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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: 12 April 2021
12 April 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'

NOTE: If you want to know more about Galicia, click here. Detailed info on Pontevedra coming soon. 

Covid 

The UK: Opens for business today. Sort of. And . . . A Covid third wave is no longer expected in the summer, government advisers have said.

Spain.

1.In contrast, we're into our 4th wave here. But the good news is that I might get a jab (AZ's) before the end of a month. The start of a process which could allow me to see my latest UK grandchild this year. And maybe the penultimate in Madrid.

2.  Some of us have enjoyed tourist-lite Majorca but it’s a guilty pleasure.  

Some time in the future, hard lessons will be learned from the last 15 months. The biggest, perhaps, is that it must never be allowed to happen again. Quicker, better action will be necessary the minute a new dangerous virus emerges. Probably based on Asian models.

Cosas de España/Galiza 

What to plant this time of year around Spain.

Which reminds me . . . Down the hill, the wisteria's been in bloom for weeks now. But my trees - planted 3 or 4 years ago - are yet to produce any flowers, despite me fertilising them in November. Lots of new thin branches and leaves but no flowers. Until this appeared last week. Which looks like being the only offering this year. In line with the advice that it takes 7-15 years for the plant to come into flower. Wish I'd known that when I bought the saplings.

Doubtless they'll blame Covid but this year I've received no information or documentation whatsoever from my car insurance company re renewal of a policy which expired a week ago. On the phone just now, they've assured me the policy is live and that proof for the police will be the payment in my bank account. Of which as yet there's no sign. So, lucky that I wasn't asked for it when stopped at an alcohol control point on Saturday night.

Talking of companies . . . I can't say I was totally surprised to hear that some Spanish bodegas are being investigated for falsely claiming that their cosecha wines are reservas. I've often wondered about controls.

Driving back from the supermarket on Saturday - down the narrow one-away street that used to be one-way in the opposite direction - I noted the huge arrows hadn't been removed or at least reversed. Which must confuse some drivers.

María's Level Ground: Day 8.

The USA

As expected, Trump has launched a withering attack on two senior Republicans - Mike pence and Mitch McConnell - using a speech in Florida to cement his position as the party’s kingpin. These 2, of course, were his most faithful endorsers when he was in power. Pence - averred the would-be éminence orange - is ‘disappointing’, while McConnell is a “dumb son of a bitch”. 

The Way of the World/Social media

One way to deal with the cancel culture.

UK University tutors are being told not to dock marks for spelling mistakes because requiring good English could be seen as “homogenous north European, white, male, elite”. Several universities are adopting “inclusive assessments” as part of an effort to narrow the attainment gap between white and black, Asian and minority ethnic students and to reduce higher dropout rates among those from poorer backgrounds. Click here for more on this.

Feminism used to be about principles, not looking sexy. Like Khloe Kardashian, many influencers use their bodies to sell beauty products or get famous, but it’s hard to see how this is empowering. Too true. Not the feminism of the mother of my feisty daughters.

Religious Nutters

Leave exorcisms to priests, says the Russian Orthodox Church. Seems like a very good idea to me. You don't want to be messing with devils without professional help from “spiritually strong” clergy. Especially after several deaths and injuries from DIY exorcisms.

Spanish 

Desmadre:  I saw this word applied to Spain's 19 regional variations on vaccine policy and implementation. Dictionaries give 'mess' as the English meaning but I wonder whether 'mare's nest' wouldn't be better. Even within any single region. There's a lot of confusion. 

Finally  . . . 

Interesting to know this about Lundy Island in the Bristol channel: In 1627 a group known as the Salé Rovers, from the Republic of Salé (now Salé in Morocco) occupied it for 5 years. These 'Barbary Pirates', under the command of a Dutch renegade named Jan Janszoon, flew an Ottoman flag over the island. Slaving raids were made by the Barbary Pirates, and captured Europeans were held there before being sent to Algiers to be sold as slaves. From 1628 to 1634, in addition to the Barbary Pirates, the island was plagued by privateers of French, Basque, English and Spanish origin targeting the lucrative shipping routes passing through the Bristol Channel. These incursions were eventually ended but in the 1660s and as late as the 1700s the island still fell prey to French privateers.

Jan Janszoon, by the way, was accused of having 'turned Turk'.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 11 April 2021
11 April 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'

NOTE: If you want to know more about Galicia, click here. Detailed info on Pontevedra coming soon. 

Covid 

Side-effects:

1. The Economist: With millions vaccinated, rare side-effects of jabs are emerging: The challenge is to sort them from the medical emergencies that happen every day. See the 1st article below for more.

2. The Telegraph: It's all in the telling: Why Europe's approach to the AstraZeneca jab differs from ours. Different circumstances and regulatory judgments about risk explain more than politics and a clash of nations. See the 2nd article below if you can't access this.

The UK: A huge ‘side-effect’ which perhaps only rapid effective vaccination can ameliorate: NHS England data shows there's been a ‘shocking’ rise in cancer patients not being treated due to Covid-19 concerns. Fears have been raised that survival rates are going backwards. 

Cosas de España/Galiza

More trouble for Brits trying to get to Spain without a TIE.

And possibly why this is happening.

The Spanish Stonehenge - The Dolmen of Guadalperal. 

Directly opposite my house on the other side of Pontevedra city, there’s a massive horizontal gash in the hillside. This is the future - unnecessary? - A57 by-pass. On  which work hasn’t been done for months. Possibly more than a year. This seems to because there’s a spat between the regional and national governments as to when work should re-start. So, it could well be Pontevedra’s version of the AVE high-speed train and I might not see the completion of the road in my life-time. After all, the A54 from Santiago to Lugo still doesn’t arrive there, years after it reached wherever it currently ends.

María's Level Ground: Day 7.

The UK

Richard North on the recent royal death: The excessive coverage diminishes the event. Gone are those two crucial elements of dignity and restraint, the exaggerated response inviting irritation and even ridicule in what should be a solemn occasion.  So marked is the retreat from anything resembling a news agenda, that it has prompted the Independent to publish a piece headed: “All the news you missed amid wall-to-wall Prince Philip coverage”

A Times columnist: A death turned into a circus. How he would have hated all this flannel. What, she asked, was the point of it? Her own reply: Arse-covering mostly.

Here in Spain, there was less reverence. Here, for example, is a chap in El Mundo: Philip of Edinburgh: the hedonist and womaniser who realised his role was to inseminate the Queen and take a step backwards. Perhaps Philip is the example of the perfect consort of our time, more so than  the late Henrik, former husband of Queen Margaret of Denmark and, of course, the disgraced Prince Claus, who ended up as a victim, as he was the husband of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

Elsewhere, El Mundo reports that: For more than 7 decades, the marriage between Elizabeth II and Prince Philip has been rock-solid, although at various times there has been talk of problems between the couple and some alleged infidelities on the part of the Duke, which have always been denied in public. Despite living under guard, it is said that he always found the opportunity to satisfy his desires, even to share women with a friend. He was linked to women such as Daphne du Maurier, married to a man who worked in the prince's office; Hélène Cordet, his childhood friend and mother of one of his godchildren; Pat Kirkwood, one of the most beautiful and reputed artists in London with legs so beautiful they were known as 'the 8th wonder of the world'. One of his most talked-about affairs was, in the 1970s, with Susan Ferguson, mother of the Duchess of York, Sarah, ex of his son Andrew.

I haven't read even a line of the hundreds of articles/eulogies in the British press* and - like most viewers - have switched off the wall-to-wall coverage on TV but I must admit I don't recall ever reading of Felipe’s affairs. So, I have no idea whether the reports are true or not. They might well be. But - given the egregious conduct of ex King Juan Carlos - I guess it's comforting for the Spanish to be able to make the infidelities of the royals of other countries the main tack to take on reporting of his death.

