Thursday, January 30, 2014

Spanish justice; & The problems of President Rajoy.

It's a truism that justice is never swift in any country, unless it's executed under the aegis of the mob. Spain is certainly no exception to this rule and, indeed, things may well be slower here than elsewhere. This thought is prompted by reading a report that a constructor accused of fraud 15 years ago has just had the Supreme Court annul a vast fine (€70m) and reduce his prison sentence from 8 to 2 years. Meaning he won't now have to go to jail. In Spanish terms, I doubt this is exceptional - either the time it took or the reduction in sentences handed out by a lower court. And one is always left wondering why. 

President Rajoy is probably one of the least impressive political leaders on the planet. He doesn't speak a word of English - though this is not unusual in Spain; his 3 predecessors didn't either - and his televisual skills are nil. Like other things in Spain, he seems to be left over from a previous age. 

Because of his manifest inadequacies, Rajoy keeps his public appearances to a bare minimum and then makes things worse by trying to orchestrate them. At which, ironically, he's usually quite successful as the media is either state-owned or complicit. Some say this is because the press, at least, would go bust without direct and indirect government subsidies. But I wouldn't know. 

All that said, Rajoy's major threat is coming not from a populace disaffected by austerity or irritated by the Catholic Church-driven changes to the abortion law, but from his own party. You and I might think that the PP under Rajoy is doing quite well as a right-of-centre party but this would be to ignore that the PP is an exceptionally broad church, ranging from the centre to a far-right which in other countries would be, say, Marie Le Pen's party in France, UKIP in the UK or Gert Whatsisname in Holland. And this far-right wing is stirring things up. 

Firstly there was the formation of Vox ('the moderate far-right') and now there are the actions of the last PP President (Aznar), who's making it clear he doesn't think Rajoy is sufficiently tough. This appears to mean he's not taking measures demanded by the Association of Victims of ETA and that he's being too lenient on the Catalans as they meander towards an ('illegal') referendum in November. Personally, I don't know what more Rajoy could do, short of sending in troops now. But presumably Aznar has some ideas. 

As if Aznar's sniping weren't enough, Rajoy also faces the on-line exposés of El Espía en el Congreso, an anonymous web page which started up less than a year ago and already has hundreds of thousands of (Spanish) readers. In the past week there's been a post on Rajoy's croneyism and nepotism over the last 25 years and another one on his allegedly dubious private life. Part two of the latter was posted today. To be fair, all the people I've spoken to in Pontevedra - both of them - have said all this is lies. Or the first 2 posts, at least; I've not had a chance to discuss the third. Of course, the major problem of discussing this with anyone in Pontevedra is that all 80,000 of them claim to be close personal friends of both Rajoy and his entire family. Defence is thus compulsory.  

My own view of why the PP party put someone so ineffective in charge of it is that Rajoy is a front man and that his strings are controlled by someone else. I just don't know who. But, I confess that might not be right. Possibly it should be 'whom'.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Devilish developments; Internet ire; Stealth taxes; Google gobbledygook; & Bludgeoned to death at breakfast.

There seems to have been considerable surprise and shock when white doves released by the Pope and some kids in white were immediately attacked by a seagull and, tellingly, a black crow. But surely these were just the Devil in disguise. An everyday phenomenon in the world of Catholics. And others, of course.

I'm perfectly happy to be given a choice of paper or internet (bank statements) but less happy to be told (Telefónica) that they've unilaterally decided to give me data on the net but will revert to paper if I ask them to. I think I'd be really annoyed to be told that I could only use the internet. And furious if the relevant web page collapsed because of high usage. Well, this is what's happened with the Tax Office(Hacienda) in respect of IVA(VAT) returns. Worse, one reason for the page being down is that the forms are extremely difficult to complete on line, lengthening the time one has to grapple with them. Brave new world. Read more about it here.

There's long been a car park (un parking) below Pontevedra's Alameda and this has recently been joined by a new parking at the town hall end of it. The latter charges higher prices and I see the normal entrance to the old parking has been closed, forcing one to access it through the new facility. Why? Could it be that they're going to raise the prices of the old one to bring them up to those of the new one? Vamos a ver. Will we have riots, if so? I doubt it. They're a placid lot, the Pontevedrans.

Talking of stealth taxes . . . One of the dafter schemes to have emerged to force the people to pay for the commercio-political excesses of the last 10 years has been Madrid's plan to charge people for ambulances. I had visions of both an ATM and a cash till at the entrance. Happily, this has been kicked into touch.

On a wider healthcare front but still in the city of Madrid, plans to privatise the delivery of healthcare there have been abandoned in the fact of huge protests. Even more newsworthy is the fact that the relevant minister has resigned. As this is such a rare event in Spain, one's naturally left wondering whether he fell on his sword or was pushed onto it.

Google translations: I don't know how they cope with other languages but they often produce gibberish from Spanish. The sub-heading for yesterday's El País article was: El rechazo que suscita la reforma del aborto aconseja retirarla, no prolongar su tramitación. Google came up with: "The rejection raises abortion reform withdraw advised not prolong its processing." Be warned.

Finally, but on the same note, . . . A friend of my younger daughter who lives in Madrid kindly sent me a breakfast menu which must rank among the best/worst. The funniest item was a "bludgeon" but I've yet to work out what the Spanish word was. Perhaps barra.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Booming tourism receipts?; Rail safety measures and more; Hands off Columbus!; Messy abortion; & Mature women.

