Friday, December 31, 2010

And Things That Go Bump In The Night

As the year draws to a close, a look back at some of the stranger stories of 2010.

Cup of coffee, Mr. President?
President Zapatero, aka President Bean, appeared on a Spanish television programme called "I've Got A Question For You". One question related to the price of a coffee in a bar. "80 centimos," came the reply. It inspired the Dunkin' Donuts chain to introduce an "anti-crisis coffee" of 80 cents and a promotion featuring a Zapatero lookalike. And there followed the inevitable jokes about coffee Beans.

Trail of the hateful pine
The education and citizenship department at the Universitat de les Illes Balears revealed that the pine tree was "hated" for being the cause of forest fires, for preventing anything else growing, for having the processionary caterpillar that can drop from the branches and give you a nasty sting and also for being ... foreign.

The great beach cover-up
Two organisations - the Instituto de Política Familiar (institute of family policy) and Hazte Oír (make yourself heard) - were to the fore in attempting to save Balearic morals by calling for an end to topless sunbathing. This exceeded norms of decorum, said the institute. A little delving revealed that both organisations were somewhat to the right of the political spectrum.

Hitler in Patagonia
A book by an Argentinian journalist, Abel Basti, received considerable publicity. According to Basti, Hitler didn't commit suicide in his bunker, but fled Berlin on 30 April in 1945 with Eva Braun, headed first to Barcelona and then ended up in Patagonia some time between July and August of that year.

The Andratx switch-off
Difficult economic times meant drastic measures. Town hall employees in Andratx had to sweat when the mayoress decreed that the air-conditioning would be switched off. Employees also had to work without artificial lighting except where they didn't have the benefit of natural light coming through windows.

The great lake of Mallorca
Study of fossil remains in Manacor revealed that there was once a great lake slap bang down the middle of Mallorca. Dating back 12 million years, experts reckoned that this divided the mountains of the Tramuntana range and the Llevant hills to the east. Gradually, over ten million years, the lake disappeared.

The telephoning town of Sa Pobla
The town hall in Sa Pobla, dismayed by the growth in the number of "locutorios", many of them - shock, horror - operated by "immigrants", introduced a law to limit them. There had to be a minimum of 250 metres between locutorios, they also had to be at least 60 square metres in size and they couldn't sell food and drink.

Porto Cristo - or is it?
What do you do when a place has got five possible names? The Balearics Supreme Court once handed down an adjudication as to the correct naming of Porto Cristo, i.e. it was indeed Porto Cristo. But, twelve years on, a great political and linguistic debate was still being waged. Should it be Portocristo - all one word? Should it be Colònia de Nostra Senyora del Carme, Cala Manacor or Port de Manacor?

So many Garcías
The most popular first surname in the Balearics was found to be García. It was also the second most popular second surname, i.e. the maternal surname. But how many people were there called García García? The Spanish Government stepped in to rule that the alphabet should decide the order of first and second surnames. Not that it would be much use in the case of twice-named Garcías.

Sex and drugs and rock and Real
Real Mallorca, beneficiaries to the tune of 800,000 euros per year of sponsorship money from the online Bet-at-home, took a somewhat dim view of advertising by the company which featured references to sex and the taking of drugs. It didn't quite conform with the image of the club.

And finally, things that go bump in the night, including a ghost story for the new year:

Demonic happenings in Inca
The demons of Inca, known by the name "Dimonis d'Inca" for some forty years, were angered by the emergence of another group of demons in the town calling themselves ... "Dimonis d'Inca". A meeting with the councillor for culture had to be called to discuss the matter.

Black magic in Palma
Police were called to investigate a Satanic, black magic ritual that had been taking place in the area of Puntiró. It was not the first time. Every six months, residents complained, those who "looked like Africans" and wearing strange clothes would turn up. Police discovered animal sacrifices in what appeared to have been some sort of voodoo practice.

The ghosts of Manacor
A new study sought to shed light on the story of ghostly apparitions that appeared on the streets of Manacor, especially the area of Fartàritx, from the end of the eighteenth century until as recently as the post-Civil War. They would appear suddenly, speak not a word and then equally suddenly would vanish. The study believed there was one "ghost", a mentally unstable chap called Pere-Joan. But even after his death, in 1820, there were further sightings.

Happy New Year, everyone. And don't go having nightmares.

Any comments to please.

Index for December 2010
Bouncers, regulation of - 14 December 2010
Captain Beefheart - 19 December 2010
Catastrophes - 10 December 2010
Christmas 2010 - 24 December 2010
Church and religion, attitudes towards - 20 December 2010
Corruption, year of - 30 December 2010
Councillors, increased numbers of local - 13 December 2010
Culture, spend on - 8 December 2010
Downloading law in Spain - 22 December 2010
Dystonia - 2 December 2010
Educational standards in Mallorca - 9 December 2010
Electricity price increase - 29 December 2010
Estación Náutica Alcúdia - 26 December 2010
Holidays, public - 7 December 2010
Language, television and - 11 December 2010
Mallorquín, Catalan and politics - 15 December 2010
Opinion seeking, Balearic Government online - 28 December 2010
Person of the year, Spain and Mallorca - 17 December 2010
Playa de Muro history - 5 December 2010
Protests, student - 12 December 2010
Puerto Pollensa, transport infrastructure in - 3 December 2010
Sibil·la - 27 December 2010
Smoking ban - 23 December 2010
Spain, WikiLeaks and World Cup - 4 December 2010
Spas, corruption and - 2 December 2010
Strange stories of 2010 - 31 December 2010
Sustainable tourism, Thomson and - 21 December 2010
Tourism awards - 6 December 2010
Tourism investment and technology (Plataforma Digital Turística) - 25 December 2010
Tourism strategy, hotels and - 16 December 2010
Town halls, hotels and local business: divisions - 1 December 2010
Women: sexual harassment, violence and roles - 18 December 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Year Of Living Corruptly

This has been the year of the corrupt. Topped and tailed by cases that at the start of the year ensnared prominent members of one political party (the Unió Mallorquina) and at its end with the "Caso Puertos", 2010 has been one long and sorry tale of the enduring rotten state of Mallorcan public life.

So what's new, you might ask. The new year same as the old year. In her Christmas message in 2009, the president of the Council of Mallorca, Francina Armengol, had called for commitment to "ethical civic behaviour", referring to the "repeated occurrence of corruption". In this year's message, while praising the efforts of those pursuing the corrupt, she said that there needed to be a change of direction in politics to one of transparency that is far removed from corruption.

If Sra. Armengol is still in office this time next year, she will probably be revisiting her theme. If not her, then her successor. Despite the diligent probes by prosecutors, judges and police, the cases of corruption and allegations of corruption keep coming to the surface with the regularity with which malodour filters out of a sewer cover.

Even where public figures are beyond reproach, so prevalent, so almost institutionalised has corruption been that you cannot be certain as to what you're seeing. Mallorcan politics is like the doping cheats in athletics or cycling or Pakistani bowlers deliberately overstepping the crease. You just can't be sure.

The level of corruption in Mallorca is, in one respect, surprising. The degree of decentralisation in local government conforms with the principle of subsidiarity whereby organisation is passed down to ever smaller authorities. In theory, subsidiarity should be an obstacle to corruption because its manifestation is easier to detect rather than in monolithic centralised organisations. Perhaps this subsidarity could now be said to be working in that more and more cases are coming to light. But it doesn't stop it happening in the first place.

Less surprising as a cause of corruption is the sheer size of the local public sector and the plethora of authorities which are both directly governmental (town halls, Council of Mallorca, regional government) and quasi-governmental, such as the ports authority, the subject of the "Caso Puertos". The larger the public sector, the more fertile the terrain in which corruption can take root.

Yet this doesn't always follow. Scandinavian countries, for example, have large public sectors but a virtual absence of corruption. Mallorca's corruption stems in part from its system of government but more importantly from a societal ethic that transmits itself into government - it is one of tribalism and nepotism.

The newspaper "El Mundo" recently carried an article in which it quoted the views of Juan Luis Calbarro, the spokesperson in the Balearics for the Unión Progreso y Democracia, a national party that was formed three years ago. What he has to say makes for difficult but not revelatory reading. "The Balearics have the highest number of people who are corrupt or allegedly corrupt per square metre in Spain." He then reeled off a list of cases, all of them ongoing, and concluded by saying that all the main executive and legislative bodies in the islands are implicated along with various individuals - "businesspeople who are friends of certain politicians, businesspeople who assemble companies in order to receive adjudications decided by their political friends, as well as the wives, husbands, cousins and nephews of politicians".

His is a damning indictment of the nepotism and cronyism that are the root cause of Mallorca's corruption, and it is one that may well afflict even those who enter politics with honourable intentions. To what extent does a societal ethic of granting favours act as a form of pressure on politicians to engage in dishonourable practices? As Gabriel Garcías, a professor of law at the Universitat de les Illes Balears, has said: "so long as there is no ethical or moral transformation in society, the law will solve nothing." Which is a depressing view of how, despite the huge publicity given to cases, legal measures may not eradicate corruption. The line from Monty Python's "Church Police" sketch isn't far from the truth: "it's a fair cop, but society is to blame".

