Friday, April 03, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 3.4.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain*
COVID-19: A Brief Overview

This is a rough timeline for Spain, possibly not totally accurate:-
Jan 31: 1st case in Spain, in the Canary Islands
Feb 16: 1st cases on the mainland, Madrid and Barcelona
Mar 7: Football matches in Madrid
Mar 8: Football matches  and huge rally in Madrid
w/c 9 Mar: Closure of schools, museums, theatres, day centres, etc. Recommendations re travel and social distancing. Self-quarantining for 14 days demanded for those who've been in the hotspots of Madrid and Barcelona
Mar 13: The Valencian government announces a lockdown from midnight
Mar 14: The Spanish Government announces a state of emergency from Mar 16. Exodus from Madrid to the coasts. First lockdown to be 2 weeks until 28 Mar
Mar 20: Stricter measures introduced
Mar 29: The lockdown is extended for 2 weeks until 12 April. All non-essential businesses closed.

More important, of course, is the present and the future.

It's claimed that hospitalisations peaked here in Spain on 31 March and it's forecast that the ICU peak will be reached within a week, hopefully to be coped with. Thereafter, say the 'experts', there'll be a staggered lifting of the lockdown starting on May 1, with around 25% of the population being released from a majority of the restrictions on that date, followed by further 25% on each of May 8, 15 and 22. Well, we will see.

Stepping back from the historical detail, key questions are inevitably emerging about the reliability, the comparability and the real significance of the mass of data we're bombarded with. Why, for example, is there a huge difference in death rates between Italy and Germany? Is mass early testing an effective way of reducing deaths? What is the real effectiveness - indeed the necessity - of the complete lockdowns which are causing economic mayhem? Most alarmingly, it's belatedly being asked whether the WHO's advice on the the relative uselessness of masks was correct. See this article, for example, in which Japan's success in combatting the virus is said to be based on the universal wearing of masks. The British government is reported to be considering reversing its advice on these.

All that said, the undeniable reality is that health services all around the world are struggling mightily - if not being overwhelmed - by a virus to which which virtually every country was slow to respond. And many less effectively than South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore. Not to mention Japan.

As of this week in Spain, the death toll continues to rise, but the curve is said to be 'stabilising'. As of today, the government has said it'll be using mobile phone data to track the movements of citizens, to check on compliance with the law.

And, whatever the validity of the rationale for them, there'll be 4 more weeks of total lockdown and minimal economic activity.

Life in the Time of Something Like Cholera
  • Day 19 of María's Chronicle of life in a Galician village.
  • In Spain when taking a delivery, you can never get away from giving your ID number and signing for it, usually in an unintelligible scribble on a PDA with a useless 'pen'. But yesterday I received a parcel for my sister and no signature was demanded. I wonder if this relaxation will continue when life returns to something like normal.  
The UK
  • Richard North today: The general public is now aware that government planners failed to make any provision for mass testing in a pandemic, which explains why we are where we are today.  Because, in a word, of a massive strategic failure. Much the same applies to several other countries, of course. Including Italy, Spain and the USA. But possibly not Germany.
The USA  
  • I refer to Trump as Fart and The OFC (orange faced clown) but I quite like Jaffacake boy.
  • This week the US passed 200,000 cases and 4,000 deaths. The most optimistic estimates now put the ultimate likely death toll at more than 100,000. The economic damage, at least this year, will be unprecedented. Economists expect output to contract at an annual rate of around 30% in the next few months, with unemployment rising to record levels. You might expect this kind of [erratic, dishonest] performance and record to doom an incumbent president. But along with almost all political leaders around the world, Trump is enjoying a sharp rise in popular approval. Economic concerns that would normally dominate are barely registering in voters’ political judgments. As a consultant who has advised Democratic candidates in the past put it: “Voters don’t care about the economy when they are focused on whether their mum and dad are going to live or not.”
  • The 'good news' is that the increase in Fart's popularity hasn't been at the 'normal' rate achieved by all previous presidents who presided over a national crisis.
Spanish
  • Phrase of the day:- The orange-faced clown: El payaso de cara naranja. As ever, more syllables(10) than the English(5).
English
  •  Words of the Day:-
  1. Arserope: Now obsolete (I hope) for the intestines.
  2. Prat: Old word for the hips and bum (the buttocks). Hence 'Prat fall'.
Finally . . .
  •  I have to admit I'm a lot happier here than down in Jávea. For one thing we're now into our 12th or 13th day of sun - which is not at all normal - whereas down near Valencia the rain hasn't stopped falling during this period. Which is even less normal. My sympathies, if you're reading this from there. But surely no one would begrudge us (and the birds) this spell of very good weather in what's normally called The month of a thousand waters. In Spanish: En abril, aguas mil. Or, if you prefer, in Gallego: En abril, augas mil. Look hard.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 2.4.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain*
The C Word
  • Says the New York Times: China and South Korea have flattened their curves. Italy, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands have begun to flatten their curves. The United States still has not.
The Coronavirus: A Less Negative Take
Life in the Time of Something Like Cholera
  • Day 18 of María's Chronicle. Will she really one able to keep this up for 3-6 months?
  • And Day 18 of a frustrated mother's Diary. Ditto.
  • Here's advice on when and where you're allowed to drive to in Spain.
  • Is there really unrest stirring in Spain? I guess there will be, if the police go on hitting people with their batons. Which isn't exactly unusual here, albeit on a small scale.
  • Here and here are things to do on the net to while away the hours. I might already have cited one or both of these.
  • All sorts of wild animals - leopards, crocodiles, wild boars, dolphins, and goats, for example - are taking advantage of the absence of human activity to wander into residential areas. But the ones we're all terrified about are the hungry bloody seagulls. These can be vicious in normal times but I dread to think what would happen if I ventured now onto the terrace of my regular watering hole with a sandwich in my hands.
  • I went shopping in Mercadona yesterday and was surprised to see several shelves were sparsely stocked, even bare. Specifically, I noted that chickens are clearly among those who've been laid off as doing non-essential work. 
  • Does anyone know what is being done by the UK government to fly stranded Brits back home from Spain? This is not an academic question; my sister has been with me for a month now and I am used to living alone . . .
Other Spanish Issues Which Would be Big News in Other Times
  • HT to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for this: ElDiario.es looks at how the Spanish media solemnly ‘looked the other way’ for many years.' For decades, the king of Spain had been out of control. He was inviolable under the Constitution. The courts could not judge him, nor could he be held accountable to Congress. Following the 23F (the failed coup d’état of Tejero), out of fear of a military-led reversal, the Spanish media reached an unwritten pact: to protect the king is to protect democracy. Or at least that’s how they wanted to present it.’. The article follows up with some historic quotes from the media defending its silence.
The EU
  • Politico here hones in on the issue of what Germany can/will do - in the face of 'nasty' Dutch opposition - to help Italy and the other troubled Southern states. The leader of one of these - Portugal - has put it in this nutshell: Either the EU does what it has to do or it will end. Interesting times. If it's not to be debt mutualisation, what will be the drastic solution to this drastic situation?
The USA
  • Trump's mental illness is killing people.
  • The people behind the egregious Fox News channel are reported to be terrified they're going to be sued by relatives of people who've died as a result of its dishonest reporting on the virus. See here on this, with details of folk who believe Trump is doing an excellent job combatting the virus. I doubt anyone will be surprised at the numbers. The issue is raised: Does political polarisation inevitably breed stupidity on a vast scale?
  • A quote from the above NY Times article: The United States is badly behind. Both South Korea and the USA had their first confirmed case around the same day, in late January. South Korea has suffered only about 150 deaths, one-twentieth as many as the United States.
  • This is an amusing and accurate demolition of Fart's latest Hitlerian-level lies.
Spanish
  • Word of the day:- Sororicida: Sororicide. Not in dictionary of the Royal Academy but you can find info on it here. Interesting to see it covers the murder of nuns as well as biological sisters. But I don't actually have any nuns in mind . . .
English
  • Phrase of the Day: To memory hole (US): To claim you never said what the evidence clearly proves that you did say. A Fartian speciality, of course.
Finally . . .
  • My old friend cited yesterday insists that, though we went to school together on Merseyside, he is not a Scouser but a Mancunian. And these are very different things. They say.
  • Nice bit of lockdown wit: Does anyone know when this 3 month free sample of communism will end?
  • And some Russian humour on the subject of Brexit. (Remember that?):-
  • Yet another vlog from my currently hyperactive younger daughter . . . Which she admits is a self-isolation attempted motivation ramble.  

