Sunday, 19 November 2017

Almeria Pet Rules (no, no, not 'Pets Rule!')

It might be bad enough walking the pooch with a plastic bag or two in your pocket to avoid the disapproving looks of one's fellow Mojácar-dwellers, but spare a thought for the City-folk of Almería who not only risk a nasty fine if their pooch drops one on the pavement, but from now, they can even be hit with a complaint for allowing their dog to take a whizz against a municipal tree. Where on earth can you take them - the apartment is no good, the stairwell doesn't work, the streets aren't available... it looks like a brisk twice-a-day visit to the city limits.
It's hard having a pet in the city. They need walking if they are a dog, and the reason they need walking is precisely to lighten the load on their kidneys and sundry other organs. Cats are easier, you just open the window and they take off over the roofs, leaving their calling cards strewn among the mess from the pigeons. Goldfish are good, because they pretty much leave their effluent inside the jar.
Elephants can also make a good pet, as there are no laws - at least in Almería - regarding their defecatory rights (however, you should know before you order one, that they eat seven bales of hay every day).
Should one be allowed pets in cities? Maybe not, but they make companions for their owners, some of whom are living alone.
Feral cats, on the other hand, fed by the neighbours... that's not very salubrious I think, and they supplement their packed-lunches with birdies, lizards, snakes and rodents. They also bring fleas to the party...
Returning to the dogs - the local newspaper, the Voz de Almería - recommends that one should use water and bleach to remove the doggy-urine from His Majesty's streets. You may need to get down on your knees with a sponge to fulfill this novel requirement.
The new rules about pets don't stop here. You shouldn't leave the animal on the terrace either 'as it is prohibited to disturb the life of the neighbours with noises emitted by the animals'.
So, no peacocks either.
Leaving food out for the wild animals - the feral cats mentioned above - is now also illegal (and fineable) in the Big Al. So, don't do it!
Lastly, as we clean up another pool of pee pee with our bucket and squeegee, know that any dog over 20 kilos in weight must wear a muzzle when taken outside.
In short, Mojácar-dwellers, you have it good. Stop moaning!

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Propaganda does not deceive people, it merely helps them to deceive themselves

Curious how we blame the Russians for people voting the wrong way, or thinking the wrong thing. A recent article in The Times of London says that the Popovs were solely to blame for the good people of the Greatest of Britains inclining against their better judgement to vote for national suicide, also known as 'Brexit'. Neither the newspapers nor the racists nor the huge gangs of, uh, non-European foreigners taking away their jobs and their women were to blame. The S*n, the Mail and the Express, owned as they are by tax-dodging millionaires, had nothing to do with the sorry outcome. The Russians, you see, influenced the electorate with their tweets, posts and millions of leaflets dropped over the country by their Tupolev bombers.
Not content with this mayhem, the Rooshians also swung the American people away from Hillary - good, honest Hillary - and gave the world Donald Trump. No doubt millions of Rubles were spent by the Czarists to persuade the dumber segment of the USA to support the Orange One. He would never have won otherwise. The Alt-Right news-sites, the tax-dodging millionaires and the hayseeds from West Virginia would never have been enough. Once more, Moscow was responsible for the rout of democracy and human decency.
And so we come to the north-east region of Spain, where once again, the pressure was on from the Castillians with their 'Boycott Catalonia', the monarchists with their 'a por ellos', the newspapers with their single-note reportage and the Government with their imported cops quartered in Tweety-pie ships in the Barcelona and Tarragona harbours while making their grim presence felt.
The Catalonians will have their reasons for supporting an independent republic, but it is unlikely that they were swayed to this course by Russian propaganda as we as repeatedly told by El País and others.
In short, when an electorate does something stupid - let's blame Vladimir Putin.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Media Manipulation (Turns out, it was the Russians all along)

Returning to the subject of El País and its far from balanced reporting, here are the stories about the pesky Russians found in its English-language Internet edition on Tuesday. 

