Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 14.12.17

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.

Cataluña
  • You might think it's obvious but Sr P admits that one can't invested as the Catalan president if one is holed up in Brussels. So he might risk a return. And end up in gaol.
  • A French politician claims that the Catalan mess is allowing Islamic terrorism to breed, as attention is diverted from it by the political shenanigans. Probably right.
  • Here's the latest Guardian article on the subject, stressing the challenge faced by the secessionists in Barcelona's 'beltway', where the residents are mainly from other parts of Spain.
Spain
  • Whereas water – in a country which doesn't get a lot of it – is cheap in Spain, the same can't be said for other utilities. Electricity, for example, is said to be the third most expensive in Europe. Much higher than in both France and Germany. As with Telecoms, one wonders why. 
  • The investigation which began in 2010 into truly massive corruption on the part of 2 ex-presidents of Andalucia and 20 henchfolk has finally morphed into a trial, 6 years later. A figure of €855 million is cited as the money defrauded from the EU. I think.
  • Reader Las Revenants has raised the subject of torrefacto coffee here in Spain and cited this blog. Actually, I've addressed this in the past. Here, for those interested.
  • Here's Don Quijones with more worries about the Spanish banking system. It's far from fixed, he claims.
The Spanish Language
  • I forgot to say yesterday that the most common phrases using the concept of educación are buen educado and mal educado, meaning 'well behaved' and 'badly behaved'. Polite and impolite. Of course, each culture has different attitudes to these things and yesterday I experienced 3 actions which would be considered impolite in Britain but which aren't here. Mere gnat bites, of course.
The English Language
  • I occasionally tell non-native speakers of English that we don't go in for the construction: If I would have known that. . . . Rather, we use the simpler: If I'd known that . . . . And then along comes President Fart with his post-defeat comment on the Alabama election: I wish we would’ve gotten the seat. Clearly, some things he says are totally unacceptable. Doubly so in this case . . . 
Galicia
  • I entered into dialogue with the organisers of the Vigo exhibition we couldn't find on storm-tossed Sunday evening last. They admitted that the entrance was along the quay-front being deluged by huge waves, confessed that the location was not well known even to locals and stressed that signs had now been put up showing the way to the entrance – a mere 12 days after it opened. But they also had the grace to apologise and express the wish I'd have another go at attending it. Which I might.
Finally
  • I think this is the guy – Dani Red - I heard yesterday slaughtering The Beatles 'A Day in the Life', inter alia. Here he is doing much the same to David Bowie's 'Starman'. And, just in case you can't get enough of him, here's his web page. 
Today's Cartoon

 An Xmas card from Prospect magazine . . .

The letter says: Dear Santa, I have been SO good this year. Nobody has been better than me, believe me . . .

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 13.12.17

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.

Cataluña
  • This is an example of the Spanish media's (alleged by me) obsession with Cataluña. It's about the undoubted corruption there. But one is compelled to wonder how interested El País has been over the years in the ruling PP's vast corruption
Spain
  • Here's the latest places to join the Lonely Planet's list of Spain's beautiful villages. I have to say I've been to Mondoñedo and it didn't strike me as beautiful. But the camera never lies, does it?
  • And here's the details of Spain's richest people, who seem to own even more of the country's assets than rich Americans do of theirs.
The UK
  • I've suggested that the British public might be weary of the numerous Xmas charity TV appeals. Some evidence of this is the report that charitable contributions rose only 2% in the last year. In contrast, the profits of the company running the national lottery rose by 122%.
Germany
  • Here's a contentious view of Germans I read last night, given in 1945 by Ernst Robert Curtius, a German literary scholar, philologist and Romance language literary critic: The trouble with Germans is that they have no experience of political freedom. Right up to the last century they were ruled by ridiculous little princelings; then the came under the influence of Prussian militarists. They have never freed themselves from servile attitudes of mind. The German people must learn the significance of political freedom. You English cut off the head of a king several hundred years ago. The basis of your freedom is that revolt against a tyrant exists as a possibility in your minds. The Germans have never risen against a tyrant. They always submit. I rather doubt that today's Germans are so subservient either to 'Muti' Merkel or President Juncker. But it's an interesting question. And it might well point to one reason why many Brits are so averse to the EU project/empire.
The USA
  • More amusing bits from the diaries of the English poet, Stephen Spender, during his time in the USA in 1953:-
- The papers are terrifying: obsessed with whether it would be a good thing to attack the Chinese mainland, calling the communist bluff, etc.
- Baudelaire wrote in 1850 of the horror of the world being Americanised
- This morning on the radio I heard a discussion about the kind of government Christ would establish on earth. It sounded extraordinarily like the current American administration. It would be righteous, democratic but all-conquering. It would control all the administrative offices of government, and would be directed by human agents who would resist evil, all of which was on the increase all the time. Christ would remain invisible, like agents of the FBI.
- I pointed out that all the so-called facts [in the record of an interview with him] were all wrong. The editor said this did not matter. All they wanted was FACTS, right or wrong.
  • Here's an article on President Fart's impact on some folk. It suggests he's suffering from several personality disorders and might well have arrived at 'decompensation'. Well, it this wasn't the case before his sensational setback in Alabama last night, the chances of this happening must be soaring now. A shaft of light on the horizon.
Spanish
  • One of the biggests 'false friends' when learning Spanish is educación. Which means not 'education' but 'upbringing' in Castellano. And the same is true of the Portuguese educação. This might explain José Mourinho's odd claim that the post-match fracas in Manchester on Sunday was caused by the teams' 'diversity in education'.
Nutters Corner
  • Ex-Hindu and now evangelist Sadhu Sundar Selvaraj: In August 2016 my spirit was called up to heaven and I appeared at the council of the prophets and Abraham was seated there as the chairman of the council. I stood on the right side of Abraham. I saw the spirit of Donald Trump appear there and Abraham looked at me and he said: ‘It has been decided in heaven that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States of America.’
  • Ray Moore, the Republican loser in Alabama: When the vote is this close it’s not over. God is always in control. Forgive us for disagreeing, Ray. But he does seem to have smitten you.
Galicia
  • Needless to say, my insurance company did not send someone to check my claim 'within 24-48 hours'. In fact, it took more than a week. And when he arrived as 8pm last night, the assesor claimed the delay was due to the volume of claims arising from Sunday's storm. Nothing was said about last week's 2 public holidays and the 'bridge' which allowed some workers to take 3 days off.
Finally
  • The worst thing you can hear on a rolling news station: Let us hear your thoughts. . .
  • I don't know the difference between a regular white coffee, a latte and a flat white. All I know is that it's bloody hard to get the first of these in the UK. This seems to be because huge profits are made on the latter two options. Especially the flat white, which costs no more to make than the 'old-fashioned' latte but which sells at a premium to it. This is alleged by some pseud bugger to be because it has 'perceived value' arising from the fact it allows you to 'buy into a lifestyle.' Coffee, this chap tells us, is going through its 'Third Wave'. Under which this simple drink is being elevated to the status of an 'artisan food product'. I realise there are bigger things wrong with the world but capitialism transforming itself into relentless, unstoppable, rip-off commericalism is high on my list. Thank god things remain relatively sane in Spain. At least as regards coffee.
Today's Cartoon