* But I have just read this: Philip, the equal opportunities offender: I think my favourite Prince Philip moment came when he was talking to a group of deaf youngsters, while a loud steel band played nearby. “Deaf? No wonder,” he said, thus in about 3 words managing to enrage the more sensitive souls in both the deaf community and the Afro-Caribbean community. Perhaps, with his sad passing, we should elect someone whose job it is to be rude to anybody who feels they should never be offended. We will miss Phil the Greek for his sense of duty and loyalty too. Especially when you look at what we’re left with.

Spanish 

It's feature of life in Spain that all Anglo names are hispanised. So ‘Phillip Duke of Edinburgh’ become Felipe Duque de Edinburgo. In contrast, it's impossible to imagine Juan Carlos being labelled John Charles in the British media. Seems just basic respect to me . . 

Finally  . . . 

Yesterday there were hundreds more hits than usual here, possibly because these were Russian bots picking up on a mention of the Crimea. If so, today's 2nd mention should produce another crop. On reflection, perhaps it was many of the wealthy Russians down on the Cost del Crime.

ARTICLES

1. With millions vaccinated, rare side-effects of jabs are emerging: The challenge is to sort them from the medical emergencies that happen every day.

Chris Witty, England’s chief medical officer, vividly recalls a nerve-racking moment on December 8th 2020. That was the day when England became the first country to roll out a covid-19 vaccine, a jab developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. Near midnight on vaccination day one “We were discussing it and just thinking ‘What are we dealing with here? These are small numbers and we’ve already had several dangerous near misses’,” said Dr Whitty in a recent talk at the Royal Society of Medicine. In some people, it had turned out, the vaccine sets off anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction. But this is rare. It occurred just once among the 22,000 or so people vaccinated in the trial, which could have been by chance. Now, with hundreds of millions vaccinated, the rate at which it occurs is clearer: five per million.

Fortunately, this side-effect is not only extremely rare but shows up soon after the jab. And treatment for it exists. Everyone who receives the Pfizer vaccine is now asked to stick around for 15 minutes, just in case. There have been no deaths from anaphylaxis related to the vaccine.

As millions of jabs of various covid-19 vaccines are administered every day, such rare adverse reactions will inevitably emerge. On April 7th both Britain’s health officials and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which regulates drugs in the European Union, said there is strong evidence that AstraZeneca’s covid-19 vaccine may be linked with very rare blood clots, often in the brain or the abdomen. The EMA experts reached their conclusion based on a review of 86 reported cases, 18 of which were fatal. Britain’s experts reached the same conclusion from data on 79 cases, 19 of which were fatal. Both the EMA and Britain’s drug regulator concluded that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh the potential risk of the clots. But Britain’s officials, armed as usual with some nifty charts for their televised briefing, said that for people under 30 the risks and benefits from the vaccine were “finely balanced”, so a different jab may be preferable.

The investigation of the suspected clots from the AstraZeneca jab has been a prime example of the challenge of sorting the signal of a vaccine’s side-effects from the cacophony of medical emergencies that happen to millions of people every day. Vaccine-safety experts have two ways to untangle whether a rare medical problem is caused by a vaccine, says Kathryn Edwards of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, in Nashville, Tennessee. They can compare its rate in vaccinated people against the “background” rates of it that are observed in the unvaccinated. And they can look for unusual features of the medical condition being investigated.

The first signals emerged in late February, when doctors in several European countries noticed clusters of blood clots in people recently given the AstraZeneca jab, some of whom died. Most were women under 60, which was not terribly surprising because many EU countries were, at first, not convinced that the jab worked in the elderly and used it largely for essential workers, such as nurses, teachers and social-care workers—professions in which most employees are women.

The EMA’s data as of March 22nd suggested that the rate of brain clots in people under the age of 60 who had had Astra­Zeneca’s vaccine was one in 100,000—higher than would be expected normally. Precisely how much higher, though, is hard to tell. The rates of such rare and difficult-to-diagnose conditions vary a lot by country, age and sex. Estimates of the incidence of such brain clots have ranged from 0.22 to 1.57 cases per 100,000 people per year, and they are more common in younger people and women.

As doctors began to look more closely, something curious emerged. Many patients with suspected clots from the vaccine had unusually low levels of platelets. These are fragments of special precursor cells that float in the blood. Their job is to form blood clots (they rush to the site of a cut or other bleeding). Low platelet levels therefore usually result in uncontrolled bleeding, not clots.

With this new information to hand, Britain’s medical regulators searched their data on vaccinated people for the unusual tandem of clots and low platelet counts. They found four cases per million people vaccinated, a rate several times lower than in the EU. One explanation is that Britain, unlike the rest of Europe, had used the jab primarily in older people. The rate at which the clots occurred in Britain declined steadily with age. Importantly, Britain’s experts found that the clots occurred as much in men as they did in women.

This combination of blood clots and low platelet counts is something that doctors know how to diagnose and treat, says Jean Marie Connors, a haematologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston. It resembles a condition seen in some people who are given heparin, a drug used widely to treat blood clots. For unknown reasons, some people develop an immune reaction to heparin, which results in blood clotting so profound that it depletes their platelets. The same reaction appears to be provoked by the vaccine.

Medical societies in several countries have already issued guidelines to doctors on how to spot and treat this rare reaction to the AstraZeneca vaccine. With vigilance and appropriate care, the extremely rare deaths that may result from it will become even rarer.

2. It's all in the telling: Why Europe's approach to the AstraZeneca jab differs from ours. Different circumstances and regulatory judgments about risk explain more than politics and a clash of nations

We humans like nothing better than storytelling - and the more familiar the book the better. It’s why the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet has been told a thousand times. Explaining things via common narrative is one of our many tricks for making sense of the world quickly.

The oldest story of them all is the clash of nations and it’s through this prism the story of the AstraZeneca jab in Europe is oft told. How else to explain why the European Union began by limiting the vaccine's use in the old only to reverse ferret, prioritise the elderly and then restrict its use in the young? 

The truth, of course, is more complicated. The bumpy ride the AstraZeneca vaccine has had in Europe (and North America) has much more to do with the different ways in which regulators approach evidence and judge risk than politics. Differing circumstances have also played an important role.

The initial decision of some countries, France and Germany included, to restrict the use of the vaccine to younger age groups stems from the fact the vaccine was not well tested among older cohorts in the original trials, where only 13 per cent of participants were age 65 and older. Add to this the fact that the tolerance and effectiveness of many vaccines falls away in older age groups and the argument for prudence becomes apparent - even though it was never clear cut. 

As The Telegraph reported at the time, the European Centre For Disease Control (ECDC) was making this point long before any vaccines had been licenced. In a paper published on October 26 it said: “Before pursuing this [age-based] approach, acceptable levels of vaccine safety and efficacy need to be demonstrated among older adults. At this stage, this information is not known”.

Instead, the ECDC recommended an “adaptive” approach - one which would flex as more was learnt about the jabs. 

With a glut of AstraZeneca vaccine coming our way and a second wave of the virus brewing, the UK authorities emphasised the other side of the risk-reward equation. Yes, there was a lack of evidence for the vaccine in older groups, but there was plenty of data to show Covid-19 kills older people at a much higher rate. 

The risk of death from Covid for during a surge in the virus is 1-in-1,848 for a healthy 70 year old man, according to Oxford's QCovid calculator. This compares to 1-in-250,000 for a 30 healthy year old - a 135-fold difference.

With hindsight, the UK authorities made the right call. The AstraZeneca jab and others have turned out to be extremely effective in older groups and the decision to prioritise them is estimated to have saved about 10,000 lives in the UK to date. Following its “adaptive” strategy, Europe has rightly followed suit.

But what of the decision in parts of Europe and Canada to now restrict the vaccine to older groups - those above 55 or 60. How to make sense of that?

The same culture of caution - shaped by differing circumstances - may again help explain it. Europe was hit disproportionately hard by scandal following the 2009 swine flu pandemic when the Pandemrix vaccine, widely distributed to health care workers, was linked with rare cases of narcolepsy. Some 1,300 people have been affected among the roughly 30 million vaccinated across Europe, but with only around 100 in the UK. 

