Saturday, February 25, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 25.2.17

I love Spain but, after nearly being hit by imbeciles on bikes and quad bikes in the narrow streets of the old quarter both last night and this morning, I'm pining a bit for the order and safety of westernised Holland, against the disorder and risks of easternised Spain. Which will be purely temporary of course. But, meantime, bound to upset a few Spanish readers . . .

I was going to read this list - from The Local, of course – which purports to name the 10 Spanish dishes you really should eat before you pop your clogs. But, after seeing the first one was percebes, I decided not to go further. I feared the second would be bloody tripe and the third pig's ear. Which is far too much for me to stomach, even merely on paper. So, check it out for me, please.

Heres Don Quijones addressing the Spanish issue of momentWill any of this week's crop of greedy rogues and scoundrels ever see the inside of a jail? If so, how long before President Rajoy selects them for one of the thousands of pardons he hands out each year. [See what I mean about Spain being eastern, as well as thoroughly western?] Here's DQ's final paragraph:- Many of them are so intimately connected to the political and business establishment that it’s almost impossible to imagine them warming a bench in a jail cell. If they are given similar treatment, expect public anger to reach new heights. If, by some miracle, they are sent down, things could be about to get very interesting in the Eurozone’s fourth largest economy, especially with six senior central bankers waiting in the wings to testify about the Bank of Spain’s role in the collapse and subsequent bailout of Bankia.  Interesting times.

It's been claimed many, many times that (North) Americans don't get irony. When you see that almost half of them support an orange-faced, oddly-coiffed, consummate liar, cheat and billionaire who goes on and on about 'fake' news and claims to have the interests of the little man and woman at heart, you do begin to wonder. Can one of the county's numerous gun-happy individuals not get him in their sights? By the way, the richest irony of all is that Trump bangs on and on about saving citizens from Islamic terrorists but says nothing about all those American kids massacred each year by Christians with Uzis. You couldn't make it up.

But it's Carnival week and there's a lot of noisy fun going on around this café, which I will now investigate. Leaving you with:-
  1. The inevitable list from The Local of Spain's craziest Carnival festivals, and
  2. Another Bill Tidy carton:-

    "Seems like nothing'll cheer him up".

Friday, February 24, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 24.2.17

To no one's great surprise, I'm sure, the husband of Princess Cristina might well not serve any of his 6 year sentence for fraud. And will be free to spend the residue of his ill-gotten gains after he's paid some sort of fine. See here on this.

The Guardian has an article on the former IMF chief sentenced to 4 years in jail. He too is unlikely to serve much of that. And what he does serve will be in conditions of luxury in which neither you nor I live. I had to laugh at the paper's claim that this verdict would embarrass the PP government. Nothing has yet been invented that would achieve this. See The Local's Spanish take on the case here.

It's intriguing that, while the very rich and the politically important have some impressive rights here, the country is not felt to pull its weight when it comes to human rights generally, as one of The Local's darker lists shows here. Though I'm sure things are better now - in both respects? - than under Franco from 1939 to 1976. So, progress.

On second thoughts, in some respects at least and on the evidence of this ridiculous case, modern Spain might not be very different from that era. But at least I won't be carted off to the clink for saying that.

Driving from Santander to Pontevedra the other day, I stopped off for lunch in Villaviciosa, the cider capital of Asturias. When I can get it, my lunch there is always rabbit stew in a place called Casa Milagros, in the old quarter. This is always gratifyingly greasy and comes with chips, and a little bit of red pepper. By coincidence, I read another recommendation last night, this time by A A Gill for a restaurant called the Farmgate Cafe in the English Market in Cork. In his words . . . This is the best covered market I’ve come across south of Scandinavia and west of France, selling locally landed fish and the many, many Irish iterations of pig.

Talking of the much-missed Mr Gill, he reported this response from his doctor to the question: “Why is the UK such a bad place to get cancer, when we have lots of hospitals, when we teach doctors from all over the world, when we’ve won more Nobel prizes than the French?” The answer was: The NHS here was set up with GPs separate from hospitals. The system means you probably have to wait a week or so for an appointment to see first your GP, or a clinic. And then if your doctor thinks it does need a second opinion, he’ll suggest you see a consultant, and that’s likely to take a month. And then there are all the appointments - for tests, a cancellation, a missed x-ray, a scan - which can put months on a diagnosis. As Gill put it: It’s not the treatment; it’s the scale of the bureaucracy and the immovable-but-crumbling structure of a private-public doctor-consultant arrangement, which was the cornerstone laid down by the 1945 government at the insistence of doctors. That is the chronic tumour in the bowel of the system. In European countries, patients can access specialist care easily and straightaway. Suffice to say, it was said in 1945 that the opposition of the medical profession to a national health servic has been overcome by stuffing their mouths with gold.

There are a few more of Gill's dying thoughts at the end of this post, for those interested.

Moving to British politics . . . . It was fascinating to watch an accomplished political liar at work on Sky News this morning. Following a disastrous election result for the Labour party last night, the deputy leader was intent on convincing us that all was hunky-dory in the party and that Labour would win the next election at a canter – something less likely than me being voted Mr Universe. His main tactic was to collate the following 2 statements, to demonstrate that the party was united behind the hopeless and hapless Jeremy Corbyn:-
  1. JC has the support of the vast majority of paid-up Labour supporters (militantes in Spanish); and
  2. The majority of the Parliamentary Party are crying out for unity.
Both of these statements are incontrovertibly true but, of course, the vast majority of Labour MPs don't want JC as their leader and will only unite behind him shortly after Hell has frozen over. Something Mr McDonnell was desperate to obfuscate. It will be interesting to see how long it is before he and his mates stab JC in the back, now that even a cretin can see the Labour party will never be elected with JC as its leader. More accurately, its figurehead. Even if – as Mr McDonnell blithely predicts - the Conservative party 'tears itself apart' over Brexit.

In the interests of balance, I should stress that UKIP suffered a party-destroying defeat as well. The Conservatives, however, achieved the rare feat of taking a seat from Labour even though they are in government.

Finally . . . Today's Bill Tidy cartoon:-

A A Gill on the NHS and what's good about it . . . 

[Forgive repetition]

When you look at our awkward, lumpy, inherited short-tempered characters, you’d imagine we might have come up with something more brass-bandy Brit [to stand for the country at large]: a bellicose, sentimental military fetishism, perhaps, or sport, or nostalgic history, boastful Anglophone culture, invention, exploration, banking avarice. But no. It turned out that what really sticks in our hard, gimpy, sclerotic hearts is looking after each other. Turning up at a bed with three carnations, a copy of Racing Post, a Twix and saying, “The cat misses you.”

