Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Sunday Prayer

Today is Sunday, the last Sunday of 2007. To mark the occasion the Catholic faithful are taking over the Plaza Colon in Madrid this morning for a mass gathering in favour of the “Christian family”. A live message from the Vatican will be delivered, from the personality so memorably described in Father Ted as “the old feller who lives in the art gallery”. So let us pray.

Dear Lord, we ask you to raise a mighty wind in the sea separating Iberia from the Canary Islands, so that the Bishop of Tenerife will not treat us to any of his homilies on how children provoke sexual abuse. May an equally mighty wind prevent the leader of the Legionaries of Christ from attending today’s service, due to his own difficulties with the same issue.

We also pray that the entire education budget of the nation be passed into our hands, so that no more will our innocent children be forced to become homosexual abortionists.

We beseech thee O Lord, not to allow any of our cardinals, bishops or priests ever to form any kind of relationship which permits them to belong to anything resembling the Christian family. May their children continue to be “nephews” and their wives “housekeepers”.

Finally, we pray that the red, secessionist, terrorist sympathising scum running the country be kicked out of office in March. May they be replaced by San Mariano and his faithful supporters who have wandered aimlessly in the wilderness for too long.

God bless you all.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A New Look For Carles Puyol

Unbelievable, two Barça posts on the same day! I just thought you might like to see Puyol's penance for Sunday's result, via - click on the image to see the full article:

Today is December 28th

A Place That Is Forever Barça

Here’s a post to cheer up all Barcelona supporters still feeling the pain of last weeks defeat at the hands of Real Madrid in the inaptly named “clasico”. My last destination on my trip to Costa Rica was the small and quiet village of Manzanillo on the Caribbean coast, not too far from the border with Panamá. Being a small place there are not too many options for eating out in Manzanillo, and the place that really seems to attract visitors is a restaurant bar called Maxi’s.

As we sat down for dinner on our first night there it quickly became evident that the wall decorations in the restaurant showed a strong bias towards football and to Barcelona in particular. The explanation for this came from a framed newspaper clipping also displayed on the wall. It seems that a nearby butterfly farm (I’m not making this up) was opened some years ago by a Catalan called Pedro. As a result of Pedro’s description of the injustices suffered by Catalans over the years the villagers of Manzanillo, many of whom are the descendants of poor Jamaican settlers on this coast, decided to identify themselves with Barcelona FC and the claim is that more or less the whole village packs Maxi’s whenever their favourite team plays. Unfortunately I left the village 2 days before Sunday’s game so I’m unable to verify the truth of this, although the waiter in the restaurant assured us it is the case.

So there you have it, the pain may still be there but it must be comforting to know it is shared by others. Oh, and the grilled red snapper is excellent.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Themes That Can Change An Election....The Party Lists

The date of the next general election in Spain has now been confirmed, it will be on March 9th 2008. The announcement didn’t provoke much surprise, the same date had already been chosen some weeks ago for the regional elections in Andalucia, and it was never very likely that Andalucians would be called to the polls twice on separate dates in a region which is one of the main sources of support for the governing PSOE.

One of the most important steps for all parties to take now is the selection of their candidates for the lists that are presented in each region of the country. Party politics in Spain tends to be very centralised with decisions on candidates in most cases being taken by the central headquarters of the party or by regional “barons”. Voters choose an ordered list of candidates rather than voting for individuals and the number elected from each list therefore depends on the total votes cast for that party in the region concerned. All of which makes the position of an individual in their party’s list a crucial issue for their chances of making it into parliament.

The party with the greatest headache in putting together its list of candidates is going to be the Partido Popular (PP). Prime Minister Zapatero is busy distributing his ministers to head the PSOE list in different regions, and so far everyone is doing as they are told. For the PP the principal problem is Madrid, and to some extent Valencia as well. In Madrid the problem is the intense rivalry between Esperanza Aguirre and city mayor Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, who has already staked his claim to a place in the PP list for the region. The main source of the problem is that Gallardón is allowed to combine his job as mayor with that of being a member of the Congreso, but Aguirre as a regional president is not allowed to do the same. So Esperanza has been busily trying to block Gallardón’s chances, or at least ensure that he does not get one of the first places on the list; which will be headed in any case by Mariano Rajoy. The background issue is of course the battle for succession to Rajoy should he lose the election, and the rivals are looking for the strongest possible position to make their move. It has been reported that Aguirre has lost her bid to prevent Gallardón appearing in the list and is now attempting to promote a formula where he will be held jointly responsible for any failure by the PP to win the election.

