Wednesday, April 30, 2008

You already know that Man United eliminated Barça from the Champions League last night with a 1-0 victory; Scholes blasted home a shot from outside the area after a bad clearing kick by Zambrotta early in the match. Barça put up a fight, but just could not score a goal--I think this is the fifth straight game they haven't scored. Now what they have to do is catch up with Villarreal in the league and make sure they get second place so they don't have to play an elimination round in next year's Champions.

Both general manager Beguiristain and head coach Rijkaard are out, though I bet team president Joan Laporta weathers the storm. Out of the players I would keep: Eto'o, Messi, Bojan, Iniesta, Xavi, Toure, Milito, and Valdes, along with Sylvinho and Puyol if they don't mind not being starters. Sell all the rest of them and buy good young players. Specifically, I'd buy Fabregas from Arsenal and Xabi Alonso from Liverpool, along with Navas from Sevilla.

Al Qaeda has called on its members to carry out attacks on European maritime interests off the Somali coast in particular and in the Indian Ocean in general. No, Zap, you didn't buy us immunity when you bailed out of Iraq. And now you've lost your friends in France and Germany, and you've made the Americans mad, and your pet project the Alliance of Civilizations is dead on arrival, and your best friends now are Latin American populists.

The EU's stats bureau reports that Spain is the EU country in which unemployment has climbed most in the past year, from 8.1% to 9.3%. Meanwhile, the Euribor interest rate hit 4.8%, meaning everybody's mortgage has gone up an average of €600 a year. The Zap government has made an informal agreement with Spanish lenders to allow mortgage holders to extend their term and thereby pay less a month, with no charge. Let's see if the lenders actually stick to this.

There are 280,000 immigrants living in Barcelona, 17% of the population. In the Old City 40% of the residents are immigrants. The largest groups are Ecuadorians and Italians over 20,000 each, Bolivians, Pakistanis, and Peruvians over 15,000 each, Moroccans, Colombians, Chinese, and French over 10,000 each, and Argentinians, Brazilians, and Dominicans over 7000 each.

Comments: By far the largest number of immigrants are Latin Americans, who integrate very well as a general rule, as they already speak Spanish and are Catholic, as well as sharing other cultural values. Barcelona is definitely not becoming Eurabia, since the only large Muslim groups are Moroccans and Pakistanis. A sizable percentage of Barcelona foreigners are Europeans, especially Italians and French; they don't tend to stand out, since they look and dress much like Spaniards. I doubt most of these people are here to stay. I'm surprised that Eastern Europeans didn't show up on the list.

One thing: 3 of every 10 children born in Barcelona has at least one foreign parent.

In case you didn't notice, I love statistics.

From La Vanguardia, page 3 today: "(Bush) denied that one of the principal causes of the food situation is the diversion of corn and other cereals to make ethanol and biofuels in general. According to him, the basic reasons for the price increase are the climate, the increase in demand, and the rise in energy prices."

OK; I thought the US only used corn to make ethanol, and it's not climate change that's to blame, it's a bad harvest in the Southern Hemisphere, but OK.

From La Vanguardia, page 4: "UN director for the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, stated that turning crops into biofuels and financial speculation, along with the IMF's aberrant policy (which forces many countries to orient agriculture toward exports at the cost of the subsistence economy), are the main causes of the price rises...Ziegler called for a "total moratorium" on biofuels for at least five years. "We must fight climate change but without starving people to death," said the Swiss sociologist. Several days ago, Ziegler had already told the media that "the use and encouragement of biofuels is a crime against humanity.""

Now, wait a minute. Seems to me that the use of biofuels is due to two causes: high oil prices caused by cartel control of the resource, and the global warming panic touched off by the Greens. So if anyone's guilty of a crime against humanity, it would be OPEC and the environmentalists, no? Note that Ziegler blams the Jew-American financial speculators and IMF policy encouraging competitive advantage--that is, market forces--for the current crisis.

From La Vanguardia, page 64: "The high cost of agricultural staples in the international markets is due to the increase in biofuels in the United States." That seems to be rather a stretch, no?

Meanwhile, Thailand is organizing an Organization of Rice Exporting Countries, to include Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma. They're going to set up their own cartel and strike back at OPEC, and the very poorest in the world are going to get screwed over again.

So the Generalitat's traffic department predicts that 550,000 vehicles will leave Barcelona beginning this evening for the Mayday long weekend; Friday is International Commie Day, and people are taking a couple of extra days off. I would like to point out that talking environmentalism and fretting about grain prices are incompatible with car ownership.

Obama and Reverend Wrong are getting plenty of press over here, but the big story in all of Europe is the pervert in Austria whose kids are also his grandkids.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Other news: PP hard-liner and conspiracy-theorizer Eduardo Zaplana has announced that he is retiring from politics and taking a job at Telefonica. He doesn't want to get in the way of the renovation of the party, he says. Good. More proof of the PP's movement toward the center, merely two-and-a-half years and one blown election too late. Next to go: Angel Acebes.

The freed crew of the Spanish tuna boat say that they were treated very badly by the pirates, though they were not physically abused. While they were captives, they were able to talk to their families on cellphones, and obviously told them that everything was fine so they would not worry. I guarantee you that these criminals only hold crews of Western boats for ransom, and just massacre everybody else.

By the way, the Spanish press continually referred to the 26 crew members as "five Basques, eight Galicians, and 13 Africans." Why not 13 Spaniards and 13 Africans? Or even better, they could have taken the trouble to mention the Africans' nationalities, too. Are they Ivorians, Tanzanians, Angolans, or Cameroonians? There's a big difference, you know.

They've finished the work necessary at the port, and it's ready to recieve water brought in by tanker ship from Tarragona and Marseille. The first shipments should arrive by May 15, and will supply 12% of the metro area's water needs.

Good economic news: In April yearly inflation declined four-tenths of a point, to 4.2%, and econ minister Solbes predicts it'll keep declining. This is in line with what Alan Greenspan said about how controlling inflation is right now more important than stimulating growth.

El Periodico reports that Raul Castro has promised to commute several death sentences to mark the sixth Cuban Communist Party congress. However, Raul "specified that this decision does not mean that capital punishment will be removed from the penal code, since "it would be ingenuous and irresponsible to renounce the dissuasive effect that capital punishment provokes among the real terrorists, mercenaries in the service of the Empire." You know, I've heard thousands of complaints about the death penalty in the US over here, but never once about Cuba. Note, by the way, that Raul thinks the death penalty dissuades criminals, something American conservatives have been saying for years.

La Vanguardia has finally picked up on the Obama and Reverend Wrong story, correctly concluding that the Rev is going to torpedo Obama's candidacy and that the fight to the death between Obama and Hillary is going to benefit only the Republicans. Vangua reporter Eusebio Val did point out that the Rev would not back off "God damn America" or his "the government invented AIDS" crackpottery, nor did he back off his "America deserved 9-11" filth, and that he repeated his "they're attacking the black churches through me" conspiracy theory.
Former Barça star Hristo Stoichkov, a great player but an offensive jerk of a human being, a nasty piece of work, beat up a photographer outside a Puerto Olimpico bar several days ago. He punched the guy in the teeth, knocked him down, and then started kicking him, while pushing away the guy's pregnant wife and screaming obscenities and threats. He ought to be in the Modelo right next to Franki.

If you come to visit Barcelona, I'd stay away from the Puerto Olimpico and Maremagnum at night. Nothing good ever seems to happen there, and the clients are a bunch of drugged-up drunk chavs. There are hundreds of more interesting bars in this city.

And get this one: Former Barça star Ronaldo picked up three prostitutes last Monday night in Rio de Janeiro. They turned out to be transvestites. Ronaldo paid them $600 to go away, but one of them demanded $30,000 in blackmail, threatening to expose Ronaldo's allegedly kinky tastes and to accuse him of drug use, so all four of them wound up at the police station. Seems that Ronaldo had turned his car over to one of them to go buy cocaine in a shantytown, and the guy kept the ownership papers, which is why Ronaldo went to the police.

So the former Barça star trifecta is now in play. Prediction: The next one to get in trouble is going to be Patrick Kluivert, and what he does is going to be a lot worse than these two. He's been convicted of vehicular manslaughter and acquitted of rape so far, and, as a convicted felon, he's banned from entering the United States, as Barça found out once when they did a tour over there and Immigration at Kennedy Airport put Kluivert on the next plane back home.

And tonight's the big game, do or die against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the second leg of the Champions League semifinals. Barcelona needs to win or to draw by 1-1 or more. An 0-0 draw goes to penalty kicks. The way Barça's been playing, a victory's unlikely, but anything can happen. Probable lineup: Valdes; Zambrotta, Puyol, Milito, Abidal; Xavi, Toure, Deco; Messi, Eto'o, Iniesta. On paper that's a good lineup, but it just hasn't been getting the job done.
Some punk kid who goes by the name "Franki" decided back in 2002 that it would be a good idea to get some of his buddies, go to the Terrassa city hall and charge right in, get in a tussle with the cops, and torch the Spanish flag hanging off the front balcony. As the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow, his 32-month prison sentence has been delayed for years, until now. The judge ordered the cops to go get him and lock him up in the ancient Modelo prison, the "Black Hole of Catalonia," for "insulting the flag."

