Saturday, January 31, 2004

Check this one out. Seems that many well-known people, including George Galloway and Charles Pasqua, were on the take from Saddam. He paid them off with oil coupons. The only person listed as a venial corrupt bribe-taker in Spain is some journalist called Ali Ballout, who seems to be the correspondent for Al-Jazeera in Spain. Here's a piece by Mr. Ballout which is not precisely pro-Coalition. Here's another one, an interview with some Aussie, in which he is called "Jihad Ali Ballout" and is rather pro-Saddam. This is a nice piece in which Mr. Ballout brags about how smart Saddam is. And here's a piece from the Guardian in which Mr. Ballout hoodwinks them.

This interview with Mr. Ballout is in Spanish. Here's a piece from the Washington Times in which Mr. Ballout lies through his teeth. And this is an article in which Mr. Ballout defends the Saddam Fedayeen / common criminal / foreign Islamic fanatic in their actions.

That ought to be enough evidence that Mr. Ballout, an important executive at Al-Jazeera and identified as a resident of Spain, is a paid agent of Saddam Hussein. that is, he is corrupt slime. He wouldn't criticize Saddam if his life depended on it, which it probably does, actually.

Now, when will the rest of the journalists who believed Mr. Ballout's broadcasts and articles and based their own reporting upon them rectify? Probably never. What would you expect, anyway.

Friday, January 30, 2004

I need to start seeing more movies. I swear, everybody has seen so many more movies than I have. Whenever a conversation turns to movies, it normally goes through eight or ten different flicks before we get to one I've seen. I've got to do something about this.

I mean, I feel like a total dork in any movie conversation. "Mmm." "Uh-huh." "Right." "Actually, I haven't seen that one. To be more specific, I've never heard of that one." "Uh, I read the book. Didn't know they'd ever made a movie."

Anyway, from now on I'm going to follow Stanley Kaufman's weekly recommendations in the New Republic. My taste tends to agree with Kaufman's: he likes a well-done Hollywood movie even though it's obviously commercial, he enjoys movies from a long way away about very different places, he likes European stuff but only if it's interesting, not that "deep" boring boring boring psychological crap. He is especially good about keeping track of "small" American films. I can't count the number of times I've looked at a Kaufman review, thought, "Hmm, interesting," and then the movie shows up here in a couple of weeks and I miss it.

So from now on I'll be trying to see at least one good movie a week. I have the advantage of living ten minutes' walk from the Verdi / Verdi Park nineplex, which is where the more artsy-fartsy movies go, and I'm forty-five minutes or so away by metro from the Icaria fifteenplex, which shows more commercial movies in their original version. (That's V.O. in the local movie listings.) The Verdi nineplex is a major attraction for people from all over the Barcelona area, and those folks also tend to have dinner and/or a few drinks in the area as well. It helps make the 'hood very, oh, I don't know, highbrow, with all the cafes and left-wing bookstores and off-off-Paralelo theaters and restaurants and other artsy-fartsy shit.
Here's an article from Libertad Digital on FC Barcelona. Seems that the Barca will be getting rid of a lot of deadweight come the end of this season. Kluivert, Overmars, Cocu, Luis Enrique, Gerard, Van Bronckhorst, Reiziger, and Rustu are not going to be around next season. That gets rid of most of the Dutch contingent, leaving Barca with only Davids, assuming he comes back next year. (Barca doesn't own him; he's on loan.)

They wanted to buy Reyes from Sevilla, but Arsenal got there first with the most money. Now, what a lot of people are saying is that this means Arsenal is going to get rid of Thierry Henry, whom the Barca would love to have. I reckon he will go to Real Madrid, though, thereby putting Raul, Figo, Ronaldo, Beckham, Zidane, Henry, Roberto Carlos, Salgado, and Casillas on the same team. I imagine that it will be the greatest club squad ever.

Now they want to buy Fernando Torres from Atletico, and also Luque and Joaquin. They'd like to sign Wilford, and there are a couple of young players in the smaller European leagues they'd like to buy "on spec". We'll see. I don't know how a Barca with Ronaldinho, Davids, Wilford, Torres, and Puyol as its top players--agreed, that's a much better prospective team for next year than this pathetic squad Barca's got now--will be able to compete with Madrid, or even with Valencia.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Y'all might be interested in this here article from Newsweek; it's the cover story of the European edition. The main story is on Jose Maria Aznar's excellent economic record as Prime Minister, and I couldn't have said it better. I genuinely think Aznar is the finest statesman alive; he's straightforward, honest, firm, disciplined, and, above all, conservative and competent.

