Sunday, June 25, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 25.6.17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which reminds me . . . 

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

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

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

And now for a funny cartoon . . . .


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

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

I rest my case.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 24.6.17

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

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

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


A. Speed Limits

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

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

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

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

B. Roundabouts/Circles

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

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


A. Speed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

You have been warned!

Today's cartoon:-

Friday, June 23, 2017

Thoughts fromn Galicia: 23.6.17

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

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

Life in Spain:-
  • As I read about dishonest Spanish mayors et al, it's comforting to know that good old British crooks are also operating here, especially - as ever - down on the Costa del Crime. Here and here are details of some of the latest scams. Mind you, not all of the latter will be British. In contrast to the victims.
  • As regards the first of these examples, the UK travel agents' trade association is calling for jail sentences for those convicted. In this regard, it's interesting to note that, in Majorca at least, these would be heavier than those usually inflicted on incredibly corrupt Spanish politicians. I guess it makes sense to someone.
  • Assuming the weather folk are better at their job than political forecasters, both crooks and victims alike will be enjoying a hotter than usual summer here in Spain. Vamos a ver. I wouldn't have thought this classified as good news down south.
  • Spanish courts, it has to be said, aren't renowned for their speed. And the problem is about to get much worse, as those seeking compensation for illegal mortgage floor-rate clauses are joined by hundred of thousands of disgruntled ex-shareholders in the suddenly defunct, un-bailed-out Banco Popular.
  • HT to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for the news of a €50m a year scam centred on royalties on 'new' songs that consist of a single note-change to an existing composition. If you speak Spanish, you can read about this here, and here. Ingenious, of course. Prompting the question: Why can't Spanish talent of this sort go into genuine businesses, rather than frauds on the public? Answers on one side of the paper only, please.
The estimable Don Quijones comments on the current state of the EU in an article I've appended to this post. I haven't bothered to highlight statements I agree with as, firstly, I like all of the article; and, secondly, because - if you don't share or value my standpoint - you're unlikely to read the article anyway . . .

Whatever the future fate of the EU, it can for the moment bask in the glow of being awarded Spain's equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize. Click here for details. I probably don't need to tell you that - for one reason and another - support for the EU is quite possibly stronger here than anywhere else in Europe. And, whatever I or others say, that isn't going to change any time soon. Perhaps when the transfers have totally ceased and the fines imposed on the country are actually collected.

Finally . . . Doing the drive between Pontevedra and Santiago yesterday, I tried the strategy recommended by, I think, Sierra of using my satnav/GPS to tell me what the hard-to-guess-at speed limits on the N550 were. In a word, hopeless. But give Sierra(?s) his/her due, he/she admitted that it might be so. More observations and 'lessons' on this subject tomorrow. You've been warned . . .

Today's cartoon:-

From a pre-metric UK of light years ago . . . .


EU Political Class Rides Roughshod over Citizens’ Concerns & Frustrations as it Pushes Integration By Don Quijones 

Even the “elite” is not totally on board.

2017 has been a surprisingly kind year for the European Union — so far! Staunchly pro-EU candidates not only survived the gauntlet of national elections in France and the Netherlands but emerged triumphant. The once-imminent threat of political populism is now on the wane, we are led to believe. As if to prove that point, even the UK government is struggling to preserve a united front to see out Brexit after recent elections delivered a hung parliament.

The governments of the EU’s two core nations, Germany and France, appear to share a unified sense of purpose. Merkel has expressed a willingness to go along with two central French demands — the appointment of a Eurozone finance minister and the creation of a common budget — as long as certain conditions are met. “We can of course think about a Eurozone budget as long as it’s clear that this is really strengthening structures and achieving sensible results,” she said.

Ms. Merkel’s surprise overture, however qualified, suggests the stalled process of EU integration could kick back into life sooner than most experts had expected. Particularly surprising is the timing of Merkel’s comments, coming as they do ahead of make-or-break general elections in September.

Berlin had initially refused to debate the future of the Eurozone before the vote. Merkel clearly believes her reelection is more or less in the bag. If so, for the first time in a very long time, she and her fellow eurocratic legislators, emboldened by recent political developments, have a relatively clear path to forge ahead with fiscal and political integration, unhindered by potentially destabilizing national political events — at least until Italy’s general elections, scheduled to take place next year.

Back on the table is a proposal to upgrade the grossly unaccountable Luxembourg-based European Stability Mechanism (ESM) into a full-fledged European Monetary Fund. As we’ve noted before, creating a European Monetary Fund (EMF) would be an important statement of intent. If Europe’s core countries are truly set on taking the EU project to a whole new level, such as by pursuing the creation of an EU army, an EU border force (with full powers), fiscal union, and ultimately political union, some form of burden sharing will ultimately be necessary. The establishment of a fully operational EMF could be an important move in that direction.

