Friends, Romans, Countrymen

I’m back from Spain after a 10 hour drive yesterday in the middle of that heatwave everyone’s talking about. Fortunately my car has air conditioning.

Tarragona was nice, although strictly speaking I was in a small town called Altafulla a little down the coast towards Barcelona. I spent two days on the beach and two nights drinking until 4am so it wasn’t the most productive of holidays, but I did get to hang out with my friend, his family, and a whole load of his friends who all live in Altafulla and have known each other since they were kids. From what I could tell, Altafulla is a place where Spanish families live or go on holiday: I didn’t see any foreigners or even hear English spoken the whole weekend I was there. Unfortunately I don’t speak Spanish, but that didn’t seem to matter very much. And I was reliably told the conversations would routinely switch to Catalan in any case. The food I ate alternated between Spanish, Venezuelan, and Catalan so I got the full culinary experience. I drank whatever was close to hand, which was often rum. I’d never spent much time in the company of Spaniards before, and I have to say they were very friendly and welcoming, and they like to have fun. The place is also extraordinarily cheap when compared to France. Perhaps I should go back.

As planned, I stopped at the Pont du Gard on the drive down. It’s worth seeing.

I made the mistake of thinking the bridge is all that’s there, so thought I’d just visit for an hour then leave. It turns out there’s a sort of beach there where you can swim, go kayaking, etc. as well as an excellent museum meaning you could easily spend a whole day at the place. I had a good look at the aqueduct from both sides but couldn’t devote more than half an hour to the museum which explained how it was built and why. It’s a shame because I’d like to have spent more time there, but was enough to get an idea of the incredible vision, ambition, and skill of the Romans. It left me wondering if a municipal government could execute a comparable project today, two thousand years later. I bet the Romans didn’t worry about how diverse the engineering team was, at any rate. As I was reading about its construction I learned there was another Roman aqueduct in, funnily enough, Tarragona. If I’d spent less time drinking I might have turned the trip into a Roman aqueduct tour. As it was, I only glimpsed it from the motorway. The Pont du Gard is well worth a visit though, and I can recommend it. While I was there I did see a few British tourists; I mention them just so I could get the post title working.


Racism spotted, close all airspace

This story is causing a lot of handwringing:

A Ryanair passenger who racially abused an elderly woman sitting next to him on a plane may “get away with it”, a shadow transport minister said.

The man was filmed calling the 77 year-old victim an “ugly black bastard” and shouting “don’t talk to me in a foreign language you stupid ugly cow”.

The video pretty much captures what happened. If a crime was committed, why can they not prosecute?

Labour MP Karl Turner, a qualified barrister who was once Labour’s shadow attorney general, said Ryanair had ”failed spectacularly”.

“Ryanair failure to deplane the alleged racist offender, handing him over to the Spanish authorities probably means that he isn’t now prosecuted.

Would the Spanish have been interested in prosecuting a British man for racially abusing a fellow passenger? Is that even a crime in Spain?

“Suspect the pressure to turn this aircraft around quickly and get it airborne meant that they have allowed this alleged offender to remain on the aircraft,” said Mr Turner. ”He may now get away with it.”

Apparently racially abusing someone is now a crime so heinous aircraft should be grounded while the police are called to investigate. Never mind the inconvenience to the rest of the passengers and the knock-on effect on other flights coming in and out of Barcelona.

Now the man in the video is likely a pr*ck of the highest order and if he said stuff like this without serious provocation, he needs a good thrashing. But the situation is a little more complicated than the media is letting on. Ryanair had an opportunity to call the Spanish police to say a passenger is being unruly, but what would they have said? One passenger is yelling at another? Unless he’s presenting a security threat, I’m not sure the Spaniards would have been interested. Better for them to let the plane depart taking these assh*le Brits with them. So they couldn’t have got him arrested for security offences in Barcelona even if they’d wanted to, and now everyone’s complaining he’s not been arrested for racism. But it happened in Spain, and:

“Unfortunately because Ryanair is registered in Dublin not in the UK the alleged offence could only be tried by UK authorities if it was ‘in flight’ to the UK. Section 92(1) Civil Aviation Act s.92(4) defines ‘in flight’.

“If this incident had have happened on an alternative airline under ‘British Control’ or it was already ‘in flight’ to the UK the prosecuting authorities could have prosecuted.”

So the outrage is really that the rest of the world isn’t as interested in prosecuting Brits for being racist as the British police are.

Essex Police said they believed the incident had taken place at Barcelona Airport.

“Essex Police takes prejudice-based crime seriously and we want all incidents to be reported,” a spokeswoman said.

“We are working closely with Ryanair and the Spanish authorities on the investigation.”

The sole justification for the involvement of Essex Police is that the plane landed in Stansted. But when racism is the issue, the entire world apparently comes under their jurisdiction. I suspect the authorities in Barcelona didn’t even answer the phone when they called.


Rent Seeking in Palma

I like this:

The Spanish resort city of Palma, on the island of Majorca, is to ban flat owners from renting their apartments to travellers, becoming the first place in Spain to introduce such a measure.

The restrictions follow complaints from residents of rising rents due to short holiday lets through websites and apps.

Palma’s mayor says the ban, to be introduced in July, will be a model for cities suffering with mass tourism.

Suffering from mass tourism. Just as Rotterdam suffers from mass shipping and Las Vegas suffers from mass gambling.

Now having your hometown invaded by tens of thousands of knuckle-dragging grockles every summer can be annoying, but on aggregate the positives outweigh the negatives – especially on an island without much else other than tourism. But I don’t buy into the premise either:

The restrictions follow complaints from residents of rising rents due to short holiday lets through websites and apps.

