Aug 272014

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.

Jul 252013

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  As I suggested yesterday, the sweet joy of summer breaks can be swiftly withdrawn by life’s round-the-corner turbulences.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.

Jul 242013

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.)

Jun 052013

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.

Apr 272013

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?



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

** SICAV as per Wikipedia.

*** EuroVegas as per the Guardian newspaper.

10 Economic Mysteries

Apr 232013

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

Feb 072013

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.

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.

Feb 032013

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.

Dec 172012

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.

Dec 082012

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 …

Sep 302012

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.

Sep 132012

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.

Jul 022012

“Moneyball” is a brilliant film, based on a groundbreaking book.  It describes how a small baseball team found itself unable to compete with its richer competitors, and decided to use a system called sabermetrics to analyse with intelligence and data exactly what factors really won baseball matches.  This led to the team breaking an all-time record and winning twenty games on the trot.

The key was teamwork.  Instead of looking for big hitters, star players and expensive egos, the moneyball system looked to see how several cheaper players might contribute to the job that formerly belonged to just one or two.  Not only did the results not depend on the firepower and consistency of that individual – always liable to momentary failure at the worst possible time – but they also built a team spirit which allowed for greater resilience and longer-term results.

Yesterday, Spain won the Euro 2012 by beating Italy 4-0.  Iniesta was named man of the match and man of the tournament.  The squad of the tournament consisted of ten Spanish players.  Perhaps the most notable feature of this list was the exclusion on the one hand of Fernando Torres – Golden Boot for the tournament, a typically expensive big-hitter striker of yore – and the inclusion of Fábregas, the so-called false number 9, on the other.

It’s clear that something changed in last night’s game – and perhaps not just on the field of football.  Organisational structures are common to many areas of human endeavour: football is beautiful for many reasons, of course, but – in particular – for how it coordinates systems and individual brilliance.  And the lessons we take away with us from Spain’s victory this year are profounder than in the World Cup in 2010.

FC Barcelona and the Spanish national team have often been compared over the past few years: it’s hardly surprising as so many Barcelona players play for their country.  But the massive change between 2010 and 2012 – and the logical conclusion to which Spain/Barcelona arrived at in Kiev as they thundered past an otherwise highly effective Italian team – was the dispensing with the need for big-hitter game-changers such as Torres/Villa/Messi – and their substitution with a collegiate brilliance based not, as in the original moneyball, on cheaper players but – rather – on equally expensive players who score goals in organisational teams of movement of three, four or five individuals.  Or, indeed, a structure where six midfielders replace the need for any striker.

The advantages?  As already explained.  This season, Messi’s individual brilliance scored around eighty goals for Barcelona.  Even so, Barcelona lost the Spanish league to Ronaldo and Casillas’ individual brilliance and the Champions League to Chelsea’s gritty doggedness and Didier Drogba.  And so the playing-field was allowed to be more level than perhaps even Guardiola understood; even as Messi – selfless and humble to an extreme, it is also true – nevertheless stopped, through his very brilliance, the manager from going as far with his system as he might have.

This tournament, Portugal depended on Ronaldo and Nani’s brilliance – and yet lost to Spain under Del Bosque’s stubborn refusal to give up on his system and his instincts.

Last night, Italy were looking to Balotelli and Pirlo to provide the flashes of magic which, in the past, have overturned matches.

They didn’t – and it wasn’t.

A couple of TV commentators argued that Italy had been tired out by their match with Germany.

The truth of the matter is that Italy were deliberately worn down by their Spanish opposition’s collegiate and selfless passing game.

The truth of the matter is that when Torres was brought on in the dying minutes of the game, it was Del Bosque ruthlessly pulling out his estoca and administering the final death blows to an enormously disadvantaged Italy.

Messi and Ronaldo – the Torres of a couple of years ago – are the sorts of reasons we used to watch football.  Wait and see if they can pull it off; wait and see if they can show us how brilliant they are.  Against all the odds.  In the thick of it.  But Spain has done something utterly different in its composed game of cat and mouse: the cat is no longer the big-hitter striker playing against defences he is paid enormous amounts of money to destroy.  The cat is now a pack of wolves: all working with instinctive understanding; all working via an astonishing synchronicity.

