Category Archives: Journalism

Joined the “Obscura Society”

So I’ve joined the so-called Obscura Society, which is devoted to exploring the curioser parts of the planet. From their About Us page:

In an age where everything seems to have been explored and there is nothing new to be found, we celebrate a different way of looking at the world. If you’re searching for MINIATURE CITIES,GLASS FLOWERSBOOKS BOUND IN HUMAN SKINGIGANTIC FLAMING HOLES IN THE GROUNDBONE CHURCHESBALANCING PAGODAS, or HOMES BUILT ENTIRELY OUT OF PAPER, the Atlas Obscura is where you’ll find them.

They write a lot of interesting travel articles on the odder places on the globe. The one that initially caught my eye was on Odessa’s Catacombs when I was researching the disturbing story of the girl who got lost somewhere in the 2,500 KM of underground tunnels:

On January 1st 2005, some Odessa teens decided to spend New Year’s night partying in the catacombs. However, in the drunken revelry a member of the group, a girl named Masha, became separated and lost in the catacombs. She spent three days wandering in the freezing cold and pitch black before she died of dehydration. It took two years before the police were able to locate her body and retrieve it from the catacombs.

Great story — I wish I’d got to it first.

Anyway, I haven’t yet gone on any of their trips. Although they look interesting there usual is a moderate cost. Depending on the tour, tickets are usually $20+ per person. I dunno, can anyone out there vouch for their SF tours? Am I missing out? Perhaps I’ll go and report back…

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Posted by on May 16, 2014 in Going out, Journalism, Weird



Spain’s transition from Franco to Ellis Island

After the 700 year reconquista of the Iberian peninsula from the Moors, modern Spain became a more or less homogenous nation state. In 1492 Ferdinand defeated the last Muslim rulers of Granada and demanded the conversion or departure of all Jewish and Muslim Iberian settlers to Christianity. Those who did not convert were forcibly removed to North Africa, Italy and the then Ottoman Empire. Spain went on to conquer much of the new world and would, up until the 1970s, remain a nation of emigration, with a relatively high fertility rate—about 3.0 per woman in the 60’s and 70’s—that kept its population growing and spreading abroad.

In 1975 Franco, Spain’s dictator of 40 years, died, and in 1977 Spain underwent a transition to democracy. Spanish society and economy were liberalized and the fertility rate of Spaniards began to take a steep dive that would not bottom out until 1997 when it hit 1.15 per woman, the second lowest world-wide at the time and almost half the necessary rate for population stability (2.1). In 1975, foreigners had made up less than one half a percent of the population and still, by 1997, there were only about 600,000 of a total population of 40 million, or 1.5% of the population. At the same time, Spain was undergoing an economic boom and would soon face a shortage of workers and population decline. Spain then began abruptly to pursue an open borders policy begun under the People’s Party, then headed by President Aznar who invited thousands of Ecuadorian workers to work in construction and Moroccans to work in farming. By the year 2000 foreigners grew to 2.28% of the population and numbered less just under 1 million—a significant increase but still much lower than European countries such as France, Germany and Britain. Illegal immigration also began to increase.

The open borders policy would continue, accelerating, along with the property boom, when president Zapatero of the Socialist Worker’s Party was elected in 2004. By the year 2005, the number of foreigners living in Spain had surged to 3.7 million, or 8.5% of the total population. The number of foreigners then leaped to a further 5.7 million in 2010, or 12.2% of the total population, a 500% increase over 10 years. The total population of Spain nearly reached 47 million in 2011, but the number of foreigners showed no significant increase from the following year due to the deepening economic crisis. Without immigration, Spain’s population would have likely gone into decline in the mid 2000s.

Although 12.2% of the population is now made of foreign residents, the total number of non-ethnic Spaniards is estimated to be much higher. Children born in Spain are naturalized as Spanish citizens and non-Spaniards tend to have higher fertility rates; additionally a large number of residents have been naturalized. It’s probable that approximately 8 million Spaniards are foreign resident or foreign-descended, making up 17% of the total population. The largest groups are Romanians, Moroccans, British and Ecuadorians. The majority of the others come from a diverse medley of South American, European and African countries.

Lately, some South Americans and Eastern Europeans have understandably returned home, given that the estimated unemployment rate of foreign residents is now 30%. Spain also embarked on a program of paying some foreigners to leave and not return for three years to help ameliorate their chronic unemployment. And some Spaniards, especially the young, educated and unemployed, are beginning to move abroad in search of opportunity.

Despite the fact that Spain’s immigrant population has leaped from being one of the smallest in Europe to one of the largest, ethnic tensions and xenophobia remain low compared to other European countries and, though they certainly exist, most Spaniards are relaxed and positive about immigration. In a recent poll, 91% of Spaniards under 30 had an overall positive view of immigration and 69% said they had one close friend who was an immigrant. Crime, however, has increased, but less so than in other European countries of mass migration.

