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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: 21 September 2020
21 September 2020 @ 10:06

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    

Just as the UK and Spain - and maybe other states - gear  up for another total lockdown, the author of the first article below questions their efficacy and says we must learn to live with the virus.

But . . . A question occurred to me yesterday: What measures would we take if the next revelation is that kids might well be asymptomatic now - so no cough or fever - but the virus damages one or more organs for a lifetime? 

Living La Vida Loca in Spain and Galicia  

Spain’s far-left deputy prime minister said on Saturday that the financial scandal which has rocked the royal family had presented an “historic moment” to push for a republic. Maybe in 20 years. Or, more likely, 50. Depending on future scandals, I guess. And the performance of the princesses in due course. They’re said to doing a grand job at the moment. Possibly by those biased in favour of the monarchy.

More here on the Vaqueiros de Alzada. Some folk - click here - see them as descendants of Vikings. Where it’s pointed out that they extend as far westwards as Galicia. And where there’s this interesting statement: España está llena de etnias malditas, pueblos residuales que siempre fueron mal aceptados y han logrado sobrevivir endogámicamente al secular aislamiento social. Including the gypsies and the Maragotos, of course.         

I cited Richard North’s comment along the lines that a smile and a ‘bribe’ always go down well in Spain. In one of my regular coffee-cafés, the bribe is, I guess, my 10% tip. And I always smile and chat. The end result is that what they give me by way of accompanying cakes and churros has steadily risen. And yesterday I was also offered some tortilla on top of these. From a weight point of view, I’m not convinced this is a good thing. But it’s nice and, I think, typically Spanish. Shame it doesn’t happen so often as regards wine poured into my copa.

In this sub-tropical climate, it’s both a joy and a curse to  have a garden. At least it ensures you’re never short of something to do. This year seems to have seen growth at an even greater pace than ever. Especially as regards the suckers in my large bougainvillea and in the foliage of my (as yet) bloom-less wisteria. As regards the latter, I  had to laugh at the comment that, while the lack of flowers might be due to over-pruning, it’s very difficult to over-prune a wisteria. As for the bougainvillea, it seems confused by the weather, as it’s both shedding dead leaves and flowers and growing new ones. The sucker problem is as bad as ever and yesterday I had to prune at least 30 of the bastards, including one of exactly 183cm(6 feet), plus 5 almost as long.

María's Fallback Diary: Days 6&7 omnibus on our Coast of Death.    

The USA

Below as the 2nd article is a fascinating - albeit long - piece by the admirable P J O'Rourke. It would justify anyone giving up on understanding the country and it egregious politics. 

Social Media

One shouldn't laugh but . . . A Woman fell out the car window while filming a Snapchat video on the M25.  Fortunately, it was in the early hours and no one was seriously injured or killed. And no driver was left traumatised by hitting and killing her.

English/Spanish 

Three more less well-known refranes:-

- Better to ask the way than go astray: Quien tenga lengua llega a Roma.

- Birth is much but breeding is better: Díme no con quien naces, sino con quien paces.

- Cowards die many times: Quien teme la muerte no goza de la vida. [??] [BTW, my spellcheck changed goza into gyoza, whatever that is.]

Finally . . . 

Another couple of 1840s gems from Richard Ford, on still-topical themes:-

- The usual foreign drags also exist, which render their bureaucratic absurdities so hateful to free Britons.

- Localism:  From the earliest period down to the present, all observers have been struck with this as a salient feature in the character of the Iberians, who never would amalgamate.  Never would, as Strabo said, put their shields together. Never would sacrifice their own local private interest for the general good.

I can visualise Vincent Werner nodding at these sentiments . . . Among others.

THE ARTICLE

Trump v Biden: PJ O’Rourke on why this US election is the craziest yet 

Americans have had their fun electing a clown flapping around in huge shoes he can’t fill, honking incessantly on his Twitter horn, the little car of his administration spilling forth far too many buffoons, zanies and felony indictments. His greasepaint now looks nothing but greasy, his fright wig is too frightful. His antics cause the tightrope walkers of foreign policy to totter, the trapeze artists of domestic policy to lose their grip, and he’s scaring the children in the ringside seats, particularly the millennial voters. (Alarming their suburban moms as well.) He’s chasing the elephants out of the big top. Two notable Republican pachyderms — General Colin Powell and John Kasich, the former Ohio governor and erstwhile Trump primary opponent — wandered over to perform at the Democratic National Convention.

The rubes are getting wise to the ballyhoo. They’ve guessed the sideshow games of chance are fixed, like the one where you take off your face-mask and hope to win Covid immunity. The crowd is turning ugly. The Maga calliope* is out of tune with the times. The circus had better leave town.   [*An American keyboard instrument resembling an organ but with the notes produced by steam whistles]

So why does Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential race feel somehow one prefix short of inevitable?

