Friday, December 27, 2013

"EU citizenship for sale"

"Tourism to Europe? There is no need to travel - just wire 650,000 euro and you become an official citizen of the European Union. Reside in Germany, the UK - anywhere you like. No qualification needed - just some money. No one has to know where your money comes from.

A plan, which was approved in Malta [last month] is expected to...give those who want to purchase a Malta EU passport the right to reside in any of the other 27 member states. They will even be eligible to become members of the European Parliament.

Malta is selling EU passports for 650,000 euro (US$875,000) as part of a law passed in order to bring in cash and investment. It comes with the benefits of EU membership, including the right to reside and work in the 28-member bloc.

The island country, which has a population of 452,000, is a member of the EU and the Schengen borderless travel area, and has a visa waiver agreement with the US.

The country’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, said the plan is expected to attract “high value” individuals from around the world who can then invest in the island. Muscat estimated that 45 potential applicants would raise the country around 30 million euro."

Read more from source here.

Friday, December 20, 2013

How should we take on the problem of unequal pay in Europe?

Tonight I was involved in an online discussion (through Global Voices) about “How we should we take on pay inequality across Europe.”

The inhumane levels of poverty and joblessness in Catalunya, Spain, and wider Europe demand that more is done to combat these social ills, and now...

"A movement to give every citizen “unconditional basic income”—no work required—is gathering speed in Europe.

For the last 11 months, the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) has been spearheading a one-year campaign to gather a million signatures that support "Unconditional Basic Income (UBI)" for all Europeans.

The ECI wants everyone to have a basic, guaranteed wage, which is enough to cover day-to-day expenses.

If they collect one million signatures reaching the minimum requirement from at least 7 European Union (EU) member countries by January 14 2014, the European Commission will have to examine their initiative and arrange for a public hearing at the European Parliament.

In the short term, they want to do some “pilot-studies” and examine different models of UBI.
In the long run, their objective is to offer to each person in the EU the unconditional right as an individual, to have their material needs met to ensure a life of dignity by the introduction of the UBI.

The Basic Income proposal is being presented by citizens from 15 EU member states (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, United Kingdom)."


Saturday, December 14, 2013

"Women of Spain, go back to the bad old days!"

Sometimes I get the sense that I am living in a past era...

A how-to manual called Marry and Submit Yourself (Casate y se sumisa) is proving a hit in Spain...

It is aimed at newly-wed women - teaching them to accept criticism of their cooking or housekeeping, and to learn to keep the peace in a marital home. 
The author, Costanza Miriano [has said] that her book is not about women being doormats, but being supportive.

Source: here.

Friday, December 6, 2013

"The Remade Parent" now available

I am extremely happy to say that my new non-fiction book is finally now available as a Kindle e-book (at only $4.82.) 

It includes a chapter looking at parenting in Spain.

The print-on-demand soft-back version will soon also be for sale...

Saturday, November 30, 2013

"Anti-Semitism and the Catalan left"

The entrance to the Auschwitz Birkenau death camp
Matthew Tree (author of the remarkable novel SNUG) writing in Catalan for with his usual clear sight and bravery...

"Before World War II , anti-Semitism - a toxic hybrid

of anti-Judaism and Christian European pseudo-

scientific racism - was fashionable throughout

Europe, especially among young people. From 1945,

when everyone realized that some 5.8 million people

had been executed, starved, beaten, gassed or - in

the case of many babies- impaled on bayonets or

smashed against walls, simply for having non-Gentile

surnames, anti-Semitism began to lose popularity.

According to Labour MP Denis MacShane ('The New

Anti-Semitism', 2008) during the 60s and 70s certain

European intellectuals helped to make anti-Semitism

a socially acceptable prejudice once again thanks to

the concept (also a hybrid) of “anti-Zionism”, which

denies the right of Israel to exist as a state (on the

grounds that it is fascist and colonialist) while hinting

that all Israelis (or all Jews, even) manipulate

international opinion (especially U.S. opinion) in favor

of the said state of Israel by means of powerful


In other words, rather than make specific

criticisms of certain undeniable crimes committed by

the Israeli state, anti-Zionists treat this country as if it

were the only beneficiary of a powerful and diabolical

conspiracy, against which everything from boycotts

to physical elimination is therefore justifiable.

