mount_oregano: Let me see (euro)
Should Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Germany, or any other country leave the euro? We could debate that for years. In fact, it has been debated for years. But as far as we know at this moment, no country is actually considering it. (Any country considering it wouldn’t tell us, of course.)

Plenty of political and economic considerations keep the Eurozone intact, though it’s wracked with trouble. I want to consider one reason why no one wants to leave: it would cause confusion, disruption, and chaos. Even if every theoretical consideration ran in favor of leaving the euro and if politicians had the courage to act, switching to a different currency would involve “a series of very tricky issues” according to prize-winning advice from Capital Economics (link at the end of this entry).

Here’s the basic problem: If Spain re-issued the peseta, or Greece the drachma, or Portugal the escudo, what would that re-issued currency be worth compared to the euro? (Or the dollar, for that matter?) In a word, less. In three words, a lot less. Probably 30% to 50% less, plus some steep inflation — but this is only a guess. The government could declare a rate, but the market would soon find a different one.

Logically, if I knew that Spain were going to change back to the peseta any time soon, I’d withdraw all the money from my Spanish bank account, currently in euros, so I wouldn’t lose a big chunk of my life savings. That’s why any government that’s going to switch currencies must make its plans in absolute secret — or face a massive run on its banks.

To prevent that, probably on a weekend, the government would suddenly announce the switch to a new currency. The government would also have to place tight limits on the amount of money individuals and businesses could take from their bank accounts, perhaps the equivalent of €500 a week, so there would be no run on the banks. Transfers of funds to other countries would also be limited. Those limits would have to be in place until the new currency reached a stable exchange rate. No one knows how long that would take.

This would be tough on me as a housewife, but what if I were a business? How could I pay my suppliers and employees? Or sell to customers? Especially suppliers and customers outside the country.

Meanwhile, all wages, debts, investment bonds, and contracts would be immediately recalculated by law into the new currency. Some of these recalculations would be tricky. For example, Spain buys a lot of natural gas from Algeria. What currency would Algerian gas companies accept?

Government debt would need to be renegotiated; expect some lawsuits over perceived defaults. Additionally, a series of economic reforms and new labor market rules would be needed to keep inflation under control. All this would work only with close cooperation from other European Union members, who might not be eager to cooperate.

So far, so bad. But on Sunday morning after Saturday night’s surprise announcement, I might need to go out and buy a loaf of bread. How? Some analysts have suggested electronic currency, and this might work, but not for small transactions. Perhaps I could still use euro coins and bills for a while, maybe using bills with a sort of special stamp or mark so they couldn’t be spent in another country that still uses the euro. Or maybe we could use script. Or barter.

I would try to hoard my unmarked euro bills to use in another country. I don’t have a lot, but people running under-the-table operations, from tax evaders to drug dealers, always keep lots of cash on hand. They would be less hurt by the currency change than the average retiree. Crime sometimes pays. Anyone tipped off, of course, would have already withdrawn their funds from the banks. If the Argentinian experience is of use, watch out for truckloads of cash leaving the country.

The new currency would have to be printed as fast as humanly possible. But I remember that it took years to introduce the euro. Every coin-operated machine had to be updated. Cash registers had to be recalibrated. We all had to relearn how to count change, which some elderly people never managed to do. And despite all the preparation, we didn’t have enough euro-coins for a long time, so checkout clerks were exceedingly grateful for exact change.

As I studied the analyses of leaving the euro, I saw the word “chaos” repeatedly. That chaos would probably last at least a year, maybe two — but again, this is a guess. Eventually, however, the country that left the euro would shake off the problems that the euro caused, create order out of chaos, and enjoy a stronger and more competitive economic footing, although individuals and businesses would have suffered enormously.

I sincerely think Spain would be better off if it left the euro, but if I were prime minister, I’m not sure I would dare to go through with it. Confusion, disruption, suffering, and chaos: that’s not what politicians normally want to initiate.


For more detailed considerations, consult Leaving the euro: A practical guide by Roger Bootle and his collegues at London’s Capital Economics. The 189-page paper that won the 2012 Wolfson Economics Prize.

Gonzalo Lira offers his own practical guide with a hard look at what happened in Argentina.

A D&B special report details the risks for businesses.

