Thursday, October 31, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 31.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics 
  • Cataluña. Will tough talk work?
  • The November elections: The very, very latest . . . . The PSOE will have a lot more seats. But still not enough.
  • The Valley of the Fallen: There are now moves afoot to transform the monument into a centre for reconciliation dedicated to the memory of the 500,000 people who died during the 1936-1939 conflict. There’s resistance even to this idea from conservatives, who are determined to bury the past, arguing that it will re-open old wounds. But they’re being disingenuous. Just as a mental health professional will instruct a patient to undergo therapy to address deep-seated trauma, Spain must hold a wide-ranging, all-inclusive debate on the impact the war and the regime had on the country, just like South Africa did over apartheid. Whatever nationalists would like to believe, the truth is that francoism was destined to die along with the dictator. It was a hotchpotch of ideas designed solely by and for Franco, based on a mix of traditional Catholicism, the glorification of Spanish history, and a hatred of communism, jewry, anglo-saxons and masonry. None of this resonates with the aspirations of a modern, 21st century European nation – it’s time to bury this piece of deeply disturbing nostalgia. So much for all the Spanish courageously facing up to their past. Full article here
  • Meanwhile . . . .
Spanish Life
The UK 
  • The December election 1: Will it work? More than half of voters do not believe that a general election will resolve anything on Brexit. A new poll found that 58% of people do not think the stalemate will be broken by electing a new parliament, while only 25% thought it would help to resolve matters. Vamos a ver.
  • The December election 2: Richard North: The next 6 weeks are set to be filled with unremitting tedium. This need not be the case, and should not be. But, with the calibre of our politicians and media, we can expect little else.
  • In parliament yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn talked of 'our glorious NHS' and complained it was in crisis because of Tories not throwing enough money at it. Can he really be unaware that: 1. The NHS is regarded as a joke in other EU countries with much better systems? And 2. By its very nature, the NHS is condemned to always be in crisis? Seems not.
  •  Ffart - the very oppodite of presidential.
The Way of the World
  • My daughter got a call last night, purportedly from her bank, advising that her account had been frozen because of suspicious activity on it. The call was checked this morning and confirmed to be genuine. Meanwhile, I had read this worrying article about what the bastards can do these days to con even the most wary.
  • Consensual hallucination, and what happens when it ends.
  • Do you trust homeopaths and osteopaths? If so, you won't like the article below.
Nutters Corner
  • Ffart's White House spokesperson: I worked with John Kelly and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of Donald Trump. Well, who wouldn't be?
  1. American (Irish?) and German and French and Spanish usage: If he would have said that I would have thrown him out of the office. Contrast the simpler British English: If he'd said that . . .
  2. My (just) 2 year old grandson doesn't use pronouns when he doesn't need them. Want drink or  Want more drink, for example. But does say It's over there. It reminded me that many inflected languages, like Spanish, usually don't need to use pronouns, as the inflections give you the info you need. Making it ironic that possibly the most frequent mistake of Spanish speakers is to say He/she go/do/make, etc., etc. You'd think they'd easily remember the one exception re English verbs. But they don't.
  3. New British teenage slang: Legxit. The challenge of getting your limbs out of skinny jeans.
Finally . . .
  • Currys/Curries told me my new vacuum cleaner would be delivered on 30 October, by ParcelForce. Who sent me messages telling me where it was at various early hours of that day (yesterday) and assuring me it would arrived some time that day. So I stayed in. But it never arrived. Though it just has. So, what is the point of this (excess?) communication? No doubt I'll soon get the How-Did-We-Do email. Technology gone mad. Or at least wrong.

Homeopaths? They flog woo-woo. Don’t get me started on osteopaths: Deborah Ross

This week Stephen Powis, the NHS national medical director, expressed “serious concerns” about homeopathy, claiming that the practice is “fundamentally flawed”. He said that the Society of Homeopaths should no longer be accredited by the Professional Standards Authority because it gives the false impression that treatments are scientifically established when in fact they can pose a “significant danger to human health”. And, let’s face it, a significant danger to your wallet too.

Here’s a good tip should you ever consult a homeopath: even though homeopaths treat illnesses with agents so diluted that the water has only a “memory” of the agent’s “curative powers”, it does not mean you can pay for any treatment with a thread from your pocket on the grounds that it would remember that it must have rubbed up against money at some point. I tried that once and was very quickly shown the door. I also tried to pay with my Nectar card, which I keep in my actual wallet, right up against actual cash, but that was roundly rejected too. Weird, I agree, but there you are.

I consider homeopathy to be a fraud, which isn’t the same as saying that all practitioners are fraudsters. They are mostly sincere and not like, for example, those roofers who say they can see you have tiles missing, madam, and we happen to be working in the area – gosh, how marvellously fortuitous — but, on the other hand, I suppose you could argue that Scientologists, Nazis and Flat-Earthers also hold their beliefs sincerely. So where does that leave us? Perhaps “deluded fantasists” is the better way of putting it, although why they become deluded in the first instance is anyone’s guess. Essentially, I have always thought they justify themselves by invoking Hamlet’s musings: “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Is that about right? Not properly sure. I can only say with confidence that the whole dilution principle has never worked that well for me. Indeed, when I dilute my chicken soup, as I sometimes do to make it last another day — I am a very tight person — it really, really suffers. And I get quite a lot of abuse for it, actually. Bad news sometimes, dilution.

But. We’ve all been there even so. Or, more accurately, since I don’t know about you, I’ve been there even so. Can I tell you about my bad back? No, I thought not. I guessed you wouldn’t be interested. My GP wasn’t interested. My GP basically rolled her eyes, stifled a yawn and said “ibuprofen” and “rest”. (“It’s not that GPs want to be unhelpful,” says a friend who is a GP, “but they don’t have a clue about backs.”) Anyway, to cut a (supremely) long story short, I ended up seeing an osteopath. An osteopath isn’t a homeopath, you could say, but, as with homeopaths, they do offer an alternative when conventional medicine rolls its eyes and yawns in your face and wants to send you on your way. This is a failing of conventional medicine; a failing that allows the alternative brigade to slip in, albeit with our collusion. Hey, I’m in pain here. But who will take me seriously? The osteopath, that’s who.

The osteopath listened. He did not think my back was at all boring, even though deep down I know it probably is. He took notes. He asked questions. He cared that it took me 40 minutes to get out of bed and couldn’t get clothes on or off over my head. He was sympathetic. He appeared concerned. I was validated. And it was just such a relief to be heard. By the time he laid his hands on me for “manipulation” I was smitten, in love, an enthusiast. “Evidence-based science can go hang,” I was thinking. “I’ll take this kind, which is lovely, super, the best kind.”

So that’s what I was thinking until, as I was driving home, my spine suddenly went into spasm. It was like having a baby, but with your back muscles. It was agony. I managed to pull over, just about. I then had to lie across the front seats, with my hazards on, waiting for the spasms to subside. They didn’t. I had to call someone to come to rescue me and ended up in A&E, knowing I had been a fool.

And now I’ll shut up because, homeopathically, the effectiveness of my arguments will become less and less the more I go on about them. Meanwhile, I did try to pay the osteopath with my Waterstones card. But no joy there either, I’m afraid.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 30.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • The very latest on the imminent elections. Just a prelude to more next year??
Spanish Life 
  • This has rather put me of tortillas for a while . . . 
  • The Local gives us here the most beautiful places in Spain to visit this autumn/fall.
  • If you're hoping for a dry, sunny Hallowe'en where you might even be able to relax on the beach, the Mediterranean or the Canary Islands are where you should be – everywhere else is going to be wet and, at high altitudes and in the far north, cold, too, say weathermen. Elsewhere? . .  . downpours.
Galician Life 
  • Our Aussie friend may be happy with her life in the region but, as I've reported, many Gallegos aren't.  
The UK 
  • I cited the other day Niall Ferguson's view that a major problem these days is an excess of (over-qualified) graduates in society. Someone else has asked whether Tony Blair's achieved goal of getting more than 50% of kids into universities was worth it. And comes up with a negative answer: The number of graduates in the workforce is soaring, almost doubling from 6.7m in 2004 to 12.8m last year. Better education is supposed to be the answer to 3 of the biggest challenges facing the economy – weak wage growth, wheezing productivity growth and the automation of work by robots. More years of schooling should help with all 3, yet new data suggests this is not happening. Bugger.
  • So, there's finally to be an election in December. But, as Richard North puts it: The only certainty is that there are a lot of people who are already fed up with the idea of an election, as much as they are with Brexit. 
  • So . . . All bets are off. The election might resolve things but, then again, it might not. Just as with Spain's November election. It's a funny, confusing world. 
The EU
  • The euro simply can't 'break free', it says here. Largely because of German constraints, it appears.
The Way of the World
  • Narcissists, it's reported, are ever more numerous. Perhaps it's because: Narcissists might have "grandiose" delusions about their own importance and an absence of "shame" - but psychologists say they are also likely to be happier than most people. Unless they are booed in public, of course. Which reminds me . . . 
  • Ffart - An orange face for red necks.
Nutters Corner
  1. Right-wing pastor Perry Stone, best known for checking his phone while speaking on tongues, further abandoned those supposed Christian principles of holiness and righteous behavior when he declared that Democrats who oppose Donald Trump are demon-possessed.
  2. Far-right crackpot and conspiracy theorist Chris McDonald has accused Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the man leading the impeachment inquiry about Trump, of pedophilia, human trafficking and of being a “high-ranking Satanist.
Aren't American politics wonderful. Not to mention American Christianity.