Be sure to click on the link to "The Barcelona Model", which talks about our lovely city, and it really is lovely. The irony here is that Barcelona has been run by the Socialists ever since democracy was installed back in 1978, yet Newsweek finds it as praiseworthy as Aznar's conservative record. I can't deny that the Socialists have done a lot for Barcelona over the years. I think maybe more conservative parties would have done better, but you can't deny that people's standard of living, both economic and "social", has risen during the Socialist local regime. Note that the article is rather optimistic about the future of the Forum. I am much less sanguine.

Here's some more anti-American Nazi propaganda. Readers are again invited to note similarities between the ideas in this screed and the insults thrown at the United States by sophisticated people in Brussels and Vienna.

Baghdad Bob Fisk has been awarded the Godo Prize for Journalism by La Vanguardia. (The newspaper is owned by the wealthy Godo family; they're counts or earls or something like that.) The prize-winning article was the one he wrote about the alleged sacking of the museum in Baghdad. Now, that article has been completely discredited. There was simply no major looting of that museum. A few pieces disappeared and most of them were recovered. That's it. End of story.

So you wonder: What the hell are these people thinking? Fisk's article is just plain wrong and its wrongness has been repeatedly demonstrated. Do they know nothing beyond what their own national press produces? (Note: Fisk's articles appear regularly in the Vanguardia, with a circulation of over 200,000, more than twice as much as the Independent gets. Probably more people read him in Spanish than in English.) Or do they just not care? My guess is both. Despite their protestations, most Europeans know as little as most Americans do about what passes outside their own country.

In case you're interested, the five-man jury which awarded the prize included editor Alfredo Abian, whose pieces we have taken apart many times here at Iberian Notes, and Josep Maria Casasus, the less-than-useless ombudsman who claims that Iberian Notes, HispaLibertas, and Kaleboel are in the pay of the US government. (I only wish we were.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

National Review's Jay Nordlinger is at Davos at the big meeting of high mucky-mucks. He mentions Spain twice in his piece. Here's the first time, when Nordlinger quotes Dick Cheney expressing his thanks to the countries that had contributed to the coalition:

"Our military actions have also been carried out with the help of many allies and partners on this continent and around the world. It is no surprise to President Bush and me that 21 of the 34 countries keeping peace with us in Iraq today are NATO allies and partners. Along with Great Britain, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the Netherlands have all made substantial contributions, with Poland taking command of a multinational division and Spain making a major troop commitment. Thirty-eight countries have forces in Afghanistan, 28 from the European continent, as well as others from the Middle East, East Asia, and North America. In Afghanistan, Germany has taken a leading role in providing forces and in expanding the role of NATO."

I think that's pretty good evidence that the United States is feeling extremely friendly toward Spain. I think this is a good thing. I honestly believe that the best thing Spain can do in its own self-interest is ally itself with the States and Britain, and I also believe that this is Spain's most ethical choice. (They could side with Russia or China or the discontented Arabs, for example, or join up with France and Germany in an anti-American EU.)

Nordlinger scored an interview with Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio, who, rumor has it, is both intellectually brilliant and personally pretty weird. She certainly isn't any good at standard social relations, but Nordlinger loves her:

I have gone on too long, and we should really wrap this Davos Journal up, but I'd like to say a quick word about an amazing European foreign minister: She is Ana Palacio of Spain, and she is not your average European official. Indeed, she sounds as though she could work for AEI. (The American Enterprise Institute).

She extols the role of the free market, she affirms the role of military force, and she is clear-headed about the role of the EU: It must be a freedom machine, or it will be no good. With terrorism, she has no truck whatsoever, no "root causes" nonsense or rationalizing. She says that what the Muslim world needs most is light: is freedom and the rule of law.

Against the Huntington thesis of a clash of civilizations, she cites Turkey. And, speaking of Turkey, what about the EU? When will the EU get moving in keeping its promise to Turkey, to let it in? That is what Palacio asks.

