Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 28.2.18

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.

  • My RSS feed yesterday threw up the blog of Tim Parfitt, a Brit who's lived 20 years here, running various well-known magazines. Like me, he loves Spain but is not behind the door when it comes to criticisms of the PP government in general and President Rajoy in particular. In his latest post, Tim opines that: Surreal things can happen in a week of Spanish politics, and it’s been one of those weeks again. And: There’s something seriously wrong in Spain and I’m now convinced that it starts at the very top. Not to mention: The prime minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, is utterly inept. Click here and here for more and, by all means, enjoy Tim's blog, without abandoning this one, please.
  • Tim lives in Barcelona and sympathises with Catalan demands. Here's someone else writing from that city, with even more trenchant views of the Spanish monarchy and government.
  • As for the Catalan government . . . Well, this is the latest development.
  • Would you believe it? Here's a Spaniard happily admitting to all the 'strange' habits of his compatriots that foreigners get lambasted for mentioning.
  • And here, of course, is the latest list from The Local.
  • More seriously, Don Quijones has his doubts about the latest plan to protect Spanish banks. Guess who's most likely to finance this protection.
Life in Spain
  • I might well complain from time to time but yesterday I had excellent responses in the 2 hardware stores and the electrical repair shop I visited in a sadly abortive search for a magnet that would lift my lost watch from the hole it might be in. One problem, it seems, is that stainless steel is nowhere near as magnetic as plain steel. Thanks to the addition of chrome and nickel.
The EU
  • In the run-up to the Italian elections next Sunday, Brussels has backed off in the areas of immigration, clean air, food labelling and debt flexibility. Just as it did with France (fiscal discipline) and Germany(highway tolls). The EU is regularly said to be a rules-based organisation. Maybe, but there are members and members. And rules and rules. The project has to be protected in whatever way is expedient.
  • There are several evening satirical TV shows in the USA which benefit from an endless suppy of material from President Fart. Here's Stephen Colbert on the latter's bravery claims.
The UK and Brexit
  • Here's a comment from Richard North on that Corbyn speech: We have the irony of Corbyn using material lifted from the media which in itself is wrong, mangling it to add further errors and then feeding it back to the media which doesn't even recognise that it is being treated to a farrago of misinformation.
  • And here - for the few of you interested - is the good Dr North today, mincing Corbyn's nonsense,
The English Language
Nutters Corner
  • Pat Holliday of the Miracle Internet Church: If Hillary Clinton had won the presidency of the United States of America, we might not even be here today because they did have a World War III planned, where they were going to destroy 90% of the people. What they wanted to do was take control over the world by going down into their underground cities. We would all be dead and then, when it was time, they could come out of their underground cities and rule the world with Satan. That was their plan and they were almost there, but God has intervened. Do they not have lunatic asylums in the USA?
  • Here's the estate agent's (realtor's) bumf on the palace which the Franco family is trying to flog for €8m euros. Ad and video.
  • The Beast from the East which is currently lashing the UK and the continent was supposed to arrive here last night in the form of strong winds and heavy rain. So far, it's just a normal damp, cloudy winter day. Bit disappointing.
  • Why do Spaniards tend to pronounce names of English people and places as if the various words were all just one? Is it because they speak Castellano so fast? I sometimes have great difficulty understanding they're talking about a person or a place I know well.
Today's Cartoon

Can't resist it, from The Times

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 27.2.18

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.

  • Support for independence in Cataluña is said to have fallen considerably. At which point a sensible government would surely at least think about allowing a legal referendum. But I doubt there's much chance of this under Rajoy and the PP party.
  • Meanwhile, several Catalan politicians continue in jail, seen by much of the world as political prisoners of a very right-wing party.
  • I've never been much of one for Flamenco but, inspired by this article by Guy Hedgecoe, I now plan to visit La Quimera on my next trip to Madrid. This is Paco de Lucia's 1973 ground-breaking song Entre dos Aguas cited by Guy.
Life in Spain
  • Not having had a call, I went midday yesterday – for the 5th or 6th time - to the notary's office, where I was told he wasn't in for the day. So, containing my anger, I merely asked the secretary to give me the form back. As she did so, she commented that I was asking the notary to be a witness and he couldn't do this. I refrained from asking the obvious question of why, then, was it relevant that he wasn't in the office, but simply replied that he certainly could but was clearly disposed to not doing so. As I left, in the highest of dudgeon, I told her she should know there weren't any notaries in the UK. But I doubt this meant anything to her. In fact, I suspect she had the normal Spanish reaction of not being able to believe this, so important are these civil servants in their lives.
  • Anyway, I now have to decide whether to write to the notary to tell him he's lost the fees on the in-vivo transfer of assets to my daughters I'll be making this year. Which, needless to say, has to be done in front of a notary to minimise/eliminate taxes. Though not the notary's high fees, of course. In the UK, you can just do it and leave your executor to deal with any tax issues on death. Spain is different.
  • I bought a large ginger root in a grocer's shop yesterday. To my surprise, the young woman behind the counter started to wax lyrical about it. The normal Spanish reaction – at least here in Galicia – is to recoil in horror at something picante (hot) that 'masks the flavour of everything else' and almost destroys your throat. So we chatted about the various things you could find made with ginger both in the UK and in her country. Which turned out to be Brazil. Spain is different.
The EU
  • Martin Selmayr’s sudden appointment as secretary-general of the European Commission was a “cloak-and-dagger operation” and should be investigated, according to Sven Giegold, a German MEP from the Greens group and leading proponent of EU transparency.
  • Loved this: Norwegians are the undisputed champions at falling down hills on pieces of a repurposed bathroom suite.
The UK and Brexit
  • The consensus is that Jeremy Corbyn's 'game-changing' speech yesterday is pure cynical politics, having nothing to do with his stated aims. All about ousting Mrs May, then. Fair enough, that's his job. But there are many in his party who disagree with him, aware that any customs union would preclude the UK doing trade deals around the world. But there are wider issues, specifically what Brussels will do next as they continue to wipe the floor with London. Click here for the most informed view on this you'll find. Taster: For all the party political posturing neither Labour nor the Conservatives are any further forward. But, while they play their games, they are being quietly but nonetheless dramatically undermined. They are about to have imposed on them a situation which they can neither tolerate nor resolve, but have nothing to put in its place.  Particularly, this makes today's speech by Mr Corbyn a complete irrelevance and, by the time Mrs May gets to deliver hers on Friday, it will have already have been consigned to history.
Nutter-cum-Liar-cum Jackass Corner
  • President Fart: I would've rushed to confront the gunman even if I didn’t have a weapon. One can only hope he finds himself in that challenging position sometime during the next 3 years. It's quite possible, of course, that this comprehensively self-deluded man really does believe his claim.
The Gender Wars
  • Having commented on what some see as the hypocrisy of sexily-dressed actresses demonstrating against men being [choose your adjective], I was interested to read that designer Katherine Hamnett had commented thus on the topic of women wearing all-black to awards ceremonies: Black is one of the sexiest colours in the world. You think you’re making a protest? Wake up, look in the mirror.
  • Some folk have started to grow olive trees here on a commercial basis. The first crop of oil totalled 96 litres. I say 'started' but Vigo's nickname is The Olive City (La Ciudad Olívica) and it's possible the Romans produced oil there many years ago.
  • The number of 'emancipated' young people here – 18-35 year olds – is reported to have fallen by 30% in the last few years. Even more of these are staying with their parents until into their 40s. Or until they inherit the property, even.
  • A couple of years ago, I was cutting the hedge at the bottom of my garden when I discovered I'd lost my old wedding ring. Since it had to be in or below the hedge somewhere, I tried to find someone who could lend me a metal detector, but without success. Finally, last week, I bought a hand-held one and on Saturday morning I set about trying to find the watch either in the hedge itself or among the tangled roots of the privet bushes. Fifteen minutes into this endeavour, I realised my watch was no longer on my wrist, having presumably gone the same way as the ring. And it was no ordinary watch, as I'd bought it when I was 19, after saving a huge proportion of my meagre salary as a VSO teacher to do so. So, heavy with sentimental value. I tell you this because a callous Dutch friend of mine thought it was hilariously ironic that I'd lost the watch when looking for my ring and that I should include the tale in my blog today, in place of the crap I'd taken to writing. And so I have, though I doubt any of my more intelligent, thoughtful and sympathetic readers will be amused by it.
  • Anyway, having decided that I might be able to find both the ring and the watch using a powerful neodymium magnet, I went yesterday in search of one in an electrical store I'd used in the past. To my astonishment, this is now the city's 500th jewellery store. Or perhaps the 2,000th money laundering front. So, I will continue the search tomorrow.
  • Which reminds me . . . This BBC article makes out that La Línea is the drug importing capital of Spain. I rather suspect our narco clans would have something to say about that. It might simply be a case of sub-optimisation. They do Moroccan hashish, our guys do Colombian cocaine.
  • News just in this morning . . . The head of the police anti-drug unit at Barcelona’s port has been arrested on suspicion of helping a South American gang to smuggle cocaine.
Today's Cartoon

