Friday, 29 September 2017

Build-up to the Catalonia Crisis

The Catalonian referendum on independence, illegal or not, will (or perhaps won’t) be held on Sunday. The results may or may not give Carles Puigdemont the support to go ahead with his independence from Spain. They probably won’t be very conclusive, as the Spanish authorities are doing their utmost to put an oar in the proceedings and furthermore, not everyone who has an opinion will necessarily wish to vote in what is generally thought to be an illegal plebiscite.  Difficulties are mounting, with, for example, ten million voting papers located by the Guardia Civil and confiscated. However, if Puigdemont considers his plans sufficiently thwarted, he may call for a unilateral declaration of independence.
Then again, he may be arrested in the next few days, becoming either a political prisoner or a secessionist traitor (depending on who you ask).
His police are now under the orders of the Guardia Civil (a military force nominally under the Ministry of Defence but in reality directed by the Ministry of the Interior). Many of the Catalonian Mossos d’ Escuadra are unwilling to take orders from their new bosses.
That fellow over there in Catalonia - he just called you 'fatty'.
Odd things are happening: apparently, Catalonian farmers will be leaving their tractors parked outside the voting stadia from Friday – to stop other large vehicles from parking there... although the Senior Prosecutor’s Office in Catalonia has ordered the Mossos to close down all of the voting stations by Saturday... Many of the national police – anything up to 10,000 of them have been transferred from the rest of Spain – are staying on three Looney Tunes cruise ships until at least October 3rd: while the local stevedores refuse to supply the ships, and the owners, Warner Bros., insist on Tweetie Pie being covered with a canvas.  The lowly panaderos meanwhile are said to be the secret distributors of the dreaded cardboard ballot boxes...  as the Supreme Court bans the use of public buildings across Catalonia this Sunday.
The rest of Spain is generally enthusiastic about quelling these troubles which could easily escalate, not only in Catalonia, but also in the Basque Country. And for some one-sided propaganda on the issue, try El País in English here.
There are also a number of boycotts going on against Catalonian products – which raises the question: are the Catalonian people Brother Spaniards or not?
We should have a clearer picture in a few days time, but we have to say that, like Pablo Iglesias, we expect the weekend to end in riots, rubber bullets and tears....

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Ryanair Cancellations

Few people enjoy flying these days, with no room for your legs, a small and sticky child in the seat next to you and a talkative mother making up the row. Behind, perhaps you will be rewarded with a loud collection of still-merry drunks and in front, inevitably somebody who has already put their seat back that full three inches before the plane has even taken off.
Flying seems to be an inconvenience that one must endure to top and tail one’s holiday, or visit, or business. At least (if nothing goes wrong at the airport) it has the virtue of being both quick and of course safe.  
Of all of the carriers, Ryanair seems to be a particularly uncomfortable choice to experience. No doubt it’s a fiver cheaper, but one must queue in an inelegant shuffle, with hand luggage only – as the charges begin to mount if there’s a suitcase, sit in the flying equivalent of a London underground train – and one now hears of couples being split up by the staff, and carry-on luggage being reduced to a hand-bag.
But well done that Michael O’Leary, who has made himself not only very rich but, as we have seen recently, also highly unpopular.
Ryanair, for a spurious and improbable reason (the staff hadn’t had their hols this year?) has just stopped some two thousand flights across Europe between now and the end of October, putting severe impositions on many thousands of customers. The company has a full list of affected flights here. They say laconically ‘Up to 50 flights a day (less than 2% of flights) have been cancelled for the next six weeks’.
Many of these are connections to Spain.
From the Facua website comes ‘FACUA asks AESA (State Agency for Air Security) to sanction Ryanair for announcing mass cancellations’. The consumer organisation is looking for full compensation for travellers. Ryanair says it has twenty million euros earmarked precisely for passenger compensation.
It appears that the real reason for all this terrible publicity, at least partly, is a sudden haemorrhage of 140 pilots to another discount airline: Norwegian Air.
For the passengers concerned, for their families, their hotels, their brief holiday, their business appointments and their bookings, this really quite ridiculous situation is unacceptable.

Almería Needs More Wind!

There a few uglier views, I think, than a giant windmill park. Those tall white propellers that gather on the tops of hills and provide electricity for our daily use. In Almería, which has enough electricity already thanks to the pollutive oil-fired horror in Carboneras, we are inexplicably blessed with a large and unfortunately visible collection of wind farms. Twenty four of them to be precise.
For those who would not agree with the first paragraph, some good news:
Almería is building more of these things to join the ones currently spinning away (and winking their red lights at night) in Serón, Vélez-Rubio, Abla, Abrucena, Nacimiento, Enix, Alboloduy, Turrillas, Tíjola and Las Tres Villas.
Thirty eight new parks are on the drawing board.
According to Almería Hoy (here), which declines to say where the new wind farms will be located,  'The energy generated by los parque eólicos currently produce enough energy to cover the needs of more than 700,000 citizens while avoiding the emission of about half a ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, equivalent to removing some 220,000 vehicles from service'.
So, with 62 populous wind farms stretching across the province, we should all soon be able to see a giant windmill or two from our balconies.
We wonder why we need so much energy - are they going to close the power station in Carboneras?

