Saturday, February 17, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 17.2.18

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's The Local on the plight of the galgos I mentioned yesterday. The galgo's size, by the way, is between that of a whippet and a British greyhound. Very nice animals. There are refuges around the country, if you want one.
  • How to be very, very Spanish . . . 
  • Only in Spain? The Valenican authorities have cancelled an art show after realising it was being held by an ex civil servant who'd taken a salary from them for 10 years without ever turning up for work. Click here.
  • A surprise? The income of retired Spaniards who are between 66 and 75 is 6% higher than the national average, according to the OECD. Among its 35 members states, this age group earns 7% less after retirement. But in Spain the opposite happens. It is an atypical case surpassed only by France, where pensioners ages 66 to 75 make 10% more than the national average.
Life in Spain

Trigger warning: Major moans coming . . . 
  • There've been times in my life when I've realised I'd probably done something for the last time. For example, playing the trombone and performing on stage. Rather more recently, I feel I've done my last dinner for Spanish guests. Why? Well, mainly because the reliability of invitees is low and the reciprocity rate is almost zero. The reasons for this? Well, it's rare to be invited inside a Spanish house and, secondly, dinner parties aren't a feature of Spanish culture. It's their loss. 
  • One way or another, I've had quite a lot to do with Spain's notaries over the years. These are civil servants who have a lucrative monopoly over all the formalities which the Spanish state has long imposed on its tax-evading citizens in order to increase the take from them. For the most part, I've found them to be arrogant, inefficient and even incompetent. And, as in all 'professions', some of them are also crooked. My latest unhappy experience with a notary has been trying to get one to complete the short bit of a form certifying I am the person in my passport. After 4 visits and a lot of waiting around, I was given back the document with a large apostilla on it, like this one, but without the relevant 3 lines being filled in:-

When I pointed this out to the clerk, she replied: This is the way we do things in Spain. When I protested that the company which wanted the certification was British, that it had its own processes and rules, and that I was now likely to have problems, she merely repeated: But this is the way we do things in Spain. To which I retorted that Spain wasn't the entire world, while repressing the comment that - understandably - notaries were unknown in the Anglo world. If they were, Shakespeare would surely have penned Let's hack to pieces all the effing notaries in place of merely Let's kill all the lawyers.

The EU
  • Spain's Luis De Guindos is in line for the post of ECB VP, in competition with an Irishman, Philip Lane. The Euro parliament has stated a preference for the latter but the decision is taken at 'government level'. So, horse-trading time among all the EU Finance Ministers. Having held this post in Sr Rajoy's PP government, it's hard not to see Sr Guindos as being tainted by corruption. Not that this will necessarily affect the decision. The FT says here that he's still the favourite. Hardly surprising, given that he has the endorsement of both Germany and France. And it's their club.
  • A short Q and A:
Q. How did the Florida gunman get his rifle?
A. Federal law allows people aged 18 and older to buy semi-automatic rifles. By contrast, you have to be 21 to buy a handgun or to drink alcohol. Florida has a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases but you can take home a semi-automatic rifle, magazines and ammunition in a matter of minutes if you clear an instant background check on the FBI criminal database.
Q. Where does President Trump stand on gun control?
A. Before he entered politics Mr Trump expressed support for some new gun controls. “I generally oppose gun control but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun,” he wrote in 2000 in his book, 'The America We Deserve'. After the Sandy Hook school shooting of 2012, he praised President Obama’s call for tougher controls.
When he entered the Republican presidential primary in 2015 he embraced the NRA’s stance. He argued, for instance, that government mandated gun-free zones in places such as schools and churches made for “target practice for the sickos”. He has frequently suggested that the best defence against mass shootings is more citizens with guns. The NRA spent $21 million to help get Mr Trump elected.
Q. Is Mr Trump in tune with the country?
A. Polls suggest that a large majority of Americans believe that the right to own a gun is part of their birthright. In October a Gallup poll found that 70% of voters opposed a ban on handguns. In 1959 it was only 36%.
On the issue of whether assault rifles should be banned voters are split down the middle — a shift from the 1990s when a majority wanted a ban. By a margin of two to one they believe that having a gun in the house makes it safer. Most think that new gun laws would have little or no effect on mass shootings.
  • The White House has refused to release a photo of President Donald Trump signing a law making it easier for some people with mental illness to buy guns. Despite repeated requests from CBS News, the White House press office has issued only a one-line response. Mr Trump last year repealed an Obama-era rule allowing the names of certain people on mental health benefits to be entered into a criminal database.
  •  The Republican president's critics noted his own annual budget proposed this week would cut hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for mental health programmes.
  • As for solving the problem, the author of the article below is pessimistic: The US political class, he says, has effectively abandoned any attempt at stopping the everyday drumbeat of smaller-scale shootings. And possibly even the large-scale school killings as well.
The UK
  • There are feuds and feuds. Perhaps, as this shows, the fraternal variety is the best.
  • I expected Brexiteer Richard North to be scathing about Boris Johnson's speech and I wasn't disappointed. Taster: This is ignorance beyond the reach of any remedy, the typical High Tory malaise where those afflicted are so imbued with their own magnificence that they cannot conceive that there is something they don't know. Click here for more good stuff.
Nutters Corner
  • An alt-right journalist in the USA (of course) says that the Florida massacre happened because atheists have been demonising Christians. Not the weirdest of his beliefs, of course.
  • In several years, the owner of my daily watering hole has never spoken a word of English to me. So, I was a tad surprised when, yesterday, he asked me to help him get a subscription to The Guardian Weekly. When I felt obliged to stress it was high level English he'd be trying to read, he looked rather aggrieved.
  • Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux say they have a 'cherished friendship'. Sadly, this hasn't stopped them divorcing after a mere 2 years of married life, albeit after a prior 4 years together. But they will maintain their deep friendship, they say. That apart, I'm reminded of my second marriage.
  • I'm with Matthew Parris as regards his article (below) on the issue of skin products and, maybe, shampoo. Since I stopped using a deodorant months ago, I've only had favourable comments. From women, as it happens. Maybe I smell more 'masculine' now. Needless to say, the use of all these products increases the use of plastics. A second reason to give up at least most of them.
Today's Cartoon


