Friday, June 30, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 30 June 2017

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • No country in the EU is more positive about 'the project' than Spain. Read the article at the end of this post if you want to get some idea of why. Not new but accurate.
  • If you already are or plan to be self-employed in Spain (autonomo/a), this will be useful to you.
  • Here and here is some info - almost certainly wrong - about the number of British retirees living in Spain. Or, rather, those who've admitted it to the Spanish authorities.
  • Here's some info on Spain's vast black economy. It's not just politicians who are corrupt.
  • As regards the latter: ‘Las Cloacas del Interior: Bad practice and corruption in the Ministry of Interior'. This film reveals a network of interests and corruption that goes beyond the persecution of political enemies - a pattern of favouritism and corruption involving police, judges, prosecutors and entrepreneurs: a structure within the state that offers its services to the most powerful. The documentary also reviews bad practices in the Ministry of Interior since the beginning of the transition’. Felipe González is said to have once stated that "The Rule of Law must also be defended in the sewers". As they always do, a German visitor last night admitted he had no idea of the levels of corruption in Spain nor of the (very belated, post-crisis) concern about it among Spaniards. I stressed we're all grateful here for his tax euros.
Here's more on the current attempts by the Spanish Left to patch things up so that it represents a real threat to the utterly corrupt PP government. Which reminds me . . . El Páis used to be considered - like The  Guardian in the UK - the voice of the Left. It now seems to be right of Tony Blair, if not Theresa May, and is hyper-critical of the leader of the PSOE party, as well as of the further-left Podemos party. One consequence of this is that the latter has banned it from its press conferences.

Failed banks have been very differently treated in Spain and Italy in the last week or so. If you want to try to make some sense of this, read this article by Don Quijones. Circumstances change principles, as we cynical lawyers say. In brief, it seems that, if there's a bank strong enough to take over the patient, (some)bondholders and shareholders will get screwed. If not, the taxpayers will get (illegally) screwed. I guess that makes sense. To politicians worried about their future at least.

Nutters Corner:- Linda Harvey, an anti-gay activist: Teaching tolerance for LGBTQ people is akin to the grooming a pedophile does before molesting a child. Christians should copyright the rainbow because those damn LGBTQ people have raped it. The sweet rainbow image has been violated, raped by the deluded and fraudulent, and it now serves too often as a garish signpost for slavery to grave homosexual sin. What a wonderful, tolerant Christian! I can just imagine Jesus using that language . .

To cheer you up after that vitriol, here's something on Gwyneth Paltrow and her Goop.

Finally 1 . . . . I've identified here (many thanks, Maria) that the cutoff date for making payments direct to the Tax Office is now 26 June, not the 30th as in previous years. I tried on the 27th and succeeded, via my bank, on the 28th. I now wait to see if I will be fined. Which wouldn't surprise me in the least. BTW . . . If you read all the stuff on this page, you'll understand why I said this year was more complex than previously. Surely they aren't trying to generate late-payment fines from those who leave it until the last day and then can't declare in time. Which reminds me . . .  I requested a letter from the Hacienda a week ago giving me my access reference number. It's yet to arrive . . . . So, maybe they are.

Finally 2 . . . I did some painting yesterday and put the paint rags into the wash last night with my shirts, etc. Seems to have been a big mistake . . .

Today's cartoon:-


Spain: reasons behind the prolonged absence of anti-European and xenophobic views:  Salvador Llaudes.  

These are difficult times for the European Union. For the first time, a member state (the UK) has decided to abandon the project. In parallel, notwithstanding recent electoral setbacks, Eurosceptic voices remain prominent across the continent. Despite this, Spain is still a bastion of support for the integration process. Data from a new survey demonstrates this: 44% of Spaniards are convinced that the EU should have more competencies and finally become a United States of Europe, the highest of any country in the survey.

Traditionally, there have been no major Eurosceptic parties in the Spanish parliament. Even after the huge impact of the economic crisis and austerity measures, anti-European sentiment is still largely unacceptable in the politics of the country. The advantages associated with the European project are one of the most important reasons driving Spanish support for the EU. Compared to the other western European samples in the survey, a higher percentage of Spaniards believe they have benefited from being part of the EU (45% agree, against 25% who think the opposite). This attachment to the European project prevents political parties developing policies that are hostile towards the EU since there is little public appetite for these, as has been seen in recent elections in both 2015 and 2016.

The benefit of EU integration for Spain is, undoubtedly, material (it has been a net receiver of European funds for so many years). These funds have been instrumental in the modernization of the country and in providing new opportunities across society. But Spaniards also identify as especially successful EU policies some of the immaterial aspects of EU membership, such as the freedom to live and work elsewhere in the EU or the elimination of borders between member states. Decades of international isolation under a dictatorship help explain this: Spaniards know they are better off when they open themselves to the world.

Forty years of Franco’s regime explain many other aspects of the Spanish position towards the EU. For Spaniards, Europe means openness but also democracy, the rule of law and social progress. Despite the severe economic crisis, this is not so quickly forgotten, not least given a comparatively weak national identity and heavy reserves of scepticism towards Spanish politicians and institutions. The existent aversion to authoritarianism helps explain the practical inexistence of extreme right parties in Spain and the strong performance of the country in many social indicators, including tolerance towards homosexuals (71% of the Spanish people agree with same-sex marriage, with only 12% against) or acceptance of immigrants.

Spaniards are used to meeting foreigners in their daily life (Spain is the third most visited country in the world, with around 60 million annual arrivals) and they are aware of the huge economic benefits of tourism. More think that immigration has been good for the country than not (the only nationals in the survey, together with Britons, who think this way). Moreover, Spain is the only country in the sample that feels more positive than negative about accepting refugees (26% in favour, 25% against) and economic migrants (25% in favour, 22% against). There is another important factor that explains Spanish positive views towards migration: Spain itself has traditionally been a country of emigration, both to the rest of Europe and Latin America. This trend has reappeared as many people (especially young people) have left the country since 2008 following the economic crisis.

