Monday, December 02, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 2.12.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics
Spanish Life 
  • Spain's TV is sensationalist and, at times, repulsively so. This is an abhorrent example of how far the producers can go beyond wherever the line should be.
  • If you want to see the Aurora Borealis, Spain is a good place to do it from.
Galician Life 
  • There aren't many old buildings left in Pontevedra city's premier shopping street. In fact, this might be the only one surviving:-

Until recently it was being used as a carpark but, bearing in mind its location, it was inevitable that it'd end up as this:-

I guess it wasn't surrounded by high-rise flat blocks in its early years.
  • In an article in a UK newspaper yesterday, the writer described 'Northern Spain' as if it were Andalucia - "too hot and below an endless blue sky that will distract you from your work". Far being it for me to perpetuate the Spanish myth that it rains every day of the year here, but I doubt that the columnist has ever been within 500km of Northern Spain.
  • On the other hand . . . October and November have been so wet that all the seeds inside my birdfeeder have sprouted. But the sun shone yesterday and is rumoured to be here for a few days more. 
  • And dawn today was promising:-
  • Talking of this morning  . . . . I was woken at 7.15 by a helicopter hovering over Pontevedra city, in the dark. My guess was a suicide attempt in the river. Checking with a couple of local radio stations via the Radio Garden app didn't throw any light on the subject.
  • Back to O Burgo bridge . . . They've almost finished installing the railings on one side. I guess they'll start on the other 'soon'. Perhaps the bridge and the AVE high-speed train to Madrid will be completed at the same time 'in 2020'. Long after earlier promises.
  • Meanwhile, as the huge new crossing at the end of the bridge continues to prove hazardous, I've taken to wearing reflective arm bands in the evening. The problem is that, as sight lines are poor and the crossing so big, a sizeable percentage of drivers opt to overtake cars which have stopped to allow you onto it. Meaning they flash past you as you reach the centre of the side you're on. I'll report on the first accident . . . 
The UK 
  • This is a nice article - from the Left - on the state of the UK state. I liked the phrase: the dishevelled void that is British politics.
  • And below, as the first article, is an equally depressing view from the Right.
The UK, The EU and Brexit
  • Britain's departure will mean a (growing) financing shortfall for an expanding budget. As you'd expect, the Germans, Dutch and Scandinavians - all net contributors - are reported to be unhappy about being asked to cough up more. While Spain, Portugal and Italy are bitterly resisting the CAP cuts and Eastern Europe states the cohesion fund cuts.
Social Media
  • I can't be the only one fed up with WhatsApp, says the writer of the 2nd article below.
  • Like reader Perry - and one or two Leftish US commentators - historian Niall Ferguson thinks/fears Ffart will be re-elected a year from now. If so, says NF: Trump would give free rein to his isolationist instincts and — perhaps just as dangerous — his tendency to mix his own private interests with US national security. If you were shocked by Trump’s pressure on the Ukrainian president to dig for dirt on Joe Biden, or if you share Bolton’s suspicion that Trump’s lenient treatment of his Turkish counterpart is connected to the Trump Organisation’s interests in Istanbul, then brace yourself for more and worse. Can this really be possible?
  • I've heard this said once or twice over the years. Nice to have an explanation for it.
Finally . . . 
  • Wanting to find a watch and ring which I believe were both lost somewhere in my garden, I bought a decent metal detector. I haven't found either of them yet but at least I have evidence that the detector works. I give you . . . The Poio Hoard, to set alongside this one:-


1. The more we see of our political leaders, it seems we like them less: Jeremy Warner, Daily Telegraph

This is a deeply dispiriting election which seems almost wholly to have turned its back on the real world

I’ve seen some very odd UK general elections in my time, but none quite as odd as this one, for it is not primarily a contest on the substantive issues of our time, less still is it about meeting the multiple economic challenges coming down the road at us, from artificial intelligence to climate change and an ageing demographic. Nor even is it truly about settling the paralysis of Brexit.

