Friday, June 27, 2008

Leaving The Ozone Layer

Ozone levels in Madrid have reached levels this week which trigger obligatory warnings about health dangers. Even all that rain in May didn't stop the city from regularly exceeding the limits on contamination, I don't know whether the Africans will get the blame this time for exporting their Saharan dust. If things carry on this way there will be no other alternative; they'll have to destroy the machines that collect the data. Anyway, it seems like a good enough excuse to leave the city - that and the fact that the full summer heat is now with us.

I'm off to Benidorm this weekend and I won't come back until somebody wins the European Championship. Spain brushed aside Russia last night to reach the final with less effort than expected. I'm even more confused now about how the Russians managed to knock the Dutch out of the tournament, last night they offered no threat at all and defending is hardly Spain's strongest point. Spain have lost Villa for the final but last night they coped well without him and in the second half played their best football of the championship so far. The messy way in which the future of Luis Aragones has been handled doesn't seem to be affecting the team. Hopefully we'll get a final as good as much of the rest of the tournament has been.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

No Hard Feelings

Esperanza Aguirre has shown that she knows how to act in the best spirit of reconciliation following her unhappy time at the PP conference in Valencia. The moment she got back to Madrid she set about remodelling her regional government and the axe has fallen directly on those who showed disturbing signs of loyalty to Mariano Rajoy. Espe didn't get her candidates onto the PP's national executive, Rajoy instead chose his own preferred people from Aguirre's administration. Both Alfredo Prada and Manuel Lamela were selected by Rajoy, and both have now lost their jobs in Aguirre's reshuffle. Nobody will miss Lamela, famous for leading the charge against the doctors of Severo Ochoa, but if there was any doubt before it is now clear that you can't support Rajoy and Aguirre at the same time.

Meanwhile Aguirre's personal propaganda mouthpiece, TeleMadrid, achieved a dramatic improvement in programme quality this week. The channel went off the air altogether for 24 hours as a result of a strike and viewers were left with a screen looking like this:

The channel has, unsurprisingly, experienced a sharp decline in audience over the last few years but those few viewers that remain are amazingly loyal to TeleMaguirre. Apparently, whilst the channel was off the air it still registered an audience share of 0.7%, which has been calculated at over 9000 viewers enjoying the black screen.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Not So Gran Via

Another cinema closed at the end of last week in Madrid’s Gran Via. The Palacio de la Musica, one of the emblematic cinemas of the Gran Via, had its last picture show and is now closed for redevelopment. The significance of this news is not just because of this cinema itself, one of the few remaining where you could experience the rare thrill of watching a film with a proper sized screen. In the year 2000 the Gran Via had 13 cinemas, now it has just 3. It is a street which always seems to have crowds and life, even in the early hours of the morning, and a major part of that life comes from the cinemas and theatres which attract people into the centre of the city.

Now that is changing, a relaxation of the change of use regulations in Madrid mean that the cinemas are rapidly closing, to be replaced in the main part by (more) shops. This sort of attitude is more or less routine for a city administration which regards culture as meaning an extension of shopping hours and little more. They say the Palacio de la Musica will become a concert hall, we’ll have to wait and see what that really means. The old Estación del Norte in Principe Pio was supposed to become a “cultural centre”, but what we got instead was a shopping centre with a multi-screen popcorn shop as its only cultural reference point.

Even if they allow the shops to stay open 24 hours a day, the atmosphere of the Gran Via will change once the final cinema or theatre has closed down. The argument will be that market forces are having their way, if people want to shop then close down the cinemas and put more shops in their place. Unfortunately, the result of that process is less diversity and less choice, with a once lively avenue reduced to a commercial dead zone once the shops pull their shutters down.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Rajoy Era Begins....Again

With 84% of the vote in his favour, the election of Mariano Rajoy to lead the Partido Popular (PP) on Saturday wasn’t overwhelming enough to be classified as “Bulgarian”. However, the combined spoilt and blank votes also didn’t add up to enough to seriously damage the credibility of his election, the pro-Rajoy camp was able to explain away these votes as the work of the Madrid delegates and a few other disaffected supporters of assorted dissidents. Rajoy is now officially candidate for the PP at the next election, and if he finds a good enough reason to postpone the party conference due to be held in 2011 then those who are hoping to unseat him in that year may have to wait. In any case, the system of primaries which has been adopted for future leadership elections is not quite as democratic as it sounds. Candidates will now be obliged to declare their intentions well in advance of the conference and even though they only need 100 signatures to launch their candidacy they will still need to have a minimum of 20% of conference delegates behind them.

Predictably much of the headlines over the weekend were grabbed by a previous leader, Jose Maria Aznar. The hairy one arrived in Valencia in a private plane belonging to an unnamed Guatemalan businessman. Aznar’s jet set lifestyle is not just confined to appearing on the front page of Hola. Despite the hopes of Rajoy’s opponents, Aznar didn’t brandish the knife as openly as they wanted. True, there were various coded and uncoded references which were sufficient to tell the audience that he didn’t approve of what was going on; but in the end he refuses to get bogged down in the infighting. His insistence that the PP doesn’t need to move towards the centre because they have always been there is simply classic Aznar. Perhaps even he can appreciate that joining a conspiracy to unseat the person that he appointed to be his own successor doesn’t leave him looking too clever. The whole Maria San Gil affair was probably designed with the aim of forcing Aznar into the battle. It didn’t work – instead there are constant tributes to her from the anti-Rajoy group but she may well just end up alongside Aznar as another portrait on the wall at PP headquarters.

