Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 3.3.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain   
Spanish/Galician Life 
  • Tim Parfitt today: Luis often came out with statements like “The biggest problem in Spain is the excess of oil in the food” and he would then explain that such excess was typical of the Spanish problem of extreme, excessive or exaggerated behaviour. 
  • I wrote last week of Galician feismo, or ugliness. Right on cue, the Pontevedra council says it's going to put an end to feismo urbano. The first step will be to divide the city into 33 zones. Not sure why.
  • I wasn't too surprised to hear that Galicia has a disproportionate share - 46% - of the total 'fatal agricultural accidents' in the country. Most of these, it seems to me, involve octogenarians negotiating slopes in ancient, cab-less tractors.
  • Well, there's at least one problem that Spain and Germany share, which turns out to be an 'unintended consequence of the EU's free movement policy'. I think I cited someone a couple of years ago who said Germany would die within 50 years if it didn't solve its demographic problems. Which is the reason Mrs M let in a million East Europeans, of course. And look how that turned out. Possibly destroyed her CDU party.
  • A quote from that article: Today, 90% of Spain’s population – about 42 million people – are stuffed into 1,500 towns and cities that occupy 30% of the land. The other 10% occupy the remaining 70%. Over the past decade, 80% of Spanish municipalities have experienced population falls.
  • An interesting difference in approaching today's big issue.
  • One of those conversations, in the Post Office (Correos) last evening:-
Me: There's a packet of books on the way to me from the Netherlands, due to arrive today or later this week. It didn't arrive today and I will be away for the next 2-3 weeks. I want to avoid it going back to Holland.
Clerk: Is it registered delivery?
I don't know but I have the tracking code here. Two codes, in fact.
That means it's registered. When was it sent?
Thursday or Friday.
Things take 4 days from the Netherlands. So it will probably be delivered Wednesday or Thursday.
I won't be here then, and possibly for 3 or even 4 weeks. Can I arrange for it to be retained here until I get back?
No, it will be returned after 15 days. They will try to deliver and leave an advice note.
Well, that won't be much use as I won't be there to receive it and there's no one else in my house. Is there no way I can avoid it going back to the Netherlands?
Clerk: No.

Wonderful customer service. "We do it our way. If that doesn't suit you, tough shit." Like the notary who wouldn't put his details on a form I needed for a UK company but insisted on putting his huge stamp on the back of the page, despite me telling him they wouldn't accept it. And they didn't.

The Way of the World 
  • Are  you a Millenial? If so, better not read the first article below.
  • Are you doing your bit to stop the spread of Covid-19? See the second article on this.
  • Words of the Day:-
  1. Zancadilla: Trip. As in Poner la zancadilla: To trip (up)
  2. Prescinder: To go/do without
  3. Vaivén: Swing, sway: Push/pull. 
Finally . . . 

1. Divided millennials are driving the world towards an even more bitter culture war

My generation is closed-minded and negative– whatever happened to youthful optimism?

Old people are stubborn and stuck in their ways, or so the stereotype goes. But since when have our younger generations been just as bad? Didn’t children once gaze into their future with eager anticipation and a wide open mind?

You can’t say that’s the prevailing attitude at the moment. No, they’re trundling towards adulthood seemingly convinced, with Greta Thunberg at the helm, that an apocalypse awaits.

This sort of thinking applies from anxious school kids to angry millennials – it never fails to astound me how blind my own peers can be to their privilege, when less than a century ago their grandparents were living in all-out war. They talk like they're genuinely convinced that Donald Trump is the worst thing to have ever happened to America, that Britain is going to fall to bits without the EU as its guardian, and that our planet is being  sautéed to certain death.

Never mind that Trump is a mewing kitten compared to some of the lionesque tyrants that rule elsewhere; that the UK was only ever in the EU for a tiny fraction of its long history, or that 55 million years ago it was 7 degrees hotter than it is now, and it was during this warming period that our ancestors evolved in the first place.

But where a sense of perspective is sorely lacking, there’s no shortage of obstinacy. You’d think with access to more information than our forefathers could have dreamt of, we’d all be a thoroughly well-informed. Not so. We like to consider ourselves as scientists when it fact we think like lawyers; raking through facts and gathering evidence to bolster our stance.

This was true, of course, back when people cherry-picked from Encyclopedias, but even more so now from inside an internet-dominated, post-truth, metropolitan echo chamber. Try attempting to dissuade a millennial from a strongly-held view, even using hard facts. I'm afraid it won't be easy.

If anything, as we saw from last year’s general election, it was the older generations that were willing, in droves, to change their minds and desert Labour for the Conservatives. cores of younger voters who cling on, even now, to the clearly flawed socialist ideals of Jeremy Corbyn.

Living in this sort of environment is perfectly fine, of course, if you surround yourself with people who agree with you. Six years ago, when I voted to remain in the EU, dinner parties were easy. My gang of London liberals were pretty laid back; confident in the assumption that this peculiar little referendum would soon be old news, and that soon, yay, America would welcome its first female president. When Brexit prevailed and Donald Trump took power, all that changed.

Far from converting to an ardent Brexiteer, I merely got on board with the fact that yes, we would be leaving the EU; and suggested, tentatively at first, that it might all be alright in the end, that it could even be good. I was subsequently disqualified from the conversation. As for climate change, I’d have more luck persuading my sweet-toothed grandmother to stop taking sugar in her tea than I would having a calm debate with my friends on that.

It is good that we have a wealth of knowledge these days. We are lucky to have the internet. But we're kidding ourselves if we think this has bred a more open-minded society. All of us - old and young - would benefit if we calmed down and stopped treating life like a court case that must be won.