Speigel International warns of a devastating impact if southern nations left the euro.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Picasso)
The United States is debating guns and gun control. There’s no debate in Spain – and no right to bear arms. It has the toughest gun laws in Europe. The Constitution of Spain gives the State “exclusive authority” over “regulations for production, commerce, ownership or use of weapons and explosives.” (Article 149.1.29)

You can, of course, get guns: 3,516,681 weapons are in the hands of private owners, and another 320,903 belong to the police, Guardia Civil (Civil Guard, sort of a national police force), or military. Private owners possess 2,793,614 shotguns and 299,226 rifles – hunting is popular in Spain – and 191,636 revolvers or pistols, 189,785 carbines, and 42,420 other weapons. Machine guns and submachine guns are banned from private ownership. (2011 figures)

This works out to 10.4 firearms per 100 people. Spain ranks 18th in the world ranking of privately owned guns by country, and 61st in the rate of private gun ownership per population, according to

To get a gun, you have to apply to the Guardia Civil (this is their symbol) for a license, as explained here.

You must prove that you are mentally and physically able to use weapons properly without causing danger, injury, damage, or difficulties to other people or yourself. You must know how to store, maintain, and use arms. You must store the weapon properly: in a 300-kilo safe anchored to the wall or floor. The number of arms you may possess at any one time is limited: only six shotguns and one handgun, for example.

After you buy your weapon, it will be delivered to the nearest Guardia Civil office, where you will pick it up. For long weapons, your licence will be reviewed every five years, and every three years for short weapons. The Guardia Civil will check to see that the weapon has not been altered and is stored properly. You can lose your gun license for any criminal conviction, including speeding and drunkenness.

When you buy bullets, you must present your ID and gun license, and your purchase will be reported to the Guardia Civil. You may buy no more than 100 bullets per year for short weapons and stockpile no more than 150 bullets at any time. You may buy 1000 bullets or cartridges per year for long weapons and stockpile no more than 200 at any time.

You can get a license to possess a weapon for self-defense, but you have to convince the Guardia Civil that you really need it. The Guardia Civil says only several hundred such licenses have been issued in Madrid. I have heard that most jewelry stores are armed, which would account for a lot of those licenses.

The rate of gun death in Spain is much lower than in the United States. Again, according to

• Spain had 90 gun homicides in 2009, compared to 9,146 in the US. The rate of gun homicides was 0.2 per 100,000 people, compared to 2.98 in the US.
• Spain had 399 homicides by any method in 2009, compared to 15,241 in the US. The rate in Spain per 100,000 people was 0.9, compared to 4.96 in the US.
• Spain had 170 gun suicides in 2005, compared to 17,002 in the US. The rate of gun suicide per 100,000 people was 0.39 in Spain, 5.75 in the US. The rate of suicide by any method was 7.94 in Spain (1998) and 10.17 in the US (2001).
• Spain had 3 handgun homicides in 2008.

Of course, illegal weapons exist, more than a million according to some estimates. Organized crime groups, largely international, regularly kill rivals to settle scores, according to news reports. Despite that, the overall homicide rate remains low. Spaniards don’t seem to want to kill each other by any means for any reason.

Spain maintains a low homicide rate in spite of being exposed to the same violent movies and video games that you can get in the US. They’re popular, in fact. School bullying is endemic. “Mobbing” is group bullying in workplaces; it happens often enough to have a name. Violence at soccer games surprises no one. A recent report on domestic violence was titled My husband hits me the usual amount. Spaniards hardly behave like angels. But they don’t kill each other regularly.

Improved mental health is being proposed in the US as a way to prevent shootings, especially mass shootings. Spain’s socialized health care in theory covers mental health care, but in practice it has only one-third the mental health specialists as other European countries. The government will not release data (the party currently in power opposes socialized medicine and does not want in-depth analysis of socialized versus private care), but mental health care workers say the care is inadequate.

In practice, the care for people with mental illnesses in Spain falls on the family. The mother of shooter at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut, was trying to care for her son as best she could. But no Spanish mother would have had that much firepower or could have taught her son how to use it.

Some people have said a return to religious values will help prevent gun violence. In a Gallup Poll, 49.5% of Spaniards said religion was important in their daily life, while 65% of US citizens said it was. You can compare charts on the importance of religion with rates of gun-related violence and see that there’s no obvious relationship.

Gun supporters in the US often say they need their guns to protect themselves from the government in case it turns authoritarian. Spain’s gun controls did begin during the Franco dictatorship, but they continued because ETA terrorists were systematically killing government officials and civilians, even children. ETA used guns and bombs, assassinating up to 93 people in 1980, and 829 people in all, so stopping them became paramount. ETA killed no one last year; relentless police work has undermined the organization.

Meanwhile, Spaniards became used to living at peace with each other, and despite tempestuous politics and economic disaster, no one is calling for less arms regulation. They remember their recent past too well.

