Saturday, November 30, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 30 .11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics 
  • The last few years have raised doubts that any Spanish politician is capable of statesmanship, at least in the context of Cataluña. The author of the article I cited yesterday makes it clear that, even if there were such a person, her or she would be up against it. The Spanish, in a word, are victims of their experience. Just like the rest of us. 
  • On this, I'm reminded that Paul Preston has just published this book here in Spain. Sadly, it won't be available in English until March next year. Its theme is that the Spanish people have persistently been betrayed by institutionalised corruption and startling political incompetence. Promises to be a fascinating read.
The Spanish Economy  
Spanish Life
  • More on those radar traps and what you can do when coming up against a car at just below the speed limit. I've been driving for years on this understanding.
  • Those Spanish lovers - the Don Juans fatally attractive to North European ladies. . . Is it all a myth? See the abstract of an article on this below. Or click here.
  • Renfe continues to drive me mad. Scroll down, if you don't want details of my latest tussle with the rail operator . . . . Apart from the usual irritation of "We can't attend to your request right now", there's the problem of accessing my account so that I don't have to enter all my details every time I book a ticket. Having decided that the only solution is to cancel my account and open a new one, I've been told that getting an instruction from my registered email is not enough; I have to send them a copy of 'both sides of my ID document'. Since the government has long since stopped giving an ID card to us Brits at least, I've emailed a copy of both my passport and the useless 'certificate' (sans foto) that is given these days. Nothing is ever simple in Spain. 
  • Which reminds me . . . The letter sent to one of my sisters didn't arrive yesterday, so will probably arrive Monday, 4 days after the one posted to my other sister at the same time a week earlier. Life can be arbitrary here.
Galician Life 
  • Let's hear it for these fine local folk.
  • Here are then-and-now fotos of a spot in Pontevedra city near the Plaza de Galicia, next to the Plaza de Herrería. The ramp on the left goes up to the San Francisco church:-

And here it is today:-

It's no longer a place for trading but the large bus of the Xunta's blood transfusion service does park there from time time. The woman on the steps - almost certainly a Romanian gypsy - is seeking alms from the churchgoers. Or, as we call it these days, begging.
  • El País looks here at those sensationalist - hysterical? - reports of a seabed awash with narcosubs.
  • Local papers report that the sub had a 'homemade tiller' and an 'ancient compass'. The brave/foolhardy/desperate 3-man crew had provisions for 20 days, and the sub, it's said, had an 80hp engine, allowing a speed of only 7 knots an hour. I leave reader Perry to re-work his calculations and advise if it really could cross the Atlantic in 20 days.
The EU
  • According to a well-known Greek ex Finance Minister: Draghi deserves neither hostility nor adulation for his stewardship of the ECB. He proved adept at working within ridiculous constraints that forced him to do things that no central banker should ever do – and not just against Greece. Maybe a more courageous man would have refused to do those things. But no one can feel anger toward another for not being a hero. What matters today is that Lagarde will have to labor within exactly the same ridiculous constraints. Sensible Europeans should be very hostile to that reality. See the full article here.
  • Ffart 'humiliates himself' by showing once again that it's all about him.  No surprise, of course. Does anyone except him - even him? - believe his claims about what foreign leaders have said to him. Though I guess his dictator friends could well have stroked his humungous ego.
Way of the World
  • I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that the woman behind OneCoin had been a brilliant student and was already a sociopath with a criminal record when she invented it in 2014. Essentially, she realised that an awful lot of people could be conned - via multi-level marketing (i. e. pyramid selling) - into buying a new thing which they could never hope to understand but which was guaranteed to make them a fortune. Nor can it be a surprise that she's now thought to move in circles - possibly in Athens - where it's easy to buy protection. It's probably quite expensive but, then, that's very possibly not something she needs to worry about.
Finally . . .
  • Interesting to see that the UK TV program Peaky Blinders is rendered as Los Gánsteres de Los Midlands in Spanish.  

The Spanish Latin lover: a strictly domestic myth? A visual inquiry about the role of eroticism in Spanish tourism imaginaries (1950-70). Alicia Fuentes Vega

The character of the Mediterranean Latin lover became increasingly popular in late-Francoism Spain owing to a subgenre of films that exploited masculine phantasies of sexual encounters with foreign tourists.

Building on a visual analysis of several media (brochures and magazines, Government propaganda, guidebooks and travel books, postcards), this paper examines the actual presence of the Latin lover in Spanish tourism imaginaries during the Franco dictatorship.

Despite its important role in the hegemonic narrative of Spain’s tourism boom as a liberalizing factor that clashed against the regime, the myth of the Spanish Don Juan remains absent from the destination image intended for foreign audiences.

This suggests that its circulation was strictly domestic, and reinforces its interpretation as a governmentality device.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 29.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
Spanish Life
 Galician Life 
  • It's a common feature of Pontevedra city - and probably elsewhere in Spain - Blocks of flats with the ground floor bajos(shops) bricked up, as no one wants to rent them. Now someone has had the ingenious idea that these could be converted into homes. As happens in many other countries. Indeed, in the Netherlands the owners kindly leave the curtains undrawn so that you can see right inside as you walk past. Odd folk, the Dutch. Anyway, let's hope this happens, as new low-cost housing is urgently needed.
  • Another 2 old fotos of Ponters - the soportales alongside the main square, Praza da Ferrería/Plaza de la Herrería:-

And how it looks today, rather less busy. Again, another floor has been added. on the left:-

