Saturday, January 25, 2020

"The pioneering Spanish company where staff work a 4-day week"

"A 4-day week on the same salary has become a reality in Spain at Software Delsol in the southern Spanish city of Jaén...

When it was implemented at Microsoft in Japan, sales increased by 40%.

The company believes that a shorter week leads to less absenteeism and greater staff loyalty while attracting an unparalleled pool of talent...

Established 26 years ago and located in the Geolit Science and Technology Park, the company’s headquarters are designed with both leisure and productivity in mind; more formal customer service zones combine with areas for informal meetings and sofas to relax on, not to mention the gym, paddle tennis court and outdoor pool.

Staff also enjoy free lunches and the company offers scholarships, health insurance and the possibility of working from home as one employee does from Bordeaux, all of which improves the work-life balance."

In addition, the company guarantees a salary hike of over 3% each year –3.2% this year – another unprecedented working condition in Spain’s labor landscape."

Read more from source here

Saturday, January 18, 2020

"The Inner Life of Animals" -- My latest book review for Catalonia Today magazine

[Pic: Club Hípic Raúl Pinteño]
Can horses feel shame? Do deer grieve for their dead? Why do roosters deceive hens?

What about humpback whales that act as if they’re grateful, adulterous magpies or pigs that have learnt their own names?

These are the kinds of questions that are asked by people who spend lots of time around animals because our life experiences are full of stories that seem to support an obvious ‘Yes’ answer.

In Peter Wohlleben’s book, “The Inner Life of Animals” -- translated with warmth and clarity by Jane Billinghurst -- we get as close as (currently) possible to understanding how the creatures we share the planet with are much more complex than we might at first think. 

With our inbuilt tendency to ‘humanise’ animal behaviour, we like to compare them with our own species but this book has a remarkable way of putting us into their minds, bodies and hearts. 

Some of these are the author’s own pets and farm animals and his lifetime’s sharp observations of them bring the reader genuine insight.

The other great strength of this book is also one of it’s few weaknesses. We are moved and educated in equal measure with page after page of compelling anecdotes about the uplifting and even empathetic side of animals (squirrels adopting orphans and even cross-species pseudo-families) but there is only featherweight attention given to the cruelty that also runs through the animal world. 

Where, for example is the fox that only eats the fatty jowls and throat of the sheep and leaves it to die in slow agony with the rest of its body intact? 

If we humans are merely animals (and this is a biological fact of evolution that Wohlleben rightly points out) then surely the cruelty we routinely practice can also be found in our four-legged relatives too.

Wohlleben tells us with loving, enthusiastic praise about the crow that goes tobogganing for fun. He overlooks the cat that tortures and toys with the mouse for nothing but amusement. The book would be stronger if this was acknowledged because it would add a few fistfuls of balance. 

Where the book also charms the reader is in overthrowing misconceptions we generally have. Fish have no memory? Pigeons are “bird-brained” or pigs are simpletons? After reading this work, your mind is very likely to have been changed for good on these and similar questions. 

He also counters other popular notions by illustrating that ‘the law of the jungle” and “survival of the fittest” are only parts of how animals relate with each other.

Organised cooperation amongst individuals and groups is surprisingly common and it seems that many creatures (such as red deer) have the ability to switch off their hunger impulses when the seasons dictate this. 

When it comes to domesticated animals though, in a brave and convincing section, Wohlleben also shows that some animals undoubtedly enjoy their work with men and women.

He writes about horses happily clear forests as well as shepherd dogs engaged in keen “partnership” with their owners. This is only after stating of course, that “most animals used by people lead dismal lives.” 

Before now running his own home farm, the author worked in forestry commission woodland for 20 years and he has also written a book about the hidden life of trees.

Reading that might even persuade me to stop using paper.

[This book review was first published under the title ""Animal feelings" in Catalonia Today magazine, January 2020.]

Sunday, January 12, 2020

"Spain’s New Left[-ish] Government"

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A 19 year-old friend of my son's was crying with relief and happiness when he found out about the new government plans for welfare the other day. 

It's difficult to know how progressive the new left coalition will be, given the Socialist party's previous move to the right but there are some encouraging signs already...

"Today Spain elected its first left-wing coalition since the civil war in the 1930s. Already, it is under siege from the country's elite - but if it succeeds, it can improve the lives of millions...