We know it’s the best of us. The National Health Service is the best of us. You can’t walk into an NHS hospital and be a racist. That condition is cured instantly. But it’s almost impossible to walk into a private hospital and not fleetingly feel that you are one: a plush waiting room with entitled and bad-tempered health tourists.

You can’t be sexist on the NHS, nor patronising, and the care and the humour, the togetherness ranged against the teetering, chronic system by both the caring and the careworn is the Blitz, “back against the wall”, stern and sentimental best of us — and so we tell lies about it. We say it’s the envy of the world. It isn’t. We say there’s nothing else like it. There is. We say it’s the best in the West. It’s not. We think it’s the cheapest. It isn’t. Either that or we think it’s the most expensive — it’s not that, either. You will live longer in France and Germany, get treated faster and more comfortably in Scandinavia, and everything costs more in America.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 23.2.17

Making my way to my car on the boat yesterday morning, I passed a group of Spanish truck-drivers in the restaurant. Their loud cursing and swearing was well up to Spanish standards. Half an hour later, I found I was prevented from putting air in my tyres by a camper van and trailer blocking access to the pump at the petrol station. The vehicles had a British registration number but the drivers turned out to be Spanish. Good to be back where the most important person in your life is you.

But I confess I had to wait until this morning to witness my first example of what we might call cavalier driving – a guy who passed me within a few metres of an autovia exit and then swerved in front of me to take it when I was going straight on.

Spain's President Rajoy has responded to a question in parliament on corruption by insisting it's a mistake to exaggerate this since ‘we are a great nation’. So, that's alright then. You voters can afford it seems to be the message. Down at the regional government level, Murcia's president has been accused of misuse of power and will go before an investigating beak in March. As for the municipal level, here's a timely list of Spain's most corrupt mayors from The Olive Press. Nice to see that women get a look in. Well, one woman at least. It's hard to disagree with  reader Maria's view that Spain is a kleptocracy. But, then, some would argue it was ever thus for at least 300 years and that democracy changed nothing.

Spain's macro economy indicators might be great right now but the country is forecast to drop out of the top 25 economies within the relatively near future. See El País on this here, in English.

On a more positive note, here's an article on a trip taking in 101 Incredibles places in Spain. It's a mere 6,532 km long. Astonishingly, Pontevedra doesn't make it to the list but nearby Combarro does.

The last article by the stupendous British writer A A Gill was on his medical treatment and the UK's National Health Service (the NHS). Rather more eloquently than I've ever been able to put it, he writes: It seems unlikely, uncharacteristic, so un-“us” to have settled on sickness and bed rest as the votive altar and cornerstone of national politics. But there it is: at every election, the NHS is the thermometer and the crutch of governments. It represents everything we think is best about us. Everyone standing for whatever political persuasion has to lay a sterilised hand on an A&E revolving door and swear that the collective cradle-to-crematorium health service will be cherished on their watch. We tell lies about it. We say it’s the envy of the world. It isn’t. We say there’s nothing else like it. There is. We say it’s the best in the West. It’s not. We think it’s the cheapest. It isn’t. Either that or we think it’s the most expensive — it’s not that, either. You will live longer in France and Germany, get treated faster and more comfortably in Scandinavia, and everything costs more in America. Gill goes on to say that this sacrosanct service has one of the worst outcomes for cancer treatment in Europe. Everyone knows this, of course. Or at least everyone in politics. But no one seems capable and/or brave enough to do anything but tinker with the basic, outdated model. I hope I don't end my days relying on it.

Trump: Nothing today! Which should please at least on reader . . .

Finally . . . Another Bill Tidy cartoon:-

"I see we got our moon rock samples without any risk to human life."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 22.2.17

I've drafted this post between 6 and 7am on Brittany Ferries' flagship boat, the Pont Aven. Despite numerous attempts, I've failed to get the internet on either my Mac or my Samsung phone. And have now given up all hope of doing this until I get to Santander in 4 hours' time. They tell me I'm not alone but that some people have been able to get access. However, they can't give me any explanation for this, beyond the excuse that the at-sea internet service is supplied by a private company in, probably, Finland. Very frustrating.

The Guardian, reporting on the trial of Spain's Princess Cristina and her husband, avers that: The trial has done little to allay public concern over the apparent ubiquity of corruption at the highest levels of Spanish society. You can say that again. Despite being found innocent of a crime, the princess has been fined €265,000 for indirectly and unknowingly benefitting from her husband's malfeasance. I assume this is a civil offence. As I say, I'm not sure there's anyone in Spain – least of all the princess and her lawyer – who believes that she was unaware of what was going on as her husband embezzled more than €6m. Where's that gone, one asks, noting that he's only been fined €500,000.

As we know, the AVE high speed train Madrid-Galicia route won't be operating until at least 2020, though the official prediction remains 2018. In this light, it's amusing to read this bit of info I found on my laptop last night, from the Voz de Galicia of 22nd of October, 2006. In other words, more than 10 years ago:-
This is the current situation with the various stretches:-
Santiago-Vigo: Was promised for 2007, now 2009
Santiago-Ourense: Should be finished in 2008
Vigo-Ourense: Should be finished in 2010
Lubián- Ourense: Should be finished in 2010 It’s in the tender phase but there’s no budget for
works in 2007
Madrid-Lubián-Vigo: The most optimistic forecast is sometime in 2010
Santiago-La Coruña: Forecast to be completed by Dec 2011 [= 2012]

To this info from the local newspaper, I'd added:-
Vigo-Cerdedo branch: No indication of when. Has been ‘under study’ for 2.5 years
Vigo-Tui-Portugal ‘God knows’

All these dates were hopelessly missed and the Madrid-Galicia line will be operating, it's believed, a full 10 years later than the forecast of 2010 provided in 2006. Which helps to explain the Spanish public's lack of confidence in their government's statistics and forecasts. The last 2 lines mentioned - to Cerdedo and Tui/Portugal - have been completely abandoned. Against that, I think all the tracks except that that between Lubían and Ourense have now been laid, even if we don't actually have AVE trains running on them yet. Just faster versions of normal trains. But without the safety system designed for AVE trains. Hence the tragic accident near Santiago a couple of years ago. For which no government or corporate official will ever be found accountable and punished.

