14 March 2022: Flying from Ourense; Flying prices; Russian humour; Lost English; & Other stuff

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’

Cosas de España/Galiza  

Iberia is advertising flights from Ourense to Madrid, which is odd, as Ourense lacks a vital  ingredient – an airport. What Iberia is really offering – in conjunction with Renfe – is a ticket allowing you to get a train to Madrid airport and then onto one of their planes. Novel.

The Voz de Galicia give us this insight into local inflation:-

Not for the first time, it’s a place here in Galicia is selling petrol and diesel at the highest prices in Spain. I suppose someone has to.

Talking of driving . . . The direction of our local roads, for whatever reason, changes so often that the signwriters can’t keep up . . .

This, by the way, is a bit of the Portuguese camino. But I guess it doesn’t confuse walkers, as the arrows are white, not yellow.

The EU

The EU’s data protection rules are described in the 1st article below as one of the worst pieces of legislation ever introduced. Allegedly: The harm has been concentrated on the smaller companies, leaving the American tech giants such as Facebook, Apple and Google largely unscathed.  


If you’re in the UK or have a VPN, you can watch a BBC documentary on the treatment dished out to Russia’s only independent news channel. No longer operating, of course – for failing to toe the official line on, well, everything. But especially the ‘special operation’ in Ukraine.

Some of us will recall, with affection, the black humour common in Soviet times. Current repression and privation are producing a new crop. For example:- 

– Want to watch a horror movie? No thanks, I’ve just been shopping

– Switch your phone language to Russian and ‘flight mode’ disappears

– Hankering for Soviet-era glory? With a pointless war, shortages, queues, censorship, worthless money and no foreign travel, we’re almost there.  

– Switch your phone language to Russian and ‘flight mode’ disappears

– Hankering for Soviet-era glory? With a pointless war, shortages, queues, censorship, worthless money and no foreign travel, we’re almost there.  

Social Media/The Way of the World

See below for an account of how the Facebook Gods are controlling life and death.


Burundanga: Sometimes: ‘A piece of junk’: More generally: ‘A soporific substance given to someone so you can steal from them’.


Shame we’ve lost some of the lovely words/phrases cited below 

Finally . . .

There’s good news for those who never quite manage to hit the 10,000 steps a day target: it turns out you didn’t really need them anyway, according to new research. American academics have found that walking 6,000 steps each day could reduce the risk of early death for over-60s and taking more than 8,000 has no added benefits.

To amuse. .

For new reader(s): If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here. If you’re passing through Pontevedra on the Camino, you’ll find a guide to the city there.

RECOGNISABLE OLD ENGLISH WORDS: PART 6 Pronunciation in brackets

From Hana Videen’s The Wordhord 

ān, adjective/noun/numeral (ahn): One. 

ān-floga, noun (ahn-flo-ga): Lone flier. 

ān-genga, noun (ahn-yeng-ga): Solitary walker, lone wanderer. 

ān-stapa, noun (ahn-stah-pa): Lone wanderer/stepper. 

bearn-lufe, noun (beh-arn-luh-vuh): Love due to a son (bairn?). 

fēond, noun (fay-ond): Enemy, foe; fiend, the Devil. 

fēond-scipe, noun (fay-ond-ship-uh): Enmity, hostility. 

frēogan, verb (fray-o-gahn): To free, make free; to honour, like, love. 

frēond, noun (fray-ond): Friend. 

frēond-lufu, noun (fray-ond-luh-vuh: Friendship, love. 

frēond-scipe, noun (fray-ond-ship-uh): Friendship. 

gāst-lufu, noun (gahst-luh-vuh): Spiritual/’ghost’ love. 

gif-stōl, noun (yif-stoal): ‘Gift-seat’/stool, the seat from which gifts are distributed, the throne. 

gift, noun (yift): Gift; (less common) marriage. 

heort-lufe, noun (heh-ort-luh-vuh): Love which comes from the heart, heartfelt love. 

