Quotulatiousness

December 14, 2014

Google to Spain: “Buh-bye!”

Filed under: Business, Europe, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Spanish legislation imposing a special tax on Google has resulted in Google erasing Spain from their Google News business plan altogether:

Back in October, we noted that Spain had passed a ridiculously bad Google News tax, in which it required any news aggregator to pay for snippets and actually went so far as to make it an “inalienable right” to be paid for snippets — meaning that no one could choose to let any aggregator post snippets for free. Publishers have to charge any aggregator. This is ridiculous and dangerous on many levels. As we noted, it would be deathly for digital commons projects or any sort of open access project, which thrive on making content reusable and encouraging the widespread sharing of such content.

Apparently, it’s also deathly for Google News in Spain. A few hours ago, Google announced that due to this law, it was shutting down Google News in Spain, and further that it would be removing all Spanish publications from the rest of Google News. In short, Google went for the nuclear option in the face of a ridiculously bad law:

    But sadly, as a result of a new Spanish law, we’ll shortly have to close Google News in Spain. Let me explain why. This new legislation requires every Spanish publication to charge services like Google News for showing even the smallest snippet from their publications, whether they want to or not. As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable. So it’s with real sadness that on 16 December (before the new law comes into effect in January) we’ll remove Spanish publishers from Google News, and close Google News in Spain.

Every time there have been attempts to get Google to cough up some money to publishers in this or that country, people (often in our comments) suggest that Google should just “turn off” Google News in those countries. Google has always resisted such calls. Even in the most extreme circumstances, it’s just done things like removing complaining publications from Google News, or posting the articles without snippets. In both cases, publishers quickly realized how useful Google News was in driving traffic and capitulated. In this case, though, it’s not up to the publishers. It’s entirely up to the law.

October 7, 2014

Spain’s silly (and dangerous) border violation stunts continue in Gibraltar

Filed under: Britain, Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:18

In the Daily Express, Marco Giannangeli lists the latest border and airspace violations in Gibraltar by supposedly “friendly” Spanish agents:

It comes hours after revelations that Spanish fighter jets flew “across the bow” of a Monarch airliner packed with holidaymakers from Manchester as it was landing on the Rock.

That incident prompted Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell to challenge the British Government to finally send Spain’s Ambassador to Britain “packing back to Madrid”.

The latest incursion happened yesterday when a Spanish Government research vessel entered British Gibraltar Territorial Waters off the southern tip of Gibraltar, Europa Point, to “take samples” of the reef at 3pm local time.

It was immediately surrounded by Royal Navy patrol vessels and told to leave British waters.

The demands were ignored by the Spanish vessel, the Angeles Alvarino, which proceeded to drop probes into the water.

It is understood that the boat then performed several reckless manoeuvres and one of the survey probes actually landed on a Royal Navy Rigid-hulled Inflatable Boat, which had been sent out to the vessel.

“Once again we have witnessed an unacceptable act of aggression from Spain,’ said a furious Gibraltar Government spokesman today.

[…]

The incident outraged Government officials and prompted senior Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, chair of the parliamentary overseas territory group, to challenge foreign secretary Philip Hammond to finally expel the Spanish Ambassador.

“It is outrageous that Spain continues to behave in such an irresponsible and bullying fashion,” he said.

“Spain refuses to let British military jets fly over Spanish airspace on the way to Gibraltar even though they are partners in Nato, yet they think it’s fine to illegally enter British airspace and potentially distract an airliner as it is trying to safely land on the Rock.

“It’s time that the British Government sent the Spanish Ambassador packing back to Madrid. We are fed up with the bullying and intimidation from Spain, and it’s time that we showed them that we are no longer prepared to put up with it.”

September 17, 2014

Gibraltar asks for additional Royal Navy support

Filed under: Britain, Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:39

Spanish vessels have been making more frequent and blatant incursions into the waters around Gibraltar recently, and the governor has made it public that he supports the deployment of another, larger RN ship in the area to help deter these jaunts:

Governor Sir James Dutton has publicly voiced strong support for the deployment of a larger British naval vessel to patrol Gibraltar’s territorial waters.