On to madness on a wider scale . . . . I also found on my laptop this draft letter on Britain and the EU, penned by me in October 1999, just before I moved to Spain. But, as far as I can recall never actually sent:-

Dear Sir: The prolonged period of peace we are now enjoying is in danger of becoming the Age of the Bureaucrat, as the exercise of power moves relentlessly from great men and major issues to small men and little issues. From leaders to focus groups.

This is a global phenomenon, of course, but it seems to me that the UK has a competitive disadvantage that is hastening its own relative decline. In contrast to most other countries, we have a stable, largely incorrupt bureaucracy which has taken more than 200 years to establish its entrenched power in almost every facet of our daily life. Its (rather self-serving) purpose is to create and implement regulations to the letter, albeit fairly.

At a time when - on a purely domestic front - we should be vigorously fighting the trend towards greater bureaucracy and trivialisation, what are we actually doing? Why, handing over power to a new but larger and vastly more corrupt bureaucracy which doesn't operate at all fairly and which is, in practice, totally unaccountable. And the agent of this super-bureaucracy is our own home-grown bureaucracy, peerless in its concern for the law and in its diligence. Is it, therefore, any wonder that whole industries in the UK are suffering greater depredations than elsewhere in Europe?

This is suicide by a self-inflicted thousand cuts. We are the victims of our own longevity, stability, integrity and law-abiding nature. Not to mention our political blindness and pusillanimity.

Who will lead the fight to slaughter the legions of well-intentioned bureaucrats before it is too late? Not me, I'm off to live where the infrastructures are less established and where the response to domestic and international regulations owes rather more to common sense and flexibility than it does here.

Yours faithfully,

Interestingly, the letter is signed by one of my pseudonyms - David Collins. I can't recall why.

All of this is a nice lead-in to an article in the Business section of yesterday's Daily Telegraph. The headline to this is: Eurozone peripheral nations paid a high price for single currency folly. It seems that the experts now have the ability to model what would have happened in these countries if they'd not entered the eurozone and if there hadn't been the austerity that followed the euro-driven boom of 2000-2007. In brief, these nations would be 17% better off in GDP terms. Which helps to explain why the writer asserts: It is increasingly obvious that it is by far the greatest self-inflicted economic policy mistake ever made. For which Greece, at least, will be paying the price for as far ahead as one can confidently predict. Spain, on the other hand, seems to have emerged reasonably strong from the mayhem caused by the purely political decision to bring in the euro. At least if you only look at the macro numbers, and ignore what's gone on down at the various coalfaces. And is still going on.

By overhearing someone, I've finally established that the way to get a normal white coffee at Costa is to ask for a white Americano, ignoring the fact that the essence of an Americano is that it's black. What you get is said black coffee with a milk in a tiny jug beside it. I guess it makes sense to someone.

At least one of my readers contends I/we should stop obsessing about Trump and his crew. In a Guardian article here, entitled Trump is a media troll – so let's stop feeding him, Marina Hyde provides some support for this view, arguing that the real issue is not how Trump regards or treats the mainstream media. Nobody in the world cares if a president is mean to journalists, she says. It's time of focus instead on his lies. I agree.

Finally . . . . Another Bill Tidy cartoon:-

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 21.2.17

The Local has has published an article in which a British ex-pat lists 17 dreadful things about Spain. I can't see anything wrong with it.

Our personalities are fixed from a young age, Yes? Well, allegedly not. According to a groundbreaking study spanning six decades it's been established that that they change “beyond recognition” between adolescence and old age as life takes its toll. I can't cite the article from The Times, so it's pasted at the end of this post.

I'm driving to Portsmouth early this morning, to catch the ferry to Santander. So, being short on time, I've shamelessly plundered Lenox Napier's last Business Over Tapas for all the following items, under my heading of Life in Spain:
  • A Government decree has set up an extra-judicial process for settling claims from those borrowers who were hit with an illegal floor-clause by their bank. Ostensibly, this will make the process quicker and cheaper for both sides and avoid clogging up the courts. In reality, the decree tilts the playing field in favour of banks at the expense of borrowers. So, no surprise there.
  • The Government has a plan to close down all the polling stations in Catalonia on the day of the referendum – which may be celebrated before summer. It’s not going to end well.
  • Spaniards only give their media 4.3 out of 10 for credibility. Some 15% of the population never or almost never trusts the media, compared to 2.5% who always or nearly always do so.
  • The Carrefour supermarket group – which is French – says it will eliminate paper receipts. Instead, customers will be able to receive a digital version through its Mi Carrefour app.
  • Spain is one of those European countries which fails to spend 2% of GDP on defence. At 0.9% this is the same as Slovenia and Belgium.
  • The government has proposed a new 'digital canon', to replace the one deemed illegal by Brussels. It could increase the price of some items by at least €10, say critics. It's aimed at providing extra funds for copyright owners. One things's for sure  . . . it'll create new public employee jobs and more bureaucracy. The traditional Spanish answer to almost every problem or challenge to existing commercial operations. At least for those big enough to have links with the government. And on that score . . .
  • The latest member of the board the Red Electrica de España is another retired PP politician, the ex-head of the Guardia Civil. Needless to say he has no knowledge about the electricity industry whatsoever. And probably can't decipher his bills any more than the rest of us can.
Also pasted at the end of this post - before the Personality article - is a magisterial analysis of the challenges thrown up by Donald Trump for Democrats/liberals. HT to my friend Dwight for this.

Another Bill Tidy cartoon:

Finally . . .  A Correction; My self-appointed fact-checker and all round pain in the arse, Alfie Mittington, has pointed out that Wellington's battle success in Vitoria/Vittoria took place in NE Spain and not NW Portugal. As if anyone in Birkenhead really knows or cares. Or anyone else, for that matter.


The Peril of Potemkin Democracy

Trump doesn't have to be Hitler to bring an end to the Republic.

One of the most difficult puzzles of the Trump administration is figuring out which dystopian scenario to worry about. Depending on who you listen to, everything Trump does is a feint meant to misdirect us away from the main threat, which is somewhere else.