Some analysts have claimed that the positive attitude towards foreigners in Spain was not genuine but rather a consequence of the comparatively small amount [number!] of immigrants living in Spain, and/or the good economic situation of the country. The data prove them wrong. Since the turn of the century, several million people have moved to Spain, growing the number of immigrants by more than 10% in only a few years. The economic argument is also not very solid – there was no significant increase in negative attitudes towards foreigners when the economic crisis hit and unemployment levels reached historic highs.

Still, it is true that integration of foreigners has been facilitated by the fact that many share Spanish as their native tongue (those coming from Latin America) or are very fast at learning it (as is the case of Romanians, the largest foreign community in Spain). The integration of the second (and successive) generation of immigrants in both the public and private spheres will be a key question for the future.

The recent crisis has been a litmus test of Spain’s Europeanism. There has been neither a surge of Euroscepticism nor of anti-immigration sentiment in the country, although it is true that the so-called ‘naïf Europeanism’ which used to exist in the country (with no criticism of any decision taken in Brussels, no matter how good or bad it was for Spain) is no longer there either.  The European Union is seen as a project of not only economic benefits, but also of values, which Spaniards are willing to share with other countries aiming to join the EU (only 21% are against enlargement).

This vision stands with the fact that Spaniards believe that many existing problems require European solutions. For migration, 82% support a common policy (according to data from the autumn 2016 Eurobarometer), 83% support a common approach for security and defence, while 70% support the common currency as a solution to some economic issues. Equally importantly, immigration is not considered a problem, openness and tolerance are widespread (the EU and globalization are seen as synonyms of these), and there is an important aversion to authoritarianism. Finally, the electoral system has helped to weed out more illiberal political parties.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 29.6.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

The usual Thursday HT to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for some of today's items.

Life in Spain:-
  • Here's an article, in Spanish, on the dreadful eucalyptus trees which blight large swathes of Spain, particularly in the 'Green North'.
  • Here's some info on what you can't do in Mallorca/Magaluf this summer. As a pedestrian, that is. Yesterday I cited the numerous things you or your passengers can't do in a car
  • Believe it or believe it not, here in Spain a public petition has been set up, seeking impunity for the Portuguese billionaire footballer, Cristian Ronaldo, should he be found guilty of tax evasion. And/or that his tax bill be waived. I guess it makes sense to someone. Brain dead and ethics-light Real Madrid supporters, I guess.
  • We all know who Agapito García is, I guess. Well, maybe not. But we should. As, whoever he is, he owes the Spanish Tax Office €27million.
  • Citibank and Barclays Bank pulled out of Spain a few years ago – the latter after many decades here. And now the giant but troubled German operator, Deutsche Bank, has decided to depart as well. They used to have a desk in the central Post Office – not sure there are any others – but that disappeared a while ago.
  • Having lived in Indonesia, I know just how voracious and vicious tiger mosquitos are. So this is decidedly not good news.
  • Here's more on Barcelona's adverse reaction to the tourist hordes descending on it, with particular reference to the city's arch-enemy, Airbnb. I'm doing my bit to overcrowd Pontevedra by welcoming my first Airbnb tenant/guest this evening. He might also be my last.
  • Spain is slowly dying. For Spanish speakers, here's the evidence.
Maybe I was too optimistic about the panic over the future rights of Brits resident in the EU subsidising. People are still very unhappy. See here.

Nutters Corner:- Here, verbatim, are the comments of one US Evangelical Christian pastor on homosexuality:- No one is gay. If you mean by that that that’s some hardwiring. People commit adultery, they commit sins of homosexuality, they lie, they steal, they cheat. That’s like saying, “You know, I keep robbing banks, but I’m a robber. What am I gonna do? I’m a bank robber.” That is not an excuse for what you do. Are there certain kind of impulses that lead people in that direction? Yes. But I think one of the really deadly aspects of this is to let people define themselves as gay. They are not gay any more than an adulterer is hardwired to be forced by his own nature to commit adultery. Those are all behavioral sins that are condemned in scripture. God didn’t hardwire anybody in such a way that they are not responsible for certain behaviors. Fascinating how these people know the mind of their god. Equally convinced, though, are those who think the latter functions differently. You'd think he/she would come down and set them all straight. Pun unintended.

Where I park my car on the other side of the river, there've been 2 developments in the last week:-
1. This pile of rocks and rubbish has just appeared:

2. And there is a woman apparently living in this wreck. Indeed, I think she may be 'working' from it, based on what I saw yesterday.

Both developments are almost certainly illegal, of course.

Finally . . . I'm advised that my problem with the Hacienda over my declaration arose because I was 'late' in making it on line. As the deadline is actually tomorrow, I conclude that the Hacienda has its own definition of 'late'. And that it chooses not to tell us, except perhaps via the official state bulletin. Which is not everyday reading for most of us. My next challenge is find the line beyond which an 'in time' declaration becomes 'late' and I have to do everything through my bank.

Today's cartoon:-

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia; 28.6.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • In one of the major corruption cases going through the Spanish courts, the PP party's ex-treasurer and all the big vegetables whom he's accused of giving brown envelopes to appear to have lost the power of speech. Except to insist that no one recalls anything about the illegal payments from corrupt but lucky government contractors. Perjury on a grand scale? Is anyone surprised??
  • More on driving offences . . .  Here's a useful list from The Local at last - the things you can be done for here in Spain. Not mentioned is wearing earphones - or possibly just one earphone - that aren't connected to anything. €200 and the loss of 2 or 3 points. But you can, as I've pointed out, have 4 passengers in your car all simultaneously shouting at each other. By way of 'conversation'
  • Just to prove my point about the difficulty the UK will have negotiating the Brexit with the world's largest committee, the Spanish government has again changed its tune and demanded that its claim to Gibraltar be met as part of the deal. You'd have thought it had enough problems with Cataluña without worrrying and alienating the Andalucians who work on The Rock. I imagine, though, that the EU technocrats will let Madrid's demands fall by the wayside. They have much larger fish to fry. Like the salvation of the EU and - even more important - their salaries and pensions.
  • I read this intriguing report and was left wondering whether Dali was bending in his grave . . . 
  • Good to know that the government is repealing the Franco-era law which dictated that folk who are deaf or blind needed to get a medical certificate saying they were fit to marry. Perhaps back then it was felt these poor people were less likely to believe in a benevolent Catholic god.
The Perils of Poor English:- This is a truly shocking tale of a poor Dutch girl who understood No jump to be Now jump when she was preparing to bungee jump off a bridge. The instructor is being prosecuted but what about the company which employed him? And which set up an illegal jump.