Comments: 1) I don't think flag-burning should be against the law, though I consider it to be very offensive 2) I'd put the guy in jail for fighting with the cops, trespassing, and destroying public property, not for burning the flag.

So Franki's in the slam and his squatter punk friends graffitied my street last night with slogans like "Freedom for Franki," "Cops get out," "PSOE = oppressors," and the like. They also graffitied a bank branch with "Speculators" and a supermarket with "Steal here." The municipal street brigade hasn't gotten around to cleaning it up yet.

Of course, these jerks have no idea of how to go about civil disobedience: you break a law you consider unjust and then you accept society's punishment, thereby establishing your superior moral status. Whining about getting jailed is not civil disobedience, it's wanting to get away with breaking the law, which establishes your inferior moral status.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Quick news update: Another crazy-ass drunk truck driver, this one in Almeria. He blew nine times the legal blood-alcohol level. Spain seems to specialize in these guys.

Speaking of which, remember the scuzzbag who beat up the Ecuadorian girl on the train in Barcelona, and the film went around the world? He hasn't been tried yet on those charges, but he got fined €1000 and lost his license for ten months after getting busted for drunk driving. It's the same scum who keep committing the same crimes.

The EU commissioners are predicting a 2008 economic growth rate of 2.2% in 2008 and 1.8% in 2009. That's pretty much in line with the Spanish econ ministry but well higher than what the private sector forecasts.

Home sales are down 24% in Spain over the last year, and mortgages issued are down 26%. In Catalonia those numbers are worse: 41% and 36%, respectively. Oops. Meanwhile, farm prices are up 11%, so we can now cut some of their subsidies, please.

El Periodico has a story on Al Qaeda in the Maghreb and its preparations in Algeria; they have mortars and grenade launchers, as well as satellite communications and, most importantly, money. The Algerian press says they have more than 1600 active members, present in all areas of Algeria, and with their base in rural Cabilia. They are continually training new recruits, and El Periodico reminds us that their leaders have threatened Spain specifically and repeatedly.

The health ministry annouced that of the 800 brands of sunflower oil on sale in Spain, 200 are guaranteed safe, and the other 600 present minimal health risks. Health minister Soria told a press conference, "Bring me a bottle and I'll drink it right now!" I'd still throw out any sunflower oil I'd bought recently--it's not like it costs more than one-twenty a bottle or so.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

It's time for another warning on an organization calling itself "Humana People to People," which is a front for a cult called Tvind. Humana has eleven shops in Barcelona, and it is running advertisements in the local giveaway press that read: "By shopping at Humana, or donating the clothing you no longer use, besides helping us carry out cooperative projects in several countries in Africa, you also contribute to not creating thousands of tons of waste that pollutes our planet. We have been recycling for more than 20 years."

From The Times:

Hull-based CICD is Tvind's main British outpost. Nobody knows what to make of the organisation - it is part "schools co-operation", part "clothes-recycling project", part "Third World volunteer organisation", part instrument of world revolution, part multinational business concern. Some people devote their lives to it, but many believe it is exploiting naive young people.

...Tvind is very controversial in its native Denmark. Its ability to claim millions of krone from the State in funding for its schools has led to attempts to change the Constitution. Most Danes are aware - and concerned - that Tvind has become a multinational business concern as well as, according to its own lights, an educational and aid charity. Apparently funded by its own members, volunteers, public donations and official grants, Tvind has reportedly invested in property, fruit plantations, old-clothes trading in Central America, Africa and the Pacific - though these commercial ventures are rarely disclosed to young volunteers.

From the Boston Globe:

The members of the group's inner circle, known as the Teachers Group,
commit to staying with the movement for life, donating their salaries to a
communal fund, and relocating anywhere they are needed, according to Danish
prosecutors and former members.

At first, the group's efforts gained renown in Denmark, attracting
thousands of volunteers. But as the schools and charities spread across
Europe, critics accused group leaders of negligence, cloudy finances, and a
near-fanatical demand for loyalty from members. Denmark passed a law
forbidding state funding for the organization. French authorities
classified the group as a nonreligious cult.

''It's huge, and nobody can really work out what's at the bottom of it,''
said Michael Durham, a British freelance journalist who created a Web site
aimed at exposing Pedersen and the dozens of charities and for-profit
companies he allegedly controls. ''Is it about money? Is it about power? Is
about this one man? Or is it about left wing politics?''
The Somali pirates released the 26 hostages and their fishing boat yesterday; the owners of the boat paid a $1.2 million ransom, and it is now on its way to the Seychelles accompanied by a Spanish frigate. The deal was cut in London; I wonder who was representing the pirates. The Zap administration announced that it, along with the diplomatic service and the owner of the boat, had been in on the negotiations.

What I don't understand: Spain's frigate had reached the area, and they had permission to use the French air base at Djibouti. When the pirates left the Spanish boat, which they did while still 22 miles off the coast, why didn't the navy and air force blow them up as soon as the hostages were safe?

Comment: The pirates repeatedly pointed their guns at the hostages, and threatened them by making throat-cutting motions. How much you want to bet that every time they capture a Third World boat, they massacre everybody aboard, since nobody will pay a ransom for them?

Deputy prime minister De la Vega said, "Piracy on the high seas must be fought more rigorously, and to do so the participation of the whole international community is necessary." That is, NATO ("OTAN no, bases fuera") and the militarist warmongering United States, whose flag Zap refused to stand up for during a military parade. Question: If American participation is necessary to fight piracy, why isn't Spanish participation necessary to fight terrorism? But Spain pulled its troops out of Iraq with no warning, and then publicly encouraged other members of the Coalition to abandon it.

Also notice that La Vanguardia has not even mentioned the US-French diplomatic offensive at the UN Security Council against Somali piracy, or the fact that if military action is taken against piracy, then it'll be the US Navy that does most of the job.

Even El País said, "The US provided the Spanish government information on the movements of the captured boat and of the pirates, which contributed to their release, according to diplomatic sources today. The US military also provisioned the Spanish naval and air units in the area."

El País also has an interview with defense minister Carmen Chacón, who said she was a pacifist, and that she wanted Spanish society to understand that the military is a force for peace.

Failure to coordinate: A contaminated shipment of sunflower oil came in from Ukraine, and the central government issued a warning and announced that the contaminated oil had been withdrawn from the market. Health minister Bernat Soria told the citizens not to worry, and even if they have consumed contaminated oil, it's not a serious health risk. But the Generalitat told everyone not to use sunflower oil until Monday at least. Remei and I only use olive oil anyway; we buy five-liter jugs from the cooperative in Nalec, which is virgin and varietal (made from arbequina olives). It's good stuff.

La Vangua has an good business story today on the machinations going on in the utilities sector. Remember the long-drawn out war between La Caixa / Gas Natural and E.ON over Endesa? There might be another one coming. "Last Monday afternoon the president of La Caixa (35% of Gas Natural) Isidre Fainé, and the president of Repsol (30% of Gas Natural), Antoni Brufau, asked for the approval of economics minister Pedro Solbes for a merger between Iberdrola and Gas Natural, and to tell him that a delay would only facilitate a takeover of Iberdrola by a foreign corporation. A merger would create a large energy company, with La Caixa, Repsol, BBK, Bancaja, and Unicaja (30% total of the merged company) as the chief stockholders." Note that four of the major owners would be savings banks, which have essentially become holding companies that own large shares of Spanish corporations.

Remember the "Las Vegas in Los Monegros" scheme? Turns out that the promoters can't even raise enough money to buy the land, and, get this, they haven't decided exactly where it's supposed to be built yet. Looks like the whole thing was a giant scam, and the Aragonese regional government (PSOE) fell for it.

The cops got word of a Latino gang fight and stopped it with a preventive strike, a raid on a disco frequented by a Dominican gang called the "Panteras Negras." Eight arrests were made, one for drug-dealing, two for outstanding warrants, two for being illegal aliens, and three for drug possession. Good. However, the Generalitat is still handing out subsidies to the Latin Kings, registered as a "cultural association."

Meanwhile, in Valladolid, some guy grabbed a gun and started shooting last night at 4 AM. One killed, three wounded. Though violence is less frequent in Spain than in France or Britain, there's still more than enough of it.

The ETA-front organizations tried to put on an illegal demo yesterday in Durango, and the cops arrested thirteen people, who have been released on bail. They tried to have a riot, set up barricades in the streets, and held out for three hours, but at least this time some of them got busted.

Deportivo stomped Barça last night, 2-0, and Barça is now in third place. Barça was terrible, everybody played lousy. Pinto, the backup goalie, was horrible. Other especially bad players were Thuram, Henry, Giovani, and Márquez. A pathetic show, with most of the good players on the bench. There are rumors around here that young Giovani is entirely too fond of the nightlife and may be on his way out, and that Henry is on his way back to Arsenal, perhaps in some sort of deal including Cesc Fàbregas.

