Saturday, December 31, 2011

I mentioned the other day I'd bought a beard trimmer. When I finally managed to get this out of its packaging and look at the leaflet, I was nonplussed to read that "This trimmer is ideal for total body grooming. The various guide-combs allow you to get that all-over well-groomed look." Total body grooming? Can it really mean that? Can I not acquire that all-over well-groomed look without going to absolute extremes? If not and if I do have to get very serious about the trimming, are we talking daily care and attention?

But, anyway, I have a party at my younger daughter's place to attend. Dressed, I should add, as same daughter. Maybe I'll post a few fotos tomorrow . . .

For now I'll leave you with my very best wishes for 2012. 

Please try to keep reading.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Yesterday I made a passing reference to the Toxteth riots in Liverpool of the early 80s, only to see this followed today by media reports of Cabinet consideration 30 years ago of the option of letting the city stew in its own revolutionary juice. Or, in the language of the time, to have its decline managed. Happily, investment was the preferred option, as anyone who visits the city these days can readily see.

If you're one of the million Brits living in Spain, you'll be relieved to know that the British government has plans to evacuate you if Spain goes belly up. Click here for more info, including the afterthought that "if you want a delicious taste of the expat Brit life in Spain, rent the movie Sexy Beast."

A chap called Michael Erard has written the first serious book - Babel No More - about the people who master vast numbers of languages. He's not a hyperpolyglot himself and approaches the topic with a healthy dash of scepticism. Among his findings:-
- True hyperpolyglottery begins at about 11 languages
- While legends abound, tried and tested exemplars are few.
- Hyperpolyglots must “prime” their weaker languages, with a few hours’ or days’ practice, to use them comfortably.
- Switching quickly between more than around six or seven is near-impossible, even for the most gifted.
- Hyperpolyglots are more likely to be introverted than extroverted
- Different hypotheses may explain part of the language-learner’s gift. Some hyperpolyglots seem near-autistic.
- Hyperpolyglots may begin with talent, but they aren’t geniuses. They simply enjoy tasks that are drudgery to normal people.

Finally, I can't leave this subject without reproducing this description of "Emil Krebs, an early-20th-century German diplomat who was credited with knowing dozens of languages and was boorish in all of them. He once refused to speak to his wife for several months because she told him to put on a winter coat."
The question I'm now left with is whether George Borrow was really fluent in the 27(?) languages he's said to have mastered. I guess we'll never know.
Talking of talented people, if you've enjoyed any of the works of the British polemicist Christopher Hitchens - and I'm currently a quarter of the way into God is not Greatyou'll probably enjoy this obituary. As you might even if you couldn't stand him.

Finally, here's a parade of British architectural follies.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Today, my brother-in-law drove me from the house he shares with my sister to the centre of Liverpool, so we could do a bit of bargain-hunting and fish-and-chip-eating before I caught a train to Leeds. As I may have mentioned, they live near the top of Penny Lane and I was amused to confirm with him there are now five barber's shops in the vicinity, each trading off its proximity to the famous road. Having got onto the subject of hair trimmers, I asked my B-I-L for his nomination of the most ridiculous shop name he'd encountered in his forty-plus years in the salon business. Without pausing to reflect, he replied Curl up and Dye. But you may know one even worse.

Having thus sensitised myself to shops and their names, I then noticed a couple of odd ones as we drove along the rather unprepossessing Smithdown Road into town. The first was a large model railways shop, called Hattons. And the second was The Dolls House Shop. Closer to the centre of town, there was a place specialising in bottles with ships in them. But I guess it wasn't too surprising to find such a place in a large port like Liverpool. Though this can't be said for a pub bizarrely called The Old Post Office.

Also of interest was the Al-Rahma mosque in Toxteth, an area of Liverpool made (in)famous by riots in the 1980s, as I recall. This is the largest mosque in the city, with the second largest to be found - oddly enough - in Penny Lane.

Anyway, over our fish and chip lunch, my B-I-L and I got to talking about the respective merits of the women we'd observed shopping in Liverpool and Leeds. This certainly calls for further research but our preliminary finding is that - for one possible reason and another - the Liverpool lasses come out tops. Though this is, of course, academic to both of us.

And I must make mention of the charming young woman from Leeds who - when I asked her on the train if she had a pair of scissors - reached into her rucksack and produced a foldable saw. Which was even better than scissors would have been for breaking into the daunting plastic packaging around the beard trimmer I'd bought earlier.

Finally . . . Here's a bit from Guy Hedgecoe of IberoSphere on political incorrectness in Spain. As he says, It’s presumably just a matter of time before things change in Spain and children are no longer blacked up and given spears and Afro wigs with which to perform their Christmas plays. Meanwhile, we can all pretend to find it more shocking than amusing.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I mentioned the Galician city of Ourense yesterday, in the context of the designs for its new high-speed train station. Today's citation is in respect of an inmate - Sr Pisonero - in the city's prison. This gentleman, it seems, has been drawing a widower's pension for the past 13 years. Which is a tad odd, since he's serving a sentence for making himself a widower by topping his wife.

