Thursday, January 18, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia: 18.1.17

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.

  • After searching for an 'objective assessment of Trump's first year', I alighted on this site. This is the first comment which jumped out at me:- Congressional Republicans, unlike their president, have yet to assimilate the fact that they belong increasingly to a working-class party of the uncredentialed forgotten men and women of the 21st-century digital global economy. And this was the second, actually the final paragraph:- The lesson of Trump year one is that objective reality plays little to no part in assessments of his tenure. Trump the president is subsumed in the operatic character of Trump the man. On one hand, his most loyal voters won’t abandon him because their connection is psychic, personal, and charismatic. On the other, his most vehement opponents cannot be won over by the conventionality of his governing choices or the success of his policies. The ultimate referent in political debate is Trump’s personal behavior, his outbursts and moods, his likes and dislikes, his Tweets and asides and insults and flattery. Not only is America divided along lines of education and class. It is polarized by attitudes toward the personality and aesthetics of Donald Trump. And I do not think he would want it any other way. 
  • For a personal view of the tribal nature of the politics of this polarised/polarized nation, click here. Even more depressing, if accurate.
The UK
  • In this clip, the London head of Breibart News – Raheem Kassam - not only says it's fine for President Fart to label countries shitholes but adds – on the basis of some crime statistics that might well be accurate – that London is a shithole city. This confirms something about the alt-right – that, in pursuit of its version of the truth, anything goes in public discourse. Including ad hominem attacks and personal abuse. So, presumably it'd be OK for Mrs May, the queen or even the Pope to label President Fart an arsehole. Apart from being indecorous, this doesn't seem to me to promise consensus or even compromise. But, then, that's not what the alt-right is after, is it? What it wants is imposition of its Bannonite policies, even if the majority of the electorate is against them. The end justifies the means. Rather like Putin, then. Or the Jesuits. Quasi-religious fervour and a hunger for power, justifying anything and everything. O tempora, o mores.
  • Pondering the news of the possible loan of the Bayeux tapestry to the UK in a few years's time, it struck me that - given the origins of the Anglo-Saxons - this tapestry might well celebrate the last time the French defeated the Germans at war. I was going to say 'at their national game' but this would be churlish. And worthy of Raheem Kassam, perhaps.
Nutters Corner
  • Former White House (short-term) communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, says Fart's tweets show off his wit. Rather more accurately, perhaps, he confirms that: Fart is using Twitter to jump over the mainstream media to directly message the people who voted for him.
  • Oh, you are so happy you voted for me. You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege. Yesterday's example of said wit.
  • It's reported that 31 people were convicted here last year of operating as psychologists without any professional qualification whatsover. Another example of 'low ethics', I guess.
  • The camino pilgrims aren't – or some of them at least – the only religious folk to have come to Pontevedra in the last 100 years. In 1925, one of the little girls who'd seen a vision of the virgin in Fátima in 1917 – now a nun, Sister Lucía - was visited not only by Mary again but also by the infant Jesus in her little convent here in Pontevedra. Honest. By the way, this is the same nun whom some Catholics think – as I reported a while ago – was later replaced by an impostor. I'm not sure why anyone would do this. Unless she'd become a Nazi supporter and had to be quietly supplanted. Here's something on the alleged conspiracy. Plenty more on the internet, of course.
  • If you're considering a DNA test done to discover your ancestry, you might want to read this first. Says one geneticist: These companies are asking people to pay for something that is at best trivial and at worst astrology. But might, all the same, be at least a bit of fun.
Today's Cartoon
  • I had hoped to upload this short video but, as usual, it doesn't work. So here's a link to it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia: 17.1.18

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.

  • An intriguing museum in Madrid.
  • At least here in my neck of the Spanish woods, if you want to ensure no 'individualist' parks in front of your garage, you have to pay for a licence(vado) from the local council – or have a fake one made – and stick it on your garage door. 
  • In contrast, while looking for a parking space in Portugal yesterday, I noticed that, although there was no vado on any garage door, no one had parked in front of any of them. Very retiring folk, the Portuguese.
  • I've mentioned before that Portugal frequently gives the visitor examples of both gloriously beautiful and truly horrendous buildings, sometimes cheek by jowl. In the Oporto barrio of Blessa yesterday, I snapped these 2 examples of the latter. It's hard to believe they got planning permission in a road of some splendid mansions. Or anywhere in the city, in fact.