Before last weekend, it had been decades since the Spanish parliament had seen such a powerful challenge to the rhetoric of “defending the homeland.” Countering the rising politics of nationalism, Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias told a heated Congress that the real “betrayal” of Spain was “attacking workers’ rights, selling off public housing to vulture funds, and privatising the welfare state and public services.”
For the far-right forces whom Iglesias was addressing, he and his allies were simply a band of “communists, populists” and regional nationalists run amok. In the view of Spanish-nationalist parties like Vox, the Podemos leader is figurehead of an “anti-Spanish” rabble, entertained by a power-hungry “sociopath” in the form of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
At the heart of this debate was the prospect of a historic coalition agreement between Sánchez’s centre-left Socialist Party (PSOE) and Iglesias’s Unidas Podemos — on January 7 sworn in as Spain’s new government. Supported by Catalan and Basque regionalists, along with a mishmash of independents, after years of false starts the two parties are finally forming what they call a “progressive coalition” — for its critics, a “Frankenstein’s government.”
Such an arrangement is long overdue, after a decade of post-crash austerity and Spain’s most serious constitutional crisis since the 1970s transition to democracy. Since Podemos smashed open the two-party system almost five years ago, no such coalition with the PSOE has proven possible, even when the parliamentary arithmetic allowed it.
Yet all this changed with the November 2019 general election. As the left-wing parties dropped some 1.5 million votes (with the PSOE itself losing 800,000) Sánchez found himself unable to make a deal to his right, and was finally forced to commit to the “progressive” agenda he had hitherto only gestured toward.
After the previous general election in April 2019, the long summer of coalition talks between the PSOE and Podemos were polarised and often conducted in bad faith by Sánchez’s party. Yet November’s electoral setbacks for both the PSOE and Podemos — in a climate of rising nationalist tensions, fed by the Catalan issue — instead rapidly drew them into a coalition.
In a period of retreat for the European left, this government will arguably constitute the most left-wing administration across the entire continent. Yet, beyond its lack of international allies, this administration will also be forced to work within the challenging confines imposed by Spain’s constitutional crisis, EU budget rules, and the virulent opposition not only of the Right but also Spain’s major economic and media powers.
For years, these same forces have succeeded in blocking a PSOE-Podemos coalition. Today, we can be sure they will waste little time in looking to neutralise — if not do away entirely — with this government and its paper-thin majority.
Yet despite the clear challenges that lie ahead, there are also positive signs. This administration will also see Pablo Iglesias’s formation assume cabinet positions — the government posts it has long believed necessary if it is to hold the flip-flopping PSOE to its promises of social reform and democratic renewal.
Beyond Iglesias’s own appointment as Deputy Prime Minister, there will also be substantial portfolios for Podemos’s Yolanda Díaz as Labor Minister and Irene Montero as Minister for Equality. Izquierda Unida (United Left) leader Alberto Garzón will be its Consumer Minister — the country’s first Communist minister in over eighty years. This weekend it was also announced that renowned sociologist and social-movement theorist Manuel Castells will become the fledgling government’s Universities Minister, after being put forward for the role by Podemos’s Catalan affiliate, En Comú Podem.

Read more from source here

Sunday, January 5, 2020

"‘High likelihood of human civilisation coming to end’ by 2050, report finds"

[Pic. Maja Hitij/Getty Images\
"Human civilisation as we know it may have already entered its last decades, a worrying new report examining the likely future of our planet’s habitability warns.
The increasingly disastrous impacts of the climate crisis, coupled with inaction to tackle it are sending our planet down a bleak path towards an increasingly chaotic world which could overwhelm societies around the globe, the report’s authors contend.
The paper, produced by the Melbourne-based think tank the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, is presented by the former chief of the Australian Defence Forces and retired Royal Australian Navy Admiral Chris Barrie."
Read more from source here.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

"Board game exposing French wealth gap is an unexpected Christmas hit"

"In less than three weeks, board game lovers in France bought all 10,000 copies of Kapital, a new game about class struggle, injustice and French politics created by a married couple of French sociologists.

A mixture of Monopoly and Game of the Goose, Kapital “seeks to make people understand the notion of wealth” as they battle their way through the game’s 82 boxes (the average life expectancy of a French person) leading to the almighty Tax Haven.
Not only do the wealthy have money, they also have social, symbolic and cultural capital. Just as in real life, the dominant players have the best chance of winning."
Read more from source here.