Finally . . .
  • Anyone who writes a blog will be familiar with the idiosyncrasies of an automatic spellcheck. I see this morning that yesterday the name of a shop - Currys - was changed to Curries, Which must have amused any British reader(s).

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 29.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics 
  • The ABC guy says here that Little remains of Francoism and that there is no evidence that moving Franco's bones will have the slightest influence on how people vote.
  • Others point out - here, for example - that the far-right now has a lot of wind in its sails and will double its seats in the imminent elections.
  • The Guardian/Observer makes some daft comments here on how Spaniards 'face up to their past' and says it's a valuable lesson for the UK. The truth is no one on the right-of-centre political spectrum faces up to the past. Quite the opposite in the case of Vox.
  • Here's a report on Cataluña's Remainers, allegedly the silent majority in that region/nationality /nation.
  • Spain is heading for another minority government in November. Yet another election next year? Or perhaps 2 or 3?
Spanish/Galician Life 
  • A Scotswoman says her compatriots have a lot to learn from Galicia when it comes to food. I would've thought any country in the world would one useful for this, even England.
  • Andalucians, says a survey, are the second unhappiest folk in Spain. Ahead in the happy-stakes of only . . . those well-fed Gallegos.
The UK 
  • Shopping in England:-
  1. Unless you're totally ignorant of British history and love frequent use of modern swearwords and insults (especially bellend), don't buy the book I recently cited - 52 Times Britain was a Bellend. Not amusing and eventually irritating.
  2. The department store John Lewis says it will match the price of any product available elsewhere. Yesterday they agreed to drop the price of a vacuum cleaner by 65 pounds, until it was discovered that theirs was green while the one from Currys was black. As if I cared. 
  3. Yesterday I was in a Sainsbury's pharmacy, looking for glucose sweets, to give my daughter as an early morning lift. There weren't any but there were dozens of other 'health' products such as omega 3, vitamins and these. I didn't buy any of them.
  • Theodore Dalyrymple has been one of my favourite writers for many years, since I first read him in Punch. Or maybe The Spectator. Anyway, below is a fascinating article from him on changes in UK society and culture since he was born 70 years ago.

  • BTW 1 . . . It's now believed that the Operations Room foto was staged after the event and that Ffart was actually playing golf when it was happening. Even if not true, who's going to doubt the claim?
  • BTW 2: Who could be surprised?: The Russian defence ministry cast doubt on Trump’s claim that the US had obtained permission for a “fly over”, saying it was unaware of having assisted US aircraft to fly over Idlib’s “de-escalation zone”, which Russia and Syria oversee.
The Way of the World
  • I had to laugh at this . . . Scientists increasingly think that how old we feel is key to how well we age. I'always insist that, contrary to appearances,  I'm only 29. Or, if forced to be honest, that I'm in my very late 50s.
  • I was 52 when I first heard the words phrasal verbs. And was then horrified to be shown  endless lists of these that Spanish students were expected to master. Yesterday, I was reminded of this when my (just) 2 year old grandson used 2 of them. As I tell Spanish friends: Of course we don't know what phrasal verbs are; we learn them at our mother's knee. Not in school. 
Finally . . .
  • It seems that, ahead of getting Irish nationality, I'm actually becoming Irish. I see that yesterday I wrote Tursday, instead of Thursday.

What Seventy Years Have Wrought:  Theodore Dalrymple

Three novels written in the year of the author’s birth provide insight into how England has changed.
The past has always interested me more than the future. This backward-looking tendency has only been reinforced by reaching, somewhat unexpectedly, the age of 70. I can’t say that I don’t feel my age because I don’t know what feeling any particular age is like—but one repeatedly hears that 60 is the new 40, 70 is the new 50, and so on; certainly, the human aging process has slowed since I was born. When I look at photos of people who were 50 in the year of my birth, 1949, they look much older and more worn-out than do 50-year-olds now; and if I had lived only to my life expectancy at birth, I would be dead these last four years.

