Saturday, February 29, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 29.2.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain  
Spanish Politics
  • More good news . . . The governments of Spain and Cataluña are sitting down again, giving jaw-jaw a chance, in preference to war-war. Not that this appeals to the right-of-centre parties, who see this as the end of the world. Or is that the fact that Catalan politicians convicted of major crimes against the state are being allowed out on parole 3 days a week?
The Spanish Economy
  • Last year saw the first decline in house sales in 6 years, greatest in areas of most interest to foreigners. Mark Stücklin gives here 10 'headwinds' which were implicated in this fall.
Spanish/Galician Life 
  • Tim Parfitt once more: Spaniards never hurry to finish anything and the fact that most appointments are not adhered to is etiquette. 
  • Oh, dear. Another Carnaval lapse of taste/judgement. A 'family audience' has been shocked by a 'sexist' erotic display which demeaned women down in Mallorca.
  • Spain has a law which can be used - and is being used for the first time - against someone accused of distributing fake news. This law stipulates jail of 6 months to 2 years for those who 'compromise the dignity' of a group 'through acts based on humiliation, contempt and discredit'. Which seems rather wide to me. And might well be the law favoured by the police against folk who 'insult' them.
  • The company building the tracks of the AVE high speed train has decided to adjudicate between the competing completion dates of '2021' and '2022' for the Madrid-Galicia service. They're plumping for 'June 2021', in time for the feast-day of St James(Santiago) in a Holy Year, when this falls on a Sunday.
  • Are you ready for yet another severe storm? This one called 'Jorge'.
  • Which reminds me . . . Work seems to have stalled yet again on O Burgo bridge and storm Jorge will surely mean continued suspension. 
  • It's lamprey season once more in Southern Galicia and Northern Portugal, along the banks of the Miño river. Another 'delicacy' I'm happy to avoid, having tasted it once. It doesn't help to see this ugly fish and to find out how it feeds. But perhaps I'm too squeamish.
The Way of the World 
  • Covid-19 Will Mark the End of Affluence Politics, says the writer of the article below.
  1. In the 17th century a  chap called John Dennis invented a method of representing thunder for dramatic performances. Some time later, while watching Macbeth, he heard his invention being used and yelled out: 'They've stolen my thunder!' Believe it or believe it not, this is the origin of that phrase.
  2. Yesterday, I heard a 'transgender activist' define a woman as "Anyone who says they're* a woman" regardless of all other considerations. I was  reminded of the modern definition of 'artist', viz. "Anyone who says they're* an artist".
* Notice how modern English avoids the need to say 'he or she' or 'he/she' or 'ze''. An adaptable language. Though this usage is not, in fact, very new.

Finally . . . 
  • I'm working with friends of Peter Missler/Alfie Mittington to get his novel finished. This is a sentence in English which was included in a Dutch document I put into Google. With or without the blessings of alcohol, writing never costs me. At worst I get frustrated when a page does not turn out the way I wished. And this is how Google dealt with it: With or without the blessings of alcohol, writing never costs me. At sausage I get frustrated when a page does not turn out the way I wished.  Astonishingly, Google Translation can't distinguish between worst and wurst. It comes to something when an intelligent machine can't correctly render English into English. Perhaps we're over concerned about the threat of AI.

Covid-19 Will Mark the End of Affluence Politics: Matt Stoller, Wired.

The possibility of a global pandemic will reveal our inability to make and distribute the things people need—just in time for a presidential election.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump dismissed concerns about Covid-19. As he put it, the virus is "under control" in the US and the “whole situation will start working out.” But according to Politico, Trump is privately voicing worries that the impact of the virus will undermine his chances of reelection. His panicked actions of late—including preventing an American from being treated in Alabama, at the request of a fearful Senator Richard Shelby—confirm that this virus is a political event of the first magnitude. While few in Washington have internalized it, the coronavirus is the biggest story in the world and is soon going to smash into our electoral politics in unpredictable ways.

Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) is the author of Goliath: The Hundred Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy (2019) and a fellow at the Open Markets Institute.
As Jon Stokes notes, we will, in all likelihood, be locking down travel in some areas of the US for several weeks, as they did in China. People may be advised against gathering in large groups. It's not clear what any of this will mean for campaigning or primary voting, whether most of us will vote by mail or have our votes delayed.

Moreover, the coronavirus is going to introduce economic conditions with which few people in modern America are familiar: the prospect of shortages. After 25 years of offshoring and consolidation, we now rely on overseas production for just about everything. Now in the wake of the coronavirus, China has shut down much of its production; South Korea and Italy will shut down as well. Once the final imports from these countries have worked their way through the supply chains and hit our shores, it could be a while before we get more. This coronavirus will reveal, in other words, a crisis of production—and one that’s coming just in time for a presidential election.

We've been through something like this once before. My book Goliath describes the 1932 campaign for president, one that was carried out at the depths of the Great Depression and during an era when our productive capacity was shut down. Though the crisis at that time was caused by a banking collapse, not a pandemic, the political backdrop was analogous. Eighty-eight years ago, “old order” politicians, as they were known, proved unwilling—even in the face of crisis—to have the government apply its power toward the broader public benefit. Their recalcitrance prefigured, in certain ways, the reflexively libertarian thinking of today.

A toxic ideology invited disaster in 1932, as policymakers did little in response to the collapse of thousands of banks and businesses. At the depth of that depression, cotton hit its lowest price in 200 years and steel production fell to 15 percent of capacity. The situation became so desperate that in just one city, Toledo, Ohio, 60,000 of the 300,000 residents stood in bread lines every day. Children were competing with rats for food. And thousands were dying of dysentery. The politics too turned desperate, with one labor leader telling Congress that "if the Congress of the United States and this administration do not do something to meet this situation adequately, next winter it will not be a cry to save the hungry, but it will be a cry to save the government.”

And yet, the old order had no answers. Congress held hearings, but businessmen, academics, and bankers proffered only belt-tightening. Within the Republican establishment, President Herbert Hoover worked 18-hour days, exhorting confidence while refusing to take even basic steps such as having the government guarantee bank deposits. Instead, his administration’s army attacked hungry protesters in Washington, DC, a move that prompted an angry Republican congressman, Fiorello La Guardia of New York, to remind the president: “Soup is cheaper than tear gas bombs.”

Meanwhile on the Democratic side, conservatives and progressives in the party were locked in a bitter battle for the nomination. Many Democrats agreed with Hoover. Maryland governor and presidential candidate Albert Ritchie, for instance, argued that we should rely “less on politics, less on laws, less on government.” Another candidate, Speaker of the House John Nance Garner, claimed the greatest threat was the “tendency toward socialism and communism” and pledged a massive cut in government spending, as well as a sales tax increase. Others turned to extreme racism and xenophobia. Only Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who went on to win a contested convention, campaigned on aggressive government involvement in the economy—or as he put it, a “workable program of reconstruction,” which later became the New Deal.

That era’s political desperation is alien to us for a few reasons. First off, we haven’t faced shortages of such magnitude for a very long time. More importantly, we have for decades lived under a political framework known as affluence, a term popularized by economist John Kenneth Galbraith in the 1950s. As an affluent society, America automatically produces a surfeit of jobs and wealth, and the problem is solely one of distributing the bounty.

Under the siren song of affluence, we began offshoring critical production capacity in the 1960s for geopolitical reasons. In 1971, economist Nicholas Kaldor noted that American financial policies were turning a "a nation of creative producers into a community of rentiers increasingly living on others, seeking gratification in ever more useless consumption, with all the debilitating effects of the bread and circuses of imperial Rome." Still, Bill Clinton and George Bush accelerated this trend throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

Affluence politics is not the politics of being wealthy, though, but rather the politics of not paying attention to what creates wealth in the first place. That is to say, it’s the politics of ignoring our ability to make and distribute the things people need. With the banking collapse in 2008, the election of Trump in 2016 and his mourning of empty factories, and now with Bernie Sanders dominating the early primaries, that era may at last be passing. A pandemic disease outbreak would only hasten this progression and force us back into the politics of production.

With potential shortages of goods, and restrictions on people’s movement, both parties are heading into unknown territory. It is likely Democrats will use this opportunity to further their case for Medicare for All. Pandemic surveillance and medical bureaucracies focused on billing do not mix well—stories about astronomical out-of-pocket costs for Covid-19 testing are already circulating. Republicans are likely to take a more xenophobic approach, emphasizing restrictions on foreigners and infected Americans. When it comes to managing shortages, however, both parties are split, just as they were in 1932, between their Wall Street factions that assume affluence and the less mature populist factions that seek assertive public power. The Democratic Party primaries certainly echo those of the Great Depression, with candidates from Bernie Sanders to Amy Klobuchar trying to wrap themselves in FDR’s mantle.

