dilluns, 24 de novembre de 2014

You've got a friend in me #SocialNetworks

Bé, encara que molta gent abusa de les xarxes socials i el temps que passen  enganxats al smartphone, i malgrat les opinions que diuen que tot això ens portarà a perdre vida social, jo he de dir que de moment en tinc bones sensacions. A banda de la gent que he conegut o contactat a traves d’internet, fins i tot aquest any he tingut la oportunitat de conèixer alguns en persona. I de moment, bé, cap assassí en serie ni coses rares.

Fa temps que segueixo un bloc que m’agrada molt, que barreja musica i pensaments de l’autor. El blocaire en qüestió viu a l’altra punta de Catalunya, però aquest any va haver de venir a Tortosa i vaig poder trobar-me amb ell uns minuts i vaig confirmar lo que pensava, una bona persona! A vore si ens tornem a trobar un dia...

També seguim un blocde Yorkshire, el autor del qual viu molt a prop d’on viuen mons pares i explica caminades i parla de llocs que visita que jo conec bastant. A més a més, també hi posa molts reflexions personals molt variades, barrejat amb un bon sentit d’humor. Firma com a Yorkshire Pudding i poca gent coneix la seva identitat real – però a l’estiu li vam proposar una petita trobada a Sheffield. Vam anar tota la família, vam fer un cafè junts amb ell i vam xerrar més d’una hora. És una bona persona amb una vida també molt interessant. A vore si ens tornarem a trobar... almenys ara hem posat una cara al personatge del Pudding!

A la primavera vam quedar amb 4 o 5 tuitaires que ens sembla que tenim alguna cosa en comú – piular sobre les Terres de l’Ebre. No coneixiem gaire 2 d’ells. Vam fer un esmorzar de productes de la terra – pa amb tomaquet, pernil, formatges, vins, oli del bo etc – i vam parlar una bona estona, arreglant el món (local).

A l’estiu també vaig anar a Barcelona per un dinar amb un grup de gent que piulem coses sobre Catalunya en anglès i que poc a poc ens estavem trobant per les xarxes. També ho vam passar molt bé, i d’allí ha sortit un bon grapat d’amistats fructífers.

En fi, de moment, es confirma la regla – que si uses les xarxes amb coneixement, poder ser bones eines, no tots son trolls i ciberbullies !
So, social networks and smartphones and all this internet stuff are just for cyberbullies, trolls, and nutters, and will be the end of civilization as we know it? Maybe. But for now, I’ve had a Good Year which seems to prove the opposite. Rather than losing my social life thanks to my (almost) addiction to the internet, I have in fact made and met more friends...
For some time now I’ve been reading a blog which offers up great music mixed in with the thoughts of the blogger himself. As he lives at the other end of Catalonia, we’d only “spoken” via blog comments or email... till this year. He had to come to Tortosa for a sporting event his daughter was participating in, so we arranged to meet up and had a short but grand time chatting.
Another blog I try to keep up with is written by a certain Mr Yorkshire Pudding and offers the author’s thoughts on a fascinating variety of topics, as well as many local references as he likes walking, studying the history of, and posting photos of many of the areas which I know from my youth as he lives quite near my parents’ house. In the summer we met up with him in Sheffield city centre – in a public café just in case he was the typical serial killer you hear about who uses internet to lure his victims into his web. Well, he isn’t – I think. In fact we spent a fine hour chatting away and, who knows, maybe we’ll meet in person again. But in a more civilized place, like Barnsley.
In the spring time a group of local tweeters who hardly knew each other, but shared our love of commenting on local things, decided to meet up at my house and get to know each other in person over a typical Catalan breakfast (with lots of local products) – “bread with tomato”, ham, cheese, wines, olive oil, local pastries and chocolate. We had a great time and will definitely do it again!
Similarly, a different group of us who’d noticed that we were all tweeting about Catalonia in English decided to have a meal together this summer in Barcelona. We had a great time and some fruitful friendships arose.
So, to cut a long story short, don’t believe everything you read in the Daily Mail, people are still people, and 99% of us enjoy getting out and meeting people and having a good time – and some of us know where the Off button is on all this technology too.

