Friday, December 19, 2014

The president's perspective; Corruption (again!); Galician rain; EU rules; Mandy R-D; & Ryanairing

As mentioned, in recent weeks the insensitive Spanish President has taken to insisting that Spain is not only finally out of her recession but also growing at such a pace she's become a model for the rest of Europe. Someone must have had a quiet word with him and told him this didn't go down well with the populace when so many millions remain unemployed and bars and shops continue to close. So his office has now clarified the President's remarks, explaining that what he really meant was that Spain is at the start of the path that leads towards recovery, not that wages are rising and shops full of happy customers. So, that's alright then.

I heard the phrase collusion, coercion, corruption today and was then surprised to find it wasn't about Spain, but India. But, anyway, "Why is Spain so corrupt" is a question which occurs to all of us at some time. And here's The Economist's attempt at an answer.

Notwithstanding the corruption - which, in truth, never affects your daily life - if you aspire to fully assimilate into Spanish life, here's 7 reasons why you'll never succeed. It'd be good to see a Spaniard's equivalent list for the UK and the USA.

I've mentioned the new, Orwellingly entitled, The Law of Citizen Security. Less formally, it's referred to as The Gag Law. Here's some detail on it from El País.

There's a new film set in Galicia. And recorded in Gallego even. Sadly this reviewer endorses the myth that it never stops raining here - Diego Romero Suarez-Llanos’s photography does a fine job of rendering the rich tones and textures of Galicia, which seems to be composed of darkness, rain, moss and stone in varying quantities. But if it keeps away the foreign tourists, I guess it's worth tolerating this nonsense. The stone is granite, of course. Which looks almost as good when it's raining as when the sun shines on it. Or perhaps I've gone native.

I've mentioned France's penalty-free flouting of EU rules. Here's someone's acute observation on the EU, from a UK perspective: Berlin may be allowed to drag its feet for two decades on completing the single market in services. Paris may be able to ignore supposedly non-negotiable limits on eurozone budget deficits. But when it comes to an issue of crucial importance to Britain, Angela Merkel has made it clear to David Cameron that we would not be given similar leeway. For every year of our forty-year membership, Britain has paid more into the EU’s coffers than we get back. But apparently it’s we, strict observers of every EU rule, who are the bad Europeans. Give a dog a bad name, I suppose.

A small light has gone out and the world is a tad poorer, with the death of Mandy Rice Davies (no relative). For those who don't know, she was a minor character in a huge sex-&-spying scandal which hit the British government in the 60s, when she was the (very) young consort of a trio of rich middle-aged men and the star of the trial of one of these. Her witty riposte "He would say that, wouldn't he?" is now commonplace in the UK. She seems to have lived in Spain for a while but I can't find out where. Anyone know? It's interesting to note that Andrew LLoyd Webber feels that, 'given a different roll of the dice', Ms Rice Davies was smart enough to have become head of the Royal Academy. That said:-
The moving finger writes and, having writ,
Nor all thy piety nor wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.
All in all, though, she seems to have had a pretty good life, with 3 husbands.

Finally . . . More on the new Spanish word ryanairing: This has been defined as:- A new sport for experiencing extreme emotions. This follows the panic stimulated by the de-pressurisation of one of the airline's planes en route to Spain. Apologies for giving the company some publicity.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Oil; Art; Giant vaginas; Old words; New words; Liverpool Islam; Houses; & The bloody mole.

The recent fall in the price of oil from 100 to 60 dollars a barrel is certainly dramatic but did you know that the price was a mere 16 dollars as recently as 1999? More here.

The estimable Roger Scruton has given us another short treaty on modern art, entitled Lies, Fakes and Modern Art. Here's a sampler: There grew around the modernists a class of critics and impresarios, who offered to explain just why it is not a waste of your time to stare at a pile of bricks, to sit quietly through ten minutes of excruciating  Old words;noise, or to study a crucifix pickled in urine. To convince themselves that they are true progressives, who ride in the vanguard of history, the new impresarios surround themselves with others of their kind, promoting them to all committees that are relevant to their status, and expecting to be promoted in their turn. Thus arose the modernist establishment - the self-contained circle of critics who form the backbone of our cultural institutions and who trade in 'originality', 'transgression' and 'breaking new paths'. You can read more here. And an expanded version here. Of course, we must exclude the wonderful Brian Sewell from any modernist taint. I will always love this eccentric critic merely for his dismissal of Damien Hirst as "fucking dreadful". Despite his negative comments on Liverpool as a centre of culture.

