrupulous.
Galicia/Pontevedra life
  • A bit of happy news. . . . More from the alternative Land of Oz.
The UK 
  • As everyone resident in Spain knows, we all have an ID card and we all have to use it on every single (even slightly) official occasion. For example, when paying a motoring fine, just in case anyone else might be paying it for you . . . But, anyway, Brits don't have ID cards or DNI/NIE numbers to proffer upon on demand, But some of them have passports or driving licences. And most, if not all, of them have National Insurance and NHS numbers. This is the backdrop to yesterday's news that the leader of the Labour Party - Oh, Jeremy Corbyn - has claimed that plans to make all UK voters prove their identity will "disproportionately" discriminate against ethnic minorities and that they are an attempt to "suppress voters" and "rig" the next general election result. Not content with that, Mr C added that it's a "blatant attempt by the Conservative Party to deny people their democratic rights". I suspect you really do have to be a very old-fashioned class warrior to see things this way. Spaniards would be dumbfounded by his reaction. But, then, they know what a real dictatorship looks like.
  • As predicted, the pound is on a rollercoaster this week, against the euro.
The EU
  • These are the reasons why the 'European motor' [i. e. Germany] is losing its energy.
  • I listened to this podcast on the Rapture yesterday, a doctrine invented by an Englishman in the early 19th century and later taken to heart (and soul) by US evangelists. What's worrying is that Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo and Raymond Barr all profess to believing in it. And Ffart naturally claims that he does too, almost certainly without knowing what it really is. 
Nutters Corner
  • A real surfeit today:-
  1. Welcome back, Michelle Bachman, who says there can't be a GW threat as her god has promised that the seas will never rise again.
  2. Liz Cheney blames Turkish aggression on the opening of the impeachment enquiry by the devilish Democrats.
  3. Attorney General Raymond Barr attributes every evil in the world to secularism, ignoring all evidence to the complete contrary. Only the religious mind can do this. While believing in something for which there is nil evidence other than in a holy book.
BTW . . . All of these have something in common, of course; they're prominent Republicans in a country where extreme right-wing Christian evangelists have more political sway than anywhere else in the world. But their time in the sun won't last for ever, of course. And might well end a early as next year.

  • Word of the Day: Sedición: Sedition: Per the Royal Academy: 1. Collective and violent uprising against authority, public order or military discipline, without reaching the gravity of 'rebellion'. 2. An uprising of passions.
Finally . . .
  • If, as I recommend, you read the latest novel - A Lovely View of Sea - by my very old friend, Michael Carson, then these fotos will help you visualise things:-
  1. The window of the house at the end of Richmond Street:-

2. The lovely view of sea from said window, which - in truth - could be lovelier. Fort Perch Rock is just left of the red thing:-