The second one is the Vodaphone HQ in Oporto but it might not have been commissioned by them. I realise, of course, that some folk will see the building as gloriously beautiful. There's room for all of us.

  • Repeat(?) advice for those driving on the A3 toll road between the Spanish border and Oporto: When you get to the pay booth north of the city, your non-Portuguese debit card almost certainly won't be accepted. Your credit card might be. When you drive north and arrive at the booth near Valença, neither of your cards will be accepted. Make sure you don't have to pay cash with a €50 note . . .

  • The EU
    • Don't be distracted by how comprehensively the EU won the first round of the Brexit negotiations (which they did) because history will show that was the easy part; a mere trifle of housekeeping that cleared the decks for the real discussion to follow. Winning a €45bn divorce settlement and solid terms for the 3.2m EU citizens in the UK does not change the reality that Brexit leaves a €13bn-a-year hole in the EU budget and the world’s fifth-largest economy (and Europe’s main financial centre) still on the EU’s doorstep. As for the future, the writer of the article the article this sentiment is taken from (see below) believes that Germany and France are about to get Brexit seriously wrong. Scroll down for his rationale.
    • I'm an ambivalent admirer of Britain's 'media intellectual' Will Self, but I was pleased to hear him say in a podcast I listened to yesterday that times, circumstances and opinions change and that he'd moved away from total support of a federal Europe to antipathy towards the 'nightmare' EU Project. You can listen to him on this here at minute 7.25. Taster: A bloated bureacracy, full of the wind of its own democratic deficit. Quite.
    The USA
    • So, President Fart is not insane. And I'm a Dutch uncle. Actually, his doctor merely says his cognitive facilities aren't impaired. But this has nowt to do with his personality. Nor his psyche probably. I imagine murderous sociopaths also also have unimpaired cognitive abilities. They know what day of the week it is. And how to lie very effectively.
    The World
    • Where does all the money come from, where does it go, and who benefits most from the flow? Click here for some answers. Taster: Simply put: our highly financialized economy is gamed to enrich those who run it, at the expense of everybody else. Who'd have thought it?
    The Spanish Language
    • Vado literally means 'ford'. Or passage way, I guess.
    • Apologies for yesterday's calle de incorporación; it should have been carril de incorporación. Same number of syllables, though.
    • Chucking out old files last week, I was amused to come across 2006 references to the AVE high-speed train from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela, La Coruña and Ferrol. For the whole thing, I'd noted The most optimistic forecast is sometimes in 2010A note of less than a year later puts completion of the Madrid-Santiago line 4 years later, at 2014. That came and went as well, along with many, many others. The completion date is currently a mere 10 years later, at 2020. As for the planned southwards extension from Santiago to Tui and Oporto in Portugal, my note is God knows. Which, 11 years on, is still the case
    • Just after crossing the river Miño yesterday afternoon and entering Spain, I saw a family group of 5 people standing at the side of the A55 autovia, taking a selfie of themselves facing back towards Portugal. Possibly with the Welcome to Spain sign as their backcloth. From their attire, my guess was they'd driven up from Morocco. Quite mad. Though with all their cognitive facilities intact, I'm sure.

    The real Battle of Brexit: why France and Germany could push Europe into getting it seriously wrong: Peter Foster

    Let battle commence! Over the next month or so, a true war of ideas will be fought across Europe over how best to accommodate Britain after Brexit while simultaneously revivifying the bloc’s own flagging fortunes.

    Because for all the bluster from Brussels, the 27 EU nations that remain after Britain’s departure in March 2019 are still a very long way from sorting out the basic conundrum thrown up by the UK’s vote to leave.

    Do not be distracted by how comprehensively the EU won the first round of the negotiations (which they did) because history will show that was the easy part; a mere trifle of housekeeping that cleared the decks for the real discussion to follow.

