Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The News Belongs to the Corporation that Prints it.

As we see elsewhere, the threat of new technologies or services is sometimes met head-on in Spain. The taxi drivers and the hoteliers both angry with their new competitors Uber and Airbnb, and both able to do something about it (by which we mean, talk to the legislators). Another business that is fearful of new forms of competition is the daily newspaper. This, again, thanks to technology. Why read one source (for a euro fifty), with much bulk that is inevitably left unread anyway, when you can read as many sources as you want, of things that interest you, on your computer or Smartphone, for free?
Along comes at least two major tactics from the ‘dailies’ (who are, of course, themselves large corporations). First we have the attempt to close down – or at least wound – those smaller news providers who use links in the reports (you can’t use links in the printed media, rather obviously). The Spanish ‘dailies’,  joined together into the AEDE – the Asociación de Editores de Diarios Españoles – has leaned on their friends in the Government to impose the notorious ‘Google Tax’, whose only victim so far has been Google News, an aggregator which sends readers to the original source! For the moment, this measure against other sites has been bounced by the Supreme Court, but the AEDE is keen to try again, as they don’t want the competitors drawing ever-more readers away.
But, what of ‘Fake News’? Here is The Telegraph: ‘Fake news was not a term many people used 18 months ago, but it is now seen as one of the greatest threats to democracy, free debate and the Western order’. Gracious! One should move to ban this terrible menace – maybe by creating laws! An enthusiastic initiative to do precisely this comes from the PSOE as reported in El País: ‘Spanish Socialists propose measures to curb online fake news’.
It is said that the Brexit vote, or Trump’s victory or the Independence movement in Catalonia, were all aided by fake news from Russia. Others say that on the contrary this is merely another case of fake news, or better still, ‘disinformation’. The Catalonian story of endless lies and provocations provided by fiendish Russian bots was investigated by a group called Transparency Toolkit and printed in a British parliamentary report which concluded that some of the items reported by the Spanish constitutionalist press were themselves planted by El País and others.
The report on fake news says: ‘...In some cases, there may be a temptation to use groundless allegations of fake news to support political arguments. Disinformation is not a technique unique to Russia, Venezuela, or any one country or group. It is necessary to explore how claims of fake news can themselves be used as a manipulative tactic and understand the impact this has on society’.
The Spanish national TV may also be guilty of manipulation, as the RTVE is investigated in the European Parliament this week, looking to see if ‘...the principles of objectivity, plurality and impartiality are observed’ in their news services as they must be under European law.
Fake News (we ignore joke news sites like El Jueves and El Mundo Today) may turn out to be little more than a Trojan horse, used to silence other news-sites, allowing (one can dream) for the resurgence of the traditional news-services – the daily newspapers, the major radio and TV channels. After all, corporations do not like competition. 
Business over Tapas editorial 26 April 2018

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Right versus Left (They've got the Guns, but We've Got the Numbers)

This is merely a few subjective thoughts – but why do many of the poor support the conservative parties? It is of course understandable that those with money should see themselves as conservatives, since capital creates wealth and jobs both. But, how about those who are obliged to take on the lower-paid jobs, or those without employment, or those with low pensions or those with health issues, or those who find it hard, as the Spanish say ‘to make it to the end of the month’? Many of these people are of course left-leaning, but a surprising number of them are not.
We can partly blame the media for this, as the national TV news pumps out right-wing memes (with massive doses of Hollywood-style sports news) while news programs like Informe Semanal are so biased as to have become unwatchable. The press, too, is right-leaning as they take their orders from the corporations that own them, and accept huge amounts of ‘institutional advertising’ from the very government they are meant to control, in order to balance the books. Perhaps even the system of education itself – as we repeat what we have been taught (José Luis Sampedro with Jordi Évole here).
Who hasn’t heard of the severe problems of Venezuela (with its by now subconscious connection to Podemos)? Yet, we see and read little about Turkey or Saudi Arabia...
Perhaps it’s the same reason much of the working classes voted for Trump: perhaps (this time) some of that wealth will trickle down. Perhaps again, some of the working classes are distracted by the songs of the extreme right with their racism and their hatred (although not, I think, here in Spain).
I found that as I approach 65 years of age, with only eleven years of social security paid, I will one day (hopefully) receive a state pension. It will be ‘una pensión no contributiva de jubilación’ and will pay 369.90€ per month (call it 370€). If I had a vote, I might consider giving it to a party that offered to increase this sum...
Whatever the reasons, the latest poll shows the conservative Ciudadanos in the lead in voters’ intention, followed by the Partido Popular. Between them, they have 50%. The PSOE and Unidos Podemos (if one accepts that the PSOE is a leftist party) have 39.4% to share.
The opinion of the leader of the Izquierda Unida Alberto Garzón (the party is allied with Podemos) is that left-wing politicians need to understand their voters better. Indeed they do.
 Lenox dixit

