16 September 2021

 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

Cosas de España/Galiza

I learned on Tuesday that my Covid certificate from the Galician Xunta is worthless but that I could easily get a national one via a phone app. I downloaded this and my Spanish friend at lunch tried to go through the process using my details, without success. Twice. I said I’d do it on my laptop at home but, of course, the phone app wouldn’t function there. So, with resignation, I went back to my phone and, this time, managed to get the certificate quite quickly. Only to face problems downloading and printing it off. Which might well be pointless, if a paper format isn’t acceptable to whomsoever. But I do have it as well on my laptop and phone. I think.

I also learned that Galician restaurants had stopped asking for a sight of the certificate because this had been ruled illegal by a Spanish court. But yesterday I read that this decision had now been overruled in a higher court. What judicial fun. Great for lawyers.

Finally, I learned that, if you have a certificate on your phone and send it to someone, they can use it to get into relevant places, because no one checks the details on it with their ID. IGIMSTS.

It seems that no matter how many times I tell El Pais I don’t want their daily bulletins, they keep sending them. Perhaps their site is managed by Renfe. (Which on Tuesday, by the way, gave me wrong info on which Vigo station the 18.20 train would leave from. I didn’t exactly recoil in surprise). Another site – the daftly-named Be-One sports centre in Pontevedra – tells me it’ll be 10 days before they stop sending me their unwanted emails. As if they couldn’t stop them immediately.

Lenox Napier of Business over Tapas tells us that racoons are an increasing menace here in Spain – in Madrid, Castilla La Mancha, Galicia, La Comunidad Valenciana, País Vasco, Andalucía (near Doñana) and even in Mallorca, and the Balearics. See this article on them, wherein it’s warned: They are intelligent, adapt easily and reproduce at breakneck speed. Oh, dear.

The Way of the World. Energy prices

See the FT article below, if you can’t get it hereWhy Europe fears a gas crunch even before winter demand begins.

See also the BBC here.

Social Media: Child abuse

A leaked memo from Facebook, which owns Instagram, has revealed that the company is fully aware that its photo-sharing platform makes teenage girls unhappy. FB researchers found that “32% of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse”. Also, that “comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves. Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression.” Among teenagers who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram.

See also the 2nd article below – An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination.

How much longer??


Mapache: Racoon. 

Lenox tells us that Science reports that researchers have proved that Spanish-speakers speak faster than English-speakers. Given the number of syllables per word, this is not only obvious but inescapable.

Finally  . . . 

I asked the 3 staff in the café I was in yesterday what the Gallego word eiva meant. None of them knew, though one had the excuse of being South American. Turns out to mean ‘ fault/defect’. Or falla in Spanish.

Note: If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here.  


1. Why Europe fears a gas crunch even before winter demand begins, The FT.

Tight supplies have created record prices ahead of heating demand increases in colder months  

Natural gas prices in the UK and continental Europe have soared to record highs because of tight supplies ahead of winter, raising fears of a severe economic hit to industry and weather-induced shortages. Day-ahead prices in the UK jumped by 7 per cent on Tuesday to more than £1.65 per therm, almost treble their level the start of the year, and an increase of 70 per cent since early August alone. That is also stoking record electricity prices, as gas is key for power generation. But what has driven the gas crunch before winter heating demand starts in earnest and how will it affect households? 

What is driving supply fears? 

Concerns about tight supplies started with a prolonged cold winter that drained natural gas storage. Normally this would be refilled over the summer when demand for heating largely evaporates. But storage filling has not happened at the pace traders would have liked in 2021. Russia has been sending less gas to Europe, for reasons fiercely debated in the industry. These range from Russia’s need to refill its own storage to suspicions that it is trying to pressure European governments, including Germany, to approve the start-up of the highly controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. 

Europe has also been phasing out coal plants in recent years, limiting the opportunity to switch fuels when prices rise. Record carbon prices have also made fuel swaps less attractive because coal emits more carbon dioxide when burnt. 

The UK and parts of continental Europe are more reliant on wind turbines for electricity generation, but remarkably still weather in recent weeks has slashed wind’s contribution to the grid. That has largely been backfilled by natural gas, boosting demand for the fuel. “The power market’s exposure to gas prices has increased,” said James Huckstepp at S&P Global Platts Analytics. 

Who pays the bill? Everyone, eventually. But natural gas bill increases are not always as immediately apparent to consumers as the rise in pump prices when oil soars. 

Large industrial users will experience higher energy costs quickly, although many will have hedged their expected consumption in advance to lock in prices. 

Many households will be shielded initially, as many are on fixed tariffs — particularly in the UK. But regulator Ofgem has already raised the so-called price cap in August by more than 12% to account for the strength in wholesale prices. That is despite wholesale costs only making up about 40%of an average utility bill. 

If gas prices in the UK remain at similar levels or higher than today throughout the winter, Ofgem will have little choice but to raise the price cap on energy bills again — potentially by an even larger amount. 

In Spain, where more households are exposed to variable rather than fixed tariffs, the government this week announced plans to claw back “excess profits” of about €3bn from utilities. Madrid said it would put these funds towards reducing bills, while cutting €1.4bn in consumer taxes on electricity until the end of the year. 

How exposed is the UK? The UK is arguably more exposed than the rest of Europe. The country has won plaudits for its sharp reduction in emissions over the past decade — but this was achieved by boosting renewables capacity and supplanting coal with natural gas, particularly during periods of low wind speeds. 

The UK also in effect operates a “just-in-time” approach to gas supplies. While it has more domestic production than countries in the EU, it also has far less storage capacity. 