lufu, noun (luh-vuh): Love.  

morgen-gifu, noun (mor-gen-yiv-uh): Husband’s gift to his wife on the morning after the consummation of their marriage. 

morgen-sēoc, adjective (mor-gen-say-ock): Morning-sick. 

ofer-lufu, noun (ov-er-luh-vuh): Excessive/over love. 

sibling, noun (sib-ling): Relative, kin. 

sib-lufu, noun (sib-luh-vuh): Love or affection between kin. 

sorh-lufu, noun (sor-h’luh-vuh): Love accompanied by anxiety or sorrow, hapless love. (Sore love) 

sundor, adverb (sun-dor): Apart, aloof, by one’s self; in a manner different from others. (Asunder)

sundor-genga, noun (sun-dor-yeng-ga): One who goes alone. 

trēow-lufu, noun (tray-oh-luh-vuh): Faithful love (truth-love). 


1. The sooner we end Europe’s GDPR disaster the better. EU’s data protection rules have proved a disaster for our digital start-ups: Matthew Lynn The Telegraph

We have ticked all the right boxes a hundred thousand times. We have clicked past reams of terms and conditions we have never had the slightest intention of ever actually reading. And we have accepted cookies, shared our data, and opted in for emails.

We already knew the European Union’s GDPR rules for managing the way data is used and shared over the internet were tedious, bureaucratic and overly complex. But now we know something else as well. The system has cost us billions, and made us all much poorer than we otherwise would be.

According to a new study from academics at Oxford University, the rules have had two dramatic impacts. They have significantly reduced the profits and sales of digital companies.

And even worse, the harm has been concentrated on the smaller companies, leaving the American tech giants such as Facebook and Google largely unscathed. It has turned into one of the worst pieces of legislation ever introduced.

There is little hope of the EU ever reforming it. Brussels does not admit to mistakes. But the UK should sweep the system away, and replace it with something more workable, before it does any more damage to our economy.

When GDPR – General Data Protection Regulation – was introduced in May 2018 it was meant to turn the digital economy into a safer, properly regulated space, where privacy would be protected, and data valued and looked after.

In the almost four years since then, EU officials have held the legislation up as a huge improvement in the way ordinary people are protected by better, smarter regulation.

“The GDPR is the perfect example of how the European Union, based on a fundamental rights approach, empowers its citizens and gives businesses opportunities to make the most of the digital revolution,” argued Věra Jourová, the EU’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency, at a two-year review that trumpeted what a success it had been.

Well, that is one way of looking at it. As so often, the rhetoric from Brussels does not quite match the reality.

Last week, Carl Benedikt Frey and Giorgio Presidente of Oxford University published a study that looked at how the rules had impacted the companies that actually had to implement them. There had already been some surveys showing the complexity of the system had damaged investment. Even so, the findings were shocking. The report found that on average GDPR had reduced sales from tech companies by 2pc. And it had reduced profits by 8pc. Even more seriously it also found it has had a greater impact on smaller companies and left the American tech giants largely unscathed. “Our estimates suggest that Big Techs have fared relatively well in the age of GDPR,” the report concludes. “Specifically, we find no significant impacts on large tech companies, like Facebook, Apple and Google, on either profits or sales. At the same time, among small companies in information technology, the negative profit impact is double the average effect across our full sample. “Large technology companies, in other words, have seemingly taken market share from their smaller competitors…and the main burdens of GDPR have fallen on smaller companies.”

In short, it has been a disaster, and one that, like so much regulation, has had precisely the opposite effect to what was expected. In reality, there have been three main problems. First, it has significantly reduced the number of new companies that are launched. The main impact of GDPR has been to hugely push up the cost of compliance for any kind of business that handles information (and that is just about everyone – it is hard to run a company without holding any kind of data these days). According to a report from PwC, some European companies are now spending €10m (£8.4m) a year on compliance, and while start-ups won’t need to budget for quite that much, it is still going to eat up a chunk of their capital. The result? We have far less innovation than we otherwise would have.

