Sunday, July 23, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 23.7.17

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

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

Life in Spain:-
  • To start positively  . . . . Here, here and here are some road trips in Spain recommended by The Guardian. Or possibly by someone who is paying them.
  • Less positively, an article on the world's loveliest rivers fails to cite one from Spain. Not even our Cañon del Sil. The closest they get is Portugal's Douro. Which is admittedly very pretty:-
  • Not a huge surprise to read that Spain has more bars per capita than any other EU country. As of cities, I suspect that Pontevedra's old quarter would come high on the list.
  • As we know, Spain is home to some weird festivals, some of which involve animals and some of which don't. Here's a Galician one I reported on, after I'd attended it a couple of years or more ago.
  • One of the great things about Spain is that things still happen here which have been banned as 'sexist' elsewhere. But now there's a bit of controversy around this one.
  • Things continue to hot up in Cataluña. The good news for Madrid is that the percentage of residents in favour of secession is reducing. The bad news is that many of these won't turn out to vote against a referendum on October 1, allowing the nationalists to win the day.
  • Meanwhile, here's news of one town which wants to quit Cataluña.
  • In its fight with Barcelona, Madrid latest step is to demand regular explanations as to where money transfers are going.
  • Today comes the news that 73% of Spanish learner drivers fail the test the first time round. When you experience how they later approach roundabouts, you wonder why this figure is so low. But perhaps it's not their fault. Here are 2 diagrams from one of our local papers yesterday, once again trying to tell people how to approach both normal roundabouts like this one:-

and also the new turborotondas such as this one in the centre of Vigo:-

So, the incompetent and hapless Sean Spicer has quit as Trump's mouthpiece. Probably the best thing he's ever done, of course. Here's a niece Guardian piece about this development.

I mentioned yesterday that Spain was one of the few countries in which bankers are being made to pay for their illegal actions of the last decade. Here's Don Quijones on what's not happening in one US case.

The Daily Telegraph used to be a good right-of-centre UK newspaper. But it's now regarded as little better than the country's dreadful tabloids. Evidence for why this came yesterday from the list of Most Read articles on line - Justin Bieber banned from China in order to 'purify' nation. Ye gods!

Finally . . .  Yesterday I was complaining to my my neighbour and to the plumber who was doing some work for her that my lawns had been invaded buy a horrible grass. This one, in fact:-

When I showed them an example of it, they fell back in astonishment. But that's gramón, they both exclaimed. It's the best grass you can have for a lawn. OK, it's painful to walk on but it's resistant to everything extreme cold. I concluded that neither of them knew anything about grass and real lawns. And then I realised why the woman in the agricultural shop last week had looked nonplussed when I asked if they had something I could use to kill it.

Today's cartoons:-

1. This is a Spanish one centred on the recent acceptance of Iros by the Royal Academy. I need someone to tell me what it's all about and why it's funny . . . 

2. A traditional British cartoon:-

I'm doing the warm-up

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 22.7.17

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

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

Life in Spain:-
  • Some people are claiming that the moustache aspect of this story is a 'miracle'. I do hope they are joking. But one never knows with theists.
  • It's been an open secret for decades that Catalan politicos were creaming off 3% of every goverment contract given to a successful bidder. So, as I asked about something else yesterday, why has the Guardia Civil suddenly decided to go and search government offices there? Could it have something to do with the 'illegal' referendum scheduled for October 1?
  • Reader Eamon tells me something that I didn't know even after almost 17 years here - The Spanish Post Office offers an urgente service for letters. I guess its the equivalent of the British 'first class' post. A Spanish friend has told me that there are actually 4 categories:-
  1. Normal
  2. Normal certificado (registered letter)
  3. Urgente
  4. Urgente certificado.
  • So, if you really want a letter or package both to arrive and to do so quickly, you have to pay a double premium. I guess that makes sense to someone. Offer a crap service and then charge people twice for a decent one. Neat. But probably only doable if you're a government monopoly.
Which reminds me . . . This being summer, I wasn't too surprised that – until yesterday – I hadn't had any mail for more than a week. And then I read in the local newspaper that there are more than 10,000 letters piled up in Pontevedra's sorting office because, inter alia, there aren't replacement staff for the people who've gone on holiday. Presumably students prefer the beach to temporary work.

