Thursday, January 31, 2008

I've noticed that I've been getting links from alleged blogs that seem to be nothing more than a webcrawler, with no human attached. One of them is titled "John Edwards," one says it deals in Arkansas real estate, and one is just titled "Barcelona." Are these some kind of spam blog? Why would they exist? I don't get it.
Most of the news around here is campaign stuff. Rajoy got a feather in his cap yesterday when he received the endorsements of Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, both of whom are considered reasonable moderates in Spain. He got his picture taken with them shaking hands and everything. This makes Zap look especially bad because he didn't get invited to the big boys' EU economic meeting and Italian lame duck Romano Prodi did. Zap had a meeting with Merkel today; that must have been a bit awkward.

There has been a popular backlash against all the rash campaign promises both sides have been making; the general reaction is "They're trying to buy our votes."

Meanwhile, the PP is attacking the Catalan system of linguistic immersion, in which public schools give all classes in Catalan except for a couple of hours of Spanish a week. They're right, of course; the system ought to be bilingual, since Catalonia is a bilingual place. What the PP is proposing is a quota system, under which some classes would be given in Spanish and others in Catalan. That seems a lot fairer to me.

This strategy, of course, is aimed not only at Spanish-speakers in Catalonia, but at the many people in the rest of Spain who are anti-Catalanist, which is fair enough, and also those who are anti-Catalan, which is not.

More transport screwups: Four Renfe commuter lines into Barcelona were shut down this morning, stranding a whole bunch of people; meanwhile, the FFCC line that runs southwest out of Plaza Espanya that was shut down during the high-speed line crisis has finally reopened, after three months.

Judicial incompetence: Three Ukrainians were convicted of a 2004 murder of an Andorran businessman (in sleazy prostitution and drug circumstances), and they got seventeen years each in jail. They committed a stupid-ass mistake in the procedure, and the three have been turned loose.

Meanwhile, the three squatters who left the cop in a coma at a February 2006 riot in Barcelona have been sentenced to between 39 and 54 months. That's ridiculous. They intentionally smashed him in the head with a rock. That's attempted murder. Six other rioters got two years each. The squatters are whining and saying the big bad justice system is out to get them. How pathetic. Those losers think they're playing a fun game of being amateur revolutionaries without any fear of ever being punished. Now that a handful of them get comparative slaps on the wrist--the three who tried to kill the cop would have gotten twenty years each at least in the US--they cry like babies because it's just not fair that they should be responsible for their actions.

Economics: Inflation in Spain over the last twelve months was 4.4%, and it's climbing. At noon the Ibex 35 was down 0.9%; the other European markets were down between one and two percent. Tourists spent €3.05 billion in Spain last year. That's a whole lot of money. We are the Florida of Europe, and Barcelona is our Miami.

La Vanguardia again devotes the two main pages of its international section to the American primaries. They're actually doing a pretty good job of covering the race so far.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Fox News is reporting that both Edwards and Giuliani are going to drop out of the race, meaning that it's Hillary vs. Obama and McCain vs. Romney. Of the four, I like them in this order: McCain, Romney, Clinton, Obama. Interesting that neither of the remaining Republicans is a social conservative. Good.
You know it's election time when TV3 begins the afternoon news with the hot breaking story that the portion of the Salamanca Civil War archive that was supposed to be sent to Catalonia has not been completely turned over.

Nobody but a Cataloony could possibly give a crap about where a bunch of seventy-year-old papers are stored, but they do. See, it's a symbolic issue. Cataloonies hold a tremendous grudge against Spain and everything associated with it, and so they are very easy to stir up for electoral reasons.

So Convergence and Union (who are generally moderate nationalists except at election time) has tossed a fit, and the Catalan Socialists (who are generally not very nationalist at all) have followed their example. They're just throwing raw meat to the Cataloony vote, of course, trying to show who can work up a more unpleasant attitude toward the rest of Spain.

What's censurable is TV3's choice of what news to report, what priority to give it, and what tone to give the story. In this case, they chose non-news, and gave it top priority and a belligerent tone.

All Catalan citizens subsidize TV3 with our tax money, and TV3 responds by serving as the propaganda outlet for extreme Catalanists. I'm not claiming there's a conspiracy here; I'm quite sure that the Catalan Corporation for Radio and Television churned out this stale whining all on its own, simply because the people in charge are who they are. And what they want to do is bring out the rabid Cataloonies at the polls in March.
Another day without much news, in contrast to last week, which was pretty hectic because of the terrorist cell and the stock market. At noon the Ibex 35 was up 0.5%, while all the other European markets were down about a point. Meanwhile, the economics ministry announced that Spain's economy is slowing down just a little, but 2007 economic growth was 3.8%, which is very healthy.

In the last three weeks, three women have died in Barcelona after undergoing weight-loss surgery; one had a gastric bypass, one a stomach reduction, and one a lipoectomy, and they all died. I think I would avoid entering a hospital in Barcelona if possible; there's no telling what you're going to get infected with.

Fortunately, however, the death rate in Spain declined by 4% in 2007; AIDS deaths were down 9% and traffic deaths down 7%, which is excellent news. Suicides are also down 5%. The most common cause of death was cardiovascular illness; second was cancer, and third was respiratory illness.

The Constitutional Court upheld a very silly law that forces political parties to give half (between 40% and 60%) of the spots on their list of candidates to women. That's just plain undemocratic. Each party should be allowed to nominate whatever candidates it wants, and if they're all men (or all women), well, let the people vote and we'll see who gets elected.

You may have heard about the jerk in La Rioja who ran over a teenager on a bicycle and then sued the kid's family for the damage done to his car. He quickly became the most hated man in Spain, and he has withdrawn his lawsuit. What a scumbag.

Every time they do this it just pisses me off. The Nissan plant here in Barcelona has decided to lay off 450 workers. (Note that these people are not just being kicked out into the cold; they will each receive a large indemnization whose size depends on how many years they have worked there. Someone with twenty years' seniority will get about two years' salary.)

So 1500 of them downed tools in protest. Fair enough, they've got the right to strike and the right to express their ideas. But they then went out and blocked off the Ronda Litoral, the loop around the south of the city, for half an hour. That is, they interfered with everyone else's rights by blocking the public highway and causing a traffic jam of major proportions. Of course, no arrests were made, and the second and third shifts at the plant are going to do the same thing later today.

The Catalan Association of Universities announced that their students can't read or write correctly. Their president claimed that it's not the educational system's fault, but rather that the kids are lazy and don't try hard enough.

La Vanguardia gives the first two full pages in its international section to the Florida primaries, showing how seriously they're taking the US presidential campaign. There's no ridiculous editorializing to make fun of today, though.

It's Crown Prince Felipe's fortieth birthday. Yippie-skippie.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Here's one for you anti-Patriot Act privacy people. The EU's highest court upheld Spain's telecoms giant Telefonica in a ruling that said that telecoms operators do not have to turn over data regarding which of their users have downloaded what content. Jesus. I'm all for the EU court, of course, since I'm in favor of the government's monitoring communications for national security reasons, like for example listening in on Al Qaeda suspects. But in order to find out whether we've been illegally downloading Britney Spears albums? Please.
Not much other news from these here parts. Supposedly the high-speed train to Madrid will go into service on February 16. I'll believe that when I see it. The number of new mortgages in Catalonia in November was down 25% over November 2006; it's down 15% in Spain as a whole. At noon the Ibex 35 was up 1.8% on the day; it was down 0.9% when it closed yesterday evening. The French cops busted an etarra who was in on three murders in the late '90s. Barcelona supposedly spends €12 million a year on lighting the streets, but it seems like half of them are blacked out most of the time.

La Vanguardia stresses that Zap did not get invited to the summit between Brown, Merkel, Sarkozy, Prodi, and Barroso about the economy, thereby demonstrating his international insignificance. Zap has received a bunch of criticism for his "I'll refund everybody €400 if I get reelected" promise; the opposition parties are saying, if the government doesn't need this money, why not refund it right now? The Moroccans arrested a guy implicated in the March 11 Madrid bombings named Abdelilah Hriz, whose DNA turns up in the Leganes apartment and the van the terrorists used. Since Spain and Morocco have no extradition treaty, Morocco will try him.

Looks like the Barcelona abortion clinics that were doing the illegal late-term abortions are going broke. Good. Barcelona midfielder Deco got busted for drunk driving. That doesn't help his case to stay with the club. Look for a massive housecleaning this summer, with Ronaldinho, Deco, Edmilson, Thuram, Ezquerro, Oleguer, and Zambrotta on their way out, along with Rijkaard. They're almost certainly going to buy Cesc back from Arsenal. I'd get rid of Puyol as well, but the fans would go nuts.
Communist leader Joan Saura demonstrated yesterday exactly what a dope he is. He said, "The people often are afraid of being victims of statistically improbable aggression and don't worry about more probable things, like being the victim of a car accident or one at work." That is, he's discounting the people's concern about terrorism and crime.

Interestingly, terrorism and crime are the two things that Mr. Saura, the Catalan interior counselor, is in charge of. So instead of, like, doing something about them, his response is to tell us not to worry.

Saura makes two mistakes here: He does not understand what people consider to be necessary risks, or what people consider to be a question of individual choice.

As for necessary risks, going to work and driving a car most certainly fit the category. Although, as Saura says, 10 people get killed every week on the Catalan highways, while 105 people died at work during 2007, you've got to do what you've got to do, and going to work and earning money are pretty high on the list of obligations. They're productive activities that contribute to the good of society, although they have some unfortunate side effects.

Crime and terrorism, however, are unnecessary risks. They are not a negative side effect of something useful to society, as car and work accidents are. The people feel that there is no reason they should have to run the risks of crime and terrorism, and so their demands on the government (lock them all up and throw away the key) are much stricter than in the cases of work and car accidents.

In addition, people feel that they are making their own choice when they choose to run labor and transportation risks because they think (perhaps wrongly) that they have some control over whether labor and transport accidents are going to happen to them. Folks figure that if they abide by the law at work and on the highway, and that if they are careful, then the risks they run are less.

