Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Happy goddamn holidays. I haven't been blogging much because my folks are in town and so sightseeing and hanging out has been taking up most of my time. It's nice to see them; they haven't been over here in a while. We took a couple of daytrips: to Montserrat, to Tarragona and Santes Creus, and to Ampurias. They're all worth a trip. I don't know why Tarragona is so little-known as a tourist destination, since it's full of both Roman and medieval stuff, including a first-class history and archaeology museum, and isn't too far from decent beaches. If you're not real picky, Tarragona itself has a beach across the train tracks from the amphitheater. Some of the old city is pretty run-down, the train tracks make an ugly gash along the seaside, and there's nothing worth seeing in the new city except for a stroll along the pleasant Rambla Vella and a Modernista building or two. I've also never had a decent meal there. But it's still definitely worth a trip.

There's always an art exhibition in La Pedrera worth seeing; I don't usually miss them. They usually run about three months or so; I particularly remember one on Giacometti and another of Durer engravings. This one was of 16th and 17th century drawings from the French national library; they had a nice set of Durers, again, and some extremely good portraits of the French royal family, mostly by a guy I'd never heard of before named Francois Clouet. Travel tip: They charge a hefty fee for a tour of La Pedrera, and it is a complete tour; if that's what you want, then pay the fee. If you just want to get inside the building, though, tell them you're going to see the art exhibit. You'll be able to skip the long line at the ticket office, look around inside one of the patios, and see the exhibition.
I have never been much of a fan of politician, columnist, and TV chat-show guest Pilar Rahola, as readers of Iberian Notes undoubtedly know, but she's one of the few leading Catalans (Catalans? Europeans) who has taken a stand and spoken up against European anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism. For this she is to be congratulated despite her general obnoxiousness. Here's an interview with her that was picked up by FrontPage magazine. She doesn't say anything particularly original; it is a sign of the deep anti-Semitism in Europe that Pilar Rahola is about the most distinguished person we can find saying such morally obvious things.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Check out Trevor at Kaleboel. He's on a trilingual roll, as usual. The boys at HispaLibertas have lots of good stuff for Spanish-speakers, also as usual. And Puerta del Sol has plenty of good cultural stuff on Spain, if you need a little break from us aggressive polemicists.
Check out this article on military contracts in Iraq coming Spain's way. Good move by the Administration, demonstrating to the pro-Americans that America and the Administration appreciate Spain's role on the international scene as America's stalwart ally. It demonstrates to the neutrals that there are at the very least pragmatic advantages to siding with the Americans, and that the Americans are trustworthy allies who keep their promises. And it's just another slap in the face for the anti-Americans. They're going to be so pissed off. (Link from USS Clueless.)

In the same vein, here's a paragraph from Den Beste at USS Clueless (he's one of the best commentators on foreign affairs I know of):

In looking for international allies to try to restrain America and protect himself against invasion, Saddam bet the farm on the French, Germans and Russians and the UN. He bet on the idea that it was somehow possible to force America to act in certain ways against its will, that it was possible for diplomacy in the UN to block American military action. After Bush and Blair and Aznar publicly made their announcement last March that they had given up on the UN and would attack anyway, Saddam lost that bet. And his ignominious capture a week ago made clear just how poor of a bet it had really been, and just how badly he had lost.

It's a pretty good paragraph that's part of a typically very good piece, but I reproduced it because of the name I put in italics. Right up there with George Bush and Tony Blair. (The world always forgets gutsy Prime Minister Durao Barroso of Portugal, the guy who actually hosted the summit meeting in the Azores.) A regular American guy with a good deal of knowledge and good sense, Steven den Beste, ranks Aznar and Spain right up there among the leaders and countries that count. If he thinks that way, then I'll bet a lot of people in positions of power are thinking something similar. Just another reason for us to consider Jose Maria Aznar the best Spanish leader since Philip the Second; he's raised Spain to a level of international influence it hadn't had since about Felipe Segundo's reign.

It's a damn shame that Aznar is stepping down, but he made a promise eight years ago (that he'd only serve two four-year terms), and he's living up to it. I have a good deal of confidence in Mariano Rajoy, Aznar's successor. And I think we would be a bunch of total and complete fools if we did not vote for Rajoy and the People's Party, the PP, the center-right party, in the upcoming March general election. Spain counts internationally. Let's keep it that way.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Our friends the ETA just can't get their Christmas message across. They had the lovely idea that they'd contribute to the holiday spirit with an impressive fireworks display in Madrid's Chamartin Station. They attempted to plant two suitcase bombs containing twenty kilos of dynamite each on the Irun-Madrid Talgo, the first-class fast train, which were to go off when the train arrived at its destination in the middle of Madrid's bustling main railway station. If they'd gone off hundreds of people would have been killed or injured.

Fortunately, what with all the police successes against the ETA, they're down to a bunch of amateurs as operatives. One of the two terrorists was caught looking suspicious in Irun. He was detained and his baggage was checked and, whaddya know, it was filled with dynamite. This made everybody real suspicious. They stopped the Talgo at Burgos and evacuated it, and there they found the other bomb, which had been planted on the train by the other terrorist involved.

Congratulations to the police for saving us from a tragedy that might even have reached 9-11 scale.

Spaniards aren't bigots and racists. Naah. Only Americans would stoop so low as to be prejudiced against someone because of his national origin, as some leftist Spaniards never tire of reminding us.

According to La Vanguardia, the central government's Center of Sociological Research did a poll in which they asked "Which country's citizens do you trust least and for which country's citizens do you feel the least sympathy?"


1. Moroccans: 27.4% distrust, 23.7% unsympathetic
2. Americans: 17.1% distrust, 16.1% unsympathetic
3. Colombians: 14.9% distrust, 10.6% unsympathetic

This puts the lie to the standard Spanish assertion that it's not the American people they dislike, it's the government. This survey torpedoes that common canard. Also, it indicates the climate of pure racism that Moroccans and other Arabs encounter in Spain.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Hurry up and post your lists over at Amish Tech Support's Dead Pool. I've got mine in and it's a doozy. You'll want to read the rules first, of course, so that's what I linked to. Then you can make your picks right there.

Here are some free suggestions for your Dead Pool draft choices (for Iberian Notes readers only, of course) that I didn't use.

Arthur C. Clarke 12/16/1917
Walter Cronkite 11/4/1916
Olivia de Havilland 7/1/1916
Kirk Douglas 12/9/1916
Saul Bellow 6/10/1915
Milton Berle 7/12/1908
Marlon Brando 4/3/1924
Sid Caesar 9/8/1922
Woody Harrelson 7/23/1961

I think all these people are still alive.
Back to politics. Socialist Pasqual Maragall has assumed office as prime minister of the Generalitat, the Catalan autonomous regional government. He had to pay a price, of course: his allies the Republican Left got the Cabinet posts of "chief of staff" and three others, and Communists Initiative for Catalonia got two Cabinet seats. Now we'll see what happens.

First, nothing much is going to change, I don't think. I doubt that after four years of Maragall in the Generalitat our lives will be very different. Now, Maragall's priorities ought to be more or less balancing the Generalitat's budget (with some large cuts in the Department of Culture, preferably), improving the efficiency of Generalitat relations with the central government and the various local mayors in order to get things done faster and more efficiently, administrating the end of the educational "reforma" and the changeover to something more like the old system (they adopted dumb American ed school ideas. It failed. Aznar and the PP shot it down), and investigating several prominent members of Convergence and Union to find out where the skeletons are buried.

His priorities should not be wasting everybody's time jabbering about unnecessary and dangerous constitutional reform, taking the part of one extreme wing or the other in the Catalan culture wars, spending jillions of euros on poorly planned megaprojects, dissing the Americans, trying to imitate the Basques, or complaining about Catalonia's "fiscal deficit".

(Note: this is one of the most common themes of Catalan nationalists. It seems that some people have determined that Catalonia as a whole pays a lot more money in taxes than it receives in the form of government spending, though none of their figures have ever convinced me. The reason is obvious: Catalonia is one of the two or three richest regions in Spain, and so many people with high incomes pay high income taxes. Also, many companies are based here, and they pay big money in taxes, too. Finally, since Catalonia is richer than average, consumption is higher than average, too, and so the state gets more money per capita in VAT in Catalonia than it does in the rest of the country.

My opinion is that the Catalanists are guilty of a fallacy. They are confusing Catalonia as an entity with Catalans as individuals. You can make the argument that, per capita, individual Catalans tend to pay more in taxes than they get back in government services, but that's because as individuals they are high-income and a lot of government spending goes to lower-income areas. If Catalans lived anywhere else in Spain, assuming their income was the same, they'd pay the same amount of taxes. So individual Catalans are not discriminated against, taxistically, for being Catalans. They are discriminated against for being richer than average. I thought that's what a nice solidarious leftist welfare state is supposed to do. It's called progressive taxation. As for government services, according to Mariano Rajoy in La Vanguardia, the PP central government has raised spending in Catalonia to 16% of government spending in Spain. That's about the percentage of Catalans in the population of Spain, so I don't see how anyone can deny that the central government divides up its spending fairly.)

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar flew to Iraq on Saturday to visit the troops there. The left is accusing him of imitating Bush and is making wisecracks about the new European media meme of the alleged plastic turkey. Says Socialist heavy hitter Jose Blanco,

(Aznar's) American-style visit to Iraq shows that he is following Bush's and his interests' style of conduct, which is bad and shameful. (This model) of imitating Bush has led us to an illegitimate war without the permission of the United Nations and which was declared on the basis of false arguments...The world today is more unsafe and there are thousands of innocent lives who are victims of this decision; it is unacceptable for Azanar to follow step by step the instructions of the President of the United States.

Blanco is an idiot, obviously, but an awful lot of people around here believe him.

I had an unpleasant incident in one of the local bars, the Barracuina on Joan Blanques, last night, in which I was harassed for being American. One gentleman kindly informed me that he hated all Yankees and another taunted me with shouts of "Heil Hitler!" and Nazi salutes. I did not punch anybody. Most people around here are pretty decent. These guys were jerks.