Meanwhile Aznar’s wife, Ana Botella, now finds herself on the national executive of the PP in what seems to be an unstoppable rise towards the top. Botella, who had no political career of any kind until Aznar left office, gets a promotion every time someone wants to appease her husband, it’s a modern alternative to human sacrifices. At this rate who is to say she won’t end up as party leader? She gets included in those appointees assigned to the camp of Alberto Ruiz Gallardón who also got Manuel Cobo, his main political ally in Madrid, onto the same executive. Gallardón himself has been included in the top group of close advisors to Rajoy. Not surprisingly Esperanza Aguirre is fed up. Although she has some of her people in the new leadership team, they are not the ones she proposed. In fact all of those who have been critical of Rajoy have been left quite ruthlessly out in the cold. There is no place for Espe and her number two Ignacio Gonzalez, Juan Costa, Manuel Pizarro (remember him?) or Gabriel Elorriaga.

The battle is far from over, the list of the excluded is long and there are still the regional PP conferences to come in the next few months. The Madrid one, in particular, promises to be fun as the Aguirre and Gallardón camps will go head to head. Those in Cataluña and the Basque Country also look set to be interesting. In the longer term attention will focus on the elections due to be held in Galicia, the Basque Country and for the European Parliament. Rajoy’s enemies are hoping that their party does badly in these elections, badly enough to make the leader’s position untenable. For the moment though, Rajoy has secured his position; something which looked far from certain at times in the last few weeks. Now, no one can claim that the direction of the PP is not in his hands.

There is no real substance behind this supposed turn of the PP towards the political centre. Rajoy appears to be obsessed with the idea of people voting for the PSOE solely to keep out the PP. So what we get is not a change of principles, instead it’s a policy of not saying anything that sends frightened voters running into the arms of the PSOE. He’s also acted to place women in high level positions in the PP to try and neutralise the effect amongst female voters of Zapatero’s gender balanced government. Rajoy is counting above all on the economic downturn costing the government support and on a softer PP image making them a more acceptable alternative. It might be enough, despite everything that has happened since March the opinion polls show PP support holding up – it takes a lot to shake the loyalty of their voters.

Monday, June 23, 2008

European Championship 2008....The Antipasti Followed By The Anti-Football

The curse of Spanish football has finally been overcome. No longer does a quarter final draw against a fellow Latin country inevitably mean the end of Spanish hopes for advancing in an international tournament. That last night’s game against Italy should be decided by penalties was hardly a surprise after a match where the goalkeepers on both sides were the least active participants. In extra time the Italians were playing for penalties, with ten minutes still to go they were already putting their foot on the ball and slowing things down as much as possible. I hate penalties as a means of deciding these games, I’ve seen too many boring, defensive teams take advantage of them to progress.

So now the Spanish get to meet Russia again in the semi finals, as a result of the bizarre tournament organisation that permits teams who already played each other to meet again before the final. It won’t be the same Russia though, at least it shouldn’t be. When the Russians scored their third goal against Holland the other night I had to wonder what substance had been put in their pre-match samovar. They bore no resemblance to the outfit so easily swept aside by the Spanish in the qualifying round, and if they are capable of reproducing the same form again on Thursday then the game looks very promising. Holland were my favourites for the tournament, and their elimination was a bit hard to take, although you have to admit the Russians deserved their victory.

My other favourites for a semi final place, Portugal and Croatia, both went out. The Portuguese demonstrated a chronic inability to defend crosses or free kicks, the Germans had warned they would test them on this and so it turned out. Meanwhile Croatia fell victim to a Turkish team that seems to be the only one capable of scoring last minute goals as a result of collective willpower. All they have to do is kick the ball in the general direction of the goal and concentrate very hard to make it go in. Motivation is not their problem, their style of play is just a bit too Italian for my taste. Probably the only team in the semi finals that might have been expected to get this far is the Germans, so we are guaranteed a final with at least one team that is not among the usual suspects.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Spain At A Glance....Foreign Residents

Data from yesterday's El País showing the top ten countries of origin for foreign residents in Spain. Pass over each column to see both the country and the equivalent figure for 2007. The same source, based on date from the national statistics institute, puts the country's population at over 46 million.

Charts code courtesy of

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Rajoy Wins Time But Not The War

With the appointment of María Dolores de Cospedal as secretary general of the Partido Popular, Mariano Rajoy has played a shrewd card in his battle to remain as party leader. Cospedal was a safe bet given her history of having worked with various powerful figures in the PP, including Esperanza Aguirre. Indeed it was this announcement that forced Aguirre’s hand and led her to declare for the first time that she would vote for Rajoy as leader. The absence of any position in the party apparatus for Alberto Ruiz Gallardón also took arguments away from Aguirre. The press seems to think the real winner of Rajoy’s list has been Javier Arenas, the PP leader in Andalucia and mentor of Cospedal, who has consolidated his power. We are still waiting to find out what role, if any, Gallardón will get. Apart from other effects the appointment of Cospedal, someone who is divorced and became a mother via artificial insemination, reveals that the PP has finally accepted the change of century; from the 19th to the 20th at least. The bishops cannot be pleased.