Also, a lot of people think that at least some of those others who died in car or work accidents did so because they were careless, and there's a good bit of truth here. Far too many accidents on the road are caused by drunken speeders, and far too many work accidents are caused by disobeying the safety rules or drinking on the job.

Finally, regarding work accidents, it's well-known that some jobs (truck driver, miner, police officer, construction worker, longshoreman) are more dangerous than others (accountant, lawyer, English teacher). Those who choose a more dangerous job are accepting risk knowingly.

Whether you are a victim of crime and terrorism, however, generally has nothing to do with your individual choice. You're going about your business and suddenly some mugger pulls a knife on you or some suicide bomber decides to blow himself up on the bus. You have no control, whether real or perceived, over your fate.

Says Anton M. Espadaler in La Vanguardia:

To think that in Barcelona a terrible catastrophe has been avoided just in time, thanks to the work of the secret services, is a great relief, but it leaves one full of worries. Because we're not just talking about public transport as a terrorist target, but that anybody in a city such as ours may suddenly become the target of a mass murder. As if that weren't enough, experience has not ceased to instruct us that the threat is universal and terrorism is stubborn.

One has the impression that the only opinion people have wanted to hear around here is that Barcelona had earned a certificate of immunity against Islamist terrorism in the mass demonstrations against the Iraq war, which irritated Aznar and George H.W. Bush so much, and pleased Al Jazeera equally. A contract ratified with happy announcements about multiculturalism and other wonderful things such as the Forum.

But now exactly what we did not want to see has just been brutally proven. That is, that if Islamic fundamentalism has declared the West to be an enemy, there are no exceptions of any class. None.

By the way, Saura's genius traffic department has come up with another brilliant traffic idea. First it was cutting the speed limit on all motorways in the Barcelona metro area to 80 kph (50 mph), which has irritated every single person in all Catalonia who drives a car. Now they want to make the lanes narrower, so that people "will have the sensation that they are going faster" than they really are.

Now come on. We're all in favor of traffic safety, but making motorway lanes narrower is not precisely going to make the roads any safer. Even the counselor for public works says this is a terrible idea.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Not much news, which is always a good thing. The Ibex 35 is down 1.5% at midday; the other European markets are down about the same. La Vanguardia charges that Hugo Chaves and Evo Morales are swapping arms for cocaine through noncommercial charter flights, 330 of them in 2007. Three of the fugitives from the Barcelona terrorist cell are hiding out in France. They're looking for the cell's explosives in southern Catalonia and Valencia. Fifteen Moroccans had a gang fight last night in Lleida and two of them got cut up pretty badly with broken bottles. Barça drew last night in Bilbao after playing lousy, and they're now nine points behind Real Madrid.

Campaign promise update: Zap says he'll create 2 million jobs. Rajoy says he'll create 2.2 million jobs. Zap says he'll fund day care for 300,000 children. Rajoy says he'll fund day care for 400,000 children. Rajoy says he'll raise the minimum pension by €150. Zap says he'll raise the minimum pension by €200. Rajoy says the economy will grow by 3.8% and the budget surplus will be 3% if he wins. Zap says he'll raise the minimum wage to €800 if he wins. Rajoy says he'll exempt those making less than €16,000 from income tax, and cut income tax by 16% for the rest. Zap says he'll refund €400 to all taxpayers.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

You might enjoy this P.J. O'Rourke piece on the American elections called "Letter to Our European Friends."
Al Qaeda in Catalonia update: Police throughout Europe are looking for at least six uncaptured members of the Barcelona terrorist cell. The leader of the Barcelona cell, Maroof Ahmed Mirza, is linked to the chief of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, Amir Baitula Mehsud, and to other cells in Europe, which are thought to be hiding the six men on the run. The authorities are currently tracing down all the phone calls made by suspected cell members.

Everything the confidential informant (who was to have been one of the suicide bombers) says checks out, except the cops can't find the 100 kilos of explosives he says they had. Very similar to Saddam's chemical weapons: we know he was going around acting like he had them, we took action based on his bluffs and threats, and then we just couldn't find the weapons.

Get this: El Pais says that the terrorist cell that murdered Daniel Pearl was financed by a Barcelona Pakistani cell that got its money running shops and call centers in the Raval neighborhood of Barcelona; the money was transferred to Asia through the hawala money-lending network. They also report that the CIA and FBI believe that jihadists have been using Spain as a logistical and financial center for years.

Those old sons of bitches Georges Habash and Suharto died. Good. Hope they get a nice warm reception where they're going.

Political problem: Former speaker of the Basque parliament, Juan Maria Atutxa, along with two other members of his PNV party, was found guilty by the Supreme Court of contempt of court; he refused to expel the ETA-front party Sozialista Abertzaleak from the regional parliament. The PNV put on a big protest demo in Bilbao yesterday which went off peacefully. Meanwhile, Basque Country premier Juan Jose Ibarretxe is coming up for trial, also on contempt of court charges, for having met twice with ETA leaders. This will be the first time that a regional premier has gone on trial in the history of democratic Spain. If he gets convicted the PNV will pitch a fit.

Campaign promise update: Zap says he'll refund all taxpayers and pensioners who pay income tax €400 each in June. Rajoy says he'll provide day care for 400,000 children.

Hugo Chavez is at it again; he's now claiming that Colombia (as a US puppet) is planning an attack on Venezuela. He's moved forces to the border, allegedly to stop smuggling.

Toni Soler, TV guy and sometime columnist, has a well-written summary of his linguistic ideas in La Vanguardia today. Here it is.

IMMERSION: This is what I answer when someone attacks linguistic immersion in the public schools: in Catalan linguistic policy, equality between Catalan and Spanish is not the baseline we are starting from, but the objective to achieve, since such equality does not exist. The baseline now is of evident inequality in favor of Spanish, which will not be corrected if the two languages receive the same treatment. In fact, it will increase, because of immigration and the imperatives of the market. Therefore, an authentic policy of linguistic equality should clearly favor Catalan so that it can recover what it lost after centuries of prohibitions and interference. In addition, Catalan is our own language, our own individual contribution to the world's linguistic patrimony. This is more than a sufficient reason to rescue it.

I just flat-out disagree with Soler about everything in this paragraph. 1) Catalan and Spanish are starting from a different baseline socially. The majority of people in Catalonia speak Spanish normally; the (large) minority who normally use Catalan tend to be better-educated, richer, and of a higher social class. There is nothing wrong with this, and it is not the government's job to interfere with the language that people want to speak. 2) Spanish and Catalan SHOULD start from the same baseline legally. It is the government's job to make and enforce the laws, and those laws should provide all citizens with equal rights, no matter what language they speak. In fact, Catalan-speakers have MORE rights than Spanish-speakers. If anything needs to be "corrected," it is these affirmative action (in Spanish, get this, "positive discrimination") policies that favor Catalan-speakers, especially in the job market.

3) What makes one policy of linguistic equality more "authentic" than another? Couldn't you say that the most "authentic" language policy should be one of benign neglect, letting the citizens choose on their own what language they want to speak? 4) We don't know what the status of Catalan would be now if history had not happened the way it did, and we can't make up a false history of a monolingual Catalan utopia before those nasty Spaniards came up with their "restrictions and interference." 5) Lots of people in Catalonia think that Spanish is "their own language," Mr. Soler. 6) Catalan does not need to be "rescued." It has at least five million speakers, and the Generalitat claims ten. 7) If economic history teaches us anything, it is that the less we meddle with "the imperatives of the market," the better.

Faced with these arguments, Spanish nationalism, wearing its liberal and civic sheep's clothing, is in favor of letting Catalan crash ihto the logic of the market, which blows in its (Spanish nationalism's) favor. And, in order to complete the pressure from both sides, it hides behind the defense of certain individual rights which, it seems, are only applicable to the Catalan children who speak Spanish at home, not to the thousands who speak Arabic or Urdu. Let us not let the wolf fool us: it is still the same thing, and it wants what it always did, a great and free homeland, in which "regional" languages are only used to sing Christmas carols.

1) There's not some anonymous force called "Spanish nationalism." There are people you could call "Spanish nationalists." Most of them (El Mundo, Cope Radio) don't make any more sense than the Catalan nationalists. What it isn't fair to do is to claim that all those who disagree with Catalan nationalists are therefore Spanish nationalists. 2) Just because it makes sense economically to use Spanish as the predominant language of business does not mean that Catalan is threatened as a language outside of the business world. 3) Spanish-speaking citizens have rights in Spain that immigrants do not. One of the rights they SHOULD have is being allowed to use their own constitutionally protected language in the worlds of education and business. 4) It is an extremely nasty rhetorical trick on Soler's part to identify people (98% of whom are pro-democracy) who disagree with Catalan nationalism with Francoists. 5) Supporting the rights of Spanish speakers does not mean that one wants to interfere with the rights of Catalan speakers, or that one wishes to see Catalan reduced to the equivalent of a folk dialect.

Friday, January 25, 2008

This afternoon the Ibex 35 was up 1.8% to 13,365 points, and it looks like the ride might be slowing down. Nobody get too excited yet: only one of the 35 stocks on the index (Sogecable) has gained on the year, and most companies listed are down some 15% since January 1.

Yesterday the market closed up 7%, the third biggest rise in Spanish history. Iberdrola was up more than 16%. La Vanguardia cites Wall Street's recovery, China's report of 11% growth in 2007, an increase in German business confidence, and BBVA's profits report of nearly 30% for 2007 as key reasons.

Unemployment, meanwhile, is at 8.6% in Spain, which is far too high and a direct result of Spain's restrictive labor laws. I mean, I know a guy who is an executive at a big company, and he has been offered a promotion, which would involve moving to the company's Paris headquarters. One of the factors he is considering, when making his decision, is that if he is fired from his current job in Spain they have to pay him an indemnity of more than one year's salary. By law. He would lose that security if he moved to France.

They busted 51 Internet kiddie porn pervos throughout Spain yesterday. Don't those idiots know everything they do can be traced?