I wrote something about social network sites yesterday. Right on cue comes a Times article on the subject, headed: If you can't find an enemy, just invent one. See below the cartoon for this.

I almost lost my latest panama hat yesterday. It had dropped to the floor and I hadn't seen it when I'd left the table. After a few hundred metres, I realised I didn't have it and hurried back to my bar, arriving just as a guy with a trolley (a porter?) was picking it up. Of course, I can't be certain that he'd have kept it. But if the experience of the last 17 years is anything to go by . . . This hat, by the way, doesn't have my phone number in it. And I haven't yet followed up the advice of a Spanish friend to replace this useless stratagem by writing alongside it that I'd pay money for its return.

The Spanish Language: My command of idiomatic Spanish is not great, mainly because I don't spend much of the day speaking the language, neither being at work nor having a Spanish partner. Nor watching TV or (dubbed!) Spanish films. Which is a shame, as I love learning phrases such as: No confundes la velocidad con tocino. “Don't confuse speed with [slipping on] pork fat.” Which Reverso says means not to get 2 things mixed up.

Here's a nice comment on Trump from a Guardian (American) columnist:- If you want to be able to sleep this weekend, do yourself a favor and don’t read the New York Time’s expansive interview with Donald Trump. The president makes little sense as he answers questions about everything from Russia to Jeff Sessions and healthcare – and if you were already worried about whose hands the country is in, this piece will not put your mind at ease. For example, it seems pretty evident that the president of the United States has no idea how health insurance works. I used to see interviews like this and be a bit pleased – because the more coverage of Trump’s stupidity the better. But if you don’t realize by now that a total clown is in charge, there’s no interview or exposé that’s going to change that. 

Finally . . . A second idiomatic Spanish phrase: Ella deja el sol pasa por la puerta. "She lets the sun leave through the door." Meaning: "She's never going to get married." Perhaps not a very nice one . . . Tellingly, Reverso doesn't recognise it.

Today's cartoon:-

My view of the world . . . .

Isn't life simple when you know you're right all the time?

If you can’t find an enemy, just invent one.  Hugo Rifkind

It scarcely matters to social media witch-hunters whether stories about Philip Hammond or the new Dr Who are true

I don’t know Philip Hammond, so I have to admit it is totally possible that he’s surprised a woman can drive a train. Like, perhaps he’d have been equally astonished if he’d seen a dog doing it. In which case, wow, but how terrifying his life must be. Because there are women everywhere, these days, aren’t there? Flying aeroplanes, cutting people open, putting them back together. Driving, indeed, and without even rails to guide them. Some of them even have guns. Yes! Guns! When he was defence secretary, for three whole years, he could easily have met one of them. And she could have mistaken it for a lipstick and shot him in the face. 

Or maybe — and I’m just throwing this out there — he isn’t that surprised. When the papers reported that he’d said in cabinet last week that driving a train was now so easy “even a woman could do it”, then maybe, just maybe, the true situation wasn’t quite as “oh, look, there’s the Duke of Edinburgh” as many seem to have immediately assumed. Could he in fact have been saying something fairly innocuous, that merely came out wrong? Do we think that’s plausible? Might this man, with a female boss, and numerous female colleagues, and who isn’t actually a moron, perhaps not really think a woman would be inherently worse at driving a train at all? 

I also don’t really know any male Doctor Who fans. I’ve never been one, myself. As a child, ignorant of BBC prop budgets, I objected to sci-fi with so few laser guns. (Now I’m not a child, ironically enough, I’m always annoyed by the way it seems to have been written by one.) So, in my ignorance, I must admit that it is equally possible that there are, indeed, hordes of male Whovians out there who are jolly upset by the prospect of her from replacing him from 'The Thick of It' as the next duo-cardiac, Dalek-bothering phonebox pilot. 

“Political correctness gone mad!” they may genuinely be shrieking, somewhere. Or, “they’ll be letting women be actual doctors next!” and so on. Only, they do seem hard to find. Or, at least, harder to find than all the other people who are giggling and mocking them for thinking this. With it being deemed somehow irrelevant — in much the same way that Hammond’s actual words seemed to have been deemed irrelevant — that they might not actually exist. 