Update: forgot to link the blogs yesterday. Sorted now!

divendres, 21 de novembre de 2014

Statement on Catalan Public Participation Process by International Observers

As you should know if you've been keeping up with my rivetting blog posts, a group of international observers made up of a wide (politically speaking) range of  Members of the European Parliament were present at the Catalan "vote" on 9 November. Here's their report (and here at this link, the team leader's personal thoughts):

by the International Parliamentary Delegation on Catalonia’s Public Participation Process.

 We are a cross party delegation of European Parliamentarians. We have been asked by the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia to observe this process under what proved to be unusual and changing circumstances.
 In our view this process was unique. As far as we saw, and we did not and could not be expected to see everything, the process took place in a calm and open manner where no one was coerced or intimidated. We
witnessed no attempt to persuade citizens to participate in general or to endorse a particular side.
 We can make no comment on the count, as we did not observe it. We can make no comment on the polls which took place abroad, as we did not observe them.
 This participatory process has been conducted under challenging circumstances, and we believe has been conducted successfully. We would hope that in the future, Catalans will be able to participate in such a process, without the challenges that we witnessed today.
 The delegation was treated with respect and enjoyed co-operation with all those involved in the process. We had the freedom to travel and interrogate as we saw fit and experienced no coercion or direction. We
were able to interact with the media at all times. We were also able to meet participants from all sides of the debate.

Main Findings

• The delegation witnessed no coercion or intimidation and no attempt to influence the activity of the participants.
• There was a high level of participation across Catalonia in spite of challenges.
• The process was conducted in a positive and family-friendly atmosphere.
• The process was conducted in an efficient manner by a large number of
• There were an adequate number of ballot boxes for the process.
• The process for verification of citizens intending to vote was of a high standard, utilising ID cards. Those without cards were unable to vote (although they would be able to vote later). The details of each participant were recorded on paper, and confirmed by interrogation of a computer database, before each vote was cast.
• The computers used in each polling station were not connected to the internet providing greater confidence that they were free from abuse or interference.
• The computer software which facilitated the verification of IDs was off a high standard and was tested by the delegation to ensure that it did not allow false voting. The Computer Programme was called ‘Participation
Process 2014’.
• The participation of people aged 16 - 18 was a success.

• There was no census/electoral roll available, adding difficulty to administration of the poll.
• The unusual conditions of the poll meant that there were fewer polling stations than during standard elections creating problems and potentially confusion for voters.
• The absence of an official Electoral Presiding Officer was a weakness since it made addressing complaints and problems in real time more difficult.
• Whilst we do not question the integrity of the volunteers, the manner in which they were selected and allocated positions was less satisfactory than would have been the officiation by designated polling officers.
• The provision for privacy of voting was not universal.

Ian Duncan (United Kingdom) acting as spokesperson / European Parliament /
European Conservatives and Reformists - Conservative Party
Izaskun Bilbao (Spain) / European Parliament / ALDE – Basque Nationalist Party
Mark Demesmaeker (Belgium) / European Parliament / European Conservatives and
Reformists - Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie
Jill Evans (United Kingdom) / European Parliament / Group of the Greens -European
Free Alliance - Plaid Cymru
Valter Mutt (Sweden) / Swedish Parliament / European Green Party - The Green
Gérard Onesta (France) / Regional Parliament of Midi-Pyrénees / European
Green Party - Europe Ecologie
Peter Vilfan (Slovenia) / Parliament of Slovenia / ALDE - Alliance of Alenka Bratusek
Bernhard von Grünberg (Germany) / Parliament of the Land North Rhine-
Westphalia / European Socialist Group - SPD

Barcelona, 9 November 2014

dijous, 20 de novembre de 2014

Dear Mr Cameron...

Around 80 British citizens (including yours truly) living in Catalonia, Catalans living in the United Kingdom, and other citizens with close links to the United Kingdom and/or Catalonia have signed this letter which is currently being rushed to Downing Street by the Royal Mail (as well as appearing in the Catalan press) ...