One major success for Spain in 2013 was the growth in its tourism receipts. Which were 10% up, at €59bn. The government has naturally trumpeted this success but (HT to Lenox Napier), the workers at the coal-face say this number doesn't square with their receipts of only €45bn. Be that as it may, Brits continued to dominate the Foreign Visitors table, followed by the Germans and the French. But it's the Russians who are surging up the chart, though they're still only 4% of the total of 60m.

It could hardly be otherwise but, following the Santiago rail crash that claimed 79 lives, the national carrier, RENFE, has announced a series of new safety measures. These include the signalling system that was deliberately not installed for the final 8km of the line from Madrid into Santiago. We await the judge's verdict on whether anyone is guilty of anything for this decision. We also wait to see whether the suggestion that tickets will need to display the full name and ID of each passenger mean that buying a ticket from Pontevedra to Vigo will now mean another bureaucratic hassle.

You'll all recall that Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón) was born here in Poio, across the river from Pontevedra. And that there's a statue of him near the latter's Alameda. The last few months has seen it covered in scaffolding and plastic as the statue was refurbished. Walking past it yesterday, I saw it was now back to its original glory. But still handless. As I know the head of the Bellas Artes department responsible for the work, I asked her why. Her reply, essentially, was that the original hand was too heavy for the arm and that they're waiting for a lighter one. Columbus crossed the Atlantic in less time time. Meanwhile, here he is in all his polished splendour, the single-handed adventurer.

The Spanish government continues to get itself into a mess with its proposed changes to the current abortion law. A leader in yesterday's El País gives a good insight into the situation:-

A Uncertain Future

The rejection aroused by the abortion reform counsels for withdrawal, not its prolongation through its processing.

The reform of the abortion law has opened a deep crisis in the Popular Party government which it seems to want to resolve things by leaving it de facto parked in a long bureaucratic process. This is suggested by the fact that neither Mariano Rajoy nor his vice president have defended it in parliament, and the government has requested thirty submissions from various public and private bodies before taking the next step. Rejection of the reform by many voters and leaders of the PP is just one of the reasons for this strategy. The other, perhaps decisive, is the attrition of support being suffered by the party and, according to surveys, could be reflected in a substantial loss of votes at the next elections, starting with the European elections next May. The attrition of the ruling party can't be attributed to a single legislative initiative of ultraconservative stamp, but this seems to have accelerated it.

Minimising the damage is not a simple task. The opposition has raised the banner of the struggle against a legislative change that is rejected by over 80 % of the Spanish population and the Justice Minister gave the rest of the political spectrum a new argument this week in equating abortion with disrespect for a life already born. His dialectical contortions, previously hurtful, sound strange now that he is almost alone in defending a project that is reaping a large negative impact, not only in Spanish society. The criticisms in the European Parliament, promoted by the socialists, have been joined this week by the voice of French far-right Marine Le Pen, who, contrary to the signals given out in the beginning, neither agrees with an amendment that would ban abortion in cases of foetal malformation, unless it is "incompatible with life" and also augurs some risk (proven) to the mental health of the mother.

The proper strategy should not be to seek consensus as Rajoy has promised, but to withdraw the proposal. The processing of this project, which should never have seen the light of day without consensus, means waste in political terms and in the resources of the national administration, which are so necessary for reforms to revitalise the economy and to improve social welfare. The periods-based law currently in force in Spain is similar to that prevailing in the rest of Europe and has consecrated a right - for women to decide freely about motherhood - that society is not willing to give up. The PP claims that this periods-based law - approved in its day by 7 parties - was one of its campaign promises. Going to extremes by pulling this rabbit out of the hat has become a dangerous boomerang for the government. Rooting itself in an ideological position way beyond anything expected is the sole cause of this shambles.

Finally . . . Since she's reappeared (again), I thought I'd show you the sort of 'mature, rich woman' I'm invited to link up with on Facebook. Sorry about the quality but I'm sure you'll get at least one of the 2 points I'm making here.

I assume she's got some sort of rod attached to her back:-

And here's another mature woman, from this morning:- 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Unprofitable properties; Taxes on 'art'; The Princess and the Tax Man; Abortion; Segways; & Rain . . .

There are too many hotels in the South of Spain and the hoteliers there are worried. The government's solution? Make it difficult, if not impossible, for people to rent out competing flats and houses. How? By the classic Spanish bureaucratic triad of licensing, inspecting and taxing. Against which no one will complain. Well, not effectively, anyway, as it's primarily foreigners who'll be affected. Those who were told by the estate agents they'd earn decent money on their properties when they weren't using them. More here

Talking of taxes . . . Spain has recently seen two increases in the Sales Tax(IVA), which now stands at 21% for most things. But 'art' is to be given preferential treatment and to have its rate reduced to 10%. I may be wrong but I have the view that only wealthier folk tend to buy works of art. Whereas everyone buys food. So why this development? Does the art world have an effective lobby in Madrid? I think we should be told. But probably never will be. All we've had so far is the self-evident - "It is a measure to support creators of works including paintings, sculptures, art galleries, art dealers, antique dealers and the world of plastic arts in general." So, cut expenditure on health and education but foster art. I guess it makes sense to someone.

The judge in the corrupt princess case has lashed out at the Tax Office for colluding in her evasion of tax. More details here from David Jackson. David, by the way, has a jazzy new site but it's plagued by an irritating blue bird which, I think, has something to do with Twitter.

