Thursday, December 23, 2010

Another interview for Australian radio

On Sunday I will be interviewed again on Australia’s publicly-run ABC Radio, this time about the festivities of this time of year in Spain and Catalunya. The program is Overnights – Round the World and will be at broadcast there on Boxing Day morning.

I will mention the caganer, the El Gordo lottery, calcats and romesco sauce, caga-tio and other oddities.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Will Europe do anything about child slave labour in Uzbekistan?


As someone who prefers to buy cotton clothes I have sometimes thought about the apparently back-breaking work of picking cotton plants from out of the ground.

The mental picture of children (as young as our 9-year old son) being dragged from school only to spend hour after hour twisting their bodies in the fields is a very disturbing one.

The single biggest destination for Uzbek cotton is the European market. Despite strong condemnation from the European Union over the use of child slavery in Uzbek cotton production, the EU continues to allow the Government of Uzbekistan to benefit from reduced trading tariffs for its cotton imports to the EU despite its own rules that these benefits should be withdrawn.

SIGN THE PETITION calling on the EU to remove trade preferences for Uzbekistan to stop child slavery.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Piensa es gratis"

Think, it's free of charge.

These were the words that greeted me when arriving back at Barcelona airport after five weeks away in Australia not so long ago.

Piensa es gratis is the title of a new book by Joaquín Lorente which was the first words I consciously noticed, glancing at the airport bookshop while wheeling my luggage trolley along. Ah yes, I am home now, I thought. Back in the land of the mind: Europe.

The genius George Orwell devoted his last years on the earth to digging deeply into, amongst others, the idea that thought can only be truly free when there is freedom of speech to go along with it.

Many economists tell us that nothing is free of ‘cost’ because there is always “opportunity cost” – that we are constantly doing things at the expense of doing something else. I am writing this instead of sleeping on the train at this moment.

But to me freedom of thought is important because without it we are no more evolved than beasts.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Thanks to life"

Video: Mercedes Sosa - Gracias a La Vida: surely one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded in the Spanish language (and one of the most well-known songs in Latin America apparently.)

[Lyrics translated into English:]

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me two beams of light, that when opened,
Can perfectly distinguish black from white
And in the sky above, her starry backdrop,
And from within the multitude
The one that I love.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me an ear that, in all of its width
Records— night and day—crickets and canaries,
Hammers and turbines and bricks and storms,
And the tender voice of my beloved.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me sound and the alphabet.
With them the words that I think and declare:
"Mother," "Friend," "Brother" and the light shining.
The route of the soul from which comes love.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me the ability to walk with my tired feet.
With them I have traversed cities and puddles
Valleys and deserts, mountains and plains.
And your house, your street and your patio.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me a heart, that causes my frame to shudder,
When I see the fruit of the human mind,
When I see good, so far from bad,
When I see within the clarity of your eyes...

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me laughter and it gave me longing.
With them I distinguish happiness and pain—
The two materials from which my songs are formed,
And your song, as well, which is the same song.
And everyone's song, which is my very own song.

Thanks to life

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Parents with a fear of rubber

Yes, despite the Pope softening his words on condoms there are still a few parents here in Spain that object to the idea that someone should put a sheath over their penis before sex.

Do these parents believe that it is better for their kids to run the risk of sexually transmitted diseases or an unwanted pregnancy?

The Spanish Ministry of Health is doing the sensible thing and promoting condom use through their ‘yopongocondom.com’ campaign but have been criticised for their efforts by an organisation called The Confederation of Catholic Parents Associations in Spain (CONCAPA).

Considering that a couple of years ago two 19th century (pig gut) condoms were found in a Salamanca library book, contraception is nothing new in Spain.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

How to confirm a stereotype

One standard opinion of Spanish people is that they enjoy cruelty to animals. Unfortunately, this is supported by some of the festival activities here.

“In the Basque village of Lekeitio, the celebration of Antzar Eguna (Geese's Day) is honoured with contestants who try to hold onto a dead goose for as long as possible while being jerkily dipped into the ocean on a rope. The winner is the one who decapitates the goose with his bare hands. In earlier times, the geese was alive…


See photo of this “event” here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"I like the fact that there are things I don't like."

These words (from Madrid University of Complutense Philosophy Professor Fernando Savater) are as good a definition of tolerance as you are likely to find anywhere.

YouTube video of him here.

[It's good to be back after a month without internet at home!]

Friday, October 8, 2010

Tomorrow in Spain...

Avaaz.org says: This Sunday, at more than 6300 events in 187 countries, citizens around the world will shatter a dangerous myth: that the global climate movement has somehow disappeared.

On Sunday, October 10 -- that's 10/10/10, a date to remember -- we will gather in climate "work parties" around the globe to demonstrate our determination and trumpet a call to our governments: "We're getting to work... what about you?"

