Sunday, October 19, 2014

Spanish governance; Cataluña; Galicia blots; & Yosemite.

If you came to Spain today and travelled around the entire country, you'd doubtless be amazed and impressed in equal measure. Magnificent new roads; a high-speed train system that's the second largest in the world; stunning geography; wonderful, friendly, fun-loving people; excellent food and wine; a mind-boggling historical heritage; and marvellous beaches. All-in-all, a thoroughly 21st-century country going places. Below all this, though, is a corrupt corporate-political nexus of truly depressing dimensions. Which forces you to ask how many hotels, roads, railways, airports and numerous 'vanity' projects were really necessary and how many were built primarily because of kickbacks. Is there another developed country in the world quite like this? Greece? Italy? Either way, Spain has been managed like this for centuries and one wonders how long it'll be before things materially improve. The daily litany of arrests and trials gives little cause for optimism. Meanwhile, folk like me are unaffected in our daily lives. Except to the extent that our taxes our inexorably rising to pay, inter alia, the interest on the debts run up to finance the investments and kick-backs. As yet, this isn't painful enough to spark a revolution. But one day. Maybe. One thing's for sure, absent pressure from Brussels, the politicians and their corporate friends have no incentive to clean up their act. They rarely pay for their transgressions. In fact, I wonder whether the word 'resign' appears in the latest Royal Academy dictionary issued this week.

Compare and contrast: "The IMF say Spain’s economy will grow by 1.7% in 2015. This is the fastest predicted growth of any advanced European economy. " And: 2. "The IMF says Britain will see its GDP increase by 2.2% in 2015." The only explanation for this discrepancy can be that the UK either isn't European or doesn't have an advanced economy. Or both. Or maybe it's just bad, selective journalism.

If you're truly interested in what is and isn't happening in Cataluña, this article will interest you.

Another new scandal in Galicia - a nun and two or three civil servants have been arrested for taking babies from single mothers, who were told they'd died. The nun was possibly acting out of misplaced religious reasons but the officials are thought to have had rather more pecuniary motives. But we'll see. 

Talking of Galicia . . . I think I mentioned its famous feismo the other day. This is the ugliness of buildings which mar the region's natural beauty. Well, here's something from the Voz de Galicia on chapuzas (botched jobs) that readers have told them about. Enjoy. 

Finally . . . Last week I mentioned I'd downloaded Apple's new OS, Mavericks. A day later, I learned they'd just introduced an even newer system, Yosemite. So I've downloaded this, also for free. It looks good but it's taken me a while to find out where the Reader button is. This allows you to read an article without all the crap that surrounds it and is well worth having.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Corruption again; English and Spanish; Bloody beggars; Internet in Galicia; Priests a-plenty; & Irishisms.

The two leading lights in the Black Bank Cards scandal have had bail bonds of €16m and €3m imposed. One of them is reported to have used the huge bank he headed - Caja Madrid - as a personal fiefdom. No one is terribly surprised. Corporate Caudillos are hardly rare here.

Talking of corruption . . . A group of 6 politicians in Galicia has been accused of setting up a multi-million fraud under which they siphoned off funds to ghost training companies full of equally spectral students. This scam is now so frequent, you wonder why such companies aren't treated as inherently suspect. The other notable aspect is how easy it is in Spain to get together 5 people as dishonest as you. "A country of low ethics", as one Spanish reader once said. Putting it mildly.

English/Spanish. The former says ' . . . with hardly any paper', while the latter says ' . . . without hardly any paper' (sin apenas papel). Of no great significance, I guess. Except that Spanish does seem to like double negatives.

Talking of Spanish . . . The Royal Academy yesterday published its latest dictionary, including such new words as: dron, hacker, affaire, wifi and tuit.

Summer Pests: I was amused to read that a beggar somewhere down south had a sign which said: "At least I don't inflict a bloody accordion on you". I knew exactly what he meant; last summer we had 7 accordionists doing the rounds of the old quarter all at the same time. Every night. With a very limited repertoire.

Why doesn't it surprise me to hear that Galicia has the highest number of residents without internet. We have a lot of mountain villages here. And a Telefónica which doesn't care much about customer unhappiness and is averse to spending money to improve things, even in coastal towns.

Being a convert, my Catholic younger daughter will have 5 or 6 priests at her November wedding. Mulling over how to refer to them in my speech, I thought the collective noun for prelates might be 'a parish'. Or perhaps 'a bar'.