If you're of the mind that every child - however badly and permanently deformed - is a "gift from God", then you can easily (and logically, I guess) feel that abortion "goes against the rights of disabled people" and that an unborn child's "right to live" should not be legally withdrawn just because it would be handicapped. These statements have come from the minister responsible for the bill which may or may not make parliamentary progress this year. The vicious irony, of course, is that, if the Spanish government forces you to have child needing round-the-clock care for the rest of its life, it won't give you a single centimo to help with the challenge. Well, this may be the Catholic view but it's not the view of the vast majority of Spain's Catholics. So, we will see

Segways are not allowed on either roads or pavements(sidewalks) in the UK. Here they form one of the many things - permitted or otherwise - which threaten the lives of we pedestrians. For which no one seems to mind a jot. The other side of this coin is the 10 or 12 kids I saw on un-lit bikes at 10pm last night, in the middle of the road. Which the police can never be bothered to do anything about. Like the high-decibel scooters with their silencers removed. Strange country. Live and let die, I suppose.

Finally . . . A weather note: Readers may recall we had a stupendous November and early December - not a drop of rain and huge amounts of sun. Well, we've paid handsomely for that, with only 2 or 3 days since then when it hasn't rained. From a liquid point of view, it's the second worst winter since I came here in 2000. On Friday, the forecast was for a bit of sun and cloud over the weekend. But it didn't let up and, thanks to the Atlantic Blanket, I wasn't able to see the city - or, indeed, the end of my garden - all weekend. Jokesters, these Met people. But I blame it on the boogie. And Global Warming, of course. Which was also responsible for the 3 leaks that have cost me so much.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

EU mis-spend; Mayoral mis-income; Utility hikes; M Hollande, etc.; & The demur Queen Vic.

The EU has a vast fund (€50bn a year) dedicated to 'structural and cohesive' initiatives. This is more than a third of the institution's annual spend. Naturally, it isn't terribly well policed and fraud is endemic. The other form of waste is those 'worthwhile' endeavours that end up as vanity projects/white elephants. And these aren't confined to Spain. Over in Wales, there's the Canolfan Cywain rural heritage centre which was opened in 2008 and now stands "empty, overgrown with weeds and falling into ruin." Not surprisingly, it closed a year or so ago. And there's no longer a web page for it.

Not before time, it's been announced that some sort of sanity will be introduced into the sphere of Spanish mayoral salaries. Mayors here are powerful people, with immense patronage. All of them seem to have remarkably high salaries and many of them have other jobs alongside their municipal posts. And then there are the traditional benefits of the job in a culture which is rarely harsh on immoral and illegal gains. But, anyway, their salaries are to be capped and linked to the populations of their realms. Which should mean some massive reductions. Maybe, though, they'll find some way to compensate.

I mentioned the other day that government spokespeople had tried to minimise or even deny the claim the electricity prices had risen significantly. In truth, bills rose 46% between 2008 and 2012. Which was bested/worsted only by Lithuania, at 47%. As for gas, this rose by a mere 40% in that period, reflecting in part 2 hikes in the IVA(VAT) rate. At a time of austerity and massive unemployment. Must make sense to someone, I guess.

A confession: Yesterday's Mediocre Spain was not by Forges but by David Jimenez, who says both of them are rather fed up of correcting this misperception. He also says he's astonished that an article stating the obvious has been so well received.

I read this morning that friends of Mr Hollande are reported to have said he's “living a beautiful story” with the actress Julie Gayet. Oh, dear. You'd have thought he'd learned something about relationships from his 2 previous partnerships. Riding for a fall is the phrase which springs to my mind. Hard to be sympathetic, though. Made his own bed. Several times now.

Finally . . . I also read this morning that Queen Victoria was awarded the Ottoman Empire’s Order of Chastity, Second Class. She must have been chuffed.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Spanish politicos; Spanish mediocrity; The train crash;English neologisms; & Bullfighting.

Yesterday, I jotted this down for later refinement/expansion:- Once you realise that Spanish politicians are essentially there for the money they can make - legally or illegally - you can appreciate that parliament is merely theatre, where speakers are feigning concern for the masses while emptying the state's coffers. How serious internationally are Presidents (Aznar, Zapatero and Rajoy) who can't string an English sentence together? And then I got this commentary by the cartoonist Forges from my friend Dwight, wherein he makes the same comment about the Presidents, while adding another incumbent. Anyway, the commentary should be read for an understanding of why so many intelligent, well-educated and hard-working Spaniards despair of their country. There's a Google translation at the end of this post, which I haven't had much time to tart up. But it'll give you the gist. 

Talking of politicians . . . I caught a bit of David Cameron at Davos on the TV yesterday. He was finishing off his address and then taking questions. At which he was quite impressive, whether or not one agrees with this views. And I asked myself could I imagine President Rajoy, even in Spanish, being as adept at this sort of thing. Far from it, I decided. A wonderful example, I guess, of the mediocrity which Forges was talking about. Why would a nation vote for a party with a leader known to be so inept? Tribal loyalty, I guess. Being inadequate here doesn't lose you votes the way it does with, say, Ed Milliband. 

But the times they are a-changin', they say. And it will be fascinating to see how the new parties do in the upcoming European elections. Just as it will with UKIP in the UK. 

Talking of ineptitude . . . The relevant judge is getting his teeth into the issue of how and why the rail companies failed to heed their technician's warning that the Santiago curve was dangerous and needed the best security system installed on the track and trains. Three of the 10 managers who were sent the relevant memo claim they never got it. One again wonders whether we're expected to believe this tosh. Outside the court, the PP President of Galicia has resisted the demands for a parliamentary inquiry on the grounds that the mistakes happened under the previous PSOE government and he doesn't want to embarrass them. This response is so cynical and so untrue it's a surprise his nose doesn't now stretch to Paris. Or at least Oporto. 