And so you wonder if, at the end of 2011, we will be saying much the same thing as we are now and whether the president of the Council of Mallorca, whoever it might be, will be relaying the same message. You wouldn't bet against it.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hot Air: Electricity prices and government policy

The cost of electricity is to rise again. From 1 January it will increase by 9.8%, the largest single hike for 28 years. Since 2006, while cost of living has risen by 12%, the cost of electricity, including the January increase, will have gone up by over 40%.

The increase is due to a raising of the tariff set by central government. It will apply to the majority of consumers who are on the so-called "tarifa de último recurso". The increase has not surprisingly been condemned by consumer organisations and opposition politicians alike. The Partido Popular reckons that the hike will make the price of electricity in Spain one of the highest in Europe. It would be more accurate to say that the price is beginning to reach parity with that in other countries; it will still be cheaper than in the UK, Italy, France or Germany.

The reason for the increase lies primarily with a rise in the cost of electricity futures. These were determined a couple of weeks ago, but the news about the passing on of charges to consumers was largely ignored. A cynical view that has been expressed is that the Spanish Government's declaration of a "state of alert" to do with further possible action by air-traffic controllers was a way of burying the bad news.

The increase is, though, hard to reconcile for different reasons. One is that the government wishes to cut consumers' power bills by 2013 by attacking the tariff deficit between what energy companies charge and the revenue they receive from government. Among other things, this will lead to a reduction in revenue by photovoltaic plants (solar energy) by around 30% over the next three years. This is a blow to the renewables energy industry and is a further issue that is hard to reconcile, as it goes against the government's own policies of clean energy and energy efficiency.

The latter, energy efficiency, is something else that is hard to reconcile, particularly in Mallorca. Consumption of electricity, for heating, is disproportionately high, owing to the inadequacy of much housing stock. Governmental talk of energy efficiency has not been matched by a drive to assist with measures that could significantly reduce consumption.

There is then the effect on the wider economy, and this is something else that is hard to reconcile. The increase can be viewed as being pretty much equivalent to a tax increase. Coming on top of the rise in IVA and the austerity measures, the electricity price rise is likely to make still-born the possibility of economic growth. While the hope is that tourism will steer the Balearics into more benign economic waters in 2011, it will, in all likelihood, disguise the situation in the domestic market as a whole.

The fragility of confidence is reflected in the figures for spending in the Balearics over the Christmas period - down by around 14% per person and 25% per family. This is a substantially greater decline than had been anticipated. The level of Christmas spending may be a special case, but if it is taken as a barometer of activity, then the economic outlook is far gloomier than had been feared. Put 10% on electricity bills, and that outlook just got gloomier still. There has to be a fear that Mallorca and Spain are heading backwards into further recession.

The announcement of the price rise comes at the same time as it has also been announced that a pipeline to bring natural gas to Alcúdia is being planned to come on-stream in 2012. Good news perhaps for the hard-pressed consumer, except that gas is also rising in price, while what the pipeline will mean in the short-term isn't clear, other than possibly supplying the power station, assuming it can be converted from its reliance on coal.

As part of a wider strategy for energy, the arrival of natural gas can only be a positive, but it is a rare positive amidst an energy policy that the Partido Popular is probably right in criticising for its errors. The hot air (and hot air that is about to cool off in many a household) that comes from government regarding energy has been exposed as being this alone. One wonders if the idea of keeping bar and restaurant doors closed in order to seal in set temperatures will be revisited. Heaven help the poor bar-owner if, on top of the smoking ban and, yes, his own increased energy costs, he is forced to install automatic doors that will maintain a summertime temperature of air-conditioned 26 degrees.

This setting of optimum temperatures is, however, an example of a failure to educate as to how different settings can increase or reduce consumption. The whole notion of energy efficiency is not being well handled, and while it isn't necessarily a political maker or breaker, price increases could well be. Zapatero's fate, if it hadn't already been, may well have been settled by the economics of energy.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Have Your Say: Balearic Government opinion seeking

The Balearic Government is giving people their say. An internet campaign that goes under the title of "tú tienes la palabra" offers the possibility to cast opinions as to various initiatives undertaken by the government. The very use of the familiar, informal "you" form ("tú") gives the campaign the air of consultant-led marketing puffery styled in the language of the intimate; citizens are the government's friends. Of course they are.

It's all a bit of catch-up. Together with the informality, it is designed to make the government appear inclusive and to make the citizen participative. It's an approach that has been doing the rounds for years, one that sprang up in the US and which was couched in the managerialist vocabulary of the consultant - accountability, social responsibility, customer-focussed, stakeholder. It has taken it's time to catch on in the Balearics where the notion of citizen participation has only recently started to be given some prominence or respect.

If you are inclined to, you can visit the part of the government's website that enables opinion to be cast - There you will find the various initiatives, new ones appearing on a daily basis. Anything from support for immigration to cultural promotion to statistical information that the government pumps out and to the politics of language. An interesting aspect of all this, where I'm concerned at any rate, is that I seem to have written about most of them at some point; some of them on many an occasion.

Whilst the drive towards inclusiveness and participation is not in itself unwelcome, certain questions arise. One is how much interest there is. The answer, given the number of responses to questions regarding initiatives already posted, is not very much. The campaign started on 10 December. Only now is information regarding it surfacing in the media, probably in recognition of the fact that there has been so little response. There isn't a lot of point in inviting opinion and not telling anyone that you wish to. Perhaps further opinion should be invited as to how well the government (and other public bodies) publicise things. I think we know what the answer would be.

A second question is what happens with the information. The fear is that it will simply add to one of the initiatives, that of statistical information provision. Percentages will be released in great abundance to the press who will slavishly reproduce them, and this will be the end of it. There will be an appearance of involvement and no more.

This government campaign is not the only attempt at getting citizens to participate or to voice opinion. Pollensa town hall, for example, invites comments and suggestions. You send them by email. And then? Who knows. One can guess at the sort of thing that they will include, as they are voiced often enough. Dog mess, street cleaning and so on. For a town hall that took little practical notice of some thousand people marching in the streets of Puerto Pollensa to complain about town hall neglect, you would have to wonder what notice they would take of emails from "disgusted of the Moll". The town hall now has its perfect response in any event, having finally got round to rolling out its 800 grands' worth of annual contract for new cleaning equipment combined with satellite positioning technology to show where is being cleaned and which the citizenry of Pollensa will eventually be able to consult via the town hall's website.

A third question that arises, or would were there any real interest in this government campaign, is the potential for manipulation. Not by government but by respondents. The weakness of online voting and opinion is the same weakness that one gets with text voting. It is a weakness that stems from a strength of both the internet and SMS: that of whipping up support, be it for an "X Factor" contestant, a Sports Personality or a political initiative. The democracy of inviting opinion, of quasi-referendums via new technologies, is to also invite the tyranny of minorities masquerading as majorities. It is the modern-day take on John Stuart Mill's tyranny of the majority in a democracy, without even the certainty that it is a majority view.

For the moment, however, there is no fear that this will occur with the government's campaign. So uninterested does the Balearics citizen appear to be in voicing his or her opinion that in one poll - on equality and women - a question as to the prioritisation of a protocol for detecting, preventing and drawing attention to sexist violence drew precisely no responses.

If the government is serious about citizen participation and counselling public opinion then it needs to rethink its online campaign and probably relaunch it with much stronger publicity and a message that you don't just have your say; your opinion will actually matter.

Any comments to please.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Intangible Tourism: Sibil·la

Had you attended matins on Christmas Eve, you would have heard the chant of the Sybil - Sibil·la. The chant, together with the carrying of a sword and candles and the wearing of costumes of white or coloured tunics, was placed on Unesco's list of practices described as "intangible cultural heritage of humanity". It was done so on account of, inter alia, the chant giving the people of Mallorca "a strong feeling of identity and pride".

The Sybil was one of many practices that Unesco chose to list in 2010. Two of the others were specifically Spanish - flamenco and human towers - and a further two were shared with other countries, falconry and the Mediterranean diet. Practices from elsewhere sound somewhat bizarre and obscure, such as the scissors dance of Peru, the Kirkpinar oil wrestling festival of Turkey and the hopping procession of Echternach in Luxembourg. What all have in common is folkloric and cultural tradition.

While the likes of flamenco are known globally, the Sibil·la is not. It is performed in places other than Mallorca, but its association is firmly with Mallorca, even if its origins are not. The identity and pride referred to by Unesco have been evident from the reporting of the listing of the Sybil, but should it be something to be exploited or should it remain on the island for the islanders?

This question has been addressed by a leading local musicologist, Francesc Vicens. He worries that things shouldn't get out of hand, that Mallorca doesn't have a record of cultural symbolism, such as the Sybil, being subjected to pressures of a more global style, i.e. from outside the island. At the same time, however, he is aware that it would be a contradiction that, having been granted recognition, the Sybil should not be limited to the island alone.

What all this is about is the degree to which the Sybil will become or should become a form of promotion.