Maybe Kellyanne Conway's "alternative facts", Stephen Miller's assertion that the president's power "will not be questioned", or the president's own declaration that CNN and the other mainstream news sources are "enemies of the American People" are assaults on the fundamental basis of democratic governance, or maybe they're shiny objects intended to distract the press from digging into Trump's radical appointments. Or maybe putting a buffoon like Rick Perry in charge of our nuclear energy programs is itself meant to split Congress on partisan lines so that neither party will get around to investigating Trump's relationship with Russia. Maybe Russia is a red herring, and we ought to be paying attention to all the ways Trump and his cronies are setting themselves up to profit from his presidency. Or maybe the profiteering is small potatoes next to the alt-right influence of Steve Bannon, whose prophecy of a global war with Islam might be self-fulfilling if Islamophobic policies like the Muslim ban recruit enough young people into terrorism. Or maybe the Muslim ban is just a stalking horse meant to produce a clash with the judiciary, which Trump hopes to crush in the ensuing constitutional crisis.

I could keep going. Like a comic-book villain, Trump seems to be advancing towards the Apocalypse in all directions at once. Does that mean all roads need to be guarded equally? Or are all but one or two of the threats just distractions intended to split opposition forces? Is each proposal just the first step on a long march towards tyranny? Or is Trump like any other new president, checking off boxes on his list of campaign promises and hoping his various constituencies will be satisfied with a few symbolic baubles, so he can eventually focus on the things he really cares about? And what are those things?

Uncertainty of threat leads to uncertainty of response. Should we focus on throwing Trump's allies out of Congress in 2018, or will that be too little too late? Right now, should we be calling our congresspeople? Marching in the streets? Planning our escape to Canada or Sweden? Or stockpiling arms for the inevitable civil war? Is paranoia making you worry too much? Or is denial making you too complacent?

A key point in Trumpian strategy is to keep your opponents rattled, and in that he is definitely succeeding. Probably the best line in SNL's People's Court skit wasn't trying to be funny at all. The judge says: "I want one day without a CNN alert that scares the hell out of me." Lots of us do.
So, acknowledging the uncertainties and the twin risks of paranoia and complacency, let's see if we unrattle ourselves and focus our concern in the right places.

Why do people do what they do? This observation isn't terribly deep, but it does help organize my analysis: What people do is always a combination of what they intend and the opportunities they happen across. For example, some people are in the careers they've pictured since they were kids, while others went wherever the jobs were when they graduated. Two people might work across a desk from each other, but one got there through a long-term plan and the other happened into it.

World leaders are the same way: They do some things because that's why they set out to become world leaders in the first place. They do other things because the opportunity presents itself or some situation thrusts itself upon them. Lyndon Johnson launched the Great Society because that's what he always wanted to do; he saw himself as a protege of FDR, so he wanted to be remembered as the president who completed the New Deal. But his response to an unanticipated challenge also made him the Vietnam War president.

So there are two parts to figuring out what to fear from Trump. First, what drives him, so that he will set out to make it happen? And second, where are the opportunities he might try to exploit?

Drives. Let me start by saying that I've never met Donald Trump, so all my opinions about him come at a distance. But at the same time, he has been in the public eye for decades and hasn't exactly hidden his personality, so I'm not just shooting blind.

My take on Trump is that his drives are all personal, and he has no fixed political goals at all. This is the biggest reason why comparisons to Hitler are misguided. Hitler was ideological. Any unscrupulous German politician might have opportunistically used anti-Semitism to rabble-rouse. But Hitler was so identified with it that he carried out the Final Solution in secret, and speeded it up as the war began to go badly. He seemed haunted by the idea that he might lose power before he finished his genocide. Similarly, he was always planning to attack Russia; the German people needed to expand in the east at the expense of the racially inferior Slavs.

You'll search in vain for any similar fixed political goals, good or bad, in Trump. He's been both pro- and anti-abortion. He's been a libertine and the candidate of the Religious Right. He was for the Iraq War until he decided he had always been against it. During the campaign, his policy prescriptions were all over the map: The government spends too much, but should start a massive infrastructure project. It should both get out of healthcare and make sure everybody gets covered. He is simultaneously a hawk and an isolationist, a champion of both the working stiff and the billionaire who keeps wages low.

One reason Congress is so frozen at the moment is that even after face-to-face meetings where public pandering can be put aside, Ryan and McConnell still have no idea what Trump really wants them to do. Even ObamaCare repeal -- which every Republican from Trump on down pledged to do on Day 1 -- is frozen, largely because Trump has not committed himself. He has left Congress to face the real-life difficulties of healthcare, while he floats vaguely above them, ready to tweet out his wrath if Congress' program doesn't fulfill his impossible promises.

But Trump is a bundle of personal drives: He wants to be the center of attention, to be admired and idolized. He needs to win, to never be wrong, and to be better than whoever people might compare him to. Fame and TV ratings and crowds are a few ways he measures his success, but the biggest is money and the appearance of money.

Politics is just another game that he can win, and so prove his superiority. And if being president also makes him a lot of money, that's a double win. Everything else is just a move in that game. Does he hate Muslims or Mexicans? Not really, I think. But a lot of people do, and they'll cheer for him if he says and does anti-Muslim or anti-Mexican stuff.

While he is not ideologically racist, he is favorably inclined towards any argument that justifies his own superiority. In practice, that can sometimes lead to the same result. Sexism, I believe, runs a little deeper: Women are simultaneously individuals to be dominated as well as chips in his competition with other men. Being shown up grates on him, but being shown up by a woman is doubly galling.
What I don't see in him is an urge to remake society in his own image. He has no vision like a thousand-year Reich, a new Soviet man, or anything else that would lead to a micro-managed totalitarian system.

The opportunity that doesn't exist. Even if Trump didn't intend to go there, you might still imagine him opportunistically drifting into a Hitler-shaped or Stalin-shaped hole in American society. I firmly believe that there is no such hole. The 21st-century authoritarian model is quite different (as we'll discuss below).

Germany in 1933 and Russia in 1917 were both countries in great economic distress, dealing with the aftermath of a humiliating defeat in war. Both had nostalgia for a former era when a strong ruler was firmly in charge.

Trump's appeal is based on a dim echo of that situation. Many Americans are disappointed in their economic prospects, but compared to Depression-era Germany, few are desperate. (Wondering whether your salary will ever justify your student loans is a world away from wondering what bread will cost next week.) America's persistent inability to wipe out enemies in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Syria is frustrating, but doesn't compare to Russia's or Germany's humiliating defeat in World War I.  Trump's rhetoric is nostalgic, but the leaders of those warmly-recalled eras were grandfatherly men like Eisenhower or Reagan, not iron-fisted czars or kaisers.

