Aug 272014
 
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It’s been a weird summer.  Horrible things happening in the world out there; the grist of mainstream and – now – social media too.  Just because you love cat gifs doesn’t mean you don’t see execution gifs …

Beautiful things happening within our family, as vacation time works its magic and makes us speak to each other so wondrously.

But then outwith our nuclear family, other things happening.  Childhood has a long reach; what hurt us as kids … well … it continues to work its invisible sadnesses.

Weave them almost, in painfully mysterious ways.

I’m glad it’s all over, mind; glad my wife and children will shortly have a better base to operate from.

That’s all most of us need; even yearn for.  Somewhere, anywhere, in which to be proud of oneself; to be proud of oneself and one’s forebears.


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Jul 252013
 
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The news everyone’s listening to and watching here in Spain today has a lot to do with this horrible video and other reports various.  Whether the train driver in question is really to blame for the accident and resulting deaths, only time – and further investigations – will tell.  It doesn’t, however, look good for him that he left a digital trail on Facebook more than a year ago where he boasted how cool it would be to go at 200 kilometres per hour.  From what I’ve seen it’s not clear whether he was referring to doing so by train or on Spanish roads.  The maximum speed limit on roads is 120 kilometres per hour.

There is little more I can say about this story than offer my condolences to all involved.  As I suggested yesterday, the sweet joy of summer breaks can be swiftly withdrawn by life’s round-the-corner turbulences.

Enjoy life whilst you can, for an enjoyable life is no one’s prerogative.

Meanwhile, whilst extreme suffering assails those who journeyed on that train last night, my family and I were doing some paperwork and shopping in town today.  Whilst my wife did the former, my daughter condescended to have two pinchos (you’ll probably know them better as tapas) with me.  The first in “Bambú”, the second in “El Toscano”.  Both quality experiences.  Both lovely experiences.

Then we went to do a humongous (first-time) holiday shop in the Spanish (perhaps, in this transnational world, I should say French) equivalent of Tesco’s.  Carrefour (for that is the supermarket in question) has changed since we were last there.  Single queuing system for the checkouts for starters.  I felt I was in the Post Office more than a super.

But what most disconcerted us was the shopping logic that has overcome their layout.  Kitchen roll is no longer where toilet paper is – the latter being something we were unable to hunt down at all, even as we managed to stumble across the former.  Coffee-machine cleaner wasn’t in cleaning products or anywhere near the coffee.  Most shockingly of all, however, was the fact that in this huge warehouse-like shop, two glorious staples of Spanish cuisine – tinned olives and mayonnaise – were hidden away in the furthest corner of all.  This would in an English supermarket be like putting butter and sausages on the bottom shelf of the last aisle at the end nearest the most obscure fire exit.

Really don’t know what to make of this innovation.  The olive and mayonnaise manufacturers must be furious.  One of Carrefour’s new mission statements is to provide all pockets with products they can afford.  They must mean: “… as long as you know how to find anything which doesn’t occupy an expensive hotspot.”

And even when I did succeed in finding the blessed products, their own-brand (supposedly cheaper) olive products were (presumably intentionally) unpriced in the face of a heavily promoted national brand.

Small beer I have to say, of course, in the light of the terrible train crash.  But an example, however small, of how corporates say one thing in the PR-parsed documents and do quite different things in practice.

One final observation.  Common to all these supermarkets in Spain are rather broad central aisles.  Here,  people congregate and bump into friends and family as they natter their way humanely through the pain of weekly shopping.  This is an architectural structure I do rather approve of, though – suspicious me! – I’m sure even as I do there will be an evil monetising bottom line to it all.  There is, in fact, relatively speaking (relative to, for example, England I mean), as much people-space in a Spanish supermarket like Carrefour as there is the country of Spain itself.

And space itself is far more human-sized.

Like animals, human beings need space to run and experience freedoms.

And that’s why I think I find the Spanish more human overall.

They value space: outside, inside, together, apart.

Three days of national mourning.

Seven days in the region the accident took place.

All a reminder that when things happen to ordinary people, ordinary people should – in their respective moments – be mourned, celebrated, embraced and recognised, precisely for their ordinariness.

The Spanish still know this.  The English, sadly (with more than a bit of encouragement from their body politic), are beginning to forget it.

And I’m pretty sure the man or woman who decided to put olives and mayonnaise in the lost far corner of a French-owned Spanish supermarket chain has similarly succeeded in utterly losing the plot.


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Jul 242013
 
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I’m on holiday again, as regular readers of this blog might have guessed.  Just listened to “Bluebird” by Paul McCartney and Wings – now listening to “Blackbird” as performed by the same group.  These are moments of severe pleasure, as you might imagine.  For someone brought up in the multicoloured shadows of the Beatles, this is the next best thing.  And with the summer heat piling in through the open windows, and my Internet connection working enough for me to be able to work, even when at half the promised speed, I can think of no better a place to find myself than right now.

Not that life is perfect.  Life isn’t like that now, is it?  You find a moment of sweet joy, only for something just round the corner to pull it away from you.  But that really doesn’t matter.  My mother always used to explain, after bitter, hurtful and unjust experience: “It’s not what life throws at you that’s important but how you react.”

From a faraway place, from a standpoint that does not bury me in the obfuscation and daily lies of our British Coalition government, I can see there is more to life than allowing it to throw shit at you.

Perhaps what I really mean to add is: “… and allowing it to stick!”

You have to find that standpoint, even when you are not faraway.  You cannot permit the evil right-wingers, the monolithic left-wingers, the followers of easy political fortune to make of our existences the stuff of life’s misfortunes.  Bearing witness to such overwhelming unkindness as the last five years have exhibited is important, necessary and justifiable – but not if it leads us to the despair we are currently headed for.

These people are looking to monetise our every step, move, instinct and action.  If we fight them on their terms, they will win.

We will lose all autonomy, all memory of what it was like to love, embrace, hug and engage with our fellow human beings out of no more than a simple desire to share.

It’s time we changed tack.  Petitions galore, thousands of retweets, hundreds of page impressions … none of the aforementioned achieves anything in the end: the people who manage to make us do these things only make us focus on the detail; they only make us reactive, on the back foot, responding but never initiating.