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 12.12.17

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.

Cataluña
  • I might be wrong but I rather get the impression that the Spanish media is revelling in things that are going wrong in Cataluña. Perhaps merely because there's a lot of coverage of the upcoming elections there.
  • Here's one current story.
  • On the elections . . . I wondered the other day if the support for Ciudadanos was rising simply because the spokeswoman for the party is glamourous. Well, I clocked this foto yesterday, which might answer my query:-


Spain
  • While the population of Spain is decreasing, the country’s food and beverage production is ramping up. The obvious implication is that exports must increase. To help streamline that transformation, the government seeks to increase marketing avenues as well as international contacts for producers. More on this here.
  • As per a long-standing tradition, Iberia pilots will be going on strike over the Xmas period. Or maybe they won't.
  • The music in my watering hole is usually good, supplied from the USA via the internet. But yesterday it was numerous Spanish cover versions of songs by the Beatles and other stars of the 60s. And it made for pretty horrible listening, I have to admit. Worst of all? Probably Jerry Lee Lewis's Jambalaya. Witness this. And, even worse, this.
The UK and Brexit
  • Whatever the UK media thinks, there was no doubt here in Spain about the outcome of last week's theatre: Britain Gives In was a typical headline
The USA
  • America is not a 'cause' in the same way as socialism. It is just America by itself, with the American way of life and opposition to un-American ways, and tremendous waste, and broadcasting and press and a movie industry – not to mention 2 political parties – which advertise a brand of materialism which is an insult to people not directly involved in American ideas and interests. There are few Americans who realise what agony it is to be asked to choose between loss of liberty and possessing liberty at the American price, which is that of having the standards and standard of living that are American. Probably Americans are right to see the great virtues that match the weaknesses of their system. But not to see how America does not speak for the rest of the world at present – in fact it could only do so by hearing the voice of the word – that of its poorest populations – is a fatality which affects even America itself. Perhaps this is an exaggeration. There was the Marshall Plan and there is private American generosity, and there are many good Americans. But all this does not make up for the great weakness that America judges others by her values, her interests, which prevents her from either understanding or being understood by the rest of the world. A pretty accurate description of Trump's America, you might think. So, it's interesting to note it was written in 1948, almost 70 years ago. Are things much better now?
Spanish and English
  • I'm occasionally told by Spaniards who don't speak much English that their native language has more nuances (matices) than mine. This might well be one of those national Spanish beliefs about themselves. Like their alleged poor ability to learn foreign languages. Anyway . . . Rightly or wrongly, I take this to mean that understanding Spanish words which have several meanings depends on the context. In contrast, English usually relies on different words with slightly varying meanings, all of them stolen from other languages. Hence the rather larger English vocabulary.
Galicia
  • Something from El País here on our drought, in English.  It doesn't help that – despite earlier scares - 30% of water is still being lost during the supply process. The situation was slightly alleviated by the storm on Sunday which deposited many thousands of litres of water on the region - much of it on me in Vigo . . .
  • The number of those participating in the local flag-kissing I mentioned the other day was double last year's. I'm guessing a consequence of the Catalan developments.
Pontevedra
  • I'm used to regular changes in the nature of shops in the little street of the bar I patronise. But this is the oddest arrival yet - a pet-washing facility:-



I wonder how long it will last.

Finally
  • It saddens me to report that these were the winners in a humour competition just held in the UK:-
  1. Why was Theresa May sacked as nativity manager? She couldn't run a stable government.
  2. Why don't Southern Rail train guards share advent calendars? They want to open the doors themselves.
  3. What's the difference between Ryanair and Santa? Santa flies at least once a year.
The consolation is that this was a competition in respect of 'jokes' for Christmas crackers. So, the bar was rather low.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 11.12.17

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.

Cataluña

Spain
  • Madrid is more than a tad miffed that, while Portugal is (belatedly?) gaining in influence in Brussels, Spain is thought to be losing hers.
  • Last week's Constitution Day here in Galicia saw the ceremony of swearing allegiance to Spain by kissing the national flag. I wonder if this happened elsewhere in the country. I guess so. Very discomforting for Brits, who 'don't go in for that sort of thing.”

The EU, the UK and Brexit
  • Richard North here: With excruciating slowness, the media is gradually getting the message – the "bad Friday" agreement is a crock – a phony deal.  Another commentator: By the end of next week, we can see Mrs May's famous "breakthrough" being ripped apart. What fun.
  • Here's Don Quijones again on the subject of cash. It could be argued, he avers, that any legislation aimed at disrupting criminal financial networks is a welcome move, but that would ignore the fact that many forms of modern-day tax evasion, avoidance and money laundering are conducted without cash through shell corporations located across multiple jurisdictions, including [Juncker's] Luxembourg. But the EU’s anti-cash measures are not aimed at the giant corporations and well-heeled individuals and families, including those who exploit loopholes to stash their wealth far from the prying eyes of European tax authorities. No, the measures are aimed at average Joes and Janes, and the main objective is to further dampen their ability or willingness to use or carry cash. You have been warned. Again.