The other media meme going around is that, of course, Saddam's capture was some kind of dirty trick. See, nothing can be as it appears because Bush and the Americans are bad people who always lie. So, obviously, Saddam's capture was a setup in order to help Bush in the polls. Exactly how or why it was a setup is still something I'm not very clear about, but we'll let that ride. There's a cartoon in the Vanguardia today showing Bush dressed like a cowboy playing golf and talking on his cell-phone, in which Bush says, "Hold off on capturing Bin Laden until a month before the elections."

Well, the defeat and capture of Saddam has had one positive effect at least; the Libyans are giving up their WMD. The Brits are saying that Qaddafi was close to an atomic bomb. Libya had been recently busted by the Americans for trying to import missiles from, you guessed it, North Korea.

The Vangua runs some interesting stats on Catalonia. One-fourth of our education spending goes to subsidizing private schools. Unemployment in the third quarter of 2003 was 9.2%. Per capita monthly income is 1620 euros. Housing costs double the Spanish average in Barcelona. 5.1% of Catalans are immigrants from foreign countries. Catalonia produces 18.4% of Spain's GDP. Our GDP per capita is 101% of the European Union average.

So far the Vangua has published a total of zero letters to the editor on the capture of Saddam.
There's a nice piece over at Slate on the American / European artist James McNeill Whistler, including images of several of his most important paintings. I like stories about art. There should be more.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

There's a little discussion down in the Comments over the status and health of Catalan. It was a good question because the guy who asked it was clearing up a doubt he had. If you have any other questions that you're afraid might seem "too simple", go ahead and ask and we'll answer them.

Somebody who posted left this link, showing how many blogs are produced in what languages. No surprise, English is first by an enormous amount. Portuguese (I assume blogging must be very big in Brazil) is second, and Farsi is third. That means there's been a blog explosion in Iran. People are expressing themselves in public. That just encourages me to be more optimistic, and I am optimistic, about Iran's future. I would not be surprised to see more evolution toward democracy in Iran, and I just bet the change will be peaceful. Polish is fourth, meaning blogging has caught on there in a big way. This is great news, meaning that Poland is into advanced technology so that it's part of everyday life now. It's a great sign of progress. Catalan is quite high on the list, and Spanish doesn't do very well at all when you figure it has so many speakers. Then again, a lot of them are poor, but i see Brazil as much more tuned in to the Internet than the rest of Latin America.

I was most surprised at the high ranking of Icelandic. There are more than 6000 blogs in Icelandic. Iceland has 200,000 inhabitants. There are no Icelandic diasporas of refugees or immigrants, like with the iranians and the Poles. Assuming each blogger has only one blog, that means that 3% of Icelanders are bloggers. And they all know English, so they can blog bilingually if they want to reach a wider audience.
Well, it's Christmas in Barcelona and a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of politics, of course. Actually, before we get into that, it's time for the year-end obligatory piece on the Catalan holidays. Let's list some peculiarities:

a) There are often family gatherings on the 24th, 25th, 26th (only in Catalonia), 31st, and 1st. Each extended family will do something on one or two of these days, and if you've got a couple or three extended families, you may find each one occupied. On New Year's Eve one normally stays home with all the folks watching TV (all the stations bring out TV specials with big stars) and then goes out after eating the grapes at midnight.

b) Everybody in Spain "eats the grapes" at midnight on the 31st; you eat 12 grapes, one with each stroke of the bell. It's the universal good-luck tradition. I insist on peeling and deseeding mine first. They think I'm a weirdo, but they'd think that anyway. This tradition either a) goes back to time immemorial or b) was started by some guy who had some grapes to sell back in the '20s. Most likely it's a real tradition from somewhere in particular that became nationalized in the '20s or so. I'll have to ask my mother-in-law on this one.

c) Church bells in Spain strike once on the quarter hour, twice on the half, three times on three-quarters of an hour, and four times on the full hour. Then, and only then, after the four strokes for the hour (known as the cuartos), does one begin to eat one's lucky grapes, one on each of the twelve strokes for twelve o'clock midnight. Therefore, everybody reminds one another not to start eating the grapes until the cuartos have finished. One year on TV1 the reporter blew the call and started counting with the cuartos and so everybody in Spain had bad luck that year or something awful like that. It's still talked about today.

d) La Vanguardia has several much-loved idiotic traditions. They have a poetry contest and some kid with at least one Catalan surname who writes about peace and why don't people just understand wins every year. They write the same story every year the day before the Christmas lottery, for example, explaining that they've been drawing annually since 1836 or whatever and that the first prize has hit in Madrid 38 times and in Barcelona only 21 and that numbers ending in a five are the most commonly drawn for the top prize and all that. Also, they insist on running their annual article about caganers and how the foreigners just don't get it and think it's silly. But the foreigners are really the silly ones, of course, because they don't have all these great time-honored Catalan traditions to follow.

e) Caganers are these figurines, little guys wearing red barretinas (the Catalan national hat, rather like a cross between a beret and a stocking cap--yes, I think it's pretty retarded-looking too) squatting down and taking a dump. The dump is always brown and curly, resembling a Dairy Queen chocolate ice cream. These things are placed in your pesebre (creche, Nativity scene, whatever you call it where you come from) behind the stable and the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus and the camel and whatever. I think it's just anal gross-out humor, which the Catalans are notorious for appreciating (they love movies like Porky's, and Blazing Saddles is considered a classic here), but I've heard convoluted explanations like it's innate Catalan irony and scepticism and independent-mindedness showing itself in irreverence toward that which is to be worshiped. Or whatever. Anyway, whenever a foreign reporter comes across these thingies, which are on sale at the street stalls of pesebre stuff near the Cathedral during the holidays, he does a human interest feature story on the little buggers because they just don't do stuff like that in Kansas.

f) The Christmas lottery is drawn on December 22, next Monday, and it's a long-standing national tradition. 200 series of 66,000 different numbers are sold. The thing is that a full ticket--one series of a number--costs 200 euros, so the tickets are parceled out into decimos (one-tenth of a ticket) for the ordinary Joe at 20 euros. If your decimo is the lucky number drawn for first prize, you win 10,000 times 20 euros, that is, 200 grand. There are 1999 other people who have the same decimo you do and have won the same 200 grand. In addition, there are several other quite lucrative second, third, and fourth choices. The fun is that traditionally, neighborhood groups buy up a bunch of decimos, parcel them out, and sell them in portions of, say, two euros each with a 50 cent extra charge for the benefit of the group. That would mean that a maximum of 20,000 people might own pieces of the winning number and get twenty grand apiece. So the TV reporters always announce that the money has been "muy repartido" and that it has hit in "un barrio popular". That is, the tickets were sold in small pieces to a lot of people in the area of the lottery administration where the tickets were originally acquired. It's kind of a more Socialist or more communitarian or whatever kind of lottery--instead of one guy hitting it for fifty million bucks over the next eighty years or whatever, several thousand people, many of whom know one another, hit it for twenty or forty or two hundred thousand euros, paid in cash with no taxes on it. The TV shows the celebration live; they always cut to the lottery shop and then to a bar with a bunch of working-class folks swigging cava. If you're going to bet, this is about the best bet you can get on a lottery, as the payout is half the money collected and there are no taxes on winnings. I always buy a few two- and three-euro tickets, and hit a fourth prize in 1998 for about $1600 in money of that time.

g) Typical holiday food: Chicken or turkey, roast, with either shrimp or prunes or both. Chicken soup for New Year's, with carn d'olla, which is this large meatball cooked with the soup. Don't ask what's in it. Sort of a steak stew with wild mushrooms called fricando. Expensive fresh fish. Inexpensive frozen crustaceans. Turron, which we'd call almond brittle.

h) You have to listen to this damn song that goes

Pero mira como beben los peces en el rio
Pero mira como beben por ver a Dios nacido
Y beben, y beben, y vuelven a beber
Los peces in el rio por ver a Dios nacer

over and over whether in a supermarket line or a cafe or anywhere else where they've got the radio on.

I wrote a different version:

Pero mira como beben los chungos en el bar
Se quedan sin dinero, te salen a robar
Te quitan la cartera y vuelven a beber
El poli en la esquina no lo ha querido ver

I like mine better, though I wrote it while living in the Virrei Amat neighborhood, which was rather more chungo-ridden than here in Gracia.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Here's Tikrit Tommy Alcoverro from Monday's La Vanguardia:

Oh, the poor defeated! Besides all the opinions, all the political interpretations, the capture of Saddam Hussein is, in the first place, a humiliating defeat of the Arabs, it is a victory of the United States and the West over prostrate peoples, over disoriented Eastern countries, over states with precarious roots and of an ambiguous identity.

Hmm. Baghdad Bob Fisk is saying that the Iraqi nationalists, because they've been so humiliated, will overcome the Yankee invaders and occupiers. Tikrit Tommy disagrees, it seems. Note the emphasis on "humiliation". Why should anyone but Saddam and his partisans feel humiliated? The great majority of people around the world who want nothing more than a decent government that actually fulfills its responsibilities should be joyous at the fall of such a killer. It seems, though, that when an anti-American can't think of anything else to slag the Yankees with, he accuses them of humiliating somebody.

And why should anyone feel sorry for the guys who have just lost in Iraq? They were as bad as the SS. I feel no more sympathy for them than for any SS Gruppenfuhrer on the run back in '45.

Saddam Hussein, who in 1998 (sic) had loyally followed the American messages to attack Iran, considered a danger because of the risk of the expansion of its Islamic revolution, has been Objective Number One of the Bush Administration, which has made him its scapegoat....

We did not tell Saddam to go attack Iran, in 1998 or at any other time. Period. If Tikrit Tommy can prove we did, I will be willing to personally buttslam him in the Plaza Catalunya.