Monday, February 26, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 26.2.18

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.

  • Surveying the judicial scene, it should come as no surprise that Spain has moved 5 places in Transparency International's latest ranking of national corruption perceptions. In the wrong direction, of course. Spain has now fallen below the Czech Republic, Poland and Dominica. Details here.
  • As El País put it recently: More than 50 judicial processes have begun against senior PP party members. This is the scandalous panorama presided over by Mariano Rajoy.
  • Does Brussels care about this, one is forced to ask. Do taxpayers in Northern Europe, all of whose countries rank rather higher in the TI index. They do fund all the subventions going to Spain, of course.
Life in Spain
  • President Rajoy looks forward to the day when Spain has a sensible working day and everyone leaves the office at 6. I fear it's some way off. Nothing but (occasional) talk at the moment.
  • Another example of machine-based customer service is, of course, the questionnaire you get whenever you've bought (or even just searched) something. Ironically, I got one of these from a car-parts company which had responded promptly to a question on a Saturday afternoon! That said, I'm still not sure 'Felix' was a human being. Or a very clever algorithm, faking consideration for me.
The EU
  • The writer of the first article below says it's normal that the UK media should concentrate on the Brexit mess in Britain but that, in doing so, they're paying little or no attention to what she terms the chaos on the other side of the Channel. She has a point.
  • The author of the second article writes on the same theme: In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, the consensus was that the earthquake would bring down the old parties, along with much else. Pundits overseas told each other that Britain had, in the words of the Dutch leader Mark Rutte, “collapsed, politically, economically, monetarily and constitutionally”. In fact, the political collapse has taken place across the Channel.
  • And so we again get the question asked by Groucho Marx: Would I want to be a member of a club which was willing to accept me?
  • BBC News this morning: The US National Rifle Association has said it does not support any gun ban following a shooting in a Florida school that left 17 people dead. The NRA's comments appear to go against President Donald Trump's proposals to tighten gun controls. Is it too much to hope that the unhappy NRA members will use their weapons for mass suicide? After all, they're clearly religionists.
The UK
  • More Brexit confusion is guaranteed today, when the leader of the Labour Party announces a change in their policy and an end point which isn't remotely achievable – Being in the EU customs union but not the EU itself.
The Spanish Language
  • A few new words for me this weekend:-
  1. Zozobra: Anxiety, sinking. And: El estado del mar o del viento que constituye una amenaza a la navegación. Surely Arabic in origin.
  2. Oriundo: Native
  3. Chimichurri: This is a strong barbecue sauce but seems to be used, in Colombia at least, to mean 'marvellous' or 'wonderful'.
  4. Pirulo: 1. As in: Tiene 40 pirulos. 'He's the big four/He's forty; 2. A slim child. Again, possibly a South American word.
  5. Chévere: Now this really is Colombian Spanish, for 'cool/great/fabulous'
Nutters Corner
  • Kat Kerr, the self-proclaimed Christian “Prophetess” who attempted to beat back Hurricane Irma with a sceptre, then, after seeing all the damage caused by it, blamed everyone else for not following her lead, is back with a brand new prediction. She claims in a new interview that God told her Donald Trump would be president before the election. But that’s not all! God also told her who'll be in the White House for the next five terms. “He caught me up to heaven, literally, months and months and months before and He said ‘I’ve chosen Trump and people won’t like it and they won’t understand it but that doesn’t matter right now because I’m going to change America and I need him. He’s an all-American boy who is all for America, and he is smart, he can’t be bought, he can’t be moved, and he can't be controlled. And He said, ‘He will know me and he will hear my voice.’ You better step back, because this is God’s time,” For what it's worth god ahs told her that Fart will win reelection in 2020, but that Mike Pence will then be elected to 2 terms, followed by whoever is his VP. The Father is saying this, she said. For 24 years, we will have God in that White House. What is truly astonishing is not that this mad woman says this sort of thing but that millions of Americans believe it. Roll on the end of the American empire.
  • I've noted before that more and more Galicians are rejecting inheritances. There were 2,500 forfeits last year, compared with 344 in 2007. The most intriguing – but understandable - reason given is: Not wanting to get involved with the Tax Office (the Hacienda).
  • Not so long ago (Can't read my notes. Possibly 2010), Savings and Credit here amounted to €55m and €72m, respectively. Now they're €60m and €40m, respectively. Which says something about the economy, I believe. Viz, that people are spending rather less.
  • Galicia has many, many municipalities. As many as 80% of these suffered a decline in population over the last decade. As noted previously, some entire villages are up for sale. In fact, I suspect you might get paid to take them over.
  • Several folk in Pontevedra yesterday didn't seem to notice it was a summer-like day. Coats and scarves in profusion. Plus, of course, the women of a certain age who wear a fur whatever the weather is.  Because it's the season for it.
Today's Cartoons


1. It’s just as well we’re going to diverge from the EU, given the chaos over there: Janet Daley

So far as we know, The Great Chequers Summit to resolve the Government’s Brexit position produced general accord and harmony. That is pretty much all that it was possible to surmise from the minimal official briefings that followed. Nobody shouted at anybody else. There was civility all around. Very nice. Next week, we will get the result of all this agreement in the form of a speech by the Prime Minister that will become part of the canon of historic pronouncements, alongside her Lancaster House and Florence speeches. It will make clear that Britain demands the right to diverge from (some) EU laws and regulations after we leave the European Union. Given that the whole point of leaving was to achieve such divergence, it seems surprising that it took eight hours to reach unanimity on this point – but there we are.