True Brits
  • The writer of the piece at the end of this posts plumps – admittedly tentatively - for this as a defining trait: We are a nation with high emotional intelligence. We have a keen awareness of the feelings of others. Against this, another columnist this morning complains that: We have become a nation of inconsiderate noise oiks. . . Sensibilities have been let to slide. This is hardly surprising in a world in which the subjective is prized, and the very concepts of restraint, deferred gratification, and moral rectitude have become unfashionable. . . [These] are telling examples of a society whose grasp on civility and the value of public decorum and manners seems increasingly in peril. As we plunge ever further into the anarchic alternative reality of our own private internet worlds, the idea that our actions affect living, breathing other people is becoming ever more remote. Perhaps both are right but things are going in the wrong direction. Towards a noisier, less considerate-of-others culture?? Hmm.

The UK
  • Can this really be true: Ten-year-old children are being asked by the Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust whether they are "comfortable in their gender" in official health surveys being completed in schools, it has emerged. The form asks: "Do you feel the same inside as the gender you were born with? (feeling male or female)". Youngsters are also asked to tick a box to confirm their true gender, with options including "boy", "girl" and "other". 

Galicia
  • Yesterday I went to see an exhibition of Da Vinci stuff in nearby Vigo. Or, rather, I didn't. Despite asking five(!) locals, my companions and I never actually found it. We did eventually happen on the building where it was thought the exhibition should be but it was closed. Perhaps because of the storm which had drenched us as we walked at least a kilometre along the seafront in search of the exhibition. And then back again to the car. My friends – both native Pontevedrans – felt this was a typical Galician mess. Which might he a tad harsh.
  • Which reminds me . . . It now takes 3 hours longer to go direct from Vigo to Barcelona (14 hours!) than to go south to Madrid and then north from there to the Catalan capital. My guess is that the arrival of the high-speed train to Madrid will only increase this difference. It says everything you need to know about travelling west-east. Or anywhere from Galicia.

Finally
  • I don't regard all ads as naff. Here and here are couple of good ones, the first from the 90s and the second from today's TV, at minute 3.43.

Today's Cartoon

Here's a seat!
THE ARTICLE

Sensitivity to others is Britishness at its best. Matthew Syed

I have often pondered how to define that elusive notion of Britishness. What is distinctive about our character and mindset? Here’s a tentative (and positive) suggestion for at least a part of the answer: we are a nation with high emotional intelligence. We have a keen awareness of the feelings of others.

We conduct our conversations in public at a reasonable pitch so as not to disturb those around us. We are fastidious about punctuality, fearful of keeping others waiting. We are self-deprecating, conscious that trumpeting ourselves might make others feel small. We queue assiduously, aware that jumping the line would be to value our time above others. And that wouldn’t do, at all.

People often talk about the British sense of fair play, but my sense is that this is just one aspect of our emotional intelligence. I also wonder if the early adoption of the rule of law was a consequence of this tendency, or perhaps a cause of it. This is not to suggest that our culture is perfect, or that this attribute is anything like universal. It is merely to suggest a general tendency in our character and social norms.


Comedians such as John Cleese have satirised this trait. There is a wonderful episode of Fawlty Towers in which the guests keep shtum about the appalling service out of fear of offending the feelings of the hotel staff. Yet while we can take it too far, my sense is that sensitivity to others is a source of vast (if underestimated) national strength. It would be a tragedy if we ever lost it.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 10.12.17

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.

Cataluña
  • Sr P says the only 'plan' he has is to remain president of the Catalan government. From a safe distance, of course. 
  • A Guardian columnist casts a jaundiced eye over over both national and regional media here. Taster: You can see the clapped-out legacy of this approach in Catalonia now.  The state-owned news from Madrid isn’t trusted. Still worse, the Catalan channels, richly funded by the local parliament and putting nationalist devotees in charge, has created a roseate picture of independence that simply doesn’t fit the facts. 
Spain
  • Madrid would like a longer Brexit transitional period than that currently on the table. This might well happen, but not really merely because Spain wants it. 
  • Meanwhile, thanks in (small?) part to pessimism re said Brexit, applications for Spanish citizenship are reported to be up by 33%. I'm still holding off, if only because I could choose between this and the Irish variety.
  • We're all increasingly worried about plastic. And, yet, here in Spain it's the devil's own job stopping shopkeepers giving you totally unncessary plastic bags. One for a small packet of paracetamol yesterday.
The EU, UK and Brexit
  • Here's a couple of extracts from the pertinent article at the end of this post:- What an absurd pantomime that was. By last Monday the only possible conclusion seemed to be that this whole thing was a misbegotten waste of time. Even convinced as I was that Leave had been the right answer, I wondered whether I could carry on supporting this shambolic endeavour.  . . .  But the melodrama and grandstanding of the past weeks between the UK and Brussels will pale in comparison to the spectacle of the poor Mediterranean countries within the eurozone struggling to protect their interests against the dominance of richer northern ones, and the former Warsaw Pact countries resisting the French push toward greater centralised control.  . . Brexit will look like a warm-up act for the real European drama that is to come. . . .  In the end, all those Brexit disagreements may come to look like so much posturing and prancing when the internal EU discord erupts.
Galicia
  • The forecast storm - the first in Spain to be given a (female) name - has duly arrived. And the palm tree ouitside my window is bent double. And we're all loving the rain . . . Honest.
Finally

Witless British TV ads
- Thorntons toffee: Pass the love on
- ASDA supermarket: Best Christmas ever
- M&S store: Spend it well
- Dysons: Give a gift that means more
- VIPoo[sic] air freshener:  The gift that keeps on giving
- Turkish airlines: Lighten your world
- Nissan car: Creating families

Today's Cartoon

 Stong and stable government . . . 


