Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Thoughts from a Boat: 13.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • Well, that didn't take long. But, then, execution concentrates the mind, as they say. They couldn't manage it last time round over several months but, chastened by Sunday's results, the parties of the Left have agreed on a formal coalition in the space of a few hours. But it's still a minority administration needing the support of smaller parties to get anything done.
  • Reader María here addresses here the spectre haunting us all in the longer term.
  • The New York Times has a good overview of this here, and the estimable Guy Hedgecoe notes the 3 main election takeaways here. In brief:-
  1. A governing majority will be elusive
  2. There's been a re-ordering of the Right, and
  3. The Catalan crisis will continue to dominate political debate.
  • Think Spain gives us here the 10 key 'foundational' aspects of the PSOE-Podemos coalition, on which there will be 'discussions'.
  • Here's quite a bit from El País on the execrable Franco family.
Spanish Life 
Galician Life 
The UK
  • That the government will allow a few serious epilepsy and multiple sclerosis sufferers to get cannabidiol medicine to relieve their symptoms is good news. That is all that can be said. Once more a decision emerges from the caverns of Britain’s NHS that reveals the evils of a politicised, centralised, deadened health service. More here.
The USA/Nutters Corner
The Way of the World
  • One useful aspect of having many hours to kill on a boat is that you can tidy up your files. Here's a couple of articles I've been meaning to read for a while:-
  1. How can I remove Google from my life? See the first article below.
  2. The Overton window is the range of ideas tolerated in public discourse, also known as the window of discourse.  . . . .It contains the range of policies that a politician can recommend without appearing too extreme to gain or keep public office in the current climate of public opinion. See the 2nd article below on how powerful folk try to limit the breadth of this window. Or click here.
Finally . . .
  • And we thought we had problems with wild boars . . . Wild boars dig up and destroy £17,000 worth of cocaine stashed in forest in Tuscany.
THE ARTICLES

How can I remove Google from my life?  Jack Schofield

Google’s motto used to be “Don’t be evil”, but in the eyes of some it has now taken on the mantle of the “evil empire” from Microsoft, which Bill Gates and crew inherited from the IBM mocked in the Mac’s launch advert in 1984.

The EU has fined Google €2.4bn (£2.2bn) for abusing its search monopoly by favouring its products. Most recently, Google was fined €4.34bn for “very serious illegal behaviour” in using Android “to cement its dominance as a search engine”, according to the EU’s competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, a charge the company contests.

Google started by taking over the search engine market. It now dominates smartphone operating systems (Android), browsers (Chrome), web-based email (Gmail), online video (YouTube) and maps. It is also challenging in other areas with its own cloud platform, an online office suite, Chromebooks, Waze, Nest and so on. Google is far advanced in driverless cars (Waymo) and artificial intelligence (DeepMind). Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

Google’s web

We can probably agree Google has won by delivering high-quality products, and more than 40 corpses in the Google Graveyard – soon to be joined by its awful social network, Google+ – prove it doesn’t always win. But there are other problems.

First, Google now controls web development to the point where not even Microsoft can compete, as shown by the latter’s recent decision to replace its EdgeHTML browser engine with the open source Chromium on which Google’s Chrome browser is based. Users were supposed to benefit from competition between rival implementations of open web standards, but today Chromium and therefore Chrome is the standard.

As Firefox-developer Mozilla has pointed out, “from a social, civic and individual empowerment perspective, ceding control of fundamental online infrastructure to a single company is terrible”.

Second, many of us have problems with Google’s business model, which the Harvard Business School professor Shoshana Zuboff has called “surveillance capitalism”. Google finances its free services by tracking users and targeting them with advertisements. In fact, it tracks you across the web even if you never visit any Google properties because other websites commonly use Google AdWords, AdMob, DoubleClick, Google Analytics, and its other tracking or advertising products.

From your searches and site visits, Google probably knows more about you than your mother or your spouse, and there’s no telling where that information will eventually end up.

If you use an Android phone, Google can also track your physical location, and if you turn that off, you lose directions, “find my phone” and other features.

So, remember that avoiding Google products is only part of the problem. You will need to protect your privacy in other ways, too.

Easy does it

The simplest way to avoid most Google products is to switch to the Microsoft or Apple equivalents, in whole or in part. Some would see this as jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. However, Satya Nadella’s new Microsoft is different from the old one, and driven by other metrics (usage instead of units). It is building a broader cross-platform ecosystem than either Google (everything online) or Apple (everything on Apple).

The web-based Outlook.com email service is still not as good as Gmail, but you can use it from a desktop email client, and there’s a decent Mail app in Windows 10. There are also plenty of alternative services, including FastMail and ProtonMail.

Android smartphones are a problem because Google controls the system. However, you can run the Microsoft Launcher and dozens of Microsoft apps on Android, and connect it to Your Phone in Windows 10. Apple’s iPhones are less of a problem because they are not preloaded with Google apps, though Google does pay Apple billions to be the default search engine. Again, Microsoft provides dozens of apps for iPhones and you can also connect your iPhone to Windows 10.

Cyanogenmod, an open source ROM to liberate Android phones, bit the dust a while ago, but the project is continuing as LineageOS.

Browser choice

Google controls the browser market, so the best alternative to Chrome is Mozilla’s Firefox. With Opera and now Microsoft capitulating, Mozilla is the only major provider still committed to building its own standards-based browser.

Fortunately, Chrome’s rendering engine has open source origins – Apple forked KHTML to create WebKit for Safari, then Google forked WebKit to create Blink for Chrome – so the base code is available in the form of Chromium. This has enabled lots of companies to build browsers based on Chromium, without the proprietary stuff that Google adds to create Chrome. Opera and Vivaldi are the most obvious examples, though you should also look at the privacy oriented Epic, among others.

You will not be entirely free of Google, as you would be with Firefox, but it seems to me an acceptable compromise.
Either way, I avoid using Chrome because now when you sign into a Google site, it signs you into the browser as well, unless you deactivate the feature.

Search here

Google still has the best search engine, but Bing and DuckDuckGo are viable alternatives for the majority of searches. If you can’t avoid Google search completely, you can certainly reduce your usage.

DuckDuckGo is a good choice because it is privacy oriented, and you can run Google searches from DDG by using a !bang command. (A bang is an American exclamation mark.) However, DDG’s sources include other search engines such as Bing, Yahoo and Yandex.

StartPage – formerly ixQuick – is a Dutch-owned privacy-protecting search engine, while Qwant is a French one. Both get some results from other search engines, but Google still won’t know about you. (Qwant seems to be pretty good.)
Mojeek is a British search engine that has its own web crawler, called MojeekBot.

For image and reverse image searches, I recommend Yandex, which is Russian, Bing and TinEye.

YouTube kills it

Almost every attempt to avoid Google products dies a painful death when it comes to online video, where YouTube reigns supreme. There are plenty of long-running online video sites including Vimeo, Dailymotion and Facebook, but YouTube is unbeatable for its breadth of content. And there’s no way around that.

There have been plenty of websites that will download the videos you want to watch without you having to go to YouTube. Years ago, I used KeepVid. However, this approach does not suit Google because you never see any adverts. Also, these sites – which could be flaky to start with – tend to stop working properly, and/or pop up multiple ad pages.

The indirect approach does not suit users either because the whole idea is that you go to watch one YouTube video then get sucked into watching another dozen through random browsing.

Web traffic statistics suggest there’s one property with both the technology and the capacity to take on YouTube, and that’s PornTube, but it’s not quite the same.

2. The Incredible Shrinking Overton Window: Caitlin Johnstone

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum — even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.” Noam Chomsky

The plutocrat-owned narrative managers of the political/media class work constantly to shrink the Overton window, the spectrum of debate that is considered socially acceptable. They do this by framing more and more debates in terms of how the oligarchic empire should be sustained and supported, steering them away from debates about whether that empire should be permitted to exist at all.

