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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 February 2021
21 February 2021 @ 13:40

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'


1. I don't give links to all the (italicised) quotes I put in my posts. If you need these, the simplest thing to do is post a bit of the text - optimally in quotes - into your Browser's URL box. But, if there's a paywall, you won't always have the access I have. Apologies to those for whom this advice amounts to egg-sucking.

2. At least one reader is having problems posting comments. If you share this challenge, please consider advising me by email here, where it will be now be joined by hundreds of spam messages  -

3. While I'm at it . . . Someone asked recently what IGIMSTS stands for - I guess it makes sense to someone.

Per ardua ad astra . . . 


Click here for what are said to be the latest - encouraging - case and death numbers in the USA and the UK, plus some others.

The EU:  Europe’s faltering immunisation programme has been hit by a boycott of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine by medical staff concerned about its side effects and doubtful of its efficacy against new variants of Covid-19. Health workers in France and elsewhere in the EU are declining the Anglo-Swedish vaccine, increasingly portrayed in European media as a cheap and inferior alternative to the mRNA jabs made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. . . . Public Health England will publish data next month from the UK vaccine programme expected to show that both the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines provide significant protection for all age groups.

Religious groups in the USA have demanded and achieved freedom to ignore Covid restrictions imposed on others. I wonder if this explains this report: Across the UK, the proportion of people who have tested positive for Covid-19 stands at 7%. Among Stamford Hill’s Jewish community it is 65%. For working-age adults - 75% .  . . Not a huge surprise that this seen as 'a sensitive question'. Factors suggested are: multi-generational households, poverty, a higher incidence of pre-existing health conditions and above-average numbers of children.

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain 

Trekking through the woods in my track-mapping project yesterday, I was astonished to come across this sole petrogliph at the side of the path. Especially as the latter was rather overgrown, suggesting a low level of usage:-

I got to wondering how many hundreds/thousands of years it's been since its carver stood on that spot, possibly as drenched as me.

Lenox tell us that: At least 5 of the 119 Spanish bishops have managed to get their vaccination shots 'inappropriately'.  Probably just absent-mindedness. Distracción or despiste in Spanish, I believe. They're probably quite old. And, more importantly, without a wife to guide them.

María’s Tsunami, Day 20.    

The Way of the World

I suspect - hope! - no reader of this blog would disagree with Matthew Syed's comment that Zealots on the right and left are true heirs of religious fanatics. His Times article is below.

It seems nothing can be advertised these days without a pointless adjective/adverb or two. So, someone's meat is not just marinaded but 'expertly marinaded'. As if we think they'd give the job to dolts. I'm going to compile a list of these. Plus a second list - possibly very short indeed - of British companies whose ads don't centre on a multiracial family. As if there were no others in the UK.

Finally . . .

An ever so slightly contentious statement from the founder and CEO of Trailfinders: The idea that immunisation certificates might be discriminatory is woke nonsense. It’s not a vaccine passport; it’s an immunisation certificate, and it’s the key to unlocking our freedoms generally, not just travel.


Zealots on the right and left are true heirs of religious fanatics.

The likes of Rush Limbaugh satisfy the human craving for certainty in a way liberal democracy cannot: Matthew Syed, The Times

It is curious looking back through the fog of more than 30 years, but there are things I miss about my days as a born-again Christian. I worshipped at a small church in suburban Reading — a free church, unattached to any other denomination — and soaked up the camaraderie, fellowship and, above all, the sense that we had “the truth”.

It was that last concept that enveloped us most, our possession of “facts” that couldn’t be gainsaid. We became ever more convinced of our “truth” as we spent time in each other’s company — not just at church, but at bible studies (20 or so congregated at our home each Thursday) and fellowship groups. We were not cultish, mind you. We often travelled to other churches and faiths, not to open our minds, but to convert them. As we listened to their sermons, we would glance at each other with knowing looks — how could they be so blind?

I should hasten to say that not all religions or denominations are like this. Many worshippers at the Church of England and my more moderate Muslim friends are pleasingly ecumenical. But the concept of absolute truth, along with related ideas such as heresy and original sin, does much to explain the animosity between rival fundamentalisms, not to mention our long history of holy wars and inquisitions. Religion, on the whole, has rarely been pacifistic.