The EMF would essentially act as a fiscal backdrop to the banking system, something the Eurozone has desperately needed ever since its creation. As Bruegel proposes, it would serve as a fiscal counterpart of the ECB to guarantee the financial stability of the euro area in the event of a sovereign or banking crisis, or a threat thereof — of which there are plenty these days, in particular emanating from Italy’s broken banking system.

Naturally, the creation of an EMF would deal a further blow to the fading remnants of national sovereignty in Europe. But that’s a price that many (but certainly not all) of Europe’s elite is more than happy to pay; some would say that destroying national sovereignty was the ultimate goal of the EU all along.

In a survey of more than 10,000 EU citizens and 1,800 EU elites carried out by Chatham House, of the elites:
  • 37% believe the EU should get more powers,
  • 28% want to keep the status quo and
  • 31% would prefer to return more powers to individual member countries.
This enthusiasm for a more centralized, more powerful EU is not shared with equal enthusiasm by European citizens: 48% want powers returned to the individual member countries.

Citizens, overall, do not feel they have benefited from European integration in the same way Europe’s elite does. Whereas 71% of elites report feeling they have gained something from the EU, the figure among the public is only 34%.

Even more worrisome for national leaders, a clear majority of the public — 54% — feel that their country was a better place to live 20 years ago, before the euro existed.

The findings of the Chatham House survey reflect a growing public frustration with Brussels’ tendency to ride roughshod over their voices and concerns. In a recent Pew poll a median of 53% across nine European countries surveyed, excluding the UK, support having their own national referendums on continued EU membership. And while most do not want to leave the bloc altogether, many European citizens want to ensure that their voices are heard.

That is unlikely to happen: engagement and consultation have never been Brussels’ strong points. According to Fredrik Erixon, a Brussels-based economist and co-founder of European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE), the EU’s gaping lack of democratic accountability and legitimacy and its determination to plow ahead with integration regardless of popular support (or lack thereof) will ultimately be its undoing.

“The notion of the ever-closer union has been very, very strong for more than 60 years, but it has died,” Erixson said. “It didn’t end with Brexit nor did it end with Trump’s skepticism about the EU. It ended far earlier than that – 15 years ago when France and the Netherlands voted against the constitutional treaty. This was an early warning about declining support for anything that suggested a deeper integration.”

Brussels chose not to listen then, just as it is choosing not to listen now. The risks are huge. The so-called populist forces of discontent and opposition may have been contained for now, but they are still bubbling just below the surface. And in Italy, where those forces are arguably strongest, conditions are about to get a whole lot more difficult as the banks are bailed out and, to pay for it, a new austerity regime is unveiled. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 22.6.17

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

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

Life in Spain:-
  • This is a UK TV program on Spectacular Spain which you can get via MY5 TV Catchup, I believe. Worth it. If you can get past the presenter's coquetishness.
  • In a place called Cardona, up near Barcelona, there's a salt mountain, which also looks worth seeing.
  • Speaking of Cataluña, the tussle with Madrid goes on, ahead of the (illegal) referendum on independence set for October 1. Witness: Spain's constitutional court on Wednesday forbade the pro-separatist region of Catalonia from promoting its interests abroad through a foreign policy "secretariat." Madrid wants to rein in the wealthy northeastern region's unilateral drive for independence from the rest of Spain and the court judgment found that only Spanish diplomacy has the right to engage in "foreign affairs". So, how is it going to be stopped?
  • An interesting realisation this morning, born of enquiring about this development in my neighbours' garden:-
The Spanish for market garden/allotment is huerta. And for orchard it's huerto. Handy.
  • A bit more on Modelo 720 that I mentioned yesterday, following a check to see if there was any news on it:- A recently written page says that, as yet, there don't appear to have been any humungus fines (minimum of €1,500) for late submission. Wrong, mate, I can assure you. More depressing still was the comment that, even though the EU Court of Justice might 'eventually' conclude the fines really are as illegal as first pronounced, there's no chance of the Spanish tax office ever paying back the money illegitimately taken from taxpayers. It's not just the crooks who are dishonest here. There are also what the Spanish call thieves in white gloves.
  • Reader Sierra has followed up my comment about the commercialisation of Spain's 33[sic!] caminos to Santiago de Compostela with the report that he was given a sachet of sugar on an autovia advertising El Primitivo, the hardest but prettiest of the lot. Note: By the time you read this, there might well be 34 of them. 
I see that both BA and Iberia rank poorly in the latest list of world airline awards. They come in at 40 and 42 respectively, though BA has fallen from 26 last year, while Iberia has risen from 52. The fact that EasyJet is between them at 41 tells you a lot. Both BA and Iberia belong to the same group IAG, which also owns the Barcelona-based low-cost airline, Vueling. This ranks even lower, at 88. In 2006, BA ranked No. 1 . . .  Not really a success story, then. Big might not be beautiful. En passant, one of the airlines which rose most was Ryanair, presumably for having told us they'd stopped hating their passengers and would now refrain from treating them like pigs in transit to a slaughterhouse.