Perhaps not only reactive.

Perhaps also reactionary.

If we are to suffer life’s misfortunes, let they be worth suffering.  Let they not be the trivia of unrepresentative democracy but, rather, the truthiness of universal suffering.  Not the foolish impositions of small minds but the globalities of lives truly lived.

Get out from under the government’s horrific simulacrum of what life should be like.

Stuff ‘em.

Stick it up ‘em.

May they bugger off.

May the distant standpoint of faraway holiday be our perspective from now on in.

Even when such holidays are not within our reach; even when the time is not that of summer heat.

Parallel lives.

That’s what we need to create.  Lives they cannot touch with their monetising brutalities.  Lives which depend on listening, watching, speaking with, hearing, caring for, surviving, fighting with dignity, relating to, understanding … being – believing in! – better.

That is history.  You cannot predict which bit of it will be your turn.  Ours, suddenly, brutally, round the corner, has become something quite different from what we expected: the golden age of baby-booming pensioners has been replaced with the deliberate tools of austerity-inscribed control-freakery.

But we can at the very least maintain our belief in the kind of misfortunes life must bring us all.  The natural ones.  The inevitable ones.  The ones that define our baselines as human beings.

Las desgracias de la vida.

Yep.  I love Spain because, in life and death, death and life are so much nearer the surface than in England.  And what’s more, no one expects anything honourable of anyone who claims allegiance to a higher morality.  No illusions here of a better way of seeing or doing.

A culture perfectly fitted to our times.

The Spanish were right where we Anglo-Saxons were totally, utterly, absolutely out of our trolleys.

The Spanish were right to value family above all.

The Spanish were right to be forever distrusting of politicians and businesspeople.

The Spanish were right to count only on the eggs that day’s tortilla was to be made from.

Don’t believe anything they tell you.

Don’t believe anything – or anyone – at all.

Las desgracias de la vida.

(Or – in other words – only confide in life’s honest-to-good misfortunes.)


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Jun 052013
 
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I received an email a couple of days ago from Labour in relation to the European candidates selection process.  Part of it said as follows:

Arlene McCarthy, who was re-selected following a trigger ballot, will appear at the top of the list as the only sitting MEP in the region.

Beneath her, there are eight candidates – four men and four women – who need to be ranked in order of preference. The candidate who secures the most preferences will be placed second on the regional party list.

If a male candidate secures the most preferences, then the highest-placed female candidate will come next on the list, followed by the next male candidate and then by the female. If a female candidate secures the most preferences, then the highest placed male will come next on the list, followed by the next female candidate and then by the male.

This process is known as zipping and is used by the Labour Party in European candidate selections to help to balance male and female candidates.

You should vote by ranking the candidates in order of preference by placing a 1 against your first preference, 2 against your second preference and so on. You do not have to use all your preferences, although it cannot harm the chance of your first choice candidate if you do.

As Labour Uncut concluded recently:

At a time when there is widespread mistrust in politicians and disengagement in politics, does this really represent the most transparent way of selecting candidates?

Is “zipping” what the new politics is all about?

Meanwhile, I read yesterday (in Spanish) (robot English here) that in Spain the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) is looking to get enshrined in electoral law there the aforementioned procedure of zipping (the Spanish call it “listas cremallera” – “zip lists”).

Whilst the procedure hasn’t been explained as clearly as it could have been, and Labour Uncut is right to bring our attention to this, it is obviously looking to right a severe wrong which the privileged few who control politics continue to exert even in the presence of 50 percent quotas.  It serves no useful purpose whatsoever for men and women to make up an electoral list, if the majority of the electable seats end up in hands of men.

That it is time a representative democracy represents its people properly and transparently is no more self-evidently true than today, where a Cabinet of millionaires holds sway disastrously over our politics.

Zipping is a great idea whose time should have come long ago.  Although it smacks through the word used, even when better explained, emotionally of tying up freedoms, we shouldn’t allow those who maintain existing profiles of privilege to kick the procedure into touch.

We need a fairer and more truly representative democracy.  Properly implemented, a 50 percent quota with equal opportunities of winning for men and women will surely get us there eventually.

A case of a policy which might remove a raft of career choices for men like myself, but would – long-term – benefit us all socially a thousandfold over.  After all, what’s the point of winning if it involves oppression?  That’s not winning at all; that’s essentially the hierarchies of serfdom.

That’s a meritocracy built on catacombs of lies.

Let’s follow the PSOE’s example, and propose giving it legal backing.  Time – long overdue, in fact – to make zipping the law for all political parties.


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May 052013
 
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That’s the headline of this excellent and timely analysis from El País this morning.  You can find the Spanish original here, and a robot English translation here.  As one of the observations goes:

[…] La nueva generación de dirigentes alemanes que llegó después de Helmut Kohl ha desenterrado la vieja cuestión alemana. Especialmente desde el siglo XIX, esa cuestión ha consistido en cómo contener a un país dominante situado en el centro de Europa. La solución, después de dos guerras mundiales, fue la UE. Con ella se buscó construir una nueva Alemania europea.

Which loosely translated means:

[…] The new generation of German leaders which followed Helmut Kohl has dug up the old German question.  Particularly since the 19th century, this question has consisted of working out how to contain a dominant country located in the centre of Europe.  The solution, after two world wars, was the EU.  With it, we looked to construct a new German Europe.

The results have, however, been less than happy:

La evidencia es concluyente: el cóctel de medicinas impuesto por Alemania desde 2010, con el objetivo de hacer frente a la crisis, no cura. Al contrario, empeora la enfermedad. España es, en este momento, el ejemplo más evidente de ese fracaso.

The evidence is conclusive: the cocktail of medicines imposed by Germany since 2010, with the objective of dealing with the crisis, doesn’t cure.  To the contrary, it makes the illness worse.  Spain is, in this moment, the most evident case of this failure.

The ingredients of this cocktail being:

Este cóctel, o policy mix, consiste en lo siguiente: austeridad compulsiva del gasto público, política monetaria restrictiva, apreciación del euro, devaluación interna de salarios y reformas.