Sir James, a retired Royal Marine with a distinguished military record, said such a move would send “a really valuable message” in the face of persistent incursions by Spanish state vessels.

“I think it should happen, I have always thought it should happen, I’ve always said it should happen,” he said during a wide-ranging interview on GBC’s Talk About Town.

Sir James said deployment of an offshore vessel would strengthen the Royal Navy’s ability to patrol British waters and stay at sea for longer periods of time.

The governor also revealed that “many” officials at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office supported such a deployment, but that other factors had to be considered including parallel demands on the UK’s limited resources.

“I would be lying if I said one is going to arrive next week, but there is a strong push for it and there is a lot of sympathy, there is a lot of support,” he said.

During the interview, Sir James said Spain was unlikely to shift in its 300-year old position on Gibraltar and that it was important to seek ways of managing the situation through diplomacy so that tensions did not escalate. He said Britain now had a “pretty slick” process of responding to Spanish incursions and said that in the more serious cases, people should not underestimate the impact of calling in the Spanish ambassador, as has happened several times over the past year.

July 12, 2014

Canadians fighting in foreign wars – idealists, mercenaries … and jihadis

Filed under: Cancon, History, Military, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

In the Globe and Mail, Jack Granatstein remembers many occasions where individual Canadians have chosen to get involved in other peoples’ wars:

Some historical perspective might suggest that Canadians serving in foreign armies is not new to our times. Many Canadians served in the U.S. Army during the Civil War, fighting for the Union and against slavery. Upward of 50,000 Canadians are estimated to have enlisted in the Union forces, and a few hundred wore Confederate grey. Union recruiters operated openly in the Canadas during the war, and many Canadians went south to join up. Even Calixa Lavallée, the composer of O Canada, served as a Union officer. No one objected strenuously.

A few years later, Bishop Ignace Bourget and the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec raised troops to help defend the Papal States against the forces seeking unification of Italy. More than 500 well-educated francophones enlisted in the Papal Zouaves, ready to sail to Italy to defend the Vatican’s territory. Not all the Zouaves made it to Rome by the time the struggle ended in 1870, but eight died. Once again there were few complaints, although Protestants were surely annoyed at this ultramontane Catholic fervour.

In the 1930s, the Spanish Civil War pitted General Francisco Franco’s Nationalists against the Republican government of Spain. Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy supported the Nationalists. The Soviet Union backed the Republicans; so did at least 1,300 Canadians who volunteered to fight against fascism and went to Spain to serve in what went on to become the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, while another 300 fought in the American Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

The worry about today’s Canadians-fighting-in-foreign-wars revolves primarily around young Muslim men going abroad to fight religious wars. Thus far, few of them have come back to Canada with an obvious intent to bring the war back with them:

None of those war veterans brought jihad home to Canada, a legitimate concern we live with today, although some communists who fought in Spain might have had attitudes inimical to the Canadian capitalist state. Most of the Islamist volunteers, if they survive to return to Canada, will likely settle down to a “normal” life. But so long as ideology, religion, adventurism and a soldier’s pay still matter, Canadians will likely continue going off to fight in other people’s wars.

June 14, 2014

Spain meets Nemesis (wearing Netherlands team jerseys)

Filed under: Americas, Soccer — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:51

I didn’t watch this game, but apparently I missed quite the event. A Dutch friend of mine took to Twitter to express his joy through the course of the game:

February 12, 2014

Spain reconsidering law that makes them venue of choice for international cases

Filed under: China, Europe, Law — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:38

Another day, another non-Spanish leader or ex-leader being charged with crimes against humanity in a Spanish court … but perhaps not for long:

Spain’s MPs voted on Tuesday to push forward with a bill that limits the power of Spanish judges to pursue criminal cases outside the country, a move that human rights organisations said would end Spain’s leading role as an enforcer of international justice.

Last month, the ruling People’s party (PP) tabled a fast-track legal change to curb the use of universal jurisdiction, a provision in international law that allows judges to try cases of human rights abuses committed in other countries. Since being adopted into Spanish law nearly two decades ago, the doctrine has allowed Spanish judges to reach beyond their borders and investigate serious human rights abuses in countries such as Argentina, Rwanda and Guatemala.