            So progress must have occurred in the intervening time, despite the pessimism that infects those who, like me, are of retrospective temperament and hypersensitive to deterioration. It is not hard to enumerate many things that have improved. They relate principally, but not only, to material conditions. My best friend when I was very young was one of the last children in Britain to suffer from polio, which paralyzed him from the waist down. The quickest form of written communication was then the telegram, and anything other than local telephone calls had to go through an operator. To call across the Atlantic required a reservation and was ferociously expensive; the resultant conversation always seemed to take place during a violent storm. In England, the food was generally disgusting, and meals were to be endured as a regrettable necessity instead of enjoyed (it puzzles me still how people could have cooked so badly). Cars broke down frequently, and every November, pollution produced fogs so thick that you couldn’t see the hand in front of your face (I loved them).
Rationing continued for eight years after the war, and disused bomb shelters, present in every park, were where illicit sexual fumbles and smoking took place. Incidentally, for an adult male not to smoke was unusual (75 percent did so); we must have lived in a perpetual fog of foul-smelling tobacco, to judge by the distaste caused by even a single lit cigarette in these virtuous times. Poverty, as raw necessity, still existed. Murderers were sometimes hanged—as well as, more rarely, the innocent. Overt racial prejudice was, if not quite the norm, certainly prevalent.
Yet not everything has improved, though the deterioration has been less tangible than the progress. To give one example: by age 11, I was free to roam London, or at least its better areas, by myself or with a friend of the same age. The sight of an 11-year-old child wandering the city on his own did not suggest to anyone that he was neglected or abused. I remember, too, the evening papers piled up at newsstands; people would throw coins on top of the pile and take their copy. It never occurred to anyone that the money might get stolen; nowadays, it would never occur to anyone that the money would not be stolen. The crime statistics bear out this sea change in national character.
The enormous progress and increase in prosperity notwithstanding, I have not been able to rid myself of a nagging awareness that I was born into a country in relentless decline, of the kind, say, that Spain went through from the latter two-thirds of the seventeenth century to the present day. Of course, Britain’s decline has been relative, not absolute, but Man being a creature who compares, it is felt all the same; and whether an increase in life expectancy compensates for an increased, and justified, fear of crime is a matter of individual judgment.
In an effort to assess what has changed, for better or worse, and what, if anything, has remained unchanged, I thought it would be interesting to consider three English novels published in the year of my birth. I am aware that this is not a scientific procedure: I chose the novels simply because they had long rested unread on my shelves and were the first ones published in 1949 that I came across. A novel, moreover, is not necessarily a true reflection of anything, let alone a complete depiction of a complex modern society. Indeed, the very difficulty or impossibility of grasping such a society whole is one of the causes of a prevalent anxiety, for no one can truly say that he knows what is going on in his own society, or that he fully understands it. Still, we feel impelled to try—and novels, whether they intend to or not, reflect the time and place of their writing, and therefore may help in our understanding, both as to the way things were and the way they are.
Two of the novels were by, respectively, Nigel Balchin and R. C. Hutchinson, writers well regarded in their time but now mostly forgotten, while the third was by Ivy Compton-Burnett, who still has her admirers. They were quite different authors, but each had an unmistakable quality of unreconstructed English national identity, such as no writer about London—where two of the novels are set—or anywhere else in the country could now convey.
It is not that foreigners could not be found in 1949 London, which was then still a port city of some importance. In Hutchinson’s book, Elephant and Castle, set largely in the East End, one of the main characters is half-Italian, and foreigners of various nationalities have walk-on parts. But they in no way affect the strongly English character of the city. Today’s London, by contrast, seems more like a dormitory for an ever-fluctuating population than a home; even much of its physical fabric has been completely denationalized by modernist architecture of a sub-Dubai quality. It is not a melting pot, for little is left to melt into; a better culinary metaphor might be a stir-fry, the ingredients remaining unblended—though, with luck, compatible.
The other two novels are Balchin’s A Sort of Traitors and Compton-Burnett’s Two Worlds and Their Ways. Balchin was a scientist by training, Compton-Burnett a classicist; Hutchinson had studied politics, economics, and philosophy. They were not a perfect cross-section of the population, perhaps, but they collectively had a broad spectrum of knowledge and experience.
he action of Balchin’s novel takes place in a bacteriological laboratory, where scientists have made a discovery that can serve either civil or military purposes—to prevent or to spread epidemic disease. It is not long after World War II, and a reaction has set in against the kind of unthinking patriotic feeling that characterized the war years. An excess of patriotism was blamed for the military cataclysm, and now the scientist-protagonists of the novel wonder whether the proper locus of their moral concern should be their country or humanity as a whole. The question would not have arisen for them four years earlier.
Their laboratory is a government one, and officials want the work to be kept secret, in case the enemy (now, by implication, Soviet Russia rather than Nazi Germany, though never named as such) gets hold of it and uses it as a weapon against the scientists’ own country; the scientists, however, are thinking of the epidemics that could be prevented in India and China. The lab director, Professor Sewell, wants to publish his results; the chief scientific advisor to the government, Sir Guthrie Brewer—not himself a bacteriologist—comes to persuade him otherwise, but fails.
Sir Guthrie is a hybrid, a scientist-turned-apparatchik. “I’m sorry to be a nuisance,” he says, in that suave, hypocritical English way, which is at once admirable and disagreeable. This manner of speaking, of never saying quite what you mean, was illustrated in a French book of the time, La Vie anglaise, which tried to explain English manners to the French. When an Englishman says, “We must meet again,” the author explains, he means: “I hope never to see you again”; and when he says, “I know a little about,” he means: “I am an expert in,” or possibly even “the world-expert in.”
Alas, this indirect way of speaking, always tinged with irony and humor, has almost disappeared in favor of a cruder and less amusing manner of communicating. Literal-mindedness has replaced subtle codification, and with it, a people who were once subtle, if sometimes perfidious, have become crass and often aggressive. Irony, which the whole population once both understood and employed, and was so strong an aspect of the national character, has now disappeared, replaced by a disposition to querulousness and indignation.
Professor Sewell says things that would nowadays see him hounded out of his job, as Sir Tim Hunt, a Nobel Prize–winning scientist, was hounded out of his position by a mixture of simulated outrage and official pusillanimity when he said, en passant and as a joke, that he thought men and women often did not work together well in a laboratory because sexual attraction got in the way. In the novel, Sewell’s deputy says that a female laboratory worker has “rather a tough personal life.” Sewell responds: “Women always have. . . . [They] are either in love or not in love. In either case it makes a complicated private life and interferes with their work.” He continues: “And this feeling about time. Men haven’t got it. But women are all clock-watchers. Only about thirty years, you see, to have their babies in. And anything which isn’t to do with having babies is a waste of time. That’s why they’re no good to science.”
No one would dare utter such a sentiment today, even if he thought it true. Walls and phones have ears (and now video cameras), and we live in fear not of the secret police, as did, say, the East Germans, but of the vastly enlarged ranks of the intelligentsia that obtain their sense of purpose from feeling outrage and can spread it round the world in an instant. Unlike our forebears, we hesitate to express ourselves. This fear undoubtedly does prevent some unworthy or even disgusting opinions from being expressed, but our need to be thought good by our peers, or at least not bad, is now far greater than our desire to be free.
A Sort of Traitors is set during a period when Britain had elected an avowedly socialist government—as it might again—but with an important difference: the postwar socialist government was patriotic, whereas a new socialist government would, at least if led by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, make hatred of its own country the beginning and end of its political morality.
In the novel, the government minister in charge of research, Gatling, calls Sewell to his office to persuade him not to publish. He is an old socialist, but (though a working-class autodidact) also a sophisticated man. The war and governmental responsibility have changed his ideas. Sewell says to him:
I am not a patriot. I have never felt that because I was born in this country, it was the only country that mattered. I have tried to give it a fair return for what it has given me. But after that my loyalty is to the world. I seem to remember a time, sir, when you and some of your colleagues in the Government felt the same in your sphere. You seem to have changed your minds. I haven’t.
Here Sewell is referring to the Labour Party’s pacifistic opposition to British rearmament before the war, an effective contribution to the country’s unpreparedness when war came. But unlike Sewell, Gatling has learned from the experience. “Professor Sewell,” he asks, “do you realise the present state of the world?”
Sewell’s attitude is summed up when he tells Gatling, “I might easily feel that since an ignorant Government was acting against the interests of an even more ignorant society, it was my duty to defy both.” In private, Gatling is contemptuous of Sewell: “He’s bogus all through, but he doesn’t know it. . . . He can’t even sit down sincerely. And all this stuff about humanity. He wouldn’t know humanity if he met it in the street.”
In the conflict between Sewell and Gatling, the minister triumphs—temporarily. But in the longer term, in cultural influence, Sewell and his like have won. With the decline of patriotism and the spread of tertiary education, loyalty among the intelligentsia has detached itself from the nation and attached itself to large abstractions, such as humanity and the planet, with the European Union as the only intermediate political body between the individual and the world that now attracts its loyalty.
Ivy Compton-Burnett was a very English figure—the upper-class conservative subversive. All her novels, including the one published in 1949, took place in the seemingly golden age of Edwardian upper-class England, but she was intent on finding the worm in the bud—and for her, it was the institution of the family, upon which her literary work was a concerted attack, lasting 45 years. She might have been shocked if someone used in her presence the lower-class word “mirror” for “glass,” but she brought her little charge of dynamite to the foundation of the society that she probably thought would, in essence, last forever.
Compton-Burnett’s novels are extremely distinctive. They consist largely of dialogue and require intense concentration to read, for the author sometimes does not help out with interjections such as “he said” or “she said,” such that after 20 lines, it can be difficult to work out who is saying what to whom if one’s attention has wandered even momentarily.
The conversations are always brittle, a mixture of pedantry and Wildean aphorism. The novelist Elizabeth Bowen wrote in 1941 that “to read . . . a page of Compton-Burnett dialogue is to think of the sound of glass being swept up, one of these London mornings after a blitz.” Here, taken at random, is an exchange in Two Worlds and Their Ways:-
                “Come, my pretty, let us go downstairs. We have done our best and must leave it. No one can do more.”
                “We have done nothing,” said Maria.
                “Well, that is usually people’s best,” said her stepson. “Their worst is something quite different.”
                “Well, let us say good-night to the victims of our indecisions.”
The indecisions in this case are over whether to send two children, a son aged 11 and a daughter, 14, to school, or to continue to have them tutored at home in a country mansion: a matter of small consequence, one might think, in the years leading up to World War I, but taking place in a family atmosphere of tension, cruelty, power struggle, and petty snobbery. By the high standards of Compton-Burnett’s novels, the family depicted in this novel is not particularly vicious or dysfunctional, though it’s bad enough: all conversation is like an ill-tempered cross-examination in court, except that all the participants are barristers waiting to pounce upon any lapse into foolishness or inconsistency. Everyone talks for victory rather than for meaning or communication, and while Compton-Burnett could not be described as a social realist, she undoubtedly captured an aspect of conversation in England—brittle, conducted with asperity, apparently unfeeling but with a deep undercurrent of emotion—that has now all but disappeared, which is both loss and gain, the two often being united in a dialectical relationship.
The novel by R. C. Hutchinson is sprawling, far too long (692 closely printed pages), and, in places, badly written and full of wind. Alone of the three novels, it attempts to portray lower-class life in the East End of London, though the story is that of an upper-class girl who marries “beneath” her and allies herself to an inarticulate working-class man, in whom she espies deep qualities—the nature of which, however, the author fails to convey. When not actually grunting, he speaks throughout in mere fragments of speech and is no better in this respect at the end of 15 years covered by the narrative than at the beginning.
The young woman, with the unusual name of Armorel, early on witnesses an episode in which the man whom she later marries, the half-Italian Gian, attacks and severely injures a policeman. (In the course of the novel, policemen are several times depicted as patrolling the streets, a vast change from today, when they fill out forms rather than patrol.) Actually, Gian’s attack is unjustified, but when he receives a three-month jail sentence, Armorel thinks it unfair. She decides to marry Gian and then to make something of him by badgering him to undertake education and training. But his horizons remain limited: unlike her, he is content to rise only a little in the world. For him, earning a respectable living and getting by with some minimum of comfort is enough.
The difference in what they want eventually estranges them. The denouement of this almost-interminable novel is the murder of Armorel by Gian’s father, who thinks that she is at the root of his son’s misery. At the end, as she lies dying, she realizes that she should have loved Gian for what he was, not tried to mold him into a creature of her own choice.
The story is implausible, though I wasn’t reading it mainly for literary pleasure, but for what it might tell me about changes in national character. And there were two that struck me. The first was that, despite the poverty depicted being incomparably greater than any known now, the inhabitants of the East End, as Hutchinson writes of them, had as lively a sense of irony as their social superiors. When, in the story, a hearse on its way to an interment nearly runs over a boy, he shouts, “Off t’bury the one you knocked over last week, eh cock!” Nowadays, as likely as not, the vehicle and its driver would be physically attacked.
Second, most of the poor people whom Hutchinson describes have an intense desire to be and remain respectable—that is, to be independent, living within the law, not foulmouthed, and to have their children within marriage. Of course, Hutchinson might have been mistaken, or exaggerating, but I doubt that he was: other sources suggest the same thing. What his characters consider bad language would now be almost genteel; and nowadays, the very notion of respectability probably would not be understood, self-esteem having triumphed over self-respect as the desideratum of the population.
One last thing: all these books testify to the astonishing decline in the value of money. In A Sort of Traitors, for example, one of the main characters considers buying himself a full meal (almost certainly not a good one, but a meal nonetheless) for one shilling and ninepence. In nominal terms, the cost of that meal would now buy you about one-ninth of an inland postage stamp, or a 40th of a cheese sandwich in a gas station. Not everything has risen in price so drastically as cheese sandwiches, however. To buy a novel such as A Sort of Traitors or Two Worlds and Their Ways would cost you, in nominal terms, only about 25 times as much as in 1949, the year of my birth.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 28.10.19

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

Note: A few of the items below have been borrowed from Lenox Napier's Business Over Tapas of last Thursday.