Dear Prime Minister,

As expatriate citizens from different countries with strong ties with the United Kingdom, we firstly wish to express our sincere admiration for the democratic position your Government adopted over the Scottish Referendum. The Scottish people were given the opportunity to decide their own future, an initiative that must be deemed fair, modern and democratic. It is due precisely to the wisdom of this decision, however,
that we consider it a contradiction that, on November 10th, you should have publicly expressed your support for Mr. Rajoy over the Catalan independence poll which was incomprehensibly declared “illegal” by the Spanish Government. This successful poll was conducted in the most democratic fashion, as certified by a group of MEP observers headed by Mr. Ian Duncan, giving a result of over 80% support for Catalan independence. 
Many Catalans regret the implicit blessing that your statement bestowed on Mr Rajoy’s blunt opposition to the right of Catalans to vote. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the destruction of the Berlin Wall, and 301 years after the British Government’s tragic failure to comply to the terms of the Treaty of Genova at Utrecht, the signatories of this letter feel that today it should be the duty of the British Prime Minister, and other European leaders, to support the Catalan people in their bid to find a democratic solution to their problem and to take into their own hands the key decisions regarding their political future. It is a right no European people should be denied.

Yours faithfully,

Un grup de 80 persones vinculats amb el Regne Unit i/o Catalunya hem fet aquesta carta al primer ministre britanic, David Cameron. Ha sortit també a la premsa, aquí i aquí.

Benvolgut Primer Ministre

Com a ciutadans expatriats de diferents països amb vincles estrets amb el Regne Unit, volem d'entrada expressar la nostra sincera admiració per la posició democràtica que el vostre govern va adoptar sobre el Referèndum Escocès. El poble escocès va tenir l'oportunitat per decidir el seu propi futur, iniciativa que considerem justa, moderna i democràtica. És precisament degut a aquesta assenyada decisió que veiem com a contradictori que, l'endemà de l'exitosa consulta, vostè declarés públicament el seu suport per la posició del Sr. Rajoy respecte a la consulta d'independència que incomprensiblement va ser declarada "il.legal" pel Govern espanyol. Aquesta reeixida consulta es va conduir de la manera més democràtica tal com van avalar-ho un grup d'eurodiputats liderats pel Sr. Ian Duncan, amb el resultat de més d'un 80% a favor de la independència de Catalunya. 
Molts catalans estan dolguts davant el suport implícit que la vostra declaració prestava a l'oposició inflexible del Sr. Rajoy al dret a decidir dels catalans. En celebrar-se els 25 anys de la caiguda del Mur de Berlin, i 301 anys després que Gran Bretanya deixés de complir a Utrecht els mandats del Tractat de Gènova, els signants d’aquesta carta creuen que el Primer Ministre britànic, i altres liders europeus, tenen avui el deure de donar suport al poble català en la seva demanda de trobar solucions democràtiques al conflicte i de poder prendre lliurement les crucials decisions sobre el seu futur polític. És un dret que no s’hauria de negar a cap país d’Europa. 

Ben atentament

dimecres, 19 de novembre de 2014

The Catalan Issue in Europe

Interesting video offering views on the present Catalan situation from a wide range of European politicians. Worth a watch!