P. S, I recall seeing the bowling alley on the left opened by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. quite some years ago. . . But mostly I recall the dress of his partner, which was open down to the waist.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 15.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • I'm sure that the majority non-Catalan Spaniards will disagree but it's hard not to have some sympathy with the view that the Catalan trial sentences are political in nature. Though this might be going too far, given that the laws exist and provide for these sentences.
  • The (acting) Prime Minister has called for 'a new chapter in Cataluña'. Fine, but does anyone have any real idea of how this is going to be brought about? Or will this sore continue to fester for possibly decades?
  • Does Spain need a jeringoza and will she get one after the November elections? Yes and No, I fear. Things are still too tribal here, I fancy.
  • I see that Germany and France are to curb arms sales to Turkey, but not Spain. I'm still wondering why not.
The Spanish Economy
  • The inflation news is good, though I do wonder how they can be so accurate.
Spanish Life
  • It's reported that more than 4m Spaniards are vegetarian or vegan and that the number is growing rapidly. Having seen 3 vegetarian restaurants close in Pontevedra over the years, I'm dubious about this. 
  • El País says this is the most exclusive place in Spain in which to live. If you can call it Spain. As you can see here, I don't regard that coastline to be worth this compliment. That was written when I visited the place some years ago but I doubt it's got any more authentic since then. That said, beyond the coast, Andalucia has some truly wonderful places to see. Unless you crave solitude.
Galicia/Pontevedra life
  • As I keep repeating, Galicia has 3 small 'international' airports, each of them uneconomic. Vigo's has 1.1m customers a year but no international flights during the winter. It used to have a weekly flight from Paris - because of the Citroen factory in the city - but lost this to one of the other 2 airports in the endless game of Play-off that goes on between the 3 of them and the airlines. IGIYSTS
The UK 
  • A staggering 77% of Brits have no confidence that the House of Commons can take the right decisions on Brexit. So, they should be grateful they have Brussels to do this for them.
  • Allegedly, it's going to be a bad week for Ffart. Not that he would necessarily perceive this.
  • Someone who's no admirer of the man, fears that impeachment will drive a desperate Ffart to initiate his own coup, aimed at making him the dictator he really isn't but would like to be. Thought-provoking. Hard to rule out, given everything we've seen.
  • Phrases of the Day: 5 old sayings, with their English equivalents.
Finally . . .
  1. As you may or may not know, (North) Americans don't use cutlery the way others do. Specifically, they don't use the knife and fork at the same time but, rather, first cut up stuff, then lay down the knife, before shifting the the fork to their preferred hand, so that they can shovel everything into their waiting mouths. As Stephen Pinker writes, this way you end up chasing peas around the plate with your fork in pursuit of purchase. Brits, on the other hand, use cutlery simultaneously and solve the pea problem by using the knife to force them onto the back of an overturned fork. I've always regarded the latter as pretty stupid but now realise things could have been stupider. 
  2. Yesterday, I saw a reference to an interesting-looking new book - 52 Times Britain Was A Bellend: The History You Didn’t Get Taught At School’ by James Felton. To be published this week. I was reminded of this conversation with my younger daughter:.
Me: Han, what's a bloody bellend?
YD: Dad, are you joking???

Those still ignorant should click here. And show some sympathy for the folk of this place. Where there's an unfortunately named 'Bell End service station'.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 14.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
The Spanish Economy
  • Last year, Britain bought 11% of La Rioja’s output. Producers warn that, if there's a no-deal Brexit, they will prioritise other markets. Fair enough, but there's an awful lot of red wine of comparable quality produced in other countries. Cheaper Portugal being the closest one. I anticipate growth in reds from the up and coming Douro and Dão regions.
Spanish Life
The UK 
  • Brexit: This, they say, is going to be 'The Week of Weeks', as portrayed here:-

  • Something for reader Perry, on the darling of the far right, Ben Shapiro.
  • These are the 4 medications which Ffart is said to take daily. And which are thought to affect his mental state:-
Rosuvastatin - An anticholesterol.  Recommended to be used together with dietary changes, exercise, and weight loss. As if.
- An antibiotic - Against rosacea. Should not be taken daily, permanently.
- 'Baby aspirin' - Against blood clots in/near the heart.
- 'Propecia' - As you'd expect, for hair growth.

