Andalucia Steve the dream

Urban decline

How capitalism is an atractor for conglomeration

Several years ago I was living in a town called Cehegin in Murcia, in Spain, about an hours drive inland from the south coast.

My neighbours son was the local vet and over a few beers one day he explained to me that he didn't just work in town, but he had a very wide network of farms that he visited.
The farmers paid into a sort of insurance fund and he would vaccinate herd and inspect sick animals etc. He catchment area extended to the mountains of Albacete. I'd probably had too much beer, because when he asked me if I wanted to go with him on his rounds one day, I accepted. A few days later on one freezing cold morning I was getting into his car a 6am.

Well we drove and drove. As the altitude increased, so the temperature decreased. People think of Spain as a warm country. Don't believe a word of it. Winters here have been know to go down to minus 36 centigrade!

We passed a frozen waterfall and I noticed my companion was sporting a colourful woollen hat whereas I was stupidly bareheaded.

Eventually we arrived at the first farm. Antonio the vet greeted the farmer and was soon in an enclosure doing unmentionable things so yelping goats.

Old farmhouseThe farmer took me to oneside and, with my limited Spanish, seemed to be offering me his farm for sale. The buildings including the sheds and animal enclosures must have totalled about five hundred square meters. Goodness knows how much land would have been included because he gestured as far as the eye could see. His asking price was 6000 euros.

I was quite taken aback. It was a beautiful spot. The farmhouse was old but liveable.

When Antonio and I were back in the car I mentioned the farmer's offer. He chuckled and explained, that the farmer is one of the last people left in what was previously a huge goat herding region. None of the children wanted to herd goats as there was no money in it so over the years they drifted off to Madrid, Barcelona or maybe abroad to find work.

Soon the town has so few people, there is no money to pay for services and everything collapses. We drove past the town, which was on the other side of the river so we couldn't enter, but all was still. It had long since been abandoned. The farmer had to drive twenty miles to the next town for everything he needed, which was crippling any profit he had from the goat farm. He just wanted out.

Today we're looking at a similar situation in Detroit, the largest American city ever to file for bankruptcy. Detroit's population has declined from 1.85 million in the 1950's to just 700k today. Deeply underfunded schools are being shutdown. People are leaving in droves.

The cause is the same in both cases. An economic activity becomes uneconomic. Goat herding in Albacete, building cars in Detroit.

The thing about capitalism is that it takes care of money but not the people who generate it. As long as we leave the care of people to market forces, we're really saying that people are an expendable resource that can be disposed of when no longer needed.

My take on this is that profit is the expendable resource that should be used to take care of people. Today there is more profit than ever before in human history thanks to the automation afford by machines, computers and robotics. Instead of the fruits of those developments going to the benefit of mankind they are sequested by a tiny minority - the rich 1% whose only purpose in life seems to be to make more money and make the rest of us continually poorer.

Unless we start to reorganise the worlds wealth, I do fear towns and cities across the globe will gradually disappear and be replaced by one big city - the only place left to work.

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Censorship has returned

France debate on the limits of art

"I'm not an activist.  My job is to show, not to judge ".

The phrase reads a sign at the entrance of the exhibition "Fantôme Foyer" (ghost house) and is of photographer Ahlam Shibli, which Jeu de Paume gallery currently devotes a retrospective.
The text, which begins with the title "Avertissement" (warning), was withdrawn after protests sounded.

The museum had to close partially due to pump alarms and principal received death threats.

The retrospective of the photographer Palestinian, opened in late May, meets six series, including the controversial "Death": 68 photographs of Palestinian guerrillas who gave their lives in their fight against Israel.

Shibli photographed posters on the walls of Nablus, the largest city in the West Bank and where several Palestinian refugee camps.

With "Death", the photographer wanted to show as dead guerrillas are still alive in the open and in memory of the population.

The series has already been shown in other museums, the MACBA in Barcelona last.

But only in Paris has sparked protests.