Meanwhile, Aguirre couldn’t resist stirring the pot a bit in the run up to the congress. She revealed a hitherto well kept secret by saying that she had always opposed the PP’s attempt to get the constitutional court to overturn the law permitting gay marriage. This was one of the issues that Rajoy’s people were working hard to defuse before the congress began. Another hot issue has been the political principles declaration which was the formal pretext for Maria San Gil resigning her position. This declaration in reality included virtually all that San Gil had demanded, but following her political suicide it is subsequently being watered down to make it more acceptable for the new image that Rajoy wants to try and present. The accusation that the Basque Nationalist Party more or less collaborates with ETA is expected to go, the new model PP will no longer try to associate terrorism and regional nationalism in such a direct way.

Meanwhile the first day gave us some revealing glimpses of the internal divisions within the party. Angel Acebes speech as outgoing secretary general was a vindication of the four years of scorched earth opposition that the PP practised following their defeat in 2004. Then there was Aznar. His brief handshake yesterday with Rajoy is being compared to the warm way in which he greeted Acebes or Aguirre, and his speech today is awaited with huge expectation. Rajoy does occasionally show a bit of a sense of humour, whether intentionally or not is unclear. At the last PP congress his closing speech was completely overshadowed by that of Aznar, some delegates even left for home immediately following Aznar’s turn. Determined that the same would not happen again, they have moved Aznar’s intervention to the previous day, yet Rajoy claimed that he had done this so that delegates could leave early if they want to! Presumably those that are not prepared to vote for him as PP leader. The congress has already agreed to introduce a primaries system for future elections of leaders, so Rajoy knows that his war is not over. Would it be a cheap shot to suggest that he could always get his cousin to kidnap some of his poltical enemies? Yes, it would, but what the hell.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Virus Alert - Zapatero 2.0

This is a warning for users of the Zapatero 2.0 software. Reports have been received that the European version of this software has been seriously infected with Blairism and may even be affected by Sarkozyism. It’s probably only a matter of time before the same infections manifest themselves in the Spanish version of the same software. These are the signs of infection detected so far:
  • Almost the entire PSOE group in the European parliament voted in favour of the new EU directive allowing illegal immigrants to be held in detention for as long as 18 months. Silvio Berlusconi will be delighted, instead of treating immigrants as criminals he can just lock them up in administrative detention instead. Then he can get on with the real business of government, ensuring that neither he nor his friends ever face charges for any offence.
  • The Spanish Employment Minister, Celestino Corbacho, abstained in the vote on the EU proposal to permit a 65 hour working week. Perhaps he had already reached his hours limit and clocked off? Meanwhile, rumours that the Spanish parliament is studying a proposal to reduce the length of their own working week from three days to two are entirely true.

Madrid In The Civil War....El Archivo Rojo

The Spanish Ministry of Culture has made available on the web an amazing collection of photographs from the Spanish Civil War. This collection, known as the Archivo Rojo, is mainly focused on Madrid and the surrounding region. The images were originally used by the Republican government to show the effects of the war on the city and its population and how the Republic organised its resistance. Later, after Franco's victory, it became another tool for repression as those identified in the photographs faced reprisals from the new regime. Many of the sites shown in these images will be familiar to those who know Madrid well, even though many of the wrecked buildings displayed no longer exist. Here is one example of a photograph of the Puerta del Sol.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

European Championship 2008....Now For The Quarter Finals

As the championship moves into the quarter final stage we’ll see whether my hopes for the final four stand the test, and whether we maintain the entertaining standard set in the first round. Tonight’s game is full of promise, the Germans don’t look very convincing. Even Austria managed to make them look a bit fragile, although it was Croatia that really managed to outplay them. Meanwhile, the Portuguese are not just about Cristian Ronaldo, but he is probably the best bet to surprise the German defence.

Spain showed against Greece last night that they could win even with their reserves. Although “reserves” isn’t really a very accurate description, a team that contains players like Reina, Alonso, Fabregas and Güiza (the highest scorer in the Spanish league this season) is hardly weak. Any nation with less than 20 international class players shouldn’t have made it this far anyway. I can think of one or two that didn’t. Greece will not be missed, they are another side that places far more value on victory at any cost than on playing good football.

Talking of teams that fail to entertain, the Italians made it through in the end, sadly. Although at least they were finally obliged by necessity to come out and play against the French. This doesn’t mean they will do the same against Spain on Sunday. Tradition dictates that Spain fall by a single goal to a fellow Latin nation in the quarter finals, let’s hope it doesn’t hold this time as the Spanish have played far more good football than the Italians in this tournament. Turkey progressed in similar fashion to Italy, only coming alive and playing as well as they can once they fell behind. Hopefully Croatia will not be as generous in defence as the Czechs were.

My favourites to win, the Dutch, have to play a rejuvenated Russia but I can’t see the Russians doing to Holland what they were able to do against a disappointing and conservative Swedish side. The Dutch also showed that their second string side was good enough to participate in the tournament, with their victory over Rumania. A team that is prepared to make attacking substitutions when they are already ahead, as Holland did against France, deserves to get something just for attitude alone. It doesn’t always work out that way, as the Dutch know very well, but maybe this time will be different.

From Marbella To Estepona

The Andalucian town of Estepona is the latest location where a major municipal corruption scandal seems to be emerging; the mayor of the town is amongst those arrested. The roots of the problems in Estepona probably begin with Marbella, and it’s not just a question of geographical proximity. Marbella’s slide into becoming Spain’s municipal corruption capital began with the reign as mayor of Jesus Gil; also well known for being the owner of Atletico Madrid. Gil presided over much of the ransacking of Marbella’s coffers and the massive illegal construction that has taken place there. Somehow, despite the fact that everyone seemed to know what was going on, he avoided prosecution for most of what he did and died a free man. Estepona was for a while run by his party and the mayor was his son, until the whole operation started to come unstuck.