In Catalonia this discourse has enjoyed huge success,

partly because it is often accompanied by an equally

huge ignorance of history: just look at the

incredulous face of almost any Catalan 'anti-Zionist' if

you tell him, for example, that in 1947, the

Palestinian Arabs were offered their own state, twice

as large as the current Occupied Territories; or that

the Gaza Strip and the West Bank were occupied

from 1948 up to Six Day War [in 1967] by Egypt and

Jordan respectively (though these states did not treat

the Palestinians any better than the Israelis have


And perhaps our anti-Zionist may not know –

accustomed as he is to qualifying the Israelis as Nazis

that an important part of the Palestinian national

movement had genuinely Hitlerian roots, having been

founded by Yasser Arafat 's mentor, Haj Amin el-

Husseini, a personal friend of Himmler and the

architect of a plan to exterminate all the Jews of

North Africa and the Middle East with an

einsatzkommando led by Walter Rauff, the inventor

of the gas trucks used in Chelmno.

What is more, after centuries of relative tolerance

by Muslims towards Jews, European anti-Semitism,

imported directly from the Third Reich by el-Husseini,

has thoroughly infected the doctrines of radical

Islamist organizations such as Hezbollah or Allah

Hamas, both funded by Iran, a country that denies

the Holocaust, and has repeated again and again

hat Israel should be wiped off the face of the planet.

Yet when these same countries and organizations do

things that are somewhat worse than anything Israel

has done (such as now sending military support to

the current Syrian regime, which is responsible for

more deaths of Arab civilians in the last three years

than in Israel in it's entire history) the Catalan anti-

Zionists don't mutter so much as a word of protest.

In a nutshell, anti-Semitism has taken on many

different guises over the years, and the Catalan

variety - a generic anti-Zionism, often poorly informed

and pseudo-progressive (because it implicitly supports

regimes that are homophobic, sexist and, of course,

anti-Semitic) - is yet another variation on an old

European theme. Having said which, that does

not deny anybody the right to crticise a cruel and

unjustifiable occupation on the part of the state of

Israel. But of course, that's so obvious it doesn't need

to be stressed. Or maybe it does."

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Claude Lanzmann and "The Last of the Unjust" in Seville

Lanzmann, left, with Benjamin Murmelstein in 1975, in a still from The Last of the Unjust
French producer-director Claude Lanzmann, author of the singularly penetrating memoir “The Patagonian Hare” visited Seville this week.

As the creator of Shoah, the 9-hour documentary (which was the result of over ten years of research and filming testimonies of survivors from the Nazi's extermination of Jews across Europe) Lanzmann was honoured yesterday at the Andalucian city's film festival.

His new movie is titled “The Last of the Unjust.” It is about Benjamin Murmelstein, the Jewish Council president in Theresienstadt ghetto, the concentration camp in the city of Terezín (in the modern-day Czech Republic.) who collaborated with the Nazis, a man who Lanzmann said he actually “grew to love.”

The Last of the Unjust” will be released in Spain on January 10.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

New prodidgy at Barcelona FC has family support

Barcelona scouts praise the field vision of Ben Lederman, center right, and his seemingly advanced ability to see passing lanes and openings during the run of play. [Photo: Lederman family.]

"More than six million Americans live abroad, according to recent estimates, so it was not altogether unusual when the Ledermans, a family of four from California, moved here in 2011. After all, one of them got a dream job.
For the Ledermans, though, the strange thing was not the move but the reason: The opportunity that brought them to Spain was not for Danny, the father and small-business owner, or Tammy, the mother and real estate agent. It was for Ben, their 11-year-old son.
Two years later, Ben Lederman, 13, is still working, still spending most days (and many evenings) training at La Masia, the famed youth soccer academy run by the global soccer juggernaut Barcelona
Ben is the first United States-born player invited to train at La Masia, and that distinction, while significant, means little to his overall quest: to work his way up through the Barcelona youth teams and someday, maybe, become the first American to play for Barcelona’s first team."

Read the rest of the article from the New York Times here.

Friday, November 8, 2013

"Is this how Spain should deal with foreign buyers of property?"

A guest post from Thomas Ekvall...