This may be simply a case of nerves. Ever since 1999, when Trump announced he was forming a “presidential exploratory committee” to take baby steps into the unmapped wilderness of politics, every pollster, pundit, analyst, expert, practised insider and savvy outside observer has been completely wrong about the future of Trump. No amount of research, reason, deep thinking, far seeing, checking the public pulse and taking the electoral temperature made them anything other than wrong. Anybody who wasn’t wrong about Trump wasn’t paying attention.

Biden is a normal politician. He personifies a return to normal politics. But is there a normal left to go back to?

And Biden is a mediocrity. He is a first-rate mediocrity of the venerable, time-honoured kind. He spent 36 years in the US Senate, a testament to his political skills (or to the inertia of the American Congress). To be president is his heart’s desire, by fits and starts. He tried to gain the Democratic nomination for the 1988 presidential election and again 20 years later. Both times he got the award for participation that in American political parlance is called “early frontrunner”.

He was vice-president in the Obama administration, which in Biden’s presidential campaign has become the “Obama-Biden administration”. (Ignore what America’s first vice-president, John Adams, had to say: “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived.” Also ignore the assessment of the vice-presidency by Franklin Roosevelt’s VP John Nance Garner: “It isn’t worth a bucket of warm piss.”)

As a senator Biden voted against — and later for — abortion, gay marriage and bussing students (the practice of transporting pupils to schools in different neighbourhoods to try to address racial segregation). In the early 1980s Biden was instrumental in passing the draconian Comprehensive Crime Control Act. In the late 1980s Biden was instrumental in easing the provisions of the Crime Control Act that most resembled Draco the Athenian lawgiver’s 7th century BC punitive notions.

In the Senate and the White House Biden was the sort of trustworthy, steadfast good scout whose reward was to be assigned the no-hope issues — international arms control, domestic gun violence, the Balkans, drug interdiction, the federal debt ceiling, corruption in post-Soviet states, infrastructure deterioration, Iraqi politics. He both voted to go to war with Iraq and voted not to. (Albeit getting it the wrong way around, with a nay for the useful liberation of Kuwait from Iraq and a yea for the bootless invasion of Iraq itself.)

In his presidential campaign Biden has, or says he has, come around to most of the political positions standard to the American left. (The British equivalent of “American left” being someone who can’t quite decide whether they are a Lib Dem or a wet Tory.) But his record is sufficiently all over the place to give the less lefty a wiggle room of hope.

Biden was the safe-hands pick for the Democratic Party. Not that there was much else on offer. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were his closest contenders. Both were more generous in their offers to bribe the impecunious, who are part of the Democratic base, and amplify the virtue-signalling of the overeducated, who are the other part.

But Warren could not escape the impression of a teacher who gives pop quizzes after lunch on Friday and assigns The Mill on the Floss book report, due Monday morning.

Sanders excited the children for whom the New Left is a desirable and charming antique. However, Sanders was a grim memento for anyone old enough to have experienced the over-the-top Sixties or hangover Seventies. This is the age group that actually votes in US general elections. Sanders made us recall how self-serious, solemnly silly, earnestly futile and full of blatherskite bores like Sanders that era was — when we weren’t stoned.

Biden is a sympathetic man, in giving and receipt. He’s more concerned than is usual in American politics with the feelings and worries of his colleagues and constituents. (Constituents that include about a million businesses — more than half of the publicly traded companies in America — which are incorporated in Delaware due to the state’s friendly legal system, advantageous tax policies and lax rules of corporate governance.) And Biden has suffered more grief than an American politician usually does.

Several weeks after Biden’s 1972 election to the Senate, his wife and his one-year-old daughter were killed in a traffic accident. His three-year-old son, Beau, and two-year-old son, Hunter, were severely injured.

Biden was a single father for five years, commuting by train to Washington from Wilmington, Delaware, 90 minutes each way. He married again, had another child and continued to commute for the rest of his Senate career, hosting an annual barbecue for the train crew at his home.

Beau Biden joined the army after finishing law school and working in Kosovo as a legal adviser. He served in Iraq, where he earned a Bronze Star, then became attorney-general of Delaware and was tipped to be the state’s next governor. But he died of brain cancer in 2015 at age 46.

Joe Biden has been patient and loyal with his younger son, Hunter, who seems to be a troubled child. Although in this case “troubled child” is not a matter of joyriding and petty theft, but of Hunter’s wholly inappropriate and richly remunerated seat on the board of directors of a shady Ukrainian natural gas company while his father was vice-president.