This cocktail, or policy mix, consists of the following: compulsive austerity of public spending, a restrictive monetary policy, appreciation of the Euro, internal devaluation of salaries and reforms.

And the results in Spain?  They currently have a generalised unemployment rate of 27 percent.  In the youth bracket, this has been well over 50 percent for quite a while already.

Germany’s responsibility in all this cannot – at least according to the El País analysis today – be underestimated.  Which brings me back to a bit of history.  This was the post-war Marshall Plan and its impacts on a European (in particular, German) society – destroyed, stumbling and struggling as it was under the yoke of post-Nazi suffering:

The Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery ProgramERP) was the American program to aid Europe, in which the United States gave economic support to help rebuild European economies after the end of World War II in order to prevent the spread of Soviet Communism.[1] The plan was in operation for four years beginning in April 1948.[2] The goals of the United States were to rebuild a war-devastated region, remove trade barriers, modernize industry, and make Europe prosperous again.[3] The term “equivalent of the Marshall Plan” is often used to describe a proposed large-scale rescue program.[4]

You can find more here about the above.

It does, then, seem that where the Americans were summarily generous in victory – even if the real driver was to stop the spread of post-war Communism – the Germans are being far less supportive to those one might assume they would see as neighbours.

So is prejudice underpinning their behaviours?  Do they see southern Europe as a stain on their perfect numbers?  If they do, they really shouldn’t.  As the El País article points out:

[…] de momento, el gobernador del BCE lo único que ha dicho es que “hará todo lo necesario para salvar el euro”. Pero salvar el euro no es sinónimo de salvar las economías europeas y a sus ciudadanos.

[…] for the moment, the only thing the governor of the ECB [the European Central Bank] has said is that “they will do everything necessary to save the Euro”.  But saving the Euro is not synonymous with saving European economies and their citizens.

And neither are the numbers nor structures so perfect as they would have us believe.

To summarise, Germany should understand its place in European history with far greater humility and generosity.  It should do for the 21st century what the US did for the 20th century.  It should do no less, in fact, than to prioritise Europe’s economies and citizens over the blessed shrine of its Euro.

For what goes around, comes around.  And never more so, geopolitically.


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May 012013
 
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This morning, I was talking about the current situation in Spain with some of my students of Spanish.  We were discussing what I had been tweeting on Twitter the night before with a dear follower from Spain, Monica Lalanda.  Monica was feeling sad about her country, arguing that it felt as if it were a country of losers.  I suggested that history had shown the Spanish (all its nationalities) were much more a country of survivors than losers.

As I related the exchange to my students this morning, I realised exactly how much emotion I have invested in Spain.  For a touch-and-go moment, I had to fight back the tears.

I also told my students my experience as a language-training provider for the car components industry in Spain.  This was when I discovered how clever, creative and competent the Spanish at their best really are.  They characterise themselves often as brilliant improvisers and whilst to a certain degree this is true, they are also undeniably brilliant implementers.  You can’t be otherwise in such a competitive and continuously improving sector.

And then one of my students described an experience she’d had as a project manager, working simultaneously with both Swiss and Spanish workforces.  Here, she compared the straightforward Swiss to the brilliantly enthusiastic and colourful Spanish: the documentation produced by each group of workers reflected these differing national characteristics.  She also described how the Spanish wouldn’t stop nattering whilst they worked.  It was clear that the Spanish weren’t only good at continuous improvement, they were also sharp and ingenious at what we could term continuous communication.

Which is when I realised this is indeed what distinguishes the Spanish from other workforces I’ve come up against.  For example, the English will shut down as the 5 o’clock deadline approaches; maintaining a relationship with one’s fellow men and women becomes far less important than finishing the job on time.  Yet communication is the glue of everything business, politics and society does well.  No wonder the Spanish have achieved so many great things in their history: they understand, they fully comprehend, the significance of “wasting” time on relating to each other.

At least in the sector under discussion, and I’m sure in many other areas of endeavour, they won’t sacrifice their right and obligation to speak amongst themselves, simply in order that they might get home on time.

The Spanish are survivors – not losers at all – precisely because they reserve the right to question each other; even at work.  Even amongst hierarchy, they maintain their creative habits of grumbling: this “rechistar” they convincingly sustain which often leads to pragmatic solution.  And competent hierarchy knows all too well they will inevitably be like this – and so competent hierarchy, at least that competent hierarchy you find in certain big businesses, knows you have to take them along with you.

You can’t pull the wool over Spanish eyes, that’s for sure.  You have to convince them up as close as it gets: you have to convince them face-to-face.

So we come finally to the point of this post.  Here we have a New York Times article from last year as one piece of evidence:

[…] We typically feel that we understand how complex systems work even when our true understanding is superficial. And it is not until we are asked to explain how such a system works — whether it’s what’s involved in a trade deal with China or how a toilet flushes — that we realize how little we actually know.

The interesting bit comes, however, when detailed explanations are finally made:

[…] The real surprise is what happens after these same individuals are asked to explain how these policy ideas work: they become more moderate in their political views — either in support of such policies or against them. In fact, not only do their attitudes change, but so does their behavior. In one of our experiments, for example, after attempting to explain how various policy ideas would actually work, people became less likely to donate to organizations that supported the positions they had initially favored.

With the Spanish experience in mind – that is to say, with their ability to continuously communicate and thus moderate their actions (the only explanation I can encounter as they proceed to put up with soaring unemployment rates of 27 percent) – I am minded to remember my own experience whilst I was a co-opted parish councillor in the place in which I still find myself living.  I had by then set up what I intended to be a local blogsite which would combine photos of the area with pithy comment.  But, in the event, I found it extraordinarily difficult to say any productive or useful word about my experiences.  Simply knowing the potential audience was people I lived cheek-and-jowl next to terrified me into a counter-productive silence.

Or perhaps the silence was not as counter-productive as I thought.  It seems to me, in the light of the findings recounted in the New York Times, that what I was experiencing was actually a virtual equivalent of that highly constructive and continuous communication of the Spanish: I was being forced to explain myself to people I knew I’d bump into – and thus was having to question far more fiercely my own neat and perfectly-formed prejudices.

