Monday, February 27, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 27.2.17

It's a commonplace comment that the Spanish work among the longest hours in at least Europe. Though not necessarily productively. But a Telegraph article recently suggested that this isn't true. And that the Spanish don't put in many more hours than the British, for example. Witness this OECD table:-

Which nationalities work the longest hours?
[European countries and the USA in bold. And Iceland.]
Mexico - 2,246 hours per year
Costa Rica - 2,230
South Korea - 2,113
Greece - 2,042
Chile - 1,988
Russia - 1,978
Poland - 1,963
Latvia - 1,903
Iceland - 1,880
Portugal - 1,868
Lithuania - 1,860
Israel - 1,858
Estonia - 1,852
Turkey - 1,832
Ireland - 1,820
United States - 1,790
Czech Republic - 1,779
New Zealand - 1,757
Slovakia - 1,754
Hungary - 1,749
Italy - 1,725
Japan - 1,719
Canada - 1,706
Spain - 1,691
Slovenia - 1,676
United Kingdom - 1,674
Australia - 1,665
Finland - 1,646
Austria - 1,625
Sweden - 1,612
Switzerland - 1,590
Belgium - 1,541
Luxembourg - 1,507
France - 1,482

But what is true is that the Spanish stretch these hours over a much longer period, with the inevitable result that they go to bed later than any other people in the world, perhaps. One of the consequences of this is said to be less sex and, therefore, a low birth rate. This has led, would you believe, to the creation of a “sex tsar”. See the text of a Times article on this at the end of this post. Or a similar Independent article here.

By the way . . . I see the French are not only bastards but (verylazy bastards. And I wonder why anyone works at all in Switzerland and Luxembourg, given the source of most of their wealth. Interesting to note where the Anglo countries come.

I've noted a few times that there's a gulf between Spain's headline economy numbers - GDP growth of 2-3% - and what's actually going on down at the various coalfaces. Well, here's a Spanish expert who claims things are very bad indeed below the surface. He insists that Spain has a third world production model of speculators and waiters, with a labour market where the majority of jobs created are temporary and with remunerations of €600, and the largest wage decline in living memory. Plus a broken pension system and an insolvent financial system. The Olive Press chooses to label this 'a rant'. Presumably because their in-house expert disagrees. Which sometimes happens between experts.

Like other foreigners, I've oft noted that Spanish kids are not told until quite late in their youth that they should take others into consideration. I thought of this when watching a mother park her car below a supermarket last night, and then take her young daughter into the shop. Setting her a fine example of individualismo. Or, as others call it, selfishness.

As you can see, there was no shortage of normal space but she still felt it OK to block the way for others. And I know she would be able to justify it. At least to herself.

En passant 1: Is there anything less interesting than reports of the Oscars ceremony – even one that goes spectacularly wrong?

En passant 2: I haven't watched RT News for a while. But this morning I was amused to see that – in what they call "this post-truth age” – they've set up a new team to tell us what is really going on in the world. As Moscow dictates, of course. One wonders how many of their own reports they'll be analysing. Like Trump, beyond irony.

En passant 3: Talking of alt-news, alternative facts and post-truth, I see that some rich bastard in the UK has started an equivalent of Breitbart there. It's called Westmonster (geddit?) and you can find the web page for yourself, if it interests you. Or you are a UKIP supporter. He bankrolls that party. But is   threatening to stop doing so unless they make him Chairman.

Finally . . .  A Private Eye cartoon:-

The Times article

Spanish sex tsar will encourage baby-making

After a long day at work, dinner at about 10pm and watching TV until past midnight, many Spaniards have little energy left.

Experts believe that this explains why the country has one of the lowest birthrates in the developed world.

Spanish women say that they would like two or more children but in 2015 those aged 18 to 49 had an average of 1.3 children, well below the EU figure of 1.58.

Faced with a population crisis, with fewer births than deaths recorded for the first time last year, the government has appointed Edelmira Barreira, a demographic expert, or sex tsar, to get people to produce more babies.

Rafael Puyol, of the IE Business School in Madrid, blames long working hours and late nights: “They do not help with making a family. Then when a child arrives it is even worse.”

In 2013, a Spanish national commission exploring how the country could reconcile work and family life, found Spaniards sleep 53 minutes less than the European average, with the lack of sleep resulting in high rates of stress and absenteeism.

