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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain

Random thoughts from a Brit in the North West. Sometimes serious, sometimes not. Quite often curmudgeonly.

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 27 January 2021
27 January 2021

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

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

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'

Covid

Good news: More here from Spain.

The UK: Here's the Guardian's explanation of the country's awful numbers. But someone has told me this morning that no deaths from flu or 'old age' have been recored this winter. If true, it's also a factor.

Inexplicable: The first 2 sufferers in the UK were from a family of 3. The son and then the mother went down with the virus but the father/husband didn't.

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain

An example of our culture wars, courtesy of Vox.

Marìa's New Year Same Old: Day 26. I also know of a café which had placed more tables on the pavement/sidewalk and ignored the 2m rule, while reminding me they couldn't serve me inside.

Portugal

The ‘nationalist, far-right’ party, Chega!, got only 1% of the vote in the general elections in 2019. This week, its presidential candidate got 12%. It’s reported that Portugal has not so far seen the same anti-establishment surge from the right that have reshaped the political landscape in some larger EU nations in recent years, although it has seen a rise anti-immigrant violence. Things might be changing for the worse, as here with Vox.

The EU

Europe faces an identity crisis over the vaccine trade war. See here.

The EU and the UK

Probably the majority British view: The EU’s collective approach to vaccination has been slow to order, late to get going, incompetently rolled out, and possibly for reasons of vested interest, riddled with bad bets. The European Commission’s complaint against AstraZeneca is instructed more by the need to find scapegoats for its own failings as anything else. It also seems in some way to have been conflated with the ongoing sense of grievance over Brexit, and the UK decision to go it alone on vaccination strategy, rather than join the collective European effort. Allegations that AZ is deliberately prioritising UK and US markets are essentially just sour grapes. Apparently officially sourced German press reports – now denied by the German health ministry – that the vaccine is largely ineffective among the over-65s have fuelled the flames. AZ is a global healthcare company which is not directly beholden to any country or government; it is as much Swedish as British, and ironically it is run by a French national. It is, moreover, selling its vaccine at no profit to itself, and is establishing local sources of production around the globe as fast as is logistically possible. The idea that it would deliberately favour one country over another is preposterous.

Possibly a minority British view: The EU's vaccine fiasco threatens the very future of Project Europe. The botched vaccination rollout has been a reputational disaster, proving the European Union to be a petty and dysfunctional bloc. . . .  The UK has made serious mistakes – our high Covid death rate isn’t only due to our global connectedness. But the vaccine challenge has been a reputational disaster for the EU – with these latest moves revealing it to be spiteful and dysfunctional, a shabby, protectionist bloc. Full article below.

The USA/Nutters Corner

If you're wondering how all those Christian 'prophets' who said God would give Trump a 2nd term dealt with actuality, this is for you. As the Friendly Atheist says: If God exists, He should seriously smite them for making Him look this bad. Or just laugh. I wonder if any of them have retired from the (profitable)) business of conning the (gullible) faithful. I'm guessing none.

The Way of the World

De-platforming, it is now clear, works. Without the megaphone of social media, Trump is no longer the booming and scary Wizard of Oz but rather the pathetic little man behind the curtain. But the silencing has come at a price. It has shown the enormous power that privately owned social media has. In response, both social media companies and also mainstream news outlets as well as think tanks have stepped up the policing of speech. Likely motivated by a misguided effort to prove they are balanced, these powerful centrist institutions are now engaged in an active effort to silence voices that make conservatives mad.  . . . The social media clampdown combined with the firings at the Times, the Niskanen Center, and Fox News all point in the same direction: Major institutions are now trying to placate the Trumpian right. The cost of Trump’s being quieted as a public voice is that many other voices now are going to be silenced as well. This is too high a price, and reminds us that, though Trump has gone, the real battle for media democracy has just started. Full article here.

Finally . . .  

For Spanish speakers and folks with Google Translate or similar. How to treat your masks:-


THE ARTICLE

The EU's vaccine fiasco threatens the very future of Project Europe: The botched vaccination rollout has been a reputational disaster, proving the European Union to be a petty and dysfunctional bloc: Liam Halligan, Telegraph

The EU’s Covid vaccination programme is a fiasco. So badly has the bloc bungled its vaccine rollout that an escalating row between Brussels and the 27 member states, to say nothing of voter outrage, is damaging “project Europe” itself.

At the start of the pandemic, the European Commission decided that it would take responsibility for sourcing the vaccines, despite its limited competence in the area. It reasoned that its size and the “efficiency” of its bureaucracy would enable it to seize a lead on its rivals in the vaccine race, and show the tangible benefits of European unity.

Instead the experiment has turned into a catastrophe. The UK has administered 10.3 doses per 100 of our population, including four-fifths of the over-80s. No EU nation comes close. Germany has managed just 2.1 doses per 100, the EU average is 1.9 and it’s 1.7 in France. Other member states, such as the Netherlands and Sweden, are lagging further behind.

Now public confidence across the EU is deteriorating fast. Parts of the German press have accused Angela Merkel of sacrificing lives by overriding the vaccine policy of her own government and entrusting it to Brussels. There have been riots in some member states among populations who can see no realistic hope of an exit from lockdown. That’s why the Eurocrats are lashing out, indulging in dangerous vaccine nationalism and seeking scapegoats for their own failures.

In doing so, however, they are exploding another EU myth: that it is a rules-based body devoted to international law and truth. The commission is threatening to obstruct exports of vaccines made in the bloc, including to Britain, in breach of commercial contracts. We’ve also seen what appear to be attempts to discredit the UK-made vaccine. Such disinformation wars are reckless. The AstraZeneca vaccine is vital – set to be used across the world, given that it is cheap and can be stored in a domestic fridge. The UK is right to be furious.

Of course nobody in the EU is prepared to own up to their mistakes. Instead they are doubling down on the ridiculous suggestion that Brussels has received unfair treatment at the hands of the vaccine manufacturers. But at a time of intense demand, shortages are inevitable. Production is an unpredictable biological process and both AstraZeneca and Pfizer have admitted to understandable delays. 

The bottom line is that, for all the UK’s failings during the pandemic, this country invested much earlier and to a far greater extent in the production, clinical trials and procurement of vaccines than the EU. So did the US – and again, America’s vaccine rollout is far superior.

The commission has displayed its usual combination of cack-handedness, bureaucratic torpor and a tendency to bend to special interests. Having dithered over the summer, Brussels buckled to pressure from Paris, ordering 300 million doses of the GSK-Sanofi vaccine. That bet back-fired – a major trial setback means this “French” vaccine won’t be ready until at least the end of 2021.

Brussels placed no firm order with Pfizer until mid-November – even though its partner firm BioNTech is German and had emerged as a front-runner months before. By then, other customers having moved much faster, the EU was way down the list.

“Obviously, the European purchasing process was flawed,” says Markus Söder, the Bavarian premier among the favourites to replace Merkel as chancellor. “It’s hard to explain why people elsewhere are being vaccinated more quickly with an excellent vaccine developed in Germany.”

As for the AstraZeneca vaccine, the European Medical Agency has claimed its “higher standards” have prevented it so far granting approval. And, even then, there may be further delays as labels for the vaccine are printed in the EU’s multiple languages.

The Brussels-made vaccine fiasco will result in more deaths, a longer lockdown and a deeper recession. As government debt ratios across the bloc spiral upward, a repeat of the 2011 eurozone crisis looms into view.

The UK has made serious mistakes – our high Covid death rate isn’t only due to our global connectedness. But the vaccine challenge has been a reputational disaster for the EU – with these latest moves revealing it to be spiteful and dysfunctional, a shabby, protectionist bloc.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 26 January 2021
26 January 2021

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

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

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'

Covid

Some more good news: A study has raised hopes that a drug - colchicine -  that costs less then 30p and is commonly used to treat gout could reduce the risk of people with Covid-19 having to be admitted to hospital.   

The UK: Almost 500,000 people received their first coronavirus jabs last Saturday, a pace that if maintained would allow the government to beat its target for covering the most vulnerable people in society. As of Saturday, nearly 6.4m had received a first dose.  

The reality?Even with vaccines, we'll still have to learn to live with Covid. The government, the media and the public all need to get accustomed to Covid-19 deaths being a regular winter occurrence.

Galicia: After the latest announcement, we're very close to the total lockdown of last March. But at least we're allowed to take a walk outside the house. Though we can't meet anyone we don't live with. Which won't do much for romance, I guess. 

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain

Thanks to Franco, here in Spain the go-to insult for those with whom you disagree - be they of the Left, the Right or the Centre - is 'fascist!’. So, it's a tad ironic that the 2 British historians in this podcast agree that Franco wasn't one.

Given the restrictions, it's hard to believe the highest number of flights into Heathrow in January came from Spain. Can these be for some of the people I'm hearing more and more about - the Brits (c.800,000?) who'd been living below the radar here. Not on the local padrón, not officially resident and not paying the right amount of tax, if any. Presumably they’ve decided it’s better to go ‘home’ than face the Hacienda, despite (because of?) spending many years here.

Banking frauds are not confined to any one country, of course, but I was interested to note that the main participant in a Deutsche Bank fraud was a desk in Spain, which sells hedges, swaps, derivatives and other complex financial products. And that, while the investigation initially focused on Spain but was extended to the rest of Europe, it is believed only Spain and Portugal-based clients were affected. I was reminded of an assertion from a Spanish reader some years ago that Spain was not as corrupt as I perhaps implied it was but merely a country of 'low ethics'.

An odd tale from here in Galicia. So . . . Wasn't her ID number on every document? If so, and it made no difference, what was the point of it?   

Marìa's New Year Same Old: Day 25.

The UK

No one who's lived in both the UK and Spain will be surprised at this report on respective alcohol consumption.

The UK and the EU

Just what was needed  - the politicisation of vaccine deliveries: The Times: Amid concerns about the level of supply, the EU has told Pfizer and other drug companies that they must secure its permission before exporting vaccine doses to Britain. Brussels has announced plans for new controls on the export of vaccines in response to public anger at the slow pace of immunisation programmes in the EU. The intervention will raise fears that Britain’s supplies of the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine, which is made in Belgium, could be disrupted. Germany has suggested that vaccine exports could be blocked to safeguard supplies within the EU. Imagine how EU governments would react if the USA did this.

The Way of the World

The impact of Covid-19 is fuelling a 21st-century revival of spiritualism.

