Friday, May 30, 2014

The Caso Blasco


Here's a commentary on the Caso Blasco by a Spanish observer:

If all cases of corruption are inherently repulsive, that of Rafael Blasco, the politician who has ruled and who has had most influence in Valencia for more than 30 years, and who on Wednesday was sentenced by the Valencian High Court to 8 years in prison for embezzlement of public funds, influence peddling, breach of trust and falsifying official administrative documents is particularly repulsive.

Especially repulsive because it was, according to the Court, the head of an organised racket that ransacked economic international cooperation funds, funds that should have been directed to set up a food plan and build water wells in Nicaragua as well as the installation of a hospital in Haiti after the earthquake. The latter case will be judged next week. And especially repulsive because, when he controlled this looting, he was responsible for development aid as a director of Solidaridad.

Repulsive because corruption in politics is morally and ethically repulsive. Repulsive because we are talking about a politician who began as a supporter of FRAP (The Antifascist and Revolutionary Patriotic Front), a terrorist organisation, and ended as a Popular Party henchman, first to Eduardo Zaplana first and, later, to Francisco Camps, then joined the PSOE, developing a close collaboration with the socialist president Joan Lerma.

The judgment considers it proved that Blasco, ex-spokesman and ex-counsellor of the Popular Party in the Valencian Parliament, ran the grants procedure and pressured officials. And that, if there were resistance, he replaced people with those he could trust to, in violation of the laws, grant subventions to a foundation run by the fraudsters, which were then used to make numerous property developments. The decision is the first piece in the Cooperation case, a macro-case which has several separate elements

In the first of these elements, there will be an investigation of irregularities in awarding grants by the defunct Cyes Foundation in 2008, which received €1.6m for 2 projects in Nicaragua, of which only €43,000 arrived at their destination, with the rest going on the purchase of properties in Valencia as well on the payment of 400,000 to a businessman, Augusto César Tauroni, considered to be one of the leaders of the fraud.

The Division of Criminal and Civil Superior Court of Justice of the Valencian Community (TSJCV ) considers the ex-counsellor, Rafael Blasco "director" of the fraud, who diverted public funds meant for International Cooperation, acting in concert with businessman Augusto César Tauroni, who has also been sentenced to 8 years in prison, while the other 7 defendants will have to serve 3 to 4 years in prisons.

Finally, to get an indication of the moral standing of the Valencian politician, who has not yet resigned from the regional parliament attached to the mixed group (the third largest parliamentary group formed by office-holders of Valencian PP prosecuted for corruption), you have to listen to the recordings made by police during the investigations, in which one hears the gang members refer to countries earmarked for public funds as "Negrolandia " and stating flatly: "We must give priority to ourselves ahead of the niggers."

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Art?; The EU; Strange town names; Priapic priests; & Political stars.

Yesterday I mentioned Tracy Emin and her derisory bed. Today comes even worse news - Yoko Ono will be exhibiting at Bilbao's Guggenheim when I visit it with old friends next month. I wonder if the place is flammable.

The EU: Here's our Ambrose's take on what Sunday means for the technocrats who run the project. A taster: "The EU authorities are now in a near hopeless situation. The logic of EMU is a further erosion of nation states." About which no one will be unhappier than Marie Le Pen of the National Front, who feels that: "The euro blocks all economic decisions . . . France is not a country that can accept tutelage from Brussels. We have succumbed to a spirit of slavery". Fighting talk.

But Omar Khayam said it all several hundred years ago:- 
Life is but a chequer-board of nights and days. 
Where Brussels with the states for pieces plays, 
Hither and thither moves and mates and slays 
And one by one back in the closet lays 

But can this go on much longer?

Talking of several centuries, the Spanish town hitherto called "Killjews" (Matajudios) has voted to change itself to something less offensive. Reading about this I discovered the answer to the question of why so many places in the south contain the word frontera (frontier) in their names when they're nowhere near Spain's borders. It's because they were once along the border of the Muslim Kingdom of Granada. Simples.

I frequently say the Spanish are exceptionally pragmatic. I was reminded of this today when reading there are around 6,000 married priests in Spain and that bishops turn a blind eye if priest in question stays out of the media, doesn't attempt to persuade colleagues to abandon celibacy and if marriage doesn't compromise his faith.

Finally . . . A new political party shot into the Spanish firmament on Sunday, gaining 5 seats in the EU parliament, even though it's a one-man-band. The party is Podemos ('We can') and the man is Pablo Iglesias. Here's the reaction to his success and here's a profile of the man himself. I doubt anyone knows where the party will go from here or, most importantly, how much impact it will have on the next general elections. So, interesting times.

Art; Cars; Trains, & Headlines

So, that masterpiece of modern art, Tracey Emin's dishevelled bed, is up for sale at a million euros or more. This is said to be iconic "because it is universally familiar and embodies the irreverent, boundary-breaking thrust of British art in the Nineties." How future generations will laugh at this tosh.

My neighbour Toni - Nice but Noisy - kindly invited me round to celebrate his birthday on Sunday. At several decibels above the norm, he told me that, at the car fair in Pontevedra last week, only one dealer sold more than a single car. And, in most cases, not even that. Except for Audi, who moved 22 of their models. His explanation was that this was the make of choice for the numerous functionaries who populate the local municipal and provincial councils. Crisis? What crisis?