Its use put the Spanish justice system into the headlines at times — most famously for the 1998 arrest of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London.

“This reform makes it even harder to probe into severe human rights abuses,” said Ignacio Jovtis, of Amnesty International Spain. “It’s a step backwards for human rights and justice.”

Nearly two dozen international human rights groups have spoken out against the change, calling it political interference in the justice system and urging the government to abandon the reform.

It’s one thing to provide a venue for pursuing violations of civil rights, but it’s quite another to allow your justice system to become an international laughingstock. Spain’s legal system has come dangerously close to the latter with the current law in place. It certainly has created some awkward situations like this:

MPs voted to push ahead with the move a day after a court in Spain ordered Interpol to issue arrest warrants for the former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, as well as four senior Chinese officials, over alleged human rights abuses in Tibet decades ago.

The arrest orders come just as Spain is seeking to lift its sagging economy by deepening trade relations with the Asian superpower.

China issued a sharp rebuke, leaving little question that the issue had strained ties between the two countries. “China is strongly dissatisfied and firmly opposed to the erroneous acts taken by the Spanish agencies in disregard of China’s position,” said a foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, at a daily briefing.

January 11, 2014

Spain downsizes their navy under economic pressure

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 13:11

Spain has decommissioned 18 ships over the past six years, including the aircraft carrier Príncipe de Asturias:

Despite increased budgets and investment in certain weapon developments, the Spanish Ministry of Defence states that their overall budget has depleted by 32% since the start of the financial crisis, with 8.4 billion in the kitty in 2008, dropping to a mere 5.75 billion planned for 2014.

As a result, the Ministry says that it has no choice but to reduce costs, thus resulting in a significant reduction in high profile military elements, like the decommissioning of 18 naval ships in the past 6 years.

One of the most iconic ships to be withdrawn last year was the aircraft carrier Príncipe de Asturias, decommissioned after 25 years of service, considered a somewhat tragic sight when she arrived at the Arsenal Militar de Ferrol for final discharge from service. But as the last Captain of the vessel, Alfredo Rodríguez Fariñas, explained, modernization and maintenance of the ‘Prince of Asturias’ cost the MoD a hundred million per year.

Part of the strategy is the withdrawal of these costly and purpose built ships, in favour of more modern craft that meets the needs to the Navy’s international mission, such as the activities in the Indian Ocean where the frigate Álvaro de Bazán and maritime action ship Tornado are currently patrolling, and the ship Cantabria, currently in the sea off the Australian coast.

Spanish navy's Juan Carlos and Principe de Asturias

Spanish navy's Juan Carlos and Príncipe de Asturias

December 20, 2013

Why we know so little about the Maya

Filed under: Americas, History, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:56

David Friedman is running a seminar called “Legal Systems Very Different from Ours” and one of the students in the seminar chose to do her paper on the Mayan legal system … or at least what we can deduce from the various sources. We don’t have a coherent view on many aspects of the Mayan culture, but he identifies the key sources that can be drawn from:

1. Modern Archeology.

The advantage is that one can dig up ruins, artifacts, other physical remains of a civilization and date them. Physical objects, unlike written texts or oral tradition, can’t lie or be mistaken.

The disadvantage is the problem of interpreting what you find — which may well depend in part on what you expect to find. As Chesterton pointed out, future archaeologists might conclude that the 19th century English believed the dead could smell things, as shown by the evidence of flowers in grave sites.

2: The oral traditions and current practices of the descendants of the Maya civilization.

The advantage of that source of information is that there are lots of people who are bilingual in one of the Maya languages and a modern language, so anthropologists who interview them can avoid the problem of making sense of an ancient language and an extinct system of writing.

The disadvantage is that we do not know how much of what current Maya believe about events in the distant past is true, nor to what degree current institutions preserve the institutions of the distant past.

3. A book written in Spanish by a 16th century Spanish Bishop describing his observations shortly after the conquest.

The advantage is that it is written in a language we can read, using a writing system we can read, based on first hand observation.

