Monday, July 30, 2007

Quick note: Slate's Today's Pictures feature is about Barcelona, featuring 23 historical news photos by the likes of Cartier-Bresson and Capa. Check it out.

Other news: The electricity is back on, but there are 130 portable generators around town filling in for the parts of the system that were destroyed. They make lots of noise, and they're going to be here until February. People are still pissed off at the electric companies and the government; there's a lot of populist bitching about the conspiracy of evil corporations and politicians who are screwing us citizens over. There's also a lot of Cataloony bitching about how Madrid is "stealing our tax money." Endesa will begin refunds of €30-300 to its customers who lost power today. The counselor for industry, Antoni Castells, looks like he's the one who is going to take the heat.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Remember the signed-by-Noam-Chomsky Communist petition to have former prime minister Aznar tried for war crimes? I signed several silly things, like Ana Obregón and Sid Vicious, and encouraged others to do the same. Well, I just skimmed through the list of signatures, and they've removed all the creative stuff.

However, they still haven't figured out that they need to set their system to accept only one signature per IP, and you can still sign as many times as you want. So this time I signed as Heywood Jablome, Hugh G. Rection, Jack Meyoff, and Holden Mydick.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Other news from these here parts: Scary bit in La Vanguardia about the El Jueves case. It looks like the lese-majesté case against the magazine and its unfunny cartoonists is going to be thrown out of court, which is good. But the prosecutor's office is irritated because the confiscation of the issue with the doggy-style caricature didn't work; what happened was, of course, that images of the cartoon were spread through Internet, even though El Jueves's website was shut down, too.

So the prosecutor's office has suggested a change in legislation, apparently approved of by vice-prime minister Fernandez de la Vega. Confiscating publications would still be legal, and the idea is "to guarantee the effectiveness of confiscation by giving judges the power to prohibit the diffusion of any incriminated text or drawing through any medium, including the Internet, under the penalty of commiting a penal offense."

Wow. Looks to me like if this suggested law goes through, then Iberian Notes and Barcepundit would have been breaking the law by linking to websites that posted the doggy-style cartoon, and we could have gone to jail. And InstaPundit would be breaking the law, too, since he linked to our links to the cartoon. Does that mean they'd hunt him down over there in Tennessee?

Barcepundit links to El Jueves's cover cartoon this week.

Another major ETA bust in France this morning. They got a big fish, the head of ETA's logistics cell, and two of his subordinates. Yesterday they got one more etarra, a rather small fish, who ran a safe house for terrorists on the run. I really think ETA is mortally wounded, that they've shot their last bolt in this most recent failed campaign. 18 etarras have been arrested since they announced the end of their "truce" on June 6.

They let off two homemade bombs along the route of the Tour de France through the Pyrenees yesterday, with no effect. This might well have been the work of amateurs.

Al Qaeda in Spain update: The cops arrested a Palestinian and a Syrian in Madrid for raising money for the jihad. They're connected to Abu Dahdah, Al Qaeda's chief in Spain; one of them ran the photocopy shop Abu Dahdah used to copy jihadist propaganda for distribution in mosques. They're also linked to Mohamed Setmarian, a Spanish citizen and Al Qaeda military leader who was arrested by the US Army in Pakistan. Their technique was fairly sophisticated; they set up shell companies and laundered the terrorist money through them. €120,000 was found hidden in their apartments, along with lots of good evidence on their computers and cellphones.

BBVA, one of Spain's two giant banks, says the real estate market is slowing down and that prices will plateau and maybe even begin to decline by the end of 2008. Higher interest rates are causing an increase in the number of court cases over mortgage impayment in Barcelona; most Spaniards are on variable-rate mortgages.

The saga of the Afrioan boat people continues: another cayuco carrying 150 illegal immigrants washed up on El Hierro in the Canaries last night. At least this time nobody died.

Fernando García, La Vanguardia's correspondent in Havana, says that a one-liter tetra-brik of liquid milk in Cuba costs between 1.5 and 2 convertible pesos, or more than 15% of the average worker's monthly salary; it hasn't been available in the shops for the last two weeks at all. He adds that the buses are all half-broken down and don't have a schedule.

I don't know what to think about the release of the Bulgarian nurses. It's quite obvious that the guilty party in the transmission of AIDS to those Libyan children is the Qaddafi regime, and that the nurses and doctor are scapegoats. So I'm very glad they're free. But what's this about Qatar paying Libya $400 million for their release, and Cecilia Sarkozy taking part in the negotiations?

As for the Tour, I assume you heard that Rasmussen is out as well, and that another Italian rider got caught doping, too. Speculation in Europe, outside France, is that this might be the nail in cycling's coffin as a major sport.

I know that Lance Armstrong has never failed a drug test in his life and must be presumed innocent, but Jesus, everybody he rode against--Ullrich, Pantani, Riis--was on dope, and so were half the guys on his team--Landis, Hamilton, Olano. If he was actually clean when he won those seven straignt Tours, beating out an entire field of drug users, he must be considered the most dominant athlete of all time in any sport. I'm finding it harder and harder to believe that he could have been clean, though.

Barça note: The new team looks good, very good. Abidal and Touré are going to stabilize the defense. Rumors are flying about Deco, who supposedly has several good offers, and who might have to do some sitting if the front line is Henry-Eto'o-Messi and Ronaldinho drops back to midfield.
Fecsa-Endesa says that Barcelona has returned to "practical normality," but there are still some people without power here in Gracia. The Bar Vall is back on; Francesc, the owner, got interviewed on TV3 news today. The Forn Rabassa is still down, though, and the owner and the counter girl got interviewed, too. The fruit shop is still down as well.

They had some real big pot-bangings here yesterday afternoon, which I think is dumb but fair enough, but they also blocked off traffic on the Traversera de Dalt, causing a huge traffic snarl-up and inconveniencing literally thousands of people who have nothing to do with the power outage. That just pisses me off. It's the "we're angry at something, so we're going to make everyone else's life difficult, too" attitude. Where I come from, if you block the public highway and interfere with everyone else's rights, we arrest your ass and haul you off to the cop shop.

There is a lot, really a lot, of public anger here. It's mostly aimed at an amorphous "they," the Powers that Be, the hidden interests, those who control everything behind the scenes, care only about themselves, and cheat and manipulate all the rest of us. Paranoia and conspiracy theory, of course, but there's a lot of it around here.

TV3 is still most shamefully trying to deflect attention away from the political parties that control it. La Vanguardia says that the municipal Socio-Communist coalition, for the first time, is facing serious public discontent. Says Ramon Suñé:

The immediate reaction of Mayor Hereu and his team, to declare war on the electric companies, was not very convincing. Especially if we keep in mind the lack of pressure exercised during recent years by local authorities on those responsible for guaranteeing a necessary service. Among them is the Generalitat, which in 2005 promised the installation of a 220 kilovolt cable between the Vilanova and Maragall substations. That is, works planned for many years and that now, when the worst has happened, have had to be jerry-rigged provisionally.

Until Monday, foreseeable problems with the electrical supply did not particularly concern the Barcelona City Council. (There is no) reference, not even a thought, in the governing agreement signed by Jordi Hereu and Imma Mayol, on this subject.

Says Francesc de Carreras, a reasonable man, on the op-ed page:

The problem is not a cable that caused a blackout, something that could happen in any city in the world. The problem is that the camel's back has been broken; nobody trusts anyone. Not the politicians, nor the companies, nor the technicians, nor the media, that's how skeptical and disillusioned everyone is. The big blackout has been just one more turn of the screw. The paradox is that all this is happening in a Barcelona that considers itself the mirror of modernity, in a Catalonia with a high degree of well-being and prosperity. What is happening that has caused distrust to move in among us, so that many sag, rather exaggeratedly but with clear intention, that this is a Third World city in a banana republic? Probably the causes should be sought in a diffuse mixture of an ideology of self-satisfaction, cheap populism following the latest "progre" fashion, and greatly weakened political authority.

