Denmark: Where Covid is now ‘no worse than a cold’. Yesterday, the Scandinavian nation became the first country in Europe to put an end to all coronavirus-related laws. In the eyes of the Danish government and, crucially, the vast majority of its 5.8m citizens, the virus is no longer deemed a “critical threat to society”. Cases remain high – very high – but the Danes have moved on. Even if you test positive, there is no longer a legal obligation to self-isolate. Not even face masks on public transport nor in the street.
Cosas de España/Galiza
There’s quite a storm here in Galicia over the failure of the Galician girl group – the public’s favourite – to be chosen by the jury as Spain’s candidate for the next Eurovision songfest. There are accusations of a fiddle and fingers are being pointed at the 2 or 3 guiris (foreigners) on the panel. As ever, I don’t know if this means folk from outside Spain or just outside Galicia. I imagine the former. As guiris usually means red-faced Brits.
Tizas bendecidas are chalked blessings on house doors and portals, to protect the inhabitants. One in Pontevedra seems, from the foto in the D de P, to be 20++M+B+22 but I’ve no idea why.
There’s to be a documentary on Spanish TV on the drug business here in Galicia. It’s said that one or two of our biggest narcos will feature in it, alongside those from Colombia and Brazil. Might be worth watching.
Talking of crime . . . The disgraced ex-king – currently (and expensively) holed up in Abu Dhabi – says he doesn’t want to create instability for the monarchy here in Spain by returning permanently to a palace in Madrid. Which is good of him. Some wags have suggested that – if he’s lonely in Abu Dhabi – Britain’s Prince Andrew might like to provide him with some company there..
Wow! An interesting article from the Brexit-opposing Guardian. The post-Brexit economic crisis never materialised – Labour is right to move on.
Germany’s marriage to the euro is tearing at the seams, says the writer of the first article below.
Dear me. Whoopi Goldberg has offered her “sincerest apologies” after being widely condemned for saying that the Holocaust “isn’t about race” during her US talk show. The Oscar-winning actress, who co-hosts The View on ABC, described the Second World War atrocity as about “man’s inhumanity to man”.
The Way of the World
Se the 2nd article below for a modern horror story below
Quote of the Day
Great leaders inspire us to be better people but somehow Britain has ended up instead with a leader who makes people actively regret doing the right and selfless thing.
Finally . . .
If you can read Spanish and are thinking of doing a camino de Santiago, this article could well be useful. But you might need to have Apple’s Reader view to see it.
For new readers: If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here.
For Camino walkers: If you’re either doing or planning to do the Portuguese Camino de Santiago and would like a (free!) 30 minute tour of Pontevedra’s old quarter, sign up for email receipt of posts and drop me a comment below. I’ll then contact you by email.
1. Germany’s marriage to the euro is tearing at the seams. Adopting the currency was a kind of penance for two world wars – but many young Germans feel it has suffered enough: Jeremy Warner, The Telegraph
We all know why the Bank of England is planning to further tighten monetary policy on Thursday; with inflation about to surge to something close to 7pc, a rise in Bank Rate to the dizzying heights of 0.5pc is now widely seen as a racing certainty. It’s also possible that a start will be made on reversing the hundreds of billions spent on quantitative easing.
Less easy to understand is why the European Central Bank won’t be following suit. Eurozone growth is admittedly a little weaker than the UK right now, but the inflationary pressures look much the same. Eurozone inflation in December was 5pc, not much different from the UK’s 5.4pc.
In the land of the pathologically inflation averse – Germany – it meanwhile hit 6pc in November, a level which in the past would have holed the presiding government below the water line. Inflation has fallen back a little since then, but not by as much as expected, and remains by German standards intolerably high. It’s just as well for Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, that he is too new in the job to attract the blame.
Nor is Germany the odd one out. The December inflation rate for the Netherlands was 6.4pc, and for Spain it was 6.7pc. And yet, still clinging to the mantra that the spike in prices is “transitory”, and to the likely delusional belief that inflation will be back to target by the end of the year, the ECB refuses to act. Further evidence, many will say, of why a “one-size-fits-all monetary policy” doesn’t work.