Spain can offer an important lesson about what happens in a civil war. Spain’s began in 1936 with a pro-Fascist military coup. Fascism enjoyed significant popular support, as did democracy: that’s why there was a war.

Some gun owners in the US might rise up against an oppressive government, whether left- or right-wing, but other gun owners will support the government. History predicts that neighbors will start shooting each other.

More than 100,000 people still lie in unmarked mass graves in Spain as a result of the Civil War and its aftermath.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Obama)

Time zones yawn wide. Florida is six hours behind Madrid, so the election night party in Madrid started when the party in Florida would have ended if Florida knew how to count votes — that is, a little before midnight on November 6, 2012.

Four years ago, Democrats Abroad Madrid, the local chapter of the overseas branch of the Democratic Party, had organized an election night party at the Circulo de Bellas Artes, a big, venerable cultural center. This year we went for Sala Galileo Galilei, an old theater recreated as a popular live music venue.

The 2008 election had generated extraordinary enthusiasm. In Spain, the vote had been simplified to one question: Would the United States, with its racist past, elect a black man as president? Americans and Spaniards wanted to witness history, so although we had hoped for 2,000 people at the party, more than twice that number wanted to attend. And the night had been magic.

Now, the stakes seemed less historic, although American passions ran high among both long-term residents and students who had come to study abroad. Economic troubles in Spain and the US meant that Spaniards were following the election with a more personal interest this time, since a strong US economy could help pull Spain from its recession. Romney tended to remind them of Merkel.

This year, we chose a more modest site for the party, which turned out to be ideal for a party of 500. At 11:30 p.m. a volunteer crew arrived for tasks like decorating and setting up food sales. I was helping with the media. We expected about 40 journalists, and some were already waiting for me, looking for people to interview and hoping they could circulate freely through the crowd. “Of course,” I said. “Make yourself at home and talk to anyone you want.” They did, to the entertainment of party-goers.

Journalists found plenty of local color in the people wearing campaign tee-shirts and hats. One man even wore an Obama campaign tie. A volunteer painted faces. I led a cameraman to one woman who had come with tiny flags painted on her nails, and she was happy to display them. Best of all, we had life-sized cardboard cutout of President Obama so we could pose for photos with it. One television reporter did her standup with her arm around its shoulders.

Mostly, we waited. And waited, watching CNN projected on a screen on the stage. At 1:10 a.m., Florida was reported to be leaning Obama, and we screamed even though the vote tallies were coming in slowly. An hour later, I was getting the Obama sunrise logo painted on my cheek, but we paused when singer Liza Tredway took the stage to lead us in the national anthem.

Then it was back to waiting, watching CNN’s dogged reporting, cheering or booing results and projections until we were hoarse, checking the Internet for news, sharing gossip and nervousness, buying a snack and a drink, and waiting...

At 4 a.m., the news looked very good, but too many states — especially Florida, whose count in key areas was far from certain — were still too close to call. At 5:15, we knew the final outcome was near. The cardboard Obama moved across the room to witness the results more closely.

Then, at 5:20, CNN called the election. We cheered, we hugged, we kissed. Cardboard Obama went bodysurfing through the crowd.

Only one thing remained: the victory speech. The crowd thinned. Someone had apparently kidnaped Cardboard Obama because it couldn't be found. But we kept waiting to see the final act of this long night.

It didn’t come. Romney wouldn’t concede, even though Fox News had declared Obama the winner. Finally, the hall had to close. A friend and I shared a cab home in the cold, dark morning, and when I got to bed at 6:40, Romney still hadn’t conceded.

This had been a heated election, but Obama wasn’t as historic as he had been in 2008. Instead, he was a sitting president with a record of successes and disappointments seeking re-election. The magic had dissipated, but another process had begun that would be analyzed and overanalyzed for days and weeks to come. His victory would change America. I knew I could see his speech on the Internet when I woke up. And maybe Florida’s votes would have been counted, too. (No, they weren’t.)

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Obama)

If, like me, you’re a US citizen living overseas (or you know someone who is), you can vote in the upcoming presidential election, but you must register and request your ballot. The easiest way to do that is to go here:

A simple questionnaire will gather the necessary information about you and generate the form to send to your voter registrar in the US, along with the address for your registrar. No personal information will be recorded about you.

The deadline for registration for some states is as early as October 6, so act now. Even if you were signed up in previous elections, you must register and request your ballot every year.

This site is organized through Democrats Abroad, and it is by law non-partisan. If you have any questions about voting and your overseas ballot, just ask. I’m a member of Democrats Abroad, and we have voting experts who are waiting to help.