It does get a lot busier, by the way. This was taken during the 'dead hour'. And below the rain.
  • Returning to the subject of wolves advancing through Galicia. . . If you're prone to believing they're a danger to humans, bear in mind there've been only 5 attacks recorded in Spain in the 138 years since 1881. Bit of a myth, then.
  • Camino visitors to Pontevedra  city in October were 8% up on last year but overnight stays were 4% down. If you can believe the stats.
  • Narco subs are very much in the news - local, national and international. Only one is said to have been intercepted en route from Colombia to somewhere along our coast but it's been suggested that our waters are littered with them, following deliberate sinkings after successful unloadings to the favoured high-powered speedboats. I do wonder about this. Nice story.
  • I went into and out of town on my bike yesterday, after a lay off of a couple of months. And so discovered the veracity of the saying that you must use it or lose it. I did my best to stay within the new 10kph limit but, as it turns out, I needn't have bothered. The police aren't enforcing it until next week. When they'll have a short campaign to catch anyone unwise enough not to pay attention to the media. And will then go back too ignoring it. This is Spain.
  • Our city council has announced plans to improve the forecourt of our railway station. Need I tell you the parking for cars will be reduced? Nothing if not consistent.
  • As I've said, I sent 2 separate registered letters to my sisters on Monday. One arrived yesterday, after 3 days, but the other has yet to arrive. The tracking system says they both duly left the international logistics centre, but one did so on Tuesday while the other left on Wednesday. I guess I'll never know why they were treated differently but, meanwhile, I hope the second one arrives today. As of now, the tracking info hasn't been updated for 2 days. Which makes it rather useless. 
The UK, the EU, and Brexit
  • Richard North today: Since Barnier has already conceded that he is prepared to entertain a deal which encompasses just the "core trading arrangements", it is safe to assume that both the EU and UK are moving in this direction and this is the most likely outcome. That, in turn, renders very unlikely a no-deal scenario for the end of December 2020. Whatever the pundits say, this is not really on the cards. This should keep the pound rising after a Tory victory in the imminent elections.
The Way of the World
  • The latest number for the amount taken by the OneCoin fraudsters is not the mere €4 billion I cited yesterday but AT LEAST SIXTEEN BILLION EUROS. This is truly stupendous but I doubt it'll be the last time some criminal individual or group takes advantage of global gullibility and greed. 
  • Hard to believe but OneCoin is still being promoted. Indeed, they hosted a beauty contest in Rumania in April this year, more than 3 years after the scam was first exposed. See this site but be aware that it's part of the OneCoin fraudulent campaign. Note the standard reference to 'Bitcoin haters', the enemy.
  • There's a reference on the page to a Dealshaker training event in India yesterday. This is the alleged block-chain-based exchange system allowing conversion of coins into real money which has been promised for over 5 years now. Reminds me of the AVE saga. Anyway, here's the latest specious 'promise', citing 31 December this year. Que cara!
  • As for the past 5 years of OneCoin, it's noteworthy that the (in)famous London legal firm Carter Ruck acted for it against a critical investor in 2016, some 5 months after the British Financial Conduct Authority had issued a warning against it.
  • Not every guilty party has escaped justice; the brother of the (disappeared) founder - Ruja Ignatova - is in clink in the USA, awaiting trial. His sister is rumoured to now look nothing like she used to and to be living the (very) good life in one of several cities around the world, or cruising permanently around the Med in one of the world's biggest yachts. Assiduously avoiding the several people who'd like to talk to her. Assuming, of course, she hasn't been assassinated by some member of the Bulgarian or Russian mafia. Having served her purpose.
Finally . . .
  • A London conservatoire is advertising Beethoven's late sonatas as "examples of progressive 21st century gender ideologies". Desperate marketing, as Private Eye calls it.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 28.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Life 
  • Those long-living locals.
  • So, can I get some of my money back? I heard this rule years ago but then read the police no longer gave any leeway. Which, logically, meant that we should never overtake a car doing, say, 89kph. Quite ridiculous. So the announcement is not really surprising. If long overdue.
  • A city I really need to visit and was planning to do so even before I read the article.
  • Here's The Local on articles you need to read about living here. My blog is also essential reading, of course . . . Being less gushing, occasionally.
  • And here's The Local on traditional local dishes. Madrid's is a squid sandwich. Which reminds me that the one I had there a few months ago was among the worst things I've eaten in Spain in 19 years. Maybe because - living in Galicia - I'm a squid expert now.
Galician Life 
  • Something on that narco submarine. Wrong in its claim that this is the first submarine to appear in our waters, We had one back in 2006, in Vigo harbour.
  • It's still raining here so I was (almost) pleased to read that, back in the UK . . The heavy rainfall that wreaked havoc across parts of the country is a “once in 60 years” weather event, experts believe. Might also be true here.
  • Meanwhile, thanks to (A)GW[??], this is happening down South. I hope they fry to death . . .
  • Continuing with the popular series of old fotos of Ponters . . . Here's what is now our liveliest plazas/prazas - de la/da Verdura - about 100 years ago:-

With produce sellers . . .

And here's what it looked like some time last year, I think:-

And last night:--

The building at the top is A Casa da Luz/La Casa de Luz - Electricity House. Now one of our (competing) tourist offices, it was the first electricity 'factory' in Galicia. Before that, I've just learned, it was a slaughter house and butcher's shop . . . Point to note, the fountain at the top of the square in the old fotos is now at the bottom of it. You can sees its stand in the last foto.

The UK
  • Interesting stats:  International talent is the driving force behind the UK’s startup success. While 14% of UK residents are foreign-born, 49% of the UK’s fastest-growing businesses have at least one immigrant co-founder. In the shadow of Brexit it is vital that the UK remains open to attracting and retaining great entrepreneurial talent.
  • The founder of Twitter thinks Ffart should be banned from it. And lose all that madness??
  • The man himself wonders why the centennial celebration of women's suffrage has only occurred under his presidency, and says it's totally thanks to him. Limitless ignorance and arrogance. "People get the government they deserve", it's said.
The Way of the World
  • The con of the century? On a par with the South Sea Bubble, Tulip mania, the madness? . . .  'One Coin' cryptocoin. A brilliantly simple Ponzi scheme. Just pretend you have a block-chain-based cryptocoin system in, of all places, Bulgaria, and then lie about its value for millions of dupes whose investments are - and always have been - absolutely worthless. Pocket more than €4 BILLION and then disappear. See the BBC series of podcasts here. Interesting to note, firstly, that the first warning about it came over 3 years ago, when a UK paper said it was a complete scam; and, secondly, that, despite the revelations of the last 3 years, the company still has a FB page and 'cultists' are still investing in it. More than one born every minute.
Finally . . .
  • I admire wolves greatly and look forward to more news about this puppy.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 27.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • Here's The NY Times and here's The Guardian on the meaning of 'Vox', viz: 'Neanderthal'.
  • The Local reports here on nationwide reaction/revulsion.
  • Here's Lenox Napier on the current mess.
Spanish Life 
  • As UK cafés don't provide newspapers for their clientele to read, I can't say this wouldn't happen there, but I can say it often irritates me here in Spain to have to deal with a paper that's been left in a complete mess. An example, to me, of thoughtlessness as regards others. Or individualismo, if you like. Still, at least they're free . . .
Galician Life
  • Last time I looked at the Mundicamino site, there were 39 caminos through Spain to choose from. As of yesterday, the total is (at least) 40, with this new one - up via Portugal - now accepted as a genuinely historical route. The good news for me is that it doesn't pass through Pontevedra. Hotel and bar owners on the route will also be happy about it, whether or not they're religious:-
  • The early winter weather in Pontevedra/Galicia this year is almost certainly the second worst since I came here 19 years ago. The nadir was actually my very first (dispiriting) winter here. While I was in the UK for October and the first half of November, it rained almost every day, and is still doing so. Until 2 December they say. This might or might not be a result of (A)GW but it's all in sharp contrast with the sunny final quarters of the last 2-3 years. And unwelcome. Here's a topical Gallego cartoon:-
  • Here's a bit of Pontevedra city of almost 100 years ago - Plaza de Méndez Nuñez. Like all of our little squares, it was used to sell market produce. All of the doors you can see now open into tapas bars, except the one in the little nook, which has been a book shop for several decades. And there's a 3rd floor on the building facing you:-

Here's the same place last night:-

The EU
  • Richard North today: France and Germany are looking to the EU to convene another "Conference on the Future of Europe", which they believe is necessary to make the EU "more united and sovereign" across a range of challenges. This, of course, is entirely expected and one of the many reasons why so many in the UK campaigned to leave the EU. There is never a status quo as, no sooner is one treaty laid down, there is another in the planning stage – and then another one after that, in a never-ending process of integration. Both abhorrent and unrealistic to some.
Nutters Corner
  • To strive: Past participle. US: Strived. Brit: Striven.
Finally . . . 