THE ARTICLE

After a week of preposterous grandstanding and melodrama, now the Brexit fun really begins: Janey Daley, The Daily Telegraph

At last we are ready for trade negotiations – which is the EU’s nightmare, as its own divisons are opened up revealed

What an absurd pantomime that was. By last Monday – which now seems about a century ago – the only possible conclusion seemed to be that this whole thing was a misbegotten waste of time. Even convinced as I was – and as around half of the stalwart British population still appeared to be – that Leave had been the right answer, I wondered whether I could carry on supporting this shambolic endeavour.

And then, miraculously, came the deliverance which anyone remaining lucid must have known was inevitable. It has always been clear that there was a perfectly credible solution to the Irish border problem: a combination of modern technology and old-fashioned common sense could deal with what is, in trade terms, a quite small matter.

But no, the EU had arbitrarily chosen to put this issue to the top of the list of Things That Must Be Settled Before Real Negotiations Can Begin. And to reinforce this sudden elevation of the Irish border to make-or-break status, it promoted the inexperienced Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to world stardom. Well, you know the rest.

We don’t need to retrace the steps of what looked like a tragedy until it turned out to be a farce. 

Suffice to say that the head of the pantomime horse was occupied by our old friends on the European Commission and the rear end was filled by Mr Varadkar, who must have been thrilled by his personal visitation from Donald Tusk to announce that Ireland would have a unilateral veto over Brexit terms. This was, it has to be said, quite a wickedly irresponsible thing to do because it threatened to open a breach in a terrible, bitter dispute which has only recently – and tenuously – healed.

Mercifully, somebody pulled the strings that needed to be pulled in time so we have a solution to the Irish border question which will, I am willing to bet, hold up indefinitely. Oddly enough, on that long Thursday night, we also seem to have settled a couple of other outstanding difficulties.

The final exit bill for the UK will be, according to reliable sources, £35-39 billion, which is higher than Theresa May’s initial offer of £20 billion but far below the figure of £100 billion (with an indefinite commitment to future instalments) that had occasionally been bandied about in the more excitable quarters of Brussels. What is more, everybody now accepts that EU citizens in the UK will continue to have the same rights as they had before, as will UK citizens in EU countries. You don’t say.

Have any of these outcomes ever been in genuine doubt by realists on all sides? If not, what was all that hysteria in aid of last week? Of course, it was partly the fault of the UK government, which seemed to have been peculiarly obtuse in its dealings with the sensitivities in Ulster, but it also seemed to fit too well with the Brussels game of ritual mortification which must be visited upon Britain. As I may have said before, this is not a negotiation, it is a hostage crisis, in which payment (in both cash and abnegation) must be agreed before the terms of release can even be discussed.

But something had clearly gone badly wrong. Watching Jean-Claude Juncker’s face and listening to his uncharacteristically gentle diplomatic words as he delivered his statement at the press conference of doom on Monday, it was clear that he was genuinely alarmed. This was not going according to plan. Ireland had gone from being one more mischievous trick on the British to an actual obstacle with possibly tragic consequences. In short, the EU had dangerously overplayed its hand.

Mr Juncker and Mr Varadkar fairly tripped over one another in their eagerness to pull back from the brink. So, in the dead of night, rabbits leapt out of hats, the intractable became manageable and the deal was done. We had now, it was solemnly intoned, made “sufficient progress” to be allowed to enter the proper negotiations over future trade relations which should have been going on simultaneously with that peculiar trio of pre-conditions ordained by the EU.

Never mind. We are back in the real world now, which might seem like a relief to us but is the EU’s nightmare – which is why they have been so busy staving it off. Because when the truly problematic matters of trade have to be dealt with, serious divisions within the European Union will be flushed into the open.

That’s when the fun really starts. The melodrama and grandstanding of the past weeks between the UK and Brussels will pale in comparison to the spectacle of the poor Mediterranean countries within the eurozone struggling to protect their interests against the dominance of richer northern ones, and the former Warsaw Pact countries resisting the French push toward greater centralised control. Just wait. Brexit will look like a warm-up act for the real European drama that is to come.

Germany, which as yet has no government, has provided a splendid trailer for the upcoming feature. Last Wednesday, Martin Schulz, head of the SPD, whom Angela Merkel is fervently hoping will join her in a viable coalition, announced his proposal for a new EU treaty creating a true United States of Europe to include unified (and centrally controlled) fiscal and defence policy. Any member state which could not accept this would be forced to leave the union.

(In fact this would happen automatically, since any new treaty must be ratified by all member states, most of which would be obliged to hold referendums for the purpose. Failing to ratify would trigger immediate withdrawal from the EU.)

Fiscal and military union would mean that there would be little point in voting for a national government ever again, since tax and spending policies and the defence strategy are the chief grounds for deciding which party one supports.

Mrs Merkel has, for the moment, rejected Mr Schulz’s suggestion. But in France, Emmanuel Macron is promoting more monolithic centralisation too, if in rather less crass terms. In the end, all those Brexit disagreements may come to look like so much posturing and prancing when the internal EU discord erupts.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 9.12.17

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.