I picked up some friends today at the railway station. The trains to and from La Coruña were shown on the board to be arriving at the same time. Happily, this didn't actually happen.

Finally . . . A few headlines from my news feed:

Spain slammed over home evictions record

Spain one of Europe's terror hotspots

Spain remains tops in Europe's cocaine rankings

But, thank God:

Spain's recovery here to stay - Says the IMF

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

So, that masterpiece of modern art, Tracey Emin's dishevelled bed, is up for sale at a million euros or more. This is said to iconic "because it is universally familiar and embodies the irreverent, boundary-breaking thrust of British art in the Nineties." How future generations will laugh at this tosh.

My neighbour Toni - Nice but Noisy - kindly invited me round to celebrate his birthday on Sunday. At several decibels above the norm, he told me that, at the car fair in Pontevedra last week, only one dealer sold more than a single car. And, in most cases, not even that. Except for Audi, who moved 22 of their models. His explanation was that this was the make of choice for the numerous functionaries who populate the local municipal and provincial councils. Crisis? What crisis?

I picked up some friends today at the railway station. The trains to and from La Coruña were shown on the board to be arriving at the same time at the same platform. Happily, this didn't actually happen.

Finally . . . A few headlines from my news feed:

Spain slammed over home evictions record

Spain one of Europe's terror hotspots

Spain remains tops in Europe's cocaine rankings

But, thank God:

Spain's recovery here to stay - Says the IMF

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Podemos; Political parties old and new; Greedy medics; & Buying Brits.

Nigel Farage certainly triumphed in the UK's EU elections - far more in fact than he did in the local elections on the same day - but here in Spain the laurels went to a one-man party set up only 3 months ago - Podemos ('We can') of Pablo Iglesias. See here for a profile of a man said to have stunned the Spanish political establishment by coming fourth and gaining 5 seats in Brussels. What next, one wonders.

Which reminds me . . . If were to ask you what was the biggest political party in Spain on the eve of the Civil War in 1936, you might well say the Falange. But this, in fact, was tiny and the largest party by far was the anarchists. Of whom there aren't many around these days.

The leader of Spain's opposition Socialist party, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, has resigned after the party's failure to win the EU elections. Call me trivial but it can't have helped that Sr Rubalcaba, though smart, is not the most telegenic politician on the block.

Is nothing sacred in Spain? Down in Algeciras, the police have arrested 84 doctors for charging up to €50 for death certificates that should have been free.

Finally . . . The media has it that Brits - especially retirees - have returned to the Spanish property market, armed with a strengthening pound and faced with a glut of cheap properties being offloaded by Spain's biggest estate agency - the banks. Let's hope this time round more of them take objective legal advice and don't "leave their brains at the airport".

Monday, May 26, 2014

The EU elections; & unhelpful RENFE

So . . . What to make of the UK EU elections? Well, firstly, 66% of the electorate couldn't be bothered to vote. Secondly, for the first time in over 100 years, one of the 2 major parties didn't win a national election; and thirdly those who did vote plumped for the only 'protest party,' UKIP. How many of these did so for anti-EU, anti-Tory or anti-Labour reasons we will never know. Nor will we ever know how many voters UKIP will retain in next year's general election. But this doesn't stop the talk-o-sphere expatiating at length on these questions. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has said the Conservatives must now “respond to the genuine concerns” of UKIP voters. The point is, as I said the other day, short of exiting the EU, it simply can't. Either it 'improves' the EU between 2015 (assuming it wins) and 2017 or it leaves it after a referendum. Foolishly, it seems to think it can do the former by threatening the latter. The party is presumably led by Alice disguised as David Cameron.

As for France . . . Pick the meat out of the Front National's win. Now, there really is an anti-EU, anti-immigration party. But, absent a revolution, I can't see it taking France out of the EU, either. Or reforming it in France's favour. After all, they've had the Common Agricultural Policy goodies to virtually themselves for decades.

Here in Spain, the turnout, at 35%, is said to be slightly higher than last time round but this was only because of a much higher participation in favour of a Catalan nationalist party. In the rest of Spain, as in the UK, tnaturally behind with this - the 2 major parties still dominated the results, though with lower percentages than ever before. El País sees this as a major blow to Spain's 2 party hegemony and one which was much greater than expected. Again, though, it's impossible to know how much was an anti-EU protest and how much an anti-corrupt-politics vote. I suspect more of the latter.

All-in-all, with every member unhappy for varying reasons, I wonder if 2014 will be the year we will look back on as the beginning of the end of the top-down European 'project' and its disastrous currency experiment, which spurred the very opposite of the desired 'convergence'.

Meanwhile, my good friend Alfie Mittington has written a few choice words on the results - well, choice words - and you can enjoy them here.

Finally . . . A friend is stuck on the day train from Madrid to Pontevedra and can't find anything to eat or drink on it. When I asked RENFE's virtual helper about the availability of succour on the train, she gave me these subject headings: An aerial view of Pontevedra station; the weather forecast for Pontevedra; Taxis in the province; The town hall; a street map; An aerial view of the city; Car hire; Hotel reservations: The postal code; Museums; The cultural agenda; and Interesting Links. But nowt about grub and booze. Helpful but not very.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The EU election here and there; More Catalan madness; Dr numbers; & Groupthink.