Thanks to a demonstration in Malaga involving the Virgin Mary as a giant vagina, I now know that Article 525 of the Spain's Penal Code says: “Those who, with the purpose of offending the feelings of members of a religious denomination, do publicly, orally, in writing or by any type of document, mock its dogmas, beliefs, or ceremonies or who annoy, also publicly, those who profess or practice these shall incur the penalty of eight to 12 months in prison.” Bloody 'ell. Suddenly I feel I'm back in the 15th century. Happily, in this case the judge threw out the suit from the Association of Christian Lawyers.

On the TV today, someone used the word unbeknownst, which surely ranks alongside whilst as a relic from Middle English. But this surely can't last and I guess neither of them is used in the USA, even on the East Coast.

Talking of words . . . Thanks to my fellow blogger, Trevor, I now know that ryanairing has joined footing, etc. as bizarre Spanish anglicisms.

The first Islamic mosque in the UK was set up in Liverpool just over a hundred years ago, in a Georgian house which is part of an arcade that had fallen into disrepair. It's now been lovingly restored. Pix here.

Talking of houses . . . here's a foto of one down the bottom of the hill. As is the norm here, it's been under construction for at least 2 years. I do hope the ugly bare concrete is going to be faced but I guess it depends on whether the owners are 'modernists' or not.


Ultimately . . . I finally caught the pesky mole in my humane trap. But not before it'd created more than 10 soil piles on the lawn. Sadly, it had expired before I got to it. If not, I'd have had to bang it on the head. Which, as an animal lover, I don't like doing. Honest.

The Princess and her taxes; End of La Crisis?; Airport nonsense; Russian nonsense; Drug trials; & Train nonsense.

The disgraced Princess Cristina has paid to the state the almost €600k she's previously neglected to remit to the Tax Office. Amusingly, she transferred it to the wrong account. Meanwhile, the Public Prosecutor has launched another appeal against the judge's intention to try her for criminal offences.

The current line of the Spanish government is that Spain has not only exited La Crisis but that, thanks to its strategies, it's become a beacon for the rest of Europe. This is hard for many people to stomach - especially the 24% of the working population who are still unemployed - but no one more so that the writer of a letter to yesterday's El País, who said that his restaurant business was down 50% and that people were sharing meals because they couldn't afford to have one each. Of course, you and I might ask why people in straitened circumstances are eating out but menus del día are a way of life here.

Back to the EU's Court of Auditors . . . "Spain" it says "is the member state which has most squandered development funds". Who'd have thought it? The good news is that Vigo airport isn't considered the biggest waste of money. This honour goes to Córdoba's facility. My question is why Galicia's smallest airport in La Coruña didn't come under the microscope alongside Vigo's.

On Wednesday's, El País has a separate section called Russia beyond the Headlines. An apt title, given that the main items yesterday were Mars and the attraction of Spanish beaches. I'm not sure that this propaganda is doing much good right now, as the Russian economy flirts with meltdown.

Astonishingly, there are said to be around 30 homeless folk living in Madrid's T4 terminal at Barajas airport. Apparently, they push trolleys and mingle with real passengers. And 'take advantage' of the facilities.

Here in Galicia, we've now got something to distract us from the endless trials of corrupt politicians - the prosecution of 4 alleged drug barons. All of whom look like your grandfather and incapable of hurting a flea. Based on history, there's a good chance they'll get off, if only because they can afford the best lawyers.

My visiting daughter was returning last night from a trip to Oporto in Portugal. Her train arrived at Vigo at 10.30, just as the last train to Pontevedra was departing. She demanded an explanation of this nonsense from an official but got only a shrug and an apology. Fortunately, the bus company operates rather more sensibly; its last express bus leaves from across the road at 10.40. 

Finally . . . In a nearby town on Tuesday, a driverless truck rolled backwards down a slope, crashed into 6 cars and ended up outside a company which makes coffins. It reminded me of a (very) old joke: A coffin slips out of a hearse going uphill, slides down the hill and crashes through the window of a chemist's (drug store). As the startled pharmacist looks up, the corpse sits up and asks "Have you got anything to stop this coughin'?" Sorry.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Party corruption; Divorce; Galician acceptance; Airports; Art; Putin problems; My parcel; & Tapas prizes.

