Friday, October 30, 2009

My neighbour, the winemaker

I go jogging next to his family’s land and his grandchildren go to my son’s school. He is setting ethical examples for other businesses to follow.

He seems to be a good man, despite being very rich.

This Guardian article by Elena Moya is a fascinating interview with Miguel Torres who runs Catalonia’s Torres winery.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Some bad journalism on Spain

[This blog was also published at NewsTrust’s News Hunt for Bad Journalism.]

In Jennifer Varela’s piece on a recent anti-abortion march in Madrid, the most important words in this article are:

"The bussing in of representatives from more than 40 countries..."

So, not all of the supposed 1 million people who attended the protest are living in Spain. This means that it does not accurately reflect the opinions of Spaniards, who re-elected the progressive Zapatero a couple of years ago.

This figure of one million at the march is also questionable. Some commentators have estimated that the crowd was closer to 60,000, though judging by the photo’s of the event this seems to me to be on the lower side of the truth.

Equally important is the fact that the journalist who wrote the story (Jessica Varela) is not living in Spain, though I disagree with commenters on the Guardian’s CiF [Comment is Free] pages who have argued that it is also relevant whether Jennifer Varela was born in Spain or not. But if she is not living here [in Spain] which is the case, then this can surely affect how accurate her story is.

A statement in her article that is not correct is her claim that “Zapatero has…taken religion out of state schools.” In fact, his government has made compulsory religion class an option to ‘Ethics’ classes.

Another part of the article that deserves a reply is this section:

the current uproar…reveals a darker truth about the collective Spanish psyche. In politics there will always be the power struggle between left and right, but in Spain, to push too far in either direction drives a sword into the national wound that was never allowed to heal.

This is dramatic language but it is essentially an argument for a national government to do nothing. It also ignores the possibility that the government relaxing abortion laws could actually benefit women’s choices about reproduction.

This part of Varela’s piece is mystifying:

To have a million people marching against a reform that effectively only removes the shame attached to abortion suggests that this has been deemed a push too far.

Who is doing “the deeming?” The church? The opposition conservative party? The supposed million protesters? If this change is in fact “a push too far” then is that because one out of every fourty Spaniards is against it? If so, this is hardly a democratic moment that she is defining.

Varela also makes the odd statement that: “Clearly the dignity of Spanish women was never considered as valuable a commodity as their honour, as it was buried alongside the [Civil] war's more tangible victims.”

Spanish women’s dignity was somehow ‘buried’ in the war? This, I don’t get. To me, if we can say that Spanish women are anything at all, they are generally very dignified (certainly compared to your average Japanese woman who typically still takes an inferior social position relative to men.)

To her credit, Varela has provided many of her sources as links on the CiF pages but The Guardian newspaper publishing pieces of reportage from someone outside of Spain is pretty poor. It is bad editorial decision-making.

This article is mainly well-researched but should never have got to print because there are too many fuzzy statements in it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Spain's schools start questioning Muslim dress

Four months ago I said in a previous blog about France that “in Spain it has not (yet) got to the point of banning the veil.

Now it appears that it has reached this point.

Senén Olano a resident of Lugo in the Galicia region complains in this Letter to the Editor about the case of a pupil at a public high school in Lugo who had been asked by the directors of the school to stop attending classes for the past month. Allegedly, this was due to her refusal to take off her hijab or headscarf.

He goes on to say: “What the media did not mention so often was that the school board had asked the Galician regional education department for advice on the matter, receiving silence for an answer.

Now it appears that the girl attends class with her ‘hijab’, which is not only a garment with a clear religious significance in a country with a secular tradition, but also one which, historically and culturally, reflects the oppression of women by men in Islamic culture and contravenes habitual customs in our classrooms. Such cases will become more and more frequent and a clear and uniform response is what is needed. Public officials are paid to make such decisions, so it’s time they got to work.

I agree with Mr Olano about only one of the points that he raises. A “uniform response” is needed.

That response should be that all public schools allow their students and staff to wear whatever clothes they wish to, as long as those clothes do not display offensive slogans (such as: “Ban the hijab!”)

As a (tolerant) atheist, I worked in an Islamic school in Australia for several months and was never told to change my usual work clothes to anything more pious or Muslim-like.

I would question why the writer of that letter, Mr Olano, does not explain which “habitual customs in our classrooms” are being contravened.