We await news of the percentage of voters who went to the urns here in Spain to vote in the European Parliament elections. In the 25 years since they did this for the first time, participation has fallen every year. Given the Brussels-imposed austerity of the last few years, it'll be astonishing if this doesn't happen this time round

Listening to UK politicians dealing with the results of Thursday's local elections, what was increasingly clear was the reluctance to admit they can't take the measures required by the electorate and that this is because they're constrained by the EU. In other words, they're impotent. And so redundant. As long as the UK stays in the EU, they should be replaced, if at all, by more civil servants to implement the laws made - in a way no one understands - in Brussels and Strasbourg. But they won't be.

In a move designed to infuriate Madrid - and perhaps many Catalans - the Catalan president has sought formal association with the Francophone world. If granted, this would oblige his government to favour French over English in schools. This is something which fell out of favour here in Spain at least 30 years ago. Worse, he didn't even tell the Spanish President he was doing it. It'll be fascinating to see how the Paris plays this. And how Madrid reacts.

Looking at a list of countries with a high proportion of doctors to people, I saw the name Niue. At first I thought this might be the Spanish acronym for the UAE but obviously not. Resorting to Wikipedia, I learnt that Niue is an island country in the Pacific Ocean, 2,400 km northeast of New Zealand. Its land area is 260 square km and its population is around 1,400. Anyway, the article stressed that this statistics differs by up to 50% between Spanish regions. In the UK, of course, it's not allowed to differ much between towns, otherwise the angry cry of 'postcode lottery' goes up.

I caught the last 15m minutes of the Champions' final last night, on the radio on the night train back to Pontevedra from Madrid. It took me a minute or three to work out that Bálé was, in fact, an Hispanicised Gareth Bale

Finally . . . An interesting commentary of modern groupthink.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Spanish parrot joke; Spanish web sites; Is it Sunday today?; Gib impasse; & Spanish politics

Here's something from the Spanish Shilling that made me laugh out loud. Don't really know why:-

My Camino friends and I have been trying to book rail and bus tickets for June this year. It's been what the Spaniards call a calvario. Or perhaps even a pesadilla. Booking Renfe rail tickets from the UK costs an outrageous 10 quid per ticket. And trying to book bus tickets ran into the problem that each of my friend's credit cards was rejected at the end of the (repeated) long process. When I contacted the company here, they said it was because her cards weren't issued in Spain and so extra protection was needed via a digital fingerprint or something like that. So now I'm trying to book their bus journeys from here but keep getting an error message that's clearly wrong - Passenger number one doesn't have a seat allocation. None of this is doing anything for Spain's reputation. On the other hand, for journeys booked here in Spain, I've found Renfe's site perfectly OK - once you've deciphered all their little symbols and registered as a Renfe User. At least this means you don't have to fill in a form twice every time you make a booking. Though you do still need to provide your identity number every time. Just as my friends in the UK have had to provide passport numbers when booking (or trying to book) train and bus tickets in Spain. Why, for God's sake? I'm sure the bloody conductor/driver isn't going to ask for them. Do they go onto some central Interpol database perchance? Or just give the Spanish police the satisfaction that they can track guiris. Presupposing they gave accurate numbers.

Ain't it funny when your subconscious thinks it's the next day? Despite my conscious mind denying today was Sunday, I kept wondering why, for example, the cost of the paper was less than it normally is on a Sunday. And why it didn't have the Business Section. Not as bad as wondering why last night I couldn't get the score of tonight's Champions' League football match between Madrid's 2 football teams. And why the bars weren't full of fans.

A friend of my daughter's advises that, if Gibraltar is on page 1 of Spanish newspapers, one needs to look at, say, p.6 for the real news of the day. The news that the government doesn't really want to pay too much attention to. I must check. Meanwhile, from either Lenox or David Jackson comes this snippet:- Far from easing up on the border controls that cause long lines of traffic at the border between Gibraltar and Spain, the Spanish government is planning on increasing them. The Office for Diplomatic Information claims that “Britain has not adopted the necessary measures to fight smuggling,” and that, “unfortunately, cooperation by Gibraltarian authorities, far from improving, appears to be regressing." Of course. It's all the fault of those perfidious Anglos. Nothing to do with internal politics. And there's no smuggling in Spain. Least of all in Galicia.

There are 39 choices available to Spanish voters in tomorrow's pretty pointless and utterly boring EU elections. If you're a glutton for knowledge, the details are here, with a HT to Lenox.

Finally . . . Here's one Spaniard's take on his country's politicians, with which an awful lot of people would surely agree:- The Spanish politicians who are now asking citizens for their vote are the worst in Europe, judging by their mistakes and the damage to this country and its people. They have turned Spain into a landfill that only stands out internationally for its dirt and its dramas: the traffic and consumption of drugs, abortion, school failure, prostitution, money laundering, institutionalised corruption, unemployment, more poverty, privilege for the political caste, inequality, homelessness and the breakdown between citizens and their politicians. Faced with this situation, instead of asking forgiveness and resigning en masse for their failures and the havoc caused, they ask once again for your vote, as if it represented an award for and recognition of their dreadful work. To vote for any of the parties who are guilty of the Spanish Disaster, above all those who have ruled in recent years, is itself the realm of idiots and slaves.