...It is false that only the supporters of Saddam Hussein form part of the resistance: there are very diverse groups implicated in this national struggle and some have been bloody enemies of the dictatorship...Iraq had started on the road to undiputable social, economic, and cultural development thanks to the 1972 nationalization of oil. Saddam must be tried under the recently constituted Iraqi court, and let us avoid the pornography which was caused by the horrible murder of his sons Uday and Qasay. Oh, the poor defeated of Iraq!

I simply have no comment. None is adequate.
I swear this just happened like twenty minutes ago. I went out to get some cigarettes and ducked into one of the joints on the plaza, the Bar Vall (since 1928, as they like to remind you) to grab a beer. There were these two older guys talking next to me in Catalan while downing some beers with anchovies and boquerones and olives. One of them started slagging off the Americans in general. I kept my mouth shut since it wasn't my business. The second guy said, "Well, who do you wish had won, the United States or the Soviet Union?" The first guy had to backtrack. I wanted to shake the second guy's hand and tell him, "Yes, sir, you have got the idea. You are an intelligent and decent man. You recognize that the priority was the Cold War back then and now it's the war on terrorism." And that there really are good guys (who did some evil, unfortunately, and almost always mistakenly) in a higher cause that really was good, that of anti-Communism) and bad guys (who did lots of evil to benefit off it themselves, and especially if they could find some way to disguise this through Marxism or some wacky made-up nationalism.)

Anyway, I was just thrilled at this little bit of common sense that happened at the Bar Vall in the Plaza Rovira i Trias in the Gracia neighborhood, Barcelona, about 7:15 this evening.
Here's Javier Valenzuela from El Pais on Monday, the day after Saddam's capture was announced:

Al hamdulila--praised be God--is the expression with which good news is celebrated in Arabic. And it is what came out of the lips of the majority of the Iraqis and, with them, of the majority of the decent people in the world, on hearing of the capture of Saddam. This individual is one of the most evil despots that humanity has known during the last decades and we must remember that it is shameful for the United States and many other countries to have had him as an ally against the Iranian Islamist revolution. It was in the war against Iran--and against his own Kurds--during the eighties when Saddam used massively these chemical weapons that the American occupiers and their allies cannot find in Iraq, perhaps because they were destroyed under great international pressure in the '90s.

Whoa there, Javier. a) Any dealings we had with Saddam were in the context of the Cold War, when the rules were different. We admittedly did tilt from one side to the other in the Iran-Iraq war--whoever was winning, we supported the loser on a very small-time basis, since we wanted both sides to lose. You'll remember the Iran-Contra affair, when a big deal was made about a very illegal but also very little amount of smuggled arms and money. b) 99% of Saddam's arms came from countries that were not America, and the great majority of the business he did was not done with America. If you're looking for the people who financially backed Saddam, you might do better to look to France and Russia. c) Saddam may very well have destroyed his WMDs in the '90s, but if he did so it sure wasn't international pressure, it was Anglo-American pressure. France and Russia were too busy carrying on trade with his government to pressure him on stuff like human rights. And there's still the question: why did he first stonewall UN inspectors for several years and then kick them out in 1998 if he was all so innocent? And who really gives a crap about the WMDs anyway now that we're digging up the mass graves?

This reminds us that the double standard is the characteristic attitude of the United States and its most loyal allies when facing the issues of the Near and Middle East. And the worst thing is that this attitude persists even today, despite the fact that, in the end, when neither the weapons of mass destruction nor the Baghdad's connection with 9-11, the fall of Saddam's regime became the pretext of the Iraq war. The many Arabs and Muslims who greeted the arrest of the tyrant of Tikrit did so with the bitterness of feeling that the values of freedom and human rights are not those which the American empire confronts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And without resolving this conflict there will never be the possibility of dreaming of peace and stability in that region of the world.

a) Nobody ever claimed that Saddam was any way responsible for 9-11. What people, including me, said, was that Saddam is linked into the rogue state / terrorist gang International. The Al Qaeda branch of this loose coalition of terror groups pulled off 9-11, not the Saddam-Baath Party branch. b) Right. When you're a Spanish leftist and you're in doubt, bring up Israel. Maybe if the Palestinians had taken the deal Ehud Barak offered them in summer 2000, with the United States as guarantor--this was the best peace offer the Palestinians are ever going to get from the Israelis--that there problem might be on the way to being solved.

Bush and his acolytes sang victory on May 1, when, all of Iraq occupied, they announced the end of the war. But the war continued and continues because many Iraqis, Saddamistas or not, experience this occupation as the Spaniards experienced the Napoleonic occupation at the beginning of the 19th century. Patriotism is not an exclusive feeling of the Westerners and it is possible that the resistance will continue in Iraq.

a) Bush himself said the war is far from over despite the capture of Saddam. b) Many Iraqis dislike the occupation, but from everything I read the average Ahmed disliked Saddam a hell of a lot more. c) Remember, moron, the difference between this occupation and the Napoleonic occupation of Spain is that the US is a democracy and is setting up a democratic system in Iraq, to which power will be handed over as soon as possible, and hopefully the occupation will end at that time, while France was a dictatorship that just wanted to loot Spain and rob its people. d) If I understand correctly, the Kurds and the Shiites are not particularly Iraqi nationalists, and among the Sunnis, only 20% of Iraqis, those who side with Saddam do so for clan reasons and tribal connections.

Even if you kill the dog, the rabies (rage) never ends. The structural problems generated by the war in Iraq are still there. In that country and in the rest of the planet. The correct thing would be, with the widest possible international support and consensus, the Iraqi provisional authorities took over their country soon and began to guide it toward being a sovereign, federal, and democratic state. And, besides, Bin Laden is still free and the islamist movements, who have never had much love for Saddam, are still gaining followers from Morocco to Indonesia. While the problems of development, social justice, and the struggles against corruption in the Arab-Muslim world, and while the double standard persists in the Palestinian question, the world cannot breathe calmly.

a) Mr. Valenzuela was no help with the liberation of Iraq and making it federal and democratic and all that. b) International, my ass. It'll be the Iraqis who set up their own democracy with influence from the US and UK. France and Germany are right out. c) How the hell does he know that terrorist gangs are gaining support from Morocco to Indonesia? From what I've heard they haven't got much left; they're being tracked down and their capacity for action is limited. d) Notice the same old "root causes" argument. Iraq was a reasonably OK place in the late '70s, at least economically, and Saddam ran it into the ground, cutting GDP per capita by two-thirds. But it's all the West's fault because we deny Saddam and Arafat social justice, see. e) We still can't sleep safely at night, no matter whether we've caught Saddam or not, so catching him doesn't really mean anything. Q.E.D., says Mr. Valenzuela. Another apparent American victory that's really meaningless.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

I started writing this piece a couple of days ago when the news of the capture of Saddam became public. I haven't been able to finish it, though, because I get so furious at the attempts of the local and international anti-Americans to minimize the importance of the fall of Saddam. We have him and now we're going to find out all about weapons of mass destruction, not to mention huge massacres of innocent people and all the other evil that that man perpetrated. But it's no big deal if you've already decided the Americans are wrong, see. Anyway, here it is. I'm going to translate a piece from one Javier Valenzuela in El Pais and an article from Tikrit Tommy Alcoverro in La Vangua when I get around to it.

The Spanish media coverage of Saddam Hussein's capture has been somewhat less than highly enthusiastic. When the capture was announced the TV stations had a special report, but it lasted only a few minutes. I remember on 9-11 they had all-day coverage of the attacks, they did the same thing a few weeks later when a plane crashed in Rockaway, in Queens, which turned out to be an accident, and they had all-day coverage the day the Iraq war broke out and the day the Americans took Baghdad. For this one, though, they just went back to regular programming after the newsbreak. I really would have appreciated more information than they gave us. I got it off the Net, of course, but I'm a little disappointed in Spanish TV's lack of coverage.

Now, admittedly it's big news, but it's not especially complex news, if you see what I mean. That is, I understand there isn't that much to say besides the bare essentials of the story, you know, they got him hiding out in a bunker. Anything else there is to say comes out of the US military, and all news outlets have the same access, so I'll bet what we saw on the 8:30 evening news here was more or less all the interesting stuff which everybody else saw. They still could have broken for updates every couple of hours during the afternoon, though.

I watched the news on Television Espanola this afternoon at 3 PM; most of their correspondent's report from Baghdad consisted of film of several pro-Saddam demonstrations, one of which apparently turned into a pretty good riot. They did show one anti-Saddam demo, but let's say that the selection of the news TVE reported on reflects their point of view a whole lot better than an analysis of two Russell Crowe movies. reflects anything about America.

As far as the press, La Vanguardia titled its international pages dedicated to the arrest as "The fall of the Iraqi tyrant" at the top of every page. Here's mildly persnickety Jose Antich in the Page Two signed editorial:

It is difficult to know to what degree the capture of Saddam will precipitate the Iraqi resistance toward dialogue with the current rulers or, on the other hand, there will be a quagmire in the postwar situation. One objection: Saddam must not become a trophy of war. He should be tried by a court--the Iraqi criminal court, better than any other--and face the corresponding sentence. Yesterday was a good day for the Iraqis and for the international community. And that satisfaction neither can nor should be rejected.

A couple of points: 1) La Vanguardia hasn't been much help in getting rid of Saddam. I would even dare to say that in their fomenting of anti-Americanism and Arab nationalism, they've been more of a negative factor than anything else. 2) I appreciate Mr. Antich's feelings of satisfaction at the end of the road for a dictator. He's basically a decent guy at heart, just confused. 3) What Iraqi resistance? What there seems to be are a) some Saddam clan loyalists, who have been struck a deadly blow b) some al-Qaeda and similar foreign Arab or Muslim terrorists c) some Iraqi criminals and gangsters that Saddam let out of the slammer a couple of weeks before the war--like Fidel, he cleaned out his jails d) A few dumb teenagers. What there seem to be very few of are e) normal Iraqi citizens with jobs and families toting guns against the Coalition troops.