Unscrupulous breeders are producing dogs which face a lifetime of health problems. Lilac and merle coloured breeds, for example. And stumpy-legged creatures resembling toads. But which cost up to £10,000 each. I give you the American bully dog. Which can't breathe properly. But looks nice . . . .

Finally . . .  

Maria has advised of another English-looking mansion in the North of Spain - the Palacio de Hornillos in Cantabria:-

Finally, Finally . . .

My thanks to those who yesterday cheered up my daughter locked down with 2.75 young kids - by reading her latest blog post - on Ebay failures. Hers, I should add.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 25 January 2021
25 January 2021

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

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

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'

Covid

Starting with some more good news . .  A new nasal spray - currently being trialled - could block Covid

Astonishingly . . .A review of 61 studies and reports suggests that at least 1 in 3 people with Covid don't have any symptoms. Details here.

Some bad news on the impact on the mental health of front-line workers.

An anti-measures view . . . No amount of shutting borders, banning flights, bankrupting businesses, cancelling surgeries, denying children a decent education or wrecking havoc on people's mental health has delivered us to the promised land of a Covid-free existence. Only vaccines provide a solution.

Looking back 12 months:  The lesson from this pandemic?: If you don't act quickly and wisely, you'll be chasing your tail for eternity. And, in the process, badly damaging everyone and everything. Except Amazon and Pornhub.  

The lesson for the next pandemic?: Ditto.

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain

There's no much doubt about 'typical winter weather' in England. But what about Spain? Here's one answer.

For years, I've been telling newcomers to Spain they'll like/love this country more if they lower their expectations and accept different norms. But, truth to tell, there are things you can get used to - such as unpunctuality and false commitments - but there are others which just seem to go on niggling and niggling. Roundabout behaviour is clearly one of these for me. But there are others. I was reminded of this by this comment on queue-jumping by someone who's been here, like me, 20 years: What fascinates* me is how many locals will talk for hours at the counter to the butcher or fishmonger, totally oblivious to you standing in the queue behind them. Once they’re at the front of a queue, no-one and nothing else matters at all.

*I think he really means 'irritates'.

Just in case you didn't get to the end of yesterday's long-ish article on rural depopulation, here's the relevant bit:- Spain is expected to lose more than half its population by 2100; already, three-quarters of Spanish municipalities are in decline. Picturesque Galicia and Castilla y León are among the regions worst affected, as entire settlements have gradually emptied of their residents. More than 3,000 ghost villages now stand in various states of dereliction. This rural abandonment is one factor that has contributed to the resurgence of large carnivores. The Iberian wolf has rebounded from 400 individuals to more than 2,000, many of which are to be found haunting the ghost villages of Galicia, as they hunt wild boar and roe deer – whose numbers have also skyrocketed. A brown bear was spotted in Galicia last year for the first time in 150 years.

My daughter in Madrid ignored my exhortations and left various Brexit-related matters until late last year. These included getting her TIE and changing her driving licence. Things are going OK as respect the former, but as regards a Spanish driving licence: The service is misleading and chaotic. Each person you talk to gives a different opinion on the law and the process. But at least she has proof of her pre-deadline attempts to initiate the process and hopes these will satisfy whoever she talks to at a future cita.

Which reminds me, although I'm entitled to an EHIC/GHIC frm the British government, my daughter isn't. She has to get a TSE from the Spanish government. If you're working permanently here, this will apply to you too, assuming you're paying social security taxes. Click here.

Marìa's New Year Same Old: Day 24. I’ve said flu cases are down; Maria adds whooping cough and chicken pox.

The Way of the World

Do people want to be free? Or do they prefer security at any price? See the first article below. The worrying bottom line: Perhaps the most important thing we have learned from this deranging time in our history is that fear remains such a strong human impetus that it can easily stampede all the principles assumed to underpin democracy. Does this make it more likely that governments will be prepared to close down all social interaction again, in response to future crises? Almost certainly, and maybe not just for disease epidemics – perhaps for crime waves, terror threats, rioting or mass unrest of any kind. After all, look how easy it was this time.

Thanks to the internet, modern dating - ‘sexual bargaining’ - is complicated, superficial, cold-blooded and hostile.  See the 2nd article below. Can the clock ever be turned back?

English

The word ‘alibi’ was first attested in Edward Grimestone's 1612 General History of Spain. Possibly through Dutch, it comes from Latin, where it literally translated to ‘elsewhere’ or ‘another place’. More on it here.  

I've never seen the 'Grocers' apostrophe' used like this before, as in the plural of country - countrie's. Perhaps unintended.

Finally . . 

The Miramar Palace of  yesterday . . .Wiki endorses my view it’s a mish-mash: It has a purely English style and presents some neogothic ornaments. Elsewhere I’ve read it’s  built in ‘Queen Anne English cottage’ style.  Reader Eamon has cited a similar mansion, Richthofen Castle in Colorado, USA:-

Built in the styles of Gothic and Tudor Revival. So, another melange/mezcla. 

Finally, Finally . . .

My younger daughter’s latest blog post - on Ebay problems.

THE ARTICLE

1. Do people want to be free? Or do they prefer security at any price? The extraordinary argument that it's okay to sacrifice freedom for security has returned: Janet Daley, The Telegraph.

The present emergency has raised a question that we thought was answered: do people value safety more than freedom? The great political argument of the twentieth century between a totalitarianism that promised lifelong protection, and open democracy which took the riskier path of liberty seemed to have been settled when communism collapsed and its Western acolytes, for the most part, gave up the fight. Or at least re-framed their position in a way that could accommodate the winning side.

Democratic socialism (or “social democracy” if you prefer the more benign title) made an attempt to meld the two visions into some acceptable consensus about how societies could incorporate economic security with individual self-determination. These solutions varied from country to country and from one political party to another - and teetered constantly on the edges of credibility. The Middle Way between government guarantees of what Gordon Brown used to call “social fairness” and free market economics never seemed satisfactory.

But the really big philosophical choice had been made when the Berlin Wall came down. For human beings to lead fulfilled adult lives, they had to be free to take decisions that might involve risk to themselves and possibly even to others, for which they could be held personally accountable. And furthermore, they were fully aware of this truth, which is why they were determined to fight for freedom even when that fight involved very considerable danger.

Of course, in the present context, the notion of risk is quite immediate and absolute. Liberty is no use to you if you are dead, and few people would claim that you should have the right to put other people’s lives in jeopardy. And we are not, however much political rhetoric has been expended, in anything like a war with a sentient enemy. By shutting down so many of the most fundamental personal freedoms we are going further than most countries would ever have done in wartime but we are not handing any sort of moral victory to the enemy – because there is no enemy. This is not an ideological battle with an alien force. It is an argument we must have with ourselves.

I don’t propose to engage yet again in the dispute over the present lockdown restrictions – whether they are effective and how urgent it is to lift them. What interests me is how public opinion has responded to these measures. Do people want to be free? Or do they want to be, above all else, safe? Both, paradoxically, but when it comes to an unavoidable choice which way do they go? It isn’t the imposition of these measures that needs examination here but the willingness to comply with them: the positive eagerness to embrace such unprecedented repression to the point of demanding more of it.

Have we stumbled onto something that was thought to have been extinguished in modern life, at least in the West, but was really a still powerful (maybe ineradicable) force in society? It’s certainly true that when the Soviet system crashed, a great many of the citizens who had lived under it were terrified and appalled: they had genuinely believed the communist state to be the guarantor of stability and survival. But the chaos into which Russia descended, having sold off all its publicly owned assets in a corrupt fire sale, had a great deal to do with that. This wasn’t freedom: it was anarchy and instant impoverishment.

But in the West, there was a glorious moment of belief in the value of enterprise and individualism. In Britain, this had come about as a reaction against the producer-capture of the public services by Leftwing trade unions. So furious was the reaction against state control and nationalised industry, that Labour had to reinvent itself as a party committed to capitalism. Freedom won that round hands down, helped very considerably by the ability of political leaders of the day to identify and articulate the dissatisfactions that really were dominating everyday life.

Is that the formula? For freedom, or security, to dominate public consciousness, must there be that critical combination of ordinary experience, and leadership which knows how to capture and express it – thereby gaining popular trust? If that is so, then it might help us to understand what is going on around us today. The attraction of freedom is that it embodies hope. That is the whole point of it: the hope that people will behave well when they have choices, and that a better future can be created out of human ingenuity and endeavour.

The longing for security, on the other hand, is based on fear: the belief that life (and other people) are so inherently threatening that only an all-powerful institution (or state) can ensure your survival. So it is not difficult to see how the Covid pandemic could present an opportunity for political leaders to craft a message that makes use of fear which will win out over any possible dissent.

Fear will always be a more urgent driver of behaviour than hope, and it is much easier for governments to act on. With enough enforcement and authoritarian regulation, you can deliver a reasonable degree of safety from almost any danger, and righteously suppress any contrary argument. Freedom, on the other hand, is a much more problematic thing to defend. It needs (by definition) constant debate, examination and re-definition. It is an exhausting business that requires an enlightened populace and a government willing to engage in ongoing disputation of quite an abstract kind. Most politicians would be inclined to dislike the precariousness that this involves. (Margaret Thatcher and her mentor, Keith Joseph, were among the few who relished it.)

Perhaps the most important thing we have learned from this deranging time in our history is that fear remains such a strong human impetus that it can easily stampede all the principles that were assumed to underpin democracy. Does this make it more likely that governments will be prepared to close down all social interaction again, in response to future crises? Almost certainly, and maybe not just for disease epidemics – perhaps for crime waves, terror threats, rioting or mass unrest of any kind. After all, look how easy it was this time.

2. The new language of love reveals modern dating's cold-blooded chaos. 'Vulturing’, ‘doxxing’ and ‘eclipsing’ are just some of the terms on a list drawn up by the CPS to help its lawyers understand young people: Zoe Strimpel

Back when I began writing about dating as a columnist for a now-defunct London freesheet, the topic wasn’t taken at all seriously. It was sordid fluff and entertainment, providing voyeuristic distraction for tired commuters. With its high-stakes clash of the sexes, however, I always thought dating was more interesting than it was given credit for, and eventually went back to university to study it academically. But it was hard to get people to take it seriously even then.

