Sunday, November 30, 2003

I've been doing an awful lot of reading about cultural history lately, and one conclusion I've come to is that there's nothing new in attitudes, in both senses of the word (that of a viewpoint or perspective and that of coppin' a tude). Bohemians have been around forever--you know, people who are too cool for mainstream society. Now they go to the Burning Man festival or the Rainbow Gathering or an anti-war demo and write bad poetry (and talk about sex a lot), but in Paris a hundred years ago they drank absinthe and painted funny pictures and pretended to be anarchists in the cafes and wrote bad poetry (and talked about sex a lot). And Byron and Shelley and Keats were getting up to the same shit with Leigh Hunt and the boys two hundred years ago, bad poetry and sex included. (OK, OK, I really do like Shelley and Keats. Not that they weren't idiots, but they could at least write.) And in Rome two thousand years ago they did the same old crap, except they wore blue denim togas or whatever. Bohemians have existed ever since society became wealthy enough to support them (Bohemians never create anything except in the world of the arts, and a lot of that, from Baudelaire to Kerouac to Gertrude Stein, is crapola. Still, sometimes it's not.)

Anyway, one thing we tend to forget about is that "enlightened liberal opinion" has always existed, at least when society has become wealthy and advanced enough to afford it. Athens and Rome had their dissenters and their progressives, just like we have today. "Enlightened liberals", ever since the Renaissance at least, have held the moral high ground; they're the ones who want to use society's resources to help its less fortunate and who want to loosen the restrictions society puts upon individuals.

All these enlightenedly liberal folks who show up at vigils the night before some Ted Bundy shakes hands with Satan are nothing new, and their arguments now are the same as their arguments then. Mark Twain used to have fun denouncing weepy-eyed bleeding hearts who were too tender-hearted to hang murderers, and Swift did the same thing back in his day. Our moral people who are against giving Mumia the injection are using just the same arguments that Clarence Darrow used and Twain and Swift denounced. Yet somehow they think their moral commitment is something original in society.

Keep this in mind while reading the following Fisking of Clarence Darrow. Clarence Darrow practiced law during the early part of the 20th century, and he was America's most famous lawyer. He "defended the underdog and the little man", as those who heroize him say. He perhaps became most famous at the Scopes "Monkey Trial", a test case in which he defended a teacher who taught the theory of evolution in the state of Tennessee, where such teaching was prohibited by law at the time (1926). Trivia: He lost the case. Scopes was convicted and fined fifty bucks or whatever.

Darrow's second-most-famous case was the Leopold and Loeb murder trial in 1924. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, 19 and 18 years old, kidnapped and murdered a 14-year-old boy, Bobby Franks, in an attempt to commit the perfect crime. They later claimed to have been influenced by Nietzche's philosophy and to believe that they were intellectual "supermen", above the morality of ordinary people.

Now, what they had done, with total premeditation, is kidnap a child, beat him in the head with a chisel, and choke him to death, before dumping his body in a culvert. Loeb did the killing but Leopold was his accomplice throughout.

They bungled the crime and were caught within days; both confessed. They were from wealthy Chicago families, who hired Clarence Darrow to defend their sons. Originally the two young men had pleaded not guilty, hoping to beat the gallows on an insanity plea. Darrow changed their strategy, pleading them guilty and throwing them on the mercy of the court. This meant that Leopold and Loeb's lives would not be in the hands of a jury but rather in those of a judge. Darrow was gambling that he could convince the judge to sentence them to life imprisonment rather than to hang.

Now, before we get into Fisking the following excerpts from Darrow's twelve-hour argument, let's remember something. It was not unusual in those pre-World War II days, that lost America when men wore hats and women knew their place, for the state to execute people. Within the US, between 1930 and 1967 (the beginning of the nine-year moratorium on the death penalty), some 4000 people were executed after conviction for capital crimes.

1906: Chester Gillette, age 22, murdered his pregnant girlfriend in New York. Electrocuted.
1912: Harry Horowitz, Louis Rosenberg, Jacob Seidenschmer, Frank Cirofici, all under 21, murdered gangster in mob killing, New York. Electrocuted.
1913: Oresto Shillitoni, under 21, murdered two policemen and a rival mobster in New York. Electrocuted.
1920: Jack Field, 19, murdered girl in Sussex, England. Hanged.
1922: Frederick Bywaters, 22, murdered lover's husband in London. Hanged.
1928: Gerald Toal, 18, murdered woman in Dublin, Ireland. Hanged.
1937: Alexander Meyer, 20, ran over, raped, threw down well, and then blew up with dynamite 15-year-old girl, Philadelphia. Electrocuted.
1938: Robert Moolhouse, 21, murdered former landlady in Durham, England. Hanged.
1939: Robert Nixon, 19, murdered two women in Chicago, five women in Los Angeles, with a brick. Dubbed "Brick Moron" by press. Black. Electrocuted.

The point here is to show that it was not considered unusual to execute murderers who were young men of legal age in America or Britain in the first half of the twentieth century. It is true that two British hangings of 18-year-olds, Derek Bentley in 1953 and Francis Forsyth in 1960, were significant events in the eventual banning of capital punishment there. Also, 19-year-old spree killer Charles Starkweather was electrocuted in Nebraska as late as 1959.

My question is: if we electrocuted Charlie Starkweather in 1959, why the hell didn't we hang Leopold and Loeb in 1924? If anybody had it coming, they did: a couple of snot-ass punks who did a premeditated thrill killing. They were of legal age. They knew what they were doing and they knew it was both wrong and illegal. Answer: Because Clarence Darrow put a sob story over on the judge and he bought it. Darrow's words are in italics.

(The excerpts from Darrow's speech are taken from Famous Trials, an excellent site run by a UMKC law professor.)

Our anxiety over this case has not been due to the facts that are connected with this most unfortunate affair, but to the almost unheard of publicity it has received; to the fact that newspapers all over this country have been giving it space such as they have almost never before given to any case. The fact is that day after day the people of Chicago have been regaled with stories of all sorts about it, until almost every person has formed an opinion.

And when the public is interested and demands a punishment, no matter what the offense, great or small, it thinks of only one punishment, and that is death.

Come on. Newspapers are supposed to publish news of crimes and trials so that the public knows whether the law is being enforced or not--and whether some innocent person is being railroaded. And it's ridiculous to say the public demands the punishment of death whenever it becomes interested in a case. What might be true is that the public demands the punishment of death for the premeditated murder of a child.

Is it within the realm of your imagination that a boy who was right, with all the prospects of life before him, who could choose what he wanted, without the slightest reason in the world would lure a young companion to his death, and take his place in the shadow of the gallows?
I do not care what Dr. Krohn may say; he is liable to say anything except to tell the truth, and he is not liable to do that. No one who has the process of reasoning could doubt that a boy who would do that is not right.
How insane they are I care not, whether medically or legally. They did not reason; they could not reason; they committed the most foolish, most unprovoked, most purposeless, most causeless act that any two boys ever committed, and they put themselves where the rope is dangling above their heads....
Why did they kill little Bobby Franks?
Not for money, not for spite; not for hate. They killed him as they might kill a spider or a fly, for the experience. They killed him because they were made that way. Because somewhere in the infinite processes that go to the making up of the boy or the man something slipped, and those unfortunate lads sit here hated, despised, outcasts, with the community shouting for their blood.

Here we go. Darrow says they are insane, that they "aren't right" because "they were made that way". So what they did isn't really their fault, see. He says there's no motive. But there is one: the thrill of committing the perfect crime. That's why Leopold and Loeb said they did it. And I don't blame the community for shouting for the blood of a couple of child-killers. If the law says murderers hang, and you want to avoid being hanged, don't commit murder. That's pretty simple.

I repeat, you may search the annals of crime, and you can find no parallel. It is utterly at variance with every motive and every act and every part of conduct that influences normal people in the commission of crime. There is not a sane thing in all of this from the beginning to the end. There was not a normal act in any of it, from its inception in a diseased brain, until to-day, when they sit here awaiting their doom.

No, planning a thrill-killing and then actually committing it is not too normal. Good. And the State of Illinois prescribed the death penalty for people who do something that abnormal, at least partially to help keep it abnormal. Leopold and Loeb were sane, and if they weren't, Darrow should have pleaded them not guilty by reason of insanity. But he knew a jury would never buy it.

I have in my library a story of a judge and jury and lawyer's trying and convicting an old sow for lying down on her ten pigs and killing them. What does it mean? Animals were tried. Do you mean to tell me that Dickie Loeb had any more to do with his making than any other product of heredity that is born upon the earth?... Your Honor, I am almost ashamed to talk about it. I can hardly imagine that we are in the 20th century. And yet there are men who seriously say that for what Nature has done, for what life has done, for what training has done, you should hang these boys.

There goes Darrow again, arguing that Leopold and Loeb didn't control their own actions and so should be let off--but we didn't let Charlie Starkweather or the Brick Moron off, though what those men did was considerably crazier than what Leopold and Loeb did. Darrow is saying that individuals are not responsible for their actions. Also note that he calls the criminals "boys" and refers to the man who hit Bobby Franks in the head with a chisel and then strangled him by his dimunitive nickname, "Dickie". Also, the errors of the past (considering animals to be as responsible as people) have nothing to do with the present, in which two punks beat and strangled a schoolboy.

And I ask your Honor, in addition to all that I have said, to save two honorable families from a disgrace that never ends, and that could be of no avail to help any human being that lives.

Nobody considered the disgrace of the Brick Moron's family.

If there is such a thing as justice it could only be administered by one who knew the inmost thoughts of the man to whom they were meting it out. Aye, who knew the father and mother and the grandparents and the infinite number of people back of him. Who knew the origin of every cell that went into the body, who could understand the structure, and how it acted. Who could tell how the emotions that sway the human being affected that particular frail piece of clay. It means more than that. It means that you must appraise every influence that moves them, the civilization where they live, and all society which enters into the making of the child or the man! If your Honor can do it--if you can do it you are wise and with wisdom goes mercy.

Total relativism. Of course perfect justice is impossible; humans are imperfect. But if you define justice as the protection of the innocent individual from crime, then Leopold and Loeb committed a horrible injustice and deserved whatever punishment the law meted out.