The problem of the Basques, she says, is nothing less than the problem of freedom: Half the population lives under threat of terror from the other half, and what kind of life is that?

I ask why her government joined the U.S. in Iraq. It couldn't have been for popularity, because most Spaniards were staunchly opposed. It couldn't have been for comfort within Europe — it certainly did not win Spain any points with the big EU powers. So, why?

Palacio explains it as a matter of "principles and values." Borrowing a famous phrase, she says that her government has "a certain idea of Spain, and a certain idea of Europe." Terrorism, she says, is the main challenge of the first part of the 21st century, and "we're on the same wavelength" with the Americans in assessing and dealing with this threat.

Like Donald Rumsfeld, she wishes that people would be more careful when they say "Europe." Europe is more than Paris, Brussels, and Berlin. Much more.

And anti-Americanism cannot — must not — be the glue of the European Union, because "you can't build an identity on an unhealthy premise. The refounding of Europe [an interesting way to put it: the refounding of Europe] is a big challenge, and must be done soberly."

That's pretty good, that is. That's an ally. That's standing up when you have to either hold firm or sit down and shut up. Spain has chosen to speak loud and strong. That takes a lot of courage when you're under all kinds of pressure to back down. Congratulations and thanks to Great Britain and Spain and Poland and all the other allies. Let's not forget our friends in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic who stood with us and who have committed peacekeeping troops to Iraq, either.
Here's another Readers' Challenge, since the last one was so successful (33 comments, which I think is a record for this blog; I hereby name Andrew X as Third Prize Winner, meaning he gets to have his way with Baghdad Bob Fisk, including leather masks, cats-o'-nine-tails, and penis leashes). Read this 1942 speech by Dr. Josef Goebbels. Then compare it to your typical Old European Yankee-bashing rhetoric. How many similarities can you find? First prize winner gets to gloat about the fact that within three years Goebbels and his wife would be lying dead in the Fuehrerbunker after poisoning their own children. So who do you think Goebbels' modern-day heir is? Maybe Ignacio Ramonet?

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Well, Catalan Prime Minister Pasqual Maragall has announced that he will accept the resignation of his erstwhile number two, "conseller en cap" Josep Lluis Carod-Rovira. However, Carod will not be expelled from the Cabinet; he's been demoted to minister without portfolio. Catalunya TV calls Maragall's decision "Solomonic". I think that means he couldn't figure out what the hell to do and he picked the worst option: he did something that is going to please nobody.

Look, what this guy did was hold a secret meeting with two wanted terrorists with no authority to do so. He went off on his own thinking he could make some kind of peace deal, without considering the rest of Spain. And if the deal is what the Madrid daily ABC says--that Carod was trying to swap a local ETA ceasefire in Catalonia for political support of ETA's political objectives--that is morally repugnant. In some countries it's called treason.

So if you're Maragall, you have two choices open to you. You take the moral high ground and fire his ass, or you take the political low ground and say he was just trying to make peace and slap him on the wrist while backing him against the attacks he's under. What you don't do is shilly-shally, flip-flop, dither, vacillate, and play with your dingaling while your subordinate is negotiating with terrorists on his own account.

Here's the latest scoop, straight from Catalunya TV. Carod-Rovira spoke at his party headquarters about half an hour ago. He didn't mention anything about his getting busted down to buck private cabinet minister. In fact, he was less than contrite. He seemed to be quite proud of his attempt at "seeking peaceful solutions", and he counterattacked the PP, saying that they were orchestrating a campaign of hate. He pointed out that PP leaders had met with ETA back in 1998 (which is true, but they were the governing party then and it was up to them to decide what to do on the terrorist issue), and wondered why he couldn't do the same thing. And then Carod became defiant and demagogic, saying that the people of Catalonia should decide whether he had done the right thing and not the PP. Therefore, he will head the party's list in Barcelona province in the March 16 general elections. He's going to try to turn the election into a referendum on himself and his actions.