Spain
  • This is an observation on Spanish management of water resources which I fear is all too accurate.
  • The Spanish medical profession has declared that marijuana is of no medical benefit. In this, they might well be going against the global trend.
  • If you've ever wanted to know how the vast Spanish national lottery works, especially at this time of the year, this might be of some help.
The EU
  • Don Quijones seems a bit surprised that views now on the euro are very different from this time last year: The main idea behind the euro as a driving force for regional economic convergence has produced, let’s say, mixed results, having essentially failed where it mattered the most, in Southern European economies . . . Little, if any, convergence has taken place for the whole period 1999-2016. But I guess he's as unsurprised as I am that: 76% of the German respondents said the euro is a good thing for Germany, up 12 points on 2016. And that: In only one of the 16 countries featured in the survey does a majority of respondents hold a negative view of the euro. That country is Lithuania, where 36% of respondents think the euro’s a good thing, down six points from last year, while 48% think it is bad.
  • As for the future direction of the Project, DQ notes that: Just yesterday it unveiled a sweeping reform package aimed at completing the bloc’s monetary and economic union. It included a proposal to transform the Eurozone’s bailout arm, the highly opaque European Stability Mechanism (ESM), into a European Monetary Fund that will essentially function as a democratically unaccountable institution, tamping down on deficit spending by troubled Eurozone economies in return for bondholder bailouts. Such policies seek to further cement the Commission’s authority to impose budgetary rules and structural reforms on member states at whim and without democratic control. I get the impression he doesn't see this as altogether a good thing . . .
Brexit
  • This is Richard North's verdict on this week's (non?)developments:- Ostensibly committing the UK to a "soft" Brexit, the Joint Report from the EU and UK negotiators, published yesterday, actually does no such thing. . . It may be good theatre, but that is about all it is.  . .  It is not the basis for a serious negotiation – merely a device to keep the talks moving and to allow Mrs May to claim a much-needed "victory" in order to keep her in office a little while longer. More here, if you're interested in knowing the reality.
The USA
  • If you want to understand Russia-gate, try this from The Guardian
The Spanish Language
  • I came across these words yesterday, said to be equivalent in meaning:-
- Spanish: Esgarrifoso
- Galician: Estallecedor
But I could find the Spanish version nowhere, not even in the dictionary of the Royal Academy, It turned out to be Catalan and to mean 'spooky' or 'creepy'. The Spanish equivalent is espeluznantes, I think.

Galicia
Bloody 'ell! Things have to be really bad when the headline in one of our local papers is It's Going to Rain!. This in a region where - folk from further south would have you believe - it never stops. The article says we're going to need 12 of the storms we'll be hit by this weekend, thanks to a High out in the Atlantic.

Pontevedra
  • Need I tell you that the increase in petrol prices in our province has been twice as much as that nationally?
Finally
  • More British Xmas TV appeal subjects:-

- Abandoned pets
- Orphans
- The homeless
I suspect the first of these will get the most money from sentimental Brits. Especially as they'll get a cuddly toy animal if they subscribe . . .

Today's Cartoon



Friday, December 08, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 8.12.17

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.

Cataluña
  • The Inés Arrimada of Ciudadanos I mentioned yesterday has penned a column for The Times, criticising the secessionists in no uncertain terms. As they say.
Spain
  • Is there really partisanship in the Spanish media? The Local suggests there is: Suspicion of El Pais has left much of Spain and Spanish readers without a place to read even modestly neutral coverage of the complex Catalan crisis. Elsewhere in Spain’s media landscape, deep partisan lines between outlets have made coverage of the Catalan events often unrecognizably different from one end of a newsstand to another. El Pais in particular comes under fire in the report. Highlighted as a bastion of media freedom in the 1970s and 1980s, the report claims that several senior journalists have been either fired, gagged or sidelined because of their refusal to tow the paper's alleged unionist editorial policy. More here.
  • Said El País insists that President Rajoy is, indeed, willing to consider constitutional reform provided only that certain conditions are met. This is uncharacteristically progressive of this politician but perhaps reality is beginning to dawn on him.
  • Meanwhile, the hapless Rajoy has made another history boob. Last time round he claimed Spain was the oldest nation in Europe but, in fact, France and England were created earlier. This week he wrote in The Guardian that “Britain is the cradle of parliamentarianism and the rule of law.” This left residents of León furious. They believe said cradle was there, not in the UK. And they point to the 2013 UNESCO declaration that the Decrees of León of 1188 were “the oldest documentary manifestation of the European parliamentary system.” I could have sworn the Anglo Saxons in the UK were celebrated for their pre-Norman-invasion democratic institutions.
  • Need I say that - on this week of 2 public holidays and a long puente – my insurance company hasn't delivered on its promise to check the validity of my claim within 24-48 hours. And I don't expect to see anyone for at least another 3 days. I'm so glad I didn't seek their prior approval to getting my central heating system fixed.
The EU
  • Who but a megalomaniac would want to be in charge of it? . . . While the EU maintains a united front over Brexit, there are deep divisions between east and west over the handling of the migration crisis and the state of the rule of law and democracy in Hungary and Poland. The EU’s uneasy relationship with Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic sunk to a new low on Thursday as Brussels said it would take them to the European Court of Justice for refusing to accept the bloc’s imposed quotas of migrants. Hungary was also hit with a separate EU lawsuit on Thursday over a higher education law that could close a university founded by George Soros, while Poland has been at loggerheads with Brussels over EU concerns over reforms to its judicial system.
The UK
  • A terrifying paragraph in a Times column this morning:- If Labour looks likely to win the next general election, it will be assumed that a new era of populism has dawned that demands eccentric leadership. In these circumstances Jacob Rees-Mogg will put his hand up but Mr Johnson is the best roll-of-the-dice candidate. His colleagues in parliament, who are the first group to vote in the Conservative leadership election, will only overcome their mistrust if they are in a hole and they need to call on a celebrity to get them out of it.
  • More is less, it's regularly said: UK Universities are presiding over a “mis-selling” scandal which is leaving some graduates with a lower earning capacity than people who eschew degrees, a major report finds today.
The English Language
  • A propos . . . The writer of the article below takes issue with the use of 'populism', when what is really meant is 'nativism'.
Galicia
  • Our president is concerned that – when it comes to the financing of regional spend – Madrid is playing one Autonomous Community off against the other. And he might well be right. Either way, like every other president, he's unhappy with what his region is getting. A more specific concern is that Cataluña will eventually get the same deal as the Basque Country and be allowed to keep more of its revenue out of the clutches of Madrid. Meaning less for the poorer regions, of course. Unless debt is further increased. Which can't be ruled out, given that the pension reserve fund had now been almost completely depleted.
Finally
  • Apologies if your comment hasn't appeared. I'm still trying to master moderation via the small print on my phone . . .
Today's Cartoon


THE ARTICLE

Why nativism, not populism, should be declared word of the year: Cas Mudde

Last week the Cambridge Dictionary declared populism its 2017 word of the year. In many ways, that makes perfect sense. Since Brexit and Trump, virtually every political event has been couched in terms of populism, from the Dutch parliamentary elections to the French presidential elections earlier this year. New media catchwords such as “fake news” are linked to populism.