Next, it has hammered profits. It is significant that while sales have fallen only marginally as a result of the legislation the report found that profits had fallen by four times as much. It is not hard to work out why. The costs of complying with all those cumbersome rules does not make much difference to the consumer one way or the other. But it comes directly off the bottom line. That matters. No doubt EU bureaucrats would loftily dismiss profits as no concern of theirs. But without them, investors are less willing to commit capital to new businesses, and existing ones have less to re-invest in expansion.

Again, the result is that we have far fewer companies, and smaller ones, than we otherwise would.

Finally, it increases the dominance of the existing giants. It should be no great surprise that the established mega-companies are the ones least affected by the regime. They have an endless amount of money to spend on compliance, they can pay for lobbyists to tweak the rules in their favour (Google, Facebook and Apple are now among the five biggest spenders on lobbying in Brussels), and they benefit the most when irritating new companies that might compete with them are kept out of the market.

The EU will never admit that the flagship of its plan to be a “regulatory superpower” has hurt everyone. With declining influence around the world it has set itself the ambition of creating the rules the world has to live by as if tying the whole planet up in red-tape were somehow a lofty ambition in itself.

But it is ridiculous for the UK to still be applying the rules more than a year after we severed our final ties with Brussels. True, there may be consequences if we break free. The EU may make it difficult to transfer data across the English channel. And yet it is now clear that GDPR cost billions in lost sales and profits – and the sooner we scrap it the better.     

2. How the Facebook Gods are controlling life and death: Permitting calls for violence towards Russian invaders was an unexpected u-turn, but Meta has the power to shape free speech as it sees fit: By Ed Cumming, The Telegraph

Can a death threat ever be justified? According to Facebook – from this weekend – it can. 

Yesterday, Meta, the name of the company which runs Facebook and Instagram, did something unexpected. In a reversal of its usual “hate speech” policy, the organisation announced that users of the social platforms in certain countries would be allowed to advocate violence against Ukraine’s Russian invaders. Like a Caesar in an amphitheatre, whose capricious thumbs or down would decide a slave’s fate, or a Greek god treating cruelty as a public sport, the social media platform took control of Europe’s free-speech destiny.

“As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine we have temporarily made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules, like violent speech such as ‘death to the Russian invaders’,” Meta said in a statement, adding however that it still wouldn’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians. 

Thou shalt not kill thy brother, but thou shalt chat about it online if it doesn’t seem like you’ll actually do it. And only in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine.

It’s no surprise that such announcements have the stentorian tones of divine intervention. In 2022, Meta is a supranational power; an empire ruled over by a single man, which influences voters, proscribes language and provides meeting places for cranks and perverts – as well as somewhere to moan about bin collections. A church, in other words. Yet unlike a church, Meta and its subsidiary businesses operate for the financial benefit of their shareholders. They must make decisions along ethical, political and cultural lines while in thrall to the bottom one. 

In recent years, the company has talked tough about the language it permits on its platforms, with firm rules on obscenity and violence. It would like you to believe that a sophisticated AI-powered anti-hate algorithm, as well as a battery of human moderators, is protecting you from harmful words. Posting nudity, threats or discriminatory language can land you with a warning or a temporary ban. In extreme situations, for example if you have recently been US President and your supporters have stormed the Capitol building, they’ll remove you altogether. They’re all about free speech, just not too much. 

On the face of things Meta’s decision seems unobjectionable, says Ruth Smeeth, a former Labour MP who is now the CEO of Index on Censorship. “It looks like a pragmatic decision,” she says. “The idea that you couldn’t have a call to arms within Ukraine is perverse. Would First World War poetry have survived Facebook’s original approach? But there is a bigger issue here, about who is the owner of speech, and determining what is and isn’t acceptable. I’m not sure Meta should be the sole arbiter.” 