 Talking of Portugal . . . I see it's perfectly permissible there to wear an earpiece when driving. Though not, of course, once you've crossed into Spain, the land of revenue collectors disguised as traffic cops. 

 Thanks to Davos and to David Cameron, I now know there are 2 new(ish?) verbs in English - To offshore and To re-shore. Investment, of course. And I've also learnt this morning of a new exclamation/adjective - meh. 1. Informal expression, suggesting lack of interest. 2. Uninspiring, unexceptional. 

 Finally . . . The Spanish state broadcaster has rejected demands that they don't show bullfights during the hours kids will be watching. "It does not affect children", say RTVE. Doubtless on the back of a huge amount of research. I wonder if it would say the same about embryos. 

The triumph of mediocrity
Those who know me know of my beliefs and ideologies. Above these, I think the time to be honest has come. It is in all points necessary to make a deep and sincere self-criticism, taking, without a precedent, and in all seriousness.

Maybe it 's time to accept that our economic crisis is that it goes beyond this or that political, greed of bankers or risk premium.

Assume that our problems cannot finish one game by switching to another, with another battery of emergency measures, with a general strike, or pouring into the streets to protest against each other.

Recognize that the main problem in Spain is not Greece, the euro or Mrs. Merkel.

Admitting to try to correct it, we have become a mediocre country. No country reaches such a condition overnight. Nor in three or four years. It is the result of a chain that starts at school and ends at the establishment.

We have created a culture in which the mediocre are the most popular students in school, the first to be promoted in offices, most are heard in the media and the ones who voted in the election, no matter what you do, someone whose political career or completely unknown, if any. Just because they are one of us.

We are so accustomed to our mediocrity that we have come to accept it as the natural state of things. Exceptions are almost always confined to sport, serve to deny the evidence.

- Mediocre is a country where people spend an average of 134 minutes a day in front of a TV showing mainly garbage.

- Mediocre is a country-wide democracy which has not had a single president who spoke English or had minimal knowledge of international politics, where politicians and senior practitioners lack the minimum educational background..

- Mediocre is the only country in the world in its rancid sectarianism, has managed to divide even associations of victims of terrorism.

- Mediocre is a country that has reformed its educational system three times in three decades to position its students at the tail of the developed world.

- Mediocre is a country that has two universities among the 10 oldest in Europe, but, however, has no single university among the top 150 in the world and forces its best researchers into exile to survive.

- Mediocre is a country with a quarter of its population unemployed, where however a neighbouring country's joke about our athletes is more reason to be outraged .

- Mediocre is a country where the brilliance of others causes suspicion, creativity is marginalized, if not stolen with impunity and sanctioned independence, no one is admitted to a party if dares disagree with mediocre leaders.

- Mediocre is a country whose public institutions are political leaders who, in 48% of cases, never exercised their professions, nor the exercise but found in the relevant policy and lucrative lifestyle.

- Mediocre is a country that has made mediocrity a great national aspiration, no complex persecuted by those thousands of young people looking to take the next place in the Big Brother competition by politicians who insult without providing an idea for bosses who surround themselves mediocrity to hide his own mediocrity, and students who ridicule hard work in their colleagues.

- Mediocre is a country that has allowed, encouraged and celebrated the triumph of mediocrity, leaving two options: leave or be swallowed up by the unstoppable tide of grey mediocrity.

- Mediocre is a country, which deny that for beautifully unapologetic their national emblem, needs sporting success for some motivation 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Pointless ads; Excess deaths; Galician marvels; Airport nonsense; Franco's shadow; & Wasting water.

Prior to another camino in June, I've booked rooms in about 10 hotels in the last week. The result, of course, is that my Facebook and Gmail pages are now festooned with ads for hotels in Spain. The very ones I've just made bookings in. I guess this makes sense to someone but it seems to give the lie to the 'targeted ads' theory. At least in my case.

And talking of promotions . . . They're back! The ads down the right side of my Facebook page, offering me 'rich, mature women' but showing fotos of extremely well endowed young females.

"Excess winter deaths" are those above and beyond what you'd predict for any country's winter months. And you'd expect them to be higher in colder countries than in warm countries. But, in fact, they're lower in Scandinavian countries than in southern European countries like Spain and Portugal. No one really knows why but 'preparedness' has been put forward as a likely explanation. A proportion of southerners are unprepared for the cold snaps and keel over as a consequence. Or perhaps set fire to themselves sitting over the charcoal burners still used in the South.

Back to the North - If you're not yet aware of the marvels of Galicia, this should help you out.

I know I go on about the stupidity of having 3 (loss-making) airports in Galicia but at least things are not as bad as in Albacete (an average of 3 passengers a day) and Huesca (an average of less than 1). I guess I don't need to say these are products of the senseless, corruption-driven spending spree of the boom times that looked so permanent 10 years ago. At least the Galician facilities were constructed in normal times. Well, as 'normal' as any times can be in Spain when it comes to public expenditure.

Which reminds me . . . A new book - Eternal Spain: Corruption and Crisis by Trish Wilson centres on "the shadow of Franco’s dictatorship lingering over democratic Spain, fostering a climate of rampant corruption and sleaze, particularly in politics and the public sector". Sounds like a good read. Kindle only, though.

