Our friends the ETA, masters of dialogue and negotiations, let off a car bomb in an expensive neighborhood in Getxo near Bilbao, loaded with 40 kilos of explosives. This is the largest explosion they've set off for a while and the first car bomb in 18 months. They phoned in a warning; no one was hurt except one of the cops who was cordoning off the area, and his wounds were minor. Asshole Arnaldo Otegi, assassin-in-chief of ETA's political wing, said just four hours before that the Basque Country "was not in a peace process". Well, duh. Peace is sort of hard when there's a terrorist gang going around constantly breaking it, even though there means are now very limited.
Congratulations to the Aznar government and to the security forces for doing such a good job crushing ETA through legal police and judicial methods (in contrast with Felipe González's Socialists, which used death squads) between 1996 and 2004; ETA is reduced to maybe only one operating cell, and these guys ought to be easy to catch because they carjacked the vehicle they used to make the car bomb. That means they left evidence all over the place and an eyewitness.
Again, ETA is just not quite nasty and brutal and nihilistic enough in these days of fanatical fundamentalist Muslim and extreme nationalist Arab take-no-prisoners terrorism; the etarras didn't kill the guy they carjacked, they just tied him up, and they did call in a warning before the bomb went off. Those are fatal weaknesses. These guys are going down.
The Retch Plan is, of course, toast. There was no reason ever to take it seriously and especially not now. Retch has demanded a dialogue with Zap and Rajoy, which he is not going to get because there's no way Rajoy will talk to him and anyway Zap is the prime minister; it's Zap's job to deal with terrorism and Rajoy's job to be the loyal opposition. Rajoy, of course, is backing up Zap all the way on the terrorism question and Zap, at least, is standing firm on this one. Must give credit where credit is due, though the Wall Street Journal may have had a point when they claimed that Zap's weakness might have encouraged Retch to push him hard.
The Europeans are patting themselves on the back over the NASA-ESA probe to the Saturnian moon of Titan, which certainly has sent back a lot of useful information and some cool photographs, too, and over the presentation of the new Airbus A380 monster passenger jet. Zap said that these events should demonstrate "Europe's capacity to lead in creativity, innovation, science, and technology" and Schröder said something about how "good Old Europe" had produced this plane. Les French, of course, say that these successes are just evidence that Europe needs to work more closely together (under Frog-Toad leadership, of course) in order to foment unity and economic growth and employment and the bureaucratic state. Well, they didn't exactly say that, but it's close enough.
Now, I have nothing against Europe being proud of itself, and it's certainly participated in the Titan probe and managed to build what looks like a very successful airplane. But you don't notice the Americans jumping up and down because they also participated in the Titan probe and because Boeing has also come out with what looks like a very successful new airplane. (By the way, part of the wing apparatus on the new Airbus was manufactured by General Electric Belgium, and the motors and landing gear were manufactured by Rolls-Royce, an Anglo-American outfit.)
The death toll is up 55% in Barcelona because of the flu; the norm this time of year would be 350 deaths a week in the city, while during the week that ended January 9 there were 510 and during the week that ended the 16th there were 550. In the rest of Barcelona province, outside the city limits, the death toll is up 30%, from about 260 to about 340. Emergency rooms are overloaded, attending 8000 to 10,000 people a day. There are not enough hospital beds, they're running out of blood at the Hospital Clínico and have called for donations, and non-emergency operations will probably be postponed.
In soccer news, there have been no racist incidents this week! Barcelona played a poor game last Sunday but managed to beat Real Sociedad at home, 1-0, on a header by Etoo. Etoo had blown a penalty kick (on a questionable ref's whistle) very early in the game. Barcelona had difficulty setting up combinations and playing the intricate passing game they like so much due to the constant pressure of the Real Sociedad players, who limited themselves to defending their half of the pitch and turning loose the occasional counterattack.
Barcelona maintains its seven-point lead over Real Madrid, while Espanyol, the city's other team, is quietly putting together an excellent season. They are currently in fourth place, right on the tail of Madrid and Valencia, and have a goal average that is considerably superior to those of the 15 teams behind them. What the high goal average means is that Espanyol beats a lot of teams convincingly. If you win most of your games by a close margin, that indicates you're having a lucky year, since close games are often decided by one play. If you win most of your games with ease, it means you're not only lucky, you're good.
Another team to watch for, by the way, is Villarreal, whose goal-average is better than their position in the standings, and whose star players (Riquelme, Forlán, and young goalkeeper Pepe Reina) are having breakout years. Watch for Riquelme to move to a much better team in some other league next year; Barcelona owns him (he's on loan to Villarreal), but he just doesn't fit into Rijkaard's team. They can't use him, but they'll be able to sell him for a lot of dough to somebody in Italy, England, or Germany after the season he's putting together this year.
As far as spending dough, they've decided to buy Albertini, the guy who played at AC Milan for a decade, from Atalanta in the Italian league as a fill-in at midfield. No illusions here; his job is to substitute for tired or hurt players until Edmilson, Gerard, Gabri, and Motta come back within the next 2-3 months. This guy is an old fox and can probably give you twenty decent minutes every week subbing at defensive midfielder or center defenseman. At forward, they want Iaquinta, a little-known Italian player from Udinese who I've frankly never heard of. He's apparently pretty good and still young, 25 years old, so he's got some future, which everybody knows Albertini hasn't. Udinese is trying to jack up the price but the Barça is holding firm at six million euros. If that falls through it looks like it's Carew for five million from Besitkas or nobody. They do not want to reclaim Javier Saviola from Monaco.
How much do you want to bet it's Philadelphia and New England in the Super Bowl? I don't see Atlanta beating Philly, especially not in Philadelphia, and the Steelers are a fine team but they're playing in Foxboro with a rookie QB against Tom Brady and the Above-Average Guys coached by the NFL's Current Reigning Genius, Bill Belicheck. (That is, three reasons the Patriots are so good is they don't have any huge superstars, but all their players do their own jobs and more, they're all smart enough to listen to their coach, and they all have confidence in their not-a-great-athlete-but-smart-and-tough two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback.)