  • Word of the Day: Bullicioso. Boisterous; Noisy. As applied, perhaps, to one's grandchildren.
  • In the rugby World Cup yesterday, host nation Japan did it again last night, beating 'first tier' Scotland, after they'd done the same to Ireland. As one writer put it lyrically: Whatever happens henceforward, this World Cup has been blessed by its host nation and a marvellous team who are playing rugby in a way we have barely seen before and are treating the world to a spectacle that has you blinking in joy and disbelief. . . . Japan gave this stadium an experience, a spectacle, a night to treasure. It was more than “I was there”; it was “I witnessed the magic.” Quite something.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 13.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish politics
The Spanish Economy
Spanish Life
  • The Olive Press reports that : ‘A pair of British and Dutch expats have produced a film on 80 of Spain’s many castles.' Click here for more on this.
  • An extremely unusual vineyard.
The UK
  • Richard North on Brexit today: There is a lot riding on this week, but rarely has our immediate political future been so opaque.
  • Hard to believe . . .  Cash-strapped NHS hospitals are paying locum doctors record sums of almost £4,000 each per shift in a bid to plug a growing staffing crisis across the health service. Brits, of course, love their NHS, while no one else in the world sees it as a model for a public healthcare system. Bit of a dissonance there.
  • Here's a commentator of the Left, having a go at answering a frequent question from Europe.
  • See the first article below on why, despite everything, Ffart could gain a second term. Unless he's assassinated by a Republican in the next 12 months
  • There are some very funny bits here.
  • Who said this?: "Anyone who loves his mother or father, or son or daughter is not worthy of me." Well, of course, it could be the megalomaniacal Ffart but, in fact, it was a first century AD/CE guru. I'm sure you can guess who.
The Way of the World
  • This morning, my son-in-law asked me if I wanted their spare doorbell. "Doorbell??' I asked, whereupon the screen of the TV changed from a rugby match in Japan to a series of ads for doorbells. Neither of us found this appealing. To say the least.
  • See the article below on the reaction against early/premature treatment of kids who think they want/need to change their gender.
  • From El País in English here: Why the Spanish language is losing ground in Gibraltar. Younger generations are using English almost exclusively, a fact educators blame partly on social media.
  •  I learned today that thot is the go-to insult these days for a girl of questionable repute - an acronym of “that ho over there”. As if we didn't have enough alternatives already.
    • When I want to indicate I'm nonchalant, I say: I couldn't care less. But my American friends say: I could care less. Each of these means the opposite to a listener from the other country. I'm guessing Irish influence again.

1. One reason why Donald Trump could win the 2020 US election despite his impeachment woes
Tom Rees

Donald Trump appears to be a president under siege as the relentless American election cycle kicks back into gear.  Calls for impeachment are growing louder, he is the least popular US president at this stage of his term for decades, and polling indicates Trump would lose to any of the leading Democratic candidates in the 2020 vote.

At a fiery rally in Minneapolis last night Trump predicted a backlash to the impeachment inquiry that threatens to topple him but he has another, better weapon that could still save his bacon: the economy.

“It’s the economy stupid” – the famous slogan used by Bill Clinton in his bid to oust the floundering incumbent George Bush Sr in 1992 – should be emblazoned on the battle map of every presidential campaign.

The theory goes that an incumbent president is notoriously difficult to dislodge in boom times but highly vulnerable when job losses pile up and growth stutters.

New research by Oxford Economics has found that economic indicators successfully predicted the popular vote in 16 out of the last 18 elections.

Its election model, based solely on economic factors, predicts a barnstorming victory for Trump, should he survive impeachment, ushering in four more years of Twitter tirades and tumult.

Unemployment has fallen to its lowest level in 50 years

Unemployment rate (pc)
Could the solid economy secure Trump fourmore years?

1970    2.5
1980    5.0
1990  10.0
2000    7.5
2010  10.0
2020  12.5

Current economic indicators suggest that Trump would seize victory by 55pc to 45pc in the popular vote. That compares to losing the popular vote 48pc to 46pc in 2016 but still managing to win the electoral college.

“A record low unemployment rate, subdued inflation and only moderately cooler income growth will favour the incumbent party despite some party fatigue,” explains Gregory Daco, an Oxford Economics economist. Its model uses joblessness figures, inflation and real disposable income growth as the key factors influencing elections.

“Research indicates that voters typically focus on that party’s economic performance and generally factor in data only from the last year before the election," he adds.

That last point could prove crucial just over a year before the 2020 election. While Trump’s greatest strength now is the economy, it could become his Achilles heel in a year’s time.

Closely watched indicators on bond markets suggest that the risk of recession within the next 12 months is at its highest since the financial crisis as the trade war bruises business confidence.

The New York Fed's recession probability gauge is calculated using the US Treasury yield curve

The probability a recession will begin in that month

Recession likelihood (pc)
The probability of a US recession has surgedto worrying levels
The New York Fed's recession probability gauge iscalculated using the US Treasury yield curve
2005   0
2010 20
2015 40
2020 60

Much could depend on how trade talks with China develop in the next few days and whether a slowdown in the US will develop into the more serious slump taking hold in Europe and China.

