Thursday, April 30, 2015

Brits and Spain; Spanish justice; Clean/dirty cities; Heritage sites; The net; Arrogant Apple; & Xmas trees.

Just what Spain needs: Fewer and fewer Brits are taking their money there to live but more and more are choosing Spain as a cheap holiday destination. With a good percentage of the latter vomiting out their cash in the streets. Quite the opposite of what the government says it wants. The same government which did nothing during all the years of bad UK press about house demolitions and the like. Other than to criticise the foreigners for being both greedy and stupid, for not understanding that Spain is full of crooks. Especially in the government. Mind you, most of the Brits were, indeed, stupid. Forgoing a lawyer (some of whom are honest) in favour of a smiling estate agent. Davies basic rule: The greater the charm, the more likely the roguery. Rule 2: Never forget that in Spain, it's regarded as a sin not to rip off idiots. It even has to be confessed.

Speaking of which . . . I've confessed that I don't understand the Spanish justice system. And it's possible no one can. I say this because the long-running case of bribes to the PP party from businessmen in search of (very) lucrative contracts looks like ending with the conviction (and jailing) of 2 party officials but not of the PP party itself. Which appears not to have known of black cash payments over 18 years to its senior members, including the current President. So, a very inefficient organisation. Except when it came to acting as a conduit and washing machine for vast sums of money en B. It goes without saying that none of the senior members of the party now in government are being prosecuted either.

To be more positive - Oviedo, in apple-rich Asturias, is Spain's cleanest city and Madrid is the dirtiest, says a new study. Given the choice . . . And I like cider.

Spain boasts 44 World Heritage sites. Here's The Local's view of '10 of the best'. Other opinions are just as valid.

Nice comment from A A Gill about the internet: It’s a mass kleptocracy that steals everything - music, films, TV shows, football games, the answers to exam questions, memes, jokes. It believes in collective ownership and the possibility of something turning into something else, a constant shape-shifting of collective plagiarism. Has the ring of truth about it.

I tried yesterday to send Apple an internet question about a new Mac battery. But it wouldn't go without my agreeing to receive unsolicited offers, etc. This is surely abusive, especially when my chances of receiving a sensible reply are low. The new Microsoft. 

Finally . . . A few yards from where I used to catch my bus home from primary school in Liscard, Merseyside, they yesterday erected their 2015 Xmas tree. Apparently this is the response to be criticised for having the country's worst tree last Xmas.

Yes, 'back in the day', kids of 5-11 weren't picked up by their mothers in Chelsea tractors. Or even saw their mothers until they got home. How did we survive?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Elections here; Elections there; Politicos; Messy monarchy; & David Bowie.

The Spanish tribal tectonic plates are moving slightly as the end-year elections get slowly nearer. Almost unbelievably, the hyper-corrupt PP party maintains its slight lead over the opposition PSOE party. These are trailed by the centrist Ciudadanos party and the (very?) leftist Podemos party. But the latter is losing ground to the former as voters begin to grapple with the practical consequences of high-flown socialism. Perhaps. President Rajoy - never an inspiring speaker - is playing his only card: "Political instability is putting the economic recovery at risk". His problem - as with David Cameron - is that not everyone is feeling the positive impact from this. It's pretty certain the rich are but these, of course, are already in his pocket. As Podemos were always going to lose support as the election approached, the only real question is whether the Ciudadanos party can become the front-runner over the next 7 months. Though Rajoy will surely call an early election if this becomes a real possibility. Timing is all, as they say.

Over in the UK, voting is only 2 weeks away but here's an opinion it's hard to differ with: In Britain, no party is addressing the hard questions, or the big ones. There's one answer that no one dares give: work till 70. Urging people to work longer, while delaying the state pension, would make more difference to the deficit than a forest of small but painful changes. On both sides of the Atlantic, we see the pain that follows making giant slabs of spending untouchable while pursuing savage cuts to smaller but less politically sensitive ones. Likewise this one, voiced by me a couple of times already: The political class must think the rest of us are all idiots. The lavish spending pledges made by the parties this week belong in a make-believe world where money is no object. Or, finally, this: There is something surreal about the way in which British politicians comport themselves at the moment. Few are liars but most of them are living a lie.

Things are tough at the regal top of Spain. The ex-king is suffering from depression and it seems that Queen Leticia really does have anorexia. You can see last week's pictures here and, if you can read Spanish, find out about the causes here. One assumes she sees herself as fat in the mirror. Very sad.

Everyone knows English is constantly changing and that some usages will remain but others will be discarded by the the popular jury. This morning I read of Liverpool fans 'swerving' a game. This means not attending a match (against bottom-place Hull), though it may have the connotation that you first buy a (child price) ticket and then stay away. Anyway, it was a good decision; Hull won.

Finally . . . There was dancing and singing in the streets of Pontevedra this week. Dunno why but here's a brief video of some of it. Without the dancing. And possibly without the singing too. The ladies are, of course, in Galician national dress. But I don't know when this was current. George Borrow doesn't mention in when writing in the 1830s. Whatever, it's so heavy I can't understand how they can dance in it in 25-30 degrees. But they do. Presumably they never got round to a summer version 'back in the day'. 

BTW: I can't be held responisble for antennae-less Spaniards walking in front of me with camera raised. Though I should have known.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The EU; Spanish v English; Iran; Ponters' shops; Spanish kissing; & Insurance bastards.