Described by some as the most important election in a generation, it is in fact one about to be determined by something much more banal – which leader is least unpopular.

Jo Swinson, it seems, is very unpopular; people unkindly but increasingly say that they cannot bear her, which is unfortunate for the Lib Dems, whose strategists had ill-advisedly gone for a presidential-style campaign, believing she would be a big beneficiary of the massed ranks of the disfranchised – those who cannot vote for the madnesses of the modern Labour Party but equally cannot forgive the Tories for the rupture of Brexit.

Yet from what I hear, it is not so much fear of “vote Lib Dem, get Corbyn” that is driving the voters away, as that they simply don’t much like Ms Swinson. She’s not got the stardust the Lib Dems were hoping for, and even with an open goal to aim at, has been unable to match the Cleggmania of 2010.

An Ipsos Mori poll conducted last weekend found that 50 per cent of those surveyed had an unfavourable view of her, against just 19 per cent who looked on her favourably, a sharp deterioration on the week before.

Despite his charms, Boris Johnson isn’t that popular either. The same Ipsos Mori poll found that only 33 per cent are currently favourable towards Mr Johnson and 47 per cent unfavourable, again a deterioration on the week before. The more we see of our political leaders, it would seem, the less we like them. Well, there’s a surprise.

Yet fortunately for Mr Johnson, the most unpopular of the lot is Jeremy Corbyn. At 59 per cent, he has a commanding lead in the unpopularity stakes, against just 24 per cent who like the look of him. Even this finding might somewhat overstate his real standing. Where might these favourable voters be, pray tell? I’ve yet to meet one.

It’s not so much his policies the electorate doesn’t like; it’s just him. His biggest flaw? Not nationalisation of everything in sight, not his delusional plans for tax and spend, nor even his ambiguity on Brexit, but that he is judged not to put UK interests first, and is therefore not be trusted with the commanding heights.

What people dislike about him most is that he’s plainly got a problem with patriotism. Whatever their other faults, no previous Labour leader that I can think of could be similarly accused. As one campaigner admitted to me on the doorstep the other day, “our biggest headwind is unfortunately Corbyn himself.

“Everywhere we hear it. It’s hard to get your message across when people think there is a fundamental issue with the leader”.

No such problem troubles Mr Johnson, not because of his relative popularity, but because other than “get Brexit done”, there are no policies to sell. The strategy behind the Conservative Party manifesto seems to have been to say as little as possible.

The Tories have in effect become the status quo party, which I suppose is not so surprising given that they have already been in Government for nearly 10 years now.

Why have they been so immensely modest in their proposals?, asked Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, last week. “Because to do otherwise would either mean resiling from their pledge to balance the current budget or would mean being up front about the need for tax rises to avoid breaking that pledge”. Quite so.

The Conservative Party manifesto, “Get Brexit Done, Unleash Britain’s Potential”, is as empty of substantive solutions to either of these things as the Gobi desert. It was 59 pages of pure nothingness. This I suppose makes for a pleasing contrast with Labour’s doom loop of incredulity, and possibly has the merit of keeping us all guessing. What could they mean by “unleashing Britain’s potential”? Nothing in this document justifies such hypobole.

Now admittedly there is something to be said for do nothing governments. The most terrifying words in the English language, Ronald Reagan was fond of saying, are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help”. You can have too much policy, too much problem solving, too much interference, too much vision.

Even so, you’d have thought that a party committed to getting Brexit done would have more to say about what awaits the other side. So why are the Tories are holding back? It is because hard choices await, and none of them are likely to be popular with the voters. Never mind what to do with Brexit itself.

Let’s take Boris Johnson’s “guarantee” of net zero in carbon emissions by 2050, “with investment in clean energy solutions and green infrastructure”. This is an easy guarantee to make if only because it is almost completely meaningless. The target date is so far in the future that he’ll be long gone by the time we reach it.