We want every citizen to vote.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (ImFeelingBlue)

My university major was political science, so of course I had to read Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes. In this book, written in 1651, Hobbes attempted to formulate a theory of a nation-state, and he did so wracked, as he admits, by fear. In 1640, in fear of his life, he had fled his home in Great Britain to Paris and then Holland during the English Civil War.

His book angered many people for its ideas about how states are formed by social contracts and about how states can only rule if they hold sufficient power by consent of the governed — among other radical ideas for his time and ours. Leviathan is still admired as one of the most well-reasoned philosophic inquiries into politics.

You can hear a discussion about it at A Partially Examined Life: a philosophy broadcast and blog:

Chapter 13 (read it here) has earned the most fame, and I think it has some bearing on the situation in the United States and the use of firearms:

Hobbes begins the chapter by pointing out that all people are equal because they can all kill each other — and while he envisioned that someone physically weak might need to do it “by secret machination or by confederacy of others,” now firearms make each of us indisputably able anyone to kill at will.

He then says that since, inevitably, we will all sooner or later want something that someone else has or disagree with each other, we will be distrustful of each other because none of us can be safe from anyone else unless there is a powerful institution larger than ourselves, a common power which we all fear that can enforce peace. Without it, we cannot trust each other.

Without it, we will inevitably fight: to take each others’ possessions, to defend our possessions, or over differing opinions, such as religion or politics. So, without that common power forcing us to behave peacefully, we are in a constant state of war with one another. In a total war of all against all, we can have no industry since we cannot be sure we can reap its profits, no business because we cannot trust each other, no arts, no society, but only “continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

And yet, he said, people want peace so they can have comfortable lives and the industry and business to create comfort. From this desire, people can be drawn into agreement to create a social contract for a peaceful civil society.

So much for Hobbes. And where is the US in this theory of government? Behind right-to-carry and “stand your ground” laws and increased arms sales, I see the perception that there is, here and now, a war of all against all — perhaps low-level, but very real. There is a perceived need to have a gun to be safe, even in a restaurant or movie theater, and certainly at home against intruders. The government is not perceived to be sufficiently powerful or competent to keep us safe, which Hobbes would consider a failed government.

Fear, and danger of violent death as a constant. No trust. And lives made smaller and poorer. Fights among citizens keep growing more vicious not just over possessions, but over opinions.

And yet, the vast majority of gunholders want peace and see no other way to secure it than by increasing their ability to kill at will, but I think this is a social contract in favor of greater war, not in favor of peace.

If Hobbes is right, this war does not need to continue. To stop it would take a willingness to create a social contract that involves everyone agreeing to give up some freedom to own and use lethal power at will — perhaps limiting the firepower of guns, perhaps requiring specific safety training for all gun owners, perhaps limiting the types of permissible munition, perhaps requiring insurance for gun owners the same way that cars must be insured. There are many other ideas that might begin to ratchet down the level of warfare.

These can be a hard concessions to make, which is one reason why Leviathan is a long book: what to give up, when, how, and the “unalienable rights” (in Hobbes’ words; the Founding Fathers had read him carefully) that cannot be agreed away.

Are we Americans willing to begin that long, hard process of negotiation to move away from a state of war and toward peace?

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (statue)

If you haven’t read Adam Smith, you probably think he supports free-for-all capitalism and is thoroughly pro-business; governments should be small and do little.

If you have read his most important book, The Wealth of Nations, you know that isn’t true. He considered the people who run businesses often to be fools and cheats, and believed that government ought to do many specific things, such as provide public welfare for the unemployed and run certain public projects rather than privatize them, because privatization would lead to cheating and ruination.

I took this photo of my husband at Smith's burial place in Canongate Kirkyard in Edinburgh, Scotland. Note the coins left in tribute on the headstone — small copper coins from all over the world. Smith’s fans are, appropriately, thrifty.

In honor of the anniversary of his death, here are some excerpts from The Wealth of Nations that may be good advice for our times:

“Our merchants and master-manufacturers complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price, and thereby lessening the sale of their goods both at home and abroad. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”
Book I, Chapter IX

“The interest of the dealers, however, in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers.... The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.”
Book I, Chapter XI, Part III, Conclusion of the Chapter

“All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.”
Book III, Chapter IV

“Though the principles of the banking trade may appear somewhat abstruse, the practice is capable of being reduced to strict rules. To depart upon any occasion from these rules, in consequence of some flattering speculation of extraordinary gain, is almost always extremely dangerous, and frequently fatal to the banking company which attempts it.”
Book V, Chapter I, Part III

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Madrid)

The movement goes by many names, especially 15M, because it began on May 15, 2011. A protest in Madrid last year turned into a camp, an occupation in the city's central plaza, Sol. The protesters are sometimes called the Indignados, indignant at the way the market economy is going. "We're not against the system, the system is against us," is one of their slogans.

