Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Let's see. There's actually a lot of interesting news. Prime Minister Aznar has visited Galicia, where the oil spill took place. He was roundly heaped with abuse, but he took all the blame for anything that went wrong. This makes sense because he's not running in 2004, so his strategy should be to assume responsibility whenever possible in order to deflect it from his subordinates, who are going to have to start campaigning pretty soon. Hell, Zapatero--here's a guy who goes by his second last name--is campaigning like mad already for the Socialists.

President Bush took our advice and said some nice things about the Spanish navy; he referred to their bravery, skill, and professionalism. He thanked Spain for its "decisive action" that was "important and effective", and he pointed out that Spain's participation in the international naval force is "important for the stability of the region". Bush praised Spain, which is basking with pride; even the anti-war folks are proud because nobody got killed and the Spanish navy looked good. Now, this is the first time the Spanish navy has looked good since early 1588, but let's not rub that in; the fact is they did a job that one would expect a real country, an important country, to do. Fire on a North Korean pirate ship full of Scud missiles, force it to stop, board it, and capture it, way out there in the Indian Ocean--that's the big time, that's the major leagues, that's Vegas, baby! Bush is smart to be generous with honest praise. That's what we told him last weekend when he called us up, anyway. Now if Rummy would just pay me the twenty bucks he owes me from that poker game with Bill Casey, Ollie, Liddy, and those two Lithuanians, or whatever they were, while we were hiding out at the backup safe house on Pringelstrasse in East Berlin that time we went to the mattresses with the Bulgarian KGB right after they knocked off Dimitrov's nephew with a blowgun-propelled dart dipped in the venom of a South American tree frog while he was getting off the Paris metro at the Gare d'Austerlitz. Rummy had tried to fill an inside straight...

They're taking the Gore withdrawal from the 2004 presidential race pretty seriously over here. I have a general feeling that Gore is rather overrated in Europe; they treat him as if he were somebody important instead of just another politician who lost. Perhaps this is because European political party leaders normally keep a seat in parliament even if they don't get to have their guy be prime minister; Socialist boss Zapatero, for instance, has a seat in Parliament which he uses as often as he can to slam Aznar and the People's Party. Zapatero isn't the Socialist guy who lost last time--that was Joaquín Almunia--but as top banana of the second biggest party in Spain, he's important. So the Spaniards look at Gore as being a Zapatero figure when he's really more like a George McGovern figure.

La Caixa has published a report saying that Girona and Almeria are the provinces with the highest percentage of immigrants, 7% in both places. They're both heavily agricultural and dependent on truck and fruit farming. Alicante, the Balearic Islands, and the Canaries are also high in immigration. Barcelona and Madrid are both 5% immigrant. Many rural provinces are still less than 1% immigrant; foreigners are still rather strange in places like Zamora and Jaén and Teruel. Third World immigrants--here to work--concentrate in Catalonia and Madrid, while Europeans--here to retire in the sun--live along the coasts, in Andalusia, Valencia, the Canaries, and the Balearics. Barely 4% of people living in Spain are immigrants, which is similar to Italy and Portugal, but well below Austria, Germany, and Belgium with 9%, the US with 10%, Canada with 18%, and Switzerland with nearly 20%. Economically, immigrants are moving into the industrial and service sectors, but 30% of domestic servants are still immigrants. Only 44% of immigrant children go to school.

Spain is breathless at the news of a new multinational lottery. This one will be played in Britain, France, and Spain and be called Euromillions. Its first prize will be some 15 million euros, and there will be drawings every week. Tickets will be two euros. The need for another lottery in Spain is urgent. As of now, we only have the Primitiva, the Bonoloto, the Loteria Nacional, the ONCE, the soccer quiniela, the 6/49, the Trio, scratcher tickets, and slot machines in every bar and bingo halls in every neighborhood. We desperately need more opportunities to gamble. John Hooper, using early ´90s figures, says that Spaniards are second in the world after Filipinos in the percentage of their incomes spent gambling. We need to show the world we can come in first at something! If we can't overtake the Philippines, what kind of cheap sports are we?

Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if the US has overtaken both of those countries, what with the expansion of casinos all over the country. I also wouldn't be at all surprised if, as the US economy downshifts, people begin devoting considerably less of their income to gambling. Vegas will do just fine, of course, but those so-called gambling boats in, like, Sioux City, Iowa, will start going belly-up pretty soon. The existence of casinos in rural Oklahoma is just ridiculous; they're obviously a symptom of the Nineties boom and their empty walls will long outlive them. Within ten years they'll be antique malls or flea markets.

But what everyone in Barcelona is obsessed about is the soccer team, the glorious Barça, who gave its fans false hope last week with a 3-1 victory over Newcastle in the Champions' League only to go lose to 18th-place Sevilla, 0-3 at home on Saturday night. They played horribly. They stank. They blew dead donkey dongs. I swear I can play better than Frank de Boer. I know I can run faster, and I'm five years older than he is. OK, I'm exaggerating, but not by too much. Sevilla had scored eight goals in thirteen previous League games. In the Camp Nou they raised their total by more than a third. When the third goal was scored the stadium exploded, hurling abuse at the players and especially at coach Louis Van Gaal and Satanic club president Joan "Mr. Burns" Gaspart. Every single spectator was waving a white handkerchief, a sign of serious disapproval in Spain. It was quite impressive; there were many minutes of this. Barça hasn't had such a poor won-tied-lost record since the '40s. Meanwhile, if that weren't bad enough, Barça will have its stadium closed for two games as punishment for the pig-head throwing disturbances when Real Madrid came to town. This is a serious humiliation, since Barça prides itself (quite without any reason as far as I can see) on its sportsmanship and fair play. They haven't had their stadium closed since 1925, and that was partly for political reasons. Van Gaal and Gaspart are both toast and so are half the players.

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