Category Archives: Rights

Air traffic management monopoly in Spain

Every now and then in Spain we have to suffer threats from this or that small group of workers from different sectors of paralyzing the country (or a given city). Transporters, workers in Metro de Madrid, the Madrid subway cleaners, pilots and air traffic controllers are examples of such elements. These small groups manage to impose their claims (rarely fair, and often capricious) thanks to: (a) the monopoly of the company employing them, and the resulting lack of competition, and (b) collective agreements.

These days of summer of 2010 air traffic controllers are once again pressing for new benefits (as they did also in 2009). In view of the situation of last year (2009), and in the face of what is already happening in 2010, José Blanco, the Minister of Development(Ministry in charge of air traffic control in Spain), has taken an excellent (and long over due) step: to liberalize the provision of air navigation services. It’s the best thing we can do to rid society (individuals, workers and businesses) of blackmailing maneuvers from worker unions.

In Spain there is only one airport operator, AENA, which is a state enterprise. It is a monopoly. If the company fails to provide service (by decision of its workers, as is the case of air traffic controllers), no other service provider of air navigation, leading easily to a halt of air traffic. It’s about time someone dismantled AENA’s monopolistic cartel.

With this new measure from the Ministry of Development (hopefully it will actually go into force), it will grant licenses to operate control towers to various aviation companies. Competition will be introduced in the service. Air traffic controllers will not belong all to a single company. Each one will have to negotiate their working conditions (salary included) with a given company, which in turn competes for the air navigation service.

Two problems remain to be solved: The point (b) set out above: The existence of collective agreements that can sill be used as a grouping mechanism that grants power to the controllers, even if working in different companies.

The second problem (point “c” in this list of problems) is derived from the air navigation service nature: Traffic is controlled service by a single control area or zone, within which there is no competition between service providers. It is a problem common to almost any type of infrastructure: data networks, roads, seaports, and airports: It is not easy (and perhaps not even possible) to have multiple service providers in the same place, for infrastructure users to choose different providers at any time. This problem of “local monopolies” is inherent to infrastructures, and it makes them very vulnerable to strikes and similar blackmail.

However, these “local monopolies” would not achieve the suspension of air navigation services in the whole of Spain: Some geographical areas may suffer a strike, but not others (which may be operated by different aviation companies).

It is necessary that the State eliminates collective agreements (this is a matter for another article), but the first step, the liberalization of service provision air navigation, seems to be under way. Congratulations to the Minister of Development, José Blanco, for this measure.

Advertisements

Unfounded european protectionism against Google

Several European states and European companies seem to be planning a host of measures to curb the business of Google. The excuse is that Google makes too much money. Not a bad excuse, as lame excuses go.

Governments and companies around Europe are “unhappy” that Google is here to compete. Publishers in Germany complain that they only earn €100m per year in advertisement, while Google earns €1.2bn (in Germany). In Spain, the main telecom operator is considering charging Google for the use of its network. In Italy, privacy protection advocates are calling for making Google liable for the content of its Youtube service (despite it all being provided by Youtube users, not Youtube itself). In the U.S. Google has faced opposition to the new business models it has pioneered, specially from the publishing industry.

All in all, Google is under attack, simply because it is big and successful. We’ve seen this over and over throughout history: Accepting change is not easy, and there are people who feel threatened by the changes brought on by the Internet (and Google). These people resort, like many humans have done in the past, to attacking the new big guy, rather than accepting that things have changed.

Some of Google’s services have introduced new ways of conducting old business. Some of these have been more successful than others, and it is the very successful ones that come under fire from the competition and from regulatory bodies. But that’s no surprise: None of the criticism that Google suffers is founded; it is only meant to protect someone else’s business, while there is no real claim behind the accusations.

Before Google existed, there were other search engines out there: We used to use Altavista and then Yahoo (circa 1996 or 1998). Noone ever complained that Altavista’s search facility was a threat to privacy (Google’s search engine is seen by some as a means of control over people’s interests). Noone ever complained that Yahoo’s e-mail service looked at the content of private e-mails to display targeted advertisement side-by-side your e-mails (Google’s e-mail service is considered by some as an invasion of privacy, for Google’s AdWords uses your e-mail content to display targeted advertisement, analogously to what Yahoo used to do).

The difference is that today, the number of Internet users is far larger than in those old days of the Internet, and now any company with a good product (like Google) can attract lots and lots (and lots) of users, producing high revenues for that company. Along with the high revenues come the hyenas trying to scrape some of that money from Google, simply to try and cash in on Google’s success (like Telefónica in Spain), or simply because they are unwilling to accept competition (publishers in Germany).