Would make a change from a placebo . . . 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 26.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
 Spanish Life 
  • The worrying sort of 'post-code lottery' that wouldn't be permitted in other countries? Almost certainly the result of Spain's high degree of devolution to regional governments. Spain is a de facto federal state, so I wonder if this sort of thing happens in the USA and Germany, for example.
  • Another well-known Spanish negative - slow justice.
Galician Life
  • That narco mini-sub . . . I've seen reports of it containing 2,000, 3,000 and 4,000 kilos of cocaine. What does seem clear is that it was deliberately sunk in the bay of Aldán, off Punta Couso, as shown on this map. The infamous centre of drug smuggling - Arousa - is top left and you can see here how these places relate to both Pontevedra and Vigo:-

The sub, by the way, was trying to make its way further north but ran into difficulties and turned back towards, I assume, the Azores, before it was spotted by the Guardia Civil, using night-vision equipment. Attempts will now be made to re-float the vessel and its valuable cargo, using large balloons
  • Putting Galicia in a better light, here's an article about Pontevedra's impressive (mal)treatment of cars over the last 20 years. It comes from a journal which only deals in good news. As an aside, I believe this type of (commendable) 'Happy News' venture has been tried before, without success. The public prefers sensationalism. Especially on Spanish TV.
  • All foreign residents - and some Spaniards - complain about the Spanish obsession with time-wasting bureaucracy and paper work. And the above article on cancer treatment includes the sentence: Bureaucratic holdups are part and parcel of daily life in Spain. Well, what follows might or might not be a good example of this . . . . Some readers might recall I said it took me only 30 seconds to mail a registered letter when I was in this UK. This contrasts with 16 minutes to post 2 certificadas letters at the Correos in Pontevedra yesterday. From this I must deduct the 8 minutes waiting for my number to come up, which is about average. So, we're really talking about 'only' 8 minutes. Why this long? Well, it was a multi-step process that wasn't helped by the clerk's unfamiliarity with English place and street names, as she had to (slowly) type all of the address details into her computer, checking with me, letter by letter. Prior to that, she had to check that my initials D C didn't stand for Don Carlos and then type my full name and address into the computer. That done, I had to check all the details on the PDA on the counter and confirm with my signature, using the special pen attached to it. Then the clerk had to print out two 2-page receipts, shown here. As you can see, it's in both Spanish and Galician. Which doesn't help simplify things:-

My UK receipt was, needless to say, only in English and was about 20% of the size of one A4 page, or 10% of the size of my Spanish 2-page receipt. Clearly, it contains rather less detail but I assume it's enough in the case of any problems, as it has the critical reference number:-

As I say, this might or might not be a good example of excess bureaucracy and paper and I leave it to others to judge . . .

The UK, The EU, Brexit
  • Richard North today: Sir Ivan Rogers argues that, for all the talk about "getting Brexit done", Johnson is "basically replicating the strategy errors of 2016 and 2017 which brought his predecessor down". In the coming trade negotiations – far more complex than those which brought us the withdrawal agreement – the are "very big elephant traps" and Johnson "is currently digging them deeper". Having set himself such a tight deadline, he will be desperate to declare his victory, giving the EU considerable leverage which they will exploit to extract major concessions from the UK. 
  • So . . . Is Ffart a throwback or, as per reader Perry, a throwforward?
  • Ffart loves to give his opponents disparaging nicknames, the latest being Little Mike for Michael Bloomberg. So, how about The Orange Ffart for him? Or just OaF.
  • I was wondering why around 25% of Americans will vote for Ffart whatever he's accused of or is shown to have done. Not all of them are evangelical Christians who - astonishingly - believe he's anointed by their God. My current theory is that it's a version of the American Dream. Some people look at him and say: Well, if a lying, cheating, philandering, crooked, inarticulate imbecile can become president, there must be some chance for me. Others - the more cynical ones - simply hold their noses and support him because it's in their financial interests to vote for his (far right) tribe and not the 'socialist/communist' one whom they think threatens these. Sometimes it's hard to remain convinced that democracy is the least worst system we can have. 
Nutters Corner
  1. The leader of Trump’s 2016 spiritual adviser group takes Trump worship to a new level by claiming that opposition to him is part of a “demonic” plot of “murderous spirits” to prevent the second coming of Christ. So apparently Trump’s re-election is the key to that happening.
  2. Rick Perry claims that, like King David, Trump was chosen by his Christian god.
  • Word of the Day: Batiscafo. Bathyscaphe. The word used in Spanish press reports for the mini-sub mentioned above.
  • A couple of videos I stumbled onto yesterday:-
The Spanish Language and What Makes it The Coolest
Not your average Spanish lesson.

Finally . . .
  •    From  this week:-

Monday, November 25, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 25.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
Spanish Life 
  • Keeping abreast of protests against Spain's neo-fascists.
  • Incidentally, it's hard to know who the neo-fascists are, as everyone who disagrees with you here is instantly labelled a fascist.
  • As I was mopping up the litres of water around the base of my toilet yesterday - after I'd failed to sufficiently tighten a connection - I recalled how horrified Spaniards are to see carpets in UK bathrooms. Aware, as they are, that water isn't the only liquid that finds itself to the floor.
  • Of course, there's a tradition of tiling in Spanish houses that doesn't exist in the UK. And, until the late 1960s, Spain was considered part of the 'developing world'. Not many folk could afford wall-to-wall carpeting. Even where it made sense.
Galician Life 
  • Not so long ago I was telling a visitor about the discovery, in 2006, of a small submarine in Vigo harbour, which turned out to be a novel way to get cocaine into the hands of our narcotráficos. Yesterday, came news of a similar incident, in a little bay (Aldán) where I tried to buy a house when I first came here.
  • Reading of Aldán reminded me of a bizarre aspect of that house deal. The seller's price was X, my offer was 0.9X and the seller's response was a counter-demand of 1.2X. Needless to say, I walked away, wondering what on earth his thought process might be. Perhaps that, if there was one stupid foreigner prepared to pay something near his high price, there might well be another coming along soon who'd pay even more. Astonishingly, it happened again with the 2nd house I made an offer on. I naturally wondered what universe I'd wandered into. Not for the last time.
  • The promised foto of the ugly O Burgo bridge railings:-

Will they be painted, I wonder.
  • P. S. After weeks of rain, the river is as high as I ever recall seeing it. Floods imminent?
The UK
  • Nice comment on the recent Q&A: Four leaders, one audience and not a brain cell between them . . . . .What is the point of these debates except to remind us how mediocre and unskilled our politicians have become? Do we wonder why everyone hates the political class when we allow the inadequate leaders of our four main parties to be ceremonially spat at by people who speak about them as if they are murderers and rapists?  The full article is below.
The EU
  • See the 2nd article below for an amusing view of eurotrashers.
The Way of the World 
  • Presiding at a landmark case in the UK High Court, a judge was confused about the police recording of “non-criminal hate speech”. He was thrown by the statement that a comment reported as hateful by a victim must be recorded “irrespective of whether there is any evidence to identify the hate element”. Mused the judge: "That doesn’t make sense to me. How can it be a hate incident if there is no evidence of the hate element?". There came no answer, it's reported. So police are now recording not only hate speech that is not criminal, but also hate speech in which there is no evidence whatsoever of hate.
Finally . . .
  • Nice comment from the author of Middlemarch: “People are almost always better than their neighbours think they are.”   

1. Four leaders, one audience and not a brain cell between them: Camilla Long

Sometimes I feel like Brexit is a painful experiment callously staged by television companies to find out the most stressful way of ingesting politics.

There can’t be any other reason for the past three years of feral audiences and eye-flaming television studio sets, the pale parade of dank anchors. In terms of sheer evolution of the genre, we are now just about walking upright, having decided against multiway bunfights following the great Maitlis horror of June. But judging by the second big debate of the general election on Friday, in which the four leaders took to the stage separately, we haven’t experienced anything close to increased brain capacity or the ability to grasp anything yet.

How dense do you have to be to ask Nicola Sturgeon whether she’ll still be up for a second Scottish referendum if she went into coalition with Jeremy Corbyn? And yet here was a man named Aldous Everard, asking the SNP leader if she’d still be “pushing for an independence referendum”. You could tell she was smiling, as if to say: are you joking? But the first rule of debates is that you can never, ever tell a member of the audience he’s an idiot.

And what epic idiots they were. Aldous Everard, Magdalen Lake — even the names sounded like something from the Hunger Games. During one exchange, they booed Corbyn so ferociously I thought: “Don’t bother replacing Jeremy Kyle on weekday mornings. We can just watch two hours of 20 power-tripping man buns/embedded activists clobbering the main political leaders instead.”