As a rule, lawyers are not scientists. They have learned the doctrine of hate and fear, and they think that there is only one way to make men good, and that is to put them in such terror that they do not dare to be bad. They act unmindful of history and science, and all the experience of the past. Still, we are making some progress. Courts give attention to some things that they did not give attention to before.

Straw man: why can't lawyers be compassionate? Darrow's a lawyer. Lincoln was a lawyer. Judge Harlan was a lawyer. Thurgood Marshall was a lawyer. And no one believes that we must make men good by using terror (though ironically Darrow's confusing argument, based on relativism, determinism, and proto-behaviorism, seems to show that such a strategy would work, at least if you define good as the absence of evil actions--which is the relativist's and the utilitarian's argument). Also note Darrow's plea for progress and his invocation of history and science, both of which he proceeds to twist.

Once in England they hanged children seven years of age; not necessarily hanged them, because hanging was never meant for punishment; it was meant for an exhibition. If somebody committed crime, he would be hanged by the head or the heels, it didn't matter much which, at the four cross roads, so that everybody could look at him until his bones were bare, and so that people would be good because they had seen the gruesome result of crime and hate.

Hanging seven-year-olds in England was never common. It might have happened once. And they hanged people by the neck until dead, not by the heels, and then they would place their bodies in gibbets and expose them publicly. As a warning, admittedly. But Darrow is confusing hanging with gibbeting. And showing people the gruesome results of crime is actually a pretty good way to stop crimes from being committed, at least from a behaviorist point of view. One problem we have is that first-time criminals often don't know what happens when you kill somebody, because on TV you only have to whack or stab the guy once and there's no screaming or blood. So they think it's no big deal.

We have raised the age of hanging. We have raised it by the humanity of courts, by the understanding of courts, by the progress in science which at last is reaching the law; and in ninety men hanged in Illinois from its beginning, not one single person under twenty-three was ever hanged upon a plea of guilty-not one. If your Honor should do this, you would violate every precedent that has been set in Illinois for almost a century....

Progress, again, says Darrow, and progress is a good thing. But what's so magic about age 23 or a guilty plea or Illinois precedent? That kind of precedent is not the sort that is binding by law, like a judge's decision is. Lots of people were executed below that age in lots of civilized places no matter what they pled; and Illinois had no qualms about executing the Brick Moron fifteen years later.

If your Honor in violation of all that and in the face of all the past should stand here in Chicago alone to hang a boy on a plea of guilty, then we are turning our faces backward toward the barbarism which once possessed the world. If your Honor can hang a boy eighteen, some other judge can hang him at seventeen, or sixteen, or fourteen.

Darrow is calling the death penalty barbaric and anti-progressive, so it must be bad; then he goes on to the slippery-slope argument. No, actually, a judge can't hang anybody under the age set by law.

You may stand them up on the trap-door of the scaffold, and choke them to death, but that act will be infinitely more cold-blooded whether justified or not, than any act that these boys have committed or can commit. Cold-blooded! Let the State, who is so anxious to take these boys' lives, set an example in consideration, kindheartedness and tenderness before they call my clients cold-blooded.

Nope, hanging two murderers is not as cold-blooded as what Leopold and Loeb did to Bobby Franks. The difference is that the State does not want to execute people. The State would be thrilled if they didn't have to execute anybody because nobody committed premeditated murder. Leopold and Loeb, on the other hand, didn't bother going through the complicated process of a fair trial and a judge's decision before killing the boy they wanted to kill out of sheer egotism.

I could say something about the death penalty that, for some mysterious reason, the state wants in this case. Why do they want it? To vindicate the law? Oh, no. The law can be vindicated without killing anyone else.

Sure it could. Illinois law at the time allowed a sentence of life imprisonment for first-degree murder, which is what Leopold and Loeb got. But if you're going to hang adult men for murder, it seems to me you have to be consistent and hang 'em all unless there is some mitigating circumstance. Either that or you hang nobody and abolish capital punishment altogether, which would be fair enough if it were the law. But that wasn't the law in 1924, and I don't see why the Brick Moron hangs when the rich Chicago punks don't--except that the Brick Moron's family didn't have enough money to hire Clarence Darrow.

Every story he (Loeb) read was a story of crime. We have a statute in this state, passed only last year, if I recall it, which forbids minors reading stories of crime. Why? There is only one reason. Because the legislature in its wisdom felt that it would produce criminal tendencies in the boys who read them. The legislature of this state has given its opinion, and forbidden boys to read these books. He read them day after day. He never stopped. While he was passing through college at Ann Arbor he was still reading them. When he was a senior he read them, and almost nothing else. Now, these facts are beyond dispute. He early developed the tendency to mix with crime, to be a detective; as a little boy shadowing people on the street; as a little child going out with his phantasy of being the head of a band of criminals and directing them on the street. How did this grow and develop in him? Let us see. It seems to me as natural as the day following the night. Every detective story is a story of a sleuth getting the best of it; trailing some unfortunate individual through devious ways until his victim is finally landed in jail or stands on the gallows. They all show how smart the detective is, and where the criminal himself falls down. This boy early in his life conceived the idea that there could be a perfect crime, one that nobody could ever detect; that there could be one where the detective did not land his game; a perfect crime.

OK, Darrow was arguing heredity before, and now he's arguing environment. Loeb killed Bobby Franks because his mind had been twisted by crime novels. Yeah, right. That probably is where he got the idea of the perfect crime from, but that's no excuse for actually committing a murder.

The whole life of childhood is a dream and an illusion, and whether they take one shape or another shape depends not upon the dreamy boy but on what surrounds him. As well might I have dreamed of burglars and wished to be one as to dream of policemen and wished to be one. Perhaps I was lucky, too, that I had no money. We have grown to think that the misfortune is in not having it . The great misfortune in this terrible case is the money. That has destroyed their lives. That has fostered these illusions. That has promoted this mad act. And, if your honor shall doom them to die, it will be because they are the sons of the rich.

It's a sob-sister mistake to think of Leopold and Loeb as children when six years ago thousands of eighteen-year-olds were getting shot in France. And that "sons of the rich" stuff; c'mon, Darrow, are you arguing heredity or environment here? And aren't the great majority of rich kids perfectly law-abiding?

When [Dr. Krohn, prosecution psychiatrist] testified my mind carried me back to the time when I was a kid, which was some years ago, and we used to eat watermelons. I have seen little boys take a rind of watermelon and cover their whole faces with water, eat it, devour it, and have the time of their lives, up to their ears in watermelon. And when I heard Dr. Krohn testify in this case, to take the blood of these two boys, I could see his mouth water with the joy it gave him, and he showed all the delight and pleasure of myself and my young companions when we ate watermelon....

Darrow's good, isn't he? Romanticizes youth--which Bobby Franks won't be around to enjoy. Demonizes the opposition; actually, the four top psychiatrists in Chicago testified that Leopold and Loeb were sane, including Krohn. But this is sophistry. It has nothing to do with a chisel and a gag and a culvert, which are the facts of this case.

No one knows what will be the fate of the child he gets or the child she bears; the fate of the child is the last thing they consider. This weary old world goes on, begetting, with birth and with living and with death; and all of it is blind from the beginning to the end. I do not know what it was that made these boys do this mad act, but I do know there is a reason for it. I know they did not beget themselves. I know that any one of an infinite number of causes reaching back to the beginning might be working out in these boys' minds, whom you are asked to hang in malice and in hatred and injustice, because someone in the past has sinned against them.

Gee, Officer Krupke, it's society's fault! I cut out a long Darrow paean to motherhood here. He's in favor of it. And he's arguing environment rather than heredity again, but have no fears, he'll be back at the heredity argument again.

That's about enough of this; this post has been extremely long. There's still a lot more of Darrow's testimony to go through, but I think we've seen most of his arguments. The point I was trying to make with all this is that Darrow's attitudes are exactly the same as those of the Illustrated and Enlightened Among Us today, and his ideas go back a good deal farther than him. Darrow was simply the man of his time that best expressed those ideas, but he was no more original than those who unknowingly parrot those same ideas today.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Bad news from Iraq. A convoy carrying eight Spanish intelligence agents was attacked just a couple of hours ago. All eight were killed. This makes a total of 10 Spaniards killed in Iraq, to which we need to add the several dozen troops killed in the crash of a Ukrainian transport plane while being carried home.

I just know that the opposition is going to try to make some political hay with this; they wouldn't be Socialists if they didn't. I don't think it's going to change anything, though; sides have been taken on the Iraq issue, and it would take a major change (e.g. hundreds of Spanish deaths or an Al Qaeda strike on Spain itself) to make those sides change.

In contrast to something deadly serious like this, when all Spaniards need to pull together and show a united front and yet the opposition and the press are going to pitch holy hell, there was a big stink yesterday at the Davis Cup in Australia. Seems that some idiot gave the band the wrong national anthem to be played for Spain. It was the anthem used during the Spanish Republic, not the official one used ever since the nineteenth century (except during the Republic). The press was outraged.

Now, who cares? It's just a song, and it's so boring that no one remembers it. It doesn't even have any words. It's just a symbol. So the Aussies apologized and played the right song the next day.

Methinks the press blew it by taking the anthem thing a little too seriously, and methinks that they are going to blow it again in the wake of this tragic terrorist attack.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Here's how I spent Thanksgiving: Checking up on the news, blogging, mild translating, alleged working on what I'm writing. No celebration. First, I hate holidays. I know it's a party-pooping attitude, but I refuse to make a big deal out of pretending I'm happy if I'm not. That's hard for some of us to do. So don't invite me to any holiday celebrations. We'll all be better off. And if your happiness depends on my presence, isn't there something a little wrong with you? We can see one another any time you want. We don't need some damn holiday to do that.

I've also been to Thanksgiving parties over here. They go one of two ways: a) everybody gets really loaded, or b) no one really knows anyone else because you're all the "new guys" and somebody's invited you because you might not have anyone to spend the holidays with. As for choice A, if you want to get really loaded we can probably find more congenial places to do it than somebody's living room, and as for choice B, I feel like the kid with cerebral palsy who gets invited to the Christmas party with the other "special" children. These parties are always hosted by rather motherly American women, who are very nice people, of course.