However, it has become the buzzword of the year mostly because it is very often poorly defined and wrongly used. Indeed, the Cambridge Dictionary’s definition perfectly illustrates this. It describes populism as “political ideas and activities that are intended to get the support of ordinary people by giving them what they want”.

Oddly enough, this is almost identical to the interpretation used by many populists themselves. However, rather than populism, it describes responsive politics, as exists in idealistic models of democracy. The only part of that description that has some overlap with more common academic definitions of populism is the reference to “ordinary people”.

In its blog , the dictionary further claims that people tend to use the term with reference to “the implied lack of critical thinking on the part of the populace, and the implied cynicism on the part of the leaders who exploit it”. In other words, populism is a political ploy by cynical leaders who mobilise the “ordinary people” by promising them whatever they want.

While this might be the way that many of the members of the embattled cultural and political establishment use the term to disqualify it and (implicitly) its supporters, this is elitist, self-serving and unhelpful. It implies that non-populist politicians are genuine; non-ordinary people are politically sophisticated; and that populism has no true substance, and therefore no real critique of the political status quo. This might be a convenient definition for those who find themselves challenged by populists, but it has little to do with what populism actually is.

While there is no consensual definition of populism within academia – like all important political terms, it is contested – most scholars use the term to denote a specific set of ideas that juxtapose “the people” and “the elite” and side with the former.

In our new book, Populism: a Very Short Introduction, Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser and I define populism as an ideology that considers society to be separated into two homogenous and antagonistic groups, “the pure people” and “the corrupt elite”, and argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the people. While many colleagues debate whether populism is truly an ideology, or more a political discourse or style, their definitions are not much different.

However, the Cambridge Dictionary does not only get the definition wrong – its application is wrong, too. It argues: “What sets populism apart … is that it represents a phenomenon both truly local and truly global, as populations and their leaders across the world wrestle with issues of immigration and trade, resurgent nationalism and economic discontent.”

This conflates populism and the radical right. As elections in the Netherlands, France, Germany and Austria have this year been couched in terms of an epic battle between an emboldened populism and an embattled status quo, populism has became a synonym for what used to be termed the radical right. (The only left populist of relevance in the last year has been Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s challenge in the first round of the French presidential elections.) The populist radical right combines populism with two other core ideological features, authoritarianism and nativism.

If anything, 2017 was the year of nativism, or more correctly, yet another year of nativism, as we have had many of these years since the turn of the century. Nativism is an ideology that holds that states should be inhabited exclusively by members of the native group (“the nation”), and that non-native people and ideas are fundamentally threatening to the homogenous nation-state.

This year mainly stands out for the way in which nativism has been whitewashed as populism. This is not to say that populism is irrelevant to contemporary politics or to the populist radical right. But within the core ideology of the populist radical right, populism comes secondary to nativism, and within contemporary European and US politics, populism functions at best as a fuzzy blanket to camouflage the nastier nativism.

Journalists should not let the radical right get away with that. They should not allow the popularity of the term populism to mask the nativism of the radical right. Because it’s only when we know exactly what is threatening our liberal democracies that can we effectively defend them.


Cas Mudde is the author of “On Extremism and Democracy in Europe and The Populist Radical Right: a Reader”

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 7.12.17

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.

Cataluña
  • HT to Lenox Napier for this commentary, which I have simply lifted from today's Business Over Tapas: There’s a decidedly odd election coming up, on a Thursday, just 4 days before Christmas, between seven parties, of which one is led by a man in exile in Belgium and another by a man in prison in Madrid. Three of the parties are for an independent republic; three evenly balanced against them are the ‘constitutionalist’ parties, and there’s the odd-one out – the local version of Podemos, which, as The Local says here, ‘...the likely kingmaker according to the polls will be En Comu, the alliance made up by far-left party Podemos and Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, which according to the CIS poll would capture nine seats. The party opposes independence but backs a legally binding referendum on secession which Spain's central government deems unconstitutional...’.   On Tuesday, the day campaigning officially started, Spain dropped the international arrest warrant against Puigdemont (but only to ratchet up the pressure against him with stronger charges at home). ‘Puigdemont está kaput’ said Rajoy during the celebrations of Constitution Day, Wednesday. Puigdemont is meanwhile campaigning via video feed from Brussels, and he asks those who are against the imprisonment of Catalonian political leaders to wear yellow. The ERC, whose candidate Oriol Junqueras remains in jail in Madrid, is represented in meetings by another leader of the party – one who was recently returned to freedom after 33 days – called Carles Mundó. The Government in Madrid, meanwhile, is warning of some ill-defined ‘cyber-attack’ against the Constitutionalist vote.
  • Here's the latest comment from Don Quijones: Tasters:
- Catalonia’s recent declaration of independence may have been a largely symbolic act but the economic hangover it has left in its wake is very real.
- The economic pain is already taking a psychological toll.
- The overriding hope in Madrid (and many other parts of Spain) is that the people of Catalonia will rediscover their senses in time for December’s literally make-or-break elections, and vote into power a coalition of unionist parties. But with the government offering so little in return for such a giant step, while threatening to maintain direct rule of the region should a majority of people once again vote for pro-independence forces, the chances are that the current mood of uncertainty is here to stay
  • The party which seems to have benefitted most from this mess is Ciudadanos, a 'centrist' party which originated in Catlaluña and which might well represent commercial interests more than any other. The party's spokesperson there is Inés Arrimados. I trust its vote hasn't increased simply because we've seen a lot of fotos of her and she's something of a stunner . . . Lenox reports this morning that one of the financial supporters of Ciudadanos could be an Irish businessman called Declan Ganley. Odd.
Spain
  • Sevilla has been named as one of the world's best 10 cities to visit. Which should ensure it ceases to be.
  • The Catalan imbroglio has massively hit the region's business with the rest of (irritated) Spain. Which won't do any good for the Spanish companies which supply the Catalan companies, of course.
  • Spain continues to hold its impressive position as the world's best in respect of transplants.
  • Spanish women now have the third lowest fertility rate in Europe, at 1.33 children per family. 
  • Here's El País's view on the slow pace of constitutional change here. In English.
The EU
  • The European Union is best understood as an imperial construction, if not exactly an empire. Once you see it in this light, the moral pretences are unmasked. See the full article at the end of this post. My long-standing view, of course.
Russia
  • Here's one possible answer to my question about the World Cup taking place there next year. 
Galicia
  • It's estimated - by someone who might well know - that Galicians will 'each' spend €7 more this year on Xmas's humungous national lotteries. Well, not me.
Pontevedra
  • We've had the fewest rainy days in 10 years. For the last month or so, I think.
Finally
  • The logic clearly runs: Even though people are spending a lot on themselves at Xmas, they're going to be susceptible to appeals for charity. I have my doubts. But, anyway, British TV is currently featuring appeals for these, inter alia. Honest:-
Pets  
The blind
Polar bears
Jaguars
Hedgehogs
Child brides 
Tailless rats