"My recent experience trying to buy property in Tenerife is rather puzzling for a country having millions of unsold houses. I started off with going to a bank in Santa Cruz to open an account. The bank considered my documentation sufficient, however I was informed that I needed a “NIE” to open an account; consequently I went to the national police in Santa Cruz to obtain this. At the police station I was asked to pay a small fee for the “NIE” that had to be paid through a bank (an inconvenient way to pay a negligible fee). Nevertheless I went back to the bank to pay the fee.
Back at the bank I was informed that I had to obtain the “NIE” number before I could pay the fee. Consequently I went back to the police just to be told rather forcefully – no I had to pay first. I went back to the bank again to tell them that I was now really stuck and asked them to call the police officer in question to try to solve the problem which they were not willing to do.
I went back again to the police and tried to explain the situation and asked them to call the bank which they most certainly were not going to do; consequently I could not open an account.
I told my property broker about my experience, he smiled and said these things happen in Spain. However, he offered to help and he asked me to come to Porto Cruz at 9 am the next day, which I did and we went together to the national police just to be told that they were closed for the day. I was instructed to come back before 7 am the next day.
The next day I left Santa Cruz before 5 am to make sure I would make my appointment. Just before 7am I was ushered into a waiting room rather rudely by uniformed police. Here I was kept waiting together with another dozen people from 7am until 8:30 am when a formidable police lady graced us with her presence surveying her day’s crop of intimidated “NIE” applicants. As they had no number system she tried to establish in which order we had arrived by asking us, this unsurprisingly ended in confusion.
By about 9 am we were given the forms to fill-in, all in Spanish, by definition none of us were Spanish. My broker helped me to fill-in the forms. It must be in Spain’s interest to have staff dealing with potential buyers of property to at least speak English and German and have the relevant forms in these two languages. The only things in the office in languages other than Spanish were large signs in English and German urging “NIE” applicants to keep quiet.
A lady applicant, next to me, noticed that I had help with my Spanish so she asked my broker if he could help her as well, which he agreed to do, however, our formidable police lady intervened to stop my broker from helping her, she said: she should have come with her own interpreter.
The time was now past 10 am and my case had as yet not been broached. Again our formidable police lady appears before us to deal with another applicant who had by now waited patiently for well over two hours. She asked him to go out and photocopy a document in a nearby shop and added brusquely: be quick.
My broker, who now sensed that I was getting irritated, told me things were in fact improving, she used to keep applicants waiting in the sun all day just to slam the door in their faces when she felt she had dealt with enough applicants for the day. He had observed one couple in their mid eighties being treated in this fashion.
Just before 11 am I was finally allowed to hand in my forms, but not without complications, the formidable lady noticed that the address I had given in Tenerife was a hotel in Santa Cruz and she wanted to send me back to Santa Cruz after a long discussion my broker managed to convince her to accept my case.
Just past 11 am I and my broker were allowed into the formidable police lady’s office. My broker who entered first sat down in one of two chairs in front of her desk just to be asked to stand up. We finished our business some 15 minutes past 11 am after having paid the fee. I was told to come back at 1 pm the following day to collect my “NIE”.
I and my broker went to a café near the police station to reflect on our experience; minutes after we had sat down the formidable police lady appears for a cup of coffee. She at this point had another eight applicants to deal with who by now had been waiting for her attention for close to five hours.
The next day at 15 minutes to 1 pm I arrived, as instructed, at the national police station in Porto Cruz. The uniformed police at the reception told me in no uncertain terms to go away saying they were closed. I tried to explain that I was asked to come there at this hour. We obviously did not understand each other so he asked me to come with him into the office to speak to a colleague of his who spoke English. He entered an inner office and said something to me that I did not understand and I followed him into the inner office, he then turned around and shouted at me and pushed me out.
At about 1pm I was finally ushered into the waiting room where I was, after an hour or so, given an audience with the formidable police lady and given my temporary “NIE” after six visits to the police, 12 days and US$ 5,000 for air tickets, food and hotel room. This inept and humiliating process has postponed indefinitely me buying any property in Spain."

Thomas Ekvall

Monday, October 28, 2013

"Spain's wealth divide [now] widest in Europe" while human rights get worse

Some three million Spaniards were living in extreme poverty — or on €307 a month — in 2012, says Spanish charity Cáritas. Photo: xornalcerto/Flickr

The gap between Spain's richest and poorest is now the widest in Europe with some three million people living in extreme poverty, a new study reveals.

Read more from the source here.

