Category Archives: Rants

Shut down democracy to save democracy!

One of the more esoteric arguments against the Catalan independence referendum (an argument favoured by our erstwhile interlocutor who still may not speak his name), is that the act of holding such a referendum is so profoundly undemocratic, it should be prevented at all costs.

The basic premise of the position is, with apologies to Voltaire:

“I do not agree with what you say, and I’ll defend to the death any powers which will let me or the Spanish state stop you from saying it”.

Thankfully, it has been put even more clearly on Nació Digital. Absolutely no chance that this is a spoof.

Jo amb la legalitat, jo amb C’s 

Ciutadà no delincuent , 01/03/2013 a les 20:34
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Esta persona que votaría en un referendum ilegal antidemocrático es un delincuente y por lo tanto debería actuar la fiscalía y la justicia para quitarle su acta de diputado y sus derechos políticos (inhabilitación del derecho a voto y a presentarse en unas eleccciones por lo menos durante 25 años).Es antidemocrático que los catalanes voten un referendum. Quien votara deberia ser ajusticiado por el ejército. No se puede ir en contra del Reino de España porque Cataluña en sí misma no es nada, no existe, no es ni un país ni nada igual que el dialecto catalán muchas veces confundido con una lengua.YO SOC DEMOCRATA PER AIXO VOTO ALBERT RIVERA PER PRESIDENT


Good luck to him, I say. The best way we can defeat a public expression of an opinion we dislike these days is to deem it ‘undemocratic’. Makes it all so simple.

Why some control of the press does not mean Hitler

Boing Boing is one of the most enjoyable blogs around. It combines silly shit with genuinely interesting shit in a format that people like me have loved for years. From time to time, editors of Boing Boing, respected as they are as media experts, get a chance to comment on current affairs on newspaper websites like that of The Guardian. This is cool because new media arseholes like myself yearn for old media recognition. Well, I don’t. But the rest of them do.

So Cory Doctorow, the dude from Boing Boing, gets to write a column from time to time for The Guardian. Which is something I’d love to do (except for the rooting around in my private life, the tall poppy syndrome mentality and the likelihood of my words being twisted by some scumbag on a personal blog: kudos for avoiding comments on your column, Cory: that’s the best way to stop dissent).

In his column, Doctorow celebrates the downfall of the News of the World because of its revolting tactics [it’s the paper’s attitude which was even more revolting as far as I’m concerned], but warns that such a case ought not be used to “rein in the press”.

Doctorow, full of the fear of fascism, agonises:

For me, the phrase “the press is too powerful” is as chilling as “these elections are too time-consuming” or “this secret ballot is just a farce” or “due process is too expensive; we know who’s guilty and who isn’t.” It is a contradiction in terms: for while it’s possible for a particular company or cartel to be too powerful, the idea that the institution of the press is too powerful is Orwellian. If a media company grows too powerful, that generally means the press is not powerful enough: an all-eclipsing media empire blots out press freedom by monopolising distribution channels, distorting discourse and allying itself with this party or that in exchange for favours and (of course) more power. A powerful press is one built on vigorous, pluralistic debate, one that allows new voices to emerge and new points of view to be heard. The more diverse the press is, the more powerful it becomes.


Sadly, this is his response to suggestions that the press (that old dog we can’t quite bring ourselves to shoot) ought not regulate itself, but that someone else should take a look at the whole mess and… sort shit out.

When I say “the press is too powerful”, I do not mean, “there ought to be a commission what decides on what, how and why a newspaper reports a story”. No, I mean to say: “the press, outside of its service of information to the people, and reporting important news and suchlike, ought not exert such power over Government that said Government is rendered entirely at the mercy of a foreign man hellbent on a personal crusade whose ideology is exactly that by which he became the most powerful media magnate in our history”.

I hope the entire empire comes tumbling down.

Incidentally, England already has very attractive and lucrative libel laws. So Doctorow clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

You don’t speak Catalan. And you’ve lived here how long?

One of the most frustrating debates I have with other expats (never Spaniards) in Barcelona is the one about Catalan school teaching. I know various Poles, Brits and Germans who bang on about Catalan being a stupid/dead/useless language and how they’d rather have their (real or imagined) kids educated in Castilian Spanish. Not one of these people speaks any Catalan. And they’ve been here for years.*

Of course, that’s each individual’s prerogative. Speak whatever language you like. But if you’ve been here for a few years and you don’t speak a word of it, something’s wrong. You know why? It’s not that hard.