As for Bush and his Thanksgiving visit to the troops, well done. First, the C-in-C needs to at least approach the troops occasionally. Second, they were able to keep it a secret. Nobody leaked. Third, hey, it is a great photo op. Terrific propaganda coup.

Another couple of things I wanted to point out: first, we haven't heard too many casualities coming out of Iraq for the last few days, and there haven't been any widely publicized--or maybe any at all--killings of Iraqis either. Let's hope this is a trend. Second, for all everybody is saying about how horrible and evil the Americans are, people vote with their feet. Where are all the refugees fleeing Iraq, like you get with any other war? Remember the Kurdish camps inside Turkey last time in '91? The boat people or the balseros? Those who fled the Khmer Rouge or from Ethiopia or Somalia? Or Bosnia or Kosovo or Croatia? Ruanda or Burundi or Congo? Or like what they had to deal with after World War II, with millions of "dispersed persons" all over the place who were eventually settled in somewhere? Those who fled East Berlin, forcing the Communists to put up the Wall?

Repeat: Iraq. Occupied by the Coalition. Refugees: Zero. Somebody is doing something right.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

You know, there are a lot of different ways people can get things wrong. They can just plain misunderstand or misinterpret the facts, and they might do this for various reasons: deep-seated prejudices, stupidity, ignorance, fear, poor reasoning skills. (The last one, I'm afraid, is very common. Then again, so are the rest.) The facts might be presented to people badly; this could be an accidental error, or it could be prejudice, stupidity, etc. on the part of the informer. A person might be flat-out crazy, which of course leads to misjudgment. A person may think he's learned something from experience that he really hasn't, for whatever reason (he was drunk, he met a weirdo and took him for normal, he jumped to his own conclusions, he fitted the incident into his mind to fit his prejudices). Or a person might just be stone evil, wanting to hurt others out of malice.

Well, as usual, Balto Porcel, Catalonia's official Nobel Prize candidate and author of much pretentious wank, is slandering the United States, Israel, and the Jews in La Vanguardia.

Where does Porcel fit into the above list of causes of being wrong? I've thought about it for about twenty seconds and have come to the conclusion that he is a sad and confused man.

Here's today's staining of the sheets:

...Israel has become angry about that European Union survey that was so unfavorable. So, it has accused the Old Continent of being anti-Semitic again. And Europe has been this, and much more, since the Nazi holocaust could not be understood without a past of terrible genocides--I can't understand it even in this way--in which we see the Spanish Inquisition, Calvin burning Miquel Servet, Russia massacting Chechenia for two centuries, France and the Church eliminating the Cathars, Stalin wiping out social classes and peoples, the Serbs eating their neighbors alive, the gypsies devastated by all the rest, Carrasco i Formiguera shot for being Catalanist.

Without counting other nations: the attacking and attacked Incas, the Japanese against the Chinese, the Muslim slave raids in their centuries of conquest, Belgium massacring and looting the Congo, and the United States to the Indians. Israel has suffered as much as many other peoples. Although it is one of the few who, with more than extraordinary tenacity and intelligence, has managed to subsist and even thrive. Its great example is that of its resistance and resurrections.

However, all this has little to do with the growing European rejection of Israel, because we're not dealing with going back to Torquemada, the "progroms" (sic), and Hitler, but rather that Israel has placed itself in this frame and Europe, perhaps cured of its reiterated genocidal crazes, will not permit them to Israel either. Israel kills, steals, dictates, the Palestinians "only" kill: Europe, in this case, is with the underdog. While Israel is with the United States, which has done as it did with terrorism: worsen the situation, turn it into a planetary epidemic. Washington, and not Europe, causes anti-Semitism.

I see only two reactions that an honorable person can have when faced with this crap: 1) we can organize a petition to get Porcel fired as morally unworthy of his daily column opposite the lead editorials or 2) we can award Baltasar Porcel the First Annual Julius Streicher Award for Just Telling It like It Is. La Vanguardia can play the part of Der Sturmer.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

That wild and wacky Baltasar Porcel is back with two gorgeously imbecilic and anti-Semitic paragraphs today in La Vanguardia! We'd gone without for so long!

Because the coincidence of the second attack (in Istanbul) with the visit of Bush to London is not casual: Bush, helped by Blair--and this exacerbated Aznar--, has been unable to find a political, economic, cultural, and even police answer, adequate to the hecatomb suffered in the Twin Towers.

Then, his troops are seen, there where they have planted their feet, as something worse than terrorism: exterminating war. And is Israel his disciple or his master? Again, the great genocidal bacillus. Bush has not isolated the terrorism of the Twins, but rather has spread it and has even turned it into the only weapon possible against his giant oppressive machine.

Got that? The United States is there to exterminate and commit genocide on the Iraqi people, at the instigation or with the cooperation of Israel, and terrorism is the only way we (and presumably Israel) can be stopped. Therefore, terrorism is not only justified, but is actually righteous.

Hey, I believe in freedom of speech as much as the next man, but no responsible newspaper would publish such Fascist shit. This insane, psychotic, and frankly evil diatribe is more appropriate for Indymedia than for a major metropolitan newspaper. I call upon La Vanguardia to fire Baltasar Porcel.

Local news update: Valencia was awarded the 2007 America's Cup. This is a big deal economically, since it will attract 600,000 tourists of the desirable, expensive kind. See, Spain's most important industry is tourism, and while cultural tourism (you know, museums, monuments, cathedrals, local restaurants) is popular here, the real money is in the sun-sex-sangria market, those €99 eight days in Benidorm deals. We make a lot of money off that market, but it does create problems. Your margin per tourist is minuscule, and the people you attract are frequently undesirables. At best they'll be puking on your sidewalks.

So Spain is trying to change its appeal and go for the high-dollar market. A big part of this is cultural tourism--I don't know if you've seen those ads the Tourist Board runs in Time and the Economist and magazines like that, but they show pretty photos of the sun setting over the Alhambra and the like, with the slogan "Spain: Everything under the sun". They also want to attract golfers; they've decided that golf tourists are a big rich market, so there are fancy golf courses all along the coasts now. This America's Cup thing is obviously a way to dig into the sailing market; those people are rich and spend money.

More sailors, golfers, and cathedral-gawkers, please! Fewer Glasgow Celtic supporters, topless beach sluts, and Dusseldorfers on the dole!

Actually, the worst crowd I remember here were Inter Milan supporters who came here in 1988 to play Espanyol at the old Sarria stadium in a UEFA Cup game. They were expecting an easy win, but Espanyol was good that year, with players like Valverde, Miquel Soler, N'Kono, Lauridsen, and Pichi Alonso, and they gave Inter a good butt-whupping. (Note: All these players were maybe best known for being smart. That was a damn good Espanyol team, the kind I like, intelligent, tough, and fast. No big stars but a lot of very competent, first-class pros. They were much more likeable than the late-'80s, pre-Cruyff FC Barcelona.) A lot of Inter supporters had come in from Milan, since it's only about a six-hour drive from here, faster than that if you're Italian, and boy, were they pissed. They trashed all the bars and wrecked everything they could find within several blocks of the stadium, and, mind you, Sarria is a wealthy and fashionable area, not some dump out on the edge of town. Millions of dollars of damage was done.

It's time for the traditional Christmas lighting of the streets of Barcelona. Traditionally most streets are bedecked with rather garish colored lights, often arranged in the shapes of Christmasy stuff like stars or angels or whatever. This year they're going for a much more designer look; concretely, they've gotten some local designers to design much more tasteful lighting. The Ramblas is very pretty, I must say, with golden balls illuminated from inside. I haven't seen the other streets with the designer lighting yet. Mayor Clos was supposed to turn it on in a ceremony at the Plaza Sant Jaume, but it didn't work. He looked like a doofus as he went around downtown trying to turn the lights on with a remote control, and it didn't work anywhere. He had to go home looking silly. They supposedly will have all the lights going tonight.

The Vanguardia is very concerned with the effect of the death of "Copito de Nieve" upon the local children. We're supposed to take this as an opportunity to teach kids about death or something. They're debating about what kind of monument to build to him (best suggestion: a realistic statue within the zoo) and whether to name a street after him (now that might be a little exaggerated). As I suggested before, though, we have a Plaza Karl Marx here in town, and if would be quite appropriate to rename it after a creature that actually did some good for the people of Barcelona rather than continue calling it by the name of a crackpot economist whose failed theories have all been disproved.

Well, as we've been saying, the Frogs and the Toads have just unilaterally officially blown off their responsibility to limit their budget deficits to 3% of their GDPs. Everybody else in the EU has to obey this rule, it seems, but our pithable partners, who did more than anyone else to make sure we all stay in lockstep with them setting the pace, can just decide the rule doesn't apply to them. This is not a popular move here in Spain, where people are already remembering that Spain had to leap through some pretty stiff economic hoops, at the instigation of the Bundesbank, in order to get into the euro, including a hefty devaluation in 1993. Aznar and Rato are pissed off as all hell. France and Germany are incredibly unpopular right now in the rest of the EU, if the Vangua and the TV news are reliable sources. Remember that, far from being unilateral, the Anglo-American attack on Iraq was opposed by only three EU nations, the Frogs, the Toads, and the Tadpoles (that is, Belgium). It is Germany and France who are out of touch with world opinion, not the US.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

One of the main problems that nationalisms have is how they answer the question: Who is "one of us"? I remember I used to work with a perspicacious American woman who used to whisper in my ear about some of our co-workers: "That guy talks American but he thinks European. He's not really one of us."

And, you know, she was right. Let me explain. We worked at a place where the whole teaching staff was American, but some of them were kinda sorta American--a woman who was born in the US to Catalan parents, a man who was the son of Italians, born in the US, but with more than 30 years overseas, a woman, the daughter of an Italian and an American, who didn't even speak standard English, the son of a Paraguayan and a Quebecois who had been born in the US, and several children of American-Spanish marriages who had lived here most of their lives. These folks were all perfectly lovely people, of course, but they did not think like Americans. And there are a good few of them living around Europe; I'd imagine that about half the Americans in Barcelona are this kind of American, the overseas kind.

