Saturday, December 29, 2007

All the newsstands in town are closed down because of a conflict between the press distributors and the retailers, so no more newspapers for the rest of the year unless you have a subscription, which isn't nearly as common in Spain as it is in the US. Meanwhile, our friends at the SGAE are in trouble after sending a private detective to videotape a wedding reception without permission, in order to prove that the venue was playing copyrighted music without paying the fee.

ESPN sports columnist Bill Simmons threw out a joke trade speculation in his NBA column the other day, in which all five Spanish players would be sent to Toronto. Marca, the Madrid sports paper, took it seriously and ran it as a real story.

Government-regulated utility rates are going up as they do every new year. Electricity rates will be increased by the official inflation rate, 3.3%; natural gas will go up 4.7%, and butane 5.2%. Butane is generally used by poorer consumers who don't have natural gas connections for heating water, indoor space heaters, and cooking stoves.

The development ministry has agreed to make the Pont del Diable Roman aqueduct outside Tarragona (here's the TV3 story with a photo) visitor-friendly. The project has been stewing for three years, and it's going to cost €2 million, which I am completely in favor of. Right now the aqueduct, which is one of the coolest things in Catalonia, is out in the middle of nowhere, and there aren't even any good road signs showing how to get there. You have to walk half a kilometer down this scraggly dirt road from the main highway. I remember the first time we took my dad there, he said, "In the States, if we had something like this, there'd be an information center with park rangers, and bathrooms and a Coke machine."

The bus strike will continue until at least January 4; the municipal transport corporation has basically agreed to give the strikers what they said they wanted, two full days off a week, with eighty overtime hours a year to be made up for with vacation days. Nonetheless, CGT, the Trot union behind all this mess, is holding out for more. Four of the strikers are on hunger strike. Next thing you know they'll be pouring gasoline on themselves and going up in flames in the Plaza Sant Jaume. The same bunch of Trotskyite agitators have fired up the Madrid metro cleaning staff as well; they've been out for thirteen days, the whole system is knee-deep in crap, and negotiations are going nowhere.

Catalonia's "national" soccer team is going to play against the Basque Country tonight in San Mamés; these traditional Christmas games exist more as an outlet for nationalist energies than anything else. Barcelona PP leader Alberto Fernandez Diaz called the game "a separatist rally with a ball in the middle." Now, now, let them play their soccer match, it's not going to hurt anybody and the players and fans will have a good time. Fernandez Diaz did say that this game is subsidized with public money, which if it's true, shouldn't be. No public money should go to spectator sports; that ought to be a strictly private sector, managed by independent private organizations.

On January 1 France will introduce a strict no-smoking law in all restaurants and bars. They tried that once in the early '90s and no one paid any attention, but I doubt there'll be any resistance from the smokers this time, what with such laws in place in other EU countries like the UK and Italy. In Spain the law's a bit wacky; bars and restaurants under 100 square meters can either permit smoking or ban it (about 80% permit it), and those over 100 m2 must either ban it or have separate smoking and non-smoking areas. Spain's law is pretty reasonable, I think.

More rumors are swirling about the possible sale of Ronaldinho to AC Milan, which is having a lousy year in the Italian league, though they're doing fine in the Champions.

Friday, December 28, 2007

I'm surprised I haven't gotten more Google hits for "sleazy lesbian incest video." You'd think there would be several million searches a day for that combination of words, what with all the pervs out there on the Net. Hell, who knows, maybe they're all searching for kiddie porn or something else much less wholesome than good old lesbian incest.

I googled, more or less at random (between quote marks), twenty two-word combinations that have appeared in Iberian Notes in the last few days. Here's how many hits each one got:

20. physical fallacy 338
19. catalan statute 1290
18. hispanic intifada 3890
17. skilled population 12,900
16. spanish courts 22,600
15. military geography 28,800
14. immigrant father 33,400
13. reduced salary 35,000
12. conservative politician 105,000
11. threatening letter 114,000
10. bus strike 117,000
9. oil revenue 291,000
8. illegitimate child 301,000
7. nationalist party 483,000
6. arms dealer 492,000
5. press charges 620,000
4. front group 639,000
3. portable toilets 815,000
2. city property 868,000
1. lesbian incest 2,260,000

The market has spoken. No more Catalan statutes. Lots more lesbian incest.
We're still on Christmas down time, and not that much is happening. Today is the Día de los Santos Inocentes, Spain's equivalent of April Fool's day. No one has tried to pull anything on me yet. Zap made a speech reviewing his four years in office, and declared that his two big mistakes were trusting ETA during the alleged peace process and mismanaging the Madrid-Barcelona high-speed line. I can think of a few more, like taking apart the PP's education law, shutting down the water plan to move water south from the Ebro and the Rhone, accepting the Catalan statute of autonomy, selling arms to Chavez and Gadafi, and, oh, yeah, bailing out of Iraq and kissing terrorist ass and believing that his jackass Alliance of Civilizations is going to change the world. I will admit, though, that Zap's regime has not been dreadful; he hasn't tried to nationalize the banks or anything.

Another fraudulent Spanish NGO called Alba has been busted; this one, based out of Almeria, was supposed to be helping poor immigrants, and instead was charging them €9000 each for work permits. The guy behind it set up a whole phony network of front companies. I hope that some Spaniards will begin to see that non-governmental organizations, no matter how solidarious their message is, are not always ethically superior to private companies and elected governments. Frequently they're a hell of a lot worse. Right now I think they're pretty gullible when presented with a charismatic figure who promises to change the world for a mere fifteen euro a month contribution.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tragedy in Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated. This is going to be a mess. I hope not many people get killed.
Gross Domestic Product, 2005:

1. US $12.4 trillion
2. Japan $4.5 "
3. Germany $2.8 "
4. China $2.2 "
5. UK $2.2 "
6. France $2.1 "
7. Italy $1.8 "
8. Spain $1.1 "
9. Canada $1.1 "
10. India $0.8 "
14. Russia $0.8 "
31. Iran $0.19 "
36. Venezuela $0.14 "
104. Bolivia $0.10 "

GDP per capita 2005:

1. Luxembourg $80,000
2. Norway $64,000
3. Iceland $53,000
4. Qatar $52,000
5. Switzerland $49,000
6. Ireland $48,000
7. Denmark $48,000
8. United States $42,000
9. Sweden $40,000
10. Netherlands $38,000
13. United Kingdom $37,000
16. Japan $35,000
18. France $35,000
19. Canada $34,000
20. Germany $34,000
23. Italy $30,000
28. Spain $26,000
72. Russia $5300
73. Venezuela $5300
102. Iran $2800
120. China $1700
135. Bolivia $1000
149. India $700
For some reason La Vanguardia is not on the newsstands today, so I picked up El Pais this morning, and was quickly reminded of why I never buy that rag when I have a choice.

The editorial page features a cartoon by El Roto, who is never funny and always pseudo-philosophically pompous, besides being a lousy artist. The drawing is of an enormous American flag, with the caption, "When flags grow, people shrink." Sheer brilliance. Damn, I wish I'd thought of that one. Wonder why he picked the Stars and Stripes instead of an ikurriña or senyera?

Then on the next page one Andrés Oppenheimer (who seems to be reasonable about many other issues, especially Cuba and Chavez) has a piece titled "USA: the danger of a Hispanic intifada." It starts off like this:

The growing anti-immigrant hysteria in the United States, promoted by irresponsible television hosts and by the principal Republican candidates for the presidency, is dangerous: it might result in a "Latin intifada" in a not very distant future.

While watching the presidential debates, in which the Republican candidates compete to demonstrate who is the "toughest" against illegal immigration and even the Democratic candidates propose strengthened border walls, one cannot help wondering whether all this will not provoke a reaction on the part of the 13 million undocumented immigrants in the US.

It is not clear whether something like the Palestinian intifada at the beginning o the '90s might happen, when thousands of frustrated young Palestinians took to the streets and threw stones at the Israeli troops. Or something like the French intifada in 2005, when young socially marginalized Muslims burned cars and shops in the suburbs of Paris. Maybe it will be a more subtle phenomenon, like an explosion of violence among the youth gangs that now terrorize Los Angeles and other cities. Or an increase in crime by marginalized youth, raised in the streets of the large cities and with no chance to study or get legal jobs.

Boy, this piece for foreign consumption doesn't read anything like Mr. Oppenheimer's Miami Herald columns. In fact, it reads to me like a bunch of anti-system wank. An illegal alien intifada in the US? In your dreams. First, they're in the US because they want to be, and second, unlike French and Palestinian rioters, illegal aliens caught rioting in the US can be instantly deported back home. Also, Oppy is confusing crime and gangs with politics. The Latin Kings and Mexican Mafia are not precisely politically oriented. Nor, by the way, do street gangs "terrorize" entire cities.

