Monday, August 21, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 21.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • The New York Times comments on the fight against Islamist terror in Spain here. Some pertinent points:-
  1. Spain has not seen the emergence of hard-line, anti-Muslim political movements as elsewhere in Europe.
  2. Around 200 Spanish residents are believed to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the fighting there - a fraction of the hundreds who have gone from countries like Britain and France.
  3. But Spain cannot escape its symbolic attraction for Islamists that is rooted deep in its history.
  4. Like so many intelligence agencies in Europe, the Spanish are overwhelmed by the volume of potential terrorism plots they are trying to monitor, “They’re totally swamped with leads,” said a terrorist expert. “There is no way they can cover all their current open cases.” 
  • I was interested to read of the La Ruta Búlgara last week. This is one route favoured by Bulgarian drug traffickers bringing cocaine through Spain into Europe. Guess where they land it. And occasionally get arrested. Or at least their local associates do.
  • I recently posted a definition of fashion. I was reminded of it last week when reading that First Communion medals are now the thing for young women to sport in Spain. Either as pendants, brooches or earrings.
Over in the USA, a creationist called Ken Ham has built a (not terribly successful) full-size replica of the Ark and filled it with all the animals Moses and his family took into it. Including dinosaurs, of course. But, reading about the Dutch this last few days, I discovered that they beat him to this. It's in Dordrecht, by the North Sea coast. By the way, the English author of the book I'm reading wrote this sentence:- They paused just long enough for one of them to pronounce the place 'erg fucking cool' (very f**cking cool). Beats me.

Here in Galicia, the Tax Office (the Hacienda) continues to find new ways of generating revenue. Or, putting it another way, stopping widespread tax evasion. Their latest targets are illegal traders of tobbaco. Who may or may not be supplying the government-owned kiosks which sell tobbaco products here. And Stamps. Los estancos

Still on the Hacienda . . .  They've advised us that one of the tricks of the evasion trade is to declare a property a ruin and thus reduce or eliminate municipal taxes on it. Other oversights include not informing them of extensions to your house or of the installation of a pool in your garden. But now they have drones . . .

Very good news . . .  There's a to be a second bilarda pitch here in Galicia. If you're not familiar with this game/sport, this site will be of help to you.

Finally . . . In October 2013, I wrote something about Spanish brothels. Today, the page of that date was hit by a computer offering readers a choice of 6 brothels in Bangalore. With the emphasis on Bang, I guess. In case you miss the first list, the machine presents it twice more. So, just in case anyone is visiting the place and has unsatisfied needs:-
Independent Bangalore Escorts
Bangalore Escorts Service
Bangalore Escorts Agency
Escorts Service in Bangalore
Escorts in Bangalore
Bangalore Escorts

Today's Cartoon:-



Sunday, August 20, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 20.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • Here's an article - via Eye on Spain - about the heating up on the South of Spain. Ten years ago it was forecast that around now Galicia would be as hot as Andalucia and that the latter would be the new North Africa. Well, not yet.
  • In the last few days, readers Eamon and Maria have posted informative and amusing Comments on energy bills and prices. Essentially no one has the faintest idea how the bills are arrived at, but Maria is pleasantly surprised that something has happened to bring her monthly bill down. Of course, she doesn't expect to get any previous overpayments returned to her. Or even explained. Wise woman.
The Japanese are said to have become much taller via the consumption of more red meat. I mention this because I read yesterday that the Dutch are the tallest people in at least Europe because land reclamation led to high-quality grass, expanded dairy farming and a much increased consumption of milk and cheese. I guess it could be true.

As tourism and terrorism increasingly grow hand-in-hand, here's the list of last year's most-visited cities. You might want to consider avoiding them in future.
1. Bangkok
2. London
3. Paris
4. Dubai
5. New York
6. Singapore
7. Kuala Lumpur
8. Istanbul
9. Tokyo
10. Seoul
11. Hong Kong
12. Barcelona
13. Amsterdam
14. Milan
15. Taipei
16. Rome
17. Osaka
18. Vienna
19. Shanghai
20. Prague


Nutter Bryan Fischer: On the upcoming eclipse: The sun will be perfectly blotted out, by the ruler of the night, plunging all of America in its path into virtual total darkness. This is a metaphor, or a sign, of the work of the Prince of Darkness in obscuring the light of God’s truth. Satan, and those who unwittingly serve as his accomplices by resisting the public acknowledgement of God and seeking to repress the expression of Christian faith in our land, are bringing on us a dark night of the national soul. A Trump supporter, of course.

Here's another sponsored article on Galicia, from The Guardian. Seems like a nice place, though I don't know any of the recommended hotels and restaurants. Except the Parador in Pontevedra. The last foto in the article is this one, showing the entrance and the garden terrace where I'm regularly ignored. Not that I let that get to me:-


The roundabout at the start of A Barca bridge into town featured twice in our local news this week. Firstly, some joker (called a gamberro: 'vandal/hooligan/lout' by the Diaro de Pontevedra) placed a sign at the start of it saying it was closed. Which, in true Spanish fashion, I ignored. Secondly, someone was finally hit and killed on one of the 2 zebra crossings which have often featured in this blog. Essentially each time I was almost hit. Occasionally twice by the same driver doing a U-turn at the roundabout. It had to happen.