After the horrendous fires down in Portugal, the finger has been pointed at the eucalyptus forests which, as here in Galicia, take up huge chunks of the countryside. Back in 2006, when we had terrible fires here, I described how these ugly trees both contribute to fires and out-survive the native trees after the blazes. They really should be banned but won't be. Here's one comment I wrote at that time:- Something which certainly is a local plague are our eucalyptus trees. These, of course, aren't native(autóctono) and have been introduced as a cash crop. They're prejudicial to the local oaks, pines and chestnut trees, especially after a fire. Of which we have rather a lot. Not before time, the Galician government has proposed making it illegal to have these dreadful trees within 50 metres of a residence. Let's hope it goes through. At the end of this post is something I quoted back then on these antipodean monsters. 

Finally . . . I was amused to learn - who wouldn't be? - that 7% of (North) Americans think that chocolate is made with milk from brown cows. Of course, the figure might well be higher elsewhere. The research is yet to be done.

Today's cartoon:-

One of my all-time favourites . . . 


Here’s the translation of an article from yesterday’s Voz de Galicia. It is by Javier Montalvo who is, I believe, Professor of The Environment at the University of Vigo. It brings together several of the threads of the last few weeks and it also helps to explain why the reader who wrote today saw little evidence of devastation in the Lugo, Santiago, La Coruña triangle:-

The Fires are not the Problem

The wave of fires is exactly that, a cyclical and irregular phenomenon, just like waves, although its geographic and seasonal location varies. In the Rias Baixas the probability of fires and burnt wooded areas is ten times greater than in parts of Lugo province with a lower incidence. The arsonists are not the main cause of the annual burning of such an important surface area of Galicia. If all the Tuaregs in the Saharan desert were arsonists, the desert still couldn’t burn; there’s hardly any combustible material there, i. e. a vegetal biomass [leaves and woody material from trees and other plants, plus dead fallen leaves], dry branches and other vegetal residue on the soil. The amount of such combustible material is an important factor, although its quality and distribution are also relevant.

In the middle of the last century, the fires in Galicia were not a problem of today’s catastrophic dimensions. In 1940 the General Plan for Reafforestation was put into effect throughout the state. Since then, Galicia has seen the reafforestation of more than a million hectares, equivalent to more than a third of its surface area. The traditional and diversified use of the mountains [basically pastoral and agricultural]was replaced by a use which was uniform and industrial – wood cultivated for board makers, cellulose manufacturers and saw mills. The mountains were filled with millions of cubic metres of highly inflammable combustible material capable of rapid combustion and propagation. This has been particularly true on the ridges of the western coastlines of the Pontevedra and La Coruña provinces, where there is the greatest production of biomass. A million cubic metres of eucalyptus are left on the mountains every year [in part because in the last 10 years it has depreciated 40%].

The high quantity of combustible material is one of the structural causes of the fires; the pyromaniacs or other immediate causes merely light the match. The abandonment of the mountains contributes to this dangerous scenario but to consider it the only factor is simplistic. The fires also affect those mountains which benefit from planning and management, for example in Amoedo and Domaio.

The cultivated areas of foreign species [eucalyptus and pine] have a higher probability of burning than the Atlantic forests and the areas with deciduous native trees. 25 years ago, the area given over to eucalyptus was already burning 40 times more and the pines 10 times more than the oak or chestnut respectively. Pine and eucalyptus are pyrophorus species. That’s to say, more inflammable because of their resin, their bark and their volatile oily content. They favour fires because their populations persist and they extend their territory after the fires. The extensive areas repopulated by single species facilitate propagation of the fires. Additionally, the higher the trees the greater the speed and spread of the fires via their crowns. For this reason the mountains of Pontevedra and La Coruña are more predisposed to burn, where the fires spread through extensive areas of eucalyptus such as the mountains of Morrazo and those of Cerdedo and another four neighbouring townships in which 8,000 contiguous hectares burned.

What is the solution for ridding ourselves of the fires? Eliminate eucalyptus, convert pine woods into areas mixed with deciduous trees and break up those extensive areas with a propensity to burn by surrounding them with vegetation more resistant to fire. These are the strategic options on which to base a sustainable policy for Galicia.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 21.6.17