Finally . . .The water gods are not being kind to me. Over the last year, I've had 3 leaks in my system, which have cost me around 800 euros in total. But I've now developed a 12-point plan to cut my consumption by at least half. The trouble is, water bills here are so weighted with fixed costs that the bills don't really reflect usage. Except when it's very high. So, it'll take me at least 10 years to recoup my money. The most promising way to save cash would be to shoot guests who don't share my view that it shouldn't take more than a minute to shower and 3 minutes to wash your hair. But this would probably be considered bad form on the part of a host.

Talking of water . . . The BBC weather woman said the other night that people in the SE of England could expect pulses of rain. I appreciate they have to jazz up the reports and invent different terms for water falling from the sky but what the hell are 'pulses of rain'?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Train crash denial; Ana who?; Self-employed taxes - A success; Political changes; Over-employment; and A load of tripe.

I mentioned that, in the judicial investigation into the dreadful train crash in Santiago 6 months ago, it had emerged that management of the relevant companies had been warned that the curve was very dangerous and that the singe speed signal was ridiculously inadequate. The Boards of the companies have now said they never got this message and blamed the messenger for 'inadequate communication'. After all, he'd only sent his memo to 10 people, including his boss. So far, all pretty predictable. Once again one wonders whether they expect us to believe this tosh. Or just don't care whether we do or we don't.

Ana Botella, you may recall, is the Madrid Mayor who got into a spot of ridicule last year over her presentation to the Olympics authorities on her city's case for the 2020 Games. Well, she's come in for a lot more mockery over the fact that her CV is blank in the brochure issued at Davos about the great and the good attending the annual jamboree there. Some of those laughing argue, with justification, that it's right and appropriate there's nothing on the page as the only reason she's the Mayor of Madrid is that she's married to ex-president Aznar.

With power, they say, comes responsibility and I'll be thinking about that. But, meanwhile, I'll just mention that - no sooner do I highlight the madness of Spain's tax burden for the self-employed - than the government announces it's thinking of bringing in a progressive monthly rate, in line with earnings. The only question arising is - Why are they just thinking about it and not just doing it? Who on earth is opposing the change?

I mentioned that a new political party - Vox - had been launched, situated right of centre. Well, now there's a new party on the left as well - Podemos (We can). According to our Spy in Congress, these developments have together unleashed fear and panic in the established parties, who currently (ahead of imminent EU elections) have no idea how to deal with these threats to their bi-party hegemony. So, is Spain finally changing for the good, thanks largely to disgust and anger at the degree of corruption enabled by the boom and to the pain experienced by the middle and lower classes in the bust? Let's hope so. And let's pray there are more Burgos-type successful popular riots to drive home the message that the days of doing just what you like when you get to power are over. Cue Bob Dylan.

By the way . . . Vox is pronounced Box in Spanish but Bosh in Gallego. A bit too close to Bosch for comfort, I'd have thought.

I have a neighbour who used to hold a senior position in the Ministry of Health. During an English chat yesterday, I was telling her about a Madrid woman I knew who was one of 3 secretaries allocated to a senior official in the Ministry of Agriculture. Having nothing to do, she was bored stiff but staying put until retirement. My neighbour wasn't at all surprised but I was when she told me she'd had not 3 but 6 secretaries - 3 for the morning and 3 for the afternoon. And that it was impossible to get rid of any of them, because of the keep-the-plebs happy legislation dating from "the socialist Franco era". So, the Caudillo was more of a NAZI than just a mere fascist. Must check with my old fellow Christian Brother victim, Paul Preston.

Finally . . . One of the things you can (easily) get in Galicia that's now pretty rare in the UK is tripe. Or callos. Researching something else, though, I came across this foto of my home town in 1900, with the advert for a whole store of the stuff. And I can still recall the butcher's van with great slabs of it visiting our street many decades later. But not now. Thank God. 

Incidentally, notice the abundance of parking in the street. And also note that my (red-haired, Irish) grandmother lived in a cul-de-sac off this street, which though called Seaview Road, certainly didn't overlook the sea. Or even the river Mersey.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Rajoy the Silent; Princess Cristina - Innocent or innocent?; Spanish blood; & Touching on different cultures.

I mentioned Spain's disdainful politicians yesterday and later I read of a rare interview which President Rajoy had given the day before to single journalist. In a word, he said nothing, particularly on the subject of corruption, the 2nd greatest concern of the populace. It concerns him too, apparently, but he seems to have no idea what to do about it except bring in a "Law of Transparency". Nothing about stamping it out and putting the guilty behind bars. It's not hard to figure out why, I suppose. He'd lose most of his cabinet and his regional governors. Possibly even all of them.

One thing the president did do was to stress his conviction - before the evidence has been examined in court - that Princess Cristina is innocent of the offences attributed to her. Can there, one wonders, be any substance behind this confidence? A knowledge, perhaps, of what will happen whatever the investigating judge finds and concludes.

A week or so ago, a Spanish reader amicably questioned my point that there was a lot of gore in the Spanish media. But now (s)he has nobly retracted this point and provided evidence in the form of El País's fotos of emaciated bodies showing signs of torture by the Syrian regime. In contrast, I saw only one tame foto (of just a neck) in the British press. And then yesterday came El País´s fotos of two corpses after a car bomb explosion in Syria, with blood streaming from both of them. I rest my case.