Regardless, the end of affluence politics means focusing on whether medicine is on shelves, not bitter disputes over bloated and wasteful hospital and insurance billing departments. It means caring about bureaucratic competence in government, and accuracy in media, not because these are nice things to have but because they are necessary to avoid immense widespread suffering. It means understanding that pharmaceutical mergers that benefit shareholders while laying off scientists are destructive, not just because they are unfair, but because they make us less resilient to disease. (Shareholders, as it turns out, also have lungs.) Finally, it means recognizing that wealth, real wealth, is not defined by accounting games on Wall Street, but the ability to meet the needs of our own people.

We came to these realizations once before in 1932, and created a vibrant democratic state over the following few decades—one that rapidly expanded our life spans, defeated the Nazis, and helped create Silicon Valley. The convergence of the Covid-19 outbreak and the presidential election will force us to do it once again. We've lived in the world of unreality for far too long.

As Richmond Federal Reserve Bank president Tom Barkin recently put it, “Central banks can’t come up with vaccines.” It's time to get ready for what that implies.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 28.2.20

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 some of today's items.

Spanish/Galician Life 
  • I'm a tad obsessed now with how fat the Spanish are getting, stimulated again by a report that the percentage of the population overweight has reached 25.
  • Five of Spain's 'treasures' from El País.
  • And some of Spain's many beautiful but 'other-planet' places.
  • This is one of the many excellent signs (flechas) on the Portuguese Camino in Galicia. I've posted it here just to remind you that in next door Asturias the direction is the other way round. As I've said, 1,000 years of pilgrimage and the 2 regions haven't standardised this. Spanish 'localism' at its best/worst:-

Fortunately for tile-makers, the one on the right can be revolved as necessary . . .
  • Talking aesthetics . . . Galician 'ugliness'(feismo) is nationally famous. This little scene helps to explain why:-

From left to right . . . Decent barn, nice house, ugly brick wall, ugly granite house, nice little White House, pretty granite house, and ugly granite house. But - in compensation - the countryside(paisaje) is universally pretty.
  • On this latest camino, I was able to get a glass of white wine made from the Catalana grape I wrote about last September. Well, the bar owner said it was white but it was actually pink, from a red grape, of course. Quite nice at the time but with a lingering sulphurous(?) after-effect.
  • My understanding of this issue might well not be perfect but it seems that this week the highest court in Galicia has reversed the decision of the Spanish Supreme Court on the legality of land reclamation in the nearby port of Marín and the construction of several buildings there. The thing is - the reclamation and construction were effected under a plan of the year 2000 and the Supreme Court decision was in 2010, meaning that there's been at least 10 years of huge uncertainty for, and quite possibly more. Judicial systems are slow throughout the world but this is surely a tax excessive.
The EU 
  1. Richard North is a Brexiteer who thinks it's been done extremely badly by the British government. But he's no fan of the Brussels technocrats either: For some time now, I've been coming to the conclusion that the intellectual capacity of the EU – as a collective – is declining. We're past the stage where the founding fathers and their immediate successors had a close grip on issues, and a real understanding of the nature, the aims and the objectives of the Union. We've now got to the stage where we're dealing with apparatchiks, little more than jobsworths, who are in it for the power and prestige (and the money), but who do not have that deep-rooted understanding of their roles which can only come with conviction and emotional empathy.
  2. Here's an even more critical view of said technocrats and their bureaucratic mindset: Brussels is icily acting according to its own perverse, bureaucratic logic. This is driven by a compulsion for one thing only: total control. Both the individuals who make up a given bureaucracy and the entity itself will always act exclusively to shore up power through two main processes: regulating “chaos” and “solving problems”. For Brussels, unbounded control freakery is a sickness as much as a sentiment. Its bizarre laundry list of demands betrays the squalid reality that EU countries view Brussels as little more than a vehicle for selfishly advancing their own interests. As the world teeters on the brink of another industrial revolution, the rule-obsessed EU is efficiently regulating itself into irrelevance across industries like genetics and AI, even though these will decide the international pecking order for the next 500 years. Unable to compute the future, the EU clings to the past. As the world changes rapidly around it, the EU, in its obsessive-compulsive quest for orderly direction, is actually standing still.
  3. And here's an article on the selfishness and lack of solidarity of many of the governments of the richest countries in the EU. 
One does wonder about the future of the European Union/Empire. And I guess one's view determines how much of a Remainer or Brexiteer one is. Assuming one's a Brit, of course. Which I won't be for much longer, if my application for Irish citizenship is accepted. Or at least not exclusively.

  • Trump faces his 'Chernobyl moment' after slashing pandemic defences to the bone, says Ambrose Evans Pritchard in the article below.
The Way of the World 
  • A comment on that infamous 'Holocaust themed' Carnaval parade:- According to local residents, one of the most unnerving things about the whole parade was how unaffected the onlookers appeared to be, a sure sign that the horrendous impact of the events during the Holocaust have been so normalised in modern culture.
Finally  . . .
  1. Lenox Napier provides this amusing addendum to my comments on roundabouts of yesterday: The large roundabout into Almería, decorated with 'I (tomato) Almerìa', was recently repainted with the 3 lanes reduced to 2. Making it twice as dangerous as before. 
  2. An unusual event at the opera last night . . .  One of our party of 3 - all foreigners - was asked - nay, commanded - by the Spanish woman in front of her to talk less noisily. Not during the performance but during an intermission. I was tempted to remind her that we live in the noisiest country in the world and to ask how she coped. I wasn't too surprised when she later shouted at someone to switch off his phone as the curtain started to rise, as he was doing so. One of the world's bossy malcontents.

Trump faces his 'Chernobyl moment' after slashing pandemic defences to the bone

Three weeks ago there was much talk of a Chernobyl moment for China’s Communist Party, discredited by totalitarian attempts to suppress news of the spreading coronavirus in Wuhan. But fast-moving events can play wicked tricks, especially on a White House allergic to scientific facts. COVID-19 is more likely to be the Chernobyl moment for Donald Trump. His systematic destruction of US pandemic defences - policy vandalism of the first order - and his surreal efforts to conjure away the virus with denialist spin suddenly brings an unthinkable prospect into play.

The coming backlash may sweep Bernie Sanders into power on a socialist manifesto of Piketty wealth taxes, the partial closure of the US oil and gas industry, and vast increases in the size and role of the US government, all with an implicit budget deficit of $3 trillion. Try feeding that into your models for GDP growth, equity prices, or bond yields.

The Trump administration has cut funding for the US Center for Disease Control by 9%. This month he proposed slashing it a further 16%. The worst hit area has been pandemic preparation. The CDC’s global health security initiative has been chopped by 80%, reducing country coverage from 49 to 10.  Mr Trump got rid of the US Complex Crises Fund. He shut down the pandemic and global health machinery at the White House, and fired the lot. He tried to cut the budget of the National Institutes of Health - the world’s finest concentration of science - by 20% in 2018, and by 27% in 2019. 

Congress stopped the worst but damage has been done. Tom Frieden, ex-head of the CDC, warned two years ago that the cuts would leave the US at the mercy of the next killer virus. “The surveillance systems will die, so we won’t know if something happens. You can’t pull up the drawbridge and expect viruses not to travel,” he said. Ouch.

It has been a war on science.  Mr Trump’s cuts have nothing to do with fiscal austerity. They happened just as he was pushing through tax cuts and driving the US cyclically-adjusted budget deficit to 6.3% of GDP (IMF data), spraying money with Peronist abandon. The science cuts were ideological. Some readers chide me for being an unreconciled Never Trumper. This is why. 

And now the White House has a disaster on its hands. “The epidemiological conditions for a pandemic are met,” said Prof Marc Lipsitch, Harvard’s guru on infectious diseases. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly low numbers of infections in the US (57 as I write): the country has tested just 426 people. Only three of the 100 public health labs even have working test kits.

One reason why South Korea appears to have so many cases is because it has carried out 44,981 tests. “They are looking, so they are finding,” says professor Caitlin Rivers from John Hopkins University.  

Dr Nancy Messonnier, head of the CDC, is doing her best. She told America on Tuesday that COVID-19 cannot be stopped and that public policy will have to switch from containment to mitigation (already Japan’s policy), a way of saying that the virus will ultimately circulate like flu. “It's not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country any more but a question of when this will happen. We are asking the American public to prepare. This might be bad,” she said.

The White House will have none of this. The virus is “very much under control” and a vaccine is very close, tweeted Mr Trump.  Up to a point, Lord Copper. Key indexes on Wall Street and global bourses have this week fallen through the first key lines of technical support. Masanari Takada from Nomura says global macro hedge funds have changed strategies almost overnight since COVID-19’s global break-out, switching to trades that “prepare for a global recession.” It is the same message from record low yields on 30-year US Treasury bonds and soaring risk spreads on US oil and gas frackers. 