Mr Puyol said lack of government help for parents, a work culture which did little to favour family life and the absence of affordable housing or nurseries for most people all slowed couples’ enthusiasm to have children. VAT on nappies is 21 per cent, and child care provision amounts to 1.5 per cent of GDP, compared with the EU average of 2.8 per cent.

Elisa Chuliá, a sociologist with the National University of Distance Learning, said modern women want to enjoy the independence their mothers’ generation did not have.

“Younger people want greater liberty to travel and have their own careers which their parents never did,” she said.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 26.2.17

Regular readers will know I think percebes(goose barnacles) are grossly over-rated as a delicacy, tasting to me like rubber dipped in salty water. But I know several people – both Spaniards and foreigners - who totally disagree on this. In fact, I discovered on Friday that their fans even include the guy who told me long ago that even during the lean years of the civil war no one would be caught eating either them or barnacles. They were seen back then as animal food, until the marketeers got to work on them. He especially likes the large variant from Cedeira, north of La Coruña on the Galician coast. Maybe I should try them at the inevitable annual gastronomic festival there.

Click here if you want to know the Spanish province with the largest black economy. No prizes for guessing it's in the south.

And click here if you want Don Quijones's take on the latest immoral/semi-criminal activities of the European banks. 

Talking of banks . . . My new one sends me an SMS every time I use my debit card for amounts over, I think, €50. In fact, I actually received a message last night even before my receipt had been given to me. I'm not sure I welcome this.

Two new words for me today:-

Shonky: This is said to emanate from the Antipodes and to mean: dishonest, unreliable or illegal, especially in a devious way. The same word serves as a noun for a person engaged in suspect business activities.

Catfisher: The devious brand of love cheat who creates a fake online identity to lure innocent lonely hearts into a relationship. 

As these things happens, I was going to cite this morning the case of the so-called Don Juan of (nearby) Marín, a guy who's finally been arrested after deceiving and defrauding more than 70 women over 40 years. Hard to see how he could have got away with this for so long. One of his tricks was to nick the phone or laptop of his last victim to gift to the next one. Apparently he didn't do it for the money or even the sex but – as a psycho – to exercise power over weak women. So, if your new man has given you a mobile phone or a laptop . . . .

Nutters' Corner: Two more quotes from the same US evangelist pastor:-
  • The biggest problem with India today is Hinduism; the best thing you could do to help poor people there is to teach them the Bible.
  • Atheists are so insecure they don't want anyone seeing nativity scenes, crosses, etc. as they don't want people to think for themselves. We're not afraid to teach children about how to understand different views. Atheists are afraid to let people be taught to think critically about origins, as people would then understand evolution's a religion

And just in case you think nuttiness is confined to the US of A: One of the wealthiest Cambridge colleges is to rethink its menu after ethnic minority students complained about culinary offerings such as “Jamaican stew” and “Tunisian rice” on the grounds that the names are “cultural misrepresentations” as they do not exist in their supposed native countries. Poor damaged things.

Finally . . . Another Bill Tidy cartoon:- One of my all time favourites . . . 
Ah, c'mon, Genghis - we need only one more to make a horde!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 25.2.17

I love Spain but, after nearly being hit by imbeciles on bikes and quad bikes in the narrow streets of the old quarter both last night and this morning, I'm pining a bit for the order and safety of westernised Holland, against the disorder and risks of easternised Spain. Which will be purely temporary of course. But, meantime, bound to upset a few Spanish readers . . .

I was going to read this list - from The Local, of course – which purports to name the 10 Spanish dishes you really should eat before you pop your clogs. But, after seeing the first one was percebes, I decided not to go further. I feared the second would be bloody tripe and the third pig's ear. Which is far too much for me to stomach, even merely on paper. So, check it out for me, please.

Heres Don Quijones addressing the Spanish issue of momentWill any of this week's crop of greedy rogues and scoundrels ever see the inside of a jail? If so, how long before President Rajoy selects them for one of the thousands of pardons he hands out each year. [See what I mean about Spain being eastern, as well as thoroughly western?] Here's DQ's final paragraph:- Many of them are so intimately connected to the political and business establishment that it’s almost impossible to imagine them warming a bench in a jail cell. If they are given similar treatment, expect public anger to reach new heights. If, by some miracle, they are sent down, things could be about to get very interesting in the Eurozone’s fourth largest economy, especially with six senior central bankers waiting in the wings to testify about the Bank of Spain’s role in the collapse and subsequent bailout of Bankia.  Interesting times.

