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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: 15 January 2021
15 January 2021 @ 11:49

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 Galicia/Spain 

It’s a very cold spell and the price of electricity has soared. Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas cites Public: Facua (the consumers’ organisation) denounces that the rise in the price of electricity has already reached 36% during the cold wave. The agency asks the Minister of Ecological Transition to "act against speculation and to fulfil the commitments adopted in the Government’s agreement to lower the electricity bill."

A reader has advised me that Galicia is no longer considered the second poorest region in Spain. I’m sure it isn’t along The Atlantic coast and wonder if all the drug profits have raised our average income. Must have, even if not declared.

I saw this in my (ex)parking lot in Lérez yesterday, at 13.00. Might explain postal delays . . .

On this, last night I read in my diary of 2001: I'm rather glad August is over. Apart from the fact the weather is better in September and the tourists have all gone home, it seems life is returning to normal after the 'holiday month'. Mail, for one thing, is arriving after the normal delays, whereas in August the system just seems to collapse. One week my Spectator arrived with the following week's edition, which itself was 4 days late. So, 11 days late in all. Maybe I can house-swap with someone who likes beaches next August. 

Federados/as - the folk who are free to move between Poio and Pontevedra. I’m told most kids today who do sport come under this rubric, not just adult tennis and golf players. I looked up federado/a in the dictionary of the Royal Academy and got:- Dicho de una organización superior a otras de carácter público o privado tales como sociedades, fundaciones u otros organismos. ‘Said of an organization superior to others of a public or private nature such as companies, foundations or other organizations’.

Then I looked up superior:-

1. Higher and in a preeminent place with respect to another.

2. More than something/someone in quality or quantity.

3. Excellent, so good.

So, I still have no idea what qualifies. There will/might be a concert staged by the Pontevedra Philharmonic Society next week, of which I’m a member. So, am I federado? Can I go to Pontevedra for it? Do I need a certificate?

Paul Preston’s new book - A People Betrayed: A History of Corruption, Political Incompetence, and Social Division in Modern Spain- is finally out in English. Lenox Napier gives us this review from From Foreign Affairs: For all its success at consolidating democracy, the country has often been held back by the staggering corruption of its political class. This affliction is exhaustively detailed in Preston’s book, which offers an unvarnished indictment of Spanish elites, including those who have shaped the current democratic regime. Preston approvingly quotes the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset: ‘Starting with the monarchy and moving on to the Church, no national authority has ever thought of anything but itself.’

Germany

A German friend has told me a new word has been created there - SCHMERZENSFREUDE: Pain is welcomed with lots of joy. Getting the Covid jam.

The USA 

Yet another non-surprise from the Trump stable, You have to laugh.

The Way of the World

I wasn’t aware until this morning of Cultural Marxism. This blatantly antisemitic conspiracy theory of Marxist culture war is promoted by right-wing politicians, fundamentalist religious leaders, political commentators in mainstream print and television media and white supremacist terrorists. A nice mix. See Wiki here and this article from The Guardian.

The 2 of articles below address major problems of our times.

Finally . . .

Yesterday I had Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable You going round in my head. But with the word Unimpeachable substituted. I looked on YouTube and, needless to say, there’s this.

THE ARTICLES

1. The sinister attempts to silence gender critical academics: Kathleen Stock

Academic freedom is vital in a functioning and healthy democracy. But when it comes to questioning and debating ideas around gender identity and sex, many of my colleagues in academia do not appear to agree.

The latest glaring example of this came last week. An open letter, signed by over 600 of my colleagues, primarily in academic philosophy, suggested I was personally responsible for ‘transphobic fearmongering’, helping to ‘restrict trans people’s access to life-saving medical treatment’, and serving ‘to encourage the harassment of gender-non-conforming people’. Their pretext was my OBE for services to higher education and academic freedom, awarded in the New Year’s Honours List. Since 2018, I’ve written several pieces criticising the idea that an inner feeling of gender identity should overrule facts about biological sex in nearly all policy contexts. I’ve also written extensively about the fact that many academics agree with me, but are too intimidated to say so. This has made me a particular target for abuse.

It did not matter to those who signed the open letter that there was no evidence for their outrageous defamatory falsehoods; nor that I regularly affirm the right of trans people to live lives free of harassment and discrimination. Never mind as well that as a six-foot tall lesbian, working in a male-dominated academic discipline, I’m fairly gender-non-conforming myself.

The authors of this letter clearly believed they could see into my soul – perhaps even without actually reading my views. Amusingly, the authors of the letter were later forced to add a correction to their claim that I am best known ‘for opposition to the UK Gender Recognition Act’ (In reality, I have no objection to the existence of the Act, and have objected to proposed reforms to it in favour of gender identity).

The spectacle of paid thinkers, whose entire training emphasises the importance of sober argumentation, signing a document which wouldn’t look out of place in the Salem Witch Trial archive, makes one question particularly pertinent: what’s actually going on here?

How can these academics look at the parts of the gender identity debate that concern me – for instance, vulnerable female prisoners being housed with male sex offenders; young lesbian women like Keira Bell regretting the effects of puberty blockers and voluntary mastectomies by the time they are 20; a loss of academic data about sex-associated patterns of discrimination, and so on – and conclude that I’m not only wrong, but that I should be publicly shamed?

Though many of the signatories of the open letter against me were based overseas, 11 of the founder signatories were at UK universities. UK universities are at the forefront of trans activism in at least two ways. One is that relatively many students – otherwise known these days as paying customers – are trans activists, and this alone will tend to affect weaker-minded academic faculty. It also makes it harder for dissenting academics to push back firmly against the latest pronouncement from Student Unions about the existence of 100 genders, or about how objecting to larger male-bodied athletes in women’s sport amounts to ‘body-shaming women’. This lack of obvious dissent encourages zealots.