Anyway, here's Oppy's conclusion:

My opinion is that this xenophobic hysteria must be stopped before it is too late...the millions of undocumented aliens in the United States will not leave. They will only become more desperate and angry.

Come, come, my good man, "xenophobic hysteria" is a bit strong. America's not xenophobic, it lets in hundreds of thousands of immigrants every year, and they are a good bit more welcome there than immigrants in European countries. It is not difficult for a legal alien to become an American citizen, and in fact it is positively encouraged, again unlike certain European countries. As for illegal aliens, Europe has immigration barriers and deports them too, don't you know, old chap. Or haven't you heard about the thousands of African boat people who die trying to make it to Spain?

One more bit of European douchbaggery: El Mundo reports that Italy is "indignant" over a mildly critical story in the New York Times. Seems that the Times noted that Italian creative arts are in the dumps, the people seem to be depressed, poverty is still high in some areas, the aging population is going to decline, and the economy is stagnant. From what I can tell, the NYT did not issue any moral judgments about Italy or the Italians.

Says El Mundo, "The subject fills entire pages of the newspaper, it is discussed for hours on radio programs, and it is commented on between dishes of pasta and pizza in the trattorias."

Jeez, people, that's a bit hypersensitive. The Italian press, just like the rest of the European media, runs anti-American articles by the kilo, calling the people ignorant, racist, and money-obsessed and calling the government a bunch of imperialistic Fascist warmongers. Americans, with a few exceptions like me, pay no attention at all. But let the New York Times mention a couple of unpleasant demographic and economic facts, and throw in the reporter's impression that the Italian people are "depressed," and an entire nation is ready to storm the US embassy.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Kitsap County, Washington, is apparently the redneckiest place in God's whole U. S. of A., and the local rag, the Kitsap Sun, gleefully chronicles the doings of the county's sobriety-challenged lumpenproletariat. Check out 1) this story involving a lug nut and a shotgun 2) this one concerning Christmas decorations 3) this one about a love triangle and a closet 4) this one, which includes pierced nipples. And they have even more. And more.
Slow news day everywhere in the world.

The biggest stink around here is a controversy over a Syrian arms dealer named Monzer al Kassar, who lives in Marbella, of course. This guy was accused of being in on the attack on the Achille Lauro and spent fourteen months in jail awaiting trial until the charges were dropped. The United States wants him bad for allegedly selling weapons used to harm US citizens, along with conspiracy and money-laundering; he was arrested in Spain in June, and the National Court okayed his extradition. El Mundo then accused the head of the Syrian secret service (that is, Gestapo) of writing a threatening letter to his Spanish counterpart--if Al Kassar was extradited, Spanish peacekeeping troops in Lebanon would "lose Syrian protection." Crude extortion. Syria has now denied the existence of the letter. Anyway, Zap and the cabinet are supposed to make the final decision on Al Kassar's extradition on December 28.

Other bits of news: Barcelona used-housing prices officially declined by 2% in 2007. I bet it's more than that. Meanwhile, the average price for a rental apartment in Barcelona is now over €1000 a month. Some criminals in Mauritania massacred a French tourist family of four; what I want to know is whose brilliant idea it was to go to Mauritania for a vacation ahd bring along the kids. Idiots. As if there weren't any nice places in France to visit. Hell, even an Arab slum in the banlieue is safer and probably more attractive than Mauritania. The slaughter on the Spanish highways continues, with 36 dead so far over the Christmas holidays.

ETA let off a small bomb the night of Christmas Eve in the Basque town of Balmaseda. Nobody was hurt, but the homes of fifteen families were damaged and they have been evacuated. The King gave his Christmas speech on TV. I didn't bother watching because I knew what he was going to say. The bus strike will continue until at least January 4; the city is going to take disciplinary action against a dozen of the drivers/vandals who sabotaged the buses, but they're not going to press charges, of course. Will Smith has made international news with his ill-expressed remarks about Adolf Hitler; what Smith was obviously trying to say is that even Hitler, a man the rest of us consider the epitome of evil, wrongly thought he was doing good.

Sports update: Barça got beat 0-1 by Real Madrid, as you probably know. They're now seven points back with 19 matches left to go. It wasn't a good game, but Madrid demonstrated that their guys work harder and are in better shape than the Barça players. I'm beginning to think that Frank must go at the end of the season, because several of the players simply cannot go all-out for a whole game. Prime specimen: Ronaldinho. There's no excuse for losing just because your guys don't do enough running. I also wonder whether Carles Puyol's body isn't breaking down from too many roids.

Sleazy lesbian incest video starring Penelope Cruz and her look-alike sister Monica! Check it out! The song blows, of course.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Here's something interesting on Google Books; it's titled Military Geography for Professionals and the Public, written by a US Army colonel named John Collins in 1998. Here's a review. Excellent basic stuff, full of things you've never thought of (check out the chapter on war in space), though 1) it's riddled with typos, poorly edited, and includes several words used with the wrong meaning and 2) the basic ideas in the human geography chapter are good, but a lot of the examples are lousy and a few are incorrect. I could fix this thing in ten hours, and they should have paid somebody like me to do so before publishing it.

They want sixty bucks at Amazon for a print copy of this.
La Vanguardia moved our friend Andy Robinson from New York and made him their roving antiglobalization altermundista antisystem correspondent. Andy and his ilk enjoy playing a game of wishful thinking; they like to "prove" that the evil American empire is about to crash, and that Europe or Russia or China or somebody, anybody, is going to muscle up and challenge American hegemony.

Not likely, since the United States has by far the world's largest economy, strongest military, and greatest amount of social and human capital. Andy and his ilk consistently fall for what's called the "physical fallacy," the idea that only tangible things have value. Actually, the most valuable possessions a country can have are a relatively stable, honest, and effective government, and an educated and skilled population. The only countries that have these intangible pearls and diamonds are the US, Europe, and parts of East Asia; the rest of the world is far behind and is going to stay that way for at least the next half-century.

Andy gets the front-page screamer headline and pages 3 and 4 of La Vangua's international section for this: "Geopolitcal consequences of energetic power: The superpowers of expensive oil: Energy resource nationalism sets off new Cold War."

Now, now, "a new Cold War" seems a bit excessive. Remember, the old one lasted forty years and scared the living shit out of everybody, including me.

The fun part, though, is that Andy is excited and enthusiastic about the prospect! Get this: He kicks off his article with a reference to the Communist Manifesto.

A specter is haunting the planet in these times of scarce energy resources and soaring oil prices. It is giving chills to the traditional capitals of power, and it unites leaders who are not at all assimilated to the liberal consensus of globalization, privatization, and free markets, from Hugo Chavez to Evo Morales, from Vladimir Putin to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

It is resource nationalism, the new geopolitical power of the oil and gas producers that extends from the Middle East to Latin America, from the former Soviet Union to Africa.

Note what these places all have in common: They have neither stable and honest governments, nor skilled and educated populations. Their economies are the size of Alabama's. The idea of any of these countries becoming a superpower just because it produces lots of oil shows profound ignorance of the way economics works.

Russia has, for example, a declining population whose life expectancy is decreasing, no unctioning financial system, a mafia-run government, a corrupt bureaucracy, large dissatisfied minority groups, a populace living in poverty, the world's worst alcohol problem, rusted-out antiquated industries, a minuscule service sector, a shot-to-hell infrastructure, enormous environmental destruction, and a 20th-century history of extreme violence, dictatorship, and terror. Russia can't even feed itself; apparently the people's main source of animal protein is frozen chicken legs imported from, like, Arkansas.

Oh, yeah, they've also got nuclear missiles, most of which would blow up on the launching pad, and a lot of oil. That hardly makes Russia a major power. It makes Russia a one-commodity exporter, and therefore dreadfully weak. The only thing Russia could do to hurt the United States, short of war, is an oil embargo, which would be cutting off their nose to spite their face, since their economy is so dependent on oil exports. Meanwhile, we'd confiscate all their overseas investments and slap a food embargo on them faster than you can say Colonel Sanders, while increasing oil imports from friendly states like Canada and Mexico. Americans would be forced to use less gas. Russians would be forced to live on three potatoes a day. Who do you think would blink first?

Back to Andy: "It is a strategic decision by countries with energy resources to use them in their own development instead of optimizing corporate incomes," said Roger Tissot, a market analyst with PFC Energy in Toronto.

I looked up Roger Tissot, who is actually a real expert. I found this quote: "Tissot foresaw no threat to oil supply from Venezuela and in fact reinforced that the Venezuelan government depends on its oil revenue to advance its political project...He mentioned Venezuelan owned Citgo Petroleum's important role in the distribution on gasoline and oil derivatives in the U.S."

