Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

In Spain, Culture Battle Rages over Store Signs

The red on beige sign outside La Torre shop advertises the kind of underwear earlier generations might have worn, mostly knickerbockers and girdles.

The shop — known as The Tower in English — has been a standard in Barcelona for more than 120 years, preserving a glimpse into the city’s past.

La Torre has withstood the relentless march of Starbucks, McDonald’s, and other international corporate chains which, critics say, have eaten up the souls of downtowns. Other period shops, cinemas or libraries have not been so fortunate and have been forced to close.

Campaigners in Spain are determined to safeguard a form of heritage which they say is increasingly under threat: the shop signs which advertise small businesses often run by families.

Described as the “Indiana Jones of the Lost Shop Signs” by the Spanish newspaper ABC, they advocate for everything from the Art Deco cinema signs, old-fashioned flashing Buy Easy signs and the ornate golden shoe shop signs.

The commercial signs outside shops that have long shaped the identity of cities, towns and villages are a part of our past, said volunteers from the Iberian Network in Defense of Graphic Heritage, a collective of about 50 projects across Spain.


To most people, heritage sums up the idea of castles, priceless paintings, and royal jewels. But these campaigners contend that the urban landscape which most people inhabit every day is as much a part of our treasured past too.

Heritage legislation in Spain protects everything from cathedrals to castles to bullfighting but not shop signs – so far. So, campaigners must first convince local councils to protect these symbols of everyday life.

“We are against nostalgia because it says that the past is better than the present or the future. We want to preserve these shop signs because they represent something from the past that we can use to learn about for the future,” Alberto Nanclares, of the Iberian Network, told VOA in an interview.

Nanclares said the organization began in 2014 after the then government abolished a law which guaranteed cheap rents to companies, driving many small shops out of business. He said they plan to open a museum to show off the signs they have saved.

“It should be very popular because it will attract designers, architects, elderly people who want to see the past and people who want to take their grandparents to see the place where they grew up,” he added.

Laura Asensio is a graphic designer who has been working for an organization called Valladolid with Character. They hope to stop Valladolid, a northern Spanish, from becoming a bland version of many other cities across Europe.

Volunteers are mapping out the old shop signs which have been saved or at risk from being lost.

Asensio said she hopes to convince the city council to change local laws to preserve this part of the city’s heritage. A book will be published with photographs in December detailing this part of the city life for future generations.

“The reason we started this organization is to stop shop signs from being lost to globalization. All over Europe, city centers are being dominated by McDonalds, Zara, or Burger King,” she told VOA.

Laura Aseguradade, an interior designer, and member of the Iberian Network, said younger people may not appreciate the value of the architectural heritage of their own cities.

“But if you don’t value traditions and distinctiveness of your cities then Madrid ends up looking much like Barcelona or London with the same chains springing up due to globalization,” she told VOA from her home in Madrid.

“We are not against globalization, but the architectural heritage brings value to your city because it makes it different to other places which is important for tourism and the quality of life.”

Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

Looming Musk-Twitter Legal Battle Hammers Company Shares

Shares of Twitter slid more than 6% in the first day of trading after billionaire Elon Musk said that he was abandoning his $44 billion bid for the company and the social media platform vowed to challenge Musk in court to uphold the agreement. 

Twitter is now preparing to sue Musk in Delaware where the company is incorporated. While the outcome is uncertain, both sides are preparing for long court battle. 

Musk alleged Friday that Twitter has failed to provide enough information about the number of fake accounts it has. However, Twitter said last month that it was making available to Musk a ” fire hose” of raw data on hundreds of millions of daily tweets when he raised the issue again after announcing that he would buy the social media platform. 

Twitter has said for years in regulatory filings that it believes about 5% of the accounts on the platform are fake but on Monday Musk continued to taunt the company, using Twitter, over what he has described as a lack of data. In addition, Musk is also alleging that Twitter broke the agreement when it fired two top managers and laid off a third of its talent-acquisition team. 

Musk agreed to a $1 billion breakup fee as part of the buyout agreement, though it appears Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal and the company are settling in for a legal fight to force the sale. 

“For Twitter this fiasco is a nightmare scenario and will result in an Everest-like uphill climb for Parag & Co. to navigate the myriad challenges ahead around employee turnover/morale, advertising headwinds, investor credibility around the fake account/bot issues, and host of other issues abound,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives, who follows the company, wrote Monday. 

The sell-off in Twitter shares pushed prices close to $34 each, far from the $54.20 that Musk agreed to pay for the company. That suggests, strongly, that Wall Street has serious doubts that the deal will go forward. 

While the outcome of any protracted legal battle cannot be known, experts in the legal and business sectors believe Twitter likely has a stronger case. 

