Spanish (non)Government: Given its unplanned conception, a tough pregnancy and the much-delayed partition, you'd have to be terribly optimistic to think a multi-party, left-of-centre coalition is going to work well here. This is regardless of whether it emerges soon or – god forfend - after another inconclusive election in June. But, as usual, time will tell. Or El tiempo lo dirá.
The Spanish Economy: Here's the FT on the current stage of government-less progress. The opening sentence: The Spanish economy has been a model of defiance so far this year, with a recovery that began two years ago powering ahead despite the country’s worst political crisis in decades. Who needs politicians? Least of all those as corrupt as Spain's.
Spanish Wines: One of the most expensive of these is the famous Vega Sicilia, from Valladolid in the Ribera del Duero region. Prices range up to €3-400. A bottle that is, not a case. I've often wondered who'd buy this but all became clear when I read that a case of 3 is a handy gift for local, regional or national politicians. Though I guess it's usually more than 3 bottles in the latter 2 cases. I suspect I'll never find out if it tastes any better than the Rioja stuff I occasionally sip.
Banking Spanish Style: I went to my bank on Friday to tell the two charming young ladies who deal with me that a new credit card had never arrived. This seemed to throw both of them into a bit of confusion but they eventually cancelled the missing card and ordered me another new one. On Saturday, though, I had the experience – after an hour of shopping for camino stuff – of having my debit card rejected. Either the young ladies had cancelled both my cards or just the functioning debit card. As I'd driven more than 60km to Santiago do this this shopping, I was not well pleased. Even less so when, logically, I was refused cash at an ATM and had to leave all the items in the shop. In compensation, I went to see my Dutch friend, Peter, just outside Santiago and sank my sorrows in a couple of glasses of Rioja. Today I'll return to the bank, in a far less happy state of mind than I usually do.
The Effective EU: Good to see that a Serbian thief who'd been collared by the French police turned out have the fingerprints of the person responsible for a series of thefts here in 2000. Nice to know something works well. Unlike, of course, the madcap scheme to swap refugees between Greece and Turkey. To the vast benefit of Turkey. But I guess it made sense to someone.
Neighbours: I'm blessed with excellent people on both sides of me. The lovely Ester is particularly solicitous of my welfare. This seems to involve her knowing exactly when I'm at home or not. True, she can see my gate from her kitchen but she can't see me exiting through the front door because of a large tree. So how does she know when I do this, so that she can ask for lift down into town? Has she got a tracker on me somewhere? That would explain a lot.
Ponters WiFi: The download speed of this is reported to have risen tenfold in the city over the last 6 years. As opposed to not at all over 15 years in my pijo barrio of Poio, across the river. However, I saw some guys working on cables a couple of weeks ago and it's now rumoured that Telefónica are about to offer us multi megas. El tiempo lo dirá, as they say here.
Finally . . . It seems to me that the psychopaths who'd be quite useful during a war turn to running large public/charity organisations in peacetime. Take the RSPCA, for example. This is a British animal protection organisation which non-Brits sometimes find hard to credit, as it suggests a greater concern for animals than people. This may or may not be a valid view but it's true that the once-treasured RSPCA has lost a great deal of respect over the last 20 years. Here's The Times explaining why. Essentially, like the Labour Party, it's been taken over my extremist activists. Which is an inevitable development in organisations which believe they have the moral high ground and that everyone else is irredeemably evil:
Policing the Animal Police
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is one of Britain’s oldest, and until recently best loved, charities. Founded more than a century ago to protect working animals and cherished pets from the depravities of random abuse, it was for years among the most popular and best funded charities in the country. That reputation has, over the past two decades, been shredded. The RSPCA has become a shrill, vindictive and fanatical lobby group that has veered off into areas far from its traditional mandate: the campaign against hunting, the support lent to animal rights groups and the flurry of private prosecutions against farmers and individual animal owners.
The suspicion that the RSPCA has become the captive of extremist groups pushing it into ill- advised campaigns has been strengthened by the pronouncements of some of its leading figures.
One member of the board of trustees has supported exploring ways to represent animals in parliament; another has compared farming to the Holocaust. There have also been reports of high-handed action by RSPCA officers swooping on pet owners accused of negligence, based largely on hearsay, who have been taken to court. Acting almost as an unofficial police force, the RSPCA now takes out more private prosecutions than any other organisation in the country.
Fears that the RSPCA, one of the few charities bearing the title “Royal”, has lost its way were sharpened by the case of a family that was coerced into having its cat put down, intimidated and then wrongly prosecuted. The case, for which the society has now apologised, was such a travesty of proper practice that it commissioned a former chief inspector to the Crown Prosecution Service, to produce a report to help it to learn lessons.
His report makes devastating reading. The RSPCA hid evidence, behaved unlawfully and provoked a hate campaign against the Byrnes family when it seized and killed their elderly cat, Claude. The society refused to allow the tearful family to say goodbye to the animal, and subsequently made a number of wrong claims after the family went to the media. The report's author says that the RSPCA made an “erroneous decision” to prosecute, and then misleadingly claimed in a radio broadcast that it had a 97% conviction rate.
The role of the society in bringing prosecutions lies at the heart of the present unease over its philosophy and outlook. Like any individual, it has a legal right to take such action. But civil rights activists and the police themselves are uneasy about this, largely because such cases are less transparent than crown prosecutions and lack the oversight that comes with the crown prosecutor.
The police have suggested setting up a separate body to which the RSPCA could submit evidence, which would then decide on prosecution. This would also deal with the fact that animal cruelty is often a symptom of social breakdown and other pathologies, which need to be dealt with by others.
To its credit, the RSPCA has begun to address public concern. It has let the state take over hunting prosecutions. The new chief executive, in office for two weeks, is likely to take a more emollient approach than his combative predecessor. The charity has been urged to reform its way of electing its trustees. It now needs to regain the trust of its patrons and the animal-loving public.
My thanks to those readers who identified the weed I featured the other day.
Another repeat, for new readers of the female gender choice: