mfioretti: spain*

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  1. Be smart: We can't say it too often: The real problem with fake news is that people don't believe real news. That's terrible for society and democracy, making good decisions less likely.
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  2. before Eurosceptics start using Catalonia as another opportunity to lash out at the EU for its passivity and cynicism, a few reminders may be useful.

    The EU has long been ill at ease with separatist issues within its member states. It has no mechanism to sort out a dispute of this kind. Article 4.2 of the 2009 Lisbon treaty states that the EU “shall respect” the “essential state functions” of its members, “including territorial integrity” and “maintaining law and order”. The EU has no power over how a member state decides to organise itself or its constituent regions.
    King Felipe accuses Catalan authorities of fracturing Spanish solidarity – video

    Supporters of Catalan independence may well argue this needs to be fixed, but no one in the EU wants to open a Pandora’s box. The EU will only deal with a case of newly declared independence if that independence results from a negotiated, legally based process. That is not the case in Catalonia, but would have been the case in 2014 if Scotland had voted to secede from the UK.

    The Catalan vote was “not legal” and the issue was “an internal matter for Spain”, the EU commission insisted on Monday. Just as it had in the case of Scotland, it also made clear that if the region seceded from Spain, Catalonia would find itself outside the EU, with no automatic way back in. There are clear limits on the EU’s powers of mediation. It’s true that it played a role in addressing the Northern Ireland question (and still does today), but that was only made possible after a peace accord had been reached.
    I was Catalan, Spanish and European. But Mariano Rajoy has changed all that
    Irene Baqué
    Read more

    This leaves the issue of fundamental rights. On this point, the EU commission statement that “violence can never be an instrument in politics” is, to say the least, timid. The wording steers clear of laying any blame. The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, may have been spared a dose of EU wrath because of his party’s link to the centre-right group in the European parliament.

    But whatever political calculations are at work, the EU commission lacks the tools to determine whether a government has violated human rights. These are enshrined in the 1950 European convention on human rights, which the European court of human rights is responsible for upholding, and which the Council of Europe also monitors. Perhaps a court case will one day be mounted against the police action in Catalonia, but that will be up to the judges, not to EU institutions in Brussels.

    Drawing a comparison with Poland and Hungary is also hazardous. The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, and the government in Poland have dismantled democratic checks and balances, curtailed media freedom and put the independence of the judiciary in jeopardy. However dismal the situation in Spain, nothing comparable has been undertaken by Rajoy. It also takes a good deal of twisting of historical facts to equate the Spanish police’s heavy-handed tactics in Barcelona with the repression, systematic arrests and curtailing of individual freedoms under Franco.

    The EU has set itself the goal of countering rising illiberalism and nationalism, and it’s struggling

    It took a long time for the EU to react to Poland and Hungary’s erosion of the rule of law. As a recent report by the Open Society European Policy Institute points out, EU leaders “are reluctant to criticise one of their peers because they worry about setting a precedent that could one day be used against them”. But the same report stresses that in the end the EU decided to take steps against these governments not simply because they had trampled on democratic practices, but also because their capture of independent state institutions was undermining the implementation of EU law itself. The European club’s integrity was at stake. Spain has not gone down that road.
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2017-10-04)
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  3. Some suggest a sort of Quebec- or Scotland-style arrangement for an agreed self-determination referendum, with due guarantees. This would require a fundamental reform of the 1978 Spanish Constitution, for which there is no political consensus.

    According to the Spanish Constitution, sovereignty rests with the whole of the Spanish people. One may like this or not, but it is not undemocratic and it is line with similar provisions in most Western democracies. The draft Catalan Constitution does not, of course, provide for self-determination within its borders.

    Ideally, a substantial reform of the Spanish Constitution, including a further strengthening of Catalonia’s self-rule, including an explicit recognition of their character as a Nation, could be entertained. It would require elections, qualified majorities and a nation-wide referendum, perhaps followed by a specific referendum in Catalonia.

    This best case scenario option could be in the making in the mid-term and help bring some “tactical independentists” (those who support independence to extract more concessions from Madrid) back into the constitutional system and stem the independence impetus, which is precisely what the current movement in Catalonia fears. Both the Spanish Government and PSOE have announced in different occasions more home rule – provided the Catalan Government returns to the constitutional order. Yet roughly 30% of Catalans already feel disconnected from Spain, and building bridges with this segment would be extremely challenging, if not impossible. Further, while many Spaniards back different forms of settlement with Catalonia, possibly including a legal referendum, there is also growing weariness with the scapegoating of Spain and with the constant focus on the preferences of part of the Catalan electorate over other more pressing problems for the country as a whole.

    This is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation for the Spanish government: it cannot overreact, for it will lead to further backlash in Catalonia, but it cannot stand idle either, for democratic constitutional order in Catalonia is imperilled. Recent arrests of second rank officials of the Catalan Government, ordered by a judge of the High Court of Justice in Catalonia, on charges of abetting unlawful acts, have further inflamed the independentists, who control the streets, and other sectors too. Things will probably deteriorate, strengthening the martyrdom syndrome that they thrive on.

