Friday, October 31, 2003

Here's a Fox news story on the most recent US poll; it looks to me like anti-Bush sentiment hit its peak during the summer and it's nosing ever so slightly downward. Depending on how you measure it, more than half of Americans approve of Bush--the poll says he has a 56% favorable rating. The third year of a term is normally when a president has his lowest ratings; during the last year the "excitement" of the campaign tends to firm up support for the Prez. Bush has made damned sure that no recession is going to torpedo him like that one back in '91 torpedoed his daddy, so his financial "negligence" has redounded to his short-term political benefit. This is only smart if we can clean up Iraq within the next year. I think Bush thinks we can, if that makes any sense. He's going to need the people to be more or less happy with the economy if he's going to get the support we're going to need to win the War on Terrorism fairly quickly, at least that stage of it that's being fought in Iraq. But how long will popular support hold out if victory drags on and on? Not more than a year, I don't think, counting from now. That'll be enough to get him reelected, something I do not doubt will happen barring absolute disaster. The problem will be in 2005, which is when Bush has put off the recession until. If we haven't pretty much won the Iraq stage of the war by then, though, he's going to be in a weak position due to the inevitable roll of the business cycle. Bush has held it back long enough to win a second term. If we haven't pacified Iraq by then, I won't bail out, but a lot of people who are currently willing to stay the course will. That includes the entire right wing of the Democratic Party, the Joe Lieberman wing, and the left wing of the Republicans, all those moderate Republicans from the Northeast, the civilized, non-barbaric ones. That'll quite likely leave an unpopular President Bush beginning in 2005 and the country heading for a Democratic win in 2008 behind Hillary.

This is why we need to win in Iraq within a year. Boy, I hope I'm being pessimistic in the long term. Hey, I'm optimistic in the short term. Look at the answers to the individual questions at the bottom of the news article.

I slammed English authors who wrote about American cultural stuff and how they just get it wrong no matter how hard they try. Well, here's an American writing about Spanish stuff and getting it totally wrong. It's George V. Higgins, now deceased, a pretty decent writer of thrillers. His schtick was that his novels took place mostly in dialogue. This is from the 1991 mystery-procedural The Mandeville Talent. An investigator, young Joe Corey, has called a Spanish Claretian priest named Luis Delatorre to testify about a land deal. Delatorre has a "minder", Father Dawes. Corey has just asked whether Father Delatorre would like to speak through an interpreter.

"My goodness, no," Dawes said, recoiling, "that would upset him most greatly. Father Delatorre is Hidalgo. His family is very old. Of the nobility. Very close to El Caudillo, during the Regency. You have perhaps heard of his cousin, Francisco Delatorre.

"No," Corey said, "I can't say I have."

Dawes raised both eyebrows. "Well, of course, the passion for the art is limited in this country. But when Father Luis was in the Panama, of course, much of his ready acceptance and his honor by the peasants whom he dealt with originated, he told me, in his blood connection to the famous matador. It was felt by many at that time that Francisco was in truth superior to both Dominguin and Ordonez. But of course I do not know."

Delatorre then addresses Corey's pal, investigator Baldad Ianucci, in this way: "So often do we see, do we not, Senor Baldad, the pain of the men and the women..."

Delatorre is simply not a convincing character (if you read the novel, he will testify at length, and his errors will not be those typical of a Spanish-speaker using English).

a) Nobody's used the term "hidalgo" for like the last two hundred years.
b) Bullfighters come from the very lowest stratum of society, like boxers. They do not come from the type of old-line cultivated middle-class family that produces Claretian fathers and military officers and liberal professionals and the like.
c) Nobody ever called the Franco regime the Regency.
d) Members of the nobility do not go into the Church, as a general rule.
e) Native Spanish-speakers do not call the person they're addressing "Senor Baldad" when speaking in English. They avoid using Spanish honorifics. They use English ones, and Father Delatorre would have said, "Mr. Ianucci", just like anyone else.
f) To my knowledge bullfighting is not practiced in Panama, and if it is famous matadors do not perform there. Spain is the center of real top-class bullfighting, and Mexico, Colombia, and Peru are the Latin American countries where it is popular. A big Spanish matador might fight in Mexico; one got murdered last year in Colombia, of all things, so I don't think they go there any more. He certainly wouldn't go to Panama; the pay is too good in Madrid and Sevilla. No Panamanian peasants would have heard of a famous matador any more than they'd have heard of, I don't know, a famous golfer. At least not back in the early Sixties when Delatorre was supposed to have been in Panama.

Lesson for authors of all nationalities: Don't pretend knowledge of a foreign culture that you don't have, and this applies to everyone. Hey all you Spaniards: The way your authors generally portray us has exactly the same faults and stupidities as Higgins' portrayal of Spaniards. Vazquez Montalban's fictional portraits of Americans, for example, have little to do with reality. They include exactly the same errors as Higgins does, errors that cause any knowledgeable reader to lose his suspension of disbelief.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Have you ever seen those articles in the Onion signed by Herbert Kornfeld about his life as a gangbangin' accountant? I just found who they ripped the idea off from--or who they're parodying, to put it more politely. His name is Madd Ronald and he's from the Rollin' 20s Bloods in LA. Here's his newest screed, just came out yesterday, hot off the silicon. Should you care to peruse more of Madd Ronald's work, there's plenty more where that one came from.
Update on the Latin Kings. Our pal Akaky wrote in saying that the American Latin Kings are big on the East Coast of the States. It seems that they dress in black and yellow (or gold), and use a three-fingers-up "crown" hand symbol. Here's a 2001 article in Spanish from an Ecuadorian paper on these guys' appearance in that country. It says that the gang (and perhaps its rivals) was founded by foreigners--I assume people who had been in the States--and that its leaders are between 25 and 40 and come from the world of music, nightclubs, and entertainment. Apparently Ecuadorian immigrants, of whom there are a lot, both in Barcelona and Madrid, brought the gangs over here with them. They've appeared only in the last year or so in Barcelona; they didn't turn up until April 2003 in BCN, according to the cops.
Anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism are sadly much more common in Western Europe than one would hope at this late date. The two, of course, are closely related.

The basic mindset of the anti-Semite and the anti-American is the same: there is some all-powerful person or organization or institution that controls the world. The All-Powerful, whoever he or they are, is responsible for everything that happens, both good and bad. Therefore the All-Powerful is guilty for everything bad, which always happens for a reason--if it weren't in the interest of the All-Powerful, of course, it wouldn't happen. Now here comes the logical twist--therefore, the All-Powerful always acts exclusively in its own interest. So, it never acts altruistically or with the intention of doing good. It always acts selfishly. Everything good, honest, solidarious, caring-and-sharing, and the like comes from those who OPPOSE the All-Powerful.

The Americans and the Jews, as I said, are the peoples most commonly accused of being the All-Powerful, and they are quite frequently considered to be the same thing--or don't you remember the El Periodico cartoons of the American flag with the Star of David in the corner blue field? This is where the meme "The Jewish lobby controls the USA" comes from, in case you were wondering.

This is also why it's just as offensive for a European to say, as so many do, "Oh, individual Americans are all right, you're cool, it's just most of them are ignorant or materialistic or whatever, and it's the system's fault, the society's fault" as it is to substitute "Jews" (or "Catalans", as many people in Castile would--the Catalans aren't seen as the All-Powerful themselves but rather as sellouts to the All-Powerful) in that statement for "Americans". It's the same conspiracy theory.

I'm not letting us Americans off the hook. A lot of your moron Americans who believe in idiot conspiracy theories--the CIA killed Kennedy, the Defense Department is covering up what they know about UFOs, there are satanic perverts running our nursery schools--are guilty of the same thing, except the US government is the All-Powerful in their eyes. Unless it's the UN or the Masons or the Trilateral Commission or the British royal family or just "big business" or "the corporations" or the cattle mutilators or whatever.

Anyway, check out this article on anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism from Front Page. I especially liked this section:

But another element of the new anti-Semitism is often overlooked: The time frame for this resurgence of judeophobia corresponds with the intensification of international links that took place in the 1990s. “People are losing their compass,” observes Dan Dinar, a historian at Hebrew University. “A worldwide stock market, a new form of money, no borders. Concepts like country, nationality, everything is in doubt. They are looking for the ones who are guilty for this new situation and they find the Jews.” The backlash against globalization unites all elements of the political spectrum through a common cause, and in doing so it sometimes fosters a common enemy—what French Jewish leader Roger Cukierman calls an anti-Semitic “brown-green-red alliance” among ultra-nationalists, the populist green movement, and communism’s fellow travelers. The new anti-Semitism is unique because it seamlessly stitches together the various forms of old anti-Semitism: The far right’s conception of the Jew (a fifth column, loyal only to itself, undermining economic sovereignty and national culture), the far left’s conception of the Jew (capitalists and usurers, controlling the international economic system), and the “blood libel” Jew (murderers and modern-day colonial oppressors).

Yep. That's what we have here in Catalonia. All European nationalisms are mildly, at least, anti-Semitic, and Catalan nationalism is no exception. Fortunately our "browns", the Republican Left more obnoxious than Convergence, aren't too awful. Neither is real hardcore right wing and they both at least make nice noises about diversity occasionally. They do tend to be instinctively anti-American culturally--of course, that's why they're nationalists, they don't want non-Catalan stuff, or at least they don't want non-Catalan stuff that they didn't carefully choose for themselves, and America is by far the most culturally active and therefore "aggressive" society on earth, so it's the biggest enemy of the Catalan nationalist since it has more influence than any other (except the Castilian-Andalusian culture, which is much more of a threat to the Catalanistas because it's much closer and there's an enormous Spanish-speaking fifth column in the high schools recruiting nice Catalan-speaking boys and girls into smoking hash, getting tanked up in the streets ("el botellon"), listening to Estopa, and pronouncing "es que" "ejjjkay").

Our greens are linked both with our browns--ecologism and "land and blood" nationalism tend to go together--and our reds. My impression is that there are two different green parties in Catalonia; one is more nationalist and conservative, and it's linked to the Republican Left, and the other is more internationalist, hard leftist, and Spanish-speaking, and they're linked with Initiative for Catalonia, the local Communists' official name.

The Catalan Socialist Party occasionally attempts to appeal to all these motivations to be anti-American or anti-Semitic: they'll go brown and talk about being Catalanistas and against American culture, sometimes they'll go green and talk about being ecologically concerned and anti-American because the US is destroying the planet, and sometimes they'll go red and start talking Marxistically. You already know what that leads to.

What all the groups are capable of doing is using the blood libel: the All-Powerful is manifesting itself in the Middle East leaving blood dripping in his path. The Jews are murdering the Palestinians (local genius Baltasar Porcel says it's because they want the water) and the Americans massacred the Afghans and now they're massacring Iraqis. We're murdering them so we can grab the oil, see.

