Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 21.4.21

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable

– Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’ 

NOTE: Info on Galicia here. Detailed info on Pontevedra coming soon. 

Covid

Spain: Mixing vaccines. 

The UK: 

A couple of Anglo views to contrast with that of the EU on the issue of sensible caution:-

1. Over 40 years, the precautionary principle has mestasised from a fringe worldview propagated by environmental lobbyists to a groupthink mantra incorporated into everything from the Maastricht treaty to pesticide control. Despite its unscientific principles, demanding a level of certainty about safety that can never be reached and replacing trial and error with the elimination of error by banning trial, a weird synergy with predictive modelling has lent it academic credibility. Its intrusive hyper-caution has an aesthetic appeal for big-state politicians. This is a recipe for disaster. If Johnson accepts that variants are an intolerable and infinite risk, the precautionary principle demands that he has no choice but to keep us in some form of lockdown until the UK has zero Covid cases. Which is lunacy. This is not to argue that there’s no risk of a dangerous escape variant. But there is a better way to manage that risk: the principle of As Low As Reasonably Achievable (Alara). This underpins many aspects of British innovation that the precautionary principle has yet to reach. It states that you mitigate risk as far as you can, and accept when you have done all that is possible. Its sensible influence on risk management is epitomised by the Government’s response to AZ clots – which has sought to minimise the potential risk to young people, by continuing the national rollout with a view to eventually offering under-30s an alternative. 

2. The vaccine programme has been a signal success but the Minister of Health has said that, although concerns remain of a mutation finding its way around the protections offered by vaccines, they were the “way out of this”. He added that he still hoped this would happen by June 21 but anything approaching normality was still a long way away. The fear is that an obsession with fighting against the inevitable new variants will actually make a return to normal life impossible. 

As I’ve warned, be prepared to be ordered to distance and to wear masks for at least the next northern hemisphere winter. And don’t expect to see gel dispensers disappear anytime soon. We’ve been seriously spooked. Time will tell whether this was justifiable or not.

Cosas de España

A bit of a surprise? The Spanish state has been ordered to return stuff to the Franco family and to financially compensate them for paying for the upkeep of a place which didn’t belong to them. Friends at court??

Germany was the main champion of austerity during the last financial crisis and it’s now starting to talk about a re-tightening of European fiscal policy, with Spain as its primary target. Naturally, the Spanish government is less than happy about this. 

Cousas de Galiza

There was some sort of film being produced in Pontevedra city yesterday. Apparently set in Argentina decades ago, it involved a few classic cars and several well-dressed extras:-

One thing was confirmed . . . Filming involves both a lot of waiting around and more ancillary people that you can probably imagine. Not to mention the closing of my regular lunchtime terraza. I assume all masks were removed before the cameras rolled, raising the questions of whether the actors had a dispensation in respect of the law and how many would pass on Covid.

The UK and Brexit 

The Brexit exodus will fundamentally reshape the UK economy, it’s said by one observer. . .  The dearth of EU workers due to lower rates of immigration will be the biggest force in the economy over the next decade:-

First, wages will start to accelerate significantly. 

Secondly, we’ll see huge investment in automation. As workers become more scarce and more costly, there’ll be a huge incentive to invest more in machines.

Finally, there’ll be a squeeze in profitability, especially in labour intensive industries. Whole industries have been built on the back of an endless supply of cheap labour. Many of these will have to scale back, most obviously in the already tough retail sector.  

Inevitably, the sudden shortage of people will produce some winners – mainly lower paid workers – and some losers – mainly company owners and shareholders. But it will surely play out in ways that are unpredictable.

France

As you’d expect . . . France has urged the European Commission to assume new powers to regulate football. . .  Ministers pressed their case for the EU to wrench football in particular and sport in general out of the hands of capitalists and to place it under bureaucratic control. In short, more power to the Brussels technocrats, managed by France.

English

Is it the idiosyncratic spelling or the grammar which is the main problem for students? See the article below.

Finally  . . . 

It seems there’s a 4th type of coffee – The Stenophylla bean from Sierra Leone. This country is next door to Liberia but it this bean isn’t the Liberica vaariety. It’s yet to make it to Wikipedia but here’s something on it. It turns out there are 124 varieties of coffee bean.

THE ARTICLE  

Grammar, not spelling, is the true impediment to clear expression. Many are those who have wished to simplify English, but their efforts are misguided. Education is the correct answer:  Jane Shilling, The Telegraph.

Prince Philip’s remarkable range of causes and passions has been exhaustively anatomised in the past week. But one that seems to have been largely overlooked was his interest in language reform. A former patron of the Simplified Spelling Society (now the English Spelling Society), he expressed his views in a 1964 interview: “I would like very much to see a simplified version of spelling introduced for English… as a medium for international communication.”

Over the years, the bee of spelling reform has buzzed in a host of highly distinguished bonnets, including those of Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw and George Orwell. But one of the impediments to a more rational orthography is that even within the reform movement, no one seems able to agree on what Simplified English should look like. This month the International English Spelling Congress settled after lengthy discussion on Traditional Spelling Revised (TSR). A “further period of consultation” is planned, so it may be some time before Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale appears thus in our poetry books:

’Tis not throo envy of thy happy lot,

But being so happy in thine happiness,

That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,

In some melodius plot 

Of beechen green, and shaddoes numberless,

Singest of summer in fuul-throated eez.*

Among the babel of world languages, English is unusual in having no academy to regulate its written form. But even where such institutions exist, the process of reform can be subject to sturdy resistance.

One way and another, the chances of a comprehensive overhaul of English spelling seem slim. Which is not to say that our language is fixed; only that it is more likely to change by evolution than revolution. There was a good deal of huffing over the recent decision by Hull University to challenge the “homogenous North European, white, male, elite mode of expression dependent on a high level of technical proficiency in written and spoken English”. Having spent much of my working life involved in various ways with ideas of correct language, I was inclined to join the chorus of huff, only to reconsider.

Aside from the fact that language is a living entity, as mutable and adaptable to changing circumstance as any living thing, during my work over the past few years with university students on their academic writing, spelling has never proved a significant issue. Their problems are invariably with grammar and here, it strikes me, is the crux of the matter. Unorthodox spelling is rarely an impediment to clear expression; bad grammar invariably is.

The mastery of basic grammar is a superpower that every child should possess. If the rackers of orthography were to give up dancing on the pinhead of spelling and turn their campaigning energy to ensuring that every child left school with the ability to construct a correct sentence, the world of written English would be a better and (to borrow Hull University’s terminology) more inclusive place.

* The original.

‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,

But being too happy in thine happiness,—

That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,

In some melodious plot

Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,

Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

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