Meanwhile, everybody is making a big deal out of the Formula 1 race today at Montmeló, not far from Barcelona. I really don't care a whit about car racing in any shape or form. So far there haven't been any racist incidents, though Lewis Hamilton received a round booing and whistling. Homeboy fan favorite and general peckerhead Fernando Alonso had to drop out of the race. Kimi Raikkonen won. Supposedly there were 140,000 people out there.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

I just got a Google hit from a gentleman in Cairo, Egypt. He was searching for "sun fuck mather". It took me a minute to figure out what he was looking for, and it has nothing to do with Ra getting it on with Cotton Mather. Jesus. There's all sorts out there.
So La Vanguardia and El País both got interviews with the Pulitzer-winning American novelist Richard Ford, whose book The Lay of the Land has just come out in Spanish. El País's interview is longer and more detailed, but Ford told both of them pretty much the same thing.

From La Vanguardia:

I set the novel in the interim between the election and the judicial decision about the election in 2000, because the way George Bush was named president was flagrantly perverse, since the Supreme Court overruled the will of the electorate, and much more importantly, I think the American voters allowed this to happen without protest. In other countries, such an event easily could have caused a coup d'etat or some kind of civil revolt against a plutocratic and oppressive regime. But the Americans just went to sleep during this serious constitutional crisis, whose consequences have been disastrous, of course, for our national morals, for our sense of right and wrong, but also disastrous for the rest of the world, especially for Iraq and other countries.

Americans are not interested in politics anymore. They want to abdicate their civic duties and turn them over to the "experts," who supposedly act in our name, but in reality they are acting in the first place to keep their jobs and then in order to serve the interests of the greatest fortunes, who have bought their access to public office. Americans are no longer citizens. As political entities, they are asleep from a moral point of view, and they don't want to be woken up, they just want to be allowed to keep living the life they are living--working, buying, getting rich at the expense of the poor and of our own future. It's not a pretty sight.

1) No wonder the Europeans have a bad image of Americans, if this is what our cultural leaders are telling them. 2) Note that Ford dislikes the American people, who are ignorant, selfish, and shallow in his view, as well as active agents in "exploiting the poor." 3) Note the conspiracy theorizing: the rich folks run everything in a plutocratic and oppressive regime. 4) How come Spanish newspapers never interview any pro-American Americans?
From El País:

It's a fact that America is a very violent society. When I began to write about New Jersey in the year 2000, every time I imagined a scene and thought about what would be the background sound, there was always a police car. It's part of American life, we are numbed by our violence, and by the violence we are inflicting upon other countries.

I was a Democrat. Not any more. Although I voted for Obama. But I'll never be a Democrat again. The Democratic party isn't even a party, it's splintering up.

I'm going to vote. I'll vote for whoever the Democrats nominate. But I don't want them to consider me as one of their party...But I'll never be a Democrat again in my life. They're a bunch of liars, a bunch of narcissists, they're disorganized, they waste money, they're irresponsible and untrustworthy. No. That's it.

(McCain's election) is worse than frightening. It would be a disaster. Not just for America. It would be a disaster for America's relations with the rest of the world, that's what scares me the most. Our relationship with those countries that we have every reason to get along with. And our relationship with the Muslim world. We've burned our bridges there, and that terrifies me. Not personally, I don't fear for my life. It terrifies me spiritually. The things I think my country represents or should represent in the human spirit are being abandoned. My country has become pseudo-democratic and imperialist. We make five enemies for every friend.

My European readers are more important for me (than my American readers). I feel privileged to be read by Europeans and Latin Americans, because I believe they are better readers in general. They understand the value of art in a complex cultural scene. I'm American, so I suppose I write for American readers, but, based on what I feel, I think I reach my goals better with the European audience.

1) I think Mr. Ford is suffering from a cultural inferiority complex. No Yank who has lived in Europe for more than a month believes that the average European is any brighter or has better taste than the average American. 2) There's not much more violence in the US than in the UK. Violence is simply not part of the lives of the great majority. Agreed, Spain is less violent than either place, but here in Barcelona we hear plenty of police sirens just like in Jersey. 3) He dislikes his fellow Americans so much that he even puts down his own readers. I wonder if his contempt includes the voters for the Pulitzer Prize and the Faulkner Award. 4) Note all the Marxist jargon, imperialist and pseudodemocratic and plutocratic and oppressive. 5) There are some American interviews with Ford linked on his Wikipedia page. He doesn't say anything like this in any of those. 6) Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Mr. Ford is absolutely right about the Democratic Party.

Friday, April 25, 2008

From the Stephen Roth Institute at the University of Tel Aviv:

There is tremendous ignorance in Spanish society about Judaism and the Jews. This pertains not only to their historical presence for 15 centuries but also to the Jewish reality of today. The majority of Spaniards do not even know a Jew. Therefore, their knowledge of Jews is very limited and distorted by anti-Jewish stereotypes and prejudices that have persisted until today...

Reports about Israel occupy a disproportionate amount of international space in the Spanish media. Most coverage of the conflict is superficial and sensationalist, with Israel, and by extension, the Jews, being discredited (and sometimes demonized). While the media’s use of antisemitic stereotypes has been documented throughout Europe, some important elements differentiate the Spanish media from its European counterparts:

Uniformity of opinion across ideological lines. Only a few writers can be counted upon to consistently go beyond stereotypes or denounce manipulation. Unlike elsewhere in Europe, there are almost no Jewish intellectuals or journalists to provide a voice for the community. In most cases, when Jewish writers are published, they often oppose Israeli policy or represent minority views and only serve as justification for existing biases.

Anti-Americanism. While this trend is certainly not unique in Europe, the level of intensity is quite possibly higher in Spain, due to former Prime Minister Aznar´s role in the war in Iraq and anti-Bush and the anti-war policy of the Socialist government. This trend was noted in the November 2003 European Union Monitoring Center ‘Eurobarometer’ report (p. 78), which demonstrate that the majority of Spaniards consider the United States the number one threat to global peace, ahead of Israel.

Intensity. Antisemitic discourse in the Spanish media has a long history and reaches levels of intensity that would be considered unacceptable elsewhere in Europe (banalization of the Holocaust, portrayal of Israel and Judaism as cruel and vindictive, biased editorial/opinion pieces and opinionated news items, distorted notions of Jewish power, double standards vis-à-vis terrorism, etc. – see, for example, “Antisemitismo en el Humor Gráfico: Caricaturas y Viñetas de la Prensa Española sobre el conflicto Israelí-Palestino, 2000–2002,” Guesher, 2003). When confronted with the accusation of antisemitism, journalists, as well as editors and opinion columnists in the press, generally deny it, claiming they are justifiably criticizing the policies of Israel.

Also highly recommended: This long article (PDF) titled "European Anti-Americanism (and Anti-Semitism): Ever Present though Always Denied" by Andrei Markovits, a professor at Michigan, published by Harvard's Center for European Studies.
From the AP:

The U.S. Navy has led international patrols to combat piracy along Somalia's 1,880-mile coast, the longest in Africa and near key shipping routes connecting the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean...

The U.S. and France are drafting a U.N. resolution that would allow countries to chase and arrest pirates off Somalia's coast, responding to a spate of attacks, including this week's hijacking of a Spanish tuna boat.

France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-Maurice Ripert, said the resolution would authorize foreign governments to pursue pirate vessels into territorial waters, make arrests and prosecute suspects.

"We want to do it fast, but it could take one or two weeks because it has to be by consensus — it's not confrontational," he told the AP...

The push by key U.N. Security Council nations to tackle the issue follows an alarming increase in piracy by well-armed bandits, prompting international demands for better protection of the world's shipping lanes.

Interesting that none of this makes the news in Spain.

From the Daily Telegraph:

"The ministry of defence has alerted Nato and contacted France, Britain, and other allied countries with a military presence in the area," said Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the prime minister.

"Other allied countries with a military presence in the area," huh?
So some jerks in a town in the Aragonese Pyrenees had nothing better to do, and they thought it might be a good idea to pull down the abandoned church's bell tower. And, get this, they posted the video on YouTube, under the title "Down with the church," to the tune of a punk-rock parody of the Lord's Prayer. La Vanguardia has the video (to the right of the news article). Now, the abandoned church is of fairly recent construction and has almost no historical or artistic value, so this isn't a cultural tragedy like when the Taliban blew up the giant Buddhas. But I just don't get the point of destroying something for the fun of it.

More cultured, sophisticated European behavior in the Andalusian town of Ecija: on Sunday six members of the same family died in a fire. Tragic, of course. But the rumor began to spread that the firemen had taken thirty minutes to respond to the alarm (the mayor said it took less than five minutes), and a lynch mob of locals began to attack the firemen, throwing rocks at them, while they were still trying to put the fire out. Now the Guardia Civil has arrested seven of the mob. Good, for once somebody who violently breaks the law gets arrested around here.

Complaints are being made that the French killed three innocent Somali victims in their raid on the pirate base. This news got one sentence at the bottom of a page 6 story in La Vanguardia yesterday. Wonder how much play it would have gotten if it had been another case of unilateral colonialist Yankee warmongering?