They get people debating whether there should be some moderate changes made or no meaningful changes at all, rather than the massive, sweeping changes we all know need to be made to the entire system.

They get people debating whether they should elect a crook in a red hat or a crook in a blue hat, rather than whether or not they should be forced to elect crooks.

They get people debating violations of government secrecy laws, not whether the government has any business keeping those secrets from its citizenry in the first place.

They get people debating how internet censorship should take place and whom should be censored, rather than whether any internet censorship should occur.

They get people debating how and to what extent government surveillance should occur, not whether the government has any business spying on its citizens.

They get people debating how subservient and compliant someone needs to be in order to not get shot by a police officer, rather than whether a police officer should be shooting people for those reasons at all.

They get people debating whether or not a group of protesters are sufficiently polite, rather than debating the thing those protesters are demonstrating against.

They get people debating about whether this thing or that thing is a “conspiracy theory”, rather than discussing the known fact that powerful people conspire.

They get people debating whether Tulsi Gabbard is a dangerous lunatic, a Russian asset, a Republican asset gearing up for a third party run, or just a harmless Democratic Party crackpot, rather than discussing the fact that her foreign policy would have been considered perfectly normal prior to 9/11.

They get people debating whether Bernie Sanders is electable or too radical, rather than discussing what it says about the status quo that his extremely modest proposals which every other major country already implements are treated as something outlandish in the United States.

They get people debating whether Jeremy Corbyn has done enough to address the Labour antisemitism crisis, rather than whether that “crisis” ever existed at all outside of the imaginations of establishment smear merchants.

They get people debating whether Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren would win against Trump, rather than whether either of those establishment lackeys is a worthy nominee.

They get people debating whether politicians should have corporate sponsors, rather than whether corporations should be allowed to interfere in the electoral process at all.

They get people debating if the US should be pursuing regime change in Iran or Syria, rather than whether the US has any business overthrowing the governments of sovereign nations to begin with.

They get people debating how many US troops should be in Syria, rather than whether that illegal invasion and occupation was ever legitimate in the first place.

They get people debating whether to kill people slowly by sanctions or kill them quickly with bombs, rather than whether they should be killed at all.

They get people debating whether or not some other country’s leader is an evil dictator, rather than whether it’s any of your business.

They get people debating the extent to which Russia and Trump were involved in the Democratic Party’s 2016 email leaks, rather than the contents of those leaks.

They get people debating what the response should be to Russian interference in the election, rather than whether that interference took place at all, and whether it would really matter if it did.

They get people debating how much government support the poor should be allowed to have, rather than whether the rich should be allowed to keep what they’ve stolen from the poor.

They get people debating what kind of taxes billionaires should have to pay, rather than whether it makes sense for billionaires to exist at all.

They get people impotently debating the bad things other countries do, rather than the bad things their own country does which they can actually do something about.

They get people debating what should be done to prevent the rise of China, rather than whether a multipolar world might be beneficial.

They get people debating whether western cold war escalations against the Russian Federation are sufficient, rather than whether they want the horrors of the cold war to be resurrected in the first place.

They get people debating what extent cannabis should be decriminalized, rather than whether the government should be allowed to lock anyone up for deciding to put any substance whatsoever in their own body.

They get people debating whether or not US troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan, rather than whether or not there should be any US troops outside of the US.

They get people debating whether or not Julian Assange is “a real journalist”, rather than whether or not they should set legal precedents that necessarily criminalize acts of journalism.

They get people debating the subtle details of bail protocol, political asylum, embassy cat hygiene and leaking rather than whether it should ever be legal to imprison a publisher for exposing government war crimes.

They get people debating what the punishment should be for whistleblowers, not what the punishment should be for those they blow the whistle on.

They get people debating whether Fox or MSNBC is the real “fake news”, rather than whether the entirety of mainstream media is oligarchic propaganda.

They get people debating about how the things everyone is freaking out over Trump doing were previously done by Obama, rather than discussing why all US presidents do the same evil things regardless of their parties or campaign platforms.

They get people debating what should be done with money, not whether the concept of money itself is in need of a complete overhaul.

They get people debating what should be done with government, not whether the concept of government itself is in need of a complete overhaul.

They get people debating whether the status quo should be reinforced or revised, rather than whether it should be flushed down the toilet where it belongs.

They get people angrily debating things they can’t change, rather than constructively working on the things that they can.

They get people shoving against each other in opposite directions, while they swiftly build a cage around us all.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Thoughts from a Boat: 12.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • The general election couldn't have led to a worse scenario, says someone here. And will mean - as on this boat - a bumpy ride ahead.
  • Sic transit . . .  So, it's Goodbye to the leader of the (f)ailing Ciudadanos party and Hello to his even prettier successor. Who might or might not turn round its fortunes. But I suspect not. 
  • Meanwhile, all eyes are now on the latest upstart, the neo-Francoist Vox party.
The Spanish Economy  
  • The VP of the European Commission is said to be perplexed at the small amount of solar energy installed in Spain, given its potential. Aren't we all. Except we know that the last PP government reversed its policies and cut subsidies, leaving many investors high and dry. And perhaps a bit cautious when the policy was reversed again.
Spanish Life 
  • You might expect otherwise but the Spanish have long been excessive users of water. Which is possibly why they're contravening international treaties and denying some of it to poor Portugal. Not very neighbourly.
Germany
  • The national debate on defence policy is 'brain-dead', says Político here
The USA
  • There's said to be a 'factional rift' among Trump-supporting conservatives that's been growing rapidly in recent weeks. Some, it seems, are further to the Right of others and accuse their Ffartist fellow-travellers of being, effectively, traitors. I'm sure, though, there are good people on both sides . . .
  • It’s difficult to imagine a more tone-deaf group than the Trump family. Born with silver spoons in their mouths, each and every one of them, they view themselves as the ultimate victims of every dark conspiracy they can conjure. More here.
English
  • Passing through the countryside near Winchester, I noticed that several small villages had 'Worthy' in their name. This turns out to have originally meant a single-family farm. It's said to be rather common in North Devon.
Finally . . 
  • This Brittany Ferries boat is rather smaller than the one I've usually been on at least once a year for the last 19 years. But at least it has a Reading Room, with wifi that works. Annoyingly, there's a woman disturbing the peace in it by having a long and loud phone conversation. Surprisingly, she's British, not Spanish. Perhaps a Devonian descendant of a shipwrecked sailor from the 1588 Armada . . .

