Thursday, January 31, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 31.1.19

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


  • A young Anglo-Spanish couple has a video here on the 10 culture shocks he experienced when moving to Madrid. Here's a summary of them. I relate to most and long-time readers won't be at all surprised at the first one:-
  1. No concept of personal space. Spaniards love physical contact and don’t shy away from applying it liberally.
  2. Eye contact. Spaniards love a good eye-locked gaze. In this country you’ll often lock eyes with strangers, and they will hold your gaze. 
  3. When at home, its slippers on or else. No bare feet.
  4. This is one noisy country - and the locals thrive on the energy created by all the noise.
  5. Kids in bars.
  6. Traditional bars which often  forget to provision the toilet.
  7. If you don’t have the exact change, you may be in trouble. 
  8. Living in the moment. This is a country where it's all about spontaneity. Little planning. [As I've said more than once, if you dislike planning and never stick to the few plans you do make, you get very good at spontaneity, and come to value it highly. Especially if it drives Anglos nuts.]
  9. People peel fruit that shouldn’t be peeled
  10. There is actually a test for pregnant women to see if they can eat jamón.
BTW . . . I'm guessing the young NZ chap doesn't drive in Spain.¡
  • Spanish bodegas actually have been planning ahead of the Brexit deadline of end March.
  • Someone has commented that: If Franco is buried in Madrid's cathedral, his tomb will become an even greater draw for his followers. Surely there's an argument for keeping the dead dictator where he is, as damned by his ugly monument as Ozymandias was by his. She has a point.
  • This blog truly is powerful. After my regular complaints about the endlessly confusing speed signs on the N550, the Pontevedra provincial administration has announced it'll be making an inventory of all its 4,000 signs, so that it can remove the redundant ones. Or at least think about doing so.
The UK and Brexit
  • Richard North today: As the torrent of drivel pours forth, the UK media sets for itself a new low in its reporting of Brexit, presenting the prime minister in confrontation with the EU over the supposed negotiations and treating this as if it was a real event. . . . There is no excuse at all for the media to go along with the fiction that there are going to be meaningful (or any) renegotiations. And it is totally absurd for any media organ to project a sense of shock or outrage at the EU's response. . .  For the rest, there is just blather 
The EU and Brexit
  • Michel Barnier has explicitly accused Mrs May of bad faith, declaring that: Even before the votes in the parliament she distanced herself from the agreement she herself negotiated and on which we agreed. The British government subsequently gave its explicit support to an amendment which requests that the backstop is replaced by alternative arrangements, which have never actually been defined. At the same time the House of Commons rejected the no-deal scenario, without, however, specifying how to avoid such a scenario. The backstop is part and parcel of the Withdrawal Agreement and it will not be renegotiated.
  • Paraphrasing . . .  What bit of 'No' do you not understand?
  • Of course, there are those who believe/hope the EU will soften its stance as and when they come to realise how much damage will be done by a hard Brexit to, for example, the German car industry. This is because they agree with the dictum of Lenin that Politics is concentrated economics. Except it isn't when it comes to the EU project. You only have to look at the politically-driven premature creation of the euro to see that. So, things have to be sacrificed on the altar of the politically-driven EU, whatever the short-term economic consequences. Whether this is wise in the longer-term remains to be seen.
  • Meanwhile, in case you didn't go to the RN site. Putting all this graphically:-
The EU
  • Corruption arising. See the first article below.
The USA/Nutters Corner
  • The White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders:  God wanted Donald Trump to become president. Is it really possible she believes this, as opposed to just spouting nonsense to please Fart's evangelical Christian base?
  • One such utterly immoral evangelist.
Social Media
  • See the second article below on the need to protect young people. History will not be kind on either the management of the relevant companies nor on the politicians who've allowed them to get away with (and profit hugely from) their nefarious activities. 
  • One of the differences between English and Spanish is that the former tends to take the perspective of the other person whereas the latter tends to take the speaker's perspective. As in: 
  1. I'm coming now v. I'm going how.
  2. Yes, I am going to dinner in your house on Saturday v. Yes, I am coming to your house on Saturday,
I only mention this because a Spanish friend told me yesterday that she'll never get her head around this. I pointed out that I'd had to get my head round it in Spanish . . .

  • Looking at the German text for my new Phillips filter-coffee machine, I see these English-German equivalents:-
- Recycling - 'Recycling'
- Guarantee and Support - 'Garantie und Support'
- Symbol - 'Symbol'.
- Problem - 'Problem'
I guess it's possible things have long been thus but I do wonder.

Finally . . .
  • Did you know that, back in 1308, England imported 5m gallons( 23m litres) of wine from the Aquitaine, a bit of France it owned at the time?

1. Rise of the European autocrats is a breeding ground for corruption:  Catherine Philp, Diplomatic Correspondent. The Times.

The rise of autocracy in countries such as Hungary and Turkey has led to rampant corruption, Transparency International said yesterday in its latest annual list.

Hungary’s score on the global anti-corruption index has dropped by eight points to 46 over the past five years. Developments there included curbs on the media and the judiciary, and the forced departure of the Open Society Foundation and Central European University, both of which were founded by the philanthropist George Soros.