In a letter to the Minister of Culture, Aurélie Pilippetti, the board of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF) accused the museum of "exalting terrorism".

The council criticized especially text accompanying the work, in which the artist uses the term "martyrs" to qualify the suicide bombers.

Since then, at the entrance of the exhibition can be the sign that the photographer explains that snapshots in color and black and white are not used for advertising or glorifying terrorism.

However, there have been threats against the museum and the principal.

In mid-June, the France-Israel held a demonstration outside the center and demanded the closure of the exhibition, scheduled for September 1.

"Censorship is back," headlined the French press when the facebook profile of the Jeu de Paume gallery was closed as early as March.

The museum published there one black and white photo on the occasion of the exhibition "Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962), l'enjeu classique".

In the picture you see a naked woman.

Only sex was covered with a white towel.

According to the museum, the facebook page was closed 24 hours.

Later, the woman's chest was covered with a black stripe.

The ban on publishing nude photos form part of the rules of the American social network.

"I do not distinguish between a work of art and a pornographic image is not only dubious, but especially a dangerous mix," then reacted the gallery.

In fall 2012, the Paris Institute of the Arab World (IMA) withdrew a video installation by Moroccan artist Mounir Fatmi on which was the writer Salman Rushdie sleeping with a clock in the background.

The artist wanted to show her the silence of Arab intellectuals after the "fatwa" against British-Indian author, on whose head the Iranian revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, offered a million dollars.

Meanwhile, the reward is USD 3.3 million.

As explained at the time the artist to the media, climate generated after the movie "Innocence of Muslims", which sparked strong protests in several Arab countries, had led to self-censorship of the museum.

Only a week before, had to withdraw Fatmi cultural festival "Le Printemps de Septembre" in Toulouse, his installation "Technologica" under pressure from the Muslim community.

Due to a technical problem, the verses of the Quran could not be projected onto a facade, but on the floor, and a woman walked over it without realizing it.

"The thing that baffles me is that happens in France and in the Maghreb or in Saudi Arabia," said the artist.

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How to become a king

You don't have to be born to rule

wikimedia image of Josiah HarlanWho has not wanted to be king? Not a king now, of course, our monarchies deliquescent and dull, but the brave monarch of a remote and fabulous realm earned by the force of courage and lust for adventure horizons. A king of those who made themselves wielding the gun in wild places that challenge the imagination, leaving the burden of everyday life, affection and security.

Among the handful of brave men who sought the kingdom of their dreams and were crowned with his own hands on thrones of jungle, mountain or desert stand, of course, James Brooke, who became the White Rajah of Sarawak, and Charles de Mayrena, which was proclaimed king of the sedang in the jungles of Indochina. Less well known, there were minor adventures and achievements of the Quaker and freemason Josiah Harlan, who left Pennsylvania with only bare hands in 1823 to conquer the dangerous lands of Afghanistan and become ruler of the principality of Gohr, in the Hindu Kush. Harlan got there on the back of an elephant: these were different times.

At the origin of his incredible adventures are a broken heart

The amazing adventures of Harlan, obsessed with Alexander the Great, was one of the elements that inspired his famous Rudyard Kipling story The man who would be king, based on John Huston film with Sean Connery and Michael Caine. "We leave here to be kings" Dravot and Peachey said the narrator of the story. Armed with ambition and 20 rifles, met their fate in Kafiristan to lose the throne, then respectively life and sanity. Harlan, who said that a sharp sword and a bold heart  supersede the laws of inheritance, could not keep his kingdom but survived to return to the U.S. and live new adventures.

During the Civil War, he organized his own regiment of cavalry, Harlan's Light Cavalry, to fight the Confederates, the same man who had led armies in Afghanistan, served as military adviser Ranjit Singh, the Lion of Lahore, and adopted the code Pashtuns of honor!