But less seriously . . . . For those who haven't seen it, here's the hilarious video of the owner chasing the dog which is chasing the deer in Richmond Park. You can decide for yourself whether it's called Fenton or Benton.


And here is someone's view of the best parodies. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I initially thought it was a spoof but No, there really is a program on British TV called Desperate Scousewives. Set, of course, in Liverpool, it's both a parody of the US comedy-drama, Desperate Housewives, and an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the 'semi-reality' program, The Only Way is Essex. Click here if you really want to see a (tasteless) taster. And good luck with the accent. As some critic has nicely put it, these programs "offer the over-tanned and under-talented a chance to dress up to the nines and get on the VIP list for Chinawhite". Which is apparently a luxury nightclub.

Talking of entertainment, Spain's new Culture Minister has made a surprise declaration of war on internet piracy. "Nobody", he says, "is going to respect the culture of a country which leads the rankings for illegal downloads". It'll be interesting to see what system is put in place and, more importantly, whether it operates in practice.

Click here if you want to see "the set of dreamy renderings" which Norman Foster and his partners have put forward for the AVE high-speed-train station up in Ourense. As if we don't have enough vanity projects in Galicia as it is, following Sr Fraga's regnum.

Finally . . . It was nice to be reminded today that War is God's way of teaching the Americans geography.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The trouble with having one daughter who's an atheist and one who's a rather pious Catholic is that the latter occasionally drops on one to accompany her to Mass. Whereupon it all comes back and one feels the urge get up on the altar and show today's altar boys how it's done.

Friday, December 23, 2011

This is a marvellous article on the greatest pop tunesmiths, cited by my American friend, Dwight. I'm re-citing it here despite the following reference to Liverpool:- What makes the phenomenon of the Beatles so unrepeatable is that two of the greatest songwriters who ever lived grew up in the same shitty English town, where they were bound to connect. He's clearly never visited the place. It's a shitty city, not town.

I read today of a Spanish couple celebrating both their 103rd birthdays and their 78th. wedding anniversary. And I found myself wondering if they subscribed to the dictum that you never find out where true happiness lies until you've been married a few years. By which time it's far too late. If so - and I sincerely hope not - they've had an awful long time to repent at leisure.

Earlier this year, a priceless 12th. century book - the Códice Calixtino - disappeared from the archive of Santiago university. There were murmurings at the time that it wasn't a real theft but something done to discredit and prejudice the Dean of the Cathedral. The police have now endorsed this theory and said they believe the book is still in the city. Let's hope so. And let's pray that the Dean achieves an improvement in his inter-personal relationships. Or resigns.

The good news for the Spanish economy is that 2011 looks like being the third best on record for tourists, with a total of 57 million by year end. The Brits, at 13m, headed the list, with the Germans at 8.6m and the French, Italian and Scandinavians close behind.
The most popular region (at 13.1m) was Cataluña, followed by the Balearic Islands (10m) and then the Canaries (9.2m).

Finally . . . Talking of Cataluña, here's a tradition you may not have heard of. And a portrayal of the Duchess of Cambridge you may not have seen before.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Here's Paul Johnson's interesting take on the coming into being of America, in his "A History of the English People":-

By the time of Independence, slaves formed nearly one fifth of the [North]American population. The anomaly did not go unnoticed. If, as the patriots contended, nobody need be bound by laws they have not consented to themselves, or through their representatives, where did the slaves stand? The question was asked vociferously by many New England idealists. . . . Early and vigorous efforts were made from New England to get the transportation trade, at least, suppressed. No attempts were made to justify slavery on grounds of morality and logic. But the arguments for the economic necessity of slave-labour were regarded as unanswerable.

So, the English gave birth to a noisy, noble and flawed offspring, lavishing on it their traditional christening-gifts of idealism and hypocrisy. The taste for violence from which the English had always wished to free themselves - and were at last beginning to do so - passed across the Atlantic, where it struck deep and constitutional roots. England also handed on to America the birthright of the chosen race, while she herself assumed a secular role, increasingly shaped by the necessities and moral problems of empire, the 'white man's burden'.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

One of the highlights of this week has been my teacher-daughter showing me the work of 11 year olds who've just joined her school. Their spelling defies belief and raises all sorts of questions about how and what they've been taught. I could fill several pages but here's a representative sample . . . Lady MacBeth is crool and roofless. I kid you not.