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

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

Life in Spain:-
  • Last week saw the 40th anniversary of the birth of modern democracy in Spain. El País celebrated this with a 94[sic] page supplement. I wonder if anyone read all of it. Or any of it, in fact.
  • The Spanish tax office - the Hacienda - is now going after the Portuguese football manager, José Mourinho. It's good to see them seeking belated taxes from big names. But my impression is that, strangely, all these appear to be foreign - Messi, Ronaldo and now Mourinho.
  • Reading the book on English manners I cited yesterday, I began to wonder what the hidden rules of behaviour are in the Spanish culture. Assuming - in this country of very different regions - that such a monolith exists. I might start to write something. Suggestions very welcome.
  • The ECB has demanded that Spain investigates the capital flight from Banco Popular prior to its demise. Can't see this happening, myself. Spain's government is adept at ignoring rules and instructions it doesn't like. And at stretching out the appeal process until people in Brussels fall off their perches. Spanish criminals and their lawyers likewise.
Spain's right wing PP government is adept at stirring up passions around Gibraltar. Especially when it needs to distract attention from, say, its atrocious record on corruption. That last one was to say it would kibosh a Brexit deal, if it didn't get joint sovereignty over The Rock. So, I wonder what this development signifies.

As for said Brexit . . . Yesterday seems to have been the (much expected) first humiliation for the British negotiators. Hardly surprising, since they'd been sent into the room naked. See this site today and yesterday for the caustic comments of Richard North - a Brexiteer who, as I've noted, has long despaired of any intelligence among the British government and the 'serious' media. Like me, he might well believe that Brexit should be abandoned, if things continue as they are now.

Here's a foto of Pontevedra's Sunday flea market, or rastrillo. It seems the (unlicensed) gypsies have once again been banished but I confidently expect a return appearance. Quite soon.

And here's one looking in the opposite direction. To show you the dreadful new museum building at the end of the street. Truly a blot on the old quarter. But designed, of course, by a famous Galician architect.

I've noted that the number of camino 'pilgrims' passing through Pontevedra has rocketed upwards in the last few years. And that the forecast is for a doubling of last year's total within 5 years. Here's some data on this.

 I have to say that - when I did the first camino with a group of old friends in 2010 - there didn't seem to be that many more pilgrims than in earlier or later years. The numbers rose that year because it was a 'Holy Year', when the Vatican - on behalf of the Catholic god - dishes out more indulgences than usual. But at least it doesn't sell them any more.

Among the reasons for the increase on the Camino Portugúes are:-
  • Folk are finding the Camino Francés far too crowded these days
  • It's very pretty and not too difficult
  • The Portuguese and the Galicians are very welcoming people, and
  • A new variant of this essentially commercial enterprise is invented every couple of years. Always 'authentic' of course.
Finally . . . And still on things religious . . . While writing this, I've been half-watching an exposé of this 'enterprising' French priest, who became rich through fraud. Including perhaps the world's first phony begging advert: Poor parish priest needs cash to say Masses. You have to take your biretta off to him.

Today's cartoon:-

Also about misplaced faith . . . .

Open Sesame!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 20.6.17

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

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

Life in Spain:-
  • Spain's driving examiners have gone on strike. This is great news for me as the test centre is close to my home and so every day I have to run a gauntlet of badly instructed learners getting close enough to town to park and walk in.
  • Here's more evidence of the gap between Spain's macro and micro economies.
  • It's good to know I'm not the only one highly irritated by the Spanish tax authorities (Modelo 720) and, in my case, the Revenue department of the Guardia Civil (motoring fines). The Real Madrid football star, Ronaldo, says he's leaving Spain because of the claim he's avoided millions in tax. Nice to have the option.
  • As regards said Modelo 720 . . . . This is tempting fate I know, but things seem to have gone quiet since the EU declared the fines under it illegal as being disproportionate. I don't see any evidence, though, of the Hacienda  paying back what they've already collected. Perhaps they've suspended things pending resolution of the case, in about 10 years' time. If you're a foreigner resident in Spain unaware of this 2012 tax measure, I recommend you talk to a gestor or asesor about it asap. Assuming he/she is on the ball.
  • Here's more on the reconciliation I've cited between Spain's parties of the Left - the PSOE and Podemos. Stranger things have happened. They might even get the centrist party, Ciudadanos, to join them in ousting the PP government. Now, that would be something. Meanwhile, I'm stupified by the universal condemnation of the PSOE leader by newspapers generally regarded as being of the Left. In the UK, the leader of the Left is mercilessly attacked by the media of the Right. Here, the dirty work is done by the Left's own media. He must have upset some important vested interests.

A few years ago, some friends lent me their copy of a brilliant book called Watching the English, by Kate Fox. I'm now reading the recent revision-cum-update and am again finding it hilarious. If you want to get an insight into The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour - many of them truly ridiculous - I highly recommend it. If you're partnered with one of us, it might just save your relationship . . .  In her intro, she cites the famously dubious anthropological study of Margaret Mead. But new to me was that of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas who "wrote a book entitled The Harmless People, about a tribe who turned out to have a homicide rate higher than that of New York or Detroit." But there's nowt wrong with Ms Fox's study. Ruthlessly accurate on the English. About whom a certain Dutchman - in 1931 - wrote a book entitled The English: Are they Human? Answering this himself, he declared that the world was inhabited by 2 species: Mankind and the English. How we laughed!