    Winning a €45bn divorce settlement and solid terms for the 3.2m EU citizens in the UK does not change the reality that Brexit leaves a €13bn-a-year hole in the EU budget and the world’s fifth-largest economy (and Europe’s main financial centre) still on the EU’s doorstep.

    This is a divorce where both parties are condemned to live next door to each other, and do business with each other, in perpetuity. The reality is that whatever the eventual terms of the EU-UK trade deal, the UK and the City of London, is not going to go away.

    This is all too easily forgotten in the increasingly bitter exchanges that characterise these divorce proceedings. As in all divorces, there is fault on both sides: Barnier niggles, team Juncker leaks, but equally Johnson and Davis goad the EU with witless and self-defeating regularity.

    But taking even a moderately long view, there is a serious danger now that in all the rising short-term frustration and mistrust, Germany and France are about to get Brexit seriously wrong.

    Britain is not Trump’s America, nor is it Kaczynski’s Poland or Orban’s Hungary - we are not rippling up climate change accords and international trade rules, nor are we assaulting the rule of law or establishing a kleptocracy in plain sight.

    It is the UK that has always faithfully implemented EU directives, often with gold plate; it has striven to green its energy mix, driven EU-wide liberalisation in services, lobbied for the completion of the digital single market and against tax dumping. None of this is changed by Brexit.

    Just as financial markets often over-react to bad news, there is now a risk of a political over-shoot from Brexit on the European side.

    There are already clear signs of dissent from some EU members states - including large ones like Italy and liberal free-traders in the Nordic region - that the Franco-German line on Brexit risks causing unnecessary damage to both sides.

    Germany and France strongly disagree. Emmanuel Macron - a politician whose personal brand is build on bearding the populist tiger - has warned smaller EU states of the “prisoner’s dilemma”, where they put short-term interests over long-term stability.

    German officials believe that dissenting states will be silenced when they understand that enforcing the EU’s ‘level playing field’ - i.e. stopping the UK from seeking regulatory advantage - they will fall into line.

    Europe should be careful what it wishes for. Britain has no wish to become ‘Singapore’ off the coast of Europe, it clearly wants to stay ‘aligned’ in many areas given what Philip Hammond calls the “extraordinary levels of interconnectedness” between the EU and UK.

    But the Franco-German approach, which is backed by the European Commission, risks precipitating just such an outcome if it is not tempered by the wise counsel of other member states.

    Officials in Berlin dismiss the British idea of “managed divergence” as “the latest episode in the ‘cake and eat it’ sitcom series”, but that misses two key points.

    The first is that, as a matter of plain fact, the EU and UK do start from converged positions. Even though the UK wants to leave the single market and the customs union (at least as it currently stands) starting a Canada-style FTA negotiation “from scratch”, as if the UK was an any old ‘third country’ is clearly an aggressive position. And it will be read as such in Britain, and the parts of Europe that will suffer as a result.

    The second is that “managed divergence” is exactly that - “managed”. Depending on how such a system operated, it could actually give the EU the ability to enforce the “level playing field” that it believes is so essential to protecting the Union.

    Indeed, read between the lines of British ministerial pronouncements of late on agriculture, chemicals, medicines, data, aviation and it could be hardline Brexiteers who end up disappointed by the “managed divergence” model, not the EU.

    The mechanism as outlined by the non-partisan Institute of Government would give the EU the clear ability to proportionally “choke off” UK single market access when the UK was judged to have “diverged”.

    As the IFG observes, the more Norway-style the converged tier becomes, the deeper the wider obligations the EU are likely to insist upon in return for access - on free movement of labour and financial contributions for example.

    But where the UK says it is advancing a “commonsense” approach to Brexit, for now Germany, France and the Commission see only conspiracy. They fret that managing such an approach, particularly in the middle tier, will be impossibly complicated when it comes to assessing the material impact of any regulatory divergence, allowing the UK to gain unfair advantage under the cloak of the system. The ministerial ‘charm offensive’ round Europe needs to fix this misconception.