Of course, the only major political organization in Spain that openly opposes the idea of an American-Jewish confabulation that runs the world is the People's Party.
The government has announced that Spain is 0.5% over budget this year to the tune of $3.5 billion, the fifth straight year of a basically balanced budget (no deficits above 1%). Congratulations to Prime Minister Aznar and Economics Minister Rodrigo Rato; we've got the healthiest economy in the European Union. Overall economic growth is at 2.9%, the third best in the EU after such big and important countries as Ireland and Greece. The Eurozone growth average is under 2%. Zap, of course, is complaining that the extra cash in the budget should be spent on "social programs". Aznar and Rato are going to use it to pay down the national debt, of course.

No one can deny that the average Spaniard is much better off under Jose Maria Aznar than he was under Felipe Gonzalez. Felipe used to run 6-7% budget deficits year-in and year-out. The killer stat is this one: Spanish per capita income was 78% of the EU average in 1995, the year before Aznar took over. In 2003 per capita income is 85% of the European average. I submit that you've got to give the government big-time credit on this one.

Zap claims that Spanish economic growth is based on the construction sector, which has caused an increase in families' debt and a real estate bubble. The Socialists are really going off on the real estate bubble; the question is whether there is one. Housing prices have increased dramatically, but Spain is still very cheap compared to the rest of Europe. One would figure if our income is 85% of Europe's, our housing prices ought to be about 85% of Europe's. I don't know anything about European housing prices, but I can tell you that the average price in Barcelona is 3000 euros per square meter, meaning that an 80-square-meter flat ought to go for about €240,000. This is pretty cheap compared to most big cities around these parts, I think.

The real housing problem is this. The great majority of Spaniards are homeowners. Renting an apartment is not as common as it is in other big cities. Now, the rent control system put in way back when prevents landlords from jacking up the prices on old rental contracts, so there are an awful lot of people still paying forty euros a month on enormous flats in fine neighborhoods.

Corollary to the Law of Supply and Demand: When the government sets the price of a good at below that good's market value, that good will disappear from the market. That's why you can't rent a cheap place in Spain. All the rental apartments are already taken, because nobody wants to give up his old contract that allows him to live basically free. Rental apartments only come on the market when these folks actually die off. (I'm exaggerating slightly but not much).

The fact that you can't rent a cheap place means that instead of moving out of home at age 21 or 23 or even 25, people stay with their parents until they're past thirty, have established jobs, and plan to get married. There are lots of consequences of this system, to wit:

a) Close family ties. Generally a good thing but sometimes frustrating. b) Immature young adults whose moms take care of them until age 30. c) Lack of independence, conformism among young people. d) Low birth rate--people don't have kids till their thirties and then they have only one. e) A tendency toward laboral overqualification--while kids are sitting at home during their twenties they tend to collect more and more academic credentials of questionable utility. f) Lower consumption of goods--if the kid is living with mom and dad instead of his own place, that's a washing machine less that the economy sells. There are probably a hundred more but those are the ones that come off the top of my head.

Minister of the Treasury Cristobal Montoro, by the way, told Zap openly in the Parliament that he didn't know a damn thing about economics, which he doesn't (an open mike caught one of his advisers explaining to him the difference between progressive and regressive taxation while up on stage recently; Zap had confused them while speaking--and they call Bush dumb). Montoro then rubbed it in by saying, "You'll never get your budget through, because you'll never be Prime Minister, and you won't even be the leader of your party because you're gone after you lose the next elections. You're going from defeat to defeat leading up to the final debacle". Boom, boom, out go the lights.

By the way, we also have the healthiest pension system in Europe; it's running a 0.8% surplus with a €13 billion reserve fund.

Meanwhile, the Frogs and the Toads are both over the 3% budget deficit that the EU agreement permits them to run, and they are going to just flat-out break the EU rules on this. Who can stop them? They run the EU and will break as many agreements as they feel like. That's our friends the French and Germans.

Street gang murder in Barcelona: A bunch of Latin American street punks killed a fellow Latin American teenager outside the San Jose de Calasanz high school near the Sagrada Familia. That's where Remei went to high school, by the way. The killers supposedly come from a gang called the Latin Kings; they dress up like American gangbangers. I do not know whether these guys are affiliated with the American street gang the Latin Kings or whether they're just copycats; I assume the latter. In the past year there has been a wave of gang crime in the schools, with young thugs (often of immigrant origin, it must be said) hanging out near schools and robbing the kids when they enter or leave. Says the city government, "The high school (in question) is not conflictive and violent groups have never appeared, either inside or outside...This is an isolated case." Yeah, right. Everybody else in town hates these punks. And we know they exist because we see them every day. Some of them hang out in the Plaza del Norte, outside the La Salle Gracia high school. In the Vanguardia editorial they say it's just like West Side Story. Uh, no. Manhattan's West Side is a good deal safer, as far as street crime goes, than Barcelona.

Oh, yeah, the Vanguardia's Andy Robinson says that the people who live in the places where the fires are burning in southern California are there because of "white flight" (all Andy knows about LA is that he thinks "City of Quartz" is the gospel truth). They're all multimillionares living in opulent mansions--Andy likes the word "opulent". He thinks the fires are their own fault because they voted against higher taxes. See, if taxes were higher, then there wouldn't be any fires. Or something like that.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

I've been rooting around in the mire of hate groups on the Internet. The great majority of them are simply nuts. These folks, however, the League of the South and the Council of Conservative Citizens, might fool unaware people into believing that they're something they're not. What they are is white supremacy groups. They're a lot slicker than the Klan, and they don't say anything about violence--well, not much. They do recommend that "European-Americans" should carry guns or other weapons just in case, well, you know what them big black bucks all want to do to our sweet little white girls.

I would take these guys semi-seriously. They're 25,000 people between the two of them, which is not a lot, but is enough to bring them to public attention. There is a photo of Haley Barbour at a CCC barbecue on the homepage of the Council of Conservative Citizens' website. I would suggest that Mr. Barbour immediately disassociate himself from these people, or that the Republican Party should immediately disassociate itself from him.

Note that both sites openly support Maurice, the racist barbecue guy from South Carolina, in his battle against Wal-Mart. Maurice didn't integrate his restaurants until the Supreme Court made him in 1976.

Please, all you foreigners, don't assume that these guys are typical of either conservatives or Southerners. They're not. There are still some unpleasant racist white people left in the South (some of them are related to me; hear that, Larry, you goddamn redneck from Lufkin)--and everywhere else--but they're dying out slowly but surely. Racism is still alive and ugly, as these websites show in a slightly slicked-up way. But it ain't what it used to be.
Andrew Sullivan mentions Fred Phelps today. Fred's picketing someplace in Long Island for some reason. I'm from Kansas. I know all about Fred Phelps. He's been at it for years. I remember back in the mid-eighties when I was at KU in Lawrence; Fred was already very well-known then. He used to show up on campus a lot with his small flock and his "God Hates Fags" and "AIDS Cures Fags" signs. From what I hear, he still does, but he went nationwide years ago. His website has attracted over 3.5 million visitors.

Fred is the self-appointed pastor of his own minuscule Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, which to my knowledge has no affiliation with the American Baptists or the Southern Baptists or any other legitimate group of Baptists. All of his church's members are his relatives; he has like twelve kids, a few of whom are estranged from their father but most of whom are his followers. Fred may have attracted a few nutcase loyalists outside his family, but since even Jerry Falwell thinks he's crazy, he's well out of sync with the most conservative wing of the Christian Right.

What frightens me about Fred is not that he's going to attract a mass movement of followers; he's too far out for anyone except for those people with nine toes and eight teeth who move out to Idaho or down to the Ozarks and live in incestuous and heavily armed compounds that the Feds roust every so often and some nutjob's poor innocent kids wind up getting shot. I'm worried that some Alan Rudolph type is going to be encouraged by Fred to go on an anti-gay killing spree. In fact, I pretty much guarantee you it's going to happen one of these days, sooner or later.

Also, what is tremendously offensive is the sheer hate that Fred exudes toward gays. He's not a "hate the sin, love the sinner" type; at least those guys are nonviolent. In fact, much of his rhetoric is obscenely scatological, as he continually refers to gays as "filthy" and "pigs" and "dogs" whose sexual practices include "fornicating with feces" and "drinking urine and semen". (I saw a rather attractive young female the other day wearing one of those tiny T-shirts. This one had the Pepsi logo on the front, but instead of "Pepsi" it said "Sperm". If I weren't married I'd have asked for her phone number.)

This, of course, is the good old dehumanizing tactic used by such lovely folks as the Nazis. You really ought to check out Fred's stuff, though, for the ultimate in crude hate propaganda. Here's a collection of his pieces called "God Hates America". Warning: click at your own risk. This stuff is vile.

What can we do to stop Fred? I think nothing. Fred's speech is protected by the First Amendment--up to a point. I don't think the law can close him down until some Fred follower shoots up a gay rights parade; then we can get him for inciting to violence, at least implictly. It looks to me like he's pretty careful (he's a lawyer) to avoid doing that explicitly; that is, he says that gays are sodomite pigs who have destroyed America, but he never takes the next logical step: he never out-and-out calls for violence.

Note to foreigners: Do not assume that Fred Phelps is a typical American from the heartland. He is not. Ninety-nine point nine nine nine percent of the population of Kansas, not to mention the rest of the country, thinks Fred Phelps is demented.
Here's this week's tribute-to-TMQ Power Rankings for the NFL, based on the ratio of the teams' points for / against ratio just like we did last week.