But it’s not exactly that, is it? Inflation is way above where it should be more or less everywhere in Europe, and in the Baltics, it’s already in double digits. The ECB may be right that the inflationary pressures will begin to ease from here on. But to keep the foot virtually flat down on the monetary accelerator even as prices surge to those not seen since the early 1990s looks oddly out of sync with the tightening stance signalled elsewhere by both the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England.
It might be argued that the ECB’s policy stance is just an admission of the inevitable – that Europe is falling victim to Japanification, or a permanent state of deflationary economic stagnation. This might be true, but the more accurate way of looking at the ECB’s reluctance is that large parts of Europe simply can’t afford a significant monetary tightening. Without persistent support from the ECB as buyer of last resort, the stresses and strains in sovereign bond markets last seen during the eurozone debt crisis a decade ago might soon return.
Today’s dilemma over what to do about resurgent inflation raises some of the same issues as were highlighted back then. What the eurozone experienced was in essence just an old fashioned balance of payments crisis in which single currency members divided into surplus and deficit countries (the former more competitive than the latter) – but one that because of the straitjacket of monetary union couldn’t be resolved via the natural market mechanism of exchange rate adjustment. Deficit countries were unable to devalue to bring things back into balance. Instead, the adjustment was delivered brutally via internal devaluation – essentially repressing domestic demand and wages to the point where the deficit country began once more to regain lost competitiveness.
The euro was lucky to survive the consequent austerity in its beleaguered southern states, and almost certainly wouldn’t have done but for the actions of the ECB in monetising great tracts of eurozone debt issuance. As we now see, once on that treadmill, it is very hard to step off. But what’s interesting is that partly as a result of these policies, some of the old imbalances are eroding.
As was widely pointed out at the time of the debt crisis, another way of achieving the required adjustment that would avoid forcing deficit states into painful internal devaluations, would be for Germany and its Northern satellites to inflate relative to others instead. The effect in restoring southern competitiveness would be the same. Unfortunately, it also seemed politically impossible. A country whose economic mindset had been defined by two socially devastating hyperinflations within the space of little more than 20 years was never going to accept an inflationary path to eurozone salvation.
Well, here we are, and arguably that’s precisely what is now happening; in all manner of ways, Germany is losing competitiveness, internationally and within the eurozone. For how long German voters will tolerate relatively high levels of inflation is anyone’s guess, but both the main justifications for the German marriage to the euro are tearing at the edges.
One of those reasons is that the euro is a kind of penance, a debt that Germany owes to the rest of Europe as the architect of two devastating twentieth century wars. But the last of these wars was a long time ago now, and most younger Germans reasonably take the view that the penance has long since been fully served.
The other reason is that the euro is the foundation stone for much of Germany’s recent economic success, offering a far more competitive exchange rate than would otherwise be imposed. But again this looks increasingly arguable. For Germany, the economic advantages of the euro look ever more outweighed by its disadvantages, not least now that the ECB seems pretty much captive to the monetary demands of France and its southern European fellow travellers.
It is only recently that the Bank of England finally woke up to the threat posed by rising inflation, and is now acting against it. For the moment, and to the dismay of German savers, that road appears closed to the ECB.
2. A cancelled author’s bosses deserve contempt. Instead of challenging the Kate Clanchy lynch-mob, the literary world opted for self-preservation: Melanie Phillips. The Times
Even given the grotesqueries of today’s “cancel culture”, the treatment of author Kate Clanchy is a shocker. Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, her memoir about teaching in British schools which won the 2020 Orwell Prize, provoked a Twitter storm.
She was accused of being “racist and ableist” for such descriptions of minority children as having “chocolate-coloured skin” and “almond-shaped eyes”, and of two autistic children as “unselfconsciously odd” and “jarring company”.