I should point out that Carod's party currently holds one seat in the Congress of Deputies in Madrid. Polls taken right after the regional election, while they were riding high, allotted them a possible three seats. That is highly unlikely, but I had figured (before this fiasco) that the Republican Left had a good chance at pulling out two seats on election day. Now what? If he wins the seat in Parliament, does he resign as cabinet minister in the Catalan regional government? Or does he say that's a mandate for him to go back to his "conseller en cap" position just like before?

I say what we all do is make sure his goddamn party doesn't win any fucking seats at all. Turn out, turn out, to arms! Vote PP. Vote CiU. Vote Socialist. Don't vote Communist--let's not go that far. But vote for anyone reasonable instead of this joker.

Oh, well, this is great. The Socialists look like bigger schmucks than they did before, and I thought that was impossible. They are going to get slaughtered in March, and Carod is going to cost them votes in Catalonia big time. I will bet that the anti-Carod reaction is stronger than the pro-Carod "he's standing up to the evil government in Madrid" groundswell, and that the PP and CiU will benefit.

This semi-Cataloony friend of mine says that what's going to happen is that Carod will turn into the main man for people who are so infantile that their first reaction to the word "Spain" is "Vade retro, Satanas". They will vote for him as the spokesman against Madrid (a word Carod curiously repeated over and over in his speech as if it were Mordor). So the Republican Left will actually be helped by this mess at the expense of the other leftist parties, especially the Socialists. I don't think I buy it. ETA is so hated by the ordinary Joe that anybody getting too friendly with them is political toast. The only folks who will be attracted to Carod's self-incarnation as the paladin against the Great Evil Black Hole of Madrid are extremists who, all together, don't add up to ten percent of the vote. I can see Carod actually winning a seat, which is something responsible people should most definitely be against.
Oh boy oh boy oh boy. This is a good one. Josep Lluis Carod-Rovira, number two in the Catalan regional government and leader of the Republican Left of Catalonia political party, has admitted that he met secretly with the leaders of ETA, "Mikel Antza" (Mikel Albizu) and "Josu Ternera" (Josu Urrutikoetxea) in Perpignan, France, on January 3 and 4 of this year. Both terrorist leaders are wanted by the Spanish police and just about every other European law-enforcement agency.

Now, in case you didn't know, 1) ETA is the Basque radical terrorist gang that has killed more than 800 people, and 2) Carod-Rovira's party is a member of the governing coalition in the Catalan regional parliament, along with the Socialists and the Communists.

No responsible political leader should be meeting and negotiating with terrorists on his own. This ought to go without saying. That is the job of the national government, the Prime Minister, the Interior Minister, the Cabinet, you know, people like that. That's what the national government is elected to do, set national policy on key issues like security and terrorism. That is not what Josep Lluis Carod Rovira's job description as "conseller en cap" (roughly, regional cabinet chief of staff) consists of. Carod usurped the functions of the national government all on his own.

Carod's trying to weasel out, saying he was acting as Republican Left party leader and not as conseller en cap and that he has the right to "explore all means of dialogue in order to put an end to the violence." No matter what, though, you don't go meet in secret with wanted criminals if you hold public office. And you especially don't do it when there's an agreement among all the "democratic" parties that nobody's going to negotiate with that gang of terrorist murderers.

(What's there to negotiate about, anyway? ETA is damn near on its last legs, and even if it weren't no democratic state should submit to such blackmail. My terms would be: You guys all surrender. We pardon anybody not responsible for crimes of violence as a gesture, and send the rest of you to prison for the hard thirty years.)

Even nastier: The pro-centralist Spanish nationalist daily ABC, the guys with the scoop on this one, says that what Carod was trying to negotiate was an agreement that ETA would not attack in Catalonia, in exchange for the goodwill and assistance of the Republican Left. If that is true--and that's the equivalent of some state governor making a deal with the Mafia not to operate in his state in exchange for God only knows what--Carod is unfit to serve as dogcatcher.

This looks just awful for the Socialists. Just awful. See, the Socialists are the Republican Left's senior partner in the new Catalan administration, and they can be blamed as those responsible for bringing Carod into a position of political power. Major Socialist power brokers, led by Zap himself, and including Chaves, Caldera, Blanco, Bono, and Ibarra, have demanded that Pasqual Maragall, Socialist Prime Minister of Catalonia, fire Carod as his number two. So far Maragall is holding out; he's slapped Carod on the wrist, taking away his role as boss of the Catalan government's "foreign relations". Carod hasn't resigned yet. It's a matter of hours before he goes down.