The seed that Gil planted seems to have affected those who came after him in both Marbella and Estepona, and it is his successors in both towns who are now facing charges. Those who were previously in opposition to him have continued the culture of corruption. The PSOE have moved rapidly to expel their mayor in Estepona from the party, but this is really something they do just to mark a bit of difference from the PP who are reluctant to take measures against their members in similar situations. Both parties tolerate municipal corruption, and the lack of seriousness in fighting it is illustrated by the latest case. A law passed last year should oblige all elected members in local government to do a declaration of their assets, a welcome measure encouraging a bit of transparency. However, no one is obeying this law because it depends on the existence of a municipal statute. Unfortunately the law creating the legal basis for this municipal statute is a separate one and it fell by the wayside in the last legislature. So until that situation is rectified the only declarations made will be voluntary ones, and those who use municipal power as a means of personal enrichment continue to keep the spirit of Jesus Gil alive.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Spain At A Glance....Construction Plummets

Evidence from Eurostat of how things are worsening in the Spanish construction sector. To put things into perspective the decline in April 2008 for the Eurozone was -2.4% and for the European Union as a whole it was just -0.3%.

Charts code courtesy of

A Day On Abantos

In years when the full Madrid summer heat has already arrived by the beginning of June I more or less abandon the idea of walking the more exposed peaks of Madrid’s mountains until temperatures start to come down again. With the strange weather we have had this year I realised it was still possible to do it without frying in the process, so I spent yesterday on Abantos; the peak overlooking El Escorial. Badly burnt in a fire a few years ago, the mountain is now slowly recovering; although the route I did passes through undamaged areas. The walk is relatively steep, it’s about 800 metres ascent from the town to the peak. The sierra is stunning at the moment, thanks to all the rain we have had recently; I have rarely seen it so green. The views were very clear too, from Abantos you can see the central part of the Sierra de Guadarrama around Peñalara, as well as the Sierra de Gredos. Looking down from the top of the mountain you see one of Spain’s most famous religious monuments, the Monastery of San Lorenzo.

Holy water! The lakes are looking good so feel free to drink water this summer. In the upper left corner of this photo you can just about make out Madrid, dominated by the four ugly towers built in honour of Nuestra Señora la Reina de la Especulación Urbanistica.

Holy Shite! El Valle de los Caidos. Say what you like about Franco they certainly knew how to spoil a fine mountain landscape in those days.

That’s more like it, green hills still (more or less) untouched.

As always, a GPS track or Google Earth file of this route is available on request.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Only One Monday From Valencia

If your politics are not right wing and you live in Valencia you might want to consider leaving the city this weekend. The long awaited Partido Popular (PP) congress begins in that city on Friday, and we wait to see whether Mariano Rajoy will leave Valencia looking like the king of his party or like a caretaker leader. Things have gone very quiet recently in the PP since Juan Costa announced he would not challenge Rajoy; disappointingly quiet for those of us who have enjoyed the spectacle the party has provided since March. Even El Mundo, which has been leading the charge against Rajoy, can do little more today than provide us with an opinion poll telling us what we more or less already knew; the only potential leader they have who reaches out to voters of other parties is Alberto Ruiz Gallardón.

None of this guarantees that there won’t be fireworks at the congress itself, it is still even possible that someone could emerge as a challenger for the leadership. However, that now looks less likely than it did a few weeks ago. If there is no other candidate then all the attention will focus on the number of delegates who refuse to give their support to Rajoy, anything less than 80% support will be seen as bad. There will almost certainly be some genuine debate for once at a PP congress both on the political principles statement and also on the rules for future leadership elections. Rajoy has managed to get this far without having to reveal who is on his team and which jobs they will get. All the betting is on Pio Garcia Escudero to be the new secretary general of the PP, it is unlikely to be Gallardón and Javier Arenas (who did the job under Aznar) seems to prefer life back home in Andalucia. I have seen speculation that Gallardón could head the PP list in the European elections next year, whilst remaining mayor of Madrid. Those who go to Brussels without maintaining a base at home tend to be forgotten within about 12 months. It’s probably a silly question to ask whether Gallardón would be able to perform both jobs, it assumes there is something to be done.

It is quite possible that those who were attempting to force Rajoy out now are simply going to join with those who are said to be waiting their chance to do the same in 2011 when the PP should hold their next congress. Rajoy invited Esperanza Aguirre out for lunch on Saturday. I haven’t written much about Aguirre recently and it shows because both and Notes From Spain have had to take up the challenge of monitoring the Lideresa’s activities. Accounts of Saturday’s lunch suggest that no food was thrown across the table, and we don’t know whether Aguirre left her chewing gum stuck underneath her seat while she was eating. Not much seems to have been resolved between the two but formal relations are being maintained. For those who are still not absolutely clear about the issues involved in the PP infighting let me recommend to you the following video (via NetoRaton 2.0). Esperanza Aguirre and Alberto Ruiz Gallardón debate their differences in a special pre-congress debate before a handpicked audience of PP delegates.

