4 October 2021

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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’

Covid

Excellent news on the Spanish vaccination front. Assuming you believe vaccination is a good thing.

Cosas de España/Galiza

More Pandora Papers have been released, providing further details on the relationship between the disgraced ex king, his lover and the Saudis. Another hard blow to the institution of monarchy? 

Only 40% of young Spaniards are in work, says the Voz de Galicia. A situation which never seems to improve, despite the strong growth of the macro economy. And some of those who are employed will be mileuristas, earning c. €1000 a month. Meaning they still need to live with their parents. That’s not really a new thing here in Spain but the percentage is rising.

I stayed this weekend with friends in what calls itself a casa rural but which the likes of Treepadvissor calls a hotel. So, a bit of a cross or hybrid, leading to confusion as to whether guests have the freedom of the place or have to ask if they can go to the kitchen to put wine in the fridge, for example.

Which reminds me, if you’re going to stay in the Galician countryside, always remember that farm dogs bark a lot. So take earplugs.

María’s Dawn:  The path disappears

The UK 

The satirical magazine, Private Eye, is 60 years old this week. See the first article below on this milestone. Or kilometrestone, if you prefer.

The Way of the World

The 2nd article below addresses disturbing developments in what some say is now the UK’s most prestigious university.

Quote of the Day

What is being referred to in Downing Street as the “Effing crisis” — the shortage of energy, food and fuel — is the inevitable outcome of switching off much of the world economy for almost a year. As the engine judders back into life, demand is surging — hence rising inflation — but supply channels are still choked or diverted. 

Spanish

In case you need it . . .

To sunbathe topless: Bañar en topless

To be topless: Estar en topless

Brexit singular: El Brexit 

Brexit plural (e.g. in France, Italy, etc.) Los Brexit. No idea why it isn’t Los Brexites.

Finally  . . .

Dr John Harvey Kellogg was an early 20th century US ‘purity campaigner’ against the habit of masturbation. You’ll know his name, as the corn flake was one his ‘plain food’ inventions which he felt were useful in controlling this universal human urge. Wasted his time, obviously, but possibly made a lot of money.

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

THE ARTICLES

‘Still funny, still unpredictable, still annoying all the right people’: Private Eye, 60 years on. Adam Macqueen.  

An early scrape with the law almost scuppered the magazine in 1963 – but it survived, along with its sense of mischief.

Private Eye turns 60 this year. It’s an impressive age for a scrappy little thing originally conceived by a bunch of school friends not long out of university. That first issue – all eight pages of it – was entirely jokes, but on one page is a little teaser for the following edition: ‘Coming next fortnight, the true story behind the Cunarder scandal.’

That story never did appear (perhaps it’s stuck with the lawyers), but it showed the intent of the magazine to be more than just gags. Quickly it became a balance between satire and serious, investigative journalism – or as Ian Hislop, the editor since 1986, puts it, ‘spoofs and scoops’.

By the end of the ’60s, when journalists like Paul Foot and Michael Gillard joined, the Eye was already exposing major scandals. After only a decade in print, they’d even brought down the then Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling, when Foot uncovered a scandal relating to his business activities.

The magazine has always taken on the most ridiculous targets, and in the 20th century tended to have a nemesis for each decade: in the ’70s it was James Goldsmith, the ’80s Robert Maxwell, the ’90s Mohamed Al-Fayed. They’re all very rich and litigious men, and all went into battle to try to destroy the magazine. 

But they never succeeded, obviously. Private Eye continues to do spoofs and scoops as well as ever, and sales are flourishing – despite the pandemic, despite an allergy to ‘online content’, despite its enemies.

I’ve been a writer there, on and off, for 24 years, and the staff has barely changed in that time. Writers at the Eye tend to be like transplant organs: you’re either accepted for life, or instantly rejected. Even the shareholders, which include Jane Asher, Elizabeth Cook (Peter’s sister) and a nephew of Dirk Bogarde, have remained much the same.

So here’s to another 60 years. Ian, aged 121, will probably still be editor at that time, and with any luck the magazine will still be funny, still unpredictable, and still annoying all the right people.

2. Purity tests damage students and universities. Kowtowing to the new woke orthodoxy will produce grievance-seeking graduates who are no use to employers: Clare Foges, The Times

I hereby declare my personal guilt for being white and cisgendered. I am sorry that I have failed to create a friendship group that accurately represents the racial and religious make-up of the country. I apologise for my unforgivably Caucasian penchant for the music of the Electric Light Orchestra. I acknowledge that I have thoughtlessly worn clothes from Marks and Spencer, Joules and Boden, the unholy trinity of white middle-class retailers. While we are here, I repent on behalf of my nation for taxation without representation, the British Empire and the nicking of the Elgin Marbles. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

If the recent actions of the University of St Andrews are anything to go by, students are not far off making confessions like this. The institution has decreed that newcomers must undertake compulsory modules on subjects such as diversity and — read this very carefully — students are not allowed to matriculate unless they agree with statements such as “acknowledging your personal guilt is a useful start point in overcoming unconscious bias”.