Scientists in Germany and Scandinavia, in particular, have become black-belts in pharmacovigilance in the wake of the scandal; few if any are as good at analysing the thousands of adverse reaction reports that flow in when a new drug is launched. They are expert at sifting the early signals of a problem from the mountains of incoming chaff.

It was Norwegian and German regulators who first spotted the rare blot clogging issue now linked to the AstraZeneca jab. The UK authorities last week said they have since identified 79 cases here, putting the estimated incidence risk at about 1-in-250,000. 

The reported rate “varies very much with how good the reporting system in a member state is and how good cases are being identified”, said a spokesman for the EMA last week. “In Germany, a lot of work has been done and I think there is a reporting rate of 1-in-100,000.

“We know that in the UK the reporting rate is much lower, so that can have many many causes, but for the moment I think it's safe to assume that the reporting rate is around 1-in-100,000.”

In the UK, we have now followed suit and offered a choice of vaccines to those under the age of 30. But in other countries the cut off is higher - 55 in Canada, for instance.

It is important to note that these decisions are not (for the moment at least) driven by the incidence of clots being higher in the young. There is as yet no firm data to show the risk varies with age, or indeed sex. Instead, the decision to restrict the use of the vaccine in the young comes from the other side of the equation - the much lower Covid risk in younger cohorts.

Why the difference in ages? Again that has more to do with circumstance than politics. In Europe, they currently have more of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine and so can offer more choice. In the UK, we are more reliant on AstraZeneca - for the moment at least.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 10 April 2021
10 April 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

NOTE: For about 18 years, I've had a page on Galicia and Pontevedra which is now defunct. I've got a new site for both my Galicia stuff and this blog but It's a work in progress.

Covid 

The EU: Europe's stuttering vaccine rollout faces multiple hurdles as EU regulators review side effects of the Johnson & Johnson shot and France further limits its use of the AZ jab.

The UK

1. British would-be holiday-makers look like being banned from going to both Spain and France this summer, leaving them with just Israel and, god forbid, Gibraltar. And maybe the Maldives and the Seychelles.

2. Meanwhile, back home . . The vaccines have worked better than anyone expected. British Covid deaths are now the lowest in Europe, having fallen faster than even in Israel. There are no more “excess deaths” – in fact, fewer people are dying now than normal. The data has for some time, been unremittingly positive. Several parts of the country have been virtually Covid-free for several weeks. The figure for herd immunity was initially 60% but other estimates go as high as 85%. As ever with Covid, no one is quite sure. But whatever the threshold is, Britain looks likely to hit it soon.

Italy: Deaths totalled 487 on Thursday and 718 yesterday.

France: Deaths per day there are 10 times more than the UK's 30.

Spain: The number is 149. Some of us senior citizens are still waiting for our first jab, most recently promised for this month. But the government insists it’ll achieve its target of 70% of the population having had 2-jabs by the end of August. Trouble is, no one here much believes the predictions of Spanish governments. And, on reflection, since nowt much happens here in July and August, the real target date is end June. Which is surely totally impossible, given the 3 month gap between the jabs.

Did someone question AEP's dire forecasts of the consequences of vaccine-approval delays?

Cosas de España/Galiza

The Spanish economy is improving but politics are getting worse, it says here.

Can anyone tell me what the logic of this development is?

A Galician chap arrested this week in Cataluña - after he'd fled into Spain pursued by French cops - was found to have the 2-3 week old corpse of his wife in the passenger seat. On her way to her burial in Switzerland. Or so he says.

Nearer home . . .  A resident of nearby Vilagarcia was fined this week for washing his car in the street at 1am. This is an offence in Spain and so I imagine he was done twice, the second being for disobeying the 10pm curfew.

María's Level Ground: Day 6.

The UK

It seems nothing happened there yesterday other than the death of some poor, 'rootless' Greek guy after a long innings as somebody's husband.

Talking of royalty . . . A poll this week revealed that more than half of Britons would prefer Prince Charles to not become king — wanting, instead, the crown to skip him and go directly to Prince William. So it looks like Prince Charles is suffering from . . . heir-loss. But the stats differ for those aged 18 to 25. In that demographic, the majority want the crown to skip Prince Charles and Prince William and go to Prince Harry instead. So it looks as if Prince William has, once again, inherited his heir-loss from his father.  . . . .The estimable Caitlin Moran.

The UK and Brexit 

RN Yesterday: As with the “completion” of the Single Market in 1992, there will be winners and losers from the Brexit process and the national media will tend to focus on the losers – when it can actually be bothered to report. Brexit stories are rapidly becoming an endangered species. A major exception is Northern Ireland, where a number of commentators pin the blame on Johnson for his clumsy Withdrawal Agreement and the Irish Protocol.

Russia 

Moscow is amassing elite troops and war material on its border with Ukraine and many expect a Chechnya, Georgia, Crimea type development. Against which the West is expected to deploy just words and, in Germany's case, to continue with plans for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to  Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Work on this is currently suspended because of the poisoning of Mr Navalny last year and the imposition of US sanctions against companies involved.

Social media

A hardline view? Criminal sanctions on social media companies are long overdue.

Finally  . . . 

Driving down to the Mercadona supermarket at 8.55 this morning, I took a short cut down a narrow lane, alongside one of our 2 gypsy settlements. As ever, I locked the car doors. And then wondered if, in these woke time, this isn’t racist. Or just wise. Or both. Take your pick,

Interesting - and surprising - to note that the carpark was virtually empty at 9.05 but full at 9.45. 

Mercadona have super new biodegradable plastic bags. But a single knot seems inadequate to close them. Explaining why a lemon and a mango ended on on the store floor. And broccoli on my kitchen floor.

By the way, if Mercadona really are trying to reduce plastic, why can I no longer buy a single lime but have to buy 4 in a plastic box?



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 9 April 2021
09 April 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'

NOTE: For about 18 years, I've had a page on Galicia and Pontevedra at www.colindavies.net but I haven't revised it or added to it for several years and it's now defunct. I've got a new site - www.thoughtsfromgalicia.com - where I'll be adding stuff as and when I can, And when I've worked out exactly how Wordpress works. If you go there now, you'll find a work-in-progress. And also this blog in exactly the same format as here. Except it automatically give more detailD of cited sites which use Wordpress.

Covid 

The UK: A year of fear.  Has the government achieved widespread conformity with restrictions on liberty through the unethical use of covert psychological strategies — “nudges” — in their messaging campaign? . . . The covert psychological strategies incorporated into the state’s coronavirus information campaign have achieved their aims of inducing a majority of the population to obey the draconian public health restrictions and accept vaccination. The nature of the tactics deployed — with their subconscious modes of action and the emotional discomfort generated — do, however, raise some pressing concerns about the legitimacy of using these kinds of psychological techniques for this purpose. The government, and its expert advisors, are operating in morally murky waters. Click here for more on this

Personally, I'm getting tired of people telling me - in the open air even - that my mask has slipped a fraction below the tip of my nose.

Cosas de España/Galiza

A reader has has reminded me that Spain's birth rate is so low as to be insufficient to even maintain the population, never mind increase it. Thus, he/she/ze writes in respect of the 7m increase in population since 2000: All 7m are foreigners. [The alleged Spanish births of 1.5m] are the children of those migrants who've already acquired a Spanish passport. Had it not been for immigration, Spain's population would now be lower by at least a million, at 39 million or so. 

Guy Hedgecoe is an estimable British journalist, writing from near Madrid on Matters Spanish. He sort of went off my radar after the demise of the Spanish news website Iberosphere but I’ve been catching up via his blog page. Here are posts on subjects I cover from time to time, albeit more briefly . . .

May 2017: Corruption: Why so much here?

July 2018: The effusive Mr Rhodes

Feb 2019: The Real Spain. A personal view

April: 2019; The Editor. Ex, that is. Of El Mundo.