Larry Kudlow, the White House economics chief, persists bravely. The US containment of the coronavirus has been “pretty close to airtight”. Growth in the US will be unscathed, though “China is going to take awfully big hit.”  Has nobody told him that US firms with tight supply chains are fast running down their inventories, or that the full effect of cancelled container shipping from Chinese and East Asian ports has not yet been felt? Little is returning to normal. China’s economy remains closed and there is a critical shortage of workers at ports. Ships cannot even dock.

The Baidu index shows that 72% of migrant workers have not returned to the big cities since the Lunar New Year.  Coal use at major power plants is down 47%.  The longer this goes on, the greater the global economic shock, even if you believe the fairy tale that COVID-19 is a local Chinese virus and won’t cross the oceans.

Undaunted, the Trump camp is putting out the message through talk radio and in cabinet testimony on the Hill that virus chatter is scaremongering by political opponents, a line also adopted by the insouciant leader of Lombardy in Italy. Yesterday the head of US homeland security, Chad Wolf, told a stunned Senate committee that the death rate of COVID-19 is akin to normal winter flu. He doubled-down when pressed by a senator who clearly knew that the designated chief of US emergency preparations does not understand the elementary facts of the matter.  Actually the average flu death rate is around 0.1. Tracking data from China shows a 4.0% mortality rate in Wuhan, 2.8% in Hubei, and 0.8% in other regions, but rising. The ratio rockets logarithmically for the late-middle aged and elderly.  Furthermore, only a small fraction of people contract flu each year because the rest are vaccinated or have acquired immunity from past flu infections. There will be no COVID-19 vaccine for months. Nobody has immunity.  

The Trump administration is taking an insane political gamble by pitting itself against the CDC and against the US fraternity of virologists. It will lose this bet. I also suspect that COVID-19 will expose deep failings within the US health-care and insurance system. 

Many poor Americans without coverage or Medicaid will try to tough it out at home rather than risk ruinous medical costs. Illegal immigrants will avoid the health surveillance system for fear of being deported. The disease will spread in these distressed pockets - large chunks of society in fact - before sweeping the leafy suburbs.  The only way to slow the internal contagion is to offer free testing and care for anybody with COVID-19, as Singapore is doing in what has become the world’s gold standard regime for this crisis.

If the CDC is right and a US epidemic is on its way, the unfolding drama and shocking death rate will work to the advantage of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. It will shatter Republican claims to competence and could conceivably propel the septuagenarian firebrand into the White House with a majority in both houses of Congress. Just wait until the global macro funds sink their teeth into that prospect. 

What are the Dow index and the S&P 500 worth in a global economy facing - potentially - the worst ‘sudden stop’ since August 1914, and a new America led by a President Sanders with a mandate for socialist upheaval? Let’s be generous and say about half of current levels.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 27.2.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain  
Spanish/Galician Life 
  • Tim Parfitt again: Adjusting to the Spanish pace of life was to become a recurrent problem for me: knowing how to pace myself and go slow – then knowing when it was the right time to party and go fast. That was written 20 years ago but remains valid.
  • I met a camino 'pilgrim' here a couple of years ago who was so unimpressed by the toilets she'd experienced on her 5 days in Spain that she'd resolved to write a guide on them. I don't know if she did or not but I thought of her yesterday, when my walking companion and I lunched in a fine asador (grill place) and found there was no soap in either the Gents or Ladies toilet. But at least there was a dispenser in the latter, albeit empty. Some readers might recall my dissertation in 2018 on toilets I've visited on a camino back then, when I said there were 14-15 elements to a good facility. Soap and paper towels were certainly 2 of these. All a bit disconcerting, even though we ate well. Without ill consequences, as far as I know.
  • Talking of the camino . . . Last year, I was severely reprimanded by a (self-appointed) guardian of the Camino Invierno for saying there were few bars or cafés open along the way. Well, I'm sticking my neck out again to say this was also true of our 3 day walk from Pontevedra to Santiago this week. As it was of several hotels and many/most of the pilgrim albergues(hostels) outside the towns.  'Because it's winter' we were told. To  be fair, in sharp contrast with the many hundreds of walkers on this stretch of the Camino Portugués last September, there were only a handful of us this week.
  • Still on the camino . . . As I've said, numbers are now 20 times what they were 10 years ago and at least 120,000 are expected on the Camino Portugués next year, compared with 5,000 in 2009. I was told in Caldas de Reis that the summer numbers are now so high that the police have to control their entry into and exit from the town on the narrow bridges they have to cross. 
  • During our 3-day walk, I noticed that the  route had been changed a few times, essentially taking walkers away from the truck-laden N550 highway where the route coincided with this. My colleague reasoned, correctly I think, that this was because of the numbers that would be at risk of an accident on the pavements between May and October.
  • Talking of the N550 . . . This winds between La Coruña and Portugal and has featured here a lot because of the irritating 107 changes in the speed limit in the 57km between Pontevedra and Santiago. And because it generates, at certain notorious points, massive revenue for the State. I cite it again because I was gob-smacked yesterday to read that the camera in A Sionlla - north east of Santiago - has the second lowest fines rate in all of Spain. A mere 200 a year. They're clearly doing something very wrong. Perhaps being open and honest with the signs.
The Way of the World 
  • Are those panic-bought masks effective against the coronavirus? In short, no. Well, not the simple ones. To be 96% protected, you need to buy an N95 variety and ensure you use it properly. And this requires fitting and training. So are not recommended for public use.
  • Words of the Day:-
  1. Caldas: Hot springs
  2. Carroza: Float, as in a parade.
  3. Obcecación: Obfuscation. Blindness.
  • Phrase of the Day: Erre que erre. Said of a stubbornly insistent person. 'However mistaken I am/you are'. . . 
Finally . . .  
  • Another old theme revisited . . . A Spanish friend has sent me this diagram - 'Because you're obsessed with  roundabouts'. It's the latest attempt to get Spanish drivers to negotiate these as they are in every other country of the world:-

Essentially, Spanish drivers used to be taught that everyone should funnel down and, regardless of the intended exit, take the yellow line and stay in the outside lane - even if doing a U-turn (dark blue line). I say 'used to' because they are clearly still being taught to do so by the several driving schools using my barrio to have their students practice the route they'll be tested on. What should really concern foreign drivers is that, even if you're in a correct lane but are hit on the right by someone who isn't, it's you who's legally liable for the accident. And, believe me, it happens a lot that, when I'm in the light blue lane, I get cut by someone who should have been in the red or dark blue lane but who's stayed in the yellow(outside) lane. But perhaps this only happens in Galicia. Anyway, wherever you are in Spain you need to be alert to the risk and use your rearview mirror diligently.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Thoughts from Padrón, Galicia, Spain: 26.2.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish/Galician Life 
  • One gets inured to the bizarreness of Spain's multitudinous fiestas but then one comes along and takes your breath away. In a certain town in Castilla La Mancha the Carnaval procession the year was - believe it or not - on the theme of the Holocaust. And it featured:-
- Semi-dressed women (almost) wearing striped pyjamas and waving the Israeli flag
- Prancing kids in striped pyjamas with a yellow star pinned to their chest
- Nazi SS troopers with machine-guns doing a dance routine
- A unit of German tanks, manned by uniformed kids
- A float carrying a mock-up of the infamous Arbeit Macht Frei gate, and (per The Local)
- A swastika-wearing dominatrix brandishing a whip and flanked by dobermans atop a float [of a train] designed to recreate Auschwitz, complete with twin chimneys.
Needless to say, there was adverse reaction from - inter alia - the Israeli embassy in Spain and apologies have been issued by the (We had no idea . .) town council. Will heads roll? As usual, I rather doubt it. It will all blow over and life in the town will return to normal. Though they might think a bit harder about next year's procession theme. Hopefully not the Spanish Civil War. Meanwhile, if you can bear it, there's a short video of it all here. The onlookers don't seem very enthused. Which is about the only positive comment one can make on this astonishing lapse of judgement.
  • Another observation from Tim Parfitt's 'A Load of Bull': The family unit is far more important than material gain in Spain. So much so that moving away from comfort and security is regarded as a failure rather than an achievement. This might well be even more true of Pontevedra - where life can be very comfortable - than it is of anywhere else in Spain. As a young man said to me years ago: Why should I move away to 'achieve my potential' when life is so good here?
  • How the electricity companies are - understandably* - viewed in Galicia. As a profiteering cartel, essentially:-

    Note the compulsory top hat of the (always) fat plutocrat, whose bags of cash normally feature the dollar sign. But not in this case.

    *  Our prices are higher than Germany's.
  • Insults of the Day:-
  1. Ordinario: Coarse, vulgar, rude, common, earthy.
  2. Cursi: Corny, cheesy, tacky, kitsch.
  3. Basto: Coarse.
Finally . . .  
  • In the WhatsApp group created for reports to my Pontevedra friends on the short camino I'm doing this week, I was counselled early yesterday to stay clear of Chinese 'pilgrims'. I replied that I'd confine myself to South Koreans. Barely had my co-walker and I left our hotel than we were joined by a young woman who hailed from Seoul and who was well-dressed to withstand the morning rain. Having lived in Malaysia and New Zealand, she spoke excellent English and proved a charming companion throughout the six and a half hours to Padrón. Helping to make the time fly. The camino at its - non-religious - best.

1. The Korean lady and new friend, pretending to be happy despite the rain:-

2. The cover of the posthumously published novel of my Dutch friend, Peter Missler, aka Alfred B. Mittington. Availability details very soon . . .

Peter spent 35 years on this, his magnum opus, but never saw it published. Back in late 2010, I edited many of it chapters. Or tried to. Peter could be a stubborn bastard at times. But that's quite normal in a writer, I guess. Fittingly, his last blog post as Alfie Mittington was on the theme of dealing with editors.

Today, I will walk past the turn-off to his village, which be a sad event for sure.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 25.2.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain  
Spanish/Galician Life 
  • The Local Has a go at explaining why throughout Spain the effigy of a sardine is immolated and (symbolically) interred at the end of Carnaval: : The sardine represents the past, and its burial signifies forgetting it, the long winter months and facing the future with renewed hope and optimism. What is buried will, it is hoped, resurface in a positive way in the future. The burial is often accompanied by a sardine themed parade of some description, usually involving a mock funeral procession on Ash Wednesday. Music, dancing, beer, wine and tapas are enjoyed in the street as a final blow-out before Lent, and in some regions local men even crossdress and follow the cortege in stockings, dresses and wigs. Figures of sardines are burnt to represent the symbolic destruction of all the hedonism and vice enjoyed during the Carnival period, and as a precursor to the forthcoming moderation of Lent. The tradition also has pagan undertones, as procession floats are often named and styled after mythological Roman figures like Apollo and Neptune. 
  • All very valid comment in respect of Pontevedra city's celebration, except that in our case the large effigy is of a parrot. And the cortege and immolation take place after Ash Wednesday. The following Saturday, in fact - eight days after the start of Carnaval. So the hedonism continues here well into Lent. Perhaps something to do with the Galician weather. Or its Celtic history. Perhaps.
  • And here is said parrot - Ravachol - being used this year to lampoon the local mayor and his dreadful railings on the modernised O Burgo bridge you're heard so much about here:-

As to why we have a parrot instead of a sardine, it's best not to ask. The suggestion is that sometime in the 19th century the sardine gave was to a - possibly foul-mouthed - parrot which used to sit near the door of a local pharmacy.
  • In what might turn out to be a major advance in consumer protection, a court has ruled that the company which earns a fortune from our local (AP9) toll highway must reimburse drivers who were forced to pay the full toll when there were months of huge jams on the Rande bridge, as it was being widened. The judge noted that the company had failed to give any warnings or information to its customers, which is (or has been to date) pretty standard practice in Spain. I say it might be an advance because this was the judgement of a Pontevedra court and there's every prospect of a reversal in either the region or national courts. But we could well have a definitive answer by, say, 2030. By which time, of course, several claimants will have passed or gone into liquidation.
Nutters Corner 
  • You'll all remember this (ex)chap. Who seemed determined to go out this way.
Shysters Corner 
  • Here's the infamous Paula White, 'spiritual' counsellor to Fart: I literally went to the Throne Room of God. There was a mist that was coming off the water  and I didn’t see God’s face clearly, but I saw the face of God … I knew it was the face of God. Ms White is clearly unaware that 'the throne room' is a British euphemism for 'the wash room'. Which is a US euphemism for 'the toilet'. I have this image of God abluting as Ms White approached him.
  • I knew the Spanish prayed to possibly a hundred virgins - actually all the same one but with different labels - but I'd never heard until yesterday of La virgen del puño. 'The virgin of the fist'. So. . . Un devoto de la virgen del puño. Tight-fisted. Pencil-shy. Skinflint. Mean.
  • La tarde: The afternoon and evening. Which I discovered last night goes up to around 9pm. So it's wrong, I'm told, to say Buenos noches when taking your leave of someone at 20.59. You live and learn, as I said the other day.
 Finally . . .  
  • Yesterday's weather between Pontevedra and Caldas de Reis was just abut the best one could have on a camino - a strong sun with a cool wind. Today's weather is rather different, but at least I'll get to wear my rain cape for only the second time in 10 years.
  • Here's a 'pilgrim' indulging in a foot-dunking ritual in a hot spring (caldas) upon arrival at his destination yesterday evening:-

Monday, February 24, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 24.2.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain  
Spanish/Galician Life 
  • I missed the Carnaval procession in Pontevedra city on Saturday evening. Which is a shame as I would've enjoyed the participants/floats taking a satirical look at the Catholic Church:-

and at the mayor, as Darth Vader supervising his modernisation of O Burgo bridge:-

  •  It seems to be compulsory for every newspaper in Spain to run at least one major exposé a year of prostitution here. On Saturday it was the turn of La Voz de Galicia, which reported that Spain is 'the leader' in prostitution and that 1 in 3 Spanish men have had recourse to a 'sex worker'. Brothels are, of course, ubiquitous throughout Spain - usually garishly visible on the edges of towns/cities - but, needless to say, advantage is now being taken of the availability of flats from Airbnb and the like. For all the reporting, in almost 20 years, I haven't seen the slightest evidence of a political will to address this situation and the large-scale human trafficking it involves. As with the financing of the Catholic church by the state. Strange country . . .
  • Land/property ownership can be complicated in Galicia, possibly more so than in other parts of Spain. A local paper reported last week that there are 320 fincas(plots) in the region of unknown ownership. And that the Xunta is seeking for these to pass to the region and not to the state.
  • I read yesterday that Spain's 'reading index' is up but that 31% of the populace never reads a book. As it happened, I was partaking of my tiffin* opposite this chap, who sat for more than an hour with his little dog on his lap, content to simply gaze around. The man, of course. Not the dog. Which didn't even bother to do that:-

* First definition, of course.

The EU 
  • Those betting Brexit would take a heavy toll on Britain, have discovered that, much to their surprise, the EU stands as the first collateral casualty. The vacuum left in the budget by the UK departure has fuelled bitter acrimony between the member states, especially in those receiving large amounts of EU money, such as Spain. 
  • I wonder if it'll ever be established whether Fart is - inter alia -  stupendously stupid or is cleverly playing to a gallery of idiots. Whatever, can that polarised country ever regain global respect? Does it want to?  
The Way of the World 
  1. The annual  Easter Egg Hunt of the UK's National Trust will be no more from 2021. The increasingly woke organisation wishes to dissociate itself from chocolate, a fascistic confection of sugar, milk and cocoa beans that kills children.
  2. Rather more seriously . . .  The article below reviews a book which details how Deutsche Bank moved from being a small German provincial bank to, at one time, the largest bank in the world. Along the way, it financed Donald Trump when no one else would and permitted his rise to the US presidency. It's a jaw-slackening story of vast greed and corruption. Which possibly won't come as a surprise to many.
Social Media
  • Google is profiting from crime and scam victims, making £77bn a year from ads which include tens of millions paid by scammers or rogue schemes to get to the top of lists. Lawyers say that victims who have lost out to scammers promoted high up in Google search results may have a legal claim against the $1trillion internet giant. But having a claim and actually getting money from a company employing the best lawyers in the world are 2 different things, of course. As governments are discovering on the issue of taxation.
  • Phrases/Words of the Day:-
  1. Familia political: In-laws
  2. Acorralar: To round up, to corner, to collect
Finally . . .  
  • Water: And now I have a leak from under the bath - just as I'm about to make a 3 day camino to Santiago from Pontevedra. Maybe I'll do some praying this time . . . 
  • More words:-
  1. Fontanero; Plumber
  2. Fuga: Leak, escape, flight

Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump and an Epic Trail of Destruction by David Enrich  

If you love to hate big swinging-dick bankers and Donald Trump — and the two go together, as this investigation reveals — this is the book for you. David Enrich, the New York Times finance editor who brilliantly chronicled how traders rigged the Libor interest rate for profit in The Spider Network (2017), is back and this time he skewers Deutsche Bank and the American president.

The Deutsche of Enrich’s book is the kind of bank that should only exist in a television drama. In the 2000s, during and after the global financial crisis, it put short-term profits above everything. Enrich writes that it helped clients to commit tax fraud, illegally conceal debt and launder money; helped to spark the global financial crisis by becoming one of the most prolific peddlers of mortgage-backed securities it knew would fail; enabled clients to evade sanctions against Iran and Syria; conspired to fix key interest rates; lied to the market, clients, shareholders and regulators; and ignored and, in some cases, fired whistle-blowers while rewarding its most reckless and high-earning employees with annual bonuses that, for one trader, totalled $100 million in one year. The bank, based in twin towers in Frankfurt, suffered multibillion-dollar fines and heavy losses but is still trading.