This week. (Last week); Won-loss; Ratio

1. (3) Chiefs; 8-0; 1.89; 4 blowouts, 4 close wins
2. (2) Colts; 6-1; 1.65; 4 close wins
3. (6) Dolphins; 5-2; 1.65; 5 wins, 5 blowouts
4. (4) Rams; 5-2; 1.57; 4-game win streak, 4 blowouts
5. (9) Bucs; 4-3; 1.54; 4 wins, 4 blowouts
6. (1) Vikings; 6-1; 1.47
7. (10) Titans; 6-2; 1.32; 3-game win streak, 5 blowouts
8. (5) Broncos; 5-3; 1.30; 2-game loss streak
9. (8) Seahawks; 5-2; 1.30
10. (7) Cowboys; 5-2; 1.29; lost 2 blowouts
11. (16) Ravens; 4-3; 1.21
12. (11) Niners; 3-5; 1.21; 4 close losses
13. (13) Packers; 3-4; 1.20; 3 blowouts, 3 close losses
14. (14) Patriots; 6-2; 1.19; 4-game win streak
15. (15) Panthers; 6-1; 1.13
16. (12) Bills; 4-4; 0.97; lost 4 blowouts
17. (20) Giants; 3-4; 0.96
18. (17) Jets; 2-5; 0.94
19. (19) Saints; 3-5; 0.90
20. (18) Browns; 3-5; 0.88
21. (22) Eagles; 4-3; 0.88; 2-game win streak
22. (21) Bengals; 3-4; 0.87
23. (22) Jedskins; 3-4; 0.78; 3-game loss streak
24. (24) Raiders; 2-5; 0.77; 3-game loss streak
25. (25) Steelers; 2-5; 0.73; 4-game loss streak, blown out 4 times
26. (26) Jags; 1-6; 0.69; blown out 4 times
27. (27) Chargers; 1-6; 0.64; blown out 4 times
28. (30) Bears; 2-5; 0.63
29. (29) Texans; 2-5; 0.61
30. (28) Lions; 1-6; 0.60
31. (31) Falcons; 1-6; 0.52; blown out 5 times
32. (32) Cardinals; 2-5; 0.51; blown out 4 times


I like the Dolphins over the Patriots for the AFC East title. The Bills are not going to contend. The system seems to be underrating both the Patriots and the Panthers; then again, it might be telling us they're not as good as their records. It's pretty clear that all twelve of the playoff teams will come from the top fifteen in the power rankings, with the possible exception of the Eagles. If the Eagles can win a couple more games, we'll have to take them seriously as a playoff contender. It looks like the system is overrating both the Niners and the Packers, telling us they're not as solid as a lot of us thought they were--or maybe it's telling us they're still better than their records. The Broncos are almost certainly ranked too high, based on their quarterback troubles and losing streak. The Bucs and Rams are not ranked too high; they're going to the playoffs. Gotta like the Rams' four-game win streak since Bulger took over as QB. The Steelers and Raiders are through. Finished. Kaput. I love it when the Raiders suck. I hate the Raiders, everything about them from Al Davis down. Remember when Davis used to force Marcus Allen to sit the bench before Allen finally got liberated in Kansas City?

As for NFL imaginary betting, we're down twenty bucks on the year--remember, you gotta pay a ten-percent vig to the bookie, so if you bet a hundred and win, you win ninety, and when you bet a hundred and lose, you're out 110. St. Louis beat up on Pittsburgh, as we foresaw, but the Niners choked and lost to the Cardinals. This week's bets: we're giving the points both times. A hundred imaginary bucks on the eleventh-ranked Ravens at home, favored by 6 1/2 points over the Jags--the Ravens are playing well, have home-field, and the Jags suck, and a hundred imaginary bucks on the Bucs--I like that--favored by 8 1/2 at home over New Orleans. The fifth-ranked Bucs, playing at home, are on a roll and the Saints are merely mediocre.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

The news from Iraq is not good at all; 40 people were killed in a wave of bombings in Baghdad. All of them were Iraqis except for one American soldier. The bombings hit the Red Cross international committee's headquarters and four Iraqi police stations.

Robert Fisk, in today's Vanguardia, says that

During Ramadan--the press likes to call it the "month of sanctification of the holidays," which is only appropriate up to a point--Muslim feeling flourishes: during these days, a Muslim feels that he or she has to do something important so that God will listen to him or her. There is no passage in the Koran related to violence during Ramadan, nor about suicide bombings--just as there is nothing in the New Testament that calls upon Christians to perpetrate genocide or "ethnic cleansing", in which they became experts during the past two centuries--but the loyal Wahabi Sunnis have gotten used to combining holy war with the "message", the "dawa" during Ramadan.

As a consequence, what has the message been? In Baghdad, the political message of the last two days has been clear: it indicated to the Iraqis that the Americans cannot control Iraq, and it told--something more important, perhaps--the Americans that their country cannot control Iraq...which is a sign to the Iraqis that--an even more essential factor--they must not cooperate with American forces! (By the way: After yesterday, who's going to want to be an Iraqi policeman?)

...We must add, of course, what happened at the headquarters of the Red Cross, the last "honest broker" for the Americans, the last truly neutral international organism--after the double suicide attacks against the United Nations--still able to provide a certain degree of communication in the actual circumstances between American forces and their adversaries. But now that possibility is finished. It is possible that some elements hostile to the United States really come from other Arab countries...but most of the armed opposition to the American presence comes from the Iraqi Sunnis. Not from the "remainder" of Saddam's forces, from his "hardcore sympathizers" or "people with no future" (Paul Bremer's typical expressions, covering up a real and growing Iraqi resistance), but from men who in many cases hated Saddam.

They don't work for Al Qaeda. They don't work for Mullah Omar or for Osama Bin Laden. But they've learned their own vision of history. Attack the enemy during the holy month of Ramadan, Learn form the war in Algeria. And from the war in Afghanistan. Learn the lessons of the "war against terrorism" that the United States is waging. Go for the throat. Remember that about "Bring them to me"...Kill their leaders. And then "You're either with us or against us. You're either collaborators or patriots."

That was the lesson of yesterday's bloodbath in Baghdad.

Now, Mr. Fisk's celebration of these events in Baghdad is, of course, disgusting, but Mr. Fisk is not stupid. Evil, probably, but not stupid. He is actually an expert propagandist, which is what has led him to make so many mistakes in the past and to get people to forget about them, since he's always off on a new wild tangent, more reckless than the last. This time he has not made a mistake. As a longtime sympathizer with dictators and totalitarians, he well knows what Step One is in organizing your "people's struggle movement." Step One is: Kill all of your people who don't want to struggle and would prefer a negotiated peace to a victorious--or losing--violent conflict. This is why the Palestinians are so united while the Israelis are all divided--because any Palestinian who openly disagrees with the people's struggle movement has an appointment with a death squad.

The most notorious places this strategy has been practiced include Vietnam, with the Vietminh and Vietcong; Spain, where anarchist terrorists murdered workers who opposed the CNT, the anarchist union; and Algeria. Says Paul Johnson in his book Modern Times (pages 497-98), on the post-1945 civil war:

These (Algerian FLN terrorists), who had absorbed everything most evil the twentieth century had to offer, imposed their will on the villages by sheer terror; they never used any other method. Krim told a Yugoslav paper that the initiation method for a recruit was to force him to murder a designated "traitor", mouchard (police spy or informer), French gendarme or colonialist: "An assassination marks the end of the apprenticeship of each candidate." A pro-FLN American reporter was told: "When we've shot (the Muslim victim) his head will be cut off and we'll clip a tag on his ear to show he was a traitor. Then we'll leave the head on the main road." Ben Bella's written orders included: "Liquidate all personalities who want to play the role of interlocuteur valable." "Kill any person attempting to deflect the militants and inculcate in them a bourghibien spirit." Another: "Kill the caids...Take their children and kill them Kill all those who pay taxes and all those who collect them. Burn the houses of Muslim NCOs away on active service." The FLN had their own internal reglements des comptes too; the man who issued the last order, Bachir Chihani, was accused (like Roehm) of pederasty and sadistic sex-murders, and chopped to pieces along with eight of his lovers. But it was the Muslim men-of-peace the FLN killers really hated. In the first two-and-a-half years of war, they murdered only 1,035 Europeans but 6,352 Arabs (authenticated cases; the real figure was nearer 20,000). By this point the moderates could only survive by becoming killers themselves or going into exile.

The FLN strategy was, in fact, to place the mass of the Muslims in a sandwich of terror. On one side, the FLN killers replaced the moderates. On the other, FLN atrocities were designed to provoke the French into savage reprisals, and so drive the Muslim population into the extremist camp. FLN doctrine was spelled out with cold-blooded precision by the Brazilian terrorist Carlos Marighela:

"It is necessary to turn political crisis into armed conflict by performing violent actions that will force those in power to transform the situation into a military situation. that will alienate the masses who, from then on, will revolt against the army and the police...the government can only intensify its repression, thus making the lives of its citizens harder than ever...police terror will become the order of the day...The population will refuse to collaborate with the authorities, so that the latter will find the only solution to their problem lies in the physical liquidation of their opponents. The political system of the country will then become a military situation."

Of course, this odious variety of Leninism, if pursued ruthlessly enough, has a certain irrestible force.

Robert Fisk doesn't seem to have any problem with it, though. You might remember that attacks that fit in with the above perverse but effective strategy have already happened at the UN headquarters, the Jordanian Embassy, two mosques (one was a moderate Shiite leader's in Najaf, where 83 innocent people died), and several Iraqi police stations.

This is why backing out now will only make things worse. Yes, I'm aware that's what they said in Vietnam. We have some advantages in Iraq: 1) there's no big nearby country that is supporting the terrorists within Iraq with weapons, supplies and cash 2) armor and airpower are a lot more effective in the desert than the jungle 3) our own equipment is many times better than what we had in Vietnam 4) our soldiers are volunteers, not draftees 5) we know damn well that these people may not be exactly the same folks who blew up the World Trade Centers, but they're fighting on the same side.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Just a few thoughts while wondering what ever happened to Charo...It's a journalistic custom to refer to the leadership of a political party by the name of the street their headquarters is on; therefore in Madrid Socialist headquarters is "Ferraz" and PP headquarters is "Genova", and in Barcelona Socialist headquarters is "Tarragona" and Convergence headquarters is "Corsega"...Genova rocked and rolled last night, with the most printable chant: "Simancas, jodete, Madrid es del PP"...Ferraz was so worried about being tainted (nationally) by their foreseeable (regional) loss that they had their (regional) election-night convention-press-conference-party thing at a rented-out auditorium, not at Ferraz itself...The province of Alava is now talking about seceding from the region of the Basque Country whether or not the Basque Country declares independence from Spain, and Navarra wants nothing to do with Ibarretxe or his party or his plan that would include them...Barcelona beat Mallorca 1-3, saving the players from the lynch mob this week at least...Deportivo beat Valencia 2-1 in a spectacular game, full of action, giving Depor first place in the League followed by Valencia and Real Madrid...I was drunk the day my ma got out of prison and I went to pick her up in the rain...The Chiefs are eight-and-oh. Is this finally the year?...People I think are probably bigger stars in Europe than America: Nicole Kidman, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue, Claudia Schiffer, Abba, Cher, Mia Farrow, Julio Iglesias, Sharon Stone, Lorenzo Lamas, Cliff Richard, Boney M, oh my god.....
Well, they done had them elections in the Madrid region and conservative People's Party candidate Esperanza Aguirre was elected Prime Minister of the region with 48.4% of the vote. Rafael Simancas of the Socialists took 39.0% and Fausto Fernandez (yeah, this guy's name is Faust, which is probably one reason he came in third) of the Communist United Left took 8.5%. The PP has 57 seats in the regional Parliament; the PSOE won 45 and the United Left 9, so not even a Popular Front coalition can overturn the PP absolute majority.

