Sunday, March 01, 2015

Greece; Corruption; Google Translate; Spain's horario; Opticians; & Goin' Down Slow.

If you can understand what's happening in respect of Greece, you're a genius. Or a self-opinionated idiot. Our friend Ambrose make these comments:-
  • Greece's Syriza radicals have signed a fragile ceasefire with the eurozone's creditor powers.
  • Few think this can last as escalating deadlines reach their kairotic moment in June.
  • Each side has agreed to a deception with equal cynicism, knowing that the interim deal evades the true nature of Greece's crisis and cannot bridge the immense political divide. They have bought time, but not much.
  • Nomura Bank says Syriza could run out of money for basic government functions within ten days

My own concern is that rival teams of utterly theoretical economists (are there any others?) and power-mad politicians are slugging it out while kids rifle the rubbish bins of Athens. And my question is - Can anyone believe this would have happened without the euro?

After years of exposure of corporate and political corruption on the part of apparently immune members of the establishment, corruption is now second only to unemployment in the list of concerns of ordinary Spaniards. Ahead of terrorism, the economy and healthcare. This is quite a change from, say, 15 years ago when a Spanish friend laughed off a huge flax fraud as something that went with the Minister of Agriculture's turf. Relatedly, I've been wondering recently whether, when corruption is endemic and ethics have been utterly corroded, it really ranks as corruption. As opposed to a cost of doing business, on the one hand, or as a salary supplement, on the other. I used to have similar thoughts in Iran and Indonesia. Whatever, things do seem to be changing for the better here. Even if the last generation of crooks are more likely to see the inside of a Swiss bank than a Spanish prison.

I've mentioned my current translation task and my resort - for speed - to Google Translate. As I've said, this seems to have particular problems with Spanish. For one thing, it dithers over proper names - sometimes ignoring them, sometimes fully translating them and sometimes only half translating them. As with Our Lady of La Paz, El Portillo of Betrayal and El Convento of the Transit. Then, of course, we have its problems with personal pronouns, as in He became a quarry, of a ruined church. What fun.

Spain is less and less different: They said it would happen though I, for one, didn't believe them. But the state TV channel is bringing its prime time slot forward one hour - to 10.15pm - in order to allow viewers to get the sleep previously denied to them by the country's crazy horario. This, by the way, is the starting time, not the finishing time. The latter will still be around midnight. But small steps . . . Now for (Franco's) wrong clock and the 3 hour midday break.

Before the new-style dental surgeries came along - and friends tell me Pontevedra is no exception - there were the glitzy new opticians. Of which this is one example.

Here in Galicia, we're all convinced they're fronts for the laundering of the profits of our thriving drug smuggling industry. Which probably doesn't figure in our GDP. 

Finally . . . If you're a blues fan, you'll have heard Howlin' Wolf's version of Goin' down slow. But here's the earliest (1941) version on record, by St Louis Jimmy. One version backed by great guitar and the other by excellent piano. It was the latter sort of stuff which inspired me to take up the piano 6 years ago. With no obvious success. But I do now know the difference between 8 and 12 bar blues. It's 4 bars. Incidentally, you'll find many versions of this song on Youtube, both by the very famous and the very unfamous.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Nation states; Astrology; Cagar; Theft potential; Coño; Idiot driver; & Dentists.

The British philosopher Roger Scruton makes the interesting point that, although the founders of the EU believed nationalism bred by the nation state had caused WWII, this is very wrong. The cause of the war, he says, was German nationalism and peace was restored by the patriotism of Britain and other states. In contrast, this was indeed born of the nation state. No prizes for guessing if he supports this institution.

There's a British MP who sits on 2 House of Commons committees related to science and health. Which is odd as he thinks that a greater use of astrology would save GPs a lot of time and reduce the costs of the national health service. "Astrology" he asserts "is a useful diagnostic tool enabling us to see strengths and weaknesses via the birth chart". As for those of us who reject this tosh, his response is: "People who oppose what I say are usually bullies who have never studied astrology." "Sure" he adds "astrology may not be capable of passing double-blind tests but it's based on thousands of years of observation". His name is David Tredinnick and he presumably believes the predictions he reads in the Daily Mail et al. There is, as yet, no requirement that British MPs should have an IQ above 50. And, believe it or believe it not, Mr Tredinnick chairs one of the 2 committees. So, what does this say about his fellow members who put him there? Are they having a laugh?