Meanwhile, the European Commission reports that human rights in Spain are "deteriorating" due to the economic “crisis.” Read more from Global Voices here.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

"“Beatle Jew” in the Czech Republic

The short documentary "Beatle Jew", produced by [Barcelona-based] Mozaika, written by Daniel Wagensberg and directed by Federico Szarfer, has been selected in the “Short Joy” section of the Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival in the Czech Republic.

The film is "a journey in search of personal identity [that# reveals a history stretching from Spain all the way to the Czech village of Batelov, whose “Wild West” heroes have found eternal rest at the local Jewish cemetery. Grandfather Moritz, whose picture inspired the film, lives on in the memory of old “Sheriff” Mirabelski – a mediator of remarkable historical moments."

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The European drug industry wants to keep it's secrets

"The head of Europe's pharmaceutical industry body has threatened "a series of lawsuits" if the EU's medicines body goes ahead with its great plans to publish more of the clinical trial information it holds. 

The European Medicines Agency plans to proactively publish the Clinical Study Reports (CSRs) companies submit to it when they apply for a license. Researchers at Germany's medicines licensing body this week showed that these CSRs contain vital information about drug effectiveness and safety and that regulators and doctors need that information to make decisions about treatments.

The industry body thinks they can delay or stop the release of this information with lawsuits. We need your help to expand the AllTrials campaign and make sure the attempts to kick this into the long grass don't work."

Petition for signing here.

All Trials


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Video: a disappearing Spain - "Arribes: Everything Else is Noise"

"Zev Robinson's [short] documentary focuses on the traditonal way of life and its relationship to agriculture, food, and sustainability in the Arribes, Sayago and Abadengo regions in northwest Spain along the Duero River."

Friday, October 4, 2013

Spanish Government Complaint Box Causes Boomerang Effect

Cartoon by J.R Mora. Used with permission.
"The Spanish Minister of Employment and Social Security,Fátima Bañez, has launched a “complaint box” to combat workplace fraud.
The government is encouraging citizens to anonymously report cases of fraud committed by companies and individual workers for further investigation by the Office of Labor Inspection.

The “box” is a publicly accessible online form on the Ministry's website.

The move has sparked controversy in the blogosphere and on social networks, and created a boomerang effect against the Spanish government: the first complaints received through the new system were directed at the government itself and members of the political sphere, not at ordinary citizens as intended. 
Once again, the people have demonstrated their wit and humor while responding to government action.

The main criticism of the complaint box is that with it the government aims to make citizens into “snitches,” [or informers] creating an accusatory climate that is more like an authoritarian system than a democracy.
Critics also say that its real goal is to persecute the most vulnerable people in society instead of going after the country's wealthiest citizens tax evasion or alleviating unemployment.

The contradiction has not gone unnoticed: that those claiming to combat fraud are part of a government overwhelmed by massive corruption scandals and suspected of illegal financing of its party, the ruling People's Party (PP)."

Read more from Elena Arrontes' article on Global Voices here.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Time for a change? The end of the siesta?

The other night I got a call from ABC Radio in Australia, asking me to comment on this story about Spain abandoning the siesta and changing (back) to the same timezone as the countries on Britain's latitude.

I did a short interview on their breakfast show [click on the MP3 link here to listen to it] and I argued that these proposed changes are (underneath all the supposed reasons) largely an attempt to get more hours of work from people without paying them more for it.

The study was set-up by Rajoy's PP government who have continually made it very clear that one of their biggest plans is to reduce wages and “reform” labour conditions. 

The report that was produced was part-authored by Nuria Chinchilla, a business school executive. That says a lot to me.

Business representatives are the first to blame workers for the economic problems in this country, while ignoring their part in often hiring relatives and friends ahead of better qualified and more experienced candidates.

It means that this kind of nepotism creates a type of employee who believes they do not have to work well to keep their job and the cycle of “jobs as favours” for those with connections continues. To me, this a much greater problem than anything related to hours of work.

One of the proposals being put is that people work 9 to 5 and have no siesta at all.

I have never had a two-hour lunch break and plenty of people here do not, but the less obvious part of the plan is to bump up the time spent working in the average day of the average working man or woman in Spain.

As Ignacio Buqueras, president of the Association for the Rationalisation of Spanish Working Hours says in a related Guardian article, "We should be starting between 7.30am and 9am and never finishing work later than 6pm. Half an hour, or an hour, is more than enough to time to eat a healthy lunch." In other words, it could be legal to start much earlier than 9am, work until 6pm and have only 30 minutes for lunch.

