Monday, January 26, 2015

How Portugal beat drug addiction

Author, Johann Hari
"Nearly 15 years ago, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe.

They had tried a drug war, and the problem just kept getting worse.
So they decided to do something radically different. 

They resolved to decriminalize all drugs, and take all the money they once spent on arresting and jailing drug addicts, and spend it instead on reconnecting them—to their own feelings, and to the wider society.

The most crucial step was to get them secure housing and subsidized jobs, so they had a purpose in life, and something to get out of bed for. In warm and welcoming clinics, addicts are taught how to reconnect with their feelings, after years of trauma.

One group of addicts was given a loan to set up a removals firm. Suddenly, they were a group, all bonded to each other and to society, and responsible for each other's care.

An independent study by the British Journal of Criminology found that since total decriminalization, addiction has fallen, and intraveneous drug use is down by 50 percent.

Decriminalization has been such a success that very few people in Portugal want to go back to the old system.

The main campaigner against the decriminalization back in 2000 was Joao Figueira, the country's top drug cop. He offered all the dire warnings we would expect from the Daily Mail or Fox News.

But when we sat together in Lisbon, he told me that everything he predicted had not come to pass—and he now hopes the whole world will follow Portugal's example."

Read more from source here.

Friday, January 23, 2015

"Literary rambles" through Iberian books

Literary rambles is a good quality English language blogsite that focuses on recent releases and news from the world of books across Spain and Portugal.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Video: "The right to die in Belgium: An inside look at the world’s most liberal euthanasia law"

"With the most liberal laws in the world governing physician-assisted suicide, surveys in Belgium show overwhelming support for its legality. Doctors say euthanasia gives terminally ill patients experiencing constant and unbearable suffering a practical and humane way to die peacefully. But even in a country with far-reaching acceptance, controversy still remains."

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"Blue Black Friday" - My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today

Just last month we witnessed the latest craze from the USA arrive here.

Without doubt, the Black Friday sales will now be an annual event and will certainly grow in intensity each year.

If anything accurately represents pure, raw capitalism it was the sight of crowds of people surging and barging though department store doors. Some had bulging eyes.

Some were smiling in anticipation or possibly relief at finally being inside the gates of the consumerist's palace. Other people were clearly using their arms and shoulders to shove slower shoppers out of their way.
In the UK police had to restrain mobs at some Tesco stores and arguments and fights broke out in branches of ASDA (owned by U.S. giant Wal-Mart.) Four arrests for violence were made in Greater Manchester alone.
One report quoted a 56-year-old hairdresser on an overnight trip to a Sainsbury supermarket saying that the scenes were "crazy" and "disgusting". "I got a Dyson [vacuum cleaner], but I don't even know if I want it. I just picked it up," she said.
This pandemonium is aside from the online sales that also form part of the Black Friday marketing push.
Amazon was the first to introduce the trend into Europe in 2010 and this year in Germany and France a number of major retailers (including FNAC) publicised the day and offered claims of reductions.
In Spain, El Corte Inglés went even further than its rivals and hosted a four-day fiesta of supposed discounts.
Naturally, it was in the US where the day went to it's animalistic extremes of riots and frenzied stampedes.
Last year there were separate incidences of a shooting and a stabbing and this year five injuries were recorded, along with three arrests.
The website has kept records of relevant news stories and has documented at least seven deaths and ninety six injuries in the U.S. since 2006. (Somewhat ironically, the website also sells T-shirts with the words "I survived Black Friday" on them for $18.00.)
Of course, I'm all in favour of a real bargain and I love a bit of a haggling at a market stall.
I would think that many of the people who buy in store or online on Black Friday are genuinely wanting to save money on something that they may not have been able to afford without a drop in the sale price or they simply believe that they are getting a product that will in some way enhance their lives.
I just question whether a lot of the buying is in any real sense, needed.
Having grown up in an Australian city where the shopping mall was the focus of social life for the easily-influenced young, as well as plenty of retired people, I have a fundamental disagreement with spending money as a major free time pursuit.
Europe is full of parks, beaches, squares and even ramblas: all public spaces not specifically made for commercial activity.
Anyone is free to be in theses places without thinking of them self as a consumer first.
In a shopping mall there are usually almost no seats that are not part of some kind of cafe or food joint. To be there is to be a buyer.
Simply put, I just want to live in a part of the world that continues to value things that don't have a money value.

