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Thoughts from Galicia, Spain

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

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 12. August 2020
12 August 2020

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 19 

1. Sweden. Herd immunity: Claim and counterclaim. It is close to achieving this. No, it isn't. Here's something new from the latter camp, from the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. Sweden has yet to show evidence of herd immunity, with the same number of people infected in London as in Stockholm. Antibody tests showed that 17% of people in both London and Stockholm had been infected in April.

2. Current infection rates - cases per 100,000 - according to the UK government:-

Spain 90.3   On the UK government’s red list.

Malta 63.0 

Belgium 61.7  

Netherlands 34.6  Where no one  has been wearing masks, except on public transport. About to go on the UK's red list?

France 29.4 Ditto

Portugal 24.6. About to come off the UK's red list?

Poland 23.7  

Britain 17.1  

Greece 14.2  

Germany 13.3  

Italy 7.5

3. Spain. An official view on the resurgence of infections: Spain's highly social culture is partly to blame. This is a country that doesn't understand holding a celebration, or taking a holiday if you're not going to share them.

4. Worth pondering? . . . The ONS figures for excess deaths published yesterday show that fewer people are dying than is usual at this time of year and more are succumbing to flu and pneumonia than to Covid. Yet governments across the globe have managed to make this virus uniquely resistant to rational thought and decision-making.

Living La Vida Loca 

  • There was a spectacular meteor shower over Spain last night. We didn't see it here in Galicia because:- 1. We are not in Extremadura or Andalucia, and 2. It rained for the first time in many weeks. Good for my parched lawns, I hope. 
  • But we had a very red sunset last night, making my cityscape even prettier than usual. I tried to capture it on both my phone and camera but this is the (inadequate) best I could do:-

  • It's very possibly a consequence of Covid but I've been waiting 7 weeks for a company to come and fix/replace the large blind in my lounge. And also for my usual plumber to replace the flush mechanism in 2 toilets. Or, rather, I was. This week I've managed to get alternative técnicos to come and give me estimates. Plus promises as to when the work will be carried out. Vamos a ver.
  • Talking of delays . . . Yesterday I went to possibly the only remaining domestic appliance store in Pontevedra city - there used to be at least 4 - in search of some new bathroom scales - after my (clumsy) cleaner had told me that the previous appliance had 'exploded' when she'd merely brushed against it with a mop. After 15-20 minutes of waiting - unacknowledged - at the counter while 2 assistants faffed around on a computer, I left - with the intention of making Jeff Bezos even richer. But, passing a Chinese bazar, I went in and bought some scales at 2/3 of the price in the shop. Interestingly, I wasn't the only impatient potential customer to leave: a Spanish couple did so as well. But I don't think the assistants even noticed. Or cared, if they did. I wonder how long the shop will remain open.
  • I might have been wrong about kids being allowed to congregate in front of the concert stages:-

  • Maria's chronicle of our Vida Anormal, Day 57. 

The USA

The Way of the World

  • “Take care” has become an inescapable verbal tic in the lexicon of modern life, along with “stay safe”, two phrases I hardly ever heard growing up. It is not that people in the past did not want to stay safe or take care but our entire world did not revolve around these notions. The gradual infantilisation of society that is exemplified by weather warnings helps explain the over-reaction to the coronavirus. Public policy is driven by a concept known as the precautionary principle whereby everything is done to avert an immediate risk while medium to long-term threats are ignored. Governments in thrall to this nefarious doctrine persuade people that risk can be eradicated when it can’t be   

Spanish

1. A reader has kindly added to Maria's suggestions for 'The pot calling the kettle black': Dijo la sartén a la caldera: '¡Quita allá, culinegra!'.

2. It's not uncommon, these days, to see the English word ‘test’ used in stead of prueba. But  my eye was drawn yesterday to los test, making me wonder if the plural shouldn't be, Spanish style, los testes. But I guess not. For one reason and another.

Finally . . .  

  • I  wonder where 2 of these huge ‘terror crocodiles’(Deinosuchus) were caged in Noah's ark.

  • Does anyone know how to get BBC podcasts on iTunes? Whenever I try to get the relevant URL - as per BBC instructions - I get the message: Do you want to allow this page to open “NetNewsWire”? Which is a reader like The Old Reader and Feedly. And which I don't need/want. 

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 11 August 2020
11 August 2020

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'*  

Living La Vida Loca 

  • There was a 2nd firework display at midnight last night, 2 days after the last one. I lose track of why.
  • So what's caused this? Spain has been plunged back into a coronavirus crisis as the soaring number of cases confirmed it to be the worst affected European country. The 'good news' is that deaths remain low. And maybe that: The WHO has said it did not expect the government to reimpose a total lockdown. Rather, it would try to contain the virus with localised restrictions.
  • As for an answer to my question . . . Below is an article by the Times' correspondent in Spain on possible causes of this reversal and its implications. One of which is preventing my younger daughter and her kids coming here next week, because of the need to self-isolate on their return just as schools are (possibly) reopening.
  • A case in point . . . Totana, a town of 35,000 inhabitants in Murcia, is back in lockdown after a party in a bar led to 55 people testing positive. 
  • Putting it bluntly . . . Do the  Spanish have anyone to blame but themselves?

