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During July, there were several British news items I did not have time to cover.

Without further ado, here they are …

St Swithin’s Day

July 15 was St Swithin’s Day, traditionally thought to successfully predict the weather for the next 40 days.

It was cool and cloudy.

So it is two weeks later.

The Mirror tried to debunk centuries of tradition that day by saying temps would reach 29° C that weekend. They never did, at least in the UK. We had a maximum of 24°.

Since then, it’s been cool, cloudy and rainy — with a few hours of sunshine here and there.

The Mirror was wrong. As my late grandmother-in-law always said: ‘The old ways are the best’.

This isn’t the first year I’ve tracked the weather following St Swithin’s Day.

Trust what happens on July 15 in the UK. That’s the weather for the next six weeks.

Admittedly, we might get the odd, sunny, warm day, such as today — but, that might be a rarity during the month ahead.

Friday, July 17

This was the day when temps reached a maximum of 24°.

More importantly, Princess Beatrice was married at Windsor. Her father, Prince Andrew, stayed out of the photos.

The wedding was small, in keeping with coronavirus guidelines:

Another wonderful event took place that day at Windsor. Captain Tom Moore, 100, received a socially-distanced knighthood from the Queen:

Captain Sir Tom Moore raised tens of millions of £££ for the NHS during the height of the pandemic by walking around his garden 100 times on a zimmer frame (walker). I am sure that was not easy for him, yet he persevered.

Afterward, the Second World War veteran said:

It’s been an absolutely outstanding day and you could never have believed I was never going to get such an honour as I have today. I really believed never ever would I be so privileged I could be so close to the Queen and speak to her, and that really was something absolutely outstanding.

Fantastic! May God continue to bless him abundantly.

Boris’s first anniversary as PM

Thursday, July 23 marked Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s first anniversary.

This delightful video shows clips of him promoting the 2010 Olympics when he was Mayor of London:

Although it’s been a miserable year, he has achieved the impossible, as Guido Fawkes reminds us:

  • Defeated Corbyn
  • Delivered Brexit
  • Won an 80 seat Conservative Party majority

Boris listed many more achievements over the past year. He could not even list them all in two minutes:

But there was no time to rest, as Boris was busy planning for the best and the worst in the months ahead:

Conservatives are still happy with his performance:

Writing for UnHerd, Matthew Goodwin, professor of politics at the University of Kent, analysed Boris’s appeal among his supporters (emphases mine):

To find a similar degree of constant and tribal support for the Conservative brand, you have to go all the way back to the spring of 1987 when Margaret Thatcher began a similar period of total dominance in the polls that lasted for around two years. Though even that is a little misleading — Thatcher might have had a lot going on, but she never had to grapple with a global pandemic and the shutdown of the entire economy …

why have Johnson’s voters stayed so loyal?

The first thing to remember is how Boris Johnson achieved power. He pushed through what David Cameron had little interest in and Theresa May never really understood — the “realignment” of British politics. By organising around Brexit, which was itself an expression of a deeper fault line, Johnson was able to consolidate the Leave vote.

By doing so, he was able to anchor his party far more securely in a cross-class coalition of traditional “true blue” Tories and instinctively socially conservative blue-collar workers. By doing so, Johnson injected a greater degree of tribalism into his electorate and, by extension, a greater degree of “cultural polarisation” into the country. In a country where six in every ten constituencies broke for Brexit, this strategy makes sense. You might not like it but, electorally, strategically, it makes complete sense.

It also brings us to a point that many of his critics have failed to grasp. What unites Boris Johnson’s voters is not so much their economic experience, as their values. They prioritise the nation and the national community. They prefer stability over change. And they favour continuity over disruption and discontinuity. This is why they cherish Britain’s history, heritage and collective memory and are more sensitive to attempts to deconstruct them. And while they acknowledge that this history is complex, they believe that, on the whole, it was positive and that Britain has been a force for good in the world. In short, they believe in their country. They are proud of it. And they are proud of their fellow citizens …

Johnson is offering a positive and forward-looking creed that is more interested in national renewal and salvation than decline and repudiation. He is proud of the country and its people. And until his opponents figure this out and change track, then I suspect that many of those voters will continue to stand behind him while keeping their distance from his critics.

Boris’s war on fat

Boris has been on a diet since recovering from coronavirus. So far, he has lost a stone (14 pounds):

Now he wants all of us to lose weight — five pounds each — and save the NHS an estimated £100m. Hmm.

Guido Fawkes reported (emphases in the original):

Boris promises his health push will “not in an excessively bossy or nannying way, I hope” persuade Britons to lose a few pounds. Which is a curious line given the now-almost imminent, nonsensical ban on pre-watershed ‘junk food’ ads…


Last summer, London’s mayor Sadiq Khan banned what he termed ‘junk food’ adverts across the capital. Last June, when Wimbledon was in full swing, Guido reported:

London’s blanket ban on ‘junk food’ advertising is not only ineffective, inconsistent and impractical, it’s going to cost a fortune too! Estimated at a whopping £35 million, it will deprive dilapidated public services of desperately needed investment. Who’s decided that chicken burgers are not junk food but olive oil is? And no mince pies allowed at Xmas? No strawberries and cream for Wimbledon?

The simple truth is ad bans don’t work – there’s no proof they reduce childhood obesity. However, there is clear evidence that wide-ranging, collaborative and positive approaches are an effective solution. In Amsterdam, childhood obesity rates fell by 12% between 2012-15, through investment in positive lifestyle and education campaigns.

Telling people what they can do is much more effective than hectoring them about what they can’t. Evidence-based solutions are more effective than political ones.

One year later, Boris thinks this is a great idea for television:

British artist David Hockney, who opposed the UK’s smoking ban in 2007, was less than impressed:

I said to my far better half on Monday that they will probably target all the good foods, e.g. butter and meat.

The next day, I drank my morning coffee while waking up to this:

I love hummus! It’s good for you, too.

Guido posted an extensive list of what falls under the category of junk food, based on UK government guidelines.

In addition to hummus and raisins we find butter (as I predicted), more than half of all meats (mm-hmm, also as predicted), margarine, pesto, tomato soup, nearly all cheese, most yoghurts and, strangely, the driest, blandest thing on the planet: cream crackers, which have no cream in them, by the way. Hell is a cream cracker.

Something’s gone very wrong with this Conservative government. Most of us thought Boris was a libertarian.

Whatever the case, there must be a better way than another ban:

Maybe Boris is still frightened from his serious illness. I suspect it took him a long time to recuperate, judging from his appearance in the weeks that followed.

Cat contracts coronavirus

On Monday, July 27, Reuters reported:

The British environment ministry said “all available evidence” suggested the cat had contracted the coronavirus from its owners, who had both tested positive for COVID-19.

Both the cat and the humans made a full recovery and there was no transmission to any other animals or people in the household, the ministry said without identifying the individuals involved.

“This is the first case of a domestic cat testing positive for COVID-19 in the UK but should not be a cause for alarm,” said Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England.

“The investigation into this case suggests that the infection was spread from humans to animal, and not the other way round,” Doyle added.

The government said the infection was confirmed in lab tests on Wednesday, adding there was no evidence that cats could transmit the virus to humans.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said cats are the most susceptible animal species to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and are able to transmit it to other cats.

Delays in getting stranded Britons home explained

When the pandemic broke, the Foreign Office pulled out all the stops to get stranded Britons back to the UK.

Arranging flights for some tourists overseas took longer than for others because hundreds were in remote places of the world.

Now it emerges there were other factors involved:

NHS relaxes self-isolation for patients entering hospital for treatment

Not so long ago, the NHS wanted all patients attending hospital for treatment or operations to self-isolate for 14 days beforehand.

Thankfully, as of Tuesday, July 28, that is no longer the case. The Daily Mail reported:

Updated guidance says strict social distancing and hand washing is enough to cut the risk of patients taking the virus into hospitals in England.

NHS patients will only need to self-isolate for a few days after taking a test in the run-up to them entering hospital, health bosses now say.  

Surgeons hope the relaxation of rules will help them to tackle the huge waiting lists that have built up during the Covid-19 crisis.

But they called for all patients to be given tests for the coronavirus before and after their operation to keep a lid on any potential outbreak.  

The change in advice was made because the virus is circulating at much lower levels than it was during the peak of the crisis in March and April.

Lewis Hamilton opines on a COVID-19 vaccine

Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton had to walk back a video and post he made on social media regarding a COVID-19 vaccine:

On Monday, July 27, The Guardian reported:

Hamilton has since deleted the video and published a statement saying he hadn’t seen the comment attached to the clip, but wanted to show there is “uncertainty around side effects” of vaccines.

“I’ve noticed some comments on my earlier post about the coronavirus vaccine, and want to clarify my thoughts on it, as I understand why they might have been misinterpreted,” he said.

“Firstly I hadn’t actually seen the comment attached so that is totally my fault and I have a lot of respect for the charity work Bill Gates does.

“I also want to be clear that I am not against a vaccine and no doubt it will be important in the fight against coronavirus, and I’m hopeful for its development to save lives.

“However after watching the video, I felt it showed that there is still a lot of uncertainty about the side effects most importantly and how it is going to be funded. I may not always get my posting right. I’m only human but I’m learning as we go.”

I agree with the highlighted bit 100%.

Holidays abroad

Whether it’s a good idea or not right now, Britons want to enjoy a summer holiday in Europe.

Some made their reservations early in the year, before the pandemic arrived. Understandably, they want to get what they paid for.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and his family managed to arrive in Spain hours before the UK declared a quarantine for British travellers returning from that country. Shapps flew back to the UK on Wednesday, July 29:

He is returning early to get through a 10-day quarantine and, in the meantime, from home, to ‘handle this situation’. The Foreign Office has advised against all non-essential travel to Spain.

Presumably, Europeans are travelling all across the continent.

The result is that coronavirus cases are rising again:

On July 28, RMC’s Les Grandes Gueules (The Big Mouths) interviewed Dr Robert Sebbag, a specialist in infections who works at La Pitié Salpêtrière hospital in Paris. He said that, although the COVID-19 ward is seeing a small uptick in hospitalisations, no one is on a ventilator and most cases are ‘mild’ compared to what they were only a few months ago. If I understood correctly, the hospital has 24 patients in that particular ward. He said that the uptick in non-hospitalised cases points to those that can be treated safely whilst self-isolating at home.

Dr Sebbag wasn’t too concerned and said that it was the normal progression of the cycle of a virus. The question remains, he said, whether or how COVID-19 will mutate.

For now, we will have to find ways of learning to live with the virus. Dr Sebbag does not see that herd immunity will become widespread. He estimates that only 6% to 10% of the French are immune.

Lockdown in the north west of England

As of Thursday, June 30, a lockdown is now in place in parts of the north west of England.

Matt Hancock should have announced it via a formal press conference. Instead, he did so via a pooled television interview, leaving it to Boris to do a coronavirus briefing from Downing Street on Friday to further explain the new measures.

Because of this new lockdown and rises in cases elsewhere, the proposed measures for reopening more facilities and close-contact beauty services are on hold for the foreseeable future.

Masks must now be worn in nearly all enclosed public spaces, not only in shops, but also in museums and houses of worship.

Boris also encouraged Britons to enjoy a staycation in the UK rather than abroad.


Meanwhile, in Brexit news, the international trade secretary, Liz Truss, announced that she would like to get haggis with meat into the US as part of a trade deal:

Earlier this year, exports of Macsween’s vegetarian haggis — branded as Scottish Veggie Crumble — were allowed into the US just in time for Burns Night on January 25. That was the first time in 49 years that any type of Scottish haggis was allowed in America.

And that concludes my roundup of the second half of July 2020.

Roll on August, come what may.

Food Republic — an eclectic site for people who enjoy dining — interviewed the British restaurant critic A A Gill in May 2015.

Gill is someone one either respects or loathes in equal measure.

I quite enjoy his reviews, especially his acerbic wit.

Absence of French classics

He told Food Republic something with which I can deeply empathise (emphases mine):

I sometimes just take stock and think, what is it that I’m missing? Because I eat everything, and I eat everywhere. And what is it that I haven’t had for a bit, that I’m missing. And the thing that I miss most now is classic French restaurant food. Bourgeois food, haute cuisine. And nobody’s making it in France, or very few people …

I really miss the French food that most of those of my generation who grew up loving food and being interested in food — that was where we started. And it’s very difficult to find … now.

Hear, hear.

Gill is around my age. When we were growing up, the big middle class family restaurant experience was eating classic French food. It didn’t happen often, at least in my family, and was reserved for once-in-a-lifetime occasions. Dad saved up and Mum chose the restaurant.

I don’t recall the ‘heavy sauces’ that so many complain about. I doubt if those people ever set foot in a French restaurant. That’s just another cliché spouted by those who know no better.

Gill is right to say that few restaurants in France feature elegant classics of Escoffier’s era.