Much is being made of a potential world food crisis around here. Comments: 1) Rice is going up, but wheat is coming down 2) Amartya Sen said that famine is not caused by there not being enough food, it's caused by food not getting to the people who need it 3) I think we have the technology to get emergency food to anywhere in the world outside remote places in Africa 4) Let me repeat that I am completely in favor of ending agricultural subsidies in the First World, and I've been talking about it for years 5) The Spanish press is blaming "speculators," which sounds to me like Jew-American capitalists, for the potential problem 6) Law of unintended consequences: The Greens say use less fossil fuel. The Americans start using corn to make less-polluting fuel. Now American greed for energy is killing babies in Chad. You can't win either way 7) Demand for grain has risen for many reasons, but over here all they can talk about is biofuels 8) Since the demand for grain has increased, the supply is going to increase too, and pretty damn quick 9) Lula da Silva is in favor of biofuels, too, but nobody ever criticizes Brazil for chopping down the Amazon to plant sugarcane or for using that sugarcane to make fuel 10) Nobody, ever, criticizes the OPEC cartel for artificially keeping petroleum prices high, which is probably the most important factor in the rise of food prices.

Is Barcelona the only city in the world where airline routes are big news? All the papers are reporting that American Airlines has instituted nonstop service between El Prat and New York. I'm sure it's got something to do with the city's raging self-esteem problem: we must be important because we've got a nonstop flight to New York! Note the standard Spanish love-hate attitude toward America: we resent American power and influence, but at the same time we bask in reflected glory when America pays attention to us.

Jeez. Econ minister Solbes just won't leave Disneyworld. Now he's predicting 2.3% GDP growth for both 2008 and 2009, though the private sector says it'll be half that.

Meanwhile, 246,000 people were added to the unemployment rolls in the first quarter, putting the number of Spanish unemployed over 2 million, a rate of 9.6%. The only two regions that didn't see a rise in unemployment were the Basque Country and Extremadura, while Catalonia saw the largest increase, 39,000 more unemployed. It's going to get worse before it gets better, people.

The percentage of flats in Barcelona priced at under €240,000 has doubled since 2006 to 18%, and you see a few under €200,000 now. El Periodico says that these places are of generally good quality, too, while two years ago cheap flats were all very undesirable. Problems: 1) the mortgage interest rate is high right now, with the Euribor at 5%, depressing demand 2) credit is tight and banks aren't giving out mortgages to everybody and his dog anymore.

You probably saw that Barça drew with Man United at the Camp Nou, 0-0; they had a dozen opportunities but couldn't score as usual. United played it safe and stuck to defense and fast breaks, and they'd have won if Cristiano Ronaldo had made his penalty kick in about the second minute. Wayne Rooney was disappointing. Barcelona's best players were Iniesta and Touré. Now they have to play the second ninety minutes at Old Trafford, which will not be easy. But anything could happen, and all hope has not been abandoned. Rijkaard has given up on the League; this weekend he's sitting his good players to rest them up for the rematch with Man U.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

It's been literally months since we did a blog roundup, which used to be a regular feature around here. It needs to become a regular feature again.

Publius Pundit has lots of stuff on Russia, including this piece on declining oil production.

Fausta fears that Paraguay has joined the Axis of Evel Knievel.

Wirdheim in Vilanova has some nice Sant Jordi photos.

Spanish Pundit has more on Zaharawi, Ceuta, and Melilla. (Scroll down for English.)

South of Watford comments on the Barcelona water situation and Spanish politics.

Notes from Spain reminds us that Correos sucks.

No Pasaran! destroys an anti-American French blogger. Check this one out.

La Gatita Gringa has the latest on Spain's Eurovision entry. One comment: It's not politically charged; they just threw in Zap and Rajoy's names as examples of how everyone likes to dance the chiki-chiki, and that's been cut from the Eurovision version, as even the most innocuous political content is banned.

Iberia Nature updates us on the Iberian lynx, with cool photos.

Eursoc says that though it's super-PC in Catalonia to get excited over Sant Jordi, it's very un-PC to do so in England.

The Dissident Frogman has a must-read on the problem with Brigitte Bardot and those she associates with, and he weighs in on a blog dust-up between Little Green Footballs and Gates of Vienna.

Davids Medienkritik has a nice one on the German media's pet issues when reporting on the US.

If you like Iberian Notes, you'll love Colin Davies--just as informative and much less obnoxious.

The Brussels Journal has a must-read piece by a professional analyst on the PP power struggle. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It's Sant Jordi, so there are rose and book stands up all over town, and it's a beautiful pre-summer day. Lots of bustling around downtown, with the combination of Sant Jordi crowds and the Man U supporters, who haven't committed any major atrocities yet. The city government is trying to concentrate the English fans in the Puerto Olimpico, as they did with the Glasgow Celtic fans at the Forum.

Of course, like all holidays, Sant Jordi has its capitalist side; in fact, you could argue it's the most commercial national holiday in the world, since it's the only one centered on buying things. Six million roses will be sold today in Catalonia, 60% of the yearly total, which is fifteen million euros if you figure they go for an average of two-fifty. Only 25% of the roses are produced in Catalonia, and the rest come from Colombia, Ecuador, and Kenya. La Vanguardia says a Catalan rose wholesales at 50 eurocents, while one from Kenya wholesales at just 20. So buy a rose and help out Third World agriculture.

This is also the big day for book sales, and the Barcelona press actually handicaps the various authors to see who sells the most. This year's favorite is Carlos Ruíz Zafón, who's come out with another of those medieval historical fiction things, and who is by the way detested by literary snobs. Eduardo Mendoza and Quim Monzó are also expected to do well. The three biggest foreign authors of best-sellers are Ken Follett, John Boyne, and Noah Gordon, all of whom I believe are in town to sign books; another Sant Jordi marketing thing is that authors show up and sign purchasers' copies at bookstores. The press always has a couple of laments over what they call "media books" (by the likes of Andreu Buenafuente, Toni Soler, and whoever's the latest TV3-created pseudo-celebrity is) that are based on TV programs and take the bread out of the mouths of hard-working hacks who've knocked out yet another unreadable 160-page monograph on linguistic politics.

ABC is reporting that Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's number two, has called on the Moroccans to "struggle against the allies of Satan," i.e. Spain, and free Ceuta and Melilla "from Spanish occupation." Listen, Zap, I've been saying it for years, we are a target no matter how much Alliance of Civilizations wanking about that you do. The Madrid bombings would have happened no matter what Aznar's policies had been, and you took political advantage out of it. You better just hope that the PP doesn't take that same advantage of you next time we get bombed.

Remember Zap's budget surplus? In the first three months of 2008 it was cut in half. Payouts are up 13% while income is only up 1%. This includes the €266 million the Zap government has already paid out as subsidies to parents of newborns, but does not include the €6 billion in tax refunds, half to be paid out in June. Now, we can afford a little deficit spending. Let's not fall into the trap of making it lots of deficit spending.

Esperanza Aguirre has apparently decided that she will not challenge Rajoy at the June convention, but that she will do so before the 2012 election. She has proposed a primary election to determine the 2012 PP candidate. This means party disunity for the next three years, which is the best way to lose the next election.

Meanwhile, there's a three-way power struggle in the Catalan PP between current president Daniel Sirera and challengers Montserrat Nebrera, a moderate, and Alberto Fernandez Diaz, of the old guard. It's pretty clear that Sirera is going to be defenestrated; the influential moderate Francesc Vendrell has proposed a Fernandez Diaz-Nebrera leadership. Just a comment: Though the PP got twice as many Catalan votes as Esquerra Republicana in the last election, the ERC power struggle is getting about ten times the TV3 coverage.

The Spanish Navy has sent a frigate, the Méndez Núñez, toward the Somali coast, and Moratinos announced that it is "several sailing hours" from where the Spanish fishing boat is anchored. "Other countries and organisms," which means the US, UK, France, and NATO, have provided Spain with the necessary intelligence, and have granted Spain the use of their communications systems. We'll see what happens. Meanwhile, Spain has sent its ambassador in Kenya to Mogadishu in order to negotiate with the Somali government. I didn't know there was a Somali government, and I doubt it has much influence among the pirates.

Worst-case scenario: The pirates are really Al Qaeda, and the Spanish fishing boat is bait to get a Western naval ship within range of some kind of missile they've managed to get hold of. I hope I'm just being paranoid.

Now Berlusconi, the owner of AC Milan as well as incoming Italian prime minister, says that Barça is asking too much for Ronaldinho. They're offering twenty million for both Ronaldinho and Zambrotta, and Barcelona is demanding fifty million for them. I say Barça should take Inter's offer of thirty million for just Ronaldinho, though I'm all for getting rid of Zambrotta as well.

And tonight's the big game, Barça-Man U in the first leg of the Champions' League semifinal. Man U is of course the heavy favorite to make the final, but in two games, three hours of play, anything can happen, which is why they play the games in the first place. Valdés needs to be perfect, because he's not going to get any help from his back four, and Iniesta needs to find Eto'o with a couple of through balls. Hey, it could happen. The Giants won the Super Bowl. The Cardinals won the 2006 World Series. Truman beat Dewey.

Oh, yeah, get this. Burglars broke into soon-to-be-ex-coach Frank Kijkaard's house last week while he and his family were inside. They didn't realize the burglars had even gotten in until they found that some €300,000 worth of cash, jewelry, and watches were gone. My question: What the hell were they doing with all that stuff in their house in the first place?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More PP infighting: Esperanza Aguirre announced yesterday that she was not a candidate for the presidency of the PP at the June convention, and that she would vote for Rajoy. But she didn't get all the way off the pot: she also announced that she might change her mind, and that she thought another convention should be held in three years to choose the candidate for the 2012 election. The last thing the PP needs is a Rajoy-Aguirre conflict for the next four years. Look how much damage the Hillary-Obama conflict over the last four months has already done to the Democratic party.