Since the beginnings of mass immigration to Spain, the fertility rate has risen from the dismal 1.15 per woman of 1997 to 1.47 in 2011 and the population has continued to grow steadily. At the same time Spain has transformed quite rapidly, especially in the last 10 years, from a strongly Catholic, mostly homogeneous nation to a secular, largely non-religious, multicultural nation. As of yet, there has been no rising anti-immigrant backlash or nativist political parties like those which are growing fast in Northern Europe.


After the King Dies

Spain is currently a constitutional monarchy. Juan Carlos, appointed by the law succession after the death of Franco in 1975, oversaw the transition from dictatorship to democracy. In 1982, his rule became almost entirely symbolic, though he commands great moral authority and is a very popular figure in the Spanish media and politics. His opinions and words are taken seriously.

Juan Carlos is now 72 years old and recently had a benign tumor removed, but speculation about his health is unclear. When he dies, his son Felipe, Prince of Asturias is destined to take over as symbolic head of the state. But in Spain there is resurgent cry for a republican style of government in Spain, like that of Second Spanish Republic, established in 1931 and fought for during the Spanish civil war. Republican flags were seen flying and strapped to the backs of demonstrators in Puerta del Sol, Madrid on Thursday night to celebrate its establishment 80 years earlier on April 14th, 1931.

According to a recent poll, 39% of Spaniards want Spain to be a republic, while 48% prefer the current monarchy. More supporters are from the People’s Party and more dissenters from the Socialist Party and left wing movements. Many people speculate, however, that it’s not the monarchy most people support, but Juan Carlos. It was Juan Carlos who facilitated a quick transition from dictatorship to democracy and the integration into greater Europe, but people have a more lukewarm opinion on the system of monarchy itself.

The younger generation is more in favor of a republic and more indifferent, or even hostile, to the symbolism of the monarchy. Indeed, a poll taken just 6 years ago, showed a 65% preference for the monarchy and 22% for the republic, a huge difference from today’s numbers. As time passes, the respect for the monarchy is likely to continue to decline. The death of Juan Carlos may be the moment at which a referendum is called to vote for the official establishment of a republic in Spain.


Spain will ask for a bail out

My prediction is that it will happen in early 2012, because the People’s Party is likely to be elected in April of that year. The ruling Socialist Party knows that they’re going to lose the election and in order to screw over the more economically liberal PP, and tie their monetary policy to the EU, they’ll ask for a bail out from the EU. Plus they’ll have nothing to lose then, and their constant optimism and bread and circuses won’t serve an purpose anymore.

Why do I think this will happen? Well, this is exactly what happened in Portugal, as reported in the Asia Times,

The news that Portugal has requested a bailout from the European Union is hardly surprising. The outgoing socialist government, having wrecked the economy and emptied the government coffers, wants to tie down its center-right successor, due to be elected June 5.

Similarly, when later this year Spain finds itself in similar or worse trouble and approaching an election in April 2012, you can be pretty sure that the corrupt Spanish socialist government will make the same choice.

Spain will ask for a bail out, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll get it, of course. We don’t even know if Europe can afford to give them it. Maybe they’ll take it from the EU-IMF fund instead or it will just be rejected. At that point Germany might be starting to get angry with the so-called PIIGS.

Spain has now been the sick man of Europe for some time. Or rather, it’s the gangrenous arm of a sick half-corpse, because the northern countries aren’t far behind them, especially Britain.

Free Republic has a good article which points out the four main causes of Spain’s downfall, stemming primarily from Socialist Policies, Incompetent Politicians, Reckless Government Spending and Voter Apathy.

Whew . . .  I was almost worried for a second about the USA.


(More) English Newspapers in Spain

I was gladdened to find an English version of El País in English. El País is one of the two main newspapers in Spain, the other being their rival, El Mundo. El Mundo, as far as I can tell, doesn’t have an English translation yet. Maybe they should hire me to get that started.

In addition, I found there are in fact quite a few more English newspapers in Spain, though most are small and focused solely on regional happenings. The few Spain-centric ones include Expatica, ThinkSpain and Typically Spanish, all of which cover the variety of issues you’d find in any major newspaper. Given that there are so many British expats in Spain (some estimates say it’s almost 1 million), I’m actually surprised there aren’t more.

Some more sites for people living abroad include SpainExpat, Transitions Abroad and EasyExpat, though there are numerous more.


Monday on the European Scene

What’s going on in Europe? Here’s a very brief overview of the dramas of Monday, April 11th.

Spain: Financial Times says it will be next to fall

Spain: “We will make it, we aren’t Portugal”

Belarus: Blast in Metro kills 11

France: Ban on Burqa comes into effect

United Kingdom: Protests against France’s burqa ban

Italy: Berlusconi: “I gave her money to avoid prostitution”

Germany: Berlin unwilling to accept refugees

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Posted by on April 12, 2011 in Current Events, EU, Europe, Politics


Madrid’s English Newspapers

Madrid has two English language newspapers, a small number considering the number of Anglophone expats here. They are In Madrid and Time Out.

I suppose being so close to England makes it unnecessary for there to be any larger publications which do not specialize solely in travel and goings-on about town.

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Posted by on April 5, 2011 in Journalism, Spain