Spanish Politics
  • Here's a view on Franco's bones with which I totally concur. Not all Spaniards will agree, of course.
  • HT to Lenox for this site providing numerous examples of fake news (bulos) re Cataluña. In Spanish.
The Spanish Economy
  • El País tells us here that there are now 2.198 'super wealthy' folk in Spain, 5% more than in 2018. Also in Spanish.
Spanish Life 
  • Spain, it says here. will keep the seasonal clock-changing until 2021, whatever happens in other EU states.
Galician Life 
  • See that article  for the impact of permanent summer time on Galicia. Even, I think, without Spain moving to the 'right' time zone of the UK above it and Portugal to the west of it. Or below it, in the case of Galicia and Portugal. 
  • Talking of . . . .
  • Click here for a sort of explanation of why Spain doesn't occupy the whole Iberian peninsula. Or if you just want to laugh/grimace at some execrable pronunciations of Spanish place names.
The UK, The EU, Brexit
  • Richard North today: For all that, the issues have been rehearsed with such frequency that even the media seems to be struggling to maintain an interest, while real people are switching off in their droves. Sometime today, something may happen, or it may not. As to the party games in parliament, the mood amongst ordinary people seems to be "wake me up when they're over". With the clocks going back on Sunday, though, we got the first taste of the dark evenings to come, which will make for a difficult election campaign. In a way, that symbolises where we're at. We are entering a period of darkness and it will be a long time before we see the light.
  • Me: There's a lot of nonsense said and written about why Brits voted for exit from the EU. The first article below enshrines the view I've had for more than 20 years, since first reading stuff from Richard North and Christopher Booker on the origins and true objectives of the EU. Not the ones that Brits were told about. Everyone is entitled to repudiate this view, of course. Unless their argument merely amount to 'The EU is better for me personally'.
  • The second article is from a similar perspective.
  • Ffart: You know, [the special forces] are very smart. They’re very technically brilliant. They use the Internet better than almost anybody in the world, perhaps other than Donald Trump. The mind-blowing aspect of those words is that Ffart actually believes the last 5 of them. Then there's the usual reference to himself as someone else. Perhaps that's how he salves his conscience. Not that we've had any evidence at all that he's in possession of one.
  • Saturday Night Live does a Ffart rally, in New Mexico. Which is going to have a wall between it and Colorado, says Ffart.
The Way of the World
  • Tickets for the rugby World Cup final against South Africa are being offered for up to £12,500 on resale website, with one ticket listed as “sold” for more than £50,000. What the market will bear, apparently. 
Finally . . .
  • When I woke this morning, I was pleased to see it was 6am, or 7am before the clocks went back early yesterday morning. So, I got up. An hour later, I realised I'd looked at my Spanish dumbphone, which - unlike my smartphone - still shows Spanish time. Meaning I'd got up at 5am . . .
  • I'm now trying to convince myself I've had enough sleep, as I've read that this attitude determines how tired you feel during the day.

1. Neither America nor the EU. Britain must go its own way after Brexit: William Waldegrave, ex Conservative minister.

Britain needs a new narrative. Whether we leave, or whether we stay; whether the prime minister’s deal sticks, or whether some other path leads to a reversal of the decision of 2016, the old stories are dead.

In 2016 we reaped the reward for having, for 40 years, not quite told ourselves the truth about Europe: namely, that it was a political enterprise to bring ever-closer union to the peoples of Europe; to build a new polity that would eventually supersede the nation states. Even the pro-Europeans denied it and said it was all about making money.

Absurdly, people claimed they had been deceived by Europe — “they told us it was just a common market and then made it into something else” — when it was we who were deceiving ourselves. It was always something else. The inevitable slow-motion crash as reality dawned led us to where we are now.

The crash has left us without a plausible national narrative. Winston Churchill and Harold Macmillan had crafted the beneficent myth of the three circles — empire/Commonwealth, America and Europe — at the centre of which Britain played a unique linchpin role.

This myth served us well. But its purpose was to ease our recession from the superpower status we still held in 1945. It has done its job. Let us quietly lay the talk of the special relationship to rest; honour and enjoy the friendships of the Commonwealth, but not imagine it as a source of geopolitical leadership. And as for Europe? Well, we have to start again — even if we stay. Especially if we stay.

Telling a new national story could be a wonderfully liberating thing to do. No more punching above our weight. That way ends in a knockout eventually. As others have freed themselves from past defeats, let us be courageous enough to free ourselves from past victories and look forward.

Nations, like people, are happiest when the identity they choose to celebrate is closest to reality. We need now to craft our national narrative around the truth and talk about the future, not the past.

In my book Three Circles into One, I have tried to start a national conversation about what those future narratives might be. Could it be “Singapore-on-Thames” — a low-taxing, low-regulation entrepôt future, where all that matters is making a safe home for traders?

It’s just possible, I suppose, but I am deeply sceptical that a nation of our size, with our rumbustious democracy and our ancient attachment to individual liberty, could ever stomach the slightly creepy subterranean authoritarianism that allows such stability in the real Singapore.

What about throwing in our lot with America as a sort of political subsidiary of Washington, accepting its trading rules and sailing the seven seas in the wake of the US navy? But why on earth would we want to swap a position as one of the triumvirate that runs Europe for the position of a dinghy tied behind the USS Enterprise? “Taking back control” surely cannot mean that.

Then there is the “returnist” option. If we leave, we could conceivably decide one day to return. If we did so, it would be on different terms. We would need to commit ourselves to the objectives entailed by the Treaty of Rome, join the euro, go for ever-closer union and try to build a European counterweight to our erratic neighbours both to the east and to the west.

This does not seem a very plausible narrative at the moment, at least, and presupposes a successfully surviving and developing EU to rejoin, which is not a certainty. But if Europe were to succeed in its ambitions, there will soon be those who espouse it.

If we do not leave, the principles of returnism are relevant much sooner. We could not scrabble back into the EU, say via a second referendum, still opposing the fundamental ideals of the union, forever in a grumbling minority. If we stay, we should stay as wholehearted members. The old status quo, where we were half in and half out, half for, half against, led us to this place of division and disruption: we cannot simply rewind the reel and go on as before.

Finally, there is a fourth narrative that assumes we do leave. Why not try punching at our weight as an independent, well-run, middle-sized nation, along the lines of Canada?

Give up the trappings of imperial nostalgia — the seat on the security council, the nuclear weapons, the aircraft carriers and the rest. Design a defence strategy aimed at our needs and not the world’s. Put our formidable scientific, institutional and cultural resources to work to rebuild our left-behind former industrial areas. Genuinely lead in both the science and engineering needed to tackle climate change.

Rebuild our battered Union by learning from others how to reform our constitution and make Scotland want to stay. Tell a story of ourselves based on the true position of what could be one of the happiest and most productive nations on earth.

An optimistic and exciting Britain, yes, but not a Britain forever looking backwards to long-gone imperial glory.

2. It’s always more than the economy, stupid: Dominic Lawson

Values matter more to voters than forecasts traduced by politicians

Within the lifetimes of most of our citizens, the size of the British economy will have been reduced to near zero, as a result of Brexit. Zimbabwe will seem like paradise, by comparison. This, at least, was the implication of remarks by Amber Rudd, the erstwhile remain campaigner who quit the cabinet on the (now demolished) proposition that Boris Johnson was not interested in negotiating a deal with the EU.

The former work and pensions secretary told Sky’s Sophy Ridge that leaving the EU would “hurt the economy I think by 4% to 6% a year”. But Rudd went on to say that it was “still the right thing to do” because the country had voted to leave in the 2016 referendum. Even though I voted leave, I would definitely not think it was the right thing to do if I genuinely believed it would knock roughly 5% off the economy every year. At that rate our GDP would have dropped by more than 50% after 15 years, and only Zeno’s paradox would stop it falling to nothingness.