The Vangua points out that Saddam's capture will undoubtedly help Bush, and Joe Lieberman and maybe Dick Gephardt will be the beneficiaries among the Democrats. They signal Howard Dean as the candidate most likely to be hurt. They also mention that many political operatives say that both sides, the Reps and the Dems, may be trying to establish their strength among their most basic supporters first and trying to attract swing voters second. Well, that is the standard way an American political campaign works. You run left (or right) during the primaries to nail down your core voters. Then you run center in the post-convention campaign to attract centrist and/or undecided voters.

El Pais is pissy. Here's their lead editorial on Monday:

...Saddam Hussein...cruel tyrant...threat to neighbors...USA seems not to discover this until August 1990...never again must the USA support dictators of this type as they did with Saddam...international or Iraqi, not American court should try Saddam...just like the American military victory over Iraq was predictable, so was the capture, sooner or later, of Saddam...the greatest power in the world needed seven months of occupation of Iraq in order to catch a defeated, aged, and hidden-in-a-hole Saddam...Now that the personal struggle between the Bushes and Saddam has ended...

Yeah, right, you guys thought an American victory in Iraq and the capture of Saddam were inevitable. Sure. Besides, remember, a) the United States barely supported Saddam. All the military stuff we sold him, ever, were some 60 Hughes and Bell helicopters, which we sold him between the end of the Iran-Iraq war and the invasion of Kuwait. That's less than one percent of Iraq military imports. The majority of Iraqi arms are Russian, French, and Chinese, in that order b) we did tilt back and forth between the Iranians and the Iraqis between 1980 and 1988, basically because we wanted both sides to lose and didn't want either side to gain a clear-cut victory.

Cynical, maybe, but Reagan was in charge then and he's about to be historically rehabilitated. Just like Ike, it's being discovered that Reagan was a good deal smarter than he sometimes let on to be. And remember those years: 1980-1988. That's when the Cold War was on, the last eight years of the Cold War while we were torturing ourselves with atomic nightmares (cf: The Day After), remember, and what we could do internationally was limited by what the Russians would think of it. Daring the Russians, or challenging them, was considered dangerous. Remember the panic when Reagan's joke, "Ladies and gentlemen, the Soviet Union has just been outlawed. The bombing begins in five minutes," over an open mike, got out around 1983? I was sure nervous and scared. I thought Reagan was going to get us nuked.

b) No, this is not a Bush-Hussein dyanstic war. Though if it were, it would be a clear Bush win, since they're all alive and free, while Saddam is in custody and Uday and Qusay are dead. That's two US presidents and one governor of Florida against one guy in jail and two guys in hell.
We got Saddam! Go Chiefs! Check out this photo...

Monday, December 15, 2003

I'm too busy to blog, which is too bad, between teaching private classes and trying to write. I need you guys to challenge me; I have free time and I am not writing anything but the blog right now. Kick me in the ass. Remind me, "You have this idea for a movie, you have that idea for a book, you have the other idea for whatever. Are you doing anything about them? If not doing that or blogging (blogging is great writing practice, almost as good as whacking off is compared to sex), then what the fuck are you doing?"

Anyway, though, later this evening or tomorrow, I'll do a post on the Spanish media's response to the capture of Saddam. I can tell you right off the top of my head that the newspapers are unanimous in calling Saddam a nasty evil person and that they are also unanimous in persnickety criticisms of the United States and the typical "Yeah, but it doesn't really mean anything" nationalist response.

As George Orwell said and I never get tired of quoting, the nationalist is someone who identifies himself with a power group to the point of becoming obsessed with the comparative prestige of his chosen group. It's just like sports fans. You might choose your team because they're winners or because they are the underdog. You might be in favor of slick, stylish play or crude, effective play. You might like the old-line, conservative team or the new-style, trendy, flashy team. You're quite likely to choose it bcause it was your dad's team or some other significant influence's team. Well, most people who write in the local press are Spanish or Catalan nationalists, and they may have one of several philias (Anglo-, Franco-, Germano-, Thirdworldo-) in addition.

No matter what, the identity that many people around here choose or get socialized into or however you want to put it is constructed in such a way that they are almost never Americanophiles, and America is always seen as the greatest cultural enemy of whatever nationalism they're loyal to. It's not unusual, by the way, for the most snobbish Continental Americanophobes to be strong Anglophiles.

Since America is the cultural enemy, every American triumph must be diminished and every American defeat must be exaggerated. The enemy must not be permitted to gain prestige in any way, because a gain in prestige for them is offset by a loss for us. They think comparative prestige is a zero-sum game, like the mercantilist (NOT Marxist) economic thinkers they are, rather than an unlimited pie of which everyone has a share (dixit Milo Minderbinder), like the free-market economic thinkers we gringos or limeys or guiris that we are. That's why we're already hearing the Spanish press complain about how the Arab people have been humiliated or how Saddam has been shown off like a zoo animal or how this means that the UN should take over control of Iraq or the Internet or both or whatever. The Anglo Protestant gringo yanquis must not be allowed to gain comparative prestige! Our national pride(s) depend on their not taking any of our prestige away from us, which is what they're conspiring to do!

Sunday, December 14, 2003



Here's the link to Fox News. They can keep you informed better than I can.

I'm in the middle of writing a blog entry on an article from the Vangua's Culture or Lack Thereof section. It should be posted by tomorrow.

I think this calls for some cava.
I've been saving this column from La Vanguardia's Culture or Lack Thereof section on Wednesday. It's by Xavier Antich and its title is "The Ghost Ship".

There are actors who seem to be thermometers of their times. Maybe against his will, this is what has happened to Russell Crowe. In 2000, he was chosen by Ridley Scott to play Maximus in the movie "Gladiator". Apparently, just one of those movies about Romans. Beneath the surface, a hagiography of the virtues of the Roman Empire conveniently mixed in with the ambitions which in the 21st century the American democracy tries to incarnate: undisputed and undisputable hegemony, and the will for the universalization of its own system, even if it has to be done with blood and fire. Maximus's final speech in "Gladiator", obviously in English, not in Latin, responded to the new challenges to America as an empire: bringing to the whole world their own dream of liberty and democracy. In the movie, the enemy was inside the empire, and its strength was rooted in the fact that it was able to defend itself, regenerating itself by producing those Maximuses who, in the long run, always put things in their place.

Just a few points: 1) "Gladiator" is just a movie, people. Trying to read anything more into it than a swords-and-sorcery swashbuckling thriller is nuts. That's all it is. And an excuse for some cool special effects. 2) The US government (democratic republic with division of powers and rule of law) is just a little different from that of the Roman Empire (absolute tyranny). That there difference is a lot more important than any bullshit similarity that this dope dreams up. Just for example, we don't usually wait until the President is on his deathbed to decide who's going to succeed him, and the President never gets killed in RFK Stadium by one of his generals in hand-to-hand combat. 3) I think it's hilarious that the Latins repeatedly accuse the Americans of being psychologically dependent on the "man on the white horse" who, Messiah-like, will come to save America and redeem it from its sins. I mean, like, we've had 224 years with no dictators so far. No Latin country except Costa Rica has anything like a democratic tradition, not even the French, much as they like to brag about the Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789 (while conveniently overlooking the Reign of Terror of 1793, in which the D. of the R. of M. was punctually observed and respected, mais non.) It's the Latins who keep elevating generals and populist politicians to the post of dictator or Caudillo or Duce or tin-pot Emperor. I think this is what Freud would have called projection.

However, very shortly after the movie's premiere, in the new context of the attack on the Twin Towers and the so-called Project for the New American Century of the redefinition of political and military dominance, the movie becomes almost a manifesto. It's enough to have basic ideas of history to understand that Augustus's imperial model--humanized by the figure of Marcus Aurelius--is not a neutral argument. What we saw afterward--Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq--seems to confirm that the movie had a functional and almost propagandistic purpose: this is who we are, this is what we want.

WHAT? Is Xavier Antich saying that the movie "Gladiator" was some kind of CIA-Dr. Goebbels black propaganda job? This guy has read way too much Derrida and Foucault and made the mistake of taking it seriously. Just a point: the Project for the New American Century, in case you haven't heard of it, is a manifesto written up sometime in the late Nineties and signed by several leading Republicans and conservatives. It is basically what we'd call hawkish in the States. It's in favor of, like, a strong military.

Xavier Antich, though, like so many Spaniards, is a Gnostic (he probably doesn't recognize this about himself), which means that he's always looking for the hidden structure behind the barrage of seemingly random and unpredictable events that happen every day. Xavier doesn't feel comfortable, see, unless there's something behind it all. That's why otherwise sensible Spaniards believe in a Masonic conspiracy. Too many of them believe in some sort of Jewish cabal--almost all of them believe in some sort of Israeli lobby that controls or at least strongly influences the US government. And a whole bunch of people over here have seized on the Project for a N. A. C. as the conspiracy that's behind everything that happens--and it doesn't hurt that several of the document's signers are Jewish, including the obviously evil Paul Vulfovitch, as he's called over here.

Curiously, Russell Crowe is also the protagonist of "Master and Commander", the well-done adaptation of Patrick O'Brian's novel that is so successful on our screens. You already know the story: Captain Jack Aubrey, in command of the frigate Surprise, of the British Royal Navy, crosses the Atlantic and, rounding Cape Horn, chasing through the Pacific, beyond the Galapagos, the Acheron, the fearful French (curious!) ship that is sabotaging English interests. The Acheron always appears as a surprise and, in sneak attacks, wipes out all the Royal Navy ships that try to eliminate it. The whole movie is based on this chase of the Acheron to the other side of the planet. As Crowe / Aubrey says before the final battle--in a call to warrior passion worthy of Shakespeare's Henry V--they have gone to the other extreme of the world to defend their people. There, in the decisive moment, the ship "Surprise" is England. The crew is on the verge of mutiny because they don't understand their captain's obsession: but, in the end, the blind chase has meaning. And even the dead for honor and for the cause have meaning, too.

