"First impressions of the Djemaa el Fna at night, Marrakech" - Matt Hetherington
"A bit smaller than I expected (seves me right for expecting!), but wonderful in a dark, random, melancholy, chaotic kind of way -- "The Assembly of the Dead" / "The Mosque of Nothing", as the name translates after all. Within sight (i.e. 500 m) of the massive Koutoubia minaret, on a site that was a place of execution apparently well into the 19th century -- a pagan, almost lawless place. Part cheap-thrill carnival, part nuthouse, part music festival, part anit-Islam release-valve, part gay cruise, part pickpocket paradise, part tourist trap, part country fair. And more. I found it mildly predictable after 10 minutes, slightly sad, kind of inspiring, a bit frightening, strangely instructive, otherworldly, and tiring. But Ill be back there tomorrow night."
Video: interview with Nicole Millar
This week I had a very enjoyable interview with Nicole Millar on her English language program for El Punt Avui TV.
We talked a lot about parenting and more generally about our lives here.
"Why go the public way? (Part one)" - My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine
There are people across the planet (and especially in the USA) who say that anarchy or virtually no government involvement in our lives is the best situation for the individual.
What they don't recognise is that without important services for the public, run by the public sector all that is left is the whims of a small number of the richest to decide what the rest of us get and how much it will cost.
Since the collapse of communism as an economic alternative to capitalism in the 1990's and mainstream acceptance of market forces as the single dominant principle following the Thatcher/Reagan era, it has been fashionable to see the public sector as the biggest problem to deal with.
A recent example proves exactly the opposite. The financial disaster that has swept across Europe since 2008 has shown us that terrible errors made in the banking sector demanded huge amounts of taxpayer's money to prop-up and compensate for excessive risk-taking by finance "experts."
The ideologues who argued against government regulation and oversight are the very same people who have put out their hands for government bailouts for their shaky financial institutions.
What this continuing disaster clearly shows is that those making decisions in the private sector are at least as likely to stuff up as those in the public sector.
And they are in fact even more likely to make judgements that are in their own self-interest rather than any notion of the common good because that is the nature of business.
To survive they must make profits. In smaller operations the overriding concern is to keep the books balanced and not go into the red too often or for too long. In larger companies with shareholders their main job is to make sure that these shareholders get significant dividends - good returns on their investments. All other matters are minor when compared to the financial bottom line.
Yes, there are some corporations and some bosses who are ethical and treat their employees well but especially in multinational companies those in ultimate control (ie. owners and shareholders) often do not even live in the same cities or even the same countries as the workers who create the revenue for them. Their greatest prioritiy is to produce more wealth for the already wealthy.
On the other hand, there is the public sector. Governments routinely fail the people they are supposed to be accountable to - not shareholders, but instead citizens, or at least voters.
We should not confuse the incompetence or corruption in governments of every kind with incompetence or corruption in the private sector because there are some crucial differences.
In theory, every few years electors in democratic countries have the opportunity to remove governments that let them down, and in fact we often do this.
When the political system itself fails its citizens, such as in the two-party system that has caused many of us to question democracy itself (including in Spain, the UK and the USA) an alternative should arise before too long, provided that the populace takes a strong enough interest in how well it is governed. In Spain, Podemos is one example of this.
The 20th century had one fundamental battle of ideas that ran through it and that was the battle over how much government we would have in our lives and why.
One extreme end of the spectrum held that complete state control of the economy was ideal but across China, Russia and Eastern Europe this has proved to be too much to bear.
So-called free-marketeers countered that this proved that government "interference" in the supply and demand of goods and services (including the supply of labour) was mistaken - that it is somehow counter to human nature.
In this column next month I will be arguing why it is they who are in fact mistaken.
[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, February 2015.]
"Blue Black Friday" - My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today
Just last month we witnessed the latest craze from the USA arrive here.
Without doubt, the Black Friday sales will now be an annual event and will certainly grow in intensity each year.
If anything accurately represents pure, raw capitalism it was the sight of crowds of people surging and barging though department store doors. Some had bulging eyes.
Some were smiling in anticipation or possibly relief at finally being inside the gates of the consumerist's palace. Other people were clearly using their arms and shoulders to shove slower shoppers out of their way.
In the UK police had to restrain mobs at some Tesco stores and arguments and fights broke out in branches of ASDA (owned by U.S. giant Wal-Mart.) Four arrests for violence were made in Greater Manchester alone.
One report quoted a 56-year-old hairdresser on an overnight trip to a Sainsbury supermarket saying that the scenes were "crazy" and "disgusting". "I got a Dyson [vacuum cleaner], but I don't even know if I want it. I just picked it up," she said.
This pandemonium is aside from the online sales that also form part of the Black Friday marketing push.
Amazon was the first to introduce the trend into Europe in 2010 and this year in Germany and France a number of major retailers (including FNAC) publicised the day and offered claims of reductions.
In Spain, El Corte Inglés went even further than its rivals and hosted a four-day fiesta of supposed discounts.
Naturally, it was in the US where the day went to it's animalistic extremes of riots and frenzied stampedes.
Last year there were separate incidences of a shooting and a stabbing and this year five injuries were recorded, along with three arrests.
The website BlackFridayDeathCount.com has kept records of relevant news stories and has documented at least seven deaths and ninety six injuries in the U.S. since 2006. (Somewhat ironically, the website also sells T-shirts with the words "I survived Black Friday" on them for $18.00.)
Of course, I'm all in favour of a real bargain and I love a bit of a haggling at a market stall.
I would think that many of the people who buy in store or online on Black Friday are genuinely wanting to save money on something that they may not have been able to afford without a drop in the sale price or they simply believe that they are getting a product that will in some way enhance their lives.
I just question whether a lot of the buying is in any real sense, needed.
Having grown up in an Australian city where the shopping mall was the focus of social life for the easily-influenced young, as well as plenty of retired people, I have a fundamental disagreement with spending money as a major free time pursuit.
Europe is full of parks, beaches, squares and even ramblas: all public spaces not specifically made for commercial activity.
Anyone is free to be in theses places without thinking of them self as a consumer first.
In a shopping mall there are usually almost no seats that are not part of some kind of cafe or food joint. To be there is to be a buyer.
Simply put, I just want to live in a part of the world that continues to value things that don't have a money value.
[A version of this article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, January 2015.]
Another season of Australian film in Barcelona
Following on from the successful ASBA-RMIT Australian Film Season, the Australian Embassy and Casa Asia are presenting an Australian Film Season at Cinemas Girona [C/Girona, 175, 08025, Barcelona] starting this Saturday, 10 January, and running each Saturday night until 14 February.
Entry price: 2,50 Euros.
See link here for more details.