The Way of the World

  • Are you 'she/her', 'he/him' or 'they/them'? Do you know? Do you care? You  might soon have to, the way things are going. At many universities, students are given pronoun badges when they arrive on campus. They may be expected to state their preferred pronouns in seminars. At conferences, too, attendees might be offered pronoun-identifying badges. Some corporations, such as the BBC and local authorities, ask staff to include pronouns in their email signatures. This, it's said, is to please - or, rather, avoid displeasing - transgender folk who represent a tiny fraction of the total population. The critical view is that: Pronoun-declaring is pure narcissism and a game played by an identity-obsessed minority with far too much time on its hands. Forced attempts at normalising pronoun introductions may be done in the name of inclusivity but they reveal only how hopelessly out of touch those who run our universities, local authorities and political parties have become. They no longer have any idea how normal people talk to each other. But there will be a spectrum of views, of course. As we don’t have a war to worry about. Only a plague.

English/Spanish

  • Three more refranes:-

- There are plenty more fish in the sea: Hay mucho más donde elegir.

- There’s always a catch: No hay miel sin hiel.

There’s honour among thieves: Entre bueyes no hay cornadas. 

Finally . . . 

  • A single collared-dove was seen to join my resident robin yesterday but neither its lifetime partner not the sparrows have put in an appearance. Despite there being food in abundance. They  must be very happy somewhere else. Or dead.

THE ARTICLE

Spain blames the coronavirus surge on work, travel and parties: Isambard Wilkinson  

Concern is mounting over Spain’s failure to stem a spread of infection that has brought the daily total to the highest level since May, when the country was in lockdown.

Health ministry figures showed yesterday that 1,229 new infections had been registered in 24 hours, the most since May 1. The World Health Organisation, which uses a different measure, put the figure at 905. Salvador Illa, the health minister, said that there were more than 400 outbreaks nationwide and almost 5,000 cases.

Most are in Catalonia and Aragon, although numbers in Madrid are growing. The outbreaks tended to be connected to family gatherings, parties and nightlife and the movement of temporary workers, Mr Illa said. Making matters worse, many Spaniards are about to head to the coast as temperatures soar above 42C.

The rise has punished the tourism industry. On Saturday Britain announced a 14-day quarantine on travellers returning from Spain. Norway has done the same. France and Germany have advised against travel to Catalonia.

Mr Illa insisted the situation was different from the crisis in March and April, when the daily death toll was approaching 1,000 and hospitals were on the verge of collapse. More cases were being detected this time, and most were asymptomatic, he said. The average age of those testing positive has dropped from 60 to around 40.

In the past week 10 people have died and 25 have been admitted to intensive care. On May 1 there had been 281 deaths in 24 hours, with 732 people admitted to hospital, of whom 84 needed intensive care.

The Balearic Islands, including holiday hotspots such as Ibiza and Mallorca, had only one new case, while the Canary Islands had seven. “We don’t have to be afraid of the virus, but we have to be careful,” Mr Illa said.

On Wednesday the Catalan authorities eased the lockdown in and around Lleida, the northeastern city where 160,000 people had been ordered to stay at home after a sharp rise in infections. The regional government, which issued a stay-at-home order to nearly four million residents in the Barcelona area, has said that the surge is easing.

Measures have already been introduced to prevent a second wave. Mask-wearing is compulsory in indoor and outdoor public spaces in almost the whole country. Appointments must be made to visit some beaches, and areas for sunbeds are demarcated to ensure social distancing. On some coasts drones monitor crowding.

Mr Illa said Spain’s regions — which run their own coronavirus response strategies — were averaging 42,000 PCR tests a day. Some regions are fining anyone who has tested positive and breaks quarantine arrangements, which run for at least ten days. Their contacts may also be fined. In Murcia those penalties are up to €60,000. The region has also introduced fines of €100 for failing to wear a mask and €600,000 for organising illegal parties of more than 100 people.

Contact tracers told El Diario, a news website, the flouting of quarantine restrictions had worsened in recent weeks as people returned to work or went on holiday. The increasing number of young people affected had led to more rule-breaking, they said. Concern is mounting that there are not enough contact tracers to control the spread of the virus, particularly as people move around the country during the holiday season. This month the College of Physiotherapists in Catalonia offered the services of its 12,000 members to help boost the contact tracing effort in the region. It was the tracing of cases from Catalonia that led to the discovery of the first infection on the tiny Canary Island of La Graciosa. The Ministry of Defence has said it is developing a contact tracing strategy to prevent outbreaks in the armed forces and would offer those services to civilian authorities if needed.

Almost 127,000 people have been admitted to hospital in Spain since the beginning of the pandemic, and the death toll stands at 28,441, as calculated by the World Health Organisation.

But many who have contracted the virus may not have been included in the health ministry’s figures, particularly at the start of the crisis. An estimate by El País put the death toll nearer 45,000, based on excess mortality and data from the various regions.

According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, Spain has the second-highest number of excess deaths. England has the highest.

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 10 August 2020
10 August 2020

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: Our August Peregrina fiesta is, of course, of 2 weeks’ duration, not 2 days’. My apologies to those who saw my typo before I corrected it yesterday.

Living La Vida Loca in Spain 

  • Come the summer in Galicia, come the forest fires. And, usually, the tragic death of at  least one firefighter in the crash of a plane or a helicopter. As has just happened up in Lobios, near the border with Portugal. Which the fires don't respect, of course.           
  • According to this vitriolic chap, our ex king was a bit of a cad. And had nearly 5,000 lovers. Whether he was or wasn't or did or didn't, many towns and cities around the country are now busy changing street names which honoured him. And the current king is using his elder (teenage) daughter to try to burnish the tarnished image of the monarchy. Which might well work. Poor girl.
  • Some folk go so far at to see this as the beginning of the end of the Spanish monarchy. Which might well be right.   
  • I was pleased to read last  night that Mark Stücklin and I share 3 things:- 1. Shock that Brits who'd never think of not using a lawyer when buying a house back home happily take the advice of smiling agents or developers that either they don't need to do so here or that they should use theirs: 2. Disbelief that, after 20 years of counselling against this on both our parts, it's still happening; and 3. Insistence that it's essential that buyers get themselves not just any old lawyer but a qualified and independent one. See MS on the subject here.
  • Here's one useful list of lawyers. Confusingly, Galicia is in the Madrid list. And here's MS on the challenge of finding a competent and honest lawyer.      
  • Driving in Spain: Another realisation has belatedly dawned on me . . . When a driver who hasn’t made any signal either when approaching a roundabout or when on it then signals right once they’ve exited it, this simply means: ‘By the way, this is the road I’ve chosen to continue on.’ I mean, what other explanation is possible?
  • María's Day 56.  