Agree with ideas like this and you pass the test; disagree and you fail it. Another question asks: “Does equality mean treating everyone the same?” Respond yes and you are told: “That’s not right, in fact equality may mean treating people differently and in a way that is appropriate to their needs . . .”

“Not right”? “In fact”? How sinister is this hardening of opinions into certitudes; how menacing the obligation to agree; how far from the academic ideal of learning through debate. At Plato’s academy, the first higher education institution in the West, students learnt through the exchange of ideas. In 367BC they were told how to think; in AD2021 they are told what to think.

St Andrews is not alone. All students at the University of Kent must now take a four-hour online course on respect and diversity that invites them to agree that white privilege means “I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race”. This year Cambridge students and academics were encouraged to anonymously report “micro-aggressions”, which might include calling a woman a girl, misgendering someone or raising an eyebrow while a black student is speaking.

It is comforting to hope that none of this really matters. There is, after all, a long history of barminess on campus, of History Man-type lefties policing others’ language and plotting revolution from provincial coffee shops. But there is something more chilling about today’s woke intolerance. It brooks no dissent and it is causing harm beyond the campus.

Most obviously, woke intolerance is doing long-term damage to young people’s ability to think independently. Peter Boghossian, a Portland State University professor who resigned from his post this year in protest at all this, describes the affliction of his old students as a “mind virus”, which seems a fair description.

Think of the effect these initiation modules will have on the 18-year-old starting university, desperate to fit in and anxious not to displease. Right from the start they are being warned to correct their thinking. While having those awkward chats with new acquaintances in the canteen they will be filtering every comment lest someone take offence. These students will become so used to mono-thought that they will soon start to police others’ opinions too. A few years later they will go out into the world, believing that making a difference means making demands for others to abide by the illiberal orthodoxy, or else. And so cultural intolerance creeps, the mind virus spreading from universities to workplaces to homes.

This, in turn, will damage their prospects in the workplace. Employers are typically looking for self-starters and problem solvers, not sensitive souls and problem creators. Increasingly, employers are likely to look askance at universities that become known as bastions of wokeness. This year a US magazine editor wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal about why he was no longer hiring from Ivy League universities such as Harvard and Princeton: “If students can be traumatized by ‘insensitivity’ on that leafy campus, then they’re unlikely to function as effective team members … I don’t want to hire someone who makes inflammatory accusations at the drop of a hat … I don’t want to hire a person well-practised in remaining silent when it costs something to speak up.” Many employers will be thinking what he’s thinking and shoving applications from the most “progressive” institutions straight to the bottom of the pile.

More broadly, the advance of woke intolerance is damaging to this country’s reputation. Higher education is one of our top assets. About £23 billion a year falls into the UK’s coffers thanks to international students, punters who are drawn here by our universities’ association with rigour and excellence, Nobel prizes and dreaming spires, the sharpest minds and the finest creative talents. Introducing group-think diktats such as the one at St Andrews is a very fast way to ruin that reputation and trash that asset.

Universities may offer the defence that in introducing these diversity and inclusion policies they are only catering to the desires of students, not foisting such things upon them. A spokesman for St Andrews said: “All of these modules were introduced in response to clearly expressed student demand.” That may be so, but it is not for the tail to wag the dog. It is not for teenagers and student-union agitators to decree the “correct” way to think.

What is to be done? Those running these places must grow a spine and stop kowtowing to the calls for ever more rules, safe spaces and trigger warnings. The government has done what it can, threatening fines for those institutions that violate academic freedoms. And if universities won’t be persuaded to act by the wagging finger of the minister, perhaps they will by the bottom line — for how many parents will be reluctant to let their children attend aggressively woke universities at a cost of several thousand pounds a year?

Evergreen State College in the US offers a cautionary tale about the financial cost of intolerance. In 2017 its “Day of Absence” required all white students and staff to leave the campus. When a professor suggested that this was racist he was denounced as a white supremacist and driven from his post. The next year, there was a “catastrophic” drop in student enrolment, forcing a $6 million cut in the budget and 20 members of staff to be laid off.

Giving in to demands for yet more wokeism is not good for business or for the students who are clamouring for it. It is in the nature of young people to push the limits but it is the responsibility of academic institutions to push back against this tide of totalitarian wokeness and stand up for freedom.

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