Curious that a movie set in the age of the Napoleonic Wars should have a French ship as the enemy of an English one? I'd call that minimal historical accuracy. What does Mr. Antich want, the Royal Navy to go fight the Austrians or something? And what's the deal? I thought this was an American-Hollywood-Jewish-Israeli conspiracy. Why are we making the English the big heroes? Is this how we bought them off? Did Tony Blair go to Bush and say, "OK, we'll send troops to Iraq, but only if you make England look heroic in the movie " 'Master and Commander'?" Was Patrick O'Brian on the take from the Great Gnostic Conspiracy the whole time he was writing those novels, all thirty years or whatever?

And, by the way, it's just a movie, people. It's an excuse for some swordfights and some of the macho posturing that Russell Crowe is so good at. And some cool special effects.

In the movie the captain of the Acheron is never seen, and the crew is almost never seen; it's barely a specter. the Acheron is pure threat. A threat that must be pursued, though it be far from England. Because, upon its defeat, depends the peace of the English. A curious message that of the movie. A curious lesson in the times of the new imperialism. A curious parallelism with the American adventure of chasing ghosts in order to preserve its security. That ghost that has no face, but whose destruction demands deaths that do have a face and a history. Stories not to sleep by. (Punctuation sic.)

OK, Mr. Antich, finished with your idiotic moral posturing? Jesus H. Christ, this guy managed to get a four-paragraph newspaper column out of an analogy between two Russell Crowe adventure movies and real life. Hey, you people at La Vanguardia, why don't you hire me as an editor? I'll make sure you don't print any more idiotic embarrassing crap that makes you look stupid in the eyes of whatever portion of your readers has access to other sources of information.

And, by the way, with 20/20 hindsight, agreed, since Mr. Antich probably wrote this at about four in the morning on Wednesday, just in time to get into that morning's edition, and we didn't find out they'd gotten Saddam until Sunday: Scratch one ghost.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Well, as you probably know, they're arguing up in Brussels about the proposed new European Union constitution. What they're arguing about is the division of powers among the 25 states (soon to be 27, with Bulgaria and Romania added within a few years to Malta, Cyprus, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Poland, and the three Baltic States, whose admission to the EU is already scheduled). Three years ago, in the Nice Treaty, the amount of power each state would have in the Council of Ministers was agreed to, and Spain and Poland were given virtually the same amount of power within the EU as the four big states, Germany, France, Britain, and Italy. The new proposed carve-up would take power away from Spain and Poland.

What they're really arguing about is how many votes it would take to veto an EU measure or law or policy or whatever. Spain and Poland want measures to be hard to pass and easy to veto in order to force the biggest countries to ally with at least some of the smaller ones in order to achieve their goals. France and Germany want measures to be easy to pass and hard to veto in order to be able to achieve their goals with as few allies as possible. The proposal up right now would require the approval of 50% of the EU states with 60% of the total EU population to pass a measure. Spain and Poland are holding out for 66% of the population.

Jack Meoff (oops, I meant Jacques Chiraq) contributed this pearl to the discussion: "(The Nice system) does not respond to a certain vision of Europe of the founding members, based on history, experience, and culture." And then they call America arrogant.

Meanwhile, the EU's proposed military unit is still most definitely on the drawing board, and I will be willing to bet it never comes into existence. By the way, Spain announced that its 1300 soldiers in Iraq will stay there at least until June 30, 2004. Spain will maintain its 400 troops in Afghanistan and will cut back its 1800 troops in the Balkans to 1000, as the situation there seems to be much calmer than it was just a couple of years ago. Way to go, Spain; that's the way a real ally behaves.

By the way, they got the guys who allegedly killed the seven Spanish intelligence agents. Catalunya TV made a big stink because, like, the evil nasty Americans who made the arrests kicked down some doors and pointed guns at people and tied their hands behind their backs and put them in the back of this Army truck. How brutal and retrograde and prepotent. Now, see, if it'd been Saddam who arrested 41 people and ran them all through paper shredders, as he was wont to do, none of our local Enlightened and Illustrated would have said a thing.

Trivia: It's estimated that there are between 300,000 and 1,000,000 bodies in Saddam's mass graves. The folks digging them up say there are so many that they'll be years in uncovering them and will probably never finish. Their priority is excavating graves from different periods in Saddam's career in order to better document what happened in Iraq under his rule. It's turning out that we don't really know all that much about what was going on in Iraq under Saddam, thanks to the journalists of the world (including CNN, who at least publicly admitted it and apologized, though after the fact, and other American media outlets) who were operating under strict Iraqi censorship, not to mention paying off the regime, and didn't bother informing us of that little fact while they pretended to inform us about what was actually happening there.

It's becoming clearer and clearer, at least to me, that Saddam was a monster who had to go and we should have overthrown him as soon as the Cold War was over and we could get away with it. George Bush I's decision not to wipe out Saddam and the Baath Party in 1991, in retrospect, is one of the dumbest decisions of the past twenty-five years.

As you know, the idiot French are going through the no-Islamic-veils-in-school crap again. See, their school system is secular (wonderful, just like America's) and therefore no one can wear stuff that "ostensibly" shows their religious belief, like veils, yarmulkes, and the like. Or, presumably, a "What would Jesus do?" T-shirt. The Socialists wanted to ban all visible references to religion whatsoever, like a crucifix or a St. Christopher's medal or a Star of David. They eventually decided to permit such "intimate and discreet affirmations of faith."

Now, this is nuts. What is the government doing interfering with people's religion in such a way? But La Vanguardia loves it. Here they go, from one of today's editorials:

(It) is a veritable monument to integration and tolerance...Definitely, France has decided in favor of integration, of tolerance, and, of course there could be no other way, Cartesianism. The respect for republican principles and the demand for unity and national cohesion form an inalienable part of the political, social, and cultural heritage of our neighbors to the north.

France? Integration? Tolerance? France? Telling kids they cannot, as a private and individual decision, wear the symbols of their religion is integration and tolerance? If I were the Vangua's editorial writers, I'd read Merde in France or the Dissident Frogman a little more frequently.

Seriously, though, look at this tremendous job of ass-kissing of the French provided by the Vangua. Can you imagine an editorial comment in La Vanguardia praising the United States for doing anything? No. But let the French repress a right that's protected in the First Amendment to the US Constitution, and La Vanguardia kneels down, puckers, and gets its lips and nose all brown. They even claim that this repression is a sign of integration and tolerance!

Have you heard about the ridiculous shit that's going on in Geneva? It seems they're having a world summit on the Information Society. Kofi Annan is very mad about the Internet. He thinks there's way too much Internet space taken up by frivolous First World leisure and entertainment content which is irrelevant and aimed at the consumption of privileged sectors. Uh, Kofi, as Internet users, the people who actually pay to keep it going, we'll decide what's relevant, thank you.

There's been some talk about setting up a solidarity fund for hardware, software, and technological structures for the African countries; at least, that's what they want. That is, another handout their corrupt dictators can embezzle. And, get this, Brazil and India and others are proposing that the United Nations should take over and regulate the Net.

Over my dead body. We, the people who actually use the Internet, are the ones who actually run it. It's the closest thing to functional anarchy that the world has ever seen. But it's just not solidarious and enlightened and illustrated enough for the Perenially Indignant. They want Brazil and India censoring my website. I don't, thank you, and I am serious enough about this issue to decide my vote on it. Any politician supporting any sort of government takeover of the internet, and especially a takeover by the United Nations, the International Association of Corrupt Brutal Third World Dictators, is not going to get my vote and is going to get all the shit from me that I can dump on his head from this small corner of the blogosphere.

John Le Carre, one of the most overrated authors of recent times (his books are boring and his characters not credible--for lefty spy novel authors, give me Graham Greene, and for lefty crime fiction, I'll take Dashiell Hammett) apparently has a new America-bashing novel out. Rafael Ramos, La Vanguardia's Liar in London, has this to say in a piece in today's Culture or Lack Thereof section.

The irony is that the United States and John Le Carre found themselves with the same problem after the fall of the Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union: replacing the old villains with contemporary ones, but who are equally perverse. ...Le Carre has decided to let it all hang out and write the most ideological of his novels, a virulent attack on the Iraq war and the new world order that Washington is trying to impose, based on its selfish interests and total ignorance of international legality. (Says Le Carre to the BBC), "The pretexts used to justify the war on Iraq are nonsense. It's a colonial adventure like all those in history, disguised as a crusade for liberty and the Western way of life, set up by some fantasizing Judeo-Christians who have taken over the communications media and dedicate themselves to exploiting post 9-11 paranoia"...The writer is no fan of the State of Israel, and he makes this clear.

Anybody else out there who's not going to be reading Le Carre's latest?

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Check out this interview with our local gadfly Pilar Rahola, a shining example of decency among the general stink around here on issues involving anti-Semitism and Israel. (Link: Andrew Sullivan.) Ms. Rahola, a fairly extremist Catalanista (she's pro-independence; non-violent, of course) and a moderate leftist, is capable of being a major blowhard at times. She's spent a lot of time recently, now that she's not a politician anymore, as a none-too-serious guest on TV talk shows, including the super-sleazy "Cronicas marcianas" which ambushed your blogger with Javier Nart, a professional lawyer representing one of the Guantanamo prisoners. Her love life was news for a while.

She is a rather attractive mid-fortyish woman and quite down-to-earth. She is known to like to party and it's rumored that she especially likes to party in casinos. I was not impressed with her as a leader of Esquerra Republicana back in the early '90s or the coup she and Angel Colom pulled when they bailed out of Esquerra and set up the disastrous Independence Party, which got less turnout than a normal Friday-night English-teachers' bash. (The rumors about Angel Colom are a lot worse than those about Ms. Rahola's activities, which seem to consist of mere enjoyment of the high life.) However, Franco Aleman informed me a while back that Ms. Rahola is outstanding on this one particular issue, which I had not known before, and he is absolutely right. (I think Franco started this blogmeme from HispaLibertas; he got it into the hands of Roger Simon, which is probably where Sullivan picked it up. Then other blogs picked it up from these two. Some goofball actually made a comment about what an important intellectual Ms. Rahola is. He's never heard of her before in his life, of course.)