Interesting Spanish:
  1. Vettel y Hamilton se tienen ganas: Looks like it means they desire each other but actually means they're spoiling for a fight.
  2. Mojar la almeja: Well, mojar is 'to wet' and una almeja is a 1. A clam; and 2. A female body part. Together, they mean:-
  3. Echar un polvo. Or to have a shag.
Nutters Corner:- They'r not all evangelist pastors  . . . . An 80-year-old Buddhist woman forced the evacuation of 150 passengers on a Shanghai flight when she threw a handful of coins into the engine of the plane as she “prayed for safety.” 

The vast forest fire down in Portugal and the nearer one down in the Doña national park seem to have encouraged the Galician Xunta to implement the laws promulgated after our own annus horribilis in 2006. Most obviously ensuring there are none of the dreadful eucaplyptus trees within 50 metres of any human habitation. Not before time, of course.

Finally . . . . La Renta. For those affected by this . . . In the past, I've found it relatively easy to complete my income tax (Renta) return, using the reference the Hacienda mailed me to access its PADRE internet program. But this year they've changed the system and it now involves a Casilla(box) number from last year's declaration and then a reference number, an @Clave access process and a pin number. I was finally able to fill in a draft quickly enough but problems arose when I tried to submit the form for payment. The final page asked me for an NRC number and advised that this came from “Collaborating Entities.” None of the numbers I'd already got worked and the internet didn't provide an answer. Eventually - and I mean eventually - I discovered that, before the Hacienda would acept my declaración, I first had to make the initial payment via my bank and then add the NRC number they gave me. Only then would the Hacienda accept my declaración and deign to take the second payment later in the year. My bank said I could do this on the internet or by phone, but I couldn't see how to do this on their web page. So I did it by phone, handicapped as usual by the fact that Spaniards find it really difficult to talk slowly down when you ask them to. Having wasted several hours of my life, I'm now trying to console myself by repeating "All's well that ends well". Especially as I now don't have to go to the Hacienda office this morning to try to sort all this out. Hopefully, next year's process will be the same and, forewarned, I will sail through it. Maybe I'll even have found out by then how to make the first payment via my bank's web page.

Today's cartoon:-

As I fear I might have already posted that one . . . 

"It's one of those pointless tragedies which could have been easily prevented by safety precautions and plain common sense!"

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 27.6.16

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • A comment from Lenox of Business Over Tapas prompted me to look at how various countries define 'a billion'. In brief, for Anglos it's a thousand million but for Hispanic countries it's a million million - as it used to be in the UK. See here for more on these 'long' and 'short' scales. When I reported on the Mulos drug trial yesterday, I cited the prosecution's demand for fines totalling €2.3 billion. In fact, the newspaper had it as €2,300 million. Which is €2.3 billion (I think) in the Anglo world, though not in the Hispanic world. Which is why it was written as €2,300 million. Except it wasn't, as numbers are written differently in continental Europe. It was €2.300 million. And, if - as is often the ludicrous case in Spain - it had been taken to 2 decimal points, it would've been €2.300,55 million. All of which makes for fun for Anglos when filling in their tax form here. As I'm doing today . . .
  • I have never believed that Brits resident in the EU would lose their rights. It simply made no sense to me. Hence I wasn't at all surprised to read of this development. Perhaps the panic will die down now. Or at least reduce.
  • Should you want to know how the multi-million Invent a New Tune scam worked, you'll be interested in this schematic:-

  • Here are the (nation-wide?) consequences of speeding - the fines to pay and your points lost. One interesting aspect is that you can get away with being 23% over the limit in a 30 zone but only 8% in a 120 zone. Logical??
  • And here's evidence that the limit can be as low as 20kph or 13mph. This is on a narrow, winding road on a steep hill near my house. I would've thought it rather unnecessary, as anyone going faster than this would end up with a granite sandwich.

  • Staying local . . . You'll all recall that the (impractical) limit on the steep hill to my house is 30kph, or 19mph. Imagine my surprise then to see this temporary sign when approaching road works there yesterday:-

I wonder if one could successfully plead its existence if booked for doing 38 or 39, as per the chart above.

Here's what might or might not be a new way to win - or lose - money here in Galicia . . . 

You choose a spot in a field and walk away with a tidy sum if a lone cow chooses to shit there first. It must provide hours of fun, waiting for the cow to perform. I guess one chews the cud when doing so.

Still in Galicia . . . Here's an article on another traditional pastime. Well, more of a job really:-

Finally - and more seriously:-
  • Here's the Greek ex-Finance Minister on his tussle with the EU and ECB technocrats. Specifically on the 'hidden agenda' of the politicos.
  •  I recommend a read of the article at the end of this post on the attitudes of poor rural whites in the USA. Truly astonishing:
Today's cartoon:-

Another Bill Tidy classic . . .

"Yeah, and, if they abolish slavery, how does a penniless kid jazz trumpeter like me get to New Orleans?"

An Insider's View: The Dark Rigidity of Fundamentalist Rural America  - Forsetti's Justice

As the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump is being sorted out, a common theme keeps cropping up from all sides: "Democrats failed to understand white, working-class, fly-over America.”

Trump supporters are saying this. Progressive pundits are saying this. Talking heads across all forms of the media are saying this. Even some Democratic leaders are saying this. It doesn’t matter how many people say it, it is complete BS. It is an intellectual/linguistic sleight of hand meant to draw attention away from the real problem. The real problem isn’t East Coast elites who don’t understand or care about rural America. The real problem is that rural Americans don't understand the causes of their own situations and fears and they have shown no interest in finding out. They don’t want to know why they feel the way they do or why they are struggling because they don’t want to admit it is in large part because of the choices they’ve made and the horrible things they’ve allowed themselves to believe.