The camp was broken up in summer and some thought — or hoped — the movement had waned. But on the one-year anniversary, the streets and plazas of Madrid were full of life again.

The protest converged on Sol from four directions. The South March came with music.

It filled Atocha Street.

This sign says: "The next time I'm voting for Ali Baba. That way only 40 thieves will rob me. It's been a year since the SUN same out." (Sol = Sun)

At Sol. The protest is reflected in the entrance to the subway.

A report and video at CNN:

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (NightFallsOnEurope)

Hundreds of thousands of protesters in Madrid filled the streets as part of today's global protest. Madrid's 15-M Indignados movement, the Spanish version of Occupy Wall Street, has been active since May 15. It's had protests like this before, and no doubt it will again.

As one protester said, "Those in power want us to be sad, alone, and isolated, but we're happy, together, and connected."

Six columns of protesters converged from around the Madrid area at Cibeles Plaza. The southwest column arrived dancing to a rhythm section again — this time dressed as pirates.

A statue near the Prado Museum joined in: "Arab spring, European summer, American autumn, Asian winter!"

From Cibeles, the protest headed toward the heart of downtown Madrid, Puerta del Sol. It would hold an assembly, and then break into groups to decide the next steps.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (euro)

The movement goes by many names: Spanish Revolution, Real Democracy Now, 15-M (May 15, for the day of the first protest), or Los Indignados (Indignants).

Today, it organized a march in Madrid — and marches around Spain and the world — against the political response to the euro crisis.

The march came from all parts of Madrid Province. Four groups converged at Atocha, near my home, two others came from the north, and they all met at Neptune Fountain. Here's some photos from Atocha.

This group represents a few small towns in the Tajuña River valley southeast of Madrid.

Iceland refused to bail out foreign investors. The sign says, "Iceland, the way."

The group from the west and south arrived dancing to a battalion of drummers.

Politicians and the media have leaped at the chance to call the movement violent, extremist, the action of only of a handful of disaffected anti-establishment youths, and a danger to democracy. But the movement wants the system to work the way it's supposed to, for the benefit of the citizens, not the way it does now.

The banks have their finger on a red button, and if they push it, they will blow up the financial system. They have built an nuclear bomb out of money, so they can ask for anything.

The protest will continue.

I don't know yet how many people came to the protest in Madrid. Police expected 50,000. You can see a quick video of the crowd around Neptune Fountain here:

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (statue)

Chernobyl's nuclear disaster took place on April 26, 1986 — almost 25 years ago — so you might be interested in this photo. I took it on April 17, 2006, at the Chernobyl Visitor's Center, which is located a few hundred yards from the nuclear power plant. I visited Chernobyl as a side trip to the Eurocon science fiction convention, which was held in Kiev, Ukraine, in 2006.

The Visitor Center had this cut-away diorama of the reactor hall to help explain the state of the nuclear power plant. The dark cylinder is the concrete shield around the reactor core. Chernobyl did not have a thick steel reactor vessel inside the shield around the core itself that Fukushima and Three Mile Island had to keep the fuel inside in the event of a problem.

The disk-shaped thing on top with a fuzz of rods is the lid of the reactor shield. It was blown open when the reactor exploded due to sudden buildup of steam pressure, and it now rests askew over the reactor core. Notice the little worker figurines standing on it, which will give you an idea of the size.

Now notice the little worker inside the reactor core. Especially, notice that the reactor core is empty. The uranium and plutonium fuel — 180 tonnes of it — melted and mixed with sand, concrete, zirconium, and other materials. The lava flowed out through the bottom, which had been broken and blown 4 meters down by the blast. That orange stuff next to the core is the lava that flowed through hallways and elevator shafts and into rooms in the basements. A Complex Expedition Team spent years carefully looking for the fuel lava, but 40% of the building has not yet been examined due to high radioactivity and excessive damage. This lack of information about exactly what's down there is one of the most serious present-day risks.

The pink flags mark significant details. Notice the rubble in the reactor hall and the obvious damage. It's all highly radioactive. The "Sarcophagus" — also called the Shelter — was built around the nuclear power plant. The shelter is a massive concrete and steel structure designed to keep the building from falling down and to keep rain and snow from getting into the reactor hall and basements. It's not a tight building; the fuel is still reacting and gives off heat that needs to be vented. Workers also need to enter to inspect the remains of the plant regularly.