[A version of this article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, January 2015.]

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Another season of Australian film in Barcelona

Following on from the successful ASBA-RMIT Australian Film Season, the Australian Embassy and Casa Asia are presenting an Australian Film Season at Cinemas Girona [C/Girona, 175, 08025, Barcelona] starting this Saturday, 10 January, and running each Saturday night until 14 February.

Entry price: 2, 50 Euros.

See link here for more details.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My review of "An Englishman in Madrid" by Eduardo Mendoza

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, January 2015.]

"Look, I'll tell you how things really are," says one of the author's characters (speaking in 1936) "whatever they say, this is not a poor country. This is a country of poor people."
And it is the elements of social class, poverty and inherited wealth that I most enjoyed in this book, and not just those about Spain.
The Englishman of the title is Anthony Whitelands, a middle-class, Cambridge-educated art specialist who meets a seemingly generous and affable police officer on a train to the capital.
Before long though, we learn that he is being closely watched.
Whitelands has arrived in an atmosphere of public demonstrations, protest marches, strikes, beatings and sometimes fatal street violence between the forces of the right and the left.
The victims are largely the young and politically undeveloped but Whitelands is at first ignorant of all the friction and tension that was gripping so much of the country.
Increasingly, the protagonist is caught up in a number of situations outside his control and he is also snared by his own appetites: both carnal and his desire for greater recognition and fortune in "the narrow world of academia, with its tedious research and sordid rivalries."
He sees himself as just a small fish but is convinced that a newly discovered (privately-owned) Velazquez painting could be exactly what he his hoping for.
Whitelands goes on to find himself "in somewhat of a pickle," as his compatriots might say - everyone in the big, small town of Madrid wanting a piece of him for their own particular reasons.
He appears in many senses to be an "English gentlemen" but he eats like someone else. I find it hard to accept that he would sit down to a breakfast of "squid and beer."
Amongst other things, what really comes through in the pages of this jaunty, lively tale is Mendoza's sensitive and intuitive reading of art.
This book reads like a longish short story though it has a pace that is clearly Mediterranean. After ninety pages very little has happened.
It's a kind of slow burner with the characters regularly spouting extended "speechifying" monologues or digressing into unconnected anecdotes.
The reader gets a good feel for their personalities, facial expressions and other mannerisms and this all gives the narrative the feel of something written almost in the period in which it is said. That's not something easily achieved by a writer sitting at a computer in the 21st century.
The author is also astute enough to point out the existence of masons in Azaña's government of the time and, with an eye for detail, draws what he must think is a distinction between the British upper class with their apparent love of ceremony and the Spanish upper class who opt for simpler, less formal social situations and meals.
One of his more observant characters knows the necessity of explaining to the Englishman that "it's not just money that the proletariat wants. They want justice and respect."
In fact Mendoza drops comments on the hesitancy, contradictory decision-making and general malfunctioning of public administration that surely also apply to many companies and to the excesses of today.
"The Spaniard's keep wages low," says a English diplomat "while at the same time making social hierarchies plain. Workers earn half what they should and have to thank their employers...That way, their social position is reinforced."
On the other hand, one of the Spanish toffs makes the absurd statement that England has an "egalitarian society based on social relations that satisfy everyone," as if the trade union members and socialists in Britain did not exist.
Ultimately, the author entertains and occasionally informs while giving a relatively favourable portrait of the Spanish "nobility" of the day. He provides an explanation for their inaction on social progress that lies somewhere between a reason and a weak excuse.