It is gobsmacking how much has changed. Dating is finally being appreciated as the ultimate Petri dish of sexual and social relations that it is. In particular, as the great and the good have twigged, if you want to understand the challenges facing young people today, you must boldly enter the jungle of digital semiotics – the slang – through which intimacy is now conducted.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is the latest example of an august institution doing just that. This is not the first time it has tried to keep up with changing mores, but its latest guide to key terms, published last week, shows an organisation truly trying to grapple with the pressures faced by the many millions using online dating to find complex combinations of romance, love and sex. The CPS wants its lawyers to understand the ‘new normal’, so that they have a better grasp on the context in which consent is refused, given and abused. This will help it better aid mostly female victims of sexual crimes, many of which now originate online on people’s phones.

Crime aside, however, the new CPS guide is extremely revealing. It shows how complicated but also how superficial, cold-blooded and hostile the sphere of romantic – and sexual – bargaining has become. The guide features a range of outlandish-seeming terms – but for those accustomed to the bewildering dynamics of the contemporary dating swamp, they make perfect sense.

Many deal with the deployment of photos and the manipulation of information in order to maximise options and power. Thus, a ‘thirst trap’ is a sexy selfie posted, almost always by a woman, to attract attention and therefore to accrue power. This is not to be confused with ‘thirsty’, which means desperate for sex, and is generally something someone asserts, sleazily or mockingly, about someone else, rather than in relation to oneself.

Dating today allows access to lots of information about dates, or potential dates, without having to interact with them. You can hoard it instead, and then use it at the right moment. One example of this is ‘vulturing’, which means staying in the shadows on social media, watching for someone’s romance to fizzle so you can swoop. ‘Doxxing’, far more sinister, means harvesting someone’s online information in order to harass them, while ‘exoskeletoning’ is contacting an ex’s new squeeze – easily done thanks to social media.

If this all has a stalkerish vibe to you, then you may be interested to learn about ‘eclipsing’, in which someone becomes obsessed with the hobbies and interests of the person they are dating.

Perpetual awareness of options, and an infinity of distractions, sets the tone of courtship today. ‘Roaching’ means hiding the fact that you are dating numerous people at the same time, while to be ‘sidebarred’ is to be on a date with someone who is looking at their phone in front of you. Phones offer a cascade of stimulation and the illusion of total choice in the human meat market; no wonder the numbing rudeness of sidebarring has become so common, it has come even to the CPS’s notice.

Then there’s the fact that with choice comes bad choices. Enter ‘fleabagging’, named after the romantic car-crash Fleabag character created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, to denote repeatedly choosing incompatible people to date.

If you are long-married or lucky enough to have sought and found your romantic kicks offline, then these terms may seem strange; both overspecific and meaningless. But for those who have dated in the past seven or so years since Tinder came on the scene and changed the whole landscape indelibly and forever, they perfectly represent a familiar chaos. In particular, they capture the twin evaporation of accountability and coherent communication patterns. If communicating used to stand you a decent chance of a timely reply – eg, call was generally met with response – now your call may or may not be met with a response, timely or otherwise, and there is no understanding which it will be or why. I’ve had men disappear in the middle of a back-and-forth conversation, only to pop up three weeks later like nothing happened.

In the good old days (the 2000s and earlier), communication was simpler and more to the point (“Are you free on Friday?”). Now there is a battlefield of text to navigate, a world of emojis to select, and endless grades of tonal subtlety to manage, from the use of full stops (can be seen as passive-aggressive) to length of silences between messages to selfies to send – all without any rules or standards of decency.

Much can go wrong, and does. As the CPS has rightly realised, what happens online can be almost as distressing as, and sometimes more, than what happens offline.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 24 January 2021
24 January 2021

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

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

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'

Covid

The EU: More here on the slow roll-out of the jab. The target of 70%of all adults to get it by 'the summer' is  beginning to look impossible. BUT . .  The chart could change in the coming months, depending on new vaccine developments and better policy coordination. The question remains, however, whether that's enough.

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain

There is the occasional resignation in Spain of someone implicated in malfeasance. For example: The military chief quits after skipping the vaccine line. More on this here

This is an (ex?)royal place in San Sebastian:

It's said - by a Spanish commentator - to be in the classic English style. I wonder about this, even though the architect was, indeed, English. It seems a bit of a mish-mash to me, though I am reminded of the club house of the Wallasey Golf Club, as you approach it from the 18th fairway. 

The re-wilding of Spain's 'ghost villages.' 

Marìa's New Year Same Old: Day 23.

The Way of the World

The degeneration of public debate . . . See the article below.

An apposite comment:

Finally . . .

A surprising item on the shelves of a Mercadona supermarket:-

THE ARTICLE

Piers Morgan’s idiotic rants reduce subtle arguments to soundbites. The row over the retired judge Lord Sumption calling some lives ‘less valuable’ shows how debate is being demeaned:   Matthew Syed: The Sunday Times

Deborah James is a fabulous person. Diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer in 2016, she has become an inspirational campaigner, writing a bestselling book and columns. We have become close friends (our daughters used to attend the same school), have a mutual interest in psychology and share a podcast producer.

Deborah was thrust into the spotlight last week after a BBC debate with the retired judge Lord Sumption. Sumption set out his now familiar disagreements with government policy over lockdown. He also made the point that in a world of scarce resources, it is sometimes necessary to ascribe relative value to human life. In essence, he argued that if you face the awful decision of saving the life of a 90-year-old or that of a nine-year-old, you should save the latter.

A few minutes later, Sumption made an intervention while Deborah was making an eloquent contribution of her own, and stated that her life was “less valuable” than others. It was a clumsy, indeed crass, contribution from the former judge, but it would have taken an inattentive viewer to have failed to understand what he meant. For those two words made sense only in the light of the broader discussion and his fundamental point that, while all human life is precious, we nevertheless sometimes face dilemmas in which not all lives can be saved.

But I do not wish to get into a discussion of Sumption’s views here (as it happens, I largely agree that it is sometimes necessary to weigh human life, but I disagree that it is in the public interest to lift restrictions on social distancing). Instead, I want to focus on what happened next. An hour or so later, a clip of his intervention, stripped of all context, was posted on Twitter. Instant headlines followed. As the “scandal” went viral, the story metastasised from one about how to make complex moral judgments to one about an evil judge seeking to euthanise people. About 99% of the coverage, in other words, focused on about 1% of what he actually said.

Then it got worse. The following morning, Sumption was invited onto Good Morning Britain to discuss a poll on the pandemic. In the event, he was hijacked by Piers Morgan, who constantly pressed him about his appearance on the BBC. ITV even played the clip of his intervention, again stripped of context. Four times, Sumption attempted to explain that the intervention was, indeed, clumsy, but should be seen as part of a broader contribution in which he acknowledged that all life has intrinsic value. Four times, he was interrupted by Morgan, the exchange ending when Sumption threatened to curtail the interview.

Why did Morgan act this way? Because he also had an eye on how a clip from his own show might play on Twitter. Sure enough, a little later, a segment of their exchange was pumped onto the internet. By this stage, we were left not with a parody of Sumption’s position, but a parody of a parody. It was as if a two-word intervention had come to stand for the world-view of a human being. In years to come, I suspect that few will remember anything of the incident beyond a vague sense that Sumption is sinister, perhaps wicked.

I have gone into this episode in detail not because I hold any brief for Sumption, but because of how it symbolises a wider catastrophe unfolding in our public life. In a wise essay in 1953, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin contrasted two types of thinker: the hedgehog and the fox. The hedgehog has one big idea. It reduces everything to this one idea. Everything else is filtered out. The fox, conversely, has lots of ideas. It likes to see the broader context, how concepts fit together, and is anxious to bring more information to light.

Berlin’s point — although he made it subtly — is that it is psychologically easier to be a hedgehog, but to understand a complex world, it pays to be a fox. Neither meaning nor truth is contained in bare facts, assertions, data points, viral clips and simplistic headlines: rather, truth is contained within a context — how one thing relates to many other things, and how parts fits into more complex wholes.

The tragedy is that the world is being dragged — almost without our noticing — towards ever more extreme hedgehoggery. Twitter users argue on the basis of 280-character caricatures of one another’s positions. Television interviewers seek not to elicit information, but to provoke viral controversies. Readers respond to the headlines of articles rather than the words beneath them. Empathy has been sacrificed in the rush to misconstrue and misrepresent. Nuance has been destroyed in a bonfire of contrived outrage.

Morgan is, perhaps, the archetype of the world into which we have arrived, a parasite on the contours of democracy. He is a cunning operator who spotted the opportunities of Twitter early, learning to surf the waves that to outsiders seem arbitrary, but to him have become like second nature. He takes artificially emphatic stances, conveys false certainty, caricatures positions, strips away ambiguity, seeks scapegoats for complex problems and cajoles guests into simplistic answers that mislead the public — and then seeks to humiliate them when they think better of returning to the studio.

He becomes a temporary hero to the deluded souls for whom he becomes a cheerleader — at present, it is those who support restrictions over Covid — but they don’t see how he is systematically demeaning public debate upon which we all ultimately rely, or how he will soon be off to adopt another position, riding soap boxes like waves. He doesn’t seem to care about what soap box he is on, provided it is topical and divisive.

But let’s not reduce this to Morgan, for platoons of people have been sucked into the vortex of this cesspool — individuals whose rationality has been corrupted by the deep infrastructure of this perilous age. It perhaps goes without saying that Twitter is a huge culprit, a digital cancer whose catastrophic influence on our consciousness has yet to be fully grasped. Its algorithms are like acid, silently eating away at the fabric of how we converse, engage and grow in collective wisdom. Its influence has seeped into every medium; by proxy, into every life.

Yet I refuse to lose my optimism, the belief that with courage we can transcend this malaise. Two and a half millennia ago, Socrates argued that rationality and shared understanding would ultimately defeat their opposites. It may take a sea change in attitudes to ensure that his words remain prophetic. But we can do it. In fact, we must.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 23 January 2021
23 January 2021

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

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

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'

Covid

Given how much of our News bulletins are dedicated to the plague, you do have to wonder what unreported events we'd be being told/warned/frightened about - in breathless tones - if it didn't exist. But are now not important enough for even just a brief mention.

Spain: El Pais reports here on issues around the vaccine roll-out. But the good news is that the government, having said that tourism industry won't revive until after summer, is trying to improve things via a vaccination certificate.