Sure, there are some. On social media, the new Doctor’s defenders, keen to find something to defend her from, have been trawling hard. Most of what they have turned up seems to have come from Mail Online reader comments, which strikes me as cheating. We all know that an infinity of crazed, typing monkeys locked in a room will eventually produce the works of Shakespeare. As this may be literally how that website’s reader comments are produced, it’s hardly surprising they’ve found the odd bit of Whovian broflake rage down there, too. 

My favourite example unearthed so far comes from Brian from London, who wrote, fabulously, “nobody wants a Tardis full of bras”. Which, as well as being hilarious, is of course quite wrong. Everybody wants a Tardis full of bras. Some male Whovians possibly want one so badly that they could go blind. Also, the interior of the Tardis is infinite, so you couldn’t fill it up with bras, anyway. Although if you did, I suppose you’d at least have one each for the monkeys. 

Fights like this are sometimes real. When the all-female Ghostbusters was announced in 2014, the angry male response was loud and vicious, and ultimately, after it incorporated racism too, led to Twitter issuing a lifetime ban to the far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Even then, though, the initial bout of objection was ultimately dwarfed by objectors to that objection, to the extent that “pathetic sexists hating the new Ghostbusters” became a fun, feminist meme in its own right. The origins — the reality — becomes unimportant. It doesn’t even need to have happened. The rallying point is the response. 

In the social media age, we are tribal not just about our likes, but our dislikes, too. Perhaps the latter are even more important. There are reasons why fairly minor political candidates are now routinely virally shamed for sexism, racism or homophobia, and it is not always to do with a desire to smear their parties, or to spread guilt by contamination. Often it is something far more needy; a plea for reassurance, or a desire for group confirmation against a perceived enemy. It is also why the Brexit right seeks the bogeymen of “saboteurs”, and why both extremes respond so shrilly to any utterance by Tony Blair, without ever seeming to care what that utterance is. Pointing at a witch and crying “witch” is a great way of showing you aren’t one. 

In the end, though, it is also counterproductive. In a world where Hammond is noisily slammed for saying a woman can’t drive a train, even if he didn’t, the space is opened up for somebody to say this for real. When Twitter thrums with disdain for theoretical critics of a female Timelord, a market — a real market, which can generate real money through clicks, and infect the web by the virality of disapproval — is generated for anybody prepared to take up that banner with gusto. If we hunger for witches, eventually we will get witches. In newspapers, on television, in politics. Sometimes, they do rather well. Whereupon we may wish that we had done things differently. Or that we could go back in time. In our Tardis. Which is full of bras.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 21.7.17

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

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

Life in Spain:-
  • Spain might well be awash with political and corporate corruption but it's one of the few countries where any bankers have been jailed for offences committed before, during and after the financial crash. One of these has just shot himself, because of 'social pressure' say his friends. See here on this. 
  • Spain's Banco Santander has to find a pot of cash to plug the holes in the balance sheet of Banco Popular which it recently bought for just a euro. They're doing this via a rights issue and 1.4million British shareholders are about to find that this obliges them to make a capital gains tax declaration – via Modelo 210 - to the Spanish state by 20 January 2018. In Spanish, of course. Failure to do so would, in theory, result in one of those humungous fines that the Spanish Tax Office (the Hacienda) specialises in. Whether it will actually follow up default in this case is an open question. There might well be a limit to its vindictiveness against small folk, as opposed to the large fish.
  • Which reminds me . . . The head of the Spanish football federation has been arrested for the usual reasons. During 3 decades in charge – but especially after he joined FIFA's executive – he 'earned' enough money to finance more than 20 properties in Spain and, doubtless, to amass a fortune in offshore accounts. Technically, he'll have been obliged to report all this via his annual wealth tax (Patrimonio) declarations. But, even if he didn't, transactions through his bank during his 30 year reign – all reported to the Hacienda – surely should have led to rat-smelling and a tax investigation. But clearly didn't. So I wonder whom he's upset, to have his collar felt just now.
Every report I ever read about which European country boasts the most difficult businessmen to deal with gave this accolade to the French. So I wasn't surprised to read that, according to a leaked internal report, there's a clash of cultures between the French and Dutch employees of the Air France/KLM group. And that it's so bad the group is virtually unmanageable. See here for details of the respective insults. The EU, of course, is this problem writ large.

Which reminds me . . . Don Quijones sees the European Central Bank (the ECB) as The Mother of all 'bad banks'. See here for his rationale.