Finally . . . You may or may not have heard of accusations of sexual harassment by a leading Lib Dem politician in the UK, Lord Rennard. Having read an article in the Times about this earlier today, I posted this comment. I cite it only because of it's Spanish connection:-

I live in Spain, where both sexes are remarkably tactile by British standards. Both men and women touch and rub thighs, arms and even backs during conversations with friends. You can imagine how confusing this is to an Anglo. But I've learned to attribute nothing to it and even to indulge in it, without fear of accusations.

Of course, this is nothing to compare with groping and touching up under the table or in the lift, etc. These can never be justified - even by Shirley Williams - unless an intimate relationship has already been established.

I'm quite a bit older than Lord Rennard but fail to understand how he can't seem to understand this. So my suspicion is he does but is prepared to go to any lengths to avoid the consequences. Why Lord Carlile is risking his reputation as his defence QC is beyond me. It certainly can't be the fee he's getting.

What I didn't say is that I know Lord Carlile, as we studied law together in London. I've asked a mutual friend - also an eminent QC - why he thinks this is happening but I've yet to receive his Opinion. Which I do hope I don't have to pay for!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Pardons galore; Government liars; Disincentives; Entrepreneurs; & The orang-utan artist.

One of the things the Spanish are growing ever more unhappy about - quite rightly so - is the system of pardons handed out to convicted criminals. There are hundred of these sought from the government every year and most of them appear to be granted. Which has serious implications for the theoretical separation of powers here. But there's one sort of beast who doesn't seem to get the benefit of a forgiving executive branch and this is a campaigning judge who's upset both the Left and the Right. I'm talking, of course, about Báltasar Garzón. His application for a pardon - and the contingent restitution of his right to practice - somehow 'got lost' for 18 months. What a coincidence. And, as ever, the people responsible for this don't appear to be the slightest bit concerned about how it'll look both to the Spanish and the rest of the world.

I did actually catch a semi-serious program on Spanish TV on Sunday night. This was examining the claims of various spokespeople. The first was the lawyer for Princess Cristina, who faces a judge in early February. Her lawyer had announced she'd waived her right to an appeal and would appear 'voluntarily' in court. This, of course, was a lie, as she has no bloody choice in the matter. The second group looked at were 3 members of the government, each of whom had issued a statement on the price of electricity. Two of them had said this had risen only marginally and the third had said it'd actually reduced. An industry expert said these were all nonsense and the price had risen, as everyone with a brain knows, quite significantly. As ever, one was left wondering whether the government believes everyone in Spain is an idiot. The may be because as I've said, there's no program here where politicians are called to account as they are on British TV. And I suspect that, if there were, they'd simply refuse to attend. There's an arrogance about politicians here that needs to be seen to be believed. But it's a young democracy, of course, and things will surely improve . . . 

If you want to go into business on our own account here, you become an autonomo/a and you pay the government a princely sum each month for the privilege, whether or not you are making a single cent profit. This is for 'social security' and it used to be 256 euros a month but has recently risen to 320. Or over 3,000 euros a year. Which is not much of an incentive either to go into business or, if you do, to do so legally. Indeed, a friend of mine who went to discuss this with the tax office, on the grounds she wouldn't be able to afford it, was advised she shouldn't become official until she could. Very pragmatic, the Spanish.

Talking of national characteristics . . . It's sometimes alleged the Spanish are not very entrepreneurial. Well, here's something that gives the lie to this.

Finally . . . If you're going to be down Zaragoza way, you might want to pop into this exhibition. For a laugh.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Spain's pop; Contempt of court; The police; The Guardia Civil; TV; & Learning languages.

Having grown by a good 10% - to 48 million - in the last decade, Spain's population is now on the slide, as both foreigners and locals leave for pastures greener. Another factor is that the 2013 birth rate was even lower than in 2012. The government expects the population to fall by around 3 million over the next 10 years. Right now, here are 5.5 million foreigners in Spain, my guess being that most of these are from South America. And Rumania.

If, like me, you've regularly wondered what on earth the law is here on the reporting of cases in the courts, here's something which will help you. It's a note on the (absence of) laws on contempt of court in Spain.

In the table I cited the other day, the police were the least disliked institution in Spain. But they may just forfeit this honour after the news that 8 members of the Catalan police force have been charged with beating to death a 50 year old man in Barcelona.

Which reminds me . . . It's the Guardia Civil which is normally cited as the most highly appraised institution in Spain and I'm assured it'd be wrong to put them under the 'Police' heading. For they're a military body. Quite why Spain still needs a military force on top of national, regional, provincial and municipal bodies, I don't know. It's been suggested that the system of housing them in barracks away from their home towns makes them less open to corruption that the other security forces but I've no idea whether this is true or not.

I asked a Spanish friend whether there were ever any serious discussion programs on TV here. Say, something like the BBC TV's Newsnight at 10 every night. She said there certainly were, at 9 in the morning. By my rule of thumb, this is the equivalent of 7am elsewhere, when no one is watching. And I've just recalled a suspicion I had years ago that this was in fulfilment of some legal obligation to get serious occasionally.

Finally . . . The theory that women are more adept at learning languages than men used to comfort me when learning Persian with the mother of my two daughters. Or, putting that another way, my first wife. Here's an interesting article on this. Note how the weasel word 'converse' is used when the writer wants to make the point that women talk more than men.

I might add that our Iranian teacher of Persian (Farsi) had a very firm view on this subject; he insisted that woman learned more quickly because they has less in their heads to get in the way of new knowledge. I advised him not to float this notion past my wife.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Vox pop; The Santiago train crash; The economy; Knives etc.; Riots; French Paquetes; & A correction.