Fiona Bruce, encased in a dental nurse’s sheath, tried to gain control of the masses by shrieking: “I am in charge of this thing!” For a certain section of society, Bruce losing her rag and then saying “tank-topped bum boys” in the presence of Boris “Shagger” Johnson will be worth the television licence fee alone. For the rest of us, it was dismal TV.

What is the point of these debates except to remind us how mediocre and unskilled our politicians have become? Do we wonder why everyone hates the political class when we allow the inadequate leaders of our four main parties to be ceremonially spat at by people who speak about them as if they are murderers and rapists? “I’m terrified for my daughters,” was something someone actually said to Corbyn, who is leading the Labour Party at the age of 70. “Do you now agree how ridiculous you sounded?” sneered someone else at Jo Swinson.

I read during the week that “senior BBC executives” had claimed the organisation thought it was “wrong” to expose lies told by Johnson “because it undermines trust in British politics”. To which I say: no organisation that even considers broadcasting the rabid nightmare that is Question Time can have even the tiniest of qualms about eroding trust in our elected representatives.

In terms of basic presentation, Nicola Sturgeon was the only politician who came anywhere near the standard of David Cameron or Tony Blair. You have to ask yourself what’s happened to the business of being a statesman when three of our top leaders don’t even come close to John Major. Taking the podium in an ice-blue dress, Sturgeon felt the most confident by dint of having been five years in the job.

By contrast, Swinson has had less than five months as leader of the Lib Dems. Watching her being attacked or patronised by men with beards shouting “Jeremy Corbyn has been fighting anti-Semitism since before you were born” felt like watching a family solicitor trying to organise a pissed rural barn dance. And what of her mad policies? You do get the impression the Lib Dem leader really is daft enough to think that by pledging to revoke article 50, she’ll automatically get 50% of the vote.

Johnson appeared last, with the haunted demeanour of a man living in 2015 who’s just been shown the end of 2019. Is it just me or did the prime minister look seriously spooked? Or was that just months of Carrie’s merciless chickpea and labneh diet?

He submitted to the debates in the same manner as he always does, as if he’s holding his breath under water. For all their shrieking and mud-slinging, the audience failed to put him under anything approaching decent pressure.

There was one moment of glory, however. Challenged over his comments on the burqa, he launched into a wonderful defence of the right of women to wear what they want and a passionate diatribe on freedom of speech. Why couldn’t the whole debate be like that?

2. Private jet on the runway. Sweaty hand on your back. Say ciao to Andrew’s entitled Eurotrashers: Jeremy Clarkson

Shortly after Prince Andrew claimed he didn’t indulge in public displays of affection, we were bombarded with a million photographs of him doing just that. There were so many, it started to look as though he’d had his hand on the arse of everyone in London and had even gone into battle in the Falklands with his tongue in his co-pilot’s ear.

The problem is, however, that in the world he inhabits, this is the done thing. When you are introduced to a woman, you don’t shake hands. You run your fingers delicately up her exposed back and she responds by resting her head on your shoulder. And then, later, you mate.

The first person I met from this weird world was a translator we once used in Italy. She was idiotically pretty, all freckles and blue eyes — like a Cadbury’s Flake girl who’d washed up, under a mane of just-out-of-bed hair, in a Timotei waterfall. And she spoke about 17 languages. “Where are you from?” I asked squeakily. “Er . . .” she replied.

That’s the thing about these people. They’re not ever from anywhere. Her mum was an American diplomat in Buenos Aires, her dad was an Italian architect and she’d been born in France and educated in England, and lived mostly these days in Switzerland.

This is why most of her friends would have a “de” or a “von” in the middle of their name. To give them some kind of anchor. It’s why Andrew fits, because the man he calls Dad is Greek and his mum is German. But he’s the Duke of York. I’d be Jeremy of Doncaster. I actually call these people the “ofs and froms”. But everyone else has a different name for them: Eurotrash. And you can spot them at parties because they all have wandering Eurohands.

They emerge from their mother’s birth canal on water-skis, with a golden suntan. By the age of four, they are fully qualified helicopter pilots, and by six they’ve won several motor races. They never double-fault on the tennis court, never ski on a piste and, like Andrew, have no discernible source of income. The odd one may have an art gallery in Zurich or a private equity operation in Mayfair, but, by and large, they live an impossible life on invisible means.

It’s a carbon-heavy life of parties, mostly. They alight in Rome for Alain de Biarritz’s wedding to Alexandra von München and then, after a day of recovery by the pool, they all share a secret signal and whizz off to Moscow for Hugo von Duesenberg’s 40th. In many ways, they’re like starlings. And, like starlings, they socialise and travel only with their own kind — people who are in the same boat. Or on the same boat, usually.

Sitting at a dining table with these guys involves a lot of shouting, because each has such a long name that the place card is 3ft wide. Which means you are always miles away from the person sitting next to you. Not that they will talk to you, anyway, because of your miserably short name. And because you’re an insect in a room full of antelopes.

The men never wear socks. The women never wear much of anything at all. And while they are all able to converse fluently with waiters in any country on Earth, they all communicate with one another in English, but with an accent that sociolinguistic professors would place halfway between Milan and Kentucky. The word they use for “party”, for instance, has a “d” in it. And when we say “PJs”, we mean pyjamas, but to them PJs are private jets, which is what they all use when the lead starling suddenly decides everyone needs to be in St Moritz. Or Juan-les-Pins. These people, who are only ever photographed with a glass of champagne in one hand and a woman’s arse in the other, are all basically beholden to Peter Sarstedt.

You might think they’d never allow a girl from the back streets of Naples to join their gang, but that’s not true. Yes, the men must have private means, but they also need boat meat for the summers in St Tropez. And anyone will do, as long as she is visually striking and 7ft tall. Her only job is to appear at the dock in a bikini that’s two sizes too small. And to not suffer from heat rash. These are the mystery women who appear in the James Bond casino scenes. And in the background of all those Andrew pictures.

And it all sounds very idyllic for everyone concerned. The women just have to be pretty and they get a racehorse for Christmas, which they keep for a laugh. And the guys never have to mate with anyone who’s fat.

No one ever has to buy a washing-up bowl or fill a car with petrol. Which all sounds great, but none of them owns a dog — it’d be too much of a nuisance dealing with it when Air Starling decided to head to pastures new. They don’t have jobs for the same reason. And this means they have no concept of responsibility.

Marriages, in their world, are like houses. You move in and then you move out again. They do the wedding thing because they fancy hosting a party, but at the reception the bride will get a lot of Eurohand action, and the only reason the groom doesn’t notice is that he’s upstairs, snorting coke off the back of the girl from the back streets of Naples.

They never really had much of a connection with their parents, either, because they were sent off to boarding school four minutes after their umbilical cord was cut. And they only ever met Mum subsequently when they passed in the general aviation terminal in Nice.

All of which means that, while their lives are glamorous and exciting and filled with sunshine and princes, they contribute nothing and achieve even less.

