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?
  • Remarkably, North European Germany produces more solar energy than Spain, Portugal, Italy and France combined.  IGIMSTS.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  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.
  • 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 
  • 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.

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.
  • 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 . . .
  • Word of the day:- Empresa no autorizada; Unauthorised company. For selling masks, for example.
Finally . . .  


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]:-
Where are  you going?
La Barca
Where's that?
Down at the roundabout at the bridge.
Which shop?
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
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.  
  •  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.
  • 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.


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]

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.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 25.3.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.*  
The Coronavirus: A Less Negative Take
  • A Dutch firm has created a new test that looks for antibodies and gives results in just 15 minutes. Might be true; was in The Daily Mail.
  • Disney+ Launches Today in Seven European Markets. Again, that might be good news. For some at least.
  • Pornhub making premium free in Spain and Italy. Ditto. 
  • The British Parliament is to close for at least 4 weeks: Definitely good news.
  • Boris Johnson may be dumped by his party and replaced as PM: Ditto.
  • This crisis is the proverbial black swan, but good can come out of it: Good to know.
Life in the Time of Something Like Cholera
  • It's-an-ill-wind department: The price of hash has doubled or even tripled. In contrast, cocaine prices have only increased 10-20%.
  • I've been wondering about the impact on the business of Spain's notoriously ubiquitous brothels. The Olive Press reports here that: Despite the Spanish Government enforcing a complete lockdown across the country, clients continue to knock on brothels’ doors. No one could be surprised at this. 
  • Less controversially, here's María's chronicle of Day 10.
  • Gazing at Pontevedra city from my eyrie last evening, I noticed something new - a horizontal scar near the top of the nearby hill-cum-mountain. Closer inspection revealed a couple of bridges. I figured it couldn't be the tracks of the AVE high-speed train and then realised it was the route of our new ring-road - the A55 - first authorised 15 years ago. If you look hard, you can see the bridges in the foto:-
BTW . . . I'm not sure of the rationale for this ring road, as we already have the AP9 running around the city. But the new road will, at least, allow rapid access to our major hospital, on the distant hillside. Behind the tree on the left.
  • Talking of construction . . . My Monday afternoon trip to the supermarket in Lérez, revealed that they're nearing completion of the little park at that end of the O Burgo bridge, where young trees have now been planted. But the bridge itself is not yet fully open to pedestrians. And, because, we're not allowed to cross it, I have no idea why not.
  • Yesterday afternoon, I was again assailed over my front hedge by the gypsy youth who came begging on Sunday. The lockdown doesn't seem to apply to him. Our Guardia Civil and police are either inefficient or turning a blind eye to members of a notoriously anti-social local group.
The UK
  • I was musing the other day whether one of the reasons Johnson has been reluctant to move to a total lockdown is that the UK lacks the sort of militarised police force of Spain, France, the USA and others. There's a Riot Squad, of course, but there's no police force with the latent ability to force people to behave 'properly'. Evidence of this was in this morning's Sky News, where police with megaphones could be seen to be begging dogwalkers in a park to go home. Additionally, the head honcho of the police has asked the government to tell them exactly what they're supposed to do. Failing this, it's reported, the police are using 'persuasion not punishment' and fines are not yet anywhere near the level of those in Spain, for example.
  • In line with this, Richard North writes this morning that it's difficult for the police - in what he calls a faux lockdown - for them to take on an enforcement role when there are so many exemptions to the application of the (current) law. Perhaps things will change rapidly this week.
  • Meanwhile, RN reports that a woefully inadequate [health] system is massively under-reporting the true case load. And that: We can have no real idea of the extent to which coronavirus has penetrated the UK population, although it is probably fair to say that the distribution is probably patchy and that the main hotspot is London. 
 The USA  
  • Here's a fine review of the situation there from a BBC reporter. I could cite numerous quotes but it's best that you read it: Just a few, then:-
  1. Instead of of a wartime president, Trump has sounded at times like a sun king.
  2. But the tricks of an illusionist, or the marketing skills of the sloganeer, do not work here. There are things that can't be tweeted, nicknamed or hyped away. The facts are inescapable.
  3. What have we learnt of the United States? First of all, we have seen the enduring goodness of this country.
  4. Most Americans have shown precisely the same virtues we have seen in every country brought to a halt by the virus. 
  5. As for the American exceptionalism on display, much of it has been of the negative kind that makes it hard not to put head in hands.
Nutters Corner 
  • Right-wing conspiracy theorist Chris McDonald: No president in American history has been as “sensitive to God” as Donald Trump.
  • Phrase of the day:- Traseros de pollo: Literally 'chicken areses/bums/backsides. The sort of 'quarter' you comprising some muscle and a thigh. 
  • Word of the Year so Far: Scrote: A contemptible person. My guess is it derives from 'scrotum'. Which doesn't seem fair to me. Being male.  
Finally . . .  
  • Just in case you didn't know . . . Don’t call it the Spanish flu. That’s what Spain said in 1918 at the start of what would become the deadliest pandemic in history, killing more than 50 million people worldwide. The Spanish got tagged with the killer name during the end of World War I because Spain was the first country to report the disease publicly, not because it originated there. [Because it was the only country which wasn't operating media censorship then]
* Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain [A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.]  BTW . . . I've moved this comment from the top of the page in belated honour of my close friend, Peter Missler/Alfred Mittington, who passed away - prematurely - in January. He complained about  it - in his blunt Dutch way -  more than once.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 24.3.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain [A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.]