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain

You can't live in the UK long before hearing the phrase ‘post code lottery’, usually in respect of some local service of the NHS which is inferior to that of somewhere else. The literal Spanish translation is lotería de códigos postales but I suspect that, while the words exist, the concept doesn’t. Here,  regional, provincial and municipal differences/inequalities are taken as read. Folk in Galicia simply don't expect to get what their (quasi)compatriots get in Cataluña, for example. At least, that's my impression, from the lack of complaints.

Déjà  vu/Plus ça change . . . Isambard Wilkinson of The Times has interviewed the famous Spanish novelist Arturo Pérez-Reverte, who claims that - thanks to idiot politicians Spain’s politics have descended at times into little more than a slanging match about “reds” and “fascists”, reviving the language of the 1930s civil war. See below.

Maria finally exits the 19th century - New Year, Same Old: Day 22.

The Way of the World

The BBC has rejected a complaint against against a reporter for using the phrase 'nitty-gritty’, meaning the details. Some anti-racism campaigners claim that the term is unacceptable because it had its origins in the slave trade, although etymologists say there is no convincing evidence for this assertion.

Finally . . .

Everyone, of course, knows that Spain has 2 enclaves which definitely aren't colonies in North Africa. But I'd bet few know that Russia has some enclaves in Europe. One of these is Kaliningrad, which used to be Königsberg, in Prussia/East Germany. It's  surrounded by Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea. See here and here.

THE ARTICLE

Spain’s idiot politicians are abusing our glorious history, says novelist Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Extremist views pushed by party leaders are spreading fast in a country thought to be immune to them: Isambard Wilkinson, The Times

Spain’s politics has recently descended at times into little more than a slanging match about “reds” and “fascists”, reviving the language of the 1930s civil war. The tenor has alarmed many moderates in a country that until recently was perceived as inoculated against extremism by memories of the dictatorship of General Franco and the cross-party pacts after his death in 1975.

History, or its misuse, lies at the heart of the tension. Prominent among those concerned about the politicisation of Spain’s past is the historical novelist Arturo Pérez-Reverte, who is as swashbuckling in public debate as his most famous creation, Captain Alatriste, is with his sword. Lauded internationally as a successor to Dumas and Conan Doyle, in his novels Pérez-Reverte, who has sold over 20 million copies of his books in more than 40 countries, skewers Spain’s inept kings and corrupt courtiers as “whoresons” and “vipers”. In real life he reserves his bile for politicians, who almost make him bite his moustache with rage in the manner of Alatriste. “Politicians”, Pérez-Reverte, 69, told The Times, “have revived the civil war in an absolutely utilitarian way and this has created among the Spanish public disquiet, ignorance and polarisation that didn’t exist before. The civil war has been resuscitated by the politicians, not by the Spanish people. The idiot politicians do not know what a civil war is, nor have they read about it. But they play happily with complex and dangerous concepts.”

The country’s politics have become increasingly embittered since corruption scandals and an economic crisis from 2008-13 tainted the two main political parties. The rise of the ultranationalist Vox party, which became the third-largest parliamentary force at the last election, and the far-left Podemos party, which is the socialist-led government’s coalition partner, has deepened tensions. Both sides of the political spectrum frequently use rhetoric about the civil war to score points. In September Santiago Abascal, Vox’s leader, accused the government of being the worst in 80 years, implying that things had been better under the decades-long regime of Franco. Pedro Sánchez, the prime minister, retorted that his administration would soon ban organisations that glorified the dictator. This week Pablo Iglesias, the deputy prime minister and Podemos leader, compared the flight abroad from justice of a Catalan separatist leader to the exile of half a million republicans after their civil war defeat in 1939.

Pérez-Reverte says that Spain’s politicians constitute “a political class that is generationally young and does not have a solid intellectual base”. He says: “They are political improvisers who in a normal country would never have come to power. They need simple arguments to cover up their ideological and political deficiencies.” He believes that “the political noise is poisoning Spain’s history”. He added: “Obviously there are thinkers in Spain but their voices have been silenced by the political bellowing that is gripping everything. This is the great Spanish tragedy.”

A household name in Spain since his days as a war reporter, which lasted for two decades from the early 1970s, Pérez-Reverte writes a popular weekly newspaper column and has 2.2 million social media followers. He is a rare independent voice among his peers, many of whom are in hock to the political left or right. Politicians’ ignorance, he said, had forced him to write his latest book, a novel about the civil war, Línea de Fuego (Line of Fire), in which he eschews ideologies and focuses on the trenches on both sides of the conflict.

Drawing on his own family’s experience, he strives to show how individuals were caught up in the war regardless of their politics. “My father belonged to the Mediterranean bourgeoisie but he fought with the Republic because of the circumstances of where he was. My father-in-law was a leftist but fought with the Nationalists for similar reasons,” he said. “It was a war in which it is impossible to draw a line, to say these were good as they were with the Republic and these were bad because they were Franquistas.”

His approach to a conflict that still divides has led to a moving tribute to its fallen. More than two hundred people have posted photographs of their grandparents, uncles and cousins from both sides of the war with brief notes about them on his Twitter timeline, allowing him to create an unusual, perhaps unique, album remembering the dead. “It is touching,” he said. “During the Republic there were 3 years of killing and in Franco’s regime there were 30 years of killing. But we forget that more people died at the battlefront, in the trenches, yet we don’t talk about them.”

A voracious reader who uses his library of 30,000 books to research his novels, Pérez-Reverte believes that Spain’s problem with its history began in the coup-blighted decades that followed the loss of its last big colonies in 1898. “We had great political chaos and so in Spain history became a political weapon, not a subject to study.” The rot deepened when Franco came to power. “El Cid, Hernán Cortés, the war against the French — he appropriated it all,” he said. “He harped on about imperial Spain, marvellous Spain, Spain that Christianised the world. When democracy came, the Left, instead of removing Franco’s contamination of history, failed to deal with it. So younger generations don’t have a useful historical discourse, and they ignore it, rejecting their own history.”

Pérez-Reverte is widely credited with reviving Spanish interest in the country’s 17th-century imperial Golden Age through his Captain Alatriste series, which was made into a film starring Viggo Mortensen. Some of the works are now used as textbooks in schools. “I think they are popular because I don’t write about good or bad but nuances,” he said. “History is not black or white but grey.” Meticulous in their historical detail, his novels, based on enigmas and puzzles revolving around his fascinations with chess, fencing and maritime history, have won him the epithet of the “Spanish Umberto Eco” and membership of his country’s Royal Academy. They have also attracted directors such as Roman Polanski who turned the novel, The Dumas Club, which concerns an antiquarian book dealer’s investigation into a satanic work, into a film featuring Johnny Depp.

Lean and neat, the writer is a picture of the self-discipline valued by his 17th-century compatriots. But his eyes twinkle when he talks about England. “Our enemy has always been England, historically. As a Spaniard I hate England, it has always fucked us. In the 16th, 17th centuries and even in the Peninsula war they came to fick us, not to help us. I have read Wellington’s papers, so I know their self-interested aims and pejorative sentiments about us as lazy and unclean.” But the author, who is irreverent about everything from God — “He is not a gentleman” — to his practice of literary art — “I don’t give a shit about it” — does express some admiration for Perfidious Albion. “I would like to have England’s capacity to convert history into something positive, like Dunkirk and the colonial wars in Afghanistan; disasters due to military incompetence by stupid generals turned into heroic events,” he said.

He claims that now that he is older he writes so that he can imagine himself “killing English and Frenchmen and conquering the most beautiful women*”. He will stop when his imagination fails, and focus instead on sailing and his library. Or, he adds, in the idiom of his world-weary heroes, “shoot myself, I don’t know”.

 

* Funny that we share that dream . . . Though only some Englishmen, in my case.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 22 January 2021
22 January 2021

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

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

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'  

Covid

I don’t know if this is the same drug as the one recently cited but it's still good news: The first drug to prevent people contracting Covid-19 has been shown to work in early (Spanish?) trials, protecting 80% of care home residents from infection. Infusing people with artificial antibodies appeared to provide an immediate burst of temporary immunity, preventing illness.

One of the pluses of Covid - are there, in fact, any other? - is that deaths from flu are way down this winter. I can’t see shops and businesses being willing to dismantle screens - or even to cease compelling masks - in future post-Covid winters. There’ll surely be a litigation risk, at least in Anglo-Saxon countries.

Spain

1. Given how free the 17 regions are to decide on restrictions, it surprises me they can’t ignore Madrid on the hour of the curfew, having leeway of only an hour. At least 5 regions want this brought forward from 10/11 to 8 or even earlier. But Madrid says No, at the moment. The regions are also not free to dictate home confinement. These things have to be done under the national State of Alarm. 2. The value of vitamin D administration displayed down in

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain

Spain has always been - surprisingly - a heavy consumer of water. Possibly all those golf courses in the hot, dry South. (As in Portugal too?). Here’s the per capita use in use in cubic metres, showing widely different stats. See the USA v Luxembourg:-

USA 3794

Finland 3407

Greece 2373

Portugal 2371

Spain 1924

Norway 1757

Italy 1546

Belgium 1515

Netherlands 1447

France 1244

Germany 855

Sweden 785

Switzerland 686

Ireland 461

UK 348

Denmark 318

Luxembourg 208

I raise this to ask what effect all the hand-washing is having?

Those electricity charges and bills: ‘El Salto Diario advises: Three presidents, more than twenty ministers and several dozen secretaries of state have gone from creating the rules of the electricity market to collecting millionaire salaries on the boards of directors of the main companies in the sector’. It’s the ‘revolving doors syndrome’ which blights Spanish politics. In short, corrupt oligopolies meet corrupt Spanish politicians.

Oh, and Correos: An American wife in Barcelona: My husband just went to check the mail and found a pile of Christmas cards that arrived well over a month late, which is par for the course with our international mail situation here.  Nearly half of the packages sent to us never make it out of customs, cards always arrive very (very) late, and any mail we send out is always a bit of a gamble.  Ah, expat life.

María's New Year, Same Old: Days 20&21 

The UK & The EU

Richard North today: The post-referendum debate was hampered by the binary nature of the discourse. You were either Leaver or Remainer in a rigidly binary confrontation, where the 'moderate' middle way got squeezed out, shunned by the main protagonists. In the post-transition era we're back in the same territory. As tales of woe are garnered by the media, responses have largely stratified into two camps. On the one hand, there are those, former Remainers for whom the events support their view that Brexit is 'a bad thing'. On the other hand, there is the Leaver tendency, which sees the problems as evidence of the rule-bound 'pettiness' of a 'vindictive' EU, thus confirming their decision to leave as the correct one. As before, nuance has been drowned out by the shouting match between the warring parties, aided and abetted by a venal, superficial media.