Finally . . . Another bike-rider observation:-
  • When you come up behind a group of Spaniards walking in the dedicated bike lane, there's no way of knowing in which sideways direction they'll move when the eventually become aware of your presence. It pays to wait.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 19.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • One of the negatives of Spanish life is the non-availability of wines from elsewhere in the world. Something which I guess is a feature of both France and Italy also. Compare the vast range in any British supermarket or wine store. Things can be even worse at the regional level. I went to a vinoteca here in Pontevedra yesterday to try to get a bottle of chardonnay from La Rioja I'd read about. There was nothing but Galician wines there
  • Another negative - for foreigners at least - is the level of noise here. The 'acoustic pollution' for which Spain is famous. I was reminded of this when reading last week of the complaints of (Spanish!) neighbours of our local Casino (private club) after the annual Debutantes' Ball last Saturday. The - inevitably far-too-loud - music only stopped at 8am on Sunday morning. And the complaints came not just from people in my barrio on this side of the river but also from inhabitants of Pontevedra city across the river. Needless to say, the complaints were ignored. As they will be next year.
  • In Spain's latest census, 68% of people declared themselves Catholic, against only 17% for 'practising Catholic'. And this was defined as attending Mass at least once a month. Back in my Catholic days this would have meant you'd committed a 'mortal sin' on each of the other 3 Sundays. And were destined for hell. Things have certainly changed.
Talking of religion . . . Spain and Islamist terrorism: There's a very pertinent article at the end of this post, from a guy who seems to know what he's talking about.

The USA: Someone has written: It is hard to escape a feeling that many Republicans are starting to regret the Faustian pact which they struck with Trump to capture the White House and strengthen their grip on Congress. Can there ever have been a more predictable development? Even in the unpredictable world of politics.

The English: I've just finished re-reading Kate Fox's marvellous analysis of the ludicrous unwritten rules which govern English life - Watching the English. I will now ruin it for you by posting here the diagram she presents in her final chapter:-


Ms Fox's final step is to review the theories of why the English are like they are. But gives up, saying that no one really knows. So I won't hazard a guess. I was tempted to disagree with her claim (page 549) that the English dis-ease is treatable but not eradicable. I was convinced that, after living 25 years outside England, I'd shed many English traits. For example, discomfort with eye contact and the tactility of foreigners. But, in the end, I had to admit to myself that, even if I don't follow all the rules, I still instinctively react with internal horror if someone breaks one of them. In other words, it's not just a disease but also a curse!

Galicia:- A couple of recent articles from the New York Times and The Wine Magazine:-
Finally . . . I've been riding my bike the final mile into town for a week now. My observations include:-
  1. Spanish pedestrians don't object to cyclists in pedestrian areas. (Already known).
  2. Spanish pedestrians don't have much (if anything) by way of peripheral vision. (Already known).
  3. Spanish pedestrians will happily move out of your way once they finally become aware you are behind them.
  4. Astonishingly, some Spanish pedestrians will apologise for blocking your (sedate) progress.
  5. If you try to get up a steep slope and don't make it for the final few centimetres and come to a dead halt, the bike will be not be stable and will fall over. With you on it.
  6. Spanish pedestrians make excellent Samaritans, should you and your bike fall over. (Already known)
THE ARTICLE

Enough of blaming the West. The terror will continue until Muslims reject the need for a caliphate   

Ed Husain: Senior fellow at Civitas, Institute for the Study of Civil Society, London; and a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, Washington

What did Spain do wrong? Why did Muslim radicals attack so many innocents? Those are the questions being asked across the West following Barcelona.

Many will resort to the self-flagellation of “change our foreign policy” or “we are to blame because of colonialism”. I wish it were so simple. I know the mindset of militant Muslims seeking to kill disbelievers in the name of a caliphate, because I called for the creation of such a caliphate for five years of my life. I recognise the ideology, theology and strategy behind the violence. There is no appeasing the fanatics.

Consider the facts on Spain: on March 11 2004, al-Qaeda terrorists killed 192 and injured 2,000 on trains in Madrid. Spain had 1,300 troops in Iraq at the time (America had 135,000 and Britain 8,700). Three days after the bombing, José Maria Aznar lost the general election to a Left-wing party committed to ending Spain’s involvement in Iraq. On April 18 2004, the new prime minister ordered the withdrawal of Spain’s troops. Scarred by the Madrid bombing, fearful of reprisals after the terrorist attacks in France, in November 2015 the Spanish government refused to join a global coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil). So what did Spain do wrong?

We are asking the wrong questions. Spain’s foreign policy shows that we cannot stop terrorism by changing our behaviour. In the mind of the Muslim extremists, Spain is not Spain, but al Andalus, part of a Muslim empire that lasted in Spain for 700 years.

Today’s Spain is considered to be “occupied land” that must be liberated. The last Muslim ruler of Granada, Boabdil, who negotiated a peaceful end to his emirate in 1492, made a terrible mistake, argue the extremists. Spain must return to their version of Islam, for in that literalist reading of religious scripture, the world is divided into two realms: Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb, the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. And once a land is controlled by Dar al-Islam it must forever belong to that sphere. Terrorism is merely a tactic to support the aims of the caliphate.

In February this year, Isil warned that it would target Spain’s beaches and increase its propaganda material in Spanish. But Spain is not the only target. India was also part of their interpretation of Dar al-Islam because it was under the Moghuls until 1857 and must therefore return to the domain of the caliphate. Israel must be destroyed as the caliph must reclaim Jerusalem. Turkey’s Muslim reformer, Kemal Ataturk, ended the caliphate in 1924 and a secular Turkey must return to the fold. Charles Martel of France defeated the Umayyad caliph’s soldiers in the Battle of Tours in 732, and Austria held out against the Ottomans in the Battle of Vienna in 1683. Time and again, Isil refers to the West as “crusaders” and targets the Pope and Rome as eternal enemies of Islam.

They are prisoners of history, and this selective narrative of the past fuels their chosen grievances of the present. For them, the West is to blame for every dictator and injustice in the Middle East. They talk of the Sykes Picot agreement of 1916 as if it were yesterday. The dictatorships, tyrants and lack of prosperity in the Arab world fan the flames of anger. The prisons of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Algeria are full of Salafi jihadists who wished to overthrow their governments and create societies based on rule of hardline sharia. Between dictatorial tyranny and religious theocracy, where is the freedom for ordinary Arabs to reform their countries?

In addition, we have radicalised networks of extremist Muslim organisations reinforcing the worst elements of victimhood. They operate on the internet, but also in our universities, communities and prisons. Like the communists of the last century, they rail against capitalism, injustice, the West and dictators, and talk about the racism faced by French Muslims, or the Islamophobia encountered by British Muslims, while offering an ideological panacea: Muslims are weak and can only be strengthened by creating a powerful caliphate.