1. America's real gun problem is below the radar – and DC has given up on solving it

The US political class has effectively abandoned any attempt at stopping the everyday drumbeat of smaller-scale shootings

By any standards the t-shirt was offensive. Quoting "Joe the Plumber" – the poster boy of the American right a few elections back – it read: "Your dead kids don't trump my constitutional rights."

To make things even worse, it was being worn by somebody strolling along the coast of a New England holiday resort a couple of years after the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut. Given the number of Connecticut licence plates in the carpark nearby, I was astonished that the brazen and callous display did not provoke a violent response.

It also indicated that there is something of a class divide over gun policy. The idea of possessing a gun horrifies not only me but all my fellow liberal snowflakes. But, clearly, others do not feel the same way.

Research by the Pew Centre found that 31 per cent of people whose education finished at high school lived in a household with at least one gun. For graduates, the figure was only 25 per cent. It also showed that at 16 per cent, adult gun ownership is rarer in the northeast of the US  than in the midwest, 32 per cent, and the south, 36 per cent.

Gun ownership is far more common in rural areas than in the suburbs, yet it is in manicured, affluent communities that some of the worst atrocities have taken place. In Parkland, Florida, for example, the household median income is $126,905 – more than double the average for the state as a whole. Household median income in Newtown, the site of the Sandy Hook massacre, is currently $123,750, about $50,000 higher than for the state as a whole.

It is these well-off communities that have spawned killers who committed mass slaughter, using expensive assault weapons.

The response to the latest horrific events has been pretty predictable. Florida's Republicans have offered thoughts and prayers but little else, provoking considerable derision. Marco Rubio, who received a significant donation from the National Rifle Association, has suggested the time was not right to debate gun control.

The NRA did at least delete a tweet urging people to buy their loved ones a gun for Valentine's Day. Equally inevitably, the liberal Left has stepped up its demands for tighter gun laws following Wednesday's massacre. But as horrendous as the latest events are, the sad truth is, gun violence is so commonplace in the USA that it takes an atrocity on the scale of Parkland to rekindle the debate.

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, 96 people are shot dead in the US on an average day. As a reporter, I get an alert of shooting incidents and active gunmen on my mobile phone. The death toll has to approach double figures to be of "news interest" – which is a sad indictment of the US.

Even in the sleepy Maine resort where I live, they still talk of a massacre in the 1980s which claimed several lives. Only a few years ago a body was dumped by the side of the I-95 just across from the New Hampshire border.

Most of these incidents – from gang crime to domestic violence – don't involve as many people as your average school shooting, but collectively they account for more deaths. And yet there is very little interest in American politics in doing anything about them, except perhaps when they provide a useful stick to beat one's partisan opponents with.

It looks as if my sense of resignation is shared by American politicians who voice concern after a mass killing, but regard the relentless drumbeat of daily shootings across the country as inevitable. For legislators, action rarely follows the obligatory hand-wringing.