The second point is that universities themselves, via enthusiastic participation in Stonewall schemes like the Diversity Champions scheme and the Top 100 Employers Index are now, effectively, trans activist organisations at a managerial level, with Stonewall-sponsored policies to match.

For instance, an HR policy at Queen’s University Belfast tells staff to ‘think of the person as being the sex that they want you to think of them as’ (policies at Edinburgh and Leeds say something very similar). UCL tells its staff: ‘If a trans person informs a staff member that a word or phrasing is inappropriate or offensive, then that staff member should take their word for it, and adjust their phraseology accordingly’.

‘Good practice’ at Oxford University includes avoiding the phrase ‘identifies as a woman’ for a trans woman, because this suggests trans women aren’t ‘“real” women’. Policies at several universities, including Sussex and Aberystwyth, mandate that ‘any materials within relevant courses and modules will positively represent trans people and trans lives’ – so, not much room to discuss male sex offenders placed in women’s prisons there then.

The costs of this intimidation of academics sceptical about gender orthodoxies – whether via savage open letters or managerial policies controlling speech and thought – are high. Knowledge is lost and public understanding diminished. In my view, there’s a pressing need for academics to take a cold hard look at the havoc wreaked by pretending, on a national scale, that gender identity is more important than sex in nearly every context. This includes a need for philosophers: for a lot of current trans orthodoxy has very particular philosophical underpinnings, seeming to give it intellectual credibility where, in my view, there is little.

Take the academic writings of Bernadette Wren, who was head of psychology at the NHS Tavistock, which operates the Gender Identity Development Service for children, until 2020. They are steeped in her version of French post-structuralism. She has described the clinic’s work with children, partly involving the prescription of potentially life-altering drugs, as ‘making meaning’, and socially ‘constructing transgender in the intimacy of the therapy room’.

Or look at the evidence presented by Oxford sociologist Michael Biggs, that – almost fantastically – the English prison service’s move to prioritising gender identity over facts about sex has been influenced by what’s known as ‘queer theory’ – which means supposedly natural categories like ‘male’ and ‘female’ are nothing but fictions propping up pernicious power imbalances.

A world in which philosophers could have freely and aggressively interrogated these decadent abstractions and public policies which involve vulnerable women would surely have been a better one for detransitioners like Keira Bell or the victims of Karen White. Unfortunately, far too many academic philosophers are more concerned about silencing their colleagues for woke points than having any meaningful, evidence-based debate.

2. Can we trust Twitter and Facebook to help curb misinformation?  John Kampfner, The Times

The pandemic has spawned a new lexicon. One of the more bizarre terms is “information hygiene”. It is ominously Orwellian. It is also a necessary tool in combatting the “infodemic”, the spreading of fake or tendentious data with catastrophic consequences.

There are, says the World Health Organisation, four essential elements for informationally hygienic citizens: Do they stay informed? Do they avoid information echo chambers? Do they avoid assuming something is true simply because it supports their point of view? Do they check information veracity before forwarding content to others?

If your answer is “no” or “probably not” to any of the above, then you are potentially a super-spreader. If you do so deliberately, then you are a combatant in the broader culture war in which Covid-deniers and Covid-sceptics, and now vaccine-deniers and vaccine-sceptics, have sought to undermine the credibility of public health responses.

The issue of trust has been more fiercely contested over the past 12 months than ever before. The latest annual survey on trust, commissioned by the PR company Edelman and published this week, makes for sober reading. Deploying a plethora of graphs (the now-essential accessory for all reporting), it shows that around the world confidence in information disseminated by governments, media and non-governmental organisations has fallen to dangerously low levels. The one institution that is trusted in the public realm, the report said, said is business — something, I must admit, I find a bit of a stretch.

Governments, it said, briefly seized the high ground, emerging as the most trusted institution around May last year, in the height of the first wave. But they then “failed the test and squandered that trust bubble, having lost the most ground in the last six months”. The statistics vary from country to country, region to region. They differ according to political allegiance and socio-economic group, but many people now believe only what they want to believe, and only from sources they side with.

Hence the bifurcation in America, hence the two versions of the presidential election result (one factually correct, the other not), hence the astonishing scenes on Capitol Hill and the double-impeachment of the Inciter-in-Chief, Donald J Trump.

Now what? Jack Dorsey, Mr Twitter, encapsulated the problem when he described his company’s decision to block the president from its platform as both right and dangerous. Do we trust Dorsey or Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to take these crucial decisions on our behalf? The social media companies, which for years insisted they were not publishers, appear finally to have dropped that conceit.

But if they are to start preventing people from saying things (which is, after all, the prerogative of the publisher) then what criteria will they use, and who will decide? Perhaps it should be entrusted to a committee of trusted public figures, but who would agree on its composition?

The crisis of truth will take years, decades even, to solve. Maybe the best one can hope for is that it can be mitigated. Tech firms claim that they now understand the broader societal dangers, but the business model of financial reward for exciting (for that, read extreme) content is as strong as ever.

Earlier this week, the Conservative Tom Tugendhat (one of a disappointingly small number of MPs with impressive reach on international issues), urged the Prime Minister to use the UK’s hosting of the G7 to launch an initiative that would seek to come to a global agreement on the use of data. That might previously have sounded nerdy, but as the pandemic has shown, it dominates every aspect of our lives.

 

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



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