Listening to and reporting 24/7 on Twitter and other social media sites is akin to giving the idiots in your school bullhorns, letting them endlessly wander the streets and then taking their inanities very seriously. So it is that the judge in the London fire inquiry – regardless of his qualifications - is being accused of being both of the wrong class and the wrong colour and so incapable of making impartial judgements. It's easy to predict the demands that'll be coming down the line – only poor judges for poor defendants, brown ones for brown ones, black judges for black defendants, and female judges for women. And - why not? - only Christian judges for Christians, and Moslem ones for Muslims. Oh, I forgot. We already have demands for the latter - Shariah law, administered by Muslim judges. I doubt that transgender judges for transgender defendants will be the end point of this trend. How about teenage judges for teenage delinquents, far more able to empathise with oppressed, sensitive snowflakes who go off the rails? It's utter madness, of course. Mob rule, in effect. But how to stop it? The genie is truly out of the bottle.  

Yesterday I went to our central Post Office to send a registered letter (carta certificada), to find that the process has changed. You used to fill in a simple form when waiting to be served. Now, there are no forms available. You tell the clerk where you want to send the letter and this apparently determines whether you will be given the form or the clerk will then ask for details so that he/she can type them into a computer. Finally, you're given an A4 page containing the data and (far more) small-print legalese. This all takes at least 3 times as long as previously. The reasons include: slow typing, errors that have to be corrected; a need for the clerk to get up and go to the printer, and finally the inevitable need to sign one of those electric pads with a special 'pen'. All in all, more time and more paper - a bureaucrat's job-preserving wet dream. Not for the first time I noted that this is what tends to happen when technology is introduced into Spanish state operations. With the possible exception of the Hacienda. Which wants your money, of course. Immediately.

By the way, I sent the letter containing a small gift by registered mail because things tend to get lost between Spain and the country of despatch or receipt. It cost me 3 times the price of the gift . . .

Finally . . . Here in Pontevedra we're plagued by beggars, most of whom are drug addicts or alcoholics. Or both. The majority of them pass me by, well aware I'm not going to finance their life style. But there's a pair of them who, working together, still pointlessly stick their hands out at my table. This is despite the fact the last week or two has seen us exchanging insults. The latest from them being that I'm paying the women (plumas i. e. putas  = prostitutes) who chat with me. In exasperation last night, I asked each of them in turn whether they were blind. But didn't get a reply – or even an insult – from either of them. I don't expect this to mean I won't be harassed again.

Today's Cartoon:-

I'm afraid it's a mutiny.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 20.7.17

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

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

Life in Spain:-
  • The Spanish guardian of the language - The Royal Academy - has conceded that the de facto plural imperative for the verb Irse ('to go') can be Iros and as well as Idos. But this laxity is not to be extended, for example, to Marcharse (Marcharos!) or Sentarse(Sentaros). Here I have to admit that, as there as so many forms of the Spanish imperative, I probably always get it wrong anyway. So this won't make much difference to my grasp or use of Castellano. Or cristiano as it's occasionally called - to distinguish it for regional/'national' dialects/languages.
  • This development naturally caused a 'Twitter storm', initiated by Spain's purists and pedants. A commentator noticed the wonderful irony that these were the worst spellers of all those involved in the 'dialogue'.
  • I made another internal observation yesterday, when - for the millionth time - someone cut across my path: The 2 sides of the coin are: 1. You have a responsibility to look after yourself here. The Spanish don't go in for consideration of strangers. So, the devil takes the hindmost. And 2. When you do make your wishes/views known - e. g. that the person at the next table stops smoking when you're eating, or that the music is too loud - the acceptance of your direct or indirect request is immediate. And, further, if someone does actually bump into you or otherwise upset you, the apology is always profuse. I guess this is why the Spanish regard themselves as very polite and get very upset when told that - by the standards of other cultures - they aren't. And I don't just mean by comparison with the ludicrous norms of English politeness. Such as apologising when someone else bumps into you. Done by 80% of English people, it's claimed.
  • Sad to read that road deaths in Spain, which fell enormously between 2000 and 2013, rose by 7% last year. I can only guess at one factor - more traffic on the roads after the end of La Crisis.
The writer of the article at the end of this post suggests that Europe is going to have huge problems when the German taxpaying public finally realises just how much of its money has - despite public denials - been transferred to 'lazy, corrupt' southern EU members. As he puts it, the ECB has effectively trapped Germany in a Latinised eurozone where the region’s debt obligations are increasingly mutualised between nations. And where there are no prizes for guessing who picks up the tab. And where no-bailout rules designed to protect German taxpayers from fiscal transfers have come to mean nothing.