Feb 2018: The Brother-in-Law Part 1

June 2019: The Brother-in-Law Part 2

Jan 2020: The dreadful facheleco garment

April 2020: The blame game Appalling Spanish politics

Oct 2020: After the second wave, how about a second Transition? The need for constitutional reform.

Jan 2021: A Resolution

María's Level Ground: Days 4 & 5. Also on 'political slime' 

The EU

For those interested . . . At the end of this post, there's a list of EU benefits provided by reader sp but drawn up by someone else. Below that are my comments on it.

The Way of the World

Novelist Philip Roth was right about our online witch-hunts as he foresaw the modern mania for denouncing anyone who doesn’t conform to the new puritanism. As we moved away from censorship - he said - we gravitated towards censoriousness. A nice line. Click here for more on this.

Spanish 

An interesting site.

Less informative but more amusing . . .

Finally  . . .  En Cataluña fue detenido un emigrante gallego que circulaba en dirección contraria y con un cadáver en el asiento.

THE BENEFITS OF THE EU TO THE UK

What has the EU ever done for us?  

Shock horror - EU membership costs £9 billion a year. But that's 34p per person per day (1% of Government budget) and in return we get a mind-blowing amount of goodness back:-

- Longest unbroken period of peace between European nations in history

- Free trade deals with over 70 countries

- Just in time manufacturing that supports millions of jobs, thanks to no customs checks or complex procedures

- Scientific and academic collaboration

- Support for the Good Friday Agreement & active promotion of the Irish peace process

- Shared space exploration

- Participation in the Galileo GPS satellite cluster

- Driving licenses valid all over the EU

- Car insurance valid all over the EU

- Pet passports to make travel with pets simple

- Simplified fixed compensation scheme for flight delays & cancellations

- European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

- Mobile roaming (calls, texts and data) at home prices

- Portable streaming services (can watch Netflix etc. all over the EU)

- Erasmus student exchange programme

- Simplified VAT reverse charge mechanism for those selling across the EU

- Safer food

- Clean beaches

- Enhanced consumer protection, including for cross-border shopping

- Horizon 2020 (funding and assistance for over 10,000 collaborative research projects in the UK as part of the world's largest multinational research programme.)

- Courses for the unemployed funded by the European Social Fund

- Disaster relief funding e.g. the 60 million euro we received for flood relief in 2017

- Free movement for musicians and their instruments, bands and their equipment, artists and their materials etc.

- Enhanced environmental protections

- Court of last resort (ECJ)

- REACH regulations & EU Chemicals Agency, improving human, animal and environmental safety around chemicals

- Pan-EU medicine testing and licensing

- Security cooperation and sharing of crime/terrorist databases

- European arrest warrant

- EURATOM for medical isotopes

- Support for rural areas

- Better food labelling

- EU funding for the British film industry, theatre and music

- European Capital of Culture programme, which has boosted cities such as Glasgow and Liverpool

- Service providers (e.g. freelance translators) can offer their services to clients all over the EU

- No UK VAT or duty on imports from the EU (great for online shopping)

- EU citizenship (it's a thing - look it up!)

- Cross-border collaboration on taxes, e.g. to hold huge firms like Amazon and Facebook to account more than we otherwise could

- Venture capital funding

- Legal protection for minority languages such as Welsh

- Mutual recognition of academic qualifications

- No credit and debit card surcharges

- EU structural funding (over £2 billion to Liverpool alone) with matched private funding requirement

- Supporting and encouraging democracy in post-communist countries

- A bigger presence on the world stage as a key part of the largest trade block in the world

- Use of EU queues at ports and airports

- Products made or grown in the UK can be sold in 31 countries without type approval, customs duties, phytosanitary certificates etc.

- Protection from GM food and chlorinated chicken

- Objective 1 funding for deprived areas and regions

- Financial services passport, enabling firms in the City to service the whole EU market

- Strong intellectual property protections

- Mutual recognition of professional qualifications

- Consular protection from any EU embassy outside the EU

- Minimum baseline of worker protections (which we can always improve on)

- Enhanced medical research prospects

- A friend to cosy up to against the might of the USA and China

After all that, do you *really* still begrudge 34p per day? If so, what's wrong with you?

MY COMMENTS

One overview I have is that the author is too young to have known what things were like pre-1973 and seems to assume that nothing can be done in cooperation with Europe unless one is a member of the EU.

Putting that aside, another general comment is that it would be instructive for the author - or sp - to divide the list into Essentials and Nice to Have, something done in business, to determine priorities and to provide perspective.

As to specifics . . .  I've said before that I don't subscribe to the major argument that the EU has saved Europe from war. Possibly one in which a (yet again) resurgent Germany invaded Belgium and tried to get back Alsace and Lorraine. Not to mention Prussia. It may well be, as sp says, that the founders of the EU forerunners had this as a motivation and aim - who the hell could blame them so soon after WW2? - but this is not a persuasive argument for events since then. Not for me, anyway. As the Romans put it - Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

A second way to divide the list would be:-

1. Those things lost to the UK which would have been retained if the UK had gone for an EFTA/ EEA model.

2. Those things lost to the UK which would have been retained if the UK had gone for Richard North's Flexcit, involving a gradual - and cooperative - exit over several years.

3. Those things lost to the UK because of Johnson's very poor and dishonest Brexit deal. These, of course, cover everything in the list above.

The purpose of this would to be show - admittedly academically - that it's not Brexit per se which has led to the current situation but the dreadful deal struck by the UK and the EU. It didn't really need to be this way.

The bottom line is that, with a bad deal done, no one really knows whether or not it'll prove beneficial to the UK in the longer run, whatever the near term hit on the economy (and my pension) turns out to be. As it is, Covid had considerably clouded the issue in the very near term, meaning that Boris Johnson is very much more lucky than competent. And that's something which surely must change. Possibly even before the next general election.

But, yes, some things have certainly been lost. For example the life enjoyed by Brits who lived here in Spain below the horizon and didn't seek residence and pay their Spanish taxes. As I've said, I find it difficult to feel sympathy for these folk. Likewise those who didn't live here for more than 60 days and rented out their property - tax-free - for much/most of the year. They've lost what they were never entitled to, it might be said. And they should have seen it coming and put their affairs in order before the deadline.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 8 April 2021
08 April 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'

 

My thanks to Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas for a couple of today's items. 

Covid 

Spain: The government says it doesn't extend the State of Alarm after its expiry on May 9. So, national mobility restrictions - such as curfew or perimeter closures - would no longer exist and  it will be for the 19 regional governments to decide on these

The UK: This a hard-hitting (and long) interview - of October last year - with an expert who doesn’t pull his punches in accusing a UK leading scientist  of being either a liar or negligent. He also rejects the prospect of a 2nd wave, dismisses government models, claims that 30% of the population had immunity from the start, that herd immunity had been reached in at least London by last October, that wide-scale testing is useless as misleading, and that the pandemic was already over by summer last year. The vaccine, he claims, is pointless for anyone  who isn’t old and at risk. 

I’m not qualified to asses these claims, so would like to see some other expert’s counterpoints. Meanwhile, it’s of huge concern that - what with the UK government giving everyone 2 free (dubious) lateral flow tests per week - it really does look like it’s bent on continuing the current assault on our humanity indefinitely. Or at least for well into this year. I’m pretty sure we’ll all be compelled to wear masks and distance ourselves next winter. To stop us dying from flu, if not Covid. Wouldn’t you want to enforce this if you were being criticised for running an under-resourced national health service?

For me - given that the case numbers might well be very wrong, the only real number is that of (true) Covid deaths. So, the backcloth:-

- The 2019 deaths per day in the UK was c.1,600

- The current UK daily deaths from Covid is c. 30. As a percentage of the population of 68.2m it’s 0.00004

- Compare (less restricted) Sweden, at 6 Covid deaths per day. Or 0.00006% of a population of 10.1m.

A major question arising is - Looking at the charts and graphs which certainly seem to show 3-5 waves around the word, would Dr Yeadon maintain all his claims?