For environmental events to be involved in: click here.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The generation that is hoping for Plan B

I have an acquaintance who is a waitress even though she has a high-level science degree. These days some people would consider her to be lucky to have any kind of paid work.

"For Spain’s twenty-somethings, the dream was over before it began. Two years after Wall Street crashed, a crisis that seemed far away has now taken over their lives.

Spain has the highest unemployment rate in Europe, and joblessness is most severe among the under 25s. The question people like Iván Miguel, fired from his job as a waiter the day after Spain won the World Cup, are asking is whether they are doomed to a life without meaningful employment.
"

The first part of an EL PAÍS report on Spain's "Generation in crisis."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

“They piss on us, and the newspapers say it’s raining.”

Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano says he saw these words painted on a wall in Buenos Aires once.

"Walls are the printing press of the poor. Yes, it’s still raining and language is the tool of lies...The international community is simply a club made up of bankers and warmongers who control the world."

Last week Galeano visited Madrid and gave this interview to El Pais newspaper.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Made in Catalonia

Catalan culture continues to be spread in Australia. The Casal celebrates its 3rd annual 'Made in Catalonia' Film Festival (MiCFF) by presenting this year in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra [my city of birth.]

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Why is sport a good thing in Catalonia?

Our 9 year old son Hugo played his first two games of roller hockey (hoquei patins) for the Vilafranca club today and what struck me is the same thing I am usually struck by at sporting events here: the atmosphere is one of congeniality.

Unlike children’s sport in some countries (such as England, where parents were banned from all state school sporting events because of abuse, fights and general nastiness) my impression of amateur sport in this part of the world is that it is for enjoyment not for the venting of spleen.

The atmosphere is civilized, the other parents are generally friendly (though sometimes a bit shy and cliquey) and the kids get a pleasant experience along with a healthy amount of fair competition.

As a teacher as well as a parent, this is not my first time with children doing sport so my opinion of the way it is done here is not just from this one day.

It seems likely to me that this amiability balanced with the right amount of seriousness to do well is one reason why Spain are current European and world champions. Amateur coaches are well-trained and largely well-respected instead of being blamed for results.

Some older kids in our son’s roller hockey club have a hand in training and looking after the younger players and this is not unusual at all. It helps those player-coaches to develop responsibility and is a natural way to give them time before they may become adult coaches.

I am looking forward to our son growing up in this kind of environment.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The people next door

Spain is one of the EU countries with the largest volume of foreign residents, data released by the European Union’s Statistics Office, Eurostat, revealed.

In total, there are 5.7 million foreign residents in Spain— or 12 percent of the population — second only to Germany with 7.2 million. Of the total in Spain, 2.2 million foreign residents hail from the EU.

Romanians are the largest foreign group in Spain, followed by Moroccans, Ecuadorians, Britons and Colombians.


Report from El País newspaper.

Monday, August 30, 2010

“When we are born, we are all Moors”...

...says a character in Àngel Guimerà’s play La filla del mar (The daughter of the sea, 1900.)

Agata, this fictional female whose “origins are unclear” was born among Moors and for this simple reason she is despised and considered to be a heretic. The theme is just as relevant today. Human beings still judge and discriminate against other human beings over aspects of our identity that are beyond our control. We still love hating.

Xavier Fàbregas believed that “the theme of the misfit, the outsider” is a reoccurring one in Guimerà’s Catalan literature and partly puts this down to the author having parents who were unmarried.

A wet nurse, a Jewish boy, a mad woman – Guimerà’s choice of individuals to focus on his writing seems to confirm his affinity for society’s overlooked.

According to Ramon Bacardit “He wrote about conflicts of passion that, at bottom, implied power relations, frequently highlighting issues of non-adaptation…[as] the backdrop onto which he projected relationships containing…elements of masochism and tormented sensuality.

The street I am soon to live in is named after Àngel Guimerà.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Seeking shelter from the economic storm

The current plight of Spain’s immigrants is now being recognised in the international media.

Andrea Comas reports in Time magazine that “Over a million migrants have lost their jobs, homes and small businesses in a boom-to-bust cycle not seen since the Great Depression…And unemployment isn't the only issue. The rate of mortgage delinquency among foreigners in Spain is 10 times higher than among native Spaniards. Tax revenue and social security contributions, along with consumer spending, are also falling within the immigrant community, making it all the more difficult for Spain — with one of the highest deficits in the OECD at 11% — to stimulate its economy.”

Josep Oliver, an applied economics professor in the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona and one of the lead authors of Yearbook of Immigration in Spain 2009 is quoted saying: “The Spanish case is a lesson. If a country's economy is based on low-skilled labor, like construction, and there is a crisis, the blow can be traumatic."

“Most immigrants…will weather the storm because they have little to look forward to back home.”