Friday, May 23, 2014

First times; Bankers; The Revolution?; The bulls; Evictions; UKIP; & Spanish anger.

I arrived in Madrid early this morning. It was cold and wet. Always a first time, I guess.

On a BBC podcast they read a letter from someone with the name Charisma. Always a first time, I guess.

I read today that, despite all their greed and their crimes, no bankers have yet been jailed in any country except little old Iceland. Several of them are in the dock in Spain, of course, but no one expects anyone to serve a prison sentence. Even if convicted, they'll immediately be pardoned under the outrageous powers the government has here.

Meanwhile, perhaps the Revolution has finally begun. It's reported thataround 50 people attacked a car transporting Spain's Minister of Finance and the leader of the Popular Party in Cataluña while they were on the European elections campaign trail near Barcelona on Wednesday.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, it's claimed that cheating is going on in Spain's bullrings. The horns are being filed down so they do less damage to those matadors who are gored. And because this exposes the animal's nerves and makes it less willing to charge. It's big business so, in this 'low ethics' society, fraud is inevitable.

More relevantly, nearly 50,000 Spanish families lost their homes in 2013, up 11% on 2012. This almost certainly reflects the fact that Spain's harsh laws allow banks to summarily eject those who default on their mortgage payments. Without even crediting them with the value of the house.

Over in the UK, the eurosceptic UKIP party has, as forecast, triumphed in the local elections, though they haven't gained control of a single council. As someone has put it -"The UKIP fox is now in the Westminster hen house" - even if they're unlikely to win any seats in the 2015 general elections. Such fun.

Finally . . . Here's a useful list of the ways you can express anger in Spanish.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Male humour; The internet mob v. repressive government; Driving in Spain: & Water bills.

Over in the UK, there's a chap who's facing strident demands for his resignation, after his secretary leaked (i. e. sold) some ripe emails between him and a male friend. These, it's claimed, showed he was at least a misogynist and very possibly a mass murderer. You know the sort of emails I mean as we all receive them. The most profligate of my providers of dubious funny stuff is, in fact, a woman. Here's an article on this brouhaha headed Are the social-media Stasi entitled to pass sentence on someone for what they think that he thinks? As it happens, the writer is a woman too

So, has the internet got out of hand? Is it the sort of thing 18th and 19th century thinkers feared would come about as a result of democracy leading to mob rule? The high-volume bad driving out the good? Possibly. But the other side of this coin is repression. Only this week week we've had Spain's major bullfighting organisations calling on the government to take action against people making "despicable" comments on Twitter. And the government itself has arrested anyone it could lay its hands on who'd made comments they didn't like on the internet. Which wasn't very many, it's true, but that's because most internet trolls aren't dumb enough to use their own names. I think most offenders had commented on the politician shot last week or even on all Spanish politicians. But repression is never very far away here, one way or another. Old habits die hard.

How many bureaucrats in Brussels take home more than the British Prime Minister, do you think? No, I didn't have the faintest idea either. But it's reported here that the number is 10,000. Who'd have thought it? Well, anyone who knew what a gravy train it is, I guess. The reason for the high salaries is, of course, To attract high quality staff. It always is.

Another question - How many of you know that it's an offence in Spain to move your head more than 45 degrees when you're driving? And that it's the cop's word against yours that you did? So, you can't look left or right? Or over your shoulder to check your blind spot? Can it really be true?

Talking of driving . . . It's good to see that equality has made great strides there too. The last 3 people to swerve past me on a zebra crossing have been (young) women.

Finally . . . I got my water bill today. My campaign to reduce the volume has been a tremendous success. Only 2 cubic metres. The bill, though, doesn't reflect this. Thanks to all the fixed charges, the percentage reduction in euros is much less than that of the water. Nice of me to subsidise all the big Spanish families. Not that they're that big these days.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The EU elections; The bulls; Spanish friendship; The call from Microsoft; & The Wels catfish

As you'd expect from Spain's long (and profitable) love affair with the EU, there is no UKIP-like eurosceptic party among those standing in Thursday's elections. Instead, protest votes may well go to the ‘Empty Seats’ movement. On reflection, there is a eurosceptic party in Spain; it's Galicia's nationalist party, the BNG. They have advised their supporters - all 23 of them - not to vote as the EU is not socialist enough.

Talking of the elections . . . . There was a TV debate this week between Spain's minor parties. It was reportedly seen by just 4% of the TV audience. So, surprisingly high.

There are those who love the bulls and those who hate them. You may be surprised to hear that the former are a minority in Spain. Even though they're supported - and subsidised - by the current right-of-centre PP government. Though not in Cataluña, where bullfighting has been banned as being too 'Spanish'. But I digress . . . Most non-aficionados would concede that the matadors are brave men (and occasional woman). Though I know one chap - Alfie Mittington - who argues vehemently that things are so rigged there's virtually no risk whatsoever. I've offered to pay him a thousand euros if he goes into the ring but am still waiting for his reply. Anyway, something happened yesterday in Madrid which possibly undermines his argument - all three matadors were gored and had to be carried off to hospital. And the event was then cancelled. Of course, in these days of antibiotics, there's little risk of death from blood infection from a filthy horn but back before the 50s, there was every prospect of a goring proving fatal. Perhaps even Alfie would concede they were brave back then. More here.