Here in Galicia, there's still a lot of moaning going on about the demise of the region's only bank, Banco Popular. I have to admit to finding Spain's localism hard to take at times. It's impossible to imagine, say, the residents of the county of Cheshire feeling bad about the takeover of the Cheshire Building Society by the Nationwide Building society. They're rather more interested in efficiency than in local - often corrupt - ownership and management. Besides, as I've said, Banco Popular's ownership wasn't remotely local.

Finally . . .  On the way to the house I used to own in the hills, they put an extra layer of metal at the bottom of the crash barriers on certain bends. This was to stop motorbike riders and their passengers being decapitated when they slid under the barrier after losing control. It seems that not all of our winding secondary roads have been so equipped. Certainly not the one between Cuntis and Moaña:-

A cartoon would be inappropriate today, I feel.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 19.6.17

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

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

Life in Spain:-
  • For the second time in a year or so, a Spanish bullfighter has been gored to death. See here for details. Some folk deny that these men (and the occasional woman) are brave but I beg to differ. Without disagreeing with the contention that the fiesta nacional is cruel.
  • Yesterday was the Catholic feast of Corpus Cristi. I should have remembered why the procession and the flowers but had to rely on a friend for an explanation. It was, she confided to me, one of the 3 days of the year when 'there was more light than there ever is from the sun':- Corpus Cristi; the Assumption; and one I've already forgotten. (Maria? Sierra? Diego?). I used to participate, as an altar boy, in these ceremonies but they leave me cold these days. I can't imagine the poverty-loving Jesus endorsing the pomp that goes with them.

But I enjoy the bagpipes and the national costumes, even if they are an 18th century invention.

Here's a bit more on the developments on the left wing of Spanish politics.

Don Quijones writes on the German elections here, explaining how candidates there strive to outdo each other with disingenuous criticisms of the EU. As he puts it: These days it’s easy to tell when general elections are approaching in Germany: members of the ruling government begin bewailing, in perfect unison, the ECB’s ultra-loose monetary policy. By attacking ECB policy they can make it seem they take voters’ concerns about low interest rates seriously, while knowing perfectly well that the things they say have very little effect on what the ECB actually does. In brief, says, DQ: The ECB’s binge-buying of sovereign and corporate bonds has spawned a mass culture of financial dependence across Europe. And there's always the same outcome: At first, it’s deny, deny, deny. Then taxpayers get to bail out the bondholders. I guess it makes sense to someone.

At the end of this post, there's an article by my favourite gadfly - Christopher Booker - on high-rise flat-blocks such as the one in London which immolated more than 50 residents last week. Europeans who happily live in such blocks might well disagree with him.

Back to religion . . .  For many centuries in the Middle Ages, Popes excommunicated and then incommunicated temporal rulers on a whim. But the practice died out a while ago and even Hitler didn't merit it, though this might be because he'd dumped Catholicism before he started slaughtering people. Yesterday, though, I read that the current Pope is thinking about inflicting this punishment on (convicted) mafia members. What the hell took him so long? Or any of his predecessors.

And still on religion . . . Unless you're a Mormon, this video should amuse you.

Here's a genuine conundrum . . .  I pass a spot each day where 3 roads arrive at the same roundabout:-

I guess priority goes to the driver who arrives first but what if 2 or 3 of us arrive at exactly the same time, as happened yesterday? What does the Spanish equivalent of the Highway Code have to say about this?

Finally . . . So, one of the ubiquitous British duo, Ant and Dec, has revealed he's got drink and ('prescription') drug problems. We have his name. But does anyone really know which of the irritating bastards it is??

Today's cartoon:-

On a Christian theme . . . 


Grenfell Tower stands as a chilling tombstone to a megalomaniac dream: Christopher Booker

It was certainly an ominous coincidence that 1974, the year Grenfell Tower was opened was also the year that Hollywood released what was arguably the most famous “disaster movie” ever made, The Towering Inferno. On Wednesday, as we woke up to the horror of what was happening, I received an email that added another curious detail to this awful story.

It was from the man who back in the Seventies sold to the local council the original cladding for Grenfell Tower. As he explained, it consisted of Glasal panels in which were sealed white asbestos cement, so tightly compressed that no fibres could escape.

“It was totally safe,” he told me, “and would certainly have stopped the spread of any external fire; unlike this new cladding, which contains combustible plastics which can spread a fire up a building so fast that in some countries it has already caused whole buildings to go up, and in others it has been banned.”

A much more immediately relevant point, however, on which the forthcoming inquiry will certainly have to focus, is what might be called the “European” dimension to this tragedy. So far wholly missed has been the fact that making construction regulations, including those relating to fire risk, is an exclusive “competence” of the EU. Britain has no right to make its own, without Brussels permission.