The disadvantages are, first, that it is first hand observation by a single observer of a society very different from his own, and second that the observer had serious biases that may well have affected what he observed and recorded. […]

November 2, 2013

Catalonia – the next state in Europe?

Filed under: Europe, Government, History, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:53

Daniel Bogre Udell looks at the state of the independence movement in Catalonia, which has been part of Spain since the War of Spanish Succession in 1714, except for a brief interlude during the Spanish Civil War:

This year, on September 11, hundreds of thousands of Catalans joined hands to form a human chain that extended 460 kilometers across their region, from the French Pyrenean border to Valencia. Complete with matching t-shirts and slogans, this robust act of protest was astonishingly well-organised, which came as no surprise: it was in fact the echo of a mass demonstration that took place one year prior, when a million people took to the streets of Barcelona under the banner: “Catalonia: The Next State in Europe.”

The day after that first demonstration, Catalan President Artur Mas publicly endorsed the protest and called for a referendum on independence. Shortly after, he convoked early elections which produced a sweeping pro-referendum majority in Barcelona.

Overnight, Catalan politics changed. The Independentists were now in control. Unionists softened their rhetoric. Nearly two hundred towns in the Catalan countryside preemptively declared independence [ca]. Parliament passed a declaration of sovereignty.

Instead of taking this clamor seriously and engaging the Catalan public, most in the Spanish government, including Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, positioned themselves firmly as antagonists. They insisted that referendum was illegal, framing Catalan nationalists as enemies of democracy and, in some extreme cases, comparing the sovereignty movement to Nazism.

They have also tried to promote the idea of Catalan nationalist ambitions as parochial and irrelevant. After a meeting with Catalan business leaders in Barcelona this month, Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister claimed not to have noticed any strong markers of regional identity. In a recent English-language interview with The Wall Street Journal, Prime Minister Rajoy described the hypothetical advent of Catalan independence as contrary to the world’s “natural evolution.” When addressing the Spanish public at the UN General Assembly, he went out of his way assure those in the chamber that none of his fellow world leaders had asked him about Catalonia.

Behind closed doors, however, it seems that Spanish officials are more concerned than their dismissive behavior implies: recently, Spain’s UN delegation drafted a report on how best to respond if Catalan leaders take their case to the international community in the wake of a successful referendum on independence. It asserted that Madrid could possibly draft security council allies into blocking Catalonia’s full statehood, but would be relatively powerless to stop the region’s admission as a General Assembly observer.

“Catalonia: The Next Partially-Recognized State” may not be as elegant a turn of phrase as those coined by activists, but it nonetheless haunts politicians in Madrid.

September 13, 2013

The Catalonian separation movement

Filed under: Europe, Government, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:15

If you’re not already enthralled by watching Canada’s separatist movement in Quebec or the Scottish independence campaign, there’s a potentially even more disruptive separation brewing in Spain. Tyler Cowen thinks it’s not getting as much media exposure as it deserves:

Personally, I am still waiting to hear why Catalonian independence would not bring the fiscal death knell of current Spain, and thus also the collapse of current eurozone arrangements and perhaps also a eurozone-wide depression. Otherwise I would gladly entertain Catalonia as an independent nation, or perhaps after the crisis has passed a referendum can be held. When referenda are held during tough times, it is often too easy to get a “no” vote against anything connected with the status quo.

Is the view simply that “now is the time to strike” and “it is worth it”? Obviously, an independence movement will not wish to speak too loudly about transition costs, but I would wish for more transparency. Or is the view that Spain could fiscally survive the shock of losing about twenty percent of its economy, with all the uncertainties and transition costs along the way? That could be argued, but frankly I doubt it, OMT or not, furthermore other regions would claim more autonomy too. An alternative, more moralizing view is that the fiscal problems are “Spain’s fault in the first place” and need not be discussed too much by the pro-independence side, but I am more consequentialist and marginal product-oriented than that.

This piece, in Catalan, does cover the fiscal implications of debt assumption for an independent Catalonia. The site also links to this somewhat spare piece by Gary Becker, but I still want more of a discussion of the issues raised above.