Spanish 

  • María has endorsed my doubts re this being a good equivalent of ‘The pot calling the kettle black’ - El que tiene tajado de vidrio no tira piedras al de su vecino. More like ‘People in glass  houses etc. . . ‘. María gives these better alternatives: El burro hablando de orejas, or Dijo la sartén al cazo."  I prefer the first one.

English/Spanish

  • Three more refranes:-
  • - The cobbler’s sone is always the worst shod: En casa de herrero, cuchillo de palo.
  • - The truth will out: Se pilla al mentiroso antes al cojo.
  • - The wages of sin is death: El pecado se paga con el  muerte.

Finally . . . 

  • I think I've raised this issue before: As they haven't re-appeared at my bird feeder since I came back from my 2 weeks away, I searched an answer to the question: Do sparrows migrate? The answer: All house sparrows are sedentary; they remain in virtually the same place throughout the year. Sparrow usually stay within 1 kilometre of their birthplace. So . . . Have mine just found a garden where the grass is greener? And, if so, is the same true of the  collared doves?
  • I get spam messages in the Comments to my blog. But why someone would think it profitable to advise a brothel in Manesar in India is rather beyond me,

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 8 August 2020
09 August 2020

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'*  

Living La Vida Loca in Spain     

•    A midnight firework display surprised me into remembering that our annual 2-week fiesta began yesterday. But it’s a pallid version the usual extravaganza, of course. No bullfights, for example. And no fairground occupying the Alameda and all the streets around it. So, a lot quieter . . . Except when the the bagpipe players (gaiteros) parade through the streets. And we’re still having the (very) loud concerts which begin (notionally) at 10pm. But with socially-distanced seating these days. Though I suspect they won’t be able to stop the kids congregating cheek-to-cheek right in front of the stage.

  • At a more national level . . .Thank god for a new foto of Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein:-

Like me, you're probably sick to death of seeing this one:-

The lady has been described today as : A Danish adventuress who had reinvented herself as a German princess and then as mistress to the king of Spain. Which sounds about right to me. Now a very, very rich woman, of course. Able to afford a lot more plastic surgery, I'm sure.    

•    María's Day 55.   

Quote of the Week

  • Effie Deans: Identity trumps economics. It always has. It always will. . . Viewing everything through the lens of identity is more powerful than the facts themselves. . . . All forms of nationalism eventually become violent. 

Social Media

  1. Rod Liddle: As a keen and experienced observer of current affairs, it has occurred to me that Donald Trump can be a little crass from time to time. . . I have further observed that he is not always wholly truthful; seems to possess antediluvian attitudes towards women; and on occasion makes statements that suggest, to a neutral observer, that his ignorance is a fathomless abyss. . . . In short, Trump appears as the very embodiment of what the rest of the world has always reckoned Americans, in general, to be: loud, dumb, money-obsessed, boastful, badly dressed and arrogant. But especially dumb. Despite this, it is impossible not to be on his side in his battle with Twitter and Facebook. . . . The boundary of what you can say narrows seemingly by the week. It is becoming a noose.
  2. Camilla Long: Social media is the Caliban offspring of the internet.

English 

  1. I bring you beyotch: “A friendly use of the word bitch. Usually used in greeting one's friend (Hey, beyotch!) or when one has succeeded over someone (You got owned, beyotch!)”. I imagine it comes from the USA but wonder why it's necessary.
  2. Architect: Apparently now one of those nouns which have become verbs.  Same origin, I strongly suspect.

English/Spanish

  • Three more refranes:-

. The pot calling the kettle black: El que tiene tajado de vidrio no tira piedras al de su vecino. [?] 

- The proof of the pudding is in the eating: No se sabe si algo es bueno hasta que se lo pone a prueba.

- The sap rises in the spring: La primavera la sangre altera.

Finally . . . 

  • The other day I ground some cloves in my coffee grinder, which made for an interesting brew the next day. Yesterday, I ground some dried cayenne peppers (guindillas) in it (for a curry, of course). So . . . an even more interesting brew this morning. And not exactly a huge success. Made worse by the fact I buggered up my (UK-bought) kettle when boiling water for second go at my morning filter-coffee. Using just the cone of a Philips machine which went kaput a few weeks ago. But worse things happen at sea, I guess. Más se perdió en Cuba . . .         
  • But my spirits were raised by all the fog outside my window. For it always reminds me of a hotel owner on the camino who warned all ‘pilgrims’ against taking the mountainous option to the next town, as there was always mooch mood and mooch fuck up that way. 

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 7 August 2020
07 August 2020

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 19 

  • Covid 19 

  • It's one of Trump's regular lies that the US is doing more tests than anywhere else in the world. Indeed - being unfamiliar with the concept of truth - he's gone so far as to boast that the US is doing more tests than the rest of the world put together. This isn't even true in absolute terms but, in per capita terms, there are several countries doing better at this. Tests per million of population:-

- The USA: 191k

- The UK: 258k

- Russia: 204k

- Denmark: 286k

- Luxembourg: 995k (virtually all of its population of 627,000).