Who would have thought the formation of the EU would lead to a to-the-death fight between an all-powerful Germany and a weak Greece? Or between an all-powerful Germany and any other country? Well, a few did, I believe. But they were dismissed as idiots. Or as xenophobes. Or at least as outrageous pessimists. Maybe it'll all be alright on the night. When it finally arrives.

The place in which boxers slug it out is called a 'ring' in English but a cuadrilátero (square) in Spanish. The latter is more logical but 5 times longer than the English. Which sums up the two languages essentially. Both of them wonderful, of course.

Having much enjoyed living there 'back in the day', events in Iran continue to interest - and sadden - me. This week a magazine has been banned just for discussing cohabitation. This is a crime in Iran, even though the Mullahs continue to allow the 'temporary marriages' (sigheh) which are routinely used to make prostitution legal. Only priests are capable of such sophistry.

The retail scene in Pontevedra city continues to dumbfound me. Streets I haven't visited for while in the old quarter have lost some - or even all - of their shops and in the newer north of the city a café I used to frequent has closed and new outfits - such as the car windscreen place I needed - have opened up. In an expensive street in the old quarter, a high-end shop (anyone remember the €850 wood and leather chair?) has finally been succeeded by another 'vintage' shop. 'Vintage' meaning 'previously owned'. Or even 'second hand'. Some of its items look like they cost their ex-owners a package. Bad times. 

Finally . . . No one will be surprised to hear there's a lot more public kissing here in Spain than in the UK. But I was still a little taken aback yesterday when the woman who called me from an internet provider finished our conversation with 'Un besito'. A little kiss. Perhaps she was seduced by the unwitting sexiness of my congestion-affected voice. I just wish I could bottle it.

The agent handling my insurance claim has just called and finished the conversation with "Un besito". But she's a neighbour, so that's OK. BTW - She's telling me the insurance company is rejecting a claim because the police officer wrote 'a collection' of coins, making these (for them) a single unit the value of which exceeded some limit or other. Such are the ways of these people. We fight on.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Emigration; Things (not)English; Scotch v Scottish; God works?; & Internet intrusion.

Spain increased its population by an astonishing 10% during the boom years - from 40m to 44m. But some of these newcomers have been leaving for a while and last year 305,000 'foreigners' left the country. My guess is that most of these will be South Americans and North Africans who can no longer work in a hyper-booming construction industry; I rather doubt that many Romanians (the most populous group) have gone back to Romania. Then there's the educated young who have no chance of a job here. And the expats. Rumour has it that many Brits have fled back to Blighty, either finding life too expensive or fearing new 'stealth taxes' on foreigners. "Otherwise why are they asking us to tell them what we own in the UK?". No one really knows how many Brits live here or how many have left. They're all supposed to register with the town hall after a few months' residence but many don't. Likewise, those who leave don't tell the town hall. Making a nonsense of official figures. But anyway, this article provides more info on this subject.

Hat-tip to The Local for this list of 5 things which are regarded as quintessentially English and which ain't:
Fish & chips: These, it's said, were introduced into Britain by Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain.
Polo: Although brought to the UK from India by English plantation owners, its origins lie in an Afghan sport in which riders throw a dead goat around.
Tea: This comes from china, via india, of course but the teabag was accidentally invented by a New York tea merchant who shipped the product in silken bags.
The pub (Spanish paf): Inns only began to appear alongside roads laid by the Romans.
Saint George: Born in Syria. Probably.

I heard a young woman yesterday say she was studying Scotch History. This rather threw me, as I've always gone by the rule that scotch is a drink, while the people are Scots and the adjective Scottish. Since she was Scottish herself and studying in Glasgow, I concluded things must have changed. But a quick internet search suggested otherwise. Odd. Perhaps she was really saying "Scottish", rather than Scotch, and I was thrown by her accent.

Watching the London Marathon yesterday, I noted one winner thanked Allah and another made the sign of the cross. So, whose god had been at work? Perhaps both. Perhaps neither. Perhaps it was all down to human ability and effort. And perhaps the person who crawled in last prayed to every god he or she could think of, to no avail.

Finally . . . Don't you just love it when your screen suddenly shows a program you've never heard of - Pixir Express in this case - and then you're asked to give them access to various sets of personal data?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Boars; Elections; Tony Blair; Windscreens; & Ideology v Art.

Wild boars - Jabalíes - are a regular feature of news reports in Galicia, either for gobbling crops or causing accidents on the roads. Or for being roasted over coals. Somehow, they've now reached the UK after an absence of 400 years - and started attacking southern folk and grubbing up gardens. Worse, if hunters don't start killing them as fast as they can, they'll be running the country by 2025. Needless to say, there are animal rights people who don't want to see any culling. Possibly they want to be in a future wild boar government. More here.

Talking of the UK, yet another commentator, surveying the hustings, has declared that: "The election is awash with wild funding promises. Trouble is, we prefer trivia and bluster to serious, informed discussion". Much the same could be said of Spain. Except here it would be 'serious, uninformed shouting and You're-Even-Worse abuse'.

Which reminds me . . . Here's Don Quijones on the subject of that poor-boy-made-awfully-good, Tony Blair. A man he sees as: "A walking, talking conflict of interest. The perfect ambassador of a deeply rotten system of national and global governance." Good stuff. BTW, I can confirm it's not true that the Pope has asked Blair to give up his recently-acquired Catholicism, such is the damage this has done to a church which wishes to retain its image of poverty.