I also wonder whether he has had more than a fleeting involvement with any Muslim.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Barcelona's vultures

"Her smallest daughter had to be taken out of her room, because its ceiling is falling in, as is that of the bathroom, which is held up by a makeshift prop. In another room part of the ceiling has already collapsed."

Pere Rios and Jesus Garcia detailing some of the latest cases of mobbing.

"A Barcelona court is investigating a group of comapnies which allegedly specialise in hounding tenants who pay very low rents so that they can then purchase the property and make a profit. This kind of harrassment...has reportedly been going on for the last decade...and in every case the alleged victims are people who benefit from old rent-control laws because of old age or low income."

Until governments take full responsibility for rental housing this kind of unethical profiteering will continue. And it will continue to damage the lives of those who deserve it the least.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Who needs Ahmadinejad when we’ve got this guy in Spain?

Now Spain has its own Holocaust denier to rival Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And perhaps unsurprisingly, he is a newly appointed Partido Popular official.

As reported by MIGUEL OLIVARES in El Pais today, César Augusto Asencio one of the incoming secretary generals and spokesman for the PP in the Valencia parliament, in 1979 published an article in the Alicante daily Información denying the scale of the Holocaust.

“There is much I could say about the concentration camps and about the myth of the six million Jews exterminated. A detailed study demonstrates that it is all false,” he wrote.

“The majority has been made to believe this thanks to the strength of the finances and propaganda in the hands of Jews on a global scale.”

In another extract, Asencio wrote: “The Jew has lived at the expense of others throughout history through usury...undermining the state and influencing the government through the power they hold over money.”

Asencio yesterday asked forgiveness for an “adolescent error.” At that time, he was a member of the fascist Organización Juvenil Española as others were members of the [communist] ORT,” he said.

Asencio was affiliated to the Popular Alliance, a right-wing political grouping under the auspice of Franco-era ministers including Manuel Fraga.

I made my own ridiculous statements when I was naïve and stupid enough to have ultra-conservative views as a university student. But Asencio has apparently not yet renounced his mistake.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Antonio Muñoz Molina

"I have never known the tranquillity of living and belonging in one particular place. I think this is the fate of many people of my generation and social class.

We grew up in a world that bore little resemblance to that of our childhood. Education opened doors to us that had been closed to our parents, but the rooms they led into were foreign to us.

During vacations, we returned from the university to our small towns, but felt at home in neither place. Academic failure or an economic setback might easily send us back to the small town and some dull job there.

We thought we were divided between the old world of our roots and a new one in which we were citizens.

I worked in an office, but in my other life I was a novelist — although nobody knew it. I published a novel and the rift, instead of closing, grew deeper. I would take a train to Madrid for a literary get-together, only to feel like a municipal employee who had shown up at the wrong meeting. But back at the office in Granada I would feel even more foreign.

I always seemed to be surrounded by people whose position in the world was far more solid than mine.

I thought it would be a question of time, of maturity, but the feeling of impermanence and uncertainty stayed with me whatever I did…."

[A translation of the Spanish writer ANTONIO MUÑOZ MOLINA seemingly speaking for many writers (as well as others) in El País earlier this month.]

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dealing with domestic violence in Spain

Domestic violence is a real problem in Spain (just as in many other parts of the world) and recently there was an interesting proposal from the Spanish government for dealing with it.

If we accept that attempts to educate offenders should still be a part of sentences (as much as punishment or deterrence) then this new plan deserves to be seriously considered.

As reported by J. GARCÍA in EL PAÍS last week, the Interior Ministry is studying an initiative that would replace community service sentences for those found guilty of committing gender violence crimes with a series of workshops intended to raise awareness about the problem.

In Spain there are currently 19,000 gender violence offenders who are fulfilling community service obligations.

The government argues that this type of sentence is unrelated to the crime, and that sensitivity training could be more effective.

“Perhaps we won’t get through to them all, but the idea is to educate the abusers and make them conscious of their situation and that of the victim. The goal, in the end, is to reduce the number of repeat offenders,” said Miguel Ángel Vicente, sub director for the government’s cutodial policies.

The proposed treatment would have the offender attend between 15 and 20 sessions with “different itineraries” depending on the seriousness of the offence.

I believe that this kind approach is likely to be better for many than simply incarcerating all offenders inside a brutal jail system or just punishing them with a fine.