The Socialists look just pathetic. Just pathetic. They make a governing coalition in Spain's most important autonomous region with these unprofessional jokers, which is what the Republican Left are. They bring these unprofessional jokers into positions of power and influence, and then the jokers go out and start dealing with terrorists. Not even Catalan terrorists! Basque terrorists!

Carod-Rovira has torpedoed Zap's campaign for Prime Minister. It was already taking water and the rats were bailing out, but it might still have made port without significant casualties. Zap wasn't going to win, but he might have held the PP short of an absolute majority. Maybe. Just possibly. But now Carod's holed him below the waterline and it's time to start singing "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald".

The serious question now is whether this is going to bring down Catalan Prime Minister Maragall with Carod. Maragall looks like a major doofus for not keeping Carod under control and/or for appointing someone with such poor judgement to such an important post. And that's assuming he didn't know what was going on. If he actually did know what Carod was doing he'll have to step down, too, and if Maragall goes down they'll have to call new regional elections.

The response of Commie leader Gas, by the way, is that this is some kind of PP conspiracy. Uh-huh.

ABC says they've got more and it'll be coming out over the next few days. This ought to be fun.

Monday, January 26, 2004

The big municipal news in Barcelona has been, for the last two or three years, this big wingding they're going to have called the Forum of Cultures 2004. See, the plan was to get some big world event to come here, since the city's only notable worldwide success (and they'll never let you forget it) was putting on the 1992 Summer Olympics. The problem was that no other major world events, like, say, a World's Fair, wanted to come here. But the city fathers were desperate for another chance to impress the world and get into the international major leagues, so our none-too-original Mayor, Joan Clos, dug up an old idea that had been floating around.

See, what they're going to do is have a big old alterglobalization multicultural sustainable solidarious whooptedo, though nobody is really sure yet exactly what is going to happen--they've published an extremely vague program which uses lots of words like "neocolonialist capitalism" and "culture of peace". And the damned thing is scheduled to happen this summer. All we know is that there will be a bunch of conferences and workshops, and that the construction work isn't going to be anywhere near finished. The only thing which seems of any interest to me is that they're going to get some of the terracotta soldiers from that two-thousand-year-old emperor's tomb in Sian, China.

(Murph swears this is true: The blurb for the display of the Chinese warriors says that the exhibition shows how the Chinese developed first a culture of war and then from that a culture of peace. Somebody tell the Communist government, which possesses the largest army in the world, about that.)

What this reminds all of us about is the Millenium Dome in London and what a fiasco that was. Murph says there are four points of similarity: 1) The incumbent inherited it from his predecessor. 2) Neither ever had a clear concept of what it was supposed to be, unlike, say, the Olympics or the Mozart Festival or whatever. 3) The people running both are a group of strange bedfellows, public and private entities, left- and right-wing parties, various kinds of governmental agencies, and the local developers. 4) In the year before both events were scheduled to happen, when the deadline was looming, there was general chaos surrounded by firings of some of those responsible.

There is one important difference: In Barcelona, at least, there is a major development plan, involving a hotel and a convention center and a public park and apartment buildings, and at least that will be here after the fiasco has cost Clos his political life.

As a matter of fact, that aspect of the Forum--the fact that some builders and developers and promotors and real-estate people and the like are going to make a ton of money--and its multiculti progre foo-fooishness--peace and love and flowers and caring and sharing--don't seem to fit together very well at all.

This is why it's under attack from both left and right equally. The local powers that be belong to either the mildly left Socialists or mildly right Convergence and generally disagree on all the little things but agree on the big one, that there is money out there to be made, and they're the guys who are going to make some money off this one. It's the PP on the right, who think that this whole thing is a waste of taxpayers' money on a stupid cause, and the groups on the left, who don't like the land-developers and real-estate people, who are against the Forum.

Here's a piece of criticism of the Forum, apparently from the left. And here's the English version of the Forum's program. Click on several of the links. See if you can make any sense out of anything.