Tomorrow, I'm having my windscreen replaced after a stone put a longcrack in it on the drive from Portugal. This isn't as simple as it used to be, as I discovered when the company called me after an internet request for an appointment. Nowadays there are things like light and rain sensors in windscreens, so you have to go through a questionnaire. They also wanted my ID number, even though (to my surprise) their internet page had said this was optional. Only temporarily, it would seem.

Finally . . . Yesterday I enjoyed a short podcast by the English novelist, Howard Jacobson. It began with the perceptive comment: "Years ago, when a 'friend' meant someone you knew and an opinion was something you arrived at after thought . . . " If you want to hear more - on the subject of Ideology versus Art - click here.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Unemployment; Fiesta time; & A coincidence?

The Economist has produced a decent overview of the unemployment situation in Spain. It makes the point that the Spanish - like the Italians (and, indeed, the Iranians) - "have a long tradition of keeping up appearances" which is why "you don't see it on the streets". More here.

For a rather more acerbic take on unemployment here, see this incisive article from Don Quinones, who stresses: "It’s only a matter of time before complacency in Europe turns to fear, and fear to panic." At this point, DQ says, "the sturdiness of Rajoy’s economic miracle and the health of the country’s bailed-out, reorganized, and recapitalized (ha!) banking sector will be truly tested. One fears that both will be found extremely wanting."

The worst unemployment in Spain - and, indeed, in Europe - is down in Andalucia. Not that you'd know it. The end of April sees a huge fiesta down there, where some of them, at least party, as if there really is a tomorrow - "a week-long celebration with flamenco dancing, bullfighting and horse-drawn carriage rides through the streets". More here.

Finally . . . This morning I read a page or two of the autobiography of one of the Rolling Stones, where their first record - 'C'mon' - was mentioned. Then, in a bar at lunchtime, this came on the TV. A coincidence? I think not.

Friday, April 24, 2015

A big gaffe; Reality TV; Necklines; Raymond Carr; Rosalind Franklin; & A name dilemma.

There are 2 Spanish verbs that really shouldn't be confused: Sacar - To take out (and a thousand other things) and Saquear: To plunder. But the Secretary General of the PP party did confuse them this week, congratulating herself and her colleagues for working so hard 'to loot the country'. Which is about the only accurate thing the party's said for years.

And you thought reality TV couldn't get more preposterous . . . . After a fierce reaction from Pamplona, "Spain’s state TV channel has shelved plans for a reality show which would have seen celebrities pitted against each other as they ran through the streets of Pamplona chased by a pack of fighting bulls." The city's mayor complained: "We're working hard to improve the image of the encierro (bull-running) and to give it more artistic and cultural value. A reality show is not the best way of to do this". I wonder what would be. A ban on bingeing and vomiting? And nudity?

Which reminds me . . . Thanks to comments about my reference to Queen Leticia, I've been forced to make a dictionary check, with these results:-
escote - neckline
escotadura - low neckline
escote profundo/pronunciado - plunging neckline
As you can see from this picture, the correct term for Leticia was probably escotadura. But what do I know?

En passant, the bonus from this search was to learn that Pagar a escote means 'To go Dutch'. No idea why.

Spain's papers bid a fulsome farewell to Raymond Carr, a British historian who specialised in Spain and wrote about the country when no one Spanish was in a position to do so. It seems no exaggeration to say he was revered by the current generation of Spanish historians.

I see that Nicole Kidman is to play Rosalind Franklin in a future film. Franklin was the woman who, at my college in London as it happens, produced the remarkable fotos which Watson and Crick then used to determine the helix shape of DNA. Some say they stole these but others say Franklin was naive and foolish in showing the fotos to the ambitious pair. Anyway, I seem to recall that either Watson or Crick once made disparaging comments about Franklin's lack of beauty. So it's a tad ironic that she'll be played by a looker. But, then, there are worse things; she wasn't honoured for her contribution, whilst Watson and Crick were given the Nobel Prize. 

Finally . . . The lady with whom I'm dealing around my burglary is called Concepción but, like everyone else in Spain, she has a diminutive. Having to write to her, I didn't know whether this was Cookee, Cooki, Cukee, Cuki, Kookee, Kukee, Kuki, or Kooki. I plumped for Kuki. But it turned out to be Cuqui. You can't win 'em all.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Gag Law; Scapegoatting; UK election; Democracy?; NY NY; & A Football lesson.

About 2 years ago Spain's right-of-centre government introduced a 'Citizen Protection' Bill which finally became law a week or so ago. Despite the name, it's got bugger all to do with protecting citizens but everything to do with preventing protests against austerity, inequity and corruption. In fact, it's so bad that the only way to raise one's voice in Spain may be to do so as a hologram. The New York Times sees it as the most restrictive law in Europe and demands the EU do something about it. Which is about as likely as President Rajoy resigning, I fear.. You can read the NYT article here.