To strengthen Muslim identity against the West, they seek to divide and rule. They abuse religion to amplify differences, rather than unite based on common belief in one God, goodness, and faith.

The attack in Barcelona and the calls by Isil to attack beaches weren’t random: they hate the freedom of women to dress in bikinis. They attacked the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in May because they despise men and women dancing freely to music. They attacked Charlie Hebdo because they refuse to allow for blasphemy. They target synagogues and kosher grocery stores across Europe because, like their neo-Nazi counterparts, they hate Jews.

But when I visit Turkey, I see Muslim women in bikinis on the beach beside women in headscarves. In Tunisia, Sheikh Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the conservative Ennahda party, talks about the mosques being open, and also the bars and the beaches. In Morocco, I see Jewish communities honoured.

We have to be honest. Across the West we now have 30 million Muslims who are Westerners. There is no war against Islam. The freedom of Muslims to worship and live proves that the old, imperial paradigms of Isil’s Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Islam are outdated. Most Muslims are quietly thriving in business, politics, media, sports, and more. In Britain, Mishal Husain’s voice wakes us up on the Today programme. Nadiya Hussain of The Great British Bake Off prepares cake for the Queen. Mo Farah reinstates British sporting pride. The list goes on. But there is a dark, sinister movement growing, too.

Ten years ago, when I wrote my book The Islamist and warned against this ideology on the rise in our midst, many in the Muslim community dismissed me as an alarmist. Today, an actual caliphate exists and its soldiers are wreaking havoc.

Enough of blaming the West. Isil has attacked 30 different countries, and the vast majority of its victims in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere are Muslims. Isil and other extremists thrive on the justification that it is religiously obligatory to create a caliphate. Jihadists commit mass murder in the pursuit of, or defence of, this belief in a caliphate.

For too long we have been responding to their terror tactics, rather than uprooting their strategic objective. I learned through my own studies and long conversations with religious authorities that a caliphate is not a religious obligation. We can be perfectly Muslim without aiming to subjugate others to a theocracy.

Muslims must reject the idea that we need a caliphate. Unless we discard the drive for a Muslim super-state, many more will be killed in pursuit of it. Muslim organisations, governments, websites, political parties, religious leaders and educational institutions must roundly, unreservedly accept that we no longer need a caliphate. Remove that objective and the violence to justify it falls away. The West must take sides, too, in this battle of ideas among Muslims.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 18.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • Here's The Guardian on the growing problem of African refugees heading for Spain.
  • Reader Eamon has advised of a new - and unexplained - item on his electricity bill - the PVPC (El Precio Voluntario para el Pequeño Consumidor). I researched it and found this, which left me no wiser. Specifically, does any Spanish reader know how to translate el importe del término de energía?
  • As you'll appreciate, Spain's energy companies are still some way from demonstrating any customer orientation.
  • I'm sure this is a re-cycled list from The Local - of Ten Things That Shock Spaniards about the UK. But some readers might not have seen it yet.
Donald Trump: At the end of this post there's a Guardian article that should appeal to one reader at least - my friend Ian, down in Oz. I believe I'm on record as saying - more than once - that all that's required is for people to silently follow the guy around, holding placards that simply say: LOSER. That should drive him to distraction. Possibly even to resignation . . . 

Galicia's Xunta has confirmed it's going to move from 'lo cost' tourism to some higher-profit model aimed at richer folk. I have to say I haven't noticed any low cost model being operated. So I wonder what they mean.

That reminds me that it's reported that La Coruña is winning the Galician Cruiser War against Vigo. Numbers for the former are 58% up, whereas for Vigo they're 7% down. Or 57.48% and 6.49%, as the local press reported it. You do have to wonder what it says about Spain that such ridiculous 2-decimal-place numbers are so common. Sometimes three!

The fiesta in Vilagarcia I recently mentioned turned out to centre on the spraying of water, not the snorting of locally-landed cocaine. Which seems a little perverse in a country which doesn't get enough rainfall. At least not south of where we are. But, then, as I've said, there's not much concern in Spain about its excessive per capita consumption of water.

Finally . . . Here's a foto of some young peña revellers, taken after one of last weekend's bullfights.
























It's reminded me that there are basically just 2 fashions for women in Pontevedra this summer - short shorts or flimsy, flowy ankle-length dresses. On balance, I prefer the latter. One can get too much of exposed bum cheeks.

THE ARTICLE

With every sneer, liberals just make Trump stronger: Simon Jenkins

Did I tell you Donald Trump is a vulgar, foul-mouthed, meat-faced, 71-year-old redneck buffoon?

To be honest, he is a fossil-fuel guzzling, Big Mac-eating, pussy-grabbing, racist dick. He has hubris syndrome with paranoid narcissistic disorder. Do you read his tweets? The English is dreadful. How can a man run the country who is so uncouth, with that hair, those ties, those baggy suits? He is a Ba’athist generalissimo, the president of a banana republic. He is anti-Christ. There. Does that make you feel better?

All the above phrases are culled from a brief Google scan on the current American president. They reflect a melange of national shame, liberal trauma, snobbery and class hatred. They extend across the Atlantic and around the world. They assume two things. One is that Trump is so appalling it is inconceivable he could win a second term in office. The other is that deploying the same language as he did to win office is the best way to send him packing.

I hope the first is true, but I am not sure about the second. The comparison this week between Trump’s scripted and spontaneous reactions to the Charlottesville riot spoke volumes of his technique and his appeal. He failed to fully address the one aspect of the riot where attacking the left might have had traction, its Orwellian “history scrubbing” of the Confederate hero General Robert E Lee. Instead he used the occasion to denigrate the “alt-left”, and ramp up his appeal not just to the “alt-right” but to the silent right that, perhaps ashamedly, sympathises with it.