I think it was Casillas who observed before the match – on the point of helping to achieve the footballing grandeur of three tournaments in a row (much as our discreet baseball team did all those years ago in “Moneyball” when it won those twenty games on the trot) – that the Spanish team had been “educated to win”.

And just think what that short phrase actually means – the implications of those few words: in the midst of huge achievement, a recognition of someone else’s legacy; a recognition of heritage; a recognition of one’s true place in a societal world; and an amazing humility which makes the team so much greater in its ability to work together than any individually brilliant players of the past.

Iniesta is better than Messi and Ronaldo because Alba, a Spanish defender, under the system which Spain uses, was able to score one of the most extraordinary goals of modern times.  And the goal that Silva scored – a goal whose lead-up simply disintegrated the compact Italian defence – belonged, in the short space of several seconds, to Fábregas and Iniesta too.

Moneyball applied to football in everything but the money.


Now compare all the above to England’s performance, both on the field – out in penalties at the quarter-final stage – and off (more here).

A little unfair, perhaps.  And some of you will point to the mess that Spain is in – both politically and financially.

But I’d like to extend the analogy a little, if you will permit me.  My thesis is that throughout most of its history the culture (or lack of it) of England’s football team has mirrored Anglo-Saxon corporate institutions.  In their individualism; in their top-down hierarchy; in their dependence on managerialist whizzkids who are relied upon by unseeing shareholders to pull the rabbit out of the hat time and time again.  The Ronaldos of the corporate world, if you like.  The very antithesis of the selfless and communicative collegiate Spanish.

So what can we learn from the Spanish experience – and can we apply it to 21st century banking?

I once worked as a language provider for a Spanish company.  This company had perhaps 3000 workers in the area where I lived and worked.  A relatively easy job to get contracts?  Well, no.  There were perhaps ten factories in the group, none with more than 250-300 workers.  No one worked at a factory in particular for more than two or three years; even managers got moved around to avoid stagnation, boredom and cliques building up.  We had to deal with ten training managers – each with similar criteria, for the company was very systematic in its common culture; and yet each also with a very clear knowledge of individual needs amongst their workforces.

A kind of set of Spanish football teams: small units which moved around; which did the work other companies assigned to humongous big-hitter factories; which shared common services such as management and sales – but where the hard work, the tackling of contracts, was done in an entirely collegiate manner.

Was done so that the many heads were released to do better and more sustainably over time what the highly paid geniuses did in other places.

A system, yes – but a system which also recognised everyone’s individual needs, abilities and rights to be heard and trained up.  To collaborate and convene bright ideas; to bring to the surface their occurrences too.  To become, in fact, collegiate geniuses in their own right.

Compare the above with the apparent corruption of British banking.  Twenty banks, they say.  Corporate behemoths where the higher up and more complex the job, the fewer people are involved.  Until right at the very top, on that privileged pinhead, we get a pinhead of a CEO running the show on behalf of his or her own.

And all with the excuse that such structures were necessary to preserve the integrity and governance of highly regulated industries.  When, in fact, such pinhead structures have allegedly led to an unashamed immorality and lawbreaking on a scale none of us who have worked at the bottom of the pile could ever have imagined.

Now compare British banking – even, more widely, British corporates of a certain kind (though I’m sure not all; not every single one) – and just see what we’ve achieved with this Anglo-Saxon model of “With one leap Jack is free!”.

An English football team which is run like a British bank perhaps?  A group of individuals which consistently misunderstands the meaning of teamwork.  For teamwork isn’t a question of subsuming the instincts of the many to the diktats of the few.  Rather, it’s a question of creating a system which “educates to win” … but not just win – also win honourably, win well, win for the benefit of the many.

So isn’t it time we not only followed the Spanish example in football – applying the principles of moneyballing to our very best players and not just the competent – but also in corporate organisation?