And then there's France . . . See here for Don Quijones' view of their aspirations vis-a-vis the UK's financial sector. And, indeed, the whole UK economy. With friends like this . . .

Strange Facts:-
  1. The incidence of Parkinson's disease in the UK is said to be between 1 and 2% of people over 65. So how come 3 of the 12 people I'm still in touch with from university have it? Is there some correlation with intelligence? I've heard it said it's particularly common among teachers. But this would argue against such a conclusion, of course. Only joking . . . .
  2. It seems that Jeremy Corbyn and I share more than just a beard, as it were. We were both given a Triumph Palm Beach bike when we were 11. But I bet he didn't have his stolen when he left it unsecured outside the public swimming pool in a rough part of Birkenhead.
  3. The repugnant Chris Evans turns out to be the highest paid 'performer' on the BBC. Astonishing.
Finally . . . The poor quality of sub-editing at the UK's Daily Telegraph is now well established. This morning I was brought up short by this headline: Sarah Payne: A Mother's Story treaded softly and let the terrible facts speak for themselves. This turned out to be a review of a TV program. At the end of it came the line: To Channel 5’s credit, "Sarah Payne: A Mother’s Story" treaded softly and let the terrible facts speak for themselves. So, there's a journalist in the UK who thinks - like a 3 year old - that the past participle of 'tread' isn't 'trod' but 'treaded'. Unlike the authors of this.

Today's Cartoon:-

Sort of. Private Eye's brilliant take on the possible visit of Donald Trump to the UK . . . .


Brexit is the least of Europe's problems: how Germany is picking up the tab for Southern Europe's burgeoning debt pile

Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words. So it was this week with the photo of David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, and team, facing up to their EU counterparts for the start of the second round of talks over Britain’s departure from the EU. 

Like lambs to the slaughter, Mr Davis and colleagues sat without notes and papers, grinning for the cameras, before the svelte looking Michel Barnier, and his unsmiling support staff, briefing documents stacked before them as if going in for the kill.

It seemed like almost heroic unpreparedness - similar to the marathon runner who turns up at the starting line having done no training whatsoever but still incredibly expects to complete the distance in winning time.

Nevermind that the British team’s papers had been left in their bags, the image none the less stuck. Here were Britain’s hopes for a successful Brexit, sent forth on a wing and a prayer with nothing more substantive behind them than the desire to have cake and eat it too. That this won’t be possible has only now begun to dawn.

This is the way the EU likes it. As is ever more apparent, leaving the EU is an immensely complicated business, perhaps too complicated, in the end, to allow for meaningful implementation; it has been deliberately made so in order to deter departures. Britain has become so deeply integrated into the European economy that it seems virtually impossible to leave – except in cosmetic, EEA-like manner – without some degree of resulting economic hardship.

And so it is too with European Monetary Union, where the consequences of departure have been made so severe as to be utterly ruinous. Indeed, set against the challenges of extraction from the euro, merely leaving the EU should be a stroll in the park. 

Participating member states find themselves locked in, none more so than Germany, trapped in a Latinised eurozone where the region’s debt obligations are increasingly mutualised between nations by an all powerful European Central Bank. No prizes for guessing who picks up the tab – the eurozone’s most credit worthy nation, Germany.

No bailout rules designed to protect German taxpayers from fiscal transfers have come to mean nothing.

For the moment, all seems good in Europe, in marked contrast to the apparent chaos back home in the UK. For the first time since the financial crisis, a fully fledged cyclical recovery has taken hold across the Continent. Yet our friends across the Channel should enjoy the schadenfreude while it lasts, for below the surface, the eurozone is incubating another lorry load of trouble.

Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, has been as good as his word in promising to do whatever it takes to save the euro, engaging in large scale, and persistent purchases of government bonds to drive down yields and get the economy moving again. Heavily indebted, fiscally weak periphery sovereign bond markets have been stabilised, reviving credit markets and creating room for easier fiscal policy. 