Trump made it almost arrogantly clear that his formally scripted criticism of the right was merely to appease Washington’s “liberal elite”. He promptly erased it in the sort of street fight with the media that his followers love. Every time this happens, Fox, Drudge, Breitbart and his social media operators gleefully edit clips and feed them to his millions of supporters. A BBC documentary by Jamie Bartlett this week showed how Trump may be a gastronomic and sartorial throwback, but he is a master at social media. The 1990s thesis that the internet would turn the world into one vast lovable, liberal community has never looked less likely than today. It plays into the hands of the political polarisers.

Trump’s approval rating is at a historic low for a first-year president of 34%. Republicans are almost as appalled by him as Democrats, since they fear he may lose them votes in next year’s mid-terms. This is even though they have not done badly in recent byelections. Hence the two former Bush presidents issuing a joint statement denouncing racism. The basis of Trump’s second-term appeal is already emerging: the tried and tested technique (see Margaret Thatcher) of taking on his own government and keeping up the fight.

Eliminating Trump will depend not on making liberal America feel good, but on detaching him from the bulk of his conservative support. The battle will not be for the elusive centre of American opinion, an entity that political scientists such as Jonathan Haidt and others have declared non-existent. It will be over a group that both Trump and the failed Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders identified as the white working class, urban as much as rural. Sanders did astonishingly well, given his socialist credentials.

Forty-two per cent of American adults are classified as white working class. For two decades they have seen incomes shrink in favour, as they see it, of welfare recipients, “identity groups”, graduates and the rich. Defining them as racist xenophobes and “deplorables”, as did Hillary Clinton, when they craved jobs and income security, was a sign of the “class cluelessness”, analysed by Joan Williams in the bestseller White Working Class. Written like a Victorian explorer encountering unknown tribes on the Congo, it has joined JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy in charting the origins of Trump’s appeal.

These people made up the bulk of the 63 million who voted for Trump. Insulting him insults them. When the insults carry a tinge of cultural, intellectual and class superiority, they bite deep. As Edward Luttwak points out in the Times Literary Supplement, liberal America finds it hard to believe that since the crash “the median American family cannot any longer afford a new car”. That is the key to Trumpism, not the loud-mouthed spoilt brat but the word “JOBS” with which he ends his tweets.

In New York recently I read in the New York Times each day pages of columns competing with each other not just in criticising but in jeering at their president, to the point where I could understand his paranoia. Articles in the New Yorker discussed his mental health, his impeachment or his dismissal for incapacity under the constitution’s 25th amendment. It was all preaching to the converted.

Meanwhile a deafening wall descended somewhere beyond the Hudson river, where there lay a frightened, puzzled, increasingly poor America, one that had put its faith in a man who seemed to speak its language and address its fears. No one was reaching out to them, calmly explaining that others than Trump felt their pain. Trump does not appeal to the Republican wealth nexus, as did Ronald Reagan. He appeals to those whom the left thought were its own, and whom it has long neglected. Hence perhaps the fury that lies behind the insults.

Trump is easily depicted as a man whose narcissism renders him unsuited to the presidency. He is testing America’s constitutional power balance to the limit. Pundits assume that his ineptitude will be curbed by the “grown-ups” now gathered around him and by the weight of congressional opposition. Either by unforeseen accident, or by the rise of rivals, they predict he will be a one-term nightmare.

But Trump and his supporters thrive on the venom of their liberal tormentors. The old maxim should apply: think what your enemy most wants you to do, and do the opposite. Tolerating Trump may stick in the craw, but it must be counter-productive to feed his paranoia, to behave exactly as his lieutenants want his critics to behave, like the liberal snobs that obsess him.

If Trump wins again, it will be by convincing voters “the system” still cares nothing for them. He will say that it will be an eight-year job to bring his anarchic rage to bear on a smug establishment, and let him “finish the job”. I would rather not help him to that ambition.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 17.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

My usual Thursday morning thanks to Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas for some inspiration.

Life in Spain:-
  • Spain's top ranking university in a recent Chinese survey - Barcelona's Universidad Pompeu Fabra - came in at only position 239. Our local paper - the Voz de Galicia - boasted (if that's the right word) that the University of Santiago was included in the 300-400 band. Not much to shout about. In contrast, Spain's business schools are very highly rated.
  • Here's our old friend, The Local, with a list of 10 things you mustn't do when dining in Spain.
  • And, if you're a guiri who speaks Spanish and plans to enjoy tapas dishes here, here's how to detect favoured tricks/faults of the trade.
  • Here's a bit more from El País, in English, on the problems Santiago de Compestela has with its ever-increasing number of tight-fisted pilgrims/tourists
  • Spain's fishing fleet ranks number 3 in Europe, after Greece and Italy. The UK comes in at number 7 but this is only one place above that of Galicia's. Most of which operates out of nearby Vigo, I believe. This puts Galicia's fleet ahead of those of Holland, Germany and Ireland, inter alia.
It's tough inventing reasons for Spain's raison d'etre - annual fiestas. Our local town of Cuntis (stop sniggering) has come up with a beauty - a straw-bale rolling competition. For which you have to don cowboy gear and wellies, it seems. Or at least wellies:-


If you're surprised at the following statistic, you haven't been paying attention to my moans in this blog . . . In absolute terms of the number of motoring fines, Pontevedra province ranks 3rd behind those of Madrid and Valencia: 179,400, 95,900 and 72,800, respectively. But I suspect our province would leap to the top of the per capita rankings. I'm proud to be included. Regularly.

Mind you, our local police claim there are at least 800 drivers on our roads who've had their licences suspended. Not all of whom will be gypsies. I guess.

I've confessed that Pontevedra's ever-changing retail scene confuses me. In a part of the city centre where I haven't shopped for a while, I noticed there was a new burger restaurant and that the Chinese bazar I'd intended to visit was now a large sporting goods store. Down in Veggie Square, one of the shops that regularly closes and re-opens as something else is now an ice-cream place. I imagine it'll shut down at the end of summer. Further up the street towards my regular watering hole, the city's millionth knick-knack shop has just opened. Perhaps for the tourist trade. I've become pretty good at predicting which shops won't survive - my latest guess being the spice shop in the street down towards the market. Which will be a shame as it's useful for me and is staffed by a nice young lady who wants to practice her English.

