Friday, July 03, 2015

Funny facts; Guess who? Spain's big C; & More fotos.

Some random - but interesting – facts
  • The human brain is 60% fat.
  • The element essential for all life is . . . . carbon.
  • In Britain in 1950-51, only 6% of 17-19s entered higher education. By 2014, it was 47%.
  • Between the same dates, owner-occupied households rose from 29 to 69%.
  • And children out of wedlock (or 'bastards', as they used to be known) from 5 to 46%
  • While criminal convictions rose from a mere 17,100 to 352,000.

Hard as it may be to believe, this is not a description of Spain: A country still recovering from a financial and moral crisis spurred by endemic croneyism. Where there is a dysfunction of an entire political culture in which the practice of of politics became about the spoils of the system. No, not Spain but . . . Ireland.

Which reminds me . . .
  1. A Valencian ex-banker and politician was arrested earlier week as part of an investigation into unlawful activities connected with 2 local banks. The chap in question was president of the Valencian Community in 2002 and 2003, as well as president of both banks. According to El País: Rampant political corruption has resulted in the plundering of an estimated €12.5 billion from public coffers.
  2. The ex-president of Burberry has paid €31m to to the Spanish tax office to avoid prison.
Finally . . . A couple more fotos of Pontevedra, at both ends of the day:-

Another misty dawn.
The riverside at night. Obviously.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

The infamous Gag Law; Police fines; Odd English; & A nice foto.

Spain's repressive Gag Law finally came into effect this week. Proving that the government has a sense of humour, it's really called The Citizen Safety Law.

The press has lists of what you can only do now at risk of a humungous police fine and here's a selection of these:-
  • Taking fotos of the police.
  • Referring to a demonstration on Twitter or any other social network.
  • Consuming drugs in the street, including a reefer. Whatever that is.
  • Taking part in a botellón, or a booze-up, in the street. I look forward to seeing how this is applied in August, after our bullfights.
  • Abandoning furniture in the street, even next to the rubbish containers.
  • Losing your ID thrice in a year. Or if you can't produce it when asked and you haven't reported theft/loss.
  • Using laser pointers.
  • Demonstrating at the entrance to Congress or the Senate, even if no one's in there.
  • Impeding an eviction.
  • Occupying empty houses.
  • Showing a "lack of respect" to those in uniform or failing to assist security forces in the prevention of public disturbances

Talking of police fines . . . Up in Ortigueira, here in Galicia, a cyclist was recently fined €1,000 for being over the alcohol limit - the first person to suffer this expensive indignity since new traffic laws came in last March. He joins the growing list of people who've become victims of El Tráfico's revenue collection program. Like the chap who was fined because one of his back-seat passengers was 'pretending to be superman'.

You don't read comments like this every day: I confess that only one third of me is bold-bummed bohemian, the rest is closed-sphinctered bourgeois. More's the pity.

And this is an expression of happiness I've never heard before: I'm chuffed to monkeys.

Finally . . . Here's a foto of a place near Japan's Mount Fuji - the hills east of Pontevedra, from my bedroom window.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Obesity; Mayoral costs; Galicia's airports; Temperatures; & Stuff-you parking.

I suspect few would guess that the percentages of overweight and obese people in Spain are 62 and 24, respectively. The overweight number compares with 72% in the USA. And the obesity number compares with 34% in the USA and 28% in the UK. Perhaps even more surprising is that Spanish women, at 25%, have a higher obesity number than Spanish men, at 23%. One wonders how many people eat chips as part of their Mediterranean diet.

Some of the incoming new left-of-centre administrations have taken an axe to mayoral salaries and perks. The new mayoress of Madrid, for example, has slashed her salary from €100,000 to €45,200. Among the perks she's abolished are:-
  • The mayoral car and chauffeur. She now goes to work by tube.
  • The VIP box at the Las Ventas bullring.
  • Membership of the elite country club, Club de Campo.
  • Seats at the city’s Teatro Real.
  • A Gold Card for Madrid’s trade fair centre.
  • A box at Santiago Bernabeu stadium, the home of Real Madrid.
  • A box at La Caja Magica, the venue for the Madrid Open tennis competition.

Let's hope this amounts to more than tokenism. Meanwhile, she's not going to be popular with the establishment. Nor with her mayoral oppos around Spain.