But in any case, if it is to be reached, it will require an early start, including thumping great carbon taxes to drive the necessary energy transition, and equally thumping great carbon tariffs to prevent the emissions simply being offshored to China, India and elsewhere. These will need to begin in the next parliament, causing fuel bills to soar.

There may be ways of mitigating the impact, but it is going to be a tough sell nonetheless for a party which has put a “triple lock” on headline tax rates. Hard as you might look, you won’t find a mention of carbon taxes in the Conservative manifesto.

Incidentally, there is no mention of them in the Labour Party manifesto either, despite the fantasy promises of a “green new deal”. One thing is certain; without big incentives to switch from hydrocarbons, nothing will happen.

For those of us who worry about the economic reform this country so desperately needs, this is a deeply dispiriting election which seems almost wholly to have turned its back on the real world.

While Rome burns, the main parties busy themselves with point scoring irrelevances, such as the manufactured row over non-appearance in media leadership debates and interviews.

Small wonder that Channel 4 News used a melting block of ice in place of Boris Johnson for its leaders’ debate on climate change. It was otherwise a non-event that left viewers scrambling for the remote. A million trees here, a billion there, who any longer is counting?

In this land of the blind, we cry out for hard-headed pragmatists, those who have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat but are possessed of the authority to carry the nation with them. Answer comes there none.

2. I can’t be the only one who's fed up with WhatsApp: Bryony Gordon

What did we do before WhatsApp? It’s a question I hear asked quite a lot, usually in settings that have been organised over 500 messages in a WhatsApp group, such as class coffee mornings or birthday parties or any situation,  really, that involves more than two people. My answer is heartfelt, but inevitably not the right one. What did we do before WhatsApp? Well now, let me think.

Before WhatsApp, we didn’t shudder in fear every time a notification buzzed on our phone.
Before WhatsApp, we could read messages and forget to answer them without looking like we were ghosting our friends.
Before WhatsApp, we could not read messages without looking like we were ghosting our friends.
Before WhatsApp, we didn’t feel like stalkers, staring angrily at the blue ticks next to the message we sent our husband, and the time that he was last seen.
Before WhatsApp, we didn’t have to spend time working out how to ‘mute’ groups. We didn’t find hundreds of pictures of other people’s pets and children in our already clogged camera roll.
Before WhatsApp, we didn’t have to worry about how passive aggressive we looked by leaving a group.
Before WhatsApp, we didn’t receive a barrage of voice notes.

It’s this last thing that really bothers me. I mean, I’m willing to deal with all the other irritations of the platform just as long as it stays primarily a place for text messages. Text messages, even the text messages with ticks attached to them, are manageable. They just sit there, in a safe space, all the information you need from them available to read whenever you manage to get round to it – on the Tube, in a meeting, during a particularly boring theatre production.

Whereas a voice note requires a quiet space, or a set of headphones, and a pen and paper to note down all the information that lies within it. It’s another invasion into my space, an extra thing to have to process. I mean, listen (just as I am forced to every time you decide to ‘drop’ me  a voice note): WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST CALL? WHAT IS WRONG WITH A PHONE CALL? Why are you walking around speaking all your thoughts into your handset, like a Kardashian? Just call me, or text me, but for the love of Mark Zuckerberg, please do not send me some bastard hybrid of the two!

Oh, I get it. Voice notes are really useful when you’re supposed to be keeping your eye on the road. But  in that case… just keep your eye on the road, and send me a text when you’ve parked up. Texts are for  succinct pieces of information. Calls are for something more intimate. And WhatsApp is never a good place for intimate things.

It’s a mess of people – often people you don’t even know – wittering on to each other about travel plans and dinner reservations and oh my goodness, look at this cat gif. The voice note has  no place there. In fact, I have no place there. I just want human  contact, a conversation with someone sitting in front of me – not another excuse to digitise humanity, and keep it at arm’s length.

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