Oh, by the way, admittance is going to be astronomical, at least twenty euros for a one-day ticket, and there aren't even going to be any roller-coasters or anything cool.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Spanish elections update: As you know, the general elections here are scheduled for March 14. El Pais, the pro-Socialist Madrid daily, published some poll results today. The People's Party has 42.5% of the vote, which would give them between 171 and 175 seats (an absolute majority is 176); the Socialists have 37.0% and are looking at 135-138 seats. The Communists are polling 5.5%.

On a ten-point scale, with 1 as lousy and 10 as great, the voters give Rajoy an average score of 5.25, the PP Administration 5.18, the Socialist Party 4.80, and Zap himself 4.59. (Note: This polling formula is very common in Spain.) So, candidate Rajoy is more popular than his party, while candidate Zap is less popular than his.

66.4% think that Rajoy will be the next Prime Minister, while only 11.7% think it will be Zap.

These numbers are pretty overwhelming. With seven weeks to go in the campaign, the PP has a big, big lead, and since their party is much more sophisticated and better organized than the PSOE, I see their lead getting bigger and bigger. The Socialist editorial writers for El Pais say that there should be a debate between the candidates--American-style debates are rare in Spain. If I were Rajoy I'd say no, since in a debate the favorite is risking his lead and has really nothing to gain, while the underdog is risking nothing and has the chance for big gains. No point in giving Zap a chance to look good on prime-time national TV.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Here's a very nice piece from the Straight Dope on the historical Johnny Appleseed. Mr. Appleseed was a real person who really did some of the stuff he was credited with doing; he was apparently a well-known traveler along the Ohio-Pennsylvania frontier in the early 1800s. I like slightly offbeat historical pieces like this one.
The Independent ran that thing with the "Harper's Index"-style list of statistics with an anti-Bush spin a couple of days ago. (By the way, several readers sent in excellent responses to both the Independent list and the Pilger piece. Some of their ideas are reflected here. Look through the Comments section down below.) We thought we'd come up with a list of our own:

Number of campaign volunteers drowned by George Bush while driving drunk: 0

Number of drunken parties hosted by George Bush after which female guests charge Bush family members with rape: 0

Number of times George Bush claimed to have invented the Internet: 0

Number of blow jobs received by George Bush from White House interns: 0

Number of lies about receiving blow jobs from White House interns told by George Bush: 0

Number of times George Bush has freaked out on national television: 0

Number of mass graves discovered in Iraq: Hundreds

Number of Iraqis murdered by Saddam: estimates vary, from around 300,000 to upwards of a million

Number of countries invaded by Saddam: 2

Number of countries which will ever be invaded again by Saddam: 0

Number of despotisms overthrown by US: 2, so far

Number of Kuwaities murdered by Saddam's troops: Hundreds

Number of Iraqi lives saved by Saddam's overthrow: Uncountable

Number of Palestinian suicide bombers' families paid off with $25,000 by Saddam: A lot

Name of first federal prisoner executed in the US since the Rosenbergs in 1953: Tim McVeigh

Number of murderers found guilty by Texas juries and sentenced to death by Texas judges, whose sentences were carried out as provided by law, during George Bush's governorship: 152

Number of innocent people locked up at Guantanamo: Probably 0

Number of innocent people mistreated under US Patriot Act: Probably 0

Ranking of Russia, France, and China among Saddam's weapons suppliers: 1, 2, and 3

Total number of demonstrators in Barcelona protesting against Bush: Estimates vary, upwards of 300,000, probably well under a million

Total number of demonstrators in Barcelona protesting against Saddam, Assad, Kim, Castro, Gaddafi, the Iranian mullahs, and other assorted dictators, tyrants, and despots: Maybe a couple thousand

Episodes of sacking and looting in Barcelona after the anti-Bush demonstration: 1

Number of arrests of violent rioters in Barcelona: 0
Some sad news today from Iraq: Spanish Guardia Civil officer Gonzalo Perez Garcia was fatally wounded yesterday morning. He was shot in the head and is now in an irreversible coma. Perez Garcia was participating in the roundup of a terrorist gang in the town of Hamsa, along with Spanish military and Iraqi police units. He and two Iraqi policemen set off chasing a suspicious car, and the occupants of the car fired, hitting Perez Garcia and one of the Iraqi policemen. Perez Garcia was taken to an American hospital, where a group of neurosurgeons worked on him for six hours but were unable to extract the bullet. He has since been flown back to Spain. Thanks to Mr. Perez Garcia and to the Iraqi policeman for risking their own lives helping to protect others', and condolences to their families.