Plus, they never experience the most important thing of all: love. It’s why so many of them are such enormous bell-ends.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 24.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
The Spanish Economy/Spanish Life
  • Despite claims to the contrary from the then (right wing) PP government, after the 2008 crisis Spanish banks were bailed out - possibly illegally - to the tune of almost €66bn, little of which has been returned to taxpayers. 
  • As I've said, these banks have now expressed their gratitude - not to mention their inviolability - by raising their charges by 50%. 
  • But at least some of the top bankers might yet get a slap on the wrist for an infamous black debit card rip-off of their customers.
Galician Life 
  • When talking to the clerk at the Irish Embassy, I asked if her if she knew that Galicians proud of their Celtic heritage claim that the Book of Invasions (Lebor Gabála Érenn) proves that Ireland was settled by Gallegos. She admitted she didn't and seemed unimpressed by my knowledge of Galaico-Irish myths. As everyone is, I find.
  • You'll be as thrilled as I am to know that they've begun to assemble the (horrible) railings on the O Burgo bridge in Pontevedra city. Foto tomorrow.
The UK
  • I have to admit to never having heard of the Celtic Sea. But I suspect that Galicia nationalists think it's the one off our coast.
  • Do you remember the 1970s? asks someone who does. And who fears returning there. Though not because of a Brexit.
  • A nice cartoon, which might be accurate as regards politicians elsewhere/everywhere:- 
  • Guess which cretin said this: Kellyanne is great. She is married to a total whack job. She must have done a number on him. I don’t know what she did to that guy He’s got to be some kind of a nutjob. She must have done some bad things to him, because that guy is crazy.  Pot and kettle. Sexist nonsense. As usual, an accusation from Ffart is also a confession.
  • Could Perry be wrong about Ffart's chances of staying as the Republican candidate and being re-elected next year? A small cloud on the horizon, no bigger than a man's hand, as they say?
  • Second question . . .  If Perry had to choose between Ffart and, say, Attila the Hun, which one would be plump for? 😀😀😀
Finally . . . 
  • I recently lost my water for a few days. Putting it back on, I was confused that some taps had great pressure and some hardly any at all. Checking the filters in the latter, I found this stuff in all of them:-

So . . . WTF is it and, more importantly, where does it come from and go to when the water is flowing? Bits of plastic tubing and into us? Non-food for thought . . .

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 23.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
The Spanish Economy  
Spanish Life
  • Here's The Local's useful advice on winter ailments and remedies. I should perhaps note that I've read that all cough medicines are no better than a drink of hot water, honey and lemon. Traditional stuff, in other words. Don't be fleeced.
  • I passed a marijuana shop in Malasaña yesterday. I thought it was called something like Medigrass but perhaps it was this place. Looks like it's very easy to get these days.
  • The pavements of Madrid and Pontevedra are very wide. Although probably not planned, this has 2 immense benefits:-
  1. It reduces the number of times Spanish people invade your personal space, having no concept of this, and 
  2. You can easily walk a metre away from the doorways, meaning you won't be hit by folk exiting without bothering to see if the coast is clear. That: No hay moros en la costa.
Galician Life 
  • WTF are 'organic Galician mussels', seen on a menu in Madrid? From the rafts in the sea rather than a farm?
  • The horrible railings are finally going up on O Burgo bridge in Pontevedra but it doesn't look like the works will be finished by the end of October . . . 
The UK
  • Compare the sentences given here with those dished out to corrupt Spanish politicians who pocket (and keep) millions. Reader María's comments on this theme can be found at the end of this post.
  • The UK's favourite Spanish white wines. Well, those of the pundits. For me, nothing beats NZ whites from the right valley. Here in Galicia, I favour the local godello grape over all others. Very difficult to get in Madrid. Spain can be so effing parochial.
The UK, The EU, Brexit
  • The view from my new country, Ireland. The pressure is ramped up further by the tight timetable. Without a deal ready on January 1st, 2021, Britain risks a no-deal exit with the sudden imposition of tariffs and regulatory barriers on EU-UK trade, something economists warn would have a seismic effect on British business. Ratification of any deal by the EU promises to be a complex and lengthy process – although there will be scope for at least provisional application of the core parts of a trade agreement once the EU Council and European Parliament have given it their blessing. The full article here. I get the impression this morning that the stark reality described here is finally beginning to be observed beyond Richard North and one or two others.
  • However bad it gets for Ffart and however despicable he's proved to be - either by himself or by others - reader Perry is very probably right - the Republicans are never going to allow him to be impeached. If he's voted back into office, I vow here and now to give up on the USA and eliminate this bit of my posts.
  • If only German had English grammar and syntax rules . . . Nice video from a talented (and pretty) German lady. Male readers should try hard to concentrate on what she's saying.
Finally . . .
  • Renfe . . . The return trip last night:-
  1. Left 30 minutes late.
  2. Involved us being woken at 6.15 for a 3h45m coach ride to Pontevedra.
  3. But was compensated for by a repayment. Not!

Friday, November 22, 2019

Thoughts from Madrid, Spain: 22.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Life 
  • I submitted my application for Irish citizenship yesterday. It was a simple process but it had one quintessentially Spanish aspect. We now ask for 3, not 2 [as in their notes] proofs of residence. Le falta un papel, usted. But at least I can email the 3rd to them. And it doesn't need to be evidenced by someone 'professional'. Or, worse, a notary.
  • As I waited at the window, a chap came in to get a replacement passport for one stolen when a car blocked his in a narrow street and a couple got out, apologised and sought directions. And then walked off with some of his stuff. My God, said the Irish lady at the window, they're getting really sophisticated.
  • The OECD has postponed the Spanish results on student reading in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) due to "anomalies" they detected. Some data, they aver, showed 'unlikely response behaviour from students'. Of whom some managed to answer 20 questions in 25 seconds. It reminded me of the most popular answer to the question posed by an English teacher friend of mine to his young pupils. Q. Who is your best friend? A. The one who lets me copy his exam answers.
  • Talking of key questions . . . The Spanish public was asked: Is corruption properly punished in Spain? 97% said no. Where do the 3% live, I wonder. Moncloa?
  • Driving in Spain:-
  1. Barcelona will restrict cars in a zone 20 times bigger than Madrid's. Anything you can do, we can do better. Because we're Catalans . . 
  2. The ever-helpful The Local gives us here vital info on road signs. And has a link to a guide to roundabouts which hardly anyone in Spain seems to have read. Or ever will. Especially as the driving schools are still teaching the wrong way both to enter and leave them.
The UK
  • So obsessed is the UK print media with bloody Prince Andrew and the personalities of Johnson and Cornyn that it's hardly worth picking up a newspaper. Or going on line, I should say.
The EU
  • Still telling the British government that a trade deal can't possibly be concluded between January and December 2020 but precious few people are listening. Certainly not Boorish Johnson, it seems.
  • As predicted . . .  Ffart has claimed that he barely knows Sondland and has only rarely spoken to him. As if that changed anything, even if it were true.
  • I rather liked this description of him -  Caught orange-handed.
  • The nefarious influence of the major banks. Bottom line: It’s long past the time to remove the money button from the New York Fed along with its Wall Street cop badge. As it's currently structured, it’s more dangerous than the banks in its district. 
  • The Local adds to our understanding here of why the Spanish are behind the rest of the world when it comes to learning (or perhaps just talking) the global lingua franca.
  • One theory I have it that they don't take on board how less important basic mistakes are in English compared with inflectional Spanish, and so persist in their fear of embarrassing themselves. I do my best to convince them to converse but feel I'm swimming against a tide.
Finally . . .
  • If you're an atheist who likes to be amused, this site could be of interest.
  • And if you're a public figure with skeletons in your cupboard, this article certainly will be.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Thoughts from Madrid, Spain: 21.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • This article, from the USA, puts Spanish developments in a wider - and worrying - context.
  • El País distinguishes here between the astonishing Gürtel and ERE corruption cases. I'm not sure I'm totally clear on the distinction(s). At least they share one aspect - no one really knows whose accounts all the money ended up in. And little, if any, has been returned.
Spanish Life 
  • The Times avers that Franco's legacy continues to a long shadow over Spain. See the first article below.
  • I didn't know that your driving licence here tells the police a lot about both your car and about you. As regards the latter, the numbers on the card tell them whether you have any of these restrictions:-
- Can't drive at night
- Can only drive within a radius of X km from the house
- Cannot drive above X kph
- Can only drive accompanied by another driver
- Can't drive on autovias/autopistas
- Is excluded from taking any alcohol [bus and taxi drivers??]