What are the chances that an increase in wages will accompany an increase in working time?

Zero percent chance.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Education in Catalonia - My latest article for Catalonia Today magazine


 [A version of this article was first published in Catalonia Today, Sept. 2013.]

This month thousands of parents across Catalonia will be almost cheering with relief, but most teachers will be feeling a mixture of dread and anticipation. The long summer break is now over and a new school year is beginning again, but what is education here all about?

As both a former secondary-school teacher and parent of a now 12 year-old boy, I think the system of education here has a number of very good points in its favour. Strangely though, these do not relate so much to the strictly academic side of schooling, but are more about the socialising of children and the habits of learning they generally acquire very well.

What strikes me most is how uplifting it is to to see older kids caring for younger ones and treating them well, and the fact that this is done naturally and informally (without any prefects, head boys or head girls -who usually do the opposite anyway.) While there is some bullying in schools here, the amount and severity of it is in real contrast to what I have often witnessed and had to deal with personally in Australia or the UK.

Another aspect of children's school life that provides emotional benefits for them is that their daily routine is structured in a predictable rhythm and there is typically little change among teaching staff. This means that in many public and semi-private concertada schools the kids know who will teach them in the following year and this is understood by the whole school community. This is just one way that students feel so secure at school here.

As I found when doing research for my book, “The Re-Made Parent,” surveys of mothers and fathers here have shown that a large majority of them feel that they are “welcome at school and that it is easy to contact the teachers...who are polite and respectful.” Equally, the food served to children at lunchtime is largely well-balanced in quality and variety, reflecting the outlook on good nutrition here, which is again not often the case in too many other nations.

In short, Catalonias schools play a crucial part in creating young people who in wider society are confident, well-behaved and usually polite, even if they are sometimes as loud as those from any other country. So, while the overall picture of schooling in Catalonia is a good one in some important areas, there are some points where it does not do so well.

A basic fact about education here is that it is both ccompulsory and free until the end of the fourth year of secondary school [ESO] and optional (but still free) for a further two years of Baccalaureate courses, or where 16 year old students can instead enter into a vocational “world of work” stream.

This means that, as with other European systems, parents and their kids are here being forced into deciding the future job paths they are obliged to take at a relatively very young age. I don't believe that there is enough maturity or self-knowledge in many15 year-old boys or girls to make such important judgements.

Also, as with most country's mainstream school systems, there is a very strong emphasis on exams being the best (and often only) way to determine a student's knowledge and understanding of topics. Here, the pressure of testing begins early in primary school and it goes along with large amounts of daily and weekly homework tasks in the “key” subjects.

Too often, these outside school “duties” are merely a repetition of classroom work and not an extension of learning or a development of learning. Teachers and students both know that homework tasks are typically meaningless but are compelled to follow this practise - big in quantity, rather than quality.

As well as this, old-fashioned teaching methods still largely dominate classroom activities. Rote-learning is still very common (though it is surely quite a useful skill in memory-development) and teacher 'chalk and talk' continues to take up the majority of time in most subjects.

I believe that teachers here are probably more friendly and personable with their students than in Japan for example, but too many precious hours are wasted every month when classes are very slow to start and classes are regularly left without the teacher actually present. This does only partly explain why secondary schools in general have a very poor academic record. 30 % of teenagers leave education with no qualifications at all. Other factors can include a high level of cheating in tests, sometimes accepted by teachers, student dis-engagement with the content and recently, rising class sizes (which leads to less individual teacher help for students, overall.)

However, competition to get into university is still a particularly strong feature of education here. This is one reason why after-school classes at logopèdias and academias are so popular, especially with Maths and English, but Catalan and Castellano are also standard subjects for further work.And it is here in the realm of languages where Catalonia is noteworthy.

Any article on education here cannot ignore the controversial (and at times emotive) question of Catalan in Catalonia's schools. By law, Catalan “will normally be used except in the study of other languages.” But when students have finished their compulsory education they are supposed to“know the two official languages and have a good knowledge of at least one foreign language” (in practise, this being usually English.)

Today, Catalonia faces the bizarre situation that the use of it's language in schools is under challenge from the current conservative Spanish national government. Change here is unlikely but some things will continue to alter. There has been a huge rise in the number of immigrant students since 1991, when it was less than 1%. Now kids from immigrant families are more than 15% of the population (including my own son!)