Proving my point. If they cut off oil to the US, their economy goes tits-up, and we confiscate Citgo while cutting off their food supply--Venezuela can't feed itself, either, and not even Hugo Chavez is dumb enough to ignore this fact.

Andy also quotes a guy named Michael Klare. All you need to know about Mr. Klare is that he writes for the Nation and Mother Jones, and he has a book out called Blood and Oil.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Some of the bus drivers are on strike today, so the whole city was snarled up as usual whenever they put on one of these things. According to law, public workers are allowed to strike but must provide "minimum services," which in this case means they have to run 50% of the scheduled buses. The strike is supposed to last seven days, and should muck things up pretty good during the upcoming Christmas break.

The majority unions, the Socialist UGT and the Communist CCOO, are against the strike, and they agree with the municipality that any large-scale rescheduling should happen at the end of 2008. The municipality says that only 40% of the drivers went out today; the Trotskyist CGT union, a particularly nefarious bunch of agitators who got control over the workers' council and called this strike, claims that 85% of them went out.

The drivers are demanding two consecutive days off a week, and the company is willing to set things up so they'll get an average of 1.9 days off a week per year. Right now they get a minimum of 1.6 days off each week per year.

You know, their demand is not unreasonable, though if they want an extra 0.4 days off per week, they'll have to accept a slightly reduced salary.

The problem is the way they go about it. It's traditional in Spain for what they call "piokets" to go around and stir shit up whenever there's a strike. These dirtbags' behavior has nothing to do with a peaceful picket line; they attacked 28 buses today, breaking windows, smashing rear-view mirrors, and puncturing tires. On Calle Entença they threw ball bearings at a moving bus, smashing a window and injuring a passenger. About a hundred picketers blocked off the Sant Andreu bus garage and didn't let any of the minimum services buses out, and they got charged by the riot squad. Five hundred more picketers blocked off Calle Sants and refused to let anyone pass.

And picketers never, never get arrested. I'd haul the lot off to jail just like I would with any other bunch of vandals destroying city property and putting citizens in danger.

Repsol announced that it is going to sell off 25% of its Argentinian subsidiary, YPF, to a private Argentine citizen for $2.2 billion.

Zap and Rajoy are going to debate on February 25 and March 3 on television; the election will be March 9. I wouldn't have agreed to that if I were Zap. He's a couple of points ahead in all the polls and there's no reason he can't keep his lead barring a surprise disaster. The economy is going along pretty well and Spain doesn't have any incredibly serious problems--lots of things could be improved, and probably should be, but nothing is urgent. Debates aren't traditional in Spain anyway; in the US a candidate has to debate his opponent or he'll look bad, but those expectations don't hold here. Now Rajoy has a chance to look good at Zap's expense, and I think Rajoy's a better debater than Zap is. Zap has everything to lose and little to gain by debating.

Barça drew Glasgow Celtic in the first round of the Champions' League, and should have no trouble with them. There'll be another lot of Glaswegians in Barcelona, not long after 20,000 Rangers fans showed up and irritated many Barcelonese by getting drunk and urinating in the Plaza Catalunya. Hey, Mr. Mayor, how about putting out portable toilets this time?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

You've probably heard that the US released three British citizens from Guantanamo, and they got shipped back to Britain. Spain has demanded the extradition of one of them, Palestinian Jamil al-Banna, on terrorism charges, and the British police have arrested him. They also arrested the other two, on British terrorism charges. Innocent little angels, these guys are not.

The National Court convicted 47 members of ETA-front organizations of membership in a terrorist gang; they have been sentenced to between four and 23 years in prison each. Five persons were acquitted. This case has been dragging on for years, and we all knew what was going to happen--the cops began rounding up those convicted a couple of weeks ago, just to make sure they didn't all go into hiding. Three of them are still on the run.

As we said before, this is important because 1) it's the first time Spanish courts have ruled that members of ETA front groups are just as much terrorists as the triggermen 2) a lot of Basque-wacky jokers are going to think twice now about publicly supporting ETA, since they know they can't do it with impunity anymore 3) if the government's plan is to negotiate with ETA (which I strongly oppose doing), then they have 47 new bargaining chips in jail.

Of course, the convicted prisoners tried to make a mockery out of the sentencing, shouting that they didn't accept the verdict of an "illegitimate court," making obscene gestures, and singing ETA rebel ballads. The judge ordered the courtroom cleared and that was the end of that.

A few days ago the Spanish Senate, in which the PP has the majority, passed a motion to censure development minister Maleni Alvarez. This is the first time ever that a minister has been censured by the Senate. The funny thing was that the Catalan nationalist parties, who put on a big demo a couple of weeks ago supposedly to protest the messed-up transport system in Catalonia, abstained because they didn't want to vote with the PP. So they held a demonstration against her, and then failed to vote for her censure. Boy, that's coherent.

The Catalan Parliament passed the pompously named Right to Housing in Catalonia Act, which gives the government the power to force owners of vacant apartments to rent them out whether they want to or not. The law is especially obnoxious in its interference with the right to private property, since landlords in Spain have very few rights due to other laws regulating rentals. Not only will the owner be obligated to rent out his vacant place, but he'll be placed under restrictive landlord regulations. The Socialist-Communist-Green-national socialist Catalan Tripartite passed the bill over the opposition of both CiU and the PP.

La Vanguardia is encouraging its readers to "send in photographs for an erotic calendar." Just what we needed, nude photos of a bunch of middle-class middle-aged Catalan Catholics.

It seems like the European political story that's gotten the most coverage this week is Sarkozy's romance with the model and singer Carla Bruni, who is an extremely hot babe. The funny thing is up till now she's been romantically involved with leftists and rock stars, not conservative politicians. Zap put his foot in it; reporters asked him to comment on the subject, and he said that Bruni was "more beautiful" than Sarko's ex-wife. He's right, of course, but isn't that superficial retrograde patriarchal sex-objectification?

The John Edwards sex-scandal story is heating up; the Enquirer, not earth's most reliable news source, is running with it and headlining that he has an illegitimate child with some crazy nutter chick from New York. If he were single it wouldn't matter; during the 2004 election, nobody got into John Kerry's agitated love life before he married Teresa, for example, and nobody's really gone after Rudy Giuliani hard about his own matrimonial troubles, at least not yet. But adultery is another thing in the voters' minds, and Elizabeth Edwards, who may be dying of cancer, is an important part of her husband's campaign. If he was cheating on her it'll look terrible.

Andrew Young, civil rights activist and former ambassador to the UN, apparently doesn't think Barack Obama is "black enough"; he was quoted as saying that Bill Clinton had had sex with more black women than Obama.

The thing about the US black community is that it's not one solid group, as many people seem to think. It's divided into "native American blacks," descended from Southern slaves, with their own distinctive culture, a 400-year history in America, and who further divide themselves into various social classes; West Indian immigrants, who started coming over about the time of the First World War, and whose culture is in some ways similar to but not the same as that of the natives; and African blacks, who have mostly come over in the past thirty years, and have nothing in common culturally with the other two groups but the color of their skin.

Obama is the son of a Kenyan immigrant father and a white mother, and part of his childhood was spent overseas. He really doesn't have any more in common with native American blacks than I do. Not that this disqualifies him from being president or anything, though I certainly wouldn't vote for him due to his left-wing political ideas and his lack of experience. In case you're wondering, Colin Powell is West Indian, and Condi Rice and Clarence Thomas are both native Americans.

So far I have no fearless predictions for the primary elections; I plan to vote for Giuliani, and McCain is more than an acceptable alternative. Huckabee, Romney, and Thompson are minor-leaguers in comparison with those two, and Ron Paul is nuts. If Huckabee gets nominated I might sit this one out rather than vote for him. Among the Democrats, I don't much like anybody. You probably know that the last Democrat I liked was Lieberman, and he's bolted the party and usually votes with the Republicans. Hillary, Obama, and Edwards are the only three candidates I think have a shot at the nomination, and Edwards has just been torpedoed. Hillary is probably the least offensive of the three.

Sports update: Everybody's gearing up for the big Barcelona-Real Madrid soccer game this weekend. Down at the bar I put three bucks in the pool on a 3-1 result. Messi's out, Ronaldinho will probably play, Henry is back, Giovani and Bojan are both fit, Gudjohnsen and Iniesta are in good form, and Milito is excellent.