Brain explosions in the 21st century

Ultimament quan no treballo, estic pensant - pensant i treient profit de l'internet. Tot comença per no haver seguit el ritme dels canvis tecnologics del segle 21, basicament perque són de la vella escola - aquells que pensen, si funciona, no ho canvies, i si no ho necessites, no ho compres.
Per tant, tenim televisor del 1996, fins fa 4 dies gravabem en VHS, escolto cassettes, tenim equip de música del 1993, l'ordenador ja té un edat. No tinc tablet ni res que comença amb la lletra "i",i de smartphones ja en parlarem un altre dia.
Llavors arriba el dia que t'has de posar al dia, i simplement no saps per on començar ja que hi ha tanta informació. Em recorda el cas del cafe - fa 20 anys a Anglaterra deies, "Un café per favor" i et donaven un cafe amb llet i va que xuta. Ara has de saber si és capuccino, expresso, americano, macchiato... si ho vols descafeinat o no, quin tipus de llet, de sucre, la mida del got...
Per tant, aqui em veieu, trencant el cap mirant les ofertes del Fusion TV i intentant esbrinar com gravarem coses de la tele, i com la gent ho fa avui en dia per veure internet per la tele (tot s'ha de dir, també soc de Yorkshire i tenim una certa reticencia de gastar diners sense saber exactament el que tindrem i quina és la millor opció). L'equip de musica comença a fer aigues - ho reparem, o canviem? Canviem components o comencem de zero? Hi ha manera de escoltar la musica que tens al disc dur de l'ordenador a traves d'un sistema de musica normal? Hi ha amplificadors que llegeixen pen-drives?
De cara a nadal... fa 30 anys vaig comprar un console de video-jocs, Atari. Ara he de fer un curs accelerat de quina és la millor opció pels nostres xiquets, que si PS4, PS3, Wii... i quins jocs, i quins accessoris...
Per més inri, intento seguir el que volen fer els xiquets amb l'ordenador - ara un blog, ara busca aixo, ara instalar mods i mapes al Minecraft.
En fi, molta informació i poc temps per a assimilar-ho tot!
When I'm not working, recently I've been spending most of my time thinking - thinking, and taking notes from friends' advice and the internet. Up to the point that my brain might explode soon.
It all starts out due to the fact that we've got behind with the question of technological developments - basically as I'm a firm believer in the old saying, if it ain't broke, don't fix it - and if you don't need it, don't buy it.
So, here we are with a 1996 TV, and still using a video recorder up to last year, and a 1993 music system. The computer is also old in most people's eyes, I have no tablet or other gadget beginning with the letter "i", and as for smartphones..., well, they deserve their own post which I may or may not write soon.
So, anyway, we've decided to go for one of these TV-phone-internet packages but we're inundated with special offers and information on which to choose. As if that weren't bad enough, I'm trying to work out what kind of gadgets allow you to record from TV in the 21st century, and - in for a penny, in for a pound - how people go about seeing internet on their TV. Apart from the information overload, another factor to bear in mind is that I was born in Yorkshire and we are not known for jumping in and spending money haphazardly.
The music system is starting to cause problems - what to do, fix it, change components, start again with a new one? Are their gadgets which allow you to hear your computer's music through your normal hi fi system?
Christmas is coming. Last video game console I bought was an Atari in 1982. So now, another crash course (late nights shared with Mr Google and a glass of the hard stuff) in what each new game (PS4, PS3, Wii...) does, and which would be most suitable for our kids, and what you need - games, accessories etc.
On top of it all, trying to keep up with the kids and their computer use, and helping them out, setting up blogs, preparing things for school, installing gimmicks on the Minecraft game...
To cut a long story short, too much information and too little time. It all reminds me of coffee. Twenty years ago, you'd go into a café and say "Can I have a coffee please?", and you'd get a cup of white coffee. Now, you get half a dozen Italian names thrown at you, and then have to choose if it's decaf or not, what kind of milk or sugar you want, even the size of your bloody cup (or plastified paper beaker)! 

dimecres, 12 de novembre de 2014

Personal thoughts the day after the Catalan Vote.

On Sunday 9th November, Catalonia voted.

1.       My day. After a couple of very late nights trying to keep up with things on the internet, and trying to do some work at the same time, I somehow dragged myself out of bed just before 8am on Sunday to check (on the internet and radio) that all was well, that the police hadn’t turned up at polling stations and there was no need to rush there to help out. The missus then went off to help her mum (with mobility problems) get ready and bring her up to our house for a traditional Catalan breakfast – thick hot drinking chocolate, or rather, dunking chocolate. Delicious with lots of bread and buns dunked in it. And made in Tortosa.