The mildly sarcastic tone of these opening lines is not intended to indicate disbelief or misgivings. I fully accept the need for this process of visible “confrontation”, followed by equally visible reconciliation. The Cabinet has been seen to be divided to the point of chaos and only such a ritual show of harmony could remedy that. Also, somebody had to be seen to win some significant points if the event was not to look like a staged pretence (or “fudge”, as it is sometimes known). To that extent, the Brexiteers appear to have been the net winners. That is to say, they claim to have carried the day on the point of “divergence”.

Italy, a founder EU state and, for all its problems, still a major economy, is about to hold national elections that are almost certainly going to result in great gains for anti-Brussels parties under a coalition led by – don’t laugh – Silvio Berlusconi, who cannot legally hold office.

But since, as I have said, divergence from the EU was the whole point of this exercise, it would have been truly extraordinary if they had not. In fact, as everybody has pointed out, no divergence at all would mean no Brexit at all, or else the worst possible outcome: loss of any say in the decisions from which we would never be permitted to diverge. So The Great Chequers Summit was a necessary spectacle. It was intended to prove that Theresa May could establish a unanimous government policy and that therefore, she was not a busted flush as a national leader in these fateful negotiations.

But there is something oddly parochial about this view of things. A huge amount of attention has been paid to Mrs May’s weakness as head of a minority government and the fragility of her position within her own party. Her authority and that of the UK government, it is said, are so tenuous that our relative strength in dealing with a united, formidable EU is hopelessly compromised. Perhaps it is understandable that the British press would concentrate on the condition of its own government and domestic political scene, but strangely enough it is the most Remain-friendly, pro-EU, anti-xenophobe organs of the media that have failed to attend properly to the other side of this equation: what is going on in Europe itself. Yes indeed, we do have an ineffectual prime minister who crippled her own government by calling an unnecessary election, and we have a divided Cabinet and an opportunist Opposition prepared to say anything to exploit all those problems.

Supporters of the Alternative fuer Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) political party, hold up protest signs at a rally in the city center on November 6, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. Credit: Chad Buchanan

You may have noticed, however, if you are an assiduous student of these matters that – at the time of writing – Germany has no government. The country that was a model of EU stability, in which the political power and the economic muscle of the whole outfit was thought to reside, has succumbed to electoral paralysis. And worse, it has seen the rebirth of a neo-fascist party, AfD, which is set to become the official opposition.

What is more, the German domination of Europe’s economic policy – which broke the back of an inconsequential member country like Greece – will now come up against a new and much more substantial threat. Italy, a founder EU state and, for all its problems, still a major economy, is about to hold national elections that are almost certainly going to result in great gains for anti-Brussels parties under a coalition led by – don’t laugh – Silvio Berlusconi, who cannot legally hold office.

The Italian dissident parties like the vaguely anarchic Five Star movement (which polls show is likely to receive the highest number of votes) and the Northern League are said to be planning to subvert the euro from within by engaging in deficit spending. Whether Berlusconi, from his puppet master position, will be able to prevent this – and what he will demand from the EU in return – is anybody’s guess. All this will be going on while Angela Merkel’s CDU-CSU alliance definitively loses control not just of government but of Germany’s political mission. Now that’s what you call chaos. It leaves France as the only major EU state with confident, secure leadership. Emmanuel Macron is surely ready and eager to take charge of the EU project, but he is saying very different things in different contexts.

To the Brussels gang, he presents himself as a determined centraliser, enthusiastic about the next steps toward supra-national unification (so long as they are determined by France, of course). But when he visits the UK, he makes charming offers of “bilateral” agreements between our two countries which quite explicitly transcend (or ignore) the Commission negotiators’ insistence that any policy must be agreed with all 27 member states. France, it seems, can “cherry pick” its arrangements, but naughty Britain cannot. So who has the real power now? Who, in fact, are we – from our position of notorious weakness – negotiating with? Is it a paralysed Germany, or a divided collection of EU heads of government presiding over resentful and rebellious electorates, or an EU Commission happy to step into the vacuum and fulfil its historic destiny as a benign oligarchy rescuing Europe from the unruly mob?

One theme appears to get unanimous acclamation in the midst of this disunity: that the UK must accept every present and future EU rule and regulation dictated by the 27, if it is to have any deal at all. The Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, who has proved so useful to the EU, has provided a new metaphor for this: we cannot have à la carte access to EU trade. We devour the whole smorgasbord or we get nothing. I think you can see where this has to end.

2. Project Fear got it wrong: the chaos is on the continent, not in Britain

The last general election reversed a 30-year trend toward political fragmentation in Britain. Contrary to all expectations, the two big parties scooped up 82 per cent of the vote between them. According to the latest poll, that figure has now risen to 85 per cent. All of a sudden, our party system is looking remarkably – well, strong and stable.

Who’d have thought it? In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, the consensus was that the earthquake would bring down the old parties, along with much else. Pundits overseas told each other that Britain had, in the words of the Dutch leader Mark Rutte, “collapsed, politically, economically, monetarily and constitutionally”.

In fact, the political collapse has taken place across the Channel. Insurgent parties are now leading the polls in Italy, Spain and, according to some predictions, Sweden, where this year’s election may be won by the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats. The recent German election saw the Christian Democrats get their worst result since 1949, and the Social Democrats their worst since 1933. In France, neither of the two traditional parties made it into the presidential run-off last year. Even in Mr Rutte’s Netherlands, the latest poll has the Forum for Democracy, which wants to leave the EU, in second place – a truly extraordinary achievement for a party founded only 18 months ago.

Nor has Britain experienced the predicted economic collapse. Investment, exports, retail sales, manufacturing orders, consumer confidence, employment and the stock exchange have all risen – as has the number of EU nationals working here. This week, the BBC spoke grimly about a “fall” in that number – but what was falling was the rate of increase, not the number itself. Seventeen EU nationals are still settling here for every 10 who depart – a vote of confidence in our future.

Will those EU nationals be greeted by the racism that, if you believe The New York Times, the referendum “unleashed”? Hardly. On every metric, the UK remains one of the most tolerant countries in Europe. Compare openness to immigration, mixed marriages, multi-ethnic neighbourhoods. On every issue, Britain scores as one of the most liberal societies in the region – along with the other European states where there is a tradition of democratic Euroscepticism, notably Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. Paradoxically, the loudest complaints about Britain ending automatic free movement tend to come from those Central European governments who insist on closing their own borders to refugees.