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2013057,00.html#ixzz0xjbldcR0

Monday, August 23, 2010

A prince of reason

Nationalism was a reaction to the forces of globalization and modernization in the 19th century, a reaction to "population explosion, rapid urbanisation [and] labour migration."

Ernest Gellner writing in 1983 but is this sentence still relevant to Catalan nationalism today?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Ignore these changes at your peril

It makes me happy to see that others enjoy what I enjoy.

Vicente Molina Foix in this piece in El País writes about riding in the Madrid Metro:

I like to see the juxtaposition of various skin colors, and hear the melody of incomprehensible languages, as the train of the future approaches on the rails of life.

Here is a man at ease with one of the biggest changes to Spanish life in the last few decades. He realises that this country is becoming one great human paella with a tasty mixture of ingredients.

Those Catalans and Spaniards who make the effort to appreciate the benefits of migrants from across this odd little planet will be doing little more than opening their senses.

The continuing mixing of cultures is one of the great success stories of human history and closing ourselves off from the results of migration is as pointless as trying to ignore the music from a neighbour’s radio drifting into our ears.

Migration in Europe will not end, though it has slowed down somewhat in the last couple of years due to the Great Recession.

The human animal that adapts best to the changes in its surroundings will continue to be the human animal that thrives.

[This blog was also published as a Letter in El País ENGLISH EDITION WITH THE INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE on Saturday, 10 August, 2010 under the title "Savoring the melting pot."]

Monday, August 2, 2010

An interview with Salvador Dalí

"I adore three things, weakness, old age and luxury."

He was a public supporter of Franco but apart from that Salvador Dalí had an interesting and highly original mind, and it can be appreciated with him speaking his own style of English in this video link here.

Amongst other things (and despite the patronising interruptions of the interviewer) he talks about his genius, the subconscious, weakness, old age and luxury, death, religion, and dreams.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A view of Barcelona in the 1930's

It was five years since I had been in Barcelona. In 1932, the revolution had already been in progress two years. Yet the changes to be observed in the externals of its life were few. The native bootblack who had shined my shoes as I stepped off the train then had expressed it succinctly: "The revolution? The king is gone, yes, but otherwise what is changed? Nada, nada."

Albert Weisbord was a Jewish American activist who visited Catalonia a number of times and wrote about the class struggle in particular.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sisters are doing it

Girls earn better grades and have less tendency to repeat courses. Women are the majority in Spanish universities…and they dedicate more time to make studying a priority.

A report by Gloria López (AmecoPress) on work by the Institute of Women in the Asturias region.

Monday, July 19, 2010

More languages in Spain?

Muslims in the Spanish autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the North African coast are now calling for official recognition of Darija (Moroccan Arabic) and Tamazight, the language of the Berber people.

Their biggest supporters should be those Catalan people who already have their language as a major part of public life here. (I am proud that my son learns Catalan as his major language at school.)

I have heard Berber spoken before and was struck by its’ murmuring vowel sounds and cadences full of long S’s.

Making sure that smaller languages thrive across the planet is just as important as maintaining the rich biodiversity of living creatures.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My latest article from this month's "Catalonia Today"

Post Power-Point Trauma Syndrome

Have you ever sat through and silently suffered during a PowerPoint presentation?

Most likely, you have more than a few times. Together with ten other teachers, I have been asked (or is it told?) to do a PowerPoint presentation about my History elective subject for secondary level students at the international school where I teach, near Barcelona.

I will not do it.

Read more: Link here.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Is "the Spanish mind" contradictory?

A survey of Spanish social attitudes shows a mixture of liberal and conservative outlooks…

More than 60% of Spaniards between 15 and 64 years of age are in partial or complete favour of euthanasia, but only 21% view suicide as permissible, a study titled Social values and drugs presented in Madrid yesterday, shows.

Of 1,200 people surveyed for the report, carried out by anti-drug organizations alongside Caja Madrid’s social foundation, 54% agreed that there should be total freedom to abort a pregnancy, but only 44% said that same-sex relationships should be permitted.

Just 46% of those polled said they were against the death penalty for serious crimes, a significant increase since 2001.


[Raquel Seco in El Pais.]

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What Franco did for the Holocaust

The reality wasn’t just that the dictator’s propaganda was entirely untrue. He had in fact been very tempted to play his part in resolving the “Jewish problem in Europe.”

At the end of World War II, Franco largely succeeded in convincing the world that he had contributed to saving thousands of Jews from extermination at the hands of the Nazis.

Thanks to the patient work of a Jewish journalist, Jacobo Israel Garzón, the only document addressing the issue that still survives has surfaced in the National Archive’s collection. It was originally issued by the regional government of Zaragoza. It has since been published in the history magazine Raíces. This is the story behind it
[in Spanish from El Pais.]

