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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain

Random thoughts from a Brit in the North West. Sometimes serious, sometimes not. Quite often curmudgeonly.

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 13 February 2021
13 February 2021 @ 13:20

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'


The UKExperts predict a huge fall in English Covid patients. The number of coronavirus patients in hospitals will more than halve over the next month, according to internal government projections seen by The Times. Hospital admissions and deaths are predicted to fall to October levels, according to estimates presented to the government by its scientific advisers. They said that infection rates were falling faster than anticipated and that they were increasingly optimistic about the reopening of schools on March 8 and the relaxation of other restrictions in April. The government estimated yesterday that R, the rate of transmission, had definitively fallen below 1.0 for the first time since July.

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain 

More ‘macro’ success for the Spanish economy, hiding what’s happening for the disadvantaged. Which, sadly, includes most of Spain’s youth.

In Spain you can be jailed for insulting the monarch or for offending religious sensibilities. Eventually this will change. As with the law on rape, that on defamation will be brought rather more into line with modern thinking. It takes a long time to move away from every aspect repression. Meanwhile, there is protest on a grand scale.

Talking of change . . . Consumers in Spain are moving more and more towards electronic payments at the expense of cash, with mobile phones increasingly used

Valencia becomes the latest region to ban tourist room rentals, except - I think - where the whole building is dedicated to them.

Advice on changing your tatty bit of green paper into the rather more durable - and infinitely more valid for identity-proving - TIE.

You can see some of Pontevedra’s fine old quarter at minute 48.30 of this

And here’s María's Tsunami, Day 12

The UK

There is at least a 2nd Scot who has a poor opinion of the current Scottish government. This is a blogger I follow on the subject. A very sharp  - if rather right-wing - lady. [Am I still allowed to say that?]

Stonehenge: A vast stone circle created by Neolithic people has been discovered in Wales. This backs a century-old theory that the nation’s greatest prehistoric monument was built in Wales and venerated for hundreds of years before being dismantled and dragged to Wiltshire, where it was resurrected as a second-hand monument. Interestingly a very old legend talked of this circle - 'The Giants' Dance' - being in Ireland. Which is said to be what Wales was called way back when. Maybe because the Irish and the 'Welsh' were both he original inhabitants of the British Isles.

The EU 

The EU vaccine implosion may finally trigger the body's 'controlled disintegration. The Brussels political project has shattered. Maybe not yet. See the first article below.


The cracks have widened in the Republican party. Nikki Haley, a former ambassador to the UN, has broken with Donald Trump and declared that “he let us down . . . we shouldn’t have followed him”. Haley harbours her own White House ambitions. She said he had “fallen so far” that she did not think he could run again for the presidency in 2024. Her condemnation came as Trump’s legal team prepared to present his defence in his impeachment trial in the Senate.

The Way of the World

I've asked the bodega I bought wine from recently to advise me of the results of their investigation into whether the request I got from Santander bank for 2 of my PIN numbers was in fact from their bank. If I hadn't been sensitive to the risk, the 2nd article below - headed No one seems to care about phone hoaxers - would certainly have made me think. Banks, customers and the police all appear to have little incentive to take seriously a crimewave that is raking in billions, claims the columnist. Ever since the advent of credit cards and telephone and electronic banking the criminal law has been losing its grip over modern fraud. 


Chirimiri is Sirimir(I?  in other parts of Spain and they both come from the Basque zirimir.

Finally . . 

I laughed this morning at this opening sentence of a column: Sorry to brag but I consider myself a Usain Bolt when it comes to flinging my big weekly shop through the supermarket checkout. Why? Because I used to be like that as regards my supermarket shopping, from start to finish. Armed with a list I never deviated from. Whereas, now, sauntering around a previously-hated Carrefour hypermarket is the highlight of my week . . 

Adapt or die, say I.


1. The EU vaccine implosion may finally trigger the body's 'controlled disintegration.  The Brussels political project has shattered – but Britain's challenge remains the same in the face of the world's regulatory superpower: Sherelle Jacobs, The Telegraph

The EU is dead, long live the EU! Whether Brussels has had a hellish or heartening week, it is slightly difficult to tell. On the one hand, Brussels’ vaccine embarrassment is a historic moment. On the other hand, the Commission has been in its element in recent days, as the dud deal it outwitted the Johnson Government into signing continues to unravel.