Ronald Koeman, Barça hero and new coach of Valencia, has decided to break up the team; he's kicked off Cañizares, Albelda, and Angulo, three guys who have been with the team so long they think they're synonymous with it. Several more guys, like Baraja, are also on the way out. Koeman doesn't like their attitude, he says. Cañizares is kind of wacky; he says he's a Buddhist and takes all that yoga and meditation stuff seriously. He has been known to use nail polish to paint flowers on his toenails. I'm not complaining, he's been a good goalie for a long time, but he's now 38 and not getting any younger.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Two bits of news: My niece Caroline was born today, so welcome to the world, kid!

My mother-in-law Rosa, in the hospital with a broken leg, is diabetic, and her blood sugar got all out of whack and she nearly went into a coma. Fortunately they brought her out of it, and she seems to be OK, but she'll be in the hospital at least another week. She's pretty much senile now--doesn't know what year it is, doesn't remember my name, or her dog's name, doesn't know how old she is, doesn't remember who she saw yesterday--and she's declining fast. We'll have to wait until we get her home and see what happens before we make any decisions; I don't see why she can't live with us as long as she can walk with assistance.
It's been cold these last few days here in B-ville, which is not unusual for December, of course. What is unusual is the drought we've had over the past few months; Catalonia's reservoirs are at 29 percent of capacity, and they'll need to impose water rationing in a couple of months if it doesn't rain sometime soon. Winter and especially spring are the rainy seasons around here, and the soil needs that rain that it absorbs in spring in order to make it through the dry summer. If we don't get it, that means a bad harvest and a lot of forest fires.

They were working on a deal during the Aznar administration to transport water from the Rhone to Catalonia, and water from the Ebro to Valencia and Murcia, but the Socialists shot the water plan down when Zap took over. Too bad, we could use that pipeline from the Rhone right about now.

I have a dumb computer keyboard problem which I don't know how to fix. I'm sure it's just a question of changing one setting, but I don't know which setting needs to be changed. On my Spanish keyboard, when I hit the apostrophe-question mark key, I get a hyphen. In order to type an apostrophe, I have to hit the o a key at the top left. For a question mark I have to hit shift-9. What's the problem? Thanks in advance.

I'm probably the most technology-ignorant blogger in the world. I have no idea how to use a computer except at the word processor-Internet level, I don't know how to use a cellphone since I don't have one, I don't have a DVD or VCR or any of that stuff, I don't have an iPod, and I don't even know what any of the buttons on the TV remote control do.

Well, I never want to hear Zap criticize the Americans for anything again. We all agree that Gadafi is an evil dictator, right? He's certainly at least as bad as Franco was, and he's been in power for even longer. So Zap and Gadafi cut a deal for €12 billion with a B in bilateral commerce, including, get this, two billion euros worth of military weapons and a €3.5 billion Spanish investment in the Libyan oil fields. And it's Zap who gets all righteous and idealistic on us. Looks to me like he believes it's moral that Spain should profit from selling weapons to and buying oil from a crazy-ass tinpot dictator.

The current big stink going on around here is what they call the "digital canon." Spain's SGAE, the General Society of Authors and Editors, which represents musicians, authors, movie makers, etc., charges what is effectively a sales tax on digital copying technology to offset the alleged sales losses caused by private copying of copyrighted works. The system was introduced in September 2003 under the´Aznar administration. Now Rajoy's against it. All the rest of the political parties, except the PSOE, are also calling for it to be phased out.

So the Ministries of Culture and Industry got together with the SGAE and made this proposal to modify the fees: CD-Rs, 17 cents each. Cellphones or messengers with MP3: €1.50 each. MP3s and MP4s: €3.15 each. DVD-Rs: 44 cents each. Scanners: €9 each. CD burners: 60 cents each. CD=DVD burners: €3.40 each. These charges, of course, are paid by the consumer. In addition, value-added tax is charged on the fees.

The system has been criticized for several reasons, including 1) everyone pays the fees, including those who never make copies of copyrighted works 2) it's effectively a tax, but it didn't go through the same legal process as a straight-out tax would have to 3) the money doesn't necessarily go to the creator whose work is copied; instead, the SGAE parcels it out arbitrarily according to the artist's "importance."

I dunno; copyright law exists for a reason, in order to make sure creators get paid for their work. Some kind of system like this one is necessary; I'm just not sure this is the best way to do it.

What I do think is funny is the whole gang of left-wing alleged creative artists who have taken out half-page ads in all the newspapers in favor of the fees. That is, they want to make sure they get theirs, Jack. Don't ever believe an idealist when he says he doesn't care about money. Next thing you know he's going to start accusing all the rest of us of being consumerists and destroying his planet, while he continues flying around in his private jet and living in his huge mansion. Signers include such notorious working-class friends of the people as Pilar Bardem, Victor Manuel, Joaquin Sabina, and Ana Belen.

They arrested seven doctors involved in the illegal-abortion scandal. Now what they're going to do with them is perfectly legal in Spain: they're going to let them sit and stew in jail for the full 72 hours that the law says may pass before an accused person is given a court hearing, in the hope that somebody talks.

The real estate market is clearly crashing. The newspapers are full of ads for small places under €175,000, and medium places well under €300,000. 1015 apartments were sold in Barcelona in the last quarter of 2006, and only 505 have been sold during that period in 2007. It looks like the market peaked in around July 2006, and the fall has barely begun, despite the spin the real-estate agents are trying to apply.

Durex is going to close down its plant in Rubi, a Barcelona suburb, and lay off more than 250 workers. I'm sorry, there's absolutely no way you should be losing money if you're a condom manufacturer. That's a high-demand product if there ever was one.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

ETA set off a small bomb in front of the courthouse in the Basque town of Sestao; the building was damaged but no one was hurt. The terrorists called in a warning before the bomb went off.

Meanwhile, ETA declared war on Spain again over the weekend, sending out a press release saying it was willing to attack Spanish law enforcement officers "at any time and at any place." It referred to the murders of the two Civil Guards in France as "executions." Yeah, you bastards, that's exactly what ought to happen to you scumbags after you get convicted, and there's no need to be finicky about the methods. Perhaps public guillotining, or maybe the good old Chinese bullet in the neck in a football stadium.

The fact that Zap actually thought he could trust these vermin and negotiate with them demonstrates his extremely bad judgment. And I suppose the deal for a truce in Catalonia that Carod-Rovira and ERC made with ETA at the secret meeting in Perpignan is now off.

Dumb Catalan media mess: The government of the Valencian Country, or Valencian Community, or whatever the hell the official name is for the autonomous region encompassing the provinces of Castellón, Valencia, and Alicante, has closed down TV3's broadcast station in Alicante. Here's the deal: According to very confusing laws, each autonomous region has the right to set up its own government-controlled TV channel. However, no region has the right to broadcast its channel into another region, since that would be unfair competition for that region's own public TV. No, it really doesn't make sense to me, either.

So TV3, apparently without even a by-your-leave from the Valencia regional government, set up a broadcast transmitter to send out TV3's signal in Valencia. And the Valencian government has called bullshit on that and ordered them to stop.

Naturally there's politics behind this, too. TV3 is Catalan nationalist; no one disputes that. In Valencia, however, the majority feeling is anti-Catalanist and pro-Spain, as is shown by the PP's electoral domination of the region. TV3 frequently criticizes the Valencian regional government and those Valencians who don't like the idea of a "Paísos Catalans" (Greater Catalonia) that includes Valencia.

TV3 complained, of course, calling the Valencian Generalitat's decision "a hostile act, deplorable, and unnecessary," and accusing it of playing to the gallery for electoral purposes. However, the TV3 spokeswoman had to admit that they had no legal right nor permission to broadcast in Valencia. TV3 wants to make an arrangement by which it would broadcast in Valencia in exchange for the Valencian regional station, Canal 9, being allowed to broadcast in Catalonia. The Valencian government does not consider this a high priority.

My opinion? If I were Valencian I would prefer to have as many free TV channels as possible, including TV3, even though I probably wouldn't want to watch anything on it but the football.

Spanish regional nationalists are currently confused about what to think over Bolivia. It seems that the country's six richest provinces, the ones that are mostly mestizo, Spanish-speaking, and in the lowlands, and whose chief city is Santa Cruz, have declared their own autonomy from the Bolivian central government in La Paz. The Bolivian government is run by radical populist Evo Morales, whose support base is in the four poorest provinces, mostly Indian, Quechua and Aymara-speaking, and in the highlands.

Now. Your Spanish regional nationalists make a big deal out of what they call "self-determination," a concept the hapless Woodrow Wilson foisted on the world in the notorious Fourteen Points. So theoretically they would support the Santa Cruzans in their quest for autonomy. But they're also Third World leftists, and they think Evo Morales is Jesus, or at least St. Paul, and they worship Indians (oops, sorry, the indigenous peoples) and hate evil Spanish conquistadores, and they're trying to blame Western companies like Repsol for stirring up the Santa Cruzans.