In truth, it seems to me that if we are to survive the next decade or so with any degree of kindness, humility or accuracy – if England, the UK and a wider Western democracy is to perpetuate its better aspects in any convincing way – we will need to recover a face-to-face society which broadcast politics, social media, online communication and other latterday technologies have almost battered into non-existence.

It might yet be possible too.  This statistic could be telling:

The poll also asked respondents: “Thinking about any local newspapers published in your home town or county, do you think they are on balance a positive or a negative force in your local community?” The majority,  53.3 per cent, said they were positive, 8.3 per cent said they were negative and 32.7 per cent said they were neutral.

I don’t have the data to hand, of course, but I would be happy to assume that local radio, TV and newspapers are generally less aggressively overbearing in their behaviours than the more cocooned and distant national media.  More middle-of-the-road, less extreme in their posturing.  Inevitably so, when your neighbours get to know who you are and where you live.

Hardly counter-intuitive, anyhow.

It may of course be that the distancing effect of social media and networks is something we in Anglo-Saxon countries are actively pursuing.  Who’s to say, after all, that we would like to continuously communicate like the Spanish seem to want to?  But I bet my very last peseta that if you ever properly got the opportunity to find out what it was like, then to live and work in an environment of friendly and intelligent “relationship professionals” would be far more finally fun and productive than in a landscape of pesky “time-keeping trolls”.

As well as leading to a far less destructively cruel, inefficient and partisan politics.


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Apr 272013
 
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I’ve loosely translated this decalogue from the Spanish original below, which was tweeted originally here and came my way via Ada Colau.  The original text is by a clever soul called Pepe Quiralte.

And as you can see, in the top right-hand corner of the image we have a picture of the Spanish President, Mariano Rajoy, doing what so many Western leaders are doing best right now: destroying their peoples’ livelihoods, dignities and hopes for the future.

  1. There’s no work for anyone, but we are supposed to work until 70 and at weekends.
  2. We combat tax fraud by offering an amnesty to those who commit tax fraud.
  3. Consumer spending collapses?  We cut salaries and increase taxes.
  4. We had 4 million unemployed so we passed labour legislation to make EREs* [mass layoffs] and redundancies easier to implement.  Now we have more than 6 million unemployed.
  5. The whole construction industry goes belly up and so we cut research and development by 50 percent.
  6. We increase VAT and income tax but SICAVs** remain intact.  Capital escapes at unheard-of levels.
  7. We cut health and education, but if you talk of cutting official cars or expenses they accuse you of demagoguery.
  8. We make thousands of scientists unemployed but battle to get EuroVegas***.
  9. The problem is the deficit and we acquire a debt of €100,000 million to save the banks so that they can continue evicting us.
  10. The regions ask the state to save them, which asks the EU to save it and we allow ourselves to become indebted in order to pay the debt.

As a final thought, I assume when it says “An idiot’s guide to the 10 biggest economic mysteries (though there are more)”, it means more mysteries and not more idiots.

But perhaps, on second thoughts, that’s more idiots as well?

____________________

Footnotes:

* ERE as per Wikipedia en español (robot English translation here).

** SICAV as per Wikipedia.

*** EuroVegas as per the Guardian newspaper.

10 Economic Mysteries


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Apr 232013
 
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Amazon Cloud services used by 38 Degrees

I saw a BBC Panorama documentary recently on the subject of North Korea.  Towards the end, after showing those of us who know nothing the veritable horrors of the place, it compared the advertising-free misery of the North Korean underground with the magnificent and joyful hoarding-invaded South Korea.  If I remember rightly, on more than one occasion our attention was drawn to this defining advantage of living in the free world – as if the quantity of advertising which serves to puncture our eyes is somehow a litmus test of how free we really are.

Well, I’m sorry but I don’t agree.  And today I read a story from the Spanish El País newspaper which simply confirms me in my resistance.  In it, we discover (robot English translation here) that the Madrid Metro Línea 2 - along with its iconic stop Sol – will become the sponsorship property of the Vodafone phone company, to such an extent that the aforementioned station will be renamed vodafone Sol.  In exchange for a three-year deal, it appears that a paltry €3 million will exchange hands.  But, of course, the story won’t end with the “awarding” of these “naming rights”.  As the article goes on to report:

[…] El acuerdo previsto con la empresa tiene una duración de tres años, lo que supone unos tres millones de euros. Para González es una “posibilidad enorme de ingresos” para Metro. “Tenemos 11 líneas más y muchas estaciones” que ofertar, ha recordado el presidente.

Loosely translating as:

[…] The agreement in question with the company will last three years, which means some three million euros.  For González, this presupposes an “enormous opportunity of income” for Metro.  “We have 11 lines and many stations” to offer, the president has reminded everyone.

So let’s just analyse exactly what’s going on here.  A public entity which has been offering state-funded services to a taxpaying city (I assume the Metro service is still all of these things, though – after so much economic despair – I may of course be wrong by now) has decided, in its wisdom, that it has the right to sell off to a foreign corporation the rights to name public spaces as if they were private spaces of public use.  Given the experience we’ve supposedly had with the Vodafones of the world here in Britain, as perfectly legal tax avoidance has begun to drill holes in the future financial planning of the state and our public services, this really does seem to be adding considerable insult to hurtful injury.  Especially when the people responsible for the deal appear to be saying that the cost of using the service will continue to rise for end-users, despite the corporate dosh changing hands.

That is to say, in an ongoing and awful political and socioeconomic crisis, where Spanish youth unemployment has hit over fifty percent and politicians of parties various have both enriched themselves and their business mates in a long-drawn-out process of terrible fecklessness (clearly at the expense of all the nations that make up the country), the Madrid Metro finds itself obliged to go with its begging bowl to precisely those guarantors of the free world which have brought us all to our knees in the first place.

To such an extent we finally discover that these people don’t only destroy our economies and welfare states so as to own us materially but also, now, look to own our public spaces – so as to own us emotionally too.

Can you imagine it?

The Starbucks Northern Line.

The Google Circle Line.

The Amazon Jubilee Line.

Hurts, doesn’t it?  Hurts so much it burns.  Burns like brands originally did.  And I bet it’ll come sooner than you think to England’s green and evermore unpleasant land.