As mentioned, the prominent banker and (very) senior politician, Sr Rato, is under investigation for various crimes. Ironically, these seem to result from his using a 2012 Tax Office amnesty to declare his offshore wealth. This amnesty, is turning out to be anything but that, perhaps because, before yesterday, neither the Tax Office nor the government actually called it an amnesty, but a 'financial regularisation'. Anyone else who declared assets must now be quaking as they were assured there'd be only a small tax on the assets, not a lifetime in jail. Even more ironically, the PP government appears to be throwing their ex VP to the wolves so that it can boast of its anti-corruption credentials. So, yes, they do take us all for fools.

Over in the UK, 2 weeks ahead of the general election, one commentator sums up the situation thus:- All parties are trapped in a cycle of electoral bribery and reality avoidance. It suits them in the short term, but in the long term, it's killing our democracy.

Talking of democracy . . . Given the corruption in Spain and Greece, say, and the democratic deficiency of the EU, you have to marvel that the Anglo nations thought they could invade Iraq and Afghanistan and then set up a functioning, corruptio-free democracy in a part of the world where it was - and remains - unknown. Like honesty.

The trouble with dealing with someone who doesn't know there's both a Pontevedra province and a Pontevedra city is that they're likely to confuse the two. Especially if they're on the end of a phone line in, say, Colombia. Fortunately, I checked whether the windscreen company I urgently need really was in Vigo(Pontevedra province) and found it's here in Pontevedra city. Does this happen in New York?

Finally . . . If you're a football fan, you'll enjoy this account of the 5 things learnt from the Real Madrid-Atlético match earlier this week. Here's a once sentence taster:- Some top-class play-acting was on display from the first whistle, as it was in the first leg. No tackle was too tame for a player not to make out that he had been punched in the mouth.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Lovely Leticia; The Bulls; Galicia's trains; Insurance; & Don't do do.

The lovely Queen Leticia has caused a bit of a stir. She's given herself a fashionable bob, appeared with bare shoulders and arms and even offered a bit of cleavage. The majority reaction is horror at the confirmation of her much-discussed skinniness. Possibly even anorexia. I can't say I noticed any cleavage but, compared with what's on display every night in Spain, it can't have been significant.

Bullfighting in Spain is not in the best of health. Some blame greed, some the poor quality of the bulls and some the inadequate artistry of the toreros. Either way, it's a minority sport and may well be a dying one, despite subsidies from the current right-of-centre PP party. Anyway, a headline I saw this morning read: "The Dictatorship of the Modern Bull." There's a saying here that even a maestro can't do anything with a 'bad' bull. This article seemed to be saying the opposite.

If you're interested in getting the gen on Galicia's fast trains, it's all here. The lines are described as 'high speed' but I don't think they're the real AVE McCoy yet, as they lack the brakes of the fastest trains. At the other end of the spectrum, there's mention of the train from Portugal to Galicia not connecting with this network. This is because it goes to the wrong Vigo station, not just because it's one of the slowest trains in the world.

Anyone over, say, 25 will know that insurance companies are brilliant at increasing your cover so that your premium is high and then equally brilliant in finding ways not to reimburse you for your loss. So it is with the gold Iranian coins I lost in my recent burglary, which "should have been listed under the Joyas (Jewellery) section and not as part of the contents". Which reminds me . . . If you don't know what the rule of proportionality is, you should pin back your ears. Essentially, if you decide you wouldn't want to replace half of your contents and so only pay for cover for half your possessions, the insurance company will say you can only get half of the value of the goods you thought you were fully insuring. It may be that you can avoid this by identifying all the specific items which comprise half of your total and that you want to be insured. Worth checking out, perhaps. Before the disaster that no one expects arrives. 

Finally . . . Inhabitants of towns along Galicia's famous camino have finally decided to take action against walkers who leave the wrong sort of deposit as they pass by. More on this here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Noise; Monuments; Political accounts; Wind subsidies; My denuncia; Metaphors; & A correction.

I've mentioned that both Britain and Portugal are (far) quieter than Spain. But "noisy" can also mean "vital" and I'm reminded, again, of the comment of a neighbour who responded to a comment from me about the noise in Spain years ago with: "No noise means dead".

It's a little surprising but there are still a few monuments to Franco around Spain. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that some Republican monuments were not destroyed during the 36 years of his dictatorship. These can be seen here.

The ex VP of the governing PP party is being investigated for possible criminal activities. This follows the discovery that he has many millions of euros and much property around the world. What interested me is that he has 28 accounts in different banks around Spain. If you or I have even one account, the Tax Office knows all about it. So, how come they didn't, it seems, know about his prior to a 2012 amnesty which he took advantage of? Unwisely, it now seems.

Also being investigated are politicians who are suspected of receiving kickbacks from companies who produce the wind turbines for Spain's numerous parques eólicos. As one investigator put it:- The payments of €110m are without commercial logic.

I made my police report about my burglary yesterday - my denuncia. It's normal at times like this to be told you've not brought at least one document so will have to return. And we came perilously close to this because I'd left my passport at home. The Guardia Civil clerk told me the photocopy of my passport wasn't really enough as he needed to see a real photograph of me. As he mused over whether to accept the copy - and I decided I wouldn't expose my expired Identity Card(NIE) - I happily recalled I had my driving licence with me. And all ended well.

I find that, when one talks to theists, they tend to use a lot of metaphors when explaining their beliefs and answering questions about God's behaviour. For example: "Well, God could know about that but he's like the guy who leaves the room before the football results are announced as he's going to watch Match of the Day and doesn't want to know the results. I thought of this when listening to a psychic in a debate I was watching on Sunday as he was explaining why he'd just told someone that the wrong spirit was in the room:- "Well, you don't always know who's on the bus when you get on it". Which apparently meant that you can call up a spirit but you never know which spirit is going to answer your summons. Conveniently.