The Coronavirus: A Less Negative Take
  • It's an ill wind that blows no good 1: Air quality rapidly improves in cities which are locked down.  
  • World leaders ramp up efforts to contain coronavirus spread.
  • Professor Levitt, who won the Nobel prize for chemistry in 2013, predicted yesterday that even countries which had not imposed such strict lockdowns as China were already showing signs of recovery. “Numbers are still noisy but there are clear signs of slowed growth,” he said. 
  • Italy may have hit the peak of its coronavirus outbreak after 2 weeks of lockdown as its daily death toll dropped for the 4th day running on Monday, fuelling hopes that the country may have reached the peak of its devastating outbreak.
  • New drugs: Tests begin on drugs to help coronavirus patients. The plans were accelerated after researchers saw the scale of the catastrophe in Italy. 
  • Meanwhile, the (very) old drugs chloroquine and hydroxy chloroquine are seen as  having potential for combatting the virus. 
  • A 95 year old woman has recovered from the virus in Italy.
Life in the Time of Something Like Cholera
  • I went shopping in a Mercadona supermarket last night. Interesting - especially in contrast with the UK - to see how serious the company takes things. Some car park spaces roped off; 1 metre spaces marked off in the approach to the lifts/stairs; and gloves given out as you enter the shop. Plus, of course, 1 metre gaps in the check-out queues. Oh, at least in my case, trolleys that don't need you to handle coins. All very efficient and impressive.
  • Here's María's Day 8 and Day 9 Chronicles
The UK
  • Winner of the the Most Accurate Headline of the Week competition: You are the leader of a major country, not a teenager. FFS get your hair cut properly. And at least LOOK serious.

  • My old friend in Hamburg tells me that the German construction industry is already rebounding:-

  • The Orange-Faced Clown says he always knew it was going to be a terrible pandemic. This chap begs to differ, occasionally - but understandably - profanely. 
The Way of the World
  • The older you get, the more you bemoan the lack of perspective in the young. Especially if you lived through the Second World War. The article below suggests how priorities might now change after the shock of Covid-19.
  • Word of the day:- Imbécil. Idiot. Cretin. "A Johnson".
Finally . . .
  • It's an ill wind that blows no good 2: I went down to the basement last night to get an electrical  plug and noted 5 jig-saws in a box, from 10 years ago. Brought up a 15,000-piece one of Lisbon . .
  • Another charming old video, set in Liverpool. Note that every single steward on the boat has an Edwardian moustache. Perhaps some of them are actually glued on.
  • From another old friend, who's a Jehovah's Witness:-


Now we are in unprecedented territory, our old fads seem very decadent indeed

The advance of coronavirus leaves many contemporary obsessions looking extraordinarily decadent. Identity politics now feels like a madness from another age. Nobody is complaining about the gender balance of the team of experts guiding the nation’s response (well, nobody apart from Amber Rudd, who got short shrift when she made that point on Twitter last week).

The war on coronavirus has, in part, made the war on plastic redundant. Reusable coffee cups were judged a health risk by cafés which, before they were ordered to close, required customers to return to the old disposable ones. In the United States, new regulations restricting the use of plastic bags are being suspended, and one mayor has even called for a ban on the American equivalent of “bags for life”, given that (unwashed) they could end up spreading this virus.

There are whisperings that similar measures could follow here, with supermarkets reportedly urging the Government to waive the bag tax. Old, pointless regulations are being discarded -such as those preventing some pubs or restaurants from offering takeaways.

This will only be the start. Over the past few decades, planning authorities, architects, and builders have conspired to ensure that the UK now has among the smallest new homes in Europe. Fine, this may partly be a consequence of higher population density, but then why are Dutch homes significantly bigger? As people coop up in self-quarantine, with little space for food and other essentials, one long-term consequence should be an end of policies that promote extreme densification.