It's been claimed many, many times that (North) Americans don't get irony. When you see that almost half of them support an orange-faced, oddly-coiffed, consummate liar, cheat and billionaire who goes on and on about 'fake' news and claims to have the interests of the little man and woman at heart, you do begin to wonder. Can one of the county's numerous gun-happy individuals not get him in their sights? By the way, the richest irony of all is that Trump bangs on and on about saving citizens from Islamic terrorists but says nothing about all those American kids massacred each year by Christians with Uzis. You couldn't make it up.

But it's Carnival week and there's a lot of noisy fun going on around this café, which I will now investigate. Leaving you with:-
  1. The inevitable list from The Local of Spain's craziest Carnival festivals, and
  2. Another Bill Tidy carton:-

    "Seems like nothing'll cheer him up".

Friday, February 24, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 24.2.17

To no one's great surprise, I'm sure, the husband of Princess Cristina might well not serve any of his 6 year sentence for fraud. And will be free to spend the residue of his ill-gotten gains after he's paid some sort of fine. See here on this.

The Guardian has an article on the former IMF chief sentenced to 4 years in jail. He too is unlikely to serve much of that. And what he does serve will be in conditions of luxury in which neither you nor I live. I had to laugh at the paper's claim that this verdict would embarrass the PP government. Nothing has yet been invented that would achieve this. See The Local's Spanish take on the case here.

It's intriguing that, while the very rich and the politically important have some impressive rights here, the country is not felt to pull its weight when it comes to human rights generally, as one of The Local's darker lists shows here. Though I'm sure things are better now - in both respects? - than under Franco from 1939 to 1976. So, progress.

On second thoughts, in some respects at least and on the evidence of this ridiculous case, modern Spain might not be very different from that era. But at least I won't be carted off to the clink for saying that.

Driving from Santander to Pontevedra the other day, I stopped off for lunch in Villaviciosa, the cider capital of Asturias. When I can get it, my lunch there is always rabbit stew in a place called Casa Milagros, in the old quarter. This is always gratifyingly greasy and comes with chips, and a little bit of red pepper. By coincidence, I read another recommendation last night, this time by A A Gill for a restaurant called the Farmgate Cafe in the English Market in Cork. In his words . . . This is the best covered market I’ve come across south of Scandinavia and west of France, selling locally landed fish and the many, many Irish iterations of pig.

Talking of the much-missed Mr Gill, he reported this response from his doctor to the question: “Why is the UK such a bad place to get cancer, when we have lots of hospitals, when we teach doctors from all over the world, when we’ve won more Nobel prizes than the French?” The answer was: The NHS here was set up with GPs separate from hospitals. The system means you probably have to wait a week or so for an appointment to see first your GP, or a clinic. And then if your doctor thinks it does need a second opinion, he’ll suggest you see a consultant, and that’s likely to take a month. And then there are all the appointments - for tests, a cancellation, a missed x-ray, a scan - which can put months on a diagnosis. As Gill put it: It’s not the treatment; it’s the scale of the bureaucracy and the immovable-but-crumbling structure of a private-public doctor-consultant arrangement, which was the cornerstone laid down by the 1945 government at the insistence of doctors. That is the chronic tumour in the bowel of the system. In European countries, patients can access specialist care easily and straightaway. Suffice to say, it was said in 1945 that the opposition of the medical profession to a national health servic has been overcome by stuffing their mouths with gold.

There are a few more of Gill's dying thoughts at the end of this post, for those interested.

Moving to British politics . . . . It was fascinating to watch an accomplished political liar at work on Sky News this morning. Following a disastrous election result for the Labour party last night, the deputy leader was intent on convincing us that all was hunky-dory in the party and that Labour would win the next election at a canter – something less likely than me being voted Mr Universe. His main tactic was to collate the following 2 statements, to demonstrate that the party was united behind the hopeless and hapless Jeremy Corbyn:-
  1. JC has the support of the vast majority of paid-up Labour supporters (militantes in Spanish); and
  2. The majority of the Parliamentary Party are crying out for unity.
Both of these statements are incontrovertibly true but, of course, the vast majority of Labour MPs don't want JC as their leader and will only unite behind him shortly after Hell has frozen over. Something Mr McDonnell was desperate to obfuscate. It will be interesting to see how long it is before he and his mates stab JC in the back, now that even a cretin can see the Labour party will never be elected with JC as its leader. More accurately, its figurehead. Even if – as Mr McDonnell blithely predicts - the Conservative party 'tears itself apart' over Brexit.