Are these concerns, however, not being slightly overstated? As I say, most of the practices listed by Unesco are fairly obscure. Does recognition mean, for example, that people will be rushing off to join in with the hopping in Echternach? Maybe they will. But so long as the Sybil remains true to itself, a further issue raised by Vicens, what really is the problem? That it might be promoted as an aspect of cultural heritage, as given the seal of Unesco approval, and might lead to tourists wishing to come to Mallorca to witness and hear it, then this can only be a positive. Is it not?

To be fair to Vicens, he is not against the Sybil being presented alongside the likes of Rafael Nadal in promoting Mallorca. Rather, what he does express concern about is how well tourism, and therefore the tourism industry and organisations, handle culture. He actually believes that it would be "fantastic" were the Sybil to be used as a way of getting tourists to know more about Mallorca. But he also believes that the tourism industry has little interest in cultural issues, which may come as a surprise to some of those in the industry, especially in the promotion agencies. However, he could well be right. And his words cut right to the bone of the discussion about cultural tourism. He says that "much is spoken about cultural tourism, but I believe that the term has been used a great deal but without planning or a strategy ... for promoting the island".

The words of the musicologist are music to my ears and to others who have been saying much the same thing. Where I would tend to disagree, however, is with the idea that the Sybil would be that strong a symbol, were the planning or strategy for its inclusion in promotion done well or not.

Pressures of a more global style, as he sees coming from what is unprecedented for Mallorca in having such a recognition for an aspect of its culture, might not actually come about. In a way, he is falling into the same trap as the tourism agencies, that of believing this culture has resonance in a wider market, when in fact it might not have. It is a trap laid by essentially insular thinking made global. It is thinking that goes along the lines of because it's important to us (Mallorcans), then it will be for others. I may be wrong, but I don't know that it will be.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

To The Alcúdia Station: Estación Náutica

Never let it be said that things move swiftly. So slowly do they move that you can be forgiven for believing that whatever they are had been forgotten. As is, or was, the case with the Estación Náutica in Alcúdia.

You have to go back to February 2009 to be reminded of when this concept first surfaced in Alcúdia. In May of that year it was actually signed into being. And then? Silence. But the silence has now been broken. The business association behind the "estación" in Alcúdia has finalised the process of its candidature to become a part of the Asociación Española de Estaciones Náuticas (AEEN). A further meeting in January should seal this candidature and allow Alcúdia to call itself an "estación náutica".

We can all breathe a sigh of relief. Put out the bunting perhaps. We would do if we really knew what the whole thing was about and, more importantly, what benefits it is likely to bring. I can go back to a meeting at Alcúdia town hall in February last year to remind myself of the degree to which attendees were unclear. I can recall a later meeting, one that I didn't attend, but which was - as it was described to me - full of those looking to extract whatever benefits they could for themselves. Whatever the concept was, it appeared to be a recipe for self-interest.

Let me try and clarify. An "estación náutica", and this description is aided with the words of the head of tourism in the town as expressed in May 2009, is "a tourist product with accommodation and water-sports activities sold as a tourist package that allows the tourist to engage in the likes of sailing and underwater activities and complementary activities such as golf and horse-riding". Alcúdia will become the first such "estación" in Mallorca; others exist elsewhere in the Balearics and on the mainland. AEEN's website declares that these centres are the "best nautical destinations in Spain".

There is a lengthy document which lists the requirements for becoming an "estación náutica" and the benefits of doing so. If I try and put them in a nutshell, they demand levels of quality and service of all participating members, of whatever type of business, and the use of the "estación náutica" brand as a mark of quality. There is also a requirement, one to tackle seasonality, which demands a minimum of the principal offer of accommodation and water-sport activities from March to November; a requirement that should be a benefit.

The concept does not necessarily mean creating anything new - Alcúdia has plenty of water-sports activities plus all the complementary activities and offers. It is largely a marketing exercise.

Anything that might assist tourism in Alcúdia (or anywhere else that fancies branding itself in this way) has to be welcomed. But questions do arise. One is why it requires an outside agency, AEEN, to bring parties together in establishing a "brand" that already exists? Or rather, could have existed if parties had been minded to put their heads together to come up with something similar.

Secondly, would it really help with lengthening the season? Menorca has such centres. Are they operating for the minimum period set out? Maybe they are, but whether anyone is going to them or indeed can get a flight out of season, I couldn't honestly say. Thirdly, there is the matter of organisation.

What you will have is a further agency involved in tourism, one separate to the town hall but which will presumably work alongside the town hall. There will be a separate website, a separate office (like a tourism information office, I guess) and separate promotional material. Duplication is everything in tourism promotion.

This could all be a great success, and innovation is not to be sniffed at, if success does follow. But what would be useful to know is what hard benefits have accrued to those resorts in the Balearics and the mainland that already operate as an "estación náutica". Does this marketing have a positive bottom-line effect? Well, does it? I have searched for examples which might indicate this, but without success.

However, one does also need to consider this in the longer-term. Establishing a reputation as a water-sports centre doesn't happen overnight, nor does one for high quality. So in terms of measuring benefits, some patience is necessary.

There remains, though, one final question. The name "estación náutica" might mean something to the Spanish, but what does it mean to those from other countries. How is it translated? A nautical destination in English, according to AEEN. Sorry, this doesn't cut it. Water-sports centre or resort? Better perhaps, but isn't Alcúdia already known as this? Maybe it isn't, in which case fine, but water-sports resort conjures up an image of something different, of something specific, of something new. And unfortunately, apart from the "brand" name, it is none of these.

Any comments to please.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Carol: Mallorca's tourism funding

Father Christmas, in the form of the national tourism secretary, Joan Mesquida, has filled the stocking of the Tiny Tim, impoverished tourism coffers of Mallorca and the islands. The Scrooges of central government have been visited by the ghost of tourism past and been reminded as to how things once were and by the ghost of tourism future to show how things might be, were they not to mend their miserly ways.

Well, something like this anyway. The new compassion will see President Cratchit and his starving regional family tucking into a turkey of 54 million euros of tourism money in 2011. For now, they can eat well on the plump bird, but will it turn out to be a turkey of a different variety? What's the money to be spent on?

The breast will go towards the Playa de Palma and Palacio de Congresos projects and towards something called the "Plataforma Digital Turística"; the legs (around 20 million euros) will go on promoting "alternative" tourism, i.e. that designed to cope with the problems caused by seasonality. One gets an awful sinking feeling and an awful vision of Marley's ghost taunting President Cratchit that this might not be the tourism future he would hope for.

Playa de Palma and its failings we know about. The Palacio de Congresos, notwithstanding Mesquida's Christmas bonus, is short of at least 30 million euros to enable the project to advance. The money will be welcome, but will it guarantee that the project is completed any time soon?

Then there is this "Plataforma". This was heralded with much fanfare during the ITB fair in Berlin in March. The trumpets were blown, but the marching band was nowhere to be seen or heard. Where was the money to pay for it? Microsoft had agreed to write the score, but Bill Gates' largesse and philanthropy do not extend to governmental projects being undertaken for nothing. There is no such thing as a free launch of a new technology initiative.

What is the "Plataforma" exactly? Peio Oiz of Microsoft has said that it isn't a website so much as a "unique store" or interconnected digital warehouse if you like, the main advantage of which will be to bring together technology systems of tour operators, travel agencies, hotels, the complementary sector (restaurants and so on) and others. It will bring pretty much everything to do with tourism together in one place, but as a system for business efficiency as opposed to one that actively promotes to the wider tourism world.

What it really means in practice, however, remains to be seen. We should find out by April next year. Thereafter, we might also discover what sort of benefits it brings. It is, though, further evidence of the type of thing Mallorca does well, which is the development of technologies for tourism purposes. The investment seems sound enough.

Finally, there is the 20 million for "alternative tourism". Not for the first time, you do have to wonder as to where responsibilities lie. Only a couple of days before the announcement of the 54 million euros windfall, the Council of Mallorca was saying that the Mallorca Tourism Foundation would be spending 3.6 million euros next year on its promotion.

You lose track of who does what and indeed of what promotional bodies there are. The Foundation will, though, be concentrating on what it calls "product clubs" - film, conventions, golf, hiking, cycling, yachting, culture and emerging markets. This does at least seem to chime with the 20 million euros that are being earmarked from central government's funds. But, as has been asked before, why are there different agencies doing essentially the same things?

The best you can say is that they do at least sing from the same hymn sheet, but perhaps this is also indicative of a problem that besets tourism decision-making. It is group thought, predicated on these "product clubs", some of which seem tenuous in terms of benefits they might actually deliver. But it is unchallenged groupthink. It is taken as gospel, and the choirs sing the same hymn over and over to little effect.

The Christmas present is not one to be rejected and placed on eBay, but before we start mistaking it too much as the cheer of the ghost of Christmas present, it should be noted that nowhere is there any mention of the bread and butter of mainstream summer tourism and its promotion. The money from central government will come in handy, but let's not forget that the tourism ministry is in debt. What the funding for promotion in 2011 is to be is not clear.

Sadly, one also has to be sceptical about many of the announcements that are made about tourism. Go back to the fair in Berlin in March and the tourism minister, Joana Barceló, was adding to the news about the "Plataforma" by saying that there was to be a "total union" of all those in the tourist sector, a kind of grand meeting to address competitiveness. It was going to take place in September. So where the Dickens was it?