The EU

Click here for a review of A devastating indictment of the EU by a leading Left-wing intellectual. It certainly seems to endorse my view that the EU won't survive in the longer term. Unless it changes out of all recognition, which seems unlikely. As Perry Anderson puts it: Europe is stuck in a ‘trap’, unable to move forwards or backwards, and held together principally by ‘fear of the unknown.’

Recommended for both Remainers and Leavers. Though I imagine most of the former won’t bother to read it.

The USA  

Scales falling from (the wrong) eyes: Trump’s support among fringe groups that were among his most ardent followers has begun to fracture amid disillusion at his departure from office. He's been branded a “shill” and “extraordinarily weak” in discussion forums of the Proud Boys, a group of far-right nationalists who often showed up armed to his rallies. In the same Telegram channel on Monday the Proud Boys said: “Trump will go down as a total failure.” Took their time. As unforgiving as their (ex)man.

Likewise . . . The QAnon conspiracy community is also turning on Trump and the mysterious “Q” figure who started the movement online, as adherents voice concerns that the whole thing was an elaborate hoax. Who'd have thought it?

The Way of the World

The three wise monkeys have been a cultural trope throughout the world for centuries as a symbol of seeing, hearing and speaking no evil. Academics at the University of York have now decided that they are, in fact, an oppressive racial stereotype. Who'd have thought it?

Finally . . .

On cutting electricity bills . . . I read a recommendation that you keep the fridge light switched off. I’ve never had the choice. My Samsung fridge light has never worked. Unless I unplug it at the wall socket. Then it works until I’ve closed the door, but never again - until I re-unplug it. Which ain’t worth the effort. Now even less than ever.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 21 January 2021
21 January 2021

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

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

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'  

Covid

Just to confuse us further . . . A team of Stanford University researchers recently published a study in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation concluding that harsh lockdown policies have had minimal impact on preventing the spread of Covid-19 compared to lighter policies.

This is a nice essay on the damage done to scepticism by Covid. Bottom line: At times of crisis, scepticism can be unnerving and the temptation to try to silence dissenting voices is understandable. But which is the bigger danger? That people are allowed to question the orthodoxy and potentially get things wrong but are held accountable in an open debate? Or that sceptical voices are censored for  “misinformation”, and no one dares dissent? Everyone loses when doubt becomes a vice once more.

Spain:  Two reports. 1. The over 70s will start being vaccinated in March - if there are enough doses. 2. The ministry of Health says those over 80 will be vaccinated from March. Spain currently has more than a million doses but only 15,600 people have been fully vaccinated so far. I am not confident of March.

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain

The horrendous Modelo 720 law was (very quietly) introduced in late 2012, allegedly causing many expats to flee Spain. Within a couple of years or so, the EU Commission declared aspects of it illegal and demanded a response from Spain. Which never came. More than a year ago, the issue finally reached the European Court of Justice but we still await its decision. With some interest, given the nature of possible fines and the size of them. Whatever the decision is, Spain will doubtless appeal against it, taking uncertainty - and quite possibly more interim arbitrary taxation - into further years of delay. God help those, like me, who eventually seek repayment of a huge fine for as little as a day’s delay.

HT to Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas for this - accurate - comment from our Voz de Galicia: The monthly statement from the power company, an indecipherable hieroglyph for most, continues its climb towards the clouds. A single piece of data is enough to corroborate it: the price of the megawatt hour has multiplied by five in ten years. What was €20 in 2010 is now more than €100 today. An expert, probably paid by the electricity companies, explains it in four words: "It's the market, amigo.” And then there's the issue of the very high fixed costs, which penalise single folk like me. Easy money. A profitable business to be in.

Hardly a surprise . . . There's a trickle of stories about politicians of all parties around the country jumping the jab queue. They're not known to be a highly principled group of people.

A classic Spanish tale from Maria yesterday. Spain, she says correctly, is a country pushing online communication to the nth degree for everything, but not guaranteeing good connection outside the cities and larger towns. I guess this is related to my comment that Spain is sometimes in the 19th century and sometimes in the 21st century, having missed out on the 20th.

The USA  

An interesting observation from AEP: Overzealous Democrats in Congress have made it more difficult for the incoming White House to reach out across the aisle for compromises. They missed a trick in not agreeing to a deal with House Republicans for a motion of censure against Donald Trump rather than impeachment. That would have been a healing ritual. There is no need to ban Trump from future office. His brand is spoiled beyond repair.

Can it be true? Riley June Williams is suspected by federal authorities of stealing a laptop computer or hard drive from Nancy Pelosi's office and trying to sell it to the Russian foreign intelligence service.  

The Way of the World

Book reviews here not what they were: Woking the dead. See below.

Finally . . .

From my hijo político:-  Una curiosidad: Hoy a las 21:00 h. Será : la hora 21 del día 21 del  año 21 y del siglo 21.

THE ARTICLE

Woking the dead: Bookman, Private Eye

Back in the bad old days, the specimen literary biography was nearly always faintly censorious in tone. Basically, you lined up the book-world titan of your choice - Kingsley Amis, say, Philip Larkin or Iris Murdoch - and took pot-shots at him (or her) on grounds of sexual infidelity, neglect of significant others or general all-round egotism. 

Here in 2021, on the other hand, the moral compass has shifted a bit. Gone are the complaints about serial bonking - pretty much a lifestyle choice these day - and in come offences against the prevailing liberal orthodoxy. 

For hard evidence of how this moral climate has shifted, one need only take a look at Richard Greene's compendious new life of Graham Greene. This is much less hung up on the subject of Greene's sexual peccadilloes. But that doesn't stop the ethical framework against which Greene the man is periodically held up for inspection from being a very peculiar piece of architecture indeed.  

As early as page 4 tor example, Richard Greene is shocked to find that one of his namesake's remote ancestors owned 255 slaves on St Kitt's ("a discreditable episode in the family history"). A page or so later we encounter the subject's father the Berkhamsted headmaster; Charles Greene, and his work for the Cavendish Association, a late Victorian ginger-group founded with the arm of promoting a better understanding between social classes - all very well-meaning, the biographer decides, but of course "cautious and paternalistic" by today's standards. 

The tocsin of today's standards chimes quite a bit through the next 200 or so pages. Visiting post-Great War Germany, the teenaged Greene is ticked off for "accepting uncritically the complaint that the presence of black soldiers failed to respect the sensitivities of the Germans". Back at university he is further rebuked for writing an article in an undergraduate magazine called the Oxford Outlook lampooning the homosexuality of his student contemporary Harold Acton "in a phrase that makes the contemporary reader cringe". 

And so the reprimands stack up. There is more "cringe-inducing" in Land Benighted, the title chosen by Greene's cousin Barbara for her book about the pair's exploits in Liberia. Greene himself is excoriated for hiring some local porters whom he describes as "boys" (" a condescending term endemic to imperialism"). Meanwhile, Stamboul Train, published in 1932 and the novel which set him on the path to success, is found to contain a character who is referred to as "the Jew" rather than his given name, a habit with which Greene persists until as late as 1941. 

And all this, it should immediately be said, is fair enough. This is not our world and some of its casual racism and class-bound assumptions may indeed grate on the ears of the contemporary reader. At the same time, Richard Greene, so eager to criticise his subject for failings he very probably wasn't aware of, so punctilious in referring to the man-eating African tribes among whom Greene ventures as, er, "anthrophages" rather than plain old "cannibals", takes hardly any interest at all in the behavioural shortcomings of the husband and father. 



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 20 January 2021
20 January 2021

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

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

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'  

Covid

Maskless chats indoors spread coronavirus more than coughing: It is far more likely to spread through chatting than coughing and it can travel farther than 2m within seconds in a poorly ventilated room, a study suggests. Researchers from Cambridge University concluded that social distancing alone does not protect against infection. Ventilation and masks are also needed to slow the spread.

Germans will be obliged to wear medical-grade masks in shops and on public transport until Valentine’s Day under tighter lockdown measures. Cloth masks, which seem to be less effective at blocking the virus, will no longer be regarded as acceptable mouth and nose coverings in enclosed public spaces. Instead people will be required to use either “OP” surgical masks or those that meet Europe’s FFP2 standard, which means they must filter out at least 94% of airborne particles.

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain

We rarely get snow here on the Galician Atlantic coast but they certainly do up in the mountains, where there’s actually a ski resort, in Cabeza de Manzaneda. The Big Apple?

Covid has naturally hit the Camino very hard. In Santiago, there's only been 42 'pilgrims’ in the first half of January, compared with 'thousands' last year. And this is the result, in an office you often (always?) have to queue for to get your Compostela certificate confirming you walked at least 100km.

Thanks to the Voz de Galicia we know that Covid has done for the last brothel in Rúa Pombal, a few metres from the camino on the edge of Santiago's old quarter. Not quite the worst thing to have happened so far this year.

María's New Year, Same Old: Days 17 & 18

My apologies to those who read my mistake yesterday on the time limit for non-resident Brits here. It's 'up to 90 days in any 180 day period'. I suspect I confused 3 months with 30 days. 

Germany

In his own inimitable way, AEP says farewell to Mrs M in the article below: Taster: Given the blizzard of superlatives over recent days - bordering on hagiography - some dissent is in order. Personality must be separated from policies. 

The USA  

What could be more monarchical than the power to issue pardons to your favourite crooks, however bad they've been? 

It’s reported that Tump is obsessed with Charles Foster Kane, the star of Citizen Kane. In this film a failed presidential candidate has his newspapers headline its page one report, not Election Lost, but Fraud at Polls. Who'd have thought it?

I very much look forward to seeing one day a list of all the things Trumps said of: They've never seen anything like it before. And They say that . .  

One view of his legacy. There’ll doubtless be others, e. g. from his lickarse, Nigel Farage.

English

A new word for me: Merkin:  First seen in writing in 1617. Click here if you’re not prudish.

One newspaper reported that the US National Guard was venting their 25,000 soldiers ahead of the inauguration. I think they meant vetting. Venting is something quite different.

Finally . . .

The director of The Birth of a Nation of 1915 produced another epic the following year - Intolerance. Said to be an attempt to counter criticism of the former as shockingly racist. It’s considered his masterpiece and one should at least glance at it to see the stupendous reconstruction of Babylon. And, they say, a remarkably authentic-looking beheading.