Deutsche also helped put Trump in the White House. He could not have cast himself as a successful entrepreneur and leveraged his celebrity to become the most powerful man in the world without Deutsche. The bank was the money behind Trump’s money. Over 20 years it lent him $2 billion on very favourable terms to develop luxury high rises, hotels and golf courses. No other leading bank would deal with “The Donald” because of his reputation for stiffing lenders. For good measure, Deutsche bankrolled Trump’s extended family, advancing loans to his son, Don Jr, and lending hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kushner family and its companies. Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s husband, is, like his father-in-law, a real-estate developer.

Enrich reports that, starting in the 1990s, a new generation of hard-charging, amoral Deutsche bankers broke every rule in the book in their mad scramble to transform a provincial German lender into a Wall Street titan — at one point it was the biggest bank in the world with $2 trillion in assets. No client was too stinky to deal with. Not even the financier Jeffrey Epstein, who remained a valued client even after overwhelming evidence emerged that he was a sexual predator who trafficked young girls.

No lie was too big to tell. To keep the traders happy, the shoeshine guy at the bank’s London trading floor is said to have had a lucrative sideline peddling cocaine and prostitutes. “Recklessness, chaos and greed” were the bank’s “organising principles”, Enrich writes. Not for nothing was Deutsche known as “Douche Bank”.

It is Deutsche’s relationship with Trump that makes for the best chapters in Enrich’s exposé. Trump has long insisted he is a billionaire, and told Deutsche when he first approached the bank for finance that he was worth roughly $3 billion. But Enrich reveals that when Deutsche executives examined his accounts they estimated the figure was $788 million, a quarter of his boast. Despite his flexible approach to accounting, Deutsche agreed to work with him, starting by lending him money for residential developments and encouraging wealthy Russians to buy the new homes there to help them to move cash out of Russia.

One of Deutsche’s biggest loans to Trump was to fund the construction of the Trump Tower hotel and apartments in Chicago. But the financial crisis meant Trump could not repay $334 million of the loan. He needed to wriggle out of the contract. But how? After hearing that the then chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, had declared the crisis a “credit tsunami”, he instructed his lawyers to claim that the credit crunch was an act of God and therefore covered by the force majeure clause in the loan agreement. What was a tsunami if not a natural disaster? The contract could not be enforced. To add insult to financial injury, he sued Deutsche, accusing it of “predatory lending practices”. He sought damages totalling 10 times the amount he owed. Deutsche caved and granted him an extension.

This book lacks the driving narrative of The Spider Network. Enrich introduces too many characters and has a maddening habit of sometimes using their first names and at other times their surnames. As a result, it can be hard to follow. The final third of the book gets hopelessly bogged down in the story of the son of a Deutsche banker who tries to get to the bottom of his father’s suicide. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t. But the first two-thirds are such a cracking read you end up cheering him on.

It helps that some of Enrich’s writing is devastatingly accurate. His description of the annual World Economic Forum in Davos is as good as you’ll get. “It’s where the world’s most important and self-important people gather each year to admire each other under the guise of making the world a better place... with the aid of alcohol and unburdened by opposing viewpoints.”

Some of the anecdotes are pure Gordon Gekko. When Edson Mitchell, a senior Deutsche executive, drives to the house of a banker from a rival firm he wants to hire and offers him millions of dollars a year in basic salary, the banker agrees to sign up — on one condition: that Mitchell gives him the BMW that he has driven over in. Mitchell tosses him the keys and gets a cab home. Another banker who travels to Mitchell’s house to be wooed is not so lucky. When he rejects Mitchell’s job offer, Mitchell gets his driver to drop the man off at a nearby bus station where he ends up having to spend the night.

This is an important book because it reveals how one bank, with questionable business practices to put it mildly, made it possible for Trump to bounce back from multiple bankruptcies, cast himself as a business visionary, and eventually run for president and win. Deutsche Bank is the commander-in-chief’s financial enabler-in-chief — and, for many, sins don’t come any bigger. 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 23.2.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain  
Spanish/Galician Life 
  • The newish  coalition government - in the face of the inevitable rise in gambling addiction - plans to crack down on the industry's advertising. Who can blame it, given the frequency and ubiquity of the ads? Not to mention the industry's sailing so close to the wind under the existing laws.
  • The Corner here takes a look here at the start of the EU fistfight around a 5 year budget affected by the loss of the huge British contribution. Here in Galicia, folk are reeling from the news that agricultural and structural transfers will be down €400m and €200m, respectively. Spain's EU good times are perhaps at an end. To some extent at least. 
  • It's testament to the efforts of our (Galician Nationalist) mayor that the last fatal road accident in Pontevedra city was 9 years ago - tellingly of an 81 year old on a zebra crossing. His latest initiative - alongside that of a reduction of the maximum speed from 10 to 6ph in priority pedestrian areas - is that all e-vehicles must stay at least 2m away from property entrances. Which is surely right, given that Spaniards tend to step outside without checking whom they might walk into. Or who might crash into them . . . 
  • I touched on the words alta and baja the other day, in the context of getting off and going back to work. Right on cue comes a report that here in Galicia a large number of sickness benefit claims are fraudulent. In fact, the percentage in my notes is so high, I wonder if I took it down correctly.
  • Good to see that the Pontevedra police - already famously effective at this - have managed to double the number of speeding fines levied - courtesy of new small and mobile detectors called velolasers
  • Also good to see that the Galician producers feel they can compete with champagne and cava when it comes to sparkling albariño wine. At least in quality, if not in quantity.
  • I see that the delays with the works on O Burgo bridge have been attributed to rain - which is not exactly unusual in winter here - but I see that progress is now being made in establishing a little 'park' at the Lérez end of it, complete with 2 pétanque 'lanes'. The first in the city, I think. I might just take it up.
Way  of the  World
  • There was an article in the Times yesterday about modern dating practices. I've posted it below. Essentially, every young Brit is confused. The men, it seems, because they've discovered that, not only do women like sex and want it as much as they do, but also that women can be just as callous as men in their treatment of dates and 'partners'. Which seems to have led the men - with traditional double standards - to the conclusion that all women are umarriageable sluts. Which perhaps explains the lack of commitment that young women complain about. Whatever, I'm very glad I'm only young at heart . . .
  • Is SMS spamming a new thing? I ask because the Bankia bank has(n't) sent me 3 messages in the last couple of days advising that my (non-existent) account with them is frozen. I don't recall receiving this kind of thing previously. 
Shysters Corner 
  1. Bakker is still at it, with impunity it seems. Funny country, the USA.
  2. Mind you, shysters exist in the UK as well, of course: A private clinic could face an investigation after it recommended using bleach to treat autistic children. Julia Chaplin told an undercover reporter how to use chlorine dioxide, also known as industrial bleach. Ms Chaplin is not a doctor but a podiatrist, although she said her practice was “like your GP”. She offers one-to-one consultations at £34 for 30 minutes or £60 for an hour. Ms Chaplin is a follower of Kerri Rivera, an American former estate agent who is a prominent advocate of using bleach to treat autism. I'd just make both of them consume a bottle of bleach a day. To clean out their insides and, hopefully, destroy what passes for their brains. The font of their ethics.
  • Words/Phrases of the Day:-
  1. Desavanencía:- Unpleasantness, arguments, disagreements, dissent, nastiness, etc. 
  2. Búmeran: Boomerang
  3. Tercer grado: Parole, I think. Which corrupt Spanish politicians seem to be given rather early in their jail sentences.
  4. Baladí: Trivial, paltry.
  • Update on the water situation . . . Lacking any more containers, I decided to check if I'd closed the tap into the tank that seemed to be a true cornucopia of water. In fact, I had. But, thinking this was sufficient, I hadn't turned off the main tap. Conclusion - There's a direct supply to the house as well as via the reservoir. Needless to say, the overflow stopped when I did switch off the main tap. You live and learn. My challenge now is how to use all the stored water. As well as getting the non-stop overflow fixed, of course.

From Hinge and Tinder to ghosting – millennial men, dating and gender politics: Lucy Holden

‘I don’t know any psychopath who would go up to a woman in a bar any more,” Hector McCormick, a 24-year-old actor, says, with wide green eyes. “I wouldn’t, because I’ve seen other guys do it, and you think, ‘Mate, leave her alone.’ You’re perceived as being creepy, seedy, quite … lechy. Maybe some guys still do, but you’d have to be very attractive. It’s a changing world and you have to adapt all the time. On an app, it’s already agreed that you’re game.”