There has been a rash of international companies moving jobs out of Catalonia. Nissan, which employs 3000 people at its Zona Franca plant, has threatened to can 900 of them unless "competitiveness increases"--that is, unless the workers accept less pay. Lear, Philips, and Samsung have either closed or are going to close their plants here. The reasons are obvious: Labor costs are lower in Eastern Europe, Morocco, and Asia. A lot lower. If all you need are semi-skilled workers, it doesn't make sense to pay First World wages for work a Third World citizen with little training or education (and low pay demands) can do. This ought to be a wakeup call to Catalonia: if we want to keep our GDP per capita above the EU average, we're going to have to get good and proficient at doing high-skill, highly-paid work, because they ain't gonna pay us for doing low-skill, highly-paid work no more.

So here's the really bad news: Nokia, the high-tech mobile-phone company, is closing down its R&D center in Prat de Llobregat. The center at one time employed 60 people doing high-skill, highly-paid work. Not a good sign.

Political stuff: PP bigwig Francisco Alvarez-Cascos has announced that he is retiring from politics. He had been a close political ally of Jose Maria Aznar for many years; he has been in the Congress of Deputies since 1986, was Aznar's secretary-general of the PP until 1996, was first vice-prime minister from 1996 to 2000, and was Minister for Economic Development from 2000 to now.

Cascos was Aznar's attack dog; he was the guy who did the unpleasant work of keeping the party in line while denouncing the Socialists at every opportunity. He also took the heat when the Administration was in trouble; this made him easily the most unpopular PP leader.

Well, now that Aznar is going and Mariano Rajoy is in charge of the party, the new broom is sweeping clean and Cascos saw his destiny in the dustpan, so he did the honorable thing and announced his retirement. It doesn't help matters any that Cascos has an agitated love life: he dumped wife #1 in 1994 (with whom he had four kids) for wife #2, whom he married in 1996 (she was half his age; he's 57 now. They produced two kids). The 1996 wedding was a big event, with Aznar present and everything. Anyway, though, he's now divorcing wife #2 for future wife #3, with whom he has appeared on public occasions.

Now, the PP is pretty tolerant at the same time that it's pretty socially conservative. That is, if you have a mistress on the side, or you've been divorced, or have an illegitimate child, or you're, uh, single and active, they'll accept it as part of human frailty, though they do demand that you be discreet about it. But if you make a big deal out of your irregular personal life, and it gets in the gossip magazines and on trash TV, that's bad news for your future as a member of the PP. The combination of Cascos's personal unpopularity, his sexual indiscretions, and Rajoy's wanting to put in his own men, put an end to his political career.

Hilarious news. Local ex-politician-gadfly Pilar Rahola, who is not too bad looking, and ex-Madrid politician-huge fat broad Cristina Almeida have both turned down 60,000 euros a week to appear on "Big Brother VIP", a version of the well-known reality show for allegedly famous people. They've got a list of the participants signed up so far; the only ones I've ever heard of are atrocious Latin American country singer Coyote Dax and megaslut trash TV standby Marlene "Da Ho" Mourreau.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

OK, if you were wondering about what really happened on September 11, 2001, David Icke knows and he's going to tell you.

(Biographical note: Mr. Icke was a professional soccer player in the English League until forced into retirement by an injury. He then found a career with the BBC and became a famous sports announcer. Then, one day, while reporting on that day's match between Coventry City and Leyton Orient, he was visited. By a vision. Of reptilian aliens. Who were trying to impregnate our females and take over our race. Meanwhile, he became a Green Party political candidate, though Mr. Icke and the party broke after controversy regarding the reptilian issue. Now, Mr. Icke works as a journalist and lecturer, educating people around the world on the dangers of reptilianism.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Oh, boy, check this one out. The Independent has published a list of alleged facts and statistics (making up the entire front page of the dead tree edition) that they claim depicts the "real state of the Union", with obvious reference to this evening's presidential address. Here's a Reader's Challenge: Let's see how many of these alleged facts and statistics you can debunk or whose spin you can reverse. First prize winner gets to share a falafel with Baghdad Bob Fisk at the Beirut Hilton. Second prize winner gets to spend a weekend with Bob in his palatial Beirut home. Third prize winner gets, no, there are some things too vile for even Iberian Notes to contemplate. My personal fantasy, though, would require a very tight leather harness. And some nipple clamps.