Result? Cataloony cognitive dissonance.

Alleged former terrorist Moammar Gadafi is in Spain. He gets to meet with both King Juan Carlos and Zap. He was greeted at the airport with full honors of state by defense minister Alonso. That's disgusting. This guy is a mass murderer. (Anyone else remember Lockerbie?) Sure, we have to deal with him, but we don't have to kiss his ass.

Crazy Muslim shit. It seems that the FC Barcelona coat-of-arms logo, which includes a small red cross on a white background, the Cross of St. George, Catalonia's patron saint, is not acceptable in Muslim countries. So what they've been doing with it in some of these places (Saudi Arabia and Algeria) is reducing the cross to a vertical red line. There are Muslims so ridiculously sensitive that they censor a football team's logo!

The club has responded that as far as they know, all the official shirts they sell everywhere in the world have the full, uncensored club logo. Any shirt with only a red bar is a pirate copy, they claim.

This latest Muslim snit over symbols started a couple of weeks ago when Inter Milan wore its hundredth-year commemorative jerseys, which are white with a red cross on the front, in a home game against a Turkish club. Some oversensitive Turk accused Inter of racism or something for wearing the jerseys with the cross.

So now the Barça fans are all stirred up, and they're universally furious at the sacrilege to their holy symbol. Not the cross in itself, but the desecration of the Barça shield. It's fascinating that in order to make a politically correct lefty Catalan into a raving xenophobe, all you need to do is insult the Barça icon. They were all, like, multiculti and antiimperialist and sympathetic to the need for self-esteem in the Third World over Salman Rushdie and the Danish cartoons and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but the sanctity of the Barça is inviolate.

Other Barça news: They beat the crap out of Valencia last night, 0-3. Eto'o is back, and he scored two fine goals; Gudjohnsen knocked in the third off a psss from Giovani dos Santos. Both Ronaldinho and Deco started the game on the bench. Messi tore a thigh muscle and will be out for a month, so he'll miss next week's big game against Real Madrid. This was the first Barça away win for more than two months, and it should give them back some confidence. Valencia played lousy. They've got too many good players to put up such a sad show.

Former Barça`midfielder Guillermo Amor, who played in more than 500 games mostly during the Cruyff years, was seriously injured in a car accident last night near Tortosa. He had been one of the TV announcers on the Valencia-Barça game last night, and was driving home when he had the wreck at about 2 AM. He is currently in critical condition but is expected to live. Hope he's OK; I always liked him.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Boy, the promotors of this Vegas-in-Los Monegros thing have got their PR people working hard. Today La Vanguardia gave them a front-page teaser and then the first two pages of the national news section.

La Vanguardia says that the two chief investors are the Australian slot machine manufacturer and the French-Lebanese-Bahraini insurance company, which we already mentioned, and that others include the Thomson casino management firm, the British gambling tech company Hot Games, two Catalan real estate developers named Josep Carrera and Jaume Riera, and an Anglo-French investment firm called Havila Partners. In other words, Hilton and Hyatt and Sheraton and Holiday Inn and MGM ain't in on this one.

They save this paragraph for the end of the story: "Sources from companies in the sector in Great Britain were skeptical about the viability of this Pharaohonic project. 'The infrastructure for 25 million visitors isn't there, and they don't have the financing, either,' said an executive at an international casino corporation."

More realistically, Harrah's is preparing to build a Caesar's Palace hotel-casino in Ciudad Real. Just one, not 32.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Chronicling Twenty Minutes of Google Research:

Here's a good one from La Vanguardia:

Zaragoza (EFE)-The government of Aragon and an international consortium today signed an official plan to develop the largest leisure and gaming complex in the world in the Los Monegros district of Huesca, with an investment of €17 billion entirely from private initiative.

Construction of the complex, to be called "Gran Scala," will begin in the third quarter of 2008. It will include 32 casinos, 70 hotels, 232 restaurants, some 500 shops, a horce racing track, a golf course, and several amusement parks and museums, according to the International Leisure Development (ILD) consortium, made up of a dozen companies from different countries.

Gran Scala, which will have the second-most casinos in the world, after only Las Vegas (United States), hopes to become the largest tourist destination in the Iberian Peninsula, with 25 million tourists in 2015, of whom the promoters calculate 80% will be foreign.

My first reaction: Geez, they're serious about this. I had laughingly noted it down a few weeks ago when it was first announced, doubting that it would ever happen. It sounds like a terrible idea, just terrible. Los Monegros is an ugly-ass desert in the middle of nowhere, hotter than hell in the summer and cold as yo' mama's cootchie in winter.

Now I am going to look up International Leisure Development, and I will bet that it is a consortium of oil shieks, the Russian mafia, arms traffickers, and sleazy property developers. "Sleazy property developer" is a tautology, I know, sort of like "crooked lawyer."

Here's their website. Note that it doesn't say who the companies that make up the consortium are. Also note that they hired a lousy translator, and that the French, as usual, seem to have something to do with it.

Here's what looks like a press release noting that the investors include British, Australian, French, and American investors. It adds that the comarca's economy depends on 80,000 acres of irrigated farmland and the pig-raising sector.

This dreadfully written press release informs us that ILD is currently working on a project called "Euro Vegas" in Hungary. Sounds like these guys are going around to everywhere that's nowhere in Europe and promising them Vegas-style gambling riches. They don't have any €17 billion invested in Euro Vegas, that's for sure.

Here's a rather more professional press release trying to ballyhoo the alleged development to British investors.

Ah, here we go, credible information. They're going to start off with a theme park called "Spyland," which sounds retarded to me, and I think the following paragraph illustrates which league these guys are really playing in:

The Reuters news service reported Thursday that Spyland has attracted $175 million in financing toward a $277 million goal for the first phase, of what will be a $438 million theme park. Construction could begin late next year, and the first phase could open in late 2010.

Seventeen billion euros, my ass. They've managed to borrow $175 million to build a second-division theme park. That's all they've got.

Here's some more news from Australia, this time claiming that it's a 28-billion-euro (confusion with Australian dollars?)project and adding that the promotors already struck out in Dubai and in France before flashing the big money before Aragon's eyes. Two of the members of the consortium are identified: Aristocrat Technologies and UFA Insurance.

Aristocrat is listed on the Australian stock market; their shares are worth eleven Australian dollars each. They look like a legitimate company, but they're not exactly a world heavy hitter. UFA Insurance appears to be a Lebanese outfit.
The Can Ruti hospital in Badalona is on fire, though authorities say it's under control. It was very smoky and quite impressive-looking. Three floors were evacuated. Sure seems like a lot of weird stuff has been happening around here lately, what with cave-ins and blackouts and fires. Maybe the indignant Catalanists have a point--it sure does seem like local infrastructure is getting worse. You can't blame only the central goverment, though; the regional and local governments deserve their fair share of the blame.

For example: The AVE screw-up: the Generalitat and the municipalities forced a solution that nobody liked and that is turning out to suck. The extension of the N-II to Lleida: it took like seven years for the municipalities to get around to approving the route. The Eix Transversal: they decided to build a brand-new road where there had never been one before between Lleida and Girona. Great idea, but they didn't make it four-lane divided limited access. The airport: That's the fault of everybody involved, including the Greens, who got all worked up about the wetlands in the Llobregat delta. C'mon, people, I'm all in favor of conservation, and wetlands are important, but when they're right in the way of expanding your airport, well, there's a trade-off there. The economic benefit is much greater than the environmental loss.

And, of course, so much money is wasted around here on crap like institutional advertising and re-numbering all the roads and buying thousands of newspaper subscriptions and keeping TV3 in business with its massive debt and the Forum and digging subway tunnels through soil you haven't even bothered to consult a geological survey of and subsidizing movies in Catalan that will never be seen, that they could probably build a tower all the way to the moon with the squandered loot.

Can you believe that Conrad Son gets tax money to make porno movies in Catalan? That makes just no sense whatsoever. I mean, seriously. Subsidizing porn? I thought porn was one of those sectors where investors are 100% private. And often have surnames that end in vowels.

Speaking of TV3, a Socialist deputy has suggested privatizing it, which is one of the best ideas I've ever heard. A Socialist who wants to privatize government television! Wonders will never cease. Of course, the Socialists are pissed off at TV3 because they've failed to take control of it; TV3 still has a very distinct Catalan nationalist bias. Evidence: The publicity they gave the nationalist-backed demonstration a couple of weeks ago.

The deputy, Manel Mas, told La Vanguardia, that in order to become the market leader, "TV3 must open up socially and accept linguistic and ideological reality, which the nationalist world tries to hide by making it seem that it doesn't exist. The greatest contradiction for a public media outlet is the existence of a single line of thinking in a complex and diverse society. It is evident that wishing for pluralist public media outlets, beyond nationalism, is an impossible dream at our house. If we're going to think in market terms, why not privatize TV3?"