*‘EU agrees to dedicate more resources to fight Russian propaganda. Interference from Russia in the Catalan independence crisis has spiked concerns about the manipulation of public opinion’. Here.

*‘How the Russian meddling machine won the online battle of the illegal referendum’. Here

*‘Government confirms intervention of Russian hackers in Catalan crisis’. Here.

*‘The zombies of disinformation. The global financial crisis and the information technology revolution have created a perfect storm. Governments must act’. Editorial. Here.

*‘Romanian euro-deputy: “Catalonia is another case of malicious Russian meddling”. Here.

*‘Crisis in Catalonia. “Spain needs to take the Russian threat very seriously’. Here.

*‘European Union fights the Kremlin’s propaganda machine. Team that detects and fights Russian cyber-attacks warns of campaign to aggravate Catalan crisis’. Here.

...and of course: *‘Spanish minister links Julian Assange meeting to Catalan independence drive’. Here.

The Catalonian people are evidently unable to think for themselves and..., that Madrid stuff? It was all just a fantasy.

The cartoon says - roughly - 'these days, it's hard to tell the difference between real news and satire'. 

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Don't Believe what You Read

“News is something someone wants suppressed. Everything else is just advertising” – Lord Northcliff.
There are several ways of manipulating the news, if one has either the money or the power to do so. The government, evidently, has both. This is why one should cast about to see different news sources and to keep a healthy dose of suspicion when reading something that appears improbable. For North American news, there’s Snopes (here) to help winnow out the silliness.
Unfortunately, as more people begin to distrust the mainstream news, they become attracted to news-sites that can guarantee to serve them the news that attracts their particular prejudice (see Fox News, Breitbart or OKDiario for far-right examples, The Express for pro-Brexit, Rapture Ready for Christian end-of-times news and Mother Jones for the far-left).
Newspapers have the biggest problems today. The falling sales and the rising costs of production mean they must take any income they can find. These days, it costs at least one euro per copy just in print bills. Free newspapers (we have a few in Spain) are even more sorely placed – the English or German language ones can’t even distribute by mail-box, so are obliged to add editorial in the hope of making them attractive to the reader. But – who pays the printing bill?
The Spanish government, which apparently spends 60 million euros a year in ‘institutional advertising’ (‘Eat Andalusian food’, ‘Visit Galicia’ etc), plus all the autonomous and local governments with a similarly vast sum (we wonder how much Catalonia spends?) expecting one thing in return. Keep the editorial more or less treacly.
El País in English has an astonishing article flatly refuting this here. They deny calls ‘ say that this newspaper is acting under the orders of the central government during this Catalan crisis. And that is a serious affront, because the independence of this newspaper and its professionals are completely protected from any interference from the powers-that-be by a charter that is an example among the European press...’. You should see the ‘comments’ to the article...
Only a week before, El País had fired John Carlin for writing a pro-Catalonian viewpoint in the Times of London.
A kind of media manipulation is called astroturfing in the USA. ‘Grass roots opinion’, if you like, but contrived yet sold as genuine. An article in Vozpópuli considers how the Government in Spain employs this technique: fake news items are placed in smaller outlets and are picked up on the social media (perhaps with a little help) to then become huge.  Venezuela anyone? Esperanza Aguirre, the regional boss of the PP in 2009, had 45,000 Twitter accounts, apparently.
How much is a full page advert in El País? 50,000€. The Government with its regular campaigns, will of course be getting it much cheaper (who, we wonder, gets the rápel – the cash kickback on all major campaigns?).
Here’s a recent example. You can find these and similar adverts in any newspaper from La Voz de Almería to El Mundo. Does this all make El País a bad newspaper? Of course not. Some of Spain's best columnists write for it and it is considered as the leading opinion maker. 
Which makes it all the more important that its opinions and information are accurate.
As for Government-owned media, like the national RTVE, things are even easier. Here’s ‘23 examples of Manipulation on the TVE news over Catalonia’ from VerTele (or, should we believe it anyway?)
Here’s another problem with today’s news: ‘...Real investigative journalism – the kind that blows the lid off criminal or unethical activity and goes deep in the trenches was done at a loss – as a public service, to establish credibility and fulfil its duty as the Fourth Estate. The monetary gains from this kind of journalism aren’t immediately apparent – the profits are intangible, and can’t easily be put on a spreadsheet. So, when the news outlets were bought by larger corporations, the value of this intangible was lost. The overseers are interested in the bottom line, and if it can’t be directly linked to dollars, they trim the fat. Bye-bye in-depth investigative reporting, hello gotcha journalism...’. From Flashback here.
And lastly:
'Censorship is not always committed by an individual in some secret totalitarian government room, editing uncomfortable truths out of reporting and books. In a democracy where the vast majority of the news is financed by advertising or corporate sponsorships, the subtle censor sits in the back of a journalist's, producer's, editor's or owner's mind.
Censorship in a corporatized democracy is a tacit understanding not to offend advertisers, which means that that the nation sees reality through the distorted lens of business or political interests' (no attribution).