None of this should surprise us. Still, it is utterly at odds with what we were threatened with during the referendum. David Cameron kept telling us that voting Leave would bring about “Nigel Farage’s Britain”. Instead, it led to the extirpation of Ukip, and there is now no significant populist anti-immigration party in Britain. The same cannot be said of most EU states. Maybe they should try exit referendums of their own.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 25.2.18

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 pension overview I'm developing, with a bit of help from readers, is that: 1. If you work for a company, your state pension will be a good percentage of your final salary, even if neither you nor your employer have made contributions; and 2. If you haven't worked for a company, your pension will be relatively poor. 3. Those pensioners in the first category have done very well in recent years and now enjoy better incomes that the young of 18-35. 4. There are big clouds on the horizon for everyone. 5. Private pensions are not well developed here but the government is now pushing these, with the endorsement of the not-very-ethical banks. I stress this overview could be very wrong and welcome corrections.
  • Here's a nice article on one of Spain's best culinary contributions to the world.
Life in Spain
  • Reader Maria endorses my view that nobody cares for customers' time here. She warns me the notary will never call me back. But I'll give him until the end of Monday and then go and see how the land lies.
  • I'm reminded of the many, many times I've been asked for my name and number here and then never called back to tell me my order is ready or the product is in stock. The best case was of the shop which didn't have the rat trap I wanted. When I went back to ask if they'd got my order in, they told me they'd had 4 delivered. When I asked for one, I was told they'd all been sold. I asked why on earth they'd taken my name and number if they were never going to call me, to be met by a blank stare. Not even a Gallic shrug.
  • As for the Dutchman's trenchant criticisms of Spain, my overview is that it isn't only foreigners making these from outside Spain but also foreigners who live here and who, like me, love both Spain and the Spanish. Even more telling is that the fiercest critics are probably those Spaniards who've lived elsewhere, developed wider perspectives and then suffer culture-shock when they come back to live and work in Spain. Maybe Sr Esteban Hernández et al should contemplate the implications of this before merely saying that some Brits get very drunk and jump off balconies.
  • As I've said a few times before, much as I love living in Spain, I came here to retire (early) and – minor irritations notwithstanding – Spain suits me perfectly. But I'm not all convinced I'd be happy working here. Just too 'Anglo', however hard I try not to be. [Actually, I did set up a business here a few years ago but it was my Spanish partner who dealt with everything Spanish. I just dealt with the Brit clients. It worked very well].
  • Every few years, my gas supplier writes to tell me the law obliges me to have my system checked and that they'd be delighted to do this. And, of course, charge me €57 for it. A nice little earner, then. Especially as their leaflet shows 8 things to be checked. So, plenty of scope to find something wrong. As they always do. Just do the maths on this government-company initiative. Worth many millions. I don't recollect ever being compelled by the state to check things back in the UK. But perhaps things are different now.
The EU
  • A 'Machiavellian' German has just made himself the most powerful person in Brussels, effectively for as many years as he wants. See the Politico Article below. I'd be prepared to bet not many of us would recognise him from a hole in the ground.
  • Ahead of a general election there: 80% of Italians think their economy is bad, 78% don’t trust their government and 78% think their vote doesn’t count. The number of Italians viewing Brussels favourably has halved to under 40% in the last decade. Italy is unhappy. It is a decade since the financial crisis, but Italy is still angry: from the small-town piazzas of northern Italy, to the picket lines of the old industrial heartlands around Turin, it is the smouldering rage of the people that dominates final campaigning for next weekend’s election.
The USA/Nutters Corner
  • Could it get any worse, you were asking. Well . . . During his speech at CPAC yesterday, former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka insisted that the election of Donald Trump was proof of the Christian God’s existence. "If you ever had a doubt that God exists, guess what?", Gorka said, "November the 8th was all the proof you need". As someone has commented: Gorka is saying that God was on the side of the thrice-married, affair-having, porn star-paying, lying white-supremacist who will do everything in his power to break up families of immigrants and hurt the poor. That means God was against the devout Methodist whose running mate was a Christian missionary. Possibly a tad confused. But, then, strange indeed are the ways of the Lord, they say. Too mysterious for me.
  • I've seen Gorka on TV, defending Fart. He really should be in an institution. Or just shot.
  • I've mentioned a hilly, serpentine section of the A55 between Vigo and the Portuguese border. This was the scene of another crash on Friday, for which it's notorious as the worst accident black spot in the entire country. I think I've mentioned that the government built a bypass in the hills above it which virtually no one uses because it's an expensive toll road (autopista). And that now there are increasingly strident calls for a tunnel. Anyway, driving this stretch twice on Friday, I again noted just what a confusing mess it is, with the old speed signs covered up, and ('temporary') yellow speed limits changing on every curve, and the normal white lines being supplemented by the yellow lines which normally (but not in this case) indicate road works. So I was pleased to see this headline in a local paper yesterday: The chaos is enhanced by the signalisation.
  • Last night I deleted ALL the cookies on my computer. This morning I found several had returned even though I'd done nothing on my computer. And some of them were from companies I'd never heard of. How does this happen, I wonder. And how to stop it?
Today's Cartoon

Lepe is the Spanish equivalent of what Ireland used to be in British jokes, Derry in Irish jokes and Belgium (I think) in Dutch and German jokes.

A hacker from Lepe deactivates a radar machine.


How Martin Selmayr became EU’s top (un)civil servant

Juncker’s right-hand man consolidated power in typical style. It was less about grabbing power than keeping it.

The move was classic Martin Selmayr — deeply shrouded in secrecy, designed to bulldoze any and all opposition, and catching even some of the most senior EU officials by complete surprise. Only this time, the Machiavellian machinations of President Jean-Claude Juncker’s powerful chief of staff were decidedly personal: springing a vote on European commissioners to install him as secretary-general, the Commission’s top civil service job.

Selmayr has won fame and disdain and spurred envy and fury by deploying ruthless autocracy in the name of European democracy. His sudden election ensures the German lawyer and avowed European federalist will retain a perch at the apex of power in Brussels beyond the end of Juncker’s mandate in 2019 — for as long as he desires, or until a new set of commissioners dares to try to remove him.

Selmayr’s elevation was so sudden that even Juncker seemed not quite sure of the choreography. The Commission president, who rarely holds long press conferences, found himself back in the press room Wednesday to make the announcement just a week after he had been there to present proposals on EU governance.

Selmayr has shown time and again that he would fit in well with the cast of ruthless characters in the political drama “House of Cards.”

“I didn’t know I would be coming back quite so quickly,” Juncker admitted. He also didn’t seem to know the whereabouts of outgoing Secretary-General Alexander Italianer, who was watching the news conference with Selmayr on television.

“Is he not here?” the president asked, searching for him in the audience. “But anyway, I have known him for 25 years.”

The Commission tried to use slicker spin later in the day, sending out a tweetcomparing the switch from Italianer to Selmayr to the handover between captains of Star Trek’s starship Enterprise. In doing so, however, the Commission bolstered a widespread belief in Brussels — that Selmayr is its real captain, not Juncker.

One senior EU official referred to another TV series when describing their first reaction to Selmayr’s sudden promotion: “House of Cards life.”

In more than three years as Juncker’s chief of staff, Selmayr has shown time and again that he would fit in well with the cast of ruthless characters in the political drama. He has steamrolled higher-ranking commissioners, blocked legislation, upended negotiations and picked fights with officials from national governments.

In the upper-floor suites of the Berlaymont, the Commission’s headquarters, Selmayr’s election as secretary-general and the appointment of his deputy, Clara Martinez Alberola, to succeed him as Juncker’s chief of staff, were regarded as affirmation of the status quo.

Martin holds all the power in the future,” one senior Commission official said. “And she is deputy in the future as well. Period.”

However, the move gives Selmayr a bigger institutional title and means he is guaranteed to retain influence even after a new Commission takes office following the European Parliament election next year.