Esperanza Aguirre is one of the conservative political figures most hated by the Spanish Illustrated and Enlightened Among Us because she's a member of the Madrid haute bourgeoisie and is married to a minor noble. She's often portrayed as an idiot when quite the opposite is true; she passed the highest-level Civil Service exam, which is not real easy to do, and she's been involved in politics as a representative in the Madrid regional parliament, a representative in the national parliament, minister of Culture, and president of the Senate, ever since 1981.

A common urban legend cherished by the Spanish Left is that when informed that Saramago had won the Nobel Prize for literature, Ms. Aguirre y Gil de Biedma responded "Who is Sara Mago?" Ha, ha. Ms Aguirre obviously knows who Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago is, since she's smart enough to read El Pais just like all the geniuses who like to make fun of her. She probably doesn't think much of his writing. I don't, either.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

I'm in kind of a cranky mood so I've been digging up a bunch of crap on the Net. Here's the first chapter of Vicente Verdu's The American Planet translated to English by somebody else, obviously an Illustrated and Enlightened Brit. Check it out for El Pais columnist and self-proclaimed sociologist Verdu's sophisticated analysis of American culture, which ranges from the postmodern to the reactionary and has the general characteristics of getting pretty much everything wrong and being wildly praised by both the Marxist Left and Jihadist Right. This particular book spent a year or so on the bestseller list in Spain back in the late nineties. It's probably been read by at least a million people in Europe. If you're interested in "how others see us", this should be enlightening.

If you want more Vicente Verdu, I can provide it, but I'll only translate that crap if I get a request.
Intelligent Life in Spain Watch: Looking around El Periodico's website, I found this here collection of sixty opinions provided by local celebrities of one kind or another on the war in Iraq back in February. I'm not going to translate it all, but you guys might want to check it out if you can read Spanish. It's pretty scary to see how uninformed and stupid these people are; a lot like celebrities in the United States, I guess.

Remember P. J. O'Rourke's hierarchy of ratings for celebrity statements, as if they were movies? S stood for "silly", VS stood for "very silly", and SML stood for "Shirley McLaine". These are all good, solid SMLs.

Here are some of the better quotes from some of the better-known celebs:

Javier Clemente, soccer coach: "The Government is getting into something it shouldn't."
Laura Garcia Lorca, bearer of famous surnames: "Federico would demonstrate against the war."
Gay Mercader, concert promotor: "Bush thinks Sharon is a man of peace."
Baltasar Porcel, genius: "I won't go out in the street, I'll demonstrate through my writing."
Emilio Aragon, actor, professional clown: "You can't build democratic societies on fear."
Jose Ramon de la Morena, sports talk-show host: "Aznar is acting as Bush's spear-carrier."
Fernando Delgado, newsreader: "Preventive war is an attack against intelligence."
Mercedes Mila, reality-show host: "I feel closer to Chirac than Aznar."
Inaki Gabilondo, talk-show host: "Blair, Berlusconi, and Aznar are Old Europe."
Gemma Nierga, the Spanish Ricki or Rosie: "I would prefer a government in favor of dialogue."
Some guy I never heard of: "If you applaud the USA you are a genocidist by empathy."
Victor Manuel, singer: "There are hidden interests behind the buildup to war."
Luis Eduardo Aute, singer: "Uncle Sam hates it that his name rhymes with Saddam."
Concha Velasco, old bat: "I'm proud of (the Yank-bashing protest) at the Goya Awards."
Boris Izaguirre, Spain's Paul Lynde: "This is only good for imperialism."
Josep Maria Benet i Jornet, soap-opera scriptwriter: "Words are the only thing we have left against barbarism."
Coto Matamoros, convicted drug trafficker and reality-show personality: "I'll march against the war and against the government."
Euro Anti-Semitism Watch: In yesterday's El Periodico, the back-page cartoon is by some piece of shit in human form named Ferreres. It shows Ariel Sharon, depicted as hugely fat with a big nose and thick lips (exactly as if El Periodico were Der Sturmer). Sharon is pushing a wheelbarrow full of human skulls and standing in front of an enormous wall of more skulls. Three innocent-looking folks, whom I assume are Palestinians, are saying to him: "The UN has condemned the construction of the wall." Sharon responds, "There's a lot of anti-Semites around here. Besides, in the caricatures, they always draw me as fat. I don't know why!" The Periodico's all-time classic cartoon, which they run several times a year, is an American flag with the Star of David in the place of the fifty stars.

Click here if you want to see the Ferreres cartoon.

On the very same page, the unintelligent, uninformed, anti-American, fat Catalan "journalist", Joan Barril (this guy is so fat that his neck bulges out over his shirt collar and makes him look like a swollen-up frog in the photo that accompanies his newspaper column. I met him once briefly. He's an asshole as a person--Spaniards who are not confident in their own intelligence, like Barril and Vazquez Montalban and Javier Nart, and especially the vicious dragonlady Maruja Torres, but who somehow have risen to levels where they are considered geniuses by the Great Unwashed, tend to be major assholes, unlike most of the rest of them--and he's much uglier in person than in that photo), has an article on the Madrid Donors' Conference. Here's an excerpt:

In half a year we've moved from preventative demonstrations to the smoke of the bombings, from the threat of weapons of mass destruction to nothing, from a war which was supposed to be a liberation to a painful and bloody occupation. Even to wage war well you have to be competent, and something is telling us that the most professional army in the world has behaved with little professionalism. And now they're appealing to the generosity of the First World, not so much to help Iraq but to pay the American bill. If you don't want to spend your money on construction, don't spend it on destruction. A donor is someone who gives. But a forced donor is not a donor, but a victim. We don't become philanthropists by handing over our wallet to a mugger.

With the recently arrived cold weather there's plenty of time to think about the sum of injustices of this war and this postwar. I imagine those generals, those pilots, and that secretary of Defense at the moment of deciding the bombing of inhabited cities with fragmentation bombs. War also has its syntax. There are bombs designed to penetrate and mutilate bodies and others to blow up buildings or cut off highways. the cost of the mutilated body is not contemplated in the fund-raising in Madrid, maybe because the cost of an anonymous Iraqi has no price and on the other hand a section of a pipeline has an incalculable value. Now everything is turning out to be very expensive. And they're asking the world to pay for the aggressors' party. And the world isn't just governments. We taxpayers are going to contribute the money so that some Spanish company can make a small profit with the crumbs from the table that Dick Cheney's friends leave behind.

Challenge: How many lies, exaggerations, and stereotypes can you find in these two paragraphs of Mr. Barril's?

Update: I have just torn out said back page of the Periodico and taken it to the toilet, where I used it for target practice. Bombed it, strafed it, and sank it.
Today is Election Day in Madrid; it's the repetition of the regional elections. In case you don't remember, back in March they had elections to determine the composition of the autonomous-region governments. In the Madrid region, the Socialists and the United Left made a coalition after the election to keep the conservative People's Party out of power; together they eked out a majority of one seat in the regional parliament over the PP. However, two Socialists, members of a minority faction, abandoned the party alleging that the Socialist Party was turning over too much power to the Communist United Left and bolted the party. They refused, however, to add their votes to the PP's side, so nobody had an absolute majority and the elections had to be repeated. The Socialists tried to turn the whole thing into a bribery scandal, alleging that powerful developers and constructors close to the PP had paid off the two rebel Socialists to bolt. They had zero evidence and looked really stupid when their charges did not pan out. If I were the PP I'd sue them for libel.

The PP candidate Esperanza Aguirre is expected to win, narrowly, and become the next prime minister of the Madrid region. It's a very important job because Madrid is a very large metropolitan area with more than five million people, nearly as many as in all of Catalonia. Most of the growth happening in the Madrid area is to the outside of the city, as the city is by now pretty much built up, so the regional government is even more important than it used to be since it controls the biggest-growth region in Spain. (Note: North of the city are the rich suburbs like La Moraleja; south of town are the working-class suburbs. For a good look, catch the bus to Toledo from the bus station in south Madrid and then ride through miles and miles of tower blocks plunked down on the dusty plains.)

An uninformed foreigner visiting Spain these days would, pardonably, think that Basque president Juanjo Ibarretxe was the most important man in the country. He's announced that he has a plan to give the Basque Country greater autonomy--it would become a "free associated state"--and the right to secede and has been going on about it since July. What he's succeeded in doing is piss everybody off. See, his plan would violate the Spanish Constitution in about eighteen different ways (articles 145, 155, and 161)--the Basque Supreme Court would be the highest judicial authority there, there would be such a thing as Basque nationality and citizenship, secession would be legal as would referendums on secession, and so on. Aznar has already announced that the plan has "a zero percent chance of success."

Even the Catalanista Vanguardia is slamming Ibarretxe; their front-page headline says that Juanjo is "defying the Constitution". They point out that he wants to add the French Basque Country as well, and that might lead to "the French Legion taking San Juan de Luz and, who knows, Pamplona." They add that the plan is "a contract that only one of the two parts can break unilaterally"--that is, the Basques would get to decide if they want to stay in Spain or not, but the rest of Spain wouldn't have the right to kick them out, something that a lot of people wouldn't mind doing. They would also have the right to continue calling repeated referendums on seccession, Quebec-style, until they somehow happened to win one; nobody believes that an independent Basque Country would allow a referendum on whether to reunite with Spain. Another factor is that right now some 15% of the Basques vote for openly independentista parties, and they are the ones who are currently unhappy with the situation in the Basque Country; if the Basque Country were independent, we assume that those 85% of Basques who vote for non-independentista parties would be unhappy--or at the very least the 50% of Basques who vote for non-nationalist parties would be. Also, the Basque Country's commercial relations with Spain would not change under the Plan. That is, they would get to leave Spain if they wanted (and the central government wouldn't be allowed to tax property in the Basque Country even if they didn't leave), but we wouldn't be allowed to slap a tariff on their products as a reaction.

The province of Alava, one of the three Basque Country provinces, has already threatened that if the Basque Country secedes from Spain, they'll secede from the Basque Country. (Alava is largely Spanish-speaking and votes for the PP).

Everybody also seems to be forgetting this: If the Basque Country declared independence, even if there weren't a civil war or mass disturbances, Spain and France would both blackball the Basques from the European Union and the United Nations and every other international organization. Is that what they want? Total isolation, like Albania? That's what independence would bring them.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

What the hell has happened to Gregg Easterbrook? The guy has had a respected twenty-five year record as a top journalist and commentator. He wrote the best single book I've ever read about environmental policy. Then, a couple of weeks ago, he gets his words all tangled up, enough to make him look anti-Semitic, which we all know he's not. (Easterbrook's mangling of logic is certainly nothing to compare, as far as anti-Semitism goes, with what we read in La Vanguardia every day. The Vangua uses "judio" and "israeli" as synonyms, so you'll read about the "Jewish army" or the "Jewish government". Of course, most Jews are not Israelis and many Israelis are not Jews.)