  • The more you test, the more asymptomatic cases you find, meaning a fall in the percentage of deaths per case reported. The USA does well on this parameter and it was this Trump was trying to stress in his disastrous weekend interview, while dismissing the fact of more than 1,000 deaths per day as 'what it is'.
  • France has a low testing percentage, so it's not surprising that, at 15%, its deaths per case on a per capita basis is much higher than the USA's  - 15% v 3%.
  • More surprising is that the UK has a high test number but also has a death per case number of 15%. This is possibly because, as someone has said - they're 'daft enough' to record as 'Covid-caused' every death where someone passes when they have the virus. Whatever they actually died of.
  • Spain: All is not what it seems . . . The Health Minister yesterday again denied that the country is facing a second wave of infections, despite a spike in cases in recent days.

Living La Vida Loca in Spain 

  • I've mentioned that the Galician government now requires one to advise them not only you've been to countries on the nation's blacklist but also if you've been in certain regions of Spain and, now, Madrid. The online form is superficially simple but not user-friendly. Worse, it doesn't bloodywell work. I've pressed the Enter button more than 50 times in the last 24 hours, to no effect and must now contact them by phone today. My housemate had similar problems  days ago, trying to report that he'd been in Portugal. But he eventually succeeded yesterday. Which was rather ironic, as the Xunta had taken Portugal off the list earlier in the day . . .
  • I see there was an official 'opening' of the reformed O Burgo bridge on Wednesday night, which included a concert from a string quartet and the switching on of the new lighting system. This was not in evidence last night, so here's a bad foto of it taken from a local paper:-

I've no idea how often we'll have the pleasure of seeing the bridge bathed in red. Or of how many people care about this.

  • Driving in Spain:  After almost 20 years of pondering this - essentially using too much logic - I've finally figured out what it means when someone here is signalling right when approaching a roundabout of more than one exit. It simply means they're going to leave the roundabout at one of the exits. Which can, of course, be any of, say, 5. If you take on board this lesson, you'll save yourself the risk of being in a collision for which you'll be blamed. So, Rule 1: Whichever exit you're taking, beware of cars coming from your right, in a way you'd not expect in any other country. Rule 2, born of this situation: The really smart driver here doesn't offer any signal but leaves everyone else guessing. Which forces them to hesitate and stay out of your way. There's always some form of logic at play . . .
  • Noise: There was a sparsely-attended hard-rock concert - from 3 middle-aged guys - in Pontevedra’s main square yesterday. At midday. Or maybe they were rehearsing for the evening. Either way, it was naturally deafening. And, of course, no one nearby seemed perturbed by the fact they had to shout their conversations even louder than usual.**
  • Here’s María’s Day 53 of her Chronicle. Uncertainty rules. 

The USA 

The Way of the World

  • The Zidane-Bale impasse shows the [soccer]game at its tone-deaf worst: while Bale is playing less than ever, his salary is still set to rise, from £15.3 million for his latest spasmodic season to £17.1 million for 2020-21. Real Madrid lack the power to put him out of his misery, while Bale lacks the inclination.

English/Spanish

  • Three more refranes:-

- The early bird catches the worm: Al que madruga, Dios le ayuda.

- The grass is always greener . . . : Gusta lo ajeno, mas por ajeno que bueno/Nadie está contento con su suerte.

- The pen is mightier than the sword: Más puede la pluma que la espada.

Finally . . . 

** I’ve just checked. It was a midday concert, from the Three Black Crows.  Whose foto in the events guide was clearly taken several years ago. Today we have a 5-member female group called Agoraphobia, who are part of a Barullada de Rock.  Or ‘ A Noisiness/Rowdiness of Rock’. I rest my case . . .

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant. 



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 6 August 2020
06 August 2020

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 19 

  • Yesterday I wondered aloud what was really going on, though I do understood it’ll be quite a while yet before we know for sure. Meanwhile, to confuse us further:-

- Did Lockdown Work? I find no clear association between lockdown policies and mortality development.  See here. Or, 2nd hand, here.

- Some Spanish doctors allege that Covid 19 is a fake pandemic. Possibly Vox/Trump supporters. See here.      

Living La Vida Loca in Spain  

  • Maybe we really are heading for constitutional reform and the end of the monarchy. Though you can be sure there are powerful forces which will resist it. The Church for one, I suspect.  
  • Here - if you can access it - is how to get really serious about Covid 19-rule-defaulters - fines of up to €60,000. Compare the UK . . .     
  • And, ditto, here’s what to expect at airports if you do chance your arm and come here. Again compare the nonsense/chaos of the UK.
  • So, has our ex-king really exiled himself? . . . As Juan Carlos abruptly left Spain for a secret location, leaving his compatriots shocked and divided, he sent a text message to friends, saying: “I’m not on holiday and I’m not abandoning Spain. This is just a parenthesis.” According to El Pais, some people, including those in the government, are not sure that it will be that easy for a former king engulfed in scandal to reverse his voluntary exile, which was executed in the hope of limiting damage to the Bourbon brand. What a jokester!
  • I see there are no longer any machines on O Burgo bridge. So, I guess we can finally conclude its reformation is complete. Ten months later than predicted. Anyway, it’s possibly now the world’s widest pedestrian bridge. And the route out of the city on the camino towards Santiago de Compostela. Or Fátima in the other direction. Not that, these days, one sees the hundreds of ‘pilgrims’ making their way across it every day between March and October. So, plenty of space in which to ensure social distancing. 
  • Here’s María’s fruity Day 52 of her Chronicle.  

