Sunday, March 30, 2014

The food in Spain

(Photo: Javier)

Around the world, one in eight people go to bed hungry every night but Spain ranks as the 13th best country for food overall, according to Oxfam's Food Index.

The reasons for this are that in the categories of "enough to eat, food quality and food affordability" Spain does very well, though perhaps surprisingly in the area of health it scores poorly. This is largely due to having a relatively high level of diabetes and obesity, as opposed to most of Africa and Asia which has relatively little of those two medical problems.


Monday, March 17, 2014

"High-speed rail beats air travel for the first time"

One of the AVE networks high-speed trains. / Mariano Cieza Moreno (EFE)

As part of my next book I plan to take trains across Spain and Catalunya this summer. Personally, I don't intend to use high-speed rail (because I prefer the slower version, when I have the time) but I am very pleased about this weeks news. Overall, train travel is far superior to air travel in my view, and is a vital part of any country's infrastructure...

"For the first time ever, high-speed rail has outpaced air travel in Spain.

Figures released by the National Statistics Institute (INE) this week show that 1.9 million people used the country's extensive AVE network in January compared with 1.8 million people who bought plane tickets.

This represents a 7.3-percent year-on-year drop for airplane travel and a 22-percent rise in high-speed rail journeys.

For the aviation sector, the number is the 28th straight month of decline, while the railway network has seen 11 back-to-back months of growth.
The AVE has become more popular ever since the Public Works Ministry made the decision to lower the fares in February of last year. Meanwhile, airlines have experienced a hike in taxes and a cut in their flight routes."

Source: El País, here.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Concha Buika interview in English

A rare interview in English (on Australia's ABC Radio) with the talented Mallorcan flamenco/jazz singer, Concha Buika.

Last week she played her first concert in Sydney and went on to Adelaide as part of a world tour.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"To screen or not to screen?" - My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine

As I write this, my son is hating me.

Last night I took a computer game off him that his mother and I agreed was violent and told him he would not be getting it back. He is twelve years old and naturally, he disagreed.

But I am not badly disturbed by his feelings toward me. I know they are temporary and I trust in the knowledge that sometimes parents will be hugely unpopular with our own children...if we are being moral, ethical parents - involved parents.

In this part of the world people get a lot right about how children are treated. One of the most notable things is how older children are largely both tolerant and even downright nice to their younger brothers and sisters, as well as to other littler kids they are not related to at all.

In Mediterranean Europe, the family unit is close and socialising with the extended family of grandparents, cousins and other blood relatives is a common part of almost every one's weekly life.

This is in stark contrast to standard Anglo families.

But I would argue that across this stretch of the planet (but probably in other parts, such as North America as well) parents are much too concerned with their children's happiness.

This may sound like a harsh, uncaring statement so it needs a bit of explanation. To me (and to plenty of full-time philosophers) happiness is a temporary state. It comes and goes under it's own invisible steam and can arrive and disappear before we hardly realise it.

The more we desperately look for it or try to manufacture it the more it seems to slip through our fingers.

I'm not advocating that we don't do our best to create situations where our kids are likely to find enjoyment or fun - quite the contrary.

But if we put happiness, which is by its nature a short-term sensation, ahead of trying to develop a son or daughter with a sense of what is right and what is wrong, then we are making a terrible mistake.

If we act and speak by instinctively putting our children's immediate gratification as the priority instead of doing what we can so that they are playing and learning in ways that are beneficial to them (at least in the medium or longer term) what is the logical result?

Years later you end up with adults who value getting as many petty possessions as they can (because materialism is supposed to create contentment) and to them this a thousand times more important than having something as bothersome as a conscience, which just gets in the way of fueling a bigger bank account.

In other words, you have corruption and you have it on a grand scale. The Mediterranean disease.

I accept that the inclination towards having happy children is a healthy one. I just don't accept that this injection of happiness should always be the most important thing.

Faced with the choice of being strongly disliked by my son for a period of time or, on the other hand, turning a blind eye to him exercising disturbing impulses for potentially hours on end, I'd choose unpopularity every time.

Knowing what we now know about how violent, first-person computer games will desensitise even adult users (and that is why modern military training uses simulated war-games) it would be almost a crime to be the indulgent parent.

[A version of this article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, March 2014.]

Saturday, March 1, 2014

New York through the eyes of a Spanish great

[In the Big Apple, 1990. Source:]
His insight and acute powers of observation always make his journalism worth reading (as well as his fiction.) Spanish maestro Antonio Muñoz Molina writes in El Pais about his adopted home of New York city as a "nostalgia factory." (Article in English.)

"Nowadays when there are banks and Starbucks on every corner of the yuppied-up Village, and glass towers full of the predatory oligarchs of Russia and China, even nostalgia has a flavor of political protest."