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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: 19 January 2021
19 January 2021 @ 13:25

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

Positive news re immunoglobulin therapy. Which . . . Stops the virus in its tracks and prevents its developing into a more serious condition, even in the very clinically-vulnerable for whom contagion would almost certainly be fatal, easing pressure on hospitals, and could help control outbreaks in places where Covid vaccines had not yet started or the double dose not yet given. 

Spain: The country is beginning to struggle with a 3rd wave of the coronavirus, as infections have tripled and hospital admissions doubled in the past 3 weeks. There was a record rise in infections over the weekend. The government said it would not impose a total lockdown but 4 regions have asked for one. Well, not just yet. Here in Pontevedra, they’ve scrapped the federados exceptions I complained about last week. The power of the pen . . .

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain

In an article primarily about PM Sanchez, the estimable Guy Hedgecoe uses the following words in respect of Spanish politics: hyperbole, histrionics, instability, and highly fragmented. All of which, he says, has made for great progress in recent years in emptying language of its meaning. The PM himself has been accused of being - in the case one of these by someone in his own party - as a traitor of Spain, a kind of Charles Manson of Spanish politics, a psychopath, the biggest criminal in the history of Spanish democracy and a sinister-yet-confused half-wit. Not a career for the thin-skinned then, Spanish politics.

If you’re a rich Brit who - post Brexit - wants to be here for more than 30 days a year without being resident, don’t worry. You can get yourself a Golden Visa - a procedure originally devised to cater to affluent Russian, Chinese, and Iranian nationals.

The UK

Britain is delivering more doses per head than anywhere except the United Arab Emirates and Israel. Which makes me wonder why it’s not in the LH box here:

An ignorant cartoonist? Or because it doesn’t fit the post-Brexit ‘plague island’ schadenfreude currently popular on the Continent?

I don’t know whether I’ll be able to get my job before April here in Spain, as against next week in the UK. A couple of people have raised the good question of whether it’s worth flying there just to get the jab.

British divorce lawyers have been given a list of 50 terms used in on-line dating, so they can better contextualise the communications between a victim and suspect to ensure they avoid sexual stereotypes and understand the nature of consent. These include:-

Vulturing 

Thirst-trapping 

Roaching' 

Side-barring 

Doxxing

Eclipsing

Exoskeleton-ing 

Fleabagging  

Birdboxing

Netflix and chill 

Instagrandstanders 

These are today’s. There’ll be more along tomorrow.

The USA

Biden’s mega-stimulus widens the staggering gap in fiscal support between US and the eurozone. While: Europe risks repeating its mistakes from the last crisis. See AEP’s article below.

The Way of the World

It’s a strange world where murderers are published, yet academics are cancelled and shut down. Our social and cultural moral compass condemns people for using the wrong personal pronouns, yet glamourises serial killers. Specifically, the British serial killer, Dennis Nilsen, whose autobiography, written in jail, is to be posthumously published. See the 2nd article below.

Spanish

I was going to cite more odd Spanish nicknames and diminutives but there are just too many. Click here for a list and find your favourite. 

Finally . . .

In the 14th century Piers Plowman, the author gives all sorts of odd (usually allegorical) names to all sorts of characters - Kind, Wit, Conscience, Imagination, Peace, etc. . Perhaps none weirder than that of a certain knight . . . Sir Piercer-of-your-private-places. For what it's worth, the translator's note is: This name refers to the text of 2 Tim 3:6*, with a deliberate sexual innuendo brought out in Peace's recollection of a previous encounter with the man.

*They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires.

BTW . . . The Camino and Spain feature quite a lot in this famous book. The first because it was, 700 years ago, already the 3rd most revered place in the Catholic world. And Spain because of England's involvement - the Black Prince etc. - with the Franco-Spanish wars of that era. Anyway looking to know more about this blood-soaked, death-ridden century should head for this book.

THE ARTICLES

Biden’s mega-stimulus widens the staggering gap in fiscal support between US and eurozone.  Europe risks repeating its mistakes from the last crisis: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard 

The trans-Atlantic gulf in fiscal stimulus has widened into an immense chasm. The Great Decoupling of 2020-2022 is accelerating.