*A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 1.4.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain*
The C Word

The Coronavirus: A Less Negative Take
  • Err . . . The graph might just be improving/getting less worrying in Italy, Spain and the UK. Though not yet in the USA - despite the 'fabulous performance' of Trump and his government. The virus there is as nasty as reporters, columnists and state governors.
Life in the Time of Something Like Cholera
  • María's Chronicle Day 17.
  • Below, as the 1st article, A postcard from down South, where the screw is now very tight indeed.
  • Who'd have thought it? The adoption of dogs is on the up and up. Have they not been told that A dog is not only for a pandemic?
  • Well, what did you expect from the bullfighting community?
  • Here's one way to alleviate boredom.
  • And here's another - riskier - way.
  • Well, I did get a plumber to come yesterday, to investigate the 3 water leaks I've been having. The first had stopped, so that wasn't relevant. The second - under my bath - had a simple explanation unconnected with a leaking pipe. I'll leave the details as it'd embarrass me to reveal them. How we laughed. And the 3rd didn't have any explanation other than too much water around the kitchen taps and poor sealant around the sink. Strangely, the visit ended with me getting a quote for significant expenditure on an improved shower in my bathroom.
  • The gypsy beggar has now come to my gate 4 days running and seems to do this with total impunity. One wonders why.
The EU
  • The 2nd article below begins with: The coronavirus pandemic has ripped away the EU’s mask of unity and now poses an existential threat to the European Project, and ends with: Brussels prides itself on using any crisis to push forward the cause of greater European integration. So far, the EU has only succeeded in exacerbating its divisions. See the meat in this sandwich below.
The USA  
  • More great imitations of the OFC here and here.
Spanish
  • Words of the day:- 
  1. To Spurt (out): Salir a chorros; Borrobotar: Chorrear
  2. To Splurt (out): Soltar [Maybe]
English
  • An old (Scouse) friend has given me this rhyming slang explanation of gruns: Solomon Grundies; Undies. Just one of the many words Perry cited in the Comments for yesterday.
  • By pure coincidence, another northern dialect word cropped up yesterday - Nesh. The internet gives these meanings: 1. (Especially of a person) Weak and delicate; feeble. 2. An English dialect word meaning 'unusually susceptible to cold weather'. The word is said to come from Old English 'hnesce' meaning feeble, weak, or infirm and to be cognate with the 16th century Dutch word nesch typically meaning damp or foolish. The internet claims there no synonyms for nest, which must offer Perry a huge challenge for this morning. 
Finally . . .
  • A neighbour has taken to exercising by going into the woods for a long walk as soon as it gets dark, talking a bagful of rubbish to the contender en route. He's told me this morning that that last night, as he was nearing the brighter spot of the entrance to the granite carvers' school, a very large but misshapen dog walked across the path about 10metres in front of him. He thought it was another neighbour's mastiff but then recalled this had died a couple of years ago. Then he saw the tusks and realised it was a large male wild boar. I understand he's thinking of changing his routine but I've assured him that a net search suggests there's very little risk of an unthreatened/ unprovoked boar attacking him. Neither of us had ever heard of a boar this close to human habitation here, so wonder what it portends. 
THE ARTICLES 

1. A postcard from Spain, where the Marines have arrived to enforce our draconian lockdown: Alexander Fiske-Harrison, the Telegraph.

Those who questioned my last postcard from Andalusia, where I spoke of “martial law in all but name”, should be under no illusion about the Spanish style of lockdown

The Marines rolled into town on Friday to ‘support’ the police and the Guardia Civil. Admittedly they arrived in olive green pick-up trucks, not Humvees or 4-tonners, and were only kitted out with 9mm pistols strapped to their thighs, not full assault rifles, but those who questioned my last postcard from Andalusia, where I spoke of “martial law in all but name”, should be under no illusion about the Spanish style of lockdown.

As I predicted, last week the government extended our fortnight of house-arrest to a full month, and this week they instituted even harsher measures, putting the economy into “hibernation” in the government’s terrifying phrasing.

The Spanish press have given a running commentary on the various ineptitudes of the government, Spain’s first coalition since the Civil War. After a second indecisive election in 2019 – the fourth in as many years – the social democrats and the far-left populists managed to scrape together a narrow majority. Their weakness, in so many senses of the word, only adds to the growing feeling of unrest – not just fear but also anger – one senses across the media, both social and traditional.

As for the measures they have taken, they are egalitarian in the worst sense of the word: too light in Madrid, Catalonia, the Basque Country and the two Castiles, but counter-productively heavy-handed in Andalusia, which has one third the number of confirmed infections per capita, and less than a fifth the number of deaths per capita, compared to the country at large. Perhaps the warm weather, which has been pretty constant down here since early February, will save us all in the end.

On the local level, people circumnavigate the aisles of the supermarket like Pac-Man in the old arcade game, trying to collect their food but going into reverse at the sight of another person. Supplies hold up, but with a unit of armed military outside the door who would dare buy more than their fair share?

We will survive, what will the world be like afterwards? Not only did all the clients of my fiancée Klarina’s horse business cancel, but half my own annual income, earned as a tour guide at the annual bull-running feria in Pamplona, has evaporated. A million drunken tourists rubbing shoulders under a July sun was just not going to be feasible, although my employers may move their 2020 operation to the much smaller taurine feria in the nearby town of Tafalla a month after.

Either way, I’ve decided it is time to get back into shape, despite legal restrictions. I managed to create a clear circuit around our two-bedroom apartment and have worked my way up from 5km last Tuesday to 12.5km today. That works out at around 500 laps. Klarina and her dog Kela began by staring at me as I passed in bewilderment, followed by boredom, and finally outright annoyance.

Some challenge the view both here and at home – usually reflecting their own politically leftward leanings – that neither economics nor liberty should enter into our considerations at this time. However, the death toll from poverty, both personal and national, is measurable. And poverty kills the old just as disproportionally, and probably more numerously, than this often mild illness. Extended periods without social proximity and exercise will kill as well.

Which is not to say this writer does not take the virus seriously. I study the papers, both scientific and journalistic, closely, drawing on my own university studies of microbiology and statistics.

On a less cerebral plane, I worry for my elderly parents and friends. A particular couple, who are very dear to me, not only live in a Covid-19 hotspot, but one of them is a senior doctor heading a key department in the hospital there. Her fear is not for herself at work, but that when she then returns home from her shift at what they call “The Corona Palace”, she sits down to dinner with a husband whose age and medical history puts him at tangibly higher risk.

Their courage and goodness are awe-inspiring, and have made Klarina and I think about what we can do to help in our own little way.

One of the lesser-known consequences of the 2008 economic crisis in Spain was that people could no longer afford to feed and care for their animals. Thousands of fit young horses, donkeys and mules were sent to slaughter, the lorries queuing at the abattoir door.

With our own dearth of clients for our breeding herd of 12 horses, we had already begun to search for pasture to turn them out on, and now realise we could look after a greater number of animals if we rent a larger space – four times as many in fact.

So we have set up a Just Giving page with a view to founding a temporary charity, Equine Orphans of Coronavirus in Andalusia, EOCA, to look after them until the weather and the economy turn a corner. All contributions will go exclusively on those animals and their care, and once the climate has improved, they will be rehomed or the animals and any residual funds given to another, more established and permanent charity, all of which are currently close to capacity.