I grew up in rural Christian white America. You’d be hard-pressed to find an area of the country with a higher percentage of Christians or whites. I spent most of the first 24 years of my life deeply embedded in this culture. I religiously (pun intended) attended their Christian services. I worked off and on on their rural farms. I dated their calico-skirted daughters. I camped, hunted and fished with their sons. I listened to their political rants at the local diner and truck stop. I winced at their racist/bigoted jokes and epithets that were said more out of ignorance than animosity. I have watched the town I grew up in go from a robust economy with well-kept homes and infrastructure to a struggling economy with shuttered businesses, dilapidated homes and a broken-down infrastructure over the past 30 years. The problem isn’t that I don’t understand these people. The problem is they don’t understand themselves or the reasons for their anger and frustration.

In deep-red America, the white Christian god is king, figuratively and literally. Religious fundamentalism has shaped most of their belief systems. Systems built on a fundamentalist framework are not conducive to introspection, questioning, learning, or change. When you have a belief system built on fundamentalism, it isn’t open to outside criticism, especially by anyone not a member of your tribe and in a position of power. The problem isn’t that coastal elites don’t understand rural Americans. The problem is that rural America doesn’t understand itself and will never listen to anyone outside its bubble. It doesn’t matter how “understanding” you are, how well you listen, what language you use…if you are viewed as an outsider, your views will be automatically discounted. I’ve had hundreds of discussions with rural white Americans and whenever I present them any information that contradicts their entrenched beliefs, no matter how sound, how unquestionable, how obvious, they will not even entertain the possibility that it might be true. Their refusal is a result of the nature of their fundamentalist belief system and the fact that I’m the enemy because I’m an educated liberal.

At some point during the discussion, they will say, “That’s your education talking,” derogatorily, as a general dismissal of everything I said. They truly believe this is a legitimate response, because to them education is not to be trusted. Education is the enemy of fundamentalism because fundamentalism, by its very nature, is not built on facts. The fundamentalists I grew up around aren’t anti-education. They want their kids to know how to read and write. They are against quality, in-depth, broad, specialized education. Learning is only valued up to a certain point. Once it reaches the level where what you learn contradicts doctrine and fundamentalist arguments, it becomes dangerous. 

I watched a lot of my fellow students who were smart, stop their education the day they graduated high school. For most of the young ladies, getting married and having kids was more important than continuing their learning. For many of the young men, getting a college education was seen as unnecessary and a waste of time. For the few who did go to college, what they learned was still filtered through their fundamentalist belief systems. If something they were taught didn’t support a preconception, it would be ignored and forgotten the second it was no longer needed to pass an exam.

Knowing this about their belief system and their view of outside information that doesn’t support it, telling me that the problem is coastal elites not understanding them completely misses the point.
Another problem with rural Christian white Americans is they are racists. I’m not talking about white hood-wearing, cross-burning, lynching racists (though some are). I’m talking about people who deep down in their heart of hearts truly believe they are superior because they are white. Their white god made them in his image and everyone else is a less-than-perfect version, flawed and cursed.

The religion in which I was raised taught this. Even though they’ve backtracked on some of their more racist declarations, many still believe the original claims. Non-whites are the color they are because of their sins, or at least the sins of their ancestors. Blacks don’t have dark skin because of where they lived and evolution; they have dark skin because they are cursed. God cursed them for a reason. If god cursed them, treating them as equals would be going against god’s will. It is really easy to justify treating people differently if they are cursed by god and will never be as good as you no matter what they do because of some predetermined status.

Once you have this view, it is easy to lower the outside group’s standing and acceptable level of treatment. Again, there are varying levels of racism at play in rural Christian white America. I know people who are ardent racists. I know a lot more whose racism is much more subtle but nonetheless racist. It wouldn’t take sodium pentothal to get most of these people to admit they believe they are fundamentally better and superior to minorities. They are white supremacists who dress up in white dress shirts, ties and gingham dresses. They carry a bible and tell you, “everyone’s a child of god” but forget to mention that some of god’s children are more favored than others and skin tone is the criterion by which we know who is and isn’t at the top of god’s list of most favored children.

For us “coastal elites” who understand evolution, genetics and science, nothing we say to those in flyover country is going to be listened to because not only are we fighting against an anti-education belief system, we are arguing against god. You aren’t winning a battle of beliefs with these people if you are on one side of the argument and god is on the other. No degree of understanding this is going to suddenly make them less racist, more open to reason and facts. Telling “urban elites” they need to understand rural Americans isn’t going to lead to a damn thing because it misses the causes of the problem.

Because rural Christian white Americans will not listen to educated arguments, supported by facts that go against their fundamentalist belief systems from “outsiders,” any change must come from within. Internal change in these systems does happen, but it happens infrequently and always lags far behind reality. This is why they fear change so much. They aren’t used to it. Of course, it really doesn’t matter whether they like it or not, it, like evolution and climate change even though they don’t believe it, it is going to happen whether they believe in it or not.

Another major problem with closed-off fundamentalist belief systems is they are very susceptible to propaganda. All belief systems are to some extent, but fundamentalist systems even more so because there are no checks and balances. If bad information gets in, it doesn’t get out and because there are no internal mechanisms to guard against it, it usually ends up very damaging to the whole. A closed-off belief system is like spinal fluid—it is great as long as nothing infectious gets into it. If bacteria gets into your spinal fluid, it causes unbelievable damage because there are no white blood cells to fend off invaders and protect the system. Without the protective services of white blood cells in the spinal column, infection spreads like wildfire and does significant damage in a short period of time. Once inside the closed-off spinal system, bacteria are free to destroy whatever they want.

The same is true with closed-off belief systems. Without built-in protective functions like critical analysis, self-reflection, openness to counter-evidence, and willingness to re-evaluate any and all beliefs, bad information in a closed-off system ends up doing massive damage in a short period of time. What has happened to too many fundamentalist belief systems is damaging information has been allowed in from people who have been granted “expert status.” If someone is allowed into a closed-off system and their information is deemed acceptable, anything they say will be readily accepted and become gospel.