Monday, November 11, 2019

Thoughts from Royal Leamington Spa, England: 11.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • All as predicted in yesterday's elections. The dramatic difference was the huge surge in votes for far-right Vox, led by a gender-violence denier who wants to clamp down on immigration and makes repeated calls for 'patriotism'. In April, Vox gained 24 seats but this has now more than doubled to 52, making it the 3rd political force in the country.
  • The big loser was the once-rising 'centrist' party, Ciudadanos, whose total fell from 57 in April to just 10, putting its future in jeopardy. The question is - Which party will its rump voters shift to? Probably, I guess, to several of the bigger boys, Left and Right.
  • In a word . . . The result means that neither the left-wing bloc nor the right-wing bloc have enough seats to pass the threshold required for a majority. It means the PM will have to reach agreements with other parties to be invested on the first vote. Which he didn't succeed in doing the last time round and probably won't this time either. Meaning continued deadlock. Or. As the Times puts it this morning: Spain’s political system was left more fragmented and polarised after an election that was intended to return stability.  And: The number of parties represented in parliament rose from 13 to 17.
  • Here's the electoral map. Note the blue sector in the (conservative) NW
  • And here's profile of the Vox leader. A taster: "If you look at polls, he's very popular amongst his voters but it's not his charisma that is driving voters," said Ignacio Jurado, a politics expert at Madrid's Carlos III University. "What has made the party successful is the crisis with Catalonia and the fact that the mainstream parties were unable to address it."
  • A Spanish perspective: If governance was difficult before and leaders apparently lacked the ability of forming stable alliances, now the picture is even more complicated. In fact all the leaders except VOX and the separatists have failed, although no one admits it or takes responsibility. . . . The thesis of mediocre governments that describe democracies these days is perfectly fulfilled in the Spanish case. More here.
  • Finally, here's The Local on the 'meteoric rise of Vox.
The Spanish Economy  
  • I guess Spain may benefit from the decision - notwithstanding the damaging collapse of Thomas Cook  - to enter the package holiday market.
The UK
  • Talking of mediocre governments and oppositions . . . The December elections in the UK will almost certainly result in another hung parliament and continued uncertainty - a word which classifies for the term 'famous British understatement'.
  • Talking of labels for Brits . . . British reserve is as much a part of the national stereotype as excessive tea drinking and complaining about the weather. Now research shows that it is accurate: more than half of us secretly admit to being a wallflower. But . . . The findings suggest that we should stop worrying about what other people think of us, as they are too busy worrying about themselves.
The Way of the World
  • Fewer than half of British students consistently support freedom of speech and 40% favour censorship and no-platforming of controversial speakers. A “culture of conformity” may also be having an effect on undergraduates, who are often too intimidated to espouse unpopular views on campus. The danger is that academic freedom is being significantly violated due, in particular, to forms of political discrimination.
  • Dear Dog: Amazon plans for a future where Alexa is everywhere – and runs our lives. Alexa may already be capable of controlling more than 85,000 smart home products but in future, there'll be a far brainier Alexa - which will intuitively understand our needs and desires and become a proactive companion, prodding us into things we should or shouldn’t do rather serving us as a passive assistant. Time to bankrupt Amazon by mass avoidance/desertion??
Social Media 
  • Back to British reserve . . . The growth of social media may be exacerbating shyness, particularly among the young, as they have fewer opportunities to hone interpersonal skills because they communicate more online.
  • Why 'wallflower'? Wiki: This flower grows on old walls.  The colloquial sense of "A woman who sits by the wall at parties, often for want of a partner" is first recorded 1820.
English 
  • Driving south yesterday I was musing, as you do, on Northern English accents and wondering how much they owe to Scandinavian influences of a thousand years ago. So, I was naturally interested in the article below.
  • I do wonder if the Danish invaders/settlers all called each other 'Love', as virtually everyone in the North West - and other northern outposts - does.
Finally . . .
  • Heading south on the M6, I noted that, even on 'quiet' Sunday, there are inevitably long jams in both directions. Not helped by the many miles of roadworks engendered by the transformation of the M6 into a 'smart motorway'. Jams, like the poor, are always with us. At least for some years yet.
THE ARTICLE

Our dialects are the last surviving bridges back into England’s past

One of the star exhibits at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford is a small bottle of silvered glass, sealed with wax. Attached to it is a handwritten label recording that it was collected in 1915 from an old lady living in Hove, who remarked, “They do say there be a witch in it, and if you let him out there’ll be a peck of trouble.” The peck as a unit of volume became obsolete in 1826, but the term evidently lingered in metaphorical form almost a century later

Do old ladies in Hove still speak of “a peck of trouble”? Does the term “deediiy”, recorded as a “genuine Hampshire” by Mary Russell Mitford in Our Village, survive to this day? We are about to find out, for in 2021, researchers from the University of Leeds will embark on the largest survey of English dialect since the 1950s.

The original survey, conducted across 313 mostly rural sites, favoured “old men with good teeth” as the most likely repositories of dialect terms, and its field workers encountered vexing obstacles to their research: one reported having to wear old clothes to gain the trust of wary villagers.

The 21st-century dialect hunters will probably not find it necessary to outfit themselves in ancient cords held up with baler twine; nor will they confine their attention to greybeards with gleaming gnashers. Instead they will go in search of what the survey’s leader, Dr Fiona Douglas, called “language that allows you to bridge the gap of time”.

More of it may survive than we imagine. Such romantic chroniclers of rural life as John Stewart Collis, and more recently Robert Macfarlane, whose book, Landmarks, celebrates “the power of language to shape our sense of place”, tend towards the dying fall when recording the decline of regional vocabulary. “Language deficit leads to attention deficit”, Macfarlane warns.

Yet as Dr Douglas points out, people have been issuing some version of that dire prediction since the 18th century. Language has the quicksilver power to adapt to change, almost before we are aware of it; yet change is not necessarily loss. There is a faint whiff of taxidermy about the glossary of arcane place-words collected in Landmarks; but when the Leeds survey is complete, it will be intriguing to discover how much of local linguistic idiosyncrasy survives, in a realm now so intensely preoccupied with the assertion of its distinctive national identity.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 10.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • This writer thinks Spain has a controversial approach to ‘justice’, and that ‘The whole of Spanish society is moving towards a more regressive policy, not only on the right-wing but also on the progressive left. Against which, Basque society, he says, is forced to react. Worrying.
Spanish Life 
  • There was a report a month or 2 ago about someone being charged for ice. The Bar owner claimed it'd been a joke. But had it? . . . More people have come forward to the Olive Press about strange charges – extra cost for ice, and salt and pepper. We have had dozens of tourists and expats complain about strange charges for everything from tap water to salt and pepper and mayonnaise.
The UK
  • A plague on both/all houses.
The USA
  • No surprise to read that Ffart has long had dealings in Ukraine, despite this being - according to him - a hot bed of corruption that the Bidens should never have exposed themselves to. In fact . . . The Trumps were looking to erect luxury resorts across the former Soviet republics, and Ukraine seemed like a promising location. But doing so meant navigating a landscape that had long struggled with corruption. And as part of its overtures, the Trump Organization engaged developers Dmitry Buriak and felon Felix Sater, both of whom have had business interests in Russia.
  • According to a White House official: Trump was never completely hinged. The trip from where he was to unhinged, as he is now—that was not a long trip.
  • Maybe we should feel sorry for the man. He's all alone in the WH. 
Nutters Corner
  • “Coach” Dave Daubenmire is not the sharpest knife in the drawer and his views are a jumbled mess of bigotry, ignorance and outright stupidity. Showing that his reading comprehension skills are non-existent, he claimed that the First Amendment to the Constitution says Christians should be in charge of the country.
Finally . . .
  • I did try last night to get a Renfe rail ticket, and got this all-too-familiar message: En estos momentos no podemos atenderle. Por favor vuelva a intentarlo pasado unos minutos. Disculpe las molestias. 

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 9.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
  • Plenty of articles on Spain's predicament(s) and tomorrow's elections, of course:-
  1. A nice one from Bloomberg.
  2. Below, The collapse of old certainties. The reference to the disgusting wave of PP corruption reminded me that this has now been published in Spanish. But we'll have to wait until January for the English version. How poorly Spain has been served by its politicians down the ages.
  3. Político on Spain's political deadlock
  4. Your elections lexicon from The Local.
 Spanish Life 
  • Here's The Local on how to tackle the winter like a Spaniard.
The USA
  • Good news for some of us. And some warnings.
  • I sometimes wonder if the choice in the USA is between insane people on the Right and equally insane people on the Left. Much as in the UK right now, I guess. Though perhaps slightly less insane at each end of the UK spectrum. Except for Jeremy Corby. Oh, and John McDonnell.
The Way of the World
  • To her nearly 700,000 followers on Instagram, Clemmie Hooper came across as a bubbly mother of four with an idyllic jetset life and a close-knit group of friends. The 34-year-old midwife-turned-‘mumfluencer’ used her Mother of Daughters account to share envy-inducing images of sun-drenched holidays and scenes of wholesome family life in her perfect Ramsgate home, interspersed with intimate confessions about marriage and motherhood. However, she has now revealed a darker side to the seeming perfection as she admitted she has been living a parallel life as an abusive troll, anonymously attacking other bloggers - and reportedly even her own husband.
  • When I was at school we were taught that a 'true fact' was a good example of tautology. Now it isn't.
Social Media 
  • Google is making tens of millions of pounds from scammers who are using its search engine to lure savers to invest in high-risk or potentially fraudulent schemes, a Times investigation has revealed. The tech giant is taking huge fees for promoting accounts from unscrupulous companies that advertise eye-catching savings rates aimed at those looking for the best cash Isas.
Finally . . .
  • This is a distillation from an article entitled How not to catch a cold: the food rules:-
- Grandma was right, chicken soup really does work
- Up your zinc by eating seeds, nuts, wholegrains and seafood
- Yoghurt can ward off a cold
- Eating berries can boost your immunity by a third
- If you do catch a cold, you should try a warm blackcurrant drink.
- Orange juice isn’t as effective as you think
- Add fresh ginger to your cooking
- And take these supplements - Zinc and Vitamin D. But don 't bother with echinacea

OK, this is food advice but surely the main rule is: Avoid people . . .

THE ARTICLE

Spanish election: Old certainties that bound nation together are under threat: Isambard Wilkinson, Times

Exhuming General Franco’s body a fortnight before tomorrow’s election could act as a metaphor for Spain’s political crisis. After the fascist’s death in 1975, Spain passed a constitution that steered it from dictatorship to modern democracy. “After that Spain had the best four decades for 300 years,” Salvador Illa Roca, manager of the Socialist Party’s campaign in Catalonia, said.

However, that consensus is being challenged and there are fears that the relative harmony of the post-Franco years may be ending as, like El Caudillo’s remains, the old pacts that held Spain together are being dug up and their status reassessed.

Mr Illa points to populism and the collapse of centrist parties in Europe as part of the reason for the upheaval, but others are unique to Spain. Buffeted by one of its worst political crises since 1975, the country is riven by separatist protests in Catalonia and a rapidly rising far right.

Disillusion with the political system has grown as voters go to the polls for the fourth time in as many years.

As well as mirroring political trends elsewhere in Europe, “the combination of Spain’s economic crisis from 2008 to 2014 and a wave of corruption scandals was politically toxic,” Ignacio Sánchez-Cuenca, a professor of social science at the Charles III University of Madrid, said.

That led, he said, to the Indignados anti-austerity movement in 2011-15, new parties and, arguably, the Catalan crisis.

As the economy slows and much-needed economic and social reforms stall, experts disagree about the damage done by the political impasse. “We have a left wing-government ruling with the budget of the [centre-right] PP and yet we are not doing that bad economically,” Ignacio Torreblanca, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said. “But essential reforms in pensions, education, digital, climate are being postponed and if [a] crisis hit, budgetary cuts will be needed and it’s hard to see how Pedro Sánchez [the acting prime minister] would get a budget approved.”

Friday, November 08, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 8.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics 
  • There’s no clear end in sight for Spain’s political deadlock, says Politico here.
  • And here's The Guardian's take on the depressing mess.
  • The writer of the article below warns that not only is Spain riven by political polarisation and fragmentation, facing separatist protests in Catalonia and a rapidly rising far-right but also faces a serious rural problem, too.
  • In case you're not familiar with how Spain is governed and can't say whether it's a federal state or not, this is for you.
The UK
  • While I can't think of anything that would compel me to move back 'home', I can say there are several positives about living here. Basically, life is simpler, if not of an overall higher quality for me :-
  1. Drivers are more courteous, don't do daft things on roundabouts, do use their indicators and invariably go in the direction indicated. Which you eventually get used to.
  2. Sending a certified letter takes 30 seconds and involves a little receipt. Not 5-10 minutes, proof of identity and the signing an A4 sheet full of small text. Which probably absolves Correos of all responsibility for everything.
  3. Couriers give you stuff at the door without you having to sign everything and prove who you are. Even if you are clearly not Mrs Hannah Davies.
  4. People don't walk within 10cm of your face.
  5. Everyone calls everyone else Love, at least here in the North.
On the other hand, the prices of wines are truly preposterous, especially in bars and pubs.

The EU
The UK and Brexit
  • Too boring to comment on. 
The USA
The Way of the World
  1. Academics have called for the term 'Anglo-Saxon' to be dropped because it is “bound up with white supremacy” and has been used by imperialists and white-supremacists to describe white people of British origin. Historian Tom Holland has describe the idea as “mad as a bag of ferrets” and will possibly now be either crucified or hung, drawn and quartered in the Wokesphere. Maybe both.
  2. Possibly what we'll all be eating in 20 years' time, if the world survives that long.
Finally . . .
  • The things you learn. . . Before he set up his own salon in Liverpool, my brother-in-law used to manage a branch there of a famous national chain. One of his most notable clients was a woman who always arrived with a cigarette stuck to her bottom lip and kept a flagon of brandy next to the bottle of hair colour. She was Josephine Gwynne Armstrong, wife of the last Earl of Sefton and so the Countess of Sefton. Most interestingly, she was, says Wiki, a lifelong friend of her fellow American, the Duchess of Windsor. My bro-in-law - who rejected the offer of a house on land she was converting into a residential development - now regrets that he didn't talk to her more about this relationship. Anyway, here's what she - a redhead - looked like at her best. Decidedly not bad. The earl had taste. And lots of land, 3 homes and plenty of pasta. And might well have been good-looking too:-

THE ARTICLES

1. Spanish elections: Desolation in rural areas destroying traditional politics: Isambard Wilkinson, Teruel, the Times.

As Pepe Espada drove his flock of sheep from his isolated mountain village yesterday morning, he wryly wondered whether his birthplace would still be there when he returned in the evening. His village of Ladruñán has 26 inhabitants and sits in a region with a population density lower than Siberia. He predicts that in a few years Ladruñán will be semi-abandoned. Like many other villages in Teruel province, in Aragon, it has no school, poor transport connections, scarce mobile phone coverage, faltering radio reception and no internet.

Mr Espada, 55, laments the failure of successive governments to help the remote province’s villages survive. In Sunday’s general election he will not vote for either of Spain’s two main parties because they have not developed his area. “Their politicians haven’t done anything for Teruel — or even Spain,” he says.

Spain’s emptying rural interior has become a major election issue, highlighting disillusion with the country’s political system and government paralysis as voters plod to the polls for the fourth time in as many years. Buffeted by one of its worst political crises since the dictator Franco died in 1975, Spain is riven by political polarisation and fragmentation, facing separatist protests in Catalonia and a rapidly rising far-right.

But it has a serious rural problem, too. In March 50,000 protesters marched on the capital under the umbrella title of “The Revolt of Empty Spain”. They demanded equality between rural areas and its cities, complaining of a lack of hospitals, schools, internet connectivity, training and jobs.

Ignacio Urquizo, the Socialist Party mayor of Alcañiz, a town in Teruel, contends that what happens electorally in the province also happens in the rest of the country. “It is the Ohio of Spain,” he said, referring to the US bellwether state. “So I expect more fragmentation and more difficulties to govern nationally.” Nationally the far-right Vox is expected to become Spain’s third party, but in his province the protest vote would go to Teruel Exists, a grassroots movement that began in 2000. 

Last month 23 provinces from España profunda (deep Spain) held a five-minute silence to draw attention to grievances. Political leaders have since made grand proposals for España vacia (empty Spain). During a televised debate this week the acting prime minister Pedro Sánchez, the Socialist Party’s leader, said he would “fight against depopulation” and create a ministry for it. It is a tough call. Since the Sixties Spain has become an overwhelmingly middle-class urban society. Francisco Burillo, a professor at the University of Zaragoza, estimates that 53% of Spain’s territory is home to only 15% of its population. He says that Teruel and surrounding regions comprise an area twice the size of Belgium but with only 500,000 inhabitants, one of the least populated areas of Europe.