I've reached p. 250 of Paul Johnson's A History of the English People and by now it's crystally clear he regards hypocrisy as the besetting vice/virtue of his fellow countrymen. Talking of the US revolt, Johnson writes . . . James Otis, the most successful, rabid and hysterical of the American Independence propagandists, formulated the New England theory of history. The Saxons had a parliament universally elected by all free-holders; this was overthrown by the Normans; then, through centuries of struggle, culminating in the crisis precipitated by the 'execrable race of the Stuarts', liberty had gradually been restored in that 'happy establishment which Great Britain has since enjoyed'. But this was itself now in peril; just as the Saxons had migrated to England in search of liberty, so the Americans had crossed the ocean to create a purer and freer England. There was a great deal more of this nonsense. One of the ironies of the American struggle is that the English, for the first time, faced a people who could dish out quantities of hypocritical humbug and sanctimonious myth-making of precisely the type they themselves had invented.

Back in Spain and, indeed, in Galicia here, here and here are Irish/British press commentaries - one of them by Ambrose Evans Pritchard - on the son of Pontevedra who's now the Prime Minister of a conservative administration with a clear majority.

One of the stranger consequences of Rajoy's rise to national eminence is that, as two of his brothers are members, the bullfighting peña I occasionally dine with now has to have police protection. It'll be interesting to see what this amounts to in practice.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Here, dear reader, is some information on arguably Galicia's most popular artist - Castelao. If you ever get to Pontevedra (his adoptive city) you should make a point of visiting the floor dedicated to him at the top of the city's rather splendid museum. By which I mean the old one in Plaza de Leña. Not the modern monstrosity, next to the city archives.

And h
ere are 22 examples of modern Galician cartoon humour.

And here's a  news announcement about a magazine named after the term for Gallego humour -
Retranca

Not many of you, of course, will be fluent in Gallego but some Spanish and/or Portuguese will help. At least for the written stuff.

Boa suerte.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

It is a curious fact that the most important debate in English political history took place not in the House of Commons but in the fifteenth-century parish church of St. Mary in Putney. There, on the 28th October 1647, and for the next two weeks, a group of about forty men met in informal conclave, and proceeded to invent modern politics - to invent, in fact, the public framework of the world in which nearly 3,000 million people now live [1972]. There was no significance in the choice of the church; it was simply convenient. The men sat or stood around the bare communion table and kept their hats on, as Englishmen had learned to do in the House of Commons. The meeting was officially styled the General Council of the New Model Army, the force which had recently annihilated the armies of King Charles and was now the effective master of the whole country. Some of those present were distinguished generals. Some were gallant regimental commanders, men of humble birth who had risen to field-rank in battle. Some were junior officers. Some were ordinary soldiers. There were three civilians, political radicals, or Levellers, who had come to help the soldiers put their case. It was a very representative gathering of Englishmen, covering all classes, except the highest, and a wide variety of peace-time trades and callings. The verbatim record is occasionally garbled and, alas, incomplete; it remained unread, buried in the archives of Worcester College, Oxford, for more than 250 years, until it was examined at the end of the nineteenth century, edited and published. But the ideas flung across that communion table had, in the meantime, travelled round the world, hurled down thrones and subverted empires, and had become the common, everyday currency of political exchange. They are still with us. Every major political concept known to us today, all the assumptions which underlie the thoughts of men in the White House, or the Kremlin, or Downing Street, or in presidential mansions or senates or parliaments through five continents, were expressed or adumbrated in that little church of St. Mary.

It is important to understand why these debates took place in England and why they could only have taken place in England. They might never have occurred at all, and if so the world would now be a radically different place than we find it. But certain peculiar developments in English history - developments rooted many centuries back, and ultimately resting on the geography of England, and the composition of its people - allowed this thing to happen; and so the world is as it is.

- Taken from Paul Johnson's A History of the English People. From the first page of Part Four, to be exact. Which covers the period 1603 to 1780 and is entitled The Chosen Race.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Rumour has it that the A4-size sheet of paper which we Brits have to carry around to show our identity number - and which, lacking a foto, is useless for proving your identity - is to be replaced by a small card that will fit in your wallet/purse. But as this won't bear a foto either, you'll still have to carry a driving licence or a passport for this purpose. Unless, like me, you've told the police you've lost your original Tarjeta de Residencia so you can't hand it in. In which case, you can carry on using your expired card. Only one person in a hundred has checked mine and told me it's useless. And this was the notary being used for the sale of my house in the hills. It would have be a real coup if he'd accepted it. Or a profound comment on Spanish bureaucracy. It was no accident that I tried to get away with it.

But back to Europe's existential crisis . . . Will the ECB print the euros required or not? Well, the Bank of America believes it will, predicting that the ECB "will be forced to print money on a large scale but only after deep recession and months of drift have pushed the eurozone to the brink of disaster." One sincerely hopes not.