They're almost in a sort of national limbo--they've got American roots of some kind, but American culture is not part of their lives. They don't know the folk songs or the traditional stories. Wouldn't recognize a square dance--or the hustle or the two-step--if it bit them on the ass. Don't know what the sky looks like on the Southern Plains when there's a norther coming down. Never been to family reunions with a bunch of rednecks. Didn't play high school football or ride bikes down to the reservoir or watch reruns of Gilligan's Island. Don't even know what Gilligan's Island is. Never watched the Canada geese flying south at high altitude. Have never eaten jello with marshmallows in it for dessert--hey, I never said being an American was all good. These folks just don't make the cut.

There are a few basics they've heard about. They know you have turkey at Thanksgiving, but they don't know that the Cowboys and the Lions play that day on TV. And they don't know that probably most American families don't drink wine at Thanksgiving. They've been to Halloween parties but they never went trick-or-treating and they certainly never sneaked out and committed pointless vandalism. They don't know you eat black-eyed peas at New Year's for good luck. They've never seen anyone chew tobacco, and they've never sat through Sunday school on a summer morning when there were better things to do, and they have never heard of fireflies or crawdads. Or fraternities and senior proms and country clubs. Maybe they haven't missed much.

But if my friend referred to these demi-Americans as "not really one of us", and I was able to understand exactly what she meant, that means they exist. Here we are, a couple of Yanks, handing out certificates of being a real American. Sounds pretty arrogant, doesn't it? All right, but if you've never eaten a Ding Dong or a Ho Ho how can you possibly qualify? (And if you had, why would you want to?)

So imagine the problem that Catalans have when they try to decide who's Catalan and who isn't. Now, the Statute of Autonomy says that everybody who lives and works in Catalonia is Catalan. That's fine for legal purposes, but come on. I live and work in Catalonia and no one would ever mistake me for a Catalan, even though I speak the language. They'd never mistake a hand-clapping fino-drinking consonant-mangling Andalusian for a Catalan, either.

I think the story is that Catalonia is divided, more or less, into three groups: the Old Catalans, the New Catalans, and the Non-Catalans. The Non-Catalans (let's say they're 20%) are of Spanish descent and do not speak Catalan or consider themselves Catalans. They live overwhelmingly in the Barcelona industrial suburbs and in the city itself. They answer the question by opting out.

The Old Catalans (let's say they're 30%) have a basic criterion for membership: your native language must be Catalan, and you can't have a "xava" (Castilian) accent. Your first name must be Catalan, and it's really better if you have at least one Catalan surname. Better, two. A grandfather from Switzerland or Sardinia or Salamanca is OK, they suppose. Just one. You also have to know all the stuff about Catalan culture that I mentioned about American culture.

That leaves the New Catalans, who I'd figure as about half the population. They are often of mixed Spanish-Catalan ancestry, or might be of Spanish origin but who have been here a couple of generations. They are most common in Barcelona and in smaller cities like Terrassa or Vilafranca or Manresa. These are the people who are the source of the debate. To simplify things, the New Catalans think of themselves as Catalans. The problem is that most Old Catalans don't. That pisses the New Catalans off no end. Then the Old Catalans call them "charnegos". They hate that. So they strike back against the O.C.s by labeling them as unworthy of the exalted title of Catalan that they claim as exclusively theirs.

The way you pick a New Catalan is, first, by his surnames, since he'll have at least one that ends in -ez. (His first name, of course, will be Catalan.) Second, you listen to his accent, and if it sounds like "xava" than he's N.C. Third, he doesn't know anything about Old Catalan culture except the basics, the equivalents of turkey on Thanksgiving, and he often thinks that by signing onto the basics he's expiated for his lack of real Old Catalan consciousness. He hasn't, at least in the eyes of the O.C.s.

Anyway, keep that in mind while you read this article by Llatzer Moix from Sunday's La Vanguardia. You'll need to know that "malparit", literally "ill-born", is a pretty strong insult in these parts, and that Mr. Josep Lluis Carod-Rovira is the leader of the Catalanista Republican Left party (ERC). Carod is looking for a euphemism for this common Catalan curse, which would translate to Spanish as "malnacido".

Carod-Rovira rebaptized the interior enemy of Catalunya last Sunday with the name of "malnascut". In the middle of his electoral euphoria, with 23 deputies at his back, the leader of the Republican Left demonstrated his gifts for integration and--I'm quoting from memory--proclaimed: there are some people born outside Catalunya who behave like irreproachable Catalans, but there are "malnascuts" who, despite having seen light here don't love Catalunya. Or rather: In a Catalunya designed by ERC adaptable charnegos will have a place, but nothing will be done for the "malnascuts".

For decades, the charnegos were a group that was as necessary as it was stigmatized. Now the chosen target are the "malnascuts". It's a change. Charnegos, yes; "malnascuts", no. That's a lovely slogan for a hypothetical campaign of normalization (i.e. elimination of Castilian), which I offer, for free, to the ERC directors. Now, what is, exactly, a "malnascut"? Carod identified them as those who "having been born here, do not love Catalunya." That leads us to other questions: how do we determine whether an individual loves or does not love Catalunya? Who determines this? Does it depend on his conduct? If that is so, who judges whether that is sufficiently Catalan? In other words, to be a persecutable "malnascut", do we have to go farther out than Vidal-Quadras? Or is it enough to disagree with the Catalan government's cultural policies? Is it necessary to hate Riba, Espriu, or Marti i Pol? Or is it enough to publish in Spanish? While we're at it, does Carod consider that pluralism is a crime of lese-patriotisme? Does he believe there is intelligent life outside ERC's program?

To some people these may seem unnecessary worries. To others, no. I assume that among the latter there are some people who are going to be called upon for legislative functions. Or judicial. This leads us to other questions. For example: What fate awaits the "malnascuts"? Should they wear some badge on their clothing? What punishments will a genuinally Catalan legal code reserve for them? Will they be allowed to follow reeducational programs? What solution is there for the non-cooperative?

Those are a lot of questions in the air. Too many. So let's go back to the beginning: what is exactly a "malnascut"? I go to the sources, to Pompeu Fabra's General Dictionary of the Catalan Language. I look uselessly. "Malnascut" isn't in there. "Malnat", yes: "Insulting term applied to a bad person". Has Carod fallen into a horrible barbarism? ("Malnacido": undesirable, despreciable", according to the Dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy.) Heaven forbid...

Monday, November 24, 2003

For the real information on Georgia, check out Cinderella Bloggerfeller, the most erudite of bloggers. He's got all kinds of great stuff up and a link to a blogger who's actually on the scene in Tblisi, so go check it out. And the boys over at HispaLibertas, Golan and Poison and Franco Aleman, are on a bilingual roll, so go check them out, too; they're running by far the best blog in the Hispanosphere. Just a little more English stuff, guys, and you'll be able to build up a huge audience. And check out this piece from Kaleboel in which Trevor lays waste to the journalistic reputation of the ineffable Rafael Ramos yet again.
One of the most common flagrant economic errors made about poor countries in Spain is that they are "rich in natural resources". The problem here is that natural resources don't matter much of a damn if you can't do something with them that adds value. The implication of the statement, though, is that these poor countries with lots of natural resources ought to be rich. Why aren't they? There's some sort of capitalist conspiracy holding them back and exploiting them, of course. See, that's the problem with, say, Bolivia, according to Vanguardia-thought.

La Vanguardia, in writing about the situation in Georgia, includes these pearls:

The growth of corruption and the rapid impoverishment of a country rich in natural resources are at the roots of the Georgian crisis...(Georgia) was the garden of the Soviet Union, and its wines and fruits supplied the whole Soviet Union, which gave it a higher per capita income than the rest of the (Soviet) republics.

Corruption, OK, no beef with the Vangua there. But "rich in natural resources"? Georgia, on the Black Sea, was the only part of the old USSR with a Mediterranean climate suitable for cultivating vines and fruit trees. That's it, that's all the resources they have. Now, a well-managed country ought to do fairly well selling wines and fruits (hey, wine's a value-added manufacture), and you'd think with their attractive seacoast they could have a tourist business. Think Chile or even Spain.

The difference, though, is that both Chile and Spain have sizable industrial and service sectors. And Georgia is not and never has been well-managed. Its "prosperity" under the USSR was the result of having the whole empire as its captive market. Now it's just another run-down ex-Communist dump on the Med--well, on the Black Sea--in the same league as Albania.

Anyway, the Vangua is emphasizing that the Yanks are behind the opposition to Shevardnadze and that a proposed oil pipeline between the Caspian Sea and the Black would run through Georgia. See, nothing happens without the consent of the All-Powerful, and the All-Powerful will do anything to get more oil. (That's why we were in Afghanistan and Iraq, you know. I even remember seeing some real nutcases around here claim that the Somalia intervention was because of oil.) And then they accuse America of being simplistic. Seems to me that America-bashers are guilty of being reductionists.

Here's more Vanguardia-thought from Tikrit Tommy Alcoverro.

Iraq, on the road to civil war

Almost everything that is happening in Iraq since the Anglo-American invasion had been predicted. We were warned that occupation would foment anarchy, the struggle to resist, and, finally, war among the Iraqis...(The attacks on the Iraqi police stations) corroborate the confrontation of the guerrillas with persons, institutions, and business accused of "collaborationism" with the occupiers.

1) Tommy was predicting mass American carpet-bombings of Iraq that would massacre the population, not any kind of anti-terrorist war. 2) I very much dislike Tommy's use of terms with positive connotations like "guerrillas" and "resistance" to refer to murderous fanatical thugs.

...The American armed occupation, like all the invasions in history, is exacerbating nationalist feeling, but it is also creating destructive divisions among the population. In Algeria, during the FLN's struggle for independence, those who sided with the Paris government were insultingly called "harkis" and they had to abandon their homeland after the liberation...

1) Where Tommy writes "American", read "coalition". 2) I can think of thousands of invasions and conquests in human history that did not exacerbate nationalist feeling because the conquered people were all too busy being dead or slaves to worry about things like nationalism--or because, like between 1940 and D-Day, the conquered people were, well, French. (Of course, the myth of the Resistance in Nazi-governed Europe is largely just that, a myth.) 3) As for Algeria, the FLN were murderous fanatical thugs. Tikrit Tommy is absolutely right about the strategy being used, though. The FLN murdered the "harkis" mercilessly and the Iraqi terrorists are going to try to do the same to moderate Iraqis. That's the first thing you do in a struggle for national liberation, see, you kill all your fellow oppressed people who disagree with you. (See this previous post on Algeria.) 4) It is NOT the Americans who are creating divisions among the Iraqis, it is the pro-Saddam terrorists who are committing the murders. 5) I find it fascinating that Tommy does not condemn, ever, pro-Saddam terrorist attacks on Iraqis or coalition forces, on any grounds, including humanitarian ones of being against innocent people getting killed. Yet if the Americans drop a bomb on a terrorist hideout and some kid gets a splinter in his arm, it's the Nuremberg Trials all over again but this time with the evil Americans in the dock.