Happy St Google’s Day!

Wonder what Shakespeare would’ve had to say about it all.

To brand or not to brand, perhaps?  Would that be the question?

St Google's Day


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Mar 252013
 
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In times of crisis, paranoia strikes us all.  It’s either unreasonable paranoia about another’s acts or an actual plan from the same, of course – but if we argue the latter, it’s ourselves whom they see as the paranoid.  Whatever the reality of the matter.

I do sincerely wonder, in fact, as a gentle by-the-by, whether those who are defined clinically paranoid will now find comfort and solace in a society such as ours is becoming.  They will now be finding themselves perfectly adjusted to a civilisation which has surely crept towards them – even as its medical folk, investigators and researchers have continued to judge their perceptions as inaccurate.

As far as our European political classes are concerned, paranoia definitely appears to be taking them by a fairly fearsome scruff of the neck.  Witness this story from Spain today (the Spanish original here, robot English here): the youth members of the Spanish Partido Popular (their rather rancidly right-wing ruling party) have set up an “anonymous email” (let’s see how far they get with that assertion) and Twitter hashtag in order to allow Spanish students to denounce their teachers for acts of (presumably) liberal indoctrination.

Now if such objectives and methods were put in place over here, the newspapers and media would be all over its initiators.  Or, at least, that’s what you’d have thought from a country with such a long democratic history as England’s.  Except that, of course, our dear Michael Gove has has once more given a voice to the more prejudiced, incoherent and intellectually insubstantial proclaimers of latterday political correctnesses (the bold is mine):

Referring to the 1938 book Enemies of Promise by Cyril Connolly, which examined ways in which literary talent is thwarted, Mr Gove accused his critics of being “more interested in valuing Marxism, revering jargon and fighting excellence” than improving schools.

He wrote in the Mail on Sunday: “There are millions of talented young people being denied the opportunity to succeed as they deserve. Far too many are having their potential thwarted by a new set of Enemies of Promise.

“The new Enemies of Promise are a set of politically motivated individuals who have been actively trying to prevent millions of our poorest children getting the education they need.”

Political correctnesses as laid down, that is, this time by the right.

But let’s just follow the train of thought – Mr Gove’s nascent little train of thought, I mean – to its logical conclusion.  If teachers and academics are now to be found guilty of indoctrinating Marxist thoughts and ideas, that can surely only mean whole generations of our young – our children, our adolescents, our young men and women – are now tainted by association, and indeed by a very direct process of brainwashing, from an evil educational establishment bent on little more than world domination.

If this is the case, and from what he appears to be arguing it certainly seems a cogent extrapolation of his initial worldview, perhaps he should really come out with a more fully formed plan: a state-sponsored reprogramming of a generation unkindly and unpleasantly lost to the liberal brainwashers of academia.

Something, in fact, along the lines of the political commissars which his Spanish Nuevas Generaciones de Castellón colleagues have apparently already engineered.

More and more, the more I read and see and perceive, I get the feeling it wasn’t the United States which won the Cold War after all.

Don’t you?


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Feb 072013
 
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Ada Colau is the very best reason you could have right now to get on an intensive course in Spanish, and fast.  Why?  In order to learn how to hear and understand her fierce and unremitting words spoken ever so gently.

If, however, you already understand the language, you will understand so much more about the world we live in once you watch the following video on the current situation in Spain – a country where unemployment has now topped 26 percent.


http://youtu.be/s_6G-gR3BHo

Here she describes how a representative of the banking community justifies the current Spanish laws as “stupendous” – the same banking community, she argues, which has destroyed the wider Spanish economy, and even led people to commit suicide as a result of its legislation.

And this is how  the Financial Times explains the laws she continues to call “criminal”:

Under Spanish mortgage law, which is among the most stringent in Europe, a borrower in default loses their home, and is then liable to repay all of the debt, with the creditor having rights over the debtor’s future income until the debt is settled.

And this is how the same paper relates the opinions of Spanish bankers:

Spanish bankers have long argued that the severe penalties for defaulting on mortgages helps to explain why levels of non-payment have remained low even when unemployment has risen to 26 per cent, as family members help with repayments for those who are struggling to keep up.

And this is the nature of the bailout which the same banking industry is currently receiving from Europe – absolutely shamelessly I might add, and with the kind of hubris which befits the all-too-powerful:

The European Commission on Wednesday approved a payment of 37 billion euros, or $48 billion, from the euro zone bailout fund to four Spanish banks on the condition that they lay off thousands of employees and close offices.

Yes.  Ms Colau is right.  This is criminal fraud on a massive scale.  Whilst the industry in question has no problems with reserving for itself the right to a generous corporate Communism when times are tough (or, put more plainly, when they’ve fucked up big-time), in the same breath it seems to believe this sort of generosity is quite the worst thing an individual could ever have access to.  Far better, it would seem, that a bank be able to sustain its skyscraping headquarters than an ordinary person his or her humble family home.

And although Spanish commenters on blogs and social networks seem to think that the violent qualities of their banking industry are most particularly Spanish in scale, I’m truly beginning to wonder if here in the UK there isn’t a terrible underbelly on the point of revealing itself.


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Feb 032013
 
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I’m currently suffering at the hands of reality.  Whilst in my wife’s home country, Spain, its (anti-)democratic edifice appears to be tumbling around its people’s wider austerity-located suffering, in Britain and elsewhere little seems very much better.

Let’s take Spain, for startersRead and tremble.  It would seem, in my limited understanding of the Bárcenas scandal as it stands, that eventually no politician or party will escape the consequences of what is unreeling.  As Spanish democracy takes a massive battering from the bitter dialectic between independence movements and their centralising counterparts, from widespread corruption in both politics and business and from the awful levels of utterly wasteful unemployment in a hyper-educated society, so there is very little left to do for the Spanish people themselves but bemoan the situation, wring their hands and wonder futilely how they got here.

I suspect the final solution, if anyone has any intelligence, will be to leave off forever perpetuating the intellectual and sociopolitical cover-ups, which took place post-Franco as democracy cemented itself.  The Spanish transition, lauded as an example for young democratic movements everywhere, hid under its shiny and very latterday façade crucial hatreds, miseries and very real cruelty (more here, here and here).