Turkey’s score dropped by nine points in the same period to 41, as the country was downgraded to “not free” on a democracy ranking.

“With many democratic institutions under threat across the globe — often by leaders with authoritarian or populist tendencies — we need to do more to strengthen checks and balances and protect citizens’ rights,” Patricia Moreira, managing director of Transparency International, said.

Britain was ranked 11th cleanest, level with Germany, with a score of 80 out of 100. This was a two-point fall from the previous year, when the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) put Britain at joint eighth. Denmark topped the chart as the world’s least corrupt nation, scoring 88 points. New Zealand was second at 87 points. Somalia pipped Syria for bottom position with 10 points to its 13. Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq all scored in the teens.

More than two thirds of countries scored under 50. The US fell out of the top 20 “cleanest” countries with a score of 71, having lost four points. “A four-point drop in the CPI score is a red flag and comes at a time when the US is experiencing threats to its system of checks and balance, as well as an erosion of ethical norms at the highest levels of power,” Transparency International said. “If this trend continues, it would indicate a serious corruption problem in a country that has taken a lead on the issue globally. This is a bipartisan issue that requires a bipartisan solution.”

President Trump’s second year in office has been dogged by corruption allegations, from the inquiry into links between his election campaign and Russia to accusations of nepotism and conflicts of interest. In December he shut his personal charity after the New York attorney-general said that it acted “as little more than a cheque book to serve Mr Trump’s business and political interests”.

Zoe Reiter, Transparency International’s acting representative to the US, said: “The Office of Government Ethics simply doesn’t have the teeth to control conflicts of interest at the highest levels.”

• Russian officials would be exempt from legal liability for bribery and other corrupt acts committed in “exceptional circumstances” under draft laws based on plans approved by President Putin. Ilya Shumanov, of Transparency International Russia, said that there was “not a single rational explanation” for the exemption. The independent Levada Centre showed that 67 per cent of Russians held Mr Putin responsible for high-level fraud. The Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy in Moscow has said that corruption costs Russia $35 billion a year.

2. Social media ‘must be forced to protect young users’: Mark Bridge, Technology Correspondent, the Times.

Tech companies including Facebook and YouTube have failed to protect young people despite repeated promises and should now be forced by law, the children’s commissioner has said.

In an open letter published today Anne Longfield questions whether the companies have “lost control”, given the huge volume of disturbing content available to under-18s. She calls for “a statutory duty of care” and the introduction of a digital ombudsman.

Her calls come after Ian Russell told the BBC that Instagram “helped kill my daughter”. Molly Russell, 14, viewed images of self-harm on the Facebook-owned app before taking her own life. The charity Papyrus said that more than 30 families had recently blamed social media for playing a role in their children’s deaths.

Ms Longfield says that Molly’s case “again highlighted the horrific amount of disturbing content that children are accessing online”. “I do not think it is going too far to question whether even you, the [platforms’] owners, any longer have any control over their content,” she writes. “If that is the case, then children should not be accessing your services at all, and parents should be aware that the idea of any authority overseeing algorithms and content is a mirage.”

She warns that the apps and websites could be harmful to children due to their “addictive” features and dangerous or inappropriate content.

“Over the last few years I have had dialogue with many of the big social-media companies over how best to make sure children have the resilience, information and power they need to make safe and informed choices about their digital lives,” she says. “I have been reassured time and time again that this is an issue taken seriously. However, I believe there is still a failure to engage and children remain an afterthought.”

She says that she shares the frustrations of the Duke of Cambridge, who has said that on “every challenge” such as fake news, extremism and bullying social media companies remained on the back foot. Ms Longfield says that “potential disruption” should no longer prevent the safety and wellbeing of young people being a priority. “Neither should hiding behind servers and apparatus in other jurisdictions,” she adds.

She calls for the companies to answer a series of questions on self-harm posts, including how many had been accessed by under-13s. She has backed calls for the companies to provide data relating to Molly Russell to the coroner.


Maria said...

No bare feet because the terrazo floors are so cold. Back in Boston we had wood floors. They were a joy to navigate barefoot in the summer.

Exact change only? That was a feature on Boston buses. Intercity buses here, at least, make change, though some driver may balk at changing a twenty.

As for social media and children. Parents should first teach their children to open up to them from when they are babies and start school. Kids should not receive smart phones until they're twelve or older, and the computer should be in a public room of the house. Computer literacy also starts at home, and I'm sure there are programs to upload on the computer to block certain web pages. Parents should also explain to young children beginning to use the computer that there are sites that are as bad as the proverbial stranger with strange candy.

Eamon said...

To come and to go fits well with your mention the other day about bring and take. I haven't come across "exact change only" here in Coruña on the bus, taxi or supermarket so things certainly are different in Madrid. I have had that eye contact situation but couldn't make out why so now I can smile the next time it happens.

Colin Davies said...

I agree, Maria, that pre-teens groundwork is essential but what happens after you've given a smartphone to your 12 year old and he/she comes under the pressure of peers and social media companies who Mission - one would be forgiven for thinking - is to undermine the self-confidence of users who are going through the most difficult period of their lives.

Colin Davies said...

. . . whose Mission . . .