America is letting rip with relief and recovery spending on a scale unseen since Franklin Roosevelt’s war economy. Europe risks repeating its post-Lehman error, reverting to the EU’s default policy of austerity and Ordoliberal debt brakes. It is setting the stage for a second Lost Decade.

Joe Biden’s “American Rescue Plan” tops $1.9 trillion and is the country’s fifth successive pandemic package. It lifts the accumulated stimulus - transfers, not just guarantees - to near 25pc of GDP. It is underpinned by a central bank willing to run the economy hot. If this cannot generate V-shaped reflation, nothing can.

Ralf Preusser, head of global rates at Bank of America, said the Atlantic region is splitting into two camps. “The Biden plan is huge and it highlights the diverging fortunes. The US did $3 trillion of stimulus last year and it looks like another two to three trillion this year, pushed through proactively,” he said.

Bank of America has just upgraded its US growth forecast to 4pc in the first quarter, and downgraded the eurozone to -3.7pc by the same annualised measure. “We’re already starting to see the effects of the last $900bn stimulus (agreed just before Christmas) in our credit card data,” he said.

“The US economy is going to recover much faster than in Europe as Biden fires up the bazooka,” said Professor Charles Wyplosz from Geneva University. “I am afraid that the initial bounce in Europe will fade and then there will be a very slow, muted, recovery. You can’t impose a second decade of misery on the Greeks or the Italians, or southern Europeans. This is my worst nightmare,” he said. “If it happens you’ll see populist governments rising across the Mediterranean. The whole landscape will change drastically.”

Prof Wyplosz co-wrote the International Monetary’s Fund’s blistering mea culpa on its role during the eurozone debt saga.

The Biden administration is led by Obama-era veterans, battle scarred by the global financial crisis and its destructive aftermath. This time they are determined to “go big” early and blast the US economy out of its low-growth deflationary malaise. Their assumption - supported by Moody’s Analytics and Oxford Economics, among others, but not all economists - is that the debt will pay for itself over time through higher growth.

Jan Hatzius from Goldman Sachs says Mr Biden will not secure all of his $1.9 trillion package once Congress has picked it apart. This assumes that the White House opts for bipartisan cooperation rather than trying to ram most of it through with a wafer-thin majority by “budget reconciliation” - a high-risk strategy.

But the White House is still likely to get around $1.1 trillion on top of the $900bn already flowing, a combined package worth 8.4pc of GDP. This is still a tidal wave of money and will hit more or less as the vaccine roll-out reaches critical speed.

This will be followed within weeks by the outlines of Mr Biden’s parallel Build Back Better Plan, a further $2 trillion blitz on green energy and infrastructure to sustain the recovery past the point of “escape velocity”.

The US is not yet out of the woods. The economy is still almost nine million jobs shy of pre-Covid levels and there may be a submerged iceberg of distressed debt. Spraying money indiscriminately is a wasteful way to help those who need it.

On the other hand, the US is not trying to prop up decaying industries, such as Old Autos - or in the case of France, preventing a Canadian takeover of the Carrefour supermarket chain because of potential job cuts and cheaper Canadian food. America is letting the money flow, leaving it to flexible labour markets and digital disruption to sweep away the dead wood to bring about Schumpterian renewal. Talk of another Roaring Twenties is not far-fetched.

What is striking is how little is being done in Europe as the first phase of fiscal stimulus peters out, even though the economic shock and output loss from Covid-19 so far has been roughly twice as big. “We don’t detect any renewed vigour,” said Bank of America’s Mr Preusser. “No additional stimulus is being discussed in any major country in the eurozone.”

There is no fresh rescue plan as the second wave engulfs Germany, Austria, Portugal, Greece, and Eastern European countries, which weathered the first wave in good shape. Protracted lockdowns loom across Europe as contagious variants gain a foothold. (Few states do much genomic sequencing; most are flying blind.)