The General Secretary of the PP party has said that "The same corruption which exists in the party exists in the country at large. It's not the patrimony of anyone in particular; because, sadly, it's everyone's". This rather looks like the standard Spanish response - Y tú más ('You're worse than me') but, in truth, I don't know what she means. Hopefully, it's that "We have to stamp out out this curse on Spanish society". By the way, PP stands for Parti Popular. Which it isn't, in either sense of the word.

Meanwhile, the courts are investigating illegal financing of the PP in at least 3 cities - Valencia, Salamanca and - here in Galicia - Ourense.

Some put it down to the improving economic situation - not sure why - but Spain's divorce rate soared by 13% in the 3rd quarter of the year. Galicia was one of the regions in which the increase was above this national average, at 21%. I would put it down to the rain but there wasn't much during those months.

I seem to have reached another stage in my acceptance into Galician society. Two of my favourite tapas bars have given me a ticket for one of the huge Xmas lotteries. I say 'ticket' but the way these things are done they're actually hundredths of €200 tickets. In one bar they told me I'd have to buy drinks for everyone if I won. But, since we all have bits of the same number ticket, we'll all be buying drinks for each other.

Talking of Galicia . . . My fellow blogger Trevor of Kalebeul has sent me a report of the EU Court of Auditors on Europe's redundant airports. Their main recommendation is: "Member States should have coherent regional, national or supranational plans for airport development to avoid overcapacity, duplication and un‐coordinated investments in airport infrastructures." The words close, door, horse and bolted spring to mind. Especially here in 3-airport Galicia.

Did you know that all modern art, says Roger Scruton, results from a determination not to produce kitsch? The result is 'pre-emptive kitsch'. And today's artists go so far with this they produce meta-kitsch that sells, of course, for truly fabulous (i. e. ludicrous) prices. More here

Internationally, the good news this week is that President Putin is clearly rowing back on his ambitions for the Ukraine, calling for multi-party talks on a permanent ceasefire and withdrawal of 'heavy equipment'. I wonder why. Possibly because Russia is collapsing around him.

Locally, the good news is that yesterday I finally took delivery of some second-hand books sent by my aunt from Canada. These were originally delivered in April, when I was in the UK, but then taken back to Madrid. Getting them re-delivered proved to be a bureaucratic calvario. And they added injury to insult by charging me €20 for the process.

Finally . . . The tapas bar I mentioned last week didn't, in the event, win the PonteTapas competition. Indeed, they weren't even in the top 3. So I guess no one will be checking out my identity as Joe Bloggs.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Gin; Odd applause; Trial lengths; Citizen "security"; The Constitution; Bits & pieces.

The Spanish are inordinately fond of gin. There's a wide range of international, national and regional varieties on offer here and there are even bars which serve no other drinks. I was reminded of this when I was today given 3 free samples of "tea tonics" sold by Tanqueray. These seem to be herbal infusions which you chuck into your glass of (copious) gin. Along with some tonic. I guess I'll get round to trying it one day.

The ex-president of the León provincial government left prison yesterday to the applause of his supporters. He'd been there a while, pending trial for alleged corruption. Try as I might, I can't see this happening in the UK. Ken Livingstone?? Is it an example of the picaresque mentality cited yesterday?

Against the background of very lengthy trials in a slow judicial system, the Spanish government is trying to cap the time the initial investigative phase ('instruction') lasts. It wants a mere 18 months for the 'macro' cases, which may just be the ones most likely to involve corrupt politicians. The judges are resisting, saying the limit will benefit serious criminals. As it probably will. My money is on the government.

The Spanish lower house of parliament has finally passed the "Citizen Security" Bill. This mis-named piece of legislation will make it easier for the government to stop the protests it doesn't like and to hit would-be protesters with huge fines. Including for nasty things said to Policemen. More here.

If you get the impression from the last 2 paragraphs that Spain is drifting rightwards, then you're right, of course. The opposition PSOE party has vowed to take things back leftwards when they next get into power. But vamos a ver.

There are now widespread calls for constitutional change in Spain, reflecting the problems with Cataluña and the excessive cost of the country's many levels of government. Madrid, though, rejects the view that the constitution is unfit for purpose and insists it's not "a toy to be played with". We can assume it does fit the purpose of the central government. At least for now.