As the storm raged on, despite apologies by Clanchy and Picador, its publisher, Philip Gwyn Jones, said he regretted not having stood more firmly beside his author. Finding himself set upon by the same lynch-mob, he grovelled. “I now understand I must use my privileged position as a white middle-class gatekeeper with more awareness,” he said.
Such abject self-flagellation wasn’t enough. Last week, Picador’s parent company, Pan Macmillan, announced it would stop distributing all eight of Clanchy’s books — meaning that none will be on sale in bookshops or even as e-books. This was described by the publisher in internal emails as “the dissolution of Katherine Clanchy”. Just how sinister is that?
Yet the whole thing is beyond ridiculous. Clanchy has devoted her life to helping disadvantaged children and fighting any prejudice that holds them back. Her students have said she’s the “complete antithesis of racist”. The former pupil with the “almond eyes” thanked her for her “beautiful” description of her eyes which she said were at the core of her Afghan Hazara identity.
The storm has been whipped up by people wrenching many of Clanchy’s words out of context to impute to them a meaning that was the opposite of what she was saying. One of her remarks about her persecution was particularly chilling. “I have been told,” she said, “that young staff within Macmillan found me to be harmful, and I think that’s why I have to be entirely removed.”
This rang a mordant bell with me. In the mid-1990s, I was told I was blacklisted by all big publishing houses because of my views, including my book about education, All Must Have Prizes. The publisher of that book urged me to write only about anodyne subjects because, he said, when he proposed publishing me again members of his board threatened to walk out.
The culture that I was writing about then has merely hardened over the years. So it’s reasonable to assume that Pan Macmillan’s “young staff” have been inculcated throughout their education by the Marxist dogma that prejudiced or oppressive behaviour is committed only by those wielding political or economic power — a theme of the book that first got me blacklisted.
How can this lunacy be stopped? The reason it has reached such a pass is that, while the reputations of Clanchy and others are consigned to the auto-da-fé of “victim culture”, those in positions of authority who could stop this but choose not to are rarely criticised. They shelter behind their publishing house, university, company or other institution keen to be seen to trash “white privilege” or other identity politics offence. But surely it’s their own reputations that should take a hit?
On Picador’s website, Gwyn Jones tells us he became its publisher in June 2020 “amid statues being overthrown, biases being challenged . . voices unsilenced…” Poetry editor Don Paterson says he looks for writers “who can shock me into wakefulness through their unique way of looking at the world”.
On its own website, Pan Macmillan doesn’t hymn debate. Instead, it falls over itself to endorse “diversity and inclusion,” pledging that “everyone who works at Pan Macmillan will receive unconscious bias training” and puffing its “dignity at work” policy which covers “all forms of bullying and harassment including racism”.
But not, it seems, one of its own authors who has been subjected to bullying and harassment as a result of being wrongly accused of racism.
People prominent in the literary world need to be condemning Pan Macmillan executives as hypocrites because of their “unconscious bias” in running a publishing house which silences voices, stifles the unique and snuffs out debate.
More generally, people in positions of authority need to say loud and clear that, while there’s no place for any type of prejudice, what parades as anti-racism is in fact racial prejudice against white people because of the colour of their skin.
They need to point out that the arguments of identity politics are as fatuous as they are bogus. And they need to state that using victim status as the excuse for a witch-hunt is intolerable. This is about far more than freedom of speech. It’s about a culture no longer policing its own moral boundaries.
A fetish has been made of the inviolability of every individual’s subjective experience. [As I wrote yesterday: All feelings must be respected. Or disrespected]. Value neutrality meant that social disapproval, shame and stigma applied to untraditional behaviour became viewed as beyond the pale.
But social disapproval plays a powerful role in maintaining a civilised society. The collapse of informal social policing has meant that bullies now use disapproval, shame and stigma to harass, oppress and silence people while the rest of society remains mute.
While we fail to distinguish between the norms of a civilised society and their transgression, Kate Clanchy will not be the last person to become culturally dissolved.