...Maybe it would be exaggerated to compare the provisional council established by the US to the Vichy government during the German occupation of France.

Maybe it would. How about these differences:

Transition to democracy underway: Iraq Yes, Vichy No.
Civil liberties, human rights established: Iraq Yes, Vichy No.
Mass sums of money spent on improving daily life: Iraq Yes, Vichy No.
Occupying power sucks out national wealth: Iraq No, Vichy Yes.
Tens of thousands of Jews deported to death camps: Iraq No, Vichy Yes.
Hundreds of thousands of citizens deported as slave labor: Iraq No, Vichy Yes.
Harsh, murderous measures taken against peaceful dissenters: Iraq No, Vichy Yes.
Government overthrown by occupiers evil, corrupt dictatorship: Iraq Yes, Vichy No.
La Vanguardia sympathetic to totalitarian dictators: 1940-44 Yes, 2002-2003 Yes.

Snowflake (Copito de Nieve or Floquet de Neu), the world's only albino gorilla, has died at age 40 of skin cancer in the Barcelona Zoo. That's a shame, of course. We knew it was coming, he'd been very ill for a while, and they took him off display late last week.

The most popular name in Catalonia for newborn males in 2003 is Mohammed, according to TV3. I have no problem with this; I'm pro-immigration, both to America and to Spain. However, I predict a tragic rise in racism in these parts over the next five or ten years, as more (and poorer) immigrants arrive and the locals fail to deal with them in a positive or at least pragmatic manner. See, the locals aren't used to dealing with immigrants at all.

Local TV frequently does news pieces on immigrants, and they're almost always positive (good), and almost always both patronizing and inaccurate (bad). A (well-educated, good-looking) immigrant is shown leading a successful life, perfectly integrated into Catalonia, and the message that this is what happens is thus diffused. In fact, this sort of success is fairly rare among immigrants in Catalonia, most of whom live in comparative poverty--though better than back home in Morocco, so they're just going to keep coming.

We're going to be just like France, not just like America, unfortunately. Old European nationalisms, like the French and the Catalan and the German, are not good at dealing with other folks on an intimate level. They don't mind you visiting, but they want to make sure you go back home without contaminating their blood and land. The only way to overcome this rejection is to become "more Catalan than the Catalans".

I have an article on this phenomenon by Llatzer Moix, which I'll translate either later today or tomorrow.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Greetings to those visitors steered here by National Review. For all sorts of Catalan election information, just scroll down to November 17 and the preceding days. Thanks for coming by and we hope you'll stay and set a spell.
Check out this bit from ESPN Page 2 on conspiracy theories in sports. It's kind of funny.
Here's a Gregg Easterbrook piece (Easterbrook is a moderate Democrat) on Bush's prescription-drug plan, one of his major domestic-policy initiatives. (You folks in Europe may not have heard that Bush actually does things related to domestic issues, and that he does not spend all his time thinking up devilish plots to humiliate the Third World.) What Easterbrook points out is that this plan will help you a great deal if you are old and poor or sick. It will not help you much, even if you are old, if you are not poor or sick. That is, Americans are going to pay higher taxes in order to help out poor, sick retired people, and the wealthy don't benefit. Yeah, just old George Bush failing to be compassionate to the needy and helping out his friends in the oil business as usual.

This is Victor Davis Hanson on the situation in Iraq from Front Page:

Glazov: Welcome gentlemen to Frontpage Symposium. Let's begin with a general question: Can we say still say with confidence that it was the right thing for the U.S. to go into Iraq? How do you read the current situation?

Hanson: Examine three points (1) no more scuds into Kuwait, Israel, invasions of Iraq and Iran; no more worry about petro-dollar-fed weapons programs; no more $20 billion/300,000 sortie no-fly zones; no more genocide of Kurds/Shiites; no more destruction of the Marsh Arabs; no more violations of the 1991 armistice agreements; no more troops in Saudi Arabia; et al.; (2) so far at a cost of less than 400 lives, America has destroyed the Taliban and Hussein regimes (the worst in the Middle East), offered a chance of freedom for 50 million people; suffered no more 9-11s; and changed the landscape of the region in a way that is quite unlike the old Cold War (just pump oil/keep out communists) Realpolitik that led to the appeasement or promotion of tyrants. (3) despite the current hysteria, systematic progress toward a civil society continues in Iraq, as power, schools, politics, trade, and infrastructure are getting better each month. If we really are in a terrible war against Islamofascists and their assorted autocratic abettors, then having such predisposed murderers collect in Iraq where they can be engaged and destroyed in the larger strategic picture of a global war is dangerous of course, but still not necessarily bad.

We've all seen what Al Qaeda just did in Istanbul, with the added fillip that the targets were the British Consulate and a British bank. Among many others, the British Consul was killed. Uh, people of the West, listen to me for just a second here. You're not being paranoid if you've got evidence. They're after us. Don't blame America and Britain for breaking the peace. The loose rogue state / terrorist gang alliance has been at war with us since the Sixties, in case you don't remember the Munich Olympics or Black September or the Lebanon hostages or the Teheran embassy or the Beirut barracks or the Libyan embassy or the raid on Entebbe or the African embassies or the Osiraq nuke plant or the Bekaa Valley or Lockerbie. Or 9-11. And, Brits and Spaniards, don't forget that both the IRA and ETA, who have made a long practice of killing people in your countries, are connected to the Middle Eastern rogue states and terrorists too.

Here's Rafael Ramos, on page 4 from today's La Vanguardia.

...In the streets of London, meanwhile, more than a hundred thousand demonstrators made a completely different interpretation of the invasion of Iraq, denouncing the selfish and neocolonialist policies of the U.S. and Great Britain, and presenting the "war against terror" as a pretext to cut back civil liberties, terrify the people, and advance the economic interests of the Anglo-Saxon allies...

...Bush and Blair have made in London a call to arms with a manifesto that is at bottom simplistic, in black and white. The Republican President wants a sort of American War of Independence, this time against terrorism and at a universal scale, convinced that the outcome is predistined by moral imperative. And the Labour leader seems to be perfectly happy to be his shield-bearer...

For the demonstrators who tore down the statue of Bush in Trafalgar Square reality is very different. Bush and Blair's discourse reflects the anxiety of an ex-empire--Great Britain--that cannot find its place in the world, and a superpower--the United States--that consumes more than it produces, that has a debt of $500 billion financed by China and Japan, and whose military power has been in decline since the Second World War, despite Pyrrhic victories like Iraq and Afghanistan, which confirm its difficulties in fighting a guerrilla war. It's a question of opinions.

Don't you just despise this guy? He's an old European nationalist to the core, hates the United States like poison, likes to put down Britain, and sees everything in terms of compàrative national prestige. Also, he knows nothing about economics; he's fallen into the mercantilist trap of assuming that production should equal consumption, and he doesn't see that a national debt of $500 billion isn't much when compared to the annual American GDP of $9 trillion, unlike certain European countries in hock for more than 100% of their annual GDPs, and that the US national debt is mostly financed domestically.

Oh, by the way, the London Metropolitan Police estimated about 30,000 demonstrators, most of whom were high school kids or squatters. 59,970,000 Britons stayed home. Political demonstrations are generally meaningless. It's when the people pull an uprising that it's scary, and everyone in Britain is far too safe and comfortable to risk anything more than a truncheon on the head by a cop. (Go Cops! Beat 'em, smack 'em, drag 'em to the truck!) Anyway, the government is responsible to all the voters, not to that fraction of demonstrators, many below voting age, that makes the most noise in the streets. And the voters elected Tony Blair. And even the Guardian admits that the people are behind Blair.

Here's Tikrit Tommy Alcoverro, whose piece is on page six and is labeled "Analysis" in twelve-point type, but at least is labeled as such.

You don't have to be a sublime doctor or a graduate expert in the complicated Middle East to know and to repeat over and over that the worst is still to come for these "object peoples".

"Object peoples"? Huh? What we're doing is treating people, not peoples (of whom there are dozens in Iraq), as individuals whose lives are worth a damn, rather than objects. Tommy, do you think Al Qaeda give a shit about people? Or Saddam or the Taliban or Hizbollah or Hamas? If they did, they wouldn't go around killing individual human beings in the name of some combination of crazed ideology and corrupt greed.

The American administration and its allies are determined to make war against what they call international terrorism, without clearing up what its origins are, nor wanting to accept that, for example, the Palestinians and the Iraqis--like the Afghans and Lebanese before them--are combating the fact of an armed occupation. Evidently, we must also know that the causes of those occupations were, the result of previous wars.

Tommy, the whole thing about international frontiers of any kind is they've all been changed repeatedly by war. It's the post-World War I West that has tried, utopically, but has at least tried, to set up a world in which there are no more frontier conflicts in order to prevent future border wars. Anyway, lovely Old European "root causes" wank, Tommy. How can you possibly assure us that the "peoples" of Middle Eastern countries are fighting a unified "struggle against the occupation"? Especially Lebanon, now a protectorate of Syria, but whose people have left off struggling (because if you blow up the Syrians' barracks they just massacre everybody in town. That sort of extreme violence works, unfortunately, and Lebanon is now pacified.) People vote with their feet. More than a million refugees have returned to Afghanistan. And most of the Iraqi people support the US, though they would like us to leave rather sooner than later, which is fair enough.

That's enough fisking Tommy. If I keep this up I'm going to puke--and, oh, no, it's Baghdad Bob Fisk on page seven!

Bagdad Bob's article is really of a pathetic vileness, of gutter-crawling cowardice, of bowing down before those who are scary and violent, of imagining that the bully won't beat you up if you kiss his bum, as Orwell once accused sex-crazed weaselly pro-Nazi pacifist Alex Comfort of doing to Hitler.