Monday, April 16, 2018

Spain to Control Single-use Plastic

It's no secret that the sea is full of plastic. Dire warnings are found regularly on Facebook and on Sky News and indeed, in the media in general. Plastic pollution is a horrible thing, affecting both ourselves and the animals that share this planet with us. A whale was washed up on the coast in Aguilas the other day, dead, with enough plastic discovered inside it's stomach to become a serious competitor to MasterCard.
We throw our garbage out the window or out the door, in plastic bags or otherwise. We litter the campo and we leave junk on the beach. We even haul our trash to the contenador, the municipal  rubbish bin, and then leave it next to it as a sort of prize for the next person to come by.
Plastic, blowing in the wind, adorning our trees, flopping in the waves, cast aside in the ditch.
Most of this plastic is non-degradable and will be lying around somewhere for many years to come.
The plastic farms of Almería (always said to be 30,000 hectares, or 300 square kilometres of them, but more likely to be well over double this figure) use, understandably, a lot of plastic. The used, rotted stuff had always been sold to the Chinese until January this year when the trade was abruptly closed down by Beijing. What do they do with the stuff now? (Answers on a postcard).
Spain (to at least my surprise) has just bravely passed a law regarding single-use plastic. From the beginning of 2020, plastic forks and plates, cups, drinking straws and so on will neither be imported, exported or sold in Spanish territory. Plastic bags will also be controlled from that time, and will need to be biodegradable in the future.
Supermarket food wrapped in polystyrene will also be controlled.
The law was passed with the support of the PSOE, Podemos and Ciudadanos, and the Partido Popular abstaining.

 .. .. .. ..

Recycling plastic? Forget it, says an article in Público. ‘We live surrounded by adverts that tell us that we have to recycle, that it is very important to throw plastics in the yellow bin so that they can have a second life and the planet becomes a better place. What no one says is that plastics are very difficult to recycle and the small percentage that is recycled becomes a poor quality and economically uneconomical plastic. As a result, much of the plastic that we produce is simply incinerated...’.


Thursday, April 05, 2018

More on The Indalo

The Indalo is a figure, sometimes known in Mojácar as 'el tótem': a little man with a rainbow over his head, or an arch, or a curved stick. A god. Maybe it's a woman (goddesses are protective,  fecund, and have open legs). La Indala. One puts the effigy on the wall of the house to bring luck and protection. One puts a gold Indalo on a chain round the neck, again for luck - and also because it is a beautiful, classic symbol.
All good stuff.
The Indalo was named by the Indalianos, a group of Almerian artists painting and boozing in Mojácar in the early 'sixties. The little figure needed a name (it was called 'el hombrecillo mojaquero' until then). The town had many of them, and the old forge in the Cuesta de la Fuente used to knock them out and consequently enjoyed a reasonably brisk trade.
By the 'seventies, Mojácar was famous internationally, and  the Indalo and Mojácar were both recognised and known in London and Paris when nobody had ever heard of Almería.
Then, in 1988, a meeting was held in Almería at the diputación (the county council). The PSOE politician Tomás Azorín told the mayor of Mojácar that the totem would, from then on forwards, become the emblem  for the entire province. A tourist thing. Since that edict, we see the Indalo in Almería, in Vera, in El Ejido and in Adra. We see it on trucks and in the tourist guides. The classic version, simple and instantly recognisable. From that time, Almería finally had its own identity.
Since that meeting in 1988, several changes occurred. Mojácar lost its Indalo and its leadership (it is now well behind Vera, Roquetas, Almerimar, El Toyo and Aguadulce in importance); a rival and spurious claim for the Indalo came from Vélez Blanco (the Cueva de los Letreros has a number of prehistoric stick-men, including one that looks somewhat like an Indalo, but was never revered or identified - or indeed named) and lastly, Mojácar was obliged to create, with the help of Manitas, a French jeweller who had a shop in the village, a new version of the totem: a drunken Indalo, which is now 'plastered' all over the resort. 
The 'Golden Indalo' meanwhile, created in the late eighties by Mojácar's tourist councillor, was given to 'high-flyers' in Madrid at the FITUR, the international tourist fair. The first year it was presented to singer Miguel Ríos (who often visits Mojácar) and Pedro Piqueras the television personality - who probably visited once...  Later it was given to politicians, Belgian cyclists, scallywags and other notables. Once, it was even given to a British resident - Bob Jones - after a large and dedicated Facebook campaign. Bob, a photographer, would send his pictures to the weather channel who often published them. Now, this singular honour has declined in importance too, with last year's Indalos de Oro given to the children of Jacinto Alarcón, who died a few years ago (no one did more); and this year, given by the tourist board... to itself. One awaits next year's effort with trepidation.
The Indalo, despite the manipulations of politicians, publicists and shop-keepers, it the symbol of Mojácar. Wear yours with pride!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Season for Forgiveness