THE ARTICLE

Angela Merkel’s disastrous legacy is Brexit and a broken EU: ‘Mutti' is a canny and tactical politician but leaves a trail of wreckage behind her after running Europe's biggest economy for 16 years: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

Angela Merkel is more responsible for Brexit than any other political figure in Europe, on either side of the Channel. She bears the greatest responsibility for the ‘Japanisation’ and austerity bias of monetary union. She exalts the German mercantilist trade surpluses that render the whole euro project ultimately unworkable.

We all feel fond of Mutti as she winds down her 16-year reign and ushers in her chosen successor: Armin Laschet, the "continuity candidate" and folksy operator who narrowly won the Christian Democratic leadership contest over the weekend.

The Chancellor is immensely popular. The low-key style of the vicar’s daughter has caught the German mood. She is one of the few European leaders still trusted over the handling of the pandemic. It is hard to think of any figure in Berlin better able to mask German hegemony and throw a reassuring comfort blanket over Europe.

But given the blizzard of superlatives over recent days - bordering on hagiography - some dissent is in order. Personality must be separated from policies. Her Christian Democrat alliance (CDU-CSU) suffered its biggest defeat since the Second World War in the elections of 2017. The German political landscape fractured. Votes splintered in all directions. The hard-right Alternative fur Deutschland became the official opposition in the Bundestag. Merkel held onto power because the two great Volksparteien - Christian Democrats and Social Democrats - clung to each other on the shrinking raft. 

Her own personal standing is not transferable to Mr Laschet, the coal miner’s son still living in the coal age. He opened a new coal-fired plant (Datteln-4) last year, asserting with a straight face and Trumpian surrealism that it would be good for climate change. There goes Europe’s net-zero authority.While Merkel has presided over an era of economic outperformance within Europe, it is not a Wirtschaftwunder by global standards. Germany has had one of the slowest growing economies in the OECD over the last quarter-century, slower even than Japan. Productivity growth has averaged 1.2pc annually since 1995, compared to 1.7pc in the US, or 3.9pc in Korea (OECD data).

Angeline Germany has echoes of the Brezhnev era. The immobilism is remarkable, a point made by both Marcel Fratzscher in Die Deutschland Illusion; and by Die Welt’s Olaf Gersemann in his book The Germany Bubble: the Last Hurrah of a Great Economic Nation.

The country was for a while able to ride the "China wave" as a supplier of capital goods for Asia. But China’s catch-up phase has since turned into import substitution at home, and mid-technology conquest abroad, more or less destroying the German solar industry in the process. Germany has not made the digital switch in time – unlike Korea – and this is becoming existential as cars metamorphose into computers on wheels. Tesla is worth three times as much as VW, Daimler, and BMW combined. Apple dwarfs the entire market capitalisation of the DAX index.

Deutschland Inc is not worth much any more, a fate it shares with UK Limited. Merkel has presided over this structural decay. It is not her fault but nor has she done anything about it.

The German economy looks good only within the regional beauty contest of Europe. Others are in worse shape. The deformed structure of monetary union has had the effect of leveraging relative supremacy. Germany gained eurozone competitiveness in the early 2000s through an "internal devaluation". It compressed real wages through the Hartz IV reforms.

Once southern Europe had slipped behind within the closed deflationary structure of the euro, the only way to claw back ground was to carry out their own internal devaluations, a near impossible task against the German anchor. The effect of hairshirt policies in so many countries at once was to tip the whole system into a contractionary vortex. Merkel did not create this structure but she has never questioned it either, or explained to the German people why it has to change. Her government imposed austerity overkill on Club Med through its control over the key bodies in the EU apparatus. The burden of adjustment fell on the debtor states, not the creditors. This cannot work.

She let the eurozone debt crisis (actually a capital flow crisis) fester for three years before contagion to the Italian and Spanish debt markets forced her hand in June 2012. Only then did she agree to let the European Central Bank assume its role as lender of last resort. It took direct intervention by Barack Obama to extract this concession. Merkel then reneged on a summit deal for full banking union. The sovereign-bank "doom loop" remains in place and is even larger today. She resisted the necessary move to fiscal union at every stage. When the pandemic hit she agreed to a one-off Recovery Fund that reverts to the status quo ante over time, heading off permanent debt mutualisation. In short, she has spent 16 years refusing to rebuild the euro on workable foundations. Her idea of fiscal union is fiscal surveillance: the Stability Pact, Two Pack, Six Pack, and the Fiscal Compact. She bequeaths a broken system to her successor.

This mismanagement of monetary union altered British perceptions of the EU before the Brexit Referendum. It also led to the migration of several hundred thousand economic refugees from Southern Europe, and displaced flows from Eastern Europe into the UK. This combined into a perfect storm with Merkel’s precipitous decision to go it alone in 2015 and open the floodgates from the Middle East, ignoring David Cameron’s counsel that the Syrian refugee crisis was best handled in the Levant.      

By then, of course, the Chancellor had already sown the seeds of British exasperation. It began in earnest when she resuscitated the European Constitution – rebranded the Lisbon Treaty – after it had already been rejected by the French and Dutch people in referenda. Her motive was obvious. It increased the German voting weight in the EU institutions.This was a legitimate step to reflect Germany’s increased population after East-West reunification. But it also changed the EU’s character. Germany was no longer primus inter pares in an intergovernmental confederacy. It became primus sine pares in a proto-federation. Chalk and cheese.

France strangely allowed this loss of sacred parity to slip through. Nicholas Sarkozy was fobbed off with a few baubles. Tony Blair pretended it was just a cleaning-up exercise. The treaty was rammed through the EU Council by executive fiat. Nobody wanted to face voters again. Only the Irish were given a referendum. When they voted no, they had their feet held to the fire, and were made to vote again.

Merkel’s Lisbon Treaty was a watershed moment. It is one thing to advance the project by the Monnet method of stealth, it is another to do so once major proposals have been explicitly rejected by electorates. It further undermined the EU’s legitimacy among a coterie of British politicians, commentators, and financiers, and these people would later matter.

The treaty gave the European Court of Justice jurisdiction over all areas of EU law for the first time, upgrading it from an economic tribunal into a supreme court. The Charter of Fundamental Rights became legally binding. The ECJ suddenly acquired the means to rule on anything. It has since used that power expansively, as the German constitutional court, ironically, protests with irritation. 

The Common Law protocol in the treaty exempting British courts from such encroachment was ignored before the ink was dry. The European Court began to strike down British laws on criminal procedure or data sharing with the US intelligence agencies. Another slice of influential British opinion peeled away.

Chancellor Merkel persisted. She circumvented a British veto of the Fiscal Compact, ramming through the treaty by other means, and visibly isolating the Prime Minister. All Britain had asked for was a safeguard clause for the City. She installed ultra-integrationist Jean-Claude Juncker as Commission chief against British objections. This violated the Brussels convention that no major state is ever overruled on this key post. She refused a compromise despite warnings from David Cameron that a taste of Junckerism would further erode British consent for the EU, as proved to be the case.

If it is in Germany’s national interest to keep the UK tied deeply into the European system – and few Germans dispute that – one can hardly argue that she made a good fist of it. She meddled enough with the constitutional machinery of Europe to irritate the British, but not enough to sort out the EU’s real problems or to make monetary union fit for purpose. 

"Mutti" is an admirable person and a canny, tactical politician but she will leave a set of unstable equilibria, a polite way of saying a trail of wreckage. If Laschet is the continuity candidate, Europe needs help.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 19 January 2021
19 January 2021

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

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

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'  

Covid

Positive news re immunoglobulin therapy. Which . . . Stops the virus in its tracks and prevents its developing into a more serious condition, even in the very clinically-vulnerable for whom contagion would almost certainly be fatal, easing pressure on hospitals, and could help control outbreaks in places where Covid vaccines had not yet started or the double dose not yet given. 

Spain: The country is beginning to struggle with a 3rd wave of the coronavirus, as infections have tripled and hospital admissions doubled in the past 3 weeks. There was a record rise in infections over the weekend. The government said it would not impose a total lockdown but 4 regions have asked for one. Well, not just yet. Here in Pontevedra, they’ve scrapped the federados exceptions I complained about last week. The power of the pen . . .

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain

In an article primarily about PM Sanchez, the estimable Guy Hedgecoe uses the following words in respect of Spanish politics: hyperbole, histrionics, instability, and highly fragmented. All of which, he says, has made for great progress in recent years in emptying language of its meaning. The PM himself has been accused of being - in the case one of these by someone in his own party - as a traitor of Spain, a kind of Charles Manson of Spanish politics, a psychopath, the biggest criminal in the history of Spanish democracy and a sinister-yet-confused half-wit. Not a career for the thin-skinned then, Spanish politics.

If you’re a rich Brit who - post Brexit - wants to be here for more than 30 days a year without being resident, don’t worry. You can get yourself a Golden Visa - a procedure originally devised to cater to affluent Russian, Chinese, and Iranian nationals.

The UK

Britain is delivering more doses per head than anywhere except the United Arab Emirates and Israel. Which makes me wonder why it’s not in the LH box here:

An ignorant cartoonist? Or because it doesn’t fit the post-Brexit ‘plague island’ schadenfreude currently popular on the Continent?

I don’t know whether I’ll be able to get my job before April here in Spain, as against next week in the UK. A couple of people have raised the good question of whether it’s worth flying there just to get the jab.

British divorce lawyers have been given a list of 50 terms used in on-line dating, so they can better contextualise the communications between a victim and suspect to ensure they avoid sexual stereotypes and understand the nature of consent. These include:-

Vulturing 

Thirst-trapping 

Roaching' 

Side-barring 

Doxxing

Eclipsing

Exoskeleton-ing 

Fleabagging  

Birdboxing

Netflix and chill 

Instagrandstanders 

These are today’s. There’ll be more along tomorrow.

The USA

Biden’s mega-stimulus widens the staggering gap in fiscal support between US and the eurozone. While: Europe risks repeating its mistakes from the last crisis. See AEP’s article below.

The Way of the World

It’s a strange world where murderers are published, yet academics are cancelled and shut down. Our social and cultural moral compass condemns people for using the wrong personal pronouns, yet glamourises serial killers. Specifically, the British serial killer, Dennis Nilsen, whose autobiography, written in jail, is to be posthumously published. See the 2nd article below.

Spanish

I was going to cite more odd Spanish nicknames and diminutives but there are just too many. Click here for a list and find your favourite. 