I've said more than once it's insane to have 3 small international airports in Galicia, for a population of c.3m. None of these can hope to compete with Oporto's large airport in nearby North Portugal. Over the years, there's been sporadic talk of rationalising the airports. Or at least 'coordinating' them. So, what's the latest development? Why, installation of a second runway at the smallest facility in La Coruña. This will allow it to better compete with the airports in Santiago and Vigo. Madness upon madness.

While the rest of Spain labours under temperatures even higher than those in the UK which have brought the country to a halt, here in Pontevedra and Galicia we're enjoying a balmy spell of weather. I don't say this often but thank God for the Atlantic.

Finally . . . Here's the sort of arrogant thoughtless I hate. In one fell swoop, this Chelsea tractor is - blocking the zebra crossing, the pavement(sidewalk) and the view for cars coming from town.

Its flashing hazard lights are meant to indicate it isn't really there. And this certainly seemed to work for the police car parked at the other end of the zebra crossing, at the bus stop. A few seconds after I'd snapped her vehicle, a woman came out of the shopping centre and drove off. Possibly a coincidence.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The EU & Greece; The wages of sin; Islam; Spanish idiom; & Gossip.

The EU and Greece: What can one say? I'm certainly not going to repeat my long-held views that the EU will eventually collapse under the weight of its internal incongruities. And that it's always been a war-inspired political vision with little weight given to either democracy or, worse, real-world macroeconomics. So, leaving them aside, here and here are the coruscating views of two US economists. And, at the end of this post, there's an article from today's Times. Enough said.

You're not going to believe it but one of the highlights of living in an area rampant with drug smuggling is that, from time to time, the narcotraficos leave behind such unwanted baubles as helicopters or hyper-fast launches. I guess it reflects the profits to be made and it reminds me of the wine-makers in New Zealand who make so much dosh they can afford to hire choppers to hover over their vines in hot weather.

On British TV yesterday, the point was made that there's a Good Islam (the mainstream) and Bad Islam (Islamists such as ISIS). It reminded me I'd read the Koran - for the second time - about 10 years ago - and drawn this conclusion: The Koran is both inconsistent and ambiguous (even avowedly so at one point), so there is ample scope for GoodMuslims to come up with a tolerant, peace-loving religion and BadMuslims to come up with a hate-filled, violent, proselytising religion. Nice to find the rest of the commentariat catching up with me . . . .

Spanish: A new (to me) idiomatic phrase: Tener mono. Literally - 'To have monkey'. Means 'To crave'. As in Tiene mono de fama: 'He/she craves fame'.

Finally . . .In a lovely book about a year in the life of England's 14th century poet, Chaucer, author Paul Strohm gives the origin of the word 'gossip'. It derives, he says, from the phrase god-sib/god-sibling, or good friend. I see no reason to disbelieve him

The dream of closer union is melting away: Ed Conway. The Times.

The euro’s founders believed it would supplant the dollar as a reserve currency and knit Europe together. It has failed at both.

In more than a decade of reporting on the euro, I can’t recall anything like the scene in the press room of the European Council building on Saturday. One journalist was in tears; another was swearing down his phone; others just walked around in a daze. An EU official, her voice cracking with emotion, said her devastation was on the same scale as the euphoria she felt the day the Berlin Wall came down.

One can understand why: June 27 is now widely regarded as the day the euro died. Certainly, it was the moment Greece was cut loose and effectively expelled from the eurogroup, which became the first major European forum to meet intentionally without one of its members. This may indeed be the beginning of the end of the euro, but if Saturday marked the rupture, there is a case for saying the currency’s fate was set in stone five days earlier, on Monday last week.

For whatever happens to Greece in the coming weeks, the bigger question is what its travails imply for the rest of the eurozone. If the single currency is no longer irreversible, what is to stop speculators betting on a Spanish or Italian departure the next time there is a fiscal crisis? Granted, there was less contagion in European debt markets yesterday than some had feared: after a brief spike, Italian and Spanish bond yields — a barometer of sovereign debt stress — settled barely a fraction of a percentage point higher. Some suspect that the European Central Bank may be deploying calming countermeasures behind the scenes.

But such emergency measures will not ensure the euro’s long-term survival. If it has a future, it is as a fully functioning currency with a fiscal union, shared debt and a truly common market, with money and people able to move from country to country at will. And that is where last Monday comes in.

Though it was barely reported at the time, that was when Jean-Claude Juncker issued Brussels’ blueprint for the future of the euro. The subtitle of the five presidents’ report, as it was named (after the heads of the commission, the parliament, the council, the ECB and the eurogroup), was: “Completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union”.