Humility, honour, belief in oneself; efficiency, honesty, simplicity; respect, hard work, truly common goals; and – above all – a humane philosophy which serves to release the abilities of all those “educated to win” …

Sounds a helluva lot better than this, anyhow.

Don’t you think?

Jul 022012

There’s been a bit of a competition on Twitter to think up #BobDiamondSongs.  The first half of the title of this post is my contribution.

But I’m not going to labour the point: all I can say, from my humble position as citizen and occasional voter, is that Vince Cable got it right when he called the City a massive cesspit.  In the meantime, all this talk of the financial services sector reminds me of a bar that once used to exist (may still do for all I know) in the northern Spanish city of Burgos.

I think it was called La Bolsa (the Stock Market) – and it had a most intriguing thesis: the prices of drinks varied according to demand.  So if, for example, you wanted a whisky and didn’t mind which brand, you looked up at the moving price list above the bar itself and chose the best-priced one at the time of asking; that is to say, the one fewest people were buying at the time.

Brilliant idea, eh?  The laws of supply and demand applied to drinking.

I do wonder now, however, if it wasn’t all fixed: they knew which stock they needed to shift and so priced the drinks not in terms of demand but in terms of supply.

Is this what happened at Barclays – and perhaps twenty other banks?  I don’t know – and am beginning to not care.  I can really truly understand why so many young people chose to drop out and create a counter-culture in the Sixties.  That’s exactly how I feel right now.  I spent almost seven years of my life working under the top-down heavy governance which my banking employer imposed on us: no social media access; no Skype or chat; no freedom to show initiative; no chance to imagine better worlds.  All in the name of the need to follow process and procedures.

And all the time we were being screwed down to our chairs, and were being told that we couldn’t do this or that because laws structured everything we were, the people at the top were screwing the customers and a wider society: fixing interest rates in their own interest; fiddling the books, in fact – whilst the rest of Western civilisation was burning.

All I can say is that I am glad the two football teams in yesterday’s Euro 2012 cup final were from the southern half of Europe.

Those most disastrously affected from what I assume will be an ever-growing cesspit of scandals – to paraphrase Cable – deserve some kind of space where they can remind us of the grand culture, intelligence and beauty they also represent.

So here’s to Italy and Spain – two countries which yesterday added so much to our store of footballing knowledge.

A massive olé from myself, my Spanish wife and my three Spanish children.


Further reading: a few days ago, I wrote on the subject of tiki-taka and bullfighting.  If you haven’t managed to read these two pieces, you can catch up here and here.

The mathematics of honour, indeed.  We need more of that.

Oct 202011

Our children are all Spanish.  They were born in Spain – and profess an undying love for it.  They are Spanish in a way that I can never be – even as I have Mediterranean blood and spent sixteen years of my life living and working there.

For the first twelve years we lived in the northern city of Burgos.  Burgos has a beautiful river running down its centre.  The green banks are mechanically sprinkled.  Wild grasses are kept at bay through municipal care.  The burgaleses were always proud of how much money they spent on picking up rubbish in the streets.  You can’t change the Spanish you see – and, at least then, they didn’t try.

I had many good friends in that part of the world for many years.  One was a man called Emilio – he was both an English student of mine as well as our paediatrician.  He oversaw easy times and he oversaw difficult times.  He was a wise man – realistic, thoughtful, intelligent and analytical.  The kind of steady hand all new parents need.

I remember the battle we had to go through to name our firstborn.  We wanted to give him a Spanish first name and a Croatian second name.  The authorities at the Registry Office in Burgos – then still pretty starchy and conservative (Burgos has only – in the last decade – removed the names of Franco’s generals from their streets and squares) – tried to insist it would only make life more confusing for our son to have two forenames.  This, despite the Spanish tradition of often having three forenames.

Anyhow, we did as instructed: we obtained written confirmation from the then Yugoslav embassy that the name we had chosen existed; lied that there was no translation of the name into Spanish; and with great persistence managed to give our child the names we wished for.