And now this. Where did he come up with this crap?

IT'S THIS SIMPLE: COME CLEAN ON WMD, OR LEAVE IRAQ: I'd like to propose a simplification of the entire Iraq/WMD debate. It's this: If the reason we went into Iraq really, truly was that the Bush administration really, truly believed Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction, then there is nothing of which the administration need feel shamed --but the United States must immediately leave Iraq.

We now know there is no significant banned-weapons program in Iraq. Any serious manufacturing facilities for banned weapons would have been detected by this point. If we went in to stop a banned-weapons program genuinely believing one existed, and now know one did not exist, then our military must depart immediately. This is the only honorable course.

Alternative: The administration admits that other reasons, possibly valid, were the real reasons all along.

posted 10:24 a.m.

Where did Easterbrook get the idea that leaving Iraq would be the morally right thing to do? Does he want us to leave those people with no government, with no security, with no hope for the future? That, to me, would be the height of amorality, to abandon twenty-five million people to their fate over an abstract question of principle. It would be neither just nor kind nor decent nor reasonable nor logical nor in American interests.

As for weapons of mass destruction, we KNOW (not just "really, truly believe") Saddam had them because he USED them on the Kurds and the Iranians. We KNOW, through David Kay's report, that Saddam DID continue his WMD programs after the first Gulf war. We KNOW that Saddam stopped cooperating with UN and American authorities regarding inspections in 1998 and that that, in itself, is a casus belli.

The most important reason we went after Saddam was not his possession of WMD, which we know that Israel and South Korea and Taiwan and Turkey and Pakistan and several of our other pals have. The thing is that we're not afraid any of them are going to slip a few tons of anthrax or a battlefield nuke to some terrorist gang. (Well, the Pakistanis...) We were justifiably afraid that Saddam would do exactly that because Saddam was a wealthy, powerful dictator with a serious bone to pick with the United States; we KNOW (not just "really, truly believe") that Saddam had terrorist connections (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Ansar el-Islam), that he gave money to the families of Palestinian suicide terrorists, that he recruited thugs from all over the Middle East for his Fedayeen, that he gave shelter to wanted terrorists (Abu Nidal, for example), and he bought arms illegally from lovely countries like North Korea and France. (The US sold him some sixty helicopters after the end of the Iran war and before the Kuwait war. That's all we ever sold him.)

Oh, by the way, as a "collateral benefit", we got rid of one of the worst dictators ever and are now trying to build Iraq into a stable nation. Got any problems with that, Mr. Easterbrook? Or was that immoral? And wouldn't it be the absolute worst thing imaginable if we pulled out right now and let Saddam Hussein come back to power? That would be beyond immoral. That would be perverse and evil. That would be much worse than Bush's alleged lying about whether he "really, truly believed" Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Which he did, I genuinely think. Believe, that is, not lie.

Friday, October 24, 2003

The conference of nations that will donate to the reconstruction of Iraq is underway in Madrid. Here's Libertad Digital's (an online Spanish newspaper run by leading conservative and "liberal" journalists) take on what's happened so far.

Reconstruction in Iraq: Optimism at Donors' Conference regarding hopes raised in Madrid

The organizers of the Donors' Conference for the reconstruction of Iraq, now being held in Madrid, are optimistic. It is predicted that the most optimistic forecasts for the collection of funds will be surpassed. Security in Iraq worries investors, though members of the provisional government assert that problems are not serious. At the opening of the conference, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked participants to send a "sign of optimism" to Iraq.

The International Conference of Donors to Iraq, being held in Madrid, is preparing for its second and definitive session after finishing its first phase, in which the fundamentals for the donations were agreed upon and in which the current situation in Iraq was discussed.

At the end of the first day, one of the members of the Iraqi government council, Adnan Pachachi, gave a press conference in which he said that international calculations on the necessities for the reconstruction of his country are "the imprescendible minimum." The UN and the World Bank estimate the financial necessities of Iraq for the period 2004-2007 at about 36 billion dollars, to which should be added the 19.4 billion dollars calculated by the Coalition Provisional Authority as the cost for the recovery of sectors not evaluated by the two international organizations. On Friday the final figure will be announced.

The Spanish commissioner for the Reconstruction of Iraq, Fernando Diaz Moreno, said that in the meetings held Thursday no country has suggested "in official or public terms" any conditions in exchange for donations to this process, though he did add that "this will be seen" on Friday. Asked insistently for the figures on the contributions of the various countries and organizations, Diaz Moreno said that we would also have to wait until Friday for them to be made public, and to learn exactly how much money will be added to the monetary fund and how much will be contributed directly through bilateral agreements with the Iraqi Administration.

The European Union's contribution will be 1.4 billion euros, according to the European Commisioner for Foreign Affairs, Chris Patten, who added that it will be divided, fifty percent for help with reconstruction and humanitarian aid. The US has announced that it will contribute around 20 billion dollars, while Japan will kick in 1.5 billion. Adnan Pachachi announced that the Arab countries' contributions will be "fairly important" and expressed hope that France and other countries that have shown their "reservations" about donating will change their attitude and "eventually see the necessity of helping Iraq."

Parallel to the Conference, there has been a meeting with businessmen, who have made clear that their investments are linked to an improvement of public safety in Iraq, the installation of a stable government, and the establishment of a financial system. The Iraqi minister of Education, Ali Adyuman, who participated in this forum. told the businessmen that there would be no restrictions on the entrance of international investors in any sector except that of energy, which will remain under state control. He also reminded the businessmen that Iraq is in the middle of an expanding market area and so can serve as a platform for access to Turkey, Iran, and the Persian Gulf.

Regarding security, the Iraqi minister of Commerce, Ali Abdul Amir Allawi, said at a press conference that "in Iraq there is not an uprising like that in Vietnam. Resistance is sporadic and concentrated in a few parts of the country. Compared with Latin America or southeast Asia, the situation is not as serious in Iraq," he said. Also, Allawi stated that "many" investors have shown themselves in Madrid to be "interested in the posibilities of doing business in Iraq and that even "some have announced that they will open offices in Baghdad." He promised that all contracts signed by his government will be validated under succeeding governments.

During the first day of the Donors' Conference, a thousand people, according to the police, appered in Calle Atocha in Madrid to demonstrate against it. The demonstrators carred signs with slogans like "Donors' conference, occupiers' looting" and "Invading troops out of Iraq". The group marched in downtown Madrid from Atocha to the Puerta del Sol. Some forty local associations in Madrid, leftists, ecologists, and students, supported the demo, called by the Assembly Against Globalization and War.

At the head of the demonstration were the director of International Solidarity for the (Communist) United Left party, Angeles Maestro, accompanied by the author Rosa Regas, who read a manifesto in the Puerta del Sol. However, Socialist party leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero did not appear, nor did United Left general coordinator Gaspar Llamazares. The demonstrations called by these two parties, along with other social and union organizations before, during, and after the war, reached a total of 500,000 people. According to the COPE radio network, the number of demonstrators grew while the protest march advanced, but the total was not above a few thousand.

Well, it's pretty obvious that the reporter is not a leftist, but that doesn't seem too unbalanced to me (though he uses the word "optimistic" three times in paragraph 1; whenever a word is repeated, it's very important to the writer). He lets the participants speak for themselves and is careful to look at the general picture. Just for example, if they can't get any foreign investors, they're not going to have much of an economy. The Iraqis are therefore trying to encourage foreign investment and are being as positive as possible about the situation in their country. I'd say our reporter is looking at the glass as if it were at least half-full. I've got no problem with that, myself.

The rest of the Spanish press, though, has not been as kind as Libertad Digital. The Vanguardia's not too bad, though they do imply that Halliburton is going to make a whole pile of money in Iraq and that there's something fishy about that. I figure Halliburton is one of the about three companies in the world capable of doing what they do, so it's not at all surprising that they'd be involved in Iraq's reconstruction. Remember, selling their oil is how the Iraqis are going to make a few bucks to get their economy up and running. Iraq suffers from 50% underemployment, so there's plenty of room to grow--and when some of these underemployed folks get jobs, there'll be a lot less discontent.

The Periodico and the Pais have gone ballistic, though, with the concept that the Madrid conference is merely the dividing up of the Iraqi pie. As good socialist Third Worldists, they believe that foreign investment is somehow bad and only benefits the few big bosses who are all in league together, anyway, and run everything. Let's prove them wrong by staying the course. I think it's a pretty good course, myself.

There's been a stink about the "Rumsfeld memo"; in case you don't know, Donald Rumsfeld sent a confidential memo around that got leaked to the press; Rummy's acting all pissed off, though I bet he leaked it himself. If I worked for Mr. Rumsfeld and he told me something was confidential, I wouldn't dare to leak it, you can believe that. Anyway, Rummy harshly criticized the conduct of the postwar and asked several searching questions.

I think this is a good sign; there's no Vietnam syndrome in the Administration's mind. There is freedom to debate within Bush's Administration, freedom to disagree; there's not one party line everyone must toe. They're not trying to pretend unpleasant facts don't exist.

Here's how I, as an uninformed oberver, would grade the Administration's performance:

Post September 11: A. Excellent.
Afghanistan: A. Excellent.
Pre-Iraq: C-, barely adequate, for bungling the whole UN thing. Bush should have done the military buildup faster and avoided even mentioning the words "United Nations", and we should have gone in sometime in fall 2002.
Iraq War: A-. Three weeks to Baghdad. Little unnecessary destruction, very few civilians killed.
Post-Iraq War: C+. Could have been better and faster and more efficient, but terrorism is under control and the country is getting back to normal. If Iraq is pretty much pacified and sort of functioning a year from now, I'll raise that grade to a B+.

The meme or trope or nugget going around enlightened and illustrated Barcelona circles now is that Iraq (a "rich country", they always say) needs to be reconstructed because the Americans destroyed it either with the first Gulf War or the embargo or the second Gulf War. 1) More than thirty years of Saddam's corrupt and brutal dictatorship is what destroyed the country. 2) Saddam started wars with everybody and his dog and that wasn't real good for the country either. 3) The embargo was a UN attempt to force Saddam to spend his corrupt rake-off on the treasury on his people instead of on weapons. Didn't work that way, but don't blame us, blame Saddam. 4) Iraq's desperately poor. All the oil in the world doesn't mean a damn thing if nobody's getting it out of the ground and transporting it to where it's needed and refining or otherwise processing it so it can be used. That's where the money is, in turning raw materials into things people want to buy, not just producing the iron ore but making it into steel and then from steel into something useful.

This attitude is, of course, "damned if you do, damned if you don't" anti-Americanism. Here's a list of memes and tropes and nuggets that have been tumbling over one another in Old European minds.