Congratulations to Pilar Rahola for her stand. She's somebody Catalonia can be proud of.

Update: This interview is a year old, but if you hit "pilar rahola israel" on google you'll come to plenty of other articles and interviews and the like, mostly in Spanish or Catalan. I noted some of the other websites to comment on this speech called Ms. Rahola an "intellectual", a term she'd reject because she's not one. She's an ex-politician, not a particularly successful one, and polemicist, and is not particularly left-wing. And she'd probably prefer to be called Catalan rather than, or at least in addition to, Spanish.

Update Two: Here's a communication by Pilar Rahola from May 2003 to the American Jewish Council. I'll translate it if you want me to. Also, if you'd like to write to Pilar Rahola, her e-mail is pretty simple: pilarrahola -at- hotmail.com .

Update Three: If you can read Catalan, go to Avui and look through their archives for other pieces by Pilar Rahola, in case you're interested. Also look for opinion pieces by Alfons Quinta, who is so Catalanista he hates France and everything about it--see, France oppresses Catalunya Nord, as we Barcelonese call Rousillon. Quinta regularly destroys France in his pieces, and he hates the French so much he's wildly, bigotedly pro-American. It's fun to read pieces by Americanophiles; they distort the truth as much as any other kind of -phile, to the benefit of their chosen philia, but at least for once their distortions are in favor of the US. Be careful with Jean-Francois Revel; I like his stuff very much but he's even more pro-American than, well, me.
La Vanguardia, true to its Old European soul, has its nose terribly out of joint at the news that the Frogs and the Toads and their little tadpoles are going to be shut out of the Iraqi reconstruction pie our twenty billion dollars is going to pay for. One of the things the last Eurostat poll that they actually released said was that an absolute majority of the European Union public believes that the United States should pay for the reconstruction of Iraq and the United Nations should administer said reconstruction. I'm looking for the appropriate Donald Rumsfeld Clear English Reply. How about "You must be kidding." Or: "When pigs fly." Or "No, that's your ass. This over here is a hole in the ground." Or "And the horse you rode in on." Or "Squeal like a pig!"

Here is La Vangua's Editor-in-Chief Jose Antich in today's signed editorial on page two.

George W. Bush's administration announced yesterday the exclusion of the large countries that opposed the war in Iraq--France, Germany, and Russia--from the multimillionaire contracts for the reconstruction of that country, in an unmistakeable gesture of revenge for its attitude in the UN. It is difficult not to understand the decision as an attitude of arrogance and of unjust commercial reprisal. (The European response is that of weak, whining, whimpering weasels.) It does not seem that the situation Iraq is suffering, with the daily deaths of Western citizens (never known the Vangua to give a shit about Americans' lives before) and a postwar of which we cannot see the end, is appropriate for such arrogant gestures that demand recrimination from the international community. Spain has also suffered, in its own citizens, the pain of the deaths of compatriots in Iraq. (Which makes your attitude even less comprehensible. Spain is one of the countries that deserve, and will get, contracts.) It has maintained an attitude of support of the United States on the part of the PP government and its Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar. (With no help from you.) That support that Bush has praised and thanked him for should cause Aznar to raise his voice and demand generosity from the United States (why would he want to do that?) and solidarity from France, Germany, and Russia. (It's a little late for that.) The international community is waiting for an agreement on how Iraq is to be reconstructed (uh, the US and UK and the Iraqis are in charge of that) a believeable calendar for the transfer of power to the Iraqis (I thought we already had one), and that the debate before the warlike conflict should not emerge in all its bitterness. (Uh, right, Mr. Antich. That'll be up to France, I think. Now go back to your dark closet, put your "special glove" on again, break out the Vaseline Intensive Care, and return to frantic self-pleasuring.)

Here's Tammy Bruce's response in Front Page.

Italians also faced the horrors of death in Iraq. While the Italian people remain conflicted about the war, Italian leadership has remained with us, despite their losses and the debate at home. That is courage to the core. Spanish troops have also been lost, and they too, have stayed the course. These are friends worth having and being proud of.

I have no qualms whatsoever knowing that some of the tax dollars I pay will be going to winning bids for these countries to reconstruct Iraq. They deserve it, with every drop of blood shed by their brave citizens, we owe it to them. They have earned it with every tear shed by loved ones in their home countries. How dare the Old Europe, comfy in their cowardice, declare that they, too, deserve our money.

I’ll tell you what they deserve--to learn a lesson we should have taught them years ago: their free ride is over. They are not entitled to anything. There are repercussions to their actions, and self-absorption will not be rewarded. This is the new message from a new America—one which will not let the Old Europe attempt to destroy the world again.

Well, that last paragraph is a bit exalted in tone for my taste, but she's got a point. I vote we do France and Germany no favors for a very long time.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Bad joke translated from Spanish: the CIA's geology experts send a fax to the Guardia Civil saying, "Upcoming seismic movement, epicenter Cuenca." Two months later, the CIA gets a return fax. It says, "Seismic movement in Cuenca broken up and epicenter arrested. Sorry we didn't answer before but we've had a hell of a big earthquake." That one's probably left over from the Franco days, when Guardia Civil jokes were fairly common.

Bad joke in Spanish. Doesn't translate. "Mear" is the regular -ar verb "to piss".

Dos chinos estan hablando. El primero dice, "Me he complado un coche." El segundo le pregunta, "De que malca?" El primero contesta, "Alfa." El segundo pregunta, "Lomeo?" El primero dice, "Lo meas y te pego una hostia, gilipollas."

The French cops have pulled off two major ETA busts within the last week; they arrested five people, all "active operatives" (i.e. killers), two of whom were in the leadership group. Gotta give the French cops credit; their political leaders are a bunch of jerks but their security and intelligence services are hardcore professionals and do their jobs well. Congratulations to them on nailing the bastards.

The PSC-ERC-ICV leftist coalition offically announced itself today. Socialist Pasqual Maragall gets to be Catalan Prime Minister, but Esquerra has demanded the Chief of Staff of the Cabinet post for Carod-Rovira, and he's going to get it along with four Cabinet departments. Initiative is apparently going to get one department in the Cabinet, so Catalonia will be under Communist influence for however long this coalition lasts. Convergencia i Unio is foaming mad, hitting out in all directions and especially in that of the Republican Left. The nicest thing they're calling Esquerra is "traitors".

Here's my guess. In the regional elections a heavy punishment vote was cast against the two most mainstream parties in Catalonia, CiU and the PSC, each of whom lost ten seats. Those seats went to the three smaller parties in protest against the way things have been run around here for the last 23 years. The conservative PP's small gains are probably real and will show up next elections, but Esquerra and Iniciativa doubled their number of seats. That's not going to last, and Esquerra, which is a one-issue bandwagon-style political party--"we're pissed off so let's cast an extreme nationalist vote just out of spite"--will lose a lot of those seats next time around. The other possibility--that these elections mark a major changeover to the left--implies the extinction of CiU, or at least a PP-CiU alliance. CiU is going to remember this December for a long time, and they'll remember that the PP never betrayed them over eight years of cooperation, 1996-2000 in the Congress of Deputies and 1999-2003 in the Catalan Parliament. ERC didn't even bother to wait until a cabinet had been formed to stick the knife in CiU's back. Esquerra is a sufficiently unstable formation to lurch back and forth in its policies; I don't think they have any sort of long-term plan, I think they're just plain opportunists looking for as big a share of power as they can get.

By the way, the figure of 7000 jobs (which I lifted from Libertad Digital) that will be affected by this change of government is probably exaggerated. There are somewhat under a thousand politically appointed jobs in the Catalan government, and most of those will be changing hands. Additionally, there are quite a few social institutions, from La Caixa to the Barca, that are controlled by the same people who are in politics, and the political shakeout is going to mean changes in these organizations too. Whatever, a sizable amount of influence is about to change hands.

Q. How many Catalans does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A. Only two, but they have to be very small.
A. Well, first, you'll need an number of nationally conscious delegates to hold a study group on the sociolinguistic efects of the change of the lightbulb, which Omnium Cultural will immediately denounce because two of the delegates have Spanish-speaking spouses...
A. Doesn't matter. The Valencians will boycott the event anyway.
A. You know, it's very insensitive of you to even bring that up.
A. Baltasar Porcel might figure it out in a couple of years if you take it easy on the electroshocks and let him out of his straitjacket. Also consider sharpening the axe before the lobotomy next time.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Here's Christopher Hitchens in Slate, using all the snaky rhetorical tricks (which he used to use against us) on the side of the angels. I like his last paragraph a lot:

There were predictions made by the peaceniks, too, that haven't come literally true, or true at all. There has been no refugee exodus, for example, of the kind they promised. No humanitarian meltdown, either. No mass civilian casualties. All of these things would of course come to pass, and right away, if the Iraqi "resistance" succeeded in sabotaging the coalition presence. But I refuse to believe that any antiwar person is so keen on vindication as to wish for anything like that.

We've been saying this for a while, but not as well as Hitchens, of course. Check out his last line. Of course he believes precisely that, that many antiwar folks are really vindictive anti-Americans or anti-Westerners. A lot of them around here certainly are. The most hateful, like Pepe Rubianes and Remei Margarit and Gregorio Moran, and Vazquez Montalban before he diminished us, jump with joy whenever they hear of American dead. As do such other personages as Harold Pinter and Gore Vidal.