Well, they can't call us "fat Americans" around here any more, since a health ministry study says that the percentages of overweight and obese Apaniards are now the same as in the US. It also says that Spaniards have reached the average European height. If you look at older Spaniards, one of the first things you'll notice is they're all short, and I mean the men are five-foot-four; this is, of course, the result of malnutrition in the postwar years. People under about 40 are a good bit taller.

Election update: It should be easy for the PP to make political hay out of the Barcelona terrorist cell. First, they can blast Zapatero's immigration policy and especially his amnesty for illegal aliens. Second, they can argue (sort of unfairly) that the Socialists claimed that Spain wouldn't be an Islamist target if Spanish troops left Iraq, and look what's happened now. Third, if the statements made about the imminent danger of the cell turn out to have been exaggerated, the Socialists look incompetent at best and like liars at the worst. Fourth, Joan Saura is a dope. If I were the PP I would make a documentary short showing exactly what a dope he is, and stress that this pseudo-Catalanist tree-hugging multiculti Commie was placed in charge of the Catalan police by Zap and the Socialists. I'd make sure that everyone in Spain saw it, and I'd tell them, hey, look, this is what we're running against.
Turns out that most of the evidence leading to the arrest of the terrorist cell in Barcelona comes from information provided by an informant. All the rest of the proof is the four timers and the fifty grams (two ounces) of an explosive chemical substance that were found by the police when they searched the suspects' apartments and the mosque on Calle Hospital. Now the cops are looking for more explosives that the cell might have had.

The various authorities are publicly disagreeing about the possible danger presented by the Pakistani terrorist cell broken up last week. The National Court, the prosecutor's office, and the secret service (CNI) all agree that the terrorists were planning suicide bombing attacks for last weekend; now the possible target list includes two subway trains on the green line (L3), a shopping center, and a rival mosque.

Interior minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, though, is less convinced; he said yesterday, "We don't have any proof, but we believe the statement of the protected witness." He's backing off the assertion that the attacks were to have been last weekend, saying that they didn't have enough explosives.

One thing: When some of the suspects were arrested, they were practicing the use of explosives, using modeling clay rather than the real substances.

Another thing: Something big must have been up, because by making the arrests the cops burned their inside informer, thereby giving up a major source of future information. They would be complete idiots to burn an informer over nothing, and I don't think the professional security forces are idiots. (The politicians in charge of them are another matter.)

Investigators say that the leader of the cell was Maroof Ahmed Mirza, one of the imams at the Calle Hospital mosque, who had arrived from Pakistan several months ago and who "controlled the group, ideologically and operationally."

The cops say that the group's aim was "to create a state of general psychosis in the Catalan capital, and to transmit the feeling that no one is safe." Well, they achieved that much.

Today La Vanguardia has a story on page 16 headlined "Mistrust in the Raval: Suspicions isolate Pakistani community in Barcelona neighborhood." The story says, basically, that nobody liked the Pakistanis in the first place, not the other immigrants (not even the Moroccans) or the local Catalans/Spaniards, and that now people like them even less.

Pilar Rahola writes today that radical imams and what they tell their faithful should be watched. Well, yeah, that's what the authorities are doing, infiltrating an informer among the faithful, and I bet this isn't the only guy they have. She adds that the Generalitat is subsidizing an organization called the Islamic Council, which the Calle Hospital mosque was associated with, to the tune of €90,000. Well, first, the government should not finance non-governmental associations; the whole point of being a private NGO is that you don't depend on the government, right? I wouldn't give any tax money to the Islamic Council or to anybody else's council. Second, of course, they should emphatically not subsidize organizations whose goals are violently subversive.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Spanish Attorney-General Candido Conde-Pumpido, among other things a former defense lawyer for ETA members, just said that of the ten suspected members of the Barcelona Islamist terrorist cell who have been held in jail, six were suicide bombers, two were explosives experts, and two more were the leaders.

Six suicide bombers to have blown themselves up on the Barcelona metro. That would have made March 11, 2004 in Madrid look comparatively small. This story isn't getting any international press, which surprises me, because it's a big deal around here.

Catalan interior counselor Joan Saura, a Communist, looked like a doofus yesterday when he told the Catalan parliament that there was "no danger of an imminent attack." Then a couple hours later Interior announced that the suicide bombings were to have gone off last weekend. Now Convergencia is yelling for his head to roll on the ground that either he doesn't know what he's talking about or he's lying to the citizens. I'm just guessing that the Spanish authorities don't trust him any more than I do, and they don't let him in on any information that he'd probably blab.

I sure hope the people writing comments on La Vanguardia's website aren't representative of Catalan society as a whole; I don't think they are, since I don't think most folks are excited enough to take the trouble to write in to a newspaper comments section. The people who are writing in, though, are showing some very nasty racism. They're planning an anti-Pakistani demonstration; just what we need, a lynch mob.

A few quotes (by the way, "moro" is the Spanish insult for a Muslim in general, an Arab more specifically, and a Moroccan in particular) from 16:00 to 16:45 Spanish time:

16:42: We don't want them to impose their culture on us. Prohibit the burqa! Prohibit the veil! Prohibit mosques! Prohibit "moros" from entering (Spain)!

16:39: You give them a job, a salary, you build them mosques, and you see how they pay you back, trying to commit a massacre. Enough "progre" incompetent politicians, enough uncontrolled illegal immigration. Let us be firm against this threat.

16:32: "Moros" get out now!!! We should expel them all and eliminate the ones who refuse to go.


16:22: There are lots of lazy "moritos." Even worse, they hate us, they spend all day criticizing us, and when you're not looking they go terrorist.

16:21: I'm what? I'm sick of your subculture. You are an ugly caricature of what you were. When you allow women to be freed from Islam, when you allow freedom of expression, when you stop stoning women, then we will respect you. Meanwhile we will prohibit you from owning property in Spain and if that doesn't make you leave, we'll throw you out with cannon fire.

16:05: "MOROS": If you don't like how we treat you go home and that's all. Go pray to your god and ask him to bring democracy to your countries. And we have to be the ones who bend over to you. It's come this far!! Prepare to all go home to Africa, you don't have much time, or else lynch your terrorist compatriots.

16:04: Get airplanes working to send Pakis back to their countries. SAURA RESIGN.

There are already more than 750 comments, and too many of them are in this vein. We can't go around blaming all Muslims for a plot only a dozen of them were part of, and we can't blame the ones here for things we dislike (with justice) about some Muslim countries. Only a very few places stone women or force them to wear a burqa, and for every reactionary Iran or Saudi Arabia there is a comparatively liberal Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, or Malaysia. No, I don't want to defend Islamist terrorism in the least, but let us not blame many innocent people for something a few (probably--we haven't seen much evidence yet) guilty people did.
More from the stock market: At noon today the Ibex 35 was up 4.8%, a huge recovery, in heavy trading. Frankfurt, London, Paris, and Milan are all up between 3.5% and 5%. BBVA and Santander are up 6% each, with Repsol up 5% and Telefonica and Endesa showing smaller gains. Iberdrola is up almost 9%, but that seems to be the result of a bogus report that Electricite de France was going to buy a piece of it. La Vanguardia is guessing that todsy's strong showing is a result of yesterday's good results on Wall Street.

Yesterday the markets declined by 4.6% to 12,255 points; Santander fell 4.8%, BBVA 3.4%, Endesa 5.5%, Telefonica 5.6%, Repsol 4.3%, and Iberdrola 6.8%. La Vanguardia blamed it on Trechet's refusal to cut European interest rates.

This is quite a roller-coaster ride, down one day and up the next. Of course, if you're a small investor, you're nuts if you're not in for the long term, so don't do anything silly like sell out now. Says Mr. Financial Genius.

More African boat people: A cayuco with 70 illegal immigrants was found off Grand Canary. Fortunately they were rescued before anyone died.

In today's La Vanguardia, on page 17, Alfred Rexach called Socialist candidate for Barcelona Carmen Chacon an airhead. Actually, he said, "Mrs. Chacon is a politician who has very set ideas, and she is not affected by the doubts and vacillations that so many people suffer from, those who do not have the good luck to always feel as self-assured as she does. Example: The PP is bad, very bad. The Socialists, on the other hand, are good, very good. Sometimes they make a small mistake, that's true and she admits it, but they always fix it quickly."

Also, Francesc de Carreras takes a whack at TV3, Catalan public television. Seems they promised up and down that they weren't going to be politically biased any more. Then they went ahead and nominated twelve new members for the board of directors according to strict party quotas, and the Catalan parliament approved. The new chairman of the board is currently the Montilla government's press secretary, also a former assistant editor of the nationalist newspaper Avui.

Note: De Carreras uses a term that would definitely be considered racist in the US; he says the situation might end up like a "merienda de negros," literally "a black people's dinner," and figuratively "a Chinese fire drill" or "a Mongolian cluster-fuck."

Most recent stats on daily newspaper circulation in Spain: El Pais 435,000; El Mundo 336,000; La Vanguardia 214,000; El Periodico 180,000; La Razon 154,000; Avui 29,000.

Equivalent-sized American papers would be: El Pais = St. Petersburg Times; El Mundo = Orlando Sentinel; La Vanguardia = Raleigh News and Observer; El Periodico = Fresno Bee; La Razon = Knoxville News-Sentinel; Avui not among top 100 American dailies.
National Court judge Ismael Moreno yesterday charged three of the suspected Pakistani terrorists with planning suicide attacks on Barcelona public transport (probably the metro) last weekend. Undoubtedly mass carnage would have been wreaked, London- or Madrid-style. Good thing they caught them in time. Moreno jailed ten of those arrested without bail. The three potential suicide bombers arrived in Barcelona in November and December of last year.

Moreno ruled, "Those arrested made up an organized group with a clear and specialized division of functions, ideologically linked by their profession of an extremist Islamic posture, in accordance with the principles of the Tabligh e Jamaa movement...The group had moved toward a more radical position that justified the indiscriminate use of violence as a legitimate tool to reach its political-religious goals...The nucleus had reached operative capability and was very close to achieving technical explosives capability, to be used in jihadist attacks, leading to the inference that the members of the alleged terrorist cell planned to carry out several different suicide terrorist actions last weekend, between January 18 and 20, on Barcelona public transport."