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sant Juan: un noche cuando...

Una cosa que me chocó poco después de venirme a vivir aquí fue que muchos padres españoles están demasiado viciados con dejar que sus hijos jueguen con petardos. Personalmente, en mi primera celebración de la verbena de San Juan, fui testigo de un caso bien desagradable.

Un niño de (entonces) 5 años, amigo de mi hijo, había estado jugando con petardos solo durante varias horas, con muy poca supervisión directa por parte de sus padres. Este niño estaba muy cerca de una pequeña hoguera que ardía en la plaza donde estábamos, y lanzó algún petardo dentro. Tal y como era de esperar, éste explosionó, hiriendo a una niña que estaba cerca además de herirle a él mismo la cara y los ojos. Mi mujer tuvo la suficiente presencia de ánimo como para echarle agua en los ojos; se lo llevaron rápidamente a un hospital para que recibiera tratamiento.

Si lo tuviéramos que juzgar únicamente por el tamaño de la explosión que salió del fuego, yo diría que el niño fue muy afortunado de no haber sufrido daños permanentes en el ojo. (Quizá el único resultado positivo que podemos extraer de ello es que nuestro hijo, al ver lo que le pasó a su amigo, todavía tiene miedo de los petardos años después de que sucediese).

Otra persona que comparte estas preocupaciones es Juan Pedro Barret, jefe de la unidad de quemados del hospital Vall d’Hebron de Barcelona. El doctor Barret está cansado de ver heridas causadas por el mal uso de los petardos, entre las que se incluye la necesidad de amputar dedos, manos o pies.

Él cree que la noche de San Juan es una de las peores que te pueden tocar de guardia en el departamento de urgencias. Según él, hay un flujo constante de personas heridas, pero que, desde que se introdujeron medidas de seguridad a mediados de los años noventa, el número de heridos graves ha descendido ligeramente.

En una votación (entre 2165 personas) que llevó a cabo el periódico El País, el 70% estaban de acuerdo en que se establecieran medidas restrictivas en cuanto a la celebración de festivales con pirotecnia debido al peligro.

Sant Juan: An explosive night to remember

One thing that shocked me soon after moving here was that many parents in Spain are quite blasé about letting their children play with fireworks. I personally witnessed a very nasty example of this at our first Sant Juan’s Day celebrations.

A (then 5 year old) friend of my son’s had been allowed to play with firecrackers by himself for several hours and with little direct supervision by his parents. This boy was standing very close to a small bonfire in the square where we were and he threw some kind of cracker into. As was likely, it exploded, injuring a girl nearby as well as damaging this boy’s face and eyes. My wife had the presence of mind to throw water in his eyes and he was rushed screaming to a hospital for treatment.

Judging purely from the size of the blast from the fire, I would say the boy was quite fortunate to have not suffered permanent eye damage. (Perhaps the only pleasing result from that is that because our son also saw this happen to his friend, he still has a strong fear of firecrackers years after the event.)

Another who shares these concerns is Juan Pedro Barret, the head of the burns unit at the Vall d'Hebron hospital in Barcelona. Doctor Barret is fed up of seeing injuries caused by the misuse of fireworks, including the need for hands, fingers and feet to be amputated.

He believes that the night of Sant Juan is always one of the worst times to have to be on duty in the accident and emergency department. According to him there is a constant flow of injured people but that after the mid-nineties when safety measures improved the number of those seriously harmed has decreased somewhat.

In one El Pais newspaper poll (of 2165 people) 70% supported the placement of restrictions on festivals with fireworks due to danger.

Please let me know what you think…

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Oil and water don't mix

This November will mark 8 years since the devastating oil spill on the coast of Spain’s Galicia region.

This linked image represents the size of the current catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico as if it had happened across the Barcelona region.

Mean while, speaking about the disaster President Obama does little more in this video than make an appeal to some higher power, saying: “And we pray that a hand may guide us through the storm towards a brighter day.”

It is no longer "Yes, we can!" It is: "Maybe The All-mighty can..."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Coming to a town near you! Some of the world’s most powerful people…

There were some particularly “special visitors” to the beach town of Sitges (where I work part-time) earlier this month.

As usual, the elite Bilderberg group went to extreme lengths to avoid any publicity and equally extreme lengths to make sure that the agreements made in these meetings remained secret.

What would be worse? If high powered decision makers did get together to make high powered decisions, or if they didn’t meet at all?

It’s not difficult to conclude that the world financial crisis would be even worse is if there had not been some kind of international co-ordination behind it.

But how is it that these public figures can get away without any explanation of the results of these discussions? It took the publication of a guest list in an article by Victor González in the leftist Extremadura Progresista to alert world media to the existence of this year’s annual event.