“He takes all the power — completely,” said another senior Commission official, who works closely with Selmayr. “But he now has more legitimacy and rules-based authority for using this power.

“He will secure being the most powerful man in the town for the time being, over the elections over the change of the Commission,” the second senior official said. “Even the president-elect cannot fire him. It needs to be the new Commission at some point if they want to make changes in the senior management.”

Selmayr’s consolidation of power sets the stage for more clashes with the European Council, the body representing the governments of the EU’s member countries. A number of Council officials view Selmayr as poisonous and claim he created a fight in his own mind between the institutions over who would lead the Brexit negotiations, leading to the rushed appointment of Michel Barnier as chief negotiator.

Berlin connection

Selmayr is widely acknowledged as an excellent strategist, making it unsurprising that he was thinking about his next job a year and a half before his current one ends. A senior German official said Selmayr had tried to line up a job as a state secretary — a de facto deputy minister — in the German government but the move did not pan out. A Commission spokesman dismissed this assertion as “nonsense.”

Selmayr has not always enjoyed good relations with Angela Merkel’s chancellery, but German officials acknowledge he has helped Berlin on a variety of issues — including the refugee crisis — and they appreciate having him at the heart of the Brussels bureaucracy.

That link with Berlin, however, also carries risks for Selmayr.

Selmayr will be only the seventh person to hold the secretary-general’s job since it was created in 1957.

Some EU diplomats griped angrily that Selmayr’s election will concentrate too much power in the hands of Germany — already the predominant power in the EU. The secretary-general of the European Parliament, Klaus Welle, is also German, as is Helga Schmid, the secretary-general of the European External Action Service. One senior EU diplomat, while recognizing Selmayr’s commitment to the Commission, nonetheless complained, “There needs to be a balance of nationalities. Three Germans is too much.”

Selmayr will be only the seventh person to hold the secretary-general’s job since it was created in 1957. The first, Émile Noël, served for 30 years. Italianer, the incumbent who is retiring, has been in the job only since September 2015. His was widely viewed as having little power — largely because of Selmayr’s domineering force and Juncker’s effort to impose a more top-down, politically-driven management system.

Selmayr is now expected to restore the broad authority wielded by Catherine Day, an Irish civil servant who worked in the Commission for 26 years before being named secretary-general in 2005, and then held the top job for a decade.

Unlike his predecessors as secretary-general, Selmayr does not have extensive experience in the upper ranks of any of the Commission’s directorate generals. Day, for instance, led the environment department, while Italianer headed the department for economic and financial affairs, and competition.

But few would expect that to pose any problems for an operator so shrewd that some officials compared his move to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2008 job-switch, when he became prime minister to circumvent the constitutional term limits that prevented him from seeking reelection as president.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 24.2.18

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 independence movement is said to belosing support. Hardly surprising really.
  • Spain's national anthem is one of the few which doesn't have any words. And, in this, centrefugal country which is de facto federal, any attempt to add them is, to say the least, controversial. As a singer recently (re)discovered. Here's The Local on this theme.
  • I mentioned yesterday a book called Fariña, about the drug business here in Galicia. Lenox Napier of Business of Tapas had written that the latest edition of it had been embargoed after a law suit from an ex-mayor of our coastal town, O Grove. Possibly the chap who was re-elected when he was in prison- Here's a (Spanish) article on the book, addressing the links with our local politicians of all parties. Google machine translation below.
  • I'm confused re pensions here. A short while ago I was noting that they're among the highest in the EU, at least as a percentage of final salary. But then there was a Don Quijone' article on the inadequacy of government provision. And now comes reports of nationwide protests against Spain's 'shameful' pensions. Can anyone enlighten me/us? Do the protests relate to those folk who don't have a pension based on a salary?
Life in Spain.
  1. The notary: Two working days have passed. No call received
  2. Honda: When I arrived yesterday morning it was to be told, firstly, that they didn't have a replacement part (a little switch costing, say, €1.50 to make), so would have to order it; secondly, that it was part of a sealed unit and the repair would cost over €400. Shocked and (very) annoyed, I asked the service manager what was the point of them having an email address if they ignored not only customers' messages but also the foto of the part I'd attached to both of mine. And I pointed out they'd wasted my time and money in coming 30km pointlessly. I did get a sort of apology. And a suggestion that I should try a car-breaker's yard for the relevant part. Plus a print-out of a diagram of it and its reference number. Which, of course, I'd already noted from underneath it.
The net result of all this nonsense is that both the notary and the Honda dealer have lost my future custom. But I doubt either of them will care. Or even notice. It seems very much a part of the Spanish business scene for providers not to worry about wasting the time of actual or prospective customers. Maybe this is the consequence of a different concept of time from that of we pesky Anglo Saxons who keep criticising them. Or maybe it's a Galician thing. To be fair, my British friend David insists I'd have had the same problem with a UK dealer. More usefully, he suggested that the Bosch chain of workshops provides a service for half the price of at least Audi. Which I will check out, of course.

On cue, my elder daughter has sent me this:-

  • We already know that Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is a climate change denier. Pruitt believes God commands us to take care of the environment and that also means to use what He has provided. “The biblical world view with respect to these issues is that we have a responsibility to manage and cultivate, harvest the natural resources that we’ve been blessed with to truly bless our fellow mankind.” In other words, God gave us this planet, so Scott Pruitt thinks we can destroy it. It’s what Jesus wanted. . . . It's totally impossible to imagine a UK politician talking like this, even if (s)he is an AGW denier.
  • As for Fart's ludicrous suggestion about arming teachers, increasing the number of guns in the country and lining the pockets of weapons manufacturers, including Russia's Kalashnikov:-

The English Language
  • Two shocks for old-fashioned me last night:-
  1. An ad for computer manufacturer Hewlett Packard pronound HP as haitch pee. The battle is lost.
  2. A Sky TV reporter said 'fewer guns', not 'less guns'.
Nutters Corner
  • See the USA section above
  • Here's an account of an odd shadow on the wall of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. In this city of laughable myths about St James, it's hardly surprising that some believe it's of a priest disguised as a pilgrim on his way to echar un polvo with a nun of the nearby convent of San Paio.
  • Some wine expert has produced a list of 40 decent wines available for under £10 (say €11.50) in the UK. Here are the 7 Iberian ones, shorn of all the wine buff's guff. I've left in the prices for the benefit of any UK reader(s). No albarinño or gordello, I notice.
- 3C Cariñena 2016, Spain. (The Wine Society, £5.75)
- Aldonia Vendimia 2015 Rioja, Spain. (Tanners, £8.95)
- Viña Eguía Rioja Crianza 2015. (Majestic; £8.99)
- Taste the Difference Douro 2015, Portugal. (Sainsbury’s, £9)
- Ego Bodegas Talento 2015/16 Jumilla, Spain. (Lea & Sandeman; £10.50)
- Vilacetinho Vinho Verde 2016, Portugal. (Cambridge Wine Merchants, £7.99; The Sampler, £8.90; The Stroud Wine Company, £8.95)
- Torres Viña Esmeralda 2017, Spain. (Waitrose, £6.89) 
  • Talking of what you choose to throw down your throat . . . If you take homeopathic medicines, you might want to watch this video. But not if you don't value reason and logic. Not to mention common sense.