Finally . . . I helped a couple of Irish ladies find somewhere to eat lunch yesterday by pointing out a nearby place to them. One asked if she could go to the toilet in the bar we were in and so I pointed out where it was. As they were leaving, she thanked me for allowing her to use 'your' toilet. And the other told me I spoke excellent English. Lovely ladies, en route from Vigo to Santiago.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sexy women; Cataluña; The EU; Spanish/English; Grammar rules; & Politicians.

Readers of Esquire magazine have voted Penelope Cruz the sexiest woman on the planet, which I consider to be an insult to hundreds, if not thousands, of other Spanish women. And quite a few British women too. Not that she isn't attractive, of course.

Cataluña: Who the hell really knows what's going on but it seems some sort of pro-independence jamboree will certainly take place on Nov 9. Possibly involving 'informal but legal' voting for something or other. Perhaps motherhood and apple pie.

Talking of oddities . . . I can't resist quoting this view from another Times columnist, Tim Mongomerie, on the EU: The laboratory case of a project run by elites. Whenever voters use referendums to object to ever closer union they are ordered to reconsider. After Denmark and Ireland had the audacity to question the European project they were sent back to the ballot box. And what is the result of an EU run as much by bureaucrats, central bankers and judges as by heads of government? The eurozone and mass youth unemployment; a climate change regime that has diminished manufacturing without cutting global emissions; and a system of agricultural subsidies that transfers wealth from families struggling to afford the grocery bill to rich hobby farmers in rural France and Bavaria. As I frequently say - Welcome to the Age of the Bureaucrats.

Spanish/English: In a film I saw last night, "For fuck's sake!" was translated in the subtitles as Por el amor de Diós. Or 'For the love of God'. A tad ironic, I thought.

This is a fascinating article on on the validity of certain rules of English grammar and syntax. It confirms that the less/fewer battle has been lost. By the way - Guardian comment-makers must be the politest in the world. One of them provided this gem: "The record for ending a sentence with prepositions is 5, by a small child whose parent had brought the wrong story book up at bedtime. She said 'What did you bring that book I didn't want to be read to out of up for?'

Talking of English . . . I wonder who the genius was who said "I can't be arsed with all the genders, noun-adjective agreements and verb changes in our Teutonic language. Let's do without them. Life will be a helluva lot easier." We owe him/her an awful lot.

Finally . . . Politics: Everything's relative: Here's a (justifiable) moan from David Aaronavitch of The Times about British politicians: He should be happy he doesn't live here, where politicians are equally useless but corrupt as well. Roll on the revolution. Stop that useless pan-clanging and wheel out the tumbrils!

Instead of facing up to real challenges, our shabby, short-sighted politicians fail to offer us any sort of leadership

When I was a teenager there was a fashion for something called primal therapy. The main book espousing this, by a man called Arthur Janov, was entitled The Primal Scream and had the painting by Edvard Munch on the cover. After this last few months of politics in Britain I want to let out a primal scream. I need to go down to the woods, roll around in mud, murder squirrels and yell at the Moon. Instead I have this column and it will have to do. As you read it, imagine my byline picture is in Harry Potter’s Daily Prophet and watch it shrieking and holding its face.

Our main political parties are so broken and so unable to fix themselves that you must either weep for them and all the good people in them, or you must hate them. Perhaps you can do both.

The world has changed and they have been unable to. The world needs long-term solutions and proper arguments, and they offer us nothing but bickering and sticking plasters. Little sticking plasters for big wounds. The country needs reform and they act, in effect, to block it or to enact only those changes that have least impact on them.

It is less than a month since we nearly lost the country we live in, but this week the issue of how to deal with additional devolved powers for Scotland, as promised before the referendum, turned into a jostling for advantage over the implications for England. The Conservative party has been advised by its election supremo, Lynton Crosby, that it can make English resentment of Scottish MPs voting on English questions into an election issue. So where the obvious need is for a constitutional settlement based on a debate about the nation’s governance, the Tories want to get a row going for their election manifesto.

Labour’s call for a constitutional convention is sensible but can also be read as a self-interested attempt to delay the moment its Scottish MPs have to give up influencing English decisions.