The medicine has worked, but it has also prompted renewed and widening so-called “Target II” imbalances. Over the past year, these imbalances have risen back to record levels, such that at the last count the German Bundesbank’s claim on the system had reached €861bn, its highest ever. I say claim, but nobody should be under any illusion; little if any of this money will ever be repaid. To all intents and purposes, responsibility for the debt has been assumed by the German taxpayer.

It works like this. When Banca d’Italia or Banco de Espana buy government bonds as part of the ECB’s asset purchase programme, they do so substantially from big foreign investors such as BlackRock and PIMCO. Such is the suspicion among these investors of the Italian and Spanish banking system, that they are highly likely to bank the proceeds elsewhere, most probably in Frankfurt, where for lack of alternatives, the money is placed on reserve with the Bundesbank and shows up as an increased claim on Target II.

Conversely, the money created from buying the bonds by the likes of Banca d’Italia shows up as a liability on the system. At the last count the Banca d’Italia liability was €421bn.

The ECB likes to think of this phenomenon as no more than a somewhat arcane and relatively benign book keeping issue, or one of the idiosyncrasies of a currency made up of multiple sovereign nations.
That’s certainly one way of looking at it – that it doesn’t really matter. But it is also a disingenuous one.

A more accurate depiction is that popularised by the maverick German economist Hans-Werner Sinn as in effect an interest free loan which can never be called from the German state to the European periphery, or basically a fiscal transfer in all but name. 

The effect of the ECB asset purchase programme has been to reduce Italian sovereign debt from 135pc of GDP to around 100pc, great news for Italy, which has seen past profligacies monetised, but very bad news for German savers, who have seen their wealth correspondingly eroded.

Germany’s “Target II” claims are basically an accounting fiction. If Italy left the euro, these losses would be immediately crystallised, but in reality the loss has already occurred. It’s debt write off by the backdoor.

In the eyes of the German high command, the supposed benefits of more Europe still outweigh its ever more manifest costs. But it is possibly just as well most Germans don’t fully appreciate what’s going on. They’d be up in arms if they did.

For Britain, the challenge is one of disengagement without undue economic damage. For Europe, it’s one of further, centrally imposed integration, together with eventual acknowledgement of the already existing reality of fiscal transfers from the prosperous North to the needy South. I’d bet that our task, complicated and divisive though it is proving, is still rather easier than theirs.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 19.7.17

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

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

Life in Spain:-
  • And so it continues . . . Is there any official in Spain who can keep his/her hand out of the till?
  • Another confrontational step has been taken by the Catalan regional government. The head of the regional police force - Los Mossos - has been replaced by a fervent nationalist. I guess this increases the chances that its officers will obey Barcelona rather than Madrid. But who knows? And then there's the national (and military) Guardia Civil above the police force. Fun and games.
  • Here's an El País article - in English - on what it calls the salary trap brought about by the recent employment law reforms of the PP government.
  • Here's another re-cycled list from The Local - Charming Spanish towns you might have missed.
  • And yet another  - 11 Spanish words English needs. Possibly. Btw . . . I think the last list was only 10. Some evidence of this comes from the (old?) URL:

The English Language: This article includes the sentence: The Generalitat has pursed the Mossos to call for citizen rebellion. The verb 'pursed' is then used 2 or 3 more times. Anyone know what it means? Or what it should be? Surely can't be 'pursued'.

Below this post is the full article about the French-Anglo rivalry I cited yesterday. And a review of the book from The Times. The author - RT Howard - is said to be a francophile . . .

Here in Galicia, 20% of trials are said to be cancelled because of the non-appearance of witnesses, the accused or even the lawyer for the defence. This can't help efficiency. On the theme of local courts, ours in Pontevedra was rather shocked last week to hear one of our big narcotráficos say to a witness that her 'day would come'. He then went on to ask: What I have done didn't do much harm. Why should I apologise? And to say that he knew of bribes paid by his fellow traders to the politicians who formed the predecessor of the current PP party. I'm sure he does.

On a smaller crime scale, a local man arrested for illegally practising as a dentist[sic!] also confessed to having operated as an unlicensed taxi-driver. Nothing if not versatile, then.