Judging by what I hear on the streets and the reader comments section in La Vanguardia, there is a serious backlash of anti-Pakistani racism going on around here. La Vanguardia's print edition repeats a few urban legends: that the government gives immigrants free apartments, that Pakistanis harass owners of shops they want to rent in order to force them to leave, that Pakistanis are all part of an illegal mafia organization that brings them over here and pays off the authorities, and the like.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

We got a Google hit for "why do mens penises get stuck while having anal sex".

I don't think Iberian Notes has ever addressed this question, nor does it have any firsthand knowledge of the topic. Just a wild guess: Lubrication might be a factor.
Stock market news: The Ibex 35 was down 2.6% today at noon. Frankfurt, London, Paris, and Milan are all down a couple of points. La Vanguardia points at European Central Bank head Jean-Claude Trichet, who said this morning that controlling inflation was more important than lowering Euro interest rates. Investors, therefore, figure there will be no rate cut and thus no cheaper credit. However, it looks like the panic has been headed off at the pass.

Both political parties are trying to make hay out of the citizens' worries about the economy (which, I repeat, is not doing too badly, though things could be better). The PP is blaming everything on the Socialists, and the Socialists are blaming everything on the Americans. Both, of course, are wrong.

The Spanish government is going to begin the legal process of banning ETA-front political parties PCTV and ANV, under the Political Parties Act, on Friday. This means that they will not be able to run in the March 9 general election. Good. They've got evidence that these parties have the same funding structure as the already-banned front party Batasuna; among other things, notorious jailbirds and Batasuna bosses Arnaldo Otegi and Joseba Permach were using a PCTV credit card for their own nefarious purposes.

Get this: we had another major blackout in Barcelona this morning that affected 70,000 households in the city itself and its northern suburbs Badalona, Santa Coloma, and Sant Adrià. The power was off for twelve hours after a fire at the Badalona substation. They've jerry-rigged electrical supply again, but it'll take them fifteen days to repair all the damage. The infrastructure here in Barcelona really is crappy. The usual suspects say it's all Madrid's fault, of course.

The Guardia Civil arrested five members of the GRAPO's legal team this morning on charges that they're members of the organization. The Interior ministry says they were involved in "propaganda, financing, recruiting, proselytism, training, international relations, and information-gathering" for the terrorist group, which is Spain's leftover from the 1970s days of the Red Brigades and the Baader-Meinhofs. These guys are no joke; they've killed some 50 people in their career. The cops believe that they broke up the GRAPO's last functioning cell last year.

The judge released on bail two of the fifteen suspected Al Qaeda terrorists arrested last week in Barcelona. The rest of them get their hearings today.

Finally the Spanish press has an article on the death penalty that isn't full of hypocritical blasts at the US: La Vanguardia has a piece on capital punishment in Japan, where 46 death sentences were issued last year and nine criminals were hanged. They add that in Japan, the criminal's family is not informed of the execution until it is carried out, in secret. La Vangua says that the US, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are the only democracies that use the death penalty; what about India? And do Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand count as democracies or not?

La Vangua also has a full-page piece on the South Carolina Democratic debate. Their reporter's take is that Obama was the loser: "(Obama) has a serious problem connecting with the lower-middle class and the Hispanics. His message is beautiful, but too intellectual and ethereal. He is a candidate who may captivate many Europeans, but will have a more difficult time with the Americans."

What they seem to be forgetting around here is that there are two political parties, and whoever gets nominated by the other one has a good chance at beating either Clinton or Obama. It's not just a Hillary-Obama horse race.

Local news: Wild pigs (jabalíes) are becoming a pest in the Barcelona suburbs and even on the fringes of the city near Collserola. I like them, myself, but the same thing is happening here now that happened in the US 20 years ago: wild animals, like deer, raccoons, Canada geese, and even black bears, have moved in with us because our nice, safe, green suburbs make an excellent habitat, with plenty of food and few predators. It seems, by the way, that the wild pigs' favorite foods are corn and sunflowers, but they also like pretty much any sort of human garbage.
This morning I tore out Pasqual Maragall's article from Monday's El Periodico; I derived great satisfaction from using it to pick up Perla the dog's poop while on our daily rounds.

There are two possible interpretations of this: 1) I am absorbing, osmosis-like, Catalan culture, along with its delight in everything scatological (see Robert Hughes, Barcelona), or 2) I am maturing and becoming more able to take pleasure in the smaller joys of daily life.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Ibex 35 was at 12,880 late this afternoon, up 2% on the day. Looks like the fears of a crash have subsided. Telefonica is up 2.4%, Repsol is up 3.7%, Santander is up 4.5%, BBVA is up 2.9%, Iberdrola is down 2%, and Endesa is up 1.2%.
This afternoon the Spanish Ibex 35 came back, and is now more or less where it opened this morning. The other European markets have also recovered on the day. Everyone is waiting to see what Wall Street does. The Federal Reserve has just announced an interest rate cut of three-fourths of a point.

Here's Larry Kudlow of National Review. Note the second paragraph.

There’s a global stock market tsunami gathering force. It may hit U.S. shores very hard this morning.

Much of this is panic over a U.S. recession threat that has yet to clearly materialize. The world sell-off also vastly overestimates loan and credit problems among international financial institutions.

In any event, world central banks should immediately reduce rates and add liquidity first thing in the morning, no matter what the time-zone.

Fed head Ben Bernanke should have cut rates 50 basis points last week. He should do it first thing this morning. Then cut rates another 50 basis points on January 30.

Importantly, central banks must work together and cut rates together. They must coordinate to avoid major financial consequences. They must show investors, financiers, and business people that they are in charge.

In this deflationary environment, plunging commodities, stocks, and credit-risk-free government bond yields are all signaling central bankers to take charge. That means lower rates and more money creation.


Looks like the Fed more or less followed Kudlow's advice.
What happens when you give a retired politician with Alzheimer's a full page in El Periódico to opine on the American primary elections?

This, by former Catalan premier and Barcelona mayor Pasqual Maragall, on page 5 of yesterday's issue.

It is very difficult for Obama to win the elections in a country in which the "white anglosaxon protestants" (sic) have always governed. But the primaries seem to show that a miracle is not impossible. And I say a miracle, after the murders of John and Bob Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Malcom X (sic), that is, the blacks or merely Catholics who have dared to say what America should be like and to have impossible dreams.

Some dreams kill, and if you don't believe it, ask Martin Luther King's widow. "I had a dream," (sic) said King. And he was a Protestant pastor, not a Catholic. But he was black, and they killed him. Or ask the wife of Colin Powell, the hero of the Gulf War, who said no to her husband's being a candidate for vice-president and, eventually, president. "They will kill him," (sic) she said. America is like that. On Main Street (sic), there is room for only one gunman, and that is the sheriff. They made poor Gary Cooper the sheriff against his will in High Noon, and he just barely got away in one piece.

Jeez. 1) What does High Noon have to do with the American primaries? 2) Talk about trying to explain everything about America through images from movies, all too common a sin in Spain. 3) Does anyone seriously believe that if Powell had run for office, he would have been assassinated because he's black? 4) Does anyone seriously believe that the Kennedys were assassinated because they were Catholic?

In Europe, authority comes from above: from God, the Church, history...In the first American Union it was different. The Pennsilvannia Dutch (sic) were there, with their wagons, hats, and beards. There were the South (Gone with the Wind) and the North. The North won, of course, and the Hispanic, Latin, and Catholic heritage nearly disappeared.

What the hell is this shit? What does Gone with the Wind have to do with anything? Or the Pennsylvania Germans, of whom the Amish are a minuscule sect? And since when were the antebellum Southerners Hispanic, Latin, or Catholic? They were more WASP than anyone else.

Northern Europe won out over Southern Europe in America too. As when, after the Invencible Armada, England won out over Spain. "You are a conquistador when you can't be a pirate," said Francis Drake, a pirate who was made a sir (sic) by Elizabeth I of England. But now something extraordinary is happening: the blacks of the South, though Obama was born in the North, may govern North America.

I mean, really. What does Sir Francis Drake have to do with the Nevada primary? And what do American black people have to do with Southern Europe? It's racist as hell, genuinely racist, to say that "the blacks of the South" will govern the country if Obama wins. The whole point is that Obama is an individual, not just some black guy, and if he wins, the minority group he belongs to will no more take over power than the Southern Baptists did when Carter was president. I mean, come on. If Joe Lieberman were elected, would Maragall say that the Jews had taken over America? If Romney wins, does that mean the Mormons are going to take over? With José Montilla as premier, does that mean the charnegos have taken over Catalonia?

Obama has some of all the "non WASP" (sic) ingredients, except that he's Protestant. He is a Gary Cooper who dares to defy the more or less corrupt establishment (sic); he is black like Malcom X (sic), King, and Powell, and he is charismatic like Kennedy, or he may be.

Are they going to kill him? It is more difficult now. The United States is not what it was. They can no longer completely ignore world public opinion. Europe is tied in per capita income and has a tighter spectrum of wealth distribution. Less poverty. This may help Obama, if the people are conscious of it. Possibly the minority that votes in the American elections, about 50%, is. Soon we will know. Everything points to a mobilization of women and Afro-Americans. We can't ask for more novelties.

Who is this "they" who might murder Obama? Is it that same evil conspiracy that did away with King and Malcolm X while ignoring world public opinion? What is this crap about the so-called establishment in the US being more or less corrupt? And what the hell do the facts that Europe is not tied with the US in per capita income, and that Europe does not have less poverty than the US, have to do with anything?

To finish, have you noticed that if the black Barack Hussein Obama wins the confrontation with the most extremist third world (Bin Laden), it will be a confrontation of first cousins? Obama/Osama? Isn't this a foretaste of a world scene different from the habitual North/South, East/West?

Obama and Osama are first cousins? What is this shit?
More stock market news: The Ibex 35, Spain's main stock index, is down more than one percent in the first hour of trading this morning. It fell 4% in the first few minutes, and then recovered somewhat. The Ibex went below 12,000 points before its (temporary) comeback. All the banks are off, with Santander and BBVA down 5% each early today. Repsol is down 7% and Telefonica is down 3%.