Trump has many fans, but Trumpism runs shallow compared to Hitlerism. In 1933, virtually every part of German society had its own Nazi movement eager to take power. In 2017, it's hard to picture what a Trumpist takeover of the universities or of California would even mean, much less who would do it or how. The difficulty Trump is having staffing his administration is a symptom of this shallowness. He won with 46% of the vote, after all, and many who voted for him were not happy about it.

The appeal of Potemkin democracy. While America as a nation is not experiencing the kind of despair and defeat that leads to totalitarianism, many groups within America have seen a long-term decline in their influence and status, with no end in sight. Many members of these groups are deeply nostalgic, and prior to Trump's election felt the kind of hopelessness that yearns for radical change.

These are the people I described in 2012 in "The Distress of the Privileged": whites, men, conservative Christians, native-born English-speakers, and so on. These groups have never been oppressed in America and face no prospect of it, but they used to dominate society to an extent that they no longer do. That relative loss of power feels like persecution, even if in reality it is nothing more than a loss of privilege. [1]

But many of them experience that pseudo-persecution intensely, and believe it is being thrown in their faces constantly: when their doctrines are no longer taught or their prayers recited in public schools; when they have to compete in the workplace on near-equal terms with blacks and immigrants and women; when courts take the side of gay couples against the Christians who want to discriminate against them; when they express their distress in public and do not see their problems move immediately to the top of the agenda; when history classes call attention to the flaws of their heroes, or to the contributions of members of other groups; and on many other occasions. Those who look for these insults to their pride, and seek out media that highlights and exaggerates them, can find something every day.

These are the people who make up the bulk of Trump's base, and who will be willing to watch democracy crumble if it allows them to regain the privileges they believe are rightfully theirs. While the extreme edge of this group contains open white supremacists, theocratic Dominionists, and even self-proclaimed Nazis, for the most part its members are not that radical: They're happy with an American-style democracy as long as they're comfortably in the majority and the elected government favors them. That's what they're nostalgic for.

But as they have sunk towards minority status, more extreme methods have begun to appeal: suppressing other voters in the guise of preventing "voter fraud", gerrymandering legislative districts so that their minority of votes can dominate Congress and the state legislatures, shutting down immigration from people not like them, suppressing protest with police violence, and so on.

For the most part, their ideal America would be a Potemkin democracy. It would have the appearance of free institutions: elections, media not directly controlled by the government, opposition politicians not in jail, and so on. But the outcomes of those elections would never be in doubt, and democratic methods would never be sufficient to achieve equality for non-whites, non-Christians, or those that white Christians disapprove of (like gays).

The autocracy model that works. In a recent article in The Atlantic, David Frum described how democracy slipped away in 21st-century countries like Hungary, South Africa, and Venezuela. The Washington Post paints a similar (if less fully developed) picture of the year-old populist government in Poland.

What has happened in Hungary since 2010 offers an example—and a blueprint for would-be strongmen. Hungary is a member state of the European Union and a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights. It has elections and uncensored internet. Yet Hungary is ceasing to be a free country.

The transition has been nonviolent, often not even very dramatic. Opponents of the regime are not murdered or imprisoned, although many are harassed with building inspections and tax audits. If they work for the government, or for a company susceptible to government pressure, they risk their jobs by speaking out. Nonetheless, they are free to emigrate anytime they like. Those with money can even take it with them. Day in and day out, the regime works more through inducements than through intimidation. The courts are packed, and forgiving of the regime’s allies. Friends of the government win state contracts at high prices and borrow on easy terms from the central bank. Those on the inside grow rich by favoritism; those on the outside suffer from the general deterioration of the economy. As one shrewd observer told me on a recent visit, “The benefit of controlling a modern state is less the power to persecute the innocent, more the power to protect the guilty.”

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s rule over Hungary does depend on elections. These remain open and more or less free—at least in the sense that ballots are counted accurately. Yet they are not quite fair. Electoral rules favor incumbent power-holders in ways both obvious and subtle. Independent media lose advertising under government pressure; government allies own more and more media outlets each year. The government sustains support even in the face of bad news by artfully generating an endless sequence of controversies that leave culturally conservative Hungarians feeling misunderstood and victimized by liberals, foreigners, and Jews.

In Poland:
  • In merely a year, critics say, the nationalists have transformed Poland into a surreal and insular place — one where state-sponsored conspiracy theories and de facto propaganda distract the public as democracy erodes.
  • In the land of Law and Justice, anti-intellectualism is king. Polish scientists are aghast at proposed curriculum changes in a new education bill that would downplay evolution theory and climate change and add hours for “patriotic” history lessons. In a Facebook chat, a top equal rights official mused that Polish hotels should not be forced to provide service to black or gay customers. After the official stepped down for unrelated reasons, his successor rejected an international convention to combat violence against women because it appeared to argue against traditional gender roles.
  • The national broadcasting network has lost much of its independence, and the Catholic media outlets are happy with the new regime, so the overall news coverage is positive. Cosmopolitan Warsaw is dumbstruck, but in the countryside the new government is quite popular. Some say its economic policies -- subsidizing couples with children and lowering the retirement age -- aren't sound in the long term, but facts and numbers aren't making much of an impact on the public debate.
The ultimate model of a 21st-century autocrat, of course, is Vladimir Putin, whose praises Trump often sings. Putin's situation gives him many advantages that Trump lacks: Pre-Putin Russia in many ways resembled the pre-totalitarian societies I discussed earlier, with extreme economic distress, national pride wounded by defeat in the Cold War and the collapse of its Soviet empire, and nostalgia for past dictators. But even as Putin becomes (by some accounts) the world's richest individual, and as his hold on government is increasingly unassailable, Russia continues to have many of the trappings of democracy. There are elections, even if it's hard to participate in them.[2] 

Some limited media criticism is tolerated, though sufficiently annoying critics do sometimes drop dead under suspicious circumstances. Putin even respected Russia's presidential term-limit law, stepping into the Prime Minister's role for a term to let someone else serve as a figurehead president.
Frum sums up:

Outside the Islamic world, the 21st century is not an era of ideology. The grand utopian visions of the 19th century have passed out of fashion. The nightmare totalitarian projects of the 20th have been overthrown or have disintegrated, leaving behind only outdated remnants: North Korea, Cuba. What is spreading today is repressive kleptocracy, led by rulers motivated by greed rather than by the deranged idealism of Hitler or Stalin or Mao. Such rulers rely less on terror and more on rule-twisting, the manipulation of information, and the co-optation of elites.

