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.

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