In its 24 pages you’ll find many familiar buzzphrases (the euro is “like a house that was built over decades but only partially finished . . . It is now high time to reinforce its foundations”) and some bold-sounding plans, including a “euro area treasury”, a common banking deposit insurance scheme and a European fiscal watchdog similar to Britain’s Office for Budget Responsibility. Were you in any doubt that this is intended as the euro’s best bulwark against a Greek departure, look no further than the date it all comes into force: tomorrow, the day after Greece’s bailout is due to expire.

The problem is, it’s frankly not all that ambitious. Gone are the plans for mutualising the continent’s debt; gone is the idea of supranational bank deposit insurance; gone is the notion of treaty change to bring about a genuine two-speed European Union (much to David Cameron’s chagrin). As is often the case in Europe, the bold language is only a façade, masking squabbling and pusillanimity beneath the surface.

Like it or not, over the past three years (the last analogous report was written in 2012) Europe has become markedly less committed to deeper union. For further evidence, you need only recall the row over dinner at the European Council last Thursday, as leaders failed to agree a plan to resettle 40,000 asylum seekers from north Africa.

Tempting as it is to view this as the disintegration of the European dream, it is more likely just evidence of another phenomenon we see all over the world — a retreat from internationalism. The EU is not the only multilateral institution facing decay; consider the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation, to take just three. Yesterday, George Osborne signed the articles of agreement setting up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, China’s answer to the World Bank. It may well end up lending Greece money if it slides out of the euro.

The reality is that the euro was a dream borne out of a world that no longer exists. It was a response to the collapse of the postwar Bretton Woods system, a currency devised to challenge the dollar’s supremacy as the world’s reserve currency. It was designed to constrain Berlin’s dominance of the continent and to knit its warmongering nations closer together. Today the dollar remains the world’s reserve currency and, as recent years have shown, Berlin dominates Europe more than ever.

When the euro coins and notes were launched in 2002, Wim Duisenberg, then the ECB president, declared that it was “the first currency that has not only severed its link to gold but also its link to the nation-state”.

However, as the Greek crisis has shown, the euro has done anything but. All it did was to round up a ragtag bunch of nations — some fiscally sensible, some routinely inclined to deficits and devaluations — and strap them in the straitjacket of monetary union. Now, in its first major test, nation statehood has reasserted itself, in the form of Greece’s referendum.

Far more prescient than Duisenberg was another of the euro’s progenitors, the former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt. In late 2010 he predicted that within 20 years the euro’s membership would have been whittled down to a “hard core” of France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Unless this crisis forces the euro’s members to really embrace the fiscal union that they’ve been rabbiting on about for so long, one suspects he will be proved right.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sp. pop.; Barons & elections; Spanglish; Menu item; & My bougainvillea.

Spain's population fell for the 3rd year running in 2014. But only by 72,335. As of January this year, the population is now 46.4m, still way up on the 44m of the pre-Bum years.

In the UK, a Prime Minister may or may not have problems with 'Big Beasts' in his cabinet. Think Michael Heseltine, Ken Clarke and, of course, Gordon Brown. Here in Spain, it's the Regional Barons that the President has to worry about. They feature regularly in the media and it's reported that many of them are now pressuring for general elections before the end of the year. Presumably, they fear the new parties will be even stronger by then. Will the ever-cautious Sr Rajoy take a decision on this? Unlikely.

Spanglish: El off. As in: En el 'off' los actores se autoconvocan para llevar adelante una obra. Or Hablar en off. Off-stage, apparently. This appears to be the only time Spanish will eschew syllables - Take and English word or expression and shorten it. Impressive.

Which reminds me . . . Another restaurant in Pontevedra has translated its menu into English. With the usual results. Just one example from many: The Spanish Virutas de jamón (slices of jamón) is given as 'Shaving of Hum'. Not even 'cured Hum'.

Tomorrow, as you'll know, is 30 June, the deadline for submission of my 2014 tax return. The fine for being late is probably around a million euros, given how the Tax Office operates with the low hanging fruit it knows about. So, I started on my submission this weekend and hope to finish it today. Time being short, this is why I'm ending with a foto of the lovely bougainvillea at the back of my house. 

Incidentally, the Virginia creeper next to it has now reached the roof and yesterday entered my study through an open window. 3 or 4 years ago, I nearly uprooted it, fearing it was a weed. I wonder if I'll regret not doing so.

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