Is this level of detail unique to Spain? I've never heard of anything like it in the UK but might well be out of touch.
  • Sad to hear that an increasing percentage of Spain's 14-18 year olds are smoking. The number is up from 8 to 9%, with 50% of them having vaped this year.
  • Even sadder to read how high the incidence of domestic violence is down in Andalucia. Is the blood also hotter down there? Ironically, this is where Vox - with its aim of abolishing the concept of male violence - first came to power. Perhaps it's no coincidence.
Galician/Pontevedra Life 
  • I've mentioned that little or nothing seemed to have been done on Pontevedra's O Barco bridge during the 6 weeks I away. Specifically, I'm sure this pile of the (ugly) new metal railings was there when I left:-

Yes, they do look like cages for chickens in a battery farm.

The UK, the EU and Brexit
  • If you think - either as a Brexiteer or a Remainer - that Brexit will be done and dusted by the end of 2020 - as promised by Boris Johnson - then you need to read either Richard North's blog today or the article below.
The EU
  • I'd guess the writer of this article is pretty left wing, though not necessarily wrong. A Taster: They celebrated Draghi for “saving the euro.” There’s some truth to this last claim. But it’s rather a questionable achievement. Precisely because Draghi “saved” the euro, he’s also the man who blackmailed governments into implementing crippling austerity measures and neoliberal “structural reforms” — and who crushed whoever dared to resist. He is the man chiefly responsible for transforming the eurozone from a dysfunctional but formally democratic monetary union into an unprecedented governance structure in which governments are disciplined and punished. Through the mechanisms pioneered by Draghi and his “activist” approach to central banking, formal democratic processes have been systematically subverted through financial and monetary blackmail — first and foremost at the hands of the ECB. Under such governance structures, one may reasonably question whether eurozone member states can still be considered democracies, even according to the narrow “bourgeois” understanding of the concept. Ultimately, Draghi symbolizes the dangerous rise to power of the unelected technocrats — “experts” who claim to be untainted by politics, but who in fact embody capital’s desire for unfettered domination.
  • Who knows? There might be some intelligent folk who favour Brexit on these grounds, as opposed to merely hating foreigners and dreaming of a revived British empire.
The Way of the World 
  • As for the future . . . One hopes this isn't totally true.
  • Can Ffart's Republican defenders stoop any lower? I guess so. Vamos a ver. The good news is that their self-abasement in Ffart's favour seems to be counter productive.
  • Word of the Day: Prevaricación. 'A false friend', thanks to those go-everywhere Romans.
- English: To avoid telling the truth or saying exactly what you think.
- Spanish: To criminally hand down a verdict/judgment which you know to be false. In the words of the dictionary of the AR: Delito consistente en que una autoridad, un juez o un funcionario dicte a sabiendas una resolución injusta.

  • DIY is not my thing. But I regard this bolt on a bar's bathroom door to be beyond even my level of incompetence:-

If you haven't realised it's upside down, you're even worse than me.


1. Gone but not forgotten: Franco’s legacy casts long shadow over Spain: Isambard Wilkinson

The dictator’s exhumation comes at a time when the country has never been more politically fragmented or polarised.

Shining new tiles behind the altar indicate where Francisco Franco’s grave lay until last month when Spain’s Socialist government removed his body from the vast tomb known as the Valley of the Fallen, where it had lain since he died in 1975.

Today is the first time the Prior of the Abbey of the Holy Cross and his monks have commemorated the November 20 anniversary of Franco’s death in the absence of the dictator’s remains. “The exhumation was a profanation of the church,” says Father Santiago Cantera. “It’s a basic human right for the dead to be left in peace." Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s acting prime minister, however, called it “a great victory for Spanish democracy”. Most Spaniards agree but they could be forgiven for wondering whether the exhumation has effectively brought El Caudillo back from the dead.

It came just before a general election that left Spain more politically fragmented and polarised, with the ultra-nationalist Vox becoming the country’s third biggest party.

Spain was considered immune to the far right but the rise of Vox has prompted warnings from the left about a return to the dark years of Franco, who ruled from 1939 after his civil war victory, until his death.

Analysts reject the spectre of a return to the Franco years as scaremongering to mobilise left-wing voters but the dictator’s exhumation and Vox’s electoral success have revived questions over Spain’s attitudes about the dictator and the legacy of the civil war.

The political polarisation has also led to further unpicking of La transición, Spain’s much-lauded smooth transit from dictatorship to democracy in the late 1970s.

The basilica, carved into a pine-forested mountain northwest of Madrid and surmounted with a cross one and a half times higher than the Statue of Liberty, has now become the focus of this debate. 
Subterranean, windowless, a modernist mausoleum built on a pharaonic scale, the church is Spain’s biggest mass grave. Its catacombs contain the remains of nearly 34,000 Spaniards who died during the civil war. Partly built with forced labour, Franco originally intended it only to honour his own side, but, to give the impression of national reconciliation, he also filled it with bodies of Republicans dug up secretly from mass graves. They were not the fallen of war but those executed in cold blood.

Last week Spain’s government said it would try to exhume the remains of 31 of those Republicans whose families had requested for them to be reburied elsewhere, redressing what Mr Sánchez called a national “dishonour”.

Looking out across snow-powdered rocks surrounding the basilica, Father Santiago -  a Franco sympathiser whose resistance to El Caudillo’s exhumation was overruled by the Vatican - says he opposes the proposal. “The state has now assumed powers over human remains that allow it to violate sacred places,” the Benedictine prior told The Times. “The Valley of the Fallen was created to honour all the dead of the war,” he added. “Our daily job is to pray for Spain’s peace. But that peace is now in danger because exhumations are stirring up old animosities and divisions.”

However, fresh roses on what is now the only tomb in the basilica marked with a name, that of the fascist leader José Antonio Primo de Rivera, and the ceiling mosaic of its dome depicting Nationalist forces heroically fighting alongside an artillery cannon, still tell the dictator’s version of history.

Emilio Silva-Barrera is among those leading the fight to end what he calls “the pact of silence” over Spain’s Francoist past. He co-founded the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory after he discovered the remains of his own grandfather, who was executed by Franco’s forces, in a mass grave in Leon. For him, the dictator’s exhumation was an essential part of reparations to his victims.
“Since Franco’s exhumation we have received hundreds of emails from people asking us to find out if their grandfathers are buried in the Valley of the Fallen or to help them remove them,” he says.

Mr Silva criticises La transición, which was underpinned by an amnesty for Franco’s supporters. “The reconciliation was between political parties, not between people,” he says. “My family did not renounce the right to know where my grandfather was buried.”

About 100,000 civil war victims of Franco’s forces are thought to lie in unmarked graves. After Mr Silva’s group started leading exhumations of Republicans from mass graves across Spain, the former Socialist government of José Luis Zapatero in 2007 passed the Law of Historical Memory, supporting research into the civil war’s disappeared and ordering the removal of Francoist symbols from public view. But the law has been divisive, sparking criticism from right-wingers who say it broke the spirit of the transition. Vox’s leaders say they want to repeal it, claiming that their vocal opposition to Franco’s exhumation boosted support for their party, although their opposition to Catalan separatism was the main driver for their rapid success.

“The Republicans assassinated my grandfather and dumped his body in the sea,” said Luis Gestoso, a Vox MP. “But I don’t want to throw that in anyone’s face. It was a civil war. The worst kind of war. We should not open old wounds.”