Speaking of Hillary and Obama, the Spanish press is eating it up. Nonstop entertainment. Each of the newspapers runs a story every day on the campaign. However, I haven't seen a single article looking into their policies, and little attention has been paid to their records. They're also ignoring McCain, the one person we know for sure is going to be on the ballot in November.

The Spanish fishing boat captured by Somali pirates is anchored near the coast, and Spanish authorities are apparently negotiating the payment of a ransom, and they've asked for help from the French and the Americans, since Spain has no naval presence in the area. I vote we help them out, since piracy is against everyone's interest (not to mention evil), and then never let them forget it.

Much irony here: when Zap's really in trouble, who you gonna call? The imperialist hyperpower, of course. Also, this type of incident makes nationalist Spaniards feel weak and insignificant, since Spain cannot defend itself and is effectively a NATO protectorate, and it makes them even more resentful of those who defend them.

Get this. At the beginning of April, Somali pirates captured a French yacht. The French paid the ransom, got their people back, and then mounted a raid on the pirate base with fifty commandos, a dozen special forces, and five helicopters. They captured six pirates and recovered $200,000 of the ransom money.

I think that's great. Good for the French. The only thing they could have done better would have been summarily hanging the pirates off the yardarm.

Of course, if the Americans had done exactly the same thing, certain elements in Europe would have gotten mad and accused us of colonialist unilateral warmongering.

Want more irony? The fishing boat involved belongs to Basques, as does much of the Spanish fishing fleet. The Basque Nationalists (PNV) are all mad because Spain doesn't have an Indian Ocean naval presence, and they'd called for a Spanish patrol boat to be stationed off Somalia in June of last year. I thought the Basque Nationalists were against Spanish militarism and in favor of Basque self-determination, and now here they are all pissed off because the central government doesn't have enough military power.

Economics minister Pedro Solbes has backed off his overoptimistic prediction for 2007 GDP growth, and scaled it back to 2.4%, still higher than the forecasts we've seen from the private sector. He's predicting 2.1% growth for 2009, which is still way too bullish. He also claims that unemployment won't top 10%.

Meanwhile, an organization of small Catalan builders has announced that its members have 2000 new dwellings already constructed in Catalonia, mostly in the suburbs around Barcelona and Tarragona, and they're selling them at cost, between €120,000 and €180,000. That's half the price those places were going for a year ago. The association of manufacturers of construction materials says that orders are down by 30%.

Barcelona suburb Badalona, Catalonia's third largest city, is looking at a major problem: there are more than 1000 immigrants, mostly Pakistanis and Romanian gypsies, who can't pay their rent and are going to be evicted. These people don't have legal leases, just a verbal agreement, so they don't have the massive protection Spanish law gives renters. And, since the tenants can't pay the rent, the apartment owners, also Pakistanis, can't pay their mortgages, and so the apartments are going to be repossessed. City authorities fear that those evicted will simply move in with compatriots, and thus increase overcrowding and worsen hygiene.

Tomorrow is Sant Jordi, the rose and book day, the day of the year on which Barcelona is most attractive, and the weather is going to cooperate, warm and sunny. And, since Barça hosts Man U in the Champions League semifinals, some 7000 English fans are going to be here. Let's hope they behave themselves. All the city's bars have ordered extra beer supplies. It costs €200,000 to bring out the police officers necessary for crowd control whenever a big crowd of soccer fans come here. There is a lot of complaining about this, generally aimed at the nasty guiris who get drunk and pee on everything. However, it also costs the cities that Barça visits about the same amount to keep their traveling fans under control, so it all balances out.

Don't forget to put down your bet on Manchester United, no matter how bad the odds are, since Barça is in a dreadful slump--they couldn't score in a Tijuana whorehouse--and has completely thrown away the League, and all its best players are either "injured" or injured.

Monday, April 21, 2008

PP infighting news: Last weekend Mariano Rajoy announced that anybody who didn't like the way he's running the party can leave, which has been universally interpreted as a challenge to Esperanza Aguirre to make a decision. The expectation is that she'll make some kind of announcement today. Rajoy feels confident because he's got the regional party bosses behind him; he and Camps and Valcarcel and Feijoo want to make a move toward the center, while Aguirre's position is farther to the right.

The only thing I can say is it's about time the PP distanced itself from everyone involved in the 3-11 conspiracy theory; Aguirre was not one of them, but she's got the support of the Acebes-Zaplana hard-line wing.

The problem here is when Aznar was running the party, he kept everyone else in line and on message. Rajoy appears to have lost that near-dictatorial power. One advantage the right has had in Spain is that it's united; there's no other national party to the left of the Socialists, while the Socialists have always had to share their support with the Communists. If the PP splinters, though, that's a major advantage they're losing.

Get this: Somali pirates off the east African coast captured a Spanish fishing boat, and they are holding the 26 crew members hostages. They've said they just want money and that they are not political. The defense ministry is sending a ship to the area. This is the second episode this month of pirates taking a Western ship in the area. Piracy is a genuinely serious international problem, and of course those who are hurt most are the poor, since pirates are much warier of Western ships than of small Third World boats. I vote in favor of an armed response by Western navies; if we can't suppress piracy on the high seas, then what do we have a navy for?

Somebody called in a bomb threat against an Air Europa plane just before it was supposed to take off from Caracas for Madrid; they had to evacuate it, and a fifteen-hour delay proceeded.

They're starting another mass trial of members of ETA-front organizations; this time it's Gestoras Pro Amnistia, which supported amnesty for ETA terrorists before Judge Garzon banned it in 2001. 27 of them are facing sentences of up to ten years for membership in a terrorist organization. They are, of course, guilty as hell, and most of them are going to be convicted.

The rains last weekend filled up the reservoirs a bit, and now they're at 22.6% of capacity. Some more would be nice.

One good piece of economic news: 10.6 million tourists visited Spain over the first quarter of 2008, up 5.3% over last year. Tourism is such a huge industry in this country. Just a guess: Lots of Europeans are feeling slightly pinched and are downscaling their vacations from the Seychelles or the Caribbean to the Costa Brava, which is still very cheap compared to most other Euro vacation spots, and easy to reach as well.

I probably dislike Pepe Rubianes as much as I do anyone. He's announced he's taking six months off to recuperate from lung cancer. Unlike Rubianes, I don't wish death on anyone who's not going around killing other people, and I hope Rubianes recovers. And shuts the hell up instead of spewing poison, as he so often does.

Hey, everybody, look at this! La Vanguardia has another reader photo! This time it's a sign in a Barcelona shop window reading "Sale. New electric chairs starting at €3200." Says La Vangua, "The author of the photograph noticed this unusual sale in a shop on Calle Córsega in Barcelona that sells orthopedic products for handicapped people, and he wondered whether the electric chairs are imported from overseas. "Do they come from the United States? No to the death penalty."

Paul Hollander defined anti-Americanism as "a relentless critical impulse toward American social, economic, and political institutions, traditions, and values."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Our friends in ETA exploded a bomb at 3:25 this morning at Socialist party headquarters in Elgoibar, Guipúzcoa. They called in a warning, and the cops were able to evacuate the area, so fortunately no one was injured, but serious property damage was done. Three kilos of explosives were used. This was the second bombing of a Socialist headquarters in three days.

Nasty incident in Málaga: a drunk driver passing illegally ran a bus full of Finnish tourists off the road, where it rolled over. Nine were killed and fifteen seriously injured. The drunk survived, thereby pointing out a flaw in the Darwinian model.

Drivers from other European countries might want to be extra-careful in Spain, which has pretty near the most dangerous highways in Western Europe. All the drinking doesn't help, and the dreadful road signs don't help much either, nor does all the speeding that goes on. There really is more machismo among the Latins than the Nordics, and it comes out in the way some of them drive.

Check out this nonsense by Bru Rovira in La Vanguardia today:

Hunger is a structural problem of the globalized world today. A tragedy that demands collective solutions to the shared responsibility of the chief actors on the new scene of politics, and transnational markets, especially the rich countries, which have dictated the rules and exercise political and economic control of globalization.

Looks like the Jew-American conspiracy against the world is poisoning the wells again. We wouldn't want to imply that many poor countries are poor because of their own social structure or corruption or thieving dictatorial governments, would we?

(According to the UN) technical progress applied to agriculture "has produced very unjust profits." In order to correct it, the Unesco recommends fostering sustainable agriculture that respects the fragility of natural resources and protects the local production of food, bringing the producer closer to the consumer.

Sounds like protectionism to me. By the way, the corrupt thieving dictatorial governments that impoverish their own people are well represented at the UN. I'm not surprised that they're trying to blame the situation they created on the Jew-American conspiracy and its "unjust profits." I also note that our author has no concept of competitive advantage: the countries that are best at producing food should do so. Other countries should concentrate on producing other goods that they can produce more efficiently and trade those goods for food. In that way everybody takes the fullest advantage of its economic potential.