After that we got our voting clothes on – I went for the ELO t-shirt to make a statement – and drove up to our polling station. There were about 50 cars in the car park, a queue of about 10 cars to get in and 8 local policemen helping out. We made our way slowly to the school entrance – my mother-in-law walks with crutches after 4 different unsuccessful hip operations. Once in the grounds, there were crowds of people milling around, many with Catalan flags, happy smiling faces, from babes in arms to elderly people – and I mean, really elderly people. The amount of people who must have been in their 80s or 90s waiting to vote was amazing. Goose pimples! We each had to go to different ballot boxes due to our surnames, but went happily from one to the other as a family. There’s no rush when you’re changing history. Loads of volunteers inside the school helping out. More smiles. Photos of the historic moment – see above. And finally we’d done, but spent some more time there in the school playground greeting friends and chatting about the importance of this day.
By 12.30 we were back home, but I then had to go back out to pick up my seven-month-pregnant sister-in-law at the train station. She’d flown back home especially from Mallorca just to vote. Left Mallorca early doors, arrived in Barcelona at 9, and then a 3-hour train ride to Tortosa. I drove her up to the school and we repeated the earlier process – and smiles.
Back home, for a vermouth together, another Catalan tradition, followed by a delicious paella and a short well-deserved snooze before spending the rest of the day following the proceedings on the internet and TV news. Finally hit the sack, worn out but euphoric about 1am.

2.       The volunteers. As the Catalan government had sort of stepped aside in the final organization – remaining responsible for the vote itself, but they didn’t want it to be run by public sector workers who could find themselves in legal problems – they had appealed for volunteers to run the vote. Over 40,000 registered in a matter of days, and did a wonderful job on Sunday. The vote ran smoothly, efficiently, and was just as well-organized as any other election process I’ve seen. These people are heroes.

3.       The legal threat. As I said previously, to reduce legal problems for local authorities it was decided to hold the vote only in buildings actually belonging to the Catalan government – basically schools (hospitals being ruled out). But the heads of the schools had to actually physically unlock the doors. Late on Saturday the 8th, the Spanish Public Prosecutor decided to apply the Constitutional Court’s ban of the vote by asking police to identify and inform on who was responsible for opening the schools/voting stations. The Catalan President, Mr Mas, immediately stated that he was the sole person responsible and people should not fear legal consequences.
The police did turn up on Sunday morning – but to help with any logistic problems! That's the Catalan police, not the Spanish national police force who, luckily, kept a low profile. Mid-morning, another right-wing political party denounced the process to Catalan courts, requesting the police act immediately to close the voting stations and arrest President Mas. The court, applying what is apparently known as “proportionality” of action, decided not to act. The chances of closing 6000 stations in 900 towns, faced with 2 million citizens, were not exactly high ones – and even less so with a peaceful outcome.
Two days later, though, the governing PP party have announced that tomorrow (Wednesday) the Public Prosecutor will press criminal charges against President Mas and the Catalan vice-president and maybe the Education Minister. Yes, you read that right, a political party is announcing what the legal system will do.

4.       The stories. Polling started at 9am, but the volunteers had to be there by 7.30 to prepare everything – and, just maybe, offer peaceful resistance to police attempts to prevent the vote. Hundreds of other people turned up at every school too, just in case... and by 9am there were huge queues of people waiting to vote, queues that lasted most of the day, especially in big cities. My friend had to queue for an hour in Barcelona, for example. Queuing to vote – with a smile! 

Catalans living abroad could either vote at a Catalan government office in 17 major cities, or fly “home”. People flew in from everywhere, even as far as from Chile and Argentina. People travelled from Miami to New York. From the west coast of Australia to Sydney. From Germany and Holland to Brussels. From Sheffield to London. There was a 6-hour queue to vote in London. See video below.
Babes in arms being breast-fed in hour-long queues. The 80-year-old man who went to vote on the way to his wife’s funeral. A 101-year-old voter. Many in their 90s who lived through the civil war and Franco waiting for this moment. A Catalan woman who survived a Nazi concentration camp. Smiles and tears, many tears were shed – tears of joy and relief.