Facebook’s verdict on what is and what isn’t iffy has rarely been consistent. In 2021, a Wall Street Journal story revealed some of the firm’s confidential moderation guidelines. In places it reads like a bullies’ charter: “We do not remove content like “frizzy hair,” “lanky arms,” “broad shoulders,” etc. since “frizzy,” “lanky,” and “broad,” are not deficient or inferior, and therefore not degrading.” A history teacher was banned for 30 days for telling a friend he was “spewing crazy.” A writer, Alex Gendler, was censored for sharing a story about tribes in New Guinea. 

Even in Ukraine, the cases are far from obvious. Where is the line drawn? “Is ‘drive the invaders out of our land’ allowable? How about the old lady telling a Russian soldier to put sunflower seeds in his pockets so that when he is killed they’ll mark his grave. Is that a call to violence?” asks Ben Evans, a tech writer. “If [Ukrainian president] Zelensky says that every Russian who comes to Ukraine to kill civilians will go home dead – is that allowed? And if Facebook was taking those down, what would we think?” 

Besides, having guidelines is not the same as enforcing them. Facebook moderates more than two million posts a day, using a mix of algorithms and humans. The AI is good at detecting specific things – naked bodies, for example – but struggles with context. A humanitarian group and terrorist organisation might post the same image with a very different meaning. 

“The idea of Facebook loosening its rules is spin, because they don’t enforce their rules,” says Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate. “It’s designed to reinforce Facebook’s framing that they have to take down the pleas of the Ukrainian people. In fact they’ve done a terrible job at dealing with any of the problems in that space. There are lots of examples of people calling for violence against politicians on their platform. They basically give it a free pass. It suits the company to make it look like they’ve got a crack team on the case, with Nick Clegg standing over them. But they barely have any Ukrainian language moderators.” 

And it’s hardly as though Facebook has a perfect record when it comes to the spread of honest information. “It has monetised disinformation,” says Ahmed. “Putin has used Facebook to pump disinformation into his country for years. It can influence the case for war, it can influence the outcome of war. It’s been used to affect elections. Zuckerberg wields unbelievable power. Nobody who isn’t democratically elected should have that degree of power.” 

The obvious counter to all this is social media’s power for good. In theory, it provides a platform for solidarity that ought to be especially useful in times of war. But since the first hopeful days of the Arab Spring, that rosy vision has looked naive. 

“Every time I see anything about the Russia-Ukraine war posted on social media I discount it,” says Alex Kradosomski-Jones, director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos. “I’ve never felt that before. The quality of information on those platforms is just so low. This isn’t new, but there is a uniquely Russian aspect to the current conflict: this idea, which has been attributed to Putin, that you can just make a full-frontal assault on the truth.” 

For Kradosomski-Jones, this week’s news is more evidence that Facebook has found itself in a position for which it does not have the tools to cope. “They have to accept that they are a political entity,” he says. “Long gone are the days when they could say they were just a platform.” 

While Meta’s U-turn has the appearance of solidarity with Ukraine, it is also a business calculation. They hope that the 12 countries affected by the ruling will see this as a sign of ally-ship. Without their custom, Facebook will simply cease to exist in this region.

Closer to home, Smeeth has advocated for greater accountability for social media companies in the UK, but is worried we are going in the wrong direction. “With the upcoming Online Safety Bill, we’re giving even more power to the platforms to determine what is and isn’t acceptable speech,” she says. “There has to be democratic oversight.” 

Still, she is confident social media can play a positive role. “We’re living the experiences of those innocent civilians in Ukraine, in no small part because of social media. It can’t be covered up. Last year, people were found guilty of war crimes in Syria based solely on evidence gathered online. This is a tool for huge good.”

Conditions will be trickier for Meta in Russia: the prosecutor general has asked for it to be listed as an extremist organisation and for its services, except for WhatsApp, to be banned. Other platforms are available, but it won’t be a popular call. It rarely ends well when people are asked to choose between their country and their religion.