The UK government says the country has diverse sources of supply. But it concedes that this means it has to compete in the global market for imports, particularly for cargoes of liquefied natural gas (LNG). 

Demand for LNG is increasingly strong in Asia, prompting competition for cargoes. While pipeline supplies from Norway to the UK and the rest of Europe are seen as reliable, the UK is also increasingly reliant on exports from EU pipelines linked to Russia. 

Some are concerned that after Brexit, European might prioritise their own supplies over UK needs in a pinch. “We’re effectively at the end of the pipe — not just physically but politically as well,” said Niall Trimble of the Energy Contract Company, a consultancy. “It’s far from inconceivable that we could have a problem in the event of a very cold winter.” 

Will prices just keep rising? Not necessarily. A number of things could dampen the rally. 

The most important point is the weather. A mild winter in the northern hemisphere would go a long way to calming the market. A pick-up in wind generation would also help, reducing the amount of gas being directed to electricity generation. 

Traders are also watching for Germany’s approval of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia. While some doubt how much additional gas that would bring into Europe this year, there are concerns that a delay to starting up the line could exacerbate the situation. 

Gazprom, Russia’s state-run monopoly pipeline exporter, has met all its long-term contracts. But it has not made additional supplies available via Ukraine, which Nord Stream 2 is designed to bypass. 

S&P Global Platts Analytics has identified one avenue for easing tightness in gas markets: switching from gas to oil or other hydrocarbon liquids, where feasible, either in manufacturing processes or power plants that are capable of burning oil. But this would be worse for the environment. 

Gas-to-oil switching “started earlier in Asia due to the [LNG price] premium and less stringent emissions regulation”, said Huckstepp at S&P Global Platts. “But it is now also being seen in Europe.” 

Long-term risks 

A few years ago, gas was seen as a ‘bridge’ fuel between fossil fuels and renewable energy. But it has increasingly come under fire from activists and investors alike. 

The industry argues that this is wrong-headed and has restricted new supplies that could actually help cut emissions by replacing coal, which produces about twice as much CO2 when burnt. But observers also note that there is not yet anywhere near enough renewable capacity, even in countries such as the UK, to keep the lights on without gas as part of the energy mix. 

“That’s the tragedy right now of the supply of gas being restrained by being lumped in with coal and oil by climate activists,” said Andy Calitz, a former Royal Dutch Shell executive who is secretary-general of the International Gas Union. 

“The outcome will be that the climate curve is slower to turn, if you don’t have enough gas to replace coal”, he said. “If this continues, the consequences will be felt in either unaffordable prices for energy or in energy insecurity in the forms of lack of availability.”

2. The Social Networth 

“An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination”:  Sheer Frenkel and Cecilia Kang 

Looking back over the last decade of British politics, a thought occurs: should someone introduce Nick Clegg to a dominatrix?

An hour with Miss Whiplash would surely be more satisfying than, first, propping up David Cameron’s government – a cosy, careless regime which looks less impressive with every passing year – then publishing a book called How to Stop Brexit (spoiler: it didn’t) before jetting across the Atlantic to be derided as a spineless patsy by a whole new continent.

Yes, Nick Clegg is now head of global affairs at Facebook, and as The Ugly Truth reveals, has happily accepted. the role of whipping boy, giving interviews to explain why it’s jolly unfair to accuse the social media giant of giving the planet’s worst people a megaphone and thereby undermining the foundations of liberal democracy. Honestly, Nick. Have a word with Mark Oaten. There are other ways to humiliate yourself.

The Ugly Truth, a history of Facebook by two New York Times reporters, is ostensibly the tale of a dream turned sour. Marvel as the utopian vision of a bunch of sheltered Silicon Valley libertarians to “bring the world together” crumbles when they realise that the more people you connect, the higher the chances will be that one of them is an arsehole.

Yet the book suggests that even this well-worn account is too kind. Facebook has always been about money and power. One of the few interesting things Mark Zuckerberg has said since becoming a public figure is that he admires the emperor Augustus, telling the New Yorker that “through a really harsh approach, he established two hundred years of world peace.

The “harsh approach” here is building a platform where anti-vaxxers and QAnon have thrived; where job adverts could be stealthily targeted to men, or housing adverts to whites; where anti-Rohingya violence was incited in Burma at a time when Facebook had just five moderators who spoke Burmese; where algorithms which rewarded engagement pushed the most emotive, inflammatory content to the top of users’ feeds; and where Russian hackers touted stolen data designed to disrupt the US elections. The two hundred years of world peace must be coming any minute.

After a quick recap of the site’s early days, the book focuses on the period from 2015 onwards ….. when Donald Trump emerged as the Republican nominee president, confronting the lazy free-speech absolutists of Silicon Valley with the question of how to deal with a race-baiting authoritarian wannabe. In this account, Facebook flunked the Trump test for the same reason it flubbed all those other controversies, because of a glib disinterest in what running a company bigger than a nation-state would involve. Scale first, make policies later: “Move fast and break things.”

Alongside the outrages, The Ugly Truth also chronicles the repeated attempts of engineers to raise the alarm, Some of these accounts sound genuine, while others feel self-serving; there is an unspoken acknowledgement that histories of Facebook are now seeking to distribute blame rather than credit.

The most sobering part of this book isn’t a killer quote, or any insight into Zuckerberg’s personality (he doesn’t seem to have one). It’s the numbers. Each chapter begins with a bar chart depicting Facebook’s annual revenues. The horrors pile up, but the money flows in, reaching $86bn last year. The ugly truth is that Facebook is a monument to naivety, carelessness and hubris – and it has made everyone involved extremely rich. Defend that, Nick Clegg.