    The Brexit vote happened It has created a genuinely unique situation. It needs to be delivered upon in a way that allows the UK and the EU to coexist peacefully and productively. As that process begins, France and Germany should remember who their real friends are.

    Tuesday, January 16, 2018

    Thoughts from Galicia: 16.1.18

    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.

    • Here's news of developments in a major case of corruption there. Not much different from any other part of Spain in this respect, of course. Except, perhaps, that it's small beer. Laughably small in the case of Andalucia,
    • Here and here is the latest news on the Rajoy-Puigdemont stand-off. Pretty predictable. And unpromising.
    • It's not only Fart who's cheesed off with the Mexicans, it's reported.
    • Yesterday, it seems, was Blue Monday. When we're all supposed to feel more depressed than on any other day of the year. Perhaps because I know quite a bit about real depression, it passed me by. And I found myself agreeing with this article this morning. 
    • We may be only 16 days into 2018 but here's The Local's 7th list of the year. This time on reasons to be happy you live in Spain.
    • It seems to be a feature of Portuguese towns and cities that solitary men above, say, 40 stand/sit around the centre doing nothing but chewing the cud and gazing at passers-by. Where are these lonely men in other cities around the world?
    The EU
    • There's been a meeting of the Med members of the EU to discuss matters of common interest. The nations involved are Greece, Spain, Cyprus, Italy, Malta, Portugal and France. They're all worried about the reduction in subsidies after a Brexit. So there was naturally a lot of talk about solidarity. This, of course, is EU-speak for 'other peoples' money'. I couldn't help noticing that, with the possible exception of France, the word 'corruption' springs to mind in every case.
    Spanish and English
    • Here's another short-long comparison: English: The slip road. Three syllables. Spanish: La carril de incorporación. Ten syllables. No wonder Spanish speakers talk fast.
    • By the way, as I was approaching one large roundabout on the way out of Oporto yesterday, the Spanish voice on my satnav barked out instructions not 3 but 5 times in rapid succession. Grrrr.
    Social Media
    • News of a potenially useful app, at least for university students.
    • The most dangerous stretch of motorway driving in Spain turns out to be on the A55 between Vigo and Porriño. This is a 60-80kph section which snakes up/down hill through several sharp bends. Worried about the accident statistics, the Galician Xunta a few years ago constructed a spur of the A9 which goes across the top of the hils and so bypasses this invitation to incidents. As you drive through one of the bends on the A55, you can see it above you on the skyline - totally empty. This is because it's a pretty expensive toll road. Possibly useful if you want to bear right to go to Bayona on the coast but not essential for getting to Porriño. Nor, indeed, Tui, Ourense, Madrid or Portugal. This is all a prelude to me saying that I've read that - facing up to the reality of their stupidity - the Xunta is now planning a tunnel. Presumably to be paid for by Madrid. Or maybe Brussels. I wonder if they've considered the possibly cheaper option of lifting the toll fee.
    • Driving into Oporto on Friday evening, I entered the right hand lane of a major road ahead of turning right. The cars in the left hand lane moved rapidly past me while those in mine were virtually stationery. I assumed there was a filter light which only worked briefly. But, after several frustrating minutes, I realised I was in the queue for a bloody MacDonalds drive-through. On a main road! Where are the Spanish traffic police when you really need them?
    Today's Cartoon

    Monday, January 15, 2018

    Thoughts from Galicia: 15.1.18

    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.