Yesterday, I mentioned the formation of a new political party, Vox. Today, a friend described this as being formed by the moderate wing of the extreme right. And I'm not sure he was joking. If not, I presume he means they fall short of wanting a return to dictatorship.

It's hard to follow these things in Spain but I believe the investigating judge several weeks ago decided not to indict executives of the 2 companies responsible for security on the line where the express trained crashed near Santiago a few months ago. The only person in the dock would be the hapless driver who failed to apply the breaks quickly enough. But now it's emerged there was a report telling the companies it would be unwise to install a less reliable security system for the last 8km. And that it would be ridiculous to have just one 80kph speed limit signal, as by the time it was seen it would be too late to decelerate enough for the dangerous curve. The judge has given the national rail carrier 3 days to produce the report. Meanwhile, both the government and the opposition are said to be closing ranks so as to ensure they both come out of the investigation smelling of roses. One way or another.

The Spanish government has naturally seized on the (minimal) GDP growth numbers of the last 2 quarters (0.1% and 0.3%) to justify their trumpeting that the worst of the 6 year recession is over. And maybe they're right. But it's not yet visible on Pontevedra's high street, where the latest closure has been the key copier I sought out yesterday. And the only new places seem to be sweet shops and ladies' boutiques. One market sector undoubtedly still in the doldrums is that of property. This was down another 16% in November, year on year, and you can pick your own number between 25 and 50% for the decline since the peak year of 2008. Of course, this doesn't apply to niche sectors such as Marbella, where all menus now come in Russian as well as in English and German.

Leaving the museum the other day, I passed a shop window full of knives. I say 'knives' - and there was certainly a wide range of these - but the most eye-catching items were the machetes and the Samurai swords. Such is the tabloid-generated fear of sharp implements in the UK, I suspect it's not possible to buy even a pen-knife there. So, if you want to murder or slash someone, you have to go to the Kitchen department of the store. I guess it makes sense to someone.

The riotingly good people of Burgos have achieved their objective of getting plans for a 'reformed' avenue kicked permanently into touch. Cue more urban demonstrations? Though not here in smug Pontevedra, of course.

The word paquete means, as you'd expect, parcel or package. But, thanks to M. Hollande, I now know it also means pillion passenger.

Finally . . . Something to remember, particularly if you live here in Spain:- It's not who you know. It's whom you know.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A changing political scene; Pigs' legs; Handy suffixes; Vatican vice; and non-empirical Brits.

A new political party was formed in Spain in this week - Vox, or 'Voice' in Latin. It's described as the Spanish version of UKIP, comprising the more right-wing elements of the governing PP party. So, one doubts it will add itself to the loud and growing chorus of opposition to the party's regressive reform of the abortion law. Quite what Vox hopes to achieve in a country of tribal party loyalties is unclear but it's fielding candidates in the upcoming EU elections so we'll soon be able to see whether it splits the right-wing vote at all. And then causes some sort of Cameron-like sail trimming on the part of President Rajoy. Saying tough(er) things about ETA prisoners, for example. Immigration not being a big issue here.

Still on the political theme . . . If you can read Spanish, this site is a must. Started less that a year ago, it relentlessly exposes corruption in all its guises and attacks the Spanish government on the basis of (usually) established facts. The Spanish equivalent, as someone has said, of the Guido Fawkes blog, it already boasts many thousands of (equally disenchanted and angry) readers.

Someone kindly gave me a pig's cured leg as an Xmas gift. (Is this any different from a cured pig's leg?). In other words un jamón. I went yesterday to buy the special stand on which it's fixed, allowing you to carve very thin slices from it. I didn't know what this was called but it turned out to be una jamonera. I'm impressed by this era/ero suffix but, offhand, can only think of gasolinera (petrol station); limonero (lemon tree); cartero/a (postman/woman). For what they're worth, here are Wiki's offerings:-
1. Occupations from nouns. Vaca. Cow Vaquero. Cowboy. And, in the plural, Jeans.
2. Places where a noun generally resides. Llave. Key. Llavero. Key ring.
1. Indicates a place or object where something can be found, kept or done. Guante and Guantera. Glove and Glove compartment. Regar and Regadera. To water and Watering can
2. Indicates a physical state or disability. Sordo and Sordera. Deaf and deafness. Borracho and Borrachera. Drunk and Drunkenness.
3. Forms names of certain plants or trees from the name of their fruit. Higo and Higuera. Fig and Fig tree. Mora and Morera. Blackberry and Blackberry bush.

I read yesterday that the Vatican had declined to give the UN figures on priests accused of molesting children. But the BBC said this morning it's now admitted there were 400 priests defrocked for this in 2011 and 2012, double the previous 2 years. Astonishing. What other organisation would survive this news? No wonder it felt it needed a more appealing Pope, with touchy-feeliness that's confined to star-struck adults.

Finally . . . As I know from my experience with readers - well, one - there's a mind-set in Europe which has it that what Brits think and do is a function of their obsession with a lost empire. I'm on record as saying this is fatuous nonsense, so I was delighted to read these words from the Euro MP Daniel Hannan: "Britons in Brussels are frequently told, typically with a little smirk, about our national superiority complex. We are the way we are, we’re informed, because we haven’t got over the loss of empire. The reason we don’t appreciate the EU is not that we have constitutional, economic or democratic objections, but that we are peculiarly pleased with ourselves. It’s one of the few national stereotypes allowed in today's Europe. Indeed, it is trotted out so frequently and so breezily that many Euro-politicians think it wholly uncontentious. The Euro-friendly Janan Ganesh has deftly filleted what he calls 'the most popular myth about the UK in foreign capitals: that it suffers from delusions of grandeur'. As he put it in the FT a while ago: The caricature of neurotic Britons hankering after global clout, and sometimes believing they still have it, is not just wrong. It is the opposite of the truth. If anything, the UK suffers from delusions of weakness. Its citizens habitually refer to their “small island”, which, at least by population size, ranks in the top decile of nations. You would not know from its parochial political culture that the UK has nuclear weapons, a permanent place on the UN Security Council, the ultimate global city as its capital and, according to an annual survey by Monocle magazine, more “soft power” than any other nation.