Academics suggest that the low population is due to a variety of factors, including the civil war, the distance from the sea, altitude and low birthrate. Also cited are unemployment, disconnected infrastructure and policy in an area that includes Teruel and spans five of Spain’s autonomous regions.

Teruel, 15,000 sq km (5,800 sq miles) of windblown upland plains, has lost almost 9% of its population during the past decade. Its register records 134,042 inhabitants. The Teruel Exists leader, Tomas Guilarte, has decided to take part in Sunday’s poll, leading Teruel Exists on the road to the 350-seat national assembly for the first time, but as a voters’ group, rather than a political party.

Mr Urquizo said Teruel Exists’ electoral gambit also reflects Spain’s wider political fragmentation. “It is a crisis of representation,” he added. Others are cautiously optimistic, citing a range of possible initiatives, from promoting truffles, olives, ham and history to tax breaks, transport subsidies, paying doctors higher salaries and attracting immigrants.

Silvia Gimeno, the socialist mayor of La Mata de los Olmos, says her 280-strong village is just about holding its own because it has attracted Senegalese, Romanian and Moroccan workers with jobs in its cured meats factory and slaughterhouse. “About 60% of our schoolchildren are from foreign families,” she says.

This does not impress Mr Espada. He will vote for Mr Guilarte, because “even if they are a small group and can’t do much, at least they will tell people that we exist”.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 7.11.19

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 today.

Spanish Politics 
  • Spain’s Prosecutors’ Association (the Asociación de Fiscales (AF)) issued a statement on Wednesday to remind Spain’s acting prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, of its independence, and that it does not follow the orders of the Spanish government. On Monday, during a TV election debate, Pedro Sánchez boasted of controlling Spain’s public prosecutor in his bid to extradite former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont from Belgium. Spain’s public prosecutor (or attorney general), is appointed by the Spanish government every 4 years, but the Spanish constitution stresses that the office should remain independent and impartial.
  • A nice post from María.
Spanish Life 
  • Hmm. For every Spaniard who returns home from living in the UK, 3 have recently gone in the other direction, says El Confidencial. ‘Employment here in Spain is crap’, they say. 
  • If you are in work, here's something on the days on which you can skive off.
  • And, if you can afford to buy a home, here are the main pitfalls, especially for foreigners beguiled by the agent's smile. Of a crocodile.
  • Autumn, it says here, is the best season in Spain. On the other hand . . . La Coruña in Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and Bizkaia in the Basque Country are all on orange alert for dangerous coastal conditions. And Lugo, Asturias and Leon, all in the north, are all on a yellow warning for snowfall.
  • This had to happen: BBVA has joined other banks (Banco de Santander and Banco Sabadell) in charging customers €100€ pa for maintaining current accounts that don't t meet new and stricter requirements.  
  • HT to Lenox for . .   Podemos quotes figures of the political corruption in Spain. Currently, they claim, it runs at €90,000 million euros (€90bn).  A book called ‘Diccionario de la corrupción’ estimates the total loss in corruption between 1978 and 2015 at the more modest figure of €7,500 million, or only €7.5bn.
Galician Life 
  • An abandoned village in Lugo bought by a German has been turned into ‘an intellectual paradise’. In the past 18 months, around 100 people have taken advantage of The Foundry as a place to compose, write or think. Visitors are invited to help with the repairs on the hamlet.  
The UK 
  •  Words like “fascist”, which used to have a very specific meaning, are now a lazy catch-all for Anyone Who Doesn’t Agree With Us. Welcome to Spain.
  • The most unsurprising headline of the decade, or possibly century - The health service  is being used as an election tool by both parties.
  • Brexit: Richard North: Once past the actual withdrawal stage, if it ever happens, we are either in for the long haul of negotiating a trade deal with the EU, which can only give us a fraction of the market access that we have now, or we are precipitated into a no-deal situation at the end of next year. The very last thing we will be able to do is "move on" from Brexit. The failure of Mrs May, right at the beginning of the negotiations, to go for the only option that would have given us a smooth transition – the Efta/EEA option - means that we are locked in a Brexit quagmire, where the UK's negotiators will be struggling to bring back from Brussels anything of substance – with the inevitable drag on our economic performance. 
The USA
  • Middle-class suburban voters have turned against the Republicans in a series of state election setbacks; an ominous rebuke to President Trump that coincides with news that the first public impeachment hearings against him will start next week. The beginning of the end?
The Way of the World
  • 'Deepfakes' have a practically limitless power of hyperrealistic simulation as they can fabricate convincingly realistic documents that appear to be totally natural. It's the perfect device for creating and maintaining an increasingly hyperreal world. They have the potential to be especially destructive because they are arriving at a time when it already is becoming harder to separate fact from fiction. More here.
Social Media
  • Annoyingly, there’s no place to be unsociable on social media. See the amusing first article below.
  • Between the clever manipulations, the improbable news-stories and the hate-merchants who pump out crude attacks against their particular bug-bears, it’s a good time to steer clear of social media. Until, at least, next year.  
Finally . . .
  • I'm rather tempted by the second article to visit Órgiva. Even if it doesn't differ much from many Spanish places I've been to.
THE ARTICLES

1. My wife asked me to join WhatsApp – and now the banality is unbearable: Anonymous .

Ping! Dave has had a terrible day at work. Ping! Amanda from over the road is preparing Fattoush for dinner, nom. Ping! F45 class is fully booked. Ping! My brother-in-law has just completed a cycle ride, here’s a screenshot of his Strava. Ping! My wife’s nephew just received a commendation for not hitting anyone in class today, thumbs up emoji. Ping! I don’t care. Ping! Please make it stop.

It started with the best intentions. My wife encouraged me to download WhatsApp on my iPhone because everyone was using it, apparently. At the time it seemed like a convenient way to call and message people over WiFi without using any data allowance. Then, I was invited to join my first group, set up by a friend whom I go to football matches with. Others in our circle joined and it was useful for planning and banter.

But then, over the months, other group invites started to appear. First there was the family group, the title of which consisted of a heart symbol and the title ‘love our fam’. I knew it wasn’t my family, because my family barely tolerate each other. It was my other family, my wife’s family. At first, I was touched to be considered part of the inner circle, and I joined. Then I joined the alternative ‘other’ family group, set up when my mother-in-law removed herself from the original group after she realised her ex-husband and her nemesis, my wife’s stepmother, were members. Then I joined the secret splinter group set up by my brother-in-law and his wife, for the sole purpose, as far as I could see, of venting about my sister-in-law and her husband. I felt conflicted about joining that one, but as I discovered, WhatsApp group invites often come with ethical implications. What if you don’t accept? And having joined, what if you decide the group is not for you and remove yourself from it? When my mother-in-law left, her exit was the digital equivalent of storming out of a room and slamming the door. Everyone noticed and commented, mainly with angry emojis.

Other invites for other groups arrived, generated largely by my wife. Terrified of making a social faux pas and causing offense, I clicked to join each one. Each click was another iron bar added to the social media prison I was building myself and each group had an annoying, infantile name. There were the ‘Gym Bunnies’, the ‘Village People’, the one which referenced an unnatural sexual act. There were groups with friends in, then groups with friends who weren’t friends with the other friends in. There was even an invite to join my wife’s work WhatsApp group.

I questioned why I would need to be included.

“You know them all and it’s nice to be involved,” she said. “You haven’t got many friends. You should be grateful.”

She was right. I joined, and the deluge of banality began and has never subsided. As more people joined the work group, the volume of messaging grew. One night we laid awake, side by side, our phones trilling in perfect calibrated unison as somewhere miles away lonely Beth from accounts cried out for attention after another night of gin, takeaways and cats. Scores of colleagues rallied to her side with messages of support. I gritted my teeth and sighed.