The EU says that new housing starts in Spain are going to drop from about 750,000 now to about 500,000 by 2010, basically because there is now a new housing glut and prices are beginning to fall. I keep up with the real estate classifieds, and my highly uneducated guess is that prices are down by about 25% off their high about a year ago.

Today's campaign promise: PP leader Mariano Rajoy offers an €150 a month increase in retirement pensions, which sounds acceptable to me; if we're going to pass out public money, much better give it to old people who have worked hard than to porno film directors.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The eight (not ten) Catalan women who were deported from Cuba have arrived in Madrid safe and sound. Congratulations to them and their initiative. Get this: The Barcelona city council, controlled by the Catalan Tripartite (Socialists, Communist-Greens, and national socialists), said it had no position on the affair. So Francina Vila, their fellow councilwoman, gets detained, held against her will, and deported by a Communist dictatorship for holding up a banner saying "Democracia," and they've got nothing to say about it.

Tragedy in Algiers: Somebody, probably Al Qaeda according to Algerian authorities, set off two car bombs in the center of the city, killing at least 62 people and wounding scores more. One went off near the supreme court building, blowing up a school bus full of kids and killing most of them, and the other went off near a police station and a UN office. The first bomb did tremendous damage, nearly destroying the supreme court building.

Economics minister Pedro Solbes says that Spain's economic growth for 2007 will be about 3.8%, which is pretty good. He predicts growth of about 3% for 2008, with the slowdown due to high oil prices and "financial turbulence." Solbes warns of high inflation between now and about April, when price increases should level out. Exports are up, though consumer spending is down, and investment in capital goods is up though the construction sector is down. Unemployment should continue decreasing, says Solbes.

The Guardia Civil de Trafico is going to crack down big time on drunk driving at the Christmas holidays, so be forewarned; they will be setting up checkpoints and plan to do 200,000 breath tests. Sounds like a good idea to me. I was downtown in Barcelona yesterday evening, and I noticed a lot more cops, both Mossos and Urbanos, than usual, so maybe they are cracking down on the muggers and pickpockets too. About time.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Congratulations to moderate Catalanist party Convergencia's youth group. They sent ten of their women members, including Barcelona city councilwoman Francina Vila, to Cuba in order to support the dissident group Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco), whose husbands are prisoners in Castro's jails. The Castro regime rounded the Catalan women up, and they are being detained in a Havana hotel until they are deported tomorrow. Their crime? Standing together in the streets of Havana with a banner reading, "Democracia."

Vila said, "Our goals are to support the Ladies in White because of the situation of their husbands, sons, and brothers who are in prison, in a disgraceful condition, some of whom are ill and in danger of death. We also want to support the Ladies in White because they suffer from 'acts of repudiation,' they are insulted, they have problems getting work, and in leaving their houses to help their husbands and relatives."

She added, "Our support is so they will have the spirit to keep fighting, to put pressure on the Cuban government to free their husbands and relatives. We want to call international attention to the problem of Cuba, which is a totalitarian regime where there is no freedom of expression, or of assembly, or even to demonstrate, and we want to make the Ladies in White's cause internationally known."

By the way, "acts of repudiation" are a lovely Castroite custom. If you criticize the government, your block leader informs the Party, and they send a bunch of their bullies to your house to shout insults and throw things. You are harassed every time you leave home, because, you see, the people are angered by your counter-revolutionaritude and they are expressing their justified indignation.

Convergencia's youth group is hereby forgiven for all its past (rather mild) Cataloony sins, because they're on the right side when you look at the big picture, and they just showed some guts. It's one thing to talk a good game from behind your computer screen, like me, and another to actually stick your neck out, as they did.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Things are pretty hectic around here rignt now, because my mother-in-law Rosa took a fall two nights ago in her bedroom and broke her right femur near the hip. They're going to operate on her today and put a pin in her leg; she'll be in the hospital for a week--at Vall d'Hebron, the one where the three kids just got infected with hepatitis C. Uh-oh.

Actually, the Spanish national health service is doing its usual good job with Rosa. The system generally works if you're sick or hurt--they'll take care of you and fix you up right. The personnel is top-notch and the facilities are adequate, and they must be doing something right because Spain's life expectancy is longer than the US's.

Its disadvantages are 1) the system is said to not work that well in extreme cases; people with money generally leave Spain if they have some rare cancer or something and go to the US. 2) It's inconvenient and bureaucratic; the system could stand some streamlining. 3) They probably do screw up more than hospitals in the US do; every month or so there's a horror story from somewhere in Spain, and this month's is the kids infected with hep C.

4) They're not always good at personal attention to patients; they sometimes treat you like a number. 5) It's not free. Your Social Security tax is 8% of your gross pay, and your employer "contributes" an equal amount, so health care costs as much as it would for private insurance in the States. 6) Public health care in every country that has it tends to focus on currently existing problems--we've got an old lady with a broken leg--rather than on research into fixing problems in the future--stem cell experimentation.

I don't know how we'll deal with Rosa's not being able to get around, because this is effectively the end of her independence. She moved in with us in the summer because she was deteriorating rapidly already then; we took her to the neurologist and she said that Rosa's got cerebral atrophy. She's been losing control of her muscles since then, and fell down at least twice within the last couple of weeks. What she has been able to do on her own, though, is walk her little old dog down to the plaza twice a day, and to get up and go to the bathroom by herself. We've been able to handle everything else, you know, cleaning, cooking, laundry, personal care. I'm afraid, though, that she's not going to be able to do much walking when her leg finally gets better, however long that may take. She's a tough old bird, though. We'll figure something out.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Quick Friday news briefs: They busted an ETA member, packing a gun, up in the Basque Country; he's not the guy still on the run from the double murder in France. By the way, it turned out that of the three etarras who killed the two Civil Guards, it was the woman who did the shooting. There's been an unpleasant accident at the Vall d'Hebron hospital here: three children coming in for kidney dialysis were infected with hepatitis C. The Barcelona papers are making a big deal out of the first legal exports of what they call Iberian ham here to the United States; nothing unites Spaniards like their love for ham. I doubt any ordinary American will notice, since the stuff costs like fifty bucks a pound and will only be sold at a few gourmet shops; also, there's already an American equivalent, what's called Virginia ham.
I've been doing a lot of reading on 19th century American history through the e-books avaliable at Making of America, Google Books, and Project Gutenberg. Tremendous stuff is available there for free in tremendous quantities, an entire 1920s public library.

One thing I've been sort of working on mentally is a list of prominent 19th-century Americans who died of drinking too much. They used to drink incredible quantities, and many of them went around liquored up all the time. Every man, woman, and child drank an average of four gallons (16 liters) of pure alcohol a year before the Temperance movement took hold at the beginning of the Victorian era in the 1840s. America was nicknamed "the Alcoholic Republic." The first serious threat to the infant United States was the "Whiskey Rebellion," when farmers on the Pennsylvania frontier briefly rose up against a federal excise tax on whiskey. They grew mostly corn, and the cheapest way to transport their crop was by distilling it into whiskey first.

The ones I'm sure died directly from alcoholism are: Franklin Pierce, Stephen Douglas, Daniel Webster, Stephen Foster, Edgar Allen Poe, Sam Houston, De Witt Clinton, Andrew Johnson, probably Henry Clay, and probably James Buchanan. William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia, Zachary Taylor died of gastroenteritis, and James Polk died of overwork. John C. Calhoun died of tuberculosis, and U.S. Grant, though he drank too much, died of throat cancer. It was the smoking that did him in, not the drinking. Meriwether Lewis committed suicide, and he drank too much, and there was probably a connection. Andy Jackson probably died of pure stubbornness and meanness. I would not have made that man angry. He was a tough old bastard.

It's surprising how long five of the six major founding fathers, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, and Madison, lived. The sixth, Hamilton, might well have lived to old age as well, but he was killed in the duel with Aaron Burr. Lincoln was so strong (he was a six-foot-four frontiersman with muscles like iron, and was known for his feats of strength as a young man) and had such healthy habits (he didn't drink, exercised regularly, and ate sparingly) that he probably would have lived a very long time if he hadn't been assassinated.
I was just thinking about RENFE, the Spanish rail network; RENFE stands for REd Nacional de Ferrocarriles Españoles. I always thought the joke that it stands for Rogamos Empujar Nuestros Ferrocarriles Estropeados (Please Push Our Broken-down Trains) was hilarious. These ironic acronyms go back a couple hundred years at least, and exist in English as well; at the time of the War of 1812, the United States Light Dragoons (that is, the cavalry) had USLD on their saddlebags; the joke was that it stood for "Uncle Sam's Lazy Dogs."