French food has gone global. They even have food trucks now. Recently, they had national — wait for it — burger week! Whatever next?

World’s ‘best’ restaurants?

What compounds the problem, especially for French classics, are notional global best restaurant designations.

The most recent appeared on June 1, 2015: The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards. The Telegraph reported:

The avant-garde Spanish restaurant El Celler de Can Roca has won back the World’s Best Restaurant crown.

The restaurant in Girona is owned by three brothers – Joan, Josep and Jordi – and is famed for cutting-edge, playful dishes that still pay homage to classic Catalan cooking.

Hmm. I’ve eaten Catalan cooking in Barcelona. Classic Catalan cuisine is succulent roast kid, suckling pig and beautifully grilled prawns.

Have a look at the photograph accompanying The Telegraph article. It’s clearly some sort of molecular cuisine.

A gushing review in the paper from October 2014 proves it — and has accompanying photographs:

After more than a dozen courses, and almost as many glasses of wine, my tasting notes had become somewhat perfunctory. “Pig – delicious” was all I could manage for what was perhaps my favourite dish; “all the prawn” was the enigmatic description of another; while some had vanished from the record books altogether. With pork disguised as fish, ceviche hidden beneath the frozen face of tiger, and puddings that pulsate, it’s easy to get lost in the moment at a place like El Celler de Can Roca.

There’s more. After pre-prandials and amuse-bouches:

An “autumn vegetable stock” came next, cooked with the sort of precision you expect from the disciples of molecular gastronomy (“80 degrees for three hours”). It was crystal clear, with an unusual, almost gelatinous consistency, and bursting with 10 or more individually distinguishable flavours.

To follow was perhaps the most eye-catching dish – Leche de Tigre, a lobster ceviche topped with a disc of frozen lime branded with the image of a growling tiger. It, like many of the dishes, pushed the boundaries in terms of texture, but – thankfully – was less quirky when it came to flavour, with the sharpness of a classic ceviche.

The photo of Leche de Tigre — Tiger’s Milk — makes it look positively revolting. See for yourself. I would be unable to eat that. It is evident that some sort of chemical has to go in it in order to produce a semi-coagulated result.

And there are other similar restaurants on this world’s best list.

French food then takes a hit. The French media ask, ‘Why is our food so bad?’

But that’s not the question nor the conclusion to draw.

Classic French food is excellent. As A A Gill says, we see too little of it.

The problem is that most award-winning restaurants are those that favour molecular cuisine — or, if you prefer, molecular gastronomy.

All the rage

I spoke with someone a few weeks ago who makes a living by charting culinary trends for restaurants and cafés.

He told me, ‘That’s what people want.’ I countered that we are persuaded to think we want it. It isn’t our choice.

The media message is, ‘If you want to be hip and cool, you’ll seek molecular gastronomy.’

People pay hundreds of dollars/pounds/euros for a multi-course tasting menu. After that, I’d be in search of a McDonald’s, and I haven’t had one of those for, erm, 20 years.

For me — and countless others — restaurant food should offer a) a recognisable, goodly portion of protein, b) a satisfying yet creative sauce and c) easily identifiable vegetables.

Remember the interests behind the push for molecular cuisine: big business, always big business. There are companies which make the necessary chemicals for this type of dining experience. They can branch out from commercially processed food to top restaurants. The result is that consumers see chemicals as good, interesting and elegant.

A further result is that we will be able to buy them for use at home. We’ll also have accompanying cookbooks to match.

This means more money for the manufacturers of said chemicals and additives. Ker-ching!

Bucking the trend

French food critic Périco Légasse, who also writes for the newsweekly Marianne, had something to say about the 2014 World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards.

After the list appeared, he said that the Danish winner Noma — also known for molecular cuisine — was responsible for 63 diners becoming ill from badly-done ‘chemical combinations’.

He also accused sponsors Nestlé and San Pellegrino of an ‘anti-French campaign’:

There is a political will to denigrate French cuisine.

Couldn’t agree more.

In another article, this one for Marianne, he reported on what Olivier Roellinger, chef of the three-Michelin Cancale, and equally esteemed Joël Robuchon of Fleury-Michon thought.

Roellinger said:

Molecular cuisine is a lure for people who don’t really know that much about food to begin with. It’s really [like] selling wind. And who’s financing this lobbying? A syndicate of industrial flavouring companies … It’s absolutely abominable.

Robuchon, even though he admires Spain’s award-winning Ferran Adria, went further:

Additives aren’t good. I’ve done everything to avoid using them at Fleury-Michon. In today’s molecular cuisine we find additives which aren’t even allowed in industrial food processing. I am 200% against molecular cuisine, for the good reason that I work with health and industrial services encouraging the elimination of acidifiers, colourings and additives, some of which have secondary effects.

In 2010, the Italian government banned the use of certain chemical additives and liquid nitrogen in molecular cuisine. The current status is unknown as the 2010 law was only in force for one year. It is unclear whether a new law has replaced it.

Cook and Food Network presenter Alton Brown, an American, had this to say in 2011 (emphases in the original):

Every generation develops tools. And the tools are a wonderful way to explore the possibilities of the world and of creation. I use some emulisifiers. Yes, there’s xantham gum in my kitchen. Why? Because I’m tired of shaking up a salad dressing. You know, it’s practical things. Is it really cool to be able to make corn flakes out of peanut butter? Sure, it’s a great trick. But it’s a novelty, by and large.

My worry about molecular gastronomy, especially with young cooks, is that they will try use it replace knowing how to cook. Food. Show me you can cook a chicken breast, properly. Show me you can cook a carrot, properly. Now do it a hundred times in row. Then we can play around with white powders.

It’s an interesting skill set, it’s an interesting bunch of tools. You can’t live on it. It’s not food.

He later clarified his position:

Just to set record straight: molecular gastronomy is not bad…but without sound, basic culinary technique, it is useless.

Natural or harmful?

To be fair, a number of additives with odd sounding names are perfectly natural — some come from seaweed — and have been used in mass-produced food for years.

Science Fare has a lengthy list with explanations of each popular molecular gastronomy ingredient.

India’s Mid-day has an interesting interview from May 2015 with chef and food stylist Michael Swamy who explains that just because something is natural does not automatically mean it is healthful to eat.

It all rather depends. Swamy discussed the freshwater basa fish, a new trendy yet inexpensive protein in India. He warned:

The fish is highly toxic and has a high amount of lead.

Swamy had this to say about molecular gastronomy (emphases mine):

One meal is equivalent to your one year’s quota of toxins as you only consume chemicals. The other day, someone told me that they had something called a bubble kulfi, which had dry ice. Everyone knows that dry ice is very poisonous but it is still added to cocktails and so on.

Swamy is correct. Laboratory assistants who work with liquid nitrogen — dry ice — in a clinical or scientific context wear gloves when handling the tanks. It can burn.

In 2012, Time magazine reported on a young Englishwoman who had to have her stomach removed after drinking a cocktail with dry ice. The then-teen suffered the horrendous consequences:

after drinking a Jagermeister cocktail made with liquid nitrogen at a bar in northern England.

The article goes on to explain the uses of liquid nitrogen in a medical setting — freezing warts, removing cancerous cells — as well as in a culinary one — ice-cream making.

The issue is knowing how to handle it for human consumption:

The main point is that liquid nitrogen must be fully evaporated from the meal or drink before serving, said Peter Barham of the University of Bristol’s School of Physics. It can safely be used in food or drink preparation, but it should not be ingested.

Barham and another scientist told the BBC:

Professor Barham adds that just as no-one would drink boiling water or oil, or pour it over themselves, no-one should ingest liquid nitrogen

Science writer and fellow at the Royal Society of Chemistry John Emsley says if more than a “trivial” amount of liquid nitrogen is swallowed, the result can be horrendous. “If you drank more than a few drops of liquid nitrogen, certainly a teaspoon, it would freeze, and become solid and brittle like glass. Imagine if that happened in the alimentary canal or the stomach.

The liquid also quickly picks up heat, boils and becomes a gas, which could cause damage such as perforations or cause a stomach to burst,” he says.



A large number of molecular gastronomy fans are probably people who enjoy working out at the gym and regular detoxes.

Little do they know what they are ingesting and what the long term effects of those substances are.

What struck me were the following points:

– Joel Robuchon saying that some of these ingredients aren’t even legal in industrial food production;

– Michael Swamy’s warning that one of these dinners can give you a year’s worth of toxins in just one evening;

– The possibly fatal dangers of liquid nitrogen in the hands of someone who does not understand what he is doing when preparing a new kind of cocktail.

Caveat emptor! Consumer be warned!

Mary Poppins is a staple of British televsion programming at Christmas.

I remember seeing the film shortly after it was first released. As with so many Disney films (e.g. Fantasia) it was way too long and, frankly, somewhat boring. I fell asleep through part of it as I had done when going to several of his other productions.

Disney’s treatment of PL Travers’s Mary Poppins is far from her novel. According to English television presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell — daughter of the late Alan Coren who wrote for Punch and wife of comic actor David Mitchell — this children’s story is punctuated by episodes of uncertainty and fear. She has written about it in the latest edition of the Radio Times (30 November – 6 December 2013, pp. 20-22).

For centuries, children’s stories — oral and written — have introduced peril, myth, morality and loss to young people. Through them, we become acquainted with good and evil as well as what we can expect from life itself — endless uncertainty in a fallen world.

On this point, PL Travers’s book does not disappoint, Mitchell says. She read it as a child.

Also in this week’s Radio Times is an interview with actor Tom Hanks (pp. 24-27), who stars with Emma Thompson in Saving Mr Banks, the story of Travers and Walt Disney bringing Mary Poppins to celluloid.

What follows are aspects of the film as well the lives of Travers and Disney which are less well known. Saving Mr Banks explores some of them, although I have not seen the film.

As far as Mary Poppins is concerned, Travers objected to Disney’s sugarcoating the film by making the nanny a cheery, happy character.

PL Travers

Helen Lyndon Goff was born in 1899 to a bank employee and niece of a Premier of Queensland, Boyd Dunlop Morehead. Travers Robert Goff — originally from Deptford (London, England)  moved his family from Maryborough to Allora — another town in that Australian state — in 1905. He died of influenza in 1907. His widow, Margaret, and three daughters moved to neighbouring New South Wales. Helen attended boarding school in Sydney during the years of the Great War.

Helen was known by family and friends as Lyndon. She wrote stories for her sisters as well as poetry. She also became interested in acting and toured with a Shakespeare company as Pamela Lyndon Travers. The troupe ended up in England in 1924, where Travers settled and became a writer. She and a friend Madge Burnand eventually moved to Sussex, where Travers began writing Mary Poppins in 1933.

Once in England, she made connections in the literary world. Her first publisher was the inspiration for Peter Pan, JM Barrie’s adopted son Peter Llewellyn Davies. She also visited Ireland and made friends with writers such as WB Yeats and a number of poets. They introduced her to mythology. An American publisher acquainted with that circle, Jane Heap, got Travers interested in Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way, a good works-based ‘universal brotherhood’ combining various religious traditions with gnosticism and mysticism.

Travers never married and is said to have had romantic relationships with both men and women.

At the age of 40, on one of her trips to Ireland, she visited the home of Joseph Hone, the first biographer of WB Yeats. He and his wife Vera had seven grandchildren living with them. Two of them were twin baby boys — Anthony and Camillus. Taking an astrologer’s advice, she adopted Camillus.

At the age of 17, it appears that Anthony discovered his twin was living in London. He went to Travers’s house there. Camillus tried to cope with this surprise discovery but, four years later, was in Stafford Prison, serving a six-month sentence for drink driving. He died in London in 2011.

Travers was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1977. She also earned royalties from Disney’s film Mary Poppins.

Travers died in London in 1996. Her ashes were scattered in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin in Twickenham (west London). (This should not be construed necessarily as a conversion to Christianity; it is traditional for authors and actors — regardless of belief — to have a funeral and/or ‘resting place’ at Anglican churches.)

It is interesting that, during the Second World War, Travers worked in Manhattan for the British Ministry of Information. It was at that time that Roy Disney — Walt’s brother — contacted her about adapting the Mary Poppins books for film. After the war ended, she spent two summers travelling the American Southwest studying Indian tribes. She was also Writer-in-Residence at Radcliffe, Harvard and Smith before returning to England.

Walt Disney

There are two versions of Walt Disney‘s origins.

The official one is that he was born in 1901 in the Kelvyn Grove (now Hermosa) area on the Northwest Side of Chicago.

His ancestor Robert d’Isigny was thought to have gone to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. (It is probable that he was from Normandy or La Manche. There are two towns in northwestern France which carry the name: Isigny-sur-Mer and Isigny-le-Buat.) The anglicised version of the name is Disney. Robert’s descendants were thought to have settled in Norton Disney, Lincolnshire. Walt’s branch later moved to Ireland before sailing to Ontario. In the 19th century, they relocated to Ellis, Kansas, where they bought a farm.