Recently, we were travelling, and the time difference meant that the conversations happening in the day in the UK interrupted our nights. Even with the sound turned off, the vibration alerts cut through my sleep.

The incessant pinging tickertape of triteness isn’t even the worst thing about unwanted and irrelevant WhatsApp groups. When you’ve been invited to join them by your wife who wants you be involved and engaged, you are also expected to participate in the conversations. So, I have to console Dave who had a bad day and commend Amanda for her culinary skills, and even congratulate little Timmy for not hurting any of his classmates.

Annoyingly, there’s no place to be unsociable on social media. Perhaps I’ll start a group for it.

2. The Funny Side of the Mountain: David Luddington.

The local Tourist Office invited entries for their new Guidebook. For some reason, they rejected mine.   A Tourist’s Guide to Órgiva

Entering the Órgiva valley is to invite a smorgasbord of new and authentic experiences. Even as one crosses the river over the historically maintained Seven Eye bridge, one’s senses suddenly become alive. The eyes feast upon the scattered buildings where old and new co-exist in a melody of architectural styles and where even the electric company can express their creativity, unhampered by the oppressive planning regulations which blight modern cities.

The relaxed and other-worldly feeling which permeates this town is beautifully reflected in the flow and drift of the local traffic. If you have ever mused over the seemingly random and over-zealous regulations which control traffic in the rest of Europe, you can breathe easily in Orgiva, where the only rule is to keep out of everybody else’s way. Here one can relax whilst driving. Throw an arm out of the window in joyful abandonment as you enjoy your post lunch-time drive and you will be greeted by the friendly waves of the locals as you meander aimlessly through town.

Of course, the finest way to enjoy the special nature of Órgiva is on foot. Parking in the town is a joy, as apart from three reserved places outside the Police Station, one can park anywhere, absolutely anywhere. Just stop your car next to where you want to be and leave it there.

As one wanders through the narrow streets one can easily entertain the idea that nothing much has changed for centuries. The dogs which run free could well be the descendants of those who accompanied the first Iberian tribes. They mingle freely with the townsfolk, sharing scraps of food with the human population as they have done since time immemorial. The smells which regale one’s nose remind us of much simpler times and one cannot help but marvel at the durability of Roman sewerage systems.

Like many towns, Órgiva has shops. There is a clothes shop, a chemist, twelve bakeries and a chainsaw shop. The supermarket is a delight for those who struggle with the problems of choices which overwhelm the average Waitrose customer. This supermarket has chosen to eschew the tasteless notion of infinite choice by only stocking one item of each category. With the exception of chicken nuggets where one can choose from thirty eight different varieties. The only area where the notion of choice is truly represented is to which meditating ascetic one wishes to donate one’s returned trolley euro at the end of your visit. Choose carefully and you may well be rewarded with a personal meditation or a Namaste.

If one needs a little help, then there are plenty of tradesmen eager to oblige. If one needs an expert to attempt repairs to one’s computer, car or roof, then there is always somebody’s cousin ready to have a go. Often the same person, as the locals seems to have dispensed with the archaic and restrictive notion of just being an expert in one area. It is refreshing to encounter a culture where enthusiasm and optimism counts for more than boring qualifications.

Come and enjoy a break from reality, visit Órgiva.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 6.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spai
Spanish Politics 
Spanish Life
Galician Life 
The EU
  • Central European leaders and their allies are siphoning off tens of millions of pounds a year in EU farming subsidies through “legalised corruption”, an investigation has claimed. Spain seems to have lost the mantle of frontrunner in these corruption stakes
The USA
  • Trump simply cannot help himself from embellishing the truth to make it far more dramatic than it was. This time it was during his announcement of the killing of the ISIS leader, when he said that at the end he was crying and whimpering. Senior officials have no idea what he’s talking about or which orifice he dragged that one out of.
  • Some republicans are ready to deal in the truth, it seems
The Way of the (Catholic) World
  • An auditor sacked from the Vatican has claime he was targeted after investigating secret funds linked to a west London property investment that is now at the centre of an internal inquiry. Anyone shocked?
Social Media 
  • Be warned. Sadly, unless Airbnb improves its dispute mediation, rogue hosts will continue to get away with playing dirty. It is high time Airbnb forced them to clean up their act.
English 
  • This ain't a huge surprise. One constraint is the daft Spanish belief that they're 'bad at languages'. Because - for one thing - Spanish has only 5 vowels and they're afraid to make a fool of themselves struggling with others.
Finally . . .

  • Needless to say, the courier company advised me they couldn't deliver the product to my home yesterday. And again offere several options for alternative arrangements. And again then told me it was too late to change anything. Three times. Oh, and the button for changing the text from English to Spanish (for the benefit of my neighbour) didn't work. Another example of malfunctioning technology. Which reminds me .  . .  I need to book a train journey with RENFE . . .

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 5.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics 
  • The Corner takes a look at the looming elections here and here. I think we can be confident the the November results will resolve nothing other than how large Spain's far right party is. Not a nice prospect.
The Spanish Economy
  • The private airline, Air Europa, will shortly be under new ownership. Whether this is the IAG Group or Iberia depends on whether you read the British (and international?) news or the Spanish news. Either way, it's a major development for Madrid's airport.
Spanish Life
Galician Life
  • As this bit of nonsense is in Galicia somewhere, I can't help wondering if it's near the family estate of the car-hating mayor of Pontevedra city.
  • Some cynics have suggested it's the result of a ‘contract of brothers-in-law’ - un contrato de cuñados. Who'd be surprised? It's a question that occurs to me quite often.
The EU
  • It's not only in Spain that a far fight party is gaining strength. The German AfD party is way ahead of the game.  
The USA
  • When you’re willing to put someone and their family in harm’s way in order to defend your hero, you’re not a politician or a pundit, you’re a cult member. Blog post here.
The Way of the World
  • In Glasgow university, students are given ‘trigger warnings’ about potentially upsetting scenes in classic fairytales. Lecturers admitted students were cautioned about ‘violent material’ in the stories by the Brothers Grimm. You almost have to laugh.
Social Media 
Nutters Corner
  • Fox News continues to promote the most laughable and inane conspiracy theories as a way to defend Donald Trump against impeachment. On Fox Business’ Maria Bartiroma’s show, a far-right crackpot claimed that the House impeachment inquiry is really a secret ritual carried out by a cult, with Nancy Pelosi as the high priestess and Adam Schiff the high priest leading the ritual. BUT . . . This guy is an amateur. No pedophilia accusations? No human sacrifice claims? No demon possession?  A real right-wing crackpot would have made all those accusations and more, especially if they’re going to invoke Hillary Clinton, the great Jezebel of modern American politics. 
Finally . . .
  • I ordered something from Amazon for delivery here in the UK. But, distracted by the Amazon Prime free offer trick, I failed to change the default delivery address. Last night I was informed it'd be going to my home in Pontevedra today and given the chance to change this. Even though I immediately tried to do this, I was told it was too late. So, what was the point of the option? Technology gone irritatingly mad. Now I have to embroil my neighbour in this mess. Or at least try to. I suspect it'll end up back in the UK!