...The Australians paid the price of John Howard's alliance with Bush in Bali. The Italians paid the price of Silvio Berlusconi's alliance with Bush in Nasariyah. Now it's our turn. Al Qaeda expressed itself with clarity and precision. The Saudis would pay. The Australians would pay. The Italians would pay. The British would pay. And they have all paid. Canada is still on Al Qaeda's list. Until it is, I suppose, our turn again. Remember, by the way, that already in 1997 Ben Laden said and repeated to me that Great Britain would only escape Islamic rage if it pulled out of the Gulf...

...Think about what they always say about Bin Laden's speeches. When they are broadcast, journalists always say the same thing: Is it really him? Is he alive? This is our only discourse. However, the Arab response is very different. They know it is him. And they listen to what he says. We should do the same thing.

Can it get worse? It can! Here's "Chemical Lali" Sole on the main op-ed page!

The civil population..finds the war at home and with no escape, who hate the missiles but receive their impact, that does not participate in the dividing of the booty, but has to watch while foreign hands loot their country.

All of this, in everyday life, means living in chaos and with abuse, the lack of water and electricity, the lack of medicines, the stundent frightened on their way to school and inside it, with women giving birth suffering more for the future of their children than their own pain, with the old more vulnerable than ever, with the forces of occupation searching the houses and frightening children and adults...

...In Iraq all consideration of the humanitarian labor (of the Red Cross and the UN) has disappeared and both have suffered attacks. In the future, now that every ethical principle has been violated, the brutality will have no brakes. This is the fruit of a churning river, in the form of an invasion, whose benefit is economic lucre.

...Reporters without Borders denounce that the journalists who work in that country are harassed by the American forces. Even worse, freedom of expression, an indiscutible democratic principle, is violated not only in the conquered country but also in the conqueror. That's what happens when Bush prohibits the media of communication from showing the mutilated, the caskets, the pain of the relatives, the burials of their troops in Iraq and in Afghanistan...

It makes no sense that, confronted with a global economy, global risks, and global victims, we cannot have a global democracy. We are talking about a democracy that has never been tried before, but new times require new systems. Unless we keep allowing a few to continue sowing the world with cadavers and victims.

And then you're surprised when you hear that Europeans are anti-American? This is an all-time record for La Vanguardia, the most America-bashing in one day ever recorded. And people around here just believe this crap and parrot it back to you as if it were an argument. If you go back to their "root causes" argument, Spaniards' ignorance is a function of the low quality of their media of communication.
Here's one of the dumbest things Michael Kinsley, who's gone through a Krugman-like decline in quality since Bush's election, has written lately. Seems Mike is accusing the Republicans of "attack geography" because some people have questioned Howard Dean's credibility as a presidential candidate due to his governancy of such a small, insignificant place as Vermont. Mike is trying to float a trial balloon accusing Reps of trashing Dems for where said Dems come from.

Now, Vermont has about 400,000 people, no urban areas, no crime, and a very high average income. Nobody is dissing Vermont as a place, though for some of us Bennington is just a little bit hippy-dippy. What people are saying is that Dean's job as governor of Vermont was simply not that big a deal, not incredibly difficult to do, certainly not requiring genius, and not nearly as hard as that of being the mayor, police chief, fire chief, or school superintendent in Kansas City, population 500,000, lots of urban problems like crime and bad schools, and with an area probably half that of Vermont. Nobody using this argument is saying Vermont is a bad place, just that 11 years' experience governing it is not proof that a candidate has the necessary experience in government to be President.

Here's the money quote:

When they were going after Clinton, they portrayed Arkansas as the last place you would want your president from. Why? Well, it's in the South—out of the American mainstream. It's full of poor people. Everyone's married to his cousin. They eat horrible, fatty lower-class foods. My dear, it's Hicksville, plain and simple.

Mike, you dipshit, that's what people who vote Democrat in New York and LA and college towns across America say, not what Republicans say. Republicans are actually from places like Arkansas. This sort of denigrating the common people is much more common among people of Michael Kinsley's political ideas than among people of, say, George Bush's.

Also, let me point out that in 1992, a Republican Texan ran against a Democrat Arkansan. In 1996 a Republican Kansan ran against a Democrat Arkansan. In 2000 a Republican Texan ran against a Democrat Tennesseean. Exactly how do you figure that folks from Texas and Kansas look down on folks from Arkansas and Tennessee? It's people like Michael Kinsley who look down on folks from all four states.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003


A few years ago Miquel Esteba exchanged his machine shop for the good life. Now, with 71 very full years, he likes to say that he organizes parties by order...Since his retirement he has dedicated himself to a very curious activity, something we might agree to call "the restaurant at home". The novelty consists in initiating American tourists into gastronomic culture and giving them "homemade, homestyle" food...

A Taste of Spain, an unusual travel agency, offers its clients the chance of enjoying a good meal outside the circuits of the most renowned restaurants. Therefore, as well as taking them through the dining rooms of El Bulli or El Celler de Can Roca, they introduce them to Miquel Esteba, a person charismatic because of his activity, who in addition to cooking for them in exclusive instructs them in cooking.

The most recent clients have arrived from Philadelphia, Texas, and New york. Never more than five people. Miquel welcomes them, takes them to visit markets like the one in Palafrugell, helps them choose the freshest fish--"they have no idea, the only thing they've seen in their lives is frozen fish"--and finally takes them to his house, in Tamarit, installs them in his own dining room, shows them how to prepare a meal, gives them a class in hedonism, and serves. But he adds a very Catalan varient: he charges them.

For 150 euros three people can eat (according to the website it looks like it's €150 per person), with a gastronomy class included...At the last meal Esteba prepared for them some appetizers with Iberico ham and L'Escala anchovies, a generous fideua, and crema catalana, washed down with Rioja. While he prepared it, the Americans--little historical perspective--opened their eyes to a show they'd never seen, culinary artisanship, a slow fire, the finest materials, even the words are marinated...

"Sometimes," Miquel Esteba explains, "you realize that these foreigners have never seen a crab or a monkfish in their lives...What happens to these Americans is like those kids who believe that chickens are beings which are born fried and come in plastic."

Used to junk food and American assembly lines, these new clients are also shown the work in a winery, how to toast almonds, or to see how bread is baked. They end up so impressed and disoriented that they take home jars of "all i oli"--for breakfast.
(La Vanguardia, November 14, 2003)

...It's no accident that the American tourists who visit Barcelona's Gothic Quarter repeatedly ask: "When does it close?" They are incapable of understanding that in that museumified and thematized zone, completely dedicated to tourism and commerce, which stretches from the Plaza Catalunya to the port and from the Picasso Museum to the Rambla, there are people who live there when the shops and museums close down. Having identified the unitary area, sectioned off and thematized, it seems incomprehensible to them that it doesn't close at night, as in an amusement park or a shopping mall. Since the space of tourism is a space of leisure and consumption, the tourist is surprised that the historic downtown is, also, a place to live. "Are there people who live in a shopping mall?" they ask incredulously. (La Vanguardia, Culture supplement, November 19, 2003)

I don't know anybody that dumb who graduated from high school. I do know some extremely dumb Americans, and I'm related to several of them, but them people was white trash a hunnert fitty years ago and they's still white trash today. They ain't got no gumption, nair much common sense, and they all got kicked out of school long about the time they started growing whiskers and raping the nine-year-olds while they were still in the third grade. We had one ancestor who wound up in the Arkansas State Pen for grand theft mule about six or so generations ago. He escaped somehow and lit out for Texas, and the rest of his family followed him, which is how that branch of them got out there.

But any Yank who has the dough and the specialized interest to go on a gastronomical tour in Catalonia is well aware that chickens don't come from plastic bags. He's probably even watched Julia Child on TV at one time or another, and he may have even gone to a French restaurant back home or something. Possibly, just possibly.

(By the way, guys, you may actually never have seen a monkfish. Trust me, you don't want to, they're horribly gross, really primitive-looking fish, bottom-dwellers, not handsome sleek cod or trout. Fortunately, it generally is served in slices, "steaks", if you will. Also, do not order a whole roast rabbit because they will bring it to your table with the head on and it is incredibly horrible-looking. If you must order the rabbit, and they say it's quite tasty, ask for it sans head.)

So whence comes the image of the ignorant, uncultured American? I don't know, but it must be very important for the Europeans to propagate and reinforce that image among themselves. Two stories on the same theme in five days. Not bad at all.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Well, it looks like this might be the end of the road for Michael Jackson. A 12-year-old boy has accused him of, uh, inappropriate touching, and the cops have a warrant and they're searching his place, the "Neverland Ranch". This is apparently happening at this moment.

I can't help feeling sorry for the guy, what with his abusive father and weird family and showbiz upbringing, and then all that fame and money, and having to hang out with Liz and Liza. I'd have freaked out long ago under that kind of pressure. But no matter how screwed-up you are and how much bad luck you've had, that is not a good excuse for diddling little boys. If he really did it he ought to be in jail. And we all know how long he'd survive there.

The other thing I want to know is who are these families who are letting their kids get within a mile of Michael Jackson? Who the hell is giving Michael Jackson access to his own children? Shouldn't this kid's parents be tried for reckless endangerment instead of getting the big payoff they'll probably take in exchange for dropping the charges?

I will add that if there is an American Dream, Michael Jackson is the American Nightmare. American society isn't perfect. It can be glitzy and flashy and superficial and also tough, harsh, and competitive. And Hollywood is the summit of that side of the USA. Most people are strong enough to deal with it in one way or another. Michael Jackson was not. Everybody thought he had the Dream but by about 1986 it was very clear that this person was unable to take care of himself due to the pressure of the Bad Side of Hollywood.
Check out this piece by Andy Robinson, reporting from New York on something happening in California in today's La Vanguardia. On page three, the lead international affairs page. Words within quotes are in English in the original.