Cosas de España

More positive news for the future. Spain's economy  Will Grow By 6.4% In 2021, says the IMF. Click here for more.

Ex king Juan Carlos’s quest to return home from exile may be complicated by a “dubious” €4.4 million loan from wealthy business friends that was used to pay off a tax debt. Click here for more.

A reader has said there’s nothing amusing about bullfighting. I’d agree as regards the industry as a whole but repeat that it’s funny to seem young bulls which aren’t injured of killed making idiots of both novilleros and young men from the audience. BTW: Lenox advises that: The novilleros have to cough up for the cost of the bull and the wages for the rest of the equipo, from the banderilleros to the vet. Plus a slice of the rental of the ring. It'll cost them each around 6,000€ for the privilege of showing off - or otherwise - their skills. 

Spain's population has grown by c. 7m since I came  here in 2000, of which 80% are immigrants. Including me, I guess. Of the 6.8m. net increase in population, domestic growth has accounted for only 1.5m, or 22%.   

Cousas de Galiza

A local-ish scandal.  

Portugal

Several warm countries are trying to attract home-workers from the UK but, as ever, Portugal is beating Spain on on this, via low tax-rates. Just as it did with Golden Visas and tax holidays for pensioners. What, I wonder, does this say about the 2 governments and their 'entrepreneurialism'

The UK and its Un-united Union

Scottish nationalists would be horrified if Boris Johnson gave them independence in May and the attempt to achieve it would fail.  Click here, if interested to know why.

The pathologies of Irish sectarianism and EU fundamentalism are on a collision course.  . . . The truth that the government can’t quite bear to face is that, unless a settlement is reached, Britain faces 2 devastating scenarios: either the Union becomes the price of Brexit, or Brexit becomes the price of the Union. Click here for more.

BTW: I heard the comment the other day: If you think you understand Northern Ireland, you haven't been listening. Very probably true. As surveys show, most English folk would happily hand it over to Ireland. And also tell the heavily-subsidised, whingeing Scots to piss off. So much for hankering after a renewed empire!

The Way of the World

The creator of a dating app that puts women in charge is among the new names to join the ranks of the mega-rich after becoming the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire. Whitney Wolfe Herd is worth $1.3 billion having co-founded Bumble, which allows only female users to make the first contact with a man. I wonder how one proves one is a woman. And if transgender women can use it. I guess so.

Talking of  women and feminism . . . Would you credit this?

Philip Roth was right about our online witch-hunts . . . The American novelist foresaw the modern mania for denouncing anyone who doesn’t conform to the new puritanism.  . . . From the 1980s onwards Roth detected a movement towards a new puritanism. As we moved away from censorship, we gravitated towards censoriousness. Click here for more.

Kevin De Bruyne has negotiated himself to £385k a week with Manchester City  

Religious Nutters/Crooks Corner

The good news is that televangelist Jim Bakker is no longer hawking (or defending himself against selling) a fake all-purpose cure for COVID, SARS, HIV, and “all venereal diseases.” The bad news is that he’s moved on to zombies. On yesterday’s show, Bakker brought along conspiracy theorist Steve Quayle to explain how COVID nasal swabs were somehow part of a nefarious plan to get your DNA in order to make weapons that will turn people into flesh-eating zombies. Click here for more.

Finally  . . . This reminds me of when I saw that SPOT had been painted at a Spanish junction . . .

P. S. For about 18 years, I've had a page on Galicia and Pontevedra at www.colindavies.net but I haven't revised it or added to it for several years and it's now defunct. I've got a new site - www.thoughtsfromgalicia.com - where I'll be adding stuff on Galicia as and when I can. And when I've worked out exactly how Wordpress works. If you go there now, you'll find a work-in-progress. And also this blog in exactly the same format as here. Except it automatically give more details of those cited sites which use Wordpress.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 7 April 2021
07 April 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 

Spain

1. The future: Positive news re restrictions and jabs.

2. The past: Bad news re aid to companies hit by the lockdowns, etc.

Cosas de España/Galiza

The AVE-high speed train from Madrid to Galicia slows down to a crawl as it passes through Ourense. A route around the city is just being put out to tender. So, I imagine it will be at least another 10 years before there's a real AVE train ride to La Coruña/Santiago de Compostela. Making it 40 years later than the original promise. But, of course, the trip, at 4-5 hours, is already a lot shorter than the 7 or so hours it took when I came here in 2000. Or 12 at night. I'm not clear whether opening new stretches will reduce that further before the Ourense by-pass is ready.

En passant, I see that, since December last year, the name of the northern Madrid station has been changed from just Chamartín to Chamartín-Clara Campoamor, in honour of a famous feminist politician. Thank god the name comes up on the Renfe site after the first few letters, obviating the need to type the whole thing.

One of our biggest narcotraficantes is in court and facing both several years in  prison - though possibly not enough - and the confiscation of some of his vast assets. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Our bullring here in Pontevedra has a new status; it'll be a venue of the national league of Novilladas. Which are:  Bullfights in which novilleros (aspiring bullfighters) who've not yet attained the rank of matadorfight immature, overage, or defective bulls. I saw one once and it was  very amusing when the public was invited to have a go.

María's Level Ground: Days 2 & 3

Germany

Europe’s economic response to Covid hangs in balance as Germany presses pause, with judges at the Karlsruhe court refusing to ratify the Recovery Fund, the EU’s hands are tied.  An unassuming Bauhaus building on the banks of the Rhine is where Europe’s latest crisis is threatening to erupt. More here or here.

France

A majority of French people don't trust the EU, or the French government, to bring manufacturing back inside European or national borders. More here.

The Way of the World/The UK: 

Trying to resist online betting while stuck at home was impossible, say two gamblers seeking therapy  - "Every other advert will be for gambling".

Quote of the Week: Boris Johnson is very good at answering questions. Just not necessarily the questions that he’s been asked

Finally  . . .  Is there a more annoying ad on British TV that that for Peloton's bloody machine? Ignoring the ads for gambling companies, that is.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 6 April 2021
06 April 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  

France: People in northern France are refusing the AZ vaccine, adding further obstacles to the push to achieve national immunity by the end of the summer. The mayor of Calais said hundreds of doses had been left unused since reports a week ago in France of people suffering blood clots, then word of 30 similar cases in Britain on Friday. “It’s more than a wave of panic. It’s been going on for a week, and Friday was the final blow.“There really has to be a national campaign to explain that this vaccine has no more negative consequences than those from Pfizer or Moderna,” she added. Merci, M Macron.

Cosas de España/Galiza

Spain's economy is said to be in a coma. Here's some thoughts on how to extricate it.

Spain recovers part of El Cid’s skull for a sherry and a pastry.  En passant, Cela was Galician, with an English maternal grandfather. He wasn't universally popular.

Still as bleak and as closed as ever yesterday . . .

I recall now that, last week, the owner was sitting in the entrance and seemed surprised, shocked even, when I asked if the place was open. By pure coincidence, on Friday last I passed the Van Gogh café in Vigo that was the venue for a dinner in what I'd understood, over the phone, to be the Bangkok restaurant . . .

The UK

Covid: the insanity of Johnson: Richard North is less than impressed with the latest government  announcement. Nothing new there. Be warned that the first sentence could be clearer . . .    

The UK and Brexit 

Britons who live in Europe have been refused jobs, healthcare, bank accounts, university places and car purchases as they slip into a post-Brexit bureaucratic limbo, even though those rights and services are guaranteed under the withdrawal agreement signed by the UK and EU. More here in an article entitled British expats tell of a ‘Kafkaesque’ fight for residency rights in Europe. It seems that things aren't as bad here in Spain as they  are in France and Italy. Assuming you were on the ball enough to get your TIE last year . . .