I forget now, as time has gone by, the absurdity of all this to-ing and fro-ing – the bureaucratic insistence on telling us what he should be called; the foolish and small-minded attitudes it all inscribed.  But one thing I have never quite forgotten – and which my previous post today has savagely brought back to mind – is the unnatural fear I had at the time that our babies would be taken away from us.

Or if not taken away from us – then swapped.

We did have the comfort that having a good friend like Emilio provides.  And we really had no evidence to presuppose that anything of the sort might happen.  You do have to remember that only three years prior to the birth of our eldest, I came across – for the first time – those military-looking civil guards who would be stationed outside the main post office, machine-guns clutched in clearly bored hands.

It all seemed a little over the top for a young man recently escaped from what I might at the time have described as “Dixon of Dock Green”-land.  Even where this land had spent a decade under the rule of someone like Margaret Thatcher.

In most things, therefore, Spain was a release from a previous existence.  But in terms of security; having to be fingerprinted for the first time in my life; carrying an ID card; having a police officer tell me he had means of finding out how much money I had in my account … all these things, you can understand, as a foreigner abroad, kind of spooked me just a little.

So there were enough culture shocks to knock oneself a little off beam – to make oneself a little sensitive to different ways of doing. 

Enough curious matters which – in essence – surely were not curiosities at all.

What really spooked me, though, was the Spanish health service.  Mixed up in amongst the state hospitals, and working alongside proper nurses, there were these silent and untrained nuns – a generally unpaid workforce (or so I believe – though correct me if I am wrong) who would pad around the establishments, often supplanting the work of the overworked staff.  Often working entirely alone and unsupervised too.  It somehow seemed (though at the time unreasonably, because without them nothing would have worked) a very very strange set of dynamics.

Strange no longer.  Not in the light of Spain’s stolen babies.

And I am just glad we escaped unscathed.

For the current Spanish government is investigating cases of stolen babies as recent as 1990.

And our firstborn was born in 1991.

Sep 042011

I hardly ever use nicknames – unless, that is, the individual in question seems to like their nickname better than their real name.

In fact, if truth be told, I rarely use names at all – my memory for names and faces is pretty poor and, used as I was whilst a teacher in Spain to being greeted out of the blue by ex-students from five years previous, I simply gave up on remembering the blessed things: far preferring to practise that professional teacher’s smile which readily comes to one in such circumstances.

And I’ve always felt at a disadvantage in this kind of face-and-name blindness of mine.  In the corporation I used to work for I saw people who exhibited a brilliant ability to remember such details rise to the very top echelons.  It seems that success is assured when your first impression lasts – and the words that pop out of your mouth manage to be so effusively personal and warm.

But names are one thing – so what about nicknames?  My wife’s family, for example, has a long history in nicknaming their nearest and dearest.  A couple of examples to give you an idea: first, you had “Los Bacalaos” – next-door neighbours who’d sun themselves religiously on the balcony most afternoons where the weather permitted.  Bacalao is Spanish for cod – and the nickname I believe came from the Faroe Islands’ tradition of laying out cod to dry in salt.

Another neighbour, meanwhile, is called the “Sobrasada”sobrasada being a very greasy and fatty kind of spread and filling for pastries.

I shan’t go into the details of why this name might have been considered appropriate for the individual it describes.

But more than the details or examples themselves, I find myself interested by the cultural differences.  I don’t really see or notice the habit of nicknaming people here in Britain – it doesn’t really happen, does it?  Meanwhile, at the drop of a hat, my wife is more than likely – without malice of any kind – to describe someone as “El Gafitas” (Glasses Guy would be the most exact translation I guess) when wishing to draw my attention to someone.

Or when simply predicting who might win the next round in a reality TV show of some kind or another.

It’s this casual redescribing of someone – even when their real name is known – that makes me wonder, when we do such things, whether it’s a question of possessing someone or making someone closer.  That is to say, is it a question of owning someone or – instead – curiously befriending someone?  By imposing a nickname on someone – or even something – are we, in fact, serving to distance them from their own reality or, actually, bringing them closer to our own?

And is this truly a Spanish/Mediterranean/non-Northern European tendency – or am I simply oblivious to it when it occurs in my own language?