Bono's Law Of Flags

An emotive occasion was held the other day in the Spanish parliament, as several hundred former political prisoners under Franco attended a special session organised in their honour. The only thing that marred the occasion was the fact that it was presided over by Jose Bono, Zapatero’s poor choice as President of the Congreso de Diputados. The pompous Bono took offence at one of the participants displaying the flag of the Spanish Republic, and issued a stern condemnation of this, claiming that it was not legal.

In fact there is no law prohibiting the display of the republican flag, at least not since Spain returned to democracy. It may not be the national emblem of Spain these days but it was the flag of a legitimate government that was overthrown by Franco’s rebellion. That Bono should be so offended at those who suffered under Franco’s regime displaying a symbol of resistance is sad enough. As others have pointed out Bono has never been so quick to take offence at the display of less legitimate symbols left over from Franco’s time and which are easy enough to find in Toledo, for so many years Bono’s political stronghold during his time as president of Castilla La Mancha.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Spain At A Glance....See How They Suffer

I've been meaning to test for some time the tools which have made available for anyone who wants to put charts into their web pages. This is the first test, a heartrending tale of how the Spanish banks have been taking the brunt of Spain's economic troubles; profits were only up 10% in the first quarter of this year.

The House Painter

Calle Orellana, Madrid. The story behind the facade is told here.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

European Championship 2008....The Dutch Show Off

Down at the communal soup kitchen where Madrileños queue for their daily ration of thin gruel, there was only one topic of conversation this morning. Are the Dutch already the European champions? Having beaten both finalists from the last World Cup by clear three goal margins, Holland seem to be one or two levels above anyone else in the competition. To be fair, both their results have been slightly flattering, but at the same time they have given an exhibition of precise, flowing football which is for once combined with some lethal finishing. Italy are still only in the competition because Buffon saved a penalty against Rumania yesterday, and frankly who would miss them if they went out? France are in the same position and despite putting on a reasonable performance yesterday they don’t look very convincing. Rumania were supposed to be just making up the numbers in the “Group of Death”, but they could now find themselves taking the place of the French or the Italians.

Elsewhere, the Croats – egged on by a trainer who clearly feels part of every move that happens on the pitch – showed against Germany that they too have been underrated. Germany need to get something in their last game against an Austrian side that need to win. Fortunately for the Germans, an enthusiastic but limited Austrian team doesn’t look like it could score a goal in open play even if the opposing defence and goalkeeper had been kidnapped. Portugal are already through after an entertaining clash with the Czechs. Until I saw the Croats beating the Germans, the Czechs had been my favourites as a potential dark horse that could cause surprises. Unfortunately, they also suffer from limitations in attack.

Then today we get Spain playing their second game, and true to form the optimismometer that measures the feelings of the Spanish about their national team has shown a wild swing following their demolition of Russia. Personally I think Sweden will provide tougher opposition than the Russians did, but the Spanish did look good the other day with their clear superiority in midfield being complemented nicely by the sharpness of Villa in attack. Time for another dodgy prediction, I think this afternoon’s game will see a 2-2 draw. My last prediction looked good for about 70 minutes of the game. Based on current results and the possibility of the Spanish winning their group, a potential semi-final line up could be Portugal, Croatia, Holland and Spain. More of a wish list than a prediction, it would give us something to look forward to. Thanks to the humanitarian aid now reaching the city, my fridge is full of beer again in preparation for the next round. Just as well, it’s starting to get strangely hot in Madrid.

Friday, June 13, 2008

PHotoEspaña 2008

There are a whole series of exhibitions currently on in Madrid to mark PHotoEspaña 2008. Today I visited an impressive exhibition of work by the American photographer W. Eugene Smith at the Teatro Fernán Gómez in Madrid's Plaza Colon. It's a free exhibition and is open from Tuesday to Saturday until the 27th July. Smith worked for Life magazine and for the legendary Magnum agency amongst others. The exhibition includes work from World War 2 and and also from projects Smith undertook following the daily work of a midwife and a country doctor in the US. Internationally he portrayed the work of Albert Schweitzer, and also shot a series of images around an industrial pollution case in Japan. For those of us living in Spain the main highlight of the exhibition has to be the photographs he took in the Extremaduran town of Deleitosa in the 1950's. The Spain portrayed in these images is unrecognisable to those accustomed to the modern face of the country, with their portrait of the grim reality of life in post-Civil War Spain. The exhibition is recommended for these photographs alone.

Work As Hard As You Can For Europe

The European Union has adopted a measure which can lead to people having their working week extended to 65 hours, that's 13 hours a day. So much for progress. They say that the implementation of the measure depends on employee agreement. You can easily imagine how that agreement may be achieved in many circumstances: "Would you like to work 65 hours a week or would you like to be unemployed?" Here in the Spanish blogosphere there is already a campaign started against this measure, and they have helpfully prepared banners in different languages for bloggers to use. Pass it on.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Watch Out For Flying Vegetables

Day four of the transport strike, and the situation is far from clear. On the one hand the government seems to have reached agreement with a majority of the transport federations and also to have cleared the main roads that were being blocked. However, supplies of fresh produce to the main Spanish cities seem to be in danger. Until now most of the supply problems seemed to have been caused by panic buying, rather than lack of availability, but now the strike has started to bite.