In addition, in English normal words can be turned into humorous acronyms, which I've never heard done in Spanish. FORD supposedly stands for "Found On Road Dead" and ADIDAS stands for "All Day I Dream About Sex." Fake acronyms are often invented to explain the etymology of a word; popular (and false) wisdom holds that TIP is "To Insure Promptness," FUCK is "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge," and "POSH" is "Port Out, Starboard Home."

Can anyone think of any other examples?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Here is a first: A Dutch woman who underwent an illegal late-term abortion at a Barcelona clinic has been arrested in the Netherlands, and will be charged with infanticide under Dutch law. I haven't heard of anyone being arrested for undergoing an illegal abortion for a very long time. In the Netherlands abortion is legal up to the 24th week of gestation, six months, which means that the baby she aborted here must have been even later-term than that. Viable outside the womb. Aborting a lump of cells at eight or nine weeks isn't murder, but crushing a viable baby's skull most certainly is.

As I've said before, my position on abortion is pragmatic up to a point. Life functions a lot more easily for many people when abortion is legal, so much that a sizable minority would get extremely agitated if we completely banned it. Agitation is bad for society and should be avoided when feasible. Also, it's hard to conceive of a few undifferentiated cells as a human life. But by about 12 weeks a baby is pretty recognizably a baby, and extremely premature babies are now viable outside the womb. If it would live outside the uterus, then you shouldn't be allowed to kill it if it's still inside. So if I had a choice I'd legalize abortion on demand up to 12 weeks, and then strictly prohibit it with a very few exceptions that would be very hard to get.

One thing we could do around here is get rid of a little hypocrisy. Spain finally got around to modernizing the divorce law in 2005; now it's simple to get an uncontested divorce in Spain, you just hire a lawyer for five hundred euros and he takes care of it. Used to be you had to go through a lengthy process of "separation" before divorcing, and through two legal processes, the first to separate and the second to divorce. Of course the whole thing was a joke; people who didn't want to be married anymore just stopped living together, and probably went through the legal separation process. Most people didn't go so far as to get an actual legal divorce, though.

This situation was a major pain in the neck, besides being hypocritical, since it permitted separations, divorces in all but name. Well, now, let's get rid of the silly abortion law that makes a pregnant woman go to a psychiatrist to get a signed paper certifying that her mental health may suffer if she gives birth. Effectively, abortion on demand is legal in Spain, because the mental health suffering loophole is big enough to march an elephant through. Simplify it and let's be honest with ourselves, as Spain finally did with divorce. Legalize abortion on demand up to the twelfth week after conception.

The CSI television series has really caught on big over here, and now newspaper and TV crime reports play up what they call the Scientific Police and their role in detection. TV3 is leading off this evening with the story that the French police used DNA tests to identify the two arrested ETA terrorists. Toward the end they mentioned that the guns the etarras were carrying fired the bullets that killed the officers, and that eyewitnesses identified them as well, so the DNA tests are actually just one more piece of evidence in a very strong prosecution case. By the way, the woman arrested is a veteran terrorist with several years of experience; tne man is a rookie, who had been previously arrested for being part of ETA's recruiting apparatus. They're guilty as hell. Give 'em a fair trial and then string 'em up.

I think condemned murderers should be forced to listen to Johnny Cash hangin' songs over and over on an endless tape loop while sitting on death row. You know, "Twenty-Five Minutes To Go," "I Never Picked Cotton," "Joe Beam," and "Sam Hall." I bet Johnny did "The Long Black Veil" at least once, and I bet he did "Stagger Lee" too. And I think he did "Nebraska," which is an electrocutin' tune, but whatever. Throw in "Sing Me Back Home" by the Hag and that probably adds up to cruel and unusual punishment.

The European Commission is mad at Spain because broadband telecoms service costs 20% more in Spain than the EU average. Good. Go get those Telefonica monopolists and hit them where it hurts. You may remember that in June Telefonica got hit with a €150 million fine by the antitrust agency.

It's Constitution Day and millions of Spaniards came out to wave flags, sing the national anthem, and attend public readings of the document that guarantees their freedoms. Well, no, actually, they all either went skiing, to New York, or to Cuba. Besides, the national anthem doesn't have any words, making it hard to sing (this is probably a good thing), and the Constitution is about six hundred pages long and would take a week to read. I can see a few of the usual suspects around here getting together and burning it in the street, though; that'd be the largest gathering of the day outside the department stores and malls, which are open though it's a holiday.

El Periodico's New York correspondent interviewed some of the Spanish tourists running around the city. In case you're interested, she says that they're buying a bunch of crap like Manolo Blahnik shoes, and they're complaining the hotels are lousy and too expensive. One of them actually said the food was pretty good, but the wine was too expensive. Jeez, people, in the modern global economy you pay more for services and less for goods. The Manolo Blahniks are cheap, getting cooked for and waited on is expensive.

Actually, hotels in American big cities really are either lousy, old, and expensive, or nice, new, and very expensive. That's because downtown real estate is, you guessed it, expensive. The bargains are at the reputable chain motels like Red Roof Inn in the suburbs near the interstate; they've got clean beds, a TV, climate control, and a swimming pool. And, for some reason, an ice machine. All American motels have an ice machine. Motels out somewhere in Jersey are not practical for foreign tourists in New York, of course. Do NOT, repeat, DO NOT stay in a motel that is a) in a crummy part of town b) is not part of a chain and c) has a lot of people hanging out in the parking lot.

Tragedy in Omaha: some kid opened up with a gun in a mall, killed eight people, and then himself. The media agonized over America's violent frontier culture, and the NRA and the gun manufacturers were blamed by the conspiracy theorists. Also, tragedy in Germany: a mother suffocated her five children. The media did not agonize over any violent events in contemporary German history.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The second Civil Guard shot by the ETA in France, Fernando Trapero, has died. As always, our thanks go out to those who protect us against terrorists, and our sympathy to their families.

Some justice has been served: the French cops arrested two of the three etarras involved in the double murder, a man and a woman, while they were waiting for a bus near Toulouse. The third terrorist is still on the run but will likely be caught soon. The cops traced them through the series of cars they stole and abandoned. The authorities add that this episode shows ETA has lost its infrastructure in France, since the terrorists had no safe house to hide out at, nor contacts to help and protect them.

It's TV3's turn to run a story on how nearly everybody in Barcelona is packing up to go to New York over the upcoming four-day vacation. They all want to buy lots of cheap stuff. Be nice to them, New Yorkers, they're decent folks at heart, even though they don't tip and they get mad at the employees if their plane is delayed.

New housing starts are down 30% over last year in Catalonia. The bubble is now a black hole, a sucking vortex.

The Guardia Civil arrested 151 drivers across Spain in the first two days of the new drunk driving law; you can now get up to 3 to 6 months for a first drunk driving arrest. It's about time they cracked down on this. Can they crack down on the pickpockets and muggers in downtown Barcelona as well? They ought to raid all the whorehouses in town, too, because a lot of the women there are held against their will and somebody needs to bust the organizations behind it.

Looks like the RENFE commuter lines that were closed down during the Great Transport Snafu are back on line, but the FGC line isn't, and nobody's sure when the high-speed line will be ready.

The tragedy of the African boat people continues. Two cayucos washed up on the south coast of Tenerife last night with 88 living and three dead people on board. Nine of those still alive are hospitalized due to exposure.

Sports rumors: One of them says Ronaldinho will be sold to Chelsea over Christmas. The other says that Liverpool's 8-0 victory over Besitkas of Istanbul in the Champions' League was fixed. There has been talk that a lot of comparatively insignificant sporting events--e.g. second-round matches at Key Biscayne between a Ukranian and an Argentine--are fixed by Asian internet betting syndicates. I have heard that there is a good deal of bogosity going on in the Scottish football league.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Zap has promised to get rid of what's called the "patrimony tax," an annual tax on a person's net worth, which only still exists in France and Sweden as well as Spain. It mostly affects about a million upper-middle-class Spanish taxpayers. Sounds good to me, I'm always in favor of cutting taxes as much as possible, and this is a clear case of a tax on personal capital, capital that would otherwise be invested in something productive.

One reason Zap can get away with this is that he's run another budget surplus, which is also always a good thing when possible. However, he can get away with running a surplus because Spain's defense budget is about twenty-three cents; Spain is effectively a protectorate of NATO, it can't defend itself against anyone except maybe Morocco.