And here's Charles Krauthammer from the Washington Post on why the so-called Geneva agreement is a load of nonsense. This is a very rare breath of fresh air in the suffocating stinking anti-Israeli atmosphere one breathes on the European continent. Check out Mickey Kaus in Slate in case you need filled in on the Democratic primary campaign; Kaus is leaning toward Dean and Clark as the most likely nominees. The other place to go for your US political fix is the New Republic's TNR Primary. Also in TNR, Gregg Easterbrook explains why talk of building a space station on the Moon is, well, loony.
Thanks to the Commissar for adding us to his Soviet blogosphere maps; we're an ostrov near Leningrad. Paris Hilton. Also many thanks to Wogblog and Little Miss Attila, both fine blogs worth having a look at. David Beckham. Kaleboel will keep you up on everything around these parts, and multilingually into the bargain. Check out his link to an American broad who embarrasses the know-it-all Barcelonese by actually asking them a question about political geography. Penis enlargement. And don't miss the Axis of Porcel HQ for all things Porcellian. Free Viagra. Michael Jackson. The Jedman.
The latest rumors about the aftermath of the Catalan regional elections are that the deal has been done and that a coalition of the Socialists, the Republican Left, and Initiative for Catalonia (the Communists) will govern in Catalonia for the next four years. There is some general irritation because the Republican Left waited several weeks and negotiated with both the Socialists and Convergence as if they were in good faith, and now the story is they were with the Socialists all along. Convergence is particularly irritated, since they will be shut out of the Generalitat after 23 years in power. They feel that the Republican Left, their fellow nationalist party, has backstabbed them. It is said that there are 7,000 "spoils system" government jobs that may change hands. I assume that Convergence will respond by moving closer to the Partido Popular, their fellow conservative party. At least I hope so.

I just thought of this analogy. There are bars and hotels and the like that call themselves "gay-friendly". That means if you walk in with your boyfriend they won't look at you funny. The places aren't necessarily owned by gays and certainly do not cater to an exclusively gay clientele, but they do guarantee that gay people will feel welcome. Well, the PP has to become "Catalan-friendly". They're still seen by many Catalans as enemies of Catalonia, no matter how hard they try to show they're not monsters (e.g. Aznar visits Catalonia a lot to meet with local businessmen and community leaders, the PP named four Catalan cabinet members in this current administration, including Josep Pique at the key post of Foreign Affairs, Rajoy announced that for 2004 16% of government infrastructure investment would be spent in Catalonia, the unacceptable PP leader Aleix Vidal-Quadras was kicked upstairs to the European Parliament). What it's going to take are some symbolic gestures.

For example, the damn Civil War archives that are stored in Salamanca. The Generalitat wants the records of the Second Generalitat, i.e. that of the Spanish Republic, to be returned to Catalonia. Why the hell not? It won't hurt anything and the Catalans will like it. It would help if Rajoy would say "Bon dia a tothom" next time he gives a speech here. He speaks Galician, so why can't he pull off a few words in Catalan? It's not like it's hard or anything. If I can speak it he ought to be able to figure it out. The Catalans would love that. Hell, what he ought to do is show up at the Catalan "national team's" annual soccer game, held every Christmas with Catalonia against some expensive foreign team they pay to come play here, and openly cheer for Catalonia. He might get booed, but if he took it like a good sport he'd gain a lot of respect--and Rajoy is known for his people skills. Bingo, you're not a monster any more. This doesn't mean the Catalans are going to fall down at your feet and worship you, but it will give you more credibility in their eyes, at least a lot of them. Maybe they'll even start listening to what you have to say instead of just automatically discarding it as Madrid right-wing lies, as too many of them do right now.

The Barca was lucky not to get destroyed Saturday night against Real Madrid. They lost 1-2 in the Camp Nou. At least there were no incidents, unlike the Great Pig-Head Flinging of last season. The Boixos Nois were on almost their best behavior. They didn't even beat anyone up. By the way, the Barca has not yet served its two-game suspension that it was sentenced to by the League after last year's fiasco--they have to close down their stadium and play two games in some other city's stadium. It's been a year, guys. You're going to have to face the music sometime. How about doing it this season, at least? Oh, yeah, the game. Barca came out playing not to get killed, and they almost did. They were playing with eight guys behind the ball. Madrid romped all over them in the first half. The second half was somewhat better, but it was obvious that everyone was very relieved that Madrid didn't beat the boys in blue and red any worse than they did. Kluivert actually scored a nice goal, a header from outside the small box off a cross from the right, after the game was already decided, of course.

The Chiefs lost, too, in Denver. One can take it philosophically and say, yeah, that's one we usually just chalk up as a probable loss every season; see, flatland teams have a distinct disadvantage in Mile High. (Interestingly, Denver is one of the few large cities in the First World at high altitude. Yeah, I know, you have La Paz and Lhasa, but those aren't exactly booming urban centers. Bogota is way up there, I guess, and Quito and Mexico City also.) Still, you never like to lose, and the Chiefs' run defense is blowing turkey chow. They've lost home-field advantage through the playoffs to New England, though. However, the rest of their schedule is fairly easy, so going into the playoffs at 14-2 is not too wild a hope. If they can figure out how to stop the run, or at least slow it down.

As for the local tendency to drive like idiots, I should mention first that this is a holiday weekend. Dec. 6, Constitution Day, and December 8, the Immaculate Conception, are both national holidays in Spain. So sandwiched around a Sunday, that's almost everyone in the country off work for three days. People left the big cities en masse, as Spaniards are wont to do. So far there have been fifty killed in car accidents, and that's not counting this evening, when they all come back home. Spaniards actually tend to be fairly able drivers, much more so than Americans; they have to be because traffic is a lot heavier here, the cities aren't designed for car traffic, and many of the roads aren't as good. Besides, there are those damn motorbikes zooming in and out you have to watch out for. Their problem, however, is that many of them drive recklessly and at high speeds; also, a lot of them are driving over the legal alcohol limit, not swacked out of their minds but after lunch with wine and a carajillo in 'em. Remei says it's a macho thing.

Well, last week Zap stopped behaving decently over the fate of the seven dead Spanish agents. He accused Aznar of being unilateralist (huh?), of defending preventive war (well, yeah), of ignoring the UN (oh, come on), of lying about weapons of mass destruction (bullshit), of occupying Iraq illegally (wrong, UN Resolution 1511 says we can), of sending troops without the approval of Parliament (he doesn't need it, and even if he did, his party has the absolute majority anyway) and of obstinately continuing to err in his ways (Three cheers for Aznar and his PP for standing firmly with the US, the UK, and all the other responsible countries!) (Sources: La Vanguardia and El Periodico.)

Zap loses his tip of the hat for behaving responsibly. Such words, spoken in Parliament, are more fit for an antiglobalization demo than for a serious Parliamentary debate.

Here's a funny one. There is a guy named Ali Lmrabet who is a journalist in Morocco. He is now in jail, supposedly for insulting the King. Now, I looked Lmrabet up on Google and what I found on responsible news sites shows him as basically who he presents himself to be. He is a leftist Yankee-hater, that's for sure, but I'm almost sure he's a legit opposer of the government and not mixed up with either the Islamic terrorists or the revolutionary left. It seems clear that this is a case of injustice, that this guy has been locked up for opposing the absolute-monarchical government which is an ally of the United States.

Several points: 1) Morocco's government is one of the least offensive in the region. It's certainly better than Algeria's and Libya's and not any worse than Tunisia's or Egypt's. 2) Morocco is considered to be a moderate Arab country and its government is strongly anti-terrorist. 3) That doesn't mean you can just lock up people for expressing their opinions, though. 4) Morocco should release Lmrabet from prison. 5) There are four other journalists imprisoned in Morocco; I am not sure whether they're all as clean as Lmrabet seems to be. Two of them, at least, are in for preaching violent jihad from their newspaper, and if Morocco thinks that is the best way to deal with these jihad guys in this situation, I suppose I won't complain too much.

I think it's interesting, though, that the Free Ali Lmrabet campaign got started at about the same time as Fidel got in international trouble for jailing a bunch of opposition journalists. Fidel made his defenders look really bad again. (Incidentally, Lmrabet has criticized Castro for exactly this.) Now, what does a leftist do when faced with something blatantly wrong done by his side? He hits you with the "tu quoque" argument. So what if Fidel locks up innocent journalists? There are other countries that are just as bad! Like Morocco! Let's start an international campaign! The leader of the campaign actually said on TV3 that "if Aznar is so critical of Fidel Castro, why doesn't he speak out in favor of Lmrabet?"

So I'm in a strange situation. I don't like dictatorship and I don't agree with locking up people for their nonviolent ideas. Ali Lmrabet, at least, should be freed, and these other four guys should have their cases looked at to see if they've really been promoting violence and revolution. However, most of the people who are behind the Lmrabet cause are people I just don't trust. Look at who they are when you google "Ali Lmrabet". They're the usual French Trotskyists and leftover Spanish Republicans and Latin American poets, and anything those guys are in favor of needs to be fled from like bubonic syphilis, as a general rule.

So what do I do? Well, as they say, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Somehow these leftist loonies have gotten hold of a real injustice. Let's call on Morocco to clear up this situation, both because Lmrabet's human rights are being violated and in order to shut the Left up.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Here's a wacky thing. I do not really get this. Well, I do, but it's really dumb. Now, several languages are spoken here on the Iberian Peninsula, including Basque, Galician-Portuguese, Spanish, and Catalan. Some would argue that Astur-Leones and Aragones are languages, too, but I'd call them dialects of Spanish. We could fight about this forever, so let's not. Anyway, all non-prejudiced linguists agree that there is a language called Catalan which has several dialectal variants: Eastern Catalan (the generally accepted standard--on TV, for example), Rousillonese, Balearic, and Western Catalan (Lerida province and the coastal sections of Castellon and Valencia provinces). The problem is that many of those speakers in the Valencian Community prefer to think of their language as something different from Catalan. They demand official recognition of Valencian, their term for Western Catalan, as a separate language. Now, linguistically, this is completely nuts. It's all the same damn language.

Anyway, according to the Marxist interpretation of history, in the 1870s the modern Spanish state began--you know, a state with a permanent administrative bureaucracy, for which you had to qualify by passing a civil service exam. Part of the test covered standard Spanish grammar. Now, originally, you had to speak standard Spanish to get one of these primo jobs, since everybody in the bureaucracy had to communicate with one another. So some guy from Jaen could get a post in a tiny little Catalan-speaking town like Olot just by passing the Post office exam, for example.