Disney’s father Elias was a gold prospector in California before returning to the farm. With the advance of the railroads, he worked for the Union Pacific, a principal railway company until the late 20th century when a number of mergers put paid to most of them.

It was during his time on the Union Pacific that Elias fell in love with Walt’s mother Flora (née Call). They married on New Year’s Day 1888 in Acron, Florida, 40 miles from Walt Disney World.

Elias Disney and his family moved back and forth between Chicago and Missouri at the turn of the century. Elias’s brother, Robert, lived in Chicago and helped them financially. In 1906, when Walt was four, Elias and his family moved to Marceline, Missouri, where another brother Roy had a farm. In 1911, they moved to Kansas City, where one of Walt’s classmates Walter Pfeiffer introduced him to cinema and vaudeville. Walt and Walter became firm friends, the former clearly intrigued by the Pfeiffer family’s entertainment interests and the arts in general. Walt took courses at the Kansas City Art Institute.

In 1917, Elias bought shares in a Chicago jelly company O-Zell and moved the family back to Illinois. Once back in Chicago — then an exciting city of commerce and culture, remaining so until the 1980s — young Walt continued supplementing his state school education with courses at the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the world’s best museums in its category.

As this was during the Great War, it is not surprising that Walt was absorbed not only by events in Europe but also America’s place in the world. He and a friend decided to join the Red Cross. However, Walt was initially refused because he lacked a birth certificate. I’ve highlighted that, because we’ll return to it below. Suffice it to say that it was not unusual for births to have gone unregistered. Women often gave birth at home with the help of midwives and it wasn’t until after that war that hospitals became a more mainstream, albeit not yet universal, place for an expectant mother to deliver a child. The state was also not as encroaching then as it is now, therefore, other records (e.g. school and work) could help to reasonably verify a person’s age.

Walt never did finish high school. However, he and his friend did drive ambulances for the Red Cross in France, after the Armistice in 1918.

Once he returned to the United States, he was certain about pursuing a career in illustrating. He moved back to Kansas City to work for an art studio and the rest is history.

The unofficial story of Walt’s early life is quite different — and contentious. I read it in Le Monde in 2001 and was shocked.

The Guardian also carried the story — nearly 12 years ago to the day now. Citations and references below are from the article.

Two American authors — Marc Eliot (celebrity biographer) and Christopher Jones (son of a Disney press agent) — were unearthing evidence which they claimed (separately) to prove that Walt Disney was actually born in Mojacar, Spain. He was purported to be the son of two local lovers, Walt’s putative mother eventually emigrating to the United States where she offered her son up for adoption and the Disneys supposedly taking the boy in as their own.

Indeed, Mojacar — a village of 5,000 people in Andalucia along the southeast coast — claims Disney as a son. However, their Wikipedia entry does not include this bit of information.

This story dates back to 1940, thanks to an article which appeared in a Spanish movie magazine Primer Plano.

Marc Eliot picked up on this article and the Mojacar connection in his 1993 biography Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince. The author claims that the entertainment company mogul was an FBI informer under J Edgar Hoover. The Disney family

hired William Webster, FBI director under George Bush Sr, to refute that and other claims about his role as a prized FBI informer.

If true — and it is difficult to find any follow-up online — Walt’s interest in his birth came about in 1917 when he asked his mother Flora for his birth certificate in order to apply as a Red Cross volunteer in Europe for the war effort. Flora signed an affadavit swearing that he was born in Chicago:

The fact that it concerned him seems to have been confirmed by Hoover himself. In a declassified FBI document, Hoover pledged to help Disney. “I am indeed pleased that we can be of service to you in affording you a means of absolute identity through your lifetime,” he wrote.

Eliot alleged that Flora signed a second affadavit in 1934 concerning Walt’s birth. This was two years before she died.

Eliot received over 600 pages of documentation from the FBI in 1992 relating to Walt Disney.

Recall that Walt’s brother Roy met PL Travers when the latter was in New York working for the British Ministry of Information during the Second World War.

The Mojacar connection started, according to the townspeople, in 1940 when, at the end of the Spanish Civil War, two Americans arrived. They were smartly dressed and, naturally, had suitcases.

Their arrival took the residents by surprise. Mojacar had fallen on hard times after the closure of local copper and iron mines. The village must have appeared primitive to the two visitors. There were no basic conveniences of the 20th century, including electricity. Women collected water from wells which they carried home on their heads. The people’s faith, whilst notionally Catholic, was syncretic, recalling Moorish (Muslim) occupation centuries before. The women wore veils which they held between their teeth when they were busy with their hands.

The Americans asked to see the village priest, the Revd Federico Acosta. Acosta’s nephew was visiting at the time from Madrid where, you will be interested to know, Snow White had just made its premiere.  The nephew, Jose Acosta — a journalist and lawyer — was 71 in 2001. He remembered the encounter between his uncle and the Americans as follows (emphases mine):

“He told us that some gentlemen from the US had come to find the birth certificate of one Jose Guirao. They were shown the page in the register. Later, when he looked again, the page had been ripped out,” he recalls.

He told me they had come not to find Jose Guirao’s birth certificate, but to destroy it,” says Acosta.

Jacinto Alarcon also saw the Americans in town. He later became Mojacar’s mayor. Although he died before 2001, author Christopher Jones was able to speak with him in his final years. Jacinto’s son Juan said at the time of the Millennium:

Jones has a taped interview with him in which he tells the story, agreeing on the basic facts with Acosta. “Virtually everybody is convinced he was born here. Only the Americans don’t want to admit it,” explains Jacinto’s son Juan, who now owns Mojacar’s tobacconists.

Even today, Mojacar families know the story of little Jose Guirao. It is not quite straightforward, as two men are involved. A poor young woman Isabel Zamora is acknowledged as the mother. A similarly poor man’s name appears on Jose’s birth certificate; we know only that his surname is Guirao and that he worked as a miner. However, people surmise that the child’s real father was the local physician, Gines Carrillo. Because he was a doctor, Carrillo was one of the few men parents allowed their daughters to see unaccompanied.

Mojacar residents viewed Carrillo benignly. Not only was he a doctor who lived in a magnificent villa — Torreon, by name. He was also profoundly interested in the arts and aesthetics. He added a Venetian-style theatre to the town and held rehearsals for plays at Torreon.  The town’s children learned how to play musical instruments at his estate. Residents could also admire his collection of exotic birds.

Carrillo also constructed a beach house in Mojacar. Although his descendants had it razed, it bore similarities to Disney’s castle which features so prominently in the title sequence of his television programme and at his parks. Carrillo’s was:

a fantasy creation of his own, topped with towers. Its eccentric aspect adds extra weight, in villagers’ minds, to the idea that this man must have spawned Walt Disney.

In 2001, Torreon was a private guest house. The lady who owns it, Charo Lopez, told The Guardian:

Disney certainly wasn’t born in this house. But this is where he was conceived,” she states. “This is like the existence of God. Either you believe he was born in Mojacar, or you don’t.”

Carrillo had a son, Diego, who is also a doctor. He told The Guardian that he did not wish to give an interview. He says that Carrillo would have gone along with the story as a good joke. He added:

If you think my father and Walt Disney look alike, you should see pictures of my uncle. He looks even more like Disney – and he did like the ladies.

One of the uncle’s grandsons — Diego’s nephew, also a physician — told the paper:

“Mojacar was a boring place then. My grandfather died when I was young but he was a lecher, a ‘ viejo verde ‘, in his old age and interested in the occult. The whole thing was cooked up by Jacinto [the aforementioned mayor] and him when those journalists arrived from the film magazine.”

Other variations of the Mojacar connection exist. One says that Walt Disney personally wrote the parish priest in 1925 asking for his birth certificate — that of Jose Guirao Zamora — when he was preparing to marry Lillian Bounds, his wife of 41 years. Another story says that Isabel Zamora worked for the Disney family and had an affair with Walt’s father Elias. Yet another has two Franciscans requesting the birth certificate in the 1950s.

The surviving Carrillos told The Guardian that they would be happy to take DNA tests to prove the veracity or otherwise of the Mojacar connection. However, it appears that the Disney family — perhaps rightly, under the circumstances — preferred to put this story behind them. The Guardian article does acknowledge that much of Mojacar’s younger generation thinks it is either gossip and doesn’t really care.

As for the other popular criticisms of Disney — anti-Semitism and insensitivity because of his father’s treatment of him — I have a few comments.

First, there were anti-American forces at work in the entertainment world at the time. This is why the McCarthy investigations were so criticised by far-left elements and why McCarthy continues to be vilified. Disney is long gone, although, unfortunately, lefty media types are still with us. He refused unionisation in his company, no doubt because he could see socialist or communist infiltration at work. His wasn’t the only animation or film studio in town. Dissatisfied animators and other employees sought employment elsewhere.

Second, I surmise that what the Left interprets as pure anti-Semitism was probably anti-Communism. It is a coincidence that these organisers for unionisation happened to be Jewish — and secular Jews at that. If Walt Disney were really so inclined, it seems highly unlikely that he would have befriended Walter Pfeiffer as a boy, especially as he spent more time at the Pfeiffer house than at home.

Third, Disney critics say he was hard-hearted and that this is because his father Elias beat him. Well, the reality is that nearly every child was beaten then by parents, teachers or nannies; that’s just they were brought up at the turn of the century. I also find it interesting that they mention that Elias was an ‘Evangelical’, as if, in and of itself, that were necessarily a bad thing. That’s every bit as bad as anti-Semitism. I’m also not clear how they arrive at this as being a certainty. If the Mojacar story has any veracity, Isabel Zamora might well have chosen a Catholic adoption agency in the United States, meaning that one or both of the Disney parents would probably have been Catholic. Catholic agencies then dealt with Catholics, not with all-comers.

Fourth, men of Disney’s generation were not touchy-feely postmodern types. You can read biographies of Fabians, Communists and other leftists of the period to find that they, too, were emotionally distant. However, because the Left control most of the media messages, you’ll be less likely to readily discover such facts.

In closing, Walt Disney was no better or no worse than many other men. He ran, with his brother Roy, a globally successful company. He was a husband and father of two daughters.

He brought a lot of people much happiness. Nearly every Westerner today remembers seeing their first Disney production, whether a cartoon or film. Millions have also visited Disneyland and Walt Disney World as well as his park outside of Paris.

Perhaps that is all that remains to be said.

If you missed yesterday’s post on the 16th century Huguenot settlement in present-day South Carolina, it’s worthwhile reading before continuing with their story in Florida.

As the Florida story opens, keep in mind that the Huguenots arrived there in 1562 before sailing for what is now the Sea Islands in Port Royal Sound in South Carolina. Jean Ribault and his men did not settle in Florida, although they did explore some of the St John’s River — what he had called the May River — and coastal features whilst sailing northward.

By 1564, Ribault was lying low in England, seeking refuge as a Huguenot. Meanwhile, in his home country, King Charles IX wished to send another ship to Florida. He called on René Goulaine de Laudonnière to lead the expedition.

It is possible he chose Laudonnière because he had been second in command in Charlesfort under Jean Ribault. Therefore, he already knew the region. As Ribault was in England, Laudonnière was the next best choice. In addition to colonisation, part of the objective of the trip was also to give Huguenots safe haven.

Laudonnière was a nobleman and member of the Huguenot merchant class. It is unclear where he was born and raised. Some say it was near the town of Laudonnière, the family seat of the Goulaine family, near the busy port of Nantes. Other historians claim he came from further south in Poitou, near the port of Sables d’Olonne.

Charles IX gave Laudonnière 50,000 crowns, three ships and 300 Huguenot colonists. Laudonnière set sail from Le Havre on April 22, 1564. He and his men arrived at the mouth of the May (St John’s) River on June 22 that year.

Laudonnière first renewed his acquaintance with the Saturiwa Indians — a branch of the larger Timucua tribe. As I said yesterday:

It’s important to remember that here, as well as in Brazil and on St Kitts, the French treated the Indians with kindness.

That remained largely true in Florida, until later, when the Indians were angry that the French had demanded too many provisions from them. The settlers also met with an unknown tribe, and tensions quickly appeared.

Fort Caroline, 1564

After befriending the Indians, Laudonnière and his crew then sailed north to what is now Jacksonville, Florida. There they established the colony of Fort Caroline, named for Charles IX.

Life in the new colony was arduous. The Frenchmen went hungry. Some of the men staged a mutiny and destroyed one of the ships. Laudonnière was able to subdue the rebellion by executing the ringleaders.

Interestingly, amongst all he had to do in Florida, Laudonnière had not forgotten an important detail from Charlesfort up north. That was the rescue of the young man Guillermo Rouffi. Laudonnière had found out that Rouffi never sailed back to France with the last of the Charlesfort settlers and decided to bring him back to the new colony in Florida.