In the future, the challenges thrown up by “the crisis” (which I explore elsewhere in this month's magazine) will put new stresses on an education system that is both doing well, and not so well, by different measures.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

" Is the Spanish army punishing women who complain of sexism?"

Army women at El Goloso base (Madrid) in 2006. Picture from website
News has come to light [about] the situation of women in the Spanish Army, [strongly suggesting] that after 25 years of integration into the military, women are still being discriminated [against] by their superiors."

For more on the stories of these two women read Global Voices translated article here.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

How the economic "crisis" kills

Photo: Corbis *from source.
On Monday morning a woman committed suicide in the Madrid suburb of Carabanchel, after receiving an eviction notice.

She was only the most recent victim of a problem that psychologists have been warning about for several years : mental disorders caused by the crisis, mainly due to a rapid increase in unemployment, ending up raising suicide rates.

But, even though there have been numerous studies linking mental disorders and economic crisis there had been no fully-conclusive evidence of it.

Until now.

The crisis has made
the suicide rate increase markedly around the world.

A new study published in the British Medical Journal this week says that in 2009, the year after
the start of the global economic crisis, the overall suicide rate among men rose by 3.3 %, an increase of approximately 5,000 self-inflicted deaths in all countries analyzed in respect to the expected trend. 


In Spain, suicides increased by 7.2% more than expected, but only among men, one of the authors of the study, professor of epidemiology at the University of Bristol, David Gunnell confirms.

In the
20 European countries that already have data for 2010, the analysis indicates an even greater increase in male suicide: 10.8 % more than in 2009.

Researchers from the University of Hong Kong , Oxford and Bristol, found that the evidence suggests that the increase in the number of deaths was observed mainly in the 27 European countries studied (up 4.2%) and in 18 countries in the Americas (6.4%) .

They further stress that their findings are "
probably an underestimate of the true impact of the global economic crisis on suicide " because some countries data was not yet available.

In fact , in the 20 European states that already have information on 2010, his analysis indicates an even greater increase in male suicide, 10.8% more than in 2009.

The increase in the suicide rate is particularly high among men in countries where the level of pre-crisis unemployment in 2007 was relatively low (in Spain it was at 8.26% ) .

According to the researchers, this is explained by "the economic crisis and rising unemployment causing more fear and anxiety...and countries where unemployment was low, which in turn has resulted in increased suicides."

For scientists, an increase in the suicide rate is usually the tip of the iceberg of emotional distress related to the recession. According to statistics, for every person who takes his own life, about 30-40 try to, and for every attempted suicide a dozen people experience suicidal thoughts.

The impact of the economic crisis on the mental health of the Spanish was investigated by a team of scientists from the University of the Balearic Islands, led by Dr. Margalida Gili.

They published their findings last year in the European Journal of Public Health. According to them, between 2006 and 2010, mental disorders (as seen by primary care physicians) grew significantly. In this period diagnoses of depression increased by 19.4 %, anxiety was up 8.4 % and there was a 4.6 % jump in alcoholism.

The government's austerity policy is causing further loss of jobs, and increasing the risk of suicide, the authors of the study found, but they are cautiously hopeful and insist that this problem has a solution:

"Our findings show that the economic crisis causes a significant increase in suicides, but previous research shows that this risk is not inevitable. Programs to boost the labor market may help offset the impact of the recession on suicide levels, since a successful relocation of the unemployed significantly reduces or eliminates risks to mental health on the unemployment. In times of cuts, countries with limited resources can focus their aid on young men of working age. In many countries, however, government austerity is causing further loss of jobs, which will increase the risk of suicide. Urgent action is needed before the economic crisis causes a further increase in suicides.

My translation from original source here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Does this sound familiar...?

The events of the 1590s had suddenly brought home to more thoughtful Castilians the harsh truth about their native land – its poverty in the midst of riches, its power that had shown itself impotent…

For this was not only a time of crisis, but a time also of the awareness of crisis – of a bitter realization that things had gone wrong. It was under the influence of the arbitristas that early seventeenth-century Castile surrendered itself to an orgy of national introspection, desperately attempting to discover at what point reality had been exchanged for illusion….