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Who Complains?

Spain is a country where no one appears to buy the press any more (El País 96,600 copies sold daily here). Perhaps we get our news online, perhaps we watch it on the telly, and perhaps we don’t tune in at all.
With this shortfall in information, it could be that many citizens either don’t know who represents them and what their rights are, or maybe they just don’t care about such things.
It’s certainly the case that the aggressive consumer associations who look after us have an uphill job. Both Facua (here) and the Organización de Consumidores y Usuarios (here) fight numerous campaigns in the consumers’ interest. We have institutional consumer offices (see your phonebook) and even the ombudsman, the Defensor del Pueblo (the national one is here). All of them are working tirelessly for our protection, no doubt.
But what happens if the consumers aren’t particularly interested?
It is of course true that we customers have the chance for complaining sheets if we do so request for them, but, and here’s the remarkable thing: no one ever does.
The cost of electricity is so high that just for the potencia contratada (the maximum power consumption allowed to a customer), we pay the equivalent of a monthly dinner for two (well, not exactly the kind of dinner that shareholders in the power companies are accustomed to). The water bill meanwhile is raised apparently arbitrarily (my home factura suddenly went up 50% last month!). Then we suffer from the absurd government policy regarding alternative energy (decided, evidently, by the power companies), the clausulas suelo, the bank rip-offs, the phone companies, air-pollution and so on...
Over in Granada, a doctor known as Spiriman puts up some spirited criticism of the Junta de Andalucía’s health service cuts (through a mixture of rage and comedy). See his latest video here. On the TV, El Gran Wyoming (here) uses comedy while Jordi Évole (here) sticks to hard research and preparation. All good, but still the consumer is slow to complain.
Here is Facua from their book ‘Timocracia’ on ‘The 39 fines that make it profitable for businesses to defraud consumers until they are caught’: we read ‘...In Spain, ripping off consumers is so low in risk that even an apprentice can be a successful bean-counter. After almost forty years of democracy, the DNA of the Spaniards still does not incorporate the culture of claiming their rights as consumers. The percentage of citizens who report fraud is very low, and most don't know what to do when the company turns a deaf ear or says no...’.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Social Media makes us Stronger

We are careful not to say – rather, to write – the wrong thing. Oh, someone on Facebook will set up a hue and cry because we didn’t ‘like’ the doggy picture, or we failed to support some post about alternative medicine or tattoos. We could be ostracised – which in Facebook terms means we are ‘unfollowed’.
We support this, we don’t like that... it seems that this large group of foreigners which we belong to and which has chosen Spain to live – a group which has little background to share, coming as it does from all over northern Europe – must weld itself into a cohesive group, by championing the most trite causes they can find. Buddhism (a charming philosophy) is shaken like a stick by an angry dog. ‘Don’t hurt the ants’, says someone after I posted a picture of my kitchen covered in the little creatures. ‘Put down peppermint oil and they’ll go’, says another. Go where... into the bathroom? Too late anyway, I’d already sprayed them with Matón. ‘I’ll have a word with her’, posts another, referring to some evident newcomer who did ‘the wrong thing’ in some public function attracting many hostile Facebook comments in the process. Some of us émigrés want to criticise the large number of immigrants in their country of origin, without noticing the irony. I am shown on my regular visits to Facebook ugly racist propaganda from hate groups, improbable items from fake news sites and disturbing pictures of mastectomies and twisted bodies: just type ‘amen’ they say.
Others seek to chastise those they don’t know who have hurt some animal (I got one today about a fellow who beat his dog two years ago... in Brazil)! We must be suitably shocked and write imprecations and insults (and, for some reason, overuse the epithet ‘moron’). We are introduced into vigilantism. We have become pious and grievous.
Other regular subjects, which attract an enormous tail of comments, include ‘we really must learn Spanish’, ‘bullfighting is bad’, ‘we’re just guests here’ and ‘would anyone please adopt a three-legged nine year old dog called Jaws’.
In the old days (just a few years ago), our waspish criticism of others was hidden by a pen-name, and the ‘forums’ shuddered delicately as we stormed and raged. But now, with our own name not only prominent on each comment but linked to our home-page, one would imagine things would be more settled. Kitty pictures and photos of the loved ones, swimming or posing good-naturedly for the camera. Useful local information perhaps. A sunrise photograph (well, OK, we’ve seen enough of those). Yet the ratio of these posts to hostile political attacks, crude jokes, eviscerated animal photos or endless threads about nothing much in particular... means that some of us – me anyway – are spending too much time on Facebook (or, at the very least, I need to filter out my ‘likes’ and ‘friends’ lists). I arrive at this opinion just as Movistar calls to say they are upping my service to fibre-optic and fifty mega per second. Oh boy, I’ll be able to watch those Facebook videos now!
By the way, ahem, don’t forget to check the Business over Tapas Facebook page!