Monday, 23 October 2017

Faith in Numbers

The recent kind words of the Spanish foreign minister in an interview with the BBC have been picked up by the press as being the end of all doubts: the Brits can stay in Spain following Brexit and all is fine with the world. From The Guardian we read that:
'...Alfonso Dastis said his government would ensure that the lives of Britons in Spain were not disrupted in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Spain is host to the largest number of British citizens living in the EU (308,805) and just under a third (101,045) are aged 65 and over, according to the Office for National Statistics...'.
Two things here - firstly - many non-EU foreigners live in Spain quite happily, who doesn't have an American friend or a Norwegian neighbour? They just have a few more formalities to deal with than EU foreigners. Work-permits, visas and no vote, for example. But, sure, they can live here.
The other thing, of course, is the numbers airily quoted as Gospel: One million Brits, 800,000 Brits, 610,000 and, here we are: 308,805. Depending, of course, on which authority strikes your fancy.
The ‘real number’ of Brits living in Spain, as of January 2017 and according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), is just 236,669 Britons registered on the padrón (The Guardian figure is from 2014). Now, we know this number is highly inaccurate – as the Ministry of the Interior attempts to winnow it down by asking the town halls to check and remove ‘clutter’ (the town of Mojácar for instance is aiming at removing around 1,400 foreigners from its current list). At the same time, many Britons don’t bother to register on the padrón in the first place, with the unhappy result that the only thing we know about the full-time population of Brits in Spain is that it most certainly does not add up to the anal number supplied by the INE above.  

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Far-Right

In times of struggle and unrest, violence often breaks out, violence wrapped in a flag: the skin heads of the far-right. Remarkably, Spain doesn’t have much of a far-right presence by European standards (although there are a few ‘alt-right’ newspapers). There are a number of small poky parties that briefly flitter through the news. We have the oddly named Falange Española de los JONS, the Alianza Nacional, the Movimiento Católico Español and a number of others (Wiki here). There is also the Alternativa Española, which was touted by the British Conservative and Eurosceptic Daniel Hannan as the party for the British residents to vote for in the European elections of 2009, but thankfully they are all ‘small potatoes’ without any voice in the Spanish Cortes. Yet, within the Partido Popular, and without naming names (beyond, let’s say, a previous Minister of the Interior), there are without doubt some who could be more comfortable in a formation further to the right. Some PP voters, too.
With the situation in Catalonia, it is a perfect moment for certain fiery individuals to reach for the flag and the knuckledusters, and a number of demonstrations, fights and arrests have been recorded, usually dismissed in the Media as coming from the ‘Ultras’ – football hooligans, in short.  Twelve arrests of Ultras were recently reported in Valencia: political prisoners? Hardly! Another 53 have been ‘recognised’ by the Mossos in Barcelona: Hitler salutes and swastika people. Uggh!
See, we didn't even mention the foreigners (yet).
Ultras, skinheads and fascist salutes are one thing – but in a country without a far right presence in the corridors of power, a country with long memories and sinister religious associations – the question must be faced: is there room here for a ‘Frente Nacional’?