As can be seen now, although production has increased, distribution is unequal, and the poorest countries have not only gotten poorer because of the difficulties of reaching the markets and unfair competition against their products exercised by rich countries slashing prices with subsidized products (dumping), but they now see that having lost their food sovereignty, self-sufficiency within the poverty in which they lived has directly become hunger, because they now depend only on the markets and the prices that the large producers set, with whom they cannot compete

Our author is absolutely right that agricultural subsidies in First World countries need to be stopped now; these subsidies are genuine unfair competition to Third World farmers. However, I was not aware that "slashed" food prices caused hunger; I figured the lower the price the consumer pays, the better. Guess I was wrong. Our author also believes that prices are set by the producers rather than the market, by the way. Finally, he does not understand that the way to make Third World countries wealthier is by improving farming technology to increase production there, along with hanging their corrupt dictators.

Friday, April 18, 2008

It's raining again this morning, and they've already gotten half an inch up in the Pyrenees; we had more than an inch yesterday here in Barcelona. A couple of rainy days do not an April make, but it's better than nothing. The content of the reservoirs is slightly up, though some of that is due to mountain snowmelt, not rain.

The transfer of water from the Ebro to Barcelona has hacked off PP-governed Valencia and Murcia, who are demanding that the old PP water plan be revived. Their argument: Barcelona needs water. Send them water. We need water. Send us water too. This issue is amazingly touchy. The lying sod Francesc Baltasar continues to call the planned Tarragona-Barcelona aqueduct a "mini-transfer," since the Spanish left made "No water transfers" a rallying cry against the PP back in 2004. Now that the capital of the Spanish left is thirsty, of course, a water transfer is needed at all costs, but we still can't call it that.

I think this is what Lakoff means by "framing the issue"--inventing euphemisms.

By the way, La Vanguardia is calling this whole kerfuffle "The War for Water." The Cataloonies are, get this, blaming the PP for trying to use the water issue to stir up anti-Catalan feeling in the rest of Spain. No, I think the PP is trying to stir up anti-Zapatero feeling in the rest of Spain.

2008 will be the first year since 1997 in which housing prices have increased by less than the rate of inflation. The five most expensive cities for housing in Spain, per square meter: San Sebastian, Guecho, Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao.

Oh, Lordy. You know we're in real economic trouble when Spanish beer consumption declines, 5% in 2007.

The Basque police arrested ten pro-ETA punks for "street terrorism," vandalism and rioting, in Guipuzcoa province. These dirtbags had committed more than twenty "acts of sabotage," several of them against the railroad system, which sounds like attempted train-wrecking to me. Seems to me the cops could have arrested them after, say, one or two, but the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow. Three of them put up a fight and got busted for resisting arrest as well. These little shits are violent criminals and need to be locked up.

More little shits: The so-called university students against the Bologna Plan, the EU reform that is supposed to actually make them go to class and learn something, had a sit-in today at the Autonomous university. They're still there; about thirty of them locked themselves in the auditorium. I say we send in the cops to beat the crap out of them and arrest the lot for creating a public nuisance, disturbing the peace, disobeying a police officer, trespassing, and mopery.

They don't get the concept of "civil disobedience" in Spain. See, as Thoreau envisioned it, you were supposed to break laws that you believed to be unjust, and then submit yourself to society's punishment, as a sign that you believed morality to be above the law. You are not supposed to try to escape punishment, which is what these little shits who think it's fun to play radical always do. By the way, when Thoreau actually tried this by refusing to pay his taxes on the ground he was against the Mexican War, and they came and got him, his aunt bailed him out.
Chemical Lali Solé, in another turgid and self-contradictory piece in La Vanguardia, says: "I read in the e-magazine Sin Permiso that in Texas (United States) the creationists have achieved an important Texan textbooks the existence of our world is explained from the perspective of intelligent design, denying the theory of evolution. A posture that rationalists call obscurantism more proper to ancient times." (Sentence fragment sic.)

Naturally Chemical Lali didn't bother, actually, say, fact-checking said electronic magazine. I did, and I found that according to the National Council for Science Education, a pro-science organization, that nothing of the sort is true. The most recent science-education news from Texas is that a pro-evolution moderate Republican won the primary for a vacant seat on the state Board of Ed, that the Texas Academy of Sciences supports the teaching of evolution, that the Institute for Creation Research has applied for state certification as a graduate school and said certification will almost certainly be denied, and that the state director of science curriculum was fired after using her official e-mail account to urge subordinates to attend an anti-intelligent-design speech, on the ground that it wasn't her job to take sides on the issue.

Sin Permiso's scare story about creationism taking over in Texas, which Chemical Lali completely misinterpreted, is taken from an Austin website called The Atheist Experience.

So where is Sin Permiso getting its information? Well, they say right up front that they're a "socialist" publication, which generally means "Communist" in Europe when written with a small S. They re-publish opinion articles by other writers that they find simpáticos. If you check their file on articles about the US, you get the usual suspects as authors: Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Howard Zinn, Greg Palast, Barbara Ehrenreich, Eric Hobsbawm, Angela Davis, George Lakoff, Lewis Lapham, Alexander Cockburn, Michael Moore, Ralph Nader, Cindy Sheehan, Tariq Ali--and our very own Andy Robinson!.

So if you're wondering where Europeans get their crazy-ass ideas about the United States, there are a few simple steps. The anti-American ideas start in the febrile brains of the far left of the US Democratic party, and the renegades even farther left than that lot. They get mistranslated to Spanish by our local press, which is also leftist in its sympathies, and picked up on by lefty politicians looking for an issue as well as lefty academics looking for a quick publication. Then they filter down to the mass media, and from there to the general public, nearly always in a further mutation, and next thing you know La Vanguardia is saying that in Texas teaching evolution is banned.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

ETA exploded a bomb at around 6 AM today outside a Socialist headquarters in Bilbao. They called in a warning first, so the cops were able to evacuate the neighborhood. Serious material damage was done, as the bomb contained five kilos of explosives. Good thing nobody was killed, but seven Basque police officers were slightly injured.

A lot of Spaniards get very indignant when the English-speaking press calls ETA a "Basque separatist group," when it is in reality a gang of terrorists who have killed more than 800 people. They have a point.

We finally had a good rain today, both in the morning and the afternoon, including a thunderstorm, which are comparatively rare in Spain. The cats and the dog don't like thunderstorms at all, and there was some yelping and cowering going on here. It rained all over Spain, since there's a low-pressure system over the Bay of Biscay bringing in counterclockwise moist Atlantic winds. It's supposed to be rainy all weekend; they said it already rained more than an inch in the Pyrenees, and this should fill up the reservoirs a couple of percent. The stinky season has been put off for another couple of weeks.

The incompetent lying greenie-Communist Catalan environmental counselor, Francesc Baltasar, now says we won't need to go into the "drought pre-emergency stage" until May, as the recent rains have increased reservoir contents by a percent or two.

Good news: The cops carried out a mass raid in Madrid, arresting 87 Nigerians for running the well-known Internet e-mail fraud. They may have scored upward of €170 million; the cops have evidence that they took in at least €20 million. Most of the 1200 victims defrauded were foreigners in Europe and the US, and they got taken for an average of €18,000 each. More than 200 computers were confiscated, along with reams of other documents.

Archaeological update: In Constantí, near Tarragona, a ruinous medieval building collapsed and the remains of a Roman aqueduct, later renovated during the medieval era, was found under it. The arcade is 60 meters long, and the aqueduct seems to have been for irrigation. They're taking this seriously enough to change the plan to build a new train line between Barcelona and Valencia, which would have passed right by the site.

Check out this headline on La Vanguardia's website today: "Hundreds of Palestinians mourn cameraman murdered in Gaza." Neutral. Objective. Unbiased. I like that in a newspaper. Naturally, the usual gang of idiots showed up to post anti-Semitic comments, which I won't bother to quote.

Economics update: The Spanish savings banks association predicts GDP growth for 2008 to be 2.0%, and to be 0.9% in 2009. Unemployment will top 11% in mid-2009, housing starts will drop 7% this year and 15% next year, and there will be an 0.6% budget surplus this year and a 1.2% budget deficit next year. Household consumption will rise 2% this year, down from a 3.2% increase last year. Even Pedro Solbes had to admit that his ministry's forecast for this year was outrageously optimistic.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Jesus. Get this one. Some guy in Santomera, Murcia, chopped off his mom's head with a samurai sword, and then carried it through town while kissing and talking to it. He had already served two prison sentences for violently abusing his mother, and there was a restraining order out on him that expired last August. Get this: The mother appeared on a trash-TV program back in 2001 because she was afraid of her son. Seems like everybody in Spain who suffers a tragic death has been on trash TV.

The psycho son has been locked up in a prison psychiatric unit. He is clearly as nutty as a turrón and should stay there for the rest of his life. And the judicial system did a terrible job of protecting the mother, since there was plenty of warning that something like this was going to happen. As usual.