In Europe this morning, Frankfurt, London, and Paris are down three percent, Zurich is down four, and Milan is down five.

Yesterday's final results showed the Ibex down 7.5% to finish at 12,625 points. The biggest losers were Iberdrola (-12.5%), Sacyr Vallehermoso (-11%), Gamesa (-10%), Repsol (-10%), Santander (-9%), and Acciona (-8.5%).

La Vanguardia's finger-pointing focus this morning is Bush's tax cut plan, supposed to stimulate the economy, which it says is insufficient to stem the market slide. Maybe, but there must be dozens of other factors as well.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Stock market update: The Madrid Ibex 35 stock index fell 7% today to finish well below 13,000 points. Iberdrola, Banco Santander, and Repsol are all down eight or nine percent. Frankfurt is off six percent and Paris is off 5%.

Fortunately today is Martin Luther King Day in the States and the NYSE is closed, so everyone will have time to calm down a little and reflect.

I know nothing about the stock market except that schloops like us can't beat it, that there's no way (without illegal inside information) to predict which stocks will rise or fall at any given moment. The only thing you can do is put your cash in a diverse mutual fund, which ought to give you results more or less the same as the market average. And the stock market average does do better than any other investment does, over the long term.

Small investors will be hit hard; 7% of their share value has just disappeared. If you had €10,000 in Santander stock yesterday, you now have €9300. Unlike some folks around here seem to think, though, this money hasn't gone into someone else's pockets. If we use the standard analogy of the pie, then it's the whole pie that shrank, and everyone's piece just got smaller. Nobody's piece got bigger.
Iberian Notes's honor has been slandered. We have been accused of misogyny for calling Carmen Chacon an airhead.

We plead innocent, and adduce two pieces of evidence:

1) In the very same post in which we called Ms. Chacon an airhead, we praised Manuela de Madre and Pilar Rahola, both of whom are women.

2) A search shows that Iberian Notes has only used the word "airhead" once before: to describe two men, John Kerry and John Edwards, on April 26, 2003.
The Spanish stock market is taking a sharp slide today. At noon it had fallen below 13,000 points, down more than 4 percent. Sacyr Vallehermoso (the contractor that just won the bid to dig the tunnel under Barcelona to connect the AVE to La Sagrera) and Repsol YPF are down by more than 7%. Iberdrola is down 6%, Banco Santander is down nearly 5%, and Endesa, BBVA, and Telefonica are all down about 3%.

Stocks are down around the world this morning, with Paris, London, Frankfurt, and Milan all down about three percent and Tokyo down four percent. La Vanguardia's analysis says it's due to fear over an upcoming recession in the US; El Periodico and TV3 more or less agree.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Just a comment: I have no doubts about the honesty and patriotism of the Spanish intelligence service and the police, and I have no doubts about the staff of the Catalan police, either. However, I do not trust the politician in charge of the Catalan regional interior department, the Communist Joan Saura, and I certainly hope nobody tells him about any intelligence or police work that needs to stay secret.
Further information on the terrorist cell broken up in Barcelona: The fifteenth man arrested is also Pakistani. Most of the members of this cell are part of a radical Islamist sect called the Tabligh; the mosque that was raided on Calle Hospital is run by an imam from that group. They were planning attacks in both Barcelona and France; the Barcelona attack was to be a suicide bombing in another Barcelona mosque at prayer time on a Friday.

Police had been watching them for five years, and the cell had recently received financing through the Pakistani hawala money-lending network. They say that not all those arrested had the same degree of implication in the plot. More arrests may yet be made.

La Vanguardia has an election survey out (note: it was taken before the Pizarro and Gallardon stories broke), showing the PSOE with 42.3% of the vote and 162-164 seats, compared with the PP's 39.8% and 154-156 seats. Neither party would have an absolute majority, since 176 seats are needed. Presumably the Communists and their 5 seats would join up with the Socialists, meaning that they'd still have to deal with some combination of CiU (8 seats), the PNV (7), and ERC (6).

This is really close, just barely within the survey's margin of error. Though the survey shows that most Spaniards have a better opinion of Zap than of Rajoy, they don't completely hate Rajoy either. The PP has a chance at winning this one. Let's hope the Gallardon affair doesn't do too much damage. PP voters don't have anywhere else to go but abstention, but Gallardon is popular in Madrid and a few of his supporters might be so angry they'll stay home.

The debates that Zap agreed to with Rajoy take on new importance. They give Rajoy a chance he wouldn't otherwise have had at a direct confrontation. You can't dance with the champ, you have to knock him out, and Rajoy needs to clobber Zap, which I think he can do. Even better: the second debate is only six days before the election, meaning that Zap won't have much time to counter the effects of a defeat in the debates.

The results in Catalonia will be a clear Socialist victory, with the PP gaining a seat or two, the Commies and CiU staying about the same, and Esquerra losing a seat or two. No surprises here.

La Vanguardia predicts the key to the election will be the voters' pocketbooks, which does not look good for Zap. Not that the economy's going too badly, but inflation is up and credit is tight, and there are complaints among the citizens. El Periodico has a survey saying that Catalans asked to name the region's three top problems answered: transport and infrastructure (32%), unemployment (26%), housing (25%), and immigration (24%). Well behind are "the economy," the cost of living, "politicians," health care, pensions, and crime.

The US primaries are getting plenty of coverage over here; La Vanguardia is claiming that the Hispanic vote was key to the Nevada primaries, for which they show absolutely no evidence. The cliché they love to mention in Spain whenever Nevada comes up in the news is that in the state's rural counties, there are a good few descendants of Basques who came over as shepherds about 125 years ago.

The anthropologists at Atapuerca report that the Homo antecesor people who lived there 800,000 years ago ate each other, and that the Homo sapiens who lived there much later did the same.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Al Qaeda in Catalonia update: This evening the police arrested one more man in the Raval, bringing the total of arrests to 15. The Catalan interior counselor, Mr. Feng Shui himself, Joan Saura, claimed that Catalonia was "not a nest of terrorists." TV3 says that, of all suspected Islamist terrorists arrested in Spain, one-third are arrested in Catalonia.

El Periodico is out ahead of everyone else on this story; they say that the foreign intelligence service that tipped off the Spanish CNI was the French, that the authorities have been surveilling these guys for three years, and that they made the decision to arrest them because an important Pakistani radical was coming to town.

The police found 50 grams of peroxide of acetone, which was the explosive used by the London transport bombers, among other substances that can be used to make explosives. They're investigating whether the radical big fish brought the peroxide of acetone to the Barcelona cell.

These guys apparently have connections in both Great Britain and Portugal. They are also connected to a group of Pakistanis rounded up here in Barcelona in 2004, who were sentenced to up to nine years in prison each for belonging to an Al Qaeda affiliate called Sunni Therik.

El Mundo has a photo gallery, but it's not very exciting.
Breaking news: The Guardia Civil arrested fourteen people, twelve Pakistanis and two Indians, suspected of forming a terrorist cell, early this morning in Barcelona. Police operations have not yet finished, and there may be more arrests. The cell was planning a terrorist attack in Barcelona; police discovered bomb-making equipment, including timers, and chemicals that can be used to make explosives. They are also thought to have recruited and financed volunteer terrorists for Afghanistan.

Interior minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said that the cell had been very recently discovered by the CNI, Spanish intelligence, with assistance from authorities in other unnamed countries. He added that the cell has not yet been linked to Al Qaeda, but that a connection has not been ruled out, and that it was a well-organized group. (El Periodico headlines that the cell was part of Al Qaeda, specifically a Pakistani branch called Mohammed's Army.) Rubalcaba also said that radical Islamists consider Spain a top priority target.

All the arrests happened in the Raval district, the area of the old city between the Ronda Sant Pau and the Ramblas, with a very heavy immigrant population; some of them were arreated at the unofficial mosque on Calle Hospital.

Note: The Spanish press has a language problem when talking about Indian citizens. "Indio" always refers to an indigenous North or South American, and so a citizen of India is a "hindú." Now, of course, some 10% of Indians are Muslims, and there are other religious groups like the Sikhs, too. In particular, I will bet you euros to churros that the two Indians arrested were most definitely not Hindus, but rather Muslims. But that's what La Vanguardia called them.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Milton Wolff, the last commander of the Washington-Lincoln Battalion of American Communist volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, died at age 92.

There is no question that Wolff was courageous.

That's about the only good thing I have to say about him.

He was a lifetime Stalinist, and served his master well in Spain, where he was eventually promoted to major in the Comintern's army. That is, he enforced the Party line. Each batallion had a Party political commissar, in charge of ideological purity. Of course, Stalin purged the International Brigades, just as he did the entire Comintern, and at least 500 men were executed, probably many more. Wolff not only knew this was going on, but actively participated, as is demonstrated by his survival and promotion.

The Lincoln Battalion did not particularly distinguish itself in combat; it mutinied after being thrown into the line at the battle of the Jarama valley in February 1937 and losing 120 men. The men blamed their officers, who were chosen by the Comintern for political reasons; one commander, Oliver Law, may have been murdered by his own troops. Wolff took over the batallion in April 1938 at the Battle of the Ebro.

Though Wolff served in Burma and Italy during the Second World War, he had no sympathy for the Allied cause until the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, as is seen in this quote:

"We fight against the involvement of our country in an imperialist war from which the great majority of the American people can derive only misery, suffering, and death."

Milton Wolff,
Volunteer, Abraham Lincoln Brigade
Speech, Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Convention, May 1941

In the same speech, Wolff called President Roosevelt "a red-baiting, union-busting, alien-hunting, anti-Negro, anti-Semitic president on a jingoistic road to Fascism in America."

A few months later Wolff's opinions on the US entering the war changed for obvious reasons, and "Wild Bill" Donovan, the founder of the OSS, asked Wolff to recommend some of his men. Wolff was a Comintern agent controlled by Eugene Dennis, a member of the Party Politburo, and Dennis gave Wolff clearance from Moscow to recruit some thirty Lincoln battalion veterans to infiltrate OSS. Several of these people, including Jack Bjoze, Morris Cohen, and George Wuchinich, were proven to be Soviet agents by the Venona transcripts.