In a part of Spain where, when the summer comes, the earth scorches and the rivers run dry, it is at least something to look forward to with a sense of hope. There is precious little of this now. As I write this I am watching my neighbour, usually a bartender, walk across the desolate town square. However, today this is not his day job: he is also the undertaker and we have just had our first fatality from the disease. The afternoon sun seems somehow threatening on the barren paving stones.

2.  Will the coronavirus crisis tear the European Union apart? James Crisp, the Telegraph

EU leaders have warned that failure to agree a unified response to the pandemic could destroy the European Project:

The coronavirus pandemic has ripped away the EU’s mask of unity and now poses an existential threat to the European Project.

Faced with the crisis, the EU’s member states have turned on each other and reopened the crudely sutured wounds of the financial crisis.

Then, as now, northern eurozone countries are being asked to bail out poorer, southern countries, who bridle against the north’s lectures on financial housekeeping.

The infighting was brutal enough to convince Jacques Delors, the former European Commission president and architect of the euro, to intervene.

The 94-year-old made a rare public warning that the lack of solidarity in the face of the virus posed a “mortal danger” to the EU.

The EU’s initial reaction to the crisis, which has proved more divisive than Brexit, was poor.

Italy used the EU’s civil protection mechanism to put out an urgent call for face masks. No EU country volunteered to help before China stepped in with aid.

Germany banned the export of medical equipment, even to fellow EU countries. Border controls were reintroduced in the bloc’s passport-free Schengen Zone.

But it is the issue of “coronabonds” that has laid bare the mutual distrust between EU countries.

Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s prime minister, urged his fellow EU leaders to create the mutualised debt instrument. It would be guaranteed by all member states, to help the economy recover.

Germany and the Netherlands have no desire to underwrite debt to fund spending in other countries. Berlin’s critics point out that debt mutualisation is the logical consequence of EU monetary union and the single currency.

Berlin, the EU’s largest economy and biggest beneficiary of the euro, resisted common eurozone debt issuance at the height of the 2008 crisis that almost spelled the end of the single currency.

Italy, the EU country worst hit by the virus, was supported by eight other member states, including France and Spain, during a teleconference summit of EU leaders last week.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, said the “survival of the European Project” was at stake.

Angela Merkel and Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, were unmoved. “I cannot foresee any circumstance under which we will change our position,” Mr Rutte said.

The five hour “e-Summit” ended with the issue being kicked back to EU finance ministers, who must now try and find a compromise next Tuesday.

Tempers were frayed. Wopke Hoekstra, the Dutch finance minister, had demanded an investigation into why some countries had not saved up enough money to weather the crisis.

"That statement is repugnant in the framework of the European Union,” Antonio Costa, the prime minister of Portugal, said. “No one has any more time to hear Dutch finance ministers as we heard in 2008, 2009, 2010 and so forth.”

Jereoen Dijsselbloem, a former Dutch finance minister and ex head of the Eurogroup, faced calls to resign in 2017 after telling a German newspaper that financial crisis-striken southern countries had wasted their money on “drinks and women”.

“Either the EU does what it needs to be done or it will end,” the centre-left Mr Costa added.

Pedro Sanchez, Spain’s socialist leader, warned that Brussels must react faster than it did in bailing out Spanish banks or risk losing support in his ardently pro-EU country.

Hostilities have not ceased, with Italian politicians taking out a full page ad in an influential German newspaper, urging the country to “not be like the Netherlands”. Enrico Letta, a former Italian prime minister, warned that the EU was in "mortal danger" and predicted attitudes in Berlin and the Hague would change as the coffins piled up.

Amid the tumult, the authoritarian Viktor Orban secured sweeping new powers to rule by decree to combat the virus, leading to accusations that the EU had a first dictatorship among its member states.

With health policy largely a national responsibility, the European Commission has a coordination and facilitation role which EU diplomats describe as “not to get in the way” of the member states.

The executive has relaxed its tight fiscal rules for national budget and state aid laws to give governments more flexibility in the fight against the economic impact of the outbreak.

But the commission has also made things worse in its struggle to appear more relevant.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission and a former minister in Angela Merkel’s government, appeared to dismiss coronabonds as a “slogan” in a German interview just two days after the failed summit.

Faced with Italian fury, the commission spin machine insisted that nothing was taken off the table.

Mrs von der Leyen dispatched Paolo Gentiloni, the former Italian prime minister and EU commissioner for the economy, to Italy.  His intervention, which will do little to allay suspicions that Mrs von der Leyen is not a true European leader but a puppet of the member states, told the real story.

Mr Gentiloni said that mutualised debt would never be agreed. Calling for consensus, he said that compromise with Germany was vital or “the European project is in danger of dying out".

The Dutch and the Germans will try to steer the compromise towards existing debt instruments created after the financial crisis, which come with strict rules and conditions.

Mrs von der Leyen’s big idea is to use the coronavirus crisis to reinvigorate stalled intergovernmental negotiations over the next EU Budget.

She argues that certain governments, including Germany and the Netherlands, should drop their resistance to being asked to pay more to Brussels to help the economy recover from the pandemic.

It is a particularly uninspiring cause to rally behind at a time when more than 10,000 EU citizens have died from the virus in Italy.

Brussels prides itself on using any crisis to push forward the cause of greater European integration.

So far, the EU has only succeeded in exacerbating its divisions.


*A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 31.3.20

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

  Note: I'm indebted to Lenox Napier's Business Over Tapas for 1 or 2 of today's items.

The C Word
  • As suspected, counting is done differently from country to country
  • Details here of the impact of the Spanish crackdown on non-essential jobs, with info on what's open and who's still working. (Which possibly answers the question of whether I can get a plumber to attend to the leaks in both my bathroom and kitchen - category 24?).
  • Lessons from the Spanish experience.
Coronavirus: A Less Negative Take
  • Spain has seen a decline in the number of daily deaths.
  • The British Mercedes Formula1 team is working with scientists on the testing of a breathing aid - the CPAP - which could halve intensive care needs. This 'bridges the gap between an oxygen mask and full ventilation.'  
  • Sarah Hall, 26, is a secondary school teacher from London who suffers from both diabetes and a lung condition but has survived the virus.
Life in the Time of Something Like Cholera
  • María's Chronicle Day 16.
  • British ornithologist David Lindo  has been tweeting and live-streaming birds he spots from the roof of his building in Spain. "The sky is a great arena. Anything can fly past and, at the very least, it will give you peace. My message is simple: keep looking up." 
  • People always step up to the plate. My elder daughter has sent me this short video of what happens nightly in her street in Malasaña, Madrid:-
  • But is the best news yet, about my birthplace?:-
  • En passant . . . If you're a user of Tinder or the like, I'm told that it's best to select a member of one of the police forces as your next 'friend'. They can move around and visit you. That said, what would be the point if you have to stay 1 to 2 metres apart?
Germany
  • Remarkably, North European Germany produces more solar energy than Spain, Portugal, Italy and France combined.  IGIMSTS.
The USA
  • It's not all bad news . . . Joe Biden has surged to 9-point poll lead over President Trump.
  • Close your eyes and just listen to this brilliant rendition:-
  • This rather sums up today's USA. Which, sadly, will be an object of not just laughter but scorn in decades to come. As the author concludes: It's appalling that anyone, much less a president, would waste the nation’s time by allowing a pandemic briefing to turn into a church service. It’s even more disturbing how few people care. Then again, given all the ways this administration tramples over the Constitution, you can hardly blame the media for not sufficiently covering them all.
Spanish
  • Word of the day:-To scorn: Despreciar. Doesn't seem quite strong enough, does it? 
English/Scouse?/Finally . . . .
  • A friend has sent me a video of a (late) comedian telling a (rather rude) joke, in which the word keks occurs. I hadn't heard this since I was in grammar school in said Birkenhead, a few decades ago. I was interested to see the meaning - trousers - and origins here. But was disappointed to find nothing on gruns, or underpants. Anyone?