Reverting to earlier attempts to Germanicise Europe - well, Britain anyway - I've done some digging (OK only in Wikipedia) and come up with these nuggets of information about the genetic make-up of the English:- Sykes and Oppenheimer [around 2005] argued for significant immigration from Iberia into Britain and Ireland. However by 2010 several major studies presented more complete data, showing that the oldest-surviving male lineages had mostly migrated to Britain from the Balkans, and ultimately from the Middle East, not from Iberia. . . . That there are relatively clear signs of Germanic contact in parts of Britain is accepted but the stimulus, progression and impact of the Germanic settlement of Britain is subject to considerable disagreement, prompted by varying accounts and evidence. The Anglo-Saxons supplanted Celtic culture and society in much of southern and central Britain and contributed to the creation of Anglo-Saxon England and the use of the Old English Language.

Movement was not all one way, of course:- Many groups of native Britons even resettled on the continent, principally in Armorica (Brittany) in France and Britonia in Spanish Galicia, the homes of pre-existing Celtic communities.

Click here and here if you want more on this.

Finally . . . My sister's kitchen has an unusual feature - a tap which dispenses an instant jet of boiling water. I've long viewed this as inherently risky and yesterday I managed to prove this by scalding my left hand when making her a cup of tea. Shortly thereafter - when seeking to douse my painful hand in cold water - I also discovered that her cold tap dispenses hot water. And the more you turn it towards the blue button, the hotter it gets. Which is not good for a scald, I can assure you. I am now suing my sister, of course.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Prompted by a Comment allegedly from reader Moscow, I'm reproducing some of a post of February 2009.

A year or two back, I cited the findings of a geneticist who said that Britain’s first settlers after the last ice age had come from the eastern Mediterranean, via northern Spain. I think I suggested this meant that the infamous English pirate and coastal raider, Francis Drake - who is decidedly unpopular in these parts – was really just one of the local lads on the take. Anyway, I’ve now read Bryan Sykes’ fascinating book on the British and Irish genetic make-up – “The Blood of the Isles” – and can confirm this is now the accepted view. Most intriguingly, it lends support to Irish and Galician myths about raiders from here invading Ireland. Though it doesn’t prove these, of course. Possibly they just felt the rain reminded them of home and decided to settle.

However, the main finding of the research is that, although the Celtic language disappeared almost entirely from England, it’s not true to say the invading Angles and Saxons wiped the genetic slate clean. The English, it seems, are just as Celtic as their neighbours in Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Of course, it’s a bit late now for them to jump on the bandwagon and take advantage of the highly marketable Celtic ‘brand’ but it might be one way out of the recession/depression.

Talking of myths, it’s astonishing – or perhaps not – how similar these are in different countries. So we have a 12th century English king conveniently finding the bones of the mythical King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, just as he needs to establish his royal lineage. And we have some 10th century Galician Archbishop conveniently finding the bones of St James [Santiago], just as a rallying point against the invading Moors is called for. But the most fascinating coincidence is between the city of Pontevedra and the nation of Britain. Both, it seems, were mythically founded by someone wandering west after the end of the Trojan Wars - Pontevedra by Teucro, the half-brother of Ajax; and Britain, by Brutus, the grandson of Aeneas. And, just as we still have the stone post to which the boat which brought the body of St James from the Holy Land was moored, so we still have the first stone which Brutus put his foot on as he landed on ‘British’ soil. And the altar in the centre of what would become London to which he gave thanks to the goddess Diana. Who’d have thought it.

Anyway, what I’d like to know is whether there’s been any research done on the make-up of the Spanish so that we can establish whether the Galicians – as many of them love to believe - are more Celtic than anyone else in Iberia. My view is that this is nonsense – albeit harmless – but it would be good to know whether I’m right or wrong. If we don’t have this data and it's not in sight, is it too outrageous to conclude this is because few in Spain want confirmation that nearly everyone here has Moorish genes . . . ?

Back to today . . . The excellent news from Spain is that it might soon become possible to see foreign films in the original language, with subtitles for those who don't understand this. This, it's felt, will contribute to an improvement in the foreign language capabilities of the Spanish. In one press report it was ever-so-diplomatically stated that "The actors who voice over the dubbing in Spain are considered the best in the world, but the practice has contributed to the country’s population being poor at languages." And to the raising of blood pressure among foreigners subjected to the ubiquitous dubbing.

Finally . . . I've been meaning for a while to post pix of the graffiti that brightens up Pontevedra's old quarter. But this is the only one I've got on my laptop here in the UK:-


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The English language: I had known that modern English developed from Old English as enhanced by the estimated 10,000 French words brought by the Norman invaders of the 11th. century. But I hadn't known that there were two primary English dialects to start with - those of Wessex and Mercia - and that it was the more-flexible latter which won the day and which, enriched by its French additions, went on to become Middle English. As Paul Johnson writes - or as anyone who's looked at a student's Anglo-Saxon textbooks will know - Old English, as written and spoken before the Conquest, is essentially a foreign language to us; the so-called Middle English, as we read it in Chaucer, is merely an archaic version of our own. The Norman Invasion thus made a crucial contribution to the development of English as the international language of government, culture and commerce - in which role, by a supreme irony, it has decisively displaced French.