Right now, work is underway to build an even bigger Shelter around Chernobyl, because the Sarcophagus isn't entirely sturdy, and the lava is turning into dust and needs better controls, but an international conference to fund the new radiation shield and other safety measures fell short of its fund-raising goal this week. Here's some news stories:

You can learn more about plant and its history at the Chernobyl website, which displays real-time radiation levels.

What did I learn on my trip? Despite ongoing and responsible efforts by the Ukranian government, the power plant is still a disaster. Chernobyl is not a wasteland — in fact, the Exclusion Zone around the plant is rather lush, which is a problem in itself. But the best that can be done is to keep the situation under control. It cannot be made safe, and Chernobyl requires constant monitoring and maintenance now and for hundreds of years to come.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Madrid)

This post is part of Blog Action Day, an annual event held every October 15 that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking a global discussion and driving collective action. This year's topic is water.

According to an old saying, Madrid, Spain, was "founded over water," and Madrid's name comes from its water: the matrice or "mother" arroyos and springs flowing with water that made it an attractive place for the Moors to erect a fortress in 852 A.D. Soon a village grew up around it and became renowned for the quality of its farm fields and gardens.

Madrid's patron saint, San Isidro (c.1080-1172), was a farm worker famous for the gift of detecting springs and ideal places for wells. Islamic civil engineers also created a system of underground galleries and pipes called viages de agua or "water voyages" that channeled water from springs and wells northwest of the village to serve its residents.

Christians conquered Madrid in 1085, and in 1202 it was granted its first municipal charter. The city of 10,000 people grew slowly until 1561, when King Felipe II named it the capital of Spain because of its central location. Four decades later, the population was 85,000. Though the viajes were continuously enlarged and extended, drinking water remained a problem, especially during droughts, which were frequent.

Water brought in by the viajes filled public fountains where the population got its water, bucket by bucket: 43 fountains in 1727. Households also bought water from aguadores or "water sellers" who transported water in jugs on their back, in handcarts, or by mule or horse.

Other aguadores carried a jug and cup and roamed the city on foot, shouting "Fresh water!" The painter Velázquez depicted one in his 1618 painting "El Aguador de Sevilla."

The city continued to grow, as did the need for water, and by the early 1600s, the shortage of potable water had already become apparent. Continued expansions of the viajes did not keep up with the need. In addition, people were demanding more and more water to satisfy changes in public and private ideas of hygiene. By 1850, about 50 viajes provided 10 liters of potable per day for a population that had grown to 200,000, and it was not enough.

In 1851, Prime Minister Juan Bravo Murillo wrote, "Madrid's existence is threatened by the shortage of water, and the government cannot remain any longer as a mere spectator to the current suffering of its inhabitants or await with indifference the calamities that threaten a large, fast-growing population."

Later that year, Queen Isabel II ordered the creation of the Canal de Isabel II, a public works project to create reservoirs in the Lozoya River far northwest of Madrid and to bring that water to the city. It was a big project that first needed the infrastructure to carry it out. One small detail involved setting up dovecots along the route for a rapid communication system: carrier pigeons.

By 1858, the first public fountain was opened with great fanfare. Over time, the Canal, which is now the public water utility, has expanded. Now, it serves 6 million people with 14 reservoirs, 81 wells, 22 large water tanks and 240 small tanks, 12 treatment plants, and 150 sewerage treatment plants.

In some ways, though, nothing has changed. The water flows to the city, one way or another, from the mountains and their aquifer north and west of the city, which get far more rain and snow than the plains. The climate is Mediterranean, which means that in the summer there can be little rain, and it's semi-arid, so there's never enough rain. Sometimes there are droughts. The reservoirs help maintain a regular supply, but they rarely get full even in the wettest years.

During a recent severe drought, the city and its residents had to cut back on water use 10 percent, and the scare was bad enough to change habits for good. But climate change models predict eventually more heat and less rain for Madrid, and the city keeps growing. Will there be enough water in the future? I won't live long enough to find out. If not, it will be the return of an old problem, and it may require totally new solutions.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Weather vane)

A photo of me outside the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin, formerly the Great Mosque of Córdoba, Spain. This doorway dates back to 987 A.D.

The extensive, beautiful arcades inside include a few columns from the Roman temple originally located on the site. It later held a Visigoth church before becoming a mosque, and finally, on orders of Emperor Carlos V, a cathedral. The Renaissance cathedral was sort of dropped into the middle of the mosque and looks seriously out of place.

The building is in the news:

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Obama)

These salt and paper shakers are gift from a Spanish friend who knows how much I supported Barack Obama and Joe Biden — and to her, they represent the executive duo. What better way to celebrate the first anniversary of their November 4 victory?