Perhaps what she meant to say was that our economy would imminently shrink by up to 6%, if we changed our existing relationship with the EU to that implied by the prime minister’s deal. As it happens, almost every politician promoting a second referendum is claiming this, and, what’s more, insisting it is what the Treasury’s own figures show.

Thus, at the very start of her Commons speech against the withdrawal bill, the Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson declared: “The government’s own assessment in November 2018 looked at the impact of a [replacement] free trade agreement on the British economy and concluded that it would mean that our economy would shrink by more than 6% — greater than the amount that the economy shrank during the financial crash.” Her new colleague Chuka Umunna repeated this almost verbatim. The same assertion was made by the Liberal Democrat representative, Caroline Voaden, on BBC’s Question Time last week.

The presenter Fiona Bruce, usually quick to challenge her panellists, did not query this: perhaps because it is being said so often that she too believes it to be true. But it is a grotesque falsehood. What the Treasury assessment of 2018 actually said was that the British economy would be about 6% smaller in 15 years, under a free trade agreement, than it would have been had we remained in the EU. But given that the Bank of England and Office for Budget Responsibility also assume a “trend” annual growth rate of around 1.5%, this implies we will have a significantly larger economy in 15 years, albeit less large than it would have been if we had stayed in the EU (roughly 18% bigger, rather than 24% bigger).

Brexit campaigners have long argued that the Treasury models — which in 2016 spewed out the nonsense that if we voted leave the economy would instantly go into recession with a rise in unemployment of at least 500,000 — are deeply flawed. But even on the Treasury’s own disputable 2018 assumptions (one of which had zero net migration from the EU) its forecasts are for continued growth in the economy.

These dishonest or ignorant campaigners for a “People’s Vote” have also seized on a much more recent report by the highly regarded UK in a Changing Europe, to claim it as “proof” we will be doomed to poverty outside the institutions of the EU. The actual analysis, headed by the distinguished former chief economist at the Cabinet Office Jonathan Portes, forecasts that on the basis of the “goods-only” — or Canada-minus — trade deal Johnson wants with the EU, per capita GDP (the figure that really matters to people) would be around 5% smaller in 10 years than if we had remained part of the EU single market and customs union. Put simply, the figures suggest that in 10 years’ time our per capita GDP would have risen from its current level of £31,000 to £33,500 under Johnson’s envisaged trade deal, compared to £35,500 if we had remained in the EU. So even on this projection, the notional average British citizen would not feel any sense of economic loss: that occurs when we lose what we had, or assumed we would have.

Both this and the 2018 Treasury forecasts are based on the so-called gravity model, which asserts an inverse square law between distance and benefit in international trade: for example, it presumes that distance alone will reduce trade between the UK and China, relative to that between the UK and France, by around 280-fold. This is the mainstream economists’ critique of the Brexit strategy of relying less on trade with the low-growth EU and negotiating bilateral trade deals with the fastest-growing parts of the world.

But the shrinking costs of transport, new internet-based technology and the rise of “weightless” trade in services offer a challenge to the gravity model. Portes himself notes conscientiously: “As with all forecasts, the findings of this report should be used with caution . . . Modelling economic impacts of hypothetical scenarios is fraught with difficulty.”

It’s not clear the EU itself shares the view that the UK is going to be enfeebled by leaving. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, warned that post-Brexit, “a potential competitor will emerge for us. That is to say, in addition to China and the USA, there will be Great Britain as well.” And France’s European affairs minister, Amélie de Montchalin, complained: “I don’t want to be confronted with a fiscal paradise on Europe’s doorstep.” The UK probably won’t become the so-called “Singapore-on-Thames” the EU fears: but it’s striking how nervous they are about how we will exploit our autonomy outside their regulatory one-size-fits-all system.

It was a desire for greater national autonomy — notably over immigration — and not economic self-interest, which animated the 17.4m who voted leave. Telling them: “you idiots, you will make yourselves poorer,” is not just itself idiotic: it completely misreads what was, at its heart, a demand for more national democratic accountability and a greater closeness between the rulers and the ruled.

After all, if it were the case that only financial self-interest, rather than a values-based sense of what feels right, was the sole determinant of votes, then no one of well above average income would ever vote Labour. But they do in their millions, because they have a vision of what sort of country they want to live in. That doesn’t make them stupid, or contemptible.

But it is stupid and contemptible to threaten leave voters with false claims of imminent penury and mass unemployment, as part of a campaign to persuade them that they made a terrible mistake in not believing the same scare stories first time around.

Fortunately for their peace of mind, they have long since stopped listening.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 27.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Life 
  • These are the most profitable radar traps in Spain. The two I drive past regularly are these:-
  1. The AP-6 at Km 49.2 north of Madrid. In 2107 it garnered €5.6k in fines. This year so far, €28.6k.
  2. The A-8, R Km 371.2 in Asturias. 2017: NIL. 2019: €12.2K.
Galician Life
  • As in most Spanish cities, the Pontevedra bus and rail stations are close together, usually - and inconveniently - on the edge of the town/city. There's been talk for some time of improving them and linking them via a 300m overhead passageway. The way is now said to be open for this but, as with the AVE high-speed train link to Madrid, I'll believe it when I see it.
The EU
  • M Draghi has retired from the ECN midst many plaudits. But some think he's been a failure, because he leaves the eurozone in recession, with a gaping wealth divide and on the brink of renewed systemic crisis. The ECB’s monetary policy is firmly “through the looking glass” – with interest rates marooned deep in negative territory and the Frankfurt-based institution’s governance structure in turmoil. . . Since 2011, Draghi has kicked the can down the road again and again, using “extraordinary monetary measures” to keep eurozone stocks reasonably buoyant and debt-soaked banks afloat, helping much of the Continent’s financial and political establishment to continue ignoring reality. Hence the plaudits. Yet the true legacy of this former investment banker – for the eurozone and the world – is nothing short of disastrous.
The Way of the World
  • Fraud experts have criticised Apple and Google for approving a mobile phone app that lets users “spoof” their caller ID — allowing them to pretend they are calling from a bank or another safe number. SpoofCard, also known as Incognito Caller ID, markets itself as a tool for protecting privacy and making prank calls. As well as masking a user’s real number by displaying a caller ID of their choice in calls and texts, the free download also has a convincing voice-alteration feature. The app was removed from Apple’s store last week after it was found to be in breach of the company’s guidelines banning prank and anonymous call apps. It is still available on the Google Play store. Fraud investigators believe it and similar apps may be linked to a surge in scams, used to defraud British victims out of tens of millions of pounds every year. Con artists, often calling from overseas, can dupe victims into thinking they are representing a UK-based company, bank or government agency.
  • Niall Ferguson says the mass protest is one of history’s hardy perennials but adds that it's hard to identify a unifying theme for the various revolts around the world. However, he's risen to the challenge, while commenting that the theme tune - Baby Shark - is a fitting anthem for our times, being vacuous, repetitive, inane, and infantile. See his article below.
  • A Sunday Times columnist claims that the phrase “Get a grip!” isn't used anywhere else in the world. Not being able to get a grip, he adds, is like being really fat. It’s the sign of a weak mind. It’s an indicator that you aren’t able to control yourself and that you may be French.
Finally . . .
  • When you're already an hour ahead, it's not good being in the UK when the clock goes back an hour. For it means I'm now waking at 5am, not 6am local time. And this will go on for quite some time.

Baby sharks are feeding a global protest frenzy: Niall Ferguson, the Milbank Family senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford

Today’s overeducated rebels have diverse goals but common tactics.

‘Baby Shark, do do, do-do, do-do, Baby Shark, do do, do-do, do-do...” I am not sure how reassuring I would find that song if I were 15 months old and sitting in a car surrounded by a crowd of political protesters. However, credit to them for doing their best to soothe the Lebanese lad whose mother made the mistake of driving into their demonstration last weekend.

As revolutionary anthems go, Baby Shark is unusual. The bloodthirsty Marseillaise it ain’t, nor the once stirring, now threadbare Internationale. When the late-1960s hipster radicals took to the streets, their soundtrack was classic rock’n’roll: the Beatles’ Revolution or the Rolling Stones’ Street Fighting Man. And yet Baby Shark — vacuous, repetitive, inane, infantile — is in many ways an apt anthem for our times.

The great revolutionary waves of the past had common objectives. Liberty, equality and fraternity in 1789; the nationalist springtime of the peoples in 1848 (and 1989); peace, land and bread in 1917; make love, not war in 1968. You will look in vain for such a uniting theme in the multiple protests that have occurred around the world this year.

In Hong Kong, the trigger was an extradition bill that threatened to subordinate the semi-autonomous region’s common law legal system to the Communist Party, which rules the mainland with scant regard for individual rights.