The situation in Valencia could also impact the Madrid decision, as the name of the problem in this case is Eduardo Zaplana. The cynical and shifty Zaplana, who giggled and joked his way through the parliamentary commission on the Madrid bombings, used to be the regional strongman in Valencia. However, since moving to Madrid to form part of Aznar’s administration he has lost power in Valencia to the current regional president Francisco Camps. All of which makes it unlikely that he can appear in the PP list for Valencia, or at least not in the top positions. One potential solution to this problem is that he also goes into the Madrid list. Whether that makes the Madrid list more electable is open to question; although PP supporters in Madrid have repeatedly shown over the past few years that quality of candidates is not an important issue for them. A parrot trained to say “Hello, I’m your PP candidate” would stand as much chance as anyone else, so why not put Zaplana there too? The toughest problem for Rajoy is not with the voters, but with the internal battle a misjudgement with the party list could unleash.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holiday Dreams

I knew I had abandoned my blog for too long when I woke up on Christmas Eve in the midst of a dream about blogging. At the moment of waking I was convinced that Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz Gallardón had been assassinated during my absence, as this also featured in the dream. I knew it was just a dream, not a nightmare, as the most obvious suspect for such an act didn’t make an appearance. So two enormous Christmas meals later I have finally sat down to write a new post in an attempt to take my mind off indigestion.

Residents of the Spanish capital will no doubt be pleased to hear that the South of Watford rain curse on Madrid backfired spectacularly as dark rain bearing clouds followed me around Central America. I must have got something wrong with the incantation. Despite my Costa Rica guidebook assuring me that the rainy season there is over by the end of November I think they forgot to mention that it is succeeded by the not very dry season. So whilst I am sure that the volcanic crater of El Rincon de la Vieja is probably stunning I can’t actually testify to it as it was shrouded in clouds and we were forced to abandon the ascent by dangerously strong winds and torrential rain. Equally the volcanic lagoon of Cerro Chato is probably a natural marvel, but I couldn’t see it through the rainy mist, and wasn’t prepared to risk ending up in it by attempting the mudslide of a path that led down to its shore.

It wasn’t all so bad. Arenal, the most visited volcano of the country, finally revealed its presence on the third day. La Montaña de Fuego kept us entertained for an afternoon as it periodically spewed out huge boulders that noisily crashed down its slopes every few minutes. Apparently it was still possible to ascend the mountain until a couple of tourists were killed around 2000 as a result of gas inhalation.

This is the nearest I was prepared to get to its crater:

Then there was the very relaxing atmosphere of Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast, with its canals and forest full of wildlife. We also saw plenty of animals further down the same coast in Cahuita and Manzanillo. Some were resolutely indifferent to our presence:

Others put on a little show:

Whilst others were much less welcoming:

Finally, there was also an inevitably slow appearance by the three toed sloth:

The five toed sloth will demonstrate the advances of evolution by returning to full blogging activity in the next day or two. Pura vida, as they say in Costa Rica.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Post Early For Christmas

That's it, I'm out of here. For the next two weeks I will be in Costa Rica, although I will be back in time to spend Christmas in Madrid for the first time in 4 years and of course to deliver my seasonal message to the nation.

South of Watford has no Christmas Appeal to support this year. The most obvious case of hardship was going to be poor Rodrigo Rato, scraping by on a meagre pension from the IMF. Fortunately, Rodrigo has managed to do something about his dire situation and won't be needing our help; what further evidence is needed that personal initiative matters much more than any help from charities or the nanny state? An example to us all.