All of this began during the Pujolist period, during the '80s, in which the image of an ideal and marvelous Catalonia was manufactured, Catalans who would eat up the world. Maybe in order not to be left behind, the Left began to idealize Olympic Barcelona, "the best city in the world" in the unfortunate words of Joan Clos. All pure myth-making, sadly provincial. We are what we are: a great city, a wonderful country, but let's look in a mirror that isn't misshapen so that we don't fool ourselves. If we add to that a few drops of pacifism, feminism, ecologism, sexual freedom, and planetary solidarity, all very noble ideals, but in their most intellectually crude and demagogical forms, the cocktail is explosive; a self-satisfied Barcelona and Catalonia that "dismisses what it knows nothing of," like the Spain that Machado wrote about.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

It's Day Three without power in parts of Barcelona; the areas still down include Gracia, Guinardó, Camp de l'Arpa, Sagrada Familia, Viviendas del Congreso, el Clot, and Virrei Amat. I've got power but a lot of people I know--Alberto, Choni, Nicola, Montse, Toni--don't. The fruit shop, Pakistani grocery, and Bar Zeus are all still without power. The Café Flanders and Bar Vall (which have electricity) are packed, since they have hot coffee, cold beer, non-rotting food, and air-conditioning.

They're going to have a demonstration this afternoon on Calle Escorial, bang pots and pans, and cut off the traffic. I don't like demos because there isn't much point in holding public protests in a democracy. I dislike pot-banging even more because it bothers other ordinary citizens who have nothing to do with the problem. And I specifically hate it when demonstrators block streets and traffic. All that does is snarl things up and piss off even more people. So I am not going.

Everyone is really pissed off and heads are going to roll. My guess is that mayor Jordi Hereu, who has been invisible through this whole thing, and Antoni Castells, the counselor for industry, are the most likely decapitees.

Imma Mayol was forced to admit that the city government had no Plan B in case something like this happened, and the Socialist municipal and regional governments are furiously trying to cast the blame on everyone but themselves, backed up by Generalitat-controlled TV3, which is clearly acting as a government mouthpiece and not as a neutral news outlet.

Oh, yeah, get this. They've called in the Spanish Army in order to use its portable generators; it's called "Operation White Storm." I hear no protests from the Cataloonies about this centralist reactionary militarist interference in peaceful progressive Catalan life.

10,000 clients are still blacked out, and nobody knows when their service will be restored. Fecsa-Endesa hopes it will be today, but no promises of anything. 70 traffic lights are still down, and traffic is a mess all over this part of

One good thing: It's not particularly hot, and you don't really need air-conditioning, so nobody is dying from the heat as people did during the last big heat wave a couple of years back. The eco-weenies are claiming that our unsustainable non-solidarious consumer society is using too much electricity and that's why the blackout happened, which of course has nothing to do with anything.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I've been following the comments about the blackout on La Vanguardia's website, and I've classified them. The largest group is "Poor Me" complaints. The second largest group is complaints about capitalism and society in general and blames the electric companies; the third largest group blames the Socialists; the fourth largest are Catalanists who blame Spain and the PP. Then there are a few that blame CIU, a few defending the Socialists, and a few Spainiacs writing in from Madrid to gloat at the misfortunes of others.

Clearly the stupidest, however, was this. A woman named Nuria in London wrote in to say that they've had power outages there, too, and maybe people shouldn't get all hysterical. So some guy named Jose Luis replied:

If London is in chaos, too, that should not console us in Barcelona. The British and the Yankees are absolutely demented crazy imperialists, with cameras even in the shithouse. These genocidal speakers of inglish (sic) are not a reference for civilized people.

That's got to be an all-time record for anti-Americanism, or really Anglophonephobia, managing to work it in on a forum about a power outage in Barcelona.
50,000 clients in Barcelona still have no electricity, more than 30 hours after the lights went out. At least 30,000 will not have service restored until tomorrow at the earliest. TV3 is reporting on how pissed off the municipal and regional authorities are; they're blaming the whole thing on Fecsa-Endesa, which doesn't make any sense because it was a Red Electrica Española cable that went down and caused the blackout. TV3 is of course controlled by the same political parties that control the Ayuntamiento, the Generalitat, and the central government, so they're quite clearly trying to deflect the anger of the citizens in some other direction.

The most clear sign of TV3 manipulation: Antoni Castells, the Generalitat's counselor in charge of industry, announced this afternoon that everybody's electricity would come back on by 10 PM. That, of course, was complete bullshit. TV3 has taken that story off its website, and it did not make the 9 PM evening news. Communist second vice-mayor Imma Mayol, meanwhile, is posing for the cameras calling the situation "indigestible" and demanding that it stop right now and everybody's lights magically come on.

CiU and the PP are blaming Montilla, the Generalitat, Zap, and anything that smells like a Socialist for this mess. CiU has pointed out that the Generalitat failed to connect the Maragall substation, the one that caught fire, to two other substations, as they were supposed to have done back in 2005. Duran Lérida said that if the high-tension power connection to France had been built, as the right wanted to do a couple of years back, this wouldn't have happened as there would have been an alternate source of electrical supply. However, the environmentalists, specifically Imma Mayol's Commie-Green crowd, torpedoed the project. Meanwhile, Red Electrica is controlled by the central government, and you know who's in charge of that: Zap and, get this, former Barcelona mayor and now industry minister Joan Clos, known for bashing America and being the genius behind the Forum of Cultures.

Supposedly there are going to be more pot-banging protests tonight. If there are I'm going to crank up "High Voltage" on the CD and drown them all out.

Other news: They busted Spain's Public Enemy Number One in Portugal, a guy who had robbed thirty banks and killed three cops in the last few years. Can we please hang him? He sounds like a deserving case. Some judge in Murcia denied child custody to a lesbian mother on the grounds that lesbianism is bad, which is pretty ridiculous and will almost certainly get overturned. They busted a CNI (Spanish intelligence) agent for spying for Russia; he's been charged with treason, for which he may receive as much as--get this--twelve years in jail.

Tour de France cyclist Alexander Vinokurov, who won yesterday's mountain stage, tested positive for blood doping; Tour leader Michael Rasmussen, meanwhile, has been kicked off the Danish national team for missing two drug tests this summer. It's a very bad week for sports, what with the indictment of Michael Vick on federal animal cruelty charges and the announcement that a NBA referee has been fixing games. I'm amazed that neither US story has made it in Spain; many people here are actually NBA fans and you'd think they'd be interested, and they could use the race angle on the Vick story, something the Spanish media is never shy about doing.
The Barcelona blackout means that if a) you live in Barcelona b) you do business with a company in Barcelona c) you are coming to Barcelona, then you are most likely d) screwed.

TV3 is reporting that some 70,000 clients are still without electric power, and 30,000 of them will not have service until tomorrow at the earliest. 10,000 clients got their electricity back this morning. Some of the traffic lights, for example at Calle Mallorca and Paseo Sant Joan, are still out.

Here in Gracia electric power is still hit-and-miss. My building has power; we were only down for about three hours yesterday. Last night the streetlights on my street were on, but on the other side of Calle Escorial they were out. The fruit shop, the Pakistani grocery, and the Bar Zeus still don't have the electricity back on. The main market in Gracia down on the Traversera is still down, and they've had to throw away enormous amounts of food.

Supposedly they had pot-banging protests (caceroladas) against the power outage in several Barcelona neighborhoods last night, but I didn't hear anything. Spaniards love demonstrations. I can't imagine protesting against a power outage, though. I mean, we're all against them, and we all want the electricity to come back on, so exactly what good does banging your pots and pans do?