The Spanish consul in the UK has resigned after it was discovered he'd given the use of his house for a month to a former bank manager charged back home with fraud. Presumably a friend. And there's little in Spain more important than friendship. Which in this case extended to providing the accused with a chauffeur service as well as a place to lay his head. Above and beyond the call of duty, I suppose.

I guess we've all been there - the call with a few seconds delay before anyone speaks. And then a guy with an Indian accent says "Hello. I'm Michael Williams and I'm calling from Microsoft headquarters." And I reply "And I'm the effing queen of Sheba" and put the phone down. And then I regret it because it might have been my chance to hear the spiel about me having a fault in my computer and needing to give him access to my passwords, etc. etc. Which reminds me - There is on the net a video of a knowledgable techie asking questions of "Michael Williams" that ties him in knots. Quite funny.

I saw a program last night on TV about the Wels Catfish, which grows to over 2m and 75 kilos and is capable of sucking a child, woman or even a man down into the depths. And which lives in Spain's river Ebro, among others. That's one place I won't be swimming.

Finally . . . Don Keith of Probably Madrid has set up a new web page providing recipes. Click here for more.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Beggaring belief; Motoring offences; University entrance; & Roof repairs.

Sometimes you hear statements that are so obviously untrue, you wonder whether the people making them just don't give a monkey's proverbial whether or not you believe them. The latest of these comes from the Spanish Ministry of the Interior in respect of an ad warning us to be on the lookout for burglars. This showed the 3 Magi ('Kings') on camels and the ministry was accused of racism. The answer was to deny that the Kings were black and to insist that they were wearing the piece of apparel - the balaclava - that's so associated with criminals. And, even more preposterous, that criminals could disguise themselves as the 3 Magi prior to committing burglary. Click here to make up your own mind. Actually, the last 3 examples of tosh like this I can recall were also associated with allegations of racism - the monkey chant offered to England's black football players; the slurs made about a black player by the then manager of the Spanish football team; and an incident of banana-throwing at a black player. You can't help feeling the perpetrators are laughing behind their hands.

Spain is not quite the relaxed place it was when I came to live here 13 years ago. This is true most obviously in the case of minor motoring offences. True, deaths on the road have halved in that period and, if any of this has resulted from tightening up on driving offences, then this can only be commended. But you do wonder sometimes . . . For example, a driver who'd stopped to help an injured motorcyclist in Valencia was fined for parking illegally. And, when he ripped up the ticket, he was fined again, for littering. Then, in my own case, there's the fine for wearing ear-pieces . . . .

To gain entrance to university, Spanish students have to sit an exam called the Selectividad. Their marks from this, as I understand it, are combined with those from their baccalaureate to give a final score. This used to be out of 10 and to two places of decimals but now appears to be out of 13 and to 3 decimal places. So, to do medicine at the university of Valencia (2nd mention today) you need to achieve a mark of 12.546. It's not so easy now to convert these marks into percentages (the rest of the world?) as while 8/10 is 80%, 12.546/13 is 96.5%. For medicine the range of required marks is quite narrow, ranging from 11.780 to 12.546. In contrast, for law the range is much wider - from 5.000 to 9.958. Quite how the numbers to 3 decimal points are worked out beats me. Probably by a computer, I guess.

I've now had 3 estimates for the repair of my roof - tile replacement essentially. These are €8,500, €5,000 and €2,100. Do you think it's a coincidence that the last one comes from the company which did my neighbours' roofs and which knows that I know what they charged? And that the others are - in modern parlance - taking the piss?

Finally . . . Sorry that there was no link yesterday to the profile of the murdered Spanish politician. It's there now, if you want to scroll down.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The dead politico; The EU elections; Spanish project costs; Talking crimes; Evil Islam; & Whence

This is a profile of the woman politician who was gunned down in León last week. It's in English but I wonder how accurate some of the translation from the original Spanish is. For example, I doubt that tener mucho carácter is best conveyed by 'to have a strong personality.' Unless you're indulging in British understatement.

I think the last time I mentioned the forecast of how many Spaniards would turn out for the EU elections it was 64%. Well, now it's down to 43%. And this in a country which is still very positive about the EU. Talking about voting . . . Postal voting is possible in both Spain and the UK. I wonder what proof of identity is required in both countries. Anyone know?

Talking of the EU . . . It financed €30bn of Spanish infrastructure projects between 2004 and 2013 but is now worried about the extent and level of the cost overruns. In every case, apparently. Read more here.

In Germany it's a crime to express Nazi sentiments. In Spain you can be tried for 'glorifying murder'. This relates mostly to ETA, of course. I'm not sure that a similar crime exists in the UK, despite the IRA campaigns. But, anyway, the Spanish police have arrested 3 young men for making what they consider to be criminal internet statements in respect of the murder of the León politician. And I bet more are to come. Can this really be consistent with freedom of speech? Are they really inciting anyone to murder?