That ought to mean an expansion of suburbs, more garden cities and market towns outside of our major conurbations, and an end, too, to the blind assumption that the “agglomeration” of everything, or radical centralisation, is an unalloyed good. Social distancing is much less traumatic when people have their own gardens.

A newly-germaphobic society will have less slavish respect for public transport over the hermetically-sealed personal motor vehicle. Is the Government going to push ahead with its premature ban on diesel, hybrid and petrol cars? Some changes will be less welcome. Expect privacy considerations to be given less weight in public policy decisions, especially those related to technology. This has already started, with governments openly tracking the movements of populations via their mobile phone signals, in order to monitor whether social distancing is being adhered to.

Then there are all the faddish projects that, until just a few weeks ago, were animating our politics. Rightly or wrongly, ministers have chosen to destroy our economy (hopefully temporarily) in order to limit the spread of coronavirus. We have also discovered that we are not, really, in a significantly better position than countries that are much poorer and less developed. In the cold light of this new era, HS2 looks even more absurd. Are we really proposing to push ahead with a £100  billion-plus vanity project? Much that was certain now looks very decadent indeed.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 22.3.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain [A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.]

The Coronavirus 

Last night. I read a truly apocalyptic warning from a US expert but I've decided not to cite it here. Instead I'm going to concentrate on what good news there is, such as it is:-
  • British engineering companies have responded well to requests to shift production to ventilators.
  • In the UK, teams of engineers, doctors and scientists have teamed up online in an effort to prevent shortages of equipment.
  • New 'simple' antibody tests are promised 'within a few weeks", allowing people to know if they've either got or (better) have had the disease and acquired immunity.
  • The British government has announced a £20 million investment to study the genome of Covid-19 and better understand its spread. Similar investments are surely taking place in other countries too.
  • China is recovering normality
  • Spain has commissioned 6 million tests, 650,000 of which have already been delivered.
If you know of more good news, please consider telling me via Comments and I will publish it tomorrow.

Life in the Time of Something Like Cholera
  • You'll probably know the the Spanish government has made the first of its probably several extensions of our lockdown, until 11 April.
  • One of the saddest aspects of total lockdown is that people are denied seeing their loved ones before or at their moment of death. Not only that. There's always been a challenge here of getting to a funeral which, under the law, must take place within 48 hours. But now funerals - along with just about everything else - are banned.
  • Coming back after 3 weeks away, I expected to see my new neighbours in the house next door. After all, they bought it in early December. But, no, the place is still empty. I guess they're marooned in the flat in Pontevedra they're trying to sell.
  • When my gate bell rang yesterday afternoon, I thought it would be my neighbour, Toni - the captain of an oil tanker and home from the sea. But it wasn't. It was a (drug addicted) young gypsy male whom I'd forgotten comes begging every Sunday. From a safe distance, I told him he was not allowed on the street, to which he replied that he was immune. I tried to explain that this wasn't the point and repeated that it was illegal for him to be on the street. But I doubt that will have any effect.
  • The turning of the screw . . . Down in the Valencia region we left on Saturday morning, the fines for being on the street have been doubled, with the maximum for repeat offenders now being €600,000. 
  • I find this sentence confusing: Police also fined several dog-walkers, some of which had been noted walking the same dog on different occasions. Does it mean they're hitting 1. People who are sharing a dog; or 2. Dog-owners/walkers going out several times a day, or 3. Both of these? In either case, is this authorised by the law? As if this matters, firstly from a health point of view and, secondly, from the point of view of wide-ranging 'authorised' police/military repression.
  • Here's news of the Spanish government following up on my warning yesterday of fake news and hoaxes. Frequent use of the Snopes web page is highly recommended, before sending items winging round the ether.
  • Zoom seems a good - very possibly better - option than Skype or FaceTime for staying in touch with friends and loved ones. Nice 'gallery' feature. 
  • One positive aspect of being stuck indoors 24/7 is that you don't have to worry about charging your phone, iPad or laptop . . . Small mercies.
The UK
  • Can anyone understand why this is so? What seems to typify the UK approach is the half-hearted response to the epidemic. We have a weak lockdown, which relies largely on voluntary action and is being widely ignored throughout the country, especially by younger people.  And, with no provision to stop "refugees" fleeing the cities to rural areas, potentially bringing the infection with them, we are seeing incredible scenes of stupidity and selfishness. 
The USA  
  • If you ask Fart a reasonable question which the Vice-President later replies to, you're a nasty person and a useless journalist. At least to the OFC himself. But no huge surprise there, given the thinness of his skin. And so much else we know about the man.
The Way of the World/Shysters Corner  
  • As someone has just said on the TV, a situation likes this brings out the very best and the very worst of humanity. Doctors in Spain have been prosecuted for stealing and selling masks, etc., and now I read that both Spanish and British companies are profiteering by markedly raising the prices of testing kits. One British doctor is reported to have netted almost €2m[sic] last week alone in selling kits at 3 times what the manufacturer sells them for. He said he'd been overwhelmed with orders, after he'd somehow wangled an interview with a leading British newspaper. How, I wonder. I smell dirty work at the crossroads.
  • Word of the day:- Tapizado. Covering - wallpaper. carpet. upholstery material, etc.
 Finally . . .  
  • Here's another of those lovely films of an event in the early 1900s. I'm sure the word 'fat'  existed back then (though none of the several modern euphemisms for it). But, try as I might, I couldn't see anyone in it who was overweight, never mind obese. Imagine the kids in a modern sports-day setting . .
  • Which reminds me . . . My sister has been with me for almost 3 weeks. She likes to cook and does it very well, but the result of having two 3-course meals a day has had its inevitable impact. I've gained more than 2 kilos in this short period, undoing all the (slow) work of the last 2 years. Time for a new regime, especially as I'm not now walking into and out of town twice a day.
  • My mirthful 'Spanish' grandson in 80 years' time:-