First steps. It's not hard to find steps Trump has already taken down the Potemkin democracy path. As often as he verbally attacks CNN, there is virtually no chance of troops seizing its studios in a totalitarian coup. But Jared Kushner has already met with a high executive of CNN's corporate master, Time Warner, to criticize CNN's coverage of the new administration. According to The Wall Street Journal, he called out two commentators by name: Van Jones (a black) and Ana Navarro (a Nicaraguan immigrant). The implied threat is all too obvious: Billions of dollars hang on whether the Trump administration approves Time Warner's proposed merger with AT&T.

There is no need for Trump critics like Jones or Navarro to wind up in Guantanamo. It is sufficient if he can get them shunted off to media outlets that only liberals or people of color pay attention to.
Similarly, Trump has talked about expanding the scope of libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations. Melania is already suing one, using the lawyer that Peter Thiel used to kill Gawker. The point, apparently, is not to recover damages, but to put critics out of business.

Under the guise of "reforming the bureaucracy" or "draining the swamp", Trump seeks to populate government service with people loyal to him rather than to the missions of their departments.
His refusal to separate himself in any meaningful way from his business empire, his lack of transparency about his finances, and his flagrant use of his position as president to promote his profit-making properties are all part of this pattern. Frum projects these trends into 2020:

Most Americans intuit that their president and his relatives have become vastly wealthier over the past four years. But rumors of graft are easy to dismiss. Because Trump has never released his tax returns, no one really knows.

The repeatability of 2016. As Trump is found of reminding us, the experts said he couldn't win in 2016, and they were wrong.

But it's worth considering exactly what they were wrong about. What made Trump's victory so implausible was that he consistently spoke to a base that was nowhere near a majority of the American people. It seemed obvious that his appeal could not translate into a majority of the votes cast. And it didn't: He got 46% of the vote to Hillary Clinton's 48%, a difference of nearly three million votes. What everyone failed to see was that:

The combination of sexism, a long-term build-up of anti-Hillary hype, Trump's relentless lock-her-up negativity, and unethical meddling by Russia and the FBI would make Clinton unacceptable to enough voters that the election would be close, despite Trump's general unpopularity.

The inherent gerrymandering of the Electoral College would allow Trump to win despite being outvoted by a clear margin.

After taking office, Trump has continued to speak only to his base, which is still an electoral minority. Unsurprisingly, a whopping 55% of Americans now view him unfavorably after only one month of his presidency.

But couldn't the same strategy work again in 2020? Given enough repetition, a sufficiently cowed media, new illicit meddling (maybe by a Trump-tamed NSA this time), and relentless efforts to smear whoever the leading Democrat turns out to be -- "Pocahontas" Warren, for example -- couldn't he repeat the same trick and be re-elected with no more popularity than he had in 2016?

What to expect. What Trump wants and has always wanted is to make vast amounts of money, to be courted by his fellow billionaires, and to have the power to take revenge on those who slight him. The repressive kleptocracy model offers all that.

To stay in power -- and ideally to hand power off to a chosen successor like son-in-law Kushner or daughter Ivanka -- Trump must keep the loyalty of his distressed/privileged base. In order to do that, he will offer them some substantive benefits. But ultimately he has no loyalty to them, so he will consistently attempt to give them symbolic victories that cost him nothing, or to take credit for far more than he actually does. The most efficient way for him to maintain their loyalty is to keep them constantly agitated by imaginary insults from their enemies, which Trump will defend them against. [3]

That base will continue to be an ever-shrinking minority, but by making it increasingly harder for others to vote, for immigrants to enter the country, for resident aliens to become citizens, for opposition parties to bring their case to the general public, and for voting majorities to achieve actual power, Trump will endeavor to enlarge that minority's power far beyond its numbers. In doing so, he will simply be extending and exaggerating policies the Republican Party and the conservative media have pursued for many years.

Accompanying these policies will be the constant attempt to increase public cynicism. Sure, Trump lies, Trump profits from government, Trump bends the rules in his favor, but that's just politics. Everybody lies, everybody cheats, all news is fake.

The threat, then, isn't that some Reichstag-fire incident will set off a well-planned takeover that overnight makes America unrecognizable. On the contrary, American in 2020 will be very recognizable, as long as you don't look too deeply.

[1] This is not to say that some members of these groups don't have genuine problems worthy of government help -- ex-workers of dying industries in dying-industry towns, like West Virginia coal miners, for example. But even here, what thrusts them into public attention isn't the degree of their distress, it's that they're native-born English-speaking white men in distress. It's the my-problem-should-move-to-the-top-of-the agenda privilege.

Tim Wise comments:

When white people are hurting economically we're supposed to feel their pain and "bring the jobs back" to their dying rural towns. But when people of color lack jobs in the cities (in large part because of the decline of manufacturing over 40 plus years, as well as discrimination) we tell them to "move," to go to school and gain new skills, and we lecture them on pulling themselves up by their bootstraps because the government doesn't owe them anything. But apparently we DO owe white coal miners and assembly line workers their jobs back because remember, out of work white men are "salt of the earth" while out of work people of color are lazy.

[2] Garry Kasparov discusses the difficulties of getting on the ballot and campaigning in Russia in his book Winter is Coming. For example, the rules require your party to have a nominating convention of a certain size, but what if no one is willing to displease the government by renting you space for it?

[3] A good example was his rally this week in Florida, which Melania opened with the Lord's Prayer. 
Not only does that give conservative Christians a we're-still-in-charge-here thrill at no cost to Trump, it allowed the pro-Trump side of the media to further their Christian-persecution narrative.
Supposedly liberals were up in arms about the prayer, but I would never have heard about it if not for Fox News' coverage of how up-in-arms people like me are. The liberal web sites I regularly cruise didn't find it worth mentioning. (Fox' sources are social-media posts by ordinary people. You could find similar posts objecting to more-or-less anything that happens.)

In fact, a campaign rally is a private event, so opening it with prayer does not violate church-state separation. If Trump wants to signal to non-Christians that they are not welcome at his rallies, that's up to him. I was not offended and I suspect very few liberals were.


Life changes you, 60-year study finds

Perseverance, stability, conscientiousness: character traits that, once instilled, will last a lifetime.

Not according to a groundbreaking study spanning six decades, which discovered that personalities change “beyond recognition” between adolescence and old age as life takes its toll.