In Barcelona, by contrast, protesters took to the streets after harsh sentences were handed down to the separatist leaders responsible for 2017’s illegal referendum on Catalan independence. Beirut’s protests are said to have been triggered by a plan to tax WhatsApp. In Quito, the Ecuadorean capital, it was austerity measures required by the International Monetary Fund. In Santiago, Chile, it’s all about bus and metro fares. In Cairo, it was corruption.

Meanwhile, central London suffers intermittent traffic chaos because of a millenarian sect calling itself Extinction Rebellion, which believes that the end of the world is nigh, as well as opponents of Brexit who still haven’t got over their defeat in the 2016 referendum.

There have been some valiant attempts to find a unifying thread to all this. According to the BBC, everyone is protesting against inequality and climate change, as well as corruption and repression. The American economist Tyler Cowen dismissed the importance of inequality (it’s been falling in Chile), pointing instead to the role of higher consumer prices. Bloomberg’s John Authers took a similar line.

Yet none of this convinces. “We are not here over the WhatsApp,” a Lebanese protester told the BBC. “We are here over everything.” That seems about right. What the protests of 2019 have in common is their form, not their content.

Superficially, mass protest is one of history’s hardy perennials. Thousands (you need at least quadruple digits) of mostly young people take to the streets of a big city, usually but not necessarily the capital. They carry placards with pithy slogans. They chant or sing. If they (or the authorities) are belligerent, they end up clashing with police, lobbing bricks and erecting barricades. Very occasionally, they succeed in overthrowing the government. More often than not, the protests are crushed or peter out. Isn’t that the pattern throughout recorded history?

Well, not quite.

For one thing, the protests of 2019 are the first to be organised via smartphone, which is fast becoming a truly universal gadget. Smartphones enable today’s protests to function with minimal leadership. Yes, there are individuals whom the media elevate in importance to give the crowd a face and a voice. But the reality is these movements are acephalous — leaderless — networks. They are collectively improvised, rather than conducted. They are jazz, not classical.

In Hong Kong this summer, for example, the protesters used a Reddit-like forum, LIHKG, where ideas could be “upvoted”. They crowdsourced supplies of umbrellas and rides to and from Central, the focal point of the protests. The organising principle of this adaptive mode of operation was martial arts icon Bruce Lee’s phrase “Be water”.

Second, acephalous networks are inherently hard to defeat, as Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, has discovered to her cost. When the messaging service Telegram suffered a cyber-attack by Beijing, protesters switched to Apple’s AirDrop feature and sent messages over Bluetooth. They even used Tinder and Pokémon Go.

At the same time, the internet has made it easier than it has ever been for protest tactics to be disseminated. Every wannabe revolutionary understands that disrupting the airport is like taking the urban economy hostage. In one key respect, however, the form of today’s protests is familiar.

When I taught history at Oxford 20 years ago, one of my favourite articles about the 1848 revolutions was “The Problem of an Excess of Educated Men in Western Europe, 1800-1850” by Lenore O’Boyle. O’Boyle’s argument was that European cities had been swept by revolution in 1848 because “too many men were educated for a small number of important and prestigious jobs, so that some men had to be content either with underemployment or with positions they considered below their capacities”.

Something similar happened in the 1960s, as the late lamented historian Norman Stone described in his magnificently mordant book The Atlantic and Its Enemies. “In all countries, new universities . . . were crammed with students; taught by men and women appointed all of a sudden in great numbers, without regard for quality. The expansion with relatively new subjects, such as economics, sociology and psychology, meant that there were young men and women aplenty who imagined that they had the answer to everything. It was a terrible cocktail.”

Guess what? We’ve done it again, but now on an unprecedented scale. In every country where large-scale protests have been reported in the past year, higher education is at an all-time high.

Compare the World Bank’s 2016 figures for gross enrolment in tertiary education (as a percentage of the total population of the relevant five-year age group) with those for the late 1980s. In Chile, the share has risen from 18% to 90%. In Ecuador, it’s up from 25% to 46%. Egypt: 15% to 34%. France: 34% to 64%. Hong Kong: 13% to 72%. Lebanon: 32% to 38% (the smallest increase). Top of the class is Turkey: 12% to 104% ( it must have a lot of mature students).

These, then, are the baby sharks: the excess of educated young people currently taking to the streets in cities around the world. It does not help that so many professors fill their students’ heads with incoherent notions of “social justice”. But I suspect the real issue is the mismatch between the unparalleled glut of graduates and the demand for them.

At some point it will sink in that creating economic mayhem is the opposite of creating jobs. Until then, expect more traffic chaos. At least you now know what to sing when the baby sharks surround you.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 26.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
The Spanish Economy  
  • Meanwhile some (marginally) good news - assuming you ignore the margin of error and accept the accuracy of Spanish statistics which, as usual, are taken to 2 decimal points. To give specious accuracy?
Spanish Life 
  • Another big question - Is Spain ever going to change its ridiculous horario? See here and here on this.
  • Perhaps it's not great surprise that the UK is 28th in the table of developed countries providing childcare but it's strange to see Spain well below other EU countries, at no. 14. BTW . . . The USA doesn't figure because there's no nation-wide provision of childcare in that non-communist/ socialist country. American exceptionalism at work:-
1  Sweden
2  Norway
3  Iceland
4  Estonia
5  Portugal
6  Germany
6  Denmark
8  Slovenia
9  Luxembourg
10  France
11  Austria
12  Finland
13  Belgium
14  Spain
15  Netherlands
16  Lithuania
19  Italy
20  Bulgaria
22  Croatia
23  Poland
24  Czech Republic
25  Malta
26  Slovakia
27  Ireland
28  United Kingdom 
29  Cyprus
30  Greece
31  Switzerland
Note: The United States is the only OECD country without nationwide, statutory, paid maternity leave, paternity leave or parental leave. Some states offer paid parental leave insurance programmes to eligible workers (Donovan 2018).

Galician Life 
  • To my immense surprise, the latest forecast/promise for the AVE high-speed train won't be met. It's not going to arrive in 2020. But will, of course, be in place in 2021. As I keep stressing, the original promise was for 1993. Sic
The UK 
  • An interesting fact about travelling on the London tube - The shortest trip is a 250m leg between Covent Garden and Leicester Square. An average of at least 862 people did this year, at a cost to them of more than £100,000. Mostly tourists?
  • Fromage Bleu! Cheeses from Britain and America have overtaken French rivals at an international cheese competition, drawing scorn from a French newspaper that damned the humiliating defeat as “sacrilege”.
  • Ffart has described Democrats as sick and deranged, and Republicans who've criticised him as human scum. More accusations that are confessions.
  • So . . .  99% of White Evangelicals oppose impeaching Trump. What impressive solidarity and religiosity. Couldn't they ask Jesus? That said, I'm sure they have, and got the answer they wanted. That's the trouble with God, always eager to please.
  • A pleasure to come . . . An official who exposed secret efforts within the White House to undermine the president has promised that a book will reveal the truth about Trump, in his “own words”. “Too many people have confused loyalty to a man with loyalty to the country,” the official writes. “The truth about the president must be spoken, not after Americans have stood in the voting booth to consider whether to give him another term.”
The Way of the World
  • I bought some shoes last week and was told they'd be delivered on the 30th. Shortly thereafter, I received an emailed receipt and 2 delivery notes confirming this. Then, yesterday, I was told they were arriving that morning. I advised I'd be out at the cited time and was told the deliverer had been advised. So it was a bit of a surprise to find them on the doorstep when we got home. Ignoring the fact this wasn't authorised, this surely amounted to excessive communication? Especially as the saga is continuing with the now obligatory How Did We Do? emails from both the shoe company and the courier company.
  • Incidentally, why the 2 adjectives in this (misleading) response from the shoe company? - We’ve received your diversion request and we’ll pass it on to your friendly local courier. Perhaps they should start charging for emails, by the word.
Finally . . .
  • This is an essay from a blog I enjoy. Older readers will relate to it, I'm sure. While shaking their heads.

Exhuming Franco threatens to reopen Spain’s old hatreds: Jason Webster

In recent years I used to take visitors to the mausoleum of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco as part of a tour of the country’s civil war sites. It’s an impressive structure: a basilica carved out of a mountain, capped with a cross 150m tall. But it was always a depressing experience: damp patches stained the granite walls, the vast, bunker-like hall dimly lit and almost empty save for a handful of nuns, an occasional diehard fan, and bored-looking guards on the door. Re-emerging into the light afterwards, the reaction was one of bewilderment: how could this place be still standing in a modern democracy? Could one imagine anything similar today in Germany or Italy?