In January 1565, Laudonnière sent a ship to Port Royal Sound to search for Rouffi. However, no one knew that Rouffi left the settlement with the invading Spanish six months earlier. One wonders what happened to him.

Meanwhile, Laudonnière and his colonists had expected Jean Ribault to return to France and then Florida, stocked with supplies. However, France’s involvement in wars at home and abroad prevented him from sailing at the appointed time. He did not arrive until August 28, 1565.

During the intervening months, Laudonnière was ready to abandon Fort Caroline. In addition to the aforementioned mutiny, other of his men became pirates and attacked Spanish ships in the Caribbean. On the mainland, another Timucua tribe, the Utina, clashed with the French.

When Ribault arrived, he assumed governorship of Fort Caroline. Laudonnière was unhappy with this arrangement and arranged to return to France. Ribault’s 800 settlers, which included women and children, rebuilt and repaired the fort’s dilapidated buildings.

Spanish attack, 1565

Just weeks later, a Spanish expedition led by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés arrived at the behest of Philip II to drive out the French, just as they had further north in Port Royal Sound in 1564. Spain believed they held claim to the lands their explorer Juan Ponce de León — he of the fountain of youth — had discovered in 1513.

Ribault was aware of the Spanish presence and sailed with most of Fort Caroline’s soldiers to Saint Augustine on September 10, 1565. They encountered a strong tropical storm.

On the morning of September 20, Menéndez and his men attacked Fort Caroline. Despite the same raging tropical storm that Ribault encountered, they managed to capture the settlement. One hundred thirty-two Frenchmen died; another 45 escaped. Around 50 women and children were held hostage. Menéndez quickly renamed the colony Fort San Mateo and set out looking for the escapees.

Ribault’s and Laudonniere’s whereabouts

Meanwhile, Ribault and his men were washed ashore near what is now Daytona Beach. The storm had destroyed their ships and many of the men had drowned. The survivors began walking the coastline and soon fell into Spanish hands at Matanzas Inlet. In accordance with Philip II’s edict, all Huguenots who refused to recant their ‘heresy’ were to be executed. The Spanish took them behind a sand dune and killed them using swords. Ribault — a Huguenot — was among those who met their death. The Catholics and a group of musicians on Ribault’s ships were allowed to live.

You might be wondering what happened to Laudonnière, as he was left at Fort Caroline when Ribault set sail for St Augustine. Laudonnière was among the escapees during the Spanish attack.  He managed to make his way to the mouth of the May (St John’s) River, where Ribault’s son had anchored three ships.

From there, Laudonnière and Ribault’s son set sail for Europe, however, Laudonnière arrived alone — in Wales. From Wales, it is thought that he travelled overland via Bristol and London to the coast, where he was able to cross the Channel and arrive in Paris around December 1565.

Once back in France, Laudonnière maintained a low profile, although he did write his memoir of Florida, L’histoire notable de la Floride, contenant les trois voyages faits en icelles par des capitaines et pilotes français (‘The notable history of Florida, containing the three voyages made by French captains and pilots’), published in 1586, 12 years after his death in 1574.

What happened to the Huguenots at Fort Caroline

Menéndez killed most of the settlers at Fort Caroline and hanged their bodies from trees. By way of explanation, he erected an inscription which read:

Not as Frenchmen but as Lutherans.

Calling Protestants ‘Lutherans’ — regardless of their religious preference — was still widespread practice at the time on the part of Catholics.

When this news reached France, both Catholics and Huguenots were outraged. The French court complained to the Spanish court. Spain responded by granting Menendez and his men honours and recognition.

Avenging the massacre at Fort Caroline

One French Catholic who was so outraged that he decided to take action against the Spanish was Dominique de Gourgue.

Gourgue came from a prominent family near Bordeaux. He served in several conflicts and had been captured by the Spaniards in 1557.  He also travelled to Brazil and the West Indies, although it is unclear whether he was among the Huguenot expeditions there. In any event, once he left his military service and expeditions behind, the Guise family — leaders of the Catholic League — employed him against the Huguenots.

Regardless, Gourgue’s dislike of the Spanish outweighed any animosity he had towards Huguenots.

He sold everything he had and even enlisted the financial help of his brother Antoine to purchase three small ships. He recruited men on the premise that, together, they would sail to Cuba.

This they did. Once they arrived in Cuba, Gourgue revealed his primary intent: to sail to San Mateo (formerly Fort Caroline) and avenge the deaths of their fellow countrymen. He met with no objection.

In 1568, the tiny fleet arrived near San Mateo. Gourgue was quick to first make friends with and enlist the help of the Timacuan tribes the French knew earlier: the Saturiwa and the Tacatacuru.

Gourgue and his men — including the Indians — then attacked San Mateo. They killed the Spanish colonists and — just as Menéndez had with the Huguenots — hanged their bodies from trees with a similar style of inscription:

Not as Spaniards but as murderers.

Upon his return to La Rochelle in 1568, Gourgue met with a mixed reaction. The governor of Bordeaux, his home city, gave him a warm welcome. However, the French court, worried about reprisals from Spain, distanced itself from Gourgue.

He went to live in obscurity and poverty in the northern city of Rouen, until the French court decided to employ him in 1572 by giving him command of a ship. Ironically, he went on to command the largest vessel against the Huguenots at the Siege of La Rochelle.

Later in 1592, the Portuguese claimant to that country’s throne, Don Antonio de Crato, enlisted Gourgue’s help by putting him in charge of that country’s fleet against Philip II of Spain. Whilst on the way to Portugal, Gourgue died. Dom de Crato died in Paris three years later, unable to ever become king of Portugal, a position Philip II continued to hold.

End of the 2013 series on the Huguenots

On May 28, a Frenchwoman, Nathalie Masseron, launched a new association for French smokers called l’Union pour les Droits des Fumeurs Adultes (UDFA) — the Union for Adult Smokers’ Rights. All being well, their website content should be up and running by the time you read this post.

As Ms Masseron explained to Agence France Presse, and reported on

We want to defend our liberty … We are forbidden from café terraces, certain people want to prevent us from accessing parks where there are children, certain hotels are non-smoking, soon smokers will be prevented from renting apartments and they’re even talking about banning smoking in cars!

As a libertarian and as a smoker, I wish her and the UDFA every success as they battle their opponents, the highly vocal DNF — Association des Droits des Non-Fumeurs. They have brought 15 cases to court asking that café owners stop allowing smokers to light up under plastic sheeting — bâches — sheltering them from wind and rain.  So far, none, thankfully, has been successful. Non-smokers wanted to go inside and wanted smokers outside. That’s the price to pay. Wouldn’t it have been much better with smoking and non-smoking sections? Or a fumoir in the back where staff and patrons could go to have a congenial smoke amongst themselves?

Hocine, a smoker who waits tables at at the Café d’Albert in Montmartre, famous for artists who also enjoyed tobacco, said that the latest attempt by DNF to restrict smoking mostly altogether in cafés would lower the takings and see people go home for a cigarette and coffee. His customer Sophie, a non-smoker agreed:

If you ban smoking, no one will come to the café anymore.

And, quelle surprise, it has been the same with pubs and bingo halls in the UK since 2007. Instead of going out for a drink, former smoking pubgoers now share the hosting of ‘smoky-drinkies’, where people bring their own drinks and cigarettes. Bingo hall devotees who smoke now play online in the privacy of their own homes, even if they lose out on lunch or ‘tea’ with their friends. (Afternoon telly in the UK is full of ads for online bingo.)

In Denmark, Niels Ipsen, environmental biologist, and Klaus Kjellerup, researcher, journalist and musician, wrote in October 2011 (emphases mine):

A total of 9,000 English and Irish pubs are today abandoned after bankruptcy, and many breweries are closed (5). Result: Increased debt, broken [futur]es and unemployment.

In Denmark, the phenomenon is seen in the so-called outlying Denmark: The cafe closes in the small town’s main street. Subsequently, fewer residents visit the end of the main street, and [thus] slowly begin[s] the negative economic spiral that hits the street’s remaining stores one by one. Eventually, the town [is] deserted: Marginal Denmark in [2011].

More smoking ban[s] will accelerate this process.

The smoking ban started in Britain and Denmark in 2007. Anti-smoking and cancer-fighting charities can be proud of the jobs they have lost for the nation. And, as our Danish correspondents have revealed — which comes as no surprise to those following European and American smoking blogs — the same occurs everywhere that smoking bans have been enforced. Jobs lost? Who cares? Businesses closing? So what?

Klaus Kjellerup’s blog also carried an item about the situation in Spain, which also has a smoking society scene. Between 2006 and 2011, small bar and café owners could allow smoking or provide a smoking room elsewhere on the premises. Early in 2011, Spain’s government — driven by the World Health Organisation (WHO) — decreed that all premises had to be non-smoking. Keep in mind that this is a country where people who are retired or who work part-time can go to an establishment in their free time to spend a few hours with friends and neighbours over coffee and pastry or a beer and a snack followed by a cigarette or two. Each person would conceivably spend an hour or two at least in their favourite café or bar. Within a few months of the ban taking place:

The Spanish hotel and restaurant association FEHR says that after three months with smoking law has [seen] 53,200 employees in serving the industry [sacked]: “The smoking ban is the main reason for these layoffs,” the president said in FEHR, Jose Maria Rubio, who calls the law “a tragedy” [for] the Spanish cafes.

“The figures are even worse than they seem because there had been 15.5% more tourists in Spain in the first quarter because of unrest in the Arab Mediterranean countries,” says Rubio.

“This law is creating an economic disaster of historic proportions for our members and for many Spanish families,” he writes on the association’s website .

Non-smokers are not of the café-bar culture. And that might include many of my readers, which is fine. Yet, to many patrons of these places — even North Americans — meeting up with like-minded people does everyone a lot of good, even if smoking is involved.

Many difficulties arise with smoking bans. As Ms Masseron stated, there are problems with:

– Renting a flat.

– Spending one’s free time quietly minding one’s own business.

– Going to bars or cafés.

– Being able to smoke in a hotel room or on a beach or in a park, even with no children around.

Along with that, in the US, are bans on hiring smokers — even if they have a quiet gasper off-premises. In the UK, some smokers must clock off and on when they go for a smoke break.

What about the non-smokers who waste endless hours talking about nonsense when taking a notional tea break? Believe me, I’ve seen more than I care to remember. Meanwhile, smoking rooms in the UK were full of people reviewing reports, presentations and holding one-on-one meetings.

At the Cleveland Clinic, the CEO — Dr Toby Cosgrove — bans potential employees who test positive for nicotine:

As a healthcare institution devoted to the health and well-being of our patients and employees, it is our responsibility to do something to help those who suffer from this terrible addiction.

Except he is doing nothing to help smokers. He’s only preventing honest people from getting a job. That’s helpful?

As the Canadian volunteer association CAGE (Citizens against Encroaching Government) observes:

In fact you can be engaging in criminal activities outside your working hours and you can still get a job at the Cleveland Clinic but if you test positive for nicotine you become persona non grata. 

That’s right, and there are other companies around North America who also do this. They’re probably starting in Britain, too. I remember in 2006 when the executive in charge of our division took a phone call to answer a survey on employees who smoked (I was in the room). This person responded:

I would rather not employ smokers, but I have two who are very efficient workers. But I am against smoking.

She actually had more smokers than that under her supervision. She only reported on the ones of whom she knew.

Sadly, many British physicians today would deny smokers NHS care, when smokers pay at least three times more tax to support it than they receive in treatment for tobacco-related diseases. The Christian Post carried a précis of an article from the UK’s Observer:

In an optional opinion poll taken out by, 54 percent of 1,096 British doctors said they believe they should have a right to withhold care to non-emergency patients in an effort to spare limited resources.

The doctors were asked, “Should the NHS be allowed to refuse non-emergency treatments to patients unless they lose weight or stop smoking?”

It is hoped that astute readers noted the words ‘patients unless they lose weight’. The goalposts are always shifting.

Seriously, smokers should go to the head of the queue for NHS treatment. They’ve earned the equivalent of the Olympic Gold for tax payment. More than 75% of the price of a pack of cigarettes in the UK is tax. In France, it is 80%.

And that goes for Americans, too. For these gold-plated employee health insurance plans, if the employer is so belaboured by smoking employees, why doesn’t he allow them to pick up the monthly excess? The payroll department could easily figure it out.

The Czech Republic has realised how important smokers are to tax revenue. Klaus Kjellerup’s blog reported in September 2011 (emphases in the original below):

It is rare to hear political authorities … say … that the state [does well out of] smoking, and that today’s smokers are over taxed because of high tobacco taxes.

It happened, however, in Prague in [A]ugust 2011, national public TV channel, Czech Television, the Czech Minister of Health & [M]edical, Leos Heger was interviewed about a new government analysis of smoking effects on the Czech economy.