Furthermore in 2014 the Department of Energy and Climate Change issued its National Energy Efficiency Action Plan, setting out how it planned to meet its EU targets for reducing “carbon emissions” (and also those set under our own Climate Change Act).

In particular, it emphasised the need to comply with EU directive 2012/27 on “energy efficiency”. This explained that the top priority was to improve the insulation of buildings, responsible for 40 per cent of all emissions. Local authorities were thus made aware of the section on renovating older buildings.

When Kensington and Chelsea council chose the new cladding for Grenfell Tower it would, therefore, have known that top of the list was the need for “thermal efficiency”. On this score, plastics such as polyurethane, polyethaline or polyisocyarunate rated most highly, despite their fire risk. There was even financing available under the government’s Green Deal scheme.

I long ago took a personal interest in the estate on which Grenfell stands, when I spent much of the Seventies investigating the disaster that had been inflicted on so many cities by the Sixties mania for massive “comprehensive redevelopment schemes” and giant council tower blocks.

When I began in 1972 with a book called Goodbye London: An Illustrated Guide to Threatened Buildings, listing all the demolition schemes then planned across London, it opened with a page of pictures showing the vast area of pleasant, human-scale 19th century streets in north-west Kensington shortly to be demolished for the estate that would include Grenfell Tower.

By 1979, I had been commissioned by the BBC to make a two-hour television film, City of Towers, which for the first time told the whole story of how the destruction of our cities had been inspired by the megalomaniac dream in the Twenties of the Swiss architect Le Corbusier; and how this led 40 years later to those vast dehumanised council estates, dominated by tower blocks like Grenfell, half of which have since been demolished.

The way our politicians, national and local, were taken in by this maniacal vision was yet another perfect case-study in the deluding power of groupthink. As so often, a beguiling dream had led in reality to a nightmare reality. Grenfell Tower stands today as the most chilling tombstone yet to that mad dream.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 18.6.17

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

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

Life in Spain:-
  • As a Madrid resident of 10 years standing, my elder daughter is good with excessive heat. She's down in Trujillo this weekend, attending a wedding. Last night she told me that all the Spanish guests there are complaining of the heat. Possibly, she explained, because they all live in London.
  • I might finally have discovered why the marks for Spain's national university entrance exam (the Selectividad) are now out of 14 and not just 10 as before. I'm told you can increase your mark by taking extra subjects.
  • On this, the marks demanded in Galicia are possibly much the same as elsewhere in Spain and the same probably applies to the demand and supply situation. Here, the university of Santiago offers only 360 places for Medicine but has had 2,883 applicants. One wonders how many of these will get the high average mark required for this course. This is a ratio of 1:8. That for Vet Med is also high, at around 1:6. For Nursing it's 1:3 but for Law, it's only 1:2.4. They don't seem to have a course for Notaries but, if they did, I'd bet the ratio would be in the region of 1:5,000.
  • It seems to be impossible in Spain to hold any sort of event - even for young children - without deafening music. This is particularly true of any sort of race. Worst of all, the loud (always modern) 'music' is inevitably accompanied by a thumping bass element which shakes the very ground you're on. But few people seem to notice. Perhaps Spaniards go deaf quite young. It wouldn't surprise me. And it might help to explain why all (simultaneous) conversations are shouted.
  • The 4 tax offices I visited last week all prominently displayed a notice saying it was not a place of gender (i. e. male) violence. Are we to take it that all offices - say of banks - not doing this do actually countenance this?
In an interesting development, the left-of-centre PSOE and Podemos parties appear to be shuffling towards some sort of coalition - possibly involving the centrist Ciudadanos party - aimed at defeating the PP party. Though I doubt the far left wing of Podemos is happy with this belated reconciliation.

Despite numerous promises to the contrary, the Bank of Spain now admits that Spanish taxpayers will get back only a small percentage of the billions hosed at the inefficient and corrupt banks that the government saved, in one way or another. See here on this. And here's the take of the cartoonist of the Voz De Galicia:-
         BANK RESCUE                                  TAXPAYER 
Wait for the pun . . . . This shows the taxpayer being fleased . . . . I thank you.

Dear God! Facebook is now targetting me with details of motorhome and caravan groups. How on earth do they arrive at their algorithm? And can they we trusted to weed out posts from terrorist groups and pedophiles?

Finally . . . I saw a TV ad this morning for a pain-relief gel which is up to 3 times more effective than a non-medicated gel. Given that the latter wouldn't give you any relief at all, I imagine that this must be right. So it beats me why they don't claim that it's, say, a million times more effective. Or perhaps applying a non-medicated gel has some placebo effect.

Today's cartoon:-

Say what you like about Jehovah Witnesses - they're like lightning on burst water mains!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 17.6.17

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

Note: If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here. But bear in mind I haven't updated it for some years now.