*A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 30.3.20

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

The Coronavirus: The Bad News You May Already be Aware of
Life in the Time of Something Like Cholera
  • How to get injections of culture while confined to your couch.
  • The impressive Art of War on the coronavirus.
  • Maria's Day 15, with an interesting observation on our drug smuggling activities. [I'll just add that, when the speedboats are run up onto the sand, the usual practice - time permitting, I guess - is to set fire to them.]
  • As for me . .  . My normal routine involves coffee around 6.30 and then the reading of papers and articles in my news feed before I write my blog between, say, 9 and 10.30. Yesterday, I slept late and rose at 7.50/6.50 for my coffee. But I started reading the papers at 6.10pm. In other words 12 hours later than usual. Where the day went, I'd struggle to tell you. Time was just frittered away. The result, I've suggested, of having no fixed points - other than meal times - in the day. But, then, it was Sunday, and so my official Day of Rest. Today has started better.
Germany
  1. Why their death rate is much lower than Italy's.
  2. An open letter to Mrs Merkel raising some very pertinent questions.
The EU
  • M Macron warns that the future of the project is at stake. He not only wants to keep it alive but to make it bigger and 'better', of course.
  • Says Ambrose Evan Pritchard in the 1st article below: Germany's refusal to embrace 'coronabonds' amid the crisis could threaten the European Union's very survival  . . . Europe’s pandemic strategy – every man for himself – may have unstoppable centrifugal consequences. That said, AEP ends on what might be called an optimistic note: For the past 60 years Europe’s leaders have always found a way to overcome bitter divisions and keep the show on the road. They will probably do so again this time. But they have no margin for error.
  • Other journals jump on the EU disarray/End of Europe? bandwagon here and here.
The Way of the World
  • Effie Deans is Scottish but a fierce - and very articulate - opponent of Scottish independence on her blog Lilly of St Leonards. She believes this virus crisis has just rendered both the Scottish government and the EU irrelevant. Click here for her attack on nationalism in Scotland, Spain and elsewhere, ending with the confident statement that: People all over Europe are going to realise quickly that neither the sub-national (Scotland, Catalonia etc), nor the supra-national (EU, UN etc) did much to help.
The USA
  • Classic Fart - Ignore the message and (character) assassinate the messenger.
  • Astonishingly, the OFC's ratings are rising among even 'independents' and Democrats. But the (relatively) good news is that this has happened for every President during previous crises, but to a much greater extent than in Fart's case now. Allegedly, it's all down to getting massive air-time. You and I might thing he's making a fool of himself at every press conference - not to mention showing his total lack of qualification for his office -  but others clearly don't.
  • Try to catch the 'attack ads' which the Republican Party is trying to have banned. For obvious reasons. Starting here, with the lovely Ana.
Nutters Corner 
Spanish
  • This El País article reveals that Spanish lacks a word for both accountability and whistleblower. It ends with the peroration: It’s time to start expanding Spanish with words that pay homage to decency and honesty. I can't say I'm all that surprised at the lacunae in Spanish, given the low level of ethics and the high level of institutional corruption here. Which may or may not be connected with the Catholic emphasis on Confession (if caught) and forgiveness.
Finally . . .
  • My - suddenly super-active - younger daughter has made a 3rd vlog on staying motivated during the lockdown. Catch it here, if interested.
THE ARTICLES 

1.  The EU project is in mortal danger if Italy and Spain are abandoned: Ambrose Evans Pritchard. Daily Telegraph

Germany's refusal to embrace 'coronabonds' amid the crisis could threaten the European Union's very survival

Italy’s political leaders from Left to Right have erupted in fury over the EU’s minimalist, insulting, and cack-handed response to the Covid-19 pandemic, warning that lack of economic solidarity risks pushing the bloc’s festering divisions beyond the point of no return.

“Don’t make a tragic mistake. The whole European edifice risks losing its raison d’etre,” said the Italian premier, Giuseppe Conte, demanding a giant Marshall Plan funded on the EU’s joint credit card to relaunch the productive system once the current nightmare is over.

Conte said anybody who thinks they can force Italy to accept disciplinary terms as a condition for loans – a sort of "Troika" regime – have gravely misjudged the mood of his nation. Italy will not take the money. “We will do it alone,” he said.

The message is that if there is no EU solidarity when it matters, then it no longer makes sense for Italy to accept EU surveillance and constraints, or for Italy to forgo use of its own sovereign policy instruments in self-defence. Europe’s pandemic strategy – every man for himself – may have unstoppable centrifugal consequences.

The warning was echoed by Jacques Delors, former Commission chief and euro godfather, who stepped back into the fray this weekend, denouncing Europe's paralysed response to the greatest crisis since the Second World War as a “mortal danger” to the European project.

Delors launched monetary union in the early 1990s on the implicit assumption that it would be the federalysing catalyst, leading – by means of crises – to full fiscal and political union.

This did not happen in 2011-12 when the banking/debt crisis exposed the euro's unworkable structure. Northern creditor states blocked moves towards joint debt issuance and a proto-EU treasury, precisely because such moves have huge constitutional implications. They imposed the stick of disciplinary controls but never delivered on the other side of the political bargain, a banking union and more fiscal sharing.

This has left the European monetary union system acutely vulnerable to the coronavirus shock. The European Central Bank lacks the instruments – and legal authority – to rescue the euro project on its own in an economic crisis of this kind.

The fundamental issue, ducked for two decades, is coming to a head as the eurozone productive system freezes for months. This earthquake makes the long-simmering showdown between North and South far more dangerous.  Whether the EU survives may be determined by decisions made over the coming weeks.

Delors and French president Emmanuel Macron are seizing on events to ram through their arch-integrationist ambitions. But they have run smack into the equally entrenched views of the "frugals", or the Hanseatic bloc.

Dutch premier Mark Rutte has become the spokesman for the hardliners - giving political cover to Germany – categorically ruling out emergency "coronabonds"  or other forms of debt mutualisation. “It would bring the eurozone into a different realm. You would cross the Rubicon into a eurozone that is more of a transfer union," he said. “We are against it, but it’s not just us, and I cannot foresee any circumstances in which we would change that position.”

Enrico Letta, Italy’s former-premier and an ardent EU integrationist, accused the Netherlands of leading the pack of “irresponsibles” and trying to “replace the United Kingdom in the role of ‘Doctor No’”. The reflexive use of the UK as a rhetorical foil evades of the true issue. It was not London that blocked moves to fiscal union over the last decade; it was Germany.  

What is new this time is the emergence of a united "Latin Front" across southern Europe, with both Italy and Spain refusing to sign the EU summit conclusions on Thursday night after six hours of surreal discussions. They issued an ultimatum instead, giving Brussels 10 days to come up with a solution or face dire consequences.

Portugal’s premier said Dutch demands for stringent conditions on any credit line were “disgusting” at a time when Europe is facing both a humanitarian disaster and an economic shock beyond anybody’s control.

This Latin alliance never got off the ground in 2011-2012. Conservative Spanish ministers – aspiring to be the "Prussians of the South" – refused to be linked with Italy. Chancellor Angela Merkel was able to impose Germany’s austerity doctrines by divide and rule, and through control of all key policy instruments.

While some in the creditor bloc are resorting to the same misplaced "morality" rhetoric of that episode – blaming the victim nations for being ill-prepared because they are supposedly feckless – the emotional reaction this time is ferocious and the reserves of pro-EU sentiment are thinner after a decade of austerity and and worse unemployment than the 1930s.

Lega strongman Matteo Salvini called the EU a “den of snakes and jackals”, warning that mounting rage would soon explode into an Italian national revolt. There will be a settling of scores when the virus is defeated, he said. Italy will wave goodbye to Europe if it has to – and “we won’t be saying thanks”.