Talking of harsh laws . . . It's reported that an Islamic court in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum has sentenced a pregnant woman to hang for apostasy after she married a Christian. However, in a gesture of mercy, she'll be allowed to give birth before she's executed. Whenever you read things like this you wonder what the 'moderate Muslim' world is doing to stop what they see as an evil misinterpretation of the Qu'ran. Likewise Boko Haram in Nigeria, of course.

Finally . . . I wonder just how many people know what 'whence' means. It's: from which/where. Which means that a phrase like 'to the fringe from whence it came' is wrong, as the 'from' is superfluous. Just thought I'd mention this.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

EU Elections; Racial nuances; Spanish politics; & Missing Bateman

I mentioned the EU elections the other day and waxed a little lyrical about MEPs. Here's the estimable Christopher Booker waxing rather more lyrical on the same subject: Everything is weird about this week’s Euro-election, and nothing is weirder than the possibility that the party that comes top of the poll will be one that hasn’t got a single seat in Parliament. Our other parliament, in Brussels and Strasbourg, plays an important part in producing a huge proportion of the laws we must all obey. Yet on Thursday we shall only be choosing a bunch of unknown nonentities to represent us there, commanding just 9% of the votes that can pass or reject those laws – and, hardly surprisingly, the majority of the British electorate will not even bother to turn out to vote for something they don’t begin to understand

Meanwhile, the British polls are all over the place. The only constant is that UKIP, the anti-EU party, has stayed in the lead. Here's Booker again on why this is: The underlying reason why UKIP is likely to do well this week is that it is the only way in which we can express our anger and contempt for the entire political class. The Spanish, however, have no real option but to turn out for the usual suspects. The full article here.

What's the difference between 'a racial slur' and 'a racist remark'? No, I don't know either but Ed Milliband thinks there is. And that the latter is worse than the former. Dangerous ground.

And talking of politicians who generate anger and contempt . . . Today came the news that only 3 Spanish political parties passed the stringent tests set by the international anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International. The two leading parties scored 40 and 30% and, needless to say, didn't figure in this short list of 3.

It seems the woman politician gunned down in Leon was a rather unpopular lady. Someone has written at the spot of her death "A piece of vermin died here". This was not just because she had a knack for making enemies but also because, as is the Spanish norm, she was enriching herself from the public purse. And rather blatantly, it seems. For her nickname was La dama de once nominas - the Lady of Eleven Salaries. Or was it 12? A columnist on the Voz de Galicia wrote yesterday of the assassination as 'monstrous' and despaired of the standard reaction of politicians to use it as grist for their own mills, ahead of imminent elections. Most pertinently, he adds that:- "The crime speaks of a women gunned down on her doorstep. But also of the particular capital sins of our current politics: institutionalised corruption; bare-faced croneyism and nepotism; revenge, cruelty; obsession; the purging of dissidents; 'You don't know who you're talking to'.

Where is Bateman when you need him? I was walking into the town centre this morning when I was met by the astonishing sight of a man not just riding his bike slowly but doing it in the middle of the road. To point up the rarity of this, in one of the old quarter's narrow streets I was later shouted at to get out of the way of a guy who was about to hit either me or my colleague. And who made it sound like this was our fault.

Finally . . . I went up to the hot city of Ourense yesterday. I planned to visit the cathedral and the nearby archeological museum but they were both closed. My guidebook - the 1999 edition of The Rough Guide said they'd be open. This is not the first time it's let me down . . .

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The N word; PP fool v. PSOE fool; Phoney figures;The right to be forgotten; & Percebes

The BBC has sacked a radio DJ who played a 1930s song - The Sun Has Got His Hat On - which contained - unbeknown to him - the verboten N word. Ironically, the DJ had substituted this song for Frank Crumit's wonderful Abdul Abulbul Amir, which I cited here not so long ago. He'd decided not to play this as he felt it was racist. Which I obviously don't.

Incidentally, the BBC thinks the N word is acceptable if it ends in a, but not er. Rap artists apparently use the former. Though you wouldn't know it just from listening to them, of course. All makes eminent sense to me.

Spain's Fiscal General (Attorney General?) has said that Spain lacks the laws and means to counter corruption. Not to mention the political will, of course.

Which reminds me . . . The leading PP and PSOE candidates in the imminent EU elections went head-to-head on TV this week. They didn't, of course, discuss corruption but preferred to indulge in the traditional Spanish game of Y tu - You're the same as us, only worse. The PP candidate said later he'd pulled his punches against his female opponent because it didn't look good for a man to lick a woman. This went down well with most female observers and reminded me of my our Iranian Farsi teacher, who told me my wife was better than me because women can pick up new things more easily as they have less in their brains than men. Fascinatingly, the PP guy clearly didn't realise his explanation was more macho than his beating his inferior opponent. But he doesn't look as if he's going to be paying a price for it. Incidentally, neither of the candidates mentioned Europe either. It's only an EU election after all.