5.       The observers. Despite Spain’s insistence that the vote was a farce, and illegal, a team of MEPs came to observe that all was carried out correctly. The team was led by a Scottish Conservative MEP and they gave the process a clean bill of health. That a Conservative politician should give such a clear message on live TV too, saying that voting should never be illegal, and that protecting democratic rights comes before any thoughts for and against independence, is what we call a kick in the b*lls for the Spanish “democratic” government. More here.
6.       The numbers. 2,300,000 voted (so far – but you can still vote during the next two weeks at official government offices and people are queuing every day). Before we go on to analyze this, that means that over two million Catalans have committed an act of civil disobedience on a scale probably never seen before in western Europe. Over two million Catalans have told the Spanish authorities where they can shove their laws and legislation. Think about this. In my opinion, this shows Catalonia is already free- we’re just missing the paperwork to formalize the divorce!
The exact number of how many could have voted varies as, with the vote (even the watered-down third and final proposal, known as a “citizen participation process on the political future of Catalonia”) being banned by the Spanish courts, the Catalan government weren’t allowed access to the official electoral roll and simply had to register voters one by one on the day itself. Still, it seems like around 5.5 or 6 million could have taken part (including 16 and 17 year olds, and foreigners like yours truly). The fact that about 35-40% of these voted is a huge success in my opinion, given the obstacles and threats:
a)      There were far fewer polling stations than usual as they could only use school buildings. In areas like mine, not every village has a secondary school, so some people had to travel 10km just to vote. Obviously many people are committed enough (having just explained that some flew across the globe), but imagine the maybe-voters. Would a 65-year-old maybe-voter with a dodgy leg go on a 10km bus trip just to vote?
b)      Legal grey area. People know full well that Spain has a reputation for carrying out its threats, it is a young democracy and I have no doubts that they would have played the law enforcement card if they thought they could get away with it without bloodshed. The volunteers obviously knew this and took the risk, but, again, what about the non-committed voters? Would you go out not knowing what you could find? Not just police action but there could also have been violence from fascist thugs as threatened in the run up to the day. My neighbour phoned me at 11pm the night before to ask us if we thought it was safe to take the kids with them.
c)       It may not have affected many voters, but “someone” brought down the Catalan government and citizens’ pro-independence group websites with a massive cyber-attack on the Saturday and Sunday, thus making it difficult to find out last minute information – as the polling stations were not the usual ones, you had to find out online where to go. Read more here. This attack could have had terrible consequences as it also affected the health website, affecting access to patient’s records, prescriptions and so on.
d)      Several right-wing parties, including the PP who govern in Spain, asked their voters not to vote, thus reducing hugely the overall participation.
e)      Changing the format of the vote at such short notice left many people confused as to the legality and usefulness of the final vote. The question itself was confusing, being a split question rather than a simple Yes or No.
f)       If this had been a “normal” referendum, there would have been a Yes and No campaign, thus informing people and getting more numbers to the ballot boxes. As it stands, only Catalan public TV and radio have done anything similar – mainstream Spanish TV channels, with a huge audience in Catalonia, just did their best to let people know the vote was "at best" a waste of time, and "at worst" illegal!

7. My quick analysis:
As it stands over 80% of those who voted want full independence (about 1.8 million, which could creep up near the 2 million mark in coming days).This is a decent number given the circumstances listed above, and my feeling is that if it had been a normal vote, the Yes could have reached 2.5 or maybe 3 million.
In any normal election, you don’t get 100% turnout so you’d have to expect maybe 75-85% participation, which could mean between 4.5 and 5 million voters in all. Thus, I think a simple Yes/No vote in democratic conditions would throw up a majority for independence.  (PS I really admire the 4.5% who went out to vote NO, ignoring the government’s requests to boycott the vote and deciding to participate in a democratic vote). Apart from that, 2 million voters would probably give a parliamentary majority in a “normal” election.
My gut feeling is that there is a majority of Catalans in favour of independence, and if this had been a binding referendum as Catalonia wanted, we’d be on our way with maybe a 60/40 split, or at least a 55/45 (like the numbers in Scotland). As it stands, the numbers, given the huge difficulties, are excellent and give a clear indicator to President Mas  what his next step should be – call early elections on a one-issue (independence) programme and declare independence upon winning the election.
Some photos(Catalonia) and videos (London) of queues! An article in Bloomberg. Irish Times too. Some great stuff by the BBC here and here who had a reporter here giving great live coverage on internet.

Cues per votar a Londres por vilawebtv