Any comments to please.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas 2010

Not an article today, just a short thing to wish you all a merry Christmas from what was, as yesterday at any rate, a decidedly balmy Mallorca and to thank you all for coming to the blog. The first ever blog entry was 1 November 2005 (no longer archived), so this is the sixth Christmas.

And as is now traditional at Christmas time, below is a thing that I don't know I can do better, so I just repeat it. Also as is traditional, for some reason, a song that seems right for Christmas and it is damn good; so once again, "To The Country". And also something new. I heard The Pierces performing this and it was superb. In the absence of a YouTube with The Pierces, here are the Casting Crowns with "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day". A bit religious for my taste, the Casting Crowns, but it's still rather charming.

Have a great Christmas, everyone.

"At night the sky is a magician's show. The heavenly stars glow and vibrate. It is close to freezing, and one can almost imagine snow, the saw-teeth of holly and a choir of all is calm, all is bright. As the evening becomes tomorrow, the road is silent. The pines at the edge of Albufera appear as genial fluffy clouded puff-monsters silhouetted in the darkness. A night bird calls. And the power station throbs, a lowing cow by a distant manger. There goes a late plane across the speckled blackness and now a shooting star. It races from nowhere and disappears as quickly as it arrived. And once again it is silent, a silent night, and the heavenly stars twinkle on, and maybe that shooting star was something, someone, else. Who knows? Maybe it was him, a bearded man with large boots."

Any comments to please.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Smoke And Mirrors: The smoking ban

Although we had thought that the smoking ban had been approved some months ago, it hadn't fully been approved. Amidst the debacle of the downloading bill, Congress finally signed off on the smoking ban on Tuesday. Just as well really, given that it is to come into effect on 2 January.

The publicity surrounding the ban has, one would think, left no one in any doubt that lighting up inside a bar, restaurant or other public place will be prohibited. Less publicity has been given to the fact that some open-air areas are also affected. There is to be no smoking outside hospital doors and in children's play areas. This aspect of the smoking ban makes the Spanish ban one of the most restrictive anywhere in Europe.

You wonder if the open-air aspect isn't the thin end of the wedge. The zeal with which the Spanish Government has pressed ahead with the ban suggests it might be inclined to go further. Where? Beaches perhaps? There would doubtless be a great deal of support were it to. How long before the ban is extended to bar and restaurant terraces? Again, many would approve of such a move.

The bars and restaurants of Mallorca had launched, somewhat belatedly, a campaign to stop the ban. There had also been talk of an amendment to the bill which would have meant that the ban's introduction would have been delayed for six months. This didn't make a lot of sense. Everyone knew the ban was on its way, and crisis or no crisis, six months make no difference.

The arguments for and against the ban are well-known. The dire predictions of lost revenue, lost employment and potential business closure in the bar-and-restaurant sector are also well-known. There is little point in going over old ground. It is now a case of seeing whether the proof of the bill's pudding will be reflected in less or more demand for a pudding and main course by those who disapprove or approve of its introduction.

Until the effects of the bill have been given time to show what sort of an impact the ban will have, it's probably right to now just to keep quiet and see what this impact is. But there's a problem with waiting for official or unofficial reports as to the impact, and it is the same problem that has dogged the propaganda of the pro- and con-lobbies throughout the time it has taken for the bill to become law.

The government's stance, in addition to the health one, is that the ban will mean more, not less business for bars and restaurants. It bases this claim on what has happened elsewhere, such as in the UK. And this is where the problem comes in. For every bit of information that might support the claim, there is other information which refutes it. As with business, so also with health. One study can point to the harm from passive smoking, another says it is unproven, another one still debunks the whole notion. And you base what you believe about the smoking ban on your own view of smoking, backed up by information which may or may not be accurate.

We can probably predict that some months into the Spanish ban, the government will report that businesses are benefiting, while the hostelry and business associations will say something different. Who would you believe? It would all be down to where you stand on the issue. As ever.

Personally, I am hugely in favour of bars being smoke-free, but I have a mistrust of "bans". It's a personal liberty issue, but even this goes round in circles. What about the liberties of those who are forced to breathe in other's smoke? (And these are pretty much the exact words that get trotted out by those who challenge the personal liberty argument.)

There is some scepticism as to whether the ban will be enforced effectively. This is scepticism largely of the "yes, but this is Spain" type. Being Spain, they do things differently, as in ignoring laws. Maybe, but don't underestimate the power of the "denuncia". If a bar is flouting the law, you can bet that someone will dob it in to plod, a rival bar perhaps, just as is the case with noise.

There is also some possibility for confusion. What exactly is the situation with a bar that temporarily encloses its terrace, as is the case during the colder months or when there is poor weather in summer? Does this then become "inside"? Will, as has been predicted, there be the emergence of the "cigarrón", i.e. smoking and also drinking in the streets outside bars, and the potential for disturbance that would accompany it?

The answer to these questions and indeed to the impact of the ban we will get some time after 2 January. Whatever the answers are, the picture is unlikely to be clear, despite what government or other sources report, just as the picture from the arguments leading up to the ban have been unclear through the smoke, mirrors and smoke-screens.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Closing Down? Illegal downloading in Spain

I have a confession to make. I have never illegally downloaded a movie or a song from the internet.

Boy, you don't know how it feels to get this off my chest. I have been living with the shame of being a download-denier for years. I know that my 'fessing up could mean my being shunned by friends or family, but this is a cross I have to bear.

You have to ask why I have been a denier. In Spain of all places. Spain which is the most lax country in the European Union when it comes to tackling internet piracy. It is a haven for the dodgy downloader and also, therefore, for download "re-sellers". And these are not just the lookies. So lax is Spain and so high is the level of downloading by Spanish users that the country has been put on a blacklist by the US Congress. Production companies are wary about distributing original material in Spain.

Some years ago, Singapore sought to legitimise itself in the eyes of the international community by getting to grips with what was rampant piracy and counterfeiting. It was of a different type - fake Rolex, Gucci, Lacoste and so on. There were shops that taxi-drivers would take you to. The windows were papered over. Don't get me wrong, I don't claim never to have obtained pirated goods. The Lacoste t-shirts from Singapore made excellent Christmas presents. The day after I'd been to one shop, the front page of the local equivalent of "The Bulletin" ran with the story of a police raid. On that very shop. I must have missed it by moments.

Singapore did legitimise itself. Spain has been facing similar demands to get its act straight when it comes to downloading. Which is why for much of this year the passage of the so-called "Sinde" law has been staggering through parliament.

Named after the culture minister, Ángeles González-Sinde, the law was tagged onto a much more wide-ranging one, that of the "sustainable economy". This alone created confusion, a not uncommon facet of Spanish law-making. Months after it was meant to have been enacted, Sinde's law has just reached its final parliamentary stages in the Spanish Congress.

The law has not looked to emulate the route in the UK, that of cutting off the internet connections of habitual illegal downloaders and file-sharers. Quite right, too. The UK's solution is absurd. Instead, Spain would block or close down websites which offer illegal film and music downloads and free sports programmes that would otherwise be on subscription. Any decision to do so would still be subject to authorisation by a commission for intellectual property.

Getting to a vote has been a tortuous process as it has involved negotiations by the PSOE ruling administration with the multitude of parties which exist in parliament, the Catalonian CiU and the Basque PNV having been particularly crucial. There has been a reluctance to support the measure, and this stems, one has to presume, from what is a strong desire not to limit freedom of information. There has also been the added confusion of elements of the sustainable economy law that have nothing to do with the downloading element and which have been used as bargaining tools. You wonder why the Sinde law couldn't have been dealt with separately.

The law has also attracted the mavericks of cyberspace. Websites for the PSOE, Congress and others have been attacked in the days and hours leading up to the vote. The Anonymous group, which has been behind attacks on PayPal and Visa in light of the WikiLeaks furore, has been prominent in activating the Spanish attacks.

The point about the Sinde law, other than any notion of limiting freedom of information, is that it would probably have very little effect, especially for those internet users who understand a bit about file-sharing. Furthermore, closing websites down does not mean that new ones might not emerge, and recourse to a commission on intellectual property opens up the field to all manner of potential legal challenges by websites. The law could actually be a minefield.

And then there is the question as to whether it is sensible to legislate at all, which brings into play the whole issue as to what the internet stands for as well as the costs of trying to prevent piracy. In a way it's a bit like the war on drugs. Vast amounts of money and resources go into fighting drugs, but to what end? The scale of downloading and sharing in Spain is enormous - one in three users is said to regularly share copyrighted material - and this despite the fact that, in the Balearics as an example, the number of homes with internet connections isn't as widespread as you might think; only 56% of homes in the Balearics have one.

The other way of looking at this is that downloading, illegal or not, could be set to become even more enormous. For the meantime though, it's carry on downloading - illegally. Why? Because the passing of Sinde's law has failed. By two votes. All the horse-trading and it still couldn't be passed. You never know, maybe I'll join the rest and download with impunity. Until, that is, the Senate tries to ratify it in January, but don't bank on this.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

High Density: Sustainable tourism

Say "Benidorm" and the image the name is likely to conjure up is one of high-rise holiday hell or the sit-com's Garvey family arguing around the pool at the Solana Resort. It is unlikely to suggest itself as a model of eco-sensibleness. But that is what it is.