Brussels is used to hot words from the Lega and the Fratelli d’Italia, the nationalist "Italy First" government in waiting. It may be more worried by warnings from a string of pro-European statesmen is that this crisis is testing Italian political consent for the EU project itself.

“I hope that everybody understands the grave threat facing Europe,” said President Sergio Mattarella in an address to the nation. “There has to be a common EU instrument before it is too late.”

Even former premier Mario Monte – the voice of Europeanism in Italy – wrote in Corriere della Sera that it is time for his country to issue a threat: Rome should tell the Germans that unless there is a move to joint EU action they must assume that the ECB will instead do the job by printing money and unleashing a second “Weimar hyperinflation”.

The hyperbolic tone is bizarre from a man of such cultivated statecraft, but it shows how quickly events are moving. Monte is in effect warning that the Latin Front and its allies will use their majority power over the ECB to ram through fiscal union by the back door.

By all accounts, the summit on Thursday night was extraordinary. Angela Merkel, who is self-isolating, posted a picture of herself instead of appearing on the videolink screen and was eerily absent for most of the discussion. Faced with vehement demands, she icily reproached the Latin Front for raising hopes for coronabonds that can never be fulfilled.

Merkel warned that no such proposal would make it through the Bundestag even if she agreed. Germany’s top court has already ruled that eurobonds would require a change to the German constitution – near impossible in the current fractured political landscape.

Macron told the gathering that Europe cannot go on as it is. Something will break. He tried to persuade Merkel that the amount of joint issuance is not important. It can be a token sum – what matters is the gesture.

But in arguing this, he gave the game away. His ulterior purpose is to exploit the pandemic to establish a new fact on the ground: fiscal union. That is why Germany is digging in its heels.

Italy’s official death toll has surpassed 10,000 but mayors from the hotspots of Brescia and Bergamo say the real figure is multiples of this number.

Germany is airlifting the critically ill from Italy to hospitals in German regions with spare capacity. Solidarity is coming through at last. But the damage done from the early EU reflexes will endure.

When Italy invoked the EU’s formal disaster procedure with desperate calls for protective gear and ventilators, no country responded. Germany and France instead imposed export bans. The EU’s single market did not exist when push came to shove.

For the past 60 years Europe’s leaders have always found a way to overcome bitter divisions and keep the show on the road. They will probably do so again this time. But they have no margin for error.

2. Coronavirus: Donald Trump the risk-lover is gambling with lives: Niall Ferguson, Sunday Times

Year after year, each of us pays hundreds if not thousands of pounds in premiums to insurance companies. We do not think of it this way, but we are essentially betting that our houses will burn down, our cars will crash, our health will fail or our holidays will be cancelled. Insurers know that all these mishaps are predictably rare and take the bet. We lose our money, over and over again, but have “peace of mind”.

We who only gamble in such unsophisticated ways are fascinated by true gamblers: those who frequent not only casinos and stock markets, but also the pages of history. We normal folk tend to think of two types of gambler. There is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s compulsive gambler, who cannot resist the lure of the roulette wheel — who ruins himself by betting and betting, despite knowing that, in any gambling establishment, the house is more likely to win than not.

Then there is the gambler as master speculator: Charles Dickens’s Merdle, Anthony Trollope’s Augustus Melmotte — both loosely based on Nathan Rothschild — or our own age’s George Soros. This kind of gambler calculates the odds of each bet very carefully. He scales each wager according to the strength of his conviction and the ratio of reward to risk. The speculator doesn’t always win, but he wins much more often than he loses, and sometimes he wins big. This second kind of gambler becomes very, very rich.

Yet there is a third kind of gambler, who lies between these two extremes. This gambler neither ruins himself nor becomes as rich as Croesus. He wins some; he loses some. He does not gamble to become a billionaire. He gambles for the sheer love of gambling.

The risk-lover does not calculate as Soros does. He bets every day on the basis of his intuition — his gut. To him, the bet is an act of will, intended as much to dominate the counterparty as to make money. The bravado is the point, regardless of the size of the bet. I’ll bet you I win this round of golf. I’ll bet I can make this casino more profitable if you lend me the money to buy it. I’ll bet I can become president of America. I’ll bet this coronavirus is nothing bigger than the normal flu.

Donald Trump, as you will have guessed, is a type-three gambler. He did not blow the money he inherited from his father; nor did he turn it into a mega-fortune. He has made many a disastrous business bet, as his creditors have learnt the hard way. Yet Trump has gambled his way from property to reality TV to real power. And now he is making the biggest bet of his entire life.

He is betting that the number of Americans who die of Covid-19 will be about 40,000 — in other words, approximately the number who die of influenza each winter. (That was the number cited by one of his Wall Street friends last week, after a call with the president, as a “worst-case scenario”.)

Very obviously, Trump’s chances of re-election now hinge on how severely the pandemic hits America. Natural disasters, if they seem to be mishandled, can be political disasters, too — think of George W Bush’s loss of popularity after Hurricane Katrina. And recessions reliably spell doom for incumbents.

America is now in a pandemic-induced recession. The stock market, despite last week’s remarkable rally, is still more than 20% below its February high, effacing most of the gains investors have made since Trump’s election. The combination of public panic, rational social distancing and state-level orders to “rest in place” has thrown the US economy off a cliff. Jobless claims soared last week to nearly 3.3 million, the biggest jump — by a factor of almost five — since records began.

The president’s bet is not as crazy as you might think. It is, as I said last week, unlikely that America as a whole will have as disastrous an encounter with Covid-19 as Italy. Americans are less crowded together, use less public transport and kiss one another less than Italians. It is also possible the virus will claim many more victims in the big Democratic-voting states of the American coasts — New York and California — than in the smaller, Republican-voting states of the heartland. Thus far, only 19% of Covid-19 deaths are in counties Trump won in 2016.

Those writing the obituaries of this presidency have written them many times before and been wrong. They must have read with incredulity the results of last week’s Gallup poll, which showed a majority of voters — and in particular a majority (60%) of registered independents — approve of Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

The problem is that this time Trump is gambling with people’s lives on the basis not of calculated risk but of total uncertainty. We simply do not know enough about the virus Sars-CoV-2 to have any conviction about how many Americans it will kill. In the absence of adequate testing around the world, we still don’t quite know how many people may already have caught the virus and be just fine. We don’t know just how infectious it is. And we can only guess at how lethal it is, on the basis of widely divergent case fatality rates from around the world.

Pandemics are not like house fires or car crashes: they are not normally distributed along a bell curve but governed by a power law, which means we cannot attach a probability to the timing or scale of a pandemic. Covid-19 could kill 40,000 Americans. But if the virus spreads as far as H1N1 — swine flu — did in 2009, so that 20% of us get it, and the US has the (very low) German case fatality rate of 0.7%, we could have 400,000 dead. As my near namesake, the epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, demonstrated last week, small changes to the variables in an epidemiological model can produce mortality projections that differ by an order of magnitude.

All we can say with any certainty is that most of east Asia and most of Europe have taken much more drastic steps to contain Covid-19 than America has yet taken. And the president wants to see even those restrictions lifted in a mere two weeks’ time.

Such is Trump’s gamble with American lives. The one thing to be said in his defence is that, like his British counterpart — who very nearly gambled on a strategy of herd immunity and has now tested positive for Covid-19 — he has skin in the game. Trump too will be at risk if this gamble goes wrong. In Italy, the case fatality rate for the president’s age group is one in 20.


*A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 29.3.20

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

Note: This post is later than usual because, when one doesn't have deadlines - e. g. getting to a café in town for coffee and churros by 11 or 11.30 - time just eats itself and you find, for example, that by 12 new time/11 old time, you haven't even read a newspaper yet. Or even Lenox's Business Over Tapas of last Thursday morning! This makes for a shorter post, of course.

