November 20, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 PM


Catalonia is voting on its future in Spain - and Madrid is worried (Giles Tremlett in Sabadell, 11/19/12, The Guardian)

The red and yellow striped flags of Catalonia bobbed about giddily as Lluis Recoder delivered his message: despite the crisis gripping Spain, Catalans could be as rich as Scandinavians.

"If we were a European state we would be seventh in Europe in per capita income, after Denmark and Sweden," the Catalan nationalist and regional government minister declared, to an enthusiastic response. His figures are based on wealth calculations that can look skewed. (Struggling Ireland is, for example, richer on a per capita basis than thriving Germany). But they are seen here at least as proof that Catalonia - a region of almost eight million people - could be not just viable but also wealthy if it were to separate from Spain.

"It is very viable," said Artur Mas, the Catalan president, in an interview with the Guardian. "What is not viable is the current situation."

The Catalan separatist campaign will come to a head this weekend in an election that will in effect serve as a plebiscite on the region's future in Spain.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 PM


The new ruralism: how the pastoral idyll is taking over our cities: Meadows nestling beside tower blocks, children cavorting in rustic playgrounds, not to mention all those farmers' markets - these days, our cities can't seem to get enough of the countryside (Paula Cocozza, 11/18/12, The Guardian)

Children's play is only the start of it. Everywhere you look, the countryside has crept into cities and towns - the way we shop, eat, read, dress, decorate our homes, spend our time. Street food is sold out of revamped agricultural trucks, or from village-delivery style bicycles. City-dwellers are booking into a growing number of courses on rural life; urban bees and chickens are commonplace (though do keep up: ducks are where it's at now). And when Rebekah Brooks wanted to get the prime minister's attention? "Let's discuss over country supper soon."

In Liverpool, according to Grant Luscombe, founder of environmental education charity Landlife, wildflower meadows have been sown across the city from a derelict site next to Anfield football stadium to an estate of tower blocks in nearby Kirkby, where schoolchildren bring their easels. "It's like Monet," he says.

It might seem a leap from the meadows of Liverpool - you could take a train to Euston in central London and be met by another wildflower meadow outside the station - to the beautiful artificial bird nests and dandelions that earlier this year decorated the famous windows of London department store Liberty, but there is something of the same impulse behind them all. We can't get enough nature in our lives.

It is a trend whose tendrils are wrapping around the walls of our homes with flora and fauna-themed wallpaper, rustic furniture and apparently endless bird ornaments, so you can celebrate the pastoral while stuck in front of the box - that's the box that's overrun with nature programming, of course. Or perhaps with your feet up and a copy of Robert McFarlane's bestselling The Old Ways, a paean to the delights of rambling.

Every other month Elle Decoration proclaims "the wonders of wood". Used apple crates are hailed as a stylish storage solution. The humble milking stool is exalted as a furniture shape of prototypical purity by hip designers such as Another Country, its proportions seeming to convey some sort of Platonic ideal. "A stool boiled down to a minimum", is how the man behind Another Country, Paul de Zwart, puts it, as if the chisel has scraped away the layers to release an essential simpleness lurking within. It is a beautiful stool, and a clever one. Appearing at once simple by nature and simple by design, it begs appreciation of all the complex calculations that have produced it, and promises to take its owner one step nearer to an uncomplicated life.

As De Zwart well knows, his stool demonstrates the most fashionable way to join a leg to a seat - with "a loose tongue", a traditional rustic device. If you don't know what that looks like, check your chairs. Where the top of the leg pokes through the seat, you will see a little wooden strip dissecting the circular top of the leg, like the line through a pill. (If your chair legs don't poke through the seat, there's no helping you.)

Not surprisingly, the most exalted woods in current design are not the exotics but humble pine and oak.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Post-Election Poll: Obama Voters Say "Let's Make a Deal" (MICHELLE DIGGLES and LANAE ERICKSON HATALSKY, Third Way)

80% of Obama voters strongly agree that "Democrats and Republicans both need to make real compromises to come to an agreement on fixing the deficit."

82% say that should include both tax increases and spending cuts, with only 5% of Obama voters favoring tax increases alone and 10% preferring only spending cuts.

79% of Obama voters believe it would be better for the country if the President and Congress made changes to fix Social Security and Medicare than if they made no changes.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Entitlements Split Democrats : Changes to Medicare, Other Safety-Net Programs Debated as 'Fiscal Cliff' Looms NAFTALI BENDAVID AND JANET HOOK

With deficit talks kicking off in earnest, Democrats are divided on the magnitude of changes they would accept when it comes to overhauling Medicare and other safety-net programs.

The party is split between those who would agree to major adjustments, including increasing premiums for wealthier beneficiaries and raising Medicare's eligibility age, and those who rule out such moves altogether. In the middle is a group that would tolerate some cuts as long as they didn't hit beneficiaries directly.

A Democrat president, all the Republicans and some Democrats.