The Way of the World

Academics are embracing gibberish studies: Social justice warriors on race and gender seem to prefer gobbledegook to persuasive argument. Prepare to laugh. And then weep.Max Hastings: I dislike feeling a coward but am grateful not to have to speak or write about LGBT, race, Greta Thunberg, Joanna Lumley, Chris Packham or his BBC programme Springwatch. This is because anybody who dares to swim against the tide about any of the above, or other contemporary icons and shibboleths, faces social media torture of a cruelty the Spanish Inquisition would think excessive. Matters are worse for university teachers, who must express opinions and face persecution if students dissent.

English 

Here’s  Lenox Napier on the subject.

Finally  . . . 

I knew that the British has regarded Ribbentrop in the 1930s as an imbecile but I hadn’t heard this . . . In the autumn of 1940, Ribbentrop made a sustained but unsuccessful effort to have Spain enter the war on the Axis side. During his talks with the Spanish foreign minister, Ribbentrop affronted him with his tactless behaviour, especially his suggestion that Spain cede the Canary Islands to Germany.  The Spanish came to the same conclusion. As had most senior Germans, other than AH.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 5 April 2021
05 April 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  

France: Having fallen on Saturday, yesterday's case number rose to 61,000, second only to 89,000 in early November last year. French hospital staff have warned that the country's latest wave of coronavirus infection is out of control and they will soon be forced to prioritise which patients to treat as the country entered its 3rd national lockdown over the weekend. With more than 5,000 patients in ICUs, critical care doctors are warning the next few weeks will be even more difficult to get through than the 1st and 2nd waves. No wonder Macron is worried about this job.

Cosas de España/Galiza

It's salutary to reflect on the point made in Giles Tremlett's book on the International Brigade that the Nationalist uprising failed in its first few days and would have been successfully put down but for immediate military help for generals Mola, Sanjurjo and Franco from Hitler and Mussolini. Followed by the creation by France, the UK and other powers of the Non Intervention Committee. Which was described by the American ambassador to Spain as The most cynical and lamentably dishonest group that history has known.

The Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism says she's confident Spain will have around 40m international tourists this year, compared with c. 84m in 2019. Something of an optimist, then.

Another friend in her 50s has been jabbed, while some of those those in their 80s and all of those in their 70s are still waiting. Of course, the Easter holidays haven't helped.

Maria's Level Ground: Day 1. She's no happier than I am at the 'vaccine fiasco'. Or with the ever changing (and 'dizzying') rules.

Maria notes something that, sadly, the vast majority of Spaniards would almost certainly agree with - There really are two sets of rules for Spaniards, depending on what your name and income is.

The UK

An excellent question: How did a free people become so relaxed about losing their liberty? See the first article below.

The EU/Germany

Vaccines, lockdowns, the economy, moral leadership: you name it, Europe is botching it. Click here.

A German columnist: At a time of crisis when a national response is needed, regional centres of decision-making can woefully undermine national cohesion. In fact, Mrs Merkel herself complained bitterly about just that on Sunday, roundly condemning the ensemble of “minister presidents” for failing to enact the “emergency brake” of lockdown measures that they had agreed shortly before, together with Berlin. Something very similar might well be said of Spain. Despite not being a true federal state, it has 19 regional presidents, each with significant devolved powers. The same columnist claims that Germany is ever more fractious and confused. 

And then there's the EU, which has more than once shown how bad supra-national 'government' comprising 27 nations can be at a time of crisis. As for the its mishandling of the Covid crisis, see the article from the (Europhile) Economist below.

The Way of the World

This is the article which supplied yesterday’s quote re truth.

Do we really need a war to force people to achieve more objective perspectives?

Spanish 

I wrote recently about the letters K and W in Spanish, the subject of this article.

English 

MAMIL: Middle aged man in lycra. Plenty of these in Spain, giving me a lot to smile at.

Quote of the WeekI think the government overestimated the intelligence of its opponents and underestimated the shallowness of the media. 

Finally  . . . An interesting article on local accents in France, where these don't seem to be as acceptable(obligatory?) as in the UK.

THE ARTICLES

1. How did a free people become so relaxed about losing their liberty? Whether we were altruistic or scared, we need to get to the bottom of the popular complicity with lockdown: Janet Daley

Before this bizarre chapter comes to a definitive end and life really does return to genuine (not “new”) normal, it is very important that we make a solemn promise to ourselves and the generations to follow. There must be a full and proper examination of what just happened.

In the euphoric relief that will follow on the great unlocking, it will be tempting to dismiss the unprecedented transformation of our social and political condition as a bad dream – a transitory venture into what would, only moments before, have been regarded as unthinkable by a free people. We will need rigorous discussion, innumerable historical studies, and limitless debate about the reasons not only for what was done by governments and legal authorities but for the popular acceptance of those measures and the public attitudes that they engendered. If we fail to do this, we will lose what might be the best insight we could ever have had into the nature of liberty.

There are broadly speaking two major interpretations of the events of the past year – the extraordinary powers seized by democratic governments and the reaction to those powers by national populations. The more optimistic (and flattering) is that there was a joint assumption of moral responsibility on both sides.

Governments and their agencies saw it as their absolute duty to prevent loss of life at whatever cost and they took whatever drastic steps were required to do that. Then their electorates, in a quite remarkable demonstration of altruism and social conscientiousness cooperated with those steps. This was, in effect, a willing renunciation not only of civil liberties as guaranteed by constitutional democracy, but of the most fundamental aspects of common humanity: a supreme act of heroic sacrifice for the sake of the greater good. It could be seen as the fruition of the great democratic revolutions which placed so much emphasis on the conscience of the individual as a member of society. That would be the good news.

Then there is the other possible analysis. Populations that have lived under democratic governance for centuries – whose everyday existence has assumed personal freedom to be an indispensable condition of life – were prepared to ditch their birthright overnight in the face of an alarming health threat. Even people who are not devout libertarians should have been provoked into asking the awful questions: just how deep does the commitment to freedom go? Do even the most intimate and instinctive bonds of family relations and physical affection become dispensable if enough fear can be generated?

There are plenty of lessons from the terrible ideological wars of the twentieth century to demonstrate the power of induced fear – and the awful lengths to which ordinary people can be led by the propagation of it. Did something like that happen here?

Of course, you might say, this was the very opposite: people were not being propelled into committing wicked acts by the orchestration of fear. They were behaving unselfishly and honourably, helping to protect others at all costs. Their decisions may or may not have been justified but they were made with the best of intentions. But even accepting that this is true, wasn’t it shocking (or at least surprising) how little resistance or doubt there was about it: how few people actually paused long enough to question the wisdom of shutting down most normal societal relations for an indefinite period, before submitting to the orders? Even if these measures were as good and essential as they were presented as being, they were startling in their severity – much more severe in their effect on private life than were wartime restrictions which never forbade embracing loved ones – and yet very few people seemed to be startled.

Isn’t that odd? Is it conceivable that the overriding impulse was not public-spirited generosity but self-preserving anxiety? That the modern obsessions with health and safety easily overwhelmed the principles on which our political system is supposed to be based? It is interesting to note here that the chief arguments used against lockdown have been on health grounds (the risk of other diseases, physical and mental, being ignored) rather than on moral ones (is it wrong to prevent children from hugging their grandparents?).

Perhaps the greatest irony in all this is that it occurred in the post-Cold War West which was, until very recently, busily congratulating itself on its bloodless victory over the totalitarian system of the East. The triumph of freedom over those forms of tyranny which specialised in the control and surveillance of day-to-day existence and social intercourse was supposed to be the seminal lesson of our times.

Given a choice, it seemed, people simply walked out from under the Soviet police state and brought about its collapse without a shot being fired. Such was the power of the natural human longing for liberty. Now here we were in the West consenting to a simulacrum of the surveillance and control that we had supposedly vanquished which was arguably more intrusive and limiting than anything the Stasi had contemplated. In the original plan, the post-Cold War discourse was going to be a fairly leisurely business. We would luxuriate in arguments about free market economics and social democratic values, on whether governments should aim for equality of opportunity or equality of outcome.