The analysis shows that the tobacco tax in the Czech Republic [contribute]s 10 times more than the cost of disease treatments of Czech smokers.

But, that’s not enough. As I write, UK supermarkets are in the process of placing all tobacco products behind white or black shutters labelled with the words … ‘TOBACCO PRODUCTS’. A laminated sheet of paper lists the cigarettes and tobacco available. Shutters must be opened and shut for every tobacco request. Halfway around the world, Australia is currently conducting an energetic debate on whether to have plain packaging for cigarettes. The same debate is going on in the UK.

MEP (European Parliamentarian) Roger Helmer wrote:

There is no question that smoking is a bad for your health. I would recommend that anyone who does smoke stops. However, this doesn’t mean I believe it is justifiable that the state should intervene to remove the intellectual property of a company selling a legal product in a misguided attempt to stigmatise a legal activity …

There is no majority consensus behind standardised packaging, despite what we were told by a recent YouGov poll. The poll in question made claims based on a highly leading question and the President of YouGov happens to be on the Board of Trustees of a taxpayer funded anti-smoking lobby organisation, ASH. And even if there was a consensus, government should exist to support individual rights rather than to pander to calls from vested interest groups

As a non-smoker, the reason I am deeply concerned by this proposal is because I believe that people should be able to do as they please, without interference from a nanny state. Government should not be able to force its views on adults engaging in a legal activity; free citizens who choose to smoke shouldn’t be a target for the Department of Health ...

Government is the tool of its citizens – it exists to serve them – not to belittle or marginalise them and this is exactly what this preposterous piece of legislation does. It says that smokers are pariahs on society who need special laws for their products, such as the introduction of the display ban last month. The organisations that the Department of Health funds to campaign against smokers call this process “denormalisation”, a phrase that sounds like it was handpicked from Orwell’s 1984.

I remember clearly when liberal and conservative journals of American record said at the end of  1984, ‘See, nothing happened, despite the doom-mongering about Orwell. Except that you now have to wear seat belts. And you might not be able to smoke on short-distance flights. But that’s only for two hours. So what?’

Now look what’s happened. Scope creep.

My theory — and I’m sticking to it — is that the Left drives the Nanny State. I picked this up from the fora on France’s RMC (Radio Monte Carlo, broadcast from Paris’s 15th arrondissement). The most rabid anti-smoking listener there has a Che Guevara avatar. He is forever banging on about smoking. The more conservative members advise a bit of give and take. No, he won’t have it. Also, just before the first round of the presidential elections in France in 2012, Nathalie Arthaud of the hard-Left Lutte Ouvrière told RMC’s Les Grandes Gueules (‘The Big Mouths’):

Drinking is so dangerous. We advise all our members against consuming alcohol.

Yet, France has one of the most sensible alcohol policies in the world. And — every bar and café has the rather lengthy law on public drunkenness prominently displayed in its premises behind the bar. Look for it — it’s even framed.

But, you may say, ‘Churchmouse, there are plenty of conservatives who oppose smoking and drinking. Church groups, too.’

They only pull it in from the Left. And don’t get me started on pietism and holiness folks, they of the whited sepulchres.

The Left starts the debate, makes a moral crusade out of it and, before you know it, conservatives and churchgoers — dopey as some of them are — jump on the bandwagon, fearful of being left out: ‘Oh, golly, I’d like to be a part of that, too!’

As a result, we have gay marriage, STDs, teenage pregnancies, spiralling abortions and other moral relativist positions — where does it end? Oh, no, it’s smoking — and drinking — which are immoral.

A young Dane, Rasmus Brewer, observed that his fellow Danes of a similar age are Socialist — and conformist:

I prefer to think that this is a more deep[er]-lying instinct to limit freedom, for those who are different than ourselves. I think that somewhere inside of us all is an ugly need to undermine other people’s work – especially those who are more successful. It has magically been done in the middle of [the] ’68-ers rebellion to disguise this hatred and confuse the hippie movement [with] the proclaimed love for everything socialist.

Note the constant mentions in the West of communitarianism: ‘Your right stops with me’. In other words, ‘My rights count more than yours do’. How warped is that?

Let’s be careful how we journey along this dark road. There are rights and there are responsibilities. Not so long ago, we were all able to get along peaceably. Since then, in the socio-political realm, online debate has become more hostile. Internet frequenters noticed this during the 2008 Obama-McCain presidential contest — ugly and vile, especially towards Sarah Palin. There are things, including slogans, which the Left produced and cannot be repeated here. They were absolutely foul. I believe they were angry with John McCain for having chosen a female running-mate when their side forced their woman — Hillary Clinton — to give in without a primary count at the Democratic National Convention. No, I’m not a Hillary fan, but, good heavens, let’s do things by the book.

Meanwhile, back in France, an RMC forum reader, YANNGIO says that the level of debate on the radio station’s fora has gone downhill quickly. Whatever happened to civility and tolerance of differing views?

Angel06 responds with:

Let others rest on their convictions. They’ll go into meltdown. Some on here have reinforced the truth … That’s the way forward … 

And that’s my position on smokers in society.

Tomorrow I’ll start exploring some of the nefarious untruths of advocacy groups, taxes and anti-smoking policy.

UPDATE – November 20, 2014: The UFDA site has relocated to Twitter.

A week late, but just a short thank you to France Télévisions, ITV4 and RMC (Radio Monte Carlo) for another cracking three weeks featuring the greatest cycling in the world, the Tour de France.  (Click on the official map to see more of the route.)

ITV4 received their feed from France 2 and France 3.  Many cameramen and transmission technicians were on hand in planes, helicopters, motorcycles and studios in both countries to bring us live coverage of each stage, complemented by beautiful scenery of the French countryside and the centre of Paris.

We in the mousehole enjoyed watching each day’s stages in full — a first for British television.  The ITV4 commentators did a fabulous job, as ever.

In the last couple of weeks, I also listened to commentary live on RMC.  Their enthusiasm was palpable and I could hardly wait to see the live coverage, which I had recorded in the afternoon, to watch in the evening.

A lot of work goes into producing this fine sporting event.  Thankfully, dope appeared to be non-existent this year.  I think only one test turned up ‘positive’.

The results showed a real Anglo-French result.  Cadel Evans of Australia worked hard to win the Tour, and the Schleck brothers from Luxembourg — sharing the podium in Paris with him (‘the Schleck sandwich’) — did not disappoint.  Congratulations also to Britain’s Mark Cavendish, winner of the green jersey for overall best sprinter; France’s Thomas Voeckler, from Alsace but resident in Brittany, who came fourth and wore the maillot jaune for 10 days running; France’s Pierre Rolland, winner of Best Young Rider and Spain’s Samuel Sanchez, who won Man of the Mountain and the polka dot jersey.

We’re already looking forward to next year’s race!

Postscript: ITV4 also broadcast a 2010 film, Chasing Legends, which not only traces the history of the Tour from 1903 but also follows the HTC (Mark Cavendish’s) team throughout the 2009 Tour.  It also features ITV4’s commentators — and former riders — Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen.  It’s an excellent 90-minute film which shows you how a team prepares for each stage and all those multitasking behind the scenes.  If you ever have a chance to see it, don’t miss it, especially if you’re a cycling enthusiast!

My series on ex-Communist turned Catholic Bella Dodd continues with excerpts from Chapter Seven of School of Darkness, published in 1954.

You will appreciate the insights she provides into Communist machinations: distorting American values and heroes (i.e. Lincoln, someone the Democratic Party and Obama hijacked in 2008), obscuring political definitions (i.e. fascism, which lasts to this day) and infiltrating schools via teachers’ unions.

This is a shocking expose you won’t want to miss. You can find the first two installments here and here. The text of the book is online.  The first seven chapters can be found here.  Emphases below are mine.

Chapter Seven

IN THE SPRING of 1936 I got a six-month leave of absence from the College to serve as the legislative representative of the Teachers Union.  I spent much of my time in Albany, in Washington, and at City Hall in New York.  I was successful in having two Union bills passed and the Union was well pleased.

I now represented a growing educational pressure group.  With the Communists in control, the New York Teachers Union expanded its membership rolls by taking in unemployed teachers, substitute teachers, and WPA teachers.  These made a large bloc for political pressure.  We added further strength to it by working with the communist section of the PTA and several student organizations

The Communist Party was pleased, and later it promoted to important positions with the American Labor Party, which it controlled, many of the teachers who got their first experience in practical politics with teachers’ district clubs.

At this time I became one of the Teachers Union delegates to the A.F. of L. Central Trades and Labor Council of New York.  When I first went to Beethoven Hall on East Fifth Street, Joseph Ryan was president and George Meany was legislative representative.

I was proud of the assignment.  I was young and idealistic and eager to serve the workers.  I now became a member of the Communist Party “fraction” in the A.F. of L.  This meant that I would meet regularly with the Communist Party members of the A.F. of L. and the leaders of the Party in order to push A.F. of L. policy toward the communist line.

The Party maintained an active fraction in labor groups, including the A.F. of L.  In 1934 the Red unions under the title TUUL, led by William Z. Foster, had been ordered liquidated by the Communist International.  The radicalized core of workers, trained by Foster, turned their energies to A.F. of L. unions.  They attracted new followers by militant support of legislation for the unemployed.  This struggle for a worthy cause enabled the Party to build emotional and organizational ties with workers belonging to many unions.

In 1936 I met, through the Party, committees of the striking seamen who, under the leadership of the Communist Party, were fighting both the shipowners and the corrupt leadership of the old I.S.U., an affiliate of the A.F. of L.  A rank-and-file movement was organized against the old leadership of the I.S.U.  …  To gain some support from organized labor they sought assistance from the Central Trades and Labor Council.  They wanted to present their grievances before delegates of the city’s organized labor body.

I was summoned by the Communist Party and told I had been selected to present to the Central Trades a petition of the striking seamen with their demands for a reorganization of their union along democratic lines.  I agreed to cooperate though I was only partly aware of the implications …

I learned something important that night.  I found that acts of daring, supported by the appearances of moral justification, have a terrific impact in building a movement, regardless of whether or not you win.  This is a fact the Communists know how to use.

Of course I was hardly representing the teachers by becoming involved in matters which were of no immediate concern to my union.  But I had learned that serving the Communist Party was the first requisite for continued leadership in my union.

From my tutors in the Party I learned many communist lessons.  I learned that Lenin held in contempt unions interested only in economic betterment of workers, because he held that the liberation of the working class would not come through reforms.  I learned that unions which followed a reformist policy were guilty of the Marxist crime of “economism.” I learned that trade unions are useful only insofar as they could be used politically to win worker acceptance of the theory of class struggle and to convince workers that their only hope of improving their conditions is in revolution.

the American worker was not conscious of his class role because he was too comfortable.  In line with this I saw senseless strikes called or prolonged.  At first I did not understand the slogan frequently proclaimed by these men: “Every defeat is a victory.” Loss of salary, or position, or even loss of life was not important as long as it brought the worker to acceptance of the class struggle.

That year I was elected as delegate to the State Federation of Labor convention at Syracuse.  The Communists and some of the liberal unions were determined to pass a resolution endorsing the formation of a Labor Party.  I attended the Communist Party fraction meeting in New York in preparation for this convention.  We went over the resolutions to be introduced and the objectives to be achieved.  Assignments were made to individual delegates.

This use of fractions made the Communist Party effective in noncommunist groups.  They went prepared, organized, trained, and disciplined with a program worked out in detail, and before other groups had a chance to think the Communists were winning advantagesThey worked in every convention as an organized bloc.  In other organized blocs the Communists had “sleepers,” assigned to protect Communist Party interests.  These “sleepers” were active members in noncommunist blocs for the purpose of hamstringing and destroying the power of the opposition.

The “progressive” bloc at the State Federation convention that year decided to run me for a position in the State Federation of Labor.  It seems ridiculous to me now that one so newly come to the labor movement should have been pushed forward against the established machine.  But this, too, was a communist tactic, for Communists have no hesitation whatever in bringing unknown people forward into leadership, the more callow or ill-equipped the better, since they will therefore more easily be guided by the Party.  The weaker they are, the more certainly they will carry out the Party’s wishes.  Suddenly and dramatically the Communist Party makes somebodies out of nobodies.  If tactics change, they also drop them just as quickly and the somebodies again become nobodies

In 1936 the communist hold on the A.F. of L. in New York State was slim.  The Party was afraid to expose well-placed comrades in the A.F. of L. apparatus, reserving them for key positions in vital industries and for long-range strategy.  In addition there were Communists occupying important positions in the unions who enjoyed their union “pie card” positions, and they objected to being sacrificed even by the Party.  These argued that it was more important for them to hold their positions than to be used for mere opposition purposes.