In the interests of balance, I should stress that UKIP suffered a party-destroying defeat as well. The Conservatives, however, achieved the rare feat of taking a seat from Labour even though they are in government.

Finally . . . Today's Bill Tidy cartoon:-

A A Gill on the NHS and what's good about it . . . 

[Forgive repetition]

When you look at our awkward, lumpy, inherited short-tempered characters, you’d imagine we might have come up with something more brass-bandy Brit [to stand for the country at large]: a bellicose, sentimental military fetishism, perhaps, or sport, or nostalgic history, boastful Anglophone culture, invention, exploration, banking avarice. But no. It turned out that what really sticks in our hard, gimpy, sclerotic hearts is looking after each other. Turning up at a bed with three carnations, a copy of Racing Post, a Twix and saying, “The cat misses you.”

We know it’s the best of us. The National Health Service is the best of us. You can’t walk into an NHS hospital and be a racist. That condition is cured instantly. But it’s almost impossible to walk into a private hospital and not fleetingly feel that you are one: a plush waiting room with entitled and bad-tempered health tourists.

You can’t be sexist on the NHS, nor patronising, and the care and the humour, the togetherness ranged against the teetering, chronic system by both the caring and the careworn is the Blitz, “back against the wall”, stern and sentimental best of us — and so we tell lies about it. We say it’s the envy of the world. It isn’t. We say there’s nothing else like it. There is. We say it’s the best in the West. It’s not. We think it’s the cheapest. It isn’t. Either that or we think it’s the most expensive — it’s not that, either. You will live longer in France and Germany, get treated faster and more comfortably in Scandinavia, and everything costs more in America.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 23.2.17

Making my way to my car on the boat yesterday morning, I passed a group of Spanish truck-drivers in the restaurant. Their loud cursing and swearing was well up to Spanish standards. Half an hour later, I found I was prevented from putting air in my tyres by a camper van and trailer blocking access to the pump at the petrol station. The vehicles had a British registration number but the drivers turned out to be Spanish. Good to be back where the most important person in your life is you.

But I confess I had to wait until this morning to witness my first example of what we might call cavalier driving – a guy who passed me within a few metres of an autovia exit and then swerved in front of me to take it when I was going straight on.

Spain's President Rajoy has responded to a question in parliament on corruption by insisting it's a mistake to exaggerate this since ‘we are a great nation’. So, that's alright then. You voters can afford it seems to be the message. Down at the regional government level, Murcia's president has been accused of misuse of power and will go before an investigating beak in March. As for the municipal level, here's a timely list of Spain's most corrupt mayors from The Olive Press. Nice to see that women get a look in. Well, one woman at least. It's hard to disagree with  reader Maria's view that Spain is a kleptocracy. But, then, some would argue it was ever thus for at least 300 years and that democracy changed nothing.

Spain's macro economy indicators might be great right now but the country is forecast to drop out of the top 25 economies within the relatively near future. See El País on this here, in English.

On a more positive note, here's an article on a trip taking in 101 Incredibles places in Spain. It's a mere 6,532 km long. Astonishingly, Pontevedra doesn't make it to the list but nearby Combarro does.

The last article by the stupendous British writer A A Gill was on his medical treatment and the UK's National Health Service (the NHS). Rather more eloquently than I've ever been able to put it, he writes: It seems unlikely, uncharacteristic, so un-“us” to have settled on sickness and bed rest as the votive altar and cornerstone of national politics. But there it is: at every election, the NHS is the thermometer and the crutch of governments. It represents everything we think is best about us. Everyone standing for whatever political persuasion has to lay a sterilised hand on an A&E revolving door and swear that the collective cradle-to-crematorium health service will be cherished on their watch. We tell lies about it. We say it’s the envy of the world. It isn’t. We say there’s nothing else like it. There is. We say it’s the best in the West. It’s not. We think it’s the cheapest. It isn’t. Either that or we think it’s the most expensive — it’s not that, either. You will live longer in France and Germany, get treated faster and more comfortably in Scandinavia, and everything costs more in America. Gill goes on to say that this sacrosanct service has one of the worst outcomes for cancer treatment in Europe. Everyone knows this, of course. Or at least everyone in politics. But no one seems capable and/or brave enough to do anything but tinker with the basic, outdated model. I hope I don't end my days relying on it.

Trump: Nothing today! Which should please at least on reader . . .

Finally . . . Another Bill Tidy cartoon:-

"I see we got our moon rock samples without any risk to human life."

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