Keep in mind that two clocks are ticking. The first is that education in Catalonia is becoming increasingly “hispanicized,” the second is that as economic conditions in Spain improve, or maybe just become seen as a new normal, getting a pro-secession vote in a referendum may become harder. It doesn’t quite seem like “do or die” right now, but overall time probably is not on the side of Catalonian independence.

For those that assume Catalonia has always been part of Spain, Edward Hugh discusses why September 11 has been an important date in Catalonian history for nearly 300 years:

Catalonia was a party in the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), where the old crowns of Castile and Aragon fought, alongside their European allies, over who should be crowned as king of Spain following the death of Charles II. Catalonia, which favoured archduke Charles as successor, lost a war which ended with Europe recognising Philip V as the new king of Spain. The long war ended with a prolonged siege of Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital, which was systematically bombarded by Spanish troops fighting for the Bourbon candidate, Philip V. After months of resistance Barcelona finally surrendered on September 11 1714. Modern Spain was born, but Catalonia was to pay a heavy price for its support for the Austrian candidate: Catalan language was forbidden and Catalan institutions abolished. Every year, on September 11, Catalans commemorate the day on which Barcelona fell, honouring those killed defending the country’s laws and institutions.

August 31, 2013

The modern monarchy in Spain

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:06

In an older post at the Guardian, Miguel-Anxo Murado looks at the place of the monarchy in Spanish society:

King Juan Carlos of Spain must be one of the most Shakespearian kings, ever. His grandfather was ousted from the throne like Richard II, and like Richard III, his brother was killed (though in Carlos’ case it was a tragic accident). Like Hamlet he had a difficult relationship with his father, and like Macbeth, he arrived at the crown by way of an evil creature (General Franco). It sounds inevitable that, like King Lear, in his old age he would be cursed with troublesome daughters. Now, one of them, Princess Cristina, has been summoned by a judge. She has to answer for allegations that, together with her husband the Duke of Palma, they misappropriated millions of euros in public funds. Some say this scandal, the latest in a long series of royal mishaps, threatens the very institution of monarchy in Spain. But is it so?

The rule of King Juan Carlos of Spain is a very interesting example of how the essence of monarchy is not history, but a story — and how tricky that is. The Spanish monarchy is a literary institution. It was born outside and above the law. Its legitimacy was based on symbols, metaphors and, first and foremost, on storytelling: a mostly imaginary tale of continuity and exceptionality. Modernity changed this a bit, but not by much. Like theatre, monarchy had begun like a religious cult and ended in a popular spectacle. That was all. In stable systems like the UK, this transition from statecraft to stagecraft could be done more or less effectively, but in Spain it was pushing the trick too far.

[…]

Like with all story-telling, there’s some truth in this fiction. Yes, the king did assist the transition to democracy, and he stood against the 1981 military coup. Yet the often overlooked fact here is that he had no alternative if he wanted to reign. It was true that he was not ostentatious, but he wasn’t austere either. It is true that he seems a likeable person, but not exemplary. He was a patron of the WWF, but he also loves hunting elephants. He needed not to be perfect, but now he has to, because that was the nature of the narrative his friends concocted.

August 11, 2013

Debunking the “Cameron’s gunboat diplomacy” meme

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:22

Sir Humphrey points out that the British media’s collective gasp about Royal Navy ships being sent to Gibraltar merely highlights what a slow news month it is:

It’s an amusing irony that the recent row in Gibraltar has suddenly given the Royal Navy more publicity about its forthcoming COUGAR deployment in one evening, than it may have got in several months of deployment. The news that the Response Force Task Group (RFTG) is deploying to the Med has been seen as a clear example of gunboat diplomacy by Fleet Street’s finest, many of whom seem terribly keen on starting a war in order to fill column inches during a slow news month…

Its perhaps worth noting that this deployment is extremely long standing — the sort of planning which goes into deploying a major Task Force will usually commence at around 12 months prior to the event, when the rough outline of a plan is put together on the objectives of the deployment, likely ports, aims and intended outcomes and so on. While maritime power is about flexibility, it’s often forgotten that most RN deployments these days are the end product of months of well co-ordinated planning and staffing to ensure that the UK gets the best possible value from its naval assets.