Another Spanish vignette . . . As I was walking along a street in town yesterday, a man came out of a bar in front of me. Another chap, coming towards us, recognised him and exclaimed "Buenos días, hombre!" His friend replied: "Buenos días, amigo. Me cago en díos!" Now, this means 'I shit on god' and I doubt he literally meant it. My guess is it's one of the rich lexicon of Spanish expressions using the verb cagar - 'I shit in your milk'; 'I shit on the woman who gave you birth'; 'I shit on the Host', for example - which the Spanish use to indicate either positive or negative emotions. Indicated by the context and the vehemence with which the phrases are uttered.

When I went for my ECG yesterday morning the nurse took me to a doctor's office, did what she had to do and departed, to give the results to the doctor. I was left alone to put my clothes back on and then leave. I couldn't help notice that there was a lot of stuff in the room that I could have knocked off. Unexpectedly, the nurse returned and told me we had to go to another office as the doctor preferred the machine in that one. So we went through the routine again and she once again went off to the doctor, having got exactly the same result. This time, I noticed that the stuff I could have walked out with included the doctor's laptop. I couldn't imagine this happening in the UK.

After the ECG, I went for my blood tests. I've been doing this annually for quite a while now and the guy who draws blood - so brilliantly you don't feel it - has become very friendly. This time I was able to give him some information on land for sale near my house, where he wants to live. During the lively conversation around details, he twice called me coño. Now, the English equivalent of this also starts with C and has an equal number of letters. I told him he should never use this in English and he was, of course, surprised as it's a term of endearment here. I told him what it meant in English and he protested that coño didn't mean 'vagina' but 'the front bits'. 'Oh, that's alright, then' I said. But I think the sarcasm was lost on him. 

Is there anything more unimpressive than an idiot who justifies his imbecility on a legal technicality? As I approached a roundabout this morning, I saw that the traffic coming from the left was moving only slowly through it because of an accident there but that my way through was open. As I moved to do so, I was blocked by a driver determined not to give me the 2-3 seconds it would take and which wouldn't affect his progress. And he was pointing at a yield sign which, if I'd obeyed, would have kept me there all day. He was, of course, driving a white van.

Finally . . . Here's rather large foto gallery of dental surgeries in the centre of Pontevedra. The first is the traditional 'brass plate' type, where the surgery is on one of the upper floors and is advertised via a hoarding at 1st floor level. And the other 5 are the new glass-fronted, ground-floor types, located in the main shopping streets. Clearly, some investors see this as a good business model.

Friday, February 27, 2015

News?; Sleep & death; Hospitals & doctors; Personal space; Science; & Lazy cheetahs

What passes for important news these days - whatever is trending on social media, however banal. Mild mob rule. What 19th century philosophers and politicians feared about universal suffrage.

Researchers say they've discovered a correlation between low life expectancy and both less and (worse) more than 7 hours a day. I wonder what this means for those of us who take our sleep in 2 bites, one at night and the other as a mid-afternoon siesta. I've always felt this meant the equivalent of an extra hour's sleep. Should I now move from 6 plus 1 = 8 to 5 plus 1 = 7? Decisions, decisions. They're costing me sleep.

I've been going to the same hospital for 14years now. Each time I go, they ask for my ID and my insurer card. Then they enter the details of both in the computer. Then they shoot off to the photocopier to copy the documents. If it can't recognise me by now, it must a crap computer. Two things struck me when going through this ritual this morning:- l. that none of this happens when I go to the doctor or hospital in the UK, and 2. no one here seems to object or see it as, to say the least, duplication. I guess it's symptomatic of the bureaucratic mindset for which Spain is renowned. And the hospital is a private, commercial concern where you'd think they'd be concerned about time wasting. To knock this on the head . . . I had both an ECG and blood tests this morning, meaning two desks. You know what happened.