Telefónica (the main telecom operator in Spain) has proposed to charge for the use of Telefonica’s network to reach customers. As such, Google would have to pay Telefónica, because Google users reach Google services through Telefónica’s network. This is completely outrageous: A customer of Telefonica’s will sign up for Telefónica services, to be able to reach several services that exist out there in the Internet: reading newspapers, writing blogs, shopping on-line, checking e-mail, or searching for information. But now the operator sees the cash cow in Google and they try to make up a new excuse to take money from Google, just because they do have the cash. This is plain and simple highway robbery.

Likewise, German publishers complain that this new competitor (Google) has eaten some of their market share of advertisement, and they turn to the government to “help” them by stopping, curbing, or charging Google somehow.

It is outrageous to see how private companies (Telefónica and German publishers for instance) turn to governments to introduce legislation intended to benefit them, but disguised as legislation that curbs some professedly monopolistic practice of Google. It is also shameful to see public authorities (the European Commission or the Italian Government, for instance) introduce legislation to attack Google. Europe must change their ways, embrace innovation and thus embrace strong competition from the outside, if we do want Europe to survive. As a European citizen, I do not want protectionist practices like those of the E.C., Italy, Telefónica (and many others). They are the wrong way to help the European citizen or the European business.

Weak democracies

Scotland freed one of the Lockerbie bombing terrorists a couple of days ago, on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. The Scottish authorities are dumb. If the guy was jailed for killing over 200 people, he wasn’t very ‘humanitarian’ to others, was he?. Then, why free him on ‘humanitarian’ grounds? Why treat humanely someone who showed no humanity? Healthy or ill, the criminal is a criminal, and if he was senteced to life in jail, it is wrong to release him just because he is ill.

This is just another sign of the weakness of modern democracies.

Language choice in Galicia

The regional government of Galicia distributed a questionnaire among parents of schooled children. The goal is to find out parents’ preferences about which language (Spanish or Galician, or a mix) to use for teaching in school, to later design the “future language policies for elementary and secondary education in Galicia.”

The questionnaire had to reach parents directly, but a group called “galician coalition of linguistic normalization and dynamization” (CGENDL in Galician) has attached a letter (in Galician) to the questionnaire to mold responses in favor of one option (Galician). While this is bad enough (the questionnaire was supposed to be neutral), the letter rests on ludicrous claims:

1) “Galician is Galicia’s own language; it belongs to us all and we cannot play with its future”

This is irrelevant: It fails to take into account the interests of people who speak Galician. The language to speak should not be chosen because it is related to a particular territory. Languages are an instrument for communication. People who choose their education in Galician may do so, regardless whether Galician “belongs” to them or not. To make Galician-based education optional is not “playing with its future”.

2) “as teaching personnel, we think we must offer thorough information about language learning, based on scientific studies”

First of all, they legitimize their opinion as superior because they are “teaching personnel”, although the problem is not at all about teaching, but rather about policies of freedom of choice. Secondly, history shows that languages are not chosen or discarded based on “scientific studies”, but rather languages become used or not as a result of forced adoption or convenience of using another language. Their “scientific studies” are unknown to me, but they seem irrelevant, because what is most important is people’s free choice, based on what they want, because it may be what’s most convenient, most useful, or most interesting for them (everyone may freely choose their motives for using one language or another)

3) “It’s fortunate, rather than unfortunate, that our community has a thousand-year-old language, which must unite us”.

“Which must unite us”? Is Galician the only way to unite people? Must people be “united”? This argument rests on too many assumptions. Can the Spanish language not unite the Galician people? Or, do they imply that Galician must “unite” the Galician people in facing others who are not Galician? This argument reeks of a desire to incite differentiation and segregation: Galician on one side, speaking Galician, and other people on other other side, speaking something other than Galician. What monumental stupidity.

4) “The idea that Galician is an obstacle for students must not be allowed to prevail, perpetuating old prejudices intended to keep Galician consigned to a secondary place in society”

These teaching personnel need to wake up and open their eyes. If someone regards Galician as an obstacle for students is because that’s probably true. That is: Galician, as any other language, allows communication with other people who speak the same language, and allows access to materials written and recorded in that language. If someone thinks their child must be able to communicate with people outside Galicia, then the Galician language might represent an obstacle rather than a vehicle. Nevertheless, most likely most people do not regard either of the two languages as an obstacle, but both are official languages and people must be allowed to choose whether they want to receive their education in one of them or both. Precisely, Galician does not need to be secondary, but if anyone regards it as secondary for them, they must not be forbidden to think that way.

5) “In order to know Galician it is necessary to ‘learn in Galician’ “.

This is true, but of course they do not speak about the conflict this implies with the other official language, Spanish: If one must learn in Galician in order to know the Galician language, they should make the equivalent statement: In order to know the Spanish language, one must learn in Spanish. Clearly, a single subject (say mathematics) cannot be taught simultaneously in two languages: one must be used. Which one to use? This is the question driving the CGENDL to ask people to use Galician (although they conveniently fail to say that in this manner they are regarding Spanish as “secondary”)

Actually, the problem is not that serious: In another Spanish region, the Basque Country, people who learned mathematics in Basque 20 years ago, for instance, have no problem utilizing that knowledge in a Spanish-speaking environment.