The English: Per Paul Johnson, writing in 1972 . . . English anticlericalism was, of course, merely one important branch of English xenophobia. Hostility to foreigners is one of the most deep-rooted and enduring characteristics of the English; like the national instinct for violence, it is a genuine popular force, held in check (if at all) only by the most resolute discipline imposed, against the public will, by authoritarian central government, acting out of enlightened self interest. Racialism has always flourished in England when government has been weak and the sophisticated governing minority have lacked the will to resist public clamour. . . The only difficulty is to determine precisely where English racialism begins. . . The real frontiers were fixed in the Welsh and Scottish marches. Beyond these limits even Roman military power had encountered difficulties which ultimately proved too expensive to resolve. It is true that the Romans established a form of military occupation in Wales. But the normal processes of economic colonisation could not operate there. Their tribal organisation, laws, language and customs remained intact. In Scotland, even the Roman military presence was fugitive and ineffectual. . . This pattern was repeated during Germanic settlements. . . The racial and cultural frontiers began to solidify in the 8th. century and have never changed by more than a few score miles. Thus the relationship between England and its Celtic neighbours began to assume its modern form from the beginnings of the 12th century. This relationship was, and remains today, essentially ambivalent.

Back to the Continent . . . Perish the thought but some folk believe that the outcome of last week's EU summit is exactly what Mrs Merkel and M Sarkozy wanted:-There is, of course, no veto. This is not a formal meeting, and it requires a formal intergovernmental conference to wield a veto, with a full draft of a treaty on the table – a draft which at this stage did not exist. Thus, Cameron could not stop the "colleagues" going ahead with an IGC and producing an amendment treaty for approval, if they had so wished. But, because it suited them, the "colleagues" chose to treat the Cameron intervention as a formal veto, even though it was not. It was their decision not to go ahead. Cameron was just the foil, the excuse to do what they wanted to do anyway. Thus, in what has all the makings of a theatrical coup, everybody walks away with something. Merkel and Sarkozy get the green light for an intergovernmental treaty, and Cameron gets to be a hero. And so, in the final analysis, with a gullible and ignorant media to endorse the legend, we see people fed what Peter Hitchens calls a "blatant fake". Cameron will dine out on it for a while, and he may even get away with it altogether, but it is a media-driven charade and will always be so. The Prime Minister did nothing courageous or even significant in Brussels last week, says Hitchens. But of such things is history made. Click here for more.

But that was last week. Here's the prediction of one pessimist who agrees that Cameron did Merkozy a big favour. A sample: - As for Germany, hell will freeze over before it accepts joint liability for periphery debts. You may recall that yesterday's pundit said Germany had only two choices:- 1. To accept this joint liability, or 2. To witness the death of the euro. If anyone disagrees and believes there are grounds for optimism, please say so. Moscow?

Finally, . . . Here's one of my favourite columnists on the theme of the moment. Since he says that "Anyone who claims he knows what is about to happen to Europe is a fool", I'm rather glad I admitted the other night that I hadn't the faintest idea.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Plus ça change . . . . Embarking on Paul Johnson's book The History of the English People, I was intrigued to read that in 410 the English tribes, having seized power from the Romans, wrote to the Emperor requesting formal and legal authority for what they had done. What they sought was a written acknowledgment from the imperial power that Britain had been de-colonised without permission from the authorities. More specifically, they wanted exemption from the lex Julia de vi publica, the bedrock statute of the Roman Empire. In due course they got it. So the ancient world ended and the independent history of Britain was resumed in a thoroughly legal and constitutional manner. There was no provision in Roman Law for a territory to leave the Empire. But by an ingenious use of the lex Julia de vi publica, the British got round the difficulty and severed their links with the Continent by a process of negotiation. It was a unique event in the history of the Roman Empire. . . . For the first time a colony had regained its independence by law; and it was to remain the last occasion until, in the 20th. century, the offshore islanders began the dismantlement of their own empire.

Back to the present - if we ever left it - a survey suggests that Spanish Xmas spending will be well down on last year. 17% down, in fact. After a 10.5% fall last year and a 6% drop the previous year. Spending on lottery tickets though is 'only'14% down since 2008, with the average spend per person still up at 100 euros.

Having been into the centre of Liverpool tonight, I wouldn't be too surprised to hear that similar falls were in the offing here. Jam-packed it wasn't. But maybe it will be next week.

Just a word or two on the EU. Writing in the FT, Martin Wolf's interesting take on recent events is that they will force Germany to make a fateful choice - between a eurozone disturbingly different from the larger Germany it expected, or no eurozone at all. I recognise how much its leaders and people must hate this choice. But it is the one they face. Chancellor Angela Merkel must dare to make that choice, clearly and openly.