Fortunately, there were no serious incidents last night, no accidents, crime, or looting.

People are blaming the power companies, which I suppose makes some sense, but many of them have their targets wrong. Fecsa-Endesa is Barcelona's shareholder-owned retail power company, and the outage is not their fault. It was a Red Electrica Española cable that went down; REE is the state-owned company that runs the electrical grid and distributes wholesale electric power to the retailers.

REE's delegate in Catalonia, Lluís Pinós, said that the electrical grid had been affected by two recent accidents related to construction work going on. I'm not sure whether that's a legitimate explanation or just an excuse. We'll see.

Mayor Jordi Hereu demanded that REE get the power back on before tonight. Mr. Hereu, what good is that going to do? We assume they are working as fast as they can, and if they can't work any faster, why are you demanding they do so? Aren't you demanding something impossible, playing to the peanut gallery, just to look as if you had some control over what's going on?

Monday, July 23, 2007

TV3 is reporting that 110,000 clients in Barcelona are still without electricity as of 10 PM, and that it might take days to get everyone reconnected. The most seriously affected areas are Gracia, Guinardo, and Nou Barris, where 80,000 clients depend on the Paseo Maragall substation that caught on fire. The 30,000 clients on the left side of the Eixample, which depends on the Calle Urgell substation, will supposedly be back on line tomorrow morning.

The city basically can't do business, with many banks without power, not to mention offices and shops. Everybody dependent on computers has had problems, since they don't work too good without electricity.

Here in Gracia it's a little strange, with some buildings powered and others down. The Bar Vall on the plaza has power, but not the Bar Zeus down the street. The Pakistani grocery store is down, and so is the fruit shop on the plaza. We've got electricity here, but some other people in the neighborhood don't.

The police are getting ready for a "complicated night," as TV3 put it, with no streetlights in much of the city. The cell phone system was down for part of the day, and the fixed-line phones were down for about half an hour this morning.

This is going to mean trouble for the municipal and regional governments, since whenever there's a big screwup in Spain somebody gets the finger pointed at him, his head rolls, and society's displeasure is expiated. That somebody is often from the government, and I'm guessing that Mayor Hereu and regional prime minister Montilla, both Socialists, are going to take some heat. Also expect the PP to demand the resignation of every Socialist within range, and for the Catalan nationalists to pitch a hissy fit about how not enough public money is spent--they prefer "invested"--in Catalonia.
We got an Instalanche for the El Jueves post, along with a link from Barcepundit who himself got Instalanched, so lots of people at least looked at that one. Also, I searched Google for "el jueves," and Iberian Notes is 20th on the list of English-only searches. That brought in a lot of people.

Wacky stuff from La Vanguardia: there's a back-page interview with a guy named Francisco Klauser, billed as a "videovigilance expert," who says, "There are already companies in the United States that demand that their employees have chips implanted." So I googled "us companies chip implant," and got this story from the Times of London about how some British patients were having identifying chips implanted for medical reasons; this BBC story on how implanted chips might be used to identify dead or wounded soldiers; and this New York Sun story saying that one video surveillance company required its president and two staffers to get the chip that would allow access into the room where their confidential video footage is stored. The staffers were not required to have the chips implanted; one carries his chip on his key ring.

Oh, yeah, one more story, from the New Scientist:

Clubbers in Spain are choosing to receive a microchip implant instead of carrying a membership card. It is the latest and perhaps the most unlikely of uses for implantable radio frequency ID chips.

The Baja Beach Club in Barcelona offers people signing up for VIP membership a choice between an RFID chip and a normal card. VIP members can jump the entrance queues, reserve a table and use the nightclub's VIP lounge.

The New Scientist artiole says that as of May 21, 2004, only nine people had been implanted with the chip at the extremely tacky Barcelona bar, where I have never been and will never go. Since only two US workers have had chips implanted, and one is the president of the company, that means that there are more bar-hoppers in Barcelona carrying these chips than workers in Big Brother's United States.

The tinfoil-hat interviewee adds, "In the Unitred States there is a system called Echelon that can listen to all telephone conversations." Whoa. I've heard lots of ridiculous claims about Echelon (which of course doesn't exist; signals intelligence does exist, and always has), but saying that the US government can listen to all phone conversations is beyond normal nuttiness.

One more slightly wacky bit: there's a rundown of 20th century American first ladies on the occasion of the death of Lady Bird Johnson (whose real first name was Claudia). The author translates "Lady Bird" as "'señora pájaro,' a curious nickname." Of course, a ladybird, also called a ladybug, is a beetle with red wings that have black spots on them, and the translation to Spanish is "Mariquita." Which also means "fag," by the way.

Jesus de Polanco, the guy who ran the Prisa media empire, died at age 77. De mortuis nil nisi bonum, but his company was a Socialist propaganda organ in the same way that El Mundo and the Cope are PP propaganda organs. Prisa's 2006 revenue was €2.8 billion, and its profit was €228 million. In order, the company's biggest moneymakers are El País, which beought in an €83 million profit, Radio Ser, which brought in €74 million, and the Santillana publishing house, which earned €37 million. Polanco's TV station, Cuatro, is operating at a loss.

PP leader Rajoy made nice and went to the funeral, though he didn't like Polanco one least little bit. The PP was boycotting Prisa media outlets because Polanco called them extremists who were trying to start another civil war, and I assume the boycott will continue.
We had a major power outage in Barcelona this morning. TV3 is reporting that a high-tension transmission cable in L'Hospitalet went down about 11 AM, which led to two fires at substations, a big fire at the one on Paseo Maragall. The traffic signals went down and the city completely snarled up. Three of the subway lines went out of service. Hospitals were left without electric current and had to resort to generators. People were stuck in elevators. Today is going to be a total economic washout; there goes 1/250th or so of our yearly productivity.

About 300,000 customers were blacked out. Supposedly 150,000 customers are still down; the power came on here about fifteen minutes ago. There'll be a lot of criticism, and this was a massive malfunction. They don't know what happened yet. I still think most of Barcelona's infrastructure is pretty decent.

Problems: 1) Traffic; there are too many cars and not enough roads. 2) The commuter train system; it just plain sucks. 3) To my knowledge, some of Barcelona's sewage is still not treated before it gets dumped in the sea. Please correct me if I'm wrong about this. 4) The sewer system downtown needs to be completely replaced, since on bad days the Ribera smells like human feces. 5) The telephone-Internet system could stand some modernizing. 6) The traffic lights still go out when it rains. 7) Spanish road-building planners are lousy and there are some bottlenecks, like when you get off the Diagonal onto the Ronda de Dalt coming into town from the west, that were obviously designed by unusually bright chimps.

Positives: 1) The metro is pretty good. 2) Utility services--gas, water, electricity--are pretty good. 3) The sewers, and sewage treatment, are better than they used to be. 4) The airport is functional and is being expanded. 5) Long-distance train service is pretty good, and it will be better when the high-speed train reaches Sants station in a few months. 6) The port seems to function just fine. 7) The system of distribution of consumer products somehow manages to keep everyone fed and happy. 8) The Spanish National Health is actually quite good if a little inconvenient, and at least we don't have epidemics.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The satirical comic magazine El Jueves has been censored. Remember Zap promised us all €2500 for each new kid we have? So on the cover they ran a cartoon of Prince Felipe doing Princess Letizia doggy-style and saying, "You know what? If you get pregnant this will be the closest thing to working I've done in my life." Here's a link; scroll down to see the cover with the naughty bit Xed out. Not very funny or well-drawn, unfair to the Prince who actually works pretty hard as a PR rep for Spain, and in lousy taste, I agree.

However, censoring anything is an extremely bad idea. This whole fooferaw will simply draw more attention to the magazine.