“The recessionary risks from another round of tit-for-tat tariff hikes should be a concern to the Trump re-election,” warns Chris Krueger, an analyst at Cowen.

While a strong economy would normally be enough to defend the presidency, it may not be sufficient for Trump.

Polling earlier this year suggested that the economy was beaten by healthcare as the top issue for Americans. And despite shepherding the strongest labour market for decades and a robust economy, Trump is incredibly unpopular at this point in his presidency.

At an approval rating of 42pc, he is the most unpopular president after 995 days since Jimmy Carter, a one-term president.

Just a decade after the worst recession since the Great Depression, have voters that typically yearn for economic security become complacent?

Daco acknowledges that non-economic issues are “likely to play an outsized role in this election”, highlighting race, gender and likeability as possible factors.

He adds that Oxford Economics’ model “doesn’t factor in the wider political context, such as the present populist undercurrents or historical scandals”.

Perhaps this time it’s anything but the economy, stupid.

2. The Times view on the Tavistock clinic and hormone-blocking drugs for the young: Informed Consent

A child gender clinic in London is being threatened with legal action. The question of whether children can agree to life-altering treatment must be carefully weighed

The moment a pregnancy is announced, expectant mothers are asked whether they are awaiting a boy or a girl. As children get older, most have a straightforward relationship with their gender. Yet for a growing minority, the question becomes vexed and can cause immense distress.

In recent years the number of children reporting gender dysphoria — the conviction that the sex on their birth certificate is the wrong one — has rocketed. Five years ago, 468 children were referred to the Tavistock and Portman NHS trust’s gender identity development service in north London, while last year alone, 2,519 children were referred.

Today we report that the clinic is being threatened with legal action by a parent who wants to stop it from prescribing hormone blockers to her 15-year-old daughter. These are powerful drugs that work on the brain to stop the eventual release of oestrogen or testosterone.

In 2014 the Tavistock changed its policy to allow puberty-blocking drugs to be prescribed to children as young as 11. Only those deemed by clinicians to have sufficient maturity and intelligence to understand the risks and consequences of treatment can undergo it without parental permission. It is always open, however, for parents to apply to the courts for orders preventing medical treatment.

This child’s mother argues that her daughter has autism and is not in a position to give informed consent. The mother is being supported in her case by a former psychotherapist who worked at the clinic for four years and became concerned by how quickly children were being cleared to begin medical treatment.

Neither the children nor their parents, they argue, are being given enough information about the risks of hormone-blocking treatment, including the possible loss of fertility and the likely loss of the ability to orgasm.

The debate around gender identity has seldom seemed more ferocious. Yet for all its heat, the question of whether children should be able to choose to take medical action to change gender is not simple.

There are two groups whose needs must be taken into account. First, children with gender dysphoria who will change their minds and settle into their natal gender in the fullness of time.

Second, children who will forever feel enclosed in the wrong gender unless they receive medical treatment. For both groups, the clock is ticking as puberty will further fix their bodies into their birth gender. Studies show that the vast majority of youngsters who begin puberty blockers go on to have irreversible hormone treatment at 16.

The concern is that the Tavistock clinic is prioritising the needs of the second group by providing too swift and smooth a pathway to medical treatment. This is not the first time concerns have surfaced.

Last year, a group of parents of transgender children wrote to the board of the Tavistock trust, alleging that it was “fast-tracking” children into life-altering decisions. The Times reported in April that five clinicians had resigned from the service with concerns that vulnerable children struggling with their sexuality were being wrongly diagnosed as transgender without adequate assessments.

Many of the children seeking treatment will have been waiting for months to set foot in the clinic. Many will have done so in anguish. A 2017 study found that 8 out of 10 trans young people have self-harmed and almost half have attempted to take their own lives. The pressure on the clinic to provide quick solutions for these children is immense. Yet haste must not prevail over long-term wellbeing.

To change gender is momentous. Children should not be rushed into setting out on that path. And they should be fully aware of the risks, both psychological and physical. As things stand, with evidence on the long-term effects of hormone blockers still thin on the ground, it is not clear that any child, whether autistic or not, is in the position to make that decision.