If you speak Spanish, Italian or French, you should be able to pick up some Catalan in weeks. I’m not talking about nivell C, but you should be able to understand a school teacher if you’ve been here for a few years. You just should. If you don’t, you’re either incapable or unwilling. What’s it to be?

I’m happy to talk about language policy etc, with someone who can speak Catalan (like Trevor at kalebeul). But if you’ve made no effort to learn it – and it’s just NOT THAT DIFFICULT – then your opinion means nothing to me. Make the effort, then you’re entitled to your opinion.


*It is surely a coincidence that many of these people are given to a weird sort of anti-immigrant casual racism which is as unpleasant as it is illogical. Guys, you are immigrants. So am I. Do you lack all self knowledge?!


Volcanoes, peak oil, food and the changes we’ll all need to accept

The skies over London and most of the rest of northern Europe are quiet this weekend. Eyjafjallajökull’s ash stopped my poor sister from going to New York (a trip she’d been looking forward to for months) and has stranded several friends and colleagues. After the initial ‘wow, they’re really stopping all the flights!’ reaction, the press has now reverted to their usual scaremongering. Apparently, the UK might soon suffer shortages of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Sorry, I’ll say that again: the UK is apparently at risk of fruit and veg shortages. This is the UK, which has some of the finest and most fertile farmland in Europe. Obviously, it has been a pretty tough winter but to me this is a symptom of everything that has gone wrong in our modern world: we’ve stopped growing and eating the vegetables we can produce in March and April in England and instead we fly pineapples in from Ghana and baby sweetcorn from Thailand. This links in to everything: we’re no longer in anyway self-sufficient, we encourage poorer countries to produce food for foreign markets instead of their own, and we fly food in from all over the world: wrong, wrong, wrong.

It’s likely that the volcano’s influence on Britain’s supermarkets won’t last too long. But that doesn’t mean things will be fine forever and ever. With the US military warning that we’ll have passed peak oil production by 2015 (though we must bear in mind that this might just be some kind of move in a game we can’t see, like trying to invade Iran or something) – it seems to be totally undeniable that we’re all going to have to accept some pretty significant changes to the way we live.

Whereas in recent years, eating local, seasonal food cooked slowly has been a sort of retrospective pleasure of the wealthy middle class food snobs in Europe, I reckon that in a few years, that’ll be basically the only way to eat. We might have to accept too that baby sweetcorn and pineapple become birthday treats to be longed for and savoured. What we can’t grow fairly locally, or ship in the old fashioned way, we shouldn’t be eating.

But that’s not the only change I can see happening. As it’ll become more difficult and expensive to transport goods, most European countries will need to start looking once again to local manufacturing and industry. We’ll have to rely less on plastics and other polymers which are also sourced from the petrochemical industry: look around you right now and see if you can identify any item from the last 50 years which definitely didn’t rely on petrochemicals at some point in its production. We’ll have to accept changes in the quality and the quantity of goods that are available.

OK so this post may well sound a little paranoid and rambling. I suppose I’m still trying to organise my thoughts. But my point is that I think it’s very likely that we’ll all have to accept some pretty massive changes to our lives over the next few years and decades. In a way, this volcano is something of a gift because it can remind us of how unsustainable our happy European lives have become.

Air travel and dehumanisation

We had a wonderful weekend in England. London is a fantastic city where I’d like to spend more time. But our departure from Stansted airport did much to cement  certain views I’ve held about air travel for some time now.

Modern air travel is cheap and quick. It also used to be fairly simple but in the last year or so, it has become an increasingly complicated way of travelling. The trouble started with check-in. We joined the queue for our flight shortly after check-in opened. We spent about an hour and a half queueing because of the ineptitude of the woman at the easyJet desk. She was phenomenally slow and left her post for nearly half an hour after claiming that a passenger with dark skin didn’t have the correct documentation. His Spanish passport was eventually, grudgingly accepted and the queue continued to shuffle on at the rate of one passenger served every five minutes.