So there!

Friday, January 17, 2014

The corrupt Princess?; The fight against corruption; Public rankings; My acting career; & An Xmas joke.

Corruption News: Princess Cristina has decided not to appeal against her summons and accepted she has to come to court. The judge has acceded to the request to bring things forward and this will now be in the first week of February, not March. Her lawyer has said his client is innocent and only claimed expenses, signed documents, etc. because, as a woman who still very much in love with her husband, she did whatever he told her to do. Not an awful lot of mileage in that, I wouldn't have thought, given they've been married for 16 years and have 4 kids. But maybe I'm being unromantic. Worth a try.

The EU has told Spain to bolster its fight against corruption - anyone noticed this? - by introducing reforms that will ensure greater transparency. These will presumably reduce the croneyism and nepotism that are the barriers to meritocracy here. Spain, adds the EU, also needs to stop the courts becoming overly political. Which will be a tough call. Witness the Public Prosecutor acting as defence counsel for Princess Cristina. And the endless pardons given by the government to politicians who've had the misfortune to go through a negative judicial process.

Which is a nice lead into the public ratings of some of Spain's institutions, only one of which gets an approval rating above 50%. And you don't need to ponder long to guess who's bottom of the pile. 2010 numbers in brackets:-
The police: 58% (62%)
The UN: 47 (49)
The EU parliament: 39 (45)
The judicial system: 37 (44) All those pardons nullifying the sentences?
The Spanish parliament: 34 (43)
Politicians: 19 (27)
Political parties: 19 (27)
So, does a nation get the politicians it deserves? If so, the Spanish are a self-confessed unfortunate lot.

But, anyway . . . Years ago, in a docudrama filmed locally, I played the role of the captain of The Serpent, a British ship which hit the rocks near the Galician town of Camariñas. I mention this simply because the end-of-production dinner in Vigo involved the Galician actress Maria Castro, who's now gone on to bigger things. In fact, we sat next to each other at the dinner. Though she didn't address a single word to me. Or vice versa, I might add. Anyway, I have several thousand copies of the CD if anyone wants one. The docudrama, by the way, went nowhere. Maria, on the other hand, was one of the beautiful women in the primetime teledrama I mentioned yesterday - Tierra de Lobos. I'm very happy for her.

Finally . . . A belated Christmas joke: A company in the UK was advertising a 'Halal Christmas Dinner" for £6.99. That's British multiculturalism for you!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Stolen babies and strange TV; Immorality; Corruption; Street riots; 4G???

I had one of may occasional brushes with Spanish TV last night. The program centred on the scandal of baby robbery and sale (sic) some 40 years ago when a cabal of nuns, nurses and doctors deprived mothers of their newborns and sold them for adoption. But it wasn't an investigative program; it was about bringing together people who thought they might be related and then giving them DNA tests. The case I saw began around 10 and finished - with a disappointingly negative conclusion - at 12.15. One reason it took so long was that the host and his panel of 'experts' stretched things out to the verbal max. The other reason was that another program - involving very pretty women, sometimes dressed and sometimes not - was spliced into the middle of it. Different.

Someone once said that morality is directly proportional to the risk of getting caught. Man, being imperfect but rational, will always assess the risk. This, of course, was why religions were invented, with their threat of Hell in the next life. You might be able to escape punishment in this life but God will get you in the next. I was dwelling on this yesterday as a result of asking myself whether the lofty number of prosecutions for corruption underway in Spain would result in less immorality in the political and business classes of the present and the future. And then I remembered just how many of them are pardoned by the government and how few of them end up in clink. And how much of their ill-gotten gains is retained. Most of all, I recalled they don't seem to suffer any social price. Pariahs they certainly aren't. So, on balance, I doubt things will change much. Unless the EU, after telling the Spanish government this week to clean up its judicial act, finally sprouts some teeth.

More news on one major corruption case. Astonishingly - but consistently - the Public Prosecutor has written to the judge of the Noos case telling him not to manufacture a case against Princess Cristina out of his imagination. In respect of some damaging invoices, the Prosecutor has said these are false and their origin is malcontented tax inspectors who have a grudge against the Tax Office. Weird. But at least it makes it clear where the Establishment stands on this case. Again.

After 5 nights of mild rioting and numerous arrests, the good citizens of Burgos have gained a 2 week suspension of plans for the pointless reforma of one of their main streets. Not enough but it's a beginning.

Talking of street protests . . .The relevant ministry had told the President that "Society is angry, exasperated and on edge. A mix of latent discontent and resignation is being expressed through sudden eruptions of fury, almost spontaneously.” Sadly, this isn't Spain but France.

Finally . . . You can imagine how pleased I was to read the promise of the relevant minister that 75% of Spain will have 4G capability by the end of 2015. I vow to donate a thousand euros to charity if my barrio is not in the 25%. Right now, I suspect we don't even have 1G. Whatever that is.