Arnold Schwarzenegger had his first taste of enemy fire last month in southern California when 3600 houses and businesses were converted into ashes, most of them belonging to his voters. With a cost of more than $2 billion, the fires are another huge number in the red column of the books of a state whose deficit was already almost $10 billion. But it's still not clear where "Terminator" is going to find any black numbers. Already proven to be a successful formula in Hollywood (dangling participle sic), Schwarzenegger has applied the technique of the "crossover"--the horror movie that is a thriller too, or the melodrama that becomes a comedy--to California politics. His first economic measure will be the elimination of the car registration tax--with a cost of $4 billion--consolidating his support along the "freeways". This old script of cutting taxes--with repeated "flash back" (sic) to the administration of Ronald Reagan in the Seventies--will be accompanied, however, with what the Los Angeles Times calls a "moderate and progressive program" on environmental and social issues. "Schwarzenegger will govern from the left, right, and center," said, without irony, an analyst from the Hoover Institute in the New York Times. The "crossover" becomes fact with the decision to name several Democrats to the team of the Republican governor.

Terry Tamminen, a Democrat and an advocate for ecological causes, is the new president of the Agency for Environmental Protection, and James Branham, a logging businessman, is her new assistant. Since two of the greatest challenges for the ex-Mister Universe will have environmental repercussions--the prevention of forest fires and the solution to the electrical crisis two years after the blackouts that shut down Silicon Valley--we'll see if this Solomonic formula gives results. It is not clear, either--given the absence of the money stolen by corruption in the accounts of the State, so often denounced during the electoral campaign--how Schwarzenegger will try to blend the "horror" genre with the "familia entertainment" of policies of supporting education and social cohesion programs, all promised in the campaign.

Given the difficulties of the "crossover" genre, Schwarzenegger--facing a Democrat majority in the state legislature--will try to hold himself above the upcoming battles; according to all the experts. (Sentence fragment sic.) In the end, he knows through experience that the reputation of the "lead actor" can survive even the worst movies.

Now, let's have a little quiz. The reason this stupid article sucks so bad is because of the inanity of its metaphor of the movies and governing a state. Why do you think the author, Andy Robinson, wrote this tripe?

A. He spends all his time partying his ass off with American hippie chicks who are impressed because he's British, so he's constantly half-pissed and three-quarters pilled up, none of which he paid for himself, and so he can't concentrate enough to write anything better

B. He's such a nerd that he spends almost all of his wa(n)king hours masturbating constantly with a huge tube of KY Jelly and a six-pack of pornos, and he only leaves the house long enough every day to pick up a new porno six-pack and some regional paper from Buffalo or Pittsburgh that probably nobody is bothering to check him on, from which he manages to rip off something resembling an article to send back to Barcelona, and that's why he can't write any better. They hate him at the porno shop because he leaves nasty fingerprints all over the boxes

C. He's such a lazy bastard that he just makes all this shit up

D. He's so stupid he actually thinks the extended metaphor was clever

What do you think? Post your answers below in the Comments section.

Monday, November 17, 2003

OK, I promise, this one will be the last post on the Catalan elections until there's some real news. This is just a summary of how each side "won" and how they "lost" in these elections.

Convergence and Union (CiU): Won because they got the most seats and therefore are traditionally the first to get a turn at forming a new government. Can form an absolute majority with ERC. Lost because they dropped ten seats since the last elections in 1999 and because they might not get what they want if ERC goes with the leftist coalition.

Catalan Socialist Party (PSC): Won because they got the most individual votes and because they can form a governing coalition with ERC and ICV. Lost because they won't get what they want if ERC goes with Convergence and Union, because they lost head to head against CiU in seats, and because they also dropped ten seats from the last election.

Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC): Won. Almost doubled their number of seats. They get to decide who the next Prime Minister will be. Whoever offers most, CiU or the PSC, will get their support and be able to form a governing coalition. And you can't make a coalition without them.

People's Party (PP): Won because they gained three seats. Lost because they will not be a part of the next coalition no matter what happens.

Initiative for Catalonia-Greens (ICV): Won because they gained four seats and will be part of the governing coalition if ERC decides to throw in with the PSC. Lost because they may be left out, it's not their decision, and because they came in fifth in both popular votes and seats.

How this will affect national politics: The PP is neither hurt nor helped by these results. They did slightly better than they were expected to do. Doesn't change anything important. The Socialists are hurt badly, though, since they lost a fifth of their seats, and may not get to lead the governing coalition. This just makes Zap look even worse: since he's been in charge of the Socialist Party he's lost the March municipals, the March regionals, the re-vote in Madrid, and now the Catalan regionals. We never get tired of predicting Zap's demise. Maybe he's already toast and the Bono-Chavez-Ibarra alliance will spread butter and jam all over him and his sleazy Guerrista pals and gobble them down. If they're lucky they'll get to put Maragall on TOP BROWN, too. They'd like to get rid of him and his annoying pandering to the Catalanista vote which he'll never win and which only serves to piss off voters in the rest of Spain.
Bienvenidos a todos los lectores que vienen de Libertad Digital. Espero que os guste este blog; podeis dejar comentarios si os da la gana. Siento que este todo escrito en ingles; Iberian Notes se concebio como un blog que intentaria explicar Barcelona, Cataluna, y Espana a los de fuera. Pero no hay ninguna razon para que los autoctonos no puedan leerlo tambien. (Ah, lo de los acentos escritos y tildes; los dejo porque el sistema Blogger no los acepta y los sustituye con interrogativos.)
You know, it isn't racist to say that certain names are typical of certain ethnicities or nationalities. I mean, there aren't too many chronically sober people named Paddy Murphy, or too many fundamentalist snake handlers named Moe Levy, or too many Sigma Chi or ATO pledges named LaTryrone Jackson, or too many flamenco singers named Jordi Puigdefabregas. Or Koldo Isparregizebarrenoizerretagoitia.

As a sociological study, I asked Remei to name some "typically gypsy" surnames. I got Amaya, Heredia, Flores, Montoya, Amador, and Reyes. I then added up the surnames of the 85 people on the Calo Nationalist Party ballot, figuring you're probably a gypsy yourself if you're on the ballot of that party. That's a total of 170 surnames, two per person. Here's the distribution of interesting stuff:

"Standard" Gypsy Surnames:

Flores 15
Amaya 14
Heredia 11
Amador 9
Montoya 3
Reyes 1

Standard Spanish surnames:

Jimenez 18
Fernandez 12
Perez 6
Hernandez 2
Martinez 2
Rodriguez 1
Gonzalez 1
Lopez 0
Garcia 0

Standard Portuguese surnames:
Silva 4
Vargas 3
Santos 2

Standard Catalan surnames:

Soler 1
Torres 1

Common other surnames among gypsies:

Cortes 14
Santiago 13
Manzano 9

Conclusion: All of the surnames that are stereotypically gypsy turn up, though Montoya and Reyes are not really that common. Several standard Spanish surnames, with no intrinsic gypsy connection, turn up in large numbers, but some other very common Spanish surnames don't turn up at all. Catalan surnames barely appear, though Portuguese surnames are not too uncommon. Cortes, Santiago and Manzano are common surnames among gypsies, but for some reason are not considered stereotypically gypsy.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

99% of the results are in and there's going to be some fun political wheeling and dealing over the next few weeks. The PSC got 31.2% of the vote and won 42 seats (the PSC scores highly in Barcelona and its metro area). CiU got 30.9% but pulled 46 seats because it scores highly in smaller cities and rural areas, and the system is weighted so those areas are overrepresented and the city and metro areas are underrepresented. ERC got 16.4% of the vote and 23 seats, mostly in the provinces and in Barcelona city. The metro area doesn't vote ERC; they all speak Spanish. They don't vote CiU, either, for that matter. The People's Party got 11.9% of the vote and 15 seats, mostly in Barcelona and the metro area, and the Commie-Greens got 7.3% of the vote, almost all in the metro area and, secondarily, in the city, and 9 seats.

Hoo boy. In the old days CiU used to regularly win an absolute majority in these here regional elections. They were the moderate Catalanist party, more in favor of a great deal of autonomy rather than Catalan independence, and they included conservatives, liberals, and social democrats who all had their Catalanism in common. That coalition--"we're all united because we're Catalanists first and other things second"--is splitting apart. ERC didn't use to get any votes, and what's happened is that the more Catalanist CiU voters have gone over to them. (Example: Pere Esteve.) The more conservative and less Catalanist CiU voters have gone to the PP (Example: Josep Pique). This process was already visible in 1999, in the last regional elections, when CiU lost so many seats they were forced to govern from the minority with the backing of the PP. This did not please many CiU voters at all. As nationalists, they despise the central government in Madrid, and a lot of them did not like the deals CiU made with the PP both after the 1996 general elections and after the 1999 Catalan regionals. They punished CiU.

The Socialists had themselves a good minority coalition going, when they would regularly rack up fifty seats in the Catalan parliament, easy--a strong second, enough to mean what your party says at least has to be taken into account unless it's completely insane--and they pile up mayoralties in Barcelona and the metro area. PSC voters are often idealistic lefties but not usually completely nuts. Some of them are really pretty reasonable. They're like Ted Kennedy and Howard Dean. If those guys are running your country and all you have to worry about is internal affairs, you can get away with doing a Sweden. Things won't be too awful. (But you can't do a Sweden, as Democrat voters in the States seem to think you can, if you're a superpower and international affairs and defense are important issues for you.) What really united PSC voters was their opposition to Convergence and Union. There were some Socialists who were pretty Catalanist (Raimon Obiols) and some Socialists who were pretty leftist (Jordi Sole Tura). Those more Catalanist voters have flaked off to the Republican Left and those who are more leftist have moved on up to the Communists. That's kind of like graduating from marijuana to heroin.

Smart people vote for the PP. That number is increasing slowly but steadily. The Socialists' recent clownish behavior has cost them points, and they've lost a few votes to the PP, as has CiU. Unfortunately, the PP will be shut out of the upcoming coalition negotiations.

Right. Let's do some math. You need 68 seats for a majority in the 135-seat Catalan Parliament. What this means is that a conservative pact, CiU and PP, adds up to 61 seats. No way. A Catalanist pact, CiU and ERC, adds up to 69 seats. That would work. Or a leftist pact, PSC and ERC and ICV, adds up to 74 seats. That works too. So it's all up to ERC. Whichever way they decide to flip will depend on who promises them the most, the PSC + ICV not-very-Catalanist leftists or the CiU Catalanist more or less moderates. The auction has begun. The bidding starts at the conselleria of Economics and that of Public Works...Do I hear Environment?...Come on, you can do better than that...