Finally . . . My thanks to those readers who kindly pointed out - unlike the Portuguese chap I showed the foto to - that the street sign CANAS TRAS was actually CANAS-TRAS, or CANASTRAS. The Street of Basketmakers. Not Canes Behind.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Pretty women; Ugliness; Fine dining; Changing Évora; Insults; & The UK's NHS again.

My trip down into Portugal last week convinced me there really are some pretty women in Portugal, perhaps because of the lure the capital city, Lisbon. But, that said, there's no real comparison with Spain.

Another observation was that, at least when it comes to modern buildings, the Portuguese have a talent for the ugly.  Either that or no ability to tell architects where to get off. Or perhaps it's a function of wealth.

Our Society gala dinner on Friday was in a fine restaurant in Évora. But I had a misgiving when it became clear they had a surplus pork dish and I wasn't terribly surprised when, as the last to be served, it was presented to me an as alternative to the lamb I'd ordered. Err, no, I said. No problem, they replied. The chef will prepare you an extra lamb dish. So I sat back in expectation of a 20 minute wait and was then surprised to get my dinner 5 minutes later. So, did they have the lamb all the time? Or did it only take 4 minutes to heat up in the microwave? Anyway, the staff were lovely, as they were everywhere in Portugal. I'd recommend everyone goes to see Lisbon, Sintra and Évora before they become like Venice. As for the "Venice of Portugal" - Aveiro - I'm not so sure.

I mentioned changes in Évora over the last 10-15 years. One of these is that a fine building that used to be a 16th century monastery and a (separate!) convent is now a spa hotel. I trust the rooms are a bit bigger than they were 4-500 years ago but it's a 5 star 'boutique' place, so they may not be.

Back to Spain . . . The empty word used by politicians here to insult and blacken their opponents is 'fascist'. I learnt from French TV this morning that the equivalent word north of the Pyrenees is 'liberal'. Ironically, their meanings are polar in the Anglo Saxon world.

Corruption: Below is a translation of an article from yesterday's El Pais on Spain's biggest challenge. It's by Google, so you'll have to do some figuring.

Finally . . . . Below that, there's an article from today's Times, is which the writer addresses the real problems of the UK's NHS - a busted model, myths and lies - talks about the insurance based models of the Continent. Does this herald a change? Or the beginning of change? I rather doubt.

End corruption: an economic imperative, not only an ethical one: Luis Garicano, Professor of Economics and Strategy at the London School of Economics and coordinator of the economic program Citizens.

Most of the debate on the runaway corruption we face is in terms of legal and moral issues involved. But many citizens are willing to close their eyes to these problems if the corrupt apparent generates welfare and jobs. This pact with the devil ("it's a sausage, but it's our sausage") which continue to see in Spain, where corrupt people keep winning elections, and avoiding resign, confident that voters will forget his misconduct.

Contrary to this tolerant view, economic research shows that corruption has huge economic costs. Even forgetting the moral and legal problems, corruption costs us well. I tell a very relevant to Spain study.

In a recent international conference in the Bank of Spain, the young (and promising) economist Enrique Moral Benito showed excellent research work (with García Santana, Pijoan-Mas and Ramos) on the causes of the lack of productivity growth in Spain during the boom years. The starting point is the observation that, between 1995 and 2007, Spain grew a lot, but each unit of labor and capital increasingly produced less. That is, we were growing base of adding more workers (participation of women, and immigration) and more machines, but not on the basis that each employee and each machine to produce more; on the contrary, produced less every year.

This prolonged decline in productivity is an unusual event in a comparative perspective. And it is very worrying for the long term: Once given the demographic realities, Spain has no capacity to increase labor force or the participation of women and migrants, the economic growth needed to sustain the welfare state can only result of productivity growth.

The usual explanation for this decline in productivity is the construction boom: if we grew fat based on a sector with low productivity growth, it is not uncommon that the economy did not experience increases in productivity. But the work of Moral Benito and his coauthors shows that it is not, because this decline occurred within each production sector, rather than by the reallocation of resources from one sector to another. As the boom progressed, in each sector the companies that grew were not often the most productive, but less productive. In many cases, the best companies were immune growth, and were "bad" in the sense of the least productive which took advantage of the large amount of resources, "free money" bubble, to grow.

To try to explain this result, Moral and his coauthors seeking, and reject, different explanations. Just find an explanation with strong predictive power in the data: the importance of crony capitalism in the sector (crony capitalism) and the incidence of corruption (Bribe Payers Index). In short, the only variable that explains how resource allocation worse is how corrupt is this assignment.

This analysis coincides with the sometimes intuitively makes the angry citizen. It is where companies are protected from competition where outlets predominate, access to dodgy licenses, contracts and favors trick where this deterioration in the allocation of resources occurs. Is corruption and cronyism that lead to bad firms are leveraging the bubble, absorbing capital and labor available, at the expense of the more cautious and less connected.