Rural Christian white Americans have let anti-intellectual, anti-science, bigoted racists like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, the Stepford wives of Fox, and every evangelical preacher on television into their systems because these people tell them what they want to hear and because they sell themselves as being like them. The truth is none of these people give a rat’s ass about rural Christian white Americans except how they can exploit them for attention and money. None of them have anything in common with the people who have let them into their belief systems with the exception that they are white and they speak the language of white superiority.

Gays being allowed to marry are a threat. Blacks protesting the killing of their unarmed friends and family are a threat. Hispanics doing the cheap labor on their farms are somehow viewed a threat. The black president is a threat. Muslims are a threat. The Chinese are a threat. Women wanting to be autonomous are a threat. The college educated are a threat. Godless scientists are a threat. Everyone who isn’t just like them has been sold to them as a threat and they’ve bought it hook, line and grifting sinker. Since there are no self-regulating mechanisms in their belief systems, these threats only grow over time. Since facts and reality don’t matter, nothing you say to them will alter their beliefs. 

"President Obama was born in Kenya, is a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood who hates white Americans and is going to take away their guns." I feel ridiculous even writing this, it is so absurd, but it is gospel across large swaths of rural America. Are rural Christian white Americans scared? Damn right they are. Are their fears rational and justified? Hell no. The problem isn’t understanding their fears. The problem is how to assuage fears based on lies in closed-off fundamentalist belief systems that don’t have the necessary tools for properly evaluating the fears.

I don’t have a good answer to this question. When a child has an irrational fear, you can deal with it because they trust you and are open to possibilities. When someone doesn’t trust you and isn’t open to anything not already accepted as true in their belief system, there really isn’t much, if anything, you can do. This is why I think the idea that "Democrats have to understand and find common ground with rural America," is misguided and a complete waste of time. When a 2,700-year-old book that was written by uneducated, pre-scientific people, subject to translation innumerable times, and edited with political and economic pressures from popes and kings, is given higher intellectual authority than facts arrived at from a rigorous, self-critical, constantly re-evaluating system that can and does correct mistakes, no amount of understanding, respect or evidence is going to change their minds and assuage their fears.

Do you know what does change the beliefs of fundamentalists, sometimes? When something becomes personal. Many a fundamentalist has changed his mind about the LGBT community once his loved ones started coming out of the closet. Many have not. But those who did, did so because their personal experience came into direct conflict with what they believe. 

My father is a good example of this. For years I had long, heated discussions with him about gay rights. Being the good religious fundamentalist he is, he could not even entertain the possibility he was wrong. The church said it was wrong, so therefore it was wrong. No questions asked. No analysis needed. This changed when one of his adored stepchildren came out of the closet. He didn’t do a complete 180. He has a view that tries to accept gay rights while at the same time viewing being gay as a mortal sin because his need to have his belief system be right outweighs everything else.

This isn’t uncommon. Deeply held beliefs are usually only altered, replaced under catastrophic circumstances that are personal. This belief system alteration works both ways. I know diehard, open-minded progressives who became ardent fundamentalists due to a traumatic event in their lives. A good example of this is the comedian Dennis Miller. I’ve seen Miller in concert four different times during the 1990s. His humor was complex, riddled with references and leaned pretty left on almost all issues. Then 9/11 happened. For whatever reasons, the trauma of 9/11 caused a seismic shift in Miller’s belief system. Now he is a mainstay on conservative talk radio. His humor was replaced with anger and frustration. 9/11 changed his belief system because it was a catastrophic event that was personal to him.

The catastrophe of the Great Depression along with FDR's progressive remedies helped create a generation of Democrats out of previously diehard Republicans. People who had up until that point believed only the free market could help the economy, not the government, changed their minds when the brutal reality of the Great Depression affected them directly and personally.

I thought the financial crisis in 2008 would have a similar, though lesser impact on many Republicans. It didn’t. The systems that were put in place after the Great Recession to deal with economic crises, the quick, smart response by Congress and the administration helped turn what could have been a catastrophic event into merely a really bad one. People suffered, but they didn’t suffer enough to become open to questioning their deeply held beliefs. Because this questioning didn’t take place, the Great Recession didn’t lead to any meaningful political shifts away from poorly regulated markets, supply side economics or how to respond to a financial crisis. This is why, even though rural Christian white Americans were hit hard by the Great Recession, they not only didn’t blame the political party they’ve aligned themselves with for years, they rewarded them two years later by voting them into a record number of state legislatures and taking over the U.S. House.

Of course, it didn’t help matters that there were scapegoats available toward whom they could direct their fears, anger and white supremacy. A significant number of rural Americans believe President Obama was in charge when the financial crisis started. An even higher number believe the mortgage crisis was the result of the government forcing banks to give loans to unqualified minorities. It doesn’t matter how untrue both of these things are, they are gospel in rural America. Why reevaluate your beliefs and voting patterns when scapegoats are available?

How do you make climate change personal to someone who believes only god can alter the weather? How do you make racial equality personal to someone who believes whites are naturally superior to non-whites? How do you make gender equality personal to someone who believes women are supposed to be subservient to men by god’s command? How do you get someone to view minorities as not threatening to people who don’t live around minorities and have never interacted with them? How do you make personal the fact massive tax cuts and cutting back government hurts their economic situation when they’ve voted for such policies for decades? I don’t think you can without some catastrophic events. And maybe not even then. The Civil War was pretty damn catastrophic, yet a large swath of the South believed—and still believes—they were right and had the moral high ground. They were/are also mostly Christian fundamentalists who believe they are superior because of the color of their skin and the religion they profess to follow. There is a pattern here for anyone willing to connect the dots.

“Rural white America needs to be better understood,” is not one of the dots. “Rural white America needs to be better understood,” is a dodge, meant to avoid the real problems because talking about the real problems is viewed as too upsetting, too mean, too arrogant, too elite, too snobbish. Pointing out that Aunt Bea’s views of Mexicans, blacks and gays is bigoted isn’t the thing one does in polite society. Too bad more people don’t think the same about Aunt Bea's views. It’s the classic, “You’re a racist for calling me a racist,” ploy. 