For example, following the Las Vegas shooting, there appeared to be a consensus that "bump stocks" which convert an assault weapon into a machine gun should be banned. Despite the measure being backed by both parties and, seemingly, by the National Rifle Association, nothing has happened. Republicans are now arguing that the issue should be dealt with by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. That idea is on hold, apparently indefinitely.

A measure stepping up background checks was passed by the House of Representatives after it emerged that Devin Kelley, who gunned down 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas in November, had a conviction for domestic violence. But there is no sign of a vote in the Senate.

There is also no sign of a bill to curb the sale of expensive assault weapons and even an attempt to limit clip size was vetoed in New Jersey by Chris Christie, who was the state's governor.

Beneath the radar there have been some initiatives such as the CeaseFire programme in Chicago, which has taken a holistic approach in some of the most violent areas of the city. The initiative uses techniques such as anger management and substance abuse counselling to tackle some of the root causes of the almost daily shootings in violent hot spots.

But these interventions are few and far between, and it is hard to escape the sense that the American political class has pretty much given up. Considering that almost 100 people are gunned down every day across the country that is a disgrace. It should not take a Sandy Hook or a Parkland to act as a wake-up call.

2. This cult of cleanliness is a deadly racket: Matthew Parris

Not every health scare story deserves the front page but this one did. Our age has an obsession with washing and cleaning things, starting with our own bodies. This owes more to a mild form of collective mental illness than it does to hard-nosed medical science. That Times report also mentioned personal deodorants. Except in emergencies I have never used these. It always struck me — on the basis of precaution rather than medical expertise — that anything potent enough to block your pores and destroy the body flora that give scent to our perspiration must be pretty strong stuff. We are unlikely to have a perfect knowledge of the possible collateral damage.

It must be about 25 years since I stopped using shampoo. I have a much cleverer brother with a background in the sciences who had explained to me how to the corporate till shampoo is the gift that keeps on giving. Like nicotine it creates its own demand. A liquified, tinted and perfumed version of washing powder, shampoo strips the scalp of its natural oils. These lend heat-insulating and water-resistant properties to creatures’ fur or feathers. Sebaceous glands in a just-shampooed human scalp register the stripping of oils, then panic and pump out emergency supplies; your hair gets greasy faster and you reach for the shampoo again next morning.

My brother pointed out that animals do not use shampoo, yet when did you last see a rabbit with a greasy hair problem? So, on a South American expedition where we didn’t need to look our best, I stopped shampooing. For many days my hair got greasier. Then, washed with warm water alone, it started becoming less greasy. Everything stabilised — and has been stable ever since. After that I hardly ever used shampoo; my hair lost the artificial shine that shampoo does impart but has never been greasy, and I get far less dandruff than before.

The Australian journalist Richard Glover, meanwhile, has attracted a sizeable Antipodean “no ’poo” cult. Shampoo manufacturers became alarmed. I started receiving from claimed experts unsolicited dossiers of photographic evidence (through microscopy) that fewer dust particles lodge in detergent-washed hair than in hair washed only in water. That of course is obvious: if you stripped your body of all natural oils then less dust would stick to it. Your skin would also fall off.

The cleaning and cosmetics industries are worried with good reason. Globally they rake in hundreds of billions of dollars, and a handful of huge companies dominate a notably small field. The UK cosmetics business has a market value of more than £9 billion. Aware that they could be more seriously targeted by environmentalists than has yet happened, their industry body runs a website,, encouraging visitors to “sort out which are myths or scares”. The site’s tone is a blend of the helpful and the defensive. They have a lot to protect, employing some 200,000 people within British cosmetics alone.

Most cleaning and cosmetic products are retailed in disposable plastic containers, the rest in disposable glass. And for all of them, the tills just keep on ringing while the plastics are washed out to sea.

The Colman family used to joke that the family fortune rested on the mustard left on the side of the plate after dinner; but the cleaning and cosmetics industries are wise to keep quiet about the comparable boast. Not only do most consumers grotesquely overuse the bleaches, disinfectants, de-greasers, detergent gels, scouring pastes (toothpaste), ammonias, chlorines and chemical-based dyes and perfumes that constitute the house-cleaning, body-washing, disinfecting industry, as well as the creams and cosmetics used (as the 18th-century Spectator editor Joseph Addison put it) “to adorn that part of the head which we generally call the outside” but they discard, wash or wipe away most of the product, unused. Shower gel is the most egregious example. Most of it, perfume, dye, detergent and all, goes straight down the plughole. What genius on the part of the bodywashing industry so to dilute the core product (detergent) that it slips through the consumer’s fingers and is washed away.