If there is any truth to the suggestion that the Bildberbergers are not just a think tank, and that they in fact exist to ensure that the rich and powerful stay rich and powerful due to the labour of millions of poorer working folk, then we should know a lot more about this.

It is seems likely to me that the powerful do not just waste their time talking about ideas. These 7 Spaniards and 63 others would not give up their days to simply gasbag with each other (as the group has been doing every year since 1954) if there was not some exercising of heavy power that came from it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

An idea whose time has come

Finally, someone with (at least a bit of) power has spoken out with a logical proposal to make irresponsible greed in the finance world more difficult.

The EU internal market commissioner [and politician] Michel Barnier stated recently that to prevent future financial crises, there should be a network of national funds should be introduced so the cost of bank failures are not met by the taxpayer.

But as one commentator argues, the big problem with this (and similar) proposals is that it fails to tackle the problem of 'moral hazard', whereby banks take excessive risks, knowing that they have the protection of a safety-net. Indeed, by reducing the consequences of excessive risk-taking, these bail-out funds could have the opposite effect to that intended.

I believe there must first be a way to ensure that any new levies are not simply passed on to consumers in the form of higher fees or in-built secretive charges.

Similar measures have also been put forward to restrict European hedge funds and this is also a step in the right direction.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Spanish mother speaks about her son surviving Israel's deadly boat raid

I am David Segarra’s mother. It is 5am, June 2, and I wake up in Valencia learning that all the kidnapped victims in Israel have been freed, including my son.

I don’t harbor any hard feelings toward Israel at this time. And it isn’t because of some noble or religious cause but purely egotistical reasons.

Hate destroys, and Israel is showing a good example of this. I don’t want to detail the personal hell that I have gone through these past few days. It would be ridiculous to compare it to what Palestinian mothers go through each day. I am fortunate because my son David has survived the massacre aboard the Mavi Marmara and will be coming home safe and sound.

The Israeli soldiers may have destroyed his only lethal weapon: a video camera. But they forget that human beings have eyes, ears and mouths to tell the world of the horrors they have witnessed.
— Cristina Soler Crespo. Valencia. [From a letter to El Pais.]

Thursday, May 27, 2010

An idea whose time has come

Finally, someone with (at least a bit of) power has spoken out with a logical proposal to make irresponsible greed in the finance world more difficult.

The EU internal market commissioner [and politician] Michel Barnier stated this week that to prevent future financial crises, there should be a network of national funds should be introduced so the cost of bank failures are not met by the taxpayer.

But as one commentator argues, the big problem with this (and similar) proposals is that it fails to tackle the problem of 'moral hazard', whereby banks take excessive risks, knowing that they have the protection of a safety-net. Indeed, by reducing the consequences of excessive risk-taking, these bail-out funds could have the opposite effect to that intended.

I believe there must first be a way to ensure that any new levies are not simply passed on to consumers in the form of higher fees or in-built secretive charges.

Similar measures have also been put forward to restrict European hedge funds and this is also a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Article: Spanish musician prosecuted for blasphemy

Click to go to Link to a New Humanist piece on Javier Krahe.

According to Ismael Valladolid Torres (a Madrid-based bloggger at "La media hostia") the left-wing Krahe is to be charged after TV Canal + aired a part of his “funny and admittedly blasphemous clip” called "Cooking Christ".

I watched the video and did not find it funny but could see a degree satirical value in it.

Torres makes the point that “The court now asks Krahe to pay €192,000, and the TV channel to pay €144.000.In the past, many Spanish artists have had to leave their country in order to make use of freedom of expression, from Luis Buñuel to Pablo Picasso and others. It's amazing that more than half a century later, things in this country haven't changed.”

Friday, May 21, 2010

More burqa talk in Catalonia and France

Officials in the Catalan town of Lleida will open a debate at the end of the month over whether to prohibit the use of the burqa in public spaces, reports LLUÍS VISA in El Pais.

The draft of a proposed ordinance was presented by the Catalan (CiU) nationalist party’s bloc in the city hall.

The burqa, which is used by some Muslim women and covers their entire bodies except for their eyes, is not prohibited anywhere in Spain.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed banning the use of the burqa in France, and a similar proposal is being studied by lawmakers in Belgium.

This GlobalPost article describes the views of Muslims heard at a public meeting in France, arranged by the woman’s rights group, Ni Putes, Ni Soumises (Neither Whores, Nor Submissives) whose members wholly support the ban.

My opinion on religous clothing can be found at this previous blog.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Picasso and the Nazi

There is a beautiful story about Picasso. It was during the Nazi occupation in France. The great painter was summoned to Gestapo headquarters. He found a Nazi officer studying one of Picasso’s most famous paintings. The canvas depicted the brutal destruction of the town of Guernica by the Nazis during the Spanish civil war.