Later, while researching American politics a couple of years ago, I studied a shock-jock called Rush Limbaugh, who died last week. The grandson of a conservative judge, he started out on local radio, rapidly developing a reputation for hard-hitting, inflammatory punditry. By the 2000s he had amassed an audience of millions and was hailed as the most influential figure on the Republican right. His obituaries described him, if not in these exact terms, as the gelignite that sat beneath the explosion we now call the Trump presidency.

It was while listening to Limbaugh that I had what I might once have called a revelation. His imagery, his apocalyptic language, his allegations of heresy, his demonisation of anyone outside the right-wing sect and, most of all, his self-certainty all led me to a conclusion. The culture wars of America and, to a lesser extent, the UK are not political in the conventional sense. They are far closer — in psychological and liturgical terms — to the old wars of religion.

At times while listening to Limbaugh, I was back on the pew in front of the most charismatic of my pastors, a mustachioed former airline steward who was the antithesis of Thomas from the New Testament. He doubted nothing. He was effective because of his self-certainty. Limbaugh was similar, never using evidence for his climate change denialism, racism, misogyny and opposition to immigration — for why sully a righteous argument with anything so sordid as data? Did the writers of holy scripture offer documentary evidence that the world was created in six days or Eve from Adam’s rib?

He also — perhaps to an extent even greater than religious zealots — demonised those outside his faction. The most insightful book on his techniques is by the scholars Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph Cappella. They put the point exquisitely: “Limbaugh seeks to discredit all other sources of information via extreme hypotheticals, ridicule, challenges to character and association with strong negative emotion.”

This isn’t just about the hard right, of course. The radical left uses identical techniques, merely from a different direction. JK Rowling is about as decent a person as you could imagine, but she expressed a heresy over transsexuality (in fact, a sincere, if disputed, opinion) so has been cancelled — the secular equivalent of being burnt at the stake. Microaggressions — tiny statements that might inadvertently upset someone — provoke fury, not unlike theological infractions. I remember one poor soul at my old church being cast out for a mildly different interpretation of a biblical verse on head coverings.

These alternative poles of absolute truth, these political fundamentalisms, have another character, too. It is no longer possible to admit that a person who once sinned might be worth listening to for, as Matthew recounted in the New Testament, “if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?”

This is why the left cannot bring itself to admit that while Trump was wrong on many things, he was right on others, such as alerting the West to the threat of China and giving Europe a hard time for free-riding on Nato. The former home secretary Amber Rudd once made an error over Windrush and so cannot have a sensible thing to say on anything else, ever — hence, her no-platforming.

It shouldn’t be difficult to see how this “political religiosity” presents a threat to liberal democracy. For the deliberative function of democracy relies on listening to the other side, judging an argument on merit rather than the identity of the person who expresses it, and recognising that no single ideological faction has a monopoly on truth. It is about appreciating that it is often in the coming together of opposing ideas that both sides find, somewhat to their surprise, that we have found a synthesis that transcends both. And isn’t this a subtle and rather beautiful thing?

Nevertheless, rationalists who sit betwixt political extremes, and who can see the preposterousness of both sides, should be honest with themselves. These new religions have appeal precisely because they cater to a deep human need — the craving for certainty. This is something that liberal democracy cannot, and will never, provide. The notion of tolerating other views, of pluralism in values, that we can each select our own conception of a good life, leaves many feeling cast adrift upon a sea of infinite moral possibilities, yearning for a source of navigational authority.

This is why, as George Orwell pointed out, the battle for free societies must be waged in each generation. Advocates of liberal democracy cannot offer ground-level truth. They cannot provide certainty. They cannot hope to match the fire and brimstone appeal of Limbaugh and his fellow pulpiteers. But they can at least offer the prospect of tolerance and peaceful coexistence. And perhaps, as the hard right storms the Capitol dressed in face paint and antlers and the left tears down statues and seeks to “dismantle capitalism”, this isn’t such an uninspiring vision, after all.

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