Back in 2008 the head of tourism research at Sheffield Hallam University, John Swarbrook, coined the expression "ego-tourism" to refer to the trend towards tourism in parts of the globe where the eco-system is fragile; in Africa or South America, for instance, or the Antarctic, and why would anyone want to go there anyway? There was and is a confusion as to what "sustainable tourism" means. It doesn't mean wealthy tourists heading off for remote areas where it is impossible to sustain them. Unlike Benidorm which, back in 2008, was already being held up as something of an ideal for eco-tourism.

And it is again being lauded for this ideal. A report entitled "Sustainable Holiday Futures", carried out on behalf of Thomson Holidays, refers to the "Benidorm effect". What this means is that, in terms of environmental management and the use of resources, it is far better to pack tourists into a relatively confined area rather than have them lolling around on hammocks on sparsely populated desert islands, trekking through the rain forest or hacking across ice fields with some Huskies.

It may not appeal to the inner romantic of the tourist, but Benidorm is infinitely better for the eco than it is for the ego. Why? Well, clustering tourists into what the report terms "super-holiday hubs" means less environmental damage, so long as the resort is geared up for monitoring and managing resources.

In the case of Benidorm, it is already evident that sensible environmental measures have been adopted, such as lights switching off automatically in hotels, low-energy lighting on the prom, foot pump-operated taps to save water, everything being pretty much in walking distance and local sourcing of food. "High density, low impact" goes the thinking. It's a variant on the old "pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap" retail philosophy of Jack Cohen. The greater the volume, the lower the cost of environmental harm. And not just in-resort.

The report's compilers, The Future Laboratory, point also to the benefits of Benidorm when it comes to the devil of eco-unfriendliness, i.e. carbon. A family of four travelling from the UK consumes 2.2 tonnes of carbon by going to Benidorm, as opposed to 15.8 tonnes on a seemingly more environmentally-friendly hiking tour of Chile.

Sustainable tourism and the managing of environmental resources are concepts often spoken about, not least by politicians who probably have the same limited handle on what they really mean as do tourists. As with everything else of a tourism nature, it is the tour operators, Thomson (and therefore TUI) in this instance, who are taking the lead.

The understanding of the issues by tourists is, though, getting better, and what Thomson are doing is to enhance this understanding. Even relatively simple innovations, such as the Waterpebble, a device for monitoring water usage, given away as a gift to holidaymakers, are intended to heighten consciousness of the environment and resources whilst on holiday.

TUI has been beating the environmental drum in Mallorca for some time and has looked to make environmental righteousness in hotels a selling point for its German clients. I have tended to think that environmentalism is an easier sell to the generally more eco-conscious Germans, but British tourists appear to be catching up. The report says, for example, that 29% of holidaymakers currently monitor their energy and water usage whilst on holiday.

If the "Benidorm effect" were to be repeated in Mallorca, then what might this involve? There are of course holiday centres which could just as easily become "super-holiday hubs", and not just single resorts. Whole conurbations like that on the bay of Alcúdia might become one, but there would be an issue with transport. Specifically, nonetheless, Alcúdia has taken a step in the right direction with its laudable project for recycling water for use by hotels.

It might also be that more isolated, smaller resorts would have to be abandoned. There could never be "high density" in somewhere like Cala San Vicente. Might it indeed be environmentally more efficient to develop Puerto Pollensa further and create higher density there?

These sorts of questions arise from what Thomson are talking about, and they are ones of a strategic nature that we know that Mallorca's decision-makers aren't very good at answering. But the future is being envisioned, and it is one that could create a rather different tourism landscape to the one that currently exists in Mallorca.

* For more information about the "Sustainable Holiday Futures" report, go to the Communications Centre on Thomson's website,

Any comments to please.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Losing Their Religion: Attitudes towards the Church

The Fundación Gadeso is probably an organisation you are unfamiliar with. But much of the information about social and economic issues in Mallorca comes from the foundation.

Gadeso (Gabinete de Estudios Sociales - office of social studies) was formed in 1975 and became a foundation in 2002. It has been an important source of monitoring social and economic activity since the collapse of the Franco regime. It is an uncontroversial organisation, but it does consider controversial issues, such as corruption. One of the few links from its website - - is to a blog called the observatory of corruption which lists everything that is currently happening in respect of corruption allegations in Mallorca.

Also on its website there is, at present, a reader poll inviting responses to the significance of Christmas. The possibilities range from a religious festival to signifying nothing. Gadeso has just undertaken a survey of religious attitudes in the Balearics. This survey, unsurprisingly enough, finds a divergence in opinion across age groups, but it is one, were attitudes not to change as Balearic youth enters adulthood, which highlights the waning dominance of Catholic religious orthodoxy: well under a half of those in the 16-20 age group say they are believers.

Religious belief is one thing, another is the attitude towards issues with a religious dimension. On every issue, a majority of the youth group agrees with divorce, sex outside marriage, passive euthanasia (meaning the refusal or withdrawal of treatment), gay marriage and adoption, and abortion. Only one of these issues, divorce, gets almost unanimous support across different age ranges, but there is a further, more obscure issue which receives very little support, regardless of age. A mere 27% of all those surveyed agree with the system of financing the Catholic Church.

In theory, the Church is meant to depend upon funding through the tax system, i.e. from a percentage of income tax that taxpayers opt to donate to the Church (0.7%). It does of course have sizable assets, being the second largest land and property owner after the state, but its, if you like, working capital comes from this percentage. Or does it?

As long ago as 1987, when the so-called "church tax" was introduced, the Church agreed to be self-financing within three years. It never happened. In 2006 the Zapatero administration announced, belatedly perhaps, that government subsidy of the Church would come to an end, but that the Church would benefit from an increase in the tax to the current level, so it was still not to be self-financing.

Another research organisation, the nationwide Europa Laica (Secular Europe), estimated last year that the Church receives, via different means, some six billion euros of funds from different governmental bodies. The organisation supplied a caveat to its estimate, owing to what was described as a lack of transparency on behalf of both the Church and the government. But its estimate included 3.8 billion euros for private schools that follow the national curriculum and which have Catholic religious education. It also included some 100 million euros that came from taxpayers who had opted not to pay the church tax but to divert the money for social and charitable purposes; there are a large number of Catholic charities. There was also the matter of some 900 million euros of lost tax income because of exemptions.

On this latter point, however, there may well now be a tightening of the tax noose. Three parish churches, those of Son Servera, Felanitx and Pollensa, were recently presented with a combined IVA (VAT) bill of 344,000 euros for building works, following a decision by the Balearics' Supreme Court.

What this all suggests though is that, despite other confrontations with the Church, the Zapatero government hasn't been as aggressive when it comes to funding. The implication of the Gadeso survey, however, is that perhaps it should have been. Whether it has the opportunity to be so in the future depends upon whether there is a future. The Partido Popular (PP) has vowed to turn back the secularism of Zapatero, and this may also include instituting a more favourable financial regime.

Though the Gadeso survey reveals differing attitudes among age groups, they show broad support for many of the government's social policies in the Balearics and echo support elsewhere in Spain. Gadeso is important in that it acts as a barometer of attitudes. Politicians, especially those from the PP, might do well to take some notice of them.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Love Over Gold: Captain Beefheart

For once, something not about Mallorca or Spain. A bit of an indulgence, but bear with me ... .

I am not and never was an autograph-hunter. I have a few autographs, but too few to mention. Except for two. They are written on a compliments slip that came with the tickets for a concert at The Royal Albert Hall in London. The year was 1972. The autographs came with a sort of salutation, "love over gold". The names were those of Don Van Vliet and his wife Jan Van Vliet. I've no idea if they might be worth anything, but if they are then chances are that they are now worth more. Don Van Vliet has died. Captain Beefheart has died. The Captain is dead, long live the Captain!

The concert at the Albert Hall started with first a ballet dancer and then a belly dancer coming onto the stage. Why it should have done was a mystery, except to the Captain. Maybe it was intended to allow for some word play - ballet, belly - or to represent different worlds. His words, his lyrics were as oddball and surreal as his music. As oddball and surreal as he was. One by one, members of his Magic Band came onto the stage and performed short solos. Rockette Morton exploded his bass as did Oréjon, Zoot Horn Rollo hit a "long, lunar note and let it float", Winged Eel Fingerling slid his guitar, Ed Marimba drummed with a pair of pants on his head.

Beefheart's music was almost beyond definition. At one time, in the mid-60s, A&M Records had wanted him and The Magic Band to become a kind of west-coast American Rolling Stones. The band had a bluesy feel, but this was about as close as they came to Jagger and his group. They were just too weird for a commercial market. Beefheart eschewed the trappings of pop and, as a consequence, spent much of his music career broke. He simply wouldn't compromise and yet resented the commercial success and wealth that came the way of his old school friend Frank Zappa.