Well, I truly appreciate the generosity, but I think they're ghosts. What better way to celebrate Halloween?

You decide.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Picasso)

The safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million. More than that and we get climate change: Right now, we're at 390 parts per million. It's time not just to stop, but to go backwards.

On October 24, more than 5200 events in 181 countries marked that goal as part of the 350 Day of Action. Here in Madrid, three organizations — Emisióncero (Zero Emissions), The Climate Project Spain, and Democrats Abroad Spain — jointly organized a Carrera ContraCO2rriente/March Backwards in downtown Madrid.

Participants marched backwards 350 meters down Fuencarral Street, a pedestrian area and an example of sustainable city living. Children happily led the way.

Adults followed more slowly.

"¡Tres ciencuenta es la meta!"

The backwards march entertained Saturday shoppers and tourists, and attracted media attention.

At the end, marchers gathered beneath the centuries-old olive tree at the Mercado de Fuencarral, and everyone received a olive sapling.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Obama)

Today's New York Times Weekend Opinionator has gathered plenty of foolish opinions from around the web about "An Olympian Defeat for Obama."

Yesterday, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2016 Summer Games to Río de Janeiro, turning down bids from Chicago, Madrid, and Tokyo. I write this rant from Madrid, where the outlook on the vote is quite different from these Obama-obsessed and US-centered commentaries.

The NY Times blog asks: "Did the president err in backing Chicago’s bid? And does the decision mean that the world still dislikes America?" No and no, I reply. Does it mark "the end of the so-called Obama Effect?" Again, no.

First, why did Obama go? "He has to come," said Edwardo Paes, Mayor of Río de Janeiro, on Tuesday. "He can't do anything else. The King (of Spain) is coming, Lula (da Silva, the president of Brazil) is coming, the prime minister of Japan is coming.... How can't he come? But he's different from them, he's someone we all respect because he can make needed changes in American politics. It's a very friendly gesture to come to an event like this.... It's an attitude of multi-lateralism."

But, Paes points out, Lula had been working on the bid for a long time. Obama flew in and out in four hours, and "wasted" a half-hour of that time talking to General McChrystal on Air Force One about Afghanistan.

It would have seemed weird to the rest of the world if Obama hadn't come. But to make a difference, he needed to have come early in the week and devoted himself to the bid, like Lula. And Obama has too much to do making changes in America for that, understandably.

Second, does the vote mean the world still dislikes America? No. Chicago offered a good but imperfect bid. The International Olympic Committee had concerns about public support for the Games, which was weak compared to Río and Madrid, and about funding. Problems with Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1966 and in Salt Lake City in 2002 didn't make the Committee feel better about the bid.

In the first round, Chicago got 18 votes, Tokyo 22, Río 26, and Madrid 28 — not exactly a clear example of anti-Americanism. It's true, absolutely true, that there's a lot of politics in the Olympics, but it's complex, multilateral politics, and while there's no doubt a bit of anti-Americanism, there's also antipathy and attraction toward many countries, regions, and individuals at play for all sorts of reasons beyond "politics" in the sense of national political policies. In the next voting rounds, all the votes from the cities that were eliminated went to Río. In the final analysis, all I can identify is pro-Ríoism. Or, rather, pro-Lulaism.

Finally, the Obama Effect: Obama created amazing excitement in Copenhagen. They even let him violate protocol so that members of the Committee could shake his hand, and a lot wanted to. He still has an effect.

But he's not the only guy with charisma. Don Juan Carlos I, King of Spain, spoke not only as a head of state but as an Olympic athlete (Munich, 1972, sailing) in three languages (beat that, Barack), telling how his grandchildren had volunteered to work in the Madrid Olympics. Spaniard Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee from 1980 to 2001, now 89 years old, said his dying wish was to see Madrid get the Olympics.

None of that could beat Lula da Silva, statesman of South America. Obama didn't lose. Lula won big. Speaking on behalf of the continent, which has never hosted the Games, he told the Committee with simple but compelling accuracy: "Our time has come." Lucky for South America, he's a pragmatic and intelligent man, because he more than anyone else may determine its future.

"Río loves you" is the slogan for its bid. But more than that, the International Olympic Committee, like many other people, loves Lula — more than the Opinionators seem to realize, and for reasons they may have noticed.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Seedlings1)

Like President Obama, I've spoken to students, too, though many fewer of them. Specifically, I spoke to a third-grade class in New Berlin, Wisconsin, when I was the editor of the local newspaper. One of the teachers invited local "celebrities" to come to the class to read a book out loud and talk to the students about the book, their work, and answer questions.