One of the reasons that Spaniards find the 26% unemployment number dubious is that it's common knowledge that some people on the list either work as well as claim or don't exist at all. The police this week arrested 740 people and charged a further 1,241 with operating fake companies. These have been used to launder money, to get illegal immigrants their paperwork, to obtain social security benefits and for other 'nefarious' purposes. Spanish practices, in other words. The companies disguised themselves as hotels, courier services, gardening and cleaning, and construction businesses and the police estimate the various frauds have cost the state €20.5m in the last 2 years. En passant, all the non-existent people surely had ID numbers. So much for them.

Interesting - but not terribly surprising - to see that the first requests to Google to have their 'right to be forgotten' respected came from a child pornographer, a British MP named in the expenses scandal and 'a company director suspended for dodgy business practices'. I wonder if the EU Supreme Court really knew what it was doing in prioritising privacy over free speech.

Finally . . . I'm not a fan of the expensive Galician delicacy (and alleged aphrodisiac), percebes. To me they taste like rubber dipped in seawater. But others adore their (elusive-to-me) flavour. Anyway, here's an article about them.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Unpopular politicos; Euro slugs; Unwelcome heat; Taxes; & A bit of Holst

This week's murder of a politician - not a political murder - is generating quite some controversy. This reflects hostility towards both politicians generally and the victim particularly. Naturally, the politicians are taking this badly and overreacting. See here for more on this

And talking of politicians, it struck me today - possibly not for the first time - what a great number it is being a member of the European parliament. No one knows who you are; no one knows just how high your salary is; no one is aware how vast your expense claims are; no one cares one iota about how little you do and which relatives you employ; and no one gives a damn whether or not you participate in debates or even attend them. All-in-all, a job tailor-made for the lazy and the greedy. I wish I'd thought about boarding the gravy train years ago. Is it too late? It doesn't stop Daniel Hannan writing a column as well.

A company called ZTE has launched a smartphone for just €72. Its specs look good to me, though as I don't have a smartphone - and don't even know what 'open source' means - I may be being too positive here. One reviewer sniffs that the specs are 'chintzy', which rather confuses me, as I've only ever seen this word attached to furniture.

Wednesday was the hottest day of the year so far here in Galicia, with the mercury reaching 30 at midday. Yesterday was - to the relief of we Galicians - a little lower. Like the Brits, we like to moan when it rains and complain when the temperature goes above 25-27 degrees. This may be regarded as pretty cool down in Sevilla and Córdoba but it's as much as we can take up here. One irony is that - because of its topography - the city of Ourense, up in the Galician hills, can be hotter than both of these southern cities. And more humid. Meanwhile, over in Britain they're forecasting a weekend 'heatwave' of 23-25 degrees. Poor souls.

Some pop stars in the UK are reported to be obliged to 'repay millions in tax'. I'm confused. Has the tax office given them some taxpayers' money and now told them to pay it back? Or has the tax office merely told them they owe more tax than they've paid? I guess it's the latter, which doesn't constitute 'repayment' to me. Though that's how all the media jocks describe it.

It's been a bad year for the hapless - and once worshipped - David Moyes. But at least he's in line for a 50m(€60m) payoff for less than a year's work. So things could actually get worse; his wife could divorce him and take 25/30m of that. It's enough to tempt a saint.

Finally . . . The concert I attended the other night included the final movement from Holst's St Paul's Suite. It's quite charming and you can hear it here. Or the whole suite here. As someone has written, Holst has been overpraised for The Planets and underpraised for his other works.√

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Political murder; Taxes; The EU; Clapping; & Telefonica

The murder of the Presidenta of the León Province by a disgruntled mother is throwing up some interesting questions: How did the murderer get hold of 2 handguns from a drug addict in Galicia?; Why was there a kilo and a half of marijuana in her house?; Did she really have 6 abortive attempts to shoot her victim?; and was her husband having an affair with the politician? The latter rumour has yet to make the media - possibly because he's the chief of police - but a Spanish friend swears it's common knowledge.

When I first came to Spain, there was a wealth tax (Patrimonio) which hit everyone with a relatively small amount of (declared) capital. This was abolished by the PSOE government during the boom years and then brought back - with a much higher base - by the PP government a couple of years ago. Now it's been announced that the Patrimonio is to be re-scrapped and replaced as a source of income by an increase in municipal taxes (the IBI). I may be wrong but I suspect this is the opposite of what's recommended by the new economic guru, the Frenchman Thomas Pikkety. He abhors the growing gap between the very rich and the rest of us and suggests they be subjected to wealth taxes. Spain is different.

Folk in each EU country were asked to respond to the question: Our country could better face the future outside the EU: Only Cyprus and the UK had a majority who agreed with this. Spain's populace didn't of course, by a long way. The numbers:-
Agree:      UK 47 Spain 23 Cyprus 51 EU average 32
Disagree: UK 41 Spain 60  Cyprus 43 EU average 58
Britain is different.

I attended a concert by the Pontevedra concert last night. Very enjoyable but I do get tired with all the semi-compulsory clapping at the end of the evening. Surely the technology is available for a 'clapometer' on the back of the seat in front of you, so you can use a knob to give the volume of applause merited.

Finally . . . Since I continue to get internet cuts, you can imagine how pleased I was to see that Telefónica has 4 executives in the top 30 best paid in the country. More than anyone else, of course. Worth every penny. At least if you're a shareholder, rather than a customer. Takes me right back to the bad old days of BT.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Denunciations; Spain and the EU; Brits are funny; & Gipsy handles.