The cost of this misallocation of resources for the Spanish economy is enormous. While total factor productivity (capital and labor) fell by 0.7% annually in Spain, rose 0.4% annually in the EU and 0.7% in the US. If productivity in Spain had grown as the EU, in 2007 our GDP would have been 15% higher than it was. That is, in this scenario, the cost of corruption, contacts and crony capitalism is 150,000 million euros. Even more: Moral and his coauthors estimate that if the initial resource allocation had not deteriorated, Spain had grown to 0.8% annually. In this case, GDP would have been 20% higher, 200,000 million cost misallocation of resources caused by corruption: 5,000 euros per Spanish.

On second thought, these numbers should not surprise us. How else would be rich if licenses were Spain where it is due, if the contracts were the best, if the work is not carried the plug?

Given magnitudes and not worth continuing that "Spaniards are well" or "not have remedy." Corruption is a major problem and we have to do what is necessary to change the culture broth in which flowers, with imagination, with courage and rules are met.

Ray Fisman, a professor at Columbia University in New York, and a great world expert on the subject, suggested in a book due out later this year that success in the fight against corruption lies in the combination of legal sanctions and economic incentives on one hand with the other moral and social rejection.

As an argument, consider the amazing and inspiring example of Antanas Mockus. This Colombian philosopher and mathematician made in two short terms as mayor of Bogotá (two years each, 1995-1997 and 2001-2003) more to end corruption and strengthen the rule of law that most political will in decades.

When Mockus became mayor, the municipal government of Bogotá was completely corrupted, runaway crime. Bogotá was the world capital of crime, with 4,200 murders in 1993. How do changing attitudes and law enforcement in such a place? Mockus started by a surprising place, traffic regulations, and in a surprising way: using mime (yes, pampering with tights and white painted face) around the city. When a pedestrian crossing in red, a military member 400 mimes (theatre students, mostly) crossing behind, making mockery with grimaces and gestures. When a driver blocking a street, mime taught him a card with a thumbs down and handing other passersby to help him. In a few months, according to Fisman, the proportion of pedestrians obey traffic rules increased from 26% to 75%.

Of course, the work was not only Mockus attitudes. For example, the police closed public transport (2,000 agents), notoriously corrupt, and established a program to buy guns in private hands.

This combination, changing rules and changing attitudes, succeeded also in other areas. His campaign to reduce water usage included both incentives and prices as a video of himself showering, but turning off the shower to soap.

The Spaniards have not yet made the decision to end corruption. We remain tolerant of those who use their public office for their private purposes, especially if they are "one of us". This has a calming and high cost in terms of welfare. We must prioritise change the rules, incentives and attitudes to eliminate these behaviours.

The NHS is bust because the model is totally flawed

We’re still hopelessly addicted to the NHS: If we want health care on a par with the Continent, we have to introduce insurance schemes

On one thing the three main parties are agreed. The NHS will be safe in their own hands and unsafe in the hands of the other lot. The truth is, however, that the NHS will be safe in none of their hands.

This election campaign has seen a procession of uncosted pledges and vows of fiscal rectitude that don’t add up. The NHS, however, has given rise to the most dishonest promises of all.

The Tories and Lib Dems have promised to meet the funding requirement of an extra £8 billion a year by 2020 laid down by Simon Stevens, the NHS England chief executive. Labour, which is to make the NHS its big issue this week, has promised £2.5 billion a year extra.

Yet the NHS is heading (once again) for a funding crisis that even these dubiously costed pledges cannot address. Hospitals are expecting to rack up an extra £2.5 billion deficit by the end of the year. By 2020, the health service faces a £30 billion funding gap.

Between May 2010 and February this year, the number of patients waiting longer than the 18-week target for treatment almost doubled. The British Medical Association says that a third of family doctors are considering retiring within five years, mostly because of overwork, bureaucratic frustrations and stress. Yet in this political looking-glass world, Labour is promising to magic up 8,000 more GPs and the Tories are pledging seven-day access to all NHS services.

Improvements to the NHS, we are told, will be funded partly through the £22 billion “efficiency savings” to be made by 2020. But this is actually a euphemism for an impossible £22 billion of cuts.

The real swindle lies in the pretence that the NHS model works, and that the only issue is which party is most committed to it. In fact, successive governments have poured ever-more eye-watering amounts of money into the service. NHS net expenditure increased from £64 billion in 2003/04 to £113 billion in 2014/15. Such money will never be enough, though, because demand for health care is infinite and taxpayers’ willingness to fund it is not.

In addition, the NHS is far too big and unresponsive to be run from Whitehall. Targets have produced perverse incentives; regulators have covered up poor care because of the imperative to sustain the illusion that the service is getting better and better.

The NHS is bust because the model is fundamentally flawed. This does not mean there aren’t fine and committed healthcare staff doing wonderful things for patients. But the NHS simply cannot do what it says on the tin: provide equal care for all, free at the point of use.

Britain tells itself that the NHS is a national treasure because no other system in the world matches it for decency and compassion. This is simply untrue. In the Mid Staffordshire Trust, more than 1,200 patients died through the incompetence, negligence and callousness of the staff, a story repeated elsewhere.

My own previously firm commitment to the NHS was irrevocably shaken by the way my own elderly parents were treated with indifference, neglect and even cruelty. From those experiences and many worse horrors recounted to me, I concluded three things: that there was a moral problem at the heart of the NHS; that if you were old and feeble you were particularly vulnerable; and that the most important thing patients lacked for their own protection was leverage.