Finally . . .

In the 14th century Piers Plowman, the author gives all sorts of odd (usually allegorical) names to all sorts of characters - Kind, Wit, Conscience, Imagination, Peace, etc. . Perhaps none weirder than that of a certain knight . . . Sir Piercer-of-your-private-places. For what it's worth, the translator's note is: This name refers to the text of 2 Tim 3:6*, with a deliberate sexual innuendo brought out in Peace's recollection of a previous encounter with the man.

*They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires.

BTW . . . The Camino and Spain feature quite a lot in this famous book. The first because it was, 700 years ago, already the 3rd most revered place in the Catholic world. And Spain because of England's involvement - the Black Prince etc. - with the Franco-Spanish wars of that era. Anyway looking to know more about this blood-soaked, death-ridden century should head for this book.

THE ARTICLES

Biden’s mega-stimulus widens the staggering gap in fiscal support between US and eurozone.  Europe risks repeating its mistakes from the last crisis: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard 

The trans-Atlantic gulf in fiscal stimulus has widened into an immense chasm. The Great Decoupling of 2020-2022 is accelerating.

America is letting rip with relief and recovery spending on a scale unseen since Franklin Roosevelt’s war economy. Europe risks repeating its post-Lehman error, reverting to the EU’s default policy of austerity and Ordoliberal debt brakes. It is setting the stage for a second Lost Decade.

Joe Biden’s “American Rescue Plan” tops $1.9 trillion and is the country’s fifth successive pandemic package. It lifts the accumulated stimulus - transfers, not just guarantees - to near 25pc of GDP. It is underpinned by a central bank willing to run the economy hot. If this cannot generate V-shaped reflation, nothing can.

Ralf Preusser, head of global rates at Bank of America, said the Atlantic region is splitting into two camps. “The Biden plan is huge and it highlights the diverging fortunes. The US did $3 trillion of stimulus last year and it looks like another two to three trillion this year, pushed through proactively,” he said.

Bank of America has just upgraded its US growth forecast to 4pc in the first quarter, and downgraded the eurozone to -3.7pc by the same annualised measure. “We’re already starting to see the effects of the last $900bn stimulus (agreed just before Christmas) in our credit card data,” he said.

“The US economy is going to recover much faster than in Europe as Biden fires up the bazooka,” said Professor Charles Wyplosz from Geneva University. “I am afraid that the initial bounce in Europe will fade and then there will be a very slow, muted, recovery. You can’t impose a second decade of misery on the Greeks or the Italians, or southern Europeans. This is my worst nightmare,” he said. “If it happens you’ll see populist governments rising across the Mediterranean. The whole landscape will change drastically.”

Prof Wyplosz co-wrote the International Monetary’s Fund’s blistering mea culpa on its role during the eurozone debt saga.

The Biden administration is led by Obama-era veterans, battle scarred by the global financial crisis and its destructive aftermath. This time they are determined to “go big” early and blast the US economy out of its low-growth deflationary malaise. Their assumption - supported by Moody’s Analytics and Oxford Economics, among others, but not all economists - is that the debt will pay for itself over time through higher growth.

Jan Hatzius from Goldman Sachs says Mr Biden will not secure all of his $1.9 trillion package once Congress has picked it apart. This assumes that the White House opts for bipartisan cooperation rather than trying to ram most of it through with a wafer-thin majority by “budget reconciliation” - a high-risk strategy.

But the White House is still likely to get around $1.1 trillion on top of the $900bn already flowing, a combined package worth 8.4pc of GDP. This is still a tidal wave of money and will hit more or less as the vaccine roll-out reaches critical speed.

This will be followed within weeks by the outlines of Mr Biden’s parallel Build Back Better Plan, a further $2 trillion blitz on green energy and infrastructure to sustain the recovery past the point of “escape velocity”.

The US is not yet out of the woods. The economy is still almost nine million jobs shy of pre-Covid levels and there may be a submerged iceberg of distressed debt. Spraying money indiscriminately is a wasteful way to help those who need it.

On the other hand, the US is not trying to prop up decaying industries, such as Old Autos - or in the case of France, preventing a Canadian takeover of the Carrefour supermarket chain because of potential job cuts and cheaper Canadian food. America is letting the money flow, leaving it to flexible labour markets and digital disruption to sweep away the dead wood to bring about Schumpterian renewal. Talk of another Roaring Twenties is not far-fetched.

What is striking is how little is being done in Europe as the first phase of fiscal stimulus peters out, even though the economic shock and output loss from Covid-19 so far has been roughly twice as big. “We don’t detect any renewed vigour,” said Bank of America’s Mr Preusser. “No additional stimulus is being discussed in any major country in the eurozone.”

There is no fresh rescue plan as the second wave engulfs Germany, Austria, Portugal, Greece, and Eastern European countries, which weathered the first wave in good shape. Protracted lockdowns loom across Europe as contagious variants gain a foothold. (Few states do much genomic sequencing; most are flying blind.)

The vaccine roll-out has been painfully slow. Debt moratoria and furlough schemes in some states are unwinding. Bank of America estimates that the cumulative and permanent loss of income last year was 7pc of GDP, implying lasting structural damage and inadequate repair. “What they need is discretionary fiscal support in excess of 10pc,” said Mr Preusser.

The EU’s putative €750bn Recovery Fund is more totemic than real. Only €390bn is genuine fiscal support in the form of grants. This is spread between 27 states and stretched until 2026. It is nothing like the front-loaded Biden stimulus.

The loan component will be used sparingly because it comes with Troika-like conditions. Where used, it chiefly displaces borrowing that would have happened anyway. It lowers debt costs a smidgeon - and has confidence effects - but it is not a fiscal boost.

The total net transfers to Italy add up to just 0.7pc of GDP a year stretched into the mid 2020s. “Italy is going to need ten times that,” said Princeton Professor Ashoka Mody, the IMF’s former deputy-director for Europe.

“People are patting themselves on the back in Europe but I am very sceptical about this Recovery Fund. Money has been promised but the first wave of the crisis has come and gone, and nothing yet has actually happened. The idea that Europe is going to reach escape velocity and live happily ever after is a fairy tale. “If you look at Biden’s stimulus it is going directly into people’s pockets and to local authorities where it is needed right now. There is a real multiplier effect.”

The Recovery Fund clearly needs to be much bigger - and involve instant transfers, paid for by joint Eurobonds - but that is to cross a political line in the sand. EU leaders oversold the fund as Europe’s transformative “Hamilton Moment” when it was agreed last June. They would struggle to explain to German, Dutch, and north European taxpayers why they must dip into their pockets yet again.

It is up to member states to conjure up their own fiscal stimulus. Yet it is not happening anywhere at scale. Germany is going the other way. Its council of economic experts wants to reinstate the German debt break and return to rectitude as soon as next year, implying a lurch back into net fiscal contraction.

Those hit hardest by the economic shock - chiefly Club Med - already have the highest debt ratios and are the least able to risk counter-cyclical spending. They know that EU budget limits will bite hard again when the Stability Pact comes back into force in January.

For now the European Central Bank is soaking up Covid bond issuance via quantitative easing, crowding in private funds with leverage. This has suppressed the danger signals and is allowing Italy to continue borrowing at near-zero rates even though the government is in crisis and public debt has rocketed to 160pc of GDP.

This is an unstable equilibrium. Once inflation picks up - for mechanical “base effect” reasons - the ECB’s bond purchases will look increasingly like an illegal rescue for insolvent states rather than genuine monetary policy. “There is no doubt any longer that this is monetisation of public debt. To pretend otherwise is to fool yourself,” said Prof Mody, also author of the The Euro Tragedy: a Drama in Nine Acts.

“The eurozone doesn’t have a proper fiscal mechanism so it is using a monetary mechanism instead, but can this go on forever? There is going to come a point when ECB’s northern governors react. The US will undoubtedly recover sooner than Europe but I am even more worried about the internal divergence within the eurozone. France, Italy, and Spain are going to fall even further behind Germany. That will make it harder to run any kind of monetary policy.”

Prof Mody said the core design flaw of post-Maastricht Europe remains unaltered: the EU built a federal monetary union on the foundations of a fiscal confederacy. It is politically untenable. Something has to give.

It is often forgotten today but the economic boom of the Roaring Twenties was essentially American. It was not a shared experience. The restored Gold Standard had perverse and contrasting consequences on each side of the Atlantic.

Britain remained stuck in the deflation doldrums. Germany, France, Poland, and others, spiralled into hyperinflation and political crises of one sort or another. The decade of the 1920s was a tale of malign divergence of varying kinds. The 2020s will not be a repeat, but it may rhyme.

2. It’s a strange world where murderers are published, yet academics are cancelled and shut down. Our social and cultural moral compass condemns people for using the wrong personal pronouns, yet glamourises serial killers: Celia Walden 

In Dennis Nilsen’s forthcoming autobiography the late serial killer admits that he toyed with the idea of feeding his dog, Bleep, a “small chunk” of human flesh. Elsewhere in the 6,000 pages of typewritten notes – which have been edited by a friend, Mark Austin, since Nilsen’s death two years ago – the mass murderer reflects on the “culinary possibilities” of those he killed, likening one part of the anatomy to “beef rump steaks.”

How do the relatives of his victims – the 12 boys and young men strangled and drowned between 1978 and 1983 – feel about the publication of History Of A Drowning Boy this week? “Horrified.” “Disgusted.” “As if he’s still laughing at us from beyond the grave.” Julie Bentley, whose brother, Carl Stotter, survived a murder attempt by Nilsen and “fought all his life” to stop the memoirs’ publication, went so far as to call the book “morally wrong” – yet even that is an understatement.

But their feelings matter only so much in that they can be used to ramp up excitement around History Of A Drowning Boy. And any talk of morals is laughable in a world where serial killers are given free rein to publish murderous pornography, but Kathleen Stock, a professor of philosophy at Sussex University, who dared to question the safety of ‘gender-neutral’ toilets and male sex offenders being placed in women’s prisons, must be silenced and ostracised.

Think about that for a moment. Think about what the face of our social and cultural moral compass looks like at the start of this brand new year. It’s blank, isn’t it? There are no cardinal points; no way of establishing which direction is north. Because all that matters in our proud, progressive new world is adhering to the right ideologies: condemning people for using the wrong personal pronouns (shame on you Lorraine Kelly for accidentally ‘misgendering’ Eddie Izzard earlier this month), reacting violently to the “criminals” selling cheese made with cow’s milk (branded “rapists” by the vegan militants who vandalised a Paris shop last year), and withdrawing platforms from the likes of Professor Stock, so that her “harmful rhetoric” can no longer reach our sensitive eyes and ears.