Though Spain has a high property-crime rate, its violent crime rate is very low, among the lowest in Europe, and one-fifth that in the United States. That doesn't mean violent crime is non-existent, though. One more thing: If Mom had had a gun this might not have happened.
Get this, by Eusebio Val in La Vanguardia from Washington reporting on the Pope's visit:

Despite being a Methodist, (Bush) is very much attracted to aspects of Catholic morality and the attitude of this Pope in particular. It has even been said that, secretly, Bush is a Catholic. It is true that he has given a great deal of protagonism and power to Catholic public figures, among them the two new Supreme Court justices he nominated, the conservatives John Roberts--the Chief Justice--and Samuel Alito.

Wow. I didn't know Bush was a secret Catholic. I thought he was one of those crazy evangelicals who thinks God speaks to him personally, as La Vangua has so often repeated. I also had no idea that the Catholicism of Bush's Supreme Court appointees had anything to do with their nomination. By the way, Val also calls the Church "the most numerous religious minority in the country." I've never thought of the Catholics as a minority; I've always thought of them as the largest US Christian denomination.

And get this one, from Público yesterday, by a fellow named Enrique Meneses:

The USA, which has made a totem out of machismo (sic) throughout its history, will have difficulty in facing a withdrawal from this war without an exit with the flag flying and martial music. The memory of Saigon lives on in the collective memory. A troop withdrawal in stages was vetoed by George Bush a long time ago. He is leaving that job for his successor. His excuse: the threat of a civil war in Iraq.

But isn't what is happening now in Basora a civil war? Is it necessary to keep lying? There are only two ways out for the Americans: close themselves off in two or three well-fortified bases in strategic places and withdraw the majority of their troops, or leave as Spain did, in an orderly manner while protecting their rearguard in order to suffer the smallest amount of casualties. In the first case the two Shiite sides and the Sunnis, financed by the USA, will end up finding a leader who can negotiate about petroleum. Even if he's a dictator.

Wishful thinking, of course; Mr. Meneses would love to see the Coalition flee Iraq, and he doesn't seem to give a damn about the Iraqi people. And since when has the US been particularly noted for its historical machismo? What the hell is historical machismo?

Mr. Meneses includes his e-mail address in his article: it's Should you decide to drop him a note, please be polite.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Severo Moto, the leader of the Equatorial Guinean opposition, was arrested today in Toledo on arms-trafficking charges, though the guns he's accused of trafficking in consist of two shotguns and a pistol. I really don't know anything about Moto, except that he's been in trouble in Spain before but managed not to get expelled. I have no idea whether he's any more democratic than Teodoro Obiang, the very nasty dictator currently running that place.

This is important in Spain because Equatorial Guinea was Spain's only sub-Saharan African colony, and there are some Guineans living here, frequently exiles.

Repsol shares are up more than 13% today, on a report that they're in on the consortium to develop offshore oil in Brazil in a big new field.

Unpaid debts in Spain are way up no matter how you measure it, and the Bank of Spain is "moderately concerned."

The Zap government says the €10 billion stimulus package will cut the budget surplus to 0.6%, down from the predicted 1.15%. My question is whether they've taken 1-2% growth into consideration with these figures. I bet they haven't. The €400 tax refund will come half in June and the rest in monthly installments of €33. They're going to raise €4 billion with off-budget borrowing. And the regional and city governments are going to be hit very hard by the real-estate decline and corresponding loss of taxes, and they'll have to cut back spending drastically.

Meanwhile, the Montilla government has its own €2.7 billion economic stimulus for Catalonia all ready. Looks to me like it mainly consists of public works and subsidies to the construction industry.

Housing starts are going to be down 8% in 2008 in Catalonia, after a 2% increase in 2007. This will be the first decline in ten years. Pop goes the bubble.
Bad news from the US for the Spanish economy: Wholesale prices were up 1.1% in March. Inflation in the US means more inflation in Spain, and we're already close to 5% over the last year.

There is a great deal of concern in Spain about the sharp increase in grain prices (up 80% since 2005), since Spain is an exporter of vegetables and fruits but an importer of cereals. The grain price rise is because of bad harvests in 2007 in Australia and South America, growth in India and China, the sharp hike in oil prices (as oil is necessary to process and transport grain), and the use of grain to make fuel. Of course, increased grain prices mean increased meat and dairy prices as well, since farm animals eat grain too.

And the people who are hurt worst by food price inflation are, of course, the poor of the world, since they spend a much greater proportion of their incomes on food than wealthier people do. Methinks that Europe's Enlightened and Illustrated should denounce the selfishness of the oil cartel in limiting production to keep prices high and thus hurting poor folks everywhere. Not gonna happen, though.

Geopolitical point: Most of the OPEC countries don't export anything significant except for oil, so they have to spend the money that they're taking in on food and other necessities, all of which they import. This means that the US, as the world's largest grain exporter, pretty much has the non-grain-producing world over a barrel in the same way that the OPEC countries do; the difference is the Americans don't use food as an economic weapon. Not yet, anyway. The countries that are really going to get squeezed are those that don't produce either energy or grain. Spain, for example.

La Vanguardia's editorial today talks about a possible "food hecatomb," meaning mass starvation. They specifically blame it on using grain to make biofuels, and claim that "staple foods are the objective of international speculative capital." If I didn't know any better I'd say they're blaming it on those damn Jews again. Anyway, they want somebody (the UN security council, specifically) to make everybody else stop converting grain to fuel.

Get their conclusion: "While the United States has always considered grain production as a geostrategic factor, in Europe it has not been so. Here farmers have even been subsidized not to produce it. It is time to change the policy. The Unesco stresses the urgency of changing the rules of world agriculture, which is under the dictates of the large multinational corporations, to the detriment of global well-being."

1) Actually, I don't think the US has ever considered grain production as geostrategic, though that may change 2) the US has also paid farmers not to produce grain 3) "Changing the rules of world agriculture"? That is, putting the Alliance of Civilizations in charge of it instead of the market? 4) "Multinational corporations" dictate everything? Sounds like those damn Jews and Americans one more time. 5) Notice that La Vanguardia does not say one word about the role of oil prices in general and OPEC policy in particular in the high cost of food. It's all the speculative capitalist multinational corporations' fault.

You probably saw Berlusconi got elected for the third time as Italian prime minister. He's a crook, but at least he's a pro-American and pro-NATO crook. Good news: The Commies won zero seats. They got an 80% turnout, which is really high, especially by American standards.

The press is making a big deal out of Carmen Chacon's first review of the troops as Defense minister because she's a pregnant woman and the Army is traditionally very unfond of change. I guess it is sort of a big deal, symbolically, since it stresses that the Army is under civilian control, and Spain was a military dictatorship for four decades and then had a real coup attempt in 1981. However, the army has been substantially reformed and most of the old Franco guys have been retired or dead for years. They haven't seriously interfered in politics since the coup attempt, which was opposed by the great majority of the officers anyway. I doubt they felt humiliated by receiving orders from a woman, since the troops have been taking orders from women noncoms and officers for years now.

The plagiarist Marius Serra records an urban legend / conspiracy theory traveling around the Catalan Internet: the "multinational insurance companies" are flying a squadron of small planes over central Catalonia that are spraying silver sulfate in order to prevent hail, so that they won't have to pay out on their policies, and that the drought is a consequence of this practice. Supposedly three hundred people have seen the planes. Wow. You'd have to be more than abnormally stupid to believe that. Inbreeding in Solsona?

There are a lot of language purists running around claiming that our kids can't write correctly because they use their own jargon, spelling, grammar, etc. in SMSs and e-mails. No, our kids are smart enough to distinguish between two different registers. They just don't know how to write correctly in either of them.

Looks like the goddamn bus drivers and the city have agreed on a last-minute deal and the strike will come to an end. The city caved in: the drivers will get two days off a week, and fewer hours, with no pay cut, and no disciplinary action, even against those guilty of sabotage. The sabotage has continued, though; over the weekend thirty ticket-validating machines were destroyed, and last night nine buses had their tires slashed and a non-striking driver was attacked (they threw red paint all over him). No arrests were made, of course.

I get a lot of Google hits for Isabel Pantoja. Pantoja fans: Her boyfriend Julian Muñoz, accused of stealing everything in Marbella that wasn't nailed down, went back to jail in la Pantoja's car after a three-day furlough presumably spent with his sweetie. Co-conspirator Juan Antonio Roca, charged with extortion, embezzlement, tax fraud, money-laundering, leading an criminal organization, forgery, illegal weapons possession, influence-peddling, and abuse of power, got out of jail on €1 million bail.

Reminds me of a joke: Lincoln had to pay back Pennsylvania Republican party boss Simon Cameron for his crucial support, and he made Cameron his first secretary of war though he knew what Cameron was like. Supposedly one day Lincoln said, "I believe Cameron would steal anything, excepting a hot stove," and a Cameron supporter said, "Take that back," and Lincoln said, "All right, I believe that Cameron would steal anything, including a hot stove."

Monday, April 14, 2008

In case you're interested, readership is up from an average of about 150 a day to about 200 since the layout change.

The last 100 visitors were from:

United States 42
Spain 34
United Kingdom 7
Germany 3
Belgium, France, Norway, Sweden, Canada 2
Hong Kong, Estonia, Taiwan, Colombia 1
The new Zap cabinet hasn't been slow in announcing what its economic plan is: Solbes, at the IMF meeting in Washington, said that they're going to spend €10 billion ($15 billion), more than 1% of GDP, on stimulating the economy. So there goes the balanced budget out the window, and inflation will roll on indefinitely, as the Zapsters try to keep consumer spending high and unemployment down. Ironic that Zap and his admirers are always going around criticizing the strawman of Dehumanizing Globalized Neoliberal Consumer Society and how shallow it is.