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 22.3.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.  

- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain [A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.]
The Coronavirus
  • According to the president of the Madrid region, with the country now reporting the second-highest number of infections in Europe, most people (80%) in the city will get the coronavirus. But this is a bit down from warnings of 100% a week or 2 ago.
  • I commented to my sister a few days ago that the police had become very evident and officious because - in the absence of crime - they were probably bored stiff. So. I wasn't surprised to read this last night.
Life in the Time of Something Like Cholera
  • My sister and I arrived back in Pontevedra last night, after 18 days in Madrid(4) and Jávea (14) and 11 hours on the road.  My sister had planned to stay in the Valencia region until at least 31 March but her reserved flight is from Oporto. So, with the border closed . . .
  • Aspects of the trip, some surprising:-
- We were not stopped by the police or Guardia Civil, either when leaving Jávea or when entering Pontevedra.
- We were approached by a GC car when stopped for a mid-morning break. Appropriately, they were very civil and wished us a good journey after being told we were on our way back to my home in Galicia. The civility was a pleasant surprise after our experience on the streets of Jávea and as reported by others along the Costas.
- No papers were sought. Perhaps contact is kept to verbal exchanges even when you're stopped. A couple of young GC officers have died, after all.
- There were GC officers checking drivers as they entered the Madrid region via the toll booths on the A6 but none when leaving it further on.
- As my sister has a weak bladder, it was fortunate that reports of petrol station toilets being closed to normal drivers proved inaccurate.
- It was also fortunate that at least one petrol station attendant was willing to sell chocolate, biscuits and cakes. And he didn't have a metre-wide barrier between him and the customers  - or a huge, thick plastic sheet hanging from the ceiling as in one pharmacy in Jávea.
  • A couple of accounts from around Spain:-
  1. María's Chronicle, Day 7
  2. Madrid madness
  3. Lockdown in a pueblo(village)
  • Taking some rubbish to the bins yesterday morning, it occurred to me that it's not entirely unusual to see deserted streets in Spain. In Pontevedra, at least,  it happens every feast day/public holiday. Of which there are a lot here. I've given up asking what exactly people do on these days, as the answer is always: Lie in, have a big lunch with the family and watch the TV. Well, the populace certainly has plenty of time for these activities now. And for at least another 3 weeks. If not 3 months.
  • Some of them might be well benefit from this. But, that said, it's more relevant for foreigners resident (or stuck) here.
  • Having gained 2 kilos since I left home on 2nd March, I can appreciate the accuracy of this prediction.  Summer 2020:-

  • I think everyone outside the country - and many inside - are struggling to understand the government's softly-softly approach, even making allowance for the standard level of citizen cooperation in the country. Perhaps there's some semi-mystical belief in the integrity of Brits on the part of politicians who've never read any of Rupert Murdoch's rags.
 Finally . . .  
  • I was pleasantly surprised to see a couple of pied wagtails in my garden this morning, for the first time ever.
  • Here and here are are wonderful films taken in England around the start of the 19th century.  We really shouldn't be as surprised as we usually are to see that - ignoring the finery and the bushy whiskers - people look and act exactly as they do nowadays. Sobering to think that many of them will have died in the 'Spanish' flu epidemic that killed millions in and after 1918. Now that was a pandemic.