Well, it looks to me like they're getting us ready for the Pope to die. Cardinal Ratzinger came out and told the world that the Pope was "in a bad way". While I am not a Christian and while I consider Catholicism to be even more laughable than the majority of religions (sorry if I offend anybody, but I'm an agnostic), for a long time I had a good deal of respect for the Pope. Of course I disagree with Catholic teachings on divorce, birth control, and abortion, but that's not the Pope's fault. He's got to be consistent with 2000 years of history, not with the current zeitgeist. If he changed all that wacky Catholic stuff it wouldn't be the Catholic church any more, it'd be the New! Improved! Church!--and one big reason that people have faith in religion is that it is a traditional and comforting set of answers to questions that are a lot bigger than we are. Folks don't want their churches to be New! and Improved! since the whole point of a religion is that its god(s) are already perfect and can't be improved.
I have always backed the Pope in his gutsy anti-Communism, but his anti-capitalism has always irritated me, as did his opposition to the invasion of Iraq. Yeah, I know, the Pope is supposed to be in favor of peace and love, but it seems to me that there are a hell of a lot of wars going on (Congo, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and that area, Israel, Colombia, Sierra Leone / Liberia) that are causing a great deal more misery than the Iraq War did, and one of the stated goals of the Iraq War is to turn over a democratic stable country to the Iraqis. That means that tens of millions of people are going to benefit, not only the Iraqis but everyone in the Middle East who will have a new democratic reference to look to. Haven't heard of too many people in the Church getting all excited over what happened in Rwanda. Of course, a good few Hutu priests and nuns were mixed up in the killing there, but that's not anything that ought to trouble the Church, no more than the exposure of the boy-buggering priests and the hierarchy that covered up for them in the States.
I suppose what I'm trying to say is what I said before, several months ago, that pissed a lot of people off. The Pope's attitude toward the Iraq War, to me, is selective. I haven't heard him condemning too many other wars, at least not making a big deal out of it the way he did with Iraq. That's wrong. If you're a coherent pacifist, you're against all war, and the Church is manifestly not against all war--look at the great job they did with World War II, for example. Or the record of the Papal States until 1870. To me the Pope and the Church have blown all the credibility they built up over twenty years.
Guess what? The European Commission is going to kick in 200 million euros to help reconstruct Iraq! Of course, the Americans are putting in twenty BILLION dollars...
ETA, as usual, is demonstrating that there is no difference between a guerrilla or terrorist organization and organized crime. Organized crime works like this. A bunch of tough people organize themselves and then take over an area, often an area full of immigrants or marginal people from the same ethnic group as the criminals. They then make their big money off two rackets: "protection", that is, extortion, and theft, normally of delivery trucks and warehouses, and the fencing of the goods. Drugs, prostitution, gambling--that's all big money, too, but nowhere as big as the two basics.
ETA's standard racket is extortion. No one knows how many people in the Basque Country pay off ETA. What they do is send people a letter demanding a payoff--liberal professionals are hit up for €60,000, corporate executives for €120,000, and independent business owners for more. They've actually got their own watermarked paper, so you know if the extortion letter you get is really from them or from some imitator criminals. The letter is always addressed to the person extorted, with the return address belonging to a member of the extortee's family.
ETA is also thought to deal in drugs. They openly campaign against drug abuse and intimidate and sometimes kill independent drug dealsers. A lot of people think this is because the ETA controls the drug market in the Basque Country and doesn't like competition.
Anyway, the news is from now on you have to pay them off in dollars. Seems that international arms traffickers and shady Caribbean offshore banks prefer dollars to euros, and it'd just be too much trouble to go down to a bureau de change on the Ramblas with sixty grand in euros and ask for dollars.
Much noise is being made about something called the "Plan Ibarretxe". Mr. Juan Jose Ibarretxe, lehendakari (prime minister) of the Basque Country, has this plan to reform the Spanish Constitution and the Basque Statute of Autonomy. The plan was first announced back in July, when we wrote about it in some detail. Basically what it would do is make the Basque country independent except for the military and foreign policy. Most Basques are against this, not to mention everybody else in Spain. Aznar has announced that the plan has exactly zero percent chance of becoming reality. So much for that.
For about a month here in the European Union, by law, cigarette packs have to cary large legends, about a third of the pack, that "Smoking kills" or one of about ten variations on that. Sales have not dropped one iota. Some people are beginning to carry their smokes in cigarette cases.
Prediction from La Vanguardia: the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Antoni Gaudi's major work, will finally be finished in approximately twenty years. It gets about two million visitors a year, which is where 95% of its construction money comes from. I do not like the new work going on--they say it's 55% done. I personally would have left it the way it was when Gaudi died. It's going to be a huge monstrosity when they actually get finished with it.