This will, I am pretty sure, even as I admit I am a mere outsider looking in, require a truth and reconciliation process as painful and fierce as that which South Africa had to suffer on its own journey.

*

Meanwhile, I read tonight that the largest police force in the UK used an estimated eighty dead children’s identities in undercover (ie spying) operations over a period of perhaps three decades.  Quite precisely, the Met – for, yet again, it is the force in the eye of the storm – assures us that (the bold is mine):

We can confirm that the practice referred to in the complaint is not something that would currently be authorised in the [Met police].

Which isn’t to say that it mightn’t happen again in the future, right?

So can it get any worse?  Whilst in Spain we apparently have a widespread culture of dirty money at the very highest levels of political practice, a society which is creaking under the weight of never having been through any real process of truth and reconciliation and an economic plan which is anything but democratic, in Britain we are getting drip-fed awful tales of celebrity paedophile rings, hotels and practitioners; of police forces in London and Yorkshire which did anything but follow even the letter of the law, never mind its spirit; of casual phone- and computer-hacking in industrial quantities; of the falsification of evidence on police computers; of party-funding scandals; of public- and private-sector corruption; of sweetheart tax deals between government civil servants and transnational corporations; of the demonisation of the poor, disabled, sick and unemployed to the benefit of the wealthy; and, finally, a total re-engineering of the welfare state in order that the Tory Party’s sponsors and puppet-masters in banking, consultancy and health may become the real benefit claimants of the state.

What exactly is happening?  What exactly is taking place?  Is all this information suddenly revealing itself the result of longer-term social media tendencies perhaps?  Is what we do in our private lives, as we denude ourselves to friends and foe alike, spilling over into more work-related contexts?

Are we actually all becoming terribly – and excessively – honest?

Is this, finally, the true legacy of the Internet as it spills over unstoppably into the offline world – a legacy which for so long the real world has managed to keep at arm’s length?

And is the Establishment – an institutional dinosaur if there ever was one (suited perfectly to its environment whilst its environment remained under its control) – suddenly losing its ability to whitewash reality?

Or – more frighteningly – is this a quite new reality with no whitewash at all?

A quite new reality which the overwhelming hubris of those in charge is now awfully and generously happy to regale us with – perhaps certain in the knowledge that there is nothing anyone honest can do about it any more.


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Dec 172012
 
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Which loosely translates as: “Stop knocking such a clever, affectionate and life-loving people!”

If you don’t understand castellano (what we in our ignorance call Spanish), this advert from the Spanish cooked-meat manufacturer Campofrío is the perfect reason for your next New Year’s Resolution to be just that: bookmark this post and come back to it in six months time after the most intensive language course you can afford.

This is one gigantic “stick it where it belongs – and preferably up yours” to all those corrupt bankers, politicians, spivs and hangers-on who’ve helped to destroy the humane, thoughtful, kindly, intelligent, ingenious, creative and caring welfare states and peoples which have defined a post-war Europe – and, in particular, a post-war Spain.

Only they haven’t destroyed it.  Spain is my family – my family is Spain.  My Spanish family is no less deserving of my love now than it was a decade ago.  We’re just as wonderful as we were that ten years ago.  We’re just as wise.  We’re just as knowing.  We’re just as powerful too – only, right now, we don’t realise it.

Well, if you still don’t realise it, this video will set you to rights.  I watched it, sobbed and realised today was already Christmas.

I don’t need any more presents.

Power to the people.


http://youtu.be/62xGKKw7v1Q


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Dec 082012
 
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I just tweeted the following thought, confused of Chester as I am:

In order to properly defend our laws, we need our media to make its own? What does *that* then say about the quality of our laws? #leveson

I suppose the argument is not all that dissimilar from the one I was making a couple of posts ago: if it is better for our democracy and our free press to be left in the hands of self-regulating transnational corporations than to be under the direct control of government, parliamentary oversight and the justice system, then our democratic tools are in a parlous state indeed.

*

A couple of months ago now I attempted to evidence how Spanish intellectuals seemed to be ganging up on the Catalan independence movement – as well as, perhaps, the wider homegrown Occupy campaigners.  I said, then:

Big bad business is now getting tough and playing hardball with the aspirations of ordinary people – people who are suffering from fifty percent youth unemployment and from a twenty percent national average; who believe in that national self-determination Dan talks of, whether at a nationalist or simply Spanish-state kind of level; and are simply looking to recover their right to inhabit (where not occupy) their public and municipal spaces of democratic discourse.

I love the Spanish.  I love their ways of thinking.  But sometimes, just sometimes, the fear and baggage gathering around the idea of a truly representative democracy, which in some ways both relate to the still unresolved contradictions of dictatorship, don’t half make it difficult for their elites and their intellectuals to believe in the innate wisdom and savvy straightforwardness of all those citizens in the street.

Citizens who, precisely because of what those elites and intellectuals have engineered between them, might now have to end up living in the street.

I had, at the time, had recent experience of trying to sell a pertinent text on the economic and banking crises to Spanish intellectuals I have more than a glancing relationship with.  Without exception, they were initially interested in my proposal and then – when I described it in detail – quite critical, vigorously noncommittal or just plain downright rude.  When I wonder what my enemies might have said to me … well, I truly shudder to think.

The text would have given a logical bulwark to those who believe the way forward in Europe is the independence of the regions over the traditional nation-states.

This, it is clear, was not to be appreciated.  But don’t take my word for it.  Feast your eyes on this blogpost from yesterday’s El País (in Spanish, with a Google Translate version into English here).  It describes how a Spanish newspaper, El Mundo, launched on what became a very dirty election campaign a “police” report into the financial affairs of the Catalan governing party’s leaders – a report which three weeks later, and after the damage was clearly and irrevocably (even if uncertainly) done, has been recognised by the police authorities themselves as having nothing to do with them or anyone connected with their department.