About €6 billion of the stimulus package is Zap's €400 per taxpayer refund, half of which will be paid in July and the other half in December. If we're going to stimulate the economy, then I thoroughly agree that the best way to do it is to give the taxpayers some of their own money back so they can do with it as they see best. Again, it's interesting that this is a flat tax refund, rather than (as one would think knowing the Zapsters) a progressive refund giving back more to the poor than the rich.

The other €4 billion, though, looks like it's mostly free money given out to special interest groups. It will go to 1) aid for small and medium businesses, basically a government subsidy for the petite bourgeoisie 2) guarantees for mortgages on dwellings under "official protection," basically a government subsidy for the banks 3) public works spending, which if done right doesn't have to be a mere government subsidy for the construction industry, but if done wrong will be just that 4) "reordering the energy industry," which sure sounds like a government subsidy for Repsol and the electric and gas utilities 5) paying immigrants to go home, which is of course a government subsidy for said immigrants, and an indirect subsidy for the unions, whose members will face less competition.

Solbes also said that the government's three economic priorities would be innovation, modernization, and "expanding equality between men and women." Seems to me that gender quotas would cause a negative effect on innovation and modernization.

He's still living in Disneyworld on economic growth: the IMF says Spain's growth rate for 2008 may be as low as 1%, and the Spanish banks predict between 400,000 and 600,000 Spaniards will be added to the unemployment rolls by December.

The Socialists have been nattering on about George Lakoff and how their political strategies are based on his theories. From what I can tell, Lakoff thinks humans interpret everything as a metaphor, which of course is unscientific, and taken to the extreme means that humans are incapable of truly abstract thought. Lakoff's political metaphor about conservatism being a "strict father" and left-liberalism a "nurturing mother" is not precisely original. He adds that leftist politicians should attempt to define and frame the issues according to the metaphors they believe in, which again is not precisely original; he seems to really be saying that leftists should invent euphemisms to avoid using what he believes to be conservative discourse and metaphor. So it figures that Zap and the Socialists would buy into such tosh. Karl Rove or Lee Atwater would eat these guys up and spit out the bones.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The List Universe has a post containing 11 videos of James Randi debunking pseudoscientific bullshit: graphology, astrology, psychometry, crystal power, aura reading, telekinesis, clairvoyance, dowsing, thought transference, faith healing, and homeopathy. Great stuff. Definitely check it out.

Coincidentally, La Vanguardia has a two-page piece today on something called ayurveda, which they call a "millenarian science...millenarium wisdom...ayurveda does not cure symptoms, like Western medicine, but rather goes to the roots and establishes an integral or holistic diagnosis of the individual." Naturally, it's nothing but superstition and fraud.

Wikipedia says:

Critics object to the lack of rigorous scientific studies and clinical trials of many ayurvedic products. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine states that "most clinical trials of Ayurvedic approaches have been small, had problems with research designs, lacked appropriate control groups, or had other issues that affected how meaningful the results were."

There is evidence that using some ayurvedic medicine, especially those involving herbs, metals, minerals, or other materials involves potentially serious risks, including toxicity.

Quackwatch says that ayurveda as it is known today is based on the fraudulent claims of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Deepak Chopra, and adds, "Because Ayurvedic medicine relies on nonsensical diagnostic concepts and involves many unproven products, using it would be senseless even if all of the products were safe."

The Skeptic's Dictionary also describes ayurveda as "pseudoscience," and says it "confuses metaphysical claims with empirical claims."

Even La Vanguardia says, tucked away at the bottom of the article, "Nonetheless, there are those who criticize the fact that ayurveda only cures those who are not ill. In case of emergency, ayurvedic doctors themselves resort to Western medicine."

So why did the newspaper bother using two whole pages to encourage people to travel to India for ayurvedic treatment?
There's no news today except more reactions to Zap's new cabinet. Our friends at La Vanguardia have a good few opinions:

1) Zap's inner circle consists of De la Vega, Solbes, Rubalcaba, PSOE general secretary Jose Blanco, PSOE Congressional leader (and ex-defense minister) Jose Antonio Alonso, Jose Enrique Serrano, who is Zap's chief of staff, and David Taguas, Zap's top economics advisor.
2) Maleni Alvarez didn't get fired, and Bibiana Aido got a cabinet post, because of the influence of Andalusian party boss Manuel Chaves.
3) Zap and Montilla do not get along either politically or personally, and Montilla had to swallow Alvarez's continuance in her post. Montilla's reward for the big Socialist victory in Catalonia were the cabinet posts for Chacon and Celestino Corbacho, even though Corbacho is more a Zap guy than a Montilla guy.
4) Elena Salgado at Public Administration is considered to be very competent by political insiders.
5) Jesus Caldera, Zap's campaign manager, wanted to be deputy premier in charge of social issues. Zap, who doesn't seem impressed with Caldera at all, gave him the boot and sent him off to set up a PSOE think tank, a copy of the PP's FAES.
6) The purpose of the new Ministry of Equality will be to establish gender quotas in the private sector and to fight against "machista violence."
7) Zap is going to make a big deal out of environmentalism and climate change and all that Greenie crap.
8) Nobody likes Moratinos or Alvarez.
9) Apparently the big favor Miguel Sebastian did for Zap was agreeing to run for mayor of Madrid against Gallardon on short notice after Jose Bono bailed out on him. Cristina Garmendia at Research and Development and Beatriz Corredor at Housing are Sebastian's people, as well.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Not much other news, as is common on Saturdays. ETA set two booby-trap bombs at a telephone relay station in Navarra, hoping to blow up some cops, but the second bomb didn't work. Fortunately, nobody got hurt.

El País says that 800 Spaniards have contracted Creutzfelt-Jakob disease (of which one cause is eating "mad cows") since 2000, which means that there most likely is something strange going on. I'm glad I'm a vegetarian.

More than one-third of Spanish university graduates are working at jobs for which they are overqualified, a higher percentage than in any other EU country but Ireland and Estonia.

The mini-aqueduct between Tarragona and Barcelona, to carry unneeded water destined for irrigation from the Ebro to the thirsty metro area, will be finished in six months and cost €150 million ($225 million). So let's see: it ought to come on line by the first of November, assuming that they get started now and everything goes according to plan. That means about four months of showering once a week here in Can Fanga, during what will become known as the Stinky Summer of 2008.

Milan general manager Adriano Galliani is coming next week to buy Ronaldinho. Supposedly the offer is €8 million a year for Ronaldinho and €16 million to the Barça for his contract. Barça wants €30 million, and the story is they've already got a €25 million offer from Inter. I say make them bid against one another and see how much the club can get.
Zap's named his new Cabinet, with some changes, but mostly continuity.

María Teresa Fernández de la Vega: First Deputy Premier and Cabinet chief. Holdover.
Pedro Solbes: Second Deputy Premier and Economics. Holdover.
Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba: Interior. Holdover.
Elena Salgado: Public Administration. Holdover.
Carme Chacón: Defense. Last legislature: Minister of Housing.
Celestino Corbacho: Labor and Immigration. Last legislature: Mayor of Barcelona suburb L'Hospitalet.
Mariano Fernández Bermejo: Justice. Holdover.
Bernat Soria: Health. Holdover.
Miguel Ángel Moratinos: Foreign Affairs. Holdover.
Miguel Sebastián: Industry, Tourism, and Commerce. Lost 2006 mayoral campaign in Madrid.
Mercedes Cabrera: Education, Social Affairs, and Family. Last legislature: Deputy from Madrid.
César Antonio Molina: Culture. Holdover.
Elena Espinosa: Agriculture and Environment. Holdover.
Cristina Garmendia: Research and Development. From the private sector.
Magdalena Álvarez: Public Works. Holdover.
Bibiana Aido: Equality. Last legislature: Deputy from Cadiz in Andalusian parliament.
Beatriz Corredor: Housing. Last legislature: Member of Madrid city council.

So that's a Cabinet made up of 17 ministers, nine women and eight men, though of the women only De la Vega, Chacón, and Álvarez hold top posts. It's the first time that a Cabinet has had more women than men, and the first time there's been a woman Defense minister.

Solbes is the minister who is most trusted by the Spanish public. I'm surprised Zap didn't fire Maleni Álvarez. Spain's most important international posts, Foreign Affairs and Defense, are in very weak hands, a wimp and an airhead. Rubalcaba is a holdover against his desires; he'd wanted to change posts. He's done OK at Interior, I have to admit. At least they got the new research and development minister from the private sector, so she might actually do a good job.

I have no idea what a minister of Equality is going to do; I suspect it's going to involve gender quotas. I thought Miguel Sebastián's political career was over after that embarrassing 2006 defeat; Zap must have owed him a big one in the favor bank. Former Barcelona mayor Joan Clos got booted at Industry; I wouldn't hire Clos to paint my back fence. And Cristina Narbona's head rolled at Environment, as I'd speculated.