Monday, November 04, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 4.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics 
  • The Ciudadanos party came on the scene a few years ago, positioned closer to the centre than the right wing PP party. Confusingly, it then seemed to move to the right of the PP. So, how to explain this report that Ciudadanos is haemorrhaging voters to the far right Vox party?
  • And what does it tell us about Spaniards, who've boasted for years that the country didn't have a nasty far right party like those in France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, etc.? That Spain is now less 'different'? Or that they were fooling themselves? Or that the Catalan issue has brought some unattractive things out of the woodwork?
  • A propos . . .
Spanish Life
  • This is a bottle of wine from Spain but it has a feature I doubt you'll ever see there. Or in Portugal. Or perhaps even France. See below at *.
  • There's a reference to the Green Spain I talked about in this article on a second crisis in Cataluña. Though there's the obligatory (incorrect) suggestion that this only includes Galicia!
The UK
  • Like Richard North, I can't bear to watch the elections stuff on the TV or even read much about it in the media. North suggests that, so bored are the electorate, this famous 1967 Private Eye front cover is once again apposite:-
  • Given that Brexit is the biggest issue facing the UK in decades, it's a tad ironic that everyone in the country is bored stiff by it. Everyone's a Triple B now - Bored By Brexit. Or possibly a Quadruple B - Bored By Bloody Brexit.
  • More interesting  . . .  Blick Mead really is the cradle of Stonehenge. See the first article below.
The USA
The Way of the World
  • We live in an age in which red-hot self-love has become so routine as to barely raise an airbrushed eyebrow. How narcissism became the new normal.  See the 2nd article below.
Finally . . . 

* A screw top in place of the traditional cork. Common practice in Anglo markets for many years now. And considered by many there to be superior. At least it avoids corking.

THE ARTICLES

1. Britain's first city discovered as archaeologists say it was home of people who built Stonehenge: Sarah Knapton, Science Editor

Britain’s first ‘city’ arose near an ancient spring on Salisbury Plain, and its inhabitants probably built Stonehenge, archaeologists believe.

Blick Mead lies just a mile away from the Wiltshire stone circle, and experts have uncovered more than 70,000 stone tools at the site, as well as an intriguing ceremonial platform suggesting the area held ritual importance for prehistoric hunter-gatherers who lived there 10,000 years ago.

Although hunter-gatherer populations rarely settle in one place, Professor David Jacques of the University of Buckingham, believes the site may have been a permanent encampment where at least the children, elderly and sick lived.

“When you look at Stonehenge you think, ‘but where are the people?’” said Prof Jacques. “It makes sense that if you want to find the people who built it, the obvious idea is to look for where the water is.

Britain's first city discovered as home of people who built Stonehenge, archaeologists say

“At Blick Mead we found shed loads of stuff. Up until 2006 only 30 finds had ever been recovered from this period at any one site, and now we’re up to more than 70,000, so it’s been a total gamechanger. We’re talking about a very small area that people were coming to again and again and I think it was probably some sort of permanent settlement, so all our ideas of how hunter gatherers move around in dispersed communities needs to be revised. This makes Stonehenge more interesting because it gives it a longer history, linking it back to people from the Mesolithic. Blick Mead really is the cradle of Stonehenge.”

Today Blick Mead is a small watercourse, but in the Mesolithic period it was at the centre of a flood plain, and a huge river ran through the site, providing reliable water throughout the year. A rare algae called hildenbrandia also grows in the spring, which turns stones red, adding to its magical appeal.

Archaeologists digging for Mesolithic remains on the Blick Mead site
And at a time where most of Britain was covered in a dense forest, pollen samples from 8,000 year old laters show it was open country in which supersized extinct cattle called aurochs roamed.

Archaeologists think that ancient Britons settled in the area because it was where the aurochs were, and they regarded the animals as sacred as well as crucial for food. Just one male bull would have fed 300 people and soil analysis from 8,000 year old Mesolithic layers shows spores from fungus that grows on the dung of cattle.

Aurochs skulls and bones were also placed deliberately in ditches at Stonehenge, suggesting that its builders held the animals as sacred, and provides a link between the people of Blick Mead and the monument builders of the megalithic monument.

The results from recent excavations are presented in a new documentary, Lost Cities, for the National Geographic channel.

Scientist and presenter Dr Albert Lin said: “If there was a lost city of Blick Mead if would have been made of timber which has now rotted away.

“Blick Mead was an important place where the early humans that roamed here, maybe even one of the first manifestations of a human city. Makes sense. A river for transport, for fish, a landscape perfect for hunting big game. Aurochs were sacred to the people of Stonehenge and Blick Mead. Perhaps Blick Mead was one of Europe’s first cities.”

Ground penetrating radar recently picked up evidence of a 30ft structure beneath the ground at Blick Meade which when excavated this summer was found to be made from carefully placed flints. And beneath the platform was a perfectly preserved set of aurochs footprints.

“It’s like a jetty and I think it had multiple uses,” said Prof Jacques. “It has a gentle slope down to the water so it would have been useful to pull up a boat. But the interesting thing is it’s made of stone. Other examples of platforms from this time are made of wood, so this suggests it had an air of permanence. I don’t think it’s all about the practical. I think the surface is a focal point for worship, a sacred surface that predates Stonehenge by about 2,000 years and placed to run alongside the waters edge. The hoof prints could well be like a relic in a cathedral and they are trying to imbue the surface with the qualities of the aurochs. Just this month we have found another occupation layer beneath it so it goes back even further.”

Dr Jacques believes that Stonehenge may represent a god in the landscape and was probably built after early farmers from continental Europe met up with hunter gatherers from Blick Mead and merged the two cultures.

But the site is in danger from plans to build a tunnel beneath Stonehenge which could harm areas waiting to be excavated.

“We’re right in the firing line,” added Prof Jacques, “The tunnel will run just five metres from one of our trenches.”

2. Selfie-obsessed: how narcissism became the new normal: Hannah Betts

Research published in the journal European Psychiatry this week argued that narcissists tend to be happier than the rest of us. In addition to the egomaniac’s inflated sense of self-worth, they may also lay claim to a mental robustness shielding them from anxiety and depression.

I was reminded of the moment some years ago when I reached the end of the money I could afford to spend on therapy. As we said our farewells, my psychologist handed me a page photocopied from the standard psychiatric manual. “We’re not supposed to do this,” she said shiftily, “but it should help. This is about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) – aka, your mother. Anytime you don’t understand what’s happening in your relationship, read this.” This week’s findings might explain why I was an emotional cripple, while she strode on resplendent.

My mother is dead now, alas, whether or not this diagnosis in absentia was accurate. Moreover, 15 years on, society at large has caught up and it might now be rather difficult to define someone as having NPD rather than merely being normally narcissistic. For we live in an age in which red-hot self-love has become so routine as to barely raise an airbrushed eyebrow.

Ours is an era of selfies and influencers, shamelessness and over-share, and of what Elizabeth Hurley would once have termed “civilians” disporting themselves as if they are celebrities. Why, even self-effacing 19th century recluse, Emily Dickinson has been repackaged as an egomaniacal motivational ‘gramm-er complete with Insta-ready hair for Apple TV’s new streaming service.

Not only is our technology a vehicle for pouting self-promotion, it is the means via which our every self-obsessed whim is identified, then satisfied. Within minutes, services such as Deliveroo can whisk our culinary cravings to our doorstep, Net-a-Porter some Instagram-worthy new outfit, while a host of apps are available to summon up sexual partners within cabbing distance, pre-vetted for the acts they are prepared to provide. Even our desire to learn about the past is mediated via genetic analysis services. Think: 23andMe, Me, Me.

If one wants a symbol of how narcissism became the new normal, one need only look at weddings. An octogenarian friend describes how she and her husband put on their Sunday best, then rode a bus into town to get hitched, returning to a cup of tea. In contrast, a recent survey put the average cost of a British wedding at £30,355, given the happy couple’s pressing need for designer togs, caricaturist and croquembouche – plus those all-important dance lessons so their first nuptial number goes viral. Weddings are no longer public expressions of private emotion, they are vainglorious spectacles replete with couple branding.

Back in the late 1960s, the notion that the personal was political felt radical enough to become one of the hipper student mantras. Today, politics feels almost exclusively personal, the upcoming election a question of whether one is pro-Boris, a Cobynite, or down with the Lib Dem slogan “I’m with Jo.” Meanwhile, the search “Donald Trump narcissist” garners 4,440,000 results, debate merely concerning whether the guise he exhibits is “pathological” or “malignant”.