Beefheart (Van Vliet) lived near the desert in California, the Mojave. Away from the mainstream he conjured up a world of the non-mainstream. His music combined his own Howlin' Wolf-style vocals replete with growls and yelps, the blues, avant-garde experimentalism and Ornette Coleman jazz influences. The music became a highly synchronised blend of discordance and peaked with the album "Trout Mask Replica" in 1969. The cover suggested the disconnection from reality that was to be found within, Beefheart wearing a stovepipe-reminiscent top hat and the face of a trout.

The album was either a work of genius or unlistenable to. It was unquestionably painful. John Peel once described Beefheart as the only "genius" in popular music history. The excruciating, having-teeth-pulled genius of "Trout Mask Replica" was two-fold. One was that it sounded improvised. Yet it had been rehearsed over and over again. Indeed Beefheart had more or less imprisoned The Magic Band for a period of eight months while he instructed them as to how to play the 28 "songs" and while he and they had all but starved in a process that involved band members being encouraged to fight with each other and being humiliated and assaulted by Beefheart.

The second was, and this is something that never seems to be mentioned, that it had the power to frighten. Music plays with many emotions, but to make you afraid is not normally one of them. The discordance, the surrealism were dark; they were of a different world. "Trout Mask Replica" was an aural version of the nightmare that David Lynch put onto film with "Eraserhead".

Beefheart did mellow to an extent. Some of his later material was even recognisable as songs, quite sweet ones even. His relationship with Zappa, long difficult, did smooth sufficiently for them to come together on the album "Bongo Fury" in 1975. This is another of my Beefheart treasures. It was never released in the UK, but I have the import version. Amidst the more melodic music of The Mothers Of Invention, Beefheart was there, rambling on the likes of "Sam With The Showing Scalp Flat Top".

The influence of Beefheart, despite his lack of real commercial success, has been cited down the years by other musicians. Arguably, along with The Velvet Underground, his influence on subsequent rock music was greater than anyone's. His other influence, and maybe I am only now realising it, was that even if you didn't like all his music, and I didn't, he taught a lesson in how to see the world as it isn't. If you want a Spanish connection, there might well be one; he was the Dali of the music world.

Here is the Captain at his musically most indecipherable:

Any comments to please.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Showing The Red Card: Women in Mallorcan society

A planning inspector in Calvia is under investigation having been denounced by a woman who alleges he sought sexual favours in return for "regularising" building work at the woman's home. He was caught on a mobile phone camera, but denies having requested such favours.

Being under investigation, I won't say any more, except that I have some interest in the case. I know one of the parties concerned, and it isn't the planning inspector. The reporting of the case, other than the facts as they are known, reveals that the inspector was well known in Calvia and that colleagues at the town hall are shocked by the allegations.

Would you be shocked if I were to tell you about a restaurant owner who seeks sexual favours in return for employment? Maybe you would be, maybe you wouldn't. You might be if you knew the restaurant, but that's life, you might think. That's how it is. And this is Mallorca after all.

Sexual harassment is part of a much broader picture that covers serious crimes against women. In Spain so far this year sixty-nine women have died as the consequence of violence by their partners or former partners. Not as bad as 2008 when there were 76 deaths, but the level has remained similar since the turn of the century; in 2000 one woman every five days was killed by her male partner.

In November there was the case of the woman in Pollensa killed by her octogenarian husband. It was a case that bordered on the bizarre; an old man running over his wife with a car. Another woman from Pollensa, interviewed by "Ultima Hora", fled the town and the island, concerned that she would also become the victim of an elderly husband. A reassuring aspect of the interview was the "phenomenal" support she had received from various agencies, such as the Guardia Civil.

The issue of violence against women, prompted by the Pollensa case, was publicised by local politicians. President Antich, together with other members of the government and Ramon Socías, the Balearics' central government delegate, brandished red cards on the steps of the building which is the seat of the presidency. The red cards seemed a bit silly, but the message and the action were well-intentioned and correct; showing the red card to gender-related violence.

Sexist attitudes, which manifest themselves in a whole range of actions from the relatively harmless to the criminal and serious, are hardly unique to Mallorca or Spain. To what extent they endure in being widely held is difficult to say, but Spain is a country in which the role of women has changed only relatively recently. A traditional view of the Spanish male as being highly sexist does not obtain to the degree that was once the case, but attitudes don't necessarily change, especially among older sectors of society who knew how it was in Franco's time.

An indication of attitudes, those foisted onto women, came from an international survey that appeared on the website, one that coincided with the international day for the elimination of violence against women on 25 November. This found that some women, especially in Spain, "still believe that forced sex in a relationship is acceptable".

Successive Spanish governments have sought to legislate against sexist attitudes and in favour of women, culminating in the current government with its policies on abortion and an attempt to introduce a Europe-wide system of restraint orders and protection, across national borders, for women suffering abuse.

Legislation has also helped in bringing about equal opportunities in employment that have, as a consequence, changed traditional family roles. While there are discrepancies in pay and the existence of a "glass ceiling" (as elsewhere), women have assumed positions of importance in business. The hotel industry in Mallorca, for example, is heavily populated with women in its upper echelons, both within hotel chains and hotel federations. Yes, a number are daughters, so family tradition still prevails, but you don't get to head such powerful organisations without being capable, family ties or no family ties.

And as in business, so also in politics. The Balearics tourism minister is a woman, the president of the Council of Mallorca is a woman and her predecessor was Maria Munar. Equality is everywhere now, as Munar has joined the male ranks in being caught up in corruption charges.

Despite the violence statistics, there is an altogether healthier respect for women and for their roles in society. This healthy respect still needs some work though. And the seeking of sexual favours, whether proven or not, has no role to play.

Any comments to please.

Friday, December 17, 2010

People Of The Year: Spain and Mallorca

Mark Zuckerberg is "Time Man (Person) Of The Year". Good for him. He joins a distinguished list of those who "for better or worse" have most influenced events during the year. His name is now etched alongside previous winners such as Roosevelt, Churchill and The Computer. There was no person of the year in 1982, just a machine; neither Thatcher nor Galtieri could persuade the judges.

There has never been a Time Person Of The Year from Spain. There is arguably only one who might have been: Franco in 1936. Wallis Simpson won that year for some reason. He then faced some pretty tough opposition over the years of the Civil War; Chiang Kai-shek and his missus winning in 1937 and Hitler and Stalin in the next two.

If Spain has proved to be light when it comes to candidates for Person Of The Year, then Mallorca has been all but weightless. The island doesn't really do "greats". In seeking a person of the year, therefore, there is no alternative other than to forget global influence and to instead be inward-looking in considering Spain and Mallorca's persons (sic) of the year.

For Spain you probably have to look no further than Vicente del Bosque or Andres Iniesta for lifting the World Cup, but that puts them in Sports Personality of the Year territory. Influencing for better or worse? Well, does A.P. McCoy do this, other than influencing the betting habits of a nation? Discuss.

Does Zapatero qualify as person of the year? He has influenced relatively little other than his likely political downfall, but his real problem has been that he is influenced by other things. He has no real control of events, just as Mallorca's politicians have no control, except in one area. A whole dock-full of them have influenced events for the worse - Munar, Matas, (Miguel) Nadal and their shenanigans with public money. Allegedly. People of the year might well be the more anonymous faces of the anti-corruption police and judges.

But Zapatero does qualify in one respect. He responded to the Pope's accusations of secularism in Spain by saying that laws are not made "that the Pope wants". His great achievement, not just this year, has been his challenges to the Church. He may go down in history as having presided over the collapse of the boom times, but he also deserves a place in history for his social policies. He can't be made person of the year because of his economic failings, but he would still make the shortlist.

As in Spain, so Mallorca has its sporting aspirants. Rafael Nadal and Jorge Lorenzo. Great achievements by both, but what have they really influenced? The greater achievement was probably that of a non-Mallorcan, Real Mallorca's former coach Gregorio Manzano for influencing outstanding performances from a team that refused to be dragged down by a hopeless club. Even Manzano didn't influence events that much though, not to the extent of ridding the team of Sid Lowe's "no-fans" jibe.

Of Mallorca's politicians, the ones who have kept their hands clean, that is, can anything be said? Not a lot. President Antich was and is a victim of circumstances, but he did one thing for the good - booting the Unió Mallorquina party out of the coalition when the corruption charges became a daily occurrence. The weakness of his position and that of his government was, however, exposed when he had to concede the environment ministry to the Mallorcan socialists (PSM) who promptly bared their political teeth in bunkering the Son Bosc golf course. The new minister, Gabriel Vicens, has form in influencing events for better or worse, depending on your point of view; he had previously managed to hack Alcúdia town hall off so much that the planned rail extension from Sa Pobla was scrapped.

Antich said in January that he was going to make tourism his priority in 2010. Heading off to Moscow to press some flesh may have been evidence of this, but did he influence tourism events? Not so as you would have noticed. As with most things, he showed how impotent Mallorca's politicians are. They find it hard to influence anything that really matters, such as tourism. The real people of the year, as ever, are the bosses of Thomas Cook and TUI. It is they who influence events for better or worse, and so we can anticipate ever more all-inclusive in 2011.

