A Peasants’ Revolt

Apanish village revolts against copyright parasites.

As a follow-on from my post on Google Books, a surreal example of copyright maximalism from Spain. Via reporter Álvaro Corcuera in El Pais; the article was translated for the IHT insert yesterday, which they put on the Web without an archive (why?).

The Spanish performing rights collective, the Sociedad General de Autores (SGAE), is dunning the Cordobese village of Fuente Obejuna (population 3,000) for €12,000 euros in unpaid fees for performances of a play written by Lope de Vega in 1610. The villagers put it on every year, as the centrepiece of their enterprising mini-festival. The specious argument is that these are adaptations, not stagings, which the producer denies. The claim includes this year’s production by a man who isn’t a member of the SGAE and says that he’s happy to cede any rights he may have to the town council.


(Photo F. J. Vargas, El País)

The really piquant angle is that the subject of Fuenteovejuna is a peasants’ revolt against a tyrannical landlord, the Comendador. They kill him and King Ferdinand – after torturing the leaders – lets them get away with it. The villagers are not backing down. “Next year the Comendador will be Ramoncín” (a rock singer on the SGAE board).

What we are seeing on copyright is a peasants’ revolt: disorganised and sometimes badly targeted, but expressing widespread popular anger against undeserved privilege. The maximalists should be running for cover, not engaging in futile provocations.

It’s marvellous the way classic plays still have the power to create trouble. When Declan Donnellan put on The Tempest in Bucharest in 1989, the representatives of Ceauşescu’s decaying government walked out.

!Sí, pasaran!

Greasing the skids

The political geography of doling out the high-speed rail money, and a mess in Catalonia.

Here’s a map of the November election results on which I’ve drawn in shaky freehand the “high speed rail corridors” that will be competing for the mere $8bn funding in the stimulus package.

Election&rail map.jpg

Original rail map here; NY Times political map here. Blue counties voted Democratic, pink Republican. The Transportation Department’s definition of “high speed” is 110mph (175 kph), not the 300 kph of a new line, so we are probably mostly talking about upgrades. The Las Vegas line of Republican mythmaking isn’t on the Bush-era list, but it can still bid for funds.

As you can see the drawing was mostly an exercise in connecting blue dots. The main beneficiaries of rail investment will be Democratic city voters. Fair enough. But several possible rail lines also go through, and would benefit, smaller pink towns that can be swung. If I were David Axelrod, I’d be pushing Chicago-Cincinatti-Cleveland and Raleigh-Atlanta-New Orleans-Houston rather than the NE corridor and California.

If you take the map of the counties that swung in McCain’s favour – the Appalachia and Deep South of poor whites – there’s hardly anything for them: only the long-shot Texas-Arkansas line.

US election swings.jpg

For public policy, it’s understandable if tut-tut to reward supporters, especially swing ones. That’s why Mitterand built the TGV Atlantique while forgetting loyally lefty Lorraine and solidly conservative Alsace. But even to a disinterested Benthamite dictator, it’s far less obvious whether to go for the highest economic return by connecting rich cities, or to use it as a lifeline for backward regions. Felipe Gonzalez built Spain’s first high-speed line from Madrid not to Barcelona, the economic capital, but to Seville – where he came from. Seville’s a major city, this wasn’t a bridge to nowhere, and Andalusia was then and remains poorer than Catalonia. Was this the wrong call?

Rail lines from Little Rock to Pittsburgh, or Louisville to Atlanta, would never pay. But then what else can the federal government do for Appalachia? Let it wither, depopulate and die? The Obama Administration needs its own version of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Spending less money on ultrafast broadband and distance learning might be a better idea.

Postscript: what’s the Catalan for Schadenfreude? (below the jump)

Continue reading “Greasing the skids”

Goya on Gaza

A lesson from Goya’s Duel with Cudgels.

I don’t have anything useful to say about the Gaza war. Unlike the great Spanish painter Francisco Goya:

Goya cudgels.jpg

Duelo a garrotazos (duel with cudgels), 1819-23

The painting, transferred from a mural on to a canvas now in the Prado, is very large: 123 cm x 266 cm (48″ x 105″) – and brutally effective in the flesh.

What was Goya trying to say?

Continue reading “Goya on Gaza”

Buggins’ good turn

The Spanish model for increasing organ donation: it’s the organisation, stupid

Mrs. Buggins (footnote) has just defied Gordon Brown.

In fact it’s Mrs. Elisabeth Buggins, a senior professional manager in the English NHS, and Chair of a blue-ribbon committee set up to deal with the shortage of British organ donors. This has just snubbed Gordon’s preferred solution of a switch from opting-in donation to opting-out, via a change in the law to presumed consent. People who don’t know much about this, like Gordon, Wikipedia, the British Medical Association – and until yesterday yours truly – tend to favour presumed consent; those on the front line, intensive-care doctors and transplant surgeons, tend to be against. Why? In a word, Spain.

Continue reading “Buggins’ good turn”

Wingnut civics (Spanish edition)

A bizarre tale of civic miseducation from Valencia.

The regional government in Valencia has introduced civic education in English. An unlucky cohort of 12-year-olds have just sat their first test. Imagine yourself at that age facing this in French. El Pais today – link may degrade:

The test asked students to analyze a Persian tale about human life [copied below the fold] and relate it to a Gustav Klimt painting. They were instructed to: “Read this tale carefully. What is it trying to tell us? Do you think that human life can be limited to this? Why? Establish an imaginative relation with the G. Klimt painting. What does it mean? What does it mean to you?”

Many of the students, aged 12 and 13 with typically only two years of English classes under their belts, simply gave up, scribbling statements such as “I don’t understand anything,” “This is beyond my level,” and “I can’t do it”.

It’s not difficult to convince adolescents that adults are stupid, but this effort is a knockout. I think it’s much worse than stupid.

Continue reading “Wingnut civics (Spanish edition)”


I enjoy high-speed trains in France ans Spain.

The 300km/hr AVE train service from Madrid to Barcelona opened today.

For train buffs, a video is reachable temporarily from here.

On a recent trip to France, Pat and I relied entirely on public transport. So I took the TGV from Lille to Strasbourg: a direct train bypassing Paris, 760 km in 4 hours. I’d bought the ticket online. Behind the frenetic yoofy portal, the reservations website works perfectly. I changed the booking at Lille station, which also printed a replacement Carte Senior for the one I’d stupidly left at home. There was no queue because most people buy or collect tickets from ATM-style machines. Total cost €64.

Continue reading “Wheee”

Reacción Católica

A letter to the Spanish press objecting to the partisan intervention of the Spanish Catholic bishops in the March elections.

A letter to the editor of the English-Language edition of El País.


The statement of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference on the forthcoming elections amounts, as El País has noted [English-language edition, 1 February, page 1], to an endorsement of the Partido Popular; scarcely less veiled than the proverbial call to “vote Christian – vote democratic” from Italian pulpits in the 1950s. What you do not say is that it reflects a tendentious view of the Gospel; and on one issue a view that has no basis at all in Christianity or indeed ordinary logic.

Continue reading “Reacción Católica”