I. The Yankees just want the oil. When that was disproved, it changed to
II. The Yankees can't win the war. When that was disproved, it became
III. The Yankees are massacring the Iraqi people. When that was disproved, it became
IV. Epidemics and starvation are widespread in Yankee-occupied Iraq. When that was disproved, it turned into
V. The Americans don't care about the Iraqi people's welfare. When that was disproved, it changed to
VI. The Americans and their lackeys are looting Baghdad. When that was disproven, it became
VII. The brave Iraqi resistence is fighting for Iraqi freedom. Now that that's being disproved, it has become
VIII. The Americans are repressing the poor Iraqis. When that was disproved, it went back to the good old standards
IX. The Yankees just want the oil, they created Saddam anyway, and this whole thing is just a setup so Dick Cheney can get richer. And BUSH LIED!!!!!

Thursday, October 23, 2003

In the absence of anything more interesting to write about, I figured one of the problems with our previous football chart--you know, the one ranking the teams by the ratio of the points they score to the points they give up--is that it doesn't distinguish a big win or loss from a close game. See, a big win is proof you're a better team. You manhandled them, pushed them around, beat them up, and blew them out. A close game, on the other hand, could feasibly have gone the other way. If you beat the other guys by only one score, then if a break had gone to them instead of you, you might have lost.

So what I've done is award three points to each team for each big win (by ten points or more--ten points is two scores, a touchdown plus 1-point conversion and a field goal), two points for each close win, since you did win after all, one point for each close loss (by nine points or less--you were in the game, you had a chance to win) and zero points for each big loss. Then I divided that purely arbitrary number of points awarded by the number of games the team's played to come up with a ratio for each team of points awarded per game. Here's what it looks like:

1. Vikings 2.67 (have won four blowouts)
2. Chiefs 2.43 (four close wins)
3. Dolphins 2.33 (four wins, four blowouts; two losses, two close games)
4. Colts; Cowboys 2.17
6. Broncos; Titans 2.14 (Titans have four blowouts)
8. Rams; Seahawks 2.00 (Rams got blown out Week 1; Seahawks got blown out by wild-card rival Packers)
10. Bucs; Panthers 1.83
12. Packers 1.71 (three close losses)
13. Niners; Bills; Patriots 1.57 (Bills two losses by 10 points, Patriots blown out by Bills but Bills blown out by Jets)
16. Ravens; Browns 1.42
18. Saints 1.29 (wins vs. pathetic Hou, Chi, Atl)
19. Bengals 1.17
20. R******s, Raiders 1.14 (Raiders four close losses but no big wins)
22. Jets, Giants, Steelers 1.00 (Steelers blown out three times)
25. Eagles 0.85
26. Lions; Texans 0.83
28. Bears 0.80
29. Jaguars; Chargers 0.67
31. Falcons 0.57 (blown out five times)
32. Cardinals 0.50 (blown out four times)

I'm going to make minor changes in my playoff predictions based on considering these rankings and those I posted yesterday.

East Dolphins
West Chiefs
North Ravens or Browns
South Colts
Wild Cards Broncos; Titans

East Cowboys
West Rams
North Vikings
South Bucs
Wild Cards Seahawks; Panthers

I'm going to stick with the two teams I picked to bet on, the Rams over the Steelers and the Niners over the Cardinals; I'm putting an imaginary hundred bucks on each one. Since the Falcons and the Cardinals always get blown out, it's a pretty fair bet that they will again, at least if playing a decent team. I'd consider this when placing bets.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Since Gregg Easterbrook has been fired from his NFL-commentary job at ESPN, Iberian Notes will try to fill the gap Easterbrook leaves.

Now, I love Bill James's writing about baseball and statistics and conventional wisdom, but there are a lot more individual pitcher-batter pairups in baseball, enough to make individual statistics like on-base percentage or strikeout-walk ratio comparable among various players. You can use stats to say that player X is a better hitter than player Y.

That's harder to do with stats in football. Sure, Priest Holmes is obviously an above-average running back. But he doesn't necessarily have the highest yards-per-game average or the most touchdowns-per-minutes played or whatever because things all depend on the team and the context in which the play is called--Priest is a lot more likely to rack up big yards in a game against a battered defense than he is against Tampa Bay, for example. Also, the whole team has an effect on Priest's success, much more so than in baseball. If the O-line doesn't make its blocks and if the WRs don't decoy the cornerbacks and if the QB botches the handoff, Priest loses two yards instead of gaining eight. Whether Barry Bonds jacks a homer or not depends only on him and the pitcher.

So it seems to me that, while established statistics are a pretty good indicator of some things about individual players, full team stats are the best way to judge the quality of a football team as a whole.

What's the point of football? To win the game. How do you win games? By scoring points and not giving them up. Let's say that the ratio of a team's points scored to points given up is a measure of its quality. Teams that score a lot and don't get scored on much will tend to beat teams that don't score much and do get scored on a lot. I buy that. That seems clear to me. Our only problem is sample size--that is, you can't base a firm opinion on the results of only one or two games. You need five or six games to establish that a team has a pattern of scoring more points than it gives up.

Well, every team has played either six or seven games at this point. That's a between a third and half of the 16-game NFL season. I'm going to say that's enough information to figure out each team's ratio of points scored to points given up and use it as the basis for a Power Rankings.

Rank. Team, Games Won-Lost, Points For / Against, Ratio

1. Vikings, 6-0, 179/104, 1.72
2. Colts, 5-1, 178/105, 1.70
3. Chiefs, 7-0, 208/125, 1.66
4. Rams, 4-2, 170/108, 1.57
5. Broncos, 5-2, 178/115, 1.55
6. Dolphins, 4-2, 118/77, 1.53
7. Cowboys, 5-1, 150/100, 1.50
8. Seahawks, 5-1, 146/104, 1.40
9. Buccaneers, 3-3, 134/97, 1.38
10. Titans, 5-2, 194/150, 1.29
11. Forty-Niners, 3-4, 159/126, 1.26
12. Bills, 4-3, 138/110, 1.25
13. Packers, 3-4, 200/166, 1.20
14. Patriots, 5-2, 145/126, 1.15
15. Panthers, 5-1, 118/105, 1.12
16. Ravens, 3-3, 134/126, 1.06
17. Jets, 2-4, 94/94, 1.00
18. Browns, 3-4, 112/121, 0.92
19. Saints, 3-4, 152/168, 0.90
20. Giants, 2-4, 105/123, 0.85
21. Bengals, 2-4, 111/132, 0.84
22. Eagles, 3-3, 95/119, 0.80
23. R******s, 3-4, 135/171, 0.79
24. Raiders, 2-5, 125/161, 0.77
25. Steelers, 2-4, 111/146, 0.76
26. Jaguars, 1-5, 110/154, 0.71
27. Chargers, 1-5, 115/169, 0.68
28. Lions, 1-5, 101/160, 0.63
29. Texans, 2-4, 100/170, 0.59
30. Bears, 1-5, 97/176, 0.55
31. Falcons, 1-5, 114/220, 0.52
32. Cardinals, 1-5, 82/140, 0.46

There's obviously a correlation between the points scored/allowed ratio and the win-loss record. I actually used to be able to figure some of that stuff out. Can't anymore. Anyway, if we take that ratio as an indication of the real quality of a team, we need to name the teams that are better than their records (and are likely to see their won-lost records improve) and the teams that are worse than their records (who are likely to see their won-lost records decline).

Better than Won-Lost Record: Rams, Buccaneers, Forty-Niners, Jets
Worse than Won-Lost Record: Patriots, Panthers, Eagles, R******s

Of course, we also need to pick our playoff winners; we won't be able to tell if this system works until it's tested in the playoffs. If I get most of these right I claim the system works.

National Football Conference
East: Cowboys
West: Rams
North: Vikings
South: Buccaneers
Wild Cards: Seahawks; Forty-Niners or Packers

American Football Conference
East: Dolphins
West: Chiefs
North: Ravens
South: Colts
Wild Cards: Broncos; Titans or Bills

And, of course, we have to put our money where our mouth is and make some betting picks. The only two games where I think using this chart gives you a significant advantage are the St. Louis Rams at the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Francisco 49ers at the Arizona Cardinals. Both the Rams and the Niners are far above their respective rivals in the rankings, about 0.80 percentage points of difference in both cases. The current betting lines are the Steelers favored over the Rams by 1 1/2 points and the Niners over the Cards by seven. I think the Rams will beat the Steelers outright and the better-than-their-record Niners will blow out the Cards, by far the worst team in the league.

I am not a gambler, but doesn't the following betting strategy make sense? Only Bet When You Know More Than the Average Punter, and by that I mean 'bettor', not 'kicker'.

Our ratings don't give us a clear advantage over the average Joe in any other game, since the betting lines correspond in general to our ranking chart. So we don't bet on those games; we bet on teams the charts show as big favorites over their opponents. We're figuring that not only will we not need the points they're spotting us on the Rams, but that the Rams will stomp the very bad Steelers even though the Steelers are at home, and that the Niners are going to blow out the Cardinals by more than a touchdown. There'll probably be more Niners fans than Cardinals fans at that game. The crowd-noise factor and home-field advantage will work against Arizona. Those both seem like pretty safe bets to me, especially the Rams-Steelers game.

NOTE: I am not risking any real money on this, of course, nor do I recommend that you risk yours, unless it's some small-time harmless office pool. If you do so and you lose, it's your own fault. If you do so and you win, send me a check.

UPDATE: Football Outsiders is trying to pick up the no-TMQ slack. Check them out, and check out their Bill James-style system for analyzing teams' and players' performance. Observe their rankings and see how they compare with ours; then go over to Sports Illustrated and see how the Outsiders' take (complicated, based on stats) differs from our take (simple, based on stats) and from CNN-SI's Peter King's (based on his own feelings).
Here's Amer Taheri from Canada's National Post (via FrontPage) on Malaysian leader Mahathir Muhammad's anti-Semitic and anti-Christian speech. Check it out.

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Council meeting, President Bush criticized Muhammed's remarks. Here's La Vanguardia's Washington correspondent Eusebio Val's reaction on page four of Tuesday's paper, in the lead international news article (NOT opinion or analysis) jumped over from page three.

At the margin of the summit a tense episode occurred with the reprimand president George W. Bush meted out to the prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Muhammad, for a recent commentary on the Jews. According to White House spokesman Scott McClellan, the American president, in a meeting with Muhammad, told him that his assertions were "wrong and a cause of confrontation". During a recent Islamic summit, the Malaysian prime minister stated that "The Jews govern the world through their representatives." "It's other people who fight and die for them," he added.