In the longest such study conducted, researchers from the University of Edinburgh found that personal qualities they assumed were innate altered greatly between the ages of 14 and 77.

The basis of the study was a mental health survey conducted in Scotland in 1950 when the personalities of more than 1,200 children were assessed. Their teachers filled in six questionnaires, in which they assessed pupils’ levels of self-confidence, perseverance, stability of mood, conscientiousness, originality and desire to learn. The six qualities were amalgamated into a single score that researchers said was similar to dependability. The children also took intelligence tests.

In 2012 researchers tracked down 635 of those who participated in the original study and again tested all who were willing. Now aged 77, the participants rated themselves and nominated a close friend or relative to do the same. They also completed a new round of intelligence tests and answered questions on their general wellbeing.

The study was led by Mathew Harris, research associate in brain imaging at the University of Edinburgh, who admitted that the team was surprised by the lack of correlated results. “We hypothesised that we would find evidence of personality stability over . . . 63 years but our correlations did not support this hypothesis,” the team said.

Only two of the traits — stability of mood and conscientiousness — showed signs of lasting a lifetime in a significant way but even then there was no guarantee.

The researchers said that it was hard to work out why these two traits turned out to be more enduring. “A wide range of genetic and environmental factors likely contribute to change in personality traits over time and it is not yet clear why some traits might be more affected by these factors than others,” they said.

The environmental changes for this group, born in 1936, were dramatic, taking in the Second World War and the digital revolution. The participants’ dependability at the age of 14 was not related to their wellbeing in later life, seemingly contradicting previous research that has found higher scores were associated with superior wellbeing decades later.

Previous personality studies, conducted over shorter periods, have appeared to show some consistency, for example when they compared childhood with middle age, or middle age with old age.

Dr Harris suggested that personalities changed slowly and incrementally, not suddenly in response to key life events such as marriage or bereavement. “Personality changes gradually throughout life. 

There may be only subtle changes over relatively short periods, but these changes accumulate, leading to bigger differences over more time. It may change more rapidly throughout certain times of life, such as adolescent development, but whether specific life events have substantial, lasting effects on personality is less clear,” the researchers said.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 20.2.17

I've got to start with the biggest laugh of the year so far - The North Korean government saying that the Malaysian government can't be trusted to tell the truth. What wonderful chutzpah! Perhaps irony isn't big in Pyongyang.

Reader Maria reminds us it's not just foreign tourists who make fools of themselves in Spain, citing this article, in Spanish. I particularly like the story of Madrileños asking where the beach was in Verín up in the Galician mountains. On the assumption every town in Galicia was on the coast.

So, the UK NHS is once again 'at breaking point' this morning. Looking at all the coverage of this, you'd be forgiven for not knowing that expenditure on this has doubled in the last 10 years, without any apparent benefit. But imagine how things would be if the Brown-Blair duo hadn't initiated this in order to bring UK spend up to the percentage of GDP level of other EU members. And still the fish stinks. Can this be because fire-hosing money at the institution isn't the answer? But that no one dares talk of another?

Reading about what the British call the Peninsular War and the Spanish term the War of Independence, I was surprised to hear that one or two UK cities commemorate specific unfamous British victories via place names. Most surprisingly, my birthplace - Birkenhead - has not just one but 3 places honouring Wellington's success in Vitoria/Vittoria, south of Oporto. One wonders why exactly:-

Coincidentally, these are all close to the railway station where I used to alight each morning before walking half a mile to my college. We used to do this sort of thing back then, when our mothers didn't all have Chelsea tractors. And fear for our lives once we left their sight.

Unless you live in a cave, you'll have seen the wonderful Dutch video pleading with Trump to make The Netherlands second in his priorities, after the USA. There's a whole slew of these now, even one from Iran. Or at least from some Iranians. Click here for this.

Fascinating to see the Nokia 3310 making a comeback. And not just for drug dealers.

Which reminds me . . . My Samsung smartphone appears not to be able to distinguish between 25%  and 0% battery life, switching itself off regularly when the higher figure shows on the screen. Knowledgable friends suggest the battery is designed to give out after 2 years, though mine is only 18 months old. Can any expert confirm this? If so, can the same reader explain why - despite paying for roaming - I can never get 3 or 4G via O2. Which, coincidentally, is Spanish owned I believe. The wonderful Telefónica/Mvistar.

Way back in July 2015 a Democrat politician warned that Trump could well be the next president. Click here for the reaction of the professional pundits to this pearl of wisdom.

Finally . . . Another cartoon, though not this time from Bill Tiday:-

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 19.2.17

I'm not really up on Spanish divorce law and practice but I thought shared custody was relatively normal these days. Apparently not. This article suggests it still only happens in around 25% of cases. I'm assuming the mother still gets priority, having a raft of relatives to help her. Usually.

In this article entitled The Unthinkable Just Happened in Spain, the estimable Don Quijones relates the rather shocking story – well, not if you've lived in Spain for a while – of Bankia, the large bank created from 7 dud small banks and then foisted on the public via a criminally fraudulent stock market listing. DQ sounds rather surprised at the judicial turn of events. Perhaps Spain is not as different as it used to be,

Talking about the Spanish legal system and the judicial process . . . . HT to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for this comment on the scandal of the vast corruption of the Pujol family who've run Cataluña for decades: An interview with the retired second-in-command of the Spanish police in El Mundo throws up interesting facts about the investigation and how he tried on several occasions to arrest members of the Pujol clan for ‘political corruption’ but was always stymied by the judiciary and the Rule of Law.

An American expat in Spain has noticed some of her compatriots doing stupid things there. See here for her advice for others thinking of visiting. Of course, (North) Americans are not the only guiris who make a fool of themselves when they visit Spain. We've all done it. Mind you, Spanish waiters are not too critical of those yanquis who feel compelled to tip 25%, as against a local norm of 0 to 10%.

Talking of the USA . . .

Nutters' Corner:

I think the Lord’s plan is being put in place for America and these people are not only revolting against Trump, they’re revolting against what God’s plan is for America. From one of the country's bottomless pit of crazy evangelist preachers.

Finally . . .  I stayed last night in a hotel in Leamington Spa, where this notice was stuck on the glass shelf above the bathroom sink:

As I'm convinced it should have been removed before the room was first occupied – many years ago? - I took the liberty of taking it off and pasting it on the wall so I could take that foto. And then I binned it.