No, there is no one person who merits the Of The Year accolade. Not a Mallorcan or a Spaniard anyway. The one who does is American. Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook influenced us, well many of us, for better or worse, and gave rise to subversiveness of the sort that saw Pollensa and its poorly maintained and littered streets being highlighted with shame and pro-duck campaigners in Can Picafort aiming to flout the law.

"Time" may have got it wrong with Wallis Simpson when it overlooked Franco, but it has got it right with Zuckerberg. Do you like or do you want to be a friend?

Any comments to please.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cutting Down To Size: Tourism strategy

The rarity with which anyone in the tourism industry utters some common sense demands that, when it is uttered, attention should be paid. The president of the Mallorcan Hoteliers Federation, as reported in "The Bulletin" (15 December), has called for the elimination of obsolete tourism accommodation and for the avoidance of duplication in tourism promotion. The federation is drawing up a strategic plan in which both these aspects feature. Praise be that someone, anyone, might apply some strategic thinking to Mallorca's tourism.

Without spelling it out in so many words, the logic of the federation's wish to eliminate outdated hotels and to regenerate tourism areas is that there would be a reduction in the number of hotels. This might sound like turkeys proposing and then voting firmly in favour of Christmas, but the hotels are suffering from a lack of stuffing and from what there is, which is all onion and no sage. The wisdom of chasing numbers at the expense of profitability has been exposed as being as pointless as filling the Christmas plate with Brussels sprouts no one wants; the trimmings need to be cut and made more edible.

The words of the federation's president deserve to be slowly chewed over and digested. "The problem with the approach to the tourist industry ... is that hoteliers, backed by the regional government, (have) been too keen on getting large numbers to the islands without creating a proper pricing structure". There are too many hotels, there is too much supply and there are relatively too high a number of tourists that generate insufficient revenue.

It's a drum that I seem to have been banging for an age. Perhaps the penny is dropping along with the profitability that goes with a percentage of tourism which is worth very little or nothing at all. The case for a strategy based on lower numbers, on improved quality of hotel and on a higher-worth tourist seems overwhelming.

What this doesn't mean is an end to mass tourism. It would be folly were it to. What it does mean is an altogether sharper focus on tourism which is less like a social service and more one of excellent service for a more demanding tourist.

It is a strategy that is not without its problems. Eliminating obsolete hotel stock and not replacing it requires a means of compensation, which is why the hoteliers have previously called for legal means by which hotels can be pulled. Upgrading stock means more than just the limited provisions of the "decreto Nadal"; it means fewer bureaucratic hoops through which hotels have to jump in order to re-develop and also means integrated approaches to resort development of the sort that has collapsed in Playa de Palma.

It is a strategy that also requires the government to rid itself of its obsession with numbers. Who cares if Mallorca slips down the tourism numbers league table. The goal difference in terms of tourism value is far more important than what's shown in the points column, that of tourism volume. Inevitably though, fewer tourists mean fewer employees; that is a political obstacle.

Another is fewer passengers passing through the airport. Central government may have inadvertently hit upon a solution. By proposing the privatisation of airports, the central government has shifted the goalposts of co-management of Palma airport by the regional government which is now up in arms at the suggestion, so long has it sought its share of the management and of the revenue that would go with it. One of the determinants of this co-management was that defined levels of passenger traffic should be achieved. Privatisation would put an end to this need, as co-management would be kicked into touch. What it wouldn't do necessarily is put an end to the need for numbers passing through the airport; landing, handling charges and so on would remain paramount for private operators.

Despite the obstacles, the hoteliers federation is right, but whether its strategy can resolve the apparent incompatibility between the numbers and the right sort of tourism (which is the incompatibility as things stand), who can tell.

The federation is also right when it comes to duplication of tourism promotion. Why are both the government and the Council of Mallorca involved in this? The Council now has more responsibilities for administering tourism, so why not just hand it the whole tourism responsibility? There again, why was this administration responsibility transferred from regional government? What really is the point of the Council of Mallorca when it comes to tourism promotion or indeed anything?

That it takes the private sector in the form of the hoteliers to try and drive strategy is telling. The government has failed to do so. A succession of tourism ministers have failed. One of them, Ferrer, did at least speak of the need for "boldness" when he assumed office, but he had no opportunity to demonstrate what this meant, as he was out of office in under two months. Otherwise, the words of the tourism ministry have too often trotted out the mantra of "alternative" tourism (gastronomy, culture, blah, blah) to the point at which you despair of it ever getting to grips with the fundamentals of summer tourism. A strategy? Yep, it would be nice.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

United We Speak: Catalan or Mallorquín?

When is a language a dialect, and when is a dialect a language? Opinion as to the distinction between the two is one on which you will find a lack of unanimity. Linguists themselves can't agree.

If you are inclined to do so, you can go back far enough with most "languages" and argue that they are in fact dialects. It all depends where you want to start. But for current-day purposes, there are languages which are undeniably languages, one of them being Catalan. Or is it? A definition of a language is that it should be that of a "state". You may have noticed that there is no Catalan "state".

Alternatively, a language is a language if there exists a "standard" form, which is the case with Catalan. Except, of course, that there are variants. Nevertheless, the language has its own "code" in that dictionaries determine the standard form. The fact of there being variants does not negate a claim to being a language. Were it to, then English would fail the test. In the case of English, standard codes of language as set out by dictionaries, most obviously the Oxford English Dictionary, are important as there is no body which arbitrates on what is or isn't standard English, as is the case with Spanish (Castilian) or French.

The problem with these variants, however, is the vagueness as to the language-dialect distinction. Let's take Mallorquín. Is it a language? There is no Mallorcan state and there isn't a specific language code, or at least as far as I am aware. Where it appears, in dictionary form, is in the work of Antoni Alcover and Francesc de Borja Moll who included Balearic languages (or are they dialects) in an all-embracing Catalan dictionary.

Greater unanimity of opinion surrounds the political dimension as to whether a language is a language or a dialect. Think what you will of the politicisation of the language debate in Mallorca, but to deny the importance of politics would be to completely fail to understand the debate, and it is a debate that has been sparked into ever more controversial life by the leader of the Partido Popular (PP), José Ramón Bauzá, who has said he will reform the so-called law on linguistic normalisation if his party wins power in May next year. This would have the effect of relegating Catalan in favour of Castilian and the languages of the individual islands.

What Bauzá argues is that there is no such thing as a "unity of Catalan". He seems to believe that Mallorquín and the other languages of the Balearics are that - languages, and not therefore dialects of Catalan. Why does he think this? The reasoning is political. If Mallorquín is distinct, then so is Mallorca from Catalonia. The political motive lies with his alliance with the Spanish state and not the aspirations of a Catalan state, language and all.

Bauzá has attempted to prove linguistically that Mallorquín is not a dialect by mentioning certain Catalan words that are not used in Mallorca or the Balearics. He has come unstuck, his theory being disproved by teachers at the institute in Inca from where a protest of schools in Mallorca is being planned against him. Moreover, even if they weren't used, this wouldn't prove anything. Dialects do tend to change words. Indeed Bauzá's whole linguistic argument is preposterous. The Catalan lineage from the time of the conquest of the thirteenth century is indisputable, except by a few who claim that a brand of Catalan was imported directly from southern France. Mallorquín has fundamental differences to Catalan, such as with the definite articles "es" and "sa" (and even these aren't used in all instances), but the differences are not so great as to suggest some sort of separate development or major divergence that might qualify it as a distinct language.

Town halls in Mallorca have responded to Bauzá by approving Catalan as Mallorca's "own language". Manacor has just followed the likes of Sa Pobla, Pollensa and Inca in doing so. Why should they do this? Apart from the political aspect, the town halls are their own local repositories of culture, and language is indivisible from culture. In Manacor, there is an additional political flavour. The mayor is Antoni Pastor, a member of the PP who does not see eye to eye with Bauzá.

But what makes this all the more curious is that claims for a Mallorquín language are therefore being denied by those who oppose Bauzá, be they from his own party or from the left of the political spectrum. So Mallorquín is a dialect, and to say it isn't would be to deny the supremacy of Catalan. It is a somewhat bizarre argument when you consider nationalist pretensions to the existence of a Mallorquín language, though perhaps it isn't so bizarre when you consider that in a different Catalan-speaking part of Spain, Valencia, the far-right has supported the notion of a separate language to the extent of calling for linguistic secession from Catalan.

Ultimately, it doesn't really matter whether you call Mallorquín a dialect or a language. What does matter is where you stand on the issue politically. And that, it would appear, is all that matters.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bouncy, Bouncy: Regulation of bouncers

The bouncers of the Balearics are going to have to go back to school. The regional government is proposing a law that will require bouncers to undergo an official course and to pass a test that will gauge both physical and psychological abilities to do the job.

The requirements for being accredited are wide-ranging, from understanding rights under the Constitution to being able to resolve conflicts without resorting to violent methods and to having basic abilities in both Catalan and Spanish.

The background to all this is three-fold: the death of a club goer in Madrid at the hands of bouncers; the legal vacuum surrounding the club security business; the bad image that bouncers have. The colloquial term for a bouncer is "gorila"; the nicer one is "portero", the same word for goalkeeper.