I do think rational arguments are needed, even if they go mostly ignored and ridiculed. I believe in treating people with the respect they’ve earned, but the key point here is “earned.” I’ll gladly sit down with Aunt Bea and have a nice, polite conversation about her beliefs about "the gays, the blacks and the illegals," and I'll do so without calling her a bigot and a racist. But this doesn’t mean she isn’t a bigot and a racist, and if I’m asked to describe her beliefs these are the only words that honestly fit. Just because the media, pundits on all sides and some Democratic leaders don’t want to call the actions of many rural white Christian Americans racist and bigoted doesn’t make them not so.

Avoiding the obvious only prolongs getting the necessary treatment. America has always had a race problem. The country was built on racism and bigotry. This didn’t miraculously go away in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It didn’t go away with the election of Barack Obama. If anything, these events pulled back the curtain exposing the dark, racist underbelly of America that white America likes to pretend doesn’t exist because we are the reason it exists. From the white nationalists to the white suburban soccer moms who voted for Donald Trump, to the far-left progressives who didn’t vote at all, racism exists and has once again been legitimized and normalized by white America.

Here are the honest truths that rural Christian white Americans don’t want to accept; until they accept these truths, nothing is going to change:
  • Their economic situation is largely the result of voting for supply-side economic policies that have been the largest redistribution of wealth from the bottom/middle to the top in U.S. history.
  • Immigrants haven’t taken their jobs. If all immigrants, legal or otherwise, were removed from the U.S., our economy would come to a screeching halt and food prices would soar.
  • Immigrants are not responsible for companies moving their plants overseas. The almost exclusively white business owners are responsible, because they care more about their shareholders (who are also mostly white) than about American workers.
  • No one is coming for their guns. All that has been proposed during the entire Obama administration is having better background checks.
  • Gay people getting married is not a threat to their freedom to believe in whatever white god they want to. No one is going to make their church marry gays, have a gay pastor or accept gays for membership.
  • Women having access to birth control doesn’t affect their lives either, especially women they complain about being teenage single mothers.
  • Blacks are not “lazy moochers living off their hard-earned tax dollars” any more than many of their fellow rural neighbors. People in need are people in need. People who can’t find jobs because of their circumstances, a changing economy or outsourcing overseas belong to all races.
  • They get a tremendous amount of help from the government they complain does nothing for them. From the roads and utility grids they use to farm subsidies, crop insurance and commodities protections, they benefit greatly from government assistance. The Farm Bill is one of the largest financial expenditures by the U.S. government. Without government assistance, their lives would be considerably worse.
  • They get the largest share of Food Stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.
  • They complain about globalization, yet line up like everyone else to get the latest Apple products. They have no problem buying foreign-made guns, scopes and hunting equipment. They don’t think twice about driving trucks whose engines were made in Canada, tires made in Japan, radios made in Korea, and computer parts made in Malaysia.
  • They use illicit drugs as much as any other group. But when other people do it is a “moral failing” and they should be severely punished, legally. When they do it, it is a “health crisis” that needs sympathy and attention.
  • When jobs dry up for whatever reason, they refuse to relocate but lecture the poor in places like Flint for staying in failing towns.
  • They are quick to judge minorities for being “welfare moochers,” but don’t think twice about cashing their welfare checks every month.
  • They complain about coastal liberals, but taxes from California and New York cover their farm subsidies, help maintain their highways and keep the hospitals in their sparsely populated rural areas open for business.
  • They complain about “the little man being run out of business,” and then turn around and shop at big-box stores.
  • They make sure outsiders are not welcome, deny businesses permits to build, then complain about businesses, plants opening up in less rural areas.
  • Government has not done enough to help them in many cases, but their local and state governments are almost completely Republican and so are their representatives and senators. Instead of holding them accountable, they vote them into office over and over and over again.
  • All the economic policies and ideas that could help rural America belong to the Democratic Party: raising the minimum wage, strengthening unions, spending on infrastructure, renewable energy growth, slowing down the damage done by climate change, and healthcare reform. All of these and more would really help a lot of rural white Americans.
What I understand is that rural Christian white Americans are entrenched in fundamentalist belief systems; don’t trust people outside their tribe; have been force-fed a diet of misinformation and lies for decades; are unwilling to understand their own situations; and truly believe whites are superior to all races. No amount of understanding is going to change these things or what they believe. No amount of niceties will get them to be introspective. No economic policy put forth by someone outside their tribe is going to be listened to no matter how beneficial it would be for them. I understand rural Christian white America all too well. I understand their fears are based on myths and lies. I understand they feel left behind by a world they don’t understand and don’t really care to. They are willing to vote against their own interests if they can be convinced it will make sure minorities are harmed more. Their Christian beliefs and morals are only extended to fellow white Christians. They are the problem with progress and always will be, because their belief systems are constructed against it.

The problem isn’t a lack of understanding by coastal elites. The problem is a lack of understanding of why rural Christian white America believes, votes, behaves the ways it does by rural Christian white America.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 26.6.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • People renting out properties in Spain are obliged to register with their local council and subject themselves to a set of controls which differ from region to region. Here in Galicia the large number of people who've done this was published in the local press yesterday, with a comment to the effect that it's unlikely they'll all be inspected. But at least the Tax Office (the Hacienda) will have their names. It struck me as singularly unlikely that a UK county or town council would introduce such a bureaucratic scheme. But, then, they aren't in the pocket of the local hotel industry, I guess. The sole objective there would to ensure the renters declared taxable income.
  • Spain is benefitting hugely from being seen as a safer tourist option, and numbers and income are soaring. Barcelona has had enough of the hordes and is trying to contain the growth. Elsewhere, industry operators are trying to go upmarket to attract the richer tourists who will give them better profit margins. Which has to be sensible.
  • The hot weather so far this year across Spain has inevitably led to water shortages. One of the most remarkable facts about this country is that water is wasted here much more than elsewhere. And per capita use is much higher than it really should be. Twice as much as in Germany, for example. Perhaps things will now change. At least in Galicia we have the excuse that it rains from time to time here . . .
The negotiation of a trade deal between Canada and the EU has so far taken just under 100 years and, astonishingly, it might well be kiboshed at the last minute by some unhappy folk in one of the 28 EU members involved. Or 27 if we exclude the outgoing UK. And this is a deal which the EU wants. Imagine, then, how difficult it's going to be for the UK to deal with what is, in effect, the world's largest ever committee over a deal which the EU doesn't want. Incidentally, I suspect that, every time President Juncker appears on the TV and makes one of his fatuous comments, support for Brexit rises in the UK. If the Germans and the French really do want Britain to re-think its departure, they should gag the guy. At the very least.