The Gestapo man looked with menace at Picasso and pointed to the painting. ‘Did you do this?’ he asked. Picasso looked at the Nazi and said ‘No, you did.’


[Greek actress and politician Melina Mercouri talking about “a moment when the artist and the citizen were one.”]

Thursday, May 13, 2010

From "La contra"

Very interesting interview on the back page of La Vanguardia today.

They talked to an old Barcelona lawyer named José Antonio González Casanova who was involved in the drafting of Spain’s constitution in the 1970’s. He describes himself as “a rabid anti-capitalist.”

A seeming mass of contradictions, this highly religious man (who also believes in astrology!) quotes Seneca with apparent approval: “Freedom is to accept your fate.

Vilafranca spring haiku

Through gaps in the trees
I can see the church tower
Reminds me I’m here

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The freedom to shop (without the freedom to say the government is wrong)

A reoccurring argument is that under-developed countries [such as China] do not need democracy. According to this argument, an authoritarian regime will promote the economy of a poor country, imposing a discipline …not hampered by the legal niceties of democratic states where there is respect for rights and freedoms.” [CÉSAR ARJONA writing in El Periodico de Catalunya.]

The article actually begins with: “Millions of people have escaped poverty in China – a country where there are no freedoms…

Except of course, the freedom to go shopping…if you have the ‘economic freedom’ to do so.

The question must be asked: “Is it progress when millions have become wealthier, (creating a new middle class) and at the same time countless other millions have been plunged into deep poverty at the same time?

I don’t call that progress.

And it is a false version of progress when it does not come with the right to criticise a dictatorial regime that makes new wealth only for some of its citizens, while the ranks of the unemployed and the exploited grow like tropical bamboo plants.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Spanish voice of reason on Islam, clothing and schools

"Islamophobia, the successor to our centuries-old tradition of anti-Semitism. In short, the rejection of the other…

One of the most commonly heard arguments these days runs along the following lines: if progressives want to remove crucifixes from classrooms, how can they accept the presence of female pupils wearing hijabs? What this question overlooks is that the classroom is a public space, paid for with taxpayers’ money, and run by the state, and where teachers and pupils of different faiths meet. The state is supposedly secular, so there can be no official use of religious symbols.

But wearing the hijab, the kippah or a crucifix is a personal decision, and should be seen along the same lines as wearing a particular team’s soccer shirt, or a t-shirt with a band name on it.”[ Javier Valenzuela writing in El Pais.]

My own logic would also suggest that unless there is a bigoted slogan on a t-shirt or depicts acts of violence then it should be allowed… (Or unless a student is half-naked) I see no reason to bother with them.

The enormous amounts of time and energy spent in schools (and recently the media) discussing and dealing with the subject of student’s clothing is ridiculous.

And why is this such a popular subject? Mainly, because it is a tangible subject. You can see it. It therefore suits the small-minded. It is easier to deal with than bullying, racism or the reluctance of many parents to be involved in their children’s education. So it gets the most attention, even though it does not deserve it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

CONGRATULATIONS!

1st anniversary of the Casal Popular Okupat [squatter’s workshop] in Vilafranca del Penedès.

I talked to a spokesman, took a few photo’s and wrote this article on their activities when they had just started a year ago.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Nights & days in Spanish Africa

Children sleeping in rubbish bins, illegal people-trafficking, police drugging and torturing immigrants, 10km of barbed-wire fence, plus routine murder and a thousand other atrocities – all with tacit European Union approval. Welcome to Melilla!

A shocking article: “Europe’s dirty little secret”. In El Mundo (Spanish:) “El sucio secreto de Europa.”

Saturday, April 3, 2010

What Franco knew about The Final Solution

New documentary evidence, written in 1943 by Ángel Sanz Briz, a young Spanish diplomat, strongly suggests that the former Spanish dictator must have known many details of the horrors of the Nazi’s Auschwitz death camp.

“This shows that Franco knew the exact dimensions of the massacre. There is no room for doubt,” according to Bernd Rother, a German historian and author of a book on Franco and the Holocaust.

To read more (in Spanish) click here.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Seeing past the left and the right

If a writer gets unjustly sent to a forced-labour camp or a government persecutes homosexuals anyone with a voice, a pen (or nowadays a computer) should condemn it.

And these crimes against basic human rights should be condemned publicly whether they were done by leftist governments or right-wing governments.

This seems to me to be the reasoning put by Spanish writer Antonio Muñoz Molina and I find it difficult to argue with.

Also quoted in a different editorial the usually left-leaning El Pais newspaper he sets out a number of relevant examples of Western European intellectuals failing in their moral duty, maintaining that:

A regime, a guerilla movement, need only proclaim that it is on the left — then it is treated with every kind of indulgence by French and Spanish columnists who don’t have to live with it; or with the romantic sympathy of well-intentioned, earnest people in England and Scandinavia, who are capable of shedding tears over a starving stray cat, but can be hard as flint at the sight of human blood on the TV screen.