If ERC went so far as to demand the Prime Ministerial position, I wonder if the Socialists and CiU might make a deal? That's supposed to be unthinkable, but I would prefer either Mas or Maragall to Carod-Rovira as Catalan PM. Those two parties are really not that ideologically different on anything but emotional Catalanism. I wonder if Maragall would prefer Mas to Carod? Or if Mas would prefer Maragall to Carod?

Footnote: Turnout was 63%, up four percent from the last regional elections in 1999.

Footnote Two: Other parties running were the Communist Party of the People of Catalonia, the Humanist Party of Catalonia (the front for the cult), the Internationalist Socialist Workers Party, who must be Trots, Internationalist Struggle, who are probably Trots too, the Platform for Catalonia, the racist / xenophobic Catalanista / Franquista melange, Insubmissive Seats, who are probably the squatters, the Another Democracy Is Possible Coalition, who are the "alterglobalization" hippies, the Republican Social Movement, who just might be far-right, the Spaniards Under Separatism Coalition, who just might be really far-right, and the Calo Nationalist Party, the Gypsies. Except for the Calo Nationalists, who are almost certainly all integrated gypsies and even if they're not deserve a fair hearing in the Parliament, I hope the cops are keeping an eye on all these wackos. The great thing is that each of these parties had its list of 85 candidates, so that's 85 people per wacko political party to keep under surveillance. We should be able to uncover the roots of the conspiracy quite easily.
With 16.7% of the vote counted--these are official figures--the Socialists have 34.1% and 48 seats, CiU has 29.4% and 43 seats, the Republican Left has 15.0% and 21 seats, the PP has 11.8% and 15 seats, and the Communists have 7.3% and 8 seats.

Possible alliances: A conservative coalition of CiU and the PP would sum 58 seats; 68 are necessary for a majority. A nationalist coalition of CiU and ERC would sum 64. A leftist coalition of the PSC and ERC would sum 69, enough to form a government. If they gave ICV part of the spoils they'd have 77. Looks like Maragall is the next Prime Minister.

UPDATE: This post turned out to be completely wrong. Later results determined that there are two possible coalitions: CiU-ERC or PSC-ERC-ICV. Maragall stands a good chance of not becoming the next PM.
They're announcing the results of the surveys taken outside the polling places. These results have to be taken with a grain of salt, since they're based on what people said when leaving, and this tends to undercount PP results--it's still not too politically correct to say you support the PP, so we'll see how this develops. They're talking about voter turnout of 60%, more than in 1999. Real results ought to be coming in about 11 PM or so.

TV3's survey counts the Socialists (PSC) with 3.3% of the vote and 44-46 seats, Convergence and Union (CiU) with 29.4% and 43-45 seats, the Republican Left (ERC) with 17.6% and a very surprising 24-26 seats, the PP with 10.3% and 12-14 sears, and the Communists (ICV) 7.6% and 8-9 seats. Libertad Digital has the results of three different surveys up.

This would mean a serious drop in the vote for the two major parties, a huge gain for the Republican Left, and small gains for the PP and the Commies. We'll see how it comes out.
Well, today's a Japanese girl's favorite day, so we went out to vote. We observed two schools being used as polling places; everything was completely normal. The way it works is that people on the voting lists are chosen at random to serve as vote tabulators. It's like jury duty, but just for one day. You get paid like fifty bucks or whatever, and you have to appear, no excuses, or get hit with a heavy fine. I assume they let you off if you have the flu or something. Official political party volunteers, with a party volunteer tag, are allowed to observe and provide assistance to voters, so the various parties keep things covered. There are never the slightest insinuations of vote fraud. Doesn't happen.

Turnout in Spain is pretty good for the most part. Good turnout would be something like 65% for a regional election, like this one. 70% wouldn't be too unusual for a general election. There are four types of election, general, for Spanish prime minister, (=US federal), regional, for Catalan prime minister, (=US state), municipal, for local mayor, (US local administrations), and European Parliament (no US equivalent, of course). Average turnout drops as you go down the list. It's generally better than in the US, though, and one reason is that elections are always held on Sunday here in Spain, a day almost everyone has off from work.

In the US, by contrast, elections are always held on Tuesday, a working day for almost everyone. I'm amazed that we get even 50% turnout for our working-day elections in the US. I would seriously suggest that elections be held on Sunday in the US if we want a more participative democracy, which we may not. If any religious groups complain tell 'em they can vote by absentee ballot. You wouldn't have to amend the Constitution, since all it says on the question is that Congress shall fix the date of presidential elections and that date must be the same in the whole country (Article II, Section 1)--so I don't see why Congress shouldn't designate the first Sunday in November rather than the second Tuesday.

Anyway, whenever an election is coming around, they send out a voter card to everyone eligible to vote in the circumscription of the election. You are automatically registered, and since we do not have real primary elections here, you do not register a party affiliation.

(The way you get affiliated to a party is by soliciting admission: I don't know if they take a vote on you, but you do have to pay dues and if you do something the party doesn't like you can be expelled. You get a party membership card and everything. You get whatever voice the party allows any of its other members over internal affairs, which normally does not include a vote by the members on selection of the candidates.)

What you do is take your voter card and your photo ID down to the neighborhood elementary school. There is a pile of paper ballots for each of the parties--you don't vote for a candidate, you vote for a party, though of course each party has its leader. You pick up your party's ballot (with the names of your party's 85 nominated candidates, one for every seat up for grabs in Barcelona province, as well as the party's name and its symbol), stuff it into the envelope provided, get in line, they check your name against the computer list, and then they allow you to stick your sealed envelope into the Plexiglass ballot box. That's it. (If you want to vote in secret, there are little booths provided. You can pick up several party ballots, take them into the sealed booth, and then discard the ones you don't want to vote for and stick the one you want in the envelope and seal it.) Then, they count the votes that night and the Parliamentary seats are apportioned out, using the d'Hondt system of proportional representation. If, say, the Socialist party is adjudicated 47 seats out of the 85 in Barcelona province, then the top 47 names on the socialist ballot win a Parliamentary seat. Whichever party or coalition of parties that can form an absolute majority of seats forms a Cabinet, whose members they select. Naturally, the Number One candidate in the leading party's list of names gets to be Prime Minister, and several Cabinet posts are given to the leaders of the allied party or parties, if there are any.

You know, an elitist argument can be made that it's a good idea to keep the percentage of voters low, and one way to do that is to make it a pain to vote. That way only those willing to jump through the necessary bureaucratic hoops and register to vote and the like get to vote. The idea is that the Joe Schloops who don't have the damndest idea about politics won't bother to get registered, thereby removing 'less-qualified' voters. This argument is, of course, profoundly antidemocratic. It doesn't contradict representative democracy, though.

Anyway, I'll post again when something like some real results are out later this evening. It's 5 PM here now and supposedly they'll have preliminary results when the polls close and something like a real projection of the new distribution of seats by 11 or so.
I assume by now that everybody has heard about the US intelligence report that links Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. Looks to me like they have plenty of evidence. Just more proof that Saddam needed to go.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

The one conspiracy theory I actually buy into is the one that says there is a loose alliance between Islamic terror gangs (Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al-Fatah, the Saddam Fedayeen, etc.) and rogue states in general and Middle Eastern rogue states in particular. I think there is plenty of evidence that demonstrates collaboration between these various groups. And I think we're currently at war with all of them, though the war may be hot in some places and cold in others. The Saddam Triangle in Iraq is right now the epicenter of the fighting, and we are winning; we're killing and capturing a lot more of them than they are of us, and they're going to run out of people on the ground ready to do dirty deeds sooner or later.

Al-Qaeda has certainly reached out its long arm recently in this bloody Ramadan, what with the bombing in Istanbul, the attack on Italian headquarters in Iraq, and the attack in Riyadh. I'd like to ask antiwar folks this question: don't you think we should be fighting these guys who are going around sowing terror and hate? Or should we bail out now, leave Iraq in the lurch, let Saddam take over again, and then deal with the consequences of a tremendous loss of American credibility? That's what we've got for choices, guys, and you know in your hearts that somebody's got to stomp terrorist gangs and rogue states right now before they do another Istanbul or Riyadh or 9-11. I hate to have to say this because some of our people are going to get killed fighting the enemy. And some more innocent Iraqis are going to get killed in the crossfire. All I can say is I wish that weren't true. But, it's tragic to say, their deaths now will save maybe millions in the future if this actually winds up working, with a democratic and peaceful and stable Iraq as the beacon for the rest of the Middle East.

I'd like to point out that we're winning the war in Iraq. Every school open, every town with electricity, everywhere the irrigation system has been fixed, is a win for our side. And there are many more wins than tragic losses, when coalition soldiers or innocent civilians get killed. The Iraqis have never had a decent government anytime in the history of their country. It's about time the Middle East saw what can be done with a liberal democratic system in place in a Muslim country.

I actually honestly feel that the country that will lead the Middle East towards democracy is Iran. Post-Shah Iran has always been semi-democratic in a weird way; that is, there was only one system, the Islamic Republic, but you could vote for the guy you preferred who was inside the system. Iran is a step above most Middle Eastern countries in such things that indicate citizen welfare as literacy and life expectancy and GDP per capita. Many Iranians are well-educated and there is a good bit of very decent and even admirable democratic popular agitation to get rid of the current government. I would not be surprised if there is a peaceful transition toward democracy in Iran in the next few years. I would also not be surprised if they had nuclear weapons right now, so we won't be attacking them anytime in the near future.

This would be a good opportunity for Spain to get in on the ground floor in a country that is going to be much more prosperous than it is now as soon as they get a decent government. Spain has first-hand experience in managing a transition from a long-established dictatorship to a democracy, and it is fair to say they've done the best job of all the countries that moved toward democracy in the 70s and 80s. The people who were in charge of running the Spanish Transition are still alive, even though one of them has just been discovered to be, if not a crook, far too friendly with certain people who distribute lots of money. If Spain could contact moderate Iranian (or Iraqi) leaders and and say, "look, this is how we did it, your society is different so you can't follow our plan step by step, but you're likely to learn a few things from our example", it might be very helpful. And it might help us develop useful friendly relations, because when Iran is freed it's going to explode economically.