The USA

  • It's reported that Americans are 'insanely jealous' of Spaniards who've been able to exile  their corrupt head of state but I'm not convinced this is a widespread sentiment. 
  • A Fart fan yesterday rejected my suggestion that deaths per million are rising faster in the USA than elsewhere. These are the progressions since mid June for the worst countries in the world, excluding both tiny states and South American countries where rates are now as high as these:-

Belgium 833 850 + 17(+2%)

UK      614 683 + 69(+11%)

Spain   580 610 + 30(+5%)

Italy   568 582 + 14(+3%)

Sweden  483 570 + 87(+19%)

USA     356 488 + 132(+37%)

France  451 464 + 13(+3%)

As I've said, the USA - having passed France - is heading rapidly towards Sweden's number and will pass it, I guess, within 2 weeks. Even though Sweden's growth rate it higher than that of other European countries. Hopefully as it heads towards the holy grail of herd immunity.

The Way of the World

Spanish

  • A nice phrase I came across last night - No tener vela en este entierro.  Not having a candle at this funeral. ‘An expression we use to censor a person who meddles in matters which don't concern them, or who participates in an act or conversation to which they've not been invited. It comes from the custom of the family of the deceased giving candles to friends attending the funeral.’

Finally . . . 

  • An acronym new to me: AIBU - “Am I being unreasonable?" Which I am very unlikely ever to need to use, of course.

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant. 



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 5 August 2020
05 August 2020

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 19 

  • A contentious view (from a rightwing US commentator)?: The Netherlands' top scientists, having examined key data and research, have declared there is no firm evidence to back the use of face coverings. Indeed, they argue that wearing the wretched things may actually hamper the fight. More here

Living La Vida Loca in Spain 

  • This must rank as good news: A mask which deactivates the SARS-CoV-2 virus is now on sale across Spain. More here.  I wonder if there’ll be any left on the shelves by midday.   
  • Despite - or because of - Brexit, there’s been a huge upsurge in Brits applying for residence in Spain. Some of these, of course, must be those who’ve been living here below the wire for years and now need to come out of the long grass, to mix metaphors.
  • It’s a regular - and very valid - complaint of Lenox Napier of Business over Tapas that the Spanish government concerns itself greatly with short-term tourists but not at all with us ‘residential tourists’. By coincidence(?), here’s his latest comment on the wisdom of the Spanish government putting all their eggs in the tourist basket.        
  • If you agree with the Podemos view that Juan Carlos has fled from Spanish justice, you must have assumed he'd face it one day. Which is something of a stretch. Makes for a good headline, though. Which might push us a tad closer to a republic. Even a de jure federal state, perhaps. In place of the de facto one we have now.
  • Here’s Maria with Days 50 and 51, the latter addressing the issue of the ex-king and his tainted forbears and descendants.

The UK

  • In the last 48 hours the government’s handling of the ongoing crisis has reached a new pitch of incoherence. the Prime Minister has simultaneously slammed on the brakes, executed a U-turn and pressed the accelerator. No wonder the government appears to be drifting. What is more, the rationale for all this frantic manoeuvring collapses under the slightest scrutiny. 
  • The second wave hysteria is a smokescreen for No 10's abysmal failures, says the controversial columnist of the article below. 

The USA

  • Fart’s interview with Jonathan Swift has to be seen to be believed. Some will see it as evidence of his genius. The rest of us will see it a proof that he is, inter alia, a narcissistic cretin who doesn’t understand even the simple - and misleading/erroneous - data he’s been spoonfed.  

English 

English/Spanish

  • Three more refranes:-

- The darkest hour is before the dawn: Las cosas suelen empeorar antes de mejorar.

- The devil looks after his own: Mala hierba nunca muere.

- The die is cast: La suerte está echada.

Finally . . . 

  • Rates of dementia in men have been falling around the world for 3 decades. Two of the risk factors for the condition are said to be smoking and deafness brought on by 'excessive noise'. Hmm. I'm in the wrong country for avoiding these. I wonder whether the improvement has been observed here.

THE ARTICLE

Second wave hysteria is a smokescreen for No 10's abysmal failures:  Perish the thought that Downing Street Machiavellians prefer it that way. Sherelle Jacobs, Daily Telegraph

A Prime Minister slamming the brakes on lockdown easing. The highest number of daily cases in a month. Restrictions reimposed in the North of England. A ‘major incident’ declared in Manchester as cases surge. Scientists who previously advocated herd immunity now warning pubs may have to shut. You’d be forgiven for thinking the second wave was upon us.

But probe a little further, and you realise the public is being bombarded with potentially meaningless – if not outright misleading – numbers. We are being routinely deprived of the one basic figure that would give us a much clearer picture of the state of play: the number of Covid cases being picked up, adjusted for the number of tests done over time. As such a figure takes into account the increase in the testing being conducted across the country (Leicester has ramped up testing dramatically in a short space of time for example), it would give us a much better idea of whether Covid transmission is indeed spiralling out of control.

But as Prof Carl Heneghan wrote for Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence Based Medicine on Sunday, when you adjust the rise in people testing positive for changes in testing over time, it appears that the rate of cases in healthcare settings is dropping and the rate of cases in the community is flatlining rather than rising, as widely assumed. Even this may be an exaggerated picture, he claims, as false positives risk inflating case figures.

Underlying this academic confusion is an outrageous scandal. Let's pause and take it in for a moment: more than half a year into this crisis, No 10 (and the media) is still allowing incomplete, poorly interpreted and potentially inaccurate data to be widely circulated, fuelling public hysteria.

A cynic might wonder whether premature panic suits Downing Street’s agenda on some perverse level. The public still overwhelmingly supports lockdowns as the best weapon against the virus. 49 per cent of Brits remain uncomfortable returning to a pub, according to Yougov. Polls by Opinium and Ipsos MORI show that more than half the public think the Government is relaxing the lockdown too fast, while just one in seven think lockdown is being eased too slowly. 