I went to see my doctor last night for my annual check-up. After 5 or 10 minutes, they told me he wasn't there. He'd had an accident and broken his elbow. If I wanted, I could go across the road and see a Dr Calvo, who had his clinic in the hospital. Now, calvo means 'bald, in Spanish and, guess what, he didn't have much hair. But, anyway, he was very friendly - if not fawning - and I wondered if this was because I knew exactly what I wanted and gave him the results of my last check-up to peruse. He didn't have to turn to the hospital's (crap) computer in search of my details.

Walking into town across the bridge this morning, I saw 2 examples of Spanish characteristics I've frequently cited: A rather large woman and her young daughter approached a narrow defile cbetween a lamppost and a wall on the other side of the pavement(sidewalk). What you might call a rock and a hard place. A young man was approaching from the other direction. Neither of them stopped to let the other through and they both ducked their shoulders - slightly touching - as they went through the gap. Immediately after, the young man - possibly disorientated - bumped into another woman who was following the couple and then apologised profusely. No one seemed to think any of this was unusual. And neither did I.

Two interesting quotes on science this week:-
1. (From a scientist): Science is the only discipline which admits its own fallibility. In fact, it welcomes criticism.
2. (From a theist): If science is so right, why does it keep changing? 

Finally . . . In 1937, an enterprising owner of a greyhound track brought 12 cheetahs to London to race against the dogs. The cats were slow to start but always easily overtook the dogs. However, it didn't take long for the cheetahs to realise they were chasing an electric rabbit and, being true felines, simply refused to take part in any more races. What a shame. I'd love to have seen it. At least once.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Parliamentary games; The state of Spain; Spanglish; Spain's catch-up; & Bloody selfish parking.

You'd think they'd learn. Yesterday the woman deputising as President of the Spanish parliament was filmed playing Candy Crush on her computer, just behind the speaker during the debate on the President's State of the Nation speech. Or so it was said at the time. It was later suggested the game was actually a similar one related to the film Frozen. The lady herself insisted she'd been reading the newspapers. Well, she would, wouldn't she.

During his - pre-election - State of the Nation address, President Rajoy naturally painted his picture in exceptionally rosy - not to say phantasmagorical - tones. As usual, he claimed Spain was growing faster than any other economy in Europe. In fact, there are 10 better. But, as Adolf said, if you're going to tell a lie, tell a big one. People closer to the ground say his description of a Spanish populace now feeling the benefit of his austerity polities bears little relation to reality. This is from one sceptical commentary: Family income, which comes mainly from work, incomes or rentals; from bank deposits, interest payments, property speculation and state aid, is still falling. Wages have fallen: extra payments, overtime and the number of employees per family has also declined. Furthermore, the money that went into households such as unemployment benefits, aid to dependants and so on has also been trimmed. The owners of premises or homes that were paid rents have had to lower them – those who still charge their tenants anything, or who don't have empty shops or apartments. Bank deposits have gone from receiving a tiny interest to now paying account maintenance costs. On the other hand, costs continue to climb: taxes (both indirect and direct); official fines of all kinds (especially from the traffic police); gasoline (although there is now a brief and watered-down respite on the prices), electricity, water . . . The balance of the family budget gives rise, in the majority of cases, to red numbers. HT to Lenox of Business over Tapas for this. It helps to explains why shops and cafés are still closing, even in this city made prosperous on the back of civil servant salaries.

Spanglish. The latest:-Un outsider, as in: La agencia no es para nada un outsider: es un shop[!] de buen tamaño. And: El campeón del mundo, un especialista y un outsider. The pronunciation? - oat-seeder?? I also saw El ranking this morning but I suspect it's pretty well established now. At least its not an -ing invention, unlike un footing, un liftingun parking, etc.

Spain is less and less different.
1. Zebra crossings here don't have anything like the Belisha beacons that adorn those of the UK. Indeed, until last night, I hadn't seen a decently sized and visible sign for motorists. But now I have and I guess we will see more and more of them.

2. Speed bumps first appeared in Pontevedra about 5 years ago and they were of a reasonable height and incline. Now, there's scarcely a street without its fair share. And the height of them has soared, along with the angle of the incline. Some of them are higher than the adjacent kerb, at 6 inches or 15cm. And several of them can only be negotiated at a speed of around 10kph, if you want to prevent the front of your car hitting the road on the way down. And the improved road accident statistics? Conspicuous by their absence.