That last crucial factor is provided by social insurance health schemes run by countries such as Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

These are privately run insurance schemes and health providers that are socially redistributive because they cover those who are genuinely unable to pay. Because they are so generously funded, their standards of even basic care are higher than in the NHS.

These schemes are extremely popular not just because standards are so high. They are well funded because people can see how their money is being spent. And the choice of schemes and providers provides purchasers with leverage. Healthcare professionals are thus answerable not to bureaucrats or politicians but to patients themselves.

No healthcare system is perfect, and European social insurance schemes are beset by similar problems of unlimited demand. But their combination of higher standards and social justice is not even on the British political agenda. 

This is because, in a country whose values and national identity are in flux, people cling to the foundational myth of the NHS as the one national institution with which they are proud to identify. But it is a myth. And after the election, we are going to find out its impossible price.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Spanish youth; Spanish stats; Spanish v. Portuguese; Évora; Google intrusion?; & A sad homecoming.

Among Spain's youth - who suffer the slings and arrows of an outrageous 50+% unemployment rate, President Rajoy is less popular than Adolf Hitler. Which I guess is no surprise. He's not that popular with older folk either.

A few stats:-
  • Spaniards have the highest life expectancy in Europe. They must be doing something right.
  • As regards the transparency of government and business workings, Spain ranks among the lowest in Europe. I suspect things have got worse over the last 5-7 years.
  • 1 in 5 Spaniards (20%) now see themselves as 'convinced atheists'. I wonder what an 'unconvinced atheist' is.
  • Gays are the biggest target of Spain's hate crimes. Possibly because of the low ratio of 'people of colour' to the rest of the population.
A week down in Portugal has done nothing to rid me of my view that, while easy enough to read, Portuguese is exceptionally tough to understand aurally. George Borrow compared it very unfavourably with Spanish. He found the latter melodious, while Portuguese, to him, was full of 'shrill shrieking'. Which is rather unfair, I feel.

I last visited Évora 10 years or so ago and, while still a charming walled town, I felt it had deteriorated, thanks to the curse of tourism. Symbolic of this was our own hotel, constructed only a year or so ago, on the site of an old B&B. Calling itself Moov, it's the very essence of 2 star modernity. Needless to say, there were no soap tablets to use or to take home, only wall dispensers. And the door 'key' was a 4-number code which you had to punch in on the door. But none of this was problematic and the staff were extremely pleasant. The real ugliness came in the form of the facade of the place, which couldn't possibly have been less in keeping with Portuguese architecture of previous centuries. Which makes this puff all the more ironic - Moov Hotel Évora is located in the centre of Évora. Relax in a hotel full of history. Click here for an insight into what I'm talking about.

As I've indicated, Japanese and Chinese tourists were everywhere and there are now Chinese, Japanese and Asian restaurants in the historic centre. Not to mention an entire hotel near these which seems to cater exclusively for Asian visitors. Astonishingly, though, while prices near the tourist sites are what you'd expect, you can still find places charging local rates for food and drinks. And these are around half of what they are in Spain. If Brussels still thinks the EU will level prices across 28 countries, it ain't yet happening between these Iberian neighbours. But, then, Portugal never had the phoney boom and its concomitant high inflation which we in Spain enjoyed after the introduction of the euro. Lucky buggers.

I took 2 fotos of side-by-side buildings in Montemor-o-Novo, one derelict and the other refurbished. A day later, Google offered me a panoramic foto of them, having established they were next door to each other. Spooky or what? Anyway, here's Google's offering. It is rather typical of Portugal - the beautiful cheek by jowl with the ugly.

Finally . . . I arrived home to find I'd been burgled. I assume this was by a reader who knew I was away. All I can say is that it could have been an awful lot worse.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Fotos of Évora.

We're departing for the long drive back to Pontevedra this morning. So, just a few fotos of Évora. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow:-

Part of the town's aqueduct

Another part of the aqueduct

A lovely house for sale.

The Avis Gate. I couldn't find the Hertz Gate.

Street of the Canes Behind. [???]

Street of the Lance and Spear


Church by day

Same church by night

Another church?

Women working on cloths. Their men were 3 metres away, at the bar.

Finally . . . A magnificent manuscript given to a Portuguese king to an English king around 1450. Seen by George Borrow in Évora's library.

Friday, April 17, 2015

A bad day at the office; Iberian cultures; Spanish eccentricities; A noisy meal; & More fotos.

Yesterday was one of those days. First I dropped my laptop on a concrete floor; then a piece came off my binoculars; then my car was scratched when the door hit a concrete post when my passenger opened it. But, to top things off, when I tried to get from a drinks machine the water I really needed, it waited more than 5 minutes before delivering a hot chorizo sandwich. The Place was called Grab and Go, In my case, it was Grab and Throw.

Still, we got to Évora alright and it's a pretty place. Since my last visit, though, the population appears to have become largely Japanese.

As has been said more than once, despite their proximity, the Portuguese and Spanish cultures are very different. Bang on cue, here's one Spaniard's view of the aspects of his culture at which foreigners most marvel. He means primarily Anglo-Saxons, I guess, but I'm pretty sure the Portuguese would be just as dumbfounded.