Anyway, Judge Del Olmo of the National Court ordered the issue to be withdrawn from sale, and El Jueves's website is shut down. The basis for Del Olmo's action bans "calumniating or slandering the king and his descendants," lese-majesté, which is punishable by up to two years in prison.

That's ridiculous. The cartoon is clearly anti-monarchical political speech. I'm behind El Jueves, of course, even though it hasn't been funny since Ivà died back about 1994. What pissed me off is that the guy who drew the cartoon claimed disingenuously that it was a caricature of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, and that Del Olmo's dirty mind was imagining things. What a jerk. At least show some guts and stand by what you said.

In case you're interested, after that flap about the caricatures of Mohammed in that Danish newspaper, El Jueves's response was a drawing of its sweating, nervous mascot (who wears a court jester's hat) with the title, "We were going to draw Mohammed, but we shit our pants!" The mascot says, "Mohammed? No Mohammed here. Just keep going," while erasing a drawing; all that's left of it are some sandals and the bottom of a robe. The editor said the point was "to ironize the fear that these people inspire," but added that "the reactions of our readers are one thing to keep in mind, but it's different if you publish a drawing that might get your country's embassy burned down."

One more link: The people spreading scare stories about the danger to the Sagrada Familia caused by the tunnel for the high-speed train under Calle Mallorca have made a fake news video showing the "consequences" if the tunnel is built. Note the horrible English subtitles. I need to call these folks up and offer my translation services.

Political news: Josep Piqué has quit as leader of the PP in Catalonia. Looks to me like he was pushed out, since PP headquarters in Madrid picked the candidates for the general election without consulting him. He resigned the next day. Daniel Sirera, who was the head of the Catalan PP youth organization, has replaced him, which just confirms that headquarters was all ready for Piqué's resignation.

They might have to hold new regional elections in Navarra, since the PP, the Socialists, and the Nafarroa Bai Basque nationalists cannot agree among themselves who is to form a government, and they've each got about a third of the deputies.

UPDATE Monday: I don't know why this post wasn't posted when I posted it, if that makes sense.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Antena 3 led off its afternoon news today with the steam pipe explosion in Manhattan, which killed one person. TV3, by the way, got the story wrong, saying it was a transformer that blew up. Both networks took the opportunity to remind everyone who might have thought that America is a normal place just like, say, most of Europe, that the panicked Yanks spend their lives shaking in fear of terrorism.

This meme is very common in the Spanish press, and I think it's rooted in the wishful-thinking idea that, well, the US may be richer and stronger and more important, but we're better than they are at quality of life and we have to continuously remind ourselves of this in case we forget. This is why there are so many reports on crime and guns in America, though violent crime in the US is not much higher than in much of Europe and suicide is far less common. It's also why there's so much to-do in the press about the so-called "Mediterranean diet" and its superiority to fast food, as if that were the only thing Americans ate.

The steam-pipe explosion that killed one person was clearly more important than the sinking of a cayuco south of Tenerife in which fifty African illegal immigrants are missing and feared dead. We have been saying for years, literally, that it is time for the international press to wake up to the horror story of the African boat people; they're too interested in criticizing the American plan to put up a wall along part of the Mexican border, though.

Breaking news: This morning a suspected ETA member bailed out of a taxi near Castellón when it stopped at a police roadblock. He left his sports bag behind him, which contained explosives. The guy is currently on the run but they'll get him pretty quick.

13.4% of people living in Catalonia are immigrants, almost one million total; the rate of immigration is slowing, but not by much. In 2006 more than 50,000 immigrants arrived, fewer than in 2004 and 2005 but still a lot. Some professor dudes say that many of the jobs immigrants are occupying are the lower-status ones abandoned by Catalan women as they move up in the job market.

They ran an extremely foolish documentary on channel 33 last night called "The Corporation," which featured about ten minutes of Michael Moore, along with the other usual suspects like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Naomi Klein. It went through all the old bogus propaganda stories, from the alleged "business plot" against FDR to the alleged collaboration of American companies with Nazi Germany, and called for "democratic control" over corporate actions. Of course, what that means is giving the government control over the economy. Now you connect the dots and guess which political parties control channel 33. Note that, of course, they won't be showing "Free to Choose" anytime soon.

The Washington Post, Tech Central Station, and Spiked all say the movie's a bunch of crap. Here's the whole damn thing on YouTube in case you want to watch it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Time for another blog roundup.

Spanish Shilling comments on language use in Spain. Some of our regular readers will disagree with him.

Spanish Pundit has a news roundup. This is the first blog in English from Spain by a woman that I've seen.

Observing Hermann says Germans are stingy.

Notes from Spain doesn't see the point of going to Pamplona for the Sanfermines.

¡No Pasarán! slaps French bashers of McDo's.

La Liga Loca has the dope on the off-season Spanish football transfers.

LA-Madrid Files thinks there's too much porn on Spanish broadcast TV.

Ibex Salad has lots of Spanish stock market news, just in case you invest your money instead of spend it like most of the rest of us.

Guirilandia features a slice of Barcelona life.

Fausta sets us straight about the "shrinking Americans" story. I'm 183 cm, or 6 foot 1, and I'm noticeably taller than most folks around here. Younger Spaniards are a good deal taller than older Spaniards, but neither group matches the Americans or Northern Europeans.

Expat Yank spanks the new high mucky-mucks in the British foreign office.

Eursoc fills us in on aggressive Russian behavior in Europe.

Davids Mediakritik is tearing up the biased America-bashing German media. This is great.

Colin Davies just keeps on blogging from Pontevedra.

The Brussels Journal has a must-read post on the failures of Zap's foreign policy, especially toward Cuba. Don't miss this one.

A Fistful of Euros ponders the idea of European culture.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I asked my wife Remei about her memories of using Catalan during the Franco regime. She was born in a village named Vallfogona de Riucorb in 1960, and so was fifteen when Franco died and the transition to democracy began. Her parents were farmers who moved to the working-class Collblanc neighborhood in the Barcelona suburb of L'Hospitalet in the late sixties, and they spoke only Catalan with the family.

Says Remei, "It wasn't as bad as people say from my experience...In elementary school around 1972 we had an hour of Catalan class a week, it was like music, not really important like math or history...Outside class we spoke Catalan with the teachers who were Catalan, but they only used Spanish in class...It was mostly official, if you went to the city hall you used Spanish, and with the police. You always spoke Spanish with the Guardia Civil...In elementary school they told us that Catalan was a dialect, not a language. They made a big deal out of that...When I was born I was named Remedios, in Spanish, because that was the rule. I changed it to Remei in 1976 as soon as I could...In the early Seventies I remember music in Catalan, Serrat and La Trinca, and humor on the radio, I don't remember the comedian's name. My mom has some tapes by him. I don't remember TV in Catalan...In the village it was all Catalan, and in the city it was about 60 Catalan--40 Spanish. At work my parents spoke the language the clients spoke, just like today. People only knew how to write in Spanish, though...Nobody I know ever got in trouble with the government for speaking Catalan. About once a year you would meet an asshole (cabronazo) who would give you trouble and tell you to speak Spanish...Once I went to the doctor's office with my mom and she said, "Qui és l'últim?" and some woman said "Hable usted en cristiano, que no se la entiende."...I never felt discriminated against because I was Catalan. There was no pressure in my social class...In general things are much better today, of course. Catalan is really protected, actually."

I read this back to her and she said, "Perfect."
I posted four links to articles related to popular music over at Hard Country.
Tom at the Bad Rash has a post up castigating us, rather politely I must admit:

If you read other English-language blogs from Catalonia, you might get the impression that the story of Catalan being banned under Franco was made up by Catalan nationalists. This is completely untrue. Certain bloggers seem to have a perverse interest in undermining the history of Catalan, Catalonia and the repression during the Franco years. Make no mistake: under Franco, hundreds of laws and judgments were passed which effectively outlawed the use of the Catalan language. At best, the blogs which promulgate this myth are disingenuous. I reckon that they're aiming for an audience-pleasing tone of contrariety, which is, after all, the natural tone for successful blogs. Doesn't make it true, though.