Monday, December 12, 2011

This post is entirely about the EU and the euro. Switch off now if you're not interested.

The side-issue of the UK veto has naturally distracted us for a while from the real issues addressed at the summit. Below I cite several articles on these from today's UK press, with selective quotes from each of these.

The Guardian editorial: "The future of the euro: when summits solve nothing".

Before last week's summit in Brussels turned into a crisis of the European Union, it was meant to resolve the crisis of the euro. How did it score on that primary task?

The answer is: badly. What emerged from Brussels is an agreement that failed to fix the structural flaws that threaten to destroy the euro. Indeed, in many cases, the accord may make those flaws worse.

The best that can now be hoped is that the European Central Bank will paper over the cracks, holding things in place till next March's summitry. The worst that can be realistically imagined remains dire. And using a veto certainly won't protect David Cameron and Britain from the economic damage.

Last week's gathering of European leaders was the eighth to take place this year. The comprehensive package that emerged at the end was the fourth since this January. And yet it represents a very small advance. The analysis of the crisis presented in Friday's final statement is the same stuck record as Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy have been playing for the past two years

Click here for the full article.

Jeremy Warner, writing in the Daily Telegraph.

In all the hullabaloo over Britain's use of the veto, and whether the UK has once more cut itself adrift from the rest of Europe, it seems to have been forgotten what was actually being voted on here – an almost wholly inappropriate set of treaty changes which in themselves will do absolutely nothing to prop up the euro or save Europe from a crippling recession.

To the contrary, the pro-cyclical fiscal austerity which is now being hardwired into European law through the balanced budget requirement seems to condemn much of the European periphery to prolonged depression.

On the current trajectory, this is a project which is heading towards certain oblivion. It is still possible that the sort of things that might save the single currency will eventually be agreed – central bank intervention and debt mutualisation – but it is a brave man who banks on it. Personally, my faith in Europe's ability to sort out its mess grows weaker by the day.

Click here for the full article.

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, writing in the Daily Telegraph.

They aren’t really angry with us for opposing the new Treaty for Fiscal Union. The reason our brother and sister Europeans are so chronically enraged with the British is that we have been proved completely right about the euro. For more than 20 years, British ministers have been coming out to Brussels and saying that they just love all this single-market stuff, but that they doubt the wisdom of trying to create a monetary union. And for more than 20 years, some of us have been saying that the reason a monetary union won’t work is that you can’t do it without a political union – and that a political union is not democratically possible.

We warned that you would need a kind of central Euro-government to control national budgets and taxation, and that the peoples of Europe wouldn’t wear it. Now look. It wasn’t the Anglo-Saxon bankers who caused the trouble in the eurozone, Sarkozy mon ami. It was the utter failure of the eurozone countries – starting with France, incidentally – to observe the Maastricht rules. It was the refusal of the Greeks to control their spending or to reform their social security systems.

Click here for the full article.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writing in the Daily Telegraph.

Many of those EU leaders who went along with this summit accord - including France’s Nicolas Sarkozy - must know that it is Medieval leech-cure treatment and can only drain the lifeblood from large parts of wasted Euroland.

It is not remotely a fiscal union. There will be no joint debt issuance, no EU treasury, no shared budgets, and no fiscal transfers to regions in trouble.

Nor was there any change in the mandate of the ECB, not even a tweak towards growth, nor a hint that financial stability (not manipulating short-term prices) is the ultimate duty of a central bank. They are rewriting the Treaties, yet still refuse to correct the most dangerous single failure in the construction of monetary union: the lack of a lender of last resort.

What the ECB can do is pull out all the stops to save Euroland’s €23 trillion banking system, and that is what it did last week by extending unlimited credit to banks (LTRO’s) to three years, halving the reserve ratio to 1pc, and relaxing collateral rules to allow banks running out of eligible "kit" to pawn almost anything at Frankfurt’s lending window.

This is the closest we have come a "game-changer" in two years of rolling crisis. The banks can play the "carry trade", borrowing at 1pc until 2015 with gearing to buy Italian debt at 6.4pc. That is how you rebuild a shattered banking system, and how to finance governments covertly without breaching any Treaty clause.

Click here for the full article.

Wolfgang Munchau, writing in the Financial Times.

The European Union last week destroyed the illusion that the eurozone and the UK could happily co-exist within the EU. That may have made it a historic summit. But the decision to set up a fiscal union outside the European treaties will do nothing whatsoever to resolve the eurozone crisis.

Remember what everybody said a week ago? To solve the crisis, the eurozone requires, in the long run, a fiscal union with a prospect of a eurozone bond and, in the short run, unlimited sovereign bond market support by the European Central Bank. What we now have is no treaty change, no eurozone bond and no increase either in the rescue fund or in ECB support.

The EU fell short on every element of a comprehensive deal.