It’s impossible to talk about the past decade without talking about Tinder: making casual sex as easy to order as Ocado since 2012 (not the official slogan). Anyone on the dating scene knows what it’s like to be catfished (chatted up by someone with a fake profile); cushioned (chatted up by someone in a relationship); ghosted (when someone cuts contact without reason); and zombied (when the match sporadically resurrects after ghosting you).

“What the hell is bread-crumbing?” four single friends asked me in a pub last weekend, before I explained that it’s when someone you’re chatting to drops a Hansel and Gretel-style trail of flirtatious messages suggesting you get a drink, but always fails to meet you. “Ahhhh, yeah. That’s happened to me,” they agreed – two guys, two girls.

The etiquette of modern romance is something men and women have both had to get used to. When I wrote in this magazine last month about a decade of dating, I received a lot of messages from guys who said it resonated. They’d been on as many “really awful dates” as me, they said, because girls could be as badly behaved as men could. They’d been broken-hearted and bounced like we had, but were more confused, if anything, because gender politics and sexual fluidity have changed the way women operate completely.

It reminded me of a conversation I overheard standing outside a posh restaurant in central London. A brunette, probably in her early thirties, told a friend, “I literally raped Adam while we were having a cigarette last night.” She was clearly joking, but it was jarring nonetheless, first because it was a rape joke, and second because we’re more used to men using this kind of language.

No wonder the millennial male isn’t sure where he stands any longer. The fact that it’s cooler and more exciting to be a woman in 2020 than a man has given us a freeing, boyish confidence to hold the cards more than ever. Add the very public scepticism towards men in general (fuelled in recent years by a flurry of graduate rape trials, the MeToo movement and an overdue discussion about consent). Can you still offer to buy a feminist dinner, a twentysomething guy might wonder, or is that an insult?

“Can you or can’t you approach a woman without being seen as a creep?” Johnny Cassell, 31, from Reading, asks me. His job, as a dating expert hired by men who want to do better with women, means he’s heard all the complaints. “Conventionally, men were celebrated for having sex, and in the media now there’s a lot of confusion about guys who are in pursuit of that – and those who want meaningfulness and relationships. Society has moved over the decade in now not putting so many negative labels on women. But the labels for men have become more extreme.”

That’s because men sometimes still go about things in the wrong way, he admits. “But it shouldn’t be a blanket statement that going up to someone is wrong. It’s ruining it for women who want a fairytale meeting. Lots of women I speak to say they’re frustrated about men not pulling the trigger, but many guys don’t know how they’re allowed to approach someone. The simple answer is not to pursue an unwanted interaction – it’s not difficult to be intuitive.”

The problem, possibly, is that women are confused, too. When a man in a bar I was in last year followed me to a restaurant where I was meeting friends and left his card with the maître d’, the women at my table were split 50:50 on whether it was “creepy” or not. It all really hinged on what happened next, they agreed. If I called him and “we ended up getting married”, it would be the “most romantic story ever”. If I met him and he killed me, everyone would say, “Stalker. What did you expect?” Possibly the fact that young women are aware that these extremes are still possible makes us wary of any approach, full stop.

Aneirin George, a 29-year-old actor from Leicester, agrees. “Some guys have ruined it for the rest of us,” he explains. “It takes me half an hour to write a five-minute email asking someone for coffee if they’re female, even if it’s for work purposes,” he says. “It helps my career to meet people, but as a man, I’m aware that a woman is probably asked ten times a day to have coffee by weirdos, and I’m so worried about being ‘that’ guy – that straight, white male on Twitter spouting awful stuff. A very small percentage are like that, but the worst cases get singled out as being ‘a typical man’. Society is judged often by the bad examples, not the good, so women are suspicious. I would be. You can’t ask a girl the time without it being possible that you’re using pick-up lines from The Game now.”

The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists was written by investigative reporter Neil Strauss in 2005, and documented a world in which men were taught to get women into bed with a series of innocent-seeming opening lines.

“But some men might actually need to know the time!” George adds. He’s currently in a two-year relationship but, like all men our age, tried the apps when single. “Tinder is a cesspit. Plenty of Fish seemed too much effort. OkCupid seemed … odd,” he says. “In 2015, I managed three weeks on Happn, which tells you when you’ve been near someone you’ve matched with, which seemed better because it should be easy to meet up if you work near someone, right? But I only ever got ghosted when I asked someone for a drink. I felt, after that, like I needed to apologise for being creepy on an app we’d both downloaded that tracked our movements all the time and told people where we were. Isn’t that absurd?”

McCormick – recently single, but whose longest relationship lasted around two years – has tried Hinge and Tinder, which was “the Wild West to start with”, he says. “At the beginning, it had its problems, unvetted, but it didn’t have the weirdness it has now. Now you have to pay to unlock the ‘likes’, which is quite elitist. It’s £50 a time or something. I refuse to pay to talk to someone. That feels both wrong and an admission of defeat.”

The apps are so common that everyone has a preference in the same way they would for beer or wine, and the Inner Circle (up to £260 a year) is an exception for Cassell. “Tinder felt far too saturated. It would be good if you were travelling and wanted to line up a date before you even landed,” he admits. “But when people say they’ve got 100 matches, I think, why? What are you doing wrong? I went on five dates when I was using the Inner Circle. They went quite well. One of the Russians came round to mine for dinner. Which is code for, ‘Come round for a shag,’ but I love making dinner. I’ve got an adventurous spice cupboard.”

Did you show the date? “Not that cupboard. Showed her another one. Just as spicy,” he laughs, surprisingly goofily. “For the guys that can’t afford dinner, take a girl furniture shopping but don’t buy anything,” he adds. “I’ve done that before. I love interior design.” After meeting someone who liked sofas six months ago, he too currently isn’t single.

Both sexes say the other is the worst offender when it comes to ghosting. An attractive Irish friend, who does very well with women, often starts the week with six date options and by Friday has only one still standing. “And I swear I’m not saying anything weird,” he promises, which is what divides the complaints about ghosting. Lots of the decent guys out there are so worried about overstepping lines and offending dates that they’re asking female friends either to devise the messages they’d like to receive themselves (is this a version of catfishing?), or check the message stream to see “what’s happened” when the girl disappears.

“I’ve actually asked a girl in advance whether she’s going to ghost me,” says Freddie Armston-Clarke, a 26-year-old software account manager from Bath, whose longest relationship has been four years. “She said, no, she’d just been playing hard to get and we’d go for a drink – then never messaged me again. Being ghosted is the biggest bugbear among my friends.”

“It makes you feel terrible,” says Jack Gregson, 29, a London-born creative producer for MTV and Disney, whose most recent relationship ended last year. “It’s fine if it’s a ‘no’, but it would be nice to be told, because being ghosted makes you feel like they’ve decided suddenly that you’re not worth it, which affects your self-esteem. I do often ask female friends to show me what I might have said to put someone off, because you feel like you’ve done something wrong on the apps. One woman sent me such ranty messages I didn’t know what was going on. It’s all very confusing and puts you off dating entirely.” His longest relationship so far has been around six months.

“I think boys are more open,” Armston-Clarke adds. “We definitely play fewer games. A lot of girls wait an hour to text back or set up lots of dates with men at the same time. Maybe I view it too simply, but if you really like someone and they like you, it just works and you shouldn’t have to play games at all. I think men are more loyal. Lots of guys are much more up-front, and get hurt more, but maybe women have more of a deep-seated expectation that they’ll be f***ed over by men. I believe in that theory that, if you get f***ed over, you’re more likely to f*** over someone else.”

Sometimes women use the apps for a dopamine hit, Cassell says, wanting the validation despite being in a relationship. One of his clients told him last week that a girl who’d previously ghosted him zombied herself and came round to his for dinner. Things went well and they lay, after, in crumpled sheets, when she decided to play on her phone. “I ignored that,” the guy – mid-thirties – says. “Then it rang and she picked up and screamed into it, ‘I’m at home. In bed!’ Then she threw the phone at the wall and said her boyfriend was ‘an arsehole’ for never trusting her.”

Women can be just as predatory too, apparently. Last year, Gregson found himself matched with three separate American girls, all called Jane and all working in finance. “They seem to have collectively decided they wanted English boyfriends,” he says. “But I had nothing in common with any of them.” Another match, who had set her location to London despite living in Oklahoma, started video-calling him relentlessly from America, while she was being rude to Uber drivers or lying on her bed drunk. Then she booked an Airbnb metres from his house and arrived in London with a story that her “best friend” had also met a boy in London called Jack and they were now in love.

“She was really into PDAs [public displays of affection], which I hate,” he says awkwardly, “We kissed, but I felt very uncomfortable about it. I’m a slow, safe kind of guy. When I suggested we slow down, she sent dozens of messages saying I’d made her feel like a slut, and that it was ‘very funny’ that I thought of myself as ‘a hotshot’.”