Why did we not tackle our out-of-date and unrepresentative constituency boundaries? Because backbench Tories blocked reform of the Lords that would have depleted their own powers and the Lib Dems retaliated by taking the Conservatives’ candy from them. When the referendum on the alternative vote was held the Conservatives opposed it and more Labour people campaigned against than for it. Why? As I wrote at the time, “to use the old electoral system to shoehorn voters into propping up a Lab-Con duopoly, which an increasing number simply don’t want”. Watch that one come home to roost as Ukip candidates threaten to win on 30-40 per cent of constituency votes, often despite belonging to the party that most people least want to win.

For months now political correspondents have been coming back from their whisperings on the Capitol with tales of how there will be no televised debates — whatever anyone says in public — before the next election. Never mind that such debates helped to draw voters into the discussion in 2010 — Labour and the Tories regard the involvement of third and fourth parties as threatening and will find an excuse for getting out of them.

Tearing your hair out? Are politicians such box office, is politics so popular, is the public so engaged that we can easily dispense with what few tools we have? If they took any kind of a longer view the parties would be banging on broadcasters’ doors demanding more debates.

Voters instinctively understand, I think, that politicians are terrified of them, too terrified to tell them the truth. They watch as some of the politicos flatter the obsessives among us with their attention to prejudices. More Tory MPs asked about Europe yesterday in prime minister’s questions (which was the usual embarrassing bear garden) than about anything else.

So everything is easily sorted and easily divided. Labour created the economic crisis (so what was sub-prime?), the Tories are privatising the NHS (so who will have to pay?), Lord Freud wants to murder the disabled, Ed Miliband is a closet Chávista.

The voters can see the electoral percentages being calculated by people who make a pretence of caring about good government. What problem in the United Kingdom today is, for example, solved by a further cut in inheritance tax for the children of the relatively wealthy? Yet David Cameron advances the idea as the election approaches and Labour dare not say that it’s wrong. Why call something a mansion tax when it mostly will not be levied on anything that looks remotely like a mansion?

On immigration neither the Tories nor Labour dare to say what was in the Times editorial yesterday, that immigration has been a solid benefit to Britain — although voters know very well that they think it and also believe that they can’t do anything much about it. Not without leaving the EU.

In foreign policy the parties are so spooked by possible reaction to military involvement in the war against Islamic State that they spend more time talking about what they won’t do than what they will. Is that leadership? Shall we devolve foreign policy to local neighbourhood watch groups?

Despite the growth of Ukip and the SNP and the ever-more purposeful bumblings of Boris, people know that the future does not lie in anti-politics or celeb-politics. As the Lib Dems have discovered (and in their hearts secretly knew) when you are always going to be in opposition you can promise a wish with every rub of anyone’s lamp. But who wants Nigel Farage running our policies on ebola or deciding how to deal with Vladimir Putin? Or even Boris?

Again, things have changed. In an ultra-sophisticated media-saturated society like ours, people know better how to read the claims and characters of those appealing for their support. What a bizarre misreading of his listeners was it for Ed Miliband to risk his pre-election conference speech for the gimmick of reading without notes. He confused form with content, which is what they do not do.

Lead. Tell people the truth. Listen, but always argue. No false reassurances. Offer the voters a vision of the long-term. Cut out the hack phrases and the alienating point-scoring. And if, after that, they don’t like you and vote you out, well at least you won’t have done any bloody harm. Owoooowww!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A lazy post - Spanish faults?

A lazy post today . . .

Tidying up my Mac today, I found this document. It's a Spanish resident's response to (standard) negative comments on life here. I don't have the source but the writer says he's a foreigner living here, very possibly an Italian. (S)he says the criticisms are the 'the most tendentious list that I ever saw in my life'.

1. Nobody listens in this country!: Partially true: the people here like to talk very loud. But the real problem is that Spanish speakers have to use a long line argumentation, and yes, it's the same in informal conversations. Their fault is not to be brief. 'To get to the point' is rare. If you want to have your Anglo-Saxon conversation experience here, you must to say: Vaaale. no me marees. Vete al grano.

2. Spaniards are always swearing: True: Like the Italians, the French, the Portuguese, the Brazilians and the Germans too. It's our way to express ourselves. Of course the English/North Americans do not say 'fuck' every 3 words and never say dirty words. They are all gentlemen and ladies. . .

3. Everything takes so long here. False (or not): It depends of your perception of 'takes so long'. I have done some things in minutes by internet. Others I have to get in line and wait 30/45 minutes. My personal doctor I can meet in 48 hours (max) via a previous internet appointment. Emergency cases at a moment's notice). The police, for granting permissions (I mean official papers for residence in Spain) can take 30/45 days. To me that doesn't look so bad. In Italy it is at least 60 days.