Harlan's life, told in detail by Ben Macintyre in his splendid biography Josiah the Great (HarperCollins, 2004), gave a glimpse of the most outrageous adventurer and explored a romantics twist. Could you ask for more? Scion of a family of pious and wealthy Philadelphia Quakers, Harlan (1799) embarked as a sailor bound for Eastern ports leading into the heart of his beloved Elizabeth Swaim, with whom he planned to marry.

In Calcutta he got a letter informing him that the fickle girl had married another. In a fit, our man decided to never return to the U.S. and gave the search for adventure, fame and fortune.

Harlan moved to northern India and entered the service of the exiled Afghan king Shah Shujah, who conspired to regain his throne. Thus, the U.S. was involved in the dangerous great game of European powers for control of Central Asia. At the same time, was placed in a position to take advantage of quarrels to gain personal power and, who knows, catch a title. "There are realms available, requiring only initiative, energy and luck" wrote Harlan, who added a phrase to remember: "Each in his own estimation is a king".

He left Kabul to destabilize the reigning Dost Mohammed and prepare the invasion at the head of a small army of hustlers and desperados. If getting the return of their King this would make me the vizier and then we would see. In this  Harlan's ambition amaze you almost as much as his courage. In the march towards Kabul, dressed dervish, had to deal with bandits, tribes cruel quicksand and even a riot. Dost Mohammed was unimpressed and saw Harlan as only as an unlikely tourist. After many vicissitudes, the U.S. concluded that a revolt was impossible and returned to India.

He then moved to Punjab to get the service of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The American Medical hypochondriac made the debauched eyed maharaja general in his army, and was appointed governor of Gujrat. It was then that he became involved in the war between Afghan and Sikh and decided to ally with Dost Mohammed, who had tried to depose before. The emir of Kabul, who was cruel but not spiteful, made him commander of his troops. After the victory over the Sikhs at Jamrud, presented him with a gold-plated sword and charged a punitive expedition against the infamous Murad Beg, khan Kumduz an Uzbek slavery of the worst kind.

He led an army of 4,000 Afghans, the U.S. went to the great opportunity of his life riding on elephant. Harlan rode the beast through the Hindu-Kush and during their journey through the Hazarajat in 1839, sufficiently impressed Prince of Ghor (or Goree or Gawr) that he proposed that he transferred sovereignty to Harlan who assumed security of the kingdom. He wrote a paper in which Harlan undertook to create, prepare and command an army and in return he and his heirs claimed the crown.

The adventurer had his dream fulfilled.  He returned to Kabul Ghor thinking to settle in and then it all fell apart: the British had invaded Afghanistan. And they did not suffer fools gladly: Harlan was a type that had become doubtful through Afghanistan, so he left the country with paper declaring him king still in the pocket. The America returned to his homeland, but not before passing by Russia where surely intrigued to see if the Tsar helped him settle in his throne. In 1841 he was in Philadelphia where he asked to be called modest overall and King Josiah Harlan.

In October 1871, planning to sail for China to provide military services to the emperor, Harlan Sahib slumped dead on a street in San Francisco. They say in Ghor found only a crown but also a young Hazara  and his unrequited love for Eliza Swaim. Maybe that was so eager to return. We know what it takes to win a kingdom, but it is sometimes more difficult to conquer a heart.

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What's the opposite of a Baby Boom?

Recent Report Shows Falling Birth Rate in Europe Due to Recession

In a press-release that got far to little coverage last week, on the 10 July, the Max Planck Institute in Germany announced a demographic research paper demonstrating that there had been a Europe-wide fall in fertility during and as a result of the 'great depression' in Europe.

(I leave you to study the stats and thumb through the graphs)

Perhaps this should come as no surprise. Sensible people are going to try an put off having children until they have money in their pockets. With European joblessness hitting 12.5% in May 2013, there has never been a worse time to procreate.

Yet here is the thing, this high unemployment figure would not be so bad had Europe been set marching on the beat of the austerity drum. A falling population means declining markets, and in fact more austerity because it is more difficult for the next generation of tax payers to provide pensions for the elderly.

Austerity isn't working - how long will it take to get that message across?

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