The writer of the blogpost in question does make reference to Leveson as a result.  How is it possible that a newspaper can have the right to alter, in some way or another but – as I say – clearly for sure, the direction of an election campaign through the publication of a report which, after the event, but only after the event, is questioned, investigated and finally put to a factual sleep?  How can the newspaper in question run no risk of publishing such information?  How is it possible, even, that our laws, society and civilisation contemplate the virtues of such a system?

Is it, perhaps, because the kind of people who spread such tales are so powerful – and so in need of the continuance of such tools – that no one who really represents the people can ever have a hope in hell of changing how this apparently works?

This isn’t a simple question of news management, is it?  This is a cowardly lack of ownership by precisely those who own the most.

*

It may, of course, backfire on those who engineered the information.  At least, that is, by the tenor of this report (well worth a read in full):

[…] while Mas, despite his shift, still hesitates in using the actual term ‘independence’, the ERC has had no such reservations. Alfred Bosch, leader of the ERC in the Spanish Parliament, displayed the Catalan secessionist flag with combative flair during a recent parliamentary speech in Madrid. So while Catalan nationalists have temporarily been denied a clear figurehead to drive their cause boldly forward, the wind is not entirely out of their sails. The ERC will continue to oppose CiU on economic grounds — it was a vociferous opponent of the three recent austerity packages pushed through by the Mas government, with close support of the Popular Party.

But it will unwaveringly push for a referendum process that is no longer controlled by Mas. The plebiscite, and a potential constitutional crisis in Spain, will if anything come sooner now than had Mas and the CiU triumphed. In a recent interview, Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón said: “People talk about Catalonia as if it was a limb that could be amputated and the rest of Spain would survive. But what the independence of Catalonia really means is the disappearance of Spain as a nation.”

Those who believe in the history of the masses will see a certain proof and vindication in the process as described above.  You may be able to fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time – but you can’t starve the majority of economic leverage, shelter and plain food without some kind of serious repercussions taking place.

And the latter, in certain ways, is what exactly is being currently practised in Spain, the United Kingdom and far too many other countries across the world.

As someone said the other day, it’s just too painful when the only banks both lending and expanding their business are food banks for the ever-growing poor.

The ever-growing poor more and more of us are beginning to metamorphose into.

We’re getting to the point where we’ll be a civilisation in dire need of some superhero help.  Anything else will just fall too radically short.

“Get your shit together, folks!”

Before it’s too late.

For the alternative is mayhem …


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Sep 302012
 
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To cut short what could in other circumstances be a very long story, here’s a bit of evidence from Friday’s El País newspaper which – I think you’ll agree – clearly goes to show that the thesis of this post’s title may actually be true:

El presidente de Planeta, José Manuel Lara, ha asegurado esta mañana que si Cataluña acaba por independizarse el grupo trasladaría su sede social a otra ciudad de España. “Se lo decía al president [de la Generalitat, Artur Mas]: yo lo tengo más fácil que nadie. No hay ningún negocio editorial que tenga su sede en un país extranjero que hable otro idioma. Es absurdo. La sede se tendría que ir a Zaragoza, Madrid o Cuenca”, ha asegurado el empresario catalán. “La independencia es absolutamente imposible”, ha agregado Lara […].

Loosely translated, this becomes:

The president of Planeta [the biggest Spanish publisher], José Manuel Lara, has this morning declared that if Catalunya becomes independent the group will move its headquarters to another city in Spain.  “I said it to the president [of the Generalitat, Artur Mas]: it’s easier for me than anyone. There is no publishing business which has its headquarters in a foreign country which speaks another language. It’s absurd. The headquarters would have to go to Zaragoza, Madrid or Cuenca,” said the Catalan businessman.  “Independence is absolutely impossible,” added Lara […].

What’s more, Lara is reported to have concluded that:

“En una guerra del cava habrá muertos y heridos graves”, ha avisado.

Again, translating thus:

“In a war of cava [the Catalan equivalent of champagne] there will be deaths and seriously wounded,” he has warned.

Puzzled by the allusions?  I think the background will go something like this: the war of cava is a metaphor for fighting over the soul of Catalunya.  Cava is characteristically Catalan – everyone in Spain drinks it instead of French champagne.  It’s an icon of Catalan industry and something all the Spanish are accustomed to buy when they wish to celebrate a birthday, Christmas or other special occasion.  I’m unclear from the piece in El País whether Planeta’s president was speaking literally or figuratively, but the tone lately of the Spanish people I follow on Twitter who are against independence and Occupy (they do go together as both are perceived to be threats to the established order in equal degree) would seem to indicate either could be the case.

Something’s going on, isn’t it?

Instead of it being explicitly cast as a rewriting of the social contract, changing people’s entitlements and changing the way the society establishes its legitimacy, the dismembering of the welfare state is presented as a technocratic exercise of “balancing the books”. Democracy is neutered in the process and the protests against the cuts are dismissed. The description of the externally imposed Greek and Italian governments as “technocratic” is the ultimate proof of the attempt to make the radical rewriting of the social contract more acceptable by pretending that it isn’t really a political change.

And what’s more, it doesn’t seem it’s being allowed to filter properly into the outside world:

Spain and Portugal are having austerity forced on them because the EU authorities are trying to save (mostly northern European) commercial banks from the consequences of their reckless lending to the Spanish property market. The protesters are demanding national self-determination in the face of rule by bankers. This is something that might interest people in Britain. But it isn’t often framed in those terms.

Big bad business is now getting tough and playing hardball with the aspirations of ordinary people – people who are suffering from fifty percent youth unemployment and from a twenty percent national average; who believe in that national self-determination Dan talks of, whether at a nationalist or simply Spanish-state kind of level; and are simply looking to recover their right to inhabit (where not occupy) their public and municipal spaces of democratic discourse.

I love the Spanish.  I love their ways of thinking.  But sometimes, just sometimes, the fear and baggage gathering around the idea of a truly representative democracy, which in some ways both relate to the still unresolved contradictions of dictatorship, don’t half make it difficult for their elites and their intellectuals to believe in the innate wisdom and savvy straightforwardness of all those citizens in the street.

Citizens who, precisely because of what those elites and intellectuals have engineered between them, might now have to end up living in the street.