Galicia's brilliant artist, Alfonso Castelao, was not exactly an admirer of Spain's ruling classes of the start of the 20th century. He once said, I think, that there was no such thing as a thin priest. Certainly, all of the latter in his wonderful pictures seem to be on the fat side. As here, for example:-


I was reminded of this when I was this foto of the king and queen - the very opposite of fat - with leaders of the Spanish Protestant community:-


Finally . . .  My understanding that un huerto is an orchard and una huerta is a vegetable patch or allotment. Right or wrong, I need a Spanish reader to tell me whether it's really possible I saw the latter as a masculine forename in a novel set in the 1930s and beyond.

Today's cartoon:-

Of course, it'll be more effective once we get some ants.




Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 16.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • Here's El País on Spain's bizarre horario, or daily timetable. Nice chart. Apologies if I posted this when it came out last year. It does endorse my contention that you need to take a couple of hours off Spanish events to arrive at the time they'd be taking place in other countries. Which I did last night when we had our second set of fireworks in less than a week. At midnight . . .
  • Here's another El Pais article – A pretty positive take on Spain from an American woman who had her eyes opened as to what the country has to offer.
  • And here's The Guardian on a lovely train option I used when doing the North Coastal Camino last year. To get beyond the outskirts of Oviedo. I wish I could get someone to sponsor my trips.
  • Back to El País for a comment on the parlous state of Spain's real, micro economy. What's really galling to read is that, as the tourist sector soars higher and higher, salary rates are reducing for the already overworked and underpaid workers who provide the usually excellent service in cafés, bars, restaurants and hotels. Profiteering on grand scale.
  • I sometimes wonder whether any businessperson in Spain is honest. Here's El País (in Spanish) on one of the most corrupt of the country's magnates . . . mining 'king' and outright crook – Victorino Alonso
  • I don't have this query about Spain's politicians, of course. We know that all of these are on the take.

Over in Germany, the constitutional court has said it sees “significant reasons” to believe the European Central Bank had overstepped its mandate with its €2.3 trillion bond-buying scheme. So, it has referred the case to the European Court of Justice. Which will take its time and hand down a verdict after the scheme been stopped, as planned, early next year. I guess it makes sense to someone. Don Quijones is on holiday in Mexico with his wife so, sadly, we can't get his caustic comments on this typical EU development.

Even before his astonishingly revelatory press conference yesterday, I was wondering how Donald Trump could have more clearly demonstrated the utter insincerity of his written-for-him Monday statement on Charlottesville. Perhaps by laughing during and after it. Or giving a big wink towards his supporters when he'd finished. As it happens, he gave us all the evidence of this yesterday. I see things have finally reached the point where Republican rats are starting to leave the sinking ship. How much longer can he last? More importantly, what further damage can this batty, blustering, bullying buffoon do to the US and the world before he's gone?

Here in Galicia:-
  • On tourism, I forgot yesterday to quote the foreigner who'd said that visiting the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela was now as bad as visiting the Vatican.
  • Back to the corporate dishonesty issue . . . Not just one but 4 local companies are being prosecuted for taking thousands of excess passengers to the glorious but numbers-limited Atlantic Islands off our coast. In just 2 days.
  • The Ribeira Sacra is another magnificent – but inland – Galician feature. And now you can see it from a hot air balloon. Or un aerostato as they're called here. Click here for info.

Finally . . .  As I was leaving my house last evening, my neighbour, Toni, told me that there's an upcoming fiesta in Vilagarcia, on our be-coved coast. "Is it a fiesta de cocaina", I asked.

Today's Cartoon:-


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 15.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • Here's an interesting follow-up to one of Spain's many bull-running events. Unusual in a not-very-litigious society. An augury?
  • The latest Gallup poll endorses the view that Spain's macro economic recovery is not trickling down to the lower levels of society. A couple of quotes:- 1. The country's poorest residents may be hardest hit by austerity measures, and 2. The growing differences between low-income and high-income Spaniards are a troubling reflection of the rising inequality.
  • A while ago, the newish centre-party, Ciudadanos, entered into a pact with the minority PP administration, to allow the latter to govern. It has now admitted that only c. 20% of this has been implemented so far. I wonder what they expected.
  • Talking of the PP party, its leading (low wattage) light is President Rajoy - the only member of the party who knows nothing about its endemic corruption. He's not known for achieving much and is famous for saying even less. Despite (because of?) this, he's reported to be planning to try for a 3rd term in office. They say that voters in a democracy get the government they deserve. But do the Spanish really merit the unimpressive Sr Rajoy?
The Spanish Language:- My latest discoveries:-
  • Tener patente de corso: To have a licence to do what you want. Lit: To be a  privateer. Corso = corsair.
  • Un piscinazo: 'A dive', as in Louis Suarez in the Real Madrid penalty area. Lit: 'Big swimming pool'.
  • Tener muchas migas: To be full of interest/substance.
  • Gastroteca: A pretentious place serving food. Like a wine-serving vinoteca. Sometimes the same place.
  • Gastrorestaurante: Ditto
Galicia News:
  • The Galician Xunta has distanced itself from comments that there's too many tourists now. Indeed, they want more and have plans to bring them here. And not only from the rest of Spain.
  • In Santiago de Compostela, meanwhile - as I know full well - things have got so bad that you'll have to wait at least 45 minutes to get into the cathedral, through the single door that's now kept open. Nonetheless, the complaint about tourists in that city is not that there's too many of them but that they don't spend enough once they get there. Cheap pilgrim bastards!
  • Our farmers are up in arms against the Hacienda, the Tax Office. For a while now, it's been using drones to find unregistered rural buildings or extensions which should have been declared so that the municipal tax (the IBI) could be levied on them. And now it's demanding documentary evidence farmers are entitled to the cash they get from Brussels. Mainly for leaving their land uncultivated, I think. In theory, at least.
  • Another day in hilly Galicia, another less-than-young farmer dead under an upturned tractor.
  • Pontevedra's Saturday night bullfight didn't merit a full report in Sunday's El Pais. There was just a brief account in a side column, along with reports on 2 corridas in France(!) and one in Gijón on the north coast.
  • The Saturday post-corrida-all-night binge for kids of 12 and upwards resulted in only 4 cases of alcoholic poisoning. And no violence. By the way, if you're female, there seems to be a strict rule for attendance at this - the younger you are, the more you should dress like a prostitute. One wonders if they leave the house like this, bottle of kalimocho in hand.
  • A motorcyclist was recently stopped for doing 150km in a 60km zone. Because it had got wet and he wanted to dry it out, he said. Which was possibly true.
This is the charming garden of the Pontevedra Parador, where I go for a coffee of a Sunday morning. Or, rather, where I go to be ignored by the staff. Who, I guess, recognise that I am not staying there. Or just don't like me. They are civil servants, of course, as the hotel chain is government run:-