Finally . . . If you were thinking of buying a cheap granite house up in our mountains, you've probably missed the boat. We have 1,700 defunct villages, in which the top price for a house not so long ago was a mere €40,000. But, with the end of La Crisis, this has now reached €200,000. Somewhere.

Today's cartoon:-

The wife and I had a holiday here once, before the war. course, we didn't have the tank with us that time.

The French are jealous of Brexit. They don't have enough history to do the same  RT Howard

Always highly symbolic of our sense of nation, the English Channel today represents an ever-widening political chasm. On the one hand, Theresa May has pledged to honour the outcome of last year’s referendum and restore Britain’s role as an independent nation-state.

But in Paris on May 7, President Emmanuel Macron celebrated his election victory to the sound of the EU anthem, instead of the Marseillaise, and has subsequently advocated deeper EU integration.
What lies at the heart of these radically opposed visions? Answering this is paramount as clouds grow darker over the Brexit negotiations and political storms gather.

An important part of the answer is that it is much easier for the average Frenchman to surrender his sovereignty to Brussels than for his British counterpart. This is because our own institutions have deeper origins and therefore command a greater allegiance: they not only have a much longer ancestry but they are inseparable from our evolution as a nation.  

It is easy to forget that France’s political and constitutional institutions are relatively recent inventions, concocted only in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The convulsions of revolution in 1789 ruptured the historic link between the French nation and its institutions, and France has subsequently endured a series of constitutional experiments, many of which have been short-lived and unsuccessful.

Its current constitution, the Fifth Republic, was established only in 1958, and its ongoing 59-year lifespan shows, by French standards, a relative longevity. 

Our own nation, however, was spared the trauma of revolution and therefore became indistinguishable from its traditional institutions.

Both parliament and the monarchy have an ancient lineage, originating in the ancient constitution of Saxon times that was later cherished by parliamentarians such as Sir Edward Coke. This then evolved into the constitutional settlement of 1688 that has survived fundamentally intact to this day.
There is no clearer contrast between the two countries than the role of our respective national parliaments.

In France, prior to the revolution, a national representative body met only in 1614 and 1789. Subsequently , France’s national assembly had only a very restricted electorate and, for many citizens, local elections seemed much more important than national ones.

Until the advent of the Third Republic in 1870, it was constantly threatened and undermined by such dangers as plebiscite, plenary powers and vote-rigging.

Even then, true power often rested with unelected bureaucrats who provided some rocks of stability in France’s rough seas of semi-constant political chaos.

But wherever exactly these origins are traced back to, the cross-Channel contrast with the artificiality of French constitutional institutions is clear: with "unchangeable constancy", in Edmund Burke’s phrase, our own parliament has exercised its sovereign will across the ages with a consistency that others have been denied.

Parliament, like the White Cliffs of Dover, is an unmistakable and unique sign of our nationhood.

By contrast, the relative superficiality of France’s institutions manifests itself in all manner of ways: historically, the French have shown a more marked tendency for revolution and anarchism, not the rule of law; for "activism" rather than dialogue; for military coups – real as in 1851 or planned as in 1961 – instead of negotiation; and for extremism over moderation. There are no such parallels in our own island story.

This means that the French can today much more easily surrender their institutions to Brussels: should we do so, then we assign much more of ourselves, even our whole identity as a nation, than they.

This key difference between Britain and France illustrates the flawed foundations of the European federal project: how can different countries, with such varied traditions, move at the same relentless pace away from their particular and familiar institutions?

If Brussels want to enhance its powers and more closely integrate the EU’s member states, then it will continue to need real historical sensitivity.

But it is also a reminder of what can sometimes lie at the very heart of Europhilia: out of envy, some Europhiles might want to subvert another country’s traditional institutions by subjecting them to the new structures of European Union.

It is no coincidence that the French nation was built upon a collective fear, resentment and jealousy of "Perfidious Albion", and that today the success and longevity of our institutions continues to arouse the admiration and envy of many French citizens.

By recognizing this, we get a bit closer to understanding why some Frenchmen, including Emmanuel Macron and Michel Barnier, were so enraged to see Britain vote to leave the EU and why they now seem to want to wreck Britain.


Power and Glory: France’s Secret Wars with Britain and America 1945-2016  RT Howard

“We are doing no good here,” said Lord Beaverbrook to Winston Churchill as they stood in a garden in France in 1940 while the panzers drew near. “Let’s get along home.”