I slightly botched the story on the unconstitutionality of the Generalitat law that would allow the government to force owners of vacant apartments to rent them out. It wasn't the Spanish Constitutional Court that declared it unconstitutional, it was the Catalan equivalent, the Consell de Garanties Estatutàries de la Generalitat de Catalunya (formerly the Consell Consultiu).

La Vanguardia's Latin America correspondent, Joaquim Ibarz, is more anti-Chavez than anyone else in the world press. He hates Chavez even more than Andy Robinson hates the United States. I completely agree with him, of course. Ibarz was the guy who reported, several days before the referendum, that the surveys pointed at a No vote.

His lead this morning is, "Hugo Chavez, the omnipotent caudillo who insulted and threatened the entire world on Friday, died when he was defeated in Sunday's plebiscite, though he doesn't see it that way....He is left with no strength to impose his plans, without the capacity to subvert the continent." Right on!

Ibarz says: 1) The Chav lost because a lot of the working class voted against him. 2) There was a lot of attempted vote fraud. 3) It was the university students and General Raul Baduel who did the most to defeat the Chav. 4) On Sunday night, the Chav met for four hours with army leaders who refused to back him in a seizure of power. 5) The electoral board kicked opposition poll watchers out of the vote-counting premises. 6) So Baduel went on national television and warned the electoral board that there had better be no shenanigans. So there weren't. 7) Opposition leaders claim that the election result was rigged and that the No vote won by a lot more than the official 51%.

Another Ibarz quote: "By losing the plebiscite that should have perpetuated him in power, Chavez has been greatly weakened. Spanish companies can breathe easier. Chavez won't easily be able to threaten to kick them out of the country again. Venezuela is on the verge of economic collapse, and any irresponsible measure could set it off. Waste, inefficiency, and corruption have reached the point that the government was not able to reduce the great scarcity of vital staple foods--meat, milk, sugar, eggs, flour--during the referendum campaign. With the highest inflation in Latin Amerioa--despite price and currency exchange controls--and with the collapse of industrial and agricultural production due to the harassment of businessmen, the social situation will get worse after Christmas."

Ibarz thinks Chavez is politically dead, that since he is a lame duck who will now have to give up power at the end of this term, his supporters are looking to cut deals with anyone who is willing. The Supreme Court will be under weaker pressure to decide what the Chav wants them to decide. Ibarz predicts that Chavezites will badly lose the August 2008 regional and local elections.

Meanwhile, it's pretty clear that Putin rigged the Russian election; Germany, Austria, Great Britain, and the US have all complained, though at different volumes. The German government spokesman said, "Russia was not a democracy and it is not a democracy. According to our standards, these were not free, equal, and democratic elections. The result is not surprising if we look at the considerable limitations imposed on the opposition and on the freedoms of speech and the press." That's the way to tell 'em.

Monday, December 03, 2007

As you know by now, of course, the Chav lost the referendum by a reported 51%-49% vote, which means that the populace must have turned out such a heavy No that there's no way he could rig the election. The wounded Civil Guard is still in a coma. The Constitutional Court invalidated a Generalitat law that would allow them to force owners of vacant apartments to rent them out, on the grounds that it's an incursion on the rights of property. Kansas got a bid to the Orange Bowl for the first time since like 1971. Eight different guys are now claiming they had sex with Larry Craig, and Trent Lott's sudden retirement smells extremely fishy.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

As I'm sure everyone knows, today is the big constitutional referendum in Venezuela. La Vanguardia, in a broadside at the Chavez regime, says, "Venezuelans will choose today between democracy and dictatorship. They have to decide between two ways of life, two national ideas, two antagonistic systems, two platforms that will define the fundamental structure of the state. Freedom is at stake in this referendum: the voter has to decide between the authoritarian, autocratic, and militarist option of Chavez, who wants to perpetuate himself in power and control the whole society, and the defense of the institutions."

Meanwhile, Hugo the Chav tossed another tantrum at Juan Carlos and again petulantly demanded an apology. He also threatened that if the PP wins the March election in Spain, "It's all over with Spain. Spanish companies can forget about staying here. Repsol will have to go. We'll nationalize the banks." Interference in another country's domestic politics, no? And then he complains that the Americans are trying to destabilize his government, which I hope we are doing, by the way.

La Vanguardia says that in Chavez's last speech, "He threatened everyone, as if Venezuela were his own banana plantation: Spanish banks; the opposition; Colombian president Alvaro Uribe; businessmen; oligarchs; "wannabe Yanqui" students; the US; Globovision; CNN; foreign correspondents; et cetera." I bet if an American newspaper called Venezuela a banana plantation the whole Third World would get mad and call us racists.

The article continues, "A cross between Juan Domingo Peron and Benito Mussolini, Chavez is trying to implant a socialism about which it is only known that it will be antidemocratic, with restrictions on freedom, on the road to limiting human will to one single way of thought, one single ideology, one single party, the single leader. And with Fidel Castro as the supreme guide. Faced with this shadowy panorama, the number of Venezuelans packing their suitcases increases."

I forget whose law it is that says that in an argument, whoever first compares a bete noire to Hitler loses. I have an addition to that, which I proudly baptize John's Corollary: In an argument, whoever compares a bete noire to Mussolini is probably right. Reasoning: He who picks Mussolini (who is way far down the list of most evil people ever, nowhere near contemporaries of his like Hitler or Stalin or even Franco) for his comparison has done so thoughtfully--if he were going for effect he'd use Hitler. Mussolini was a buffoon, a wannabe tough guy, just like Hugo the Chav. These guys are not what comes to mind when you think "evil", they're what comes to mind when you think "blustering bully."

Franco and Pinochet and real dictators like that were cold and calculating, harsh judges of humanity, and they didn't make idle threats. Forget the Chav; he's just another Peron or Mussolini. Castro, who is more than a bit Mussoliniesque and only survived because of the Cold War, is tougher than he is. And Castro's probably dead already.
The Civil Guard who was wounded in the ETA shooting in France is in a coma, "without signs of brain activity," and not expected to live. It seems that the murders were not planned; the ETA cell came upon the Spanish police officers in a cafeteria and decided right then to kill them, so they waited outside and did. I vote we hang murdering terrorist criminals, but maybe that's just me. I also vote we don't negotiate with ETA about anything.

Yesterday evening's demo was peaceful, fortunately. I had feared that the combination of echoes of the squatter riot and the Barça-Espanyol football game would get irresponsible youths from both extremes all fired up, which didn't happen. I'm not sure whether to call it a "success," as ever-nationalist TV3 did on this afternoon's news; they got about 200,000 people, enough to fill up Via Laietana from top to bottom. The organizers claim 700,000, as usual.

Nobody's still really sure what the demo was about, except that most of those involved were carrying a Catalan or Catalanist flag. The Zap government is interpreting it as an excuse to dress up irritation about the Great Transport Snafu in a nationalist cloak. The nationalist media is calling it a demand for more Catalan self-government.

Confusingly for outsiders, three of our local political parties were involved: CiU, the moderate Catalan nationalists; ERC, the Catalan national socialists; and ICV, which is Communist and Green and generally signs on to any expression of civil irritation at society although they are part of the governing coalitions in both Barcelona city and Catalonia as a whole. You wonder what a bunch of Christian Democrats are doing at the same demo with a bunch of unreformed Stalinists who support the Iraqi terrorists. The answer is that nationalism makes strange bed partners, though I don't believe that ICV is actually Catalanist--I think they'd join up with anyone indignant about anything.

One thing I find interesting here is what they call "institutional advertising," in which the political party in charge of a governmental body uses public money to put large advertisements in friendly media outlets praising what a good job they have done. Today in La Vanguardia the Generalitat's traffic department has two full color pages on how groovy the new 80 kph speed limits on metro area motorways are going to be.

The Espanyol-Barça match last night was excellent, ending in a 1-1 draw on goals by Iniesta and Corominas. It was a very physical game with good play by both teams. Iniesta, Messi, and Touré were the best Barça players, I thought, and Riera, Luis Garcia, and Corominas were the best for Espanyol.

Breaking news: Spain got Russia, Sweden, and Greece in its group for the Eurocup this summer. They should be able to get by the first round and then get eliminated in the quarters, as usual.

Oklahoma beat Missouri for the Big 12 championship, making Kansas clearly the conference's third team. Nobody expected anything like this at the beginning of the year.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Breaking news: ETA has struck back already. Two ETA terrorists shot two Spanish civil guards in a town called Capbreton in France, about 30 kilometers north of the French border. The two officers were working with the French police on an ETA investigation; they were unarmed, and shot point-blank in the back. One of them, Raul Centeno, was killed, and the other, Fernando Trapero, was seriously wounded and is in critical condition. The two shooters, both men, along with a woman companion, carjacked a woman and drove out of the area in her Volkswagen Golf toward Bordeaux.