If we don’t insist on complete intellectual honesty and we make excuses for someone because of their supposed political positioning we are allowing the kind of cowardly doublethink that George Orwell described so well in Animal Farm.

Justice is a game

At this moment in Spain there are 96 Africans in prison for selling pirated CD’s on the street.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sunday, March 21, 2010

In Barcelona: Let there be light!...(when it's needed)

"Think of all the electricity that's wasted by city lights that stay on when no one needs them. To solve this problem, one Barcelona neighbourhood is using a system of Endesa LED lights, controlled wirelessly, to provide light exactly when, and where, it's needed. It keeps the streets safe while saving the city money."

Video: click here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Barcelona bookseller jailed for selling Nazi literature

Denying the Holocaust is not a crime in Spain, but as a Pedro Varela re-discovered this week, the sale of writing that argues for Jewish genocide will still get you time in prison.

Varela, who owns a bookshop in Catalonia’s capital, is already notorious for being the first person to be jailed for similar crimes in Spain following the reform of the Penal Code in 1996. On that occasion, he received a five-year sentence, reduced to six months on appeal to the Supreme Court.

This time, Judge Estela Pérez Franco was able to bring the full weight of the law to bear on Varela, ordering the confiscation of all the books implicated in the crime and other neo-Nazi materials including a bust of Hitler, an iron swastika and military paraphernalia.

Handing down the sentence, Franco said Varela’s literature “blames the world’s ills on the Jews; claims that black people are inferior; says that the best way to respect races is segregation and that mixing races will bring about the end of civilization.”

This case comes after a recent rise in anti-Semitism in Spain, as I wrote about in a previous blog here.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Listening to the "Lives of Others"

An excellent English translation of a newspaper article about the people who work in Spain as surveillance officers involved in interpreting and transcribing illegal activity by foreigners.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

How the world of work has invaded the private sphere

One example is the way many companies give their employees free mobile phones and computers, purportedly to help them work. In reality, it is so they can take their work with them.

That is the starting point for the conflict between the individual who gives orders and the body that obeys […] If the body is pushed too hard, it breaks like a machine that’s been asked to do too much.
”*

It’s uplifting to read someone else in the media who shares your own opinions, especially about a problem that has hardly been publicly recognised as a problem.

Over a decade ago I first noticed this new feature of work life creeping quietly into outside work time on trains in Japan, a country where use and misuse of technology is often quick to happen. It was startling to me in the late 1990’s to see phones and computers so obviously being used to “extend worker productivity.”

(*Sidi Mohamed Barkat, an Algerian-born philosopher, professor and researcher at the Department of Ergonomics and Human Ecology at the Sorbonne, in France, quoted from a recent speech at CCCB, the Barcelona Centre for Contemporary Culture, entitled “The Future of Labour.” [From an article by J.M. Martí Font in El País.])

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Spain's heroes and Poland's heroes

A Polish blogger posts an enjoyable rant and rave that expresses so well the completely understandable outrage with a place of great culture and history being used as nothing more than a background for ignorant tourists to treat with indifference. A new statue in Krakov of Michael Jackson? (An (unpunished) child molester who could once sing and dance very well and is even respected by some (younger) people here in Spain.)

The Polish blogger provides a picture of semi-undressed "girls in Zywiec T Shirts." An image that reminded me of those living human mannequins in Kubrick's awful "Eyes Wide Shut" film: ready to serve as fleshy robots. In the town where I live not far from Barcelona there is even a cinema named in Kubrick's honour! The world picks some strange people to make heroes of.

Barcelona: capital of protest

The act of publicly demonstrating in the streets is alive and well in Catalonia’s biggest city. There is an average of four protest events every day in Barcelona, one of the highest in the world.

Although there were 1,300 officially-noted rallies in 2008, 60% of these were illegal as their organisers did not ask permission from the police.

Freedom to protest in community space is one encouraging indication of the level of democracy in a country.

Unfortunately, some the groups who organise demonstrations are doing so routinely because of a lack of success with their causes. The Black Workers meet on the 11th of every month at Plaza de Sant Jaume in a seemingly forlorn attempt to raise wider understanding of their plight.

A neighbours association in the Vall d'Hebron area of the city have got together every week for months in their campaign to stop injecting rooms being set up there. These efforts included trying to block one of the major roads in Barcelona, the Ronda de Dalt.

We can be thankful though that we live in a part of the world that allows public demonstration,…even if the results of protesting in the open air are not always what is hoped for.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Payments to continue for unemployed

Spain's Zapatero Socialist government may at times deserve some criticism but they are (so far) not completely abandoning the unemployed.