The speech of the prime minister of Malaysia was not bellicose; rather, it called upon the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world to respond to the "few million Jews" without violence, with more unity in the defense of their interests and an improvement of the education of their young people.

Gee, you could have fooled me. All it looks to me that Mohammed said was that the Jews run the world (so therefore everything bad is the Jews' fault, he did not say, but he sure implied) and the Muslims need to all get together and stop them. But without violence!

The American secretary of State, Colin Powell, also brought up the subject in a meeting with his Malaysian homologue, Syed Hamid Albar. Albar emphasized, before the American secretary of State, that Mohammed's speech had been eminently critical towards Muslims themselves and that only "one or two fragments" were problematic.

Yeah, he was criticizing the Muslims for letting the Jews and their lackeys, the decadent, perverted Christians, run the world, that's all, and he just called upon them to unite to do something about it. Nothing much. He's not calling for a clash of civilizations or anything like that, just explaining to all us naive innocent ingenuous stupid folks that the Jews are our secret bosses. He wasn't nearly as anti-Semitic as Gregg Easterbrook, not at all. And Eusebio Val isn't reporting this defense of Mohammed because he sympathizes with Mohammed's "non-bellicose" (in his words) comments. He wouldn't be an anti-Semite either, of course, just like Andy Robinson and Baltasar Porcel and Xavier Bru de Sala (he has been known to write on the theme that the Jewish / Israeli lobby controls the American government) aren't anti-Semites. They're just telling us the truth about the Jewish conspiracy.

Note: A lot of Spaniards, including the guys from Libertad Digital, are anti-Masons. Yes, I know there was a Masonic lodge in Italy that served as the cover for a high-level financial fraud ring. That's one example. But the idea that the Masons are a secret organization operating for nefarious purposes (mostly getting rich and running the world) is widespread here. Of course, that's ridiculous. The Masons are a social organization just like the Shriners and the Elks with a little bit of excess fraternity-initiation mumbo-jumbo. My grandfather the rich and powerful railroad repairman was a Mason, for God's sake. He had the Masonic members' secret book. I looked at it. It's just dumb, not scary. These dopes are playing at having a secret club, like we all did when we were ten.

Ironically, anti-Masonism exists on both the Spanish Left and Right. The Left thinks of them as just capitalist bloodsuckers, while the Right thinks of them as both atheistic traitors and capitalistic bloodsuckers. Back in the Franco days there used to be a lot of heated rhetoric about "the Judeo-Masonic conspiracy."

Oh, yeah, congratulations to President Bush for speaking out against anti-Semitism.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Boy, I feel like an idiot after getting canonization and beatification mixed up. I should know better, and most of the time I do. About the only excuse I've got is that I'm not a pro journalist and so if I make a mistake, well, at least I'm not getting paid for it.

Gregg Easterbrook also put his foot in it, it seems; I read the offending statements the day they came out on his New Republic blog, before the big hoo-ha started, and I didn't think they were too offensive. I mean, if you want offensively anti-Semitic, look at what Andy Robinson wrote a few days ago in La Vanguardia--just scroll down. Or, if you want, you can go back a few months and find when Baltasar Porcel said that in the Williamsburg neighborhood of NYC was the greatest concentration of wealth in the world. Well, OK, Easterbrook apologized. That, to me, is good enough. I'm convinced he's not a bigot, since I've been reading his stuff for like fifteen years. So what do you do? Well, you give the guy a break. If he comes out standing next to Pat Buchanan at a Jew-baiting rally, then we boycott him. If, as I will bet, he never offends any ethnic group again, then we say, "OK, we questioned whether this guy was legit, he's turned out to be so. Good enough."

The dumb thing is that ESPN fired him and has pulled all his Tuesday Morning Quarterback articles off their archive. This little tempest in a teapot has nothing to do with ESPN or football or anything else, and one would think that ESPN's attitude would be, "The guy screwed up, mostly because he didn't take the time to express himself properly. He said he was sorry and means it. He's been with us a couple of years and has always been all right. What he said has nothing to do with ESPN or football. We will therefore suspend judgment and allow him to continue in his job. If he ever writes anything that seems anti-Semitic again, then we fire him."

The respective slogans the main political parties are using: PP, "Guarantee of Good Government"; Socialists, "New Solutions". Which party is on the left and which on the right? Not too difficult a question, I don't think. By the way, the Socialists' "new" slogan isn't new; it sounds eerily like Gary Hart in 1984.

Astronaut Pedro Duque got shot up in space by a Russian Soyuz, and he got out on the International Space Station. His function will consist of performing three experiments, two of which are related to observing fruit flies. The negative talk going around is that it cost Spain thirteen million euros to get Duque up on the Space Station and that it's just a prestige thing, and should we be spending money on hollow prestige? Duque went up on the Space Shuttle several years ago to become the first Spanish citizen in space; Michael Lopez-Alegria, born in Madrid of Spanish parents who emigrated to the States when he was about three, was the first person born in Spain in space sometime during the nineties. He, of course, is an American citizen.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

The big news today is Mother Teresa's promotion to saint; it was the lead story on both TV3 and TV1. They got some 250,000 people out in Rome. The Pope presided, and looked comparatively pretty good. The unofficial story they're reporting is that this is a big event for him, that her sainthood was a cause he'd been pushing. The Vanguardia overwhelmed us with Pope stories during the week, since this is the 25th anniversary of his papacy.

I wonder--I know this is morbid--whether this isn't part of his big adios. I've heard--can't guarantee that it's true--that people who are in poor health often manage to hang on for significant upcoming events, say a family visit or the birth of a grandchild or a wedding anniversary or birthday. They make it to the big event and then fairly soon, their last mission accomplished, die. I can see this being true in this case, since the golden anniversary of the papacy and the sanctification of Mother Teresa are certainly big events.

Mother Teresa trivia: She's the first Nobel Prize winner to become a saint, and the time elapsed between her death and sainthood, six years, is the shortest ever.

Let me make it clear that I will be sorry when the Pope dies. While I disagree with him about a lot of things, I know he's a good man. As for Vazquez Montalban, he was a Stalinist propagandist. Leni Riefenstahl, a Hitlerist propagandist, just died, too. My reaction to their deaths is exactly the same.

They've been reporting a good deal about the situation in Bolivia, rather partially, of course; one thing nobody around here is making very big noise about is that Spanish energy company Repsol YPF, one of the seven or so really large Spanish corporations (the others are Banco Santander, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya, telecoms operator Telefonica, and energy companies Gas Natural, Endesa, and Iberdrola), is one of the companies involved in the partnership to export Bolivian natural gas. Repsol has invested more than half a billion dollars in the project.

The campaign for the Madrid and the Catalan regional elections is heating up. El Pais, El Mundo, and La Razon all ran polls giving the PP an absolute majority over the PSOE-IU SocioCommunist coalition. Zap frothed at the mouth some about the illegal and immoral war on Iraq and how Spain ought to pull ought right now and like not be allies with America anymore or something. Aznar reminded him that the Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis conceded last week and that the Security Council has reaffirmed its support for the Iraqi reconstruction plan, and asked him if, since he's running a campaign that sounds like the slogan on a sign at a demonstration, his next banner is going to say "Socialists Against the UN".

Artur Mas's Andorra sports plan got savaged by absolutely everybody, even the superCatalanista Republican Left's Carod-Rovira, who called it an insult to both Catalonia and Andorra. We shall hear no more about it, I am sure.

It's cool and rainy, has been for a couple of days. It's fall, it's rainy season. So it rains. And every time it rains hard, the traffic lights short out. This produces a lot of minor accidents and long traffic delays at each intersection. Traffic backs up on all the access roads into town and everybody's two hours late to work. The local urban legend is that more people use their cars rather than public transport to get to work if it rains. I'll agree that that could be a factor, but I think it's more likely to be the following: Spain's not quite Sweden or Holland yet.

The electrical system that runs the traffic lights works just fine day in and day out, but whenever it gets stressed, like by the rain, it goes out. This happens between five and ten days every year, and it's something that people just assume to be a truth of life. It rains hard, the lights short out, and then there's a massive traffic jam and everybody's two hours late to work. Hell, you can "unintentionally on purpose" show up late on a rainy day and say your bus got caught in traffic. Meanwhile, the access roads in and out of town are built to handle normal traffic about ten years ago, so they can't stand any excess amount of cars, which happens every weekend anyway. Push over one domino and the whole system comes down, because it's built to be only as good as it needs to be most of the time instead of being as good as it needs to be in a fairly bad--not even worst-case--scenario.

Barca got stomped last night at the Camp Nou, 0-2 by Deportivo, on national TV. Barcelona wasn't really that bad, they just weren't particularly good, and they were outclassed by a better team. There is just not any question that Valencia, with 19 points out of 21 after they slaughter 0-2-4 Espanyol tonight, Deportivo, with 18 points out of 21, and Real Madrid, with 16 points out of 21, are all clearly superior to Barcelona, with just nine points out of 21. Only Ronaldinho and Van Brockhorst, of this year's signings, are playing. Xavi has been benched. Kluivert is openly up for sale. Saviola just isn't physical enough to play forward for Barcelona--too small, too slow. Motta and Gerard just aren't particularly good. Luis Enrique is officially old--this ought to be his last season. Nobody knows why Overmars is on the team. Marquez bitched about not getting to play--Rijkaard says he's out of shape--, so now he never even makes it on the list of 16 players that are the roster for each game. This team is the New York Mets of international soccer: too many expensive bad players.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Spain. Oh, yeah, Spain. that's what this blog's supposed to be about, right? Spain. Not the Violent Femmes and Ethan Hawke.

Barcelonese author Manuel Vazquez Montalban kicked off, of a heart attack at the Bangkok airport at age 64. De mortuis nil nisi bonum, my ass. Vazquez Montalban was a prick, a disagreeable person, who was in addition a loudmouth unreconstructed Yankee-bashing Communist. Besides, his books suck, and his newspaper articles were horrific. This isn't a case of Gore Vidal or Graham Greene, authors I disagree with politically but whose obvious talent I recognize. This is more like a case of, say, Michael Moore. Remei says he's probably in hell with his buddy Stalin.

Spain will contribute $300 million to the Iraqi reconstruction fund, making them the fourth nation on the list of contributors after the US, the UK, and Japan.

October 12th is a holiday in most of the Spanish-speaking world; we call it Columbus Day, and Spanish correspondents are annually amazed to find that in the States it's the Italian-American holiday. This is partially based on their belief that Columbus was Spanish or, even better, Catalan. (He was a Genoese, of course.)