Saturday, December 21, 2019

"How to Lose a Country, in 7 Steps -- A Conversation with Ece Temelkuran"


I am one of the early birds… Ece Temelkuran told me, “I saw democracy collapse in Turkey and tried to warn the United States, European Countries and Britain about this.  

I’ve been telling people that what you think is normal, or a passing phase, is part of a bigger phenomenon that affects us all.  Somehow though, European democracies feel they’re exceptional – and too mature to be affected by neofascist currents.”

Ece has seen this all before.  In her incredible 2019 book How to Lose a Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship, she notes, “We have learned over time that coups in Turkey end the same way regardless of who initiated them. 
It’s like the rueful quote from the former England footballer turned TV pundit Gary Lineker, that football is a simple game played for 120 minutes, and at the end the Germans win on penalties. In Turkey, coups are played out over forty-eight-hour curfews, and the leftists are locked up at the end. Then afterwards, of course, another generation of progressives is rooted out, leaving the country’s soul even more barren than it was before.”
Ece Temelkuran is an award-winning Turkish novelist and political commentator, whose journalism has appeared in the Guardian, New York Times, New Statesman, Frankfurter Allgemeine and Der Spiegel. She has been twice recognised as Turkey’s most-read political columnist, and twice rated as one of the ten most influential people in social media (with three million twitter followers). In this exclusive interview, we discuss the dangers of populism, authoritarianism and fascism, and why we need to act now.
Q: What are populism and nationalism?
[Ece Temelkuran]:  Today, there is less time to understand the differences between nationalism, populism and authoritarianism.  In Britain, democracy is literally crumbling at the hands of a strange guy with funny hair!  People simply aren’t recognising the dangers that lay ahead, so there’s not enough time to get into definitions
One truth is that you cannot really know what populism is until you experience it.  Populism is the act of politicising and mobilising ignorance to the point of political and moral insanity.  Nationalism as we know, comes from the phenomena of nation-states – and it’s quite ironic therefore that we are now talking more and more about the failure of nation states and the failure of supranational and international institutions as well… and meanwhile neo-nationalism is on the rise." "
Read more from source here.


Sunday, December 15, 2019

"Generation Precarious" -- My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine

[Photo: Oriol Duran]

I saw the best minds of my generation being dog-walkers or asking ’Would you like fries with that?’”

This may well be the sentiment of plenty of young people under the age of 30 across the developed world. 
Certainly, I include Catalonia, and especially those who camped across Barcelona’s main street of Gran Via and into the public square in front of the University of Barcelona.
Yes, they had other issues too that are important to them: the jailing of independence movement leaders, police brutality against protesters, increasing legal restrictions on free expression, but one of their other three stated aims was “a dignified future.”
It’s worth considering what this means. I see no reason why we should simply ignore the different groups who made up the “encampment”. 
When I visited the area in early November I saw groups of surprisingly youthful-looking kids being politically active. Some were in their mid-teens but were confident and obviously happy to be there. One young woman I spoke to had a makeshift stall that was all about a red plastic rubbish bin and her own writing I read was a vague and confusing attempt at satire. Another group were encouraging tweets as a method of expression where you could win a prize.
It’s difficult to argue though, with much of what the main section of the Gran Via campers have said. 
Calling themselves the ‘October 14 Generation’, their manifesto states, “We are a generation without a future. The generation of precariousness. The one that does not have access to housing, the one that is the victim of a system that threatens the very existence of our planet. We are a generation that has been robbed of the most basic social and labour rights.”
To me, that is all clear and true. Only someone living with their eyes closed could dispute it and in fact the far right continue to dishonestly and selectively use these young people’s sense of frustration and alienation for their own political benefit all across Europe.
Of course, it’s easy to write off the street-campers as just some university student vandals and fire-starters who are abusing the privileges that they’ve been given. 
Sadly, even a great writer and thinker such as Antonio Muñoz Molina (considered to be progressive) did this in a recent article for El Pais newspaper. His comments seem to have at least partly come from jealousy when comparing his own strict upbringing compared to “the academic authorities’ paternal and maternal indulgence” over these students’ postponed exams.
To make a comparison, I originally come from a part of the planet (Australia) where the level of political interest in most of the population, but especially the young, could best be described as minimal. In fact, apathy rules. 
I’m filled with optimism (rare for me) when I see young people taking a strong interest in anything outside their own narrow lives, even if I don’t happen to agree in all cases with everything they are on about. If any protester anywhere uses violence against people or private property then I naturally condemn it.
History has taught us that for protest to gain enough popular support to cause meaningful, long-term, lasting change it has to be non-violent. If that means camping out in a public square and main street, then that is a far more humanitarian option than us attacking each other with sticks. It might even help to foster a future that is less unstable.