I've never said Catalan wasn't repressed under Franco, and I of course deplore the treatment of Catalan-speakers under the dictatorship. What I have said several times is that Catalan's status changed many times under Franco's regime, and it's simplistic to just say "Catalan was banned."

In 1939, official use of Catalan was prohibited, including its use in schools, the civil service and legal system, books, newspapers, and broadcasting. However, of course, unofficial use could not be and was not prohibited; people used the language they always had with their families and acquaintances. I've never heard of anyone being executed or even going to jail for speaking Catalan to his mom, his buddies, the shop foreman, or the guy at the grocery store. My wife confirms this. So it's not like there was some sort of Gestapo or Stalinist linguistic terror, unpleasant as the anti-Catalan laws were, and that is what at least some Catalan nationalists are claiming.

Gradually, some of the anti-Catalan laws were relaxed; I wish I had more solid facts on this, and I've been searching the Internet for at least an hour, so it looks like I need to check down at the public library tomorrow.

I do know:

Publication of books in Catalan resumed in 1940, and by the early 1950s many books were being printed in Catalan as the dictatorship began to relax its control. (Key events: Reconciliation with the United Nations, the United States, and the Vatican.) Several literary prizes for books in Catalan were established during the Fifties. By the early 1960s, music and theater was permitted in Catalan--for example, Els Setze Jutges. Lluís Llach released the famous protest song "L'Estaca" in 1968 and was not arrested or anything. In 1962, the Edicions 62 publishing house was founded, and around that time Francoist censorship became less strict. Spanish and Catalan writers were henceforth basically permitted to write what they wanted as long as they didn't criticize the Franco government; therefore, there is a lot of '60s sociology, economics, and especially history still available in Catalan. Sometime during this period Catalan was permitted again on radio and TV. Catalan was reintroduced into the schools in 1971.

So, actually, after about 1950, Catalan wasn't treated particularly differently from Breton in France, Welsh in the UK, or German in northern Italy, and got rather better treatment than, say, Hungarian in Romania or Czechoslovakia. Or German anywhere east of the Oder.

I hold no brief for dictators in general or Franco in particular. I do have a problem with the exaggeration of Francoist evil for political reasons, which I smell behind some of the more outrageous Catalan nationalist claims (Franco banned the sardana, anyone?).

Monday, July 16, 2007

Get this. A bunch of alleged "intellectuals and artists" have an Internet petition up calling for ex-prime minister Aznar to be tried for war crimes in Iraq. The only name among the top 100 signers I recognized was Noam Chomsky. Of the signers who claim to be from an organization, looks like 95% are some kind of Communist, of course. If you want to sign the petition, here's the link. So far I've signed as Ozzy Osbourne, the Duque de Feria, Ana Obregón, and Sid Vicious, but I'll bet you can be more creative than I can.
There is one more piece of news: A former Barcelona provincial subprefect has been arrested, along with two civil servants and an employee of the Russian consulate, and charged with collaborating with the Russian mafia. They were providing false Spanish work and residence permits to anyone the Russians wanted them to. I really don't know much about it, but people say the Russian mafia is powerful in Spain, and that some of the money behind the construction boom is theirs. I suspect that there is some truth behind the rumors, but that Russian mafia money is a minor factor, and the main stimulus for construction is simply that Spain is Europe's Sunbelt.
Fortunately, the biggest news around here is that a rubber warehouse in the Vallés suburbs caught on fire yesterday and emitted a huge plume of black smoke visible for miles, that the Spanish cops busted a bunch of Internet kiddie porn pervs, that they're definitely going to run the high-speed train near the Sagrada Familia through a tunnel under Calle Mallorca, and that Zap is currently ahead of Rajoy in the polls. No terrorism, no stock market crash, no Esquerra Republicana topping the surveys. All is well.

Oh, yeah, the Sagrada Familia is an "expiatory temple," which I think means you get some time off purgatory if you contribute. Anyone who contributes to the new work going on has very poor aesthetic sense, and should actually have to spend extra time in purgatory for the sin of bad taste. The newer side portal designed by Subirachs is just plain ugly, not to mention dumb, featuring a faceless anatomically correct Christ and a bunch of Roman centurions who look like Imperial Stormtroopers.

We spent the weekend out in the pueblo as usual; didn't do much but go to the pool and walk the dog. The pool is especially nice, very clean and with full bar service. There were no clouds and the sky was pale Mediterranean blue, not the deep blue you see in the midwestern US. I like to swim down to the bottom and then turn over on my back and look up; all you can see is the sky and the sun through six feet of water. A whole lot of swallows (I assume European swallows, though we're not too far from Africa) live in Vallfogona, and they like to fly over the pool and then peel out, dive, skim the surface for a tiny sip of water, and then pull up and out. It would be even cooler if they did it in formation.

One of the other nice things about the pueblo is that there is no noise. If you walk up in the hills you oftan can't hear any man-made sounds at all. It's quite a contrast from Barcelona, which is one of the noisiest places I've ever been--beats London, Paris, and LA, not to mention Kansas City.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Fortunately, there isn't much news around here. They had a nasty bull run at Pamplona this morning and several people got hurt real bad, including one guy with broken bones in his ribcage and spine along with a concussion. An American caught a horn right in the ass, and some guy from Poland took a horn in the "perianal area," which sounds extremely unpleasant. TV3 has a photo. People, running with the bulls is dangerous, in case you hadn't figured that out already.

The Spanish woman injured in the Yemen terrorist blast who was in critical condition is now brain-dead, which means the toll rises to eight Spaniards and two Yemenis, not counting the suicide bomber.

The David Vitter prostitute scandal has hit the Spanish press, which is hammering on the hypocrisy theme. They have a point. If a Senator cannot keep his willy on a leash, he should not make pronouncements about what others do with their own unleashed willies. However, it is of course unfair to generalize from this one case that all Republican senators are hypocrites, or that hypocrisy is any more common in America than in Spain.

(Spanish hypocrisy isn't usually about sex; it's usually about solidarity and being holier-than-thou about the Third World, the consumer society, and ethical values. Lots of folks talk a good game about self-righteous do-gooder ideals around here, but very few follow up with any action.)

National Review said two things I thought were kind of silly; one was that "prostitution is illegal because prostitution is wrong," which makes no sense; why shouldn't people charge for having sexual relations, and how is that any more wrong than doing it for free? The other was that Larry Flynt has no moral standards. I'm not so sure. I bet Larry thinks that murdering people is wrong, and that robbing banks is wrong, and that raping children is wrong. He just doesn't think that either publishing nasty magazines or blackmailing hypocritical Republican senators is wrong.

They busted two more ETA terrorists in France yesterday; these guys were part of the cell in charge of stealing materiel, such as guns and explosives. Meanwhile, the cell they broke up in Santander was going to hit either the city hall or the courthouse with a car bomb.

Speaking of solidarity with the Third World, a Barcelona-based NGO called Intervida has turned out to be a scam; its directors have been charged with embezzlement, fraud, and conspiracy. Seems the contributions they were collecting went to buy real estate or shares in businesses, including the one that runs the Imax cinema here. Looks like they stole some €60 million.

The government has been running an ad campaign against domestic violence, which promises abused women that the law will do something to help and protect them. I call bullshit on that. 37% of the victims of domestic murder in the first half of 2007 in Spain had filed charges against their killers. 30% were under restraining orders. Two-thirds of the murders were committed in the victim's home, meaning the law is doing a lousy job keepìng violent men away from female victims. The first thing they need to do in domestic violence cases is get the woman out of there to a place where the man can't find her or can't get to her, and I have seen no signs of the government taking any such steps.