It's been said that taking people to court - via a denuncia - is Spain's national pastime. Whether you can do this for both civil and criminal offences, I'm not sure. But I do get the impression there's no concept of a frivolous case and that the Spanish judicial system is pretty clogged up with these petitions. So it's probably a good thing that a bit of a brake has been applied via an increase in court fees. Numbers were down 3% in 2013 and are expected to reduce again this year. Poor lawyers.

Spain has been - and remains - one of the biggest recipients of EU funds - a total of €300 billion since it joined in 1986. During this period, the country has been utterly transformed, with per capita income shooting from €7,000 to €23,000 a year. So it's not very surprising that - despite what Brussells-imposed austerity has done to Spain in the last few years - the EU remains more popular here than elsewhere. If not quite as much as it used to be. More than 58% of Spaniards are still in favour of the EU, compared with 75% in 2007. Only 30% disfavour it. As El País put it "Other studies show how deep-rooted pro-European feeling is in Spain. Accession to the union meant definitive closure on the dark past of the dictatorship and isolation." As someone has said, "It's difficult to find an autovía, AVE high-speed train, bridge or port in Spain which wasn't financed with EU funds". The end result is a level of involvement in the upcoming EU elections which will probably exceed that of most other members. Despite (or because of?) the disdain most Spaniards understandably display to their homegrown politicians.

Talking of Spanish politicians . . . There seems to be talk of a unity government in the air, comprising the 2 leading parties. Which would surely be a stretch as they couldn't even get together to tackle corruption. But, then there's no political will in respect of the latter. Among other reasons.

Yesterday I wrote to my car insurance company, asking them to reply to either of my previous 2 messages. They called me today and the guy asked me to confirm that I was Mr Davies and that I'd written to them about an accident in the UK. Then he asked me - 'just for security' - to give him my ID number. In case, I suppose, that the person answering my phone and familiar with the subject was someone pretending to be me.

There was a cartoon - by Roto - in El Pais the other day, showing a matador administering the final sword thrust through the bull's shoulders. The latter is saying, "Maestro, why don't we talk about it?" Although he could be saying "Why didn't we talk about it?", as the present and past tenses are the same for the first person plural in Spanish. This is one of the early fences you have to get over in tackling the language.

What do foreigners think of the Brits they live among? Here's one batch of amusing responses.

Finally . . . The King of Galicia's Gipsies - whose family attacked the lawyer of someone he was suing - goes under the unfortunate name of Morón.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A political murder; Case list; Spanglish; & Booze rates.

A woman politician was shot dead in León on Monday, apparently in an act of personal vengeance. Needless to say, though, she was under investigation for corruption. But, then, what Spanish politician isn't? Incidentally, the woman who did the shooting - apparently a disgruntled ex-employee - was the daughter of the local chief of police. And she was encouraged in the shooting by her mother, his wife. The poor chap's career may now stall. Especially, I guess, if it was his gun.

Someone who's career really has been affected is a Galician politician who said on her Facebook page today she didn't want to comment on the murder other than to say "You reap what you sow". In a country where resignation is rare, it was strange to see she'd immediately been pressured by her colleagues to announce her resignation. Apparently the twitter mob ('twob'?) were unhappy.

On corruption . . . HT to Lenox for this citation of a list of major cases. It gets longer by the day, of course.

Spanglish: Latest verb: Spoilear. Seems to be related to 'spoiler', of film review fame.

I tried yesterday to take my daughter off my health policy, using the company's internet form. And that's when the problems began. A woman called me to say I didn't exist on their computer. This is despite me paying premiums, using their card, and receiving numerous bills and letters. A number of things were tried - e. g. my policy number - but I still stubbornly refused to feature on their computer. Then she went away to chat to a colleague in the health division, while I discovered that the original documents contained my Fiscal Number and not my Identity Number. When she came back, I told her this and she said I had to go to the company's office in town to change the number on my policy. Otherwise I wouldn't have any cover. I didn't bother to ask why this couldn't be done on the phone or via the internet. Life is like that here. Fortunately, I could do this as I had the time. But what if I'd been at work today and had had a heart attack at the office? "No. Sorry. This card isn't valid. Come back when it is." Anyway, I went to the office and things were changed in 10 minutes or so. And then I had 10 minutes of sales talk on house and car insurance policies. Which is presumably why I had to go there. From a business point of view, brilliant. From my point of view, bloody irritating.

Landing on CNN News this morning, I discovered what I already knew but which the British media has failed to note, viz. that Astra Zeneca is essentially Swedish, not British. Later the day, I saw that the UK Business Secretary, Vince Cable, had admitted that it "might be tricky" for the British government to stop Pfizer taking over Astra-Zeneca. By which he meant, of course, that they have no power to do this as it's a Brussells competency. Funny they don't want to admit this. And give UKIP a huge boost

Finally . . . Annual alcohol intake in litres per year:
Bielorussia - 17.5
Russia - 15.4
Portugal - 12.9
France - 12.2
Germany - 11.8
UK - 11.6
Spain - 11.2
EU average - 10.9
Interestingly, the Spanish figure comprises 50% beer, rather than wine.