Out of their own mouths . . . Pastor Franklin Graham: Shame on the politicians who are trying to push blame on President Trump for what happened in Charlottesville. That’s absurd. Satan is behind it all. He wants division, he wants unrest, he wants violence and hatred.  Pastor Graham clearly knows what he's talking about when it comes to the absurd.

Finally . . .  Talking of the absurd . . . This foto jumped out of The Times at me this morning. And it wasn't because of the breasts:-


This, would you believe, is a stomach vacuuming - A contortion achieved by emptying your lungs and pulling your abdomen in under your ribcage and holding the inhalation for 20 to 60 seconds. Its aimed at giving you a 'flat middle and six-pack' with minimal effort. More extreme versions, nicknamed “alien yoga” involve contracting and releasing your stomach muscles in a bizarre rolling movement. I'll probably be giving it a miss.  

Monday, August 14, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 14.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • Tourism - long important to Spain - now represents a higher percentage of GDP than the 'booming' construction ever did before its sudden collapse in 2008. It has different pluses and minuses, of course, and Don Quijones addresses them here, while pointing out the likelihood of mid-term reversals.
  • Tomorrow, Tuesday, is a public holiday in Spain. Something to do with the Virgin Mary, I think. So today, Monday, is one of the country's famous puentes, or 'bridges'. When many folk take the day off. Or call in sick. Not a time to be on the roads, says El Tráfico, who warn us the jams will make it a nightmare under a hot sun.
  • A survey tells us that clothes and booze are still relatively cheap in Spain but that telecommunications are a lot more expensive than elsewhere in Europe. As if we didn't know. And, in the case of my barrio, utterly inadequate for 15 of the 17 years I've been here.
Here in Galicia, property sales have begun to boom again, despite the fact that our cities boast many empty flats. One interesting aspect is that more than 50% of sales are now in cash. One wonders why.

As I've mentioned, this weekend saw the start of our annual fiesta in Pontevedra city. It's called Semana Grande, or the Big Week. Possibly because this 'week' runs from the 11th to the 21st of the month. And involves at least 2 spectacular firework display. At midnight, of course.

I'm more convinced that ever there's a Beggars' Bus which goes from town to town here in the Rías Baixas of Galicia. Or it might just be that our fiesta has drawn in the 2 or 3 new ones who've appeared in the last few days. Effectively, they're as itinerant as all the craftspeople who go from one place to another for the now-obligatory Medieval Fair every town offers during the summer. 

Here's a piece of doggerel which this development reminded me of yesterday:-
Hark! Hark! The dogs do bark.
The beggars are come to town.
Some in rags and some in tags,
And some in hand-me-downs

My friends Anthea and Phil told me last night that the last line in their neck of the northern English woods is:- And some in velvet gowns.

And here's a foto of one of the panhandling newcomers. Rather younger than most, I thought. Well, the first time she appeared, I did:-


By the way, I've probably committed an offence by not pixellating her face. But I don't know how to do it.

Which reminds me . . . Those charged under Spain's Citizen Security law - known colloquially as the Gag Law - numbered 3,391 over the last 18 months here in Galicia. The majority of these were for drug-related offences but just over 1,000 miscreants were charged with 'disobedience' or 'resisting authority'. Incidentally, with only 6% of Spain's population, Galicia managed to garner 17% of the national total of these offences. I'm guessing this is connected with our status as the leading gateway for Colombia's cocaine exports. Some of which don't leave the region.

Talking of offences . . . here's a foto that could well get me arrested in the UK, not a smile from the teachers accompanying this snake of kids linked by a rope:-


Finally . . .  I mentioned Hygge yesterday: Here's Private Eye on this topic recently:- "There is no direct translation of the Swedish word Lagom, but on the available evidence we may take it to mean 'lifestyle publishing fad' . . . Alert readers will have noticed that it is a bit like Hygge, the Danish concept of cosiness that singed a thousand bedside tables with unattended tea-lights. Like Hygge or, indeed Ikigai or Simplicité - two other recent publishing wheezes - Lagom is supposed to evoke an entire culture that is assuredly much better than yours. . . . It's all so painfully smugge."

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 13.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • I've complained that August here in Galicia - until a couple of days ago - wasn't living up to its reputation for heat. But at least things weren't quite as bad as elsewhere in Spain. Click here for an astonishing report of recent below-freezing temperatures.
  • Good to see this review of British comedians Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan's trip to Spain. I'm neither an insecure nor a middle-aged male but I still expect to enjoy it hugely.
  • Here's a run through of Spain's most beautiful national parks.
  • And, for Spanish speakers, here's a review of the ultra-right in Spain. More accurately of its virtual non-existence.
  • I love the Spanish affection (obsession?) with having fun. But I'm not so keen on their apparent belief that it's not possible to enjoy oneself without an astonishingly high volume of noise. Which they think is normal, of course - most of them never having seen the Portuguese, for example, having fun. I'm stimulated to write this by the experience of having my eardrums assaulted by the 'firecrackers' suddenly set off only a few metres from my watering hole yesterday midday. To mark, I believe, the official start of our 2-week fiesta. Not to mention the insistent bass boom from a kiddies' attraction in the nearby main square.
  • Correction: Most of you will have realised that the English village of Morpeth I mentioned yesterday was really Morebath. I went back to the book to find evidence of the richness of 16th century English fiesta life centred on saints' days. And discovered that the village's favourite saint of was St Sidwell, whose Wiki page is here. I'm betting that - highly populated as it is - she doesn't figure in the Spanish pantheon. Yet. 