Rajoy, Fariña and Pablo Iglesias: The story of a congratulation

A court order has embargoed the latest edition of Fariña, the book on Galician drug trafficking that must be removed from the bookstores until the suit of a former mayor of O Grove, José Alfredo Bea Gondar, is resolved.

Censorship has caused the opposite effect to that desired, as usually happens. Ten books per minute have been sold on Amazon and what was left in the bookstores is flying off the shelves.

In addition to giving even more publicity to the book, thanks to the trial an official note of the presidency of the Government, signed by Mariano Rajoy, came out of the drawers, with a "Thank You" handwritten and addressed to the author.

Thank you very much for Fariña. I have already read it. It is very documented. I imagine it will have taken your time and it is a good contribution. I hope you do not have to write about it ever again. It would be good news. A hug.

The little story behind that card - now converted into judicial material as proof of the reliability of the book - and how Rajoy ended up reading Fariña, is curious.

On July 12, 2016, the publishers of Libros del KO scored a success in the Fariña promotion: Pablo Iglesias interviewed its author, Nacho Carretero, in his program of La Tuerka. Iglesias had received a copy of the book in June and was reading at times, in the middle of the political storm of the moment. It was the summer of 2016, the least summer-like in decades for Spanish politics, plunged without government into an eternal debate on investiture pacts between several groups. Iglesias invited Carretero to his program. For once, the political leader asked and the journalist responded.

Fariña happened at the perfect moment: without a doubt, the content was relevant for readers who love story-telling, politics or both. But there was an extra: the television series Narcos about Pablo Escobar had just made fashionable the intrigues of drug trafficking and made the promotional message of Fariña easy: do you like Narcos? Well, this is Narcos a la española.

On the day of the interview with Pablo Iglesias, one of the members of Libros del KO, Alberto Sáez, took to the set another copy of Fariña, which was given to Pablo Iglesias. There an idea was conceived: "We have to give it to Rajoy". It was not a sudden idea. Iglesias had already sent Rajoy a recommendation that Fariña be read. Nacho Carretero improvised a dedication for the President of the Government. Faced with the image of handing Rajoy a book about drug trafficking in his native Galicia, in which connivance and political cowardice have been denounced for decades, Pablo Iglesias could only salivate.

"All Galician parties have been financed by drug trafficking," says one of the judges cited in the book. Fariña explains the plots of power that were born with smuggling between Galicia and Portugal and that were getting fatter until the Galician coast became the gateway in Europe for Colombian cocaine. In fact, for lovers of Narcos it is even exciting to find in Fariña common characters like the Ochoa brothers or the head of the Cali cartel, Gilberto Rodríguez. Even more interesting is to see in the pages of Fariña the rolesNúñez Feijoo or Manuel Fraga parallel to the growth of the big bosses.

However, Mariano Rajoy appears little in the book and in fact if you look at him with complacency does not go wrong: it is like the young politician who in the 80s knows what is happening with the relationship between politics and the narco, but who wants to distance himself without making a noise. In fact, it is explained that it is because of that attitude of resistance that Fraga issued a phrase that later transpired: "Mariano, go to Madrid, learn Galician, marry and have children".

Pablo Iglesias was not slow in fulfilling his mission, although finally with a low profile. A few days later, on July 18, he took advantage of a meeting with Rajoy as part of the round of contacts for the investiture and handed the book to the president of the Government. But there was no foto of the moment. The political climate did not make for much sarcasm and Iglesias tried to accentuate his more serene profile, this time without the sarcasm of other gifts as poisoned as were that pack of DVDs of Game of Thrones for the king or Juan de Mairena by Antonio Machado at a 2015 meeting with Rajoy. The Fariña copy in the hands of Rajoy remained as a somewhat unsuccessful opportunity for the publisher. Or so it seemed then.

Almost two years later, today we know that a few days after receiving the book from Iglesias, Rajoy thanked the author for the gift and congratulated him on its content. The letter arrived at his house, without warning. "I've already read it. It's very well documented," said the President of the Government about a book which deals with drug trafficking in his region and which is now censored.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 23.2.18

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.

  • Here in Spain, you can be jailed for upsetting/insulting a policeman, a member of the Guardia Civil, a Catholic or the monarchy. And the Spanish wonder why others see them as touchy. Anyway, here's the New York Times on the issue of censorship I mentioned yesterday.
  • Some excellent news . . . After nearly two decades of missteps and mishaps, filming on the latest iteration of Terry Gilliam’s ill-fated "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” is due to start in October to be shot in Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands, and to be finished by Xmas. Disasters on set, unexpected illnesses and financial problems have caused production to be canceled or delayed several times since work first started on the movie 18 years ago. It is expected to showcase the Gilliam-esque flights of fancy seen in the director’s previous films, such as “Brazil” and “Twelve Monkeys.” Can't wait to see it, having long ago enjoyed the documentary made about Gilliam's last(?) abortive attempt – Lost in La Mancha. Which someone has 'borrowed' from me.
  • Custody of children: In the time I've been here, things have moved from favouring mothers, through permitting/normalising joint custody, to compelling fathers to share the burden when the mother can't cope. All positive, of course, but – as with, say, gay marriage - all done rather more rapidly than one might expect in any society. Never mind an (ex-)Catholic one.
Life in Spain
  1. I made my 5th trip to the notary today, to explain that the company which had sent me the form had confirmed they needed the notary to put his name, date and signature in the right place. I was met, for the 3rd time, with the senseless comment that this was not how things were done in Spain. Because I wasn't sure I could correctly say Could you just get the fucking notary to put his fucking details in these 3 fucking lines on this fucking form, I politely asked the clerk to have a word with the gentleman and let me know if he was willing or not to comply with the company's request. She looked doubtful but said she would do this and call me last evening. She didn't, of course. I was, of course, reminded of Item 1 on the list of 7 Spanish faults cited yesterday: We lack information about what is happening around us.
  2. As I've said, the Honda dealer in Vigo failed to respond to 2 emails about an appointment, forcing me to phone them. But now things are in the hands of their computer. So, naturally, I got an email reminder from it today of tomorrow's appointment. As I've noted, this is the Spanish version of customer service – hand it all over to a machine. In this case, I suspect it's the same machine that's dealing with my insurance claim for a burnt-out central heating water pump.
  3. My friend Eamon has confirmed that Amazon Spain have only very recently introduced their latest ruse to get you to sign up for Amazon Prime. He then compared the 'simple' UK form with the 'complicated' Spanish form and (jokingly, I'm certain) suggested this reflected the Spanish love of complicating things by all talking simultaneously. I'm rather more sure it's a deliberate attempt to hoodwink clients.
The USA/Nutters Corner
  • The leader of the US gun lobby, Wayne LaPierre, has called for schools to have the same level of security as banks and warned that the “socialist” left is bent on stripping Americans of their firearms and freedoms. “We must immediately harden our schools. It should not be easier for a madman to shoot up a school than a bank or a jewellery store or a Hollywood gala.” It was an “absolute fallacy” that America needs more background checks on gun buyers. The present system was not being implemented properly. He argued against putting people who show signs of mental instability but who are not adjudicated mentally incompetent on a guns black list. Mr LaPierre said that a “socialist wave” was building in America. “ If they take over the House, our American freedoms could be lost and our country will be changed for ever .
  • Fart's tweets on the subject:
  1. What many people don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, is that Wayne and the folks who work so hard at the @NRA are Great People and Great American Patriots. They love our Country and will do the right thing.
  2. Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive. GREAT DETERRENT!
I wish I could leap ahead to just see what History makes of this jackass and whether it sees his election as confirmation of the beginning of the collapse of the American empire. Another Caligula? Or Nero, perhaps?