2. We’re too selfish to stop coronavirus spreading

Where is the needle flickering on your coronavirus-o-meter: horizontally relaxed? Mild concern? End-of-days panic? Last week I was snorting at a Mumsnet user’s list of the essentials she was stockpiling in case of a long period in isolation: “olive oil, hummus, body lotion, Pringles . . .” By the weekend I was eyeing the tinned goods aisle in Sainsbury’s. The World Health Organisation says the window of opportunity to contain the virus is narrowing. Mecca is closed to foreign pilgrims, Venice has pulled the carnival, Iran cancelled Friday prayers. There are 36 cases here at the time of writing. I am reassured by friends’ predictions that this will be another here today, gone tomorrow Sars or swine flu; then I remember they know as much about pandemics as I do about quantum computing.

My central concern about our response to coronavirus is not that the NHS will be overstretched, or that researchers will take too long finding a vaccine. It is that we, the general population, are not inclined to follow orders any more. To contain this virus governments around the world must rely on citizens doing as they are told: “Avoid large gatherings”, “Don’t travel unless essential”, “Self-isolate”. My fear is that our safety net is the willingness of other people to respect authority whether it suits them or not; to place the common good over their own busy agenda. In the age of entitlement, the age of the individual, the age of anti-establishment populism, this seems a very flimsy safety net indeed.

Decades ago governments could depend on a largely obedient public. Wartime public information campaigns resounded with Old Testament authority: Dig for Victory! Make Do and Mend! The people listened: 1.4 million allotments sprang up during the Second World War; the elimination of waste became a moral crusade. Lord Beaverbrook’s promise to “turn your pots and pans into Spitfires and Hurricanes” led to a huge national scrap drive, cupboards ransacked for colanders and kettles to stick it to Hitler. The civilian effort was underpinned by trust in authority. The man in Whitehall really did know best and when he spoke people listened. “Elders and betters” was not a laughable anachronism but a genuine description.

Then came the decline of deference, the rise of satire, Sixties liberalism, 21st-century narcissism, the “me” generation who ask not what they can do for their country but what their country can do for them. What small reserves of respect our “betters” still held were smashed away by the one-two punch of the financial crisis and the MPs’ expenses scandal. Brexit was a great “screw you” to the so-called establishment, a signal that the days of dependably obedient citizens were gone. Now that trust and respect in politicians runs so low, now that decades of individualism have encouraged us to believe that we as unique individuals are what matters over the herd, are enough people going to follow inconvenient orders for the common good — especially when those orders come from ministers who many think are inept or corrupt anyway?

We have already seen the danger that disobedient citizens pose to public health. Across the land there are anti-vaxxers and their idiot acolytes who believe they know better than medical authorities because they have watched a few videos on YouTube. Still, though, their own little darlings are likely to be protected whether they had the vaccine or not, thanks to all the other children who have been jabbed. The I’m-all-right-Jack anti-vaxxers embody the selfish conclusion of individualism: a disinclination to suffer any sacrifice for the sake of the herd.

This is not to tarnish us all with the brush of selfishness, but it only takes a small number to spread the virus and already we are seeing how some find a certain level of inconvenience intolerable. In the Tenerife hotel where scores of Britons are stuck in their rooms waiting the quarantine out, several people have been photographed flouting the lockdown, stretched out beside the pool in facemask and bikini. “There may be a pandemic, Graham, but I’m not going home whiter than a milk bottle!”

Last month Alla Ilyina, a Russian citizen, escaped a coronavirus quarantine in St Petersburg and posted a video about her getaway on Instagram in which she declared: “I have a right to my freedom . . .” Ilyina could not understand why, having tested negative for the virus, she was being forced to stay in isolation for a further two weeks; the opinion of medical professionals that she was still a potential risk to others could not outweigh her desire for liberty.

The case has echoes of the American nurse Kaci Hickox, who worked in Sierra Leone during the ebola outbreak of 2014. Returning home via Newark airport she was found have a fever, and so was held in quarantine for three days. Hickox complained of “inhumane” treatment (which included internet access and takeaway food) and later sued the governor of New Jersey for violating her civil rights.

How long before someone who is quarantined here makes a civil rights moment out of it? I noticed that one of the men leaving the isolation facility in the Wirral raised his fist to the sky like Nelson Mandela leaving Robben Island. Cry freedom!

The proliferation of rights and conveniences has made many of us rather self-indulgent creatures. We think we are entitled to travel on planes whatever the dangers; we think we will self-isolate after we’ve run those vital errands; we think the advice to stay home if we’re feeling flu-like symptoms applies to everyone else; we think we should get a second opinion in A&E; we think we know best.

For these reasons the government must quickly open the box of measures which some will call draconian: close schools and other public services if necessary, ban large gatherings such as sporting events, be prepared to quarantine whole towns and cities — as they did in China. Yes, this will be pounced upon by Liberty and civil rights groups and football fans and parents and media commentators crying that “the Blitz didn’t stop us, did it?” But the government must show some mettle. However puny the death rate sounds, we must remember that this statistic means people ripped from the heart of their families before time; black grief that might have been avoided.

“Keep Calm and Carry On” might have worked in the days of a more obedient public, but in this individualistic age the government must be prepared to take forceful measures to slow the spread of coronavirus. It is better for us all to be safe — though inconvenienced — than sorry.


Stephanie said...

Really great writing based on a sound knowledge of history. I really enjoy your style and pith

Colin Davies said...

Many thanks, Stephanie. Much appreciated.