The strike has provoked mixed reactions in the Spanish media and blogosphere with much debate about whether it should be called a strike at all or whether it is simply an employers blockade. The “strikers” themselves seem to be a mixture of the self-employed and those who work for a company. Some are obviously struggling in a situation where they find themselves unable to pass on increases in fuel prices to the big companies that hire them. Others are employers who are overtly or covertly supporting the strikers so that they can obtain any benefits achieved. Unable to direct their protest against those directly responsible for rising fuel prices, and unwilling to do so against those who hire them, they instead aim their protest at the government.

However, the government has very little room for manoeuvre on fuel prices, even if it was a good idea to reduce taxes on fuel they cannot reduce them very much without European Union approval. In any case the last thing the government wants to do at the moment is reduce its tax revenue too much as the property crash is already leading to reduced income for the state at a time when they have increased expenditure. So instead they offer limited concessions on social security payments and other issues that mainly affect the self-employed “autonomos”. There are also protests in agriculture and the fishing industry over the same issue and there is no indication that fuel prices are about to come down. All these protests are a reflection of what could be a very long running tussle over who will pay the cost of the increase in oil prices.

Spanish food pricing is as mysterious as many other sectors of the economy. The producer seems to get relatively little, those doing the transport are not doing well out of it, but the end price to the consumer clearly leaves a decent profit in the hands of someone? It looks like the government has opted for a strategy of trying to isolate the more militant strikers by buying off other federations with minor concessions and then acting tougher with those who refuse to accept them. On the agricultural front the gloves really came off in Almeria yesterday, police and the local Hacienda building were pelted with….aubergines and cucumbers!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Hlp!...--…Madrid surrounded by striking lrry completely cut food, no ptrol--…-dnt know how long we can survive like this..-..---.pnic in the supermarkets..---..need help--…-please send food---..—and beer, Eurpean Championship ;) ---….---mbe airport still open….------is there anyone there?---…--don’t leave us to die…--…getting weaker…pls hlp sombdy..---…..can’t writ any mo…………………………………........................................

European Championship 2008....Spain Gets Its Chance

This afternoon we will find out whether the current Spanish national team can live up to its potential. They have a tough game against Russia, and the rest of the qualifying group doesn’t promise to be easy either. For a couple of players this is going to be a very big tournament. If Sergio Ramos can reproduce his club form then he is in a position to become the key player in the team for the next few years. Meanwhile, we will see whether Fernando Torres has really improved as a player, or whether his excellent first season at Liverpool is down to him being better suited to the English game than to the Spanish one. He is likely to be accompanied in attack by David Villa, who has had a disappointing season. To be fair, this is probably because his club (Valencia) was engaged in a tough fight with Levante and Real Zaragoza to be the worst run club in the Spanish Liga. According to predictions I’ve seen, both Xabi Alonso and Cesc Fabregas are going to start on the substitutes bench, what that says is that the team’s strongest area is midfield. Time for a bad prediction, I think Spain will win 2-1.

Last night injury hit Holland put the world champions in their place. Any game involving Italy only ever comes alive if the Italians go behind as there are few footballing spectacles more depressing than watching Italy look after a one goal advantage. This for me was easily the best game of the tournament so far, in which we have yet to see a game where both sides manage to score. Leaving aside the dull opening game between the Czechs and the Swiss, along with the equally soporific encounter between France and Romania, the opening games have not been too bad. But last night’s match took things to a higher level. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Tough Times For Losantos

Continuing to delve into the very murky and slimy waters around Libertad Digital, it’s worth taking a look at the slight legal difficulties facing LD’s propagandist in chief, Federico Jiménez Losantos. Last week saw the final hearing in the case brought against him by Alberto Ruiz Gallardón concerning claims by Losantos that the Mayor of Madrid was not interested in knowing what happened with the Madrid train bombings. This case is awaiting sentence but it did not go well at all for Losantos, who claimed that his remarks about Gallardón were covered by freedom of expression. What really went wrong in the case for the defence was that the star witnesses did more to sink Losantos than to help him. Esperanza Aguirre, Ángel Acebes and Eduardo Zaplana were called as witnesses for the defence, but their party loyalty prevailed as they spurned the public invitation to damage Gallardón. Leaving Losantos to fight his own corner with the assistance of his good friend Pedro J Ramirez, director of El Mundo.

Much as I detest Losantos, I don’t really like cases such as this one, based as they are on laws to defend the powerful. Such laws almost always end up being used against genuinely fair comment too and politicians like Gallardón are big enough to look after themselves. The insults that Losantos dedicated to Pilar Manjon, who heads the main victims association for the Madrid bombings, were much worse than anything he said about Gallardón yet that case was not even allowed to proceed. The real significance of the apparent betrayal by witnesses such as Aguirre or Acebes is in what it represents for the conspiracy theories around the Madrid bombings. Their refusal to back Losantos sent the signal that they have now jumped off the conspiracy bandwagon, and that the PP is no longer interested in using the bombings as an instrument of political opposition. This was always going to happen, the interests behind the conspiracy theories were a mixture of the commercial and the political; the political aim being to shore up the PP following the shock of their election defeat in the aftermath of the bombings. The general election in March this year finally brought home to the least deranged sectors of this movement what had long been apparent to everyone else. The removal from power of the PP in 2004 was not a coup d’etat resulting from an evil alliance of ETA, Zapatero and foreign powers, it was simply a result of the number of votes cast and sections of the PP finally seem willing to accept that.