The Catalan white-collar class, the petit bourgeois, did not like this one bit. They wanted plum civil-service jobs to stay here in Catalonia and to go to Catalans, instead of being handled by bureaucrats in Madrid or by civil servants from all over Spain working here. So they agitated for a separate Catalan civil service, for which, of course, one would have to qualify in the Catalan language. This would eliminate local postmasters or whatever from places like Jaen in Catalonia, since they wouldn't be able to pass the Catalan language test.

This is all going on at around the turn of the 20th century. The educated urban Catalan middle class wants its share of the government jobs, so it demands that certain government powers be turned over to a local Catalan administration. Those powers might be policing, education, social security, unemployment, tax collection and redistribution, labor and business regulation, the courts, etc., etc., etc. Then, not only will the locals be in charge of their own government (something that I am in favor of; I like governments that are as decentralized as possible), but they will be able to exclude outsiders from government jobs, which will now all go to the Catalan middle class.

Not coincidentally, say the Marxists, Catalan nationalism enjoyed a resurgence at around this time, which is now referred to as the Renaixenca, and most Catalan nationalists were of the middle class. This is the time in which a (rather artificial) standard Catalan was codified, in which Catalan nationalist political parties developed (la Lliga Regionalista, Esquerra Republicana, Unio Democratica), in which Catalan literature was stimulated by new interest in the language, and in which Catalan industrialists and merchants saw significant economic growth which they felt was being held back by Catalonia's being part of Spain.

Catalonia was becoming an urbanized society, and the new urbanites were nostalgic for the old ways which they left behind in the country. So they romanticized and glorified "ancient rural traditions", some of which are neither ancient nor rural. (My favorites are the adoption of pa amb tomaquet as a national food, when it was introduced in the 1910s-20s by immigrants from Murcia and southeastern Spain, and the rejection of bullfighting as something non-Catalan, which it most clearly is not; they'd been having bullfights in Catalan towns and in Barcelona for hundreds of years. Bullfighting was successfully replaced by soccer as nationalistically correct, especially by FC Barcelona, in the first decades of the 20th century.)

And, of course, there was nothing so Catalan, not even butifarra or castellers or sardanas or the Barca, as the Catalan language. So nationalist sentiment and economic pragmatism combined to make a formidable team in favor of a more autonomous, and ideally independent, Catalonia, in which the Catalan language would be mandatory. Speaking Catalan, especially the new standard Catalan, was the shibboleth.

Anyway, of course, this Catalan petit-bourgeois nationalistic movement had its response from the rest of Spain, which had its own growing urban educated middle class which did not like the idea of being shut out of government jobs in Catalonia at all. Meanwhile, the rest of Spain had its own ruralist romantic utopian illusion of Spanish tradition, and the emerging Spanish nationalism saw Catalan nationalism as its logical enemy. It was in the interests of Spanish bureaucrats to keep government powers centralized in Madrid, and to allow as little local autonomy as possible to the regions. At the same time, the Spanish middle class felt they had just as good a right to any government job in Spain, whether the job was located in Catalonia or not.

So. Back to Valencia. The Valencian region is, and was, divided between those who identify with Catalan nationalism and those who identify with Spanish nationalism. In the early twentieth century, those Valencians who sympathized with Catalan nationalism called their local language Catalan, which it is, undisputedly, from a linguistic point of view. The reaction of the Spanish nationalists--many of whom are, and were, Valencian-speaking--in Valencia was to call the local language Valencian, set up a standard Valencian grammar different from Pompeu Fabra's Catalan grammar, declare philologic independence, and demote Valencian to the level of a local patois; that is, Valencian would be considered a local artifact, and the standard language of government and education would remain Spanish. What this would do is throw Valencia in on the side of Madrid versus its eternal rival, Barcelona; bureaucracy would remain centered in Madrid, and any Spanish-speaker would qualify for a local Valencian bureaucratic job. People who spoke standard Catalan, though, and did not know standard Spanish, would not qualify in Valencia for a civil service job. This steamed the Catalans off no end, since the Valencians were locking the Catalans out of government jobs in Valencia by the same device the Catalans were using to lock the Spaniards out of their local government jobs.

We've still got these problems today. The Valencian region has generally been controlled by the Spanish nationalists among them. It is currently controlled by the Partido Popular, which has ties with Spanish nationalism. So the locals are still going off about how Valencian is not Catalan, that it's a separate language, and we speak Spanish anyway as the educated language round these parts. This bugs the living hell out of the Catalan nationalists, as they take this Valencian attitude personally. They see the Valencians as rejecting their real nationalistic purity (Catalan) for the mess of (Spanish)pottage that includes favor from Madrid. Naturally, everything Madrid (and Spain) does is an effort to screw Barcelona (and Catalonia) over, according to the Catalan nationalist perspective. And the Valencians are traitors who have sold out to Madrid and to Spanish.

Also, by the way, the standard demand by Catalan nationalist political parties is for more government powers to be transferred to the Generalitat, the regional government. Every election, both the conservative Convergence and Union and the allegedly leftist Republican Left demand more power for the Generalitat. That leads to ridiculous situations, like the duplication of unemployment offices (there's both a Catalan and a Spanish unemployment office, and as far as I know they do the same thing). And a new Catalan police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, is replacing some of the National Police and the Civil Guard's functions, but not all of them. Or something.
Uh, right, this blog is supposed to be about Spain and Catalonia and Barcelona. So enough half-baked philosophizing, pro football commentary, arguing with dead lawyers, insulting every group conceivable, and the like. Here we go with some news. Thanks, by the way, to those who have linked, especially Ms. Attila, who did so twice! We love getting linked. We really should share the love more often, both to keep y'all up on other blogs (like, say, Mr. Erudition, he who actually knows what he is talking about) and to embarrass other bloggers into linking us more frequently.

Oh, by the way, we're still averaging about 10,000 visitors a month, the same as since about June. We were getting about 15,000 a month during the early part of the year, but readership declined after the war ended. I've read several other bloggers say similar things, that interest in their blogs peaked during the Iraq war and its aftermath and that it declined somewhat afterward. Well, either that, or I offended a lot of readers. Anyway, I think we're at about our natural level here. We get most of our new visitors from InstaPundit, though we've had a bunch from National Review, Libertad Digital, and Andrew Sullivan fairly recently. I figure we're averaging about two or three "major links" a month. Such is the State of the Blog.

It's definitely winter in Barcelona; it snowed pretty good up in the Pyrenees and everybody's gone ski-happy. There are pretty good ski slopes up there, three or four hours away by car, though the traffic jams can be horrible getting in and out of those ski resorts on two-lane roads way up there where nobody lives. If you're a skier (I am not), I'd recommend you come to check it out. And they have several non-challenging ski areas, which are more my style, thank you. There's one up in the Vall de Nuria which you can get to by train, no car necessary, from Barcelona; it's run by the Generalitat. So's the train; it's what they call a "rack railway". You have to change from the real train at Ribes de Freser; there's an early morning train from Barcelona via Vic and Ripoll (both towns are worth at least a quick visit, as is Sant Joan de les Abadesses) that will get you there at about 9:30 AM. The fun part is that you either go into Nuria on the train or by foot; there's no way in for road vehicles. It's one of the few places I know where there are no cars. I imagine they helicopter in whenever there's an emergency, of which they must have a few, being a ski area. Another ski area well worth the trip for cultural reasons is Boi-Taull. You need a car but it's beautiful up there, and they have a bunch of Romanesque churches that anyone interested in history or art ought to see.

As for the aftermath of the Catalan elections, there is still no deal. The Republican Left is enjoying its position as the arbitrator between the two major parties, conservative nationalist Convergence and Union and the Socialists. Whichever they pick will be the next governing party in Catalonia. They're basically holding out for all they can get--at least four consellerias (ministries), so goes the rumor. They are busy negotiating with both sides.

The Barca royally sucks this year. Without their two best players, Ronaldinho and Puyol, they got their asses kicked 5-1 in Malaga. That's pathetic. Malaga isn't even a good team. Ronaldinho is out for at least the next several weeks. Tomorrow Real Madrid comes to town in the first big game of the year. I'm sorry, but Barcelona is no longer one of the Big Two. It's a Big Four now, including Valencia and Deportivo, both of which have had more success than Barca lately and both of which are better than the Barca this year. This is just awful, and they have no money to buy good players and they have no good players coming up out of their "farm system", the youth team. I have never seen a Barca squad as bad as this year's, and I have been following them since 1987. I know whereof I speak.

The United States is in the process of devaluing the dollar in order to pay for this year's economic growth with inflation. This is ridiculous. The economy is way overheated. Here is the one conspiracy theory I buy about Bush: He is running the economy hot now, with big deficits and a currency devaluation--the dollar is at €1.20 now and if we don't watch it, it'll hit €1.30 by spring--in order to get reelected in November 2004 behind a strong economy. Payback time is 2005. I do not like Bush's economic policies at all (I do not pretend to be an expert on this, so correct me, please, if I'm wrong). About all I can say is he's just ended the "steel war". Good. The freer trade is, the better for everyone in the long term. Now, what pisses me off are the subsidies to agriculture. It's not quite as bad as the EU, which basically buys the French farmers off so they won't riot (and a French farmers' riot is a lovely thing, with burning tires and trucks overturned and produce spilled out onto the road and occasional farm animals slaughtered in public places.) But it's ridiculous to "protect the family farm" by paying subsidies to huge agricultural corporations while keeping tariff barriers up against democratic Third World nations. (If we want to pressure non-democratic countries with trade sanctions, that's another story.) Colombia should bloody well be selling us millions of pounds of fresh fruits a year. Mali, one of the few real African democracies (a quite admirable place, really; look it up. They're even both Islamic and anti-fundamentalist) has peanuts out the wazoo that they'd love to sell us. The Central American countries, El Salvador and Honduras and Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, are standing by us right now. They've sent troops to Iraq. All four of those countries should be admitted to NAFTA right now. And Colombia, while we're at it. If any country deserves a break, it's them. They've been fighting the same damn civil war since 1948.