Brussels has Britain over a barrel. No 10 lacks the political will to renegotiate the Northern Ireland protocol, which has proved to be a far more grotesquely complex logistical arrangement than Ministers had anticipated. Nor does Westminster have a compelling answer for Unionists who are volcanic over the protocol’s denigration of the Good Friday Agreement, altering as it does Northern Ireland’s status without the consent of its people. In recent days, Brussels has delighted in rejecting Michael Gove’s timid suggestion of a ‘refining’ of the protocol, and the extension of a three-month grace period. 

Meanwhile, the City of London faces “death by a hundred thousand cuts”, at the hands of Brussels, which is poised to lock Britain out of its banking market. Many Brexiteers warned that Johnson’s thin deal – which made barely any mention of financial services – recklessly gambled the sector’s future on the goodwill of Brussels. And so their worst fears may come to pass.

Still, if Brussels has been confidently flexing its muscles as the world’s regulatory superpower this week, it has also cut a shrivelled figure as it tries to salvage its higher mission. As member states foam to take back control of core governing competencies from the Commission, it is dawning on even Remainers that for all its progressive platitudes and political ambition, the EU is at best an economic function.

The vaccine debacle has exposed Brussels’ public health policy as unacceptably driven by its single market mission. That ‘pooling resources’ to negotiate ‘value for money’ jabs should be the overriding goal in the middle of a pandemic – rather than snapping up as many vaccines as possible  – is clearly ludicrous.

It begs the question whether the EU has finally overextended itself, using its economic clout to fashion itself into a supranational political entity – but one that is so distorted as to be unsustainable. Some Brexiteers have been anxious to speculate about whether this is the "crisis" that could finally collapse the entire project. In truth, it is more of a "moment".

The vaccine debacle may well go down as the point when the EU hit its glass ceiling. Save for regional partnerships like the Southern European Initiative and the Baltic Partnership Agreement, the EU has next to no experience of vaccine procurement, and as a result virtually no best practices. Its previous attempts to dabble in this area have been spurious, reducing instead of increasing the vaccine choice of member states. A Baltic joint procurement effort for the BCG jab, abandoned in 2015 because no provider had the valid paperwork for all three Baltic states, is but one example. 

Still, Brussels bureaucrats exist in the realm of destiny rather than experience; crises are not challenges, but rather opportunities to consolidate control. In this, the EU has become more confident since the Euro Crisis. The debacle pathologised its fixation with top-down ‘technical solutions’ in chaotic situations, and radicalised its faith in executive federalism. But fate is cruel. Instead of gloriously rising to the occasion, the EU has failed at a life-and-death task, which was simply beyond its capabilities.

Though the EU project may have reached its final limits, the institution is probably too big to fail. Its demise is likely to be a process rather than an event. One could, for example, envisage the Commission being converted by Germany and other leading member states from uncontrolled political leviathan into tightly defined regulatory agency charged exclusively with the mission of overseeing the single market. The EU Parliament could conceivably then morph into something more like an elected auditing body. Put simply rather than a 'collapse' of the EU, we may see the dream of integration make way for the era of 'controlled disintegration'. 

After all as a political mission, the European Union is a devastating farce. But as a regulatory hegemon it is formidable. The fact remains that, while the magnetic powers of pre-destined integration elude the continent of Europe, the gravitational pull of the EU’s regulatory orbit remains powerful. (And it is testament to the messy randomness of history that the latter is the accidental byproduct of a drive for the former!)

As far as Britain is concerned, then, the question remains the same. Does it want to keep the United Kingdom as one, and diverge meaningfully from Brussels? Or does it see no alternative to EU alignment, and the partition of Northern Ireland? Unfortunately for full-fat Brexiteers, Johnson seems to be drawn towards the second. 

2. No one seems to care about phone hoaxers: Banks, customers and the police all appear to have little incentive to take seriously a crimewave that is raking in billions: Matthew Parris, The Times

I blush at the recollection. In hindsight it was obvious. Nearly two years ago I came close to handing over all my bank account details to a fraudster. My partner was out or he’d have stopped me before I was drawn deeper and deeper into a half-hour’s collaboration with a man I didn’t know, each step seemingly harmless until he was congratulating me on my internet skills as I linked my laptop with his, feeling proud.

“You idiot!” my partner said, returning to find me shaken, hands trembling with what I’d almost done.