The vaccine roll-out has been painfully slow. Debt moratoria and furlough schemes in some states are unwinding. Bank of America estimates that the cumulative and permanent loss of income last year was 7pc of GDP, implying lasting structural damage and inadequate repair. “What they need is discretionary fiscal support in excess of 10pc,” said Mr Preusser.

The EU’s putative €750bn Recovery Fund is more totemic than real. Only €390bn is genuine fiscal support in the form of grants. This is spread between 27 states and stretched until 2026. It is nothing like the front-loaded Biden stimulus.

The loan component will be used sparingly because it comes with Troika-like conditions. Where used, it chiefly displaces borrowing that would have happened anyway. It lowers debt costs a smidgeon - and has confidence effects - but it is not a fiscal boost.

The total net transfers to Italy add up to just 0.7pc of GDP a year stretched into the mid 2020s. “Italy is going to need ten times that,” said Princeton Professor Ashoka Mody, the IMF’s former deputy-director for Europe.

“People are patting themselves on the back in Europe but I am very sceptical about this Recovery Fund. Money has been promised but the first wave of the crisis has come and gone, and nothing yet has actually happened. The idea that Europe is going to reach escape velocity and live happily ever after is a fairy tale. “If you look at Biden’s stimulus it is going directly into people’s pockets and to local authorities where it is needed right now. There is a real multiplier effect.”

The Recovery Fund clearly needs to be much bigger - and involve instant transfers, paid for by joint Eurobonds - but that is to cross a political line in the sand. EU leaders oversold the fund as Europe’s transformative “Hamilton Moment” when it was agreed last June. They would struggle to explain to German, Dutch, and north European taxpayers why they must dip into their pockets yet again.

It is up to member states to conjure up their own fiscal stimulus. Yet it is not happening anywhere at scale. Germany is going the other way. Its council of economic experts wants to reinstate the German debt break and return to rectitude as soon as next year, implying a lurch back into net fiscal contraction.

Those hit hardest by the economic shock - chiefly Club Med - already have the highest debt ratios and are the least able to risk counter-cyclical spending. They know that EU budget limits will bite hard again when the Stability Pact comes back into force in January.

For now the European Central Bank is soaking up Covid bond issuance via quantitative easing, crowding in private funds with leverage. This has suppressed the danger signals and is allowing Italy to continue borrowing at near-zero rates even though the government is in crisis and public debt has rocketed to 160pc of GDP.

This is an unstable equilibrium. Once inflation picks up - for mechanical “base effect” reasons - the ECB’s bond purchases will look increasingly like an illegal rescue for insolvent states rather than genuine monetary policy. “There is no doubt any longer that this is monetisation of public debt. To pretend otherwise is to fool yourself,” said Prof Mody, also author of the The Euro Tragedy: a Drama in Nine Acts.

“The eurozone doesn’t have a proper fiscal mechanism so it is using a monetary mechanism instead, but can this go on forever? There is going to come a point when ECB’s northern governors react. The US will undoubtedly recover sooner than Europe but I am even more worried about the internal divergence within the eurozone. France, Italy, and Spain are going to fall even further behind Germany. That will make it harder to run any kind of monetary policy.”

Prof Mody said the core design flaw of post-Maastricht Europe remains unaltered: the EU built a federal monetary union on the foundations of a fiscal confederacy. It is politically untenable. Something has to give.

It is often forgotten today but the economic boom of the Roaring Twenties was essentially American. It was not a shared experience. The restored Gold Standard had perverse and contrasting consequences on each side of the Atlantic.

Britain remained stuck in the deflation doldrums. Germany, France, Poland, and others, spiralled into hyperinflation and political crises of one sort or another. The decade of the 1920s was a tale of malign divergence of varying kinds. The 2020s will not be a repeat, but it may rhyme.

2. It’s a strange world where murderers are published, yet academics are cancelled and shut down. Our social and cultural moral compass condemns people for using the wrong personal pronouns, yet glamourises serial killers: Celia Walden 

In Dennis Nilsen’s forthcoming autobiography the late serial killer admits that he toyed with the idea of feeding his dog, Bleep, a “small chunk” of human flesh. Elsewhere in the 6,000 pages of typewritten notes – which have been edited by a friend, Mark Austin, since Nilsen’s death two years ago – the mass murderer reflects on the “culinary possibilities” of those he killed, likening one part of the anatomy to “beef rump steaks.”