Meanwhile, there's a comment on LaPiere's insane ramblings below.

  • I haven't mentioned the Moscow propaganda TV outlet, RT News, for quite a while. Mainly because I don't watch it for a morning laugh these days. To make up for that, here's all you need to know about its reporting. I particularly like the item about Western office workers having computer chips implanted in their skin. Oh, and the story about animal brothels in Sweden
  • There's a book about drug trafficking in Galicia, called Fariña. This is the Galician word equivalent to Harina in Spanish, or 'Flour'. There's a discussion about it here, in Spanish. And several more videos cited on that page about our major source of income. 
  • Here's something on a fruit – durian – with which I'm familiar from a stint in the Far East. For me, the experience of partaking of it was most accurately described as eating rancid cheese while standing in a sewer. And I don't even like ordinary cheese, so you can imagine what it was like for me.
Today's Cartoon


Wayne LePierre's speech: a reminder of the paranoia that gave us Trump

Wayne LaPierre followed the NRA’s customary post-mass shooting moves in his CPAC speech – and at times sounded like Trump’s twin

The National Rifle Association perfected Trumpism before Trump, attacking the mainstream media for lies and hypocrisy, bouncing from one culture war battle to another, using each new outrage to raise the bar for the next.

For NRA executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre, a hardened provocateur, Thursday’s speech addressing yet another school shooting was comparatively muted. 

Five years ago, he sparked national outrage by responding to the murder of 20 elementary school children at Sandy Hook with the demand to put more “good guys with guns” in American schools. 

He simply reiterated that same proposal on Thursday, after another school shooting left 17 dead, arguing that the country needed to “harden our schools” against attack, and pledging “absolutely free” NRA support to any school in America that asked for it.

Donald Trump had already endorsed the “more guns in schools” approach himself the day before at the White House. 

LaPierre made the customary moves: denunciations of creeping socialism; warnings that American’s gun rights, could suddenly come under threat; blame of the mainstream media for its deceptions. At times, he sounded like Trump’s political identical twin.

In response to the new political threat of hundreds of furious, social-media savvy teenagers organizing against the NRA, LaPierre did not have much new to offer besides attacks on the integrity of American law enforcement. 

Dana Loesch, an NRA spokeswoman, directly blamed former FBI director James Comey and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for failing to prevent the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“Maybe if you politicized your agency less and did your job more we wouldn’t have these problems,” Loesch said in her own CPAC speech Thursday, referring to Comey, the FBI director Trump fired amid an investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

McClatchy reported in January that the FBI is also investigating whether a Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin used the NRA to improperly funnel foreign money into the American election process to support Trump.

LaPierre said he was saddened by the FBI’s “corruption” and “unethical agents,” and suggested the FBI’s rank and file needed to do a better job of policing its own leaders.

“What’s hard to understand is why no one at the FBI stood up and called BS on its rogue leadership,” he said. “Where was the systemic resistance?”

FBI officials have admitted that the bureau failed to properly follow up on two tips that the 19-year-old Parkland shooter was dangerous and might be planning a school attack. Trump fired Comey in May, months before the FBI reportedly failed to follow up on the earlier tip about the shooter.

LaPierre noted the NRA’s five million members included a large number of largest law enforcement officials, making the group’s choice to attack the FBI’s mistakes more striking.

The NRA leader attacked the Democratic party as being taken over by “a tidal wave of new European-style socialists”, citing a list of likely Democratic presidential candidates.

“There are now over 100 chapters of Young Democratic Socialists of America at many universities,” he said, an attack that the young socialists greeted on Twitter as a delightful and unexpected PR victory. 

He also highlighted reporting flaws in the current background check system for gun sales, perhaps setting the stage for the passage of modest bipartisan legislation to fix these gaps. The legislation is sponsored by Sen John Cornyn, an NRA ally, and tentatively endorsed by Donald Trump.

The NRA has faced months of criticism that its attack ads on the resistance against Trump were flirting with incitement to violence or full civil war.

But LaPierre said the group was not actually advocating violence. 

“Let’s be clear: we are never talking about an armed resistance against the socialist corruption of our government,” he said.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 22.2.18

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.

  • Blimey! I've learned from Lenox Napier's Business Over Tapas this morning that a brave/foolhardy Dutchman has written a book - It is not what it is. The real (S)pain of Europe - which lists these 7 national shortcomings:-
  1. We lack information about what is happening around us
  2. Our ethics don't measure up to "Western ethics"
  3. We don't have a financial culture 
  4. No one assumes responsibilities 
  5. We don't take risks when it comes to new undertakings or adapting to change 
  6. We are short-sighted and decide things on the fly 
  7. The services offered by our companies and public administrations are a real disaster 
  • An immediate riposte has come  from Esteban Hernández in El Confidencial, entitled Why does the Anglo-Saxon world call us lazy? There's a Google translation of this below, tarted up only where it didn't make much sense. He makes some fair points, of course. The fairest being his final one, viz. that perhaps Spain should stop giving ammunition to her critics. BTW . . . I hope it isn't churlish to point out that a Dutchman doesn't merit the honour of being called 'Anglo-Saxon'
  • No specific mention is made of corruption. Which is a tad odd, given how prevalent it is in political and corporate circles, and how much it distorts things here. It might explain that, as Lenox points out: The 6 largest Spanish banks (Santander, BBVA, CaixaBank, Bankia, Sabadell and Bankinter) together have not paid a single euro for corporate income tax since the onset of the economic crisis, despite having earned €84,000 million in the meantime. On reflection, I guess corruption comes under the criticism of not sharing Western ethics.
  • Another negative is right-wing PP censorship. Of which this and this are the most recent examples.
  • And I wonder if the Dutch author deals with the decline of objectivity in the media here. Lenox Napier today makes a point I've heard from several seasoned readers - both Spanish and foreign: El País, created to be a centre-left newspaper, is now so beholden to its corporate owners that it prints fervently pro-conservative stories as a new standard. 
  • And then there's government large-scale mismanagement, for example in the area of pension funding. As Don Quijones says here: The national pension fund’s payout ratio (pension as percentage of final salary) is the second highest in Europe after Greece, but that is about to change in a very big way.
  • So, yes, there are things about Spain that the Spanish need to think seriously about. But, for now, let's be more positive . . . 
  1. Spain is doing its bit to ensure the survival of Ladino, the language of the Jews expelled in 1492.
  2. And here - from The Local, of course - are 6 reasons unrelated to the Alhambra for visiting Granada.
  • So President Fart's solution to the problem of too many guns is to have more guns. School staff should be armed, he says. Why not the pupils also? Needless to say, the NRA plans to take advantage of the Florida tragedy to strike a deal in which they agree to tighter checking in return for people from states which allow 'concealed carry' being able to continue to hide their weapons when passing into states where it isn't. You really couldn't make it up. Even in your darkest dystopian moments. Or maybe you could.
  • Spanish justice is not famed for its expeditiousness. Here in Pontevedra, we have the added inconvenience of an indefinite strike among court staff. Already 3 weeks old. Cases are being postponed until 'next year'. Or the 12th of Never.
  • If you have a fire on your rural property - and it's said that 85% of these are started deliberately - the law says you can't [profitably] change its use for 30 years. But the law is being comprehensively ignored up in the hills. Where 700 landowners have proceeded to rapidly apply for a change of use. Possibly successfully. 
  • When I first came here, it seemed that every second family was adopting a Chinese child. Yesterday I read that adoption of foreign kids soared between 2000 and 2007, from 70 a year to 332. Then, during La Crisis, the number fell back to reach 48 in 2016, but is again on the rise.
  • Looking at 2 overweight ladies walking beside their bikes yesterday, I marvelled at the genius of an industry capable of persuading millions that, not only must they buy an unnecessarily expensive bike, but must also deck themselves out in utterly ridiculous gear before they take to the roads. Or, more usually here in Spain, the pavements. As someone - probably not Barnum - once said: No one ever went broke underestimating the stupidity of the public.
  • A warning about Amazon Spain. Last year I unwittingly signed up for Amazon Prime but got most of my money back when I later complained about their inertia selling. Yesterday, this happened again but I've no idea exactly how. This time I realised immediately and cancelled the subscription right away, only to receive a message that they'd be taking c. €20 from my account and returning it in 5-7 working days. So, be on your guard when ordering. And be very suspicious if the checkout statement shows no delivery charges. If so, and, if you then click to order the item(s), you'll have subscribed to Amazon Prime. They are well aware that there's chicanery at work, of course. Hence the willingness to give you your money back without argument.
Today's Cartoon