It’s a debate that’s been cynically commandeered by politicians, says Carmen González, a senior analyst at the Elcano Institute think-tank in Madrid. “The debate has been crafted by politicians but it does not reflect public opinion,” she says. “Most Spaniards believe the Francoist legacy has been completely overcome.” But she says the rise of Vox does not equate with Francoism. “Too many things and years have passed since Franco, she says. “Vox is explained by present conflicts, there is no need to look at the distant past .” Ms Gonzalez adds that her own grandfather was executed by Franco’s forces and her family does not know where his body lies. “I don’t care. It is only a corpse.” Her father and her brother both married women from right-wing families. “It made it impossible to speak about the civil war,” she says. However, Ms Gonzalez says that although the Valley of the Fallen is “an oddity” which does not trouble most Spaniards, she concedes that it is an important issue for some left-wing voters and a minority searching for their dead.

Among those is María Purificación Lapeña who is trying to recover the remains of her grandfather and great-uncle who were executed by Francoist forces and believes may rest in the basilica’s vaults. “It is going to be difficult because the boxes containing the bodies of Republicans were not named or numbered,” she says. “But we have to try. My father is in his late nineties and wants to find out before he dies.” Echoing the Socialists’ plans to turn the Valley into “a museum of memory”, Mrs Lapeña wants the monks to be thrown out, all the bodies removed and an education centre created “like [what] happened with Nazi concentration camps, to teach people what happened under Franco.”

Father Santiago recoils at the idea. “That is something totally different from Franco’s exhumation,” he says. “It would create a serious problem because it would be an attack on a religious monument.”

The prior may underestimate modern Spain. Today, at Madrid’s Mingorrubio-El Pardo municipal cemetery, Franco’s new resting place, flowers and Spanish flags had been placed in front of his new tomb, encased in a relatively modest vault in keeping with his reduced circumstances. But only about 50 nostálgicos and diehard fans came in dribs and drabs, standing in front of the vault, praying and making the sign of the cross.

An elderly man, who did not want to give his name, said that he had come “to pay homage to a man who had done great good for Spain at a time when it was totally destroyed”. Saying that he voted for Vox at the last election because it stood against cronyism and was not ashamed to speak about Spain, he added: “Sánchez [the prime minister] has done nothing but profane a tomb. He will be known as Sánchez the Profaner”.

For the majority of Spaniards, Franco remains very much dead, but as the filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar said earlier this week, “his ghost floats and generates suspicion”.

Talking of things dragging on and on . . . 

2. Brexit is a never-ending story that the coming election will struggle to resolve: Jeremy Warner,  the Daily Telegraph.

A bare bones free trade agreement, with tariff and quota free trade in goods, is eminently doable in the time available but the deep relationship sought is politically much more difficult

“We are off to a flying start. I see absolutely no reason we shouldn’t do it in the time available," Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, told the CBI this week in response to widespread scepticism that a post-Brexit comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA) is possible with the European Union in the 12 months allowed under transitional arrangements. 

Normally, even relatively unambitious free trade agreements, such as that between Canada and the EU, take far longer. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations with the US similarly went on for years, before eventually collapsing.
Sajid Javid, the Chancellor, is similarly optimistic. “They told us we couldn’t renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement in just a few months but we did," he said last month in Washington. “It is certainly possible to reach an FTA within a year, and both the EU and Britain are committed to that."
Commitment is one thing, delivery another. With good reason, business lobbies remain unconvinced. To all intents and purposes the time allowed is actually less than a year, since the Withdrawal Agreement stipulates that if a further extension is sought, it must be done by 1 July.
This would imply that the FTA has essentially to be in the bag before then to be certain of avoiding a no-deal outcome by the end of the year.

Complete illusion

The notion that Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement “gets Brexit done” is at best optimistic and at worst downright disingenuous. It is merely a staging post on the road to a series of cliff edges, and therefore in itself very unlikely to lift the business uncertainty that has been hanging like a cloud over the British economy.
In the event of a Boris Johnson victory at next month’s election the pound will no doubt bounce a bit and business investment revive somewhat, but more in relief that a hard left Corbyn government has been avoided than any lifting of Brexit uncertainty.
Nor are hopes of a swift FTA born out by the reality of Boris Johnson’s much touted, ultra-fast renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement.
There was in fact no breakthrough of any significance secured in that renegotiation. What we’ve ended up with is only a version of what was on offer all along from the European Union – that is for Northern Ireland to stay in the customs union and common regulatory area in order to honour the Good Friday Agreement.
Recall that this was the arrangement that Theresa May categorically rejected because it would “undermine the UK common market and threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK by creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea. “No UK Prime Minster could ever agree to it”, she said.
She was wrong. Boris Johnson is that Prime Minister, casually throwing Ulster unionists under the bus in the process.
None of this is to argue that there is no form of FTA that can be negotiated in the time available. A bare bones FTA, with tariff and quota free trade in goods and foodstuffs, is eminently doable, according to Lorand Bartels, reader in international law at Cambridge University, and can in essence be written on one side of a piece of paper. 
Furthermore, it is something that in theory the EU would be happy to agree, since EU nations collectively enjoy a considerable trade surplus with the UK in goods. On the face of it, therefore, the advantage in any such deal would be theirs, not ours. 
But tariffs and quotas are not the main issue here; rather it is regulatory compliance.
Trade might still be significantly impaired and slowed by border checks to ensure EU standards are met. Holland has already said that it will ban all movement of livestock from Britain regardless. This is just a harbinger of the much wider regulatory issues the negotiations will encounter.