How do the relatives of his victims – the 12 boys and young men strangled and drowned between 1978 and 1983 – feel about the publication of History Of A Drowning Boy this week? “Horrified.” “Disgusted.” “As if he’s still laughing at us from beyond the grave.” Julie Bentley, whose brother, Carl Stotter, survived a murder attempt by Nilsen and “fought all his life” to stop the memoirs’ publication, went so far as to call the book “morally wrong” – yet even that is an understatement.

But their feelings matter only so much in that they can be used to ramp up excitement around History Of A Drowning Boy. And any talk of morals is laughable in a world where serial killers are given free rein to publish murderous pornography, but Kathleen Stock, a professor of philosophy at Sussex University, who dared to question the safety of ‘gender-neutral’ toilets and male sex offenders being placed in women’s prisons, must be silenced and ostracised.

Think about that for a moment. Think about what the face of our social and cultural moral compass looks like at the start of this brand new year. It’s blank, isn’t it? There are no cardinal points; no way of establishing which direction is north. Because all that matters in our proud, progressive new world is adhering to the right ideologies: condemning people for using the wrong personal pronouns (shame on you Lorraine Kelly for accidentally ‘misgendering’ Eddie Izzard earlier this month), reacting violently to the “criminals” selling cheese made with cow’s milk (branded “rapists” by the vegan militants who vandalised a Paris shop last year), and withdrawing platforms from the likes of Professor Stock, so that her “harmful rhetoric” can no longer reach our sensitive eyes and ears.

Curious how that sensitivity vanishes when it comes to celebrating evil like Nilsen’s, Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s (who was featured in all his Jim Morrison-like glory on the front of Rolling Stone, three months after killing three people and wounding and maiming 260), or that of Ted Bundy. So inundated was social media with comments praising the serial killer’s “hotness” when Netflix aired The Ted Bundy Tapes documentary series in 2019, that the streaming service was forced to ask viewers to stop “swooning” over the man who raped and killed at least 30 women in the 1970s. As for hit BBC One show, The Serpent, the glamorising of French serial killer Charles Sobhraj seems to have been overshadowed by concerns that the drama “promotes smoking.” Then there’s the blue plaque erected in honour of Jack the Ripper on London’s Kensington High Street. It’s a joke, of course, because the British serial killer active in 1888 was never identified. And because while you can still joke about murderers, a one-liner about nut allergies will get you cancelled.

Curious too how today’s university students – who celebrated the removal of “offensive” Fanny Hill from reading lists – find nothing offensive about the impaling of heads on pikes in millennial TV favourite The Walking Dead, and watch more violent pornography than any generation in history.

But if there’s one thing the moral-compass-free are skilled at, it’s defending their right to climb inside the minds of the warped and wicked. It’s an intellectual right, you understand. Far from capitalising on the bloodthirsty thoughts of a murderer, RedDoor Press is hoping to offer “some insight into how such horrific events could have happened.” Rolling Stone wasn’t playing to our most ghoulish instincts by giving a terrorist celebrity status, but trying to comprehend. Because Tsarnaev was “in the same age group as many of our readers,” it explained in a statement, “it makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens.”

The same subtext is there in both statements: only through a greater understanding, open-mindedness and yes, empathy, can we not only stop these tragedies from occurring but become better human beings ourselves. There’s the sweet spot. Allowing someone to indulge their basest impulses whilst promising spiritual growth. You’ve got to admire the work.

When it comes to figures like Stock, however, who claims a book of interviews she had contributed to “was dropped by Oxford University Press, partly because I was going to be included,” or indeed the US author Abigail Shrier, who was prohibited from advertising her book, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, on Amazon, despite it being ranked No. 1 in multiple categories on its site, the will to understand is notably absent. For them and anyone with thoughts running counter to liberal ‘groupthink’ any hint of empathy would be considered an abomination. Minds are sealed shut. But go on, Mr Nilsen, tell us more about your cannibalistic fantasies.



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