    • More bad news for the PP party and Sr Rajoy in particular. The sails of the newish centre-party Ciudadanos – not yet implicated in any corruption – are full of wind. And, for its part, the far-left-of-centre Podemos party seems to be losing out to the more moderate PSOE socialist party.  A flight to the centre?
    • War has been declared down in Andalucia. But, happily, only against obesity.
    • As I've noted before, the ticket system on the Oporto metro must be one of the more challenging in the world. So, queues(lines) are to be expected, as each newcomer wrestles with the instructions. Especially when – as at the busy interchange of Trinidade – there's only 1 machine. Or where – as at the much less busy Casa da Música – there are 3 machines but only 1 of them takes notes. Yesterday, when the Scandinavian couple in front of us finally got to the machine at Trinidade they turned to us in desperation for help. Which I was pleased to provide, of course.
    • To other western europeans, Portuguese is often alleged to sound more like an east european tongue than a Romance language. So, I wasn't too surprised yesterday when the Russian owner of a café said that she and her compatriots found it much easier to get their tongues round Portuguese sounds than, say, Brits or Germans.
    The USA-cum-Nutters-Corner
    • The ever-obliging Mr Trump:- I am not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed. How does he know these things he's always boasting about with such conviction?
    • As it happens, I've just read this comment to a Times article, giving one answer to my question: You know what? I'm not sure he is a racist. I'm not even sure he's a liar. The bloke is a moron who only has a few strategies to deal with a world that he's too dim to understand in any depth. He attacks anyone who's in his way, using whatever he sees as the most accessible pressure point; so Hillary's crooked, Obama's not an American, Mexicans are rapists, etc. If a racist slurs work best, that's what he'll use. In any given moment he'll say whatever he thinks will progress him to the next bit of the conversation; he has no ideas whether it's true or not, and he'll contradict himself tomorrow without embarrassment. He doesn't lie, he bullshits. It's not the same. A debatable point, I think.
    • This is a good story but I do wonder if it's true, even if all the signs suggest it is. 
    • Then again, I've just found this. It's ever harder to distinguish fact from fiction.
    • Here, courtesy of my friend David, is something on my favourite white wine of the moment, Godello. 
    • In these days of coffee cassettes and the like, it seems impossible to find simple paper filters in supermarkets. But I can advise that a clean handkerchief – assuming you're old-fashioned enough to use one – is a pretty good – if messy – substitute.
    • When I quit Facebook last week, I put a message there saying that one alternative for accessing my posts would be Google Plus. Checking this morning, I see the readership number has gone from 58 last year to 57 now. So, I'm assuming all my FB readers have taken up the other option of an RSS reader . . . .
    Today's Cartoon

    Millions of years of evolution, just to lose our hair.
    P. S I suspect the face is that of a Catalan secessionist . . .

    P. P. S. From a site called The Pride of Spain.

    Sunday, January 14, 2018

    Thoughts from Galicia: 14.1.18

    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.

    • Plans continue for an in absentia election of Sr P as the Catalan president. Farcial but very serious.
    • Here's an article which, a propos Cataluña, casts an eye over the key players, assesses where they go from here and asks: What does this outcome mean for the key political actors, both in Catalonia and across Spain? Stating the rather obvious, the writer concludes: Not for the first time in the past few months, Spain is in uncharted waters The option that would appear to satisfy the greatest number would be meaningful constitutional reform which would grant new powers, especially over taxation, to Catalonia. But this is a route beset with obstacles which would require deft political manoeuvring and compromise from a variety of actors. At this point in  time, that kind of arrangement seems unlikely. Perhaps the only really surprising point made is that the PP grande legume likely to fall on a sword might not be the hapless Sr Rajoy but his hitherto all-powerful VP, the 'poisoned dwarf', Soraya Saenz de Santamaria
    • Here's an article - really about the mad situation in Greece - which endorses my view that there are so many pharmacies in Spain because the cartel keeps them all very profitable. Greece, in effect, is just competition-evading Spain writ much, much larger. In contrast, look at the Danish stats!
    • And here's something kindly supplied by reader Sierra, under the label Only in Spain?.
    The EU
    • Here's the EU sceptic Don Quijones on the empire's  (mad?) expansion plans.
    • And here's news of rank-breaking among EU members around Brexit. Currently no larger than a man's hand on the horizon. One of them - Gib notwithstanding - is Spain. Rather unexepected.
    The USA
    • According to a source close to the US president:- Donald Trump cancelled a proposed visit to London to open America’s new embassy because he believed he had “not been shown enough love” by the British government. This is hardly surprising, given how much affection he oozes for others and how loveable this nothing-if-not-sensitive man is.
    • Detail of the global challenge of translating Fart's bons mots.
    • This says it all: The prospect of a television celebrity with no political experience reaching the White House would have been laughed at even two years ago but Trump’s shock 2016 victory has guaranteed that “Oprah 2020” is being taken deadly seriously. But: If the Democrats go for Oprah Winfrey next time, they will be doubling down on the identity politics of gender and race which is dividing the country. The very fact that her furious feminist Golden Globes speech should be regarded as a presidential election bid tells you everything you need to know about the state of American political debate.
    The UK
    • At the end of this post, there's an article from an even bigger eurosceptic whom I've been following since at least 2000. He gives us the real reason why De Gaulle twice vetoed UK membership of the Common Market, which was all the EU Project was back then. At least for public consumption. The reality was very different but electors couldn't be trusted with the truth until years later, after the build-up of momentum. 
    Nutters Corner
    • One of the comments arising from the Golden Globes farce: I felt sorry for McGowan, watching her cause and her people — the losers — being cannibalised by a bunch of painted vampires. The seriousness of this attempt at “activism” can be summed up by the words of Stone’s make-up artist, who claimed she had “imbued” her client’s purple eyeshadow “with the message of female empowerment and solidarity” by using colours “inspired by the suffragettes”
    • This is Oporto's famous Café Majestic – where, these days, you have to queue to get in:-