I leave you with my Madrid site of the week, as the district of Lavapiés makes its own bid to be considered an Olympic venue. They have some interesting new sports to be included in the competition and you can vote for your favourites.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Let's Play While The Sun Shines

Africa here we come! Well, in reality it's more a case of Africa coming to Spain according to the latest worst case predictions of the effects of climate change on the country. Spain has been told off last week for not even coming close to its targets on reduction of emissions, and up to a third of the country is said to be at risk of desertification on current trends. Those in the north will get the Mediterranean climate, whilst the rest of the country will experience African weather conditions. After a December day in the mountains on Sunday where I was able to spend a good part of the day in short sleeves I'm prepared to believe it; even if some people prefer the opinions of Mariano Rajoy and his now famous cousin.

Of course, not everyone is upset by the prospect of climate change. I'm sure that those who are proposing to construct a huge "Las Vegas" style complex in the desert like landscape of Los Monegros in Aragon are not in the slightest bit concerned about the issue. The project would include 32 hotels, 5 theme parks, and the now compulsory golf courses. The area is poor and has little to keep its existing population from drifting away to the cities. This is because it is very dry and not particularly suitable for agriculture. It also lacks good communications. I'm sure that the price of land here is very cheap compared to much of the rest of the country, and the local inhabitants are reported to be quite excited about the opportunities it will bring. Where will they get the water from? Maybe they can put that question to the organisers of next year's Expo in Aragon's capital, Zaragoza. The theme of the Expo is going to be err....water.

Somewhere else that could use some water is the city of Madrid, it has hardly rained this autumn and the city is suffering from what they call inversión termica, which means that we get a big static pollution cloud hanging over us. What would really sort this out is some rain, and given that I am about to disappear for two weeks the best time for it to start raining would be Thursday evening. A nice prolonged steady downpour, like something from a Gabriel Garcia Marquez story, so that the air gets cleaned, the lakes fill up and there is a good layer of snow on the mountains.

Monday, December 03, 2007

ETA Killing - The Mystery Still Remains

The circumstances surrounding Saturday's shooting of two members of the Guardia Civil in France are still not very clear. It is possible to accept as a coincidence that the two policemen and the ETA members alleged to be responsible were having breakfast in the same cafe. What is more difficult to understand is how those who carried out the shooting managed to identify their targets as policemen, given that they were in plain clothes. I have read this afternoon that a witness has reported them inspecting the car of the victims before the shooting took place. This raises even more questions, how would they even know which car belonged to the two policemen in the first place?

I can't help wondering about the possibility of a massive failure in the undercover surveillance operation and that the suspected members of ETA knew they were being watched and even possibly recognised those who were watching them. Unless the officer who survived the attack comes out of coma and fills in some of the missing details it is possible we will never know. In the meantime either the Spanish Interior ministry, or the press, is embellishing the account of what happened with details which they can hardly be in a position to provide.

Meanwhile, all political parties are putting on a formal show of unity; but in reality it has not lasted long. A 5 minute silence in Madrid today was completely disrupted by the intolerant antics of a noisy group of Partido Popular (PP) supporters. One of the PSOE councillors attending had to be escorted away at the end of the act as these lovers of liberty were threatening him. Those who created this monster bear some responsibility for its behaviour. The PP has also made clear its intention of pressing on the issue of illegalising parties like Acción Nacionalist Vasca (ANV) which refuse to condemn ETA attacks. Sadly, the government is showing signs of playing with the same issue by claiming that the refusal to condemn the shooting may be used in such a process. Nothing has really changed in the position of parties like ANV, and if their existence was not illegal before then there is no reason why it should be so now. All the arguments used on this question are entirely political, but then the law in question has always been based on such judgements, were it otherwise the simple refusal to pronounce on an issue could never be seen as an illegal act.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

ETA Kills Spanish Policeman?

A member of the Guardia Civil has been shot dead, and another seriously injured this morning, in an attack that is being widely attributed to ETA. There are two odd things about the attack, the first being that it took place in France and not in Spain. The members of the Guardia Civil are said to have been part of a cross border surveillance group working in cooperation with the French police. The second odd thing, at least judging from the intial reports, is that the attack did not take place in response to any move by the police against those they were watching; instead it looks as if those responsible knew about the police presence. As usual with these incidents it probably pays to wait a while to find out more, but in the meantime terrorism returns to the top of the political agenda. If ETA is indeed responsible it also goes against their traditional reluctance to carry out attacks in France, even if the victims are Spanish.