4 July 2022: Covid now; 2 Spanish vignettes; Modelo 720 dreams; Defending freedom; & Other stuff.

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Awake! For, Morning, in the Bowl of Night, has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight
And, Lo, has caught the Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light

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

Cosas de España/Galiza

Covid: El Pais offers you here Everything You Need to Know About the Epidemic Today. Specifically about the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants currently doing the rounds. How anyone can claim to be issuing detailed case numbers when no one is obliged to report them is beyond me.

How about this for a headline? . . . Cheap flights from Manchester to Porto from €591 on Iberia. Surely only a machine could write such nonsense, on the basis of ‘artificial intelligence’.

It’ll be ‘a while’ before we see it here in Galicia – if we ever do – but Renfe now has a high-speed train competitor on the Madrid-Valencia route.

HT to Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas for the news that the Supreme Court has ruled that the Hacienda must return fines collected in respect of Modelo 720 declarations, following its annulment by the EU Court of Justice. I won’t be holding my breath for the return of the €1,500 I was charged for a late 2012 return back in 2015.

Two very Spanish experiences at a nearby beach yesterday:-

– The lady selling me a ceramic fridge magnet spent more time wrapping it, sellotaping it, tying string around it and finally putting it in a special bag than she possibly took to make it.

– Finding a parking space was complicated by the fact every single car along the roadside had left between 1 and 2 metres between it and the cars already there, denying space to newcomers.

The UK  

Says it all . . .


I’m almost beginning to feel sorry for Emmanuel Macron . . .  He’s said to be suffering from psychological and physical exhaustion, as he faces a 2nd term in charge of an increasingly fractious country and the loss of his parliamentary majority. Macron’s friends are said to describe him as dazed, blocked and absent, believing that the reformist zeal displayed during his first term could lead to civil unrest in the present climate, and being unsure how to fight the cost of living crisis without aggravating public debt,

The USA 

Happy Independence Day to our (North)American cousins. But, amigos, are you really sure that, on balance, things turned out well?

The Way of the World 

When learning Farsi many years ago, my wife and I were told by our Iranian teacher that we’d never really know what freedom was like, as we’d never not had it. I thought of him when reading that: The West would appear to be throwing away so much of what it has achieved. Not least the freedom of speech and thought which Kisin hadn’t experienced in the Soviet Union but had at least expected to find in the West. Kisin is the author of a book entitled: An Immigrant’s Love Letter to the West. See below on this.

Quote of the Day

Cancel culture is an understandable but dangerous response to a loss of faith in our rulers – a symptom of corruption. The best defence against it is to repair due process. See the 2nd article below.

Finally  . . .

To amuse . . .

For new readers: If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here. If you’re passing through Pontevedra on the Camino, you’ll find a guide to the city there.


1. Take it from a Russian – the alternative to Western democracy is far, far worse. In his excellent new book, comedian and podcast host Konstantin Kisin asks why people in the West so often spit on their luck: By Douglas Murray, The Telegraph 

Konstantin Kisin is a young stand-up comedian and co-host of the popular online talk-show Triggernometry. There, with his co-host Francis Foster, he has interviewed scientists, authors, politicians and others, including the present reviewer. I am, I should say at the outset, an admirer of Kisin’s. He is one of an emerging generation of young, non-partisan, non-politically aligned figures who, from a bewildering array of disciplines and backgrounds, are coming together to try to think through the big issues of our time.

It is one of the most positive developments of recent years that such people are emerging. Not least because they are breaking the stranglehold that traditional media used to have on the business of ideas. Episodes of Triggernometry regularly chalk up greater viewer numbers than Newsnight or other political shows on terrestrial TV. And there are reasons for that, not least that when they say “here is an important question that’s central to our future”, they do not then devote a four-and-a-half-minute segment to it where the airtime is divided between four maniacs. They ask experts and give them time to talk.

An Immigrant’s Love Letter to the West is Kisin’s first book, and it has evolved from his career as a comedian and podcast host. Much of it has grown out of discussions he and Foster have had with their guests, and it seems from the book that as he has spoken to other people he has developed his own thinking.