Yesterday, Spain finally began to deal with perhaps the biggest single reminder of its bloody and brutal 20th-century history. The acting socialist government of Pedro Sánchez, in full campaigning mode ahead of yet another general election, carried out its promise to remove Franco’s remains from The Valley of the Fallen complex. Yet it would be a mistake to view this as a simple matter of right and wrong. Spain is caught in a perpetual struggle against itself in which the past is always weaponised, a live and volatile substance used to attack political opponents. And by digging up Franco, more ammunition has been added to the general mix.

Predictably the far-right party Vox, whose support is growing, was quick to take advantage of Franco’s exhumation, which it said was part of a plan to bring down King Felipe. Meanwhile, the government applauded itself over the move, a useful adjunct to its PR drive to convince the world that Spain is a “consolidated democracy” despite widespread condemnation of the sentences handed down to Catalan separatists.

Spain is in a particularly vulnerable position today. When Franco died in 1975, democracy was rapidly established thanks to an overwhelming desire in the country to leave the dictatorship behind. The collective spirit of the Transición, however, has long since passed, and the country is now falling into old patterns of behaviour, stretching back over a thousand years, of being in conflict with itself. Nowhere is this more evident than in the current Catalan crisis, which is becoming increasingly dangerous by the day. Every century in Spanish history there has been at least one civil war. Can the 21st century buck the trend? And by exhuming its former fascist ruler, it might not be burying the past for good but instead, awakening a sleeping dragon in those mountains.

Jason Webster is author of Violencia: A New History of Spain — Past, Present and the Future of the West

Friday, October 25, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 25.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • Spanish repression, as seen by a Basque observer writing in The Guardian. Opening para: The Spanish supreme court’s deeply unjust verdict, handing out harsh prison sentences to nine Catalan government and civil society leaders for organising a peaceful referendum on self-determination in Catalonia, is for many the sign of a country slipping towards authoritarianism and away from western European-style democracy. But truth be told, for us Basques, this kind of behaviour is nothing new. I suspect most neutrals would be sympathetic to this overview. Which infuriates the majority of Spaniards, of course. And leaves Vox party supporters both incandescent and of a revolting frame of mind.
Spanish Life 
Galician Life 
  • If I understand the diagram correctly, even the main 'bypass' road - the N550 - alongside the river will be restricted to 10kph/6mph, for all vehicles. Not so long ago, the limit there was 50. Then 40, and most recently 30. IGIMSTS. But at least this will reduce the chances of me getting killed on the wide new zebra crossing at the city end of O Burgo bridge.
The UK, The EU, Brexit
  • The EU won't take a decision on extension until the Labour Party supports an election. And the Labour Party won't support an election until the EU pronounces on the expected extension. 
  • Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice. Is there anyone sane left in UK politics?
The EU
  • Ambrose Evans Pritchard takes another jaundiced look below at the Union's (failing) financial model.
  • Ffart finally manages to say something indisputably true: You'll never have another president like me. 
  • More fun from the talented Randy Rainbow. Who's profiled here.
Nutters Corner
  • We're approaching 'the end of the USA', it seems. Who knows, this might be a good thing, given how things are currently being managed.
The Way of the World
  • It is a time-honoured custom signalling approval, acclamation and enthusiasm, but students at Oxford University are to replace clapping at student union events with “silent jazz hands” amid fears that applause could trigger anxiety. Officers at the student union argued that clapping, whooping and other loud noises presented an “access issue” for some disabled students who have “anxiety disorders, sensory sensitivity and those who use hearing aids”. 
  • Said an (unusually sane) professor: Cultivating and displaying vulnerability has become an integral part of the kind of identity that student activists celebrate. Too true.
  • Modern definitions:
-Art: Anything which someone who claims to be an artist says is art.
- Racist hate crime: Any comment which I claim really hurts me. Especially (exclusively?) if I'm not white.
- Totally unacceptable: Anything that offends the sensibilities of at least one person in the world.

  • HT to the BBC for telling me about 30 words/phrases that I didn't know were 'Britishisms' in use in the USA. I came across this after hearing an American using the (northern?) English word 'daft'.¡
Finally . . .
  • I mentioned dynamic pricing the other day. Researching vacuum cleaners this morning, I got this quote on Amazon Spain: Price: €9.95: Postage: €379.00. Pretty dynamic, I thought.

Mario Draghi leaves Europe near recession, in a deflation trap - and out of ammunition:  Ambrose Evans Pritchard, Daily Telegraph.

Mario Draghi pledged to fight inflation. He kept his promise. Eurozone inflation is stone dead
Mario Draghi essentially failed. 

The outgoing president of the European Central Bank was brave, tenacious and skillful. He secured consent from Berlin for a rescue of the disintegrating Italian and Spanish debt markets in 2012. In that sense he saved the euro.

But for all his accomplishments he does not bequeath a safely constructed monetary union to Christine Lagarde, his unlucky successor.  The task was too great. The damage from the Trichet dark age and austerity overkill ran too deep.

German and North European refusal to countenance fiscal union - albeit for valid constitutional reasons - leaves the euro an orphan currency with no pan-EMU budgetary mechanisms to counter economic shocks.

At the end of his eight-year term the ECB has failed to hit its inflation target - “below, but close to, 2pc over the medium term” - by a wide margin. The headline rate has been slipping away from him over the past year and is now back to 0.9pc, almost as if quantitative easing had never happened.

There is no safe buffer left. The institution under his watch has failed to achieve its central policy mandate. The icy grip of deflation is closing in again as inflation expectations collapse to euro-era lows and the market prices in perma-slump through the 2020s.

The roots of this go back almost a decade when the ECB began to tighten monetary policy too soon. It caused a double-dip recession and detonated the eurozone crisis. It then waited too long to start asset purchases. The virus took hold.

Mr Draghi had to clear the institution of its inflation-nutters and neanderthals. He had to persuade a deeply resistant governing council to acknowledge the threat. He had to trickle out new measures such TLRO cheap loans for banks,  talking up his "bazookas" to please the markets, while talking them down in Germany to appease critics. His magic was pulling off that double act.

By the time he was strong enough to launch QE, it was already too late. The ECB has since had to push its balance sheet to 43pc of GDP - beyond extremes ever reached by the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England - yet it is still not enough. The eurozone has slithered into the "Japanisation" trap anyway.

Mr Draghi unwisely declared total victory over deflation last year. The ECB then halted stimulus before economic recovery had reached escape velocity and at a time when eurozone money supply growth was already flagging trouble.

This unforced error - probably the result of German pressure - guaranteed a relapse. It has left the currency bloc vulnerable to the slightest external shock. It means that the ECB is now having to resort to even more extreme measures to repair the damage, the pattern of the last decade.

As the economy slips back towards recession we can now see that the eurozone crisis was never cured. It has merely been remission of the last three years, thanks to QE, a cheaper euro, and the end of austerity.  The structural malaise remains. The zone is chronically incapable of generating its own self-sustaining demand and is therefore the chief casualty of the US-China trade war.

Mr Draghi’s "Hail Mary" package of stimulus last month is a strange way to end his tenure. It was rammed through by his inner circle at the Eurotower against the advice of his own staff experts and against the fierce resistance of the monetary hawks.

Governors accounting for the lion’s share of eurozone GDP dissented, including the central bank chiefs of Germany and France. He stretched the consent of the ECB’s council to breaking point - earning the epithet Count Draghila on the front page of Bild Zeitung - and he did so for a financial purpose that is no longer clear.

The cut in interest rates to minus 0.5pc takes monetary union into treacherous waters. Academic literature suggests this may already be hitting the "reversal rate" where it does more harm than good.

It is harder for insurers to match their liabilities. It erodes the net interest margin for banks and is slowly destroying the business model of the small German savings banks that provide 90pc of credit to the Mittelstand family firms.

The eurozone’s household savings rate has jumped a full percentage point to 13.3pc over the past year. In Germany it has surged to 18.1pc. Households are putting aside more money to meet their targets. This is contractionary.

Fresh QE is unlikely to achieve much. Little more juice can be extracted by pushing down from the yield curve. The entire German and Dutch debt structure out to 20 years is trading at negative yields, and likewise French, Belgian, Finnish, and Austrian debt out to 10 years, and even Spanish yields out to seven years.

You could say it is the opposite problem from the debt crisis he inherited but the most deformed bond market in history is not a stable equilibrium either. Mr Draghi has jumped from the frying pan into the freezer.

The ECB can in theory buy more corporate debt but it is reaching political limits. The direct financing of public spending - or helicopter money -  breaches the Lisbon Treaty and would be challenged in the German courts. In practical terms, monetary policy is exhausted. Mr Draghi leaves the larder bare and the problem unsolved.

His final press conference was a plea for government spending to fight the slowdown, and the creation of a eurozone treasury to shore up monetary union. Neither are happening. Brussels this week admonished France, Italy, and Spain for exceeding budget deficit targets.