Long story short. I was scammed on the landline and persuaded by someone claiming to be from BT and to be responding to my complaints about our dreadful broadband speeds in rural Derbyshire. He seemed to know all about it and we discussed BT’s response. Finally he asked to hook his computer up to my laptop to check. I can’t believe I agreed to this but had by then invested 20 minutes in an exchange that at first had seemed routine. Then he “confirmed” that the internet speed was abysmal (it was), went off to “talk to my supervisor” and came back to offer a very substantial refund from BT. Only when he started asking for account details did my slow-growing suspicion boil over.

I now know to hang up on the incessant phone calls I receive, offering to “refund” me for this or that. I now know too that there’s a market out there for bank or credit card details and a whole fraudster ecosystem. The hoaxer who calls you may already have bought information in the market, the better to impress and so manipulate his victim. I’d proved a soft touch but how many others might be too? My hoax caller could cast his fly without risk until somebody bit.

You may say I should have reported it to BT or the police. Have you tried getting through to BT and, anyway, what could they do? Another time at my London flat I did try the police: wittingly this time I’d played along with a telephone scammer to the point of arranging to hand over a cheque to a courier and then rang my local Met police station. They weren’t interested in entrapment and, given the more urgent workload they face, I understand why. I took no further action. The vast majority don’t. We slam down the phone and shrug. A Commons public accounts committee report in 2017 estimated that only one in five defrauded individuals report the incident to the police.

Ever since the advent of credit cards and telephone and electronic banking the criminal law has been losing ts grip over modern fraud. The perpetrator might be in any bedroom in the world with just a laptop and a smartphone. Finding him at all, let alone catching him red-handed and bringing him to book, would challenge even an infinitely better-funded, better-equipped and better-staffed law enforcement operation than ours.

As a chilling video presentation on my own bank’s website explains, the entry-point for fraudsters is increasingly the customer, acting unwittingly as cat’s-paw for the fraudster (known as push-payment fraud). Banks and big financial institutions can guard against hackers “breaking in” to their systems but how do you lock the cyber-doors against your own customers?

Action Fraud, the national fraud reporting service, doesn’t make clear if the police want to hear about unsuccessful attempts and they’d surely be swamped. Successful attempts reported by individuals or banks cost us billions (nobody really knows the figure). In 2019 there were 122,000 known victims of push-payment fraud, a figure increasing at a rate of about 45 per cent a year.

“Card not present” fraud, where online purchases are made by a fraudster using a victim’s credit card details, is another area of growth. I will spare you any more of the various (and wildly different) estimates different bodies and inquiries have made, partly because the balance between reported and unreported crime is wholly speculative, and partly because in a field where mixed use is often made of the internet, the telephone and plastic cards, categories of fraud elude clear definition. “It’s very common, very bad and fast getting worse” is all we can safely say.

Shocking? Yes, but I’ve begun to understand why rising public indignation has never pushed this evil into the political foreground. The small person, the bank customer, rarely has to pay. The banks will usually refund you. I’ve been looking at their voluntary code governing reimbursement. It’s remarkably forgiving. A refund will normally be available if (of course) the bank is to blame but also if neither you nor the bank is to blame. Even if it was your fault, your refund may be denied only if you had “no reasonable basis” for supposing your payment was legitimate or you were otherwise “grossly” negligent. And even then you should be refunded if you are a “vulnerable” person. Most big banks are signed up to this code and draw on a pooled fund in order to refund defrauded customers.

Public-spirited? Perhaps, but here’s the unintended consequence. The hoaxed customer has no great incentive to report the crime, nor the police to pursue the criminal, because the bank has reimbursed them. There is apparently no “victim”. The bank, meanwhile, has a weakened incentive to withhold compensation from a negligent customer, or to report particulars of the crime, because it all comes out of a collective fund. So in the end it’s all the banks’ customers who pay: in marginally increased bank charges. And there’s less pressure on any of us to guard against fraud.

Every inquiry into cyberfraud I’ve seen concludes by recommending “educating” the public better. The banks do try. Online I have to tick a box saying I’ve really thought about my proposed remittance and offering me advice on fraud before I can click Submit. What more can they do? If we, the public, are proving poor students perhaps it is because no penalty attaches to our failure to learn.

Columnists who identify an ill are expected to prescribe a pill. I offer no such prescription. I suspect it’s hopeless. More than three centuries ago a fraudster faced a criminal charge of stealing (by impersonation) the equivalent of some £4,000 from his victim. (See Regina v Jones, 1703). Acquitting, the judge ruled: “We are not to indict one man for making a fool of another.”

Times have changed. Or have they? Is it to be “you fell for a scam and serves you right”? Or is it to be “never mind, the bank will cough up”? Hey-ho, I see no other alternatives.

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