How to ruin an interesting building, in Bridgnorth:-

More amusingly, another great Bill Tidy cartoon:-

Footnote: At this hotel in Leamington Spa, "The restaurant serves breakfast from 7am" apparently means there'll be no staff member except the kitchen cleaner there at that time, that you'll get a coffee at 7.20 and that hot food will be ready around 8am. Can't trust these Brits.

But I've been able to use the time freed up for me by writing this post. Lemon into lemonade . . . . 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 18.2.17

So, after 6 years of investigation and trial, Spain's Royal Brother-in-Law has been jailed for 6 years for robbing the public purse. In contrast, the court was clearly – but genuinely? – convinced by the very-well-educated-but-really-a-very-dumb-little-wife act of his wife, Princess Cristina. And it never got round to considering the ex-king's role in the frauds. The princess, it's reported in the Guardian article at the end of this post responded with “I don’t know” 188 times and “I don’t remember” on 55 occasions during the 6 hours of questioning to which she was subjected. It's rumoured she'll be up for an award in the upcoming Oscars.

Talking of Spanish frauds . . . . HT to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for this: The Audiencia Nacional, Spain's central court, has started hearing its first-ever case of presumed timeshare fraud. The two accused in this long-running case are Antonio González and Paul Van Zill, heads of the Mundo Mágico travel agency, based in Málaga, which closed in 2003.

So, the huge Unilever company is under attack from the even larger US company, Kraft Heinz. I'd guess that most Brits don't know just how many famous brands are sold by the former. Click here if you're inquisitive. By the way, I erred in saying they own Costa Coffee. It belongs to the pub group, Whitbread.

It seems that even the Russians are confused and worried by President Trump. And who could blame them? Click here for the article from which this extract comes: The search for a key to Trump’s mind-boggling and miscellaneous gusher of policy directives has tended to focus on his disturbingly erratic, vindictive, simplistic, narcissistic, insecure, and occasionally delusional personality, due exception being made for those conspiracy theorists who treat him as a kind of Manchurian candidate or sock puppet of the Kremlin. What most observers have been late to recognize is the extent to which, behind his mask as a showman, Trump views himself as a revolutionary insurgent with a mission to dismantle America’s “old regime.”

Last words on Trump: The man who tells you truth does not exist is asking you not to believe him, said the philosopher Sir Roger Scruton. So don’t. Incidentally . . . The three most prominent instances of people declaring the news to be fake last week were Donald Trump, Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin. What they want is not “real” news, but silence. Nice company.

Finally . . . According to 'La Voz de Galicia': The Spanish Government is convinced that Brexit is a golden opportunity to convince Gibraltar to accept Spanish co-sovereignty over the Rock. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs plans to gain the support of the Gibraltarians via persuasion. A detailed road map mixes the traditional promises of self-government, if Gibraltar accepts the Spanish flag, with the guarantee that the government would make multi-million investments in infrastructure to turn the colony and its surroundings into one of the biggest development areas of the Spanish Peninsula...’ Good luck to them with that. Especially for a PP administration which, until very recently, had Motormouth Margallo as its (antipathetic) spokesman on Gibraltar. There isn't anyone in Spain who believes their government's promises. And even fewer in Gibraltar, of course. Farcical. Like Madrid taking over from the City of London post Brexit.

A random cartoon: From my all-time favourite cartoonist, Bill Tidy. This one, from Google Images, is actually in my collection from many years back:-

Is there any news of the iceberg?
I think I will feature more of Tidy's work on a daily basis. You lucky people!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 17.2.17

This Vogue article purports to tell us everything about Spain's lovely Queen Letizia. Strange, then, that, if I search the word 'suicide', nothing comes up about her unfortunate sister. Though admittedly I wasn't very surprised. Very possibly we don't need to know about it.

Teachers in Spain are reported to be the best paid in Europe. And most of us would regard their daily challenges as far less onerous than those of their opposite numbers in, say, the UK. But here's a video of one teacher who found it all too a bit too much. Apparently after he'd found a pupil trolling him during class. En passant, the Spanish for 'to troll' is, of course, trolear

I mentioned strange Spanish village names yesterday. Reader Paideleo wonders about Dead Cat (Gatomorto), so here's a screen shot of it:-

Paideleo also mentions the name Dead Ox (Boimorto) and I've seen more than one of these in Galicia, most frequently on an old rat-run from Pontevedra to Santiago through the town of Cuntis. But this one doesn't show up on Google Maps. I didn't realise, by the way, that the Camino de Plata winds its way through the village of A Mezquita, as described here: A que nos ocupa é o Camiño Sanabrés da Vía da Prata (ou Mozárabe), no momento que chega a Zamora sigue por os seguintes puntos: Tábara, Bercianos de Valverde, Villanueva de las Peras, Santa Marta de Tera, Rionegro del Puente, Mombuey, Puebla de Sanabria, Requejo, Padornelo, Lubían, A Mezquita, A Gudiña, Laza, Vilar de Barrio, Xunqueira de Ambía, Ourense, Tamallancos, Cea, Mosteiro de Oseira, Castro Dozón, Prado, Silleda, Bandeira, Puente Ulla e Santiago de Compostela.  Paideleo has corrected my translation of A Mezquita, saying it refers to a plant, not a mosque. I still prefer 'mosque'.

En passant deux . . . Plata doesn't mean 'Silver'. It's a corruption of a Latin word for 'wide', I believe.

Which reminds me . . . My friend Dwight ever so kindly informed me it was 22 degrees in Pontevedra yesterday. Decidedly unusual.

There's a great deal of fuss in at least the USA about gender-changers now using a different toilet. I couldn't help noticing yesterday that Costa's toilets were gender-neutral. Just as in private homes, everyone uses the same one. And no one seems to have complained about this at all. 

Talking of the USA . . . . 

1. Nutters' Corner: An evangelist pastor has announced that: What makes women stupid is college. Because college makes everybody stupid. Only the Bible makes them clever.

2. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, reaffirmed Mr Trump’s claims that nobody from his campaign had contact with Russian officials. There’s nothing that would conclude me that anything different has changed with respect to that time period, he said. For that alone this odd man should be shot.

Finally . . . My daughter told me yesterday that the front door bell wasn't working, probably because the batteries were flat. I suggested she replace them quickly as a couple of car mechanics were due to come and look at a car she's selling. Her response: No need to, dad. These days everyone has a mobile phone. So, why bother with a bell in the first place, as you probably don't want to see the people who don't have your number?

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