As regards said EU, here's an article from the latest expert who believes it has to either drastically reform - in the direction of a superstate - or die. One interesting aspect of this article is that it appeared in a Spanish newspaper as well - El País - over the weekend. The logic makes sense to me. But the thought of such a superstate at this stage of Europe's development leaves me ice cold. Democratic credentials it certainly wouldn't have. Though you wouldn't need passports and your kids could still get grants to study outside their country/EU region of birth. Which seems to be all some folk really care about. Incidentally, I can't see a EU superstate dominated by Germany allowing the Spanish to consume twice as much water as back home.

Spanish: I've been confused over the years at what to call a roundabout/circle here in Spain. The formal or 'official' word (e. g. In the Driving Theory document) is glorieta but I believe rotonda is far more common. Or is it rotunda? In fact, these seem to be used interchangeably. Rather like words in Persian such as jan become jun in familiar situations.

Gallego: Is the word for our region Galiza or Galica? I ask because I saw the latter on the side of a van yesterday. My closest Galician friend – a nationalist with a huge sense of humour – insists that it's Galiza and that the van driver needs to be shot. I say my friend has a great sense of humour but I wonder how he'd have reacted to the comment from the Brazilian guy at the next table in my bar yesterday who said Gallego is like medieval Portuguese. As Canadian French is to French French, I guess.

A few years ago, IKEA aborted negotiations with the Vigo council and took their new facility to Oporto, down in nearby North Portugal. Yesterday, I read that industrial land in Vigo is now the most expensive in Spain. Short-sighted?? Go figure, as our American cousins say. 

Crooked Nutters Corner: I believe I vented my spleen a while ago about an ad I'd seen on one of the numerous God channels for a version of the Bible which guarantees you endless riches. Well, the promoter of one such Prosperity Bible is now being done for a number of fiscal offences in the USA. You can read more on this here and visit the scumbag's astonishingly dishonest web page here. It's hard to believe folk are taken in by this but, of course, they've already at least partially discarded rational thinking by the time he gets to them.

Finally . . . I had to read the report a few times and check my understanding of the use of the fullstop/period and comma in Spanish numbers but, in the end, I concluded that, yes, in the trial in Pontevedra of the Mulo drug trafficking clan, the prosecution is demanding fines to the total of €2.3 billion. Plus several hundred years in jail for each member, I suspect. That's the way it's done here.

Today's cartoon:-

Another all-time favourite from my collection. From the inimitable Bill Tidy . . . 

Aw, c'mon, Genghis - we need one more to make up a horde!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 25.6.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • Click here for a video showing a motor-bike taking a bull by the horns. It was shot by a (Latina?) woman apparently in the midst of an orgasm. Which must have been disconcerting for her partner.
  • I went back and read my own post cited yesterday - How to Drive in Spain - and I have to admit I found it very funny. I don't recall ever reading the Comments posted at various times but I particularly enjoyed those from miffed Spaniards who lack a sense of irony. Or even humour. I also appreciated the comment from the guy who said my observation that Spaniards in cars act as if they own the road they're on could be applied equally well to pedestrians. If only because I'd recently arrived as the same conclusion. If you can take it, there's a bit more on the subject at the end of this post.
  • But 2 things do have to be said about my driving piece:- I wrote it, of course, with my tongue firmly in cheek, indulging in at least a bit of exaggeration; and 2: Certain aspects have improved a lot since it was written, as evidenced by the truly dramatic fall in deaths on the roads since 2000. Using the mobile phone when driving, though, seems to have got worse.
  • I regularly talk of the gulf between Spain's macro and micro economies. This week it was reported that as many as 70% of Spanish households haven't noticed any improvement in their circumstances during the recent years of impressive GDP growth.
  • Julio Iglesias was recently interviewed on a Galician TV program which is called Land Rober. Why?? Anyway, their FB page can be seen here

Here's an interesting citation from The Economist on the Spanish economy and corruption:- The cause of the economic crisis is, no more no less than the ‘caciquismo’, ‘enchufismo’ and ‘amiguismo’ of the political parties”. That is to say that this oligarchic system of government that needs reform is a structural problem latent with corruption. Various estimates of the cost of this corruption have been made but Carles Ramió of Universidad Pompeu Fabra estimates it at €127,000m or 12% of GDP. The vast majority of Spaniards are fully aware of this and are victims of this situation who are heartily sick of it. Unfortunately, the ruling party Partido Popular is addicted to this caciquismo and while 33% of the voters continue to vote PP they can block any reform. How very true. So, let's hope the parties of the Left get their act together ere too long.

Don Quijones writes here of taxpayers being on the hook for a banking crisis that was caused by years of reckless and, in some cases, criminal mismanagement. No, not Spain - though it certainly could be - but Italy. Addressing the crisis in the latter, DQ avers that: When things get serious in the EU, laws get bent and loopholes get exploited. That is what is happening right now in Italy, where the banking crisis has reached tipping point. It is testament to just how desperate the situation has become. But things are now much better in Spain, of course.

OMG!, as the kids say . . . The Wizard of Oz might well have been an allegory of the USA at the time of the Populists. Knowing almost nothing about the latter, this seems totally plausible to me. Click here if confused. Or just intrigued.

Talking of populists . . . It's well known they come to power when things are really bad and someone can hold out to people a vision of hope for the future. So . . . Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Trump. And Corbyn in his own little way??? Things don't usually turn out too well, either for the populists or the people, as power has its usual corrupting effect. Accelerated if, like Trump, you arrive at power already corrupt. And drunk on it.

Which reminds me . . . 