Today's Cartoon



THE ARTICLE

Britain almost has to fight its way out of the EU colonial 'empire': Ambrose Evans Pritchard

The European Union is best understood as an imperial construction, if not exactly an empire. Once you see it in this light, the moral pretences are unmasked.

Belgian historian David Van Reybrouck has set off storm in European intellectual circles by breaking the taboo, and doing so at the heart of the system in Brussels, from the centre-Left. He thinks eurosceptic populism has been badly misdiagnosed, pidgeon-holed too glibly as anti-immigrant, or anti-capitalist, or as a displaced protest against hyper-globalisation.

The EU intelligentsia have been quick to hear echoes of the proto-fascist movements of the inter-War years, but they have missed the better parallel from that era: anti-colonial resistance against the Belgian, Dutch, British, or French empires – which by that stage took their "civilizing mission" earnestly.

“Life in Europe in 2017 is resembling more and more what it was like under colonial administration. We are subjected to an invisible administration that shapes our destiny down to the tiniest details. Should we really be surprised that it is leading to revolts,” said Mr Van Reybrouck, who cut his teeth on Belgian rule in the Congo (the latter phase was more benign than Leopold’s Heart of Darkness) and Dutch policy in the East Indies.

The late colonial regimes had "councils of the people" just as there is a European Parliament today, but substantive power resided in the imperial executive, acting “far away from us, without us, on our behalf”, like Brussels today. Rising prosperity was beside the point. Every nation lives in “permanent anger” when not master of its own house, wrote Indonesia’s nationalist leader Sukarno in 1930.

Mr Van Reybrouck says the colonial reflex was to portray rebel leaders as deviants. He quotes a Dutch minister dismissing Indonesia’s resistance movement as a hopeless endeavour that drew on the lowest, least-educated castes. Sound familiar? “It is the routine: always reduce the problem to a few rotten apples contaminating the rest,” he said.

Defenders of the Project will retort that the EU is a voluntary treaty club of sovereign states, and each has a seat at the table. This is what Plato would have called a "Lie in the Soul". The grim ordeals of Ireland in 2010 or Greece in 2015 exposed the emptiness of that shibboleth, and Britain’s tortured efforts this year to extract itself shows that the EU is unlike any other treaty organisation of modern times. You have to fight your way out.

I don’t wish to reopen the Referendum chapter, but we risk getting bogged down in Brexit minutiae and forgetting why we are leaving. It is not a whimsical choice. The decision was forced upon us because the EU began to assert "totalitarian" reach, using Hannah Arendt’s term advisedly to mean a systematic assault on prior traditions and institutions in order to create an entirely new order.

We do not wish to live under a higher supranational regime, run by a European Council that Britons do not elect directly and can never remove – even when it persists in error – and guided by a Commission priesthood with quasi-executive powers. Nor do we want to live under an EU supreme court that acquired sweeping supremacy under the Lisbon Treaty, with no right of appeal.

We are retrieving lost prerogatives, much as the American colonies in the 1770s aimed to retrieve legislative powers whittled away by George III. Even if you do not accept this description, it is clear that the monetary union must lead ineluctably to fiscal and political union over time or fail, and that leaves Britain in an impossible position. The Project veered away from us. It has become a “Utopia without nation states”, as EU president Donald Tusk called it in a moment of candid despair.

Let us not lose sight of this constitutional struggle as talks reach a crunch point in Brussels. As I feared, the Government has fallen into the Greek Syriza trap: it tried to bluff the EU, with the same outcome of concessions and retreat. It is now so determined to secure a Phase 1 deal that it is grasping at delusional formulae such as EU "regulatory alignment" for Ulster.

What are we to make of the latest twist by David Davis, who now talks of such alignment for the whole UK? A straitjacket of this kind would prevent Britain striking trade and service deals with the US, China, Japan, or India. If it means anything, it means staying within the EU Customs Union. It would leave the UK trapped in limbo, an EU member without a vote, unable to break free step by step in the future.

Such a concession might unlock a transition but this solves nothing. It defers the cliff-edge, and is in any case a fast depreciating asset. As Lloyd’s of London chairman Bruce Carnegie-Brown said at the Milken summit this week, financial services are being forced by regulators to act as if there were a no deal scenario. “A hard Brexit is being baked into the plans already,” he said.

Nor is a move to Phase 2 talks on trade likely to resolve much since the Government is pursuing the illusion of a "Canada Plus" deal. No such deal is available or legally plausible. Leaked documents from EU negotiator Michel Barnier suggest that Britain will get nothing more than a “standard” free trade agreement (FTA) that covers basic goods but not services.