Easter is the first major festival, or holiday, of what in Spain can safely be called ‘the summer season’ (at least down here on the costa). The bars, beach bars, restaurants and nick-nack shops are all open once again, freshly painted and ready to work the cash registers.  A headline says ‘Málaga to rake in €120 million during Semana Santa as celebrations to bring 1.4 million tourists’ (here). Easter outdoes itself in these days of tourism with more of a spectacle than ever, with longer processions and larger crowds, yet with more commercialism and less faith and fervour than in earlier times. A pointed cartoon from a newspaper a few years back shows female sunbathers spread on their beach-towels at the feet of the Holy Crucifixion. Only in Spain.
Spain has moved from a Catholic country (does anyone remember when Franco was in power?) to – at just 9% of Spaniards now viewing Christianity as defining; making Spain one of the least religious nations in Europe (here). Not that things are much better elsewhere. An article here quotes a study which sums up European religion thus: ‘...if it depends on the young – as depend upon them it must – then post-Christian Europe has arrived’.
While religion is now downplayed – from the school to the street – one must still be careful not to offend religious sensibilities, and a few actors, rappers and tweeters are currently on their way to court or even jail for overlooking this important point.
Catholicism may well be on the wane among the ordinary citizens, but the Opus Dei (Wiki), a powerful and slightly eccentric group within the catholic faith, has major influence within the political system (the last Interior Minister  - and Opus member - Jorge Fernández Díaz, even awarding the Virgen María Santísima del Amor with a gold medal back in 2014). Other senior PP figures who are connected to the Opus Dei include the new Minister for the Economy Román Escolano (here), Ana Mato (ex-Minister of Health), Luis de Guindos (ex-Minister of the Economy and future Vice-president of the Central European Bank), Cristobal Montoro (Minister for Hacienda), José Manuel García Magallo (previous Foreign Minister),  the ex-Defence minister Federico Trillo, the Ex-Education Minister José Ignacio Wert and so on (here and here).
While declaring one’s taxes, one can sign a box for a minute portion to go to The Church. While not many do these days, the church seems to manage well enough, receiving 256 million euros from The State last year (here). Some suggest it does considerably better, with black money, money laundering, ticket-sales, tax relief, charity, rents and so on forming other types of regular income (here).
When it comes to marriage within The Church, an article this week from El País says that, these days, you get funny looks if you want a church wedding. Now just one in every five marriages is hallowed...
The Church has its own agenda, but the churches, cathedrals and other sacred buildings in Spain are still most worthy of both respect and repair – even if, sometimes, they are treated as little more than obligatory tourist destinations, at fifteen euros per visitor...
But at least during the Easter season – all is forgiven.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Business over Tapas - useful news and items about Spain

We may be a lot of Brits living in Spain (despite what El País in English appears to think) but many of us have little idea about this splendid country. Some Brits remain stuck to their satellite televisions, noting that it's going to be snowing tomorrow in the UK - rather than watching the Spanish TV forecast (sunny, since you ask). After all, Sky News doesn't tell us much about what's going on here.
Some residents get their news from the English press - perhaps the rather anti-EU Express (we love this headline) or the poorly-named Sun (including stories about sex doll brothels in Spain, you're welcome). If you read them online, there's the pay-wall to consider...
There're a few local 'newspapers' as well, including our friend with 'half a million readers' (which begs the question - if you removed your advert, would your customers drop by five hundred thousand?) I wonder how many copies they actually print. Understandably, they won't say.
We know what the content is - bits wrenched from Monday's local Spanish daily, mixed judiciously with parish news, doggy news and so on, which no one reads, rushing as they must to Leaky Lee's page.