Cricket: The shocks continue. 1. Afghanistan has a cricket team; 2. It qualified for the World Cup; 3. It yesterday beat Scotland. There was much joy - and not a few tears - among the players. BUT: that's not all. . . The United Arab Emirates (UAE) also has a team in the competition. I assume its women's team plays in burkas. White, of course.

Finally . . . Walking to the station yesterday morning, I saw a good example of the irritatingly selfish parking that effectively eliminates spaces for others - when drivers leave 1-3 metres between their car and the next one. On the way back, I filmed it, though by this time there were only 2 cars, rather than the original 3.

Then, late last night, I snapped this example. What you can't see is that the blue car is also more than 2 metres away from the car in front of it. I can't possibly identify the couple to whom these cars belong but I can say they prevented someone from parking anywhere near his house. And that he wasn't well pleased.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Nazis; Translation; Bread again; Sweet FA; Justice; Valenciano travails; & Cricket teams.

There's always someone, isn't there? A PP councillor in the Basque Country has been pictured at a Carnaval celebration wearing an SS outfit. What mystifies me is who makes and who sells these things? Is it racist to say my guess is one of the many Chinese bazares around the country?

Ahead of a Camino later this year, I was doing some translating last night. I used the quick method of starting with a 'dirty' Google machine translation. For one thing there were a lot of place names and it was useful not to have to type all these out. There were, of course, the normal Google nonsenses and its inability to distinguish between personal pronouns. Or even guess at them. But what really annoyed me was the translation of kilometre into mile, especially as I didn't clock it for a while. I mean, where's the logic to this? Some idiot must have programmed the machine to do this, as if they were the same distance.

My friend and fellow-blogger, Anthea, has endorsed my comment about the importance of bread here in Spain by telling me that the Spanish equivalent of 'as good as gold' is 'as good as bread'. Does this lie behind the view of Gerald Brenan and others that the Spanish are not a very commercial people? Or not those outside the Basque Country and Cataluña, at least. "In general" said Brenan, "one may say that the principal cause of Spanish separatism has been the industrial and commercial apathy of the Castilians". Could this possibly still be true, a hundred years on? Well, not of my newsagent anyway.

Talking about phrases . . . There can't be many Brits who don't use the expression 'Sweet Fanny Adams' or 'Sweet FA', believing them to be euphemisms for 'Sweet Fuck All'. But, fact, the polite version came first, around 1870. It refers to an 8 year old girl, Fanny Adams, who was cut into small pieces by her murderer. And British sailors took to calling their canned rations of mutton - about which they were suspicious - 'Fanny Adams'. Thence to 'Sweet Fanny Adams' and 'Sweet FA'. Strange but true. And, for the gruesome, here's a picture of the little girl. Albeit in an uncut state. From the good people at 'Find a Grave'.

Justice there and here. In the UK, thoughts are being given to allowing cases involving less than 25,000 pounds (€32,000) to be dealt with on line, using an arbitration system pioneered by eBay. Here in Spain, a number of senior judges - including one on the Supreme Court - are being investigated for taking payment as consultants to a company looking at the judicial system in Madrid. This may or may not turn out to be illegal.

Talking of trials . . . An ex-mayor of Valencia is being tried for corruption in Valencia and is coming in for a lot of flak. But this is not because of her alleged crimes; it's because she's not making a very good fist of speaking in Valenciano in the dock. Such are the priorities down there. A Valenciano-English dictionary, I'm told, is roughly one word different from a Catalan-English dictionary but I'm not sure this would be accepted by all Valencians. That old regional jealousy again.

Finally . . . I was astonished the other day to see that an Irish cricket team had beaten the English. In fact, I was astonished there was an Irish team. But this morning I read that the latter is to come up today against a team from the United Arab Emirates! I can't help wondering whether it'll be Gibraltar next. To the fury of Motormouth Margallo, the Spanish Foreign Minister. Who never misses an opportunity to make a fascist fool of himself. I call him 'fascist', by the way, because that's what you do in Spain when you don't like someone. Even if they're a socialist or a communist. 

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