The Coronavirus: A Less Negative Take
Life in the Time of Something Like Cholera
  • The screw is turned further: Spain is taking ‘extraordinarily tough’ measures to battle coronavirus by ordering the entire nation’s workers to stay at home – except for those in ‘essential’ services. See here on this.
  • A nice tale of a grandfather.
  • Geek heaven or a harsh reality? Or both, says Giles Brown here.
  • María's Chronicle Day 14
The USA  
  • Trump’s fantasy world is literally killing people.
  • Those crazy but powerful science-denying evangelicals.
  • Dreadful American exceptionalism again
  • Summing up for the Prosecution: The Trump administration has proven itself to be inept, criminally so, by causing hundreds (and soon, thousands) of American citizens to die as a result of its bungled response. A combination of the president’s delusion, complicity by members of his cabinet and government, and blind, unrelenting loyalty by his supporters are causing a human catastrophe. Even now, weeks after it has become clear what this virus is and what is at stake, the Trump administration continues to lie, obfuscate and delay, swirling in a cauldron of denial and incapacity to act responsibly, swiftly and effectively.
Spanish
  • Phrase of the day:- El paraiso de los frikis: Geek heaven. 
Finally . . .  
  • Just too good not to include:-
  • My younger daughter posted a 2nd vlog yesterday . . . Drying my laundry in a small place. Might interest some. I confirm her previous method was a bloody nuisance for anyone trying to get in or out of the back door.
  • I've just realised that wine o'clock in now arriving an hour earlier, as it's suddenly close to 13.00 . . .

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 28.3.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain* 
The Coronavirus: A Less Negative Take
  • The BBC: Coronavirus: Deaths rise sharply in Spain while the infection rate stabilises. Similar report here, on long term infection rates.
  • Another nonagenarian recovers. Possibly the guy who fled Madrid even after being diagnosed with the virus.
  • The Times 1: There'll very soon be a test to show - via antigens, I guess - that you're immune to it.
  • The Times 2: The UK has contributed more than €200m to the global effort to find a vaccine.
  • The UK lockdown ‘is on course to reduce total death rate’. Britain is on course for an estimated 5,700 deaths from coronavirus, far lower than originally predicted.
The Coronavirus: Really Bad News
  • The Spanish government announced that 9,000 of the tests bought from an (unregistered) Chinese company were faulty. And then increased this to 50,000.
Life in the Time of Something Like Cholera
Galician Life
  • Driving down to the supermarket yesterday it struck me - guess why - that I'd seen no roundabout insanity during several days in Jávea. Perhaps it's a Galician thing. More likely it's because most of the drivers down there are Dutch and British . . .
  • Needless to say, I did pass more people driving to the carpark under our (wonderful) fish, meat and veg market than if I'd walked down. Three people insisted on coming down the stairs as I was going up, or vice versa. No question of 1 or 2 metres separation.
The EU
  • "The EU is finished," gloat the naysayers. "Even faced with the coronavirus, its members can't stick together." Certainly EU leaders meeting on Thursday - by socially-distant video conference - glaringly failed to agree to share the debt they are all racking up fighting Covid-19. Angela Merkel openly admitted to the disharmony over financial instruments. What leaders did agree on was asking Eurogroup finance ministers to explore the subject further, reporting back in 2 weeks' time. Two weeks. The EU is famous for kicking difficult decisions down the road but in coronavirus terms, with spiralling infection and death rates, 2 weeks feels like an eternity. For ordinary people, frightened for their health, the safety of their loved ones, worrying about their rent and feeding their family after businesses shut down, the idea that leaders spent 6 hours squabbling over the wording of their summit conclusions in order to defer a decision over funds, will be incomprehensible.
The UK
  • Richard North: When the clapping dies down, we need to be aware that we are actually dealing with what looks distinctly like a system failure – the price being paid in the steady accumulation of corpses, the curtailment of our liberties and the wrecking of the economy.
The USA  
The Way of the World
  • The article below - Pettifogging officials are having a field day - is possibly relevant for more than just the UK .
Nutters Corner 
  • A Colorado pastor: I’m Ignoring all Covid-19 safety rules that aren’t in the Bible. Lets' hope so. The world could do with fewer people like him.
  • Be warned. You have to stop all that sex immediately, if you want to avoid going down with the virus. Possibly the wrong expression, I now realise . . .
Spanish
  • Word of the day:- Empresa no autorizada; Unauthorised company. For selling masks, for example.
Finally . . .  

THE ARTICLE 

Pettifogging officials are having a field day:  Janice Turner

The strangest thing, in this strangest of months, is how willingly people have surrendered private freedoms for public good. “You can’t eat out or go to the pub.” Excellent! “Or swim or play football.” Fine. “Or visit friends or your old mum.” Sigh, OK. We’ve given up pretty much everything we like to save those we love. So no wonder we cling hard to what’s left.

How precious are our permitted freedoms: to set foot outside, to feel the air, to see other people, even at a distance: 23 hours in solitary is cruel, we need to feel half-normal for an hour. This epidemic, we are told, is a marathon not a sprint. Months of probable confinement lie ahead and we will only comply with authoritarian rules if the authorities remain just.

Yes, it was dumb for crowds last weekend to hike in the Peak District and eat chips at Matlock Bath. But lockdown had not been declared then, rules were fuzzier. And if police were concerned, why did they not foresee spring sunshine, anticipate numbers, then turn back cars? Just because they failed to think ahead then shouldn’t give them power to overreact now.

What is the point of that nasty little video posted by the Derbyshire force spying on law-abiding citizens with a drone? Why shame a middle-aged couple on a quiet dog walk or chide a woman who paused on a path to take an Instagram snap. “NOT ESSENTIAL,” screamed the police caption. Yes, maybe, but was it harmful?

Outside towns, many have to drive a short distance for a pleasant, socially-isolated walk. Of course, using lockdown to climb Snowdon or bag munros is stupid, risking mountain rescue patrols. But Derbyshire police said that driving to exercise in local woods “risks road accidents”. Well, cycling is far more perilous, why not ban that? Or forbid people doing DIY, which causes untold trips to A&E.

Some people in authority forget why a rule exists. They ignore its spirit and care only for its letter. Most airport staff policing terrorism regulations are courteous and humane but others, puffed up on petty but intrusive power, bawl at passengers as if they’re in orange Guantanamo jumpsuits and thrill to bin an elderly lady’s 110ml shampoo.

Now that police have been given unprecedented peacetime powers they must resist heavy-handedness or swagger. Nor can they make up rules on the hoof. Who says you can’t take a photograph on a stroll? How is Instagram spreading Covid-19? I recall the famous Not The Nine O’Clock News sketch where a thick, racist copper invents crimes including “looking at me in a funny way” and “walking around with an offensive wife”. There are echoes too of the police’s sinister recent practice of treating a single non-criminal tweet as a “hate incident”, then visiting people’s workplaces or calling them up to “check your thinking”.

Yet it is not just police whose decisions are micro and rigid rather than mindful of the wider objective. Hammersmith and Fulham council made the idiotic decision to close every park in the borough. Large, council tax-funded spaces where its 185,000 residents could exercise without coming into contact with others were locked. It only repented yesterday under pressure.

Tower Hamlets, the poorest borough in London, has shut Victoria Park. Why? Because large groups gathered. Well, duh, send someone down with a megaphone to enforce the rules. Don’t cram the exercising public into a neighbouring borough’s parks, narrow towpaths or pavements. But some local authorities — the sort that love to fell healthy street trees because they displace kerb stones — will rub their hands at shutting open spaces. As Derbyshire police would agree, parks are NOT ESSENTIAL. In fact, every football field, reservoir, heath, golf course and nature reserve should be open so there is as much public space in which to roam safely in solitude as possible.

Already in busy urban parks those sworn enemies, dog walkers and runners, have resumed hostilities. The former say that sweaty alpha males loom behind them breathing heavily; the latter that, engrossed in their phones, their mutts on extendable leads, they don’t look where they’re going. Controversial signs have appeared in Brockwell Park demanding that joggers give way by veering onto the grass.