The English/British tend to be seen in Spain as ooligans. This is because of the football hooliganism of 10-15 years ago and TV programs about lascivious life in the Balearic Islands. Now, though, Spain has its own football hooliganism problem and there's been a couple of deaths in the last few weeks. Grounds, it seems, are not equipped to deal with the violence and it'll be interesting to see how things develop.

On University Challenge tonight, one team knew none of the required lines from four WW1 anti-war poems but all the relevant names from the Harry Potter books. At least I was even-handed, not knowing any of the answers.

Moscow's RT propaganda TV channel is managing to report on plummeting oil prices without even mentioning the devastating impact on Russia. Impressive.

Finally . . . Ain't life odd at times. Pontevedra is a small city in a relatively unknown region of Spain and yet both my daughter and a close friend at university ended up regular visitors to it. My daughter because I live here and her friend because her Portuguese partner has business here. Who would have predicted it?


Another apology: Reading my last post at today yesterday, I noticed I'd typed "in Spain" twice in the first sentence. I must have missed this at least 5 times before I published it. Which only shows to go how hard it is to edit your own stuff.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Life in Spain; The poor Spanish; Gallego v. Castellano; Taxes & tolls; "Reasonable doubt"; & Lost words.

On Sundays and bank holidays in Spain, there's little open apart from bars, cafés and cake shops. People will have differing views on on whether this is charming or a bloody nuisance. But, anyway, IKEA invested in a store in Valencia on the assumption they could open it on Sundays. But the local government said not and the regional government has endorsed this stance. As ever in Spain, a court case is now in the offing. It's hard to believe IKEA didn't check out this assumption so, presumably, someone was fibbing to them. On the other hand, it's reported that "Local furniture shops said IKEA opening on Sundays would be unfair competition, because they do not wish to open on Sundays and bank holidays." Perhaps they kept their powder dry.

Today's El País had an article headed: Spain - Good to live in; Bad to work in. The text revealed(?) that the Spanish:- Work more hours than most other Europeans, have longer holidays, deliver less productivity, sleep less, stress more and are paid less. Plus they spend more time on the streets and consume more in bars. Understandably, they have more 'friends'. As a country, Spain attracts less talent from elsewhere and loses more of its own talent. Clearly something is very wrong at the heart of the nation. "We don't instil effort and excellence", says El País. "We continue with the culture of the picaresque." Or, as I've put it many times, the first priority is fun. Great if you retire here but . . . Anyway, El País recommends the following actions, which have to be seen as the absolute minimum:
1. Get rid of the (stupid) split day, with its 3-hour-break and its late finish
2. Bring forward the TV prime time, so that people can get to bed before 1.30
2. Move to the Portuguese/British clock of one hour before Spain, along with France(!) and Belgium.
Meanwhile, I look forward to writing this same paragraph in 5 years' time.

Galicia's Minister of Linguistic Policy predicts that only 1 in 4 Galicians will have Gallego as their native tongue by 2045, if things continue as they are now. In other words, if attempts to spread Gallego continue to crash against the rocks of middle class aversion to a minority language and if folk remain unpersuaded of its utility in the Lusosphere (Portugal, Brazil and Madagascar). So, cue more attempts to reduce Spanish in Galician schools?

To no great surprise, we're being told that municipal taxes will rise again next year. But at least bankers will have to pay them along with the rest of us. Better news is that the highest tolls in Spain will not be increased. Presumably as a result as a fall in traffic, rather than altruism.

In the context of the Pistorius trial, I asked a lawyer friend about what "Beyond reasonable doubt" really meant in UK trials. "Nowadays", he said, "this just means 'sure'. Juries quite often ask whether this means '100% sure'. Judges are told not to get into ‘how many angels fit on the point of a pin’ arguments. Juries are just told they should know what 'sure' means. A reasonable doubt is a doubt to which you can ascribe a logical reason. It's all semantics anyway. A juror knows if someone is guilty – you can tell by looking at him. If he wears white socks with a suit and black shoes he’s a sex offender. If he has ACAB [All coppers are bastards] tattooed on his knuckles, he’s guilty of something. Otherwise why would he hate the Police?" So, there you go.

Finally . . . 3 words from Chaucer that we, sadly, no longer use:-
Fool-large: Foolishly generous
Chynche: Miser (Chyncherie)
Folily: Foolishly
Debonairetee: Gentleness

And that's just one page!

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