Then suddenly the questions became, should families be allowed to gather together, and, is it legal to have a sexual relationship with someone outside your own household? There must be very few (perhaps not any) tyrannies in modern history which have dictated such intimate things – at least not that survived long enough to be recorded. That, of course, might be part of the answer. These measures were always presented as temporary. Maybe all those generations of democracy have produced sufficient trust in government for populations to believe their assurances.

But there is a darker possibility. The conceit of enlightenment and its sacred values of individual freedom which modern democracies now believe can never be vanquished, which even saw off the communist dictatorships, can collapse into compliant terror – without a shot being fired.

2. How Europe has mishandled the pandemic. What happened and what does it mean for the union? The Economist

Look around the world at the devastation wrought by the covid-19 pandemic and something odd stands out. The European Union is rich, scientifically advanced and endowed with excellent health-care and welfare systems and a political consensus tilted strongly towards looking after its citizens. Yet during the pandemic it has stumbled.

In the brutal and blunt league table of fatalities, the EU as a whole has done less badly than Britain or America, with 138 recorded deaths per 100,000, compared with 187 and 166 respectively—though Hungary, the Czech Republic and Belgium have all fared worse than either. However, it is in the grip of a vicious surge fuelled by a deadly variant. That underlines the peril of Europe’s low rate of vaccination. According to our tracker, 58% of British adults have had a jab, compared with 38% of Americans and just 14% of EU citizens. European countries are also behind on the other criterion of a covid-19 scorecard, the economy. In the last quarter of 2020 America was growing at an annualised rate of 4.1%. In China, which suppressed the virus with totalitarian rigour, growth was 6.5%. In the euro area the economy was still shrinking. A year ago Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s prime minister, called covid-19 the worst crisis to afflict the EU since the second world war. How has its response gone so wrong?

Part of Europe’s problem is demography. EU populations are old by global standards, making them more susceptible to the disease. Other less well understood factors, such as crowded cities, may also make Europeans vulnerable. The cross-border mobility that is one of the EU’s great achievements probably worked in favour of the virus, and no one will want to curb that when the pandemic eases.

But part of Europe’s problem is politics. Jean Monnet, a French diplomat who helped found the European project, famously wrote that “Europe will be forged in crisis.” When things are at their worst, those words are seized on to suggest the EU will snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Sure enough, during the euro crisis the European Central Bank (ECB) eventually saved the day with new policies; likewise, the migration crisis of 2015 greatly enhanced Frontex, the EU’s border-security force.

However, Monnet’s dictum is also a source of complacency. The civil war in Yugoslavia in the 1990s led to the declaration that “This is the hour of Europe”. Years of carnage followed. Likewise, last year’s decision to give the European Commission sole responsibility for buying and sharing out covid-19 vaccines for 450m people has been a buck-passing disaster.

It made sense to pool the research effort of 27 countries and their funds for pre-purchasing vaccines, just as Operation Warp Speed in America brought together 50 states. However, the EU’s bureaucracy mismanaged the contract negotiations, perhaps because national governments generally oversee public health. The project was handled chiefly by the commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, who gleefully called the decision to expand her empire a “European success story”.  Hardly. Her team focused too much on price and too little on security of supply. They haggled pointlessly over liability should vaccines cause harm. 

Europe dithered in the August holidays. It was as if the Monnet-like forging of an ever-closer union was the real prize and the task of actually running vaccination a sideshow. Subsequent bickering, point-scoring and the threatened blockade of vaccine exports have done more to undermine faith in vaccination than restore the commission’s reputation. Were she still a member of a national government it is hard to see how Mrs von der Leyen could stay in her post.

Europe has also fallen short economically. Again, it has used the pandemic to make institutional progress, by creating a meaty new instrument known as the Next Generation EU fund, or NGEU. Worth €750bn ($880bn), this is targeted mainly at weaker countries that need it most. More than half the money is grants not loans, lessening the effect on national debt. It is also being paid for by raising debt for which the union as a whole is jointly liable. That is welcome, because it creates a mechanism which severs the link between raising money and the creditworthiness of national governments. In future crises that could protect euro-zone countries from capital flight.

As with vaccines, however, triumph at the NGEU’s creation belies its slow execution. The first money is still months from being paid out, as member states scrap with the commission over their individual programmes. By the end of next year, only a quarter of the fund will have been disbursed.

This lack of urgency is a symptom of a much bigger problem: the neglect of the underlying health of Europe’s economies. Even with its new money, the EU budget will account for just 2% of GDP in the next seven-year fiscal period. At the national level, where governments typically spend about 40% of GDP, Europeans have been culpably overcautious.

The consequences will be profound. By the end of 2022, America’s economy is expected to be 6% larger than it was in 2019. Europe, by contrast, is unlikely to be producing any more than it did before the pandemic. True, Joe Biden’s $1.9trn stimulus after nearly $4trn in the Trump era risks overheating the economy, but Europe lies at the other extreme. Its budget deficits for 2021 average perhaps half of what America is planning. After the combination of the financial crisis and covid-19, the EU’s output will be 20%, or €3trn, smaller than if it had kept up the growth it managed in 2000-07. The EU has suspended its deficit-limiting fiscal rules. Thanks in part to the ECB’s monetary activism, European governments have the fiscal space to do more. They should use it.

Ever-smaller union

Europe can take comfort from the fact that the vaccination programme will catch up over the summer. Across the continent, Euroscepticism has been in decline during the pandemic, and politicians who used to flirt with leaving, like Matteo Salvini or Marine Le Pen, have changed their tune. But, inexorably, the EU is falling behind China and America because it fails to grapple competently with each successive crisis. In a dangerous and unstable world, that is a habit it needs to change.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 4 April 2021
04 April 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.  

Covid 

Pick the meat out of this:-

The 7 day average of daily deaths as of yesterday:-

USA: 913 and declining from a 2021 peak of 3,457

Italy: 438 and rising

France: 288 and level from a 2021 peak of 444

Germany: 162 and declining slowly from a 2021 peak of 905

Spain: 89 and declining from a 2021 peak of 488

UK: 37 and declining from a 2021 peak of 1421

Portugal: 7 and declining from a 2021 peak of 291

Sweden: 7 and declining from a 2021 peak of 98 

So, neither Italy nor France are achieving a decline in the death rate. In contrast, the UK has achieved the steepest decline. Everyone knows why, I guess. The better news for Italy is that its daily case rate - at c. 20,000 - is in gentle decline. In France, however it's risen from c. 11,000 at the start of December to 39,000 at the start of April, though yesterday's number fell to 33,000. For comparison, the UK's was c.3,400 yesterday. And Spain's was c.5,800.

Cosas de España

Here's the new editor of The Olive Press on what has changed in Spain during the 15 years she's lived in Madrid.

Those bizarre 'Ku Klux Clan' Semana Santa outfits . . . What you need to know.

It's a sunny, warm Easter here in Galicia and Pontevedra's tapas bars yesterday were doing excellent business, with 50-75% occupation allowed right now. Because they have to indulge their habit metres away from anyone eating or drinking, groups of smokers rather stand out. My impression is the high incidence of smoking among teenage and young women is no lower than it was when I  came here 20 years ago. Which I find very saddening. The question arises - Will some of these decline to be vaccinated because of a perception of risk, while ignoring the medical advice on lung cancer?

Another of those Only-in-Spain? experiences on Friday evening in Vigo. While my companions changed our return rail tickets, I went to the next window to renew my expired Renfe discount card. Only to be told I couldn't do this except when buying a ticket. I didn't bother to inquire about the logic of this but joined my friends and did it at their window with the ticket they'd just got for me.

As if Brits didn't - post Brexit - have enough to worry about . . . . Squatter horror from Mark Stücklin.

Mark writes here that Spain has a legal and political framework that encourages squatting, especially mafia extortion-rackets exploiting the system to shakedown property owners with the threat of a squat. So it should surprise nobody that Spain has a serious problem with the illegal occupation of property. I guess this will eventually be stopped but I doubt I'll live to see it. Especially if Spain's government continues to be a coalition involving a far-left party.