    But one can only wonder how France would have reacted should the Council of the Territorial Collectivity of Corsica have started unilateral secession and announced the seizure of French assets. Or were the government of Bayern, in Germany, on claims of frustration with “feeding” the Laender in Eastern Germany, to have repealed the German constitution and disobeyed the authority of the Bundesverfassungsgericht.

    To wit, this crisis represents a colossal failure of the Spanish democratic polity as a whole. Our leaders (including the new parties) have proved unable to craft a way out of the current impasse, unlike at other critical periods of the country’s constitutional history where statesmanship was present. Having grown up in the Basque Country during the years of ETA’s murderous rampage, I see some unsettling similarities in today’s hate speech, stigmatizing of dissent, and the shaping of polarized political blocs in Catalonia, polarizing politics which now threaten to spread to the rest of the country.

    The authorities in Madrid were thus wrong in framing this crisis as an internal matter. It goes beyond the Catalan question and has a wider European relevance. It is therefore in Europe’s interest to put old myths to rest and to grasp what this is really about.
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2017-10-01)
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  4. Only about 1% of El Camino is a narrow (1-meter wide) dirt trail; 99% is a road (either a dirt road, 2-track road, paved road with little traffic, or a busy highway).
    About half the time you're on a paved road or on a dirt path right next to a paved road. Some of the paved roads have little traffic, but others are quite busy.
    Because you're on a paved road so often, by the end of the day your feet may feel like they've been put through a meat tenderizer. Although I've hiked over 65 km in one day in steep mountains, I found it harder to do 65 km in one day on the flat Camino. My feet just ached too much from all paved roads.
    About 95% of the time, car traffic is within earshot. El Camino often gives you the illusion that cars aren't near because you sometimes can't see the nearby paved road which may have infrequent traffic. However, it takes just one car to remind you that there is indeed a road nearby.
    Amenities distract from any spiritual mission you may have. With endless bars, restaurants, hotels, vending machines, tour groups, you're hardly removed from the "real world." This defeats much of the purpose of living primitively in a search for a deeper meaning or understanding of life. On the other hand, it's nice to have easy access to ice cream.
    The scenery is monotonous. It's endless pastoral farmland everywhere you look. Far in the horizon, you might glimpse some real mountains. The most photogenic places are the towns and villages; since you can drive (or bike) to all of them, there's no practical need to walk between them.
    It's a skin cancer magnet. Infrequent trees means that a brutal sun is hammering you most of the day. In the summer, it's hard to tolerate.
    Unfriendly commercialism. El Camino has become a big business, where the locals are sometimes unfriendly and seem to just care about getting your money.
    It's a cacophony of sounds. Rumbling 18-wheel trucks, ear-splitting motorcycles, angry barking dogs, blaring music from cafes, honking horns, and ringing cell phones. El Camino assaults your eardrums. At least, there were no jack-hammers. Oh, wait. I walked by one of those too.
    It's hard to take a piss. There's little privacy. Cars and pilgrims are constantly passing you by. After 3 p.m. most pilgrims retire to their albergues (huts) and you'll get more privacy to do your business. Nevertheless, at 7 p.m. one jogger still managed to catch me with my pants down.
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  5. what is the best economic model to make a fablab durable?

    The answer largely depends on the context in which the fablab is set up. Fablabs are in orbit around three main values illustrated by their logo: green, blue and red. Green is for the commercial model and the economy, blue for the social impact and durability, and finally red for research and education. The three approaches can generate money, according to different means. A fablab as such is not an end in itself.

    “Fablabs must not be the new cathedrals of technology.” Tomás Diez

    Around them, they must generate solutions, projects with impact and educational programs that help to make them durable. The ultimate goal is not the success of fablabs, but the success of the initiatives they impel. Otherwise, it would be ridiculous. I do not agree with building a new religion. I think the success of fablabs will be reached on the day they disappear because everybody will have had access to fabrication.

    Today, a large part of our business is education and I think we have a long road ahead of us that will take between 5 and 10 years, but at the end of which it will most likely become our main driving force. The second strong orientation of the economic model will be the innovation of products and the incubation of companies, as accelerators. I think we are still at an early stage.
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  6. We've reported before on how news publishers in Germany and Ireland have demanded that Google pay royalties for the reproduction of news snippets and image thumbnails next to search results in its Google News product. In France and Belgium publishers took this claim to the courts resulting in an eventual settlement from Google, whilst in Germany, lawmakers unwisely caved in and passed legislation in 2013 to grant the special copyright-like rights in news snippets that the publishers had demanded.

    Illustrating how pointless this was, Google subsequently called the bluff of the German publishers, replacing their news snippets with simple hyperlinked headings rather than paying the royalties the publishers demanded, while the befuddled publishers watched their traffic stats drop away. In a humiliating backdown reported this week, the publishers have since gone back cap in hand to Google begging it to reindex their content, snippets and all.

    Last week, Spain passed a similar amendment to its own copyright law, but with a nasty twist—not only are news aggregators prohibited from including news snippets without payment, but this right to payment is made inalienable. This means that aggregators are prohibited from negotiating with the publishers to waive the payment, as has occurred elsewhere in Europe. This would also seemingly frustrate the intent of any news publisher who released their work under a Creative Commons or other open license for royalty-free use.
    Website Criminalization

    The same new Spanish law (here in PDF) makes other adverse and short-sighted changes to copyright law, bowing to the lobbying pressure of large content owners.