American academic, Dr Jean Twenge is the author of Generation Me, The Narcissism Epidemic, and iGen, working from a dataset of 11 million members of “GenMe” (millennials and Generation Z). For Twenge, narcissism is no less than our great societal “plague”. The causes identified are legion: helicopter parents raising “royal” snowflakes, the cult of celebrity, the spread of technology, easy credit – adding up to a contagion with catastrophic cultural effects.

Cambridge psychologist Dr Terri Apter, author of Passing Judgment: Praise and Blame in Everyday Life, cautions against stereotyping ourselves as the most narcissistic society of all time. “The idea that we are becoming ever more narcissistic pre-dates millennials and Gen Z,” she tells me. “In 1979, the cultural historian Christopher Lasch wrote a best-seller in which he argued that what would have been called clinical narcissism was now normalised and that the roots reached back to the 19th century, with the growing use of technologies that most people did not understand. To escape these threats to our value, people turned away from the reality of their personal limitations, and sought refuge in the narcissistic mindset: I can do everything, be everything, and take centre stage. Does this sound familiar?”

Henry VIII: "Self-admiration was once largely confined to a cultural elite who could fill their walls with self-portraits" Credit: Hans Holbein the Younger

It does. Still, narcissism has certainly been democratised, with Google reporting that its Android devices take some 93 million selfies per day. Such passionate self-admiration was once largely confined to a cultural elite who could fill their walls with self-portraits, and were not prevented from parading their finery by class-bound sumptuary laws.

Now we have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous with some Instagram influencer giving great hairband usurping Henry VIII giving great codpiece. Henry VIII changed the face of Britain and Europe. Ms Prada Headpiece’s ambitions are more social media followers and free gear. Still, perhaps his endeavours to shore up a young dynasty and her attempts to earn a living differ only in scale.

Regarding scale, the most widely used measure of narcissism as a personality trait is the Narcissistic Personality Inventory [NPI], developed by Raskin and Hall in 1979 – readers can assess their own levels at psychcentral.com. I am (modestly) proud to say that, at 13 out of a possible 40, I emerge as banally average. That said, I do feel rather pleased with myself about scoring no points for vanity. As Dr Apter makes clear: “We all need some narcissism to get by. We need to feel admired and special, and we get that from parental love.”

Besides, more hardcore narcissism isn’t only enjoyable to the monster in question. Narcissus must have his Echo, the Kardashians their viewers. Whether we watch in adoration or a state of rubber-necking horror, at least narcissists never fail to prove entertaining.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 3.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
The Spanish Economy  
Spanish Life
Galician Life 
  • If you've read that article, you'll know that Alcampo is one of the cheapest supermarket chains and that the cheapest of their stores is in the Vigo barrio of Coia.
  • You'll also know that Galicia is the most economical region for grocery shopping, whilst the Balearics and Cataluña are the most expensive.
  • A nice development for the region.
Pontevedra Life
  • Traditionally, the police have turned a blind eye to cyclists and e-scooterists on the pavements, whether inside the pedestrianised areas or outside them. Even to idiots weaving in and out of groups of kids at speed. It'll be interesting to see if any of these maniacs get fined along with - inevitably - the car drivers who move at 11kph. I suspect not.now 
UK Politics
  • It's very possible that Johnson will lose his parliamentary seat in London, meaning that he'd not be able to sit in the Commons even if the Conservatives win the December election . As someone as said: This would make a fitting end to the year in which British politics truly went deranged.
  • It’s truly surreal to see Nigel Farage oppose Brexit. There’s only one possible reason for his refusal to back Boris’s deal: ego. Nigel is a very talented politician but anyone who works with him will tell you he is his own worst enemy and his ego has got the better of him.” His egotism is on a scale exceeded only in Hollywood or the current White House. And it's clear from his assertions that he is losing grip on reality.
The USA
  • Ffart has managed a turnover rate of 80% among his top staff.  Who are/were 'only the very best', of course. And 9 of his cabinet of 15 have gone. Some achievement.
The Way of the World
  • A couple of nice quotes:-
  1. The woke generation has created a cult of purity.
  2.  Political scientists define devoted supporters of Farage, Trump and Corbyn as "low-trust" voters, who believe nothing they hear on the news. And yet they turn as trusting as children when their great leaders lead them on.
Spanish  
  • In that book I recommended you don't buy, the pirate Francis Drake is correctly said to be called El Draque in Spanish, this being the way his name is pronounced in Spanish. The author adds that it means 'The Dragon' and reflects the hatred of him in Spain. I doubt that the first half of this contention is true. 
Finally . . .
  • I wonder how one would feel if one had spent 50,000 quid to see England humiliated by South Africa in the rugby World Cup final yesterday. I guess it depends on what percentage this is of your income or your assets.
  • As for the team's performance - contrasting rather a lot with the demolition of New Zealand last week - the best quote in today's papers is: England saved their worst for last. Inexplicably.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 2.11.19


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

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

Spanish Politics
Spanish Life 
  • Here's the BBC on that rape trial verdict. Noteworthy is the report that the government has yet to implement the commission's recommendation to change the law on rape. Too afraid of alienating even more right-wingers before the elections this month? 
  • And here's The Local on this issue. As with Cataluña, developments are not doing Spain's international image much good. Not that Vox and its supporters would worry about that. They'd be more interested in what the Pope thought.
  • A very nice Spanish solution to a current problem:-
Galician Life 
  • Something - in Spanish - on Pontevedra's brilliant/crazy 10kph speed limit for all vehicles, including cars. Interesting to note they originally planned for 5kph. Sic. 
  • I need to check in a couple of weeks whether this really does extend to the N550 along the riverside.
The USA
  • As I was saying yesterday . . . 

The Way of the World
  • Christopher Booker developed a set of three "rules" which define the phenomenon of groupthink. Summed up briefly, rule 1 is that a group of people come to share a common view, opinion or belief that in some way is not based on objective reality; rule 2 is that, precisely because their shared view is essentially subjective, they need to go out of their way to insist that it is so self-evidently right that a "consensus" of all right-minded people must agree with it. Their belief has made them an "in-group", which accepts that any evidence which contradicts it, and the views of anyone who does not agree with it, can be disregarded. Rule 3 is the most revealing consequence of this. To reinforce their "in-group" conviction that they are right, they need to treat the views of anyone who questions it as wholly unacceptable. They are incapable of engaging in any serious dialogue or debate with those who disagree with them. It is invariably a characteristic of groupthink that those in its grip are oblivious to its baleful influence. The great tragedy of groupthink is that you cannot reason a man out of a view that he has acquired without the application of reason, as the aphorism goes (attributed to Jonathan Swift). Groupthink is the repository of zombie arguments. Once they acquire the status, they never die.
Spanish
  • So . . .  Why does this list not contain piña?:-
Possibly because it detracts from the image of only English eschewing a derivative of ananas:-
  • In a tapas restaurant in Knutsford the other night, I noted this item on the menu: Pimientos del padrón. Which I hope my Spanish friends will confirm is very different from Pimientos de Padrón. The latter being the real McCoy but the former probably not.
English  
Finally . . .
  • At said tapas restaurant in Knutsford, the waiter's father came from Pontevedra. Naturally.
  • Despite knowing how it's done, I still managed yesterday to fall into the trap of signing up for Amazon Prime. And this despite the fact I actually changed the delivery option from free to a cost of 8 quid before I submitted the order. And the confirmation was for an order with the delivery charge. Quite how this happened, I'm not sure but I suspect it was simply because I initially clicked on next day delivery at a reduced charge, thinking it wasn't an Amazon Prime option. Clever, these tax-avoiding Amazon bastards. But the world will catch up with them one day.