The leadership of the Teachers Union was not affected by a fear of losing jobs; the tenure law for public schoolteachers was now effective.  Therefore, the Party leaders found it expedient to use the teacher leaders in the A.F. of L. as the spearhead of A.F. of L. work In addition teachers were generally better informed about current Party writings and were better disposed to follow the Party line than the old-time communist union leaders who were hampered by the fact that they had to give consideration to the bread-and-butter issues for their unions.  Then, too, the teacher representatives were not affected by a desire to preserve “pie card” positions since there was no material advantage to leadership in the Teachers Union in my day.

But this steady use of the Teachers Union by the Communist Party in the city, in the state, and at times even in the national A.F. of L. brought reprisals from A.F. of L. leaders.  They became colder and more unwilling to accede to requests for assistance from the Teachers Union …

I was to learn in the years to come that those who seek to influence public opinion on any question are just as effective with a small as with a large organization; and that it is easier to control a small organization …

We did not receive the wholehearted support of the A.F. of L. because the Teachers Union in America was basically pro-socialist and supported an educational system intended to prepare children for the new economic collectivist system which we regarded as inevitable.  This went far beyond A.F. of L. policy of those days.

Though I was at a decided disadvantage in Albany, I was not easily discouraged.  I had a “good” legislative program and the Party comrades had assured me they did not expect me to get passed the bills we were sponsoring.  Their real purpose was to have the program popularized and to use this as a means of recruiting more teachers into the Union

In 1936 people had a little more money than in those tragic years of 1932 to 1934.  On the whole a tremendous change had taken place in America.  Millions of people formerly regarded as middle class found themselves on relief or on WPA and had been merged into the comradeship of the dispossessed.  To people of this group the Communist Party brought psychological support.  It saved their pride by blaming the economic system for their troubles and it gave them something to hate.  It also made it possible for them to give expression to that hate by defiance.

Many of these new proletarians marched that May Day down Eighth Avenue, through streets lined with slum buildings …

With the others I went from one group to another that evening.  By the early morning we had reached one of the intimate little night clubs which the Communist Party financed and where Party people were wont to congregate …

Beginning in 1936 a prodigious effort was made by the Party in support of the Spanish Civil War, and this continued until 1939.  Perhaps no other activity aroused greater devotion among American intellectuals …

Since 1932 the Communist Party had publicized itself as the leading opponent of fascism … Its propaganda machine ground out an endless stream of words, pictures, and cartoons.  It played on intellectual, humanitarian, racial, and religious sensibilities until it succeeded to an amazing degree in conditioning America to recoil at the word fascist even when people did not know its meaning.

Today I marvel that the world communist movement was able to beat the drums against Germany and never once betray what the inner group knew well: that some of the same forces which gave Hitler his start had also started Lenin and his staff of revolutionists from Switzerland to St. Petersburg to begin the revolution which was to result in the Soviet totalitarian state.

There was not a hint that despite the propaganda of hate unleashed against Germany and Italy, communist representatives were meeting behind the scenes to do business with Italian and German fascists to whom they sold materiel and oil.  There was not a hint that Soviet brass was meeting with German brass to redraw the map of Europe.  There was no betrayal of these facts until one day they met openly to sign a contract for a new map of Europe — a treaty made by Molotov and Von Ribbentrop.

In the Spanish Civil War, the Party called upon its many members in the field of public relations, agents who made their living by writing copy for American business, for the sale of soap, whisky, and cigarettes.  They gave the Party tremendous assistance in conditioning the mind of AmericaPeople of all ranks joined the campaign for the Loyalists: pacifists, humanitarians, political adventurers, artists, singers, actors, teachers, and preachers.  All these and more poured their best efforts into this campaign.

During the Spanish War the Communist Party was able to use some of the best talent of the country against the Catholic Church by repeating ancient appeals to prejudice and by insinuating that the Church was indifferent to the poor and was against those who wanted only to be free.

The communist publicists carefully took for their own the pleasant word of Loyalist and called all who opposed them “Franco-Fascists.” This was a literary coup which confused many men and womenViolent communist literature repeatedly lumped all of the Church hierarchy on the side of the “Fascists,” and, using this technique, they sought to destroy the Church by attacking its priests.  This was not a new tactic.  I had seen it used in our own country over and over again.  When the Communists organized Catholic workers, Irish and Polish and Italian, in labor unions they always drove a wedge between lay Catholics and the priests, by flattering the laity and attacking the priests.

In the Spanish campaign the Communists in the United States followed Moscow directives.  They were the distant outpost of the Soviet realm and co-ordinated with the Communist International in details.  When the call came to organize the American contingent of the International Brigade, the communist port agents of the National Maritime Union along the East Coast provided false passports and expedited the sending of this secret army to a friendly country.

Various unions were combed for members who would join the Abraham Lincoln Brigade which was the American division of the International Brigade.  The Communists used the prestige of Lincoln’s name as they had other patriots’ names to stir men’s souls for propaganda purposes.

I, myself, swallowed the Party’s lies on the Spanish Civil War.  There was little forthcoming from American national leaders to expose this fraud.  The Party, from time to time, produced a few poor, bewildered Spanish priests who, we were told, were Loyalists and these were publicized as the “People’s priests” as against the others, the Fascists.  In retrospect it is easy to see how completely they twisted the American’s love of freedom and justice to win emotional support for the Soviet adventure in Spain.

Through numerous committees the Communist Party raised thousands of dollars for its Spanish campaign.  But the tremendous advertising campaign could not have been financed from the contributions made at mass meetings and other gatherings, though these were not small sums.  I remember one mass meeting (where I made the speech), held under the auspices of the Teachers Union.  It netted more than twelve thousand dollars.

It became obvious, as the extensive campaign went on, that some of the funds were coming from sources other than the collections.  It is now well known that the Soviet Union was doing everything in its power to bring the foreign policy of the United States into conformity with its own devious plans and that it did not hesitate to use trickery to do so.  It wanted the United States to support Soviet policy on Spain.  I did not understand this at the time.  After that odd pieces of information and desultory recollections of events stayed in my mind and finally pieced out an understandable picture.

As one example of the puzzle that finally became a picture there is the story of the Erica Reed, which will serve as an example of hundreds of others.  It was supposed to be a mercy ship taking food, milk, and medicines to hard-pressed Barcelona.  It was chartered ostensibly by the North American Committee for Loyalist Spain.  In reality it was financed by Soviet agents.

The Erica Reed was laid up in New Orleans.  At that time anti-communists were in control of the National Maritime Union in the Gulf, and the ship was manned by a crew which was either anti-communist or nonpolitical.  This did not fit into the plans of the Soviet agent and the American Communists working with himSo it was decided to bring the Erica Reed to New York and there replace her crew with trusted Party men.

Later, I talked to one of the men assigned to switch crews.  A group had been ordered to board the vessel at night.  Armed with blackjacks and lead pipes, they set to work.  Some of the crew suffered broken jaws, arms, and legs, and, as the little Soviet agent had planned, some were hospitalizedIn addition a crowd of boys from the fur market, who were told they must fight fascism, congregated near the East Side pier where the ship was docked.  They attacked the members of the crew who escaped the goon squad on the ship.  They did not know that they were assaulting fellow Americans and were confused as to what the fracas was about

Only the captain, an old Scandinavian, remained of the original crewThe new crew signed on by the New York office of the Union were nearly all pro-communist sailors, some of whom were looking for an opportunity for violent action and adventure.

When the Erica Reed cleared Gibraltar and nosed toward her destination, Franco’s gunboats ordered her to stop.  The captain, concerned for the safety of his vessel, made ready to do so.  As he turned to give the order, a communist member of the crew held a pistol to the captain’s head and commanded, “Proceed to Barcelona.”

The Spanish gunboat, reluctant to seize a ship flying the American flag, returned to headquarters for further instructions.  The “relief ship” with its supplies reached Barcelona where she was immediately ordered to Odessa.  And so the Erica Reed, ostensibly chartered by the North American Committee for Loyalist Spain, was sent to Odessa by her real charterer, the Soviet Union.  The Spanish people were expendable.

During those years house parties were held by our union members to raise money for Loyalist Spain.  Union and nonunion teachers were invited.  Communists and non-communists rubbed shoulders and drank cocktails together.  Eyes grew moist as the guests were told of bombs dropped on little children in Bilboa.

The International Brigade was eulogized by many Americans.  They failed to realize that the first international army under Soviet leadership had been born; that though all the national subdivisions had national commissars, these were under Soviet commissars ! There was the Lincoln Brigade and the Garibaldi Brigade.  There was the emerging world military communist leadership developing in Spain.  There was Thompson for the United States, Tito for Yugoslavia, Andre Marty for France, and others to act as the new leaders in other countries.

We teachers recruited soldiers for the Lincoln Brigade …

During this time communist girls wore gold liberty bells inscribed “Lincoln Brigade,” as a symbol of their pride in those “fighting fascism” …

Monday: Chapters Eight and Nine

Speaking of Spain, in the week running up to their local elections, tensions ran high as tens of thousands of people protested around the country over the state of the economy.

The Telegraph reported:

Spain’s unemployment level has hit 21 per cent, more than twice the EU average.

Large groups have staged sit-ins in plazas across Spain all week, in the run-up to election day, with the biggest gathering in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol …

An estimated 30,000 people gathered there on Saturday night and smaller crowds were seen in Barcelona, Seville and other cities across Spain.

They defied a ban by the election commission that ruled against holding political gatherings on the day before an election, and on Sunday, as polling stations opened in 13 of Spain’s 17 regions and 8,000 municipalities, organisers in Sol voted to continue their protest for another week.

The demonstrators, who call themselves “Los indignados” – the indignant ones – began gathering May 15 in a swelling movement known variously as “M-15”, “Spanish Revolution” and “Real Democracy Now”.

Inspired by the Arab Spring movement in north Africa, protests swelled as word spread on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The majority are young people whose patience has run out as they face a bleak future in a country where youth unemployment stands at 45 per cent …

The protests have been peaceful, with police on standby but unwilling to break up the demonstrations. Demonstrations came as a surprise to the main political parties whose last week of campaigning was overshadowed …

As with the North African uprisings — it’s too early for me to call them a ‘revolution’ — I’m sceptical as to whether this was genuine or engineered from behind the scenes.  I don’t doubt that the Spaniards are upset — the same economic situation is occurring in varying degrees throughout Europe — I’m just wondering if someone or something outside of Spain set the wheels in motion.

In any event, immigration is also bound up with this, as can be seen from this 30-second election advert for the Catalonian nationalist party, Plataforma per Catalunya.  This video encapsulates what many, including younger, Spanish residents in and around Socialist-controlled Barcelona see as a vision of the future.  You won’t need the sound to watch it:

As I write on May 23, 2011, 80% of the votes had been countedThe Telegraph takes up the story:

The Socialists lost municipal strongholds Barcelona and Seville as well as the Castilla-La Mancha region where they have ruled for 28 years, and could end up with clear control of only two or three of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions.

The centre-right opposition Popular Party, or PP, had a 10 point lead in the aggregate nationwide vote, the worst defeat for the Socialists in municipal polls since Spain returned to democracy in 1978 after the Francisco Franco dictatorship.

“These results have a clear relation to the economic crisis we’ve suffered for three years… I know that many Spaniards are going through great difficulties and fear for their jobs and future well being,” Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the socialist prime minister, said in a brief news conference …

Spain’s economy has barely emerged from recession and tepid growth has been aggravated by austerity measures. Almost half of Spaniards aged 18-25 are out of work, more than double the European Union average.

Another Telegraph article explains:

The left leaning daily El Pais described the defeat as “a tsunami drowning the socialists”.

The run-up to elections had seen mass protesting by a mainly youth crowd who took over city squares across the nation. On Sunday they pledged to continue their demonstrations for at least another week …

Overall participation was up two points from the last elections four years ago with more than 66 per cent of the 34 million eligible voters casting ballots. The Socialists captured just 27.79 per cent of the total compared to 37.53 per cent for the PP.

Speculation grows as to whether Zapatero will be asked to stand down and/or call an early general election.  He has already stated he would not seek a third term in office.

Europeans are unhappy campers at the moment and, as we shall see in future posts, who can blame them?

The alleged slayer of retired Englishwoman Jennifer Mills-Westley is probably not a Christian, despite misleading newspaper reports.  The Telegraph briefly touches on linking Deyan Valentinov Deyanov, a 28-year-old Bulgarian, to the heresy of Bogomilism, but never ties the strands together.

It’s a bit like saying Josef Stalin was Russian Orthodox all his life because he attended seminary and Adolf Hitler was a practising Catholic because that was the church in which he was raised. Ditto Deyanov with his deranged references to God and Jesus. This leaves the average person thinking, ‘Those Christians are nutters’.

First, the story, which shocked not only people in the Canary Islands, but the Spanish and British as well.  N.B.: If you have children looking over your shoulder or are of a sensitive disposition, please skip this post.