It might in fact be even less than Canada’s CETA deal – perhaps "Canada Dry" as some suggest – since services are a “mixed” competence and require the backing of all member states, with sundry spoilers such as the Walloon parliament. The political hurdle is high. The shocking revelation in recent days is that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was willing to give up ratification of CETA (which everybody thought settled) in order to forge a coalition with the Greens. If Berlin can be so frivolous in dealings with a dependable democratic NATO ally like Canada, Britain should count on nothing.

A mere FTA deal for goods does not need ratification but it is also worthless. It preserves the EU’s unfettered access to our goods market and safeguards their £80bn trade surplus, but offers no reciprocal access on services that make up four fifths of the British economy and where we have a large surplus. It hangs the City out to dry.

If this is all the EU has to offer, we should not waste any further time and credibility asking for it. We should opt for a WTO framework with today’s very low tariffs, and make the £50bn divorce settlement contingent upon the EU displaying common sense on airline landing rights, Euratom, sensitive food trade, and other cliff-edge matters. If the EU wishes to offer a better deal later, the door should remain open.

There were only two options for the UK after Brexit: a WTO "clean break" or a Norway package in the European Economic Area. I always preferred the softer Norway route, a compromise that would have preserved a high access to the EU single market, with passporting rights for the City, under a separate (EFTA) tribunal.

We would have been outside the customs union and therefore able to strike other trade deals. It would have meant escape from EU fisheries and farming, as well as European Court (ECJ) sway over swathes of policy ( "Pillar 2", "Pillar 3", and the Charter), with an emergency brake on migration.

Sadly, it is too late. Had Theresa May pushed this after the Brexit vote, she might have carried it. If she were to ask for it now, in desperation and a weakened political condition, the EU would not grant a deal on Norwegian terms. It would contrive a showdown over the Irish border to keep Britain in the customs union, and would push a maximalist position on the ECJ.

We are now at an impasse: a soft Brexit on tolerable terms is no longer available; Canada Plus is a chimera; and there is no majority in Parliament for a decisive clean break.

How would Sukarno have handled this situation, or Nehru, Nasser, and Nkrumah, one wonders? 

They certainly would not a have lost a moment’s sleep over a point or two of GDP. Their sole objective was to achieve independence, and they succeeded by displaying the stronger will.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 6.12.17

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.

Cataluña
  • Sr P is no longer being pursued by the Spanish government but - fearing prison if he tries to do this in Barcelona - he's staying in Belgium to contest the imminent elections from there. Several of his mates will be electioneering from prison. Welcome to politics Spanish style.
  • Of course, this is not unprecedented, at least at a local level. More than one Galician mayor – though convicted of drug trafficking – has been re-elected while still in prison.
Spain
  • I've noted a few times that no one trusts anyone in Spain. A 'low ethics society', as a Spanish reader once said. The latest evidence of this is my insurance company telling me they need to send someone to check I really have replaced a central heating water pump and why. When I said I could take fotos of everything and that my claim would be small, and asked if this expense was really necessary, the retort was this would happen even if the claim were for just one euro. Then I was castigated for proceeding with the repair without first telling them I was freezing cold and urgently need heating. Rather than waiting “24-48 hours” for an assessor to poll along.
  • In a second call to my insurance company, I asked them to send me by email a copy of their terms and conditions. The response: We need to have your name and birth date details for security purposes. To send me a copy of their standard T&C, for god's sake!! Where's the common sense in all this? Incidentally, they had my email address down wrongly, despite the fact I was in correspondence with them last year. Human error, I guess.
  • Not long after this I received a machine call asking how happy I was with their treatment of my call. Though I'd originally called the number answered by English speakers, this call was in Spanish. I didn't respond. As I say, Spanish companies merely play at customer orientation, going through the motions without really understanding the concept. Their heart really isn't in it.
The EU
One of the key differences between European cultures jumps out from the knowledge that, both in German and Dutch, the word schuld means both 'debt' and 'guilt'. Not in Spain, I guage.

USA
Is Donald Fart winning, asks the BBC here.

Brexit
Richard North this morning: This current [Irish] shambles has demonstrated that the UK government's strategic thinking on Brexit has not advanced one iota. It is still wanting to have its cake and eat it, and still hasn't come to terms with the consequences of leaving the Single Market. 

Russia
  • Banned from next year's winter olympics but hosting next summer's football World Cup. I guess it makes sense to someone.
  • I haven't mentioned RT News for a while, essentially because I no longer get my laughs watching it. But here's something from Private Eye which made me smile:-
¡
Nutters Corner
  • The final chapter in the saga of the cretin who was going to use a home-made rocket to prove the earth was flat. Not terribly surprising.
Galicia
  • The Ministry of Development (Fomento) has issued new forecasts of when the AVE high speed train from Madrid will be running to Ourense and beyond. I won't bore you with them, as they've made them every year since 1990 and they've been wrong every time. Coming up for thirty years. Almost funny.
  • Here's a nice article on the place where the Atlantic meets the Bay of Biscay. Best approached with a knowledge of Gallego . . . 
Pontevedra
  • I've mentioned, I think, that there's a new slew of beggars in the city. Like the pigeons and seagulls, they're suffering from the absence of tourists, or even just locals sitting outside. All of them are ravenous for tidbits and, so, are an even bigger nuisance than usual. Another reason for wanting a rifle.
  • Here's one of our traditional beggars, on his way up to his eternal spot – in a corner of the main square. Where he stands all day, juggling coins in the palm of his hand at everyone passing by. Even me. Despite the fact I've given him nothing in 17 years.

Finally
  • So, Christine Keeler and Johnny Halliday are both dead. What is the world coming to?
  • Which reminds me . . . Can you imagine a world in which you're persecuted and even killed for not agreeing with someone else's point of view? Well, you don't need to, of course. You're living in it. Thanks to extreme theists.

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