Here's The Guardian on the North Korean imbroglio. Specifically on the treatment by the US's wonderful late-night comedians.

The EU: In the article at the end of this post, an Estonian MP and law professor - Prof Igor Gräzin takes an even more negative/pessimistic view on this 'declining empire' than I do. Interesting stuff. For some of us, anyway.

US Nutter Anne Graham Lotz: While no one can know for sure if judgment is coming on America, it does seem that God is signaling us about something. Time will tell what that something is. Armageddon perhaps, if we leave things to Donald Trump.

Finally . . . There's been a recent fashion in the UK for a Scandinavian outlook on life called Hygge. British columnist and polemicist Rod Liddle says this is a Danish word to describe the feeling of cosiness and contentment you experience just before you decide to commit suicide.

Today's Cartoon:-

Here's the cartoonist of the Voz de Galicia, comparing President Rajoy's concern for Catalan matters (and turismofobia) with his lack of interest in what concerns (almost) everyone else in Spain:-


THE ARTICLE

Out of ideas and desperate to suppress dissent, the EU's days are numbered: Igor Gräzin

More interesting than when history repeats itself are the trends that do not. Consider the lot of two particular struggling empires. Rome’s collapse was preceded by intellectual degradation. Russia’s, on the contrary, saw it reach one of her intellectual peaks just before the tragedies of her fall.

Remember the likes of Yesenin, “Vekhi“, Rachmaninoff, and Malevich. Given the accompanying cultural masterpiece of the European Union is the Eurovision Song Contest, we might well ask whether the EU (or rather, the European Commission) will collapse in gradual fits or in a single blast.

Intellectually, politically, economically and legally, the process will be challenging. The natural and democratic tendency of EU member states to loosen their EU ties is resisted by its professional nomenclature – and particularly the staff of the European Commission, whose livelihoods are solely dependent upon its existence. Thus even referenda on “exits“ might be effectively out of the question: the Commission has more than enough inertial power to prevent civic movements manifesting themselves or making themselves heard.

Like other declining empires, the EU finds itself suppressing internal opposition. What is notable is the combination of the nature of the dissent, and the environment in which it operates. The EU is driven to relabel its democracy to justify its rearguard fight.

All progressive changes in the EU - whether Brexit, the two emergences of the True Finns, the development of various “pirate-movements“, the strengthening of sovereign identity in Hungary, the Czech Republic and so forth - have taken place in a relatively undramatic ways and through the routine course of civic democracy. So there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the further decay will continue the same way.

The raison d’être of the EU made sense some half-a-century ago, but does not exist anymore. Keeping the peace on the Continent failed in Ukraine, Georgia, the Balkans, Trans-Caucasus; and massive terrorism is a war de facto. With the strictly egoistic interests of individual countries in play, accompanied by a certain set of historical accidents, the Commission is no longer fit for purpose.   

Take for starters the existence of the Single Currency. Sitting outside the definition of economist Robert Mundell’s “optimum area", it makes the fragile status of the broad European economy, and specifically its uncompetitiveness, worse. The discriminatory application of Maastricht criteria serves the minority of the EU, and contributes towards “unfair business practices“ (after all: many EU members’ statistical authorities simply lie).

Meanwhile the system itself discriminates against corrective free speech. Political correctness, and the EU generically labelling critical democratic forces as “extremist“, “far Right“ (or “far Left“), both lead to self-alienation through their nomenclature. Ministers who meanwhile stand up for sovereign rights and democratic concerns against the centre are subject to abuse and attack.

Finally, the ideological constraints on the use of police forces (a wariness to act against truly extremist circles at the risk of being labelled “racist,“ or the refusal to prosecute illegal economic migrants as simply illegals) has become an additional risk element.

All these intellectual and ideological factors, set against the new social media foundations underpinning civic society, bring out the lack of charismatic leaders in this phase of change. The EU represents a mentality of mediocracy that has fed institutional idleness.
As there are no leaders in the EU there are no followers either. EU leaders do not lead but merely participate. And so it remains to us - the ordinary people - to wait and watch how a once-challenging idea will fade away. There is no need for us bystanders to be excited, but just to live our normal non-European daily lives.

Against this intellectual void comes the prospect of online cooperation. The socio-political development of Europe will be determined via new media by self-created and self-established civic movements. The future, then, does not belong to the political parties but to the chat-rooms.
The task is not to create and lead this development - it happens by itself! - but to participate and promote the libertarian values within.

Brexit is then not a special case, but just an event in the EU’s decline. We previously saw the "Arab Spring", and one day we will look back at the "Autumn of Europe".