For those rare souls who are truly interested in this fascinating country, I publish Business over Tapas with what's going on in Spain. It is aimed at the European reader. What's coming, what your taxes are, when and who and where. The price of houses, the politics, the new laws and rules, news for Seniors, how Brexit will affect us, the corruption, where to visit and who to vote for. There's no advertising, because you can't report what's happening with an advertiser looking over your shoulder.
I leave the titillation, the filler, the advertorials and the write-ups to the freebies.
Not many people sign up (60€ per year for a weekly email) and I'll never be rich, but I enjoy reading the many different newspapers, blogs, news-sites and aggregators that deal with Spanish events and then producing a three to four thousand word report with between sixty and seventy useful links, sent out on Thursday mornings (rain or shine).
The BoT is also on Facebook with some stories here, and you can read the entire report, free (but without the links) on the webpage here.
But, hey, you had better subscribe! That way, you'd know what is really going on in this great country.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Springtime Notes

A bit like Punxsutawney Phil, the ground-hog that throws a shadow, here in Mojácar we have been slowly emerging from our underground burrows to see if our drastic and fierce winter is truly over. Really, it wasn't that bad, tee-shirt weather at Christmas and so on, although we could sometimes see the snow on the mountains up past Bédar...
I've stopped lighting the fire - the only heat in my house, apart from the sunshine that pours through the windows most days. I had wood this year, after cutting down last Easter three eucalyptus trees whose roots were poisoning the garden around them, making the brussels sprouts taste funny.
My mobile phone thinks it might rain again, but it is often wrong.
I got a new phone from the Orange people. This one is a Sony Xperia. A fine tool indeed. For some reason it comes equipped with adverts.
The other day, it rang. No doubt some important communication from my stock-broker, but I couldn't get rid of the fucking advert (I'm not kidding - it was for Durex). Pressing and prodding the screen like a lunatic. By the time I got to the proper place, the phone had rung off. The biggest surprise came yesterday however, when out of the blue, DHL delivered 144 boxes of french letters to my door...
Mojácar has been in lock-down. Even the knick-knack shops have been closing early. I went up there last night for a drink, but found almost all the bars shut. In 'Sin City': the Ibiza of the Mainland. So much for the hoopla about 'the prettiest village in Spain'. I gave up after just one beer in the company of a barman who insisted on answering my Spanish with English (turned out he was from Cornwall), so drove down to next-door Turre (surely the ugliest village in Spain) which was - as always, heaving. I think that not being a tourist village (no beach, no hotels, no views) makes it concentrate more on residential tourism (as the Spanish authorities blandly refer to us foreign settlers). A good dinner in a rather full restaurant. I even saw a few people I knew.
In Mojácar, we have a short and decidedly mild winter, another six months worth of low season with only the Belgian cyclists to amuse us; and in the middle, the three months of tourist hell that our Masters (the aforementioned knick-knack owners and their families) have decreed we must endure from mid-June to early September.
When it's too bloody hot anyway.
But now, it's nice. The garden is beginning to awaken, the bees are out and the birdies are tweeting, warbling or croaking according to their convictions.
Yesterday, there was the local fiesta called 'La Vieja'. A piñata of sweeties hidden inside a paper granny is taken out into a quiet spot in the countryside and gleefully beaten to pulp by the children with sticks (one can't help wonder if this is a homage to a rather sinister event occurring during the Great Starvation of the early eleventh century).
No doubt they collected all the trash - oh, and granny of course - before they left.
The next fiestas (we live in a kind of Disneyville) include the tuna (merry troubadours from Granada and beyond come to visit and are solemnly organised to death), Easter parades (Praise the Lord!), some new rockabilly weekend (huh?), and the Moors and Christians extravaganza on the June 10th weekend. I think there's  also a 'Spring Break' organised by the hotels coming up soon.
The beach awakens around now. The town hall pretty much ignores it, keeping all the fiestas firmly in the pueblo (where less than 10% of us live). Down on the coast (the player as the Brits call it), new restaurants are being prepared for our pleasure (usually obliged to pay exorbitant rents) and the painters and decorators are busy. Our single beach road is now filling with traffic that drives up and down. Up and down.
The police are polishing their breathalysers; 'have you taken any drugs in the last 48 hours?', they ask. They have a drug-sniffing dog now (called Eccles), and a drone to keep order.
See, Turre doesn't sound so bad, does it?