Last week, Europe’s leaders created a diversion. We will be talking about the UK for a while. The crisis, meanwhile, goes on.

Click here for the full article.

Louise Armistead, writing in the Daily Telegraph.

Whichever side of the dichotomy you’re on, it ain’t Cameron you should be praising or blaming, but Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy. The truth is, Cameron hasn’t stood-up for Britain or quit the eurozone debate: Britain has been kicked out.

Click here for the full article.

Katinka Barysch, writing in The Guardian, under the headline "Believe it or not, Angela Merkel has a plan to tackle the Euro crisis.

Are Merkel's fiscal union plans beside the point at a time when debt and interbank markets are close to meltdown? Not quite: they are a political necessity to give Merkel more room for manoeuvre at home and to allow the European Central Bank to step up its role in stabilising the eurozone.

While Merkel's vision for a fiscal union is not the tool to stem the crisis, it might turn out to be a necessary ingredient of a bigger package to save the euro.

Click here for the full article.


Personally, I have no problem in admitting I have no idea whether the eorozone will eventually be stabilised by whatever the appropriate measures are. As Jeremy Warner has said:- It is still possible that the sort of things that might save the single currency – central bank intervention and debt mutualisation – will eventually be agreed but it is a brave man who banks on it.

Long-time reader Moscow (see recent Comments) may be well be brave enough to bank on the EU staying intact and coming up with measures which are not only appropriate but also politically feasible. In contrast, it seems Ambrose E-P has run out of patience - "The Europols have not begun to work out a viable solution to their deformed and unworkable currency union, and perhaps no such solution exists. The system will lurch from crisis to crisis until it blows up in acrimony."

Which is not what anyone wants, of course. So, let's hope that the summit really does serve as a stepping stone to something rather more productive. Soon.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Following Friday's high (and historic) drama, David Cameron naturally got both bouquets and brickbats from today's UK press.

A bouquet: All the UK is isolated from is an impending disaster: the eurozone will fragment with countries leaving and debt defaults. . . It is like being as isolated as a man who failed to get onto the Titanic before it sailed.

A brickbat:- As an act of crass stupidity, this has rarely been equalled.

And then there was . . .

British understatement, from one of the officials involved:- It's not the optimum outcome in terms of UK influence.

Ever-so-French overstatement:- Cameron acted like a man who goes to a wife-swapping party without taking his wife.

The reality:- In short, the summit that was supposed to save monetary union has been little short of disastrous. Going into the talks, the markets hoped for a happy ending to the sovereign debt saga: a deal to pave the way for the European Central Bank to ride to the rescue of Italy and Spain, under siege from the bond vigilantes. What they got instead was political schism, half-baked reforms and the complete absence of any fresh economic thinking. . . What was needed was a route map out of a situation that threatens Europe with at least one and perhaps two years of crisis. What we got instead was a blueprint to prevent the next crisis, assuming that monetary union makes it that far.


Vamos a ver.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Well, yes. We did wake up to headlines about the Continent being isolated or adrift. Most of them in the British press but one or two in the European press. El País, for example.

The difference with the Daily Telegraph's 1928 headline, of course, is that today's versions were meant to be funny/ironic. Though one British observer made the serious - and possibly extreme - comment that "For once the old joke, 'Fog in the Channel: Continent cut off', seems applicable. The continent is cutting itself off — from sane economic policies.

I wonder how the French will view the behaviour of their M. Sarkozy, who's facing an election in six months and finds it hard not to play to the gallery. I recall him telling the French a year or two go they should take lessons in driving manners from the British but his own example in cutting Mr Cameron at the conference table last night was unimpressive.

Here's one British perception of the man - Cutting an increasingly melodramatic figure, Nicolas Sarkozy, as usual, bad-mouthed the British Prime Minister in the hope of maximising his own personal glory at the expense of la perfide Albion. “Very simply,” he declared, “in order to accept the reform of the treaty of 27, David Cameron asked for what we thought was unacceptable: a protocol to exonerate the UK from financial services regulation. We could not accept this as at least part of the problems [Europe faces] came from this sector.” This is claptrap of the lowest order. To see why, you need to read the “international agreement” announced in the early hours of Friday. Its stated aims are to establish and enforce “a new fiscal compact and strengthened economic policy co-ordination” in the euro area. The phrase “fiscal stability union” is explicitly used. It is to be based on “common, ambitious rules” and “a new legal framework”. The Eurocrats have exchanged a Stability and Growth Pact — which was honoured only in the breach — for an Austerity and Contraction Pact. The UK has no option but to dissociate itself from this collective suicide pact, even if it strongly increases the probability that we shall end up outside the EU altogether.