A sign by the check-in desk warned passengers to allow at least 40 minutes to clear security – making clear that the onus is on the passenger to make sure that (s)he gets to the gate on time. In this case, though we had joined the queue as it began, we cleared security with about 10 minutes to spare. At least five passengers toward the end of the queue checked in but were then delayed in the security check phase. They were kicked off the flight and the flight’s captain gave us a patronising lecture about leaving enough time to get onto the plane. Perhaps he didn’t know that the five passengers whose luggage had to be removed from the flight were delayed because of one of his own colleague’s ineptitude.

Next, we approached the security check. This is the biggest recent change to modern air travel. Apparently, current rules (introduced in the wake of various terrorist attacks and attempts), insist that every passenger be put through a series of humiliating trials which test whether they’re a terrorist or not. Herded like cattle on their way to the slaughterhouse (or at the very least, the dipping tank), passengers wait in line until shouted at to proceed. Queues appear and disappear as stewards marshall people this way and that like shepherds call sheep. Belts must be removed, jumpers and jackets too. Personal possessions are laid out for all to see in black metal trays for the x-ray.

Next, we are forced to walk guiltily through a metal detector so inefficient that it failed to detect my wedding ring, 2lbs of coins and bulky metal watch which I had elected not to put through the x-ray. The girl in front of me had three bottles of sun cream which were confiscated, obviously because they might have been used for the production of high explosive. After the indignity of dressing myself again in public, I was herded down the next roped-off passageway only to be told to remove my shoes. By this point, I was getting really annoyed. “For Christ’s sake!”, I said as I pulled my trainers off – all the while being told by the woman at the shoe checking desk that I should ‘move out of the way’. This woman obviously noticed my irritation and said to me in a very obviously challenging way, “You seem very angry, sir”.

That short sentence made it clear that the exhibition of emotion of any sort was suspicious and deserved being challenged. I have no doubt whatsoever that if I had remonstrated with her over that fact that only half of the passengers were being screened in this way (the rest were allowed to just walk straight past), I would have been questioned – and probably by one of the police officers armed with huge semi-automatic rifles.

My problem here is not with security per se. I’m aware that there’s a small number of people out there who want to blow aeroplanes up. I’m also aware, however, that 50% of passengers could just walk through the shoe-checking phase. That I carried loads of metal through the metal detector without it noticing. That I could buy a tennis racket or bottle after security which could realistically be used as a weapon on an aeroplane. That it’s by no means inconceivable that a terrorist network could infiltrate airport shops and make sure that a bottle of water, perfume or shampoo that actually contained the ingredients for explosive were placed on shelves for the right person to buy. In short, I don’t believe that the security in modern airports is particularly effective. It still contains multiple holes which could easily be exploited by a committed terrorist cell.

In truth, I believe that these security checks we all have to undergo are part of a campaign of psychological warfare, the object of which is not to protect us but to cow us. The series of controls act more than anything else as steps in a process of dehumanisation and humiliation which never fail to conjure up the feeling of the emotions we might experience as we queue for access to the camps.

All this environmental stuff

I know I’m meant to be worried. Sometimes I do worry. And I’m glad that the news is talking about climate change and pollution again. I do consider it to be a far greater risk to my life than, say, ‘international terrorism’.

But when it comes down to it, I’m not planning to do much to help to deal with climate change, CO2 emissions, etc etc. There are a few reasons that I’ve come to this conclusion and the first is that stupid one I always criticise other people for using: I cannot make any difference so there’s no point bothering.

Now, before you say I’ve lost my mojo, just think. Given that I already conserve energy in a loose, easy sort of way at home, I’d say that my energy consumption is probably average for Spain. The new TV uses a lot of juice but then I never drive. If I managed to reduce that energy use to nil, the resulting effect on the overall consumption of energy in Spain (or in Catalonia or Barcelona, for that matter) would be so infinitesimally useless and pathetic that all I would really have succeeded in achieving would be ruining my quality of life by forcing myself to eat raw vegetables and lentils soaked in (spring) water over night. Never mind the emissions that a diet like that would cause.

A popular statistic around at the moment is that if the UK closed down all their CO2-emitting power stations, it would take China only six months to fill in the gas gap that we’d left behind. What about India and China together?

The problem with climate change is that there is literally nothing any of us can do to help the situation. Why not recycle? Did you know that most of the stuff you recycle ends up in land-fill? Gemma and I recycle religiously… it’s something to do, you know? And yet I know that it’s a complete waste of time.