[…]

What we can perhaps draw from this is that firstly the RN has enjoyed an unexpected boon of coverage, tapping into the nation’s subliminal psyche which holds that sending a grey hull is a key means of solving a crisis, no matter what or where the crisis is. There is perhaps work for some analysts to understand why, almost alone among all major powers, the cries of ‘send a gunboat’ seem to resonate most strongly in the UK (albeit to a lesser extent the same applies with the ‘send a carrier’ debate in the US). While deployments of warships can be seen as a useful indicator of interest in situations, it appears to be held most strongly in the UK — there is, at times, a fervent belief that deploying vessels is akin to the legend of waving the ancient banner three times in order for Arthur and his knights to appear — it makes little practical sense, but is somehow strangely comforting to the people.

August 7, 2013

Gibraltar as this year’s “shark story” filler

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:28

Sir Humphrey thinks there’s rather less than meets the eye in the media’s coverage of the Spanish government’s recent series of escalations over Gibraltar:

Its August, the sun is shining, the politicians are on holiday and the media are desperately searching around for some kind of story to fill the news. Suddenly, the perfect story has emerged — those dreadful Spanish are doing all manner of dubious things to threaten Gibraltar and simultaneously the Falkland Islands. Is there reason for panic, or is it a case of just summer bluster in order to distract attention from other problems? The UK has always had a challenging relationship with the Spanish over Gibraltar — no matter how much the UK wishes to move the relationship forward (and in many areas it remains an extremely strong and positive relationship), this feels as if it is an issue which cannot easily be resolved.

The current situation owes much to the Spanish ratcheting up tensions after claims that Gibraltar was laying concrete blocks into local waters, in turn threatening traditional fishing grounds. It is hard to work out whether this is a genuine grievance, or merely a convenient pretext in order to gain some traction on putting pressure on the territory. Following a previous weekend where long traffic jams occurred with checks on all cars transiting the border, the Spanish are now reportedly considering imposing an entrance / exit tax of 50 Euros on anyone transiting their side of the border. While such taxes may be deeply unpleasant, they are perhaps not necessarily new (many countries impose similar entrance taxes around the world). The question is to what extent would this damage the local economy? It is worth considering that many Gibraltarians work in southern Spain, so any tax would probably make it difficult to get to work and damage the livelihood of many small businesses – perhaps appealing in a nation where youth unemployment is ever higher, but in the interim it could easily cause more long term economic damage to both the Spanish and Gibraltarian economies.

So what is the tie-in to the Falkland Islands? A media report on Spain selling Mirage fighter jets to Argentina:

It is not clear whether this is actually news, or whether it’s the case that the Tabloid press have been looking on Wikipedia and turned what is a one line entry on future Spanish Mirage jet prospects into an article designed to raise tensions. In reality this site has long made the point that the Argentine Armed Forces are in a parlous state, and that they are desperately short of spares, training and operational experience.

They’ve also taken various fleets of aircraft out of service in recent years, so its entirely reasonable to expect some form of replacement at some point. In the case of the Mirage jets, they entered service in 1975 and are extremely old and not necessarily front line fast jet material any longer. Acquisition of a small number of 1970s vintage jets which have been worked hard for nearly 40 years is not really going to change the balance of power in the South Atlantic. Indeed, its worth noting that right now (if you believe Wikipedia) the entire Argentine Mirage fleet is grounded anyway due to spares and safety issues. At best this acquisition may try and restore some limited capability. So, its fair to say that the Falkland Islands are hardly at risk of collapse — if the acquisition of a small number of ancient fighter aircraft materially changes the balance of power, then something has gone very badly wrong in UK defence planning circles.

July 29, 2013

Spanish border guards stage virtual blockade of Gibraltar

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:18

The Spanish claim to Gibraltar is being pursued by other means, it would seem:

Spanish police stopped every one of 10,000 vehicles leaving Gibraltar for the mainland yesterday, causing six-hour traffic jams in the latest escalation in the standoff over the Rock.