Wolff's postwar career included taking the Fifth Amendment before the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security when asked whether he was a Communist Party member; mouthing pro-Soviet propaganda for the rest of his life; personally volunteering the services of the Lincoln Battalion veterans' organization to Ho Chi Minh; and raising money for both Castro and the Sandinistas. In addition, he probably invented and definitely spread the myth that members of the Lincoln Battalion were later classified by the War Department as unreliable "premature anti-Fascists.

Those who still sympathize with Stalin may consider Wolff a hero. I certainly don't.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Pilar Rahola is on a roll. This is from page 21 in yesterday's La Vanguardia.

Alliance...of what?

There is nothing worse than an ignorant person with good intentions. Of course, I would never dare compare prime minister Zapatero with a dunce, but I do think his international do-gooderism has led him to commit some of the most foolish actions of his administration. There is, for example, foreign minister Moratinos visiting Cuba and supporting the regime while ostracizing the democratic opposition. Or selling arms to the unpredictable and dangerous Hugo Chavez. Or being rude to the Americans while insulting their flag.* Or, of course, the lamentable incident when he wore a Palestinian kefia in the middle of the war in Lebanon.

If Zapatero's record were based exclusively on his international policies, we could justifiably start calling him Bambi again. Differently from his domestic policies, where he has made promises but not fulfilled them, in international policy Zapatero has been coherent, which is very bad news. When coherence means the systematic and uncritical application of the Little Red Book of the Good "Progre," with all the commandments of political correctness--"thou shalt hate the United States above all things"--taken to its most extreme limits, what we have is a fiasco, along with permanent improvisation.

From this do-gooder politically correct faith, born of the catechism of Mafalda, came an idea that is as pompous as it is disquieting, the Alliance of Civilizations, argued for at the UN with a simplicity that still today causes headaches among some intelligent minds of the left. This discourse included all the commonplaces that a certain paternalist left, of which Zapatero is a notable member, holds regarding Islam. If a common fault of the right is the lack of a sentiment of solidarity, then the left is suffering from an overdose of one-eyed solidarity that ends up allied to important enemies of freedom.

Look at the Alliance of Civilizations, which has begun its existence in Madrid. It seemed at its birth to be a contrast to the concept of a clash of civilizations, and so it won the easy applause of all those who think that complex problems require simple intentions. However, there is no clash, nor an alliance, among other things because there is no difference between civilizations. There is civilization--which includes the idea of free human beings--and there are those who want to keep their citizens, while hiding behind religious or ideological excuses, living in pure barbarism.

Civilization does not force a woman from Yemen to live in cruel slavery, or justify death by stoning in Saudi Arabia, or, in the name of a god, urge a young man to commit suicide while killing others anywhere in the world. This is a totalitarian ideology, religious fanaticism, and a medieval concept of society. That is, this is anti-civilization. When Zapatero, in the middle of the debate on Islamist terrorism, suggested an Alliance of Civilizations to which some of the most notable tyrants of the Muslim world would be invited as equals, he was committing an enormously dangerous mistake, one that is very unfair to all of those from the Islamic world who are fighting for freedom. That is why his Alliance is very perverse, very paternalist, and not effective at all.

With whom are we allying ourselves? With the satraps who go to official dinners at the Moncloa or with those who oppose all those regimes? With the violent sexism of fundamentalist Islam and its little oil kings, or the women who have raised their voices, risking their lives, to denounce it? Are we with King Abdulah bin Abdulaziz or with Ayan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, Talisma Nasrim, and so many other brave Muslim women? The answer seems to be clear: the freedom of women is not spoken of, nor is totalitarian fanaticism, nor anti-Christianity, nor anti-Semitism (which has become law in many of those countries). Therefore, we are left with a Bambi version of a song-and-dance routine. Lamentable, and in these times, highly irresponsible.

*In 2003, while he was leader of the opposition, Zapatero refused to stand up during an official parade when the American flag passed by. This nasty little symbolic snub cost Zapatero a good deal of international goodwill, and not only in the US.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Check this out. The Spanish National Library has digitalized more than ten thousand items from its collection. Here's the link. They have, among other things, manuscripts, books, engravings, drawings, maps, photos, and posters, including drawings by Velazquez and Goya, some of Leonardo's codexes, the first edition of El Quijote, engravings by Durer and Rembrandt, the 16th century atlas commissioned by Felipe II, and Civil War propaganda posters. Unfortunately, it's only in Spanish, so English-speakers may have some difficulty. They say they're going to digitalize more than 200,000 works over the next five years. See? It's possible to spend our tax money usefully. I bet this whole thing costs about one-tenth all the money wasted subsidizing crappy movies that nobody wants to watch.
Political bombshell in the PP. Madrid mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, the leader of the PP's moderate wing, announced that he may retire from politics after the March 9 election. He's stepped back from the position he took last night, when he said, "I have been defeated," and said he would certainly retire. Now he's saying that he will "reflect" after the election on what he'll do.

His motive was that PP leader Mariano Rajoy left him off the PP's Madrid list of candidates for the Congress of Deputies. Gallardon did make it clear that he was not bolting the party, as he encouraged his listeners to vote for Rajoy in March.

What this means: 1) The conservatives, led by Esperanza Aguirre, premier of the Madrid region, have won the power struggle within the PP. Piqué and Gallardón have been defenestrated. 2) This is the first open schism in the PP since the Aznar days; Aznar was always very good at keeping everyone in line and on message. 3) If Rajoy gets beat, he'll have to step down as leader, and Aguirre is now on top of the list to replace him. 4) This might cost the PP some votes among Gallardon supporters in Madrid. 5) The PP has moved strongly toward the traditional Catholic right and away from the center.

I keep saying that Spain needs a real liberal (in the European sense), moderate party, led by people like Gallardon and Pique, along with Miquel Roca, Rodrigo Rato, Rosa Diez, Fernando Savater, and Jose Bono. A party like that would win at least 15% of the vote and might just be the swing vote in the Congress.

I still hope Rajoy wins the election, because if he doesn't, it's four more years of Zap.

Get this: Catalan foo-foo green commie idiotarian Interior counselor Joan Saura, who is in charge of the police and crime and security and stuff like that, has had the main office redecorated along the principles of feng shui. I couldn't make this stuff up.

The Spaniah Olympic Committee has decided it doesn't like the new words for the national anthem, and won't use them in Beijing at the next Olympics. That effectively puts an end to that, since the new lyrics won't be submitted to the Congress of Deputies for approval. Bummer.

More hospital incompetence: Some crazy old guy in a long-stay hospital in Lleida beat his roommate to death with a hatchet. Jesus. He'd had the hatchet sneaked in to him six months ago, and had been planning to use it on somebody, he just wasn't quite sure who. He had also attacked somebody else in the past with a pair of scissors. Meanwhile, the private clinics in Barcelona are piling up with patients, too, due to the flu epidemic; this particular virus affects both the respiratory system and the digestive tract, and is very nasty.

Barça drew 0-0 against Sevilla last night in the second leg of their Cup tie, and qualified for the quarterfinals since they had drawn 1-1 in the first leg in Sevilla. Without Messi, Eto'o, and Ronaldinho, and Deco starting the game on the bench, it was a conservative, defensive, and non-speculative Barça team. Sevilla is very good; they're much better than their League record. Giovani and Bojan both got to play, and showed why they are future stars. One of the big English clubs should sign up Gudjohnsen, who is playing well but just doesn't fit in. Thuram is finished and should retire, and there are rumors that Zambrotta wants to go back to Italy next season. Milito has taken Puyol's job at center-back, and Puyol has moved over to right fullback in most games, replacing Zambrotta. Marquez is playing very well, sometimes at center-back and sometimes in the midfield, as is Abidal at left fullback. For someone who's 34, Sylvinho is doing a good job; he's still in very good shape, better than some of the younger players. I honestly think they have a chance to come back in the second half of the season, since Madrid isn't as good as its League record.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I suggest comparing this load of conspiracy wank from the Guardian and this collection of facts from the US Information Agency.
Here you go, movie fans: 102 million cinema tickets were sold in Spain in 2007, down 20 million from 2006, according to the ministry of culture. (And why we need one I don't know.) 13 million spectators saw Spanish movies, while the other 89 million saw foreign flicks. American movies grossed more than €380 million, and Spanish and British movies were tied for second with €70 million each.

This means English-speaking movies outgrossed Spanish movies by more than six to one--and Spanish movies are subsidized by the government! Give them free money and they still can't make anything people want to watch. Of course, those nasty neo-liberals would say that if you give them free money, they'll be even less likely to make something people might want to see.

"Pirates of the Caribbean III" was the top grosser, with "Shrek III" second and a Spanish flick, "El Orfanato," third. The rest of the top 25 grossing movies were all English-speaking except for number 25, "REC".

A statistic I would like to see is the percentage of spectators who watch English-speaking movies in English, what they call "original version" around here, as opposed to those that watch them dubbed into Spanish. I bet fewer than 5% of tickets sold are for movies in the original English.

By the way, I've noticed a lot of deaf people (how do I know? Because they talk to each other in sign language throughout the film) at theaters showing movies in their original language. This is because those movies are subtitled in Spanish, so the deaf folks can read what's going on.
The Spanish general election campaign is officially under way. The Catalan Socialists struck first with a genius idea: they've come out with their own Socialist perfume, which will be sold for one euro a bottle at Socialist rallies. So you know it must be real high quality stuff. This appears to have been a brainstorm of Carmen Chacón, the young airhead at the top of the PSC's Barcelona list. Manuela de Madre, a competent PSC machine politician and a self-made woman, was in charge of the unveiling of the product, and she admitted it was "a little bit silly." Not a bad publicity stunt, but no more than that; this is not the kind of move that impresses people with your seriousness.

The perfume's smell has been compared to air freshener and insecticide in the local press. The British media has also picked up on this one.