When it comes down to it, the single worst thing I ever do to the environment is air travel. I like to fly to places. It’s much quicker than taking a canoe or a bullock-cart. It’s selfish of me and I know it’s not helping but I like to see my parents once a year if I can. How else am I going to do that? If I forswear that I’ll no longer fly then I guess they’d eventually fly out to see me here. So what would I have achieved then? I’ve got two sets of parents (both parents and both step-parents), a brother, a sister, a step-sister and two half-sisters. By my refusing to fly, I’d force them to fly. So there’s no point bothering with it.

My other reason for not helping any more than I already am is skepticism. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that things aren’t quite as bad as Al “I couldn’t even beat George Bush in an election I’d won” Gore would have us believe. The initial warnings on climate change, emissions and environmental damage which came out thirty years ago warned about very similar consequences and that it would be too late by 2006. Well, we haven’t done a single thing about it and now we’re being told we’ve got more time, even though the picture being painted is that things are even worse than we thought they were.

My point is: either we’re already screwed, or the science isn’t completely right. If the science is right, we’re already too late to do anything. While this doubtless smacks of lazy refusal to do more to combat climate change, it’s something I’ve struggled with for a long time. I was a real environmentalist a few years back and I’m still pissed off that Bush didn’t ratify Kyoto. So what’s changed? I got so sick of the religiosity behind the environmentalist movement that I started to question it. My central belief when it comes to politics has become: whatever people keep saying over and over again, mistrust it.

So that’s it. I’ll keep up with the useless recycling, the energy saving light-bulbs, the public transport and the support for green alternatives to burning coal for electricity production. But I’m going to keep up with my air travel, my expensive, energy hungry gadgets, the coal fire at home in Devon in the winter, putting the heater on, using the tumble-dryer etc etc etc. I make no apologies. I’m just sick of the whole business.

The PP loves victims of terrorism

During their time in power as well as during their disgraceful period in opposition, the PP have put nearly all of their energy into dividing Spain. Their constant jibes and threats – targeted against not only the left-wing but against distinct national groups within Spain – have changed this country and have increased tensions between Catalans, Basques, Spaniards, immigrants, conservatives, liberals and socialists.

This is a typical modus operandi for a one-policy party. Political entities of this type have no real philosophy or plan behind them other than the manufacture of fear among the populus. And they’re very successful at it. Intelligent, reserved Spaniards and Catalans whom I know are hesitant to pursue their own political goals because of a perceived threat that if modernisation of this country ‘goes too far’, the right wing will ruin things again.

The PP use this fear to divide the people of Spain. They use it to radicalise Spanish politics. These methods only ever benefit the PP and are all the more disgraceful because they are merely a means to attempt to regain power: as we have made very clear before, the PP does not believe in anything except its own right to control Spain.

To try and derail peace talks between the government and ETA, peace talks which the PP have already agreed to, purely in order to win political points, is the most abhorrent and repulsive act so far committed by this party. Their aim is clearly to gain power at all costs: even if it means that the streets of Spain run with the blood of more victims of terrorism. To call the PP simply power-hungry and divisive is to miss the point. The PP care so little for the people of Spain that they would rather see them dead than alive; if it meant that they controlled la Moncloa. So the question now is whether you’d like to see more victims of terrorism or fewer. The PP know which they’d prefer, and that’s why they’re trying to provoke more violence.

briefly… a stupid man

Another target for the rotten egg list, if ever there was one, is Jorge Valí­n. This guy, writing in the happily far-right-wing Spain Herald (whose John Aust I have grown to like, to a fashion) considers a poll result which has 75% of French youths expressing a desire to work in the civil service.

This 75 percent naively believes that employment is the same as wealth and production, but a job where you don’t do anything (and this is the aim of civil servants) adds no value to the community.

Well, Jorge, tell that to my future parents-in-law, who work hard at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Tell it to my father, who rose to a high rank in the Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy. Tell it to the millions of people in Spain, Catalonia, the UK and rest of Europe who work hard every day in the service of their country. It doesn’t matter whether you come from a background which disapproves of a large civil service: you can’t dismiss a major sector of civil society as workshy scroungers.

If the quality of journalism has sunk so low at Libertad Digital, perhaps they ought to consider a witch-hunt for scroungers in their own offices. There must be thousands of readers out there thinking: “Write reactionary bullshit for a living? I could do that!”.