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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: 5 November 2020
05 November 2020 @ 13:28

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

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

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'*  

Covid 

The growing relevance of T-cells. 

See below for a provocative article which might just be on the button.

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain

Well, the cacerolazo was even more ineffective than I feared. No sooner was it over than the Galician government, the Xunta, announced that, as of 3pm Friday, the entire hostelería(hospitality) industry in the region will be closed down for a month. Effectively a second lockdown, albeit slightly less restrictive than the first one. Assuming this time we're allowed out into the street. To participate in the evening paseo, for example. 

I think we're still allowed to gather outside with up to 5 people with whom we cohabit but, as I live alone, there goes my social life for a while. It won't be a great birthday this year.

From my salón window, I can see a long horizontal gash in the forested hillside above Pontevedra city. This is the A-57 bypass, a public-works project which competes with the AVE high-speed train for the lateness record. Some would say it's unnecessary, as we already have the AP-9 autopista to serve its purpose. But, anyway, there's been no work on it for quite some time and I mention it now only because of a press report that the first 6km stretch from Pontevedra to Barro will be finished by ‘the end of 2022’. It's always the end of some year in the near-middle distance. Especially in election years. I have a small doubt it won't be open in my lifetime. But no one seems to care. No protests in its favour, as far as I can tell.

María's Falling Back chronicle, Day 51

The USA

Well, I think we can now make a good educated guess at what went on in those closed, no-notes-taken meetings Trump had with Putin and Kim Jong Un; they were tutorials on how to ignore the democratic will, ride roughshod over the democratic process and stay in power, come what may.

Here and here are couple of those US religious nuts and their truly preposterous claims and predictions. Wasn't it an American - H. L. Mencken - who said No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people?

The second of these cretins was once a Congresswoman. Dear Lord!

Spanish

- A grandes rasgos: Roughly/broadly speaking. Except, I guess, when numbers are to 2 or 3 decimal places, as they often are here.

Finally

During my (hitherto) daily short drives on a back road to and from my parking place on the Lérez side of O Burgo bridge, I have to negotiate 4-5 huge potholes that get bigger by the hour. And are currently highlighted by a white circle painted around each of them. This is doubtless ahead of repair. Which takes place every few months. I wonder if one day they'll do this properly. Or even re-tarmac the entire road. After all, if they've got so much  money to splash out on the bridge, why ever not?

Somewhat ironically, this is the road learner drivers have to take for their test. And then - over a narrow one-lane bridge - to a short stretch of tarmac pitted and rutted by large trucks driving to a large industrial unit alongside the AP-9. I feel for them. And almost forgive their roundabout stupidities.

A HT to Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas for the news that a confederation of book shops has started a service for readers - todostuslibros.com - due to open next week. Let’s hope this isn’t a Galician prediction.

THE ARTICLE

Covid is nowhere near dangerous as our pathological obsession with abolishing risk

Our fanatically simplistic approach to problem solving may turn out to be one of the biggest threats to society in the 21st century:   Sherelle Jacobs, Daily Telegraph

Today’s rotten win for Covid authoritarianism has similar perfume notes to the Iraq War. A weak Prime Minister has been bounced into a second lockdown by state scientists and their dodgy dossier of data. MPs yesterday voted “blind” on fresh restrictions without having a chance to fully digest the guidelines. A modelling blitzkrieg has petrified the masses, as three quarters back No 10, according to the polls.

Outnumbered lockdown-sceptics have put up an impressive guerrilla fight, trying to strangle the Government’s mangled modelling at birth. In this, Carl Heneghan has proved a hero, blasting No 10’s false and outdated projection of 4,000 daily deaths by next month. Still, this week we were routed. Sir Patrick Vallance’s slick disclaimer that there is a difference between a “prediction” and a “scenario” confounded scientifically illiterate hacks with depressing ease. The counter-argument – that even “scenarios” can be judged by their quality, assumptions, and usage – was too convoluted to go mainstream.

The lockdown-sceptic mission to expose the deeper flaws at the heart of the modelling backed by the scientific establishment is only now warming up. This week, Steve Baker MP raised the findings of a recent paper on the methodological issues that shame the field of epidemiological modelling with ministers and select committees. But this fight will be vicious. Infectious disease epidemiology is a backwards, inbred and bullying discipline. As the field struggles to explain why it has barely moved on from 1920s theory – ignoring major mathematical leaps – it is closing ranks, as dissenting academics are intimidated.

But if lockdown-sceptics are going to win this war against the establishment, they also need to capture hearts and minds at the terrified grassroots level. They can only do this by finding a powerful way to articulate that society suffers from top to bottom from a collective sickness: the inability to deal with risk.

While one notorious estimate by academics recently gathered at Oxford that there is a 19% chance of our extinction by 2100 may be a tad pessimistic, today’s “superwicked” threats to humanity make the Saddam bogeyman seem like Hammer horror vintage. The uncertainty of these risks is a killer. Deadly viruses can be leaked from labs that are actually trying to protect us by better understanding the world’s deadly pathogens. Deciphering the tipping points for global warming is beyond current science. What it will truly mean if AI surpasses general-level intelligence is beyond the human mind.

As the risks facing society become more complicated and terrifying, we are collapsing into a collective form of OCD, as we fanatically narrow the focus of our concerns. Not unlike the individual who suffers from an obsessive psychiatric illness, as a society we have started to seek order in rituals we can carry out with brittle meticulousness, even though deep down we know they are harming us.

We can – and we must – go after dodgy modelling, but we need to recognise it as a symptom of the illness, not the cause. Like other practices that have soothed and beguiled humans over the centuries, such as storytelling, magic, art and spiritualism, modelling is just the latest way we have found to simplify and interpret the world.

So how do we expose the dangers of this collective sickness, and hammer home that civilisation’s future hinges on our ability to deal with risk? Better illustrating that eliminating one risk triggers a thousand more might be one place to start. This won’t be easy with Covid. Lockdowns kill those least visible in society. The state has no indicator for measuring food poverty. There is a six-month delay in suicide deaths being registered, because of the need for a coroner’s inquest. Security protocols make keeping a log of domestic abuse victims next to impossible (case workers can’t follow up on women who provide only an email address for contacting them in case their partners have the password, for example).

The irony is that, in the absence of accurate data, modelling-sceptics need to be willing to fudge their own creative calculations. One study, which has logged likely and moderately likely suicide deaths to speculate that child suicide may have risen during the pandemic, shows how researchers can still build a picture without all the information. Lockdown victims can be modelled just like Covid deaths. The resultant figures may prove inaccurate. But therein lies the 21st century’s great challenge: as Sweden testifies, our politicos need to become both more comfortable with ambiguity and more balanced.

Above all, the guesswork and mysteries around modern dangers cannot remain the dirty secret of elites. That may seem a tall order: Covid has taught us that the instinct for self-preservation – not sunlit optimism or an appetite for risk – is the lifeblood of populism. But so it is the lifeblood of politicians. And deceitful triumphalism – whether that’s “defeating” a virus or “waging war” on terror – has a habit of catching up with leaders.

Tony Blair’s inability to grasp the need for the centre to shift from managerial control-freakery to realism about risk finished him, and doomed the Left for 20 years. Switchers to Farage’s new Reform party would do well to write to their Tory MP and remind them.

 

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



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