Cousas de Galiza

Maria's Tsunami: Days 60&61 An outing to the mountainous O Courel area of Lugo province.

The UK

Decades - or even just years - ago, we were told 'the government had decided to do this or that. These days it's 'Boris Johnson'. Or even just 'Boris'. Not even 'the Prime Minister'. Witness this Times headline today: Boris Johnson fears lockdown illiteracy surge. Which is a nice lead into this article on the caustic views of the man with the hairstyle of a yak. As Richard North says, these are hardly new. Or, one could add, based merely on his inept performance of the last year.

The Way of the World/Quote of the Week: Pit my truth against your truth and it’s a terrifying race to the bottom.

Finally  . . .  Who knew Liberace could do this? OK, I recognise many of you won't know who Liberace was. Here’s his last performance with Oprah - in 1986, just 3 weeks before he died of AIDS complications.

 

P. S. Just for info . . .  Ostara, otherwise known as Ēostre, is the Germanic goddess of spring and dawn. On the old Germanic calendar, the equivalent month to April was called “Ōstarmānod” – or Easter-month.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 2 April 2021
03 April 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.  

Covid 

Europe: The EU's vaccine bullying papers over some embarrassing facts. See  the full article below.

France: Paris gets desperate. Paris has launched an operation to convince residents to get vaccinations by knocking on doors or stopping them in the street. But . . . 'AstraZeneca? Non, merci' – sceptical Parisians decline the offer of an immediate Covid jabs. Hardly surprising.

Cosas de España

Such is the nature of politics in Madrid - ahead of a  regional election - that one observer has commented that words have begun to lose their meaning in the discourse there.

Around Spain, changing street names seems to be as popular as changing the direction of traffic is here in Pontevedra city. In Business Over Tapas this week, Lenox Napier gave us this info: The Memoria Histórica is the reason given to erase all reference to the dictadura of Franco. This means the removal of statues and street-names. The Generalísimo (often the name for the High Street) has long gone from the maps, but many names remain. In Oviedo, since Spain is different, the street names have gone the other way, with Francoist names being returned to the corners, and Calle Federico García Lorca becomes once again Calle Calvo Sotelo. Then in Belalcázar, Córdoba, they’ve followed the rules and changed the name of a street from Calle Capitán Cortés (a Francoist) to Calle Capitán Cortés (a local Republican officer). Everybody – for once – is now happy.  Things aren’t much better in Palma, however, where the streets honouring Admirals Cervera, Gravina and Churruca have been replaced; since those names aren’t in memory of Francoist sailors, but illustrious naval men from the XVIII century. I suppose making changes gives bureaucrats something to do and justifies their existence. At  least to themselves. But just confusing the rest of us. 

Cousas de Galiza

Our efficient/officious local police have been on the border with next door Asturias in the early hours of each mornings this week and and issued 67 fines to folk who've come into Galicia in motor-homes. Easy work, as there's only a few places where they can park. Like  rats  in a trap.

Looking ahead, the police have proudly announced, with fotos, that they'll be flying drones over our beaches this summer, to make sure you're distancing and wearing a mask at least most of the time.

Meanwhile, I assume the few camino ‘pilgrims’ I’ve seen this week can only have started their walk within Galicia, in Tui for example - 4-5 days from Santiago.

The San Salvador Community of the mountain is a group of people who seem to own bits of the mountains behind my house. A few years ago, they claimed they were owed compensation for the land on which houses were illegally built, they said, on the city side of 'my' hill. I think that case is ongoing. And now they say that someone has stolen from them the land around the chouza I featured recently, being visited by  the mayor  of Pontevedra. I'm guessing they're asking for financial compensation in this case too. They might well be justified.

The UK 

It's reported the government will soon permit holidays in countries with great vaccination rates. This should help many Brits find out how disappointing  Gibraltar is. If it's on list, I'd recommend Malta instead.

Meanwhile,  the CEO of NHS England, writing in The Times, lavishes praise on his organisation and points to the possible future successes of 'joined-up services'. Stand by for a (belated) war on obesity, said to  be a major factor in the Covid death rate.

The UK and the EU 

I've just finished the book I cited yesterday - ‘The Sovereign Isle: Britain In and Out of Europe', by Brexiteer Robert Tombs. Who is the emeritus professor of history at Cambridge university and 'a brilliant historian of England and of 19th-century France'. Not surprisingly, I found little or nothing in the book with which to argue. So, what I'd really, really like is for for someone who disagrees with him to either 1. Convincingly address all his points and prove beyond reasonable doubt that the EU is a good thing and the UK should have stayed in it, or 2. Make a bloody good attempt at this which is at least half convincing. It's generally acknowledged this wasn't done by Remainers during the run-up to the Brexit referendum in 2016 and I've seen nothing of this sort since then. Meanwhile, the  Guardian  reviewer of Tombs’ book airily dismisses his stance as that of a historian and not of, say a political columnist - as if that were at all relevant - and basically accuses him of having nothing more than 'faith' in a post-Brexit Britain. As if this were different from a Remainer who retains faith in the EU's founding myths, its efficacy and its future. I've enough experience of people with a deep faith to know it's little use arguing with them. But at least Tombs admits his will be put to the test over time. I'd add that faith in the EU has been well-tested in the last 70+ years, justifying apostasy on the part of some of us who supported the UK's entry into the  EEC in 1973 and again later in the 1975 referendum on membership in 'the Common Market'. But we will see .  . .

Naturally, I recommend Tombs' book to (candidate) Remainers. But I have no faith I'll ever see what I really, really want from any of them. Of course, if anyone can nominate a relevant book, I'll happily buy it to check out the strength of the case. I don't suppose there's one out there called 'The EU, what has it ever done for all of us Europeans?'. 

 The Way of the World

The betting queen’s empire is founded on misery. Does she ever think about the addiction she profits from?  So begins an article on the woman I mentioned yesterday.

THE ARTICLE

The EU's vaccine bullying papers over some embarrassing facts. Even Michel Barnier has called for a cease-fire in this unnecessary, ugly fight. A Telegraph leader.

The EU has said that “zero” AstraZeneca jabs will be shipped from a factory in the Netherlands to the UK if the company fails to meet its commitments to the bloc. This is protectionism in tooth and claw. It shamelessly disregards contracts and it also overlooks critical British investment in research and production.

Our vaccine success is not only down to staying out of the EU procurement programme and signing contracts early – though both were a stroke of genius. We also spent heavily on research and upscaling production. As we report today, the UK invested more than £21 million to build up capacity at the Halix plant in Leiden, the Netherlands, before the Oxford vaccine was even proven to work.

Moreover, the Dutch government, and by extension the EU, was invited to join the project and secure doses for themselves – but chose not to take part. Unquestionably, this initial expenditure should entitle Britain to its fair share of the jabs made on the site (British engineers also travelled to Halix to improve production over Christmas). The UK has spoken of “sharing” inoculations; it is the EU that is being unreasonable.

Europe has paid a heavy price for failure when it comes to immunisation, as signalled by France’s humiliating extension of its lockdown, but the EU’s leadership is determined to paper over the cracks with bullying.

Even some of our old Brexit sparring partners are disgusted: Jean-Claude Juncker labelled the trade war “stupid” and Michel Barnier, thought to be a Gaullist rival to Emmanuel Macron, has called for a ceasefire.

Mr Barnier spent much of the negotiations lecturing us over the inviolability of the Single Market, giving every impression that its workings were logical and just. But the EU is not about free trade, as this sordid affair proves, but is really a political project, now betraying its authoritarian nature in a moment of self-imposed crisis.

The world is watching and can judge the facts. Had the Dutch joined the investment at Halix, they might have been able to reserve jabs for the EU. Instead, the UK signed a contract of first refusal in return for its investment,  fair and square. There are benefits to acting fast and acting strategically, an argument Eurosceptics made often – and for which they were ridiculed by their opponents.



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