Curious how that sensitivity vanishes when it comes to celebrating evil like Nilsen’s, Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s (who was featured in all his Jim Morrison-like glory on the front of Rolling Stone, three months after killing three people and wounding and maiming 260), or that of Ted Bundy. So inundated was social media with comments praising the serial killer’s “hotness” when Netflix aired The Ted Bundy Tapes documentary series in 2019, that the streaming service was forced to ask viewers to stop “swooning” over the man who raped and killed at least 30 women in the 1970s. As for hit BBC One show, The Serpent, the glamorising of French serial killer Charles Sobhraj seems to have been overshadowed by concerns that the drama “promotes smoking.” Then there’s the blue plaque erected in honour of Jack the Ripper on London’s Kensington High Street. It’s a joke, of course, because the British serial killer active in 1888 was never identified. And because while you can still joke about murderers, a one-liner about nut allergies will get you cancelled.

Curious too how today’s university students – who celebrated the removal of “offensive” Fanny Hill from reading lists – find nothing offensive about the impaling of heads on pikes in millennial TV favourite The Walking Dead, and watch more violent pornography than any generation in history.

But if there’s one thing the moral-compass-free are skilled at, it’s defending their right to climb inside the minds of the warped and wicked. It’s an intellectual right, you understand. Far from capitalising on the bloodthirsty thoughts of a murderer, RedDoor Press is hoping to offer “some insight into how such horrific events could have happened.” Rolling Stone wasn’t playing to our most ghoulish instincts by giving a terrorist celebrity status, but trying to comprehend. Because Tsarnaev was “in the same age group as many of our readers,” it explained in a statement, “it makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens.”

The same subtext is there in both statements: only through a greater understanding, open-mindedness and yes, empathy, can we not only stop these tragedies from occurring but become better human beings ourselves. There’s the sweet spot. Allowing someone to indulge their basest impulses whilst promising spiritual growth. You’ve got to admire the work.

When it comes to figures like Stock, however, who claims a book of interviews she had contributed to “was dropped by Oxford University Press, partly because I was going to be included,” or indeed the US author Abigail Shrier, who was prohibited from advertising her book, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, on Amazon, despite it being ranked No. 1 in multiple categories on its site, the will to understand is notably absent. For them and anyone with thoughts running counter to liberal ‘groupthink’ any hint of empathy would be considered an abomination. Minds are sealed shut. But go on, Mr Nilsen, tell us more about your cannibalistic fantasies.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 18 January 2021
18 January 2021

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

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

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'  

Covid

Why TF are  (at least) British footballers still allowed to touch and hug each other? And not just members of their own team but also those of the opposing team at the end of the match. Though all this, of course, pales against their illegal private parties. Sometimes with each other, sometimes with women who aren't their wives. 

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain

It surely didn't have far to go but the ex king's stock has fallen even further, on these developments.

Which sort of reminds me . . . A Spanish tale. Behind my house is a development of 15 houses, built - during 4 very long years of immense noise and dust - on what used to be a high granite escarpment. Sadly for the shortly-to-go-bust developer, they came on stream in 2008, just as the phoney construction boom was collapsing, leaving 13 of them unoccupied. These are still empty, and are presumably on the books of the banks who foreclosed on those who'd bought off-plan and defaulted on their mortgages. In the past few weeks there's been work on the land alongside the road up to the houses. This - along with 4 of the properties - was declared illegal several years ago and yesterday my neighbour explained to me that, not only had this issue not yet been resolved, but some of the development's land was now being given back to its previous owners. This means that an old path that used to run up to and along the top of the escarpment will be restored, giving me back a shortcut to the forest I used to take with my dog. Not before time.

Inevitably, the pre-Lenten Carnaval festivities have be cancelled in all Galician towns and cities, including the best known in Laza, Verín, and Xinzo de Limia. I've always wanted to see the events in the last-named but I'll clearly have to wait another year to enjoy watching these gentlemen besport themselves:-

 

María's New Year, Same Old: Day 16

The USA  

I wonder how many people know that Bartholomew Gosnold was the first Englishman to set a colonising foot on North American shores, naming Martha's Vineyard after his deceased daughter. And Cape Cod after . . . cod.

Having seen it referred to, I took another look at the bizarre, shocking, fascinating, laughter-engendering 1915 film The Birth of a Nation - Perhaps the most famous silent movie and the most controversial film ever made in the United States. One reason for its notoriety is that it not only portrays African Americans (many played by white actors in blackface) as unintelligent and sexually aggressive towards white women but also presents the Ku Klux Klan as an heroic force necessary to preserve American values and a white supremacist social order. Should you have 3 hours to while away during confinement, you can see it all here

The Way of the World

Why are free societies sinking into an anarchic pit of social media hate? See the article below.

Spanish

A HT to young Adam Aleksic, a student of linguistics and government at Harvard University, for this info:- The nacho is named after a Mexican cook called Ignacio Anaya, who invented the dish in 1943. The Spanish language is actually full of really unusual nicknames. A few more:

Diego - Santiago

Lola - Dolores 

Lalo - Eduardo

Concha -Concepción

Pepe - José. Because it was tradition to add P. P after San Jose's name. For Pater Putativus.

Paco - Francisco. Because he was the PAter COmunitatis. 

Finally . . .

Early this morning, I emailed 2 religious friends about Evangelicals in the USA. An hour later, there appeared on my screen an invitation to apply for the position of CEO of the Diocese of Chelmsford in, I think, Kent. Failing that, the COO of Bristol Cathedral. A coincidence? I think not.

THE ARTICLE

Why are free societies sinking into an anarchic pit of social media hate?

Big Tech’s legal obligations are a sideshow: the bigger question is where the bile and venom come from?: Janet Daley, Daily Telegraph,

Is it right to deny people who incite violence a public platform? You bet it is. All free societies do this to a greater or lesser extent. Open democracies which guarantee freedom of expression have always drawn lines. You cannot attend a civic meeting, or even stand on a street corner, and shout death threats without being arrested. The obvious charge would be of threatening behaviour or causing an affray. Scarcely anyone would be likely to dispute this. So that’s the easy one. There are far more difficult questions to examine in what is becoming a major political issue for our time. So while we wait to see if the Trump mob will turn up at Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday to test the principle once again, perhaps we can examine the more difficult problems, some of which are new and others of which are not new at all in spite of their technological dimension.

This is not really a debate about “free speech”. What that properly entails was established long ago and is (or was) accepted by general consensus: it involves respecting the rule of law and the rights of others to hold differing views – which is to say not threatening the safety of people you disagree with. But something peculiar has happened to public discourse in the last few years. It now has a dimension – or an arena – in which participants expect to ignore all the previous understandings of what constitutes acceptable conduct.

The hot topic has become: are the Big Tech outfits, which make available wildly irresponsible messages, publishers or simply platforms? If the former, then they are liable for what appears, if the latter they are not. The tech giants are clearly terrified by this debate since a judgment that they are, in fact, publishers would involve them in an enormous and hugely expensive extension of their duties to monitor everything that appears on their sites.

Add to this that it is precisely the uninhibited lawlessness of these venues that is part of their appeal, and a decision to classify them as publishers would pretty much put them out of business – or at least, not make it worth their while to carry on. So they are now attempting to make some concessions to these demands for social responsibility which will almost certainly end in an unsatisfactory dog’s dinner of compromise.

But this is the less interesting problem, being simply a matter of legal definition. What really needs to be asked is, where on earth has all the hatred and murderous intent come from? Why should the appearance of a new, uncontrolled medium have produced this peculiarly ugly thing? Has it always been there – vicious and bloodthirsty – simmering away in secret corners, unable to find an outlet for its frustrations?

There are those who would claim that indeed it has – and that social media performs a useful function in revealing its existence by permitting to be said what was once socially unacceptable. Established governing classes can no longer take their smug assumption of moral authority for granted. Many apologists for the Trump riots argue in this way. The assumption here is that, however wicked or criminal an impulse may be, it is better to have it out in the open than hidden.

But until very recently we believed something quite like the opposite of this: that it was the proper business of responsible government to teach people to restrain their most malignant, destructive inclinations for the sake of the greater good. That was the basic requirement of a civilised, tolerant society. Have we changed our minds about this? If so, why? Is there a complacent post-Cold War belief that the world is no longer perilous, and that the future of Western democratic values is no longer tenuous – so why not cut loose? That would, of course, be a very dangerous delusion. The threat from social disruptors has arguably never been greater now that they are nihilistic and indiscriminate rather than coherent.

There may be a significant historical point here about the anarchic forces of hate and division which proliferate on social media. Many of them (particularly the conspiracy theory merchants) make use of the techniques of Cold War political subversion. But back in the day, political activism was a quasi-professional occupation strictly controlled and disciplined by the Communist party or its dissident tributaries like the Trotskyist movements.

Now the tactics are unfettered by any need for clear objectives or understanding of arguments. And their purveyors do not even have to identify themselves: I am convinced that the anonymity (or pseudonymity) of social media has a great deal to do with the miasma which has overwhelmed it. Not only is it impossible to know who is responsible for any statement: it is impossible to determine whether that individual actually exists, or whether an apparent army of commenters is just one person posting under a great number of different identities.

What seems to be a large popular movement can actually be a small number of very busy agitators providing (as the old Cold War activists used to do) a sense of momentum that draws the discontented or confused into their orbit. Coupled with the legitimising of violent action, this weaponising of inchoate grievance is terrifying in its possibilities: it may be the greatest threat to political stability that the West has encountered.

What of the otherwise rational people who go along with this fashion? We all know of sensible people who take on a persona of gratuitous venom in their social media guise. A high profile figure on the Guardian recently tweeted a demand that all Telegraph columnists be buried alive. As you might expect, I took this rather personally – especially as not long ago, I defended the Guardian to the death over the Edward Snowden affair even though the paper’s political orientation was very different from mine.

When the then-editor wrote to thank me, he began by saying, “We may not agree on many things…” That was how grown-ups, especially in our contentious trade, used to talk. They might exchange accusations or insults in the heat of debate, but they did not call for each other to die – not even as a puerile joke. Whatever happened to that?



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