Causes for optimism

In any case, the UK aspires to much more than a bare bones FTA. It wants a deep and comprehensive trading arrangement that would notionally include services, and particularly financial services, where the UK currently enjoys a big trade surplus with the EU.
Again, according to Bartels, this is not altogether impossible, even in the limited time available. The talks have the advantage of beginning from the position of complete convergence between the two jurisdictions.
This makes them quite unlike a normal trade negotiation, where the purpose is regulatory alignment. In this case, it will be about the right to diverge.
There wouldn’t be a great deal of point in leaving the EU if it is not to set our own path; without divergence, the UK is left in a worse position than it is now, as a supine rule taker.
In this regard, Bartels has an ingenious solution: that some kind of mechanism is put in place, adjudicated by joint committee, that would calibrate market access according to regulatory alignment. 
If the negotiations are on the basis that all aspects of access have to be pre-agreed, and the degree of compliance set in stone, argues Bartels, then they have little chance of success.
Yet if a much looser arrangement is determined which allows for divergence over time, but restricts access accordingly in line with an agreed institutional formula, then the deeper relationship sought could be possible.
Only two problems. One is EU paranoia about cherry picking – that almost any divergence, be it on environmental or social standards, might allow the UK to undercut EU producers. The other is hardline Brexiteer opposition to anything that looks remotely like “Brino” (Brexit in name only).
It has long been suspected that Boris Johnson is a soft Brexiteer at heart, but his problem in agreeing a high degree of continued alignment is his 28 parliamentary hardliners, all with very comfortable majorities. They would rather die in a ditch, to coin an expression, than agree to extend the transition.
Their ranks are likely to be further swelled in the coming election, which means that in order to extend so as to secure the full-fat FTA Johnson aspires to, he may need a rather bigger majority than generally appreciated – at least 40 according to estimates by Samuel Tombs of Pantheon Economics.
Get Brexit done? Would that it were so. The “NeverEnding Story” is more like it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Thoughts from Madrid, Spain: 20.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • The leader of the 'far left' Podemos party has given his overview of the recent election results in The Guardian here. His principal points: Vox’s momentum hasn’t been fuelled by the effects of globalisation on poorer neighbourhoods, nor by the fears of parts of the Spanish population about immigration. It emerged because of the way in which the Spanish right – the PP and Citizens parties – approached the Catalan crisis. . . But Vox’s success is also down to a Spanish media ecosystem in which ultraconservative media groups and pundits have normalised extreme-right discourse, and in which some progressive sectors have perhaps reckoned that turning Vox into a topic of perennial political debate would scare the centre left into mobilising. . . Above all, this general election has confirmed for the 4th time – we’ve had four elections in as many years – that the era of the two-party system in Spain is well and truly over.
  • For his part, the leader of the Socialist party is reported to be cultivating the support of one of the minority parties, ahead of voting which will determine if Spain yet has an operative government.
Spanish Life 
  • Here's The Local with what you need to know if spend your days in a Spanish work environment. And your nights/weekends with a work colleague.
  • And here's The Local again with what you need to know about the truly staggering ERE corruption case down Andalucia. In which the wheels have turned very slowly indeed. And in respect of which no one ever seems to have answered the question of where the vast amounts of money actually ended up. Or whether being banned from office for a few years isn't a price well worth paying en route to spending the millions you've banked.
  • A nice intro to the Basque language.
Galician Life 
  • Our Oz friend has learnt of the risks of trying out her newly-gained Spanish, specifically using coño instead of conejo. All I can say is that it's actually a good thing she didn't enquire about the lady's conecito. Sorry that this will be lost on some readers but, as this is a family blog, I can't go into the idiomatic meanings of the various words. . . . 
  • BTW . . .  The mixture of Castellano and Galego she cites is castrapo. I've never found out why it's called this. Though I've just discovered that Wiki has a little on this 'vulgar' dialect here.
The UK
  • Last night's leaders 'debate': John Crice in The Guardian: The debate did reveal something. That voters hold both leaders in open contempt and are in despair that one of them will end up as prime minister. Given the chance to show off their best selves, Johnson and Corbyn merely proved they didn’t have one. The country is even more screwed than anyone has previously imagined.
  • Remember when the TSB bank tried to connect all their customers' accounts to the IT system of its new owners, Spain's Banco Sabadell? Well, a vastly expensive report has come to two main conclusions: 1. The new IT platform was not ready to support TSB’s full customer base; and 2. Sabis, the technology arm of Spanish parent Sabadell, was not fit to operate it.  The fall guy for these failure was the senior Spanish executive who was in charge of TSB’s IT operations. The report finds that he was aware of many of the shortcomings in the tests performed on the system and should have “escalated” them. Instead, at a board meeting just days before the fateful weekend, he claimed it “was ready”.  But, says the report, no one emerges from this shambles with their reputation intact. It is a lesson in collective failure.
  • The future UK economy: Labour, says  thinks it has alighted on a miracle cure for the British disease. It is, says Ambrose Evans Pritchard, an illusion. See the article below.
  • Says one of Ffart's victims: The vile character attacks on these distinguished and honourable public servants is reprehensible. It is natural to disagree and engage in spirited debate; this has been our custom since the time of our Founding Fathers, but we are better than callow and cowardly attacks. You don't need me to tell you who these came from.
  • A nice nickname: Tweety Gonzales
The Way of the World 
  • Writes a female columnist: The truth is that for years now the message to girls (and boys) has been weakness, fragility, the abdication of responsibility – and blame. Who should we blame? Well, it’s either mental health or men. And since men are apparently to blame for our mental health, it’s basically just men. The patriarchy. Forty-nine per cent of the population. So let’s denounce the lot of them, purely for possessing the Y chromosome that has fostered so much resentment over the centuries. Let’s make our need for sexual reparations interminable.  . . . Only, this “hostile attitude to men” simply hasn’t proved itself to be helpful. As well as eroding female energy and ambition and encouraging young women to enter the workforce with “an unreceptive frame of mind”, it is deeply uncivilised on a human level
English v Spanish v Portuguese
  • Just noted
- English: Have you had your Weetabix: Single or plural. x 2.
- Spanish: ¿Has tomaado ya tus Weetabix? Single plus plural.
- Portuguese: Já comeste o teu Weetabix? Single plus single.

Footnote: Google Translate declared the Portuguese version to be Galician. Which would actually be: Xa comiches o teu Weetabix.  Single plus single again. Funny things, languages.

  • In the parlance of modern dating, if someone 'ghosts' you, you can 'breadcrumb' your revenge by dishing it out, cold, over a long period. Sounds good to me. . . 
Finally . . .
  • I went into a health food shop with my daughter last night. The array of products was staggering and their prices astonishing. I can't help feeling there's a huge scam being visited on the young - and not so young, I guess - by global corporations. Which is why Weetabix is said to be:-
- 100% whole-wheat
- Low in sugar, and
- High in fibre.

But, to be fair, my daughter tells me Weetabix comes well out of assessing it with this app.


Labour has fallen in love with the German economic model but it cannot be grafted here: Ambrose Evans Pritchard

The Shadow Chancellor has imported the German ‘Rhineland Model’ wholesale to Labour headquarters, shorn of its anthropological context as if were an off the shelf commodity.

John McDonnell’s plan for workers to “take back control” of companies is a copy of Germany’s two-tier board structure, with a supervisory board dominated by trade union representatives and regional stakeholders with powers to keep managers in check.

The model has its roots in South German Christian Democracy and the Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII in the 19th Century, later married to the Bad Godesberg social market ethos of the centre-left.

The paternalist doctrine is that companies are not responsible solely to shareholders. They have an equal responsibility to stakeholders: their workers and communities.

This thinking is the foundation of Mr McDonnell’s 20-page prospectus, Rewriting the Rules. Under his plan (with two variants) the supervisory board will be made up of “customers, employees, and long-term shareholders” with sweeping powers “to steer the strategic direction of the company.” It is German co-decision on steroids.

To the extent that it works in Germany itself - hotly-contested -  it is because property is sacrosanct and market signals are upheld. The German model is underpinned by a Burkean respect for inheritance. Owners of the family Mittelstand firms that form the backbone of Germany’s export economy are exempt from inheritance tax if their children take over the business. These firms are cherished as princely fiefdoms.

They are served by a network of 1,900 savings banks and community banks with interlocking relationships dating back decades. The eco-system that sustains the Rhineland social market economy does not exist in modern Britain.

Labour’s ideological thrust is radically different. It is has a strong whiff of class war rather than German togetherness. Mr McDonnell is launching an assault on property and the "unfettered pursuit of profit". Companies will have to hand over 10pc of their shares. In July Mr McDonnell spoke of cutting the inheritance tax threshold from £475,000 to £125,000 to whittle down wealth.

Whether Germany’s worker councils really do what they say on the tin is another matter. “They are more symbolic than real. Workers feel better integrated but frankly nobody even talks about it any longer,” said Heiner Flassbeck, the former German state secretary of the economy.

Mr McDonnell said workers in Britain are often treated as “virtual chattels". But that is the same complaint made by the neo-Marxist Die Linke in Germany. The Hartz IV labour reforms eroded worker protection and have led to the pauperisation of the bottom fifth of the population, including a Lumpenproletariat of 7.8m people on ‘mini-jobs’ of €450 a month.

Companies learned how to seduce union representatives on their board, famously so in Volkswagen’s ‘bribery, and brothels’ trial in 2008. The company had earlier forced through a de facto pay cut by threatening to relocate plant to Poland. The unions on the board meekly went along with it. “They were co-opted,” said Mr Flassbeck.

Mr McDonnell cited evidence that worker co-decision boosts productivity. The record in Germany is less clear. OECD data shows that productivity rises since 1995 in the UK and Germany have been similar. Raw capitalism in the US has done far better than either.

Labour thinks it has alighted on a miracle cure for the British disease. It is an illusion.