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, December 2019.]

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Meet the Authors -- Sitges, Sunday 8 Dec.






















I will be just one of the local authors doing an event tomorrow (Sunday) in the coastal town of Sitges at SUNBOW Art Lounge, Carrer de Sant Pau, 34, starting at 7.30PM. 

*Come & spend a relaxed evening with the local authors of Sitges & surroundings

*Hear them showcase their books, inspire you with their stories & entertain you as you enjoy a drink or tapas

* Ask those burning questions, chat & purchase books for yourself or as gifts

* Have your books signed by the authors


Saturday, November 30, 2019

"Voices fallen from the sky" -- Manu Valentín's history of the Jewish exile in Barcelona, 1881-1954 "

"Voces caídas del cielo [tries] to fill a notable [non-fiction] vaccuum...of the collective memory of a community of Jewish exiles who struggled to establish themselves in the city of Barcelona with hardly any support. 

Based on a vast body of documentation, a lot of it unpublished,...sources that dealt with the crisis of the Jewish exiles in different moments, and interviews with the refugees and their descendents, the historian Manu Valentín manages to rescue the protagonists’ memory and raises their personal experiences to the level of historical events." (Publishers summary.)"

Read more from source at Literary Rambles here.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

"Barcelona launches the Brexit Information Point for citizens and businesses"

 "The Barcelona City Council launches the Brexit Point, a fixed and face-to-face service point in the Business Support Office, in the MediaTIC building, aimed at citizens, companies, freelances and talent to answer questions on the possible opportunities and consequences of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.
This information point works by appointment and from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. from Monday to Thursday and from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Fridays to:
  • Assisting citizens and working for the retention of international talent: clarifying doubts and reducing the concern of British citizens living Barcelona.
  • Building loyalty and retention of investments and projects: informing British capital companies that operate in our territory and other people or organizations that may be affected by the impact of Brexit.
  • Attracting investments and international talent: helping companies that want to establish in the city as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU.
This new service is launched by the Barcelona City Council, in coordination with the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Spain through the British Consulate General in Barcelona and the Ministry of Interior through the Government Subdelegation in Barcelona."

Read more from source here.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Q and A on life as an immigrant in Europe (or "expat" if you prefer.)

From ExpatFocus.com  (November 11, 2019) 
Brett Hetherington
Brett Hetherington (Photo credit: robbiekavanagh.net)           
 
Who are you?

My name's Brett Hetherington and I'm a European (Australian/British) journalist, teacher and author (most recently of Slow Travels in Unsung Spain) living in Catalonia, Spain with my partner/wife Paula and our teenage son Hugo.


Where, when and why did you move abroad?

Our first move was to Japan in 1999 (where Hugo was born) and three years later we moved to England.

After two years there we moved to live in inland Catalonia in the Barcelona region and have been there since 2006.


What challenges did you face during the move?

Plenty! Languages were a big one because we all had to deal with Catalan as well as Spanish. Hugo was only five when we came, so he picked it up quickly with the help of some great teachers at his Catalan primary school. I've become functionally fluent in Spanish and generally understand Catalan okay, though I don't speak it.


How did you find somewhere to live?

Luckily, a teacher my wife was replacing was leaving his apartment in the town where we wanted to live, Vilafranca del Penedes. I communicated directly with the landlord (in a mixture of his poor English and my even worse Spanish). Later, we bought our own place in a small nearby town, almost a decade ago now.


Are there many other expats in your area?

Very few here, but 20 minutes away on the coast around Sitges (where we used to work) there is a strong expat community.


What is your relationship like with the locals?

