Saturday, December 13, 2008

I’ve decided to take a stand against the dreariness of all the news in every newspaper I plough through as research. Henceforth and for an indefinite duration, this blog will be devoted to the trivial, the whimsical and the humorous. At least, that’s the aspiration.

To kick off, I’m indebted to David Jackson [see Links] for what he says is an old joke about nepotism and cronyism in Spain’s national airline - “When does Iberia recruit new pilots? On Take Your Son To Work day”.

The Andalucian courts have found for a private clinic in its battle to force its nurses to wear skirts. The female ones, at least. According to the judge, this is justifiable in the interests of the public image of the company. Which pearl should do a lot for the image of Spain’s judges.

I heard on the BBC this week that Wikipedia has on it more than a few bogus entries that get past whoever is there to stop this sort of thing. I particularly liked the one about the irony of Van Morrison being born in a gym and Jim Morrison in a van

But to end with a bit of seriousness . . . This a nice analysis of the last two Spanish presidents from the balanced folk at 5 Spaniards. It comes as a welcome counterweight in week in which one prominent politician said anyone voting for his opponents was stark raving mad [tontos de los cojones] and another said nationalists should be strung up by their cojones. Incidentally, I only know the specifics of the latter insult because Spanish friends last night acquainted me with the subtle difference between the two Spanish verbs for ‘to hang’ – colgar [by the balls in this case] and ahorcar [by the neck].

There must be elections in the offing. So, plenty of material there.


CafeMark said...

I doubt there's a country in the world where nepotism or "the old school tie" doesn't have its power. In fact I read an article in a British paper today - Hazel Blears (who I understand is or was a government minister) was bemoaning the fact that 30% of people who lost a job, found their next post via contacts, family or friends. Whereas only 10% were successful using the Jobcentre method. It makes sense really; if employing someone, it can be less of a risk if you (or a colleague) already know the character and trustworthiness of the person concerned. Doesn't make it fair though. Perhaps we're all being naive if we expect things to be fair?

moscow said...

Sorry Colin, I can't do light.
Yes, I agree with CafeMark.
My "experience of the world" and of long sojourn in Britain is that, in essence, things are not THAT different in the UK. Having said that, the Iberia pilots have a bit of a reputation in Spain. Colin, any news on the merger with BA? I still hope it goes through.

I believe you are often too harsh on Spain and Spaniards. I don't know what else could be calling Spain a country of low ethics. I believe sometimes one has to see through certainly cultural outward expressions and put them in context. My theory is Latins in general put lower expectations on their fellow human beings, and often they say so, loudly. But whose vision is closer to reality?
Americans - perhaps mistakenly (?)-believe their country has marginally higher ethical standards than the UK. But, look at the recent bout of corruption scandals in the USA. Should we then conclude then, America is corrupt and has low ethical standards?

Protestantism is idealistic. It makes people strive for an ideal ethical behaviour. It doesn't matter that you are a Catholic yourself. You grew up in a majority protestant country. I agree, however, that certain things are liable to improvement in Spain. Democracy will bring about some of the change. But that is something for the long haul. Globalisation will take care of the rest.

moscow said...

Oh and sorry for the dig - can't help it! But the Pound has slipped below parity vis-a-vis the Euro. Perhaps I can elicit from you some sort of comment. This in view of your frequent digs at the Euro and Euroland - which have become much more muted and (even more) oblique of late. I will never forget the City trader who in 2000 called the Euro a toilet currency. What would he call the pound now? Again, what goes up goes down, and so the Euro will head downwards again - and the pound upwards - sometime - I guess. Not that that should ever be the main worry. Quite on the contrary, perhaps for the Euro zone it would be better if the Euro were cheaper now. But many people do not understand that. The currency is a sort of symbol of (supra) national virility. And, irrationally, if the currency goes down that is seen as bad news, when in fact it might help a bit in the short term to get the economy out of recession. In the long term it's different. An economy does not become more efficient or productive or competitve because it's currency devalues. Much to the contrary, devaluations helps to mask defficiencies. The oppposite is happening in Spain - precisely because it doesn't have the option of devaluation. Spain's problems have become glaringly transparent to everyone - except to Zapatero, that is.

Christ! You wanted light?....sorry.

moscow said...

And just to confirm my complete lack of a sense of humour and lightness of being, here is another heavy one. But this article is 100% on the money:

Colin said...

Hola, Moscow

Welcome back from China.

I accept that I am sometimes harsh, though I try not to be.

I haven't read the article yet but will, even though it's from the Guardian . . .