Officers from the Royal Gibraltar Police were forced to impose diversions and create beachside holding areas as Spanish authorities ‘choked’ the border, causing massive tailbacks in 30C heat.

It was the second day that border guards had blocked links to the mainland, in a move that seemed calculated to bring Gibraltar to a standstill.

[…]

Most recently Spanish fishermen sparked a stand-off with the Royal Navy as they attempted to disrupt the creation of an artificial reef in the Bay of Gibraltar last week.

The fishermen used fast boats to weave in between British vessels involved in the reef-laying operation in a bid to create large waves to disrupt the work, the Sunday Express reported.

Intervention by a Royal Navy patrol boat brought an end to the protests. A Gibraltar government spokesman has accused Spain of launching the ‘draconian’ border checks which continued yesterday in ‘retaliation’.

He said the decision to lay the reef, which consists of large concrete blocks sunk to the bottom of the bay, had been taken on environmental grounds.

However, he added, it had infuriated Spanish fishermen since it would also foil any attempts by their vessels to carry out illegal trawling of the bottom of the Bay of Gibraltar.

Criticising the Spanish government’s response, the spokesman added to the Sunday Express: ‘Not only are these measures affecting thousands of innocent Spanish workers who make their living on Gibraltar, but we are extremely concerned about pensioners and families with young children being forced to suffer in this way just because they want to visit the mainland.’

July 25, 2013

Spanish passenger train may have been running at 190 km/h in an 80 km/h zone

Filed under: Europe, Railways — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:33

The horrific railway crash near Santiago de Compostela that has taken at least 80 lives may have been caused by excessive speed, which this video certainly seems to confirm:

The BBC reports that the engineer may have admitted travelling at a speed more than twice what that curve was rated for:

At least 130 people were taken to hospital after the crash, and 95 are still being treated, health officials say.

The 32 seriously injured include children.

People from several nationalities are among the wounded, including five Americans and one Briton.

[…]

A spokeswoman for the Galicia Supreme Court said the driver, who was slightly injured in the crash, was under investigation.

Named by Spanish media as Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, he is expected to face questioning by police on Thursday.

It was unclear whether anyone else was subject to investigation.

The train’s carriages have been removed from the track by cranes and sent for analysis.

The president of railway firm Renfe, Julio Gomez Pomar, was quoted by El Mundo newspaper as saying the driver, who was aged 52, had 30 years of experience with the company and had been operating trains on the line for more than a year.

He said the train which derailed had no technical problems.

“The train had passed an inspection that same morning. Those trains are inspected every 7,500km… Its maintenance record was perfect,” he told Spanish radio.

But Mr Garzon, who was trapped in the cab after the accident, is quoted as saying moments after the crash that the train had taken the curve at 190 km/h (118mph) despite a speed limit on that section of 80km/h, unidentified investigation sources have told Spanish media.

Spanish train crash 20130724

Update: The Renfe high speed trains use a safety system known as ASFA (Anuncio de Senales y Frenado Automatico or signal notification and automatic braking). The BBC says railway safety experts are confounded that the engineer was even able to exceed the speed limit in the area of the crash:

Sim Harris from Rail News told the BBC he was baffled as to how this could have happened.

“Modern trains have got so many systems on board to stop ‘over speed’ of this extreme kind,” he said.

“The ability of the driver to break the rules in this way is very limited indeed by the on-board systems of the train.”

The most modern train safety systems use equipment on the track and within the driver’s cab to replace traditional signals and control the speed and movement of the train automatically.

With a system such as the European Train Control System (ETCS), a driver would not be able to break the speed limit.

While parts of Spain’s rail network — including a large section of the route the train had travelled from Madrid — do have the ETCS in operation, the curve where Wednesday’s derailment took place relies on a less sophisticated safety system known as ASFA.

ASFA — Anuncio de Senales y Frenado Automatico or signal notification and automatic braking — relies on a series of beacons to communicate with the driver’s cab — so does not have the constant communication of ETCS.

The system gives audio and visual warnings to the driver if speed limits are surpassed, and will step in and brake the train if there is no response from the cab.

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