The Gallardón case is far from being the end of the legal troubles facing Losantos. Due to start last week, but postponed, was the case brought against him by one of the police trade unions concerning the allegations made by Losantos against their members. I’m not generally the number one defender of the police, but I recognise that when people have risked their lives deactivating unexploded bombs or have worked long shifts dealing with the awful carnage caused by the bombings there is something terribly wrong in them being accused of fabricating evidence and conspiring to hide the “truth” about the bombings. In some ways this case could be much more revealing than the Gallardón one, Losantos should be required to justify the lies and inventions behind the conspiracy theories. Probably he will go for the “I was just repeating what I read in El Mundo” defence, he’s not usually as brave in court as he is on the radio.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, coming up on the horizon will be the case brought against Losantos and other colleagues on the COPE radio station concerning their accusations that Luis Montes and other doctors in the Severo Ochoa hospital in Leganés deliberately killed terminally ill patients. Another case that he thoroughly deserves to lose, if it gets to trial. Funnily enough today sees the beginning of the boric acid trial, that most absurd of all possible monuments to the conspiracy theorists and judicial timewasting; and proof that legal outcomes depend more than anything on getting your case into the hands of the right judge.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Unmasked....ETA's New Leader

It was only a matter of time. Having fallen from favour with his former supporters at Libertad Digital, it was almost inevitable that a vile traitor like Mariano Rajoy would end up being involved with terrorists! And who better to point the finger than LD's own resident retired terrorist, Pio Moa. Writing in his blog at the weekend Moa has no doubt about where to place the PP leader on the political scale - he's pro-ETA. What's more, we have evidence:

The one on the right is almost certainly Zapatero, so that just leaves the one on the left to identify. Surely not Soraya?

No We Can't!

The start of the week has only brought bad news for Mariano Rajoy recently, so the lead story with many papers today won’t necessarily seem so bad to him. Juan Costa, who has toyed with the idea of challenging Rajoy as PP leader for the last couple of weeks, has finally decided not to take the plunge. This leaves Rajoy, at least for the moment, with no rival for the PP congress due to take place in Valencia in a couple of weeks time.

Costa has said that the reason he is not presenting his candidacy is because he has been unable to get the required support of 600 of the delegates to the party congress. This explanation is a little unconvincing, after all if you don’t declare yourself as a candidate then it’s a little difficult for the delegates to commit to you, and Costa at no point made this declaration. Although Rajoy appears to have the “avales” of most of the delegates wrapped up, in reality it would have been very difficult for him to refuse to cede some of these to a rival if they needed them; it would make him look as if he was trying to block any opposition. Madrid could have given Costa a head start too with over 200 delegates, as yet uncommitted to anyone.

Unfortunately for Costa, the requirement to have 600 supporters was not the only hurdle he had to jump. Any candidate for the leadership must also present a “team” of 35 persons who will effectively be the candidate’s executive. This made things more difficult for Costa, although many prominent PP members were prepared to encourage his candidacy, not so many of them were prepared to risk political suicide by forming part of it. He would have been a curious candidate anyway, someone who apparently comes from the (relatively) centrist wing of the PP but with his main support coming from the more right wing fringes. The idea being that he is useful for bringing down Rajoy and could then be replaced himself nearer to the next election. In any case, there are strong rumours that Costa will soon be off to make money in the private sector, following the example of his political mentor – Rodrigo Rato.

There is still the possibility of an alternative candidate to Rajoy right up to the day the congress starts, but it is now looking less likely. That doesn’t mean that Rajoy will emerge undamaged from the PP congress, his big worry in the absence of any rival will be the number of delegates who decide not to vote for anyone as leader. In some ways defeating a relatively weak rival would be better for his legitimacy as PP leader than being elected “Bulgarian” style as the only candidate but with a significant abstention. I’m still waiting for someone in the PP to come out in praise of the election held this weekend by Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya to elect their new leadership team. Every single party member was entitled to vote, a model of internal democracy which even those PP members who claim to favour primaries don’t seem to be rushing to praise.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Madrid, Olympic City

Bad news. Madrid is one of the four cities competing to host the 2016 Olympics, having passed the initial selection. The rivals are Tokio, Rio de Janeiro and Chicago. Having lost out to London for the 2012 event, Madrid’s administration has gone straight for the following games. I’m not a big enthusiast for the Olympics anyway, and I suspect after this year’s show in Beijing there will be fewer fans of the event. However, Madrid Pharaoh and part-time Mayor Alberto Ruiz Gallardón is determined to get the games, largely as a monument to his everlasting glory.

One of the key projects proposed by Gallardón is…..and you’re just not going to believe this….the burial of part of the outer ring road near to the Olympic stadium! At last, urban tunnelling is going to get the recognition it deserves and become an Olympic sport. This should help to increase the local medal haul, especially as it forms such a neat triathlon with property speculation and trench hurdling as parts of the city are ripped up yet again. I assume that the plan for Atletico Madrid to pay for the Olympic stadium still stands, although I wonder whether the housing construction planned for the site of the club’s existing stadium will really seem so attractive as property prices plunge? Perhaps if no one is interested in buying houses on the site they could just erect a giant obelisk in honour of the Unknown Speculator. In the event of a successful bid, I predict many other pointless but hugely expensive great works as Madrid reaches out to become the most heavily mortgaged city in the world.