There seems to have been no sin of commission on the father’s part. Though Biden should have told Hillary Clinton over at the State Department to give the boy what for. Spare the Rodham and spoil the child.

Biden bears all kinds of sorrow and disappointment with grace, though. He’s the grown-up in the room that everyone has been looking for since Trump’s inauguration. Or is he grown-up to the point of going to seed? Biden’s age is a putative issue. (Not too much of one, perhaps, Trump being only three years younger and with a physique looking like a co-morbidity waiting to happen.)

Biden is too old to be president. As is anyone who’s not a six-year-old with ADHD on a sugar high, given the schedule an American president is supposed to keep. Also political power is a preservative. Somewhere in the sewers of power there is a drainpipe from the fountain of youth. Robert Mugabe, ruler of Zimbabwe for nearly four decades, had to be removed by military coup when he was 93.

Biden’s mind is sharp — in first-rate shape for second-rate thinking, as it’s always been. He does have a tendency to let what runs into his brain pour out of his mouth, giving him a reputation for “gaffes”. But, again, this is to speak in American political parlance, which has no word or phrase that translates as “telling the truth”. His most famous gaffe came when he was running against Barack Obama for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Biden, in the very announcement of his candidacy, conceded his opponent’s advantages: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy — I mean, that’s storybook, man.”

Articulate, bright, clean, nice-looking Obama apparently forgave Biden. (Though he waited to endorse Biden’s attempt to win the 2020 nomination until Biden had won it.)

Biden’s scandals are minor, such as not keeping son Hunter fenced in the yard. During his first attempt at getting the Democratic presidential nomination he plagiarised, of all people, Neil Kinnock, who was notably not prime minister from 1983 to 1992. And Biden may have social-distancing issues of a pre-pandemic, post-#MeToo sort. In 2019 a former member of the Nevada state legislature said that during a 2014 campaign rally Biden walked up behind her, put his hands on her shoulders, smelt her hair and kissed the back of her head. Oh my.

I don’t know if Biden is so cosy with his vice-presidential choice, Kamala Harris. Pointing out Biden’s erstwhile opposition to bussing, she drubbed him in their only debate. “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bussed to school every day. That little girl was me.” That little girl is fierce, at least in a political sense. Between 2003 and 2017 she went from a minor position as a lawyer checking code violations to district attorney of San Francisco to California attorney-general to US senator.

Her early presidential primary campaign didn’t come to much. But early presidential primary campaigns are incomprehensible even (or maybe especially) to American presidential primary voters. They make about as much sense as a rugby scrum before the ball has been put into play. Harris contends (as does Biden) with the contradictions inherent in claiming good government and goody-goody government are consubstantial. She favours a large tax hike on “the 1%”, although according to The Washington Post she and her lawyer husband had a 2018 income of $1.9 million. But you can’t accuse her of shooting herself in the foot, because Democrats favour strict gun control law. While she was San Francisco’s district attorney the drug-dealer conviction rate rose from 56 per cent to 74 per cent. But you can’t accuse her of losing out by jailing her own voters, because Democrats favour voting rights for convicted criminals. Speaking of which, she’s so devoted to education that as attorney-general she proposed a law against “habitual and chronic truancy” that would have made parents liable to arrest if their youngsters skip school. My mother would still be in prison.

Harris is a woman. Harris is a minority. But not too minoritarian. Her cancer researcher mother from India and her economics professor father from Jamaica, both of whom have PhDs, make Kamala a minority of one. She is articulate and bright and clean and nice-looking. More safe hands.

If Biden has a problem, it may be just that. He is summed up a little too well — or sums himself up to voters a little too well — in the lines from Philip Larkin’s poem Sympathy in White Major.

A decent chap, a real good sort,

Straight as a die, one of the best,

A brick, a trump, a proper sport,

Head and shoulders above the rest ...

Here’s to the whitest man I know —

Though white is not my favourite colour.

(NB it was published in 1967, far too long ago to contain a pun in the third line.)

And there is nothing about Biden, in his campaign or his person, that addresses why Donald Trump was elected in the first place.

Americans were expressing a general frustration with government. Biden seems to be mixed up about the difference between “distaste for” and “shortage of”. His campaign platform is a numbing 564 pages long. The promises range from the impossibly delusional — “ensure that no child’s future is determined by their zip code, parents’ income, race or disability” — to the all-too-likely inane — “create a ‘Safer for Shoppers’ program that gives compliant businesses a sign for their window”.

Biden is oblivious to the paradox of modern governance. The amount of things we want from government entails an amount of government we don’t want. The contradiction prevails in all modern social welfare democracies. (America is a social welfare democracy. But please don’t mention it. We haven’t told the kids.)