The anecdote is told by one of Britain’s great Francophiles, Major-General Edward Spears, but it captures the distrust and fear of betrayal that has haunted relations between France and the “Anglo-Saxons” for eight decades.

Such is the theme of Power and Glory, which RT Howard, an intelligence specialist, bills as the untold story of “secret wars” between France and its supposed British and American allies from 1945 until today. It was written before the Brexit vote, but it would be an excellent primer for anyone intent on pursuing negotiations with the French and the rest of Europe to the point of mutual destruction.

In the author’s telling, France was so traumatised by defeat in 1940, and by the subsequent loss of its colonial empire, that its leaders saw conspiracies everywhere and fought dirty to save their global status, unable to make any moral distinction between their enemies and their friends. From this flowed a catalogue of scandal, shame and failure, some relevant today, the rest long forgotten.

The book opens with a massacre in Damascus in 1945, when Syrians rose against colonial rule. The French fought back with shot and shell, but, to their fury, the British intervened, with American backing, to stop it. The faithless Anglo-Saxons were “plotting” to do France down.

A saner view holds that such idiotic repression destroyed moderate nationalism and brought to power the criminals in the Syrian Ba’ath Party. Would history be cleaner if French colonialism had had its way?

The “savage war of peace” in Algeria suggests not. The French killed 10 locals for every white person murdered in an outrage at the market town of Sètif in 1945, an irrevocable act of hatred. Decades after Algerian independence, race war still smoulders in the suburbs of Paris.

Worst was the loss of France’s empire in the east, blamed by the French on a lack of allied support in the decisive battle at Dien Bien Phu, in the northwest of Indochina, in 1954. This world-changing victory for Ho Chi Minh led to the long American war in Vietnam, with the French as cynical spectators.

Marshal Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, a war hero, said that defeat in Indochina would be the end of France as a great power. He was right, and in its decline nowhere could French and Anglo-Saxon interests coexist without covert battles, the author believes.

Howard tells a rattling tale, full of slapstick and bloodshed, of how France played a losing hand with grim determination. One chapter, straight from the pages of Graham Greene, recounts a duel between British spies and French officials in postwar Madagascar, peopled by mobs, rabble-rousers, stupid administrators and purblind expatriates.

The mess foreshadowed a great game in Africa. The rivals courted different dictators and set off tribal wars. Their competitive hunt for resources was often masked as a battle against communism. It is not an edifying story and it is enough to mention some countries involved: Congo, Rwanda, Nigeria, Gabon, Ivory Coast — a list of lamentation that speaks for itself.

The author is good on the vying power centres in Paris. Inside the Elysée, presidents from Charles de Gaulle to Jacques Chirac each had their shadowy “Mr Africa” who had carte blanche to push French interests. Other players scrabbling for overseas influence were the ministries of foreign affairs and defence, the giant state-owned arms and energy firms, the overseas development agency and the ineffable agents of the (ever-besieged) French language and culture.

Howard’s chapter on the Falklands War, while acknowledging the Sunday Times exposé of French technical help to Argentina, is a thorough dissection of how these interest groups almost prevailed over François Mitterrand’s pledge of support to Margaret Thatcher. The author cites a telegram from Sir John Fretwell, the British ambassador in Paris, warning that “the [French] arms lobby” wanted sales to Argentina of their Super Etendard jets and Exocet missiles at any price.

And while Britain was vulnerable, Whitehall officials found that Mitterrand “chose to move against us quite ruthlessly in the Community” and gratuitously threatened a crisis over British membership in Europe. Brexit negotiators take note.

Like Beaverbrook, the author is not inclined to give France the benefit of the doubt. I am not so sure. In hindsight, de Gaulle’s reason for saying “non” to British entry to the EEC in 1963 (Britain was insular, maritime and distinctive, he said) looks wise.

If you read the memoirs of Spears and of Anthony Eden, another Francophile, or the war diaries of de Gaulle, or even the diaries of Jacques Attali, who worked for Mitterrand, a more nuanced picture emerges of Anglo-French ties. It is of two old countries entwined and divided by history, trade and intelligence, who stumble, yet stay standing, in a world darkened by barbarism.

But perhaps that is not a message that is apt for our times.

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