Listening to the hapless Mrs May on TV last night, I had a profound thought about why she's called The Maybot . . . She talks as if she's writing a formal document. She doesn't use the usual verbal abbreviations. So 'is not' never becomes 'isn't' and 'has not' never 'hasn't', for example. No wonder she's seen as stiff and emotionless. Someone should tell her. The advice would be worth numberless votes.

Nutters' Corner:- Not all of these are Christian Evangelists, of course. Here's the comment of an Egyptian Muslim cleric:- Women are categorically not allowed to deny their husbands sex and, if they do, they are rebelling against Allah and the angels will curse them for it. That old '3 in a bed' problem. With angels as observers, it seems. You couldn't make it up. All that said, it has to be stressed that not all Muslim clerics agree with this take on the Koran. But since when did theists agree on the interpretation of their Holy Books?

Finally: A conundrum. This is a cartoon from one of our local papers. Can anyone - Spanish or otherwise - tell me what it's saying and why it's funny?

And now for a funny cartoon . . . .


With too  much time on my hands, I decided to look on the net for instructions on how to deal with roundabouts/circles. I quickly came up with this, this and this. They're all in Spanish but I can't guarantee they all relate to Spain. What's most interesting - against the background of Spanish readers saying it's still compulsory, except on turborotundas, to only use the outside lane - is that the police are clearly allowing drivers to use the inside lane. Though not permitting them to exit unless they've got into the outside lane prior to trying to leave the roundabout.

But the most interesting(?) video is this one from Alberta, which is in English with Spanish subtitles. It tells you at minute 1.16 and minute 2.35 how to properly use the inside lane when making exits after the first one. At minute 2.03 it tells you how not to do it. Which is exactly what I'm told Spanish learners are still being taught. And what I see them doing every day.

I rest my case.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 24.6.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

I'm short on time today, so here's something that some of you will want to skip and go straight to the cartoon . . . For those who might want a less serious, more amusing take on this subject, I offer this instead.


A. Speed Limits

As I reported yesterday, trying to use my satnav/GPS to keep me advised of speed limits on the N550 between Pontevedra and Santiago was an abject failure. The thing might be good for warning me of radar traps but is useless for giving accurate date on the limits. Some specifics:-

Despite supposedly having the latest data, my Garmin satnav is clearly unaware that 100kph is no longer permitted on secondary roads. I believe the limit has been 90 for a while now, unless 100 is indicated. I know of only one such stretch.

The max is rarely shown, in preference for the diagonal No Limit sign. So, it's wise to assume it's always 90. Or 80 when it rains. Which it does do occasionally here in Galicia

My satnav and actuality are frequently at odds with each other, especially where – I guess – there used to be a limit of 80 and it's now 50. In the 8.3km stretch between Estrar and Picaraña yesterday, there were at least 10 changes of limit. When it changed from 60 to 50, the satnav gave me 90. And it kept at that level when it fell further to 40.

B. Roundabouts/Circles

Here in Spain, the law used to be that you could only go on the inside lane of a 2-lane roundabout if you were making a U-turn. This was, of course, immensely stupid, as it forced 99% of drivers to funnel down into one lane, the outside one. I've no idea why this law was promulgated – perhaps to prevent anarchy/mayhem on roundabouts - but I can tell you that the Tráfico Department has changed it and has tried – through ads in the media, for example – to advise drivers that they should choose the lane appropriate to their planned exit, as in every other country I've driven in. So, Spain is no longer 'different'. The Tráfico has even gone to the lengths of painting lanes and arrows on some roundabouts, called – I think – Turborotundas.

What you need to know is that most Spanish drivers don't seem to be aware of the change. Worse, my daily experience shows that driving schools are still teaching the old rule. And examiners are presumably still applying it. What this means is that, if you're in the inside lane and going straight on – as sometimes suggested by arrows on the road before the roundabout – you will frequently have cars cutting across you on your right, heading for a later exit.


A. Speed

If you drive on a secondary road, keep an eagle eye out for the speed signs.

If you're passing through a place where it's 50, don't assume it rises as you leave it until you see another sign because, technically, the max stays at 50. I've fallen foul of this trick at least twice on out-of-town stretches. This is true even if you see a sign saying 70 as you approach each crossroad, implying that the limit has risen to (probably) 90. Though the risk of being done for speeding might be lower in this case.

Be prepared for confusion. At least here in Galicia, no one seems to have bothered to remove the End 70/80 signs that come after stretches that are now 50. But at least if you see one of these it's probably safe to assume the limit is now 90.

If you're driving on a stretch that you think – or actually is - 90 and you see a sign saying 70 or 80, hit the brake immediately as it's quite possible that:- 1. the 50 sign is only 20 metres after it, and 2. the radar machine is right below the 50 sign. I've been caught in this legal but immoral trap too.

I have in the past suggested that you never drive more than 50 on Spain's secondary roads but this, of course, is wrong as the limit sometimes drops to 40 or even 30. Or, in towns, 25.

So my advice would now be:- Either
  • Drive at 50 on secondary roads but keep your eyes open for sudden – and possibly illogical – reductions. Safety is not the issue. Be prepared for some very annoyed drivers behind you.
  • Drive on any available autovia/autopista at 90, as – certainly here in Galicia – this might be the max on curved stretches. Even on straightish stretches between here and Madrid it falls to 100. Which can easily be missed.
And don't forget the legal max reduces by 10kph when there's rain. On the autovias/autopistas anyway. Not sure about the secondary roads.

B. Roundabouts
  • Be aware that almost anything can happen on these. Don't assume that everyone will do the logical thing.
  • Above all, remember that, if you hit someone in a lane to the right of you, you are responsible, no matter how stupid the other driver was being.
  • You simply MUST look in your right-hand rear mirror to see whether anyone is coming up outside you and then wait to see if they really are going straight on or going further round the roundabout. NEVER make an assumption about a driver on your right.
Left-hand rear mirror and on your left in the UK, of course. And in Japan and Australasia and a few other places.


Reader Sierra has cited this video of a crash in the UK, highlighting the 'debate' on social media about who was in the wrong there.

I don't know what the law would say in the UK but I can say with great conviction that here in Spain – no matter how stupid the driver of the VW was – the driver of the BMW would be judged to be at fault.

You have been warned!

Today's cartoon:-