The Telegraph describes this gruesome attack, which took place on Friday, May 13, 2011 (emphases in bold mine):

The retired 60-year-old from Norwich was stabbed to death and beheaded in the horrific attack on Friday.

She alerted a security guard in the social security office that she had been subjected to “threatening behaviour” from an unwashed vagrant.

Her tormentor, a 28-year-old homeless man called Deyan Valentinov Deyanov, was well known in the popular holiday resort for his unpredictable and sometimes violent behaviour

It is unclear whether the Briton, a 60-year-old retired road safety officer from Norwich, was aware of the man’s dangerous reputation. After a few minutes Deyanov left and the danger seemed to have passed.

At about 10.15 on Friday morning Mrs Mills-Westley left the office doorway and walked to a Chinese-run discount store next door. Tragically, she there encountered Deyanov again and he attacked her, with grisly consequences.

Mrs Mills-Westley, who divided her time between Tenerife, Norfolk and France, was hacked to death by the Bulgarian, who reportedly claimed to be “a prophet of God” as he carried out the frenzied attack …

Deyanov had left a psychiatric unit where he was reportedly being treated for paranoid schizophrenia in February …

Before her retirement Mrs Mills-Westley gave cycling safety training to schoolchildren in Norfolk, and also worked on other road safety projects.

In Los Cristianos, at the southern tip of the Canary Islands, eyewitnesses described the scene of the crime as “something out of a horror movie”.

Colin Kirby, a British expatriate working at the Tenerife Magazine said: “I thought someone had fainted and walked on, then I heard screaming and looked behind and saw a scruffy, unkempt man in his mid 20s holding a head by the hair

Another witness told how he saw the man drop a bloodstained woman’s head on the pavement after coming out of the shop …

Dominica Fernandez, a government official, said the suspect had “chosen his victim by chance”. Deyanov was known to be sleeping rough in the streets and in an abandoned house in the resort.

Last night at the filthy location, there was still a Bible and a shrine made out of breeze blocks among scattered possessions. Deyanov was being held at the police station in nearby resort of Playa de Las Americas …

More details emerged on May 16 (CCTV picture of the man at the link):

Deyan Valentinov Deyanov, a 28-year-old Bulgarian, asked the store owner in Tenerife for a large knife and was caught on security camera spreading his arms to demonstrate the size he required.

When asked what he needed it for he said “I’m going to kill someone”, and drew a finger across his throat.

The shopkeeper, who said he recognised the man as a vagrant who slept in a derelict building nearby, refused his request and threw him out of the shop.

Within half an hour, Deyanov had entered another supermarket where he encountered Jennifer Mills-Westley, grabbed a knife from the shelf and cut off her head in a random attack …

Locals said Deyanov had become increasingly aggressive in recent weeks after splitting up with his girlfriend.

As recently as February, when he was discharged from a psychiatric hospital, he had told police that “in God’s name” he was “planning something big”

Others said he was a habitual user of marijuana and was often seen muttering to himself. In one incident he attacked a security guard who was patrolling the beach area, knocking out three teeth.

A shopkeeper described how on the morning of the attack the Bulgarian borrowed a pen to scrawl a note, and wrote: “I am God”. The security video footage shows the man searching the shelves of the hardware section of the supermarket on the seafront in Los Cristianos.

The visit to the shop was at around 10am on Friday. By 10.25am Mrs Mills-Westley … was dead.

Witnesses at the Chinese-run discount supermarket in the Valdes shopping centre … said he had severed her head with a long, thin, very sharp blade, the traditional knife used for carving Spanish ham.

After the attack, involving at least 14 blows of the knife, he severed her head and ran with it from the store carrying it by the hair. Police are examining the footage …

Among the piles of rubbish and old mattresses [in his squat] he had fashioned a makeshift shrine out of breeze blocks and made an icon of Jesus.

On May 17, it emerged that the suspect had lived in Edinburgh before moving to the Canaries:

His former flatmate in the Leith area of the city, Vlad Chmurny, 36, from Slovakia, said Deyan Deyanov, spent hours smoking drugs and “weeping” over his lack of friends.

Mr Chmurny said the Bulgarian left Scotland about a year ago after losing his job in the construction industry, before turning up unannounced three months ago, when he refused to allow him to stay …

Meanwhile in Tenerife, a security guard who was attacked by 28-year-old Deyanov four months ago, spoke about his ordeal.

Fermin Suarez Perez, 45, who lost three front teeth in the unprovoked assault, questioned how it was possible that his assailant had been freed to roam the streets just five days later

Mr Suarez, a former soldier in the Spanish military, said: “He ran up to me with a rock in his hands and tried to smash it into my head”

Deyanov, from the northern Bulgarian town of Ruse, was arrested the same day, but was freed on bail by a magistrate after spending five days in a psychiatric hospital …

It emerged that Deyanov, who has a three year old daughter living in Bulgaria, was obsessed with a medieval Christian sect known as Bogomilism. One of the tenets of the dualist religion, which was founded by the priest Bogomil in tenth century Bulgaria, was that the world was created by the Devil.

Before getting to Bogomilism, I have begun glancing over the discussion page whenever I peruse a Wikipedia article.  I found it particularly fascinating that this heretical perversion of Christianity appears to have so many defenders.  See for yourself.  Also, if you click on the map at the top of this post, you’ll be able to note the link to the Cathars, Albigenses and Waldenses, people who later turned to the Reformed churches.  This might partly explain why there is so much Catholic distrust of Calvinists in France and Italy.  There may be something deeper than the Reformation going on here.  This is a sensitive topic, especially when one reads Huguenot (Calvinist) histories of these mountain dwellers which present them as being martyrs for the faith.  I remain neutral on this but welcome contributions in the comments.

About Bogomilism, of which I’d never heard, Wikipedia says:

Bogomilism was a Gnostic religiopolitical sect founded in the First Bulgarian Empire by the priest Bogomil during the reign of Tsar Petar I in 10th century.[1][2][3] It most probably arose in what is today the region of Macedonia[4][5] as a response to the social stratification that occurred as a result of the introduction of feudalism and as a form of political movement and opposition to the Bulgarian state and the church.

The Bogomils called for a return to early Christianity, rejecting the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and their primary political tendencies were resistance to the state and church authorities. This helped the movement spread quickly in the Balkans, gradually expanding throughout the Byzantine Empire and later reaching Kievan Rus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dalmatia, Italy, France, and to a lesser extent the rest of Western Europe (even as far as the British Isles).

The Bogomils were dualists in that they believed the world was created not by the Abrahamic God, but by an evil demiurge — the Devil. They did not use the cross nor build churches, preferring to perform rituals outdoors.

The article is quite long — and most interesting.  You’ll find out all sorts of fascinating facts, so it’s worth grabbing a cuppa and a few biscuits.  Highlights include the following:

The term Bogomil in free translation means “dear to God”, and ultimately derives from the Proto-Slavic *bogъ (“God”) and *milъ (“dear”). It is difficult to ascertain whether the name was taken from the reputed founder of that movement, the priest Bogomil, or whether he assumed that name after it had been given to the sect itself. The word is an Old Church Slavonic calque of Massaliani, the Syriac name of the sect corresponding to the Greek Euchites. The Bogomils are identified with the Massaliani in Slavonic documents from the 13th century …

The now defunct Gnostic social-religious movement and doctrine originated in the time of Peter I of Bulgaria (927 – 969) as a reaction against state and clerical oppression of Byzantine church. In spite of all measures of repression, it remained strong and popular until the fall of the Second Bulgarian Empire in the end of the 14th century.

Bogomilism is the first significant Balkan heresy that came about in the first quarter of the 10th century

The constant change of authority over these lands, and the higher taxes during the time of Tsar Peter I, gave birth to a great social discontent at the beginning of the 10th century. Moreover, the corruption of the church as an institution, led to the grave disappointment among its recently converted flock.

The existence of older Christian heresies in the Bulgarian lands (Manichaeism and Paulicianism), which were considered very dualistic, influenced the Bogomil movement. Manichaeism’s origin is related to Zoroastrianism; that is why Bogomilism is sometimes indirectly connected to Zoroastrianism in the sense of its duality …

The Bogomils had a system of altered traditional orthodox beliefs and rituals. The essence behind their teaching was a dualistic doctrine that the world is divided by God and Satan (good and evil). God rules with the spiritual part of the world, and Satan with the material. They regarded every material being to be work of Satan, and therefore sinful. They also opposed established forms of government and church, which brings them close to modern anarchists

They had accepted the teaching of Paul of Samosata, though at a later period the name of Paul was believed to be that of the Apostle; and they were not quite free from the Dualistic principle of the Gnostics

As with other heresies, we see once again the fine line between truth and error and an interesting role for Satan.  We also see the use of magic rituals as well as the rejection of possessions and pleasure (a bit like today’s secular pietists):

The Bogomils taught that God had two sons, the elder Satanail and the younger Michael. The elder son rebelled against the father and became the evil spirit. After his fall he created the lower heavens and the earth and tried in vain to create man; in the end he had to appeal to God for the Spirit. After creation Adam was allowed to till the ground on condition that he sold himself and his posterity to the owner of the earth. Then Michael was sent in the form of a man; he became identified with Jesus, and was “elected” by God after the baptism in the Jordan. When the Holy Ghost (again Michael) appeared in the shape of the dove, Jesus received power to break the covenant in the form of a clay tablet (hierographon) held by Satanail from Adam. He had now become the angel Michael in a human form; as such he vanquished Satanail, and deprived him of the termination -il = God, in which his power resided. Satanail was thus transformed into Satan. Through his machinations the crucifixion took place, and Satan was the originator of the whole Orthodox community with its churches, vestments, ceremonies, sacraments and fasts, with its monks and priests. This world being the work of Satan, the perfect must eschew any and every excess of its pleasure. But the Bogomils did not go as far as to recommend asceticism.

They held the “Lord’s Prayer” in high respect as the most potent weapon against Satan, and had a number of conjurations against “evil spirits.” Each community had its own twelve “apostles,” and women could be raised to the rank of “elect.” The Bogomils wore garments like mendicant friars and were known as keen missionaries, traveling far and wide to propagate their doctrines. Healing the sick and exorcising the evil spirit, they traversed different countries and spread their apocryphal literature along with some of the books of the Old Testament, deeply influencing the religious spirit of the nations, and preparing them for the Reformation. They accepted the four Gospels, fourteen Epistles of Paul, the three Epistles of John, James, Jude, and an Epistle to the Laodiceans, which they professed to have. They sowed the seeds of a rich, popular religious literature in the East as well as the West. The Historiated Bible, the Letter from Heaven, the Wanderings through Heaven and Hell, the numerous Adam and Cross legends, the religious poems of the “Kaliki perehozhie” and other similar productions owe their dissemination to a large extent to the activity of the Bogomils of Bulgaria, and their successors in other lands.

The essence of Bogomilism is the duality in the creation of the world. This is exactly why it is considered a heresy. Bogomils explained the earthly sinful corporeal life as a creation of Satan, an angel that was sent to Earth. Due to this duality, their doctrine undervalues everything that is created with materialistic and governmental goals and that does not come from the soul, the only divine possession of the human. Therefore, the established Church, the state, and the hierarchy is totally undermined by Bogomilism. Its followers refuse to pay taxes, to work in serfdom, or to fight in conquering wars. The feudal social system was disregarded, which on its part was understood as suggesting disorder and propelling destruction for the state, the church by its progenitors, that ultimately eradicated the bogomils.

St. Paul had taught that simpleminded men should instruct one another; therefore they elected their “teachers” from among themselves to be their spiritual guides, and had no special priests. There is a tradition that the Bogomils taught that prayers were to be said in private houses, not in separate buildings such as churches.  Ordination was conferred by the congregation and not by any specially appointed minister. The congregation were the “elect,” and each member could obtain the perfection of Christ and become a Christ or “Chuist.” Marriage was not a sacrament. Scholars agree on that Bogomils refused to fast on Mondays and Fridays, and that they rejected monasticism. It is also held that they declared Christ to be the Son of God only through grace like other prophets, and that the bread and wine of the eucharist were not physically transformed into flesh and blood; that the last judgment would be executed by God and not by Jesus; that the images and the cross were idols and the veneration of saints and relics idolatry

The Legend of Saint Gerard discloses that followers of Bulgarian Bogomilism were present during the early 11th century … They invoked Archangel Uriel, whose name is common in amulets and magic rituals.