The PP did do something serious: they signed up Manuel Pizarro as their prospective economics minister, and he will run second to Rajoy on the PP's Madrid list. Pizarro is the former president of electric utility Endesa and of the Madrid stock market; when he was in charge of Endesa, he doubled the company's market value. He is closely associated with Rodrigo Rato, Aznar's old economics minister who went off to run the IMF.

The choice of Pizarro makes it clear that the PP is giving up on Catalonia, and is only hoping to bring out its hardcore voters here instead of trying to win the center. Pizarro is unpopular among Barcelona's business community, since he helped torpedo the deal through which Barcelona-based Gas Natural (partly owned by Catalan savings bank giant La Caixa) would have taken over Endesa.

More evidence: The PP is hammering hard on the nationalism issue both here and in the rest of Spain, blasting the current Catalan laws that discriminate against Spanish-speakers. There is a sizable anti-Catalan vote in the rest of Spain, and they are working their hardest to bring it out. Within Catalonia, this will only appeal to those who already sympathize with the PP. They won't get more than their usual 15% ceiling here; the latest surveys do show them picking up one or two seats in Catalonia, but they'd only go from 6 to 7 or 8.

My favorite Cataloony, Pilar Rahola--she's very solid on almost every other issue, and she's pro-US, pro-Israel, and anti-terrorist, but her blind spot is Catalan independence--has a piece in La Vanguardia blasting the FARC and Hugo Chavez for this business of releasing a couple of their 500 hostages. She says, "Those who are selling the most reactionary Latin American demagogy have won, those whose noise drowns out the words of the reasonable leftist leaders who also exist on the continent. The intellectuals of leftist hatred have won, those who only differ from right-wing hatred because the flags in which they wrap themselves seem more attractive." She praises Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, calling him "one of the best leaders in the entire region."

The crisis in the Barcelona hospital emergency rooms continues, with ambulances stacked up outside them waiting until the staff can get around to looking at them. There's a bad flu epidemic going on, and it's killing the weaker of the old folks. Hospital deaths are 25% higher than normal.

The bus drivers, whipped up to go on strike by the Trotskyist union CGT, and the city have been negotiating. They got nowhere; the CGT is unwilling to compromise. Even the Socialist UGT and Communist CCOO unions are against the strike.

They had a contest to write some lyrics for the Spanish national anthem, and some unemployed guy from like Albacete won. Let's just say that the new words aren't any better than those of any other national anthem, and considerably worse than the Marsellaise. By the way, the US could really use a new anthem, and I've always supported "This Land Is Your Land," by Woody Guthrie, even though he was a goddamn Communist. The tune is easily singable and the words make sense, unlike the one we have now. My second choice would probably be "Free Bird."

Monday, January 14, 2008

Very little news from around here, which is most definitely a good thing.

The Spanish Parliament has been dissolved, and the new one will be elected March 9, as we know. It should be a tight election; one hypothesis going around is that the PP wins the most seats but not an absolute majority, and has to depend on CiU to form a government. Zap and the PSOE are still ahead by a couple of points in the polls.

Factors to consider: The PP's voters are more likely to come out, as a general rule, and many PSOE voters in the last election were usual abstainers and so are even less likely to turn out this time. Spain's fairly mild economic problems have struck Zap at exactly the wrong time, since the economy's not predicted to pick up again until April; inflation and tight credit aren't going to help Zap any. However, Rajoy is not popular, and everybody thinks PP henchmen Zaplana and Acebes are dicks. The PP would stomp them if Rato were the candidate, but he isn't.

Balls-up in Buenos Aires: Aerolineas Argentinas, which is owned by the Barcelona travel agency Marsans, has been hit with a strike by its ground crew in BA and hasn't been able to fly since Friday. So the fed-up trans-Atlantic passengers in the secure area, who included at least some Spaniards, rioted, destroying airport facilities and attacking airline staff. Jesus. I understand they're pissed off, but you're not supposed to express your pissed-offitude with violence. These people rioted and should be treated as rioters, but of course the company isn't going to press charges, since they're in enough trouble as it is.

Speaking of assholes: One of my favorite Catalan traditions is Els Tres Tombs, when you go to the church in Sant Andreu on St. Antonio Abad's day (he's the patron saint of domestic animals) to get your animals blessed. This goes back to the old days, of course, when your living standard might depend on the health of your mule. Today you bring your cat, dog, or parakeet; Rosa used to bring her dog every year. They have a parade with horses and carriages and pass out candy to the kids, too.

So a bunch of the bus drivers, who are on an on-again, off-again strike, showed up and disrupted the proceedings on the ground that Mayor Jordi Hereu was there, and so they had to yell at him and annoy everybody else. They should have charged those jerks with the horse carriages; that would have gotten them the hell out of the way, and then the old ladies could turn their poodles loose to chew on the extremities of the wounded.

La Vanguardia is so hard up for news that today's lead story is, "Young families leaving Barcelona." Well, no duh, it's too damn expensive and the apartments are too small. Besides, suburbanization is a worldwide phenomenon, not just one of those un-Continentally Anglo-Saxon trends. The sociologists chalk it up to the Barcelonese not getting married until their mid-30s and then having 1.32 children per woman.

Note: They seem to have Hispanified the Americanism "gentrification" as "elitización," which isn't quite right; in the US, when a city neighborhood is gentrified, it means that middle-class people move in, not that the elite do.

Then the first three pages of the living section are about how traditionally-made bread is better than frozen-dough bread. Well, yeah.

One more: I've never understood why Spanish left-wing artistes, who normally have nothing good to say about anything American, are so quick to jump when offered an American award, no matter how insignificant. And the media has a collective orgasm. Case in point: Javier Bardem, of the notorious far-left Bardem family, just won the Golden Globe for best supporting actor. So who cares? But it's the second story on TV3, of all places, and the Bardems aren't even Catalan.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Somebody left a copy of yesterday's Público, Spain's new left-wing paper, around the café and I had a look at it this morning. (You might remember they were the ones running TV commercials featuring "readers" wearing T-shirts saying "Fuck Bush.") I get the idea this is going to become a steady fount of material.

Here's an opinion piece by one Daniel Vázquez Sallés on page 14 of yesterday's issue on the US primary elections, a popular topic this week in Spain. Its title is, "Mister Barack Obama or the American dream."

At first sight, Mr. Obama looks like one of those clean-cut be-bop trumpeters--close-cropped hair, perfectly-shaved chin, a suit that favors his slimness--, with his deep voice you would say that he's capable of whispering in your ear just like Chet Baker himself under the moon of April in Paris.

Very poetic. But I thought racial stereotyping was something only us Yankees did.

The truth is that Mister Obama has succeeded with the American electorate, and, most importantly, has managed to persuade a new generation of voters that has been active in its dislike for the political class for decades, and does not vote because of the ethical principle of dignity.

Wait. You're saying that those Americans who don't vote do so because they're ethically against it? Does that make any sense to anyone?

...a lacrimogenic Hillary Clinton (achieved) a tour de force which has allowed her to recover the ground lost by asking her loyalists for clemency. Very American. You think, from this side of the Atlantic, that those puddling-up eyes are crocodile tears, pure show business (sic) encompassing a certain old-fashioned tragedy difficult to understand for a European, less used to political comedy...

a) Hillary won the New Hampshire primary because she got a little choked up on stage? Bit simplistic, don't you think? b) My guess about why certain Euro alleged journalists ascribe such dumb reasons for the actions of American voters is that they themselves can't be bothered to do anything resembling research on what the different groups of said voters want from a candidate. c) Notice again how said Eurojournalists love to explain everything American with images. That's because they don't need to understand English to do so. They can't actually read the newspapers or understand the debates. d) Political comedy? You want political comedy, seems to me like Esquerra Republicana is the biggest laugh this side of the Raving Monster Loony Party, and Zap's Alliance of Civilizations is like something out of "Jackass."

Obama's great advantage is knowing how to use the new media and not feel uncomfortable among so much technology. Whether because of his age or his spirit of hard work, the reality is that the senator from Illinois knows how to take advantage of the media outlets not controlled by the big corportations, (like) Internet, YouTube.

a) Huh? Obama can't buy time on the media outlets controlled by "the big corporations"? Their news departments don't report on his campaign? b) So Hillary, Edwards, Giuliani, Romney, etc. just fell off a potato truck and haven't heard of these crazy kids' Internet thing? Besides, from what I've heard, it's Ron Paul who's using the Internet most effectively.

"Barack or the American Dream" could be the title of one of those black-and-white movies filmed by Frank Capra. If Hillary's tears do not conquer, what Barack Hussein Obama does once in the Oval Office, nobody knows. He will probably try to change the warlike policy and environmental strategy installed by Bush, Cheney, and Rice.

But the real hands that rock the cradle are the big majors (sic), the ones who install and remove presidents according to whether the Dow Jones or arms traffic rises or falls. They are the real power, that America that orders that God bless it, that America that orders the universe to bless it.

a) I guess this guy thinks a "major" is a large corporation. b) Note the Hollywood imagery, as usual. c) Conspiracy theory wank, of course--you just know those evil corporations are really controlled by the Rothschilds and the Rosicrucians. d) Foreign arms sales are a tiny percentage of the American economy, and at least we haven't sold any weapons lately to either Gadafi or Chavez, unlike certain Spanish prime ministers I can name. e) What the hell does that last line mean?

Fortunately or unfortunately, this circus they have put on during the 20th century has seen its midgets grow up, little bastards born and trained in camps in Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia, Venezuela, and an interminable list of nations that grew up under the great creator. Now, in full puberty, they discover that the mother is weakened and they want to emancipate themselves and slam the door.

Meanwhile, the citizens of America, so used to imposing external order as a basic foundation of their precious internal liberty, observe as the world escapes from their hands and they are vulnerable to the virus of terrorism. Faced with such a collective catharsis, a believing society like the Americans receives the candidates like the new Messiahs. Regarding fervor, Obama wins the prize. They have charged him with preventing climate change, defeating the Islamic enemy, returning self-esteem to the citizens, and as the song says, "that's show business" (sic), getting Doctor House to be the next vice-president of the USA.