You are misreading, I believe, my comments about the EU. I haven't changed my views and recently said I was heading towards a bet that the crisis would not be good for the institution. Though Mrs M now appears to have got into line somewhat. So I will hold off placing the bet for a month or two.

As for the pound . . it's decline was inevitable and is a bloody nusisance for folk in Spain with a UK pension. Thank God I converted the proceeds of my house sale into pesetas/euros when it was at its 2000 peak. I've said a number of times I'm no admirer of Brown or of what he's done to the British economy. The current rate is a reflection of all of this and, as he himself put it years ago, a weak currency is the reflection of a weak economy. There's no doubt the British economy has been significantly damaged and weakened over the last 12 years and it will be very interesting to see where it is in another 10 years time, against that of Germany, France and Spain. But, frankly, this is only of limited interest to me personally as I intend to be living in one or two of the last three.

As for nepotism/cronyism in the UK, there's a big difference between being given a job simply because you are a friend and finding out about a job through a friend, applying and then getting it on merit. The statistic quoted by CafeMark could be either of these. One of them is called networking, of course. And there is a vast difference between efficient networking and cronyism and nepotism. I rather fancy Mrs Blears was talking about the former, pointing up just how ineffective the Jobcentre efforts were against this route.

But of course there's some cronyism and nepotism in the UK - though I never saw any in 30 years - but I don't agree with your basic view that it's at much the same level as in Spain.

And I thought the comment that Spain was a country that was of low ethics rather than 'corrupt' was yours. Though I must admit I didn't go back to find it. So I apologise if I maligned you.

Now to pose a query for Graeme . . .

PS You MUST read the book about the English I have been citing. I'm sure you'd love it.

Colin said...


PPS. My beef with the EU is with its politics, not its economics. Though, of course, Bismark would have said one was a concentrated form of the other. I've little doubt the euro is good for Germany and other states. Time will tell whether it has been good for Spain. 2000-2008, very good. 2008-2108, who knows?

Colin said...


For example

Colin said...


Deperate times, desperate measures . .

Colin said...


Last quote on the ailing British economy . . .
"Peer Steinbruck, who called Gordon Brown's latest decisions "crass Keynesianism", described the cut in VAT as "breathtaking" and observed that it will "raise Britain's debt to a level that will take a whole generation to work off". Then Steffan Kampeter, an economic adviser to the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said that our rising debt represented "a complete failure of Labour policy".

Such gloriously undiplomatic remarks make perfect sense to those of us who have never been economic savants, but have long been wary of debt for the simple reason that someone will eventually have to pay it off. Indeed, the attitude that deepening debt didn't matter a jot is surely what has dragged the US and Britain into this fierce recession: it seems incredible that our Prime Minister is now trying to borrow his way out of it.

Yet when one is locked in a country with Gordon Brown and his crazy certainties, one is sometimes tempted to ask: "Is he mad, or is it me?" And oddly, according to the polls, many Britons think he's just the man to get us out of this mess, apparently on the grounds that he helped to get us into it.

Now a relatively sane neighbour has looked through the window, seen the paterfamilias at work, and flatly pronounced him nuts. Thanks to the German way of saying things, I have been reassured that the problem really isn't me."

Quite. But interesting to see whether there is an early election next year and how many of the British lemmings are still behind Mr B.

CafeMark said...

I'm beginning to see why the "oposiciones" system is so prevalent in Spain - a measure to counterract the "cronyism/nepotism" feature, perhaps? I think it's far harder for a migrant to Spain to get a decent secure job in the public sector. To be honest I can't criticise this too much - in the UK the opposite seems to have happened, and we have whole estates of natively born Brits (white, black and Asian) who have been excluded from the jobs market (the big employers tend to use agencies who target anyone other than the perceived no-hopers from the local estate who has a dire work history) . It's no fun I guess being a gypsy in Spain or a black migrant in Lavapies, Madrid. However I fear that the UK has neglected far more of its own population and will pay far more in the future (crime, unreliable workers etc).
As for Gordo's popularity. People are scared for their jobs, and will vote for the man who looks like he's helping - even if VAT will go back up in the future (along with other taxes) to pay for it. The opposition are talking about freezing council tax, which is good (especially for pensioners) but hardly addresses the issue. In fact Labour are continually using the phrase "the do-nothing party" to describe the Tories. Fear is the key.

Colin said...

The oposiciones certainly seem to demand a great deal of work/swotting, though some people question how effective they are in generating intelligent analysis. And, being locally administered, they are not beyond manipulation in favour of [very] local candidates. Then there are the language requirements . . .

moscow said...