It's certainly true that Portugal is a much quieter country than Spain. But, towards the end of my bad day yesterday, I ate in a tiny restaurant dominated by a vast-bellied old man at the minuscule bar who talked in a stentorian voice at the TV, at the owner, at himself and at the poor folk he called when no one answered him. I doubt this was happening anywhere else in Portugal, where the locals prefer to whisper rather than to shout as the Spanish do. And to leave the TV inaudible rather than blaring.

If you can't afford a real all-terrain vehicle, there's a company - Standmonti - which appears to offer a cheaper alternative:-

Finally . . . Some pictures from yesterday's trip from Lisbon to Evora via Montemor O Castelo:-

 And right next door . . . .


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Our (excellent) guide here in Lisbon and Sintra has got the 'back in the day' bug really quite badly. Over 2 days, we must have heard it at least 40 times. Well, almost. She actually favours 'back in the days'.

Here's a funny thing about reporting on events in an historical narrative:-
English: The king came here in 1500
Spanish: The king comes here in 1500
Portuguese: The king will come here in 1500. Or that's what I surmise from the frequent use of the future tense by our guide.

Here in Lisbon I've seen a new form of advertising for the first time; a person runs round the streets with a large pennant flying above his or her head with some name or other on it. It seems a good thing to me; you get paid for doing the exercise that'll keep you fit. While probably crocking your knees.

It's a bit annoying that, when we pass the traders stationed near the sights we're taken to, they shout out the prices in German. Especially as I can't respond by insulting them in Portuguese.

Call me old-fashioned but I don't much like the soap dispensers you have to use in hotel showers these days. But that's by the by, as the point I want to make is that there must be a generation of kids growing up now who'll only associate soap with such dispensers, never having used or even seen a tablet.

Off to lovely Evora today. Meanwhile . . . Some more fotos of Lisbon and Sintra. Before I go, I need to apologise for saying Alveiro saw itself as the Venice of Spain. It should, of course, have been The Venice of Portugal. My apologies to both countries:-

The altar of the (Jesuit) House of the English in Lisbon:-

A couple of not-terribly-English names on a tombstone in the English cemetery in Lisbon. And the shadow of a spectre which haunts the place:-

A couple of views of the Royal Palace in the wonderful Monserrat Gardens outside Sintra.:-

These gardens, by the way, owe their creation to 3 rich and/or nutty Englishmen. Back in the days when Englishmen got very wealthy on international trade.

Finally . . . A lovely blue tile (Azulejo) picture somewhere:-

Not as blue as it actually is. I blame my camera. Though it might just be age. The tiles', not mine.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Election shenanigans; & Snaps of Lisbon.

I've commented on the way Britain's National Health Service is cynically used as a political football. Yesterday I read this Private Eye account of how the Labour party is trying to leverage their perceived electoral edge in this are:- A reader tells us he signed up for an app on Facebook which offered to find out how many people had the same name as him on the electoral register. He mischievously asked how many were called Harold Shipman [a doctor and notorious serial killer who knocked off at least 35 of his aged patients]. The site replied there were 5 and he thought no more of it. Then he began to be bombarded with unsolicited emails from the Labour party. The political propaganda was all directed to Harold Shipman and contained messages from [various Labour bigwigs]. Our favourite was from the shadow Health Secretary: "Harold. Young or old, rich or poor, man or woman - no one's life in Britain would be the same without our incredible [sic!] health service. Harold: Click here to see the story of you and our NHS". Some story this would be!

Here are a few fotos of Lisbon, a city which - in early April - is already teeming with tourists. Not least in the barrio of Belém, where what used to be a small pastry shop-cum-café has become an obligatory stop for the millions of Japanese visitors who need to be snapped having a cup of tea and a cake there.

The city's rather central prison

Belém church

Tower of Belém

Luxury flats in what used to be the House of the English (Jesuits)

Off to Sintra and Evora today.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Portuguese; Aveiro; Police questioning; Nominal madness; Gypsy swindlers; & Funny ads.

Down in Lisbon, I'm once again struggling with understanding Portuguese, even those words and phrases written in exactly the same way as Spanish. But I guess it's not for an Englishman to complain about a non-phonetic language. And it's not for a Scouse to complain of funny nasal diphthongs.

I had thought that a single S in Portuguese was pronounced as in 'was' and a double S as an 'past'. But the waitress at our lunch in Aveiro yesterday disabused me of this notion, making them sound almost the same. So, back to the drawing board.

Aveiro, by the way, advertises itself as 'The Venice of Portugal". This is rather like Blackpool describing itself as 'The Monte Carlo' of England. They ain't.

Back in Spain, the country's police chief has been asked to explain how, since 1984, he has set up 46 companies in 4 countries and has amassed a property portfolio in Spain valued at €14m. My guess is he'll resort to the currently fashionable response that it was all set up by his (dead) father.

Wealth, of course, is no bar to insanity. John Paul Getty Jnr. gave the following forenames to his son: Tara Gabriel Gramophone Galaxy. But it was the Swinging Sixties.

Talking of words. . . One of the definitions given for 'gypsy'(gitano) in the Spanish Royal Academy's Dictionary is 'swindler'. Every now and again, Spain's gypsies ask that this be removed. But no luck so far.

Finally . . . Thanks, I guess, to targeted advertising based on a computer's knowledge of my personal details, I'm now receiving info on a product called Tena, which appears to be pad for men which absorbs leaks from one's nether regions. I keep telling the computer it's got me wrong but it doesn't listen. I might as well be married to it.