A Machiavellian politico might take the view that if the electorate is panicking about a second wave that is already here, then it isn’t scrutinising the Government for failing to prepare for the one potentially around the corner. Covid-19 may be subsiding but it could yet prove seasonal, striking again this winter. That is still some months away, which means No 10 has some time to get its ducks in a row. But voters aren't really picking up on this time frame. The risk is that they then have accepted that the Government has little time or room to manoeuvre to avoid a second lockdown; this could yet prove No 10's Get Out Of Jail Free card. Or perhaps this Government is genuinely just incompetent. 

Either way, the false narrative that No 10's hands are tied needs to be challenged. With hospital rates dropping, and the evidence that infections are surging still uncertain, the Government does arguably in fact have time and space to get Britain’s chaotic Covid strategy in order.

Although the roll-out of two new ‘game-changing’ 90-minute tests for whole cities and towns is welcome news, what Britain really needs is a flawless and focused testing regime to protect vulnerable groups. Instead, a pledge for routine testing in care homes this summer has been quietly abandoned. Nor has the Government explicitly committed to a timetable for routine weekly testing in the NHS. Last time, Covid ripped through hospitals with some of the country’s worst-performing NHS hospital trusts among the most badly hit; where are the emergency measures to get failing hospitals up to scratch?

So is history doomed to repeat itself if coronavirus returns for a second winter? That rather depends on whether the public is whipped into such a state of panic that, once again, it gives politicians the benefit of the doubt over their failure to avoid lockdown. 

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 4 August 2020
04 August 2020

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 19

Early in the virus saga, a Spanish doctor forecast that, eventually, we'd all get it. She didn't, however, give a time frame and, of course, back then we had no idea that many who did so would be asymptomatic. But we did know/think that the infection rate of Covid (the R number) was high to very high. 

Surely by now, then, we'll all have come into contact with the virus, somehow, somewhere. And we should be well on our well to herd immunity. 

So, how to explain that the percentage of cases among the population is extremely low, even in those countries with high levels of testing. For example:-

Spain: Pop. 47m  Testing 143k per million. Infections: 344k. Percentage of population infected 0.7%.

Belgium: Pop. 11.6m.  Testing 174k/m. Infections 70.3k. Percentage of population infected 0.6%. 

The UK: Pop. 68m. Testing 246k/m. Infections 305.6k. Percentage of population infected 0.5% 

Sweden: Pop. 10.16m. Testing low at 80.2k/m. Infections 81k. Percentage of population infected 0.8%

The USA: Pop. 331.2m. Testing 184k/m. Infections 4,900k. Percentage of population infected 1.5%%

Deaths as a percentage of the population is even lower, of course,

Spain: 0.06% 

Belgium: 0.09% 

The UK: 0.07% 

Sweden: 0.06%

The USA: 0.05%

And deaths as a percentage of cases has steadily reduced, giving the overall rates of:-

Spain: 8%

Belgium: 14%

The UK: 15%

Sweden: 7%

The USA: 3%

As it's falling, this rate will be lower among recent/current cases. Though possibly not in the USA, where deaths are rising rapidly.

Of course, these stats (from this site) are national. There are cities where the percentages are much higher and where lockdowns might make more sense. New York for example:-

Pop. 19.5m  Testing 313k/m. Infections 445.8k. Percentage of population infected 2.3%. 

Deaths as a percentage of the population 0.17%

Deaths as a percentage of cases 7.4%

So, the questions arise: What is really going on? Have we overreacted? Will herd immunity ever be reached? Was Sweden's strategy right all along, especially if they don't experience anything like a 'second wave'? Will we have to live with this virus for at least until a vaccine comes along, if one ever does? If so, should we rely on measures less severe than lockdowns - masks, distancing and limited gatherings, for example (a la Sweden, of course)?

Or have I got the wrong end of more than one stick??

Living La Vida Loca in Spain 

  • Some evidence here that, while infection rates are rising here in Spain, the death rate remains lower than ever. 
  • Mink farms are a source of Covid infection, it’s reported. So, it wasn’t good to read yesterday that: Spain has 38 active mink breeding operations, most of them in northwestern Galicia.
  • I’ve spoken of the efficiency/officiousness of Spain’s police in levying fines. As it’s hot, it’s time to note that one of the several (minor?) offences you’ll be done for is having your arm/elbow outside your window. And then there’s not having an extra pair of glasses in your glove compartment . . .
  • Living in Galicia, this looks like an interesting novel - All This I Will Give to You, by Dolores Redondo. Investigating the death of a friend in a car crash here, a novelist is led deep into one of Spain’s most powerful and guarded families.  And, in the shadows of nobility and privilege, he  unravels a web of corruption and deception. Sounds about right.
  • Meanwhile, back in the real world, I was yesterday midday assailed by a group of jolly Disney-like characters, led by a toy car loudly playing American marching tunes and a very slow rendition of Anchors Aweigh. Spooky, as Dame Edna would say.    
  • I see our disgraced ex-king has finally exiled himself. Possibly. Not a huge surprise.

Finally/English  . . .

  • I’m halfway through a novel set in Japan in the late 18th century, among Dutch traders there. I haven’t learned much Japanese or Dutch so far, but I have met these English words new to me:

Geomantic

Dugs

Spindrift

Snonky

To scratchiest

Prismatic (of pain)

Paulownia (wood)

To scull (cheat)

Catpurse

Finny (way)

To cark

Crimped (shanghaid?)