Spain will be OK within the Euro, as long as, structural reforms are implemented. You know the list. Yes, I know that is a big IF.
In the meantime there will be pain. Possibly, there will be riots Greek style on the streets. Spain will have to get rid both of Zapatero and Rajoy. No small task. Try Sarkozy for a change? And why not!

But don't underestimate the Spaniards, nor the Greeks and the rets of struggling countries. When crunch time comes the right decisions will be taken. If the PP did not have Rajoy as the leader they'd be a shoe-in for the next election. Put Cospedal. A single mother with modern ideas. Zapatero wouldn't stand a chance against her.

I am a fiscal conservative. And I have always believed that the German economic model has great strengths (and patent weaknesses as well). But Steinbruck is wrong. These are extraordinary times and they require extraordinary measures. Brown is actually right on this one.

You are also too harsh on Labour. It's Britain's economic model as a whole that is at fault. Nothing to do with Labour, actually. Read the article by Hutton in the Guardian. I think it is very clear-sighted.

One of the reasons why people in Britain - the great majority - think the Euro won't work is the one-size-(won't)fit-all theory. About a year ago The Economist declared this theory proven wrong. The theory goes like this: how can possibly hard working, thrifty German and Dutch get along with those lazy Spaniards and Italians under the umbrella of a single currency. Well, I am not sure that these countries are in entirely different leagues. There are a lot of myths making the rounds. And old believes die hard. It doesn't help that the Italians keep electing Berlusconi, but even they will one day wake up.

I keep repeating myself. You keep repeating yourself. What is it we disagree on?

Colin said...


Well, we agree on a lot more than you and Graeme. And me and Graeme, for that matter . . .

I have no difficulty with your first paragraph but you are certainly optimistic. How long do you think it will take for the Spanish to get rid of both X and R and put in the structural reforms that weren't made when times were good and it would have been easier?

We have no problem either in both admiring the German model. I recall reading encomiums of praise to in Marketing Today in the early 70s.

Nor in deprecating the British model, as Harvey Jones did. But a different history - and the expensive mistake of winning WW2 - have made a different economic evolution inevitable.

As for Brown's current measures, I suspect the German criticism is aimed more at the specifics than the general principle of help/stimulus but, as someone wrote recently, this is new territory and no one knows what will work and what won't.

What do we really disagree on? Well I don't accept that the EU as a superstate is an acceptable political model, even if I accept that a huge amount of good has been done and that customs union and free exchange of goods etc. are valid objectives. You may feel that it is essential to ensure the correct economic model for Europe. But I would regard this as too high a price to pay. I'd rather see the UK as a state of the USA than a member of the EU superstate.
On this, I saw an article in the Diario de Pontevedra today saying that National Intelligence Committee[] of the USA forecasts that the EU will go backwards between now and 2017, in the direction of variable geometry, multi-speed europe, etc. Maybe this will let Spain off the hook . . . .? I will gtry to dig out a better reference.

Colin said...

Sorry, it was the Voz de G. Must now read it all.

Charles Butler said...


I always feel that simply predicting the unwinding of the euro (Ambrose, for example) is a little open ended. I'd prefer that the challenge be 'which comes first - the end of the euro or the entry of Britain in the EMU?' This does more justice to the indiscriminately ugly situation, and I'm not sure the probabilities favour the former.

Colin said...


Here is said Ambrose, doing a bit of [specific] Kraut-bashing. With which Moscow would agree in this instance, I suspect.

Colin said...


I suspect you're right about relative expecations/aspirations but I can't immediately see how this would affect ethical standards compared with some absolute measure. I certainly think that one of the main problems for Brits settling in Spain is the lowering/managing of expectations. Though I'm not sure how much this has got to do with religion.

I'm reminded of an old [anti?] Jewish joke about a taylor whose son comes home from school confused by the ethics lesson . . .
My, son. Ethics is easy. This is ethics. If a customer gives me a 50 pound note and at the till I find there are, in fact, two notes stuck together . . . should I or should I not tell my partner?

I imagine this joke is funnier in those countries where the question would be onl whether the note is returned to the customer. As opposed to countries where it is considered stupid not to take advantage of people who are stupid or careless. Like timeshare buyers. Or property buyers who believe all notaries and lawyers are honest. Or those who think estate agents are telling the truth when they say the buyers don't need a separate lawyer because the agent's lawyer will do everything and the notary will provide added protection. Or agents who add 20% commission on sales to Brits as against the norm of 3% for Spanish buyers. Though you could, I suppose, argue that the last of these is merely effective pricing and not ethically questionable as it involves no lying.