Others are using this epidemic to indulge their favourite hobby: judging and rebuking others. Humberside police has set up a phoneline so residents can shop each other for virus-spreading. Among legitimate complaints about neighbours holding super-spreading parties are suburban Stasi snitching someone for exercising twice a day. Others on social media report that some people’s supermarket trolleys contain barbecue briquettes, booze and fags, which are NOT ESSENTIAL. Neither are chocolates, crisps or flowers. What about condoms: how dare people have sex during a pandemic? Let’s ban everything.

Yet what is essential is we get through this alive, preferably with our sanity and social fabric intact. Without the safety valves of exercise and fresh air, there is a risk, especially if this extends into summer, of frustration bubbling into mass non-compliance, even riots. “This is a national emergency,” said National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt, “not a national holiday.” But nor is it time for a power grab.


*A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 27.3.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain*
The Coronavirus: A Less Negative Take
  • Scientists in Madrid are testing a possible cure.
  • You can now do your wine-tasting from your armchair. Come to think of it, I was already doing that before the virus hit.
  • One very positive aspect of the pandemic is the quantity of funny - even hilarious - stuff going round. Possibly too much.
Coronavirus: Not So Good  News
Life in the Time of Something Like Cholera
  • A truly modern crime 1 
  • A truly modern crime 2:- On Tuesday, my sister walked down the hill to the supermarket at the roundabout and bought groceries, which I then relieved her of in the car, leaving her to walk back up, as she preferred. Three, if not four, police cars passed her but only one stopped, to be satisfied by the note I'd given her in Spanish. Yesterday, I tried this but got only 30m before a car stopped and this conversation took place with 2 Guardia Civil officers, who again were very . . . well, civil [though less than 2m apart and not wearing masks]:-
Buenas
Buenas
Where are  you going?
Shopping
Where?
La Barca
Where's that?
Down at the roundabout at the bridge.
Which shop?
Carrefour
That's 1.5km
Yes, I know but it's the nearest shop
Don't you have a car?
Yes, but I prefer to walk
Well, it's a good job the shop isn't in Vigo
True.
You shouldn't be in the street
Yes but there's an exception for going shopping
Yes but you should be in the street for the minimum time possible
But I can walk with a dog, no?
Yes, but only for the minimum time possible
So, what exactly are you saying to me?
Are you Spanish?
No, British. I live in this barrio
Well, you should be on the street for the minimum time possible. 
OK, I'll go back home and go down by car.
[Together]: OK

Now, I know for sure - having done it many times - that even in normal times - I would meet no one at all walking up and down this steep hill. And, more relevantly, that I'll make more contact with people and machines (think parking ticket) driving down than I would if I walked down, But these are not normal times; the repressive law is the law: the police are bureaucrats doing a (difficult) job: and common sense and flexibility are present in even lower proportions than they usually are. So, I complied and later walked in the forest behind my house, in the dark. Where - I believe - I didn't even meet a black cat. So, shoot me. Or at least denounce me. I will adopt the Spanish defence of lying my trasero off.
  • Here's another - more exotic - example of people being sent back home with no fine being exacted.
  • And below is the article we've all been waiting to read.
The UK
  • Anyone with half a brain - and we know who that excludes - would know that, with the Brexit negotiations in suspense, the transition period should be extended beyond the end of this year. But, as Richard North says this morning, this is not on the media - or government - agenda right now.  
The USA
  •  Fart: What can one say? Surely even his most fanatical (non-evangelist) supporters can see that the man is criminally insane. I've always expected assassination - from one of his own Republican Party - but it's beginning to look like I'll have to go over there and do it myself. Oh, I can't leave the house. So, that will have to wait. 
  • If there really is the God he ludicrously pretends to believe in, he'll surely get the virus and die. Or we could pay the Devil to do the job. He/She would surely like him as a celebrity resident down in Hell.
The Way of the World
  1. China has reached the point where the low number of local cases demands the closing of its borders to all foreigners. As someone has said, with the USA now being the global epicentre of the pandemic, China is surely able to start calling Covid-19 'the American virus'.
  2. Wokeism and the social media at work on the Far Left, courtesy of Private Eye:-

Nutters Corner 
  • Right-wing pundit and professional anti-Semite Rick Wiles: Covid-19 is infecting synagogues because Jews “oppose” Jesus.
Spanish
  • Words of the day:- 
  1. Multa: (Monetary) Fine
  2. Cárcel: Prison
Finally . . .
  • The virus meets music, for better or worse:-
  1. Neil Diamond almost sings a revised song of his here.
  2. Ditto Mungo Jerry here.
  3. And, least impressive of all, David Coverdale here.
  4. Acoustic guitar blues performers make a much better job of it here and here.
You'll all have appreciated that the last performance is a Corona, Corona version of the 1960 song. Corinne, Corinna. Which Perry, at least, will remember from that time, I'm sure.

You lucky people.

THE ARTICLE

Coronavirus: Pandemic psychologist explains lavatory roll panic

A heightened sense of disgust to dirt and germs during outbreaks of disease could have set off the panic-buying of lavatory paper, according to the author of a book on how pandemics affect the mind.

Professor Steven Taylor, of the University of British Columbia, says that when people are threatened with infection, their sensitivity to disgust increases and are more motivated to avoid it. He concedes that the problem can also snowball due to a more prosaic reason — the simple desire not to run out when others are buying so much. “In that sense, the purchase of toilet paper makes sense because it is linked to our ability to avoid disgusting things. It’s not that surprising. It has also become a symbol. “In psychology research, it is called a conditioned safety signal. It’s almost like a good luck charm or a way of keeping safe. This type of behaviour is very instinctive and prominent in pandemics.”

He added that panic-buying can also amplify itself, especially in the internet age. “Graphic images of people buying and fighting over toilet paper have gone viral. This creates a sense of urgency and the fear of scarcity snowballs and creates real scarcity. This is the first pandemic in the era of social media and it is having an effect.”

Professor Taylor said governments needed to be thoughtful and positive in their communications and instructions if they want people to stop panic-buying. “Just telling people to stop is not going to stop them. People are panic buying because of the need to feel they are in control. They need to be told or given something positive to do, such as helping out their elderly neighbours in isolation or donating to food banks, so they feel they are doing something to help their communities. Then people stop thinking so much about themselves.”


 *A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.
  

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 26.3.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain* 
The Coronavirus: A Less Negative Take
  • I had wondered why this wasn't being reported but it's now said that 3D printing is assisting in the production of medical equipment such as ventilators.
  • Yesterday the British government made the 'big ask' of 250,000 volunteers to help out in the health service; they got more than 500,000 in less than 24 hours.
  • 'Several million' simple finger-prick antibody tests will 'soon' be available on Amazon, says the UK government. Indeed, 3.5m have already been bought. If tests show people have recovered and are now immune, they could be allowed back to work.
  • Here's the Spanish situation in respect of other quick and simple tests, shortly to be available in their millions.
  • The lockdown is opening the door to a new era of online learning.
  • All sorts of folk are pitching in to make masks: pensioners; nuns; and prisoners, who might well not be volunteers, of course.
  • Dyson say they've invented a respirator specific to the virus. The British government has already ordered 3,000.
  • There's a village in Italy which is said to have implemented an extremely successful strategy we can all adopt. I will report on it when I have details.
Life in the Time of Something Like Cholera
  • Day 11 of María's Chronicle: 
  • Even more locally . . . My sister is staying with me for the duration. As I'm used to living alone, I might just have to kill her before we reach the end of it all. But, before that, she or I might have to assassinate the 17 year old next door who plays his music at level 11 on the dial for hours every day. His mother is a doctor, so is away at work. But his father is an oil tanker captain who's home from the sea. I have no idea where he goes during the day, leaving the house to their possibly half-deaf son. Who might soon be fully deaf if this situation continues.
  • The UK is not the only country to have got its strategy very wrong. The admirable Giles Trimlett asks here: How did Spain get its its coronavirus response so wrong?
The EU
  • Will it survive? Ambrose Evans Pritchard continues to think it won't and even cites Yanis Varoufakis saying that Covid-19 has again exposed the dysfunctional structure of EMU and set in motion catalytic events. A political clash is unavoidable. Not even centrist politicians in Rome can acquiesce any longer. . . . I don’t think the EU is capable of doing anything to us other than harm. I opposed Brexit but I have now reached the conclusion that the British did the right thing, even if they did it for the wrong reason.
The USA/Shyters Corner