We, from the provinces, will have to watch and obey.

Note that the author doesn't even pretend to sympathize with the American people, the way some other anti-Americans do.

I guess what I really want to know is: who takes this shit seriously? Does it actually make any sense to anyone? Why would an editor choose to publish it? Does anyone but me actually read it?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The American primary elections are getting tons of coverage in the Spanish press. Today La Vanguardia gives Hillary Clinton a front-page photo, and the New Hampshire story gets pages 3, 4, and 5. Then the story gets the second editorial on page 16, a Quim Monzó column on the same page, a Francesc de Carreras column on page 17, a Lluís Foix column on page 20, and a Jaime Arias column on page 5 in the Vivir section. They've pretty much got all a Spaniard might want to know about the primaries, and most of the coverage is pretty reasonable.

De Carreras, who is generally a good writer, makes an error when he says that "neocons" are people in favor of extremist Christian fundamentalist policies. No, people who have been labeled "neo-conservatives" are frequently Jewish and rather liberally-minded on social and religious questions; anyway, they see issues like, say, abortion or gay marriage, as unimportant compared with a tough foreign policy. The Project for the New American Century, called by some the "neocon bible," says absolutely nothing about religion or morality.

Arias is the only one who's full of crap. He says, just to wind things up at the beginning:

Rightly, for many years many Europeans have suggested that we should have the right to participate in the election of the president on whose policies our future, to a certain degree, depends on, and which we have seen with the influence of the American recession, petroleum at $100 a barrel, and the inflationary spiral..

Yeah, you'll get the right to vote in our elections when 1) you pay taxes to our government 2) agree to live according to our Constitution and laws and 3) give us the right to vote in your elections, too. What a dumb idea, and I've heard it repeated over and over by the usual suspects over here. You think that because the actions of China's government are important to the future of American citizens, that we should be allowed to vote there? Also, by the way, the US economy is not in recession, nor is it in an inflationary spiral. United States real GDP in the third quarter of 2007 increased at a 4.9% annual rate, and inflation over the first eleven months of 2007 was 3.9%.

Arias continues:

These price increases prove wrong those who believed in alleged profits from the intervention in Iraq.

Absolutely nobody (except ignorant moonbats) said that profits would be made from invading Iraq. Everybody with half a brain knows that war is very bad for business--trade is cut off, resources are used unproductively, people's talents and efforts are misdirected toward military purposes, taxes go up, expensive stuff gets destroyed, it costs a lot to clean up the mess, fit, trained, and educated young people get maimed and killed, and business and consumer confidence declines when the future is uncertain--and that is one reason why war is resorted to so rarely.

And he concludes:

Of course, in all this electoral hoopla, the great newspapers and TV networks of Yankeeland and some manipulated surveys are dominant. In large part, their interest lies in inflating the doubtlessly attractive personality of Obama, a swelling that is reminiscent of tactics used by other ultraconservative strategists in Europe itself. They are trying to support radical candidates with a double objective: to torpedo the moderates and denounce radical social programs, frightening the wealthy classes and provoking a healthy reaction.

A classic maneuver in order to later present themselves before public opinion, warning them that they must choose: "Either them or me." Now they seem to be saying, ""Either the Afro-American Obama, or us the neocons." When what they really fear is the return of the Clintons to the Casablanca (sic). That of Bill, above all.

Jesus Christ. What Arias should have written is something along the lines of:

I'm a paranoid conspiracy theorist who thinks that the American mass media is secretly in the hands of all-powerful racist neo-cons. I really don't know shit about anything, and I couldn't tell a primary election from my left testicle. But anyway, I have to make up a bunch of crap to fill up my space today. So here goes.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

La Vanguardia has a list of the ten most watched on TV sports events of 2007. They were:

1. NFL Super Bowl, 97 million
2. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Brazil, 78 m.
3. Champions' League final, 72 m.
4. Rugby world championship final, 33 m.
5. World Cup track 100 meters, 24 m.
6. World Series final game, 24 m.
7. World Cup team handball final, 23 m.
8. Masters, last day, 21 m.
9. Wimbledon men's final, 21 m.
10. World Cup cricket final, 20 m.

I'm not actually that surprised; since it's not either an Olympic year nor the soccer World Cup, that's pretty much what I'd have figured. The article points out that 87 million of the Super Bowl viewers were Americans, and only 10 million were foreigners (and most of that lot probably Canadian). If we except the NFL as a peculiarly American phenomenon, then the world's biggest sports are, in order:

Auto racing
Team handball

Auto racing is the only sport big in every country in the world. There are lots of places where even soccer, generally considered the world's most popular sport, is not played, such as India and China.

The only one I don't get is team handball. What a retarded sport. If I ran a handball team, I'd sign up a six-foot-eight major league pitcher who can throw 95 miles an hour, pass to him every play, and have him fire away right at the goalie's nads every time. By the way, 16 million of the 23 million viewers were Germans.

Reminds me of a story from Jim Bouton's Ball Four. Back in 1963 the young flamethrowing Boston pitcher Dick Radatz was approached by a gentleman who invited him up to his hotel room, where he had a crate of oranges. Seems that the gentleman was a fetishist, and was willing to pay a couple of hundred bucks for Radatz to, and I quote, "throw oranges at his ass. Some of those oranges weren't too ripe, either, and they opened up some huge welts. That was my big year, too, when I could really bring it. He loved it."

Just one comment: The author of the article refers to us gringos as "subjects of Bush." Uh, no, that's Britain where people are subjects of the Crown. In the US we're citizens of a republic. That's sort of a basic difference there.


Tom is absolutely right about "British subjects"; they legally became British citizens in 1983. That's what I get for listening to Murph without checking it myself.

The numbers on the most-viewed sporting events seemed off to me, too, so I checked them, and there are apparently two widely disparate ways of calculating viewership. With one of them you get very conservative figures like the ones above, and with the other one you get several billion people watching the World Cup final.

Here are the 2004 figures, for a comparison:

1. Football: Euro 2004 final Portugal v Greece 153 million
2. Olympic Games: opening ceremony 127 million
3. Olympic Games: closing ceremony 96 million
4. American football: Super Bowl 95 million
5. Olympic Games: men's 100m metres 87 million
6. Olympic Games: men's 200m freestyle swimming 66 million
7. Formula one: Monaco grand prix 59 million
8. Football: Champions League final Porto v Monaco 56 million
9. Basketball: NBA finals 25 million
10.= Tennis: Wimbledon women's singles final 21 million
10.= Tennis: Wimbledon men's singles final 21 million
12. Cycling: Tour de France final stage 16 million
13.= Football: FA Cup final Millwall v Man Utd 9 million
13.= Horseracing: Grand National 9 million
15. Rowing: University Boat Race 5 million
One of the two etarras (Martín Sarasola and Igor Portu) arrested yesterday admitted to being part of the cell that set off the Barajas airport bomb that killed two people. Interior minister Rubalcaba said that the terrorist the cops kicked the crap out of (Portu) had been resisting arrest. The police activity before the arrests apparently rousted two more etarras, named Mikel San Sebastián and José Iturbide, who booked it and are currently on the run. Meanwhile, the Guardia Civil found another ETA explosives cache, this one with 25 kilos.

Sarasola and Portu were also in on several other explosions that did serious property damage but killed no one. Their main job, though, was to serve as couriers of explosives and weapons to and from different ETA cells. They were what is called in Spanish police jargon "legales," that is, they had no police record and lived apparently ordinary lives with day jobs. Most terrorists that are arrested are "liberados," that is, known to the police and living undercover.

These dirtbags' plan was to set off a car bomb in the Azca shopping district of Madrid, which would undoubtedly have killed dozens of people if it had been carried out. I hope the cops were no more gentle with these guys than absolutely necessary.

No decisions will be made about the controversial high-speed train (AVE) tunnel, which is to connect Sants central station and the new train station in La Sagrera under the city, before the March 9 general election. It is supposed to run under Calle Mallorca, which will cause it to pass by the Sagrada Familia. A fuss is being kicked up by preservationists, who fear that the Gaudí temple (NOT cathedral, there's only one in a city and ours is downtown) may be endangered by the underground work. Your typical Luddites have joined in, as have those semi-fringe political parties who will sign on to oppose anything anybody's against.

Zap is passing out more free money. "Youths," persons under 30, will receive a 210 euros a month subsidy if they are renting an apartment, do not already own one, and have assets under €108,000. In addition, they get a no-interest €600 loan to pay the deposit. This is not pie-in-the-sky, they're already distributing the dough, just like they did with the payments to couples who have a child.

This is, of course, blatant age discrimination. The government's rationale is to help young people "emancipate themselves," that is, move out of their parents' house. I'm not sure why people under 30 deserve a subsidy and people over 30 don't, if they're living in the same economic conditions. If this were a subsidy to help poor people of any age pay their rent, I'd see the point, but that ain't what this is.

Merrill Lynch says that Spanish housing prices are in full decline, that housing starts are way down, and that credit has tightened up. They predict 2008 economic growth to be 2.5% in Spain, which is still good though not what we've seen in the last decade or so. They also predict the BCE will not raise interest rates until this summer, and so the government elected in March should cut taxes in order to increase disposable income and consumer spending. They say the average 2008 oil price will likely be about $82 a barrel, and that food prices around the world will continue to rise.

The logic behind this measure is that rents are really high in Spain, averaging €1000 (that's $1500, don't forget) a month in Barcelona. This is because the tenants' rights laws are so restrictive that nobody who doesn't absolutely need the money now rents out his empty place. (Also, it's much harder to sell a place that's occupied by renters, and during the recent housing bubble a lot of people were holding on to places waiting for the market to peak in order to sell. The market peaked in summer 2006. If I'm right about this, then rental prices should drop as more people decide to sell and more places come on the market.)

Portuguese author and darling of the left José Saramago is in the hospital and is so old that he's probably going to die. I'm sure he's a perfectly decent human being, and we wish him no ill will, but I don't like his writing or his politics. In fact, I think they both suck.