Life in Spain:-
  • The Spanish, it's claimed have the highest interest (65%) of any EU population in having a referendum on leaving the EU. On the other hand, they have one of the lowest rates of interest (13%) in actually doing do. At first blush, this seems rather inconsistent. But, of course, if you know almost no one wants it, there's no risk in having a vote. See here for more on this.
  • As I regularly say, there's a large gap between Spain's much lauded macro economic performance of 3%pa GDP growth and what's happening down on the street. Here in Galicia, for example, the average income of our youth (18-35) is not only down from €11,300pa in 2011 to €9,900 in 2015 - probably less now - but it has also been overtaken by that of pensioners, who moved from €10,900 to €12,000 in the same 5 years. Or 21% more than the young folk. This is what (Berlin-driven) 'internal devaluation'/austerity has done here, and probably throughout Spain as well. Meanwhile, the rich have got richer and the politicians have got ever more corrupt. As if reducing wages weren't bad enough, most young employees face permanent 'precariousness', as beneficiaries of zero-hours contract. As elsewhere, the young and the poor are the ones paying the price for the introduction of a common currency without a true fiscal union.
  • See here for yet another article praising Spain for its top-level performance. though it's noted that: Real average wages are about where they were a decade ago. Unemployment is still close to 3.5m (or 17%)
  • Which reminds me . . . Spain is threatening to block the latest ECB bail-out of basket-case Greece. See here for the rationale. And here's the NYT on this development.
Here's Don Quijones on the latest developments in the Italian banking crisis. The ECB, it seems, is prepared to throw unlimited amounts of (new) money at the problem. DQ makes these comments about the Spanish situation:-
  • Banco Popular was liquidity challenged but passed all parts of the ECB’s 2016 stress test, which shows you how ineffectual these tests are.
  • Even days before Popular’s collapse, Spain’s Economy Minister repeatedly reassured investors that the bank was perfectly safe and solvent. All the while government agencies - including Spain’s social security fund, and regional government authorities - were emptying the deposits they held with the bank as fast as they could. The total is unknown but it certainly ran into billions of euros.
  • Even in Spain, which already restructured its banking sector years ago at a total cost to taxpayers of around €300 billion (including government guarantees), it didn’t take long for contagion to spread. The most affected bank was Liberbank whose shares collapsed by a third in the three days. 
The EU: The survey cited above suggests that the desire to ‘take back control’ that drove Britain’s vote to leave the European Union last year is widely shared across the 28-member bloc. The majority of the EU public - without wanting a version of Brexit - nonetheless want want their governments to have more control over trade and immigration policy. Doesn't seem very likely at the moment but who knows? The EU is in constant crisis/survival mode and might yet effect the major reforms that everyone says are necessary. If Berlin finally agrees to them. Personally, I think it'll be decades before the cautious Germans are prepared to take on the debts of the 'lazy' southerners.

On a happier note . . . I've been recommending Galicia's white godello wine for some years now. And it's red mencia. But this is the first reference I've seen to the former in the UK media. It's laudatory, of course. And this is justifiable. But it surely reflects the fact that the writer was treated to the trip and the tastings. Whereas I am not . . . I think I mentioned the lovely town of Valdeorras del Bierzo a few weeks ago.

The Spanish language:- As a regular - but gratis - translator of menus, I had occasion this week to learn these distinctions:-
Raisins: uvas pasas/pasas
Plums: ciruelas
Prunes: ciruelas pasas; ciruelas secas
Greengages: ciruelas claudias; ciruelas verdales
Damsons: ciruelas damascenas

If you want a good example of Donald Trump's [choose your own noun], take a look at this NYT report on how he stole a family crest and then changed the word Integrity on it to Trump. Says it all really. And you certainly couldn't make it up.

Finally . . . Facebook continues to recommend stuff in which I have zilch interest. Hot on the heels of groups that want Jeremy Corbyn as British Prime Minister have come items in Galician/Galego. This is presumably because I wrote an email about Galician chat-up lines a couple of days ago. The interesting question is  . . . How does FB know about this? Eerie.

Today's cartoon . . . 


Many of us are very, very unhappy about the way capitalism has gone over the last few decades. But the chap who wrote this article - an American - is clearly distraught. And very angry. I do wonder if things are quite as appalling in the capitalist countries of Europe, which are rather more 'socialist' than the USA, of course. And where it's hard to imagine a criminal buffoon like Trump rising to power. Well . . . in Western Europe, at least.

Reign of Idiots  By Chris Hedges

The idiots take over in the final days of crumbling civilizations. Idiot generals wage endless, unwinnable wars that bankrupt the nation. Idiot economists call for reducing taxes for the rich and cutting social service programs for the poor, and project economic growth on the basis of myth. Idiot industrialists poison the water, the soil and the air, slash jobs and depress wages. Idiot bankers gamble on self-created financial bubbles and impose crippling debt peonage on the citizens. Idiot journalists and public intellectuals pretend despotism is democracy. Idiot intelligence operatives orchestrate the overthrow of foreign governments to create lawless enclaves that give rise to enraged fanatics. Idiot professors, “experts” and “specialists” busy themselves with unintelligible jargon and arcane theory that buttresses the policies of the rulers. Idiot entertainers and producers create lurid spectacles of sex, gore and fantasy. 