Friendly, and some acquainatiances, but few real close friends, I would say. Most small-town, rural Catalan people call themselves "closed." They mean that they're not open to having many new social relationships outside their already established ones.


What do you like about life where you are?

The vineyards and open spaces of nature around. It's a great balance too when you mainly work in the big city of Barcelona.


What do you dislike about your expat life?

Well, I think of myself as an immigrant more than an expat because I don't see who we are as any different to others who came here from somewhere else for a better life. I do intensely dislike the bureaucracy and arbitary kinds of decision-making in Southern Europe. The low salaries that never rise are making life harder every year too.


What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

This has been our home for a long time now, but if I compare it with where I lived most of my life, I'd say I miss the more spontaneous way people socialise and talk to strangers, as well as the multi-cultural population being a part of the mainstream.


What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
The food is wonderful: seasonal, fresh, still not too expensive in general. It's a big reason to live here. The range of vegetables is always limited to Mediterranean ones though, unless you want to pay big money for "ethnic" ingredients.

That's the only downside, because the seafood and usual high quality in well-priced "menus del dia" is great. There's fantastic, cheap wine in this area too.


What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

Do it! But be prepared to live in a low-wage economy unless you are very lucky. On the other hand, Spain/Catalonia is a great place to bring up kids, in my opinion.


What are your plans for the future?
Stay until we can't afford it anymore and if Brexit doesn't make life impossible or any more costly.


You can find Brett's book, Slow Travels in Unsung Spain, on Amazon.

Friday, November 8, 2019

"Before the fall of the Berlin Wall -- Vintage home movies show another side of life in East Germany"

[Photo Credit: Open Memory Box]






















In our current era of right-wing populism dividing people against each other for no good reason, it's worth remembering that the Berlin Wall was built to separate those who had everything in common...

"After the Berlin Wall came down [or was more accurately pulled-down] on Nov. 9, 1989, the 40-year-old socialist German Democratic Republic dissolved along with one-party rule, the Stasi secret police and the all-encompassing, five-year economic plans. With reunification, a culture disappeared. And while East Germans adjusted to life under a united and capitalistic Germany, many found it was hard to talk about their past lives with West Germans who felt they already knew their story, and framed it usually in victimhood. 

But now, a unique, online archive of home films shot in the GDR is casting a new light on the extinct country and the lives of its citizens..."

Sunday, November 3, 2019

"You can't sleep here!"

The appalling sight of metal spikes to stop homeless people sleeping outside the doorway of a vacant building on Rambla de Catalunya in Barcelona

I took this photo this week. Not in the early 20th century. 

Londoners and New Yorkers will also recognise this anti-human architecture.

I first wrote about this (and a related) theme in this article tilted "Poor Doors" in 2014. 

Friday, November 1, 2019

Now available at Come In Bookshop (Barcelona) -- my latest publication: "Slow Travels in Unsung Spain"


My new non-fiction title is now in-store and online at Come In independent, specialist English language bookshop on Carrer Balmes in Barcelona. 

"a compelling and eclectic narrative full of the unexpected " -- Nick Inman, Rough Guides



Saturday, October 26, 2019

"Brits in Spain resort to Irish ancestry to stay in the EU after Brexit"

[Photo:  (GETTY)]
"On June 23, 2016, Emma O’Sullivan spent the evening in her apartment in the Gràcia district of Barcelona, initially concerned and later shocked by what she was hearing on the BBC: that 52% of her fellow Brits had voted to exit the European Union, leaving her and around 1,300,000 more British nationals living in the EU in a state of limbo.
“After the initial shock, I went through all the stages of mourning,” she recalls. “Denial, fury, resignation…” In fact, according to the Kübler-Ross model for dealing with grief, the third phase is bargaining, and this is essentially what Emma did; she negotiated her own exit from Brexit.
Fortunately, her grandfather on her father’s side was originally from Cork, allowing her to claim Irish citizenship...
(Ireland used to receive around 6,000 applications for citizenship a year before the 2016 referendum. But last year alone it received 25,000, some from British nationals living in Spanish territory.")
Read more from source here.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Now available at Documenta -- my latest book: "Slow Travels in Unsung Spain"

My new non-fiction title is now in-store and online at DOCUMENTA independent bookshop in Barcelona. 

"a compelling and eclectic narrative full of the unexpected " -- Nick Inman, Rough Guides