Mr Draghi will be remembered for “whatever it takes”, his rescue pledge at the height of the EMU crisis in 2012. We forget now that markets did not at first believe him. They doubted whether the ECB was in fact stepping up to its responsibility as a lender of last resort after having let the fire rage for two years and allowed contagion to engulf southern Europe.

The mood did not change until the ECB council meeting days later when traders learned that Germany’s board member had backed the plan. In other words, Berlin had lifted its veto.

Mr Draghi cultivates the impression that his magical words saved Europe.  I hate to ruin a nice fairy tale but I heard the head of the German finance ministry say at a closed-door meeting three weeks earlier that “something big” was about to happen, and for good measure that “nothing flies in the eurozone without German permission”.

The plan to back-stop Italy and Spain was a coordinated move by Frankfurt and Berlin. It happened because Angela Merkel feared the imminent collapse of the euro and an epic default. Letting the ECB buy bonds - under strict conditions - was the path of least resistance.

This is not to belittle the role of Mr Draghi. His diplomacy was superb. Let him keep the credit if that is what the world wants to believe.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 24.10.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
The Spanish Economy  
  • I seem to recall reading recently that the average salary of directors of IBEX 35 companies was more than €500k pa. Now comes this report of the staggering gap between executive directors and the national average income of c. €23k. Plus this one.
Spanish Life 
  • Bilingual names. My daughter in Madrid went with Daniel, despite the Dani/Danny complication. 
  • Monopolist provider Renfe prepares for high-speed train competition from someone or other.
  • Today is the day Franco's bones get helicoptered to their new 'resting' place. I fervently hope. But I don't suppose they'll then dynamite the mausoleum for him in the Valley of the Fallen.
Galician Life 
  •  A woman was assaulted in my barrio yesterday in an attempted robbery. It was suspiciously close to one of the permanent gypsy settlements. So . . . Possibly one of the many itinerant druggies we keep reading about?  Will this force the police action the residents have been demanding? Stay tuned.
The UK, The EU, Brexit
  • John Crace in The Guardian this morning: Finally, some clarity. After months of pretence, almost everyone in Westminster has abandoned any pretence to having a plan. Now it’s more or less a total mind-fuck. An out of control rollercoaster of parallel universes in which any number of incompatible things can be both true and not true simultaneously. The full article is below, or here.
  • Talking of the future Ffart musical/opera/whatever, someone has suggested that, if you liked the comedy Fleabag, you'll just love the tragi-comedy, Douchebag.
  • Meanwhile we have a nice singing satirist here, here and here.
  • In a democracy, only a tinpot dictator manqué would try to muzzle newspapers. But what should we expect?
  • Word of the Day: Perder: A versatile verb: Minimally:- Lose(objects); Waste (time, money); Miss (train, bus). Or, as the Royal Academy puts it:- (Don 't perder the last one)
1. tr. Said of a person: Stop having, or not finding, what he possessed, be it because of the fault or carelessness of the holder, whether due to contingency or misfortune.
2. tr. Waste, dissipate or waste something.
3. tr. Not getting what you expect, want or love.
4. tr. Cause damage to things, deteriorating or dazzling them.
5. tr. Cause someone to ruin or damage honor or property.
6. tr. Not getting what is disputed in a game, a battle, an opposition, a lawsuit, etc.  
7. tr. Said of a container: Let out its content little by little. This wheel loses air.
8. tr. To suffer a damage, ruin or decrease in the material, immaterial or spiritual.
9. tr. Depend on the concept, credit or estimate in which it was. 
10. tr. Missing an obligation or doing something to the contrary. Losing respect, courtesy.
11. intr. Said of a fabric: fade, lose color when washing.
12. intr. Worsen in appearance or health.
13. prnl. Said of a person: err the path or direction that led.
14. prnl. Find no way or exit. Get lost in a forest, in a maze.
15. prnl. Find no way out of a difficulty.
16. prnl. To be overwhelmed or snatched away by an accident, shock or passion, so that you cannot prove yourself.
17. prnl. Surrender blindly to vices.
18. prnl. Delete the subject or ilation in a speech.
19. prnl. Not perceive something for the meaning that concerns it, especially the ear and sight.
20. prnl. Do not take advantage of something that could and should be useful, or misapplied for another purpose. 
21. prnl. shipwreck (go to the bottom). 
22. prnl. Put yourself at risk of losing your life or suffering other serious harm.
23. prnl. Loving someone or something a lot or with blind passion.
24. prnl. Said of what was appreciated or exercised: Stop having use or estimate.
25. prnl. Suffer damage or spiritual or bodily ruin.
26. prnl. Said of running water: to hide or seep under the ground or between rocks or grasses.
27. prnl. his. Said of a woman: to be without honor.  [I guess 'lost' here is the equivalent of 'fallen'(

English v Spanish
  • As perder might show, Spanish relies more often on context than on different verbs with distinct nuances.
Finally . . .
  • My UK bank introduced voice recognition last year. Yesterday I lost/wasted(perder) more than 30 minutes because it didn't work - possibly because the line was bad and I'm getting over a cold. Theoretically, these shouldn't be a problem but tell that to the man who then struggled to answer at least 20 questions about his accounts and recent transactions on them. And all of this was on top of wasting 20 minutes on a UK printer-ink site refusing to allow me to enter Spain in the 'Country' of the address registered to my Visa card. So, today I will go to an old-fashioned shop nearby.
  • Something for reader Perry. And any other fans of Spengler.

Not even the PM's narcissism can protect him as cracks show: John Crace

Boris Johnson appears rattled and even his own backbenchers see a false prophet

Finally, some clarity. After months of pretence, almost everyone in Westminster has abandoned any pretence to having a plan. Now it’s more or less a total mind-fuck. An out of control rollercoaster of parallel universes in which any number of incompatible things can be both true and not true simultaneously.

Labour both want an election and don’t want an election. They also want to get Brexit done but have no idea what Brexit they want to get done. The Tories also want an election but don’t know how or when to get one. They also would quite like Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal to pass, while secretly wishing they had voted for Theresa May’s rather better – low bar, admittedly – deal when they had the chance. What’s even weirder is that this is the new normal. No one finds any of this to be in the slightest bit odd.

There are one or two outliers who still cling to the notion that they have some influence over events. Dominic Cummings can often be found hiding in corners of parliament, torn shirt, ripped jeans, laces untied imagining himself to be a teenage Thomas Cromwell – let’s hope no one tells him how that story ended – while everyone else thinks he’s a bit of a dick.

“Plan A was for Plan B to fail,” he mutters. “We then blindside the opposition by ignoring Plans C and D and racing through to Plan E, which was to resort to Plan A that had already failed. I’m a genius. I have the country exactly where I want it.” He finishes with the manic laugh of a Bond villain about to be eaten by his own crocodiles and then vanishes into the shadows. Control, alt, delete. Classic Dom.

Boris Johnson is also finding it tough going. He’s used to a world that can be bent to his will. Where his actions have no consequences. But now the cracks in the World King are beginning to show. Not even his narcissism is enough to protect him any more.

His body language hints at betrayal and his eyes display the silent terror of a man who fears he’s in the process of being found out. Kidding himself that he actually believes in the thing that he knows to be untrue. Brexit is corroding what’s left of his integrity from the inside. He is the hollow man, bellowing against the dying of his sense of self. No longer capable of looking himself in the eye.

Even his own backbenchers have begun to doubt him. Where once they had saluted him as the Saviour who could deliver them a promised Brexit, now they saw a false prophet. A man who had flogged them a get-rich-quick Ponzi Brexit scheme but had lost far more votes than he had ever won. The public might still be taken in by his crumbling facade, but they weren’t and for Johnson’s second prime minister’s questions in nearly 100 days in office, Tory MPs could barely muster a cheer. So fickle.

Johnson appeared rattled from the start. It hadn’t helped that Tory Patrick McLoughlin had pointed out that the Incredible Sulk had achieved something no one thought possible. He had not only lost yet another Brexit vote but his temper with it. Epic fail. But when Jeremy Corbyn had played it safe by asking six relatively undemanding questions, Boris had visibly imploded. His speech patterns, already staccato, morphed into morse code and his arms alternatively punched the air randomly and flailed helplessly.

Labour have voted to delay Brexit, he boomed. That is why we will still be leaving on October 31st. The logic was impeccable. For a three-year-old. He was also equally confused about just how many hospitals he was single-handedly building. First it was 20. Then it was 40. Then it was back to 20. The real answer was none.

“They said we’d never get our deal through the Commons,” Johnson insisted. Not even his own front bench could bring themselves to break it to him that he hadn’t actually managed that. The Sulk is so confused he can no longer even remember that he had suspended his own legislation the night before.

Johnson ended by reiterating that the spaceport at Newquay that is never going to be built was already under construction. The queue to be on the first flight is already 16 million strong. All hoping they never return. Boris picked up one of his arms that had come loose and shuffled off to dream up another cunning plan.