4. Do we really have to spend Sunday with your family again? False (not a real question): Sorry, if your family is crap (or you don't have one) don't blame us. If my family is a crap they are still are my family and I will see then as often as I like. And I will blame them how much I want! I love those guys. Cultural stuff. Period.

5. The food here is so fatty/greasy/salty: False: Here, you have 'healthy food', 'Mediterranean food', but, if you wish to have the most inexpensive menu you can find, you will have the same crap food as you have in your country. There is food for all tastes and pockets. By the way: fish and chips, cheese hamburgers and Eisbein with potatoes and sauerkraut are really nice models to follow)

6. Your compatriots are such drama queens. True: They are emotional people. If you don't like emotions, what are you expecting in Latin country?

7. I've been waiting for ages. Half true: In my work life here I always have the people on time. In my private life I, almost, always have people out of time (not so much; just the time to the party 'start'). You need to know the local usage: Dinner is at 22:00/23:00, after this, people go to drink at some place (And, if you wish, it will be at 10pm to 10am but it's not mandatory). 
There are exceptions. In the North people are more formal. In the South you can expect a variance. But not so much in the work environment.

8. Why can't I just go out and blow off some steam? True: To be a expat will always give you some scars. I can tell by my self. I don't have an excuse but to do the dull, as a drunk, is not far way of all English teenagers that come to Spain and Portugal in summer to avoid the pressure in their lives. People are not perfect. I'm sorry.

9. Can't we do something different for a change? ??? Also I think that's perception stuff . . . Where, in Europe, are the people who do not join to eat, drink, talk, laugh and have good moments together? I don't know all the world but the places that I know it's a sign of friendship and inclusion (I mean inclusion for foreigners like me).
But, if you want, there a lot of people who want to see French noir cinema with you.

10. People here smoke too much: Half True: It's true that the Spanish smoke a lot. Period.
It's false that the cafés and shops are smoker-friendly: We had a global master ban some years ago. So, in all places, you won't be corrupted by tobacco smoke. There are some places where, after hours, they close the door and you (and other fine people) can smoke and drink your beer.

Finally . . . I've finally figured about why I'm confused by the new Maverick OS; the touchpad and the Up and Down arrows go in opposite directions.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bad bank cards; EU fraud; Cataluña; Ministresses; Pimping the economy; & Astronomical delights.

There were 86 bank executives, politicians and trade union reps who were given the now infamous 'black' bank cards by Caja Madrid and its successor Bankía. 84 of them made illegal hay with them, 3 spent very little and one person didn't use hers at all. One inevitably wonders if this is a representative cross-section of the population.

At an even higher corporate level, Brussels has demanded that the Spanish government do something about paying back illegal subventions made to companies such as Santander, Telefónica(!), AXA and Iberdrola. Is corruption really so institutionalised in Spain? Or do all these companies just have dumb accountants who can't follow the application rules?

The President of Cataluña has announced his region really will, after all, stage some form of public consultation on independence on November 9. This came as a shock to those who'd thought he'd cancelled it yesterday. The Spanish President has not yet withdrawn his expressions of delight of yesterday. But there's been the usual exchange of insults at lower levels.

The ('relegated') Ministress of Health has defended herself and her Department against accusations of negligence and incompetence around the treatment of Ebola patients. "We did nothing wrong", she said. "We complied with all the protocols. It's just that the protocols were inadequate". I suspect the average 4 year old could find fault with this logic.

Another Ministress, of Development, assures us that the AVE high-speed train from Madrid to Galicia will be operative by 2018. As I recall, this was the joke date I suggested back around 2004. When the promise was 2010. I don't know why she bothers. I hope I live to travel on it.

Shops, bars and restaurants continue to close in Pontevedra, 7 years after the bubble burst in 2007. And yet Spain's economic growth is said to be the best in the eurozone, even if it's pretty low. Surely it can't simply reflect the inclusion of prostitution in the 'white' economy.

Today was the day when the sun rose directly above the river below me. Consulting my records, I confirmed this was exactly the same date as last year. I guess this is how astronomy began.

Finally . . . I downloaded Apple's new Maverick OS overnight. As you'd expect, I had a lot of fun today trying to deal with the consequences. Honest. So far, the only advantage I can see is the Reader app.

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