In the forefront is Kisin’s own story. Born in Moscow in 1982, he grew up in the Soviet Union before moving to Britain with his family at the age of 13. His paternal grandmother was born in the Gulag, and it is this and other parts of his family history, outlined here, that have given Kisin an important insight into the society he immigrated into, as well as the one he left. For he has, all his life in the West, seen around him people who are used to their luck, expect it, take it for granted and – in some cases – end up spitting on it.

This attitude is not given to Kisin. Despite being a very funny man, he also has what so many Russians have: what Miguel de Unamuno described as “the tragic sense of life”. It gives him an important perspective on the West at a time when the West would appear to be throwing away so much of what it has achieved. Not least the freedom of speech and thought which Kisin had not experienced in the Soviet Union but had at least expected to find in the West.

Like many other things expected here, he found that precisely such principles were up for grabs. Kisin himself has made headlines in the past when he was asked to sign a form before a comedy gig promising that he wouldn’t say anything that might upset anyone in the crowd: almost a definition of how not to entertain an audience. Groupthink is another of the things which Kisin found in the West without expecting to. As he says at one point, “If there is one thing my Soviet childhood taught me, it’s that subscribing to someone else’s ideology will always inevitably mean having to suspend your own judgment about right and wrong to appease your tribe. I refuse to do so.”

He organises his book around a number of key themes, including chapters on the ways in which language can be used to conceal truth and on why we need journalists, not activists. As he says at one point in a plea to journalists, “The media … is not yours to co-opt or use to spread propaganda. You are merely stewards of the industry.” Kisin gives examples of the heroes of modern journalism, not least Anna Politkovskaya, murdered by the Russians in 2006 for exposing what Putin and his cronies did not want the world to know. Kisin is right to feel a certain sickness of stomach at the way in which so much journalism in the West has ended up wasting the opportunities of freedom.

Towards the end, he wisely quotes the Soviet defector and KGB operative Yuri Bezmenov, who gave a still-famous television interview in the 1980s in which he explained how the Soviets were attempting to subvert the West. It was not just a military campaign, he pointed out. There was a specific effort by the KGB to engage in psychological warfare of a seemingly subtle kind. For instance, he explained the effort to “change the perception of reality for every American to such an extent that despite the abundance of information, no one is able to come to sensible conclusions in the interest of defending themselves, their families, their community and their countries. It takes only between two and five years to destabilise a nation.”

Much of that seems horribly familiar today. And Kisin has practical suggestions not just on how to push back against the destabilisation of Western societies, but on how to try to impart to young people today a sense of perspective, so that in time they may see that whatever the downsides of free, free-market democracies, they are nothing compared with the downsides of all the alternatives.

There are occasional infelicities – such as a habit, which occasionally “triggers” me, of explaining that which either shouldn’t be explained or shouldn’t be cited. So we have “Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy” and “1984’s Winston Smith”. But these are tiny quibbles. Kisin has written a lively and spirited book defending the society he is grateful to have found himself in. If I can return the compliment, we are lucky to have him.

2. We fall into the arms of gangsters when we lose faith in our rulers. Like Cosa Nostra, cancel culture is a symptom of corruption. The best defence is to repair due process: Matthew Syed, The Times

The Sicilian mafia, I would suggest, is one of the most misunderstood organisations in modern history. The conventional view is that the criminality and chaos in southern Italy, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries, when Cosa Nostra was at the height of its powers, was due to the lawlessness of mafiosi and the machete they took to the rule of law.

In fact, according to the social scientist Diego Gambetta in a magisterial book, The Sicilian Mafia: The Business of Private Protection, the truth is the reverse. Think of Italy before the emergence of the mafia, with its corrupt politicians, judges and public officials and powerful businessmen. Was this pre-mafia society governed by the rule of law, by due process? On the contrary, the law was routinely flouted through bribes, kickbacks and institutionalised graft.

This meant that many ordinary people could not enforce contracts into which they had entered, and that it was difficult to do business knowing judges would take bungs in the event of a breach. The mafia emerged, according to Gambetta, to create a parallel form of extrajudicial contract enforcement — ordinamento giuridico. And in its early days, many members of the public felt this represented a fairer and less corrupt alternative to the official system.