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Sep 262012
 
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In what I might call that environment of nurture – that part of society which belongs to children and parents – we spend our lives stumbling haltingly from dependence to independence.  Independence is seen as a wonderful and prized goal – a sequence of opportunities we must grasp in order to fulfil our very selves.  It is in the grasping, the spreading of wings, the leaving of the nest (you can tell how fundamental this idea is to our beings – for the clichés tumble easily and unstoppably out) that we learn how important it is to stand on our own two feet.

From infancy to adolescence, the desire for independence is what drives us to grow.  This desire is then replicated in the lives and livelihoods of businesspeople, professionals, workforces and leaders – we are continually pulling and pushing and stretching that connection which on occasions ties us down and which on occasions – in its breaking – serves to liberate us.

Myself, I am unclear why ideas of independence should separate us so violently.  If the desire for independence is such a prime element of what human beings have to be – whether we like it or not (and often we don’t – for often it hurts emotionally even as it is a necessary fact of life) – why shouldn’t our wider society, and more particularly our politics, aim to facilitate and enable such urges with a far greater degree of positivity than would appear to be the case?

Why shouldn’t it say “Yes, we like that; we like to allow people to change and develop”?

Why must it say “We have to remain in the family home until everyone dies of an undignified fossilisation of spirit, intellect and existential horizons”?

Why does the idea that a nation, ethnic community or geographical grouping of people which wants to create its own space make so many politicians and thinkers so frightened?

Why, essentially, does the most fundamental human instinct of all – an instinct which starts when a baby takes its first steps and continues even to  the point when we take up the challenge of using a walking-stick, wheelchair or Zimmer frame – seem to terrify our intelligentsia so much?

What is it about the scruff-of-the-neck independence of the people that needs to worry those in charge?

If family is the stuff of society (for there’s clearly more than one politician on the right who’d argue that this was the case), and independent behaviours are so important to such families (as young people become those adults who become working and contributing men and women), and if living off the state in evil dependence is the stuff of benefit recipients (who don’t deserve half of the support they’re currently getting), why does the message which seems to feed through when citizens do want to be independent generally consist of a total sense of disapproval?

If Scotland wants to be independent of the rest of the UK  (and only the Scottish can finally say if it’s the case), shouldn’t this be seen as a sign of a wish to strive towards political and societal adulthood?

If Catalunya wants to be independent of Spain (and only the Catalans can say if it’s the case), shouldn’t this be seen as a sign of a desire to expand, broaden and explore its sense of what it might mean?

If anyone anywhere wants to rule over themselves, without any intention to destroy the value and worth of another in that region, why can’t we automatically see this as good, positive and constructive?

Good, positive and constructive in much the same way as when we see that toddler’s learning to walk and run, or that adolescent’s insecure but slowly developing comprehension of self, as being an inevitable part and process of human life and existence; of ultimate growth and real achievement.

If independence is so bad as far as political rule is concerned, and dependence is so bad as far as individual behaviours are concerned, where in God’s name is the coherence, cogency and legitimacy of a society which functions in such a contradictory and broken manner actually going to stand?

We can’t be dependent as individuals but we must be dependent as a society?  Where on earth is the logic in that?

Where – on earth, in any state – is the intelligence in such an astonishing position?


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Sep 132012
 
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My two youngest children, seventeen and fourteen now, are becoming more and more Spanish as they get older.  They miss the ways and wherefores of social integration: the ways people address you and assume your reality.  I had believed life in Britain would’ve become easier as time passed.  But this has most definitely not been the case.

Without wishing to sound too dramatic, they are verging on a state of walking wounded.  They do laugh and enjoy their lives, of course.  I’m not saying they do not.  But Britain – perhaps that’s just England – is such a repetitively insistent society.  Variety is the spice of life – but not in the England we know.

I wonder if this state of walking wounded I speak of isn’t being shared more widely by those who would consider themselves natives.  In the past, we lived our lives in a relatively comfortable environment: our leaders were like us more or less; we were like them; people didn’t fake too much; prejudices were shared.

Now, we find ourselves attacked on two sides simultaneously.

Firstly, from within, and since phonehacking, the Leveson inquiry and now the day-old Hillsborough revelations, it is clear that in what we thought was a representative democracy, the only people truly represented have been the already rich and wealthy.  The police have been found guilty of using their tools against innocent citizens; the tabloids, in particular those belonging to Murdoch’s empire, seem clearly in the thrall of making money over uncovering the truth; and the judiciary and establishment in general have allowed themselves to be distracted by power and status to such an extent that digging deeper was clearer not a goal.  As this by-the-by sign-off from one of the Guardian pieces linked to above indicates, and in relation to Thatcher’s own reign and preoccupations around the terrible events of Hillsborough:

While there was no direct evidence that Thatcher or the cabinet was complicit in a cover-up, it is revealed that the primary concern of the government at the time was the impact of the disaster on its proposed football spectators bills.

The second disorientation I can see, an external one this time, and which is also creating a legion of confused and shocked citizens, comes from the US – a country whose cultural content has to date, quite rightly, entranced and engaged us.  Here, we find that foreign ideas, mostly foreign to our own special form of English socialism, are beginning to take over and invade our very sense of Englishness.  This disorientation leads to feelings of shame and guilt; of anger and fear; of all kinds of uncertainties around not change as such – but bad change as per Cameron and his ideologues.

Is it possible, then, that just as my daughter and son become evermore Spanish in their instincts, growing up as they are into adulthood, and even as they find themselves in permanent and intimate contact with English society, so native-born English people – whatever their ethnicity – are discovering that the invasion of immigrants from distant and different countries which is most affecting their sense of wellbeing happens to be an immigration of ideas more than people?

That is to say, is it only that my children are growing towards their Spanishness and away from their perception of Englishness – or is Englishness for everyone in general growing away from what we might argue it has every right to remain?

And if the latter, is this a case where we can all agree that immigration is undeniably wrong?  An imposition by the already globally powerful with the aim of organising a society which clearly does not belong to them.

Ways of organisation which manifestly benefit them even as such ideas serve to prejudice the rest of us poor souls.

Yes.  Perhaps this is the final stage of globalisation.  Where ideas underpin the future of money over the future of flesh-and-blood human beings.


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