The Way of the World
  • This is the cost of our hideous complacency. A pandemic was predictable [indeed, predicted] but, instead of paying billions in insurance, we’ve allowed a disaster that could cost trillions.
 Finally . . .
  • I see it's reported that Prince Charles has self-isolated with Covid-19 and Prince Andrew has self isolated with Stephanie-16.
  • Some people are relaxed about coronageddon. Told by an evangelist that “the return of Jesus Christ is imminent”, the Countdown presenter Rachel Riley replied: “So long as he stays 2m away that’s fine.” [She's Jewish , by the way]
THE ARTICLE

Economic shock from coronavirus forces Europe to face its 'Hamilton moment'

Alexander Hamilton forged the US debt union after the Revolutionary War. Will Germany agree to play the role of rich Virginia?

The pandemic has turned into a treacherous asymmetric shock for different nations of the eurozone.

The strong economies will emerge yet stronger in relative terms. The weak will emerge much weaker. The yawning gap between North and South risks becoming a chasm.

Germany is committing €1 trillion to preserve its industrial and economic core. It is guaranteeing €550bn of corporate debt through the KfW state bank. It is tearing up state aid rules to allow €100bn of equity injections. It is providing €50bn for small business and freelancers. The package amounts to 30pc of GDP.

Italy cannot risk such steps. Direct fiscal measures are a skinny €25bn. This may soon increase but the burden rests on very weak shoulders.

The country has issued guarantees of up to €350bn for banks and loans to avert a credit crunch. This further entwines the "sovereign/bank doom loop" from 2011 - only ever in remission, waiting for the next crisis.

“It is every man for himself. Those that have got ammunition are using it but others can’t and European measures are very limited,” said Lorenzo Codogno from LC Macro.

Goldman Sachs expects Italy’s economy to contract by 11.6pc this year. Borrowing will explode. The debt ratio will blow through 150pc of GDP in short order - uncharted territory for a sub-sovereign borrower with no monetary or exchange rate levers under its own control, and with a banking system trading at distress levels even before the pandemic hit.

Nor can Spain, Portugal, Greece, or Cyprus afford to spend their way through the crisis, and all are being devastated by the collapse in tourism. Goldman thinks Spain’s economy will contract by 10pc this year and the debt ratio will jump 22 percentage points to 120pc of GDP.

The euro will be unworkable if Club Med nations emerge shattered from Covid-19, their industries broken, again facing mass unemployment before they have recovered from the austerity overkill and debt deflation of the last decade. EMU narrowly survived one depression in Southern Europe. It will not survive two.

“This is a very dangerous moment for Europe. Italy’s GDP is still 5pc below 2008 levels and now it is being hit by another shock that could take ten years to recover from, “ said Codogno, who was chief economist at the Italian treasury through the last crisis.

The northern creditor states face their “Hamiltonian” crunch moment. Will they finally do what Virgina did in 1790 when it agreed - as the richest of the 13 states - to pool the legacy costs of the Revolutionary War and establish a US federal treasury with expansive powers? Will they bite the bullet on fiscal union? Will the "frugals" and "Hanseatics", and above all Germany, at last face up the implications of monetary union - so stubbornly resisted for two decades?

Not yet, apparently. Eurogroup finance ministers talked of yet more loans at their crisis meeting on Tuesday night. Just shovel more debt on debtor countries, and delay.

“They are making the same serious category error as they did in the Greek crisis in 2010. They are treating an insolvency crisis as if it were a liquidity crisis,” said Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister.

The Eurogoup gave a nod to precautionary credit lines worth up to 2pc of GDP for each country, coming from the EU bailout fund. The four hardliners - Germany, Austria, Finland, and Holland - waived the usual tough conditions, reportedly after much grumbling.

No Italian leader could possibly accept a troika-like subjugation to EU fiscal commissars in the current harrowing circumstances, as Italy’s doctors and nurses try to hold the line for all Europe -  after receiving zero help when they put out a desperate plea for protective gear and ventilators.

EU leaders will discuss "coronabonds" later this week but German resistance to joint debt issuance appears insurmountable. Chancellor Angela Merkel might have been able to ram through such eurobonds - despite earlier “over my dead body” pledges - were she still at the height of her powers. Germany has since changed. The anti-euro AfD party chairs the budget committee and is the official opposition in the Bundestag.

“She is much weaker today and her own CDU/CSU party is bitterly divided. Even if she tried, it would not be sustainable,” said Ashoka Mody, a former IMF bail-out chief in Europe.

Germany’s top court has already warned that eurobonds would require a change in the country’s Basic Law - fiendishly hard. As always in EU politics, ideologues are pursuing their own Monnet agenda: exploiting Covid-19 to advance federalist integration by means of crisis without clear democratic consent. Berlin is right to mistrust that sort of constitutional legerdemain.

Once again it falls to the European Central Bank to save the project but this time the context is more toxic. Christine Lagarde’s €750bn blast of QE is nothing like Mario Draghi’s "whatever it takes" promise in 2012. His plan was co-crafted with Germany’s ECB board member, and backed by the German finance ministry. Lagarde shot from the hip and pushed through her plan against the protest of key ECB governors.

Markets noticed that she failed to secure backing for crucial technical changes (the capital key and the 33pc rule), which leaves her on legal thin ice as QE picks up. Hawks have a means of throwing a spanner in the works. Bond traders are watching this institutional soap opera closely and will undoubtedly test Lagarde.

Mody says the problem is taking on a character that is too intractable even for the ECB to handle. “Look at Italy. It has all the pathologies: high debt, decrepit banks, low long-term growth, and now an enormous shock,” he said.

Acting as a lender-of-last resort for the country - though vital - does not conjure away the deeper issue that Italy requires a huge devaluation and a debt restructuring to break out of the contractionary spiral and restore lost viability. “How much of Italy’s debt is the ECB going to keep buying. A quarter? Half? Three quarters? At some point the system cracks,” he said.

Lagarde may be a lawyer but she plays fast and loose with EU law. Otmar Issing, the ECB’s first chief economist and the euro’s "godfather", fired off a thunderous rebuke this week, accusing the body of acting ultra vires.

He alleged that QE was being misused to carry out a stealth bailout of insolvent states in breach of Article 125 of the Lisbon Treaty. The ECB is usurping the spending prerogative of elected national parliaments. It is being too clever by half.

Issing is the high priest of orthodoxy in Germany. He is implicitly stating that the ECB is no longer the legitimate heir of the venerated Bundesbank. His intervention is political nitroglycerin.

Yanis Varoufakis says Covid-19 has again exposed the dysfunctional structure of EMU and set in motion catalytic events. “A political clash is unavoidable. Not even centrist politicians in Rome can acquiesce any longer,” he said.

The Greek socialist said he had always tried to keep the European faith - even in his worst clashes with Brussels - but has finally given up. “I don’t think the EU is capable of doing anything to us other than harm. I opposed Brexit but I have now reached the conclusion that the British did the right thing, even if they did it for the wrong reason,” he said.

Europe’s major powers - and above all a split Germany - can no longer keep fudging the core issue. Either they buttress monetary union with fiscal union, legitimised by sweeping changes to EU treaty law and national constitutions, and implying large fiscal transfers for decades to come - or they must expect EMU to unravel.

Half-baked responses and monetary acrobatics of questionable legality no longer suffice. The pandemic has brought matters to a head.


*A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.