Bouncers have tried to improve their image. In the UK they have been re-invented as "door hosts" or "door supervisors", but the image endures, one of intimidating muscle-bound gym monkeys - gorillas. The law in the Balearics will not be too dissimilar to requirements in the UK for obtaining a "door supervisor licence", which demands 30 hours of training; in fact, it seems to be more stringent.

At the same time as the Balearics are going down the same sort of track as the UK, there are concerns that the UK is about to take a backwards step. The Security Industry Authority, which licenses bouncers, is also a Quango and may well be disbanded. The fear is that this will mean a return to the bad old days and the re-emergence of organised crime running the club security business.

A question arises as to why there hasn't been effective control of bouncers. A central law transferred responsibility for its being enacted in the Balearics several years ago. But it was never acted upon. A conference on civil responsibility, held in Ibiza in June this year, looked specifically at the failure to introduce regulation and recorded various reports of attacks by bouncers, including one that was racially aggravated (the Balearics law includes specific mention of racism).

One aspect of the new law, and which may explain why it has not been introduced before, is that it is likely to end up costing not only individual bouncers but also club owners. Licence charges aren't that high in the UK, but this doesn't mean that they might not be in the Balearics. But even a low charge adds some further financial burden as well as further regulation to an industry that awaits the introduction of the smoking ban with some trepidation; of all the "hostelry" sectors, clubs and night bars are expected to be the hardest hit by the ban. So we can probably expect some condemnation of the law.

What doesn't seem to be being mentioned, though, is anything about tourists. As is often the case, it can be salutary to see what is being said on internet forums. In the case of bouncers, they are "aggressive", turn people away without explanation and, in one instance, did nothing to intervene when someone was being beaten up "for 15 minutes" in a particular club. Then there is the question of age. Unless you look really young, you shouldn't have problems getting past the bouncers was one piece of advice. A further aspect of the new law will be to deal with underage drinking, something which has been poorly tackled across the board in Mallorca and Spain, and so check ID. A problem, especially for British kids, is whether they have any.

As ever though, there will be an issue as to how rigorously new regulations will be applied and who will be doing the applying, and in the case of those currently working in the "industry", they will have until 2014 to pass their tests. To which one might ask: why so long? Bouncers will be going back to school, but the lessons won't be starting for some time yet.

Any comments to please.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Jobs For The Boys: Local councillors

Local elections take place in May, and there will be more posts to vote for in Mallorca than ever before. The law on elections allows for specific numbers of town hall councillors depending on the size of municipalities' populations. Towns which have broken through different thresholds include Calvia. Now with over 50,000 registered inhabitants, it can increase its councillors from 21 to 25. Good for it. At the same time that it's adding politicians, it's cutting budgets for promoting tourism and looking after the beaches. Three towns close to upping their councillors to 21 are Alcúdia, Pollensa and Felanitx, but none has yet acquired the 20,000 residents to permit this. So they are stuck with 17.

Town halls, again depending on the size of the population, are obliged to assume responsibility for a range of minimum services. All of them have to look after basic services, such as refuse collection and street maintenance, and only as the number of people increases do these minimum services also increase.

Councillors' jobs do not, however, correspond with these services. For starters, there are councillors who have no responsibilities as such, as they are members of the opposition. Broad responsibilities are often combined and given to one councillor, while there are plenty of "jobs" that are not included in the list of minimum services. Oddly enough, I can find no reference to police in this list, yet this is a town hall service (where it applies) that falls directly under the mayor.

The system of local government is still evolving. Until relatively recently, the precise role of town halls was not that well defined within what is a four-tier scheme of central and regional government, insular government (in the case of the Council of Mallorca) and the municipalities. But a progressive system of decentralisation has granted the town halls increased responsibilities and autonomy; all part of a political philosophy to bring democracy as close as possible to the people.

The philosophy is laudable, but it has not been and still is not without its problems. One is to do with financing. The divvying up of public money has tended to prioritise regional governments even to the extent of denying central government, while local government has been the poor relation, despite assuming more responsibilities. A second is that the philosophy has not been put into practice. Only now is "citizen participation", be it through neighbourhood associations or public consultations, really starting to catch on. Certain councillors have had the responsibility added to their portfolios.

A third problem is a structural one: the sheer abundance of local authorities. This structure brings with it potential inefficiency. The populations of a half of Mallorca's municipalities are under 5,000. It has been argued, with good reason, that expecting them to be efficient is unrealistic. The call has gone out, therefore, for mergers or to at least share services. One academic study reckons that spending needs for a town of 1,000 people is 23% higher (relatively, I assume this means) than one for 5,000 people. Merger, and you don't have to be an economist to figure this out, would achieve some economies of scale.

Public spending bodies have been making similar calls to those coming from academia. The Sindicatura de Cuentas (like the Audit Commission) argues that there has to be a rationalisation of resources. The calls are not falling on deaf ears, as local politicians understand there are difficulties with the current system, but the president of the Balearics' local authorities federation maintains that the system is the best. There again, he probably would; he's also the mayor of Puigpunyent which has only around 2,000 residents.

The fourth problem, and this brings us back to the increasing numbers of councillors, has to do with these councillors themselves and issues of professionalism, qualification and the old-boys (and girls) network. One of the greatest drawbacks with localism, especially in Mallorca where everyone seems to be related to everyone else, is that of nepotism. In itself, it probably isn't often viewed as being questionable or corrupt; just how it is. But with increased responsibilities come other ones, those of transparency and ethical behaviour.

The old-boys network is such that creating new councillors can simply mean adding more jobs for the boys, while the network is also at play even between different political parties. Most of the local politicians will have grown up with each other. Political differences don't count for much when favours can still be granted. And grants are a further facet of the network. The same academic study which pointed to that 23% higher spend also considered what can happen with grants that are made to municipalities from higher levels of government. They can go to subsidising things that are not priorities or needed. And you therefore end up wondering who actually benefits and to whom the grants go.

For all its failings though, the system of local government has much to be said for it in terms of community and identity. Rationalisation would undoubtedly make sense, but just think for a moment about how passions can rise in England when boundaries are changed, new counties formed. The system is still evolving. It may be that rationalisation has to occur, but for the time being the number of councillors will increase. Whether they are needed though; well, that's another matter.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Through A Glass Darkly

"Returning to England feels like journeying back to the 70s". So ran the headline of a piece by Hadley Freeman in "The Guardian". What a difference three months can make, because that was all the time she had been away. Spies, snow and student protests. When you've been away an awful lot longer, there is something reassuring about the protests; reassuring that the clock can be turned back to show that students, indeed the British, haven't lost their capacity to protest.

In the 70s we fought the cuts, marched in solidarity behind our student leader, he who went on to become "Two Pizzas", i.e. Charles Clarke. It was peaceful enough. Not all protests were. Brutality was pretty much to be expected by police for whom there was an almost total absence of trust. Gene Hunt was accurate in every way, bar one; he wasn't bent.

Protest seemed to be abandoned after the Poll Tax. Apathy through complacency took over, so much so that Iraq caused just a dribble of demonstration. The good old days have returned. But ...

Despite the ease of communication and access to information, not being over there, as in not being in the UK, makes it somewhat unreal. It's as though you are watching a documentary; it's somewhere else. You're a part of it but not. It's fascinating to observe, but that's all you are - an observer, and from a distance.

You look at it as through a glass darkly, without the benefit of the reality of being there. In a way, it mystifies. Mystifies that protests in London can seem to be so important; can be written about or spoken about. Why do we care, over here, about what happens over there? Not being over there, we have no ownership of the issue, just as we have no ownership of Cameron or Miliband, of Kate and Wills, even of Man United or Spurs or what the rotters of the remove at FIFA do to England's bid.

It's a false being. One of "Corrie" and "Eastenders". Over there is a soap as much as it is a documentary; it is no longer real, but we pretend that it somehow is. We talk about it, write about it, argue about it. But who cares over there what is thought over here? Why, in truth, should anyone over here care what anyone over here thinks about what happens over there? The answer probably lies in the fact that no one over here much cares about what happens over here, so over there retains its importance.

The false being is such that neither over there nor over here is real. Over there is through a glass darkly and over here is through Alice's looking glass, stepping through a mirror to an endlessly sunny garden but which is, in reality (if it exists), just a dream. Or so it sometimes seems. Over here is where it is forever paradise, until reality bites.

When you are away for a time and you go back over there, what do you encounter? There is the order of the landscape, the enduring beauty of the English countryside, the politeness. And other things endure. Everything changes, well, no they don't. Take That are still there, or rather are back again. Phil Mitchell's puffy face is still there. Aggers and Test Match Special are still there, replaying the legover, schoolboy giggles with Johnners.

Amidst this order, this unchanging over there, shifts have occurred. You only have to land at an airport to be aware of them. The machine guns, the ominous signs as to it is against the law for this or that and the even more ominously monikered Border Agency, the sense of underlying paranoia.

And it is like journeying back to the 70s, when there was the paranoia of The Cold War and The Troubles and also that created by the protests of students and at Grunwick and which paved the way for battles with the "enemy within". The focus of the paranoia is what has changed, and it is breeding something nastier than the Gene Hunts ever were. Or at least this is how it seems. Because without being over there, you cannot truly know. It is all through a glass darkly.

Any comments to please.