Barcelona signed Argentinian center-back Gabi Milito from Zaragoza for €17 million, the most they've ever paid for a defender. Milito is very good and is probably worth the money, especially since Puyol is injured and won't be able to start the season. These guys don't make all that much money, by the way. Milito, for example, will be paid €2 million a year, and he's one of the pillars of Argentina's national squad. I think Barça's highest-paid players like Ronaldinho get around €6 million a year. Kansas City designated hitter Mike Sweeney, who has sucked for years, is getting paid $11 million a year. There are lousy baseball players getting nearly double that. Also, Real Madrid signed Christoph Metzelder, another gimpy defender in the tradition of Woodgate and Samuel.
I've started a new site called Hard Country (, where I hope to be posting at least once a week. It'll mostly be links to country, blues, rock, bluegrass, and American music in general. Links to the first two posts: A set of about fifteen 21st century country videos (more or less), and some Taj Mahal songs. Taj is playing Girona tomorrow night, on the steps of the cathedral, which sounds like a must-see to me. I can't make it, unfortunately, but you ought to try. He'll be there with the other guys from his trio; it won't be a full band. I'm not sure anyone around here has ever heard of Taj, but here's a chance to check him out live.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Even Toni Soler, a borderline Cataloony, says that ERC's lust to make teachers the language police is ridiculous, besides illegal. That's been pretty much the universal reaction around here, which is a good thing because it shows that these ERC national socialists are well outside the Catalan mainstream.

Other local news: They're going to cut the speed limit on motorways in the heart of the Barcelona metro area to 80 kilometers per hour, a little less than 50 mph, in order to reduce pollution. Outer areas will have a 90 kph speed limit. I don't know; there are arguments on both sides.

In favor: Barcelona's air is way too polluted, and 52% of particles in suspension are caused by motor vehicles. Also, the slower you drive the less likely you are to be killed in an accident, of course, and far too many people are killed in car wrecks around here.

Against: There are other ways to cut vehicle air pollution, including getting all cars that burn leaded gas off the road. The problem isn't new SUVs with big engines; they burn lots of gas but don't pollute much because they've got converters and filters and all that stuff. It's the old beaters that pollute the most. I have no idea why Barcelona doesn't have a park-and-ride system on the commuter train lines, either, and making the trains suck less might get a whole lot of cars off the road. Also, traffic is hellacious in Barcelona, and slowing the motorways down will cause more traffic jams, which waste everyone's time and lots of energy, and cause excess polluion as well. As for danger on the roads, I'm not sure the folks doing 120 are the problem; I think it's the folks doing 180 and the ones who are liquored up.

The cops busted another ETA terrorist at the bus station in Santander; he was packing a pistol, a detonator, and fake ID. They're looking for the woman who had been accompanying him; these two were apparently part of a cell based in Cantabria that was planning an attack.

The two etarras the French cops got near Paris last week turned out to be ETA's forgery brigade, so that's a big hit for them. Also, four leaders of ETA's youth squad got busted for what's called kale borroka, street terrorism; they'd been tossing molotov cocktails at bank branches and government offices.

ETA looks like it's about done; let's hope the two men killed at Barajas airport will be the last two. Murph says the cops must have a mole inside the organization, and his bet is Josu Ternera; I actually wouldn't be surprised if he's right this time.

The Pakistani army stormed the mosque in Islamabad causing the predictable massacre. La Vanguardia's correspondent, one Jordi Joan Baños, whose dateline is New Delhi, claims on page 3 that the army operation had the approval of Washington. I hadn't read that anywhere else, and I didn't know General Musharraf had to check with Langley before shooting up some Islamist terrorists.

Boy, Pope Benedict has really put his foot in it with this claim that the Catholic Church is the only true church. I know some Methodists who don't agree; I don't think most American Catholics are going to like it, either. This is not going to make him any friends, just like what the very Catholic La Vangua calls "the liberation of the Latin Mass." The Latin Mass calls for the conversion of the Jews. One would think Benedict would cut that little bit out, but he didn't even show that tiny bit of sense. This guy may be a brilliant theologian, but he's nowhere near another John Paul II, who did as much as anyone but Reagan and Thatcher to finally win the Cold War.

The scare over contaminated Chinese products has reached Spain, where some unfit toothpaste was distributed. Wariness of cheap Chinese goods seems to have just taken a sharp upswing in Spain. Now the Chinese have taken out and shot the former head of their food and drug agency for corruption. That seems a bit excessive to me, even if the government's justification is that his corruption led to the deaths of inncoent consumers.

La Vanguardia reports on the same page that 91% of legal executions occur in China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, and the United States. That's lumping very different things together, since China officially executed 1010 persons in 2006 and the US 53. You could just as easily say that the Americans execute one-twentieth of the number that the Chinese do. La Vangua also fails to mention that you only get executed in the States if you've been convicted of first-degree murder.

Woody Allen has taken over the city; they cut off traffic on the Ramblas yesterday so that he could film there. Crowds are showing up to rubberneck. The PP has accused the governing Socialists, several of whom got their photos taken with Allen, of groveling indecorously before a foreign celebrity.

Three e-mail messages from La Vangua. "Just what we needed in Barcelona, an American comes and they let him cut off the streets in half the city. It's like going back forty years when the American navy came"; "We're still a Third World country that, when the American bwana comes, loses the last drop of its dignity"; "We can't absorb more tourists than the ones we already suffer from. It's not necessary to subsidize a movie with public funds to benefit the hotel owners and damage our quality of life."

They sound pretty bitter. I must say I'm not real happy at tax money going to benefit Woody Allen, either; I'd prefer to, say, burn it, or flush it down the toilet, or buy some cool automatic weapons for the cops.

Real Madrid signed Saviola and a defender named Pepe from Oporto. Barça is going to sign Gabi Milito. He'll be the last Barcelona signing, and they're still trying to get rid of several players, including Belletti, Giuly, Ezquerro, and Motta. Sylvinho and Edmilson seem to have be off the hook, and no one's sure whether Gudjohnsen is staying or going. There were rumors about Tamudo and Luis Garcia leaving Espanyol, but it looks like neither is going to happen.

So I suppose the Barça squad will be: Goalies Valdes and Jorquera; fullbacks Zambrotta, Abidal, Sylvinho, Oleguer; center backs Puyol, Milito, Thuram, Marquez; midfielders Deco, Xavi, Iniesta, Toure, Edmilson, Dos Santos, Bojan; forwards Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Messi, Henry, and Gudjohnsen. That looks pretty good, and I think Barça has to be the favorite going into next season.

Friday, July 06, 2007

You want Catalunacy? We got Catalunacy. Esquerra Republicana (ERC), our local national socialists, say they want to force all teachers to speak only Catalan at school. Not just in class to the students, but in the teachers' lounge and cafeteria, in conferences with parents (who may not know Catalan), and when talking with the janitors and other workers (who may not know Catalan). Well, actually, that last bit wouldn't be true anymore, because they want janitors and lunch ladies to pass a Catalan test or lose their jobs. Also, even outside class, teachers (even, like, math teachers) will have to monitor students' speech and correct them if they use incorrect Catalan. Students will have to address teachers only in Catalan.

Completely. Fucking. Ridiculous. Language. Fascism. There is nothing guaranteed to piss off Spanish-speakers as much as attempts to force them to renounce their own native language, the second- or third-most spoken in the world and the co-official language of Catalonia, for a comparatively minor language, the 88th-most spoken. Coercion won't make people want to learn Catalan, it'll put them off.