“I’ve always been aware that men can be taken advantage of too,” George agrees. “When I was at uni, I went speed-dating, matched with one of the women and had a drink with her in the bar afterwards. I was surprised when her husband turned up. I didn’t know if he knew she’d been speed-dating, or whether they’d planned for her to find someone for them. It was weird.”

Threesomes aren’t uncommon, but maybe it is taken for granted that men are gamer than they really are. It’s still assumed they have more sexual fantasies than girls. After cooking dinner for a female friend at his house, Cassell decided to message a girl he’d been on a few dates with to see if she wanted to come around after, he tells me. “Then I thought it would be nice for her to meet my friend, so we both went to her house. They got on super-well, but it got late and I was tired, so went for a lie-down. I woke to find them handcuffing me to the bed and pushing my legs apart,” he says, wide-eyed.

Were you raped, I ask, genuinely concerned.

“Oh no. No. I mean, it wasn’t the worst thing ever to happen to me midweek,” he says with a laugh. “But they horse-whipped me within an inch of my life.”

The casual nature of sex has flipped first-date etiquette entirely, with some women I know preferring to sleep with a guy before agreeing to dinner. “I want to know what I’m getting myself into,” they say, as if sitting opposite a stranger for a couple of courses and finding them boring is more dangerous than going to their house and stripping.

“Women message me saying, ‘DTF?’ a lot,” Gregson says. I’m perplexed, and look it. “You don’t know that? It means, ‘Down to f***?’ ” he explains. “I’m always like, ‘No, thank you. But I’m sure you’re very nice.’ I like to get to know a girl before I embarrass myself sexually. All sorts of girls send those types of messages. I’m not opposed to others having one-night stands. Free love is a … thing. It’s a woman’s right to choose. I just don’t want it.”

A couple of my female friends still expect everything to be paid for, an old-fashioned attitude that turns to hypocrisy when we adopt empowered attitudes elsewhere. One male friend – now 27 – often texted me, feeling depressed, after bad dates in London, when a woman didn’t offer to buy a single round or even attempt to split dinner, despite knowing that they hadn’t clicked and wouldn’t see each other again. He’d spend the rest of the week too broke to go out and feeling deflated by how difficult it seemed to be to meet someone nice. He did in the end, on Hinge, moved in a year later and couldn’t be happier.

For graduates starting life in expensive cities with blow-out rents and beginner salaries, the expense of dating is tough. George moved home last year to help fund a master’s degree. “I used to tell people I lived in shared accommodation with a live-in landlord, so we couldn’t go to mine,” he admits. “A few months in, I’d tell them that was my mum.” Armston-Clarke lived previously with his sister, and is about to move in with his brother while he waits for a new house share. “I’m not sure I’d bring anyone back,” he says. “It’s a bit rude when you’re living rent-free.” In similar situations, friends of his stop dating entirely.

The men say their confidence has taken a hit. “Online dating opens you up to constant rejection, which doesn’t help if you already have low self-esteem,” Gregson admits. “It’s left me feeling very sad. Someone once walked out of a date after 20 minutes, and I thought it had been going fine. She said she was tired and went home, then stopped replying. That really makes you feel like you’re not good enough.”

He and McCormick have both been stood up; Gregson after buying £50 tickets to a film festival for a fourth date. “That’s the kind of stuff that makes me want to curl up into a ball and not date any more,” he says. “It makes me feel very worthless. At the same time, I think men have done worse to women, so I’m paying for that. Maybe women don’t think that, but you try to justify it. It’s a way of not feeling like an arsehole.”

If you’re already feeling fragile, that can push you over the edge. “I have depression and so I have fragile moods, which definitely make dating harder,” George says. He’s working on a one-man show that will come out later this year on the depression crisis now.

The younger guys say they are more likely to ignore red flags early on. “My girlfriends kill someone off if they don’t like one thing that’s said,” McCormick says. “I think guys are more likely to go for it. I’m not confident enough to send loads of risqué, flirtatious messages and I think I’m better in person, so I try to set up a drink quite quickly, to see if we’ll get on. Once, after a bit of liquid courage, I did ask a girl to the theatre, but I didn’t know the play and the whole cast was full-frontal naked during the first act. It was basically pornography. I felt like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver – it was traumatising.”

Gregson first started using apps at 22, and has never dated anyone he’s met first in “the real world”. “I’d love to be the guy who has the confidence to go up to a girl at Burger King and say, ‘Would you like a bite of my Whopper?’ But I’m not that guy. I like theatre and cinema, and no one wants to be approached in the dark. I’m also terrible with signals, so unless women tell me they like me, I have no idea, which puts me quickly in the friend zone. Often I think it’s going well, and they say it’s not and I think, ‘Why do you keep sticking your tongue down my throat then?’ ”

The up-and-down nature of it all quickly affects self-esteem. “A lot of the time you ask questions about their life and get nothing back,” he says. “I don’t like to think of anything as a waste of time – we’re both wasting it – but it makes me think I’m so evidently boring that they don’t need to ask me a single thing about myself.”

“Women want a Saint Laurent or a Ralph Lauren, depending on whether they want a guy to f*** or settle down with,” Cassell says. “Saint Laurent is very rock’n’roll; Ralph Lauren is the guy in chinos with parental qualities who’ll take you to the country at the weekend. If you want to be a long-term prospect, turn up as Ralph; if you want to be tied to the bed, turn up as Saint Laurent. But get it right – girls will stop speaking to you if they think you’re one and you come as the other. I know someone that’s happened to.”

Gregson, possibly, has accidentally been a bit too Ralph (not that he wants to be Saint Laurent either). “A girl matched me once and her first message was, ‘Let’s skip the back and forth preamble and jump straight to being boyfriend and girlfriend.’ I thought she was joking, but it sounded good to me. Then when I cancelled a date and tried to reschedule she said, ‘You have a girlfriend now. You can’t do that.’ She video-called me and said I wasn’t putting in enough effort. I never do this, but I had to block her because she wouldn’t stop calling.”

When the women I know say men are the worst on the apps and the men blame the women, it’s hard to know what’s happening. Something that is new, though, is that the public scepticism of men makes it more acceptable for women to have an outwardly disparaging opinion of them, sometimes using feminism as a disguise.

Armston-Clarke sums it up. “The weird thing is that, as a society, we still believe that being in a relationship is the norm. It’s a race to get on Hinge when you’re newly single and in your mid-twenties. It doesn’t feel OK to be single and not be dating, because people talk about dating so much of the time.”