Prof Igor Gräzin is an Estonian MP, law professor and commentator who was also a Member of the last Supreme Soviet of the USSR


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 12.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • Here's The Guardian doing its bit to stop the rampant growth in Spain's tourism industry.
  • Reader Anthea recently overheard woman on the train saying that Spain had so many fiestas only because she has more saints than any other country. This, of course, is nonsense. But it put me in mind of a book I read years ago on the diary of a 16th century priest of the English village of Morpeth. Who went from being Catholic to Protestant, back to Catholic and finally back to Protestant under the kings and queens of a 50 year period. What struck me is how similar England, as a Catholic county, had been to Spain in the number saints' feast-days celebrated in the village. Days long gone, of course. But, in truth, I don't know whether Spain is unique in panning the Vatican's long list of saints for excuses to have fun. But I suspect it is.
  • Still on religion . . . Spain is one of a few European countries which maintains an anti-blasphemy law on it statute books - Article 525 of the Penal Code. But its international ranking is low because there's freedom of religious expression here and because the penalty for blasphemy is usually(invariably?) a fine. That said, the Article actually says:- Whoever, in order to the feelings of the members of a religious confession, publicly disparages their dogmas, beliefs, rites or ceremonies in public, verbally or in writing, or insult, also publicly, those who profess or practice these, shall incur the punishment of a fine from 8 to 12 months [en la pena de multa de ocho a doce meses]  Which doesn't read exactly like a fine to me.
  • Currently it's Italy taking by far the most refugees from Africa. But - after a lull of a few years - Spain is coming up fast and could well overtake Greece as the second most affected EU member state by the end of the year. As to government policy, this seems to be one of the (many) subjects on which President Rajoy remains silent. Corruption in his PP party being the main one, of course. 
Back to refugees . . . Within the EU as a whole, tensions are said to be rising, with not everyone sharing Mrs Merkel's (economics driven) 'liberal' stance. Indeed, an Italian commentator, Signor Pittella, warns that inter-state rancour will grow unless Brussels ensures that "all member states share responsibility" for managing the inflow of migration. Absent this, he added, " there could be a "systemic crisis that threatens the EU itself". Meanwhile, it's just barely concealed panic.

Donald Trump may be a clown but he isn't funny. It's blood-curdling to know that 2 madmen with yellow/orange faces and weird haircuts are taking us to the edge of global destruction. And, if you thought that sane generals would be able to stop the American fool pressing the nuclear button, read the article at the end of this post. Incidentally, given that Trump is so orange - at least on my TV - you'd wonder why the Netherlands hasn't offered him Dutch nationality.

Ken Ham is an Australian theist who was the driving force behind an 'authentic, full-size Ark' recently built in the USA. And complete with the dinosaurs he says must have gone into it. As you'll appreciate, he's not short of daft comments. But his latest is a classic - Atheists can't know what is 'good' or 'bad', as only Christians are capable of this. So, tough shit on all you immoral and moral-compassless Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims, etc. out there. Not to mention us atheists, who have no idea about what's right or wrong.

Finally . . . You might think that flying Economy is akin to travelling in a cattle truck but a US airline is now offering something cheaper - Basic Economy. The mind boggles at the treatment you'll get if, say, Ryanair emulate this. 

Today's cartoon:-

Inevitably . . . 


THE ARTICLE

Starting nuclear war is Donald Trump’s decision alone Pam Nash

Many of the details are secret but if a US president were ever to order a nuclear strike, we know this: the order would be transmitted to the crew who would fire the missiles in a message 150 characters long — about the same as a tweet.

After this week’s sabre-rattling over North Korea the launch procedures are the object of fresh scrutiny. A new generation is learning that America’s nuclear arsenal is on a hairtrigger.

The decision to launch is the president’s alone and there is no failsafe against an unstable commander-in-chief. This was what made Richard Nixon’s “madman theory” — he pushed the idea that he might just destroy Moscow — credible.

In the early years the fear was of gung-ho generals; the system regards them as a far greater threat than an irrational president. This point was made by Alex Wellerstein, a historian of nuclear weapons at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

In 1946 the Atomic Energy Act put the power in the hands of the president. The law was thrashed out in the months after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. The Manhattan Project scientists who developed those weapons regarded the military officials they worked under as war-mongers.

President Eisenhower later gave the military standing permission to use tactical nuclear weapons in certain circumstances — if, say, Russian tanks rolled west over the Rhine. Under President Kennedy, miscommunication almost led both the Soviet Union and the US to launch. It was time for more safeguards.

Before his inauguration President Trump would have been told how to launch a nuclear strike. Accounts of what would happen vary. This one is based on work by Bruce Blair, a former Minuteman missile-launch officer and research scholar at Princeton University.

A call is placed to the Pentagon war room, which must authenticate that the person giving the order is the president. Either Mr Trump or a military aide will be carrying a laminated card known as the biscuit. An aide will also be carrying the “nuclear football”, a briefcase of strike options.

The war room will offer a challenge code: two letters, spelt out in the military’s phonetic alphabet. Mr Trump will read the correct response from the biscuit — maybe “echo, Charlie”.

The war room will then send a launch order to the submarine, air and ground crews chosen to carry out the mission; 150 characters including a war plan number denoting the targets.

Codes contained in the launch order must match codes locked in safes. On a submarine the launch order also contains the combination for another safe containing the keys needed to fire the missile.

For ground-based missiles the order goes to five crews, each with two officers. The crews are miles apart. Two crews have to turn their keys to launch the missiles. Even if three refuse, the missiles go. After the order is given land-based missiles can be on their way within five minutes; for submarines it is about 15 minutes. They cannot be called back.

The US has resisted automating the system. Indeed, after the decision is made by the president, each stage requires two people to act — on a submarine both the captain and executive officer must agree to launch. At the same time, however, the system is designed to neutralise mutiny. In the 1970s a Vietnam War air force veteran, Harold Hering, was in line to become a nuclear missile squadron commander. He asked how he could be sure that a launch order was lawful. He had been taught that it was his duty to resist unlawful orders. He was discharged — for “a defective mental attitude towards his duties”.

Members of Mr Nixon’s cabinet were deeply uneasy with the system. James Schlesinger, the defence secretary, said years later that he had ordered military commanders to double-check with him before launching. Schlesinger was concerned that the president was unstable. His order had no standing in law, however. There is no saying what would have happened if Mr Nixon had ordered to launch.

In the 1980s the idea took root that there was a taboo against using nuclear missiles, and that this was a control on presidents. Don’t be too sure: a Stanford University study published this week showed that a majority of Americans would back killing two million Iranian civilians to prevent an invasion of Iran that might kill 20,000 American troops.

There are no checks, no balances. As Mr Wellerstein puts it: the only way to keep any president from launching a nuclear attack would have been to elect someone else.

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