This holiday has a lot of different names. If you're an orthodox Spaniard, you probably call it the Dia de la Hispanidad. If you're a fundamentalist Spaniard, it's the Dia de la Raza; this name has rather Franquista overtones these days, though I believe it's the name used in Latin America. If you're an anti-centralist Spaniard, you probably call it the Dia de la Virgen del Pilar (Our Lady of the Pillar or the Column, patroness of Aragon). If you're a squatter you've probably been spending the last couple of weeks spraypainting "12-O NO N'HI HA RES A CELEBRAR" or "ESPANYA GENOCIDA" and stuff like that on the walls of your neighborhood bank branch.

Since it is the national holiday of centralist Spain, they had a military parade in Madrid, the way they always do. That's fine with me, I actually kind of like parades. In Barcelona said parade is considered an excuse to make fun of the old-fashioned patriotism of Spain allende el Ebro for the nationalists or a reason for public outrage and breast-beating by the Commies. Anyway, though, all these dignitaries always come out to the parade and sit on the reviewing stand as the Spanish Army marches past, normally in the company of allied troops. This year they invited the other countries whose troops make up (along with Spain's) the Plus Ultra brigade occupying part of Iraq; those countries are the United States, Poland, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras.

So when the American flag passed by, opposition leader and Socialist candidate Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, on the reviewing stand, refused to stand up and applaud like you're supposed to do. Everyone from the PP to Convergence and Union slammed his behavior as childlike; La Vanguardia quite justifiably questioned whether anyone with so little sense as to break established protocol in order to throw a tantrum is fit to become Prime Minister. (Good one for once from the Vangua.) Zap just keeps digging himself deeper and deeper; his behavior offended even many moderate Socialists on the grounds that it was an embarrassment to the King, the Head of State, up there on the stand presiding the ceremony, and to the Spanish Army, which had invited these other nations' troops as guests. Basic rule: if you do something that causes the King to apologize to the American ambassador on your behalf, you've fucked up pretty big-time.

Here's the biggest bit of Catalooniness I've ever seen, speaking of symbols--and the flag of a country is just a symbol, after all. (I personally am not especially offended by Zap's dis of the US flag, I'm just surprised at his stupidity and public childishness, and I really hope he doesn't get elected.) One thing nationalists do is take symbols far too seriously, and this is especially true in Catalonia. It seems that Artur Mas's soul is wounded to the quick that Catalonia does not have official national sports teams. Well, they actually do have a "national soccer team"; they hire some other country to come play a Catalan all-star soccer team every Christmas, and a big deal is made thereof. Once they got Brazil to come. With our tax money, of course. But these games don't count for anything because Catalonia is not independent, and so the international committees that run sports like the FIFA and the IOC don't recognize it as a real national team.

I don't much care either way, personally; my life is not affected by whether Catalan athletes play for Spain, as they've always done, or for a specifically Catalan team. It just don't make me no never mind. It does seem to me like an unnecessary hassle, and discussion is academic anyway because these international sports bodies are not going to recognize Catalonia, because if they did they'd have to recognize Bavaria and Flanders and Chechenia and Alabama and everybody else who wanted them to.

Here's Artur Mas's solution to this grave problem: see, there's this country called Andorra in the Pyrenees between Catalonia and France. They got seventeen people and a goat and some tax-free booze-and-cigs shops. However, Catalan is the sole official language of this tiny place, about the size of a Kansas county. Mas's proposal would set up an Andorran-Catalan national team, and Catalan players would play for it rather than for Spain. Naturally, everybody's against it, on the grounds that it violates IOC and FIFA rules and the Andorran Constitution, along with just plain common sense, viz: Catalans play for the Spanish national sports teams because Catalonia is part of Spain. And anyway, don't we have three hundred more important things to talk about? And why would the eighteen people and a goat who live in Andorra want to be represented by a bunch of pijos from Barcelona anyway?

Here's Cristina Sen from La Vanguardia in Madrid.

Rodrigo Rato's face said it all yesterday. The First Vice-Prime Minister arrived at the press conference following the Cabinet Council meeting without having read in the newspapers about Convergence and Union candidate Artur Mas's proposal for Catalonia to go to the Olympic Games under the Andorran flag, and when he heard the first question about the subject he was speechless and then turned red trying to conceal--unsuccessfully--his laughter, which was contagious to the two ministers at his sides, Eduardo Zaplana and Angel Acebes.

It was the Administration's first response, and an obviously spontaneous one. Before Zaplana gave the Administration's official version, trying to avoid being too critical, Rato whispered to him, asking if Mas's proposal was for real, and Zaplana nodded his head. The Vice-Prime Minister kept smiling.

This bright idea sprang from, where else, the Generalitat's Department of Culture, also known as the "Ministry of Truth". The very first thing I would do if I were Catalan Prime Minister is completely axe the Department of Culture and start over again, much less ambitiously and expensively.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Hey, don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled that this year's media hype regarding the Cubs' and Red Sox' runs at a World Series berth has gotten a lot of people into baseball. It's a terrific sport, both to play (well, I couldn't play hardball at age 37 but if there were a softball beer-league around here I might go out for it) and to watch, and I'd say I'm a semi-serious fan of baseball, the NFL, and soccer. I feel qualified to pronounce on these three sports. You won't see me pretending to know much about basketball or tennis or college football, or anything about golf, ice hockey, rugby or cricket, though.

Now, I love newcomer fans, and am confident that in a season or two of watching a sport say, weekly, a newcomer fan learns as much about the sport as any veteran fan knows. But please don't make any pronouncements until you've reached that point where you know what you're talking about! Thank you. This has been today's Cranky Little Sermon.

English novelists often make this mistake when writing about the US; they insist on putting in scenes where two Americans talk about baseball, and they just get it all wrong. (Note: I think this is why few American novelists stick cricket matches in their novels.) Here's a scene from a novel called On Green Dolphin Street by Sebastian Faulks, a good middlebrow writer. His most famous books are Birdsong and Charlotte Gray.

The male lead in the story is Frank, a hard-boiled hard-drinking old-style Chicago reporter; the story takes place in 1960. Frank takes the female lead, Mary, to a working-class bar in New York, where he is greeted by the bartender with one-of-the-boys familiarity. I think the purposes of the scene are to help establish Frank's macho working-class credentials, which Mary finds romantic and attractive, and to show Frank taking Mary into his "sanctuary", the place he goes when he needs somewhere to go. It's supposed to be a step in the growing intimacy between them.

"Still shouting for (rooting for) that bunch of losers?" said the barman as he pushed the beer over to Frank.
"Listen, we have the most valuable player in the National League."
"Ernie Banks? He's just a big black (Wrong word, unfortunately, for a working-class guy in 1960 to use about an African-American. The most PC expression you'd have gotten was 'colored') slugger."
"Oh yeah? And the Yankees? You're nothing without Yogi. Think you're still so great?"
"We are great, mister, that's the truth. Mickey Mantle, he's the best you've ever seen."
"More speedy than a slugger, more sluggy than a speedster, and less of both than either. Was that what the boss said?"
"Hey, don't give me that Stengel crap. Pardon me, ma'am. He don't talk good, but he can sure coach (manage) a team."
"Do yourself a favor. Get over to Chicago and see a real game."

Now, Mr. Faulks has looked up the basics. He's got Ernie Banks on the Chicago Cubs, and Banks did win the 1959 MVP. Correct. He's got Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle on the New York Yankees, and he's got Casey Stengel as their manager. Correct. Good job. But no real baseball fans in 1960 would have carried on such a preposterous dialogue. I've made the three necessary vocabulary changes in parentheses above, and in addition:

1) The Yankees had just won the 1959 World Series. And the 1958 one. And the 1957... They were by far the dominant team in baseball and Frank would have known that. He wouldn't have made any boasts about the very mediocre Cubs of that time in the home of a Yankee fan.

2) Frank, as a knowledgeable fan, would never have compared Mickey Mantle with Ernie Banks. Mantle was one of the two or three best players in baseball, along with Willie Mays and Stan Musial, in the late fifties. Banks was good, but there's no comparison between the two. Also, Frank would have known that the MVP award is not always given to the guy who's really the best player. Frank wouldn't have dissed Yogi Berra's replacement, Elston Howard, who was also a fine player, though admittedly not in Yogi's class.

3) Frank and the bartender wouldn't have referred to themselves as "we" when talking about their teams. (They do this in England, I think, because the fans are dues-paying club members and so they feel quite justifiably that the club is "we", but it doesn't work like that for pro teams in the US. Exception: College sports; if you went to the university you're cheering for you can say "we." My buddy John Ortiz, who went to KU and roots for Kansas in basketball, is allowed to say "we won", because he went there. But if he ever says "we won" again when referring to Notre Dame, the college football team he roots for, I'll smack him one.)

You do that in any sports bar in the US--"I'm a big Packers fan and we're going to win the Super Bowl this year!", the answer you'll get is "Who's we? You on the team? What position do you play, assistant waterboy?"

Maybe I'm picking nits, but Mr. Faulks just made several of the sort of mistakes that jar me out of the suspension of disbelief necessary to keep your interest up.

Here's an example. I once saw a mediocre little movie called Reality Bites. It's the early nineties. Ethan Hawke is a cool slacker dude who is trying to win the love of alternative chick Winona Ryder. He's so cool he sings in a band. He gets frustrated by his undeclared love during one of his band's gigs that Winona is in attendance at. So they break into the Violent Femmes' song "Add It Up", which is intended to show Ethan's feelings toward Winona.

Now, no cool band would EVER cover "Add It Up", because it's too well-known. It's too obviously intended to be shocking, what with the schtick about the psycho narrator of the lyrics who's got an Oedipus complex and a gun. Maybe it was shocking the first time we heard the record in about 1982, but it's become much less so after a couple of hundred hearings.

Anyway, the key "shocker" line of the song is "Why can't I get just one fuck?" In the movie, though, Ethan Hawke sings it as "Why can't I get just one UUHN?" And we see him looking right into Winona's eyes while he's singing and she gets all like choked up and pissed off simultaneously and runs offscreen. I think.

See, singing this song is supposed to be like Ethan's big proclamation of his love for Winona. But NOBODY covering "Add It Up" would EVER sing "UUHN" instead of "fuck". If you don't sing "fuck", the shocker line becomes non-shocking, and then what's the point of singing "Add It Up"?

This is absolute total proof that Ethan is not cool, but an idiot. This display of unequalled dorkiness and uncoolness makes us immediately lose all sympathy with him, if we ever had any, which we probably didn't anyway.

See what I mean about taking a wrong step and making your audience lose their suspension of disbelief? Avoid doing so. Don't just assume that an old song (symbol of coolness; back in '82 "Add It Up" really was a symbol of coolness. It lost that status within about two years) is still cool when it's become cool's antithesis. And don't just assume you can write dialogue that rings true about a subject that you know absolutely nothing about. This is why I avoid writing about working-class Irish life like Roddy Doyle does, and I avoid writing about thirtysomethings in London like Nick Hornby does.