Well, here at Iberian Notes we took a short summer vacation; not a hell of a lot happened while we were gone anyway. Our old pals the Jedman from KC and Joan and Shannon from Oakland showed up last week. Jed decided it would be a good idea to show up and surprise me. I was pretty surprised but happy to see them after the initial shock wore off. We farted around here in Barcelona and took them to the beach in Tossa del Mar and to Remei's village, Vallfogona. In general we had a party-ass good time; I put them on the train to Madrid this morning. It's always great to see your old friends again, and real friends wear well. They might get faded or get paint dripped on them or pop a fly button but they're still the same comfortable pair of jeans. So, naturally, while they were here, blogging took a back seat.
The big story today in all the papers was Joseba Beloki's horrific crash yesterday in the Tour de France. Beloki was going too fast downhill into a left hairpin turn with Lance Armstrong only a couple of lengths behind him. Beloki hit the brakes hard and skidded on the burning-hot pavement; his rear tire blew out and he wiped out spectacularly. Armstrong couldn't go either to the right or straight ahead, so his instant reaction was to swerve left off the road, out of control, and across a wheatfield. Miraculously, he wound up on the road on the other side of the hairpin turn and kept going; he holds the lead in the general by like 22 seconds or something. Beloki broke his wrist, broke his elbow badly--the bone was showing--and broke his femur and pelvis. The TV cameras focused right in on him screaming in pain like a wounded animal. It was not pretty. There goes the Great European Hope to dethrone Armstrong. Beloki had finished, I believe, second once and third twice in previous Tours, and he was one of the five or ten best cyclists in the world before the accident. Now the question is whether he's ever going to come back and if he does, whether he'll ever be the same. If Armstrong wins this Tour, giving him five straight and tying Miguel Indurain's record, prepare for an avalanche of articles saying that it doesn't count because Beloki would have beaten him. No matter what, we wish Joseba Beloki a speedy recovery. He's universally known as a good guy and a fine competitor. And he just might have beaten Armstrong, but sports, like life, is partially a roll of the dice, and Beloki, sadly, sevened out.
Two evil ETA dirtbags got busted this morning in Navarra. They planted a bomb in a Pamplona hotel timed to coincide with the end of the San Fermin festival; it didn't go off. They are suspected of killing two policemen earlier this year in the town of Sanguesa. Both are veterans of the "kale borroka", the street thugs aligned with the ETA who torch buses and bomb bank branches and beat up anyone they feel is insufficiently Basque. Try 'em and if they're guilty, hang 'em.
Jacques Chiraq bragged that he "has always maintained a relationship of cooperation with, not submission to, Washington." We have decided that we believe in being typical Americans. Therefore, we must arrogantly insult France. Here goes, Jacques. You don't cooperate worth shit, and you will submit when we decide you are going to. Over and out.
Lula da Silva is demonstrating that he is a fairly reasonable leader of Brazil; at least he's clinically sane, unlike Castro and Chavez. He is, however, up to his neck in trouble. The Brazilian pension system is leaking badly. Public workers, some 800,000 of them, retire at age 53 if they are men and 48 if they are women; they receive pensions that are actually higher than what they earned while they were working, and they are allowed to double-dip, continuing to work for the State and collecting both their salary and their retirement pension. Some 20,000 are currently doing so. The system is running a $35 billion (with a b) a year deficit. Lula has, of course, proposed a reform and, of course, he's run up against the unions and the bureaucracy. Meanwhile, he's had to jack the interest rate up to 26% to control inflation, which has slowed the economy--they're in mild recession, minus 0.1% in the first quarter of 2003, and unemployment's running 13 percent while consumer confidence is crashing. Brazil's on the Road to Nowhere at the corner of Desolation Row, and let's all just hope they don't take that hard left turn onto the Highway to Hell. I see Lula as at best Jimmy Carter and at worst Alan Garcia. But he's not crazy, which is a relief.