The real problem is a freedom of choice problem: The CGENDL today, and the previous Galician regional government before, intend to impose the use of one of the official languages (Galician) instead of allowing parents to choose.

6) The all-time favourite argument of any obsessed person: “Galician continues to be a minority language, and therefore it needs positive discrimination both within the education system and outside of it”

Translation of this argument: “Because my interests are discriminated against, let us discriminate against the opposite to promote my interests”.

If there truly are intentional limitations to Galician, such damaging practices may be fought against. However, the solution to avoid discrimination must not consist of artificially promoting Galician through “positive discrimination”.

Assuming no imposed limitations exist to the use of Galician, the minority use of Galician is due to the majority of people choosing a language other than Galician (Spanish). “Positive discrimination” would therefore imply that people should be forced to use Galician, to ensure that it is used as frequently as Spanish. Again here we find the desire to force people into doing something, instead of allowing them to choose the language they wish to use “both within the education system and outside of it”.

Language is not an end

Language is communication, and nothing else. Human beings keep on insisting to attach properties of identity, culture and even politics to languages, but this is completely wrong. Every time the “identity” or “cultural” aspect of language is claimed by anyone, this is done so exclusively with the intent to separate, segregate and differentiate people from each other.

Humans should regard language primarily (and almost exclusively) as a communication tool. Languages are not an end, but a means. Preserving or promoting languages for the sake of it, (like the CGENDL and nationalist regional parties want to do) is nothing but an attempt to divide (rather than unite) people, with the only goal of gaining popularity.

13-week monsters

In the context of the abortion debate, agitated by the government of Rodríguez Zapatero with its new “Law of Reproductive and Sexual Health and of Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancies”, the Minister of Equality (yes… we have such a idiotic Ministry in Spain), Bibiana Aído, has marked the age limit for the human fetus to be considered human or not.

That is, the socialist government has turned itself into official philosopher and dictates who is human and who is not. This government must really have magical properties, because despite all absurdity they utter, they manage to keep considerable popular support.

What’s that about a 13-week fetus not being human? Is a one week fetus something other than human? What else is it? Possibly up until 13 weeks of pregnancy the fetus is not human, but a giraffe or an extraterrestrial being. Despite any efforts by the minister, the socialist party, the president, or anyone else to the contrary, the fetus of a human being is human at any time of the pregnancy. I guess the minister wanted to emphasize that the fetus is not a person, and that killing it is not bad from a moral point of view.

However, Aído also said that the fetus is a living being. Therefore, she is saying that it is ok to kill a living being just because, only because other people decide it so. Even though this minister says that the murdered fetus is not human, it is. Thus, a correct interpretation of her words state that this minister of Rodríguez Zapatero‘s government says that it is fine to kill living human beings if they are 13 weeks or less into their development in the womb.

Furthermore, as Amando de Miguel very well pointed out once, “interruption” of the pregnancy (the title of the law) is a term used to mislead: The law talks about an early end to pregnancy, the elimination of life, and not an interruption, for an interrupted act can be resumed, but the abortion of life (of 13 weeks, as Aído admits, or any other age) cannot be resumed.

The colossal rigmarole the Minister got herself into by stating that human beings grow non-human beings in their wombs is quite clear proof that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, she doesn’t know what she wants to say, she doesn’t know what she believes, she doesn’t believe what she says, or she doesn’t say what she believes. In any of those cases, Aído is proving once again her uselessness. Sadly, however, she is most useful for Rodríguez Zapatero and his plan to dumb everyone down.

Silence, please

I usually condemn from this blog the Spanish penal code and the Spanish judicial system and its practices when they impose weak and slim sentences, but this time I have to applaud them (to some extent).

A bar owner in Barcelona has been sentenced to 5 years in jail for disrupting the lives of neighbors with the noise from the bar. The bar lacked operating permits, and did not comply with any regulation on soundproofing. Neighbors had to stand one year of loud noises at night, despite several formal complaints from neighbors to authorities about the noise.

Offenders like this bar owner know that the judicial system is slow and that sentences are rarely tough on them, so they risk skipping compliance with regulations, with their arrogant behaviour toward good neighbourly conduct: Problems started in 2005, and the bar owner has not been sentenced to jail until now (2009). There is ample room for improvement. The system must evolve to be able to put these people in jail from the first day of their offence. Everyone should be able to live quietly in their homes without interference of outside noise. Rest is of utmost importance for a healthy life and consequently a healthy society. Noise offences like in the case of this bar need to be much more swiftly restrained.

Silence is long forgotten as a virtue in today’s noisy society. People should learn to appreciate it and cherish it, and this includes respecting the space of others freeing it from our own noise.