When you look through history, you can glimpse this pattern repeating. When people do not have confidence in the state, when legal mechanisms are not trusted to deliver justice, people take the law into their own hands or through proxies. Vigilantism is, in this sense, a natural offshoot of state corruption.

Hold this in mind as we shift from 19th-century Italy to 21st-century Britain and ask yourself this question: do I have confidence in our system to deliver due process and impartial justice? To make the question more concrete, think of David Cameron, who parlayed his political connections into an equity stake in Greensill Capital worth millions, in direct violation of the public interest — an episode that would not have looked out of place in Sicily.

Yet was the former prime minister fined, punished or otherwise sanctioned? On the contrary, a report by Nigel Boardman, the lawyer commissioned to investigate on behalf of the government, gave Cameron a clean bill of health. It is perhaps coincidence that, a few months later, Boardman was knighted for “services to the legal profession”. Cynics might suggest that this is the way the British establishment works today: one rule for them, another for us.

Or take the police, another key institution in the operation of justice. Do you trust them to enforce the law impartially? Think of headlines last week when six forces were reported to have been placed in special measures, in part because they were deemed institutionally incapable of rooting out corruption in their own ranks. On Friday, a report revealed that officers accused of domestic violence were being let off the hook by friendly colleagues.

Or take company law, where the regulators who sit in judgment on giant corporations are routinely offered lucrative exit routes into these same companies, creating the cosy conspiracy against the public we call regulatory capture. Is this a system where large companies are prevented from abusing monopoly power by due process? Or a system where due process is circumvented by powerful interests?

I could go on, because this is a pervasive pattern in democracies today, on both sides of the Atlantic. Investigations and tribunals that sit in judgment on the rich and powerful are so often whitewashes that few people bother to read their reports. As Sir Humphrey Appleby said in Yes, Prime Minister: “Never set up an inquiry if you don’t know in advance what its findings will be.” In the 1980s this was considered satire. Today, it seems more like banal observation.

And this brings me to my point: this context is, I think, the only way to understand cancel culture. I have spent much of the past decade pushing back against this pernicious tendency. I abhor the way that businesspeople, academics and others have had their reputations eviscerated on social media, lives torn apart by the tidal waves of indignation that make a mockery of due process. Last week, Michael Vaughan, the former England cricket captain, was targeted on the basis of unproven allegations of racism, causing him to step back from his commentating duties for the BBC. What happened to the presumption of innocence?

But it was only while reading Gambetta’s book that the pieces fell into place. Many of the people who retweet this sordid stuff are not unaware of the value of due process. No, the problem is that they have lost faith in the system to deliver it. They point to cover-ups, stitch-ups, the way the system is gamed by the powerful in cahoots with expensive lawyers. They point to a prime minister who is still in Downing Street despite serial rule-breaking. They point to Ghislaine Maxwell being sent to jail for 20 years while the powerful men who flew on Jeffrey Epstein’s “Lolita Express” continue to sun themselves on their yachts, protected rather than punished by the rule of law.

And this is why they go on the attack. Like vigilantes throughout history, they are taking justice into their own hands because they have lost confidence in the state. They are wielding algorithms rather than guns and flick-knives, but the logic is chillingly similar. Keyboard warriors are the mafiosi of the social media age, the creators of a digital ordinamento giuridico.

This represents an urgent threat to our way of life. History teaches us that parallel legal systems — the mafia, warlordism, vigilantism — tend to adopt the worst characteristics of the institutions they replace. Think of the mafia-type organisations, which emerged as a putative solution to state corruption but came to abuse their power in ever more grotesque ways through extortion and base criminality. One scholar estimates they destroyed a staggering 16 per cent of GDP each year.

Cancel culture is having similarly pernicious effects, its arbitrary dynamics wreaking havoc with democratic values. It is not just the powerful that face attack, but anyone who breaches the woke ideology has become the value system through which its demands are enforced. This is having a chilling effects on free speech, critical thinking and open debate. I dread to think what damage it is doing to the moral psychology of the young, many of whom are digital natives who have never experienced any other reality.

But this leaves us with a solution too. I have come to realise it is futile to push back on cancel culture by urging the value of due process when so many people see a rigged system. This is the original sin, cancel culture a metastatic effect. It is why the fight to repair due process and equality before the law is so urgent. Our future depends upon it.