    Worst of these other measures is the criminalization of hosting a website that merely links to infringing content, exposing them to crippling fines of up to €600,000. Liability is triggered as soon as the owner has been notified by email of the alleged infringement and fails to respond by self-censoring the allegedly infringing content. Even non-profit websites are exposed to liability, if they run advertisements to defray site expenses. This provision runs against a recent judgment of the European Court of Justice ruling that hyperlinks are not a reproduction of the copyright works they link to.
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  7. elefónica was the programme lead for 'Smart Santander' one of the largest smart city experiments in the world. The project has been developed in line with the European Union’s Future Internet initiative, which involves the creation of facilities to support experimentally driven research in the field of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).

    Transforming Santander into a smart city was no easy feat. Around 180,000 people live in the city and with its beaches, leisure facilities and history, Santander is as much a tourist destination as it is a modern European city. However, using the grant from the EU, a consortium of 25 partners from across Europe and Australia led by Telefónica has been able to turn Santander into a living experimental laboratory.

    The project team installed more than 15,000 sensors around the city, around an area of approximately 35 kmsq, or 13.4 square miles. The work commenced in September 2010 and the installation was completed in October 2013, carried out over 4 different phases. The project has recently been expanded to include sensors on buses in the surrounding region, vastly increasing the scope of the scheme to an area of nearly 5,300 kmsq, or 2,030 square miles.

    Each phase involved different types of sensors depending on the final services being envisaged. A large proportion were hidden inside white boxes and attached to street infrastructure such as street lamps, buildings and utility poles, while others were buried into the actual pavement. Not all of the sensors were static; some were placed on the city’s public transport network, including buses, taxis and police cars. By downloading an app to their smartphones, even the residents of Santander could become moving sensors in their own right.

    These sensors measure a variety of variables, from light and pressure to humidity and temperature. Vehicles broadcast their positions in real time while other sensors measure air quality levels, for example. The sensor infrastructure deployed across the streets of Santander is wirelessly connected through the backbone network to the Telefónica M2M service platform. This technology enables the network of sensors to transmit data back to the project hub as often as every two minutes.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2014-04-04)
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  8. Holidaying in Europe has never been more popular, with the increase in tourism driven by budget airline competition, rising incomes and relaxed visa requirements over the past 50 years. Last year Europe was the destination for more than half of all the world’s tourists. Tourism and recreation are big business, with Europe accounting for nearly 25% of the US$6.6 trillion that these industries contribute to global GDP.

    Such success means many millions more people visiting the continent, more pollution and carbon emissions from air travel, transport, and construction, and more changing land use and habitat destruction. These are all threats to Europe’s biodiversity, which extends to more than 20,000 species of native plants, from dragon trees to carnivorous sundews, from bee orchids to wild kale.

    Many are only found in Europe, and some are the original ancestors of today’s vital, staple crops. With the disappearance of traditional agriculture in many parts of the continent and rapid urbanisation, there has been a large decline in the populations of many native plant species, with 462 facing imminent extinction. The tourism industry in Europe, and everything that stems from it, is exacerbating the problem.
    Tourism’s ecological footprint in Europe

    In our latest study, Ballantyne and Pickering 2013, we systematically reviewed the IUCN Red List, the most comprehensive data on threatened species worldwide, and found that 194 (42%) of the 462 threatened plant species in Europe are at risk of extinction as a result of tourism and recreation. Some groups are more at risk than others, such as low-growing annual and perennial flowering plants like orchids, asters and sandworts.

    The damage of tourism in Europe is not spread equally. Mark Ballantyne
    Click to enlarge

    Those species endangered by tourism and recreation are concentrated within just a few regions of Europe. Around 80% are found around the Mediterranean, with almost half in Spain and the Canary Islands alone. This is likely to reflect both the regions' high biodiversity, but also its popularity as a holiday destination. Up to 246 million tourists visit the beautiful, affordable Mediterranean countries each year, most notably Greece, Spain and Portugal.

    We also assessed which particular aspects of tourism and recreation threatened these species. Is it hotels and infrastructure built for tourists that causes the damage, or the activities tourists engage in at the destination? Well, the answer is both.
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  9. Germany was able to achieve large gains in competitiveness without deflation, because Spain and others were willing to accept inflation well above 2 percent. But now the eurozone has overall core inflation below 1 percent, which means that Spain can only achieve internal devaluation through crippling deflation.

    The Germans, in other words, aren’t asking the southern Europeans to emulate them; they’re demanding that they accomplish a feat Germany never had to manage, and which hardly anyone has ever managed.
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  10. The administration of the Spanish autonomous region of Valencia has completed its switch to LibreOffice, a free and open source suite of office productivity applications. Last week Friday the region's ICT department announced that the office suite is installed on all of the 120,000 desktop PCs of the administration, including schools and courts. The migration will save the government some 1.5 million euro per year on proprietary software licences.
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