The Turks' investigation says that the Ukranian plane carrying 62 Spanish soldiers home from peacekeeping duty in Afghanistan, which went down between Trebizond and Ankara killing everyone aboard, crashed due to pilot error, not due to mechanical failure. I still wouldn't fly in any plane called a Yakovlev 42. The usual idiots are claiming some kind of conspiracy.
Zap said that the globalization of the economy allows many decisions to escape democratic political control. (Like, say, what you want to invest your own money in, for example.) Somehow he managed to give the example of the Socialist crackup in the Madrid regional parliament as evidence. Zap also says, get this, that the Madrid mess is a reflection of the struggles within the PP over the succession to Aznar--rather than being the corrupt, divided, and incompetent Socialists' own damn fault. I cannot believe that anyone can take this guy seriously--he is the man who was elected Socialist leader by the skin of his teeth due to the votes of the very Balbas-Tamayo-Saez faction within the Party that just went off the reservation. He is the man who is just about to get tossed over the side by his own party because of his own utter incompetence. Even Vanguardia reporter Jose Maria Brunet criticized Zapatero's lack of continuity in his speech. I will be very surprised if Zap is still running the party at Christmas.
I read somewhere that somebody said, "The thing about people who call George W. Bush stupid is that none of them are as intelligent as George W. Bush." Zap, though, really is stupid. He might get elected to the city council in Overland Park, Kansas, if we somehow had a city-wide epidemic of salmonella poisoning and the latest Asian flu on election day that kept everyone who had graduated from high school home. That's about how far he'd get in American politics, not because of his leftist ideas, because he doesn't have any ideas, but because any sentient human being can tell he's a moron. Jose Bono, who is a real politician, is going to toss Zap's ass onto the Almunia-Borrell scrap heap just as soon as PSOEmonkey Rafa Simancas gets trashed in the upcoming re-vote in the Madrid region.
Zap's also going off on how he wants the Anti-Corruption prosecutors to investigate the PP in order to "guarantee the correct functioning of democracy". Of course, Zap's party is the one that produced Interior Minister Jose Barrionuevo, Deputy Interior Minister Rafael Vera, Bank of Spain president Mariano Rubio, Guardia Civil commander Luis Roldan, and Basque Socialist Party president Ricardo Garcia Damborenea, all of whom went to jail, like Socialist-connected financiers Mario Conde and Javier de la Rosa. For, uh, corruption. And / or running a death squad.
Socialist candidate for Catalan prime minister Pasqual Maragall collected more than $300,000 at a dinner with important business folk last night. Among those present were representatives of Freixenet, La Caixa, Caixa Catalunya, Gas Natural, La Seda, Almirall, Aguas de Barcelona, Borges, Casa Tarradellas, and Damm. The construction sector was especially well-represented by the bosses of Llave de Oro, Colonial, Amrey, Vertix, Habitat, and FCC. Now, the very same Socialists are claiming that the mess in Madrid was caused by evil conservative property developers and construction companies in the pay of Aznar and the PP. Oh, hell, you figure out the irony yourself.
It's hot. It's dry. There are lots of forest fires. Fortunately we had a wet spring or the fires would be a lot worse. So far no really serious damage has been done. Knock on, uh, wood. Maybe it'll rain in the next couple of days.
400 black Africans have showed up in the town of Alcarras, near Lerida, looking for work as fruit pickers. Unfortunately, the locals have decided they much prefer to hire white Christians from Poland or Romania or Bosnia. These people seem to not have a whole lot of trouble getting papers. The growers like to hire them on in their home countries and bring them here to Catalonia. So the Africans are camped out outside of town with nowhere to go and the local city government is telling them to go away. These guys, by the way, don't do crimes. They're here to work and they're straight-up. Both African and Eastern European immigrants are largely trouble-free except for the organized criminals from like Albania, who normally do not seek work as fruit pickers. Meanwhile, two more boat people drowned off Tarifa. Ho hum.