More ERC language fascism: They want to ban speaking Spanish on TV3. Specifically, they don't want TV3 to invite Spanish-speaking talk-show guests or interview Spanish-speaking people on the news. If a Spanish-speaker must be allowed to appear on TV3, then everything he says must be subtitled in Catalan. No Spanish-speaking characters in sitcoms or dramas or soap operas will be allowed.

And then the Cataloonies complain that many people in the rest of Spain don't like Catalans in general. Yes, that's ignorant prejudice; it makes no more sense to dislike Catalans than, say, Americans or Iranians or Bolivians or Laotians. But the Cataloonies, though a small minority, make so much unpleasant noise that other Spaniards automatically identify all Catalans with Cataloony linguafascism.
Get this. The Woody Allen movie to be made in Barcelona will receive €1 million in subsidies from the Ayuntamiento and €500,000 from the Generalitat. In addition, Woody will get some cash from the central government depending on the movie's box office. Meanwhile, the press reports on Woody's every movement; they're playing up a story about Penelope Cruz and asshole actor Javier Bardem going out to dinner together. Several La Vanguardia columnists have already complained that all this falling down at Woody's feet is a bit provincial and rather undignified. But Barcelona loves it when people from the rest of the world takes notice of it. The city has a well-deserved high regard for itself, though they're still insecure about their new status as a place that people have actually heard of.

Zap shook up the cabinet. Nobody cares.

More Zap news: During the state of the nation debate in Congress, Zap came out with a surprise announcement that the government would pay €2500 to every couple producing a child after July 3. I didn't believe it was anything more than hot air, but it's actually going into effect. Is it a good idea? It's not much different from giving a tax exemption for dependents, I suppose, and I guess the state has enough money since they've been good about running a budget surplus--have to give a little credit here to Zap, though Aznar did the same thing. Rajoy pointed out that the PP's platform called for an €3000 payment for each new baby.

The San Fermín fiesta in Pamplona began today, and the town is full of Americans. Running with the bulls advice, if you insist on doing it: Watch a couple of times before you actually participate. Don't run drunk or hung over. If you fall, cover up but do not get up; an American was killed a couple of years ago when he fell in front of the bulls and tried to scramble out of the way. Don't get caught up in big crowds, especially not when going through the tunnel into the bullring; people have been trampled and crushed in pileups. Stay far away from lone bulls separated from the group; they're supposed to be the most dangerous. You may see people trying to touch the bulls; you're not supposed to do that.

They have encierros in a lot of other places in Spain, too; I think the most famous is San Sebastian de los Reyes, just outside Madrid, on August 28. Tudela is an interesting little town that's not too far from Pamplona, and they have a big fiesta lasting a week at the end of July. Here's the encierro schedule for July if you just can't get enough.

Sports news: Barça is still in the running to buy Chivu, but they're also trying to cut a deal to buy Gabi Milito from Zaragoza. They've made a deal with Milito and now they're trying to knock down the price. Supposedly FC Barcelona (basketball) shooting guard Juan Carlos Navarro is going to the NBA, but Barça wants too much money for him and he's not all that great.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Bet you didn't know that King Juan Carlos was the Antichrist. Really. No kidding.
Let's do another blog roundup.

Barcepundit links to evidence that France's behavior regarding Rwanda was, oh, about a hundred times worse than anything the CIA ever did.

The Brussels Journal links to the European Union sex video whose purpose is to arouse and excite passion for the EU.

Colin Davies posts on Pamplona, Zap, and Spanish drivers, and answers my rhetorical question about who exactly thinks the SNP government is a success.

Davids Medienkritik takes an ignorant anti-American German journalist to the woodshed. Check it out.

Eursoc has a go at Gordon Brown's declining to put the new EU "agreement," that is, constitution, up for a referendum in Britain.

Expat Yank supports ethnic profiling. Me too. Here's an example: Let's say the KKK suddenly had a resurgence in Mississippi and started committing acts of terrorism just like the old days. Well, I would 100% support the FBI's paying extra-special attention to white people on the grounds that blacks are not too likely to be Klansmen.

Fausta supports the US-Colombia trade agreement and scorns its Democratic opponents. Publius Pundit has more.

LA-Madrid Files has a swipe at America-bashing Europeans who nevertheless love American technology.

Notes from Spain continues its series of posts by guest bloggers. Interesting. Diverse viewpoints here.

¡No Pasarán! slaps Zap.

Observing Hermann tries to explain the Tom Cruise-Germany flap.

Pejman has a long and illuminating post on Tocqueville's Democracy in America.

Rainy Day blasts another ignorant America-basher, this time a Brit.

Spanish Pundit has more on the fallout from the Yemen bombing.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Snopes has an interesting historical piece debunking some legends about the signers of the US Declaration of Independence. Check it out.

Also, Al Gore's kid got busted for DUI and possession of marijuana along with some serious pharmaceuticals, including Valium, Xanax, and Vicodin. Now here's the good part. He was driving 100 mph on the San Diego Freeway at about two in the morning. In a Toyota Prius. So at least he was ecologically sustainable about it. Any chance now of the Dems laying off Bush's daughters?

And the Nuge himself has a piece on the "hordes of stoned, dirty, stinky hippies" hanging around San Francisco back in the Sixties. In the Wall Street Journal. Don't miss it.

Ted made one mistake: Mama Cass had a heart attack, probably from being too fat, not from drugs, says Wikipedia. And no, she didn't choke on a ham sandwich, she died in her sleep at a London hotel.
Quick news roundup: Interior minister Perez Rubalcaba said that the ETA terrorists caught near the Franco-Spanish frontier with a car and 165 kilos of explosives were planning an attack "with victims" for today or tomorrow, supposedly to coincide with the State of the Nation parliamentary debate. They were going to set off the bomb by hand with detonating cord in order to foil frequency inhibitors.

The Yemeni police have arrested eleven suspects in the bombing that killed seven Spanish tourists and two Yemeni citizens. Yemen is also saying that Al Qaeda wants to put pressure on the government because it is holding Qaeda members in jail, and that the specific goal of the bombing was to hurt Yemen's interests and image.

I'm surprised at how little attention the Yemen bombing has received in the international press. Seems pretty important to me. By the way, TV3 is reporting that this was the bloodiest terrorist attack in the history of Yemen, which isn't true if you count the attack on the USS Cole.

This is important: The European Commission has hit Telefonica with a €150 million fine for abusing its dominant position in the Spanish Internet market. Telefonica has been charging its competitors so much for access to the ADSL system that they can't compete on price. Brussels says Spaniards pay 20% more than other European citizens for Internet, while 20% fewer Spaniards are connected and the growth in the number of connections is 30% less. I remember reading somewhere that Internet speed in Spain is close to the slowest in Europe, far behind more technically sophisticated places. This is by far the biggest telecoms fine ever handed out by the EC, ten times more than any other.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Spanish media is reporting that the suicide bomber in Yemen had asked the locals whether the group of tourists were "Westerners," though I bet he really said "infidels." When he was told they were, he waited for them to get on the road and then crashed his car into their vehicles. Obviously he must have had his car bomb already prepared, so this was a planned attack, not a spontaneous one; however, if this story is true, the suicide bomber didn't care precisely who he blew up, as long as they weren't Muslims.

Antena 3 made rather a big deal out of the likelihood that the tourists were not targeted for being Spaniards in particular, but infidels in general.

Five of the victims were Catalans, including two women who were teachers at the same high school in the Horta neighborhood of Barcelona and their husbands. Another of the seven was a Basque woman who had been on a local TV reality show, so they're showing plenty of film of her. One of the wounded is a Basque woman who is in critical condition with shrapnel in her head; they're going to fly the dead bodies and the other wounded back to Spain tomorrow, but this woman cannot be moved from the Yemeni hospital.