There is a familiar checklist for extinction. We are ticking off every item on it. 

The idiots know only one word—“more.” They are unencumbered by common sense. They hoard wealth and resources until workers cannot make a living and the infrastructure collapses. They live in privileged compounds where they eat chocolate cake and order missile strikes. They see the state as a projection of their vanity. The Roman, Mayan, French, Habsburg, Ottoman, Romanov,  Wilhelmine, Pahlavi and Soviet dynasties crumbled because the whims and obsessions of ruling idiots were law.
Donald Trump is the face of our collective idiocy. He is what lies behind the mask of our professed civility and rationality—a sputtering, narcissistic, bloodthirsty megalomaniac. He wields armies and fleets against the wretched of the earth, blithely ignores the catastrophic human misery caused by global warming, pillages on behalf of global oligarchs and at night sits slack-jawed in front of a television set before opening his “beautiful” Twitter account. He is our version of the Roman emperor Nero, who allocated vast state expenditures to attain magical powers, the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang, who funded repeated expeditions to a mythical island of immortals to bring back the potion that would give him eternal life, and a decayed Russian royalty that sat around reading tarot cards and attending séances as their nation was decimated by war and revolution brewed in the streets.  

This moment in history marks the end of a long, sad tale of greed and murder by the white races. It is inevitable that for the final show we vomited a grotesque figure like Trump. Europeans and Americans have spent five centuries conquering, plundering, exploiting and polluting the earth in the name of human progress. They used their technological superiority to create the most efficient killing machines on the planet, directed against anyone and anything, especially indigenous cultures, that stood in their way. They stole and hoarded the planet’s wealth and resources. They believed that this orgy of blood and gold would never end, and they still believe it. They do not understand that the dark ethic of ceaseless capitalist and imperialist expansion is dooming the exploiters as well as the exploited. But even as we stand on the cusp of extinction we lack the intelligence and imagination to break free from our evolutionary past.

The more the warning signs are palpable—rising temperatures, global financial meltdowns, mass human migrations, endless wars, poisoned ecosystems, rampant corruption among the ruling class—the more we turn to those who chant, either through idiocy or cynicism, the mantra that what worked in the past will work in the future, that progress is inevitable. Factual evidence, since it is an impediment to what we desire, is banished. The taxes of corporations and the rich, who have deindustrialized the country and turned many of our cities into wastelands, are cut, and regulations are slashed to bring back the supposed golden era of the 1950s for white American workers. Public lands are opened up to the oil and gas industry as rising carbon emissions doom our species. Declining crop yields stemming from heat waves and droughts are ignored. War is the principal business of the kleptocratic state. 

Walter Benjamin wrote in 1940 amid the rise of European fascism and looming world war: "A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress."

Magical thinking is not limited to the beliefs and practices of pre-modern cultures. It defines the ideology of capitalism. Quotas and projected sales can always be met. Profits can always be raised. Growth is inevitable. The impossible is always possible. Human societies, if they bow before the dictates of the marketplace, will be ushered into capitalist paradise. It is only a question of having the right attitude and the right technique. When capitalism thrives, we are assured, we thrive. The merging of the self with the capitalist collective has robbed us of our agency, creativity, capacity for self-reflection and moral autonomy. We define our worth not by our independence or our character but by the material standards set by capitalism—personal wealth, brands, status and career advancement. We are molded into a compliant and repressed collective. This mass conformity is characteristic of totalitarian and authoritarian states. It is the Disneyfication of America, the land of eternally happy thoughts and positive attitudes. And when magical thinking does not work, we are told, and often accept, that we are the problem. We must have more faith. We must envision what we want. We must try harder. The system is never to blame. We failed it. It did not fail us. 

All of our systems of information, from self-help gurus and Hollywood to political monstrosities such as Trump, sell us this snake oil. We blind ourselves to impending collapse. Our retreat into self-delusion is a career opportunity for charlatans who tell us what we want to hear. The magical thinking they espouse is a form of infantilism. It discredits facts and realities that defy the glowing cant of slogans such as “Make America great again.” Reality is banished for relentless and baseless optimism. 

Half the country may live in poverty, our civil liberties may be taken from us, militarized police may murder unarmed citizens in the streets and we may run the world’s largest prison system and murderous war machine, but all these truths are studiously ignored.

Trump embodies the essence of this decayed, intellectually bankrupt and immoral world. He is its natural expression. He is the king of the idiots. We are his victims.

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