    The prices are stratospheric but worth it, at least once, if you want to savour the décor and the ambience. Nowadays, at least half of the clients doing this are Asian. These 2 preferred to spend the entire half an hour they were there ignoring the place's attractions, never once raising their eyes from, I supposed, a game which needed them to share the earpieces of the cable plugged into one phone.


    The horrifying true story of how France used the EU to undermine British agriculture: Christopher Booker

    Michael Gove’s recent musings about Britain’s post-Brexit farming policy provide an apt cue to recall one of the most curious episodes in the entire history of the EU: the true origins of its notorious Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

    The shocking story behind this only emerged when, some years back, Richard North and I were researching our history of the EU, The Great Deception. And much else this also helped to explain, from the real reason Charles de Gaulle twice vetoed British entry in the Sixties to why Margaret Thatcher had to battle for our budget rebate in the Eighties.

    The official, entirely bogus version has it that the CAP was devised by a benevolent Brussels to guarantee Europe’s “food security” and to save its farmers from the kind of depression they had suffered in the Thirties.

    The truth is that, immediately after the war, all Western European countries, including Britain, introduced their own farm subsidies. But by the early Sixties this was leading in France to disaster, building up unsaleable food surpluses at such an unaffordable cost that a drastic solution had to be found.

    The clever French noted that the Treaty of Rome promised a Common Agricultural Policy but without giving any details. So their answer was to devise a CAP so absurdly loaded in France’s favour that two other countries would not only provide a market for its surpluses but pay for subsidising them into the bargain. Those countries were Germany and Britain, which by then had announced its intention to join the Common Market.

    But the UK had to be kept out until all these arcane financial arrangements had been agreed. Otherwise Britain, with then the most efficient agricultural sector in Europe, might well block such a one-sided deal: hence the real reason for de Gaulle’s two vetoes in 1963 and 1967. Only in 1969, at a summit in The Hague, did the French finally get the agreement they wanted. The very next item on the agenda was to reconsider Britain’s application to join.

    The following year, Edward Heath was so keen to get us into “Europe” that he accepted the CAP without demur. In 1973, the year we went in, British farm incomes were higher in real terms than ever before or since. But so loaded against us were the financial arrangements for the CAP that, by 1979, it was clear that within six years the UK would be the largest single net contributor to the Brussels budget, of which the CAP was then taking 90 per cent: hence Mrs Thatcher’s five-year battle to win her rebate.

    Since then, much of British agriculture has been in decline. We now import 30 per cent of our food from the EU. Much of it comes from France, which continues to be the largest beneficiary of the CAP.

    It may seem odd that this strange story is not better known. But the Brits have never really understood the bizarre form of government we have lived under for 44 years: which is why we are now making such a horrifying mess of our efforts to leave it. 

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