Get this comment from La Vanguardia's website: "Message for the planners of the Yemen attack: you got the wrong target. All deaths from terrorism are horrible, but the Catalans and Basques are the ones who have supported the Arab cause the most and have fought against Bush's war." And this one: "Iraq wasn't a war, it was a senseless invasion, the whim of a demented man. Today the invasion has brought the war of all wars...Killing for killing's sake, and destroying for destroying's sake, sooner or later will boomerang."

That's right, it's America's fault. As usual. As if Islamist terrorism had begun with the fall of Baghdad. And as if Spain were not an enemy of Islamist terrorism for the simple facts that 1) Spaniards are infidels and 2) Islamists claim Spain as part of their homeland, just as they claim Israel.

More terrorism news: Yesterday five ETA members were arrested in France. Three of them were busted fifteen kilometers from the Spanish border in a van with 165 kilos of explosives, detonators, an assault rifle, and other goodies. They were all armed with pistols but put up no resistance. One of them is a big fish, suspected of being ETA's head operations planner--that is, the guy who decided who would be killed how, where, and when. The cops suspect they were going to pull an immediate attack.

Two more etarras were caught at a roadblock outside Paris; there isn't much information on them. One was armed.

Today they had the big State of the Nation debate in the Congress of Deputies. Zap and Rajoy called each other big stinky poopheads. Zap promised to turn the Barcelona commuter train system over to the Generalitat, so now it'll be badly run by Catalan bureaucrats instead of Spanish bureaucrats. Ah, progress.

Liverpool has bought Fernando Torres from Atletico de Madrid for like 24 million euros, which sounds like way too much, and the Sun says that Barça has offered 18 million for "Fat Frank" Lampard, who Barcelona does not need unless it plans to get rid of Deco and/or Xavi. Which they've said they're not going to do.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Update: Libertad Digital is reporting that Foreign Minister Moratinos told a press conference that a seventh Spanish tourist had died, along with a second Yemeni. The bombing was carried out by a "suicide car" that crashed into the two vehicles transporting the Spaniards. The identity of the victims is still not known. No one has claimed responsibility, but Yemeni authorities have blamed Al Qaeda. The LD story includes a photograph of the wrecked vehicles.
Breaking news: Six Spanish tourists were killed in a terrorist bombing in the city of Marib, Yemen. A Yemeni driver was killed as well, and seven more Spanish tourists were wounded. TV3 is speculating that it was Al Qaeda. TV1 says it was a car bomb, and that Al Qaeda had demanded the release of some of its members in jail in Yemen and had threatened unspecified consequences.

I bet this doesn't change the mind of anyone around here, though.
Can we have Joe Lieberman as the next president?
The big story around here is, of course, the terrorism situation in the UK. Both TV3 and Antena 3 have been reporting on it pretty reasonably. Just my guess, based on the simple bombs that didn't work and the non-standard (and pretty damn crazy) technique used at the Glasgow airport: These guys are amateur terrorists with little or no experience and few contacts with Al Qaeda higher-ups.

Another guess I have is that US-UK-NATO intelligence knows a good bit that we don't, and they have got wind of an Al Qaeda spectacular planned for sometime this week to coincide with the July 4 holiday in the US.

Withdrawing from Iraq is not going to help us defeat Al Qaeda. In fact, it would have exactly the opposite effect.

Rafael Ramos in La Vanguardia gets all of pages 3 and 4 to be incredibly patronizing and snide about Gordon Brown and the British democratic system. Just a few pearls:

Politically, the wave of frustrated terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom have been the perfect trampoline for the launching of Gordon Brown's mandate.

Seems Raffy's implying the old Cui bono? explanation that Noam Chomsky uses so often for these attacks.

(We watched) Gordon Brown play the great statesman and address the nation proclaiming that "Al Qaeda will not triumph."...He put on his best suit and tie, searched for the solemn expression that his advisors tell him transmits an image of solidity, and proclaimed, "Al Qaeda will not change the British way of life." It is not clear exactly what the British way of life is.

That's a pretty snotty portrait of Brown, who it seems Raffy does not like. It's also opinion, not appropriate for a news report.

The attacks have allowed Brown to put the security and order issue in first place, which plays in his favor. When the voters feel threatened, whether by war or terror, they tend in general to close ranks behind the government in office.

More attribution of less-than-noble motives to Brown.

One of Brown's great initiatives since he was Chancellor of the Exchequer consists of cultivating a British patriotism inspired by American, with the cult of the flag included.

What's so offensive about American patriotism? As if there weren't much waving of nationalist flags around, say, Barcelona.

Yesterday Brown, perhaps influenced by his advisors, could not resist the temptation to imitate Bush and Blair with rotund statements for television.

It's pretty obvious Raffy thinks that everything a democratic politician does is done for only one reason: to manipulate the voters. To the Vangua's editors: If I wanted to read Noam Chomsky theorize in Le Monde Diplomatique, I'd buy it.

The Scottish prime minister, nationalist Alex Salmond, whose first two months leading his country are considered a complete success...

Wait! What? Isn't this editorializing? Who considers them a success? And why is Scottish nationalism cool while American and British patriotism are not?

Salmond has presented himself as an integrating nationalist who is going to fight against the stigmatization of the Islamic community on the basis of stereotypes and individual actions, while Brown immediately cast the blame "in general lines" on Al Qaeda, defending the British way of life, and advancing down the road of the war of civilizations in the footsteps of Bush and Blair.

Oh, so that's why. What a pile of shit. Isn't it Britain where something like 40% of Muslims approve of suicide bombings? That's no stereotype. And what precisely is wrong with blaming the attempted bombings on Al Qaeda?

The TV series 24, whose protagonist Jack Blair regularly resorts to torture to extract information, has fed the debate about how far the legitimacy goes of the treatment that suspects of terrorism receive from the representatives of the state with the objective of preventing attacks. During the night, whatever the severity of the interrogation or the degree of cooperation of the suspect...

Yep, here goes Raffy explaining serious issues with examples from popular culture and accusing the British police of torturing the guy riding shotgun in the flaming car.

Question: Do any of you think Raffy's report is anywhere near fair or balanced? Or has he committed libel about fourteen times here? I think he's committed libel, and Brown would have a good shot in a lawsuit, especially in Britain. But I also know that it certainly would not be worth the trouble.

And, remember, this is La Vanguardia, the top-selling newspaper in Catalonia with a circulation of nearly 200,000. With this kind of news reporting, no wonder many of them are so ignorant about the rest of the world. It's much better to know nothing and admit it, like the Americans, than to know next to nothing and firmly believe it, as in Spain.
We're back after spending the weekend out in Vallfogona; didn't do much except go hiking / walking / trudging with the dog up the hill on the Segura road. The wheat's been harvested but the barley hasn't, and the almond trees look pretty good, with lots of big green nut pods. The blackberries aren't anywhere near ripe yet, but it's cherry season; there's a tree up the hill that belongs to some of Remei's cousins that we have permission to raid.

The mother-in-law, Rosa, has been living with us for the past two months, and we moved her out to the pueblo this weekend. She can just barely take care of herself if you leave her more-or-less prepared food, and the folks in town know she's there and will check in on her. She's a cranky old bat and the cerebral atrophy she's been diagnosed with doesn't help any; she only tried to take her walking stick to me once and to Bart the cat once during the last two months, though, so she's less violent than she used to be. Rosa has her good side, she's loyal and generous and wants to be helpful, but her bad temper gets in the way. If you can take her mind off her crankiness, though, she's easy to deal with. Food helps. She likes food.

I learned something about her: She's afraid of different kinds of food at first. She'd never bought anything at the supermarket that she hadn't lived all her life with. So I introduced her to bean sprouts, arugula, cashews, mangoes, cherry tomatoes, avocadoes, Modena vinegar, Fruit and Fiber cereal, and Dijon mustard, all of which she likes. She wasn't too big on the Mexican hot salsa, though.