Social welfare democracies are experiencing a yellow-vested, Brexiting, Five Star Movemental, Make America Less Not Great exhaustion with being governed.

In the US this is exacerbated by our not having any political parties in the commonly accepted sense of the term. There is no Republican or Democratic card to carry, you can’t be expelled, and if you donate so much as a nickel to either it’s impossible to escape “joining”.

We can’t oppose each other in a customary and traditional partisan way. We have to get personal and angry. This is complicated because instead of political parties we have two broad political concepts: government should fix the problem/the problem is the government. These ideas can be held by the same person at the same time about the same subject without cognitive dissonance. Neither the Republican National Committee nor the Democratic National Committee has any power. Both are beholden to the party committees of the 50 states (plus the District of Columbia and various territories). The state committees are, in turn, beholden to the county committees. There are 3,141 counties in the United States. The only people who involve themselves in county-level party politics can be described, kindly, as needing “to get a life”. The chairman of the Republican county committee is typically a retired aluminium-siding salesman in polyester plaid pants and clashing tartan shirt who neglected to take up golf. The chairman of the Democratic county committee is a bitter divorcée with 20 cats. That’s how politics is run in the US.

Trump wasn’t elected because Clinton was cordially detested. What American presidential candidate since George Washington hasn’t been? She was dull on the stump. But if dullness were politically fatal, the entire American political system would have been in the cemetery with President Harrison since 1841. (He gave a two-hour inaugural address in freezing rain, then caught a cold and died a month later.)

Clinton’s “popular vote” victory was and is inconsequential. America, since its founding, has had a devolved system of voting for the president that eschews nationwide first-past-the-post to give more obscure regions (our Scotlands) a greater say than weight of population would allow. She and Trump knew the rules. The cheating would have been different in a different game.

Russian electoral interference was doubtless factual but doubtfully culpable. I’ve spent time in Russia. The idea that the Russians could fine-tune America’s enormously complex machinery of election is … I’ve driven Russian cars.

And there’s no use blaming Trump’s election on the rise of populism. “Populism” is an epithetic catch-all in use whenever the ideas popular with the good and the great aren’t popular.

The highest decibel in the Trump campaign noise was xenophobia. (An interesting question: how many of those with the condition can spell it?) Americans do hate foreigners. Because we are foreigners.

America not only doesn’t have political parties in the commonly accepted sense of the term, it is not a nation in the commonly accepted sense of the term. It is not united by bonds of history, culture or ethnicity and only barely by a common (sometimes very common) language. America is not even united by territory: in our frontier mentality, there’s always lots more of it. Mars!

America is what you get when you turn a random horde of people loose in a vast and various space. Some came here on the make, some on the run, some were dragged here involuntarily as slaves, some were chased here by poverty, oppression or bigotry and some were here already and were defeated by disease and demographics until they became foreigners in their own country. The bunch of us have never got along. The grounds of our mutual suspicion are in the roots of our family trees. We know what we foreigners get up to. Trump called loudly to our prejudice. But self-loathing is not a very firm campaign plank.

Trump wasn’t elected by the irrational nationalists, the savage racists and the doomed-flight right-wingers. They were a factor. His campaign didn’t explicitly offer them a home — more like Airbnb accommodations. But there’s little likelihood that maniacs came out to oppose Clinton in greater numbers than they opposed Obama.

During the 2016 presidential campaign I interviewed Trump supporters. A surprising number were sceptical of the man himself. A gas station owner in his fifties and wearing a Trump button said: “I think he’s out of whack.”                           “You think he’s crazy and you’re supporting him? Would you want him in your home?” I asked.                                 

He smiled. “No thanks.”                                                                                                                                                        

“But …” I began.                                                                                                                                                              

“But,” he continued, “I’ve got these 25-year-old underground gasoline storage tanks. They need to be replaced. I can’t get a permit to dig them up. I can’t get a federal permit. I can’t get a state permit. I can’t get a local permit. I need a permit to put new tanks in. I can’t get a federal permit, can’t get a state permit, can’t get a local permit. I’ve got a junkyard out back. It’s been a junkyard since the 1920s. Now there’s an endangered newt living in the water inside some old snow tyre. I’ve got a towing operation and a body shop. I’m doing pretty well. I don’t mind Obamacare. I can afford to give the guys who work for me health benefits. But every time some genius in the White House gets a bright idea, a load of paperwork the size of the old Boston phone book lands on my desk. I don’t have a legal department. I don’t have a HR department. It’s just me and my wife, and I’m a mechanic.”                                                               

“So how,” I asked, “does sending a lunatic to Washington fix this?”                                                                                       

He laughed. “It’s what they’ve got coming.”

And maybe, alas, it still is.                                             

 

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



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