Morningstar analyst Ali Mogharabi noted that, regarding the spam user count Musk is so focused on, Twitter has “for years explicitly stated in regulatory filings that the ‘below 5%’ spam count may not be accurate given that it is based on a sample and requires a lot of judgment.” 

Given current market conditions, Mogharabi said, Twitter may also have a solid argument that the layoffs and firings of the past weeks represent “an ordinary course of business.” 

“Many technology firms have begun to control costs by reducing headcount and/or delaying adding employees,” he said. “The resignations of Twitter employees cannot with certainty be attributed to any change in how Twitter has operated since Musk’s offer was accepted by the board and shareholders. 

Tech industry analysts say Musk’s interlude leaves behind a more vulnerable company with demoralized employees. 

“With Musk officially walking away from the deal, we think business prospects and stock valuation are in a precarious situation,” wrote CFRA Analyst Angelo Zino. “(Twitter) will now need to go at it as a standalone company and contend with an uncertain advertising market, a damaged employee base, and concerns about the status of fake accounts/strategic direction.” 

The uncertainty surrounding Twitter could also lead advertisers to curtail their spending on the platform, Mogharabi said. 

But “the drama” surrounding the deal, he added, “will also likely attract new users to the platform and increase engagement, especially given the upcoming midterm elections, which could convince advertisers to cut a bit less. In the long run, we think Twitter will remain one of the top five social media platforms for advertisers.” 


Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Colorado’s First Sober Bar Offers Alternatives to Alcohol

Public health officials say one of the effects of the coronavirus lockdowns was that more people drank alcohol more heavily, with the World Health Organization warning of exacerbated health concerns and an increase in risky behaviors. As more bars reopen, Svitlana Prystynska takes us to one with a novel approach to drinking.

Science & Health

New Coronavirus Mutant Raises Concerns in India and Beyond 

The quickly changing coronavirus has spawned yet another super contagious omicron mutant that’s worrying scientists as it gains ground in India and pops up in numerous other countries, including the United States.

Scientists say the variant — called BA.2.75 — may be able to spread rapidly and get around immunity from vaccines and previous infection. It’s unclear whether it could cause more serious disease than other omicron variants, including the globally prominent BA.5.

“It’s still really early on for us to draw too many conclusions,” said Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “But it does look like, especially in India, the rates of transmission are showing kind of that exponential increase.” Whether it will outcompete BA.5, he said, is yet to be determined.

Still, the fact that it has already been detected in many parts of the world even with lower levels of viral surveillance “is an early indication it is spreading,” said Shishi Luo, head of infectious diseases for Helix, a company that supplies viral sequencing information to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The latest mutant has been spotted in several distant states in India and appears to be spreading faster than other variants there, said Lipi Thukral, a scientist at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi. It’s also been detected in about 10 other countries, including Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada. Two cases were recently identified on the West Coast of the U.S., and Helix identified a third U.S. case last week.

Fueling experts’ concerns are a large number of mutations separating this new variant from omicron predecessors. Some of those mutations are in areas that relate to the spike protein and could allow the virus to bind onto cells more efficiently, Binnicker said.

Another concern is that the genetic tweaks may make it easier for the virus to skirt past antibodies — protective proteins made by the body in response to a vaccine or infection from an earlier variant.

But experts say vaccines and boosters are still the best defense against severe COVID-19. In the fall it’s likely the U.S. will see updated formulations of the vaccine being developed that target more recent omicron strains.

“Some may say, ‘Well, vaccination and boosting hasn’t prevented people from getting infected.’ And, yes, that is true,” he said. “But what we have seen is that the rates of people ending up in the hospital and dying have significantly decreased. As more people have been vaccinated, boosted or naturally infected, we are starting to see the background levels of immunity worldwide creep up.”

It may take several weeks to get a sense of whether the latest omicron mutant may affect the trajectory of the pandemic. Meanwhile Dr. Gagandeep Kang, who studies viruses at India’s Christian Medical College in Vellore, said the growing concern over the variant underlines the need for more sustained efforts to track and trace viruses that combine genetic efforts with real world information about who is getting sick and how badly. “It is important that surveillance isn’t a start-stop strategy,” she said.

Luo said BA.2.75 is another reminder that the coronavirus is continually evolving — and spreading.

“We would like to return to pre-pandemic life, but we still need to be careful,” she said. “We need to accept that we’re now living with a higher level of risk than we used to.”


Science & Health

Biden to Unveil First Full-Color Images from Webb Telescope

The world will get its first view of a full-color image from the James Webb Space Telescope at a White House event Monday. 

U.S. President Joe Biden is set to release the image, with NASA Administrator Bill Nelson giving remarks. 

NASA plans to release more full-color images Tuesday that it says will show the telescope “at its full power as it begins its mission to unfold the infrared universe.” 

The $10 billion telescope with a primary mirror measuring 6.5 meters in diameter launched in December 2021. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.