As for their the spread of their influence and coming under the attention of the established Church:

The popes in Rome whilst leading the Crusade against the Albigenses did not forget their counterpart in the Balkans and recommended the annihilation of the heretics

The Bogomils were the connecting link between the so-called heretical sects of the East and those of the West.[citation needed] They were, moreover, the most active agents in disseminating such teachings in Kievan Rus’ and among all the nations of Europe. In the 12th and 13th century, the Bogomils were already known in the West as “Cathars” or in other places as “Bulgari”, i.e. Bulgarians (българи). In 1207 the Bulgarorum heresis is mentioned. In 1223 the Albigenses are declared to be the local Bougres, and in the same period mention is made of the “Pope of the Albigenses who resided within the confines of Bulgaria” (see also Nicetas, Bogomil bishop). The Cathars and Patarenes, the Waldenses, the Anabaptists, and in Russia the Strigolniki, Molokani and Doukhobors, have all at different times been either identified with the Bogomils or closely connected with them.

They are also connected with the term ‘buggery’:

An English profanity and the name of a crime emerged from reports of the Bogomils by the Catholic Church. The words “bugger” and “buggery” emerged, by way of the word “bougre” in French, from “Bulgar” (Bulgarian), which was understood to mean the Bogomils, who were believed to be devoted to the practice of sodomy.[8] “Buggery” first appears in English in 1330, though “bugger” in a sexual sense is not recorded until 1555.

Hmm.  Just as an aside, there still exists in France today the expression ‘bon bougre‘, or ‘good old boy’ — a well-intentioned country bumpkin or hillbilly.

Recently, I cancelled a subscription to a travel magazine which began featuring an increasing number of articles on the Cathar region.  I had read elsewhere this year — in an offline publication — about a few secret weekend rituals still performed in the region which attract people from all over Europe as participants.  Very strange.  The article said that these weekends away have initiation rites and that one leaves a ‘completely different person’.

On Balkan religious practice, I do remember my mother and paternal grandmother being rather suspicious of people from those countries, advising me to check what religion they practiced before making friends with them.  Now and then, we met Displaced Persons (‘DPs’) who were resettled in the United States after the Second World War.  If they were Orthodox or Roman Catholic, as all of the ones we met were, there was no problem. However, I was advised to avoid people who adhered to ‘sects’.  It seems that the women of my family might well have had Bogomilism and its offshoots in mind.

Be that as it may, it wouldn’t surprise me if more of the ancient heresies resurfaced in pure form  — to get back to one’s European ‘roots’, as it were.

Western governments have been eager over the past decade to help their citizens to achieve better health and increase ‘happiness’.  How one can improve personal ‘happiness’ through more legislation is up for debate.  Only an elitist would think it possible.  But then, they live in a rarified atmosphere.

Today, here is analysis on the topic from the online magazine Spiked!

Earlier this month, the British Coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats issued their programme for government.  Spiked! took a look at this in more detail.  Whilst all the right buzzwords were used, author James Woudhuysen found it wanting.  Innovation really means more state control of R&D, transport policy and health.  For anyone living in Britain, it’s worth a read.

Near the end of his article, Woudhuysen says (emphases mine throughout):

Inspiring stuff. In fact, what is really meant by ‘innovation’, here as elsewhere, is well captured by a passing phrase that is made in the coalition’s passage on public health. What is needed, it says, is an ‘ambitious strategy’ which harnesses ‘innovative techniques to help people take responsibility for their own health’ …

Termed ‘social’ innovation, it is really about innovation in behaviour. Overpaid bankers must make innovations in their behaviour. Men with too much testosterone must do the same. Here, any amount of blue skies thinking is suddenly permissible, as long as liberties are curbed and individuals start to behave themselves. Science and technology are occasionally flagged up, but nearly always ignored.

As expected, the inspiration came from the United States:

Since 2008, when the US economists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein published Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, the idea that the state’s job is to act as a paternalistic ‘choice architect’, guiding feckless and irrational people to the right path, has become highly fashionable in the corridors of power on both sides of the Atlantic. Conservative leader David Cameron took up this doctrine almost immediately. Today, every initiative in fields such as transport or energy can only be made, officials say, by first recognising that technology is ‘not the only answer’ (whoever said it was?). Then, in the usual condescending style, it is suggested that ‘helping people make informed choices’ about their behaviour – that is, dutifully accepting the choice laid down from on high – does, in fact, amount to the only answer.

And anything personal must be legislated, it would seem.  On October 5, the Labour-inspired equality legislation was signed into law.  Spiked! editor Brendan O’Neill explains:

In many ways it’s just a bureaucratic bundling together of various different laws into one act: the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, and so on. But some problematic and hectoring new rules have been sellotaped to this sweeping act. First, the act invites tighter policing of our everyday speech and interactions at work through its promise to protect employees from any form of offence, whether real or perceived, in relation to their now ‘protected characteristics’

The controversial ‘equality duty’, which various religious groups have criticised, was passed as part of the act on Friday but it won’t come into force until April 2011. It will put pressure specifically on public bodies to adhere to every aspect of the new equality law, but there are concerns that it might eventually be used to put pressure on private societies not to discriminate against homosexuals, for example, or women. It could ‘threaten religious liberty’, claims one Christian campaigning outfit, by imploring Catholic adoption agencies to deal with homosexual couples or informing religious schools that they must educate children about the acceptability of the transsexual lifestyle.

Many people think this is a good idea, secularists in particular.  Some believe the law hasn’t gone far enough.  However, O’Neill sees a danger here:

It is the distinction between our ‘outward lives’, our public duties and our civil existence, and our ‘inward lives’, what we believe and think, which is an arena where no civil authority should have jurisdiction. Both the argument that the civil authorities should tolerate various belief systems and the argument that individual churches should not have to tolerate non-believing or what they consider to be ‘sinful’ individuals are aimed at preserving the fundamental freedom of conscience; the freedom of the individual to believe what he wants and to join private societies that reflect and uphold those beliefs.

Not having had their fill with policing speech and belief, our betters also want us to be on the lookout for binge drinkers.  Spiked! cites Brighton’s ‘Save Dave’ campaign:

As a contemporary health scare, the Save Dave campaign feels clumsily familiar. It shares the creepy and crude logic of today’s stranger danger mentality. A precautionary principle once espoused in the odd school assembly is now a moral dictum applied to all human relations: watch out, the abuser or addict could be your husband, or the bloke next door. Such an approach also individuates the problem of alcoholism and encourages therapeutic or pseudo-therapeutic interventions off the back of mere suspicions.

Author Anna Travis, who lives in Brighton, concludes:

Brighton is at the cutting edge of Britain’s current prohibitionary zeal. Trends such as the increasingly wanton use of the ID age checks in alcohol purchases are overtly Orwellian, afflicting Brighton as much as other British cities. But the Save Dave campaign is part of a raft of health initiatives that we really have to watch. Such adverts speak to our internal health spy. They encourage us to measure ourselves and our friends against ‘concerning’ – and misleading – statistics. It’s not my Dave and your Dave who need saving, but the sense of proportion about what alcohol does to us, and just how dark that inner self is that is unleashed by the demon drink.

I read somewhere this year that Britons are consuming less alcohol in general — the lowest level of consumption since the 1930s. Unfortunately, what we see on television documentaries are a small group of people who get wasted every weekend.  The message is, ‘Oh, look how we Britons drink! There oughta be a law against it!’  Meanwhile, most people quietly tope at home or in the pub, if we can still find one that’s open.  Most of us drink sensible amounts, yet we have local councils in the north west of  England — with the blessing of Mr Cameron (please, stop the control freakery — that’s why people voted for you!) — regulating alcohol pricing for everyone.

What this really is is regulating what you can do in your leisure time.  Hike the price on something to make it less accessible, all in the name of ‘public health’.

And speaking of binge drinkers, you know what else they do?  Smoke! Here’s Rob Lyons, writing for Spiked!:

The study by Cardiff Institute of Society and Health at Cardiff University and the Welsh branch of the anti-smoking lobby group, Ash, surveyed 13,000 smokers, ex-smokers and never-smokers. The researchers found that smokers have unhealthier lifestyles than both non-smokers and those who have given up. For example, 35 per cent of smokers ‘binge drink’, compared with 31 per cent of ex-smokers and 23 per cent of non-smokers. Non-smokers seem to like fruit and veg more, too, with 39 per cent of those surveyed saying they eat five portions per day, compared with 28 per cent of smokers.

And apparently it’s not just physical health that is threatened by smoking. Mental health problems were more common in smokers (14 per cent) than non-smokers (eight per cent).

So, smokers are mentally unbalanced binge drinkers, although only a trifling four percentage points ahead of binge-drinking ex-smokers.

I am not surprised this gem came from Wales, which is unduly influenced by healthism.  I have had several encounters with Welshmen who were proud to proclaim they were atheists yet picked on smokers.  One said, ‘I hope by hectoring them whilst they were smoking I prevented them from enjoying their cigarette.  I purposely started when they lit up and I continued until they stubbed it out in the ashtray.  Good.  It’s what they deserve.‘  Healthism is wonderful, don’t you think?  I feel happier already!

Lyons notes:

Smokers are persona non grata, outcasts huddled in office doorways or crowding together with their outcast friends in front of bars …

For anti-smoking campaigners, however, this can never be enough. There must always be another shocking association between cigarettes and misery, and there is always another reason why smokers must be targeted for even more ‘health intervention’. Smoking is still a legal activity – just about – but not one that the government or campaigners are going to allow anyone to enjoy in peace.

Think about it.  Smokers have no choice but to pay for their own persecution.  Portions of their cigarette tax pay for fake charities like ASH to exist and for Cardiff University to issue yet another study, probably involving more bogus science, besmirching those who puff on tobacco.

Smokers pay four to five times over in tobacco tax what smoking-related disease care costs the NHS.  Tobacco tax goes into a big pot.  The billions generated in tobacco tax helps keep the nation going, including the NHS.  Next time someone feels like criticising a smoker, they might consider saying thank you instead.

Of smoking and autonomy, Lyons concludes:

But here’s the rub: people like to smoke. Nicotine magically possesses the capacity to stimulate and calm us. How many other drugs can actually improve our ability to work (at least in the short term)? It should be for us to decide what kind of trade-off we place on health risks versus pleasure. This autonomy, much reduced by regulations and legislation, is worth defending from those – in government, in the medical profession and in campaign groups like Ash – who believe they know what is good for us and who are prepared to use anything from junk science to blatant moralising to get their way.

Which brings us to sunny Spain.  A partial ban on smoking came into effect a few years ago, with the result that non-smoking venues are empty and smoking ones are full. On January 2, 2011, however, Spain’s laws will be tightened to become like those in the UK and Ireland. Josie Appleton, writing for Spiked!, says that governments and elites have a reason for such bans:

The Spanish ban can in no way be seen as the result of a non-smoking mood in the population. Recent surveys suggest that smoking is increasing in Spain, moving upwards from around 30 per cent of the population. Smoking is still habitual among the most frequent patrons of Spanish bars and cafes …

With the economic crisis in full swing, the issue of public smoking is hardly pressing on people’s minds. All over Spain lie the skeletons of half-erected buildings – a frame without walls, or walls without a roof, or, even more poignant, streetlights for a street that never came …

The smoking ban springs from elite rather than popular concerns … the smoking ban is playing a particular political role. This is what the state can do these days: ban something. While the Spanish state may be impotent to affect the economic situation, the smoking ban is the kind of action it can take to ‘improve the public health’ and extend its authority.

What we see with the spread of smoking bans around Europe is the shift in the role of the state, from the regulation of economic life to the regulation of informal social life. The pattern for the new Eastern entrants to the EU was first to sell off their public industries, and second to bring through measures such as smoking bans in bars and cafes (even though 40 per cent or more of their populations smoked). In Spain and Greece, we see clearly that the ban is the last refuge of public policy: when the state cannot make things happen, it can at least stop people from doing things. The lifestyle ban is the thing that can be done at a stroke to change social life.

She then explores the bogus threat of passive smoking:

The war on ‘passive smoking’ is a metaphor rather than a question of medical fact. The metaphor of passive smoking is this: one person’s enjoyment is damaging to others. Your smoke gets in their eyes, and it is the role of the state to protect one person from another. The spread of smoke through a bar is seen as a kind of poison or pollution. Ultimately, this is the pollution of social life itself … It is the officials’ job to turn down the volume of social life.

In response, the Spaniards have organised the ‘Club of Smokers for Tolerance’.  It has two goals, Appleton writes:

As an organisation, it represents ‘Smokers and non-smokers who believe in tolerance as a fundamental principle for living together’. In an interview, a representative from the club said that the supposed ‘war’ between smokers and non-smokers only existed in the media and the politicians’ imagination …

There is also an opposition group called ‘Ban the Bans’:

The call of the Spanish ‘Ban the Bans’ movement is for the rules to be negotiated by citizens rather than set from above by elites …

Conclusion: these bans and interventions have nought to do with health and everything to do with control.  All over the West, we see spiralling crime rates, increasing numbers of jobless, higher taxes, higher food prices and the only thing that the elites can do is control us — our lives, our leisure time and our speech.

More’s the pity.

We’ll look at the reasons why soon.

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