I'm also reminded of Spanish friends simply shrugging at the huge late 90s fax/jute fraud here, insisting this was to be expected from all politicians. This was in 1999 and the last 9 years have certainly provided some endorsement of this view, at least at a regional and municipal level.

moscow said...

Yes, but what Jane Fox says would explain my point. The Brits are concerned about keeping up appearances - while not being stricly fairer or (I would say more honest) than other cultures. Very true. Which is why they are deemed hypocrites (wrong spelling I guess) by others. Spaniards exagerate their own dishonesty. When push&shove time comes, I doubt the Brits would act all too different from the Spics, but they would be at pains to present their actions as conforming to decorum. Spaniards tend to be less ceremonious in these ( and other ) matters. You say it yourself: the cases you have come accross involving nepotism and corruption in the space of 10 years can be counted with the fingers on one hand. Most of what you know stems from the press. It is as if living in Britain I would keep a record of all the cases of corrution
(sensasionalist and what have you) that come out in the media. I would conclude Britain is the pits.

Having said all that, I am happy to concede that there is more corruption and nepotism in Spain than the UK. I said that before.

Howevr, there is no culture in the world that does not put a prime on honesty. It is more a question of development, and of the maturity of democratic institutions (which are still maturing in Spain).

There are some differences, though. The point I was making was not about protestantism as a religious belief but as a code of conduct which has imbued society. The protestant one was more in tune with the mechanisms of the market economy and modern society. But through globalisation this ethic is feeding into other cultures. Spanish companies competing successfully in the world-wide market (and there are ever more) have to abide by the same rules as all others in other to compete. That fosters a certain form of behaviour.

Colin said...


I thought Spics were Italians and Dagoes Spaniards . . .

As usual,I largely agree but you have to read the book for more detail and an explanation of English hypocrisy. To say that the English are naturally no more honest is decidedly NOT to say that they are equally dishonest in practice, however hypocritical the well-spring of this greater honest. And I would argue that, for whatever religious, social, etc. reason, there is basically a higher level of honesty in Britain than here. Just as there is a higher level of honesty - for whatever reason - in Japan than in both Britain and Spain. Which is not to say that there are not hundreds or thousands of rogues in all these cultures who will take advantage of trust in the way the latest US scoundrel has.

And I must say that I believe the incidence of political corruption at regional/local level in Spain over the last 10 years has been far higher than in the UK, despite the fact that both countries have experienced a property boom.

All of this is not to say, of course, that I would be happier living in the UK than in Spain. I can be as pragmatic as anyone. And I am a chameleon who has adapted - as best as I can - in several cultures. And yes my company engaged in bribery of government officials [in countries other than Spain], which is something that would have been unconscionable in the UK. But not, according to my commercial Spanish friends, here in Galicia when it comes to contracts. Which is not to say any private individual ever has to bribe anyone. I very much doubt that they do.

And I wonder whether I am optimistic as you are about the benefits of a maturing democracy. The world as a whole seems to be going in the opposite direction, if we are to believe what happens in the UN and the EU. Generally speaking, the bigger the institution, the weaker the control, and the greater the corruption.

BTW - If I haven't done so before, I must congratulate you on your superb English. I imagine your Russian is coming along fine as well.

Now, is this English hypocrisy?

moscow said...

Thank you, you'll make me blush. Hope you are not being 'sarky'.

I started learning Russian in 1989.
Pretty hard language to learn. Hellish grammar. I thought I had reached my zenit a few years ago when taxi drivers started to ask me whether I was Serbian. I took it as a compliment.

Colin said...

No, of course I'm not. Your errors are ridiculously few and mostly, I think, in the area of using specific words which are no longer used as much as they were. Which is an incredibly difficult thing to get right if you're not native and immersed in the language on a daily basis. And, of course, it doesn't affect one iota the ability to understand what you write. Now, I'll be blushing. As the book say, we English are not given to this sort of thing . .

Lucy Watson said...

Indeed - a good argument and an excuse to open some superb Port which Johnny Symington kindly gave me. Topic is "Why do (so many but not all) Brits consider themselves to be British and everyone else a foreigner regardless of their surroundings?". Example: A pensioner from Coventry in a Galician Hospital (offloaded from a cruise ship) complains that the facilities are remarkable but not a soul speaks English - "not even the doctors dear!" My attempt to diplomatically point out that the real issue here was, in fact, that she didn't speak Spanish and was subsequently insulted. Come to think of it, I think she used the word "dago" (sp?).

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