At a friend’s house recently, and with the slightest of colds giving me a slightly raw throat, I emerged from the bathroom as from a First World War trench, choking on chlorine gas. “It’s my husband,” said my friend. “He puts half a bottle of household bleach down the loo every day, ‘to kill germs’ he says.” This is the gas, but in lower concentrations, that exterminated troops in 1914-1918.

Freudian theory may be all over the place, but at its core lie some vast intuitive truths. Since long before Lady Macbeth’s compulsive sleepwalking hand-washing movements we have half-sensed the unconscious connection between guilt and dirt. Germ theory, and its monstrous commercialisation by the post-war American “hygiene” industry, has put a booster rocket under the cleaning, sterilising and disinfecting sector. For a while Americans (turning their attention to what Addison might have called “that part of the head which we generally call the inside”) even called mental health “mental hygiene”.

Postwar concepts of hygiene distorted our notions about the relationship between cleanliness and health. I defy any medical expert to give me the scientific justification for dousing the whole body, every day, in hot water and detergent. Spaniards commonly do this twice a day. Many Japanese people have gone completely crazy, spending much of their lives immersed naked in thermal springs, showering and soaping themselves twice before, and once after, every immersion.

This column goes no further than Tom Whipple himself in quantifying the harm our cleaning mania may do to ourselves and our planet. But the truth is we do not know. The risks to the ozone layer from chlorofluorocarbons (or the link between cleaning fluids and PM2.5 particles) have been discovered late: long after refrigerators (or bleaches, or pesticides) had been certified as safe.

But this we do already know: stuff that destroys living organisms, strips oils or “dissolves” dirt should be treated with caution. What kills germs could kill humans too.


Eamon said...

The notary - I assume you were given the form to take to the notary to confirm that you are the person as shown on your passport. If the notary makes a mistake in filling out the form then unless you have a couple of extra ones you will have to go back to get another. The notary just confirms who you are and puts the relevant stamps on it and you take it back to the originator who then fills it in. If the originator makes a mistake you then go back to the notary with another form and pay again. When are you going to learn to do things the Spanish way?

Sierra said...,

Maria said...

A study recently done also mentions that household cleaning products damage the lungs as much as smoking. Those whose lungs are thus damaged are mostly women. The hazards of homemaking.

Colin Davies said...

First visit: Showed them the relevant section of the form and my translation of it. Was told the notary didn't need the translation. Second visit (after hanging around): Talked to the notary about he 3 lines he needed to fill in, showed him my passport and signed where I needed to. He said he would do his stuff and I should call back in the morning to collect the form. Third visit: Was asked for the translation and, after 50 mins of hanging around, was given the completed form and the bill. Notary had not filled in his name, signature and address on the form and had stuck his stamp on another page. So, both pages rendered useless. But, expecting to be disappointed, I had copied both uncompleted pages and will now try to get someone else to do what I really want. As you say, one learns what to expect and not expect in Spain . . .

Colin Davies said...

@Sierra: I asume that's a spoof. Even the NRA couldn't be that stupid/callous. On the other hand . . .

Perry said...

"This is the way we do things in Spain." Which is why the young, smart Spanish who do not want to do things, the way they do things in Spain, are in the UK or Germany. Demographics rule!

An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life. Robert A. Heinlein.

Richard North produced the definitive Brexit strategy.

Whilst our piss poor politicians haven't read Flexcit, you can bet your last pfennig the EU negotiators have!!!!!

Who'd want to subscribe to The Grauniad? Rhetorical question.

Matthew Parris punned it deo do rant! It all depends what you use.

The cartoon's incorrect.

Now, back to the railway.

Eamon said...

I forgot to mention in my last comment that I receive every few years a "policy of life" from my private pension admin to confirm I am still alive. This year in the foot note it stated they would not accept a signature from a notary. Perhaps they read your blog.

Colin Davies said...

ROFL. But what did they accept instead?

Colin Davies said...

@Perry. Call that a railway??

Eamon said...

I had the formed signed by a friend who is an architect. Doctor,lawyer,Padre all the regular people as long as they are not related in any way. I should imagine they do random checks on those who confirm identity so sending off a letter to a notary is probably a waste of time as I can't see one bothering to reply unless there is some dosh passed over.

Colin Davies said...

True, but in my case they wanted details of the public register of the organisation which governs the witnesses profession so that they could check on his/her existence. One of the things the notary failed to provide. I doubt he really could read the form and didn't bother with my translation.

Perry said...

In the UK, it still may be the case that a police officer, a graduate or a teacher who knew the person could sign the reverse of a passport photo, but when I applied to renew my blue badge, my signature was deemed sufficient.

On 24th February, I'm doing this for the day.