The arbitristas proposed that Government expenditure should be slashed…

Most of the arbitristas recommended the reduction of schools and convents and the clearing of the Court as the solution to the problem. Yet this was really to mistake the symptoms for the cause.

MartínGonzález de Cellorigo was almost alone in appreciating that the fundamental problem lay not so much in heavy spending by Crown and upper classes –since this spending itself created a valuable demand for goods and services – as in the disproportion between expenditure and investment.

Money is not true wealth,’ he wrote, and his concern was to increase the national wealth by increasing the nation’s productive capacity rather than its stock of precious metals. This could only be achieved by investing more money in agricultural and industrial development. At present, surplus wealth was being unproductively invested –‘dissipated on thin air – on papers, contracts, censos, and letters of exchange, on cash, and silver, and gold – instead of being expended on things that yield profits and attract riches from outside to augment the riches within.And thus there is no money, gold, or silver in Spain because there is so much; and it is not rich, because of all its riches….’

The Castile of González de Cellorigo was…a society in which both money and labour were misapplied; an unbalanced, top-heavy society, in which, according to González, there were thirty parasites for every one man who did an honest day’s work; a society with a false sense of values, which mistook the shadow for substance, and substance for the shadow.

J.H. Elliott, Imperial Spain: 1469-1716

[Many thanks to Tom Young for sending me the above text.]

Saturday, September 14, 2013

"Who Killed Walter Benjamin?" - Screening of documentary in Barcelona

This new film by David Mauas will be shown in Barcelona on Monday the 16th of September. (Details: here.)
"In September 1940, after seven years of exile, Walter Benjamin crosses the Pyrenees in a desperate attempt to escape the Nazis.

According to the official version, Walter Benjamin did make it across the French-Spanish border successfully. But when he arrived in the Catalan town of Portbou, a sudden change in legislation impeded his entry into Spain and he was obliged to spend the night at a local hotel under the close vigilance of three guards, whose orders were to deport him the following morning.

In utter despair, Benjamin took his own life, swallowing an overdose of morphine. The local doctor, however, declared it a natural death and Benjamin was given a Catholic burial in the municipal cemetery, under a wrong name.

Did the doctor conceal some hidden cause of Benjamin´s death? Was there really a change of legislation? Was Walter Benjamin aware that Portbou was a pro-Franco town virtually occupied by the Nazis?

Who killed Walter Benjamin reaches for answers among the suspicious circumstances of his death. Giving at the same time, a portrait of a frontier town anchored between two fronts, constant witness of evasion, persecution and false hopes..."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Human Chain and “The Human Headline”

While today in Catalonia (or Catalunya as I think it should be called in English) there is a human chain being attempted along the "Catalan Way" from the Valencian border to the French border, in support of Catalan independence on their national day, across Spain there is continuing outrage.

But this outrage is not against Catalunya this time but is instead being directed towards a woman called Ana Botella.

As the highly-controversial PP Mayor of Madrid (and also wife of ex-Prime Minister Aznar) she gave a short speech as part of a presentation to persuade international delegates to support Madrid's candidacy for the Olympics in 2020.( See below...)

I know (from this article) that her political views and public statements are almost entirely objectionable but, after actually listening to it, I thought this short speech was actually OK, given the audience.

Yes, Botella speaks with an accent (who the hell doesn't) but I understood every word and she seemed to me to be sincere in her enthusiasm about the city.

She had to simplify things (which the PP is particularly good at doing) and her statement that Madrid is "full of welcoming people" is a bit of an exaggeration but she has a good point about the rich culture of the city.

I'd give her 6.5 out of 10. It was no disaster but could have been quite a bit better, of course.

I'm sure she has a disgusting amount of privileges thrown her way, but getting plenty of practice with English was obviously not one of them, just as the average Spaniard or Catalan has few opportunities to use English unless they go out of their way to find them.

Much of the criticism of Botella is that she alone is to blame for Madrid not being awarded the 2020 Olympics, which have instead gone to Tokyo.

(There is even a satirical song about her called “A relaxing cup of café con leche.”)

I am always in favour of targeting individuals in power over their words and actions but I would think that her record as Mayor has a lot more in it to criticise than one average speech. In her time in public life she could easily be called a “human headline” because of her tendency to regualrly make ridiculous and poorly considered statements.

In my comments above I am simply trying to be fair to her because she is speaking a second language in a public forum, but it seems Ana Botella isn't fair to anyone except herself.