News this week is that they "have agreed that all jobseekers whose dole money has run out will be entitled to the monthly payment of 426 euros promised at the end of last year."

This comes at a time when the country's unemployment (at almost 20%) is still higher than anywhere else in the European Union, and is the worst it has been since 1998.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Why I choose to live in Spain

Here are just a few reasons:

Unlike Australia for example, Spain has a strong history (and a lively culture today) of political and intellectual debate.

Those who use words as their business (including writers and media figures) are generally well-respected.

While, it is true that some of the debate of current issues can be predictably rigid along ideological lines, the fact that a healthy public discussion exists at all means that people (including the young) can and do become active in local movements and organisations.

The pride that so many adults and children have of their town and region means that they often take an active interest in defending it and being part of its collective life.

A lot less Spaniards move away from their home area than say, North Americans, which creates bonds of attachment to the people and places of they grew up with. In other words, adults and younger people “know their roots” here and have a fundamental respect for them.

Related to this point above is the fact that in Spain there are plenty of public open spaces that are not there just to be commercial.

The plazas are not shopping centres and the ramblas are not principally designed for trade. The parks are many and they are not “retail parks” for buying and selling.

The town square is not a “mall” but is instead reserved for festivals or protests.

All these places are for idling, strolling, gathering and talking, socializing and playing. They are social by their nature and they function as spaces for community activities rather than for simply spending money.

To someone like myself who grew up with the focal point of young life being a multi-storey shopping center, I am happy to know that my son and his friends (plus the students I teach) will not be spending their free time sitting around in a place where everyone is first and foremost a consumer.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Paginas nuevas en español (New pages in Spanish)

Hoy al bretthetherington.net...Paginas nuevas en español por ‘dropdown’ menú

Dos capítulos del mi libro “El padre re-hecho.” (Traductor: Lluïsa Garriga.)

- REPLANTEARSE EL HECHO DE SER PADRES
- ESPAÑA: ¿UN PARAÍSO PARA LOS PADRES?
- Una Biografía: Versión en español

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Good news for anyone who drinks or uses water

The tide in Europe is turning back towards water and other essentials being controlled by public institutions, instead of private companies.

"The privatisation of water facilities has proven all over the world to be a major mistake, both in terms of prices and of the quality of services provided to the citizens," said Olivier Hoedemann, a member of the watchdog organisation Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO).

As this article reports, several German municipalities have recently bought back water rights on behalf of their populations, and in Paris “the municipal administration will this year regain control of all water services for the city, ending a private monopoly that has lasted more than 100 years.”

In Spain, 60% of the population is served by private water companies which operate under concession contracts with municipalities, though this country still has one of the lowest water rates in Europe.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

An interview about Spain for Australian radio

This week I will be interviewed on Australia’s ABC Radio about current events in Spain and our lives here in Catalonia. The program is Overnights – Round the World and will be at approximately 4.15am on Saturday AEST.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Do not be alarmed...

Yes, this is the same blog as before, but it's now not just my name (a bit dull really.) I've just changed the name with an adaptation of a Bob Dylan song title.

The hypocrites are victorious in Vic

The small Catalonian town of Vic passed an ordinance on Wednesday that prohibits illegal immigrants from registering on the municipality’s rolls — a compulsory norm for all who live in Spanish territory.

The conservative Catalan Nationalists (CiU), with support of the Catalan Socialists (PSC) and Catalan Republicans (ERC) decided that in this town, where 24%of inhabitants are foreigners of almost ninety different nationalities, anyone who has not already begun the process of getting work or residence permits, will not be allowed on the town’s residential register.

In other words, the so-called “sin papeles” of Vic will not be guaranteed the right to basic public services such as education and health care.

What this really means is that the town council of Vic is saying to these immigrants “You are lucky to work here and get paid an often sub-standard wage, but if you get sick or have children you do not exist. We want your labour but we don’t like you getting anything more than just enough to live on, in return. You can fix our streets or put up our buildings but don’t go thinking you are equal with the rest of us.”

It is likely to be of no comfort to illegal migrants here that Spain’s central government does not approve of the new ordinance in Vic, with Labour and Immigration Minister Celestino Corbacho saying he will adopt a “wait and see” approach. In the meantime, it will simply mean that many “sin papeles” will have little option but to try and move elsewhere, possibly to neighbouring areas.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Why the smoking ban should be extended

More good reasons for Zapatero’s governemnt to go ahead this year with their plan to intensify the banning of smoking in public places.

This weeks statistics make a convincing case: the number of people hospitalised because of heart attacks went down by 10 percent and more than a million people (a reduction of 8 percent) quit smoking in the first two years after the law went into effect four years ago.

Strangely though, tobacco sales decreased by only 2.8 percent in 2006, which suggests that a stronger ban will be needed to have a long lasting effect on the problem.