Me on a Spanish terrace, attempting irony . . . 


Why Europe and the Anglo-Saxon world attack Spain and call us lazy: Esteban Hernández

Vincent R. Werner has opened Pandora's box of prejudices. Our country is again portrayed as a well of laziness and vulgarity. But there are also self-interests behind it.

Vincent R. Werner's book It is not what it is. The real (S) pain of Europe (or more precisely the interview in which he summarizes his thesis) has generated conflicting positions. It describes Spanish vices such as lack of ethics or a financial culture, the non-assumption of responsibilities or the lack of entrepreneurialism, among others, and does it in the manner of a troll. The problem is not his perception, each one of them has his own, nor the fact that some of the deficits he points out may be true; not even that, if we compare ourselves with Holland, his birthplace, maybe we would emerge as the winner. Werner acts like a troll because it amplifies the ills of a country and makes them its essence. If we turned the clichés of each of the Western countries into their only qualities, they would all come out badly.

Lazy spendthrifts

However, what Werner says is not subjective, but is part of a vision about Spain that is much more rooted than it seems. A few weeks ago, 'The Times' published a denigratory article about our country that reflected a series of topics installed in Great Britain, that territory whose nationals insist on coming to ours to practice 'balconing'. But also, and especially during the time of the crisis we were pointed out in Europe as vague and spendthrifts. At that time the journalist Hans-Günter Kellner was counting on the idea that "the Spaniards have lived beyond their means" had become very popular in Germany, and that our image there was that of "funny people, eager eternal holidays, obsessed with good wine and quality food ". In Holland it was clear what was the cause of the problems, since the idea that they were paying us the crisis, "something that is not accepted because it is believed that the Spaniards spend the day of celebration, had penetrated. The prejudices about Spaniards being lazy were always there, but now they have come back stronger than ever. "

The countries of the south were rebels and needed leaders to apply the hard hand. We were unmanageable because of our character and our culture

It is not been the first time in history that that the prejudiced Protestant north has viewed the Catholic south with all kind of misgivings. It has its continuation in recent times.

As insisted Charles Powell, director of the Elcano Institute, figures like Kissinger were anchored in these reductionist visions. When all of Western Europe was governed by democracies, except for the south, where we had the military, the central idea of ​​the people who led American foreign policy, like Kissinger, is that such rebellious countries needed leaders to apply a hard hand. We were unmanageable because of our character and our culture. According to Powell, "Nixon was worse than Kissinger, since throughout his life he developed quite primal and very xenophobic sentiments. Kissinger also had them, but realism predominated in him. The important thing was security and stability, and the rest left it in the background. "

Anglo-Saxon superiority

When the crisis broke out, these misgivings were exacerbated. Partly because, as Powell pointed out, "in the Anglo-Saxon world there are still many prejudices against us. You have to understand that they look at the world from a defendant complex of superiority, which sometimes, as in the pages of 'The Financial Times' or 'The Economist', disguises itself as irony, but that is still there. And the crisis has fueled those latent prejudices that southern Europeans are better at partying and napping than at hard and steady work. That is doing a lot of damage to our economy. "

That was the dominant thesis, and it is the one reproduced without blushing by Werner, perhaps following in the footsteps of his compatriot Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who said that the problems of the southern countries were arose because we had gone partying and now we were asking for money to pay booze and women.

The north and the south

But let's leave these banalities and go to the serious matter. In these prejudices appear two elements that we must take into account. One is generic, and it indicates a class disdain that favored ones have with those who are not. The dominant discourse on the euro zone is that the countries of the North are more productive and are better prepared for a global scenario, while those of the South are no more than a bunch of louts suffering from endemic problems that force us to become a country of sunshine and drinks.

It is typical of our times to suggest that losers are the cause of their own problems, and Spain is among the losers group.

Because we are lazy and lovers of the good life, it is impossible for us to know how to measure up to the times. It has nothing to do with the fact that most of our resources go towards the payment of a debt that was contracted to return to the creditors (German banks among them) the amounts that they had irresponsibly lent to the savings banks, and that leaves us without resources for many things, such as investment in R&D. Nor with the policies of the European Central Bank have favored the economies of the north instead of those of the south, those that cause political actors to claim that the countries of the north live well precisely because we live badly here. But no, everything is caused by our limited ability to adapt and our lack of disposition. In short, drawing those who lose as causes of their own problems is typical of this era, and Spain falls within the group of losers.

Investors against Europe

Secondly, it is worrisome that this mentality has also taken root in financial environments, those that have the power to influence radically the economic life of a country. There are many big investors who still think that the euro is quite weak, that its weak point is the south, and that is why they put their finger on the wound. The last one has been Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater, one of the largest hedge funds in the world. It has bet more than 6,300 million euros in short positions in the German stock market, which adds to the 3,000 million that it had invested against the main Italian companies and the 1,500 million against Santander, BBVA, Telefónica and Iberdrola, in addition to different short against French companies.These ideas about the character of the Spanish, Italians, Greeks and Portuguese are self-interested.

Maybe we should not encourage them

The darts that Dalio has thrown may hurt him, but he is one of the financiers who are clear that the euro will suffer and that the south is the weakest point. If Italy falls, the group will do it, and that's why they put their money there. We can find many causes that justify these positions, almost as many as not to do so, but we must not forget that these prejudices also have a role in investments, and that politically there are interested in the EU getting into difficulties. Or to put it another way: in this context, many of these ideas about the character of Spaniards, Italians, Greeks and Portuguese are self-interested. Maybe we should think twice before giving them encouragement.