Thursday, September 12, 2013

Phone madness; Mrs Bottle; Presidential English; Sounds for kids; The Spanish economy, legal and illegal: And 50 Shades.

Are we really this mad? Apple's new fingertip "phone" costs 550-700 pounds. On the other hand, I can buy Samsung's cheapest - but no doubt effective - smartphone (the Apollo) for 30 quid. Or I could if the webpage advertising them really had some to sell. Failing that, I can get one from Amazon for only 3 times this price. Anyway, isn't it about time we stopped calling them 'phones'? Or even 'smartphones'. They're surely mini-computers. So, what's smaller than a 'tablet' or a 'notepad'? A 'mincom'?

My informant inside the Spanish government tells me the reason Ana Botella, the mayor of Madrid, looked so dishevelled when she gave her infamous, but amusing, speech to the IOC Committee last Saturday is that she'd been caught in a Buenos Aires storm en route to the event. And we all know what rain can do to hair that has the potential to curl. Those of us who still have hair, I mean. Others will have to rely on their memory.

The same informant also assured me that President Rajoy is not corrupt. So maybe we should discard her comments on La Botella. Who's now called 'Mrs Bottle' by all Spaniards, it seems. And whose phrase about a relaxing café con leche in Plaza de Mayor in Madrid seems to have been converted - at least by tipplers - into 'Un relaxing carajillo en la tasca of the village'. Or a liqueur-laced coffee in the local bar.

There's been much talk here of the glaring failure of Spain's politicians - particularly her last 4 presidents - to speak more than a couple of words of English. The reason is simple - They all came through a school system which (a la Franco) preferred French to English. Mind you, even if they'd been taught English, they probably still couldn't speak it. Until recently - and still? - the Spanish education system placed far more emphasis on grammar than on communication. Rather as if English kids only learnt grammar until they were 10. Ignoring the fact they learnt the language at home between 0 and 5, course.

Which reminds me . . . I read this week that a newborn English child has the capacity to recognise and respond to c. 600 sounds but, by the end of its first year, has forgotten about 555 of these and concentrates on the 45 used in English. In other languages, the numbers would be different, of course. The fewer used in Spanish is one of the (lame) reasons given by Spaniards for their allegedly 'natural' difficulties with English.

There certainly are bright spots in the Spanish economy but I wonder how many people without an axe to grind would go so far as to agree with the Minister of Finance that "Spain is the great economic success of the world" and that "Spain can now give lessons to Europe and the world." Or even with his suggestion that the recovery is not just on the way but has already arrived.

I imagine few of Spain's many, many unemployed would agree with the minister. Almost certainly none of the 633 failed applicants for a bakery van driver job which demanded an MBA. Perhaps the minister had his binoculars on the wrong way round when he surveyed the economic scene.

Talking of things economic . . . A recent study puts the value of Spain's black economy at 18.6 % of GDP. This compares with the European average of 18.5%, and figures of 13% and 10% for Germany and Britain. As some university professor put it: "Fraud in Spain is not viewed as negatively as in other countries, in the same way that cheating in exams isn't."

The Santiago train crash developments: It looks like the national provider, RENFE, will not be called by the judge to answer questions. Which is surprising. However, the last 3 presidents of the railtrack company, ADIF, have been called to testify, along with other senior staff. Meanwhile, ADIF has changed its security and signalling systems and brought into operation the braking system which would have prevented the tragedy, whatever the driver had done or not done. Which was inevitable but which still says a lot.

Finally . . . Here's a non-surprise. And here's an interesting solution to the problem, if you have it.


Sierra said...

Further to yesterday's comments regarding the post office and magazines, etc., it seems there are two distinct branches of the Correos. Letters excellent - two days UK to Galicia, either way. Magazines and parcels - think of a number. Recent package from New York - two days NY to Madrid; two weeks Madrid to Lugo.

Also cost have rocketed - it is now cheaper to use a courier (€32.82) for a 3kg parcel to UK than the post office (€35.31)- and the courier booked online (Seur) will collect from your home!

Brendan said...


Master of Bakery???

Anonymous said...

Hello Colin,

I'd like to read the whole article regarding the number of sounds a child can recognize and respond to that you referenced in your post. Please send me the link if possible.

Thank you,

SF Bay Area

Colin said...

Hi, Jorge. It's not an article but Pinker's book "The Blank Slate". Can't find the ref. right now but am about to read it again and will send it when found. Cheers.

Colin said...

@Sierra. Yes, indeed. Have always been impressed with the normal mail but, like you, am not a fan of the parcel post. One reason being that things just disappear, though one never knows whether it's here or in the UK. I suppose.

Colin said...

@Brendan. Nice one!

Perry said...

Pinker also gives several examples of harm done by the belief in a blank slate of human nature:
Totalitarian social engineering. If the human mind is a blank slate completely formed by the environment, then ruthlessly and totally controlling every aspect of the environment will create perfect minds.

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