Langer

To scrit

To clirk

Manumission

Golem

Root-truckled

Moxibustion

It’s always a pleasure to come across new words. Assuming you can later use them. Which I’m rather doubtful of in this case. Meanwhile, I’m hoping reader Perry will either know or delve into the meanings of these . . .

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 3 August 2020
03 August 2020

 

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'*

Living La Vida Loca in Spain 

  • Last night I again ventured onto the Renfe site to buy some tickets in my daughter’s name. It wouldn’t let me do this via my account with them, so I had to go back and enter all the journey details again, plus all my personal and card details. And, when it came to having them send confirmation and PDF’s to my daughter’s phone, I had to go through the process 5 times before it worked. Is there anyone at the company who checks the usability of their site? Or cares about it?
  • My favourite restaurant in Pontevedra - a Moroccan place - has risen to the top of the Tripadvisor rankings. So, I just need to say it’s now a terrible place. Please don’t go there, if you visit our fair city. Leave it to us residents to suffer there . . . 
  • To my surprise, the city council’s annual guide to summer fun contains quite a lot of events. Though not our big Jazz and Blues Festival. Which, TBH, is rather more jazz than blues these days, to my disappointment. 
  • María’s Chronicle Day 49: A holiness of virgins?   

The UK

  • The rules are wildly confusing. And at some point people will simply shrug their shoulders and go their own way. As the message becomes more and more muddled, so confidence, and compliance, diminishes.  
  • Between July 7 and 20 only one person had been fined for not self-isolating after arriving in England. A law flagrantly ignored without sanction is not a law. 

The USA

  • This must have been a tough list to compile. 
  • Part of a wider essay on populism in the USA: Donald Trump’s prodigious stupidity is not the sole cause of our crushing national failure to beat the coronavirus. Plenty of blame must also go to our screwed-up healthcare system, which scorns the very idea of public health and treats access to medical care as a private luxury that is rightfully available only to some. It is the healthcare system, not Trump, that routinely denies people treatment if they lack insurance; that bankrupts people for ordinary therapies; that strips people of their coverage when they lose their jobs — and millions of people are losing their jobs in this pandemic. It is the healthcare system that, when a Covid treatment finally arrives, will almost certainly charge Americans a hefty price to receive it. And that system is the way it is because organised medicine has for almost a century used the prestige of expertise to keep it that way.  . . .  American medicine is a supremely costly bureaucratic labyrinth.  See the full essay here.    

The Way of the World

  • An ex of the defunct Epstein: After an experience of direct awakening at age seventeen, Shelley Lewis has been on the path of inner transformation ever since. Now as a wellness entrepreneur and inner beauty expert, living and working in NYC and London, she actively holds Sacred Space, helping clients heal from their past and envision their future.
  • To my astonishment, people are paying up to £12,500 for ugly dogs such as Pomeranians, British and French bulldogs and pugs (with which it’s hard to tell which end is which). Is it any wonder there’s quite some fraud in the puppy-selling industry? 

English 

  • Some of the consulant-ese (over)used by the current British government. About itself and its policies, of course:-

- World-class

- World-beating

- Best in class

- Cutting-edge

Newspeak?  

English/Spanish

  • Three more refranes:-

- Spring is in the air: La primavera la sangre altera.

- The chickens have come home to roost: Aquellos polvos** traen estos lodos 

- The child is father of the man: Lo que se mama de niño dura toda la vida. [??]

Finally . . . 

  • Definitely the last mention of my garden . . . 1. I cut down more than 80 shoots/suckers on the bougainvillea, one of which was more than 150cm(5 feet) long and the width of my little finger. 2. The volume of Virginia creeper I pulled off the rear wall of the house was astonishing. Though not very heavy.
  •  

 * A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.

** Meaning here ‘dust’, not ‘a shag’.



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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 2.8.20
02 August 2020

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 19

  • Food for thought . . Based on the data, there seems to be no relationship between lockdowns and lives saved. That’s remarkable, given that we know for sure that lockdowns have destroyed economies the world over.   . . .  It was pure speculation that lockdowns would suppress this virus, and that speculation was based on a hubristic presumption of the awesome power and intelligence of government managers.  . . .  Billions of lives fundamentally altered. Economies wrecked. Centuries-old traditions of liberty and law thrown out. Police states everywhere. And to what end? The data indicate it was all for naught. Apparently, you cannot control a virus with state policies. The virus just doesn’t seem to care. More here 

Living La Vida Loca in Spain 

  • “Empty Spain” - The potential solutions are examined here
  • More good news re the  mass graves of Republican victims of murderous Francoists.
  • Someone has had a very different TIE application process from mine, as I described here and here recently.      
  • In parts of Spain, autopistas are being taken back into public ownership and tolls abolished. Here in Galicia - and for reasons unclear - the government seems determined not only to leave ours in private ownership but also to protect the company’s interests come what may, en route to the most expensive toll road in Spain. So.  . .  The state will compensate Audasa for the fall in traffic on the AP9 caused by the pandemic. Friends in high places?
  • María’s Chronicle Day 48

The UK

  • Richard North is at his pungent best again here: I am entirely unconvinced that the government has a handle on this epidemic, or that its central management of local outbreaks is contributing anything of value.  
  • See the article below on the theme of UK government (in)competence.
  • According to a Guardian’s survey: ‘No one stops you': shoppers' attitudes to masks differ across UK. Some shopkeepers report wide compliance with coronavirus rules, but others say the message isn’t getting across.  While adherence to mask-wearing rules was estimated to be as low as 30% in some areas of the UK, other areas have had near-complete compliance. At least there’s consistency in The Netherlands; no one wears one, except on public transport. And the government there has just decided not to impose an obligation. In very sharp contrast with Spain, of course

The USA

  • If senior Republicans really have given up on Fart, will we see the assassination I forecast years ago? 
  • But, I guess, if he really does quit before the November elections, as postulated here, that won't be necessary.  
  • Meanwhile, some more amusement.    