An interesting side effect of the bid is its effect on Gallardón’s political future in the PP power struggle. The Olympic bid requires Gallardón to spend the next couple of years providing suitable incentives to members of the International Olympic Committee, which could leave him a bit too busy to fully fight his corner in the PP. Meanwhile, we are left with the hope that the international selectors will not allow the games to be held on European soil just four years after the London Olympics.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Rain Man

So the proposed water transfer from the River Ebro to Barcelona has finally been cancelled. After weeks of rain, the reservoirs that serve Barcelona are looking very much healthier. It's good news for the 600 property owners who were facing compulsory purchase orders for the project, and also probably good news for the parties forming the Catalan government. They no longer have to pretend to be in favour or against the measure depending on which part of Cataluña they find themselves in at the time.

I can't resist pointing out that it began raining in Barcelona on the first day of my visit to that city about 6 weeks ago. It rained a lot on me in England last week too. Then my planned visit to Bilbao for this weekend got cancelled because the place where I was going to stay got flooded last week. Amazing isn't it? I suppose it's almost inevitable that someone will say it's just coincidence. The River Ebro is currently running so high that parts of the site of this year's Expo in Zaragoza got flooded last week. Nothing to do with me, but hugely ironic given that water is the theme of the Expo; visitors could be issued with their own diving equipment. One seemingly paradoxical effect of all of this rain is that it could significantly increase the risk of forest fires in Spain this summer. The late surge of vegetation provoked by so much rain means that when the sun starts to shine there will be much more dry, brown grass there to burn.

The last word on the subject of drought should go to Jordi Pujol, the Big Daddy of modern nationalist politics in Cataluña, who will probably be feeling particularly smug over what has happened. A few weeks ago, before it started raining, he was asked what would be the solution to the water problem. "Oh great and wise sage, what will stop our people from going thirsty?" "LLoverá", Pujol replied.

Friday, June 06, 2008


Here's something scary to end the week with - a PP remake of Thriller.


The FARC Gets A Bad Press

There has been a huge amount of press coverage recently concerning the FARC guerrilla group in Colombia and allegations concerning the contents of laptop computers that we are told belonged to the FARC commander Raúl Reyes, who was killed a few months ago just across the Colombian border in Ecuador. Some of this coverage betrays the true nature of much of what passes for journalism these days. “News” appears on agency feeds and then multiplies across other outlets as numerous rewrites are done without any real verification or analysis taking place. The story about the FARC supposedly preparing attacks in Madrid was a perfect example of this, hardly anyone seemed to pause for thought or examine the story until the next day when a few people pointed out that there is also a city called Madrid in Colombia! The version of events being presented is always that of the Colombian government, who seem determined to internationalize Colombia’s internal conflict with selective leaking of information said to have come from Reyes' laptop.

It is cases like this that mean I find it quite funny when the blogosphere comes under attack from “professional” journalists because of its lack of standards. The benchmark for poor quality and one-sided reporting of the issue was set a few weeks ago in a very extensive report in El País by Maite Rico focused on alleged connections between the FARC and Hugo Chavez. This is one of the articles. I remember thinking when I read the original articles that I was simply being fed the Colombian government version. The articles combined selective quotes said to come from documents on Reyes’ laptop together with anonymous Colombian sources being used to provide the interpretation required to establish the connection to Chavez. Now there is not necessarily anything wrong with using anonymous sources as long as there is a good reason for them being anonymous. In the case of Rico’s articles it seems fairly clear that her sources were from the Colombian security services and the reader is entitled to know that and how it impacts the version of events being presented.

The week after Rico’s reports appeared the section of the paper dedicated to readers complaints was entirely taken up with responses to these articles that criticised the one-sided and poor quality nature of the reporting. In her dismissive reply Rico made the surprising, and absolutely false, claim that Interpol had certified that the computers concerned belonged to Reyes. They did no such thing, and anyone who actually reads the Interpol report will know that this was only a technical report on whether the documentation had been manipulated since the day on which Reyes was killed. Nothing else, in fact the report makes it clear that there was no investigation of any kind carried out concerning either the origin of the laptops or the content of the documentation. So either Rico hasn’t read the Interpol report or she just decided its conclusions needed a bit of embellishment. The idea that Interpol has “authenticated” the laptops and their contents has become quite widespread, when all they have done in reality is state that there is no evidence of the documents having been subsequently altered. Which is not the same as saying it didn’t happen, and is certainly not the same as saying that the documentation is genuine or belonged to Reyes.

Apart from anything else I wouldn’t mind having one of these laptops, they survived a significant military bombardment entirely unscathed; as did the external hard drives also said to have been recovered from the scene. Now if I wanted to be malicious I could suggest that the reason for the timing and bias of the El País reports is because the owners of the paper, Grupo PRISA, are engaged in a bid for a licence to operate a television station in Colombia. However, my anonymous sources tell me that this is just an interesting coincidence.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Widgets Worth Having

Over at they are busy producing widgets which are then made available to anyone that wants them. I've recently added to my sidebar their weather widget which can be configured to show the weather for any number of Spanish cities and towns. Today I have added a new one which provides a calendar, results and news coverage for the European Championship. It's available here. For those who admired their results widget for the general election in March, they also offer the tools used to build that so that anyone can make and publish charts based on their own data.

Sign Of The Times

Once upon a time all you needed to do in a Spanish style tapas bar in the UK was serve up a few peeled prawns in oil, open a bottle of Rioja and put on a Gipsy Kings cd. Before anyone could say "Olé" you had that "true" Spanish atmosphere. Not any more, customers are more demanding these days and won't settle for any old tapas, as demonstrated by this photo I took in the UK last week.