The book she had me read (I picked it up ahead of time and practiced) was a humorous fantasy about not wanting to get up in the morning. I met the class in the school library, sat in a comfy rocking chair, and read the book as dramatically as I could. The students laughed at the appropriate places.

When I was done, I explained how the book "worked": it took a simple idea and made it bigger and bigger until it became silly and funny. The students seemed enlightened.

Then they asked me about writing and about newspapers, and in particular, about the big news at the time, the first Iraq War, which had just started that week. Some of their questions had a political edge — not intentionally on their part; they were just repeating things that they'd heard. I answered calmly, factually, and without partisanship, as a responsible adult ought to in that kind of situation.

And this, I think, may be the problem that some people have with the President talking to students. They do not know how to be calm, factual, and non-partisan even when the circumstances require it. They don't know how to be responsible adults, so they can't imagine that anyone else can be one.

By the way, as far as I knew, no students needed permission to hear my talk, and no parents objected, even the ones who weren't subscribers.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Default)
From NPR:

"Spain's single-payer health care system is ranked seventh best in the world by the World Health Organization. The system offers universal coverage as a constitutionally-guaranteed right and no out-of-pocket expenses — aside from prescription drugs. Patients do complain, however, about the long wait to see specialists and undergo certain procedures."

mount_oregano: Let me see (MeAtWork)
As you know, you can't get swine flu from eating pork. You get it from human beings.

In spite of that, China, Russia, and Ukraine are banning imported pork from Mexico and certain US states. Which proves that some human beings are smarter than others.

Meanwhile: "The European Commission confirmed Wednesday it would call the deadly swine flu the novel flu to minimise damage to the farm industry, despite some concern that this could just add to the confusion over the virus."

(But will the publishing industry now fear that people will think they can get it from reading novels?)

Back in the US, "Homeland Security officials today announced that the virus name would be changed to the Influenza A (H1N1) virus."

As you will note in these articles, though, some public health and government agencies still want to call it swine flu on the theory that you do too, and they don't want to confuse you about exactly what is endangering all humanity.

Finally, in this news from Israel, "Deputy health minister Yakov Litzman, a member of United Torah Judaism, said earlier this week that the name swine flu should not be used as it contains the name of the unkosher animal." He suggested Mexican flu. Mexican diplomats convinced him to drop that idea.

By the way, Spain are still upset about the 1918 so-called Spanish flu, since Spain was not the origin of that horrible pandemic, but it's too late to change the name now.

mount_oregano: Let me see (Picasso)

They say it's an honor, but you decide.

In Spain, Nativity scenes are the indispensable holiday household decoration, and in Catalonia, northeastern Spain, Nativity scenes traditionally include a figurine of a peasant farmer personally fertilizing his field as a symbol of a productive coming year. But Catalans have an acid sense of humor, and soon the figurines began to include politicians, public figures, and anyone else that they wanted to "honor" by making them a caganer. (Caganer is related to the English word caca.)

This year, President Elect Barack Obama has been added to the long list of notables available for you as you deck your halls. Other caganers include King Juan Carlos I, the Pope, Hugo Chavez, Pau Gasol, and Don Quixote.

You can order your Obama caganer, with an attractive turd included, for only 14 euros from (shipping extra). Be sure to watch the YouTube videos at the site, especially this one which shows how the Obama figurine is lovingly crafted:

Merry Christmas.
mount_oregano: Let me see (Seedlings1)

Encouraged by the success of Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriages in California, the head of Spain's conference of bishops wants a similar measure on the ballot here. Spain approved marriage between two people of the same sex three years ago.

Madrid's Archbishop Antonio María Rouco Varela spoke Thursday on COPE radio network, which is owned by the archbishops and which features commentators similar to Rush Limbaugh. "This form of approaching the idea of marriage, in which sexual differences play no role, goes against civilization," Rouco said. "Not just Catholic civilization, but against all civilizations."

Spain's National Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Transsexuals and Bisexuals responded by pointing to opinion polls show that most Spaniards support gay marriage but not the Catholic Church's privileged financial and legal status. If there were a referendum on marriage, the federation said, there should also be one asking about the relationship between the Church and the state.

Spain's extremely conservative Catholic hierarchy has always been active in politics, and in the last few years has been organizing "pro-family" and "pro-life" movements based on US models. Consultants from the US have provided help.

I am dismayed to see the worst of American politics — the divisiveness and venom that has done so much harm back home — taking root here, with all its absurd, false claims and fear-mongering.

September 2017

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