The Way of the World

  • Fortunes are being made by collusion between Chinese manufacturers of counterfeit/copy products, internet influencers and 'retailers' who invest in nothing but act as (legal) middlemen. Drop shopping, it's called. Needless to say some of it is fraudulent. Who'd have thought the internet would facilitate this . . .    

English 

Finally . . . 

  • Here's a surprise . . . Experts pour scorn on celebrity wines. Sommeliers have spoken out against the trend of celebrity-endorsed wines, saying it usually signifies a mass-produced product that the star in question would be unlikely to drink themselves. Can we at least look forward to one from Gwyneth Paltrow which tastes something like her frontal nether regions? To coin a phrase.
  • Last mention of my garden . . . The weeds have naturally had a field day (a garden day?), especially this blighter, the Portulaca oleracea, known - I see here - as common purslane, duckweed, little hogweed, and pursley. Bloody nuisance, even if edible:-   

THE ARTICLE

Careless words could cost PM the goodwill of a long-suffering public: If the Government wants to heed the lessons of wartime, the key one is to make its message clear: Janet Daley,  The Telegraph

When this whole saga began, you may recall, Boris Johnson was very fond of war analogies. Britain had been forced into battle against a “hidden enemy” which would only be defeated by unified action and national resolve etc. Last week Matt Hancock was at it again: the country was “as close as you can get to fighting a war” which required constant vigilance and sacrifice etc.

With all these nostalgic metaphorical calls on the British Blitz spirit, you might have thought that the fundamental principles of wartime government would have been observed in regard to the use of language - which is of such huge importance in ensuring the confidence of the people in a crisis.

So what are the basic rules for a government addressing its population in a war against a foreign power which should also apply (as per Mr Johnson and Mr Hancock’s analysis) to a viral epidemic? First, there should be consistency and an appearance of agreement between all members of the government (and its official policy advisers) at all times. Second, there must be an unshakeable sense of calm clarity which is to say, an absolute prohibition on any statement that could give rise to hysteria or panic. Finally - and most important of all - there is the urgent need to maintain public morale, the collapse of which would be catastrophic: pessimism and hopelessness are the true enemies in any war effort.

It is only fair to say at the start that this pandemic has been so unpredictable in its progress that most of the established rules for dealing with health crises have been pretty useless. So I am not talking here about the practical matters of organising hospital resources or instituting testing programmes which have been largely a matter of trial and error throughout the world.

Whatever mistakes were made - or not - about lockdowns and tracking regimes will have to be debated on empirical scientific grounds sometime in the future. But political leadership is something which governments can control and on which they can be judged now.

It would have been beyond the reach of almost any politician to evaluate properly the solutions, which were at various points conflicting, being offered by the scientific experts. But where politicians should have their own expertise is in the words that they use to present their case for action. Even if they cannot control events, they can control the description of them.

The present Prime Minister is known to be less than assiduous in his command of factual detail but he has an awesome capability with language and an unrivalled understanding of its force. So there is really no excuse for the imprecision and bluster which has created confusion and despondency at best, and outright rebellion at worst.

It would take some beating to produce a statement more utterly meaningless than the sentence uttered by Mr Johnson at his briefing last Friday: “We can’t fool ourselves that we are exempt from a second wave.” What in the name of God does that mean in actual life-changing terms? Is it a cautious way of saying that we are now, at this moment, into a second wave of the virus? Or that we might be, but there is no way to be sure? Or that we are not yet in a second wave but if we persist in our dangerous habits (which until a few hours before this announcement, were acceptable) we shall be in one? And what exactly is this dreaded thing - a “second wave”? What are the criteria for determining that it has arrived? How can it be distinguished from occasional lingering flare-ups of the first wave? All of these questions are left hanging in the air.

What will remain in the minds of most people are those terrible words, “second wave” which keep being repeated wildly and loosely by almost everybody in a position to pronounce on policy, producing a vague vision of thousands more victims dying alone in overflowing hospital wards. Is that what the government wants - to scare everybody back into submission to the rules (whatever they are at the moment)?

At the time of writing this column, the only thing that can be indubitably and unquestionably stated is that there has been an increase (not a huge one) in the number of positive tests for the virus in some areas. Even to label these “new cases” is dubious because so many of those testing positive are not, in any perceptible sense, suffering from the illness. The fact that they are carrying the virus has been discovered by a vastly increased use of testing. For all we know, they may not be “new” instances of the virus at all: they may have been positive for quite a long time before random testing found them.

Again as I write, there has been no increase in hospital admissions so this rise in the number of positive tests seems not to be equated with what most people would understand by the emergence of a “second wave” of the pandemic. We have not had an increase in disease, we have had an increase in positive tests - which logically would follow from a massive increase in testing. So why bandy around this peculiarly emotive and almost indefinable term (“second wave”) when you could just speak, strictly correctly, of local recurrences? And why is there so little reference in official pronouncements to the fact that treatment of actual cases of the disease has improved so much that it has become a manageable condition for many patients? That is genuinely good news and would, presumably, affect the outcome of any future second wave.

Many people I gather are beginning to suspect that the government deliberately plays down good news for fear that we will all just throw out the rule book and run riot thus putting the NHS under threat of being overwhelmed once again. (Except, of course, that the NHS never was overwhelmed.) The populace has been, as ministers constantly acknowledge, extraordinarily forbearing through this on-again, off-again suspension of life as we know it. But - you can feel it in the air - the good will is running out.

 

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.

 



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