Gregson considers this. “Maybe men do invest too much in matches,” he says. “I’m guilty of fantasising about my own wedding, in the same way women used to be accused of doing. When a girl’s talking to me, I sometimes hear wedding bells. Then I think, ‘You’re the worst. Put me in an asylum.’ ” Or a hotel, maybe, at least.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 22.2.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain  
Spanish Politics
  • I've mentioned that, on your tax return here, you can tick a box indicating you'd like a small portion of your tax to go to the Catholic Church. No other 'confession' is allowed this, of course, though attempts - undoubtedly futile - have been made recently to change this. Anyway, the Church raked in €284m this way last year, even though the percentage of taxpayers obliging has fallen consistently over the years. Under a 1975 Concordat, this state-financing of the Church was supposed to stop decades ago but hasn't and, in fact, the percentage of your tax going to it, if you tick the box, has recently risen from 0.5% to 0.7%. As with monopoly suppliers, easy money. Even God might smile at all this. More than anyone, if the Catholics have got him right, I guess.
Spanish/Galician Life
  • A Bank of Spain report has it that Spain has seen a boom in both house sales and rental prices in recent years, with the latter soaring by 50% in the 5 years to last August. But, asks The Local, have the country's realtors been using algorithms on their web pages to fix prices to their advantage. Probably, answer I.
  • An interesting article on Madrid's barrios here. Now that I'm spending a week a month in Madrid, I plan to check them out.
  • So, the pre-Lenten Carnaval began last night, meaning - as one of our several local daily papers advised yesterday - that we have 8 days of fiestas ahead of us - as used to be the case in the UK before the Reformation. (See here on this). 
  • There's a big parade in the city tonight and costumes were already on display throughout yesterday. Hence this amusing story.
  • The Local reports that: As this is Spain, anything goes - whether it's dressing up as giant sex toy, imitating one of the political elite or the royal family, or making a mockery of the Church.
  • Talking of disguises . . . I confess to being a tad disturbed yesterday afternoon by having three 12 year olds come towards me dressed as pink Satisyers. Or that's what I thought at the time, but - having seen white versions of the same or similar costume - I later wondered if they'd actually been rabbits. No pun intended.
  • Our mayor has announced that the maximum speed for all powered vehicles in our 'priority pedestrian' areas will be reduced from 10kph to 6kph. Good news for out sign-writers. But, anyway, I have this vision - possibly shared by the good mayor - that in 10 years time no cars at all will be allowed in the city but will be exiled to vast parking areas on the edge of the city. Time to buy shares in e-scooters and those mobile chairs that old folk use. Was it a coincidence that the first ad I saw when I opened the Faro de Vigo yesterday was for these?
  • Meanwhile, I can't say I've noticed much fidelity to the current law of a limit of 10kph.
  • An interesting observation re the security on Pontevedra station last week. If, like me, you arrived at 12.29 there was no one manning(personning?) the X-ray machine and you could just walk straight through. But, if you arrived just 2 minutes later, you couldn't. Doesn't smack of seriousness to me. 
Finally . . .  
  • It's always good when things go wrong in the house on a Friday night . . . Noticing very late last night that there was a permanently running overflow pipe on an outside wall, I turned off the water at the mains and let the large underground reservoir tank drain away via the overflow pipe during the night. This duly stopped the overflow. When I switched the water back on this morning, the tank re-filled and the overflow problem returned. Having now switched off the water again, I've waited for over an hour for the tank to re-empty - in the process filling 3 baths and every single container I can find in the house, the garage and outside. Including 5 wine bottles and 3 very large buckets. And a lot of pans, jars andglasses. But the bloody water is still coming and I've got nothing left but earth to let it run into. Big tank.
  • Words of the Day: Tubería de rebose: Overflow pipe.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 21.2.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain  
Spanish Politics
Spanish/Galician Life 
  • Good news for my daughter renting out her flat in central Madrid? But not good news for Spain, I guess.
  • Talking of the capital city . . . 3 observations from Tim Parfitt's A Load of Bull:-
- “Welcome to Madrid”, said Francisco. “Where 8 o'clock means 10 o'clock.”
- In Madrid nothing is ever done half-heartedly.
- Madrid's most exuberant month is May, when the city comes spectacularly into its own. I look forward to checking this out this year.
  • In the UK, one's 'youth' stretches  - I believe - from 18 to 26. Here in Spain, it's 18 to 36, as I saw yesterday in an article reporting that our 'young' drivers are the 'least prudent' in the country. Another reason - perhaps the main one - why our insurance premiums are the highest in Spain. As to why they're so reckless? Who knows.
  • As I skirted the newly concreted area at the end of O Burgo bridge yesterday, I witnessed 4 people ignoring the temporary deviation so as to walk straight across it. Even though there was a guy operating a polishing(?) machine on it. Not for the first time, I wondered in how many other countries there'd be such flagrant ignoring of (personally inconvenient) restrictions. Independismo, as they say.
  • Oh, we now have a date for the completion of the bridge works - 'End May'. This year, I believe. About 11 months late.
  • This foto is just to support my contention that there's just as much concern here - in Galicia at least - as there is in the UK about cuts in healthcare. The system is not as perfect as some would make out. Though, given that it's a devolved matter, it might well be better in other regions than it is here:-

The EU 
  • Perfidious Deutschland? See here for an interesting account of respective performances - of the  UK and Germany - in 'the race for green energy'.
Nutters Corner
  • Words of the Day-
  1. Riña: Fight, quarrel, brawl. Often used in reports of gypsy 'account settling'.
  2. Manivela: Handle, lever
  • Here's 10 words/phrases which differ between US and British English:-
- Realtor - Estate agent
- Sneakers - Trainers
- Cilantro - Coriander
- Eggplant - Aubergine
- Blinkers - Indicators
- Chutes and ladders - Snakes and ladders
- Faucet - Tap
- Sophomore - 2nd year student at college or university. No equivalent in Brit English.
- Freshman - Fresher
- Bangs - Fringe

Finally . . .  
  • Today it's 3 months since I made my application for Irish nationality. So I thought I'd post this article I wrote a while back on this subject:-

During the 3 years since the shock referendum verdict of mid 2016, there's been a lot of talk of a Hard Brexit which would - eventually - remove from Brits all the rights they've had in the EU for several decades. These would include access to the Spanish healthcare system and visa-free travel for Brits and their kids. On top of this, there'd be new bureaucratic hurdles, including a different ID card to reflect our inferior status.

I've never believed things would come to such a pass - relying both on a belief in the power of the British Establishment to stop it and the common sense among all parties. At the back of my mind, there was also the security of knowing I could retain my rights by obtaining either Spanish or Irish nationality.

But it wasn't until early this year that I was motivated by Conservative party developments - to investigate the respective processes, influenced a little upfront by the fact I'd heard a friend complain - over 2-3 years - about how the Spanish option was what's called here un calvario. And this from a fluent Spanish speaker who'd lived here for many years. An important negative aspect was that the Spanish government doesn't allow dual nationality and so demands that you give up your British passport.

So, I took look at the relevant Spanish web page and, finding the English hard to follow, decided to have no more to do with that option and moved quickly to investigate my Irish option. This was available to me because my grandmother was born in Ireland and, thus, my father had automatically been an Irish citizen. Ironically, I don't think he ever knew he was both British and Irish. As very many folk born on Merseyside are.

Over the next few months, I got together all the certificates and photos required by the Irish government to allow me to go onto the Irish Birth Register. Once achieved, I could claim a passport. When all was ready, I took advantage of a visit to my elder daughter in Madrid to take the papers to the Irish embassy there and duly lodged them with a nice lady. I now wait on confirmation of registration. This used to take only 6 months but, such has been the rise in applications, it could now take 9 or even 12.

Below is my comparison between the Spanish and Irish processes and my caveat is that I'm much more familiar with the latter than the former. So, it's not something to rely on if you've no choice but to go the Spanish route. The government page will be a good start as regards this - if you can figure out what the English text means - but must, I'm sure, be augmented by talking to someone who knows more than I do about it. And I'm told that many people need to take at least an interpreter with them when they go to talk to the Registro Civil about their application. Possibly even a gestor.

One final point in this preamble . . . I don't know much about the challenge of getting British nationality - other than the residence requirement is 5 years, against a norm of 10 in Spain - so I can't compare it with either that of Ireland or Spain

All that said, this is my overview of  how the challenges differ. I won't be at all surprised - or upset - to be told I've got some things wrong.

The Irish process involves, firstly, an application to go on the Irish Birth Registration and, secondly, a passport application.
The Spanish process involves at least one (multi-stepped) stage and probably a subsequent passport application.

Who to Apply to?
Spain: The Ministerio de Justicia.
Ireland: The Dept of foreign Affairs and Trade.

Spain: I think on the internet but suspect visits to some offices will also be involved.
Ireland: Only on line.

Web Page Information 

Time from start to finish
Spain: 3 to 4 years, possibly even more.
Ireland: 6 to 12 months

Spain: A lot. See the web page: At least: 1. A period of residence which depends on your status; 2.Certificates of birth etc.; 3. Proof of ID; 4. A Spanish language diploma 5. Evidence of 'sufficient integration': 6. Proof of residence; 7 Criminal checks in both Spain and the UK.
Ireland: 1. A parent or grandparent born in Ireland; 2. Certificates of birth etc.; 3. Proof of ID; 4. Proof of residence.
Most importantly, there's no requirement for residence in Ireland; your entitlement is based on descendence rom an Irish native.

Complexity of the Process(Ease of Application)
Spain: High. The English of the web page is poor (What is a 'literal certificate'?); the application form will surely be long and complex; you might have to deal with a Spanish bureaucrat and, if so, the language of communication will surely be Spanish. So, as I've said, you might be well advised to pay a gestor help you.
Ireland: Low. There is a short form of only 4 pages with a 2-3 easy questions on each page;  the English of both the advice page and the application itself is very clear; you'll only have to deal with a computer. Finally, If anything more is needed beyond what you've sent, an email will be acceptable. I can't imagine this being the case with the Spanish option.

Risk of Getting Something Wrong and Slowing Things Down
Spain: High
Ireland: Low

Spain: €102, plus the costs of certificates and of everything else you have to provide or do. A language diploma, for example. The fees of any interpreter and gestor are, of course a piece of string.
Ireland: €270 plus the costs of any certificates you need to get in Ireland or the UK. An easy process, with  prices for slow or fast delivery. There are several sites which will help you identify the dates and details of the certificates you might need, becaause you don't already have them.

Keeping Your British Passport
Spain: No (in theory, at least)
Ireland: Yes

Irritation Factor
Spain: High, I imagine.
Ireland: Low

Stress Levels
Spain: High, I again imagine.

Finally, my sympathies go out to anyone who has no choice but to go the Spanish route. And, if you haven't already started on this odyssey, you might find than any transition period ends before you get Spanish  nationality.

In other words, you really should have started before the referendum was held!


Galicia Living is a new property development outfit here in Southern Galicia (As Rías Baixas), owned by a friend of mine. So, if you're looking for a house here - or to sell one - get in touch with them. And, if you're particularly interested in the lovely Miño area down on the border with Portugal, let me know on and I'll send you my write-up on it.