In the Daily Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard was in no doubt about what had happened:- What remarkable petulance and stupidity. The leaders of France and Germany have more or less bulldozed Britain out of the European Union for the sake of a treaty that offers absolutely no solution to the crisis at hand, or indeed any future crisis. It is EU institutional chair shuffling at its worst, with venom for good measure. The Europols have not begun to work out a viable solution to their deformed and unworkable currency union, and perhaps no such solution exists. The system will lurch from crisis to crisis until it blows up in acrimony. More here

On the other side of the UK political divide, a Guardian columnist saw things thus:- As a clear damp dawn rose over Brussels on Friday morning, the tired and tetchy leaders of Europe emerged, bleary-eyed from nine hours of night-time sparring over how to rescue the single currency and indeed the entire European project. Brave faces were put on, bluffs called, counter-bluffs revealed, vetoes wielded. Histrionics from France's Nicolas Sarkozy, poker-faced calm from Germany's Angela Merkel, David Cameron gambling the UK's place in Europe by opting to battle for Britain rather than helping to save the euro.

When the dust settles, Friday 9 December may be seen as a watershed, the beginning of the end for Britain in Europe. But more than that – the emergence for the first time of a cold new Europe in which Germany is the undisputed, pre-eminent power imposing a decade of austerity on the eurozone as the price for its propping up the currency. The prospect is of a joyless union of penalties, punishments, disciplines and seething resentments, with the centrist elites who run the EU increasingly under siege from anti-EU populists on the right and left everywhere in Europe. . . In the cold new Europe taking shape, the Germans are more powerful than everyone else, but not all-powerful.

Back in Spain, both Tuesday and Thursday were public holidays, giving many the chance to 'bridge' the week twice so as to take it all off. This prompted the head of the employers' association to call this widespread downing of tools "A complete scandal", likely to cost the country more than one billion euros, or one percent of GDP. But some things are more important than money. 

Friday, December 09, 2011

So, Britain finds itself out of step with all the other 26 nations in the European Union. I wonder if tomorrow we'll wake up to anything like the famous Daily Telegraph headline of 1928 :-  "Storm in Channel - Continent Isolated".


Something I've unearthed while checking this quote suggests that its funniness will be lost on the other side of the Atlantic. Toby Young, writing in The Spectator in 2008, confessed:- I know from having lived in Manhattan in the mid-1990s that you constantly have to point out that there’s a world of difference between the residents of the British Isles and the rest of Europe and that, strictly speaking, the term ‘Eurotrash’ only applies to the latter. I lost count of the number of times I had to explain to Americans why the following headline was funny: "Storm in Channel - Continent Isolated". As far as they are concerned, Europe is just one country, no different from the United States.

As if.

A quick follow-up to yesterday's mention of George Borrow . . . Some time next week, a plaque will be installed at what might or might not have been where he lived in Madrid - in Calle Santiago. 


Finally . . . Who would have thought that Katherine Hepburn would have been the one to sum up the Spanish in only 11 words? - ‘If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun’.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

In 1835 or so, a Englishman – George Borrow – set off through Spain to try to sell copies of the Protestant Bible. By his own admission, he wasn’t terribly successful. But he did have a great time, falling in love with Spain and its people in the process. “She is”, he wrote, “the most magnificent country in the world. And I have found much that is noble and to be admired amongst the Spanish people, who have always treated me with kindness and courtesy”. Happily for us, he recorded his experiences in “The Bible In Spain”. As a book, this is hard to get hold of but you can download the text here.

I mention this encomium [with which I totally agree], firstly, to help counter the perception that I am unremittingly negative about Spain and, secondly, to lead into my contention that, whilst the Spanish people truly are amongst the best in the world, they make far better acquaintances than friends. By this I mean that that, while they’re fantastic to socialise with - even if you have only just met them in a bar or on a train - you would be foolish to expect them to be around just when you need them. For the concept of friendship in Spain differs greatly from that in an Anglo-Saxon culture. In Spain, you owe your loyalties to your family. To everyone else you owe nothing but civility and, usually, bucketloads of bonhomie.

The end result is many superficial acquaintanceships but few deep friendships. All this is driven by the logic of a culture in which few people break away from the family nexus, e. g. to attend university and then to work many miles from ‘home’. So your life is determined, on the one hand, by the obligations you owe to your family members and, on the other, by the support and assistance which you can always expect from them. Put briefly, you don’t need friends the way displaced Anglo-Saxons do. So you don’t cultivate them. If all this sounds rather brutal, I can only say that it isn’t really and add the comment of my friend, Elena, who's pointed out that, whilst all the above might well be true, the Spanish are the least likely people in the world to turn a blind eye to a stranger in trouble. Perhaps this is one of the aspects of Spanish ‘nobility’ that impressed George Borrow so much 170 years ago. And still does today.

Postscript: Those impressed by GB's writings on Spain can obtain more information on him/them from a site entitled George Borrow Studies. This is maintained by my friend, Peter Missler, whose two books inspired by Borrow - A Daring Game and The Treasure Hunter of Santiago - are also featured there.

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