Bollocks. Residents won’t be renting on a short-term basis, they’ll be on long-term leases at a much lower rent. Here’s the real reason:

Palma, like many other cities around the world, has seen an increase in visitor numbers driven, in part, by private rental accommodation offered through websites and apps.

Officials from the local left-wing governing coalition cited a study suggesting that the number of non-licensed apartments on offer to tourists increased by 50% between 2015 and 2017.

The left-wing government isn’t getting its cut.

Locally, there is resentment over tourism pushing up prices – rents in Palma have reportedly increased 40% since 2013 – but also about deteriorating conditions in neighbourhoods popular with travellers due to noise and bad behaviour.

This I can believe, but they could always stop advertising for more tourists, or increase local taxes to push prices up thus cutting numbers in favour of getting a better quality of clientele.

“Palma is a determined and courageous city,” Mayor Antoni Noguera said.

I’d be curious to see this chap’s property portfolio, wouldn’t you?

José Hila, Palma’s chief of urban planning, said: “There is a parallel between the evolution of vacation rentals and the rise in rental prices.

“All European cities are being transformed overnight by this type of offer. We need some order. There will be vacation rental in Palma, but only where there needs to be.”

Urban planner believes he knows which rental accommodation is needed where better than tens of thousands of people voting with their wallets.

Last year, Palma banned the advertisement of non-licensed flats, including hefty fines for owners and apps flouting the rules. Barcelona has taken similar action.

Did the people doing the banning have a personal financial interest in the licensing system?

But Pimeco, a local organisation representing small businesses, said the holiday rentals had “boosted consumption” and were an “important source of income” to many flat owners.

The holiday rentals association, Habtur, said not only owners would be affectedbut also restaurants and shops, warning that jobs could be cut.

This is basically the ruling classes protecting their rents, isn’t it? Naturally, the reporters at the BBC can’t see this and take the whole thing at face value.


Bloody Barcelona

I checked the news over the weekend and saw Spanish police beating the shit out of people in the streets of Barcelona. Apparently the Catalans decided to hold a referendum on independence, and the central government in Madrid didn’t like it and deemed it illegal (which it probably was, but Crimea showed us that doesn’t matter). They then sent in the police to seize ballot boxes, close down polling stations, and crack some skulls.

From what my friends with knowledge of Catalonia tell me, there has never been majority support for independence. instead, there is a sizeable, well-organised and vocal minority in favour of Catalonian independence, ably supported by a diaspora who seemingly talk about nothing else despite having left the place 55 years ago, and a lot of pressure is put on waverers to participate in noisy, pro-independence activities through schools, etc. Thus far, it doesn’t sound a whole lot different from Scotland. I suspect the best thing the Spanish government could have done was to state unequivocally that the referendum is illegal and that it won’t recognise the result, and then just let it go ahead. Chances are the Catalans wouldn’t have voted to secede, and even if they did the central government could have just ignored the results.

But the people who make up governments are petty, incompetent bullies at the best of times, and they’ve panicked and gone in mob-handed. Perhaps they thought they wouldn’t be able to ignore the referendum result, even if it was carried out illegally, or maybe they were worried the Basques might hold a vote of their own (one which might not be so easy to dismiss). Either way, it’s hard to see how they could have handled this worse than they have. The scenes of people having the shit kicked out of them by police dressed as Robocop will send waverers to the polling stations in droves and bring thousands more into the pro-independence tent.

Although these events came as a surprise, but perhaps they shouldn’t have. Possibly the most unusual thing about police with Spanish words on their body armour beating the shit out of helpless civilians is that in this case they speak with a mainland dialect. Latin governments have form in this area, particularly in South America. Such comparisons are easy, but contrasts are also interesting.

Many people have wondered why the US police haven’t deployed similar tactics against the likes of Antifa and Black Lives Matter when they engage in violence, intimidation, and rioting on the streets of America. Well, the US is not Spain and they have different governments, but in certain fundamental ways ruling classes don’t differ much from country to country. The reason why American police are not beating the shit out of Antifa is because their paymasters don’t feel threatened by events unfolding on the streets, whereas the government in Madrid clearly felt threatened by the poll in Catalonia. Make no mistake, should American politicians feel similarly threatened you’d see riot police beating the hell out of civilians as well as firing rubber bullets into crowds and, if necessary, live rounds. The same is undoubtedly true for the UK and any other country you care to mention. The scenes we are seeing on the streets of Barcelona is the result of the ruling classes feeling threatened, nothing more.

Brexiteers are condemning what they see as double-standards from the EU: happy to interfere in the internal affairs of the UK, e.g. Northern Ireland and Scotland but silent on what is happening in Spain. But the poll took place on a Sunday and you’re not going to get high-ranking EU employees doing anything resembling work between Friday and Monday lunchtimes, especially Jean-Claude Juncker who was probably sleeping off a hangover and learned about the situation only when the Panadol kicked in. Remainers are firing back at the Brexiteers along the lines of “So you dooooooo want the EU to interfere in the internal matters of member states!” None of this is helpful.

Of course, the EU backs the Spanish government and will do little to condemn their heavy-handed response to the vote. The political integrity of Spain is vitally important to the EU, seeing how Spain is a staunchly pro-EU member and generally willing to go along with whatever the Eurocrats decide. This is wholly different from Britain, which the EU would rather see broken up or watered down and thus unable to object to their grand plans. In other words, the EU is similarly threatened by the prospect of an independent Catalonia and the Spanish police beating up voters is wholly in their interests. Contrary to what some people are saying, the EU is not displaying double-standards it is being characteristically consistent: it will support absolutely anything that is in the interests of the EU project and the cushy positions of its officers, and condemn anything that goes against them. Underneath what is obviously a complex and emotional subject it is all rather simple, really.