And here's Pilger the Pimp in the Mirror, throwing one of the most deluded anti-American tantrums you've ever seen. This is probably the longest article the Mirror has ever published, and it apparently contains at least seven words of more than two syllables. The Mirror must be going upscale or something. Seriously, it is very disturbing that there are so many people out there, especially in Britain, willing to believe this patently false and absurd crap. Any beginners out there who want to take a shot at Fisking this stinking pile of journalistic offal are welcome to give it all they've got and I'll publish it. I consider Pilger to be too simplistic for my own efforts, but if you've never given it a try before, Fisking can be fun!
Here's Iberian Notes's obligatory coverage of the Iowa caucus for you furriners out there. Lemme see if I can explain this. Each of the two major political parties needs to decide on a nominee to run for President. The way they do this is, in each state, each party holds an intra-party election. This intra-party election takes the form of a primary election, with a secret ballot and all, just like a real election, or of a caucus, which is a sort of group meeting that votes on who the candidate will be. Most states have primary elections, but a few have caucuses; it's up to the individual states.

Each state is assigned a certain number of delegates at the national party convention, which is held in the late summer. The delegates are divided up among the various candidates Anyway, when you vote for a candidate in a primary or caucus, your guy gets whatever percentage of the delegates, according to the percentage of the vote he got.

So, in the Iowa Democratic caucuses (the Republicans are not having presidential primaries or caucuses this year, since George W. Bush has no challengers as the nominee), where over 2000 meetings were held at which more than 110,000 people voted, Massachusetts senator John Kerry won 38% of the vote, North Carolina senator John Edwards got 32%, and former Vermont governor Howard Dean got 18%. These were the only three that topped the Iowa minimum of 15% of the vote to be awarded delegates. Missouri representative Dick Gephardt came in fourth with 11%, and Ohio representative Dennis Kucinich got 1%. New York political activist Al Sharpton, Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, and former General Wesley Clark did not run in Iowa.

Now, here's what this means. Gephardt's poor showing demonstrated that not enough people want to vote for him anywhere, period, and Gephardt is from the neighboring state of Missouri, which should have given him an advantage since he's well-known in that area of the country. He's already announced he's dropping out of the race. Kerry's showing is surprising because everybody, including me, had written him off for dead a couple of weeks ago, and he got a fairly solid relative majority. Kerry, of course, is already poormouthing, saying that he's "still the underdog" in New Hampshire. Edwards also did much better than expected, and Dean did considerably worse than people had guessed.

See, the whole game in the primaries and caucuses is to do better than expected. That means your campaign's going well, and you get added press coverage and more contributions to wage political war. You've got momentum going. A couple of weeks ago it was Dean who had all the momentum, piling up endorsements (Al Gore and Bill Bradley) and contributions. Then Dean made a couple of mistakes: He was insufficiently joyous about the capture of Saddam, not realizing that most Americans, while they may be anti-war, are definitely anti-Saddam. He's pissed off the press, many of whom are sympathetic to his political ideas, because he is apparently a nasty SOB as a human being. And it didn't help matters that Dean shouted down an old gentleman at an Iowa question and answer session when the old gentleman admonished him (and the other candidates) not to campaign negatively against one another because it looks arrogant. Dean told the old guy to sit down and shut up, and that made a lot of people mad.

Kerry and Edwards have the momentum now. Kerry is supposed to do well in New Hampshire because he's from next-door Massachusetts, and Dean is supposed to do well because he's from neighboring Vermont. New Hampshire, though, is a weird state; the rest of New England is caring-and-sharing liberal, while New Hampshire is ornery and mean.

The most recent New Hampshire poll, taken between January 16 and 18 (that is, before the Iowa caucuses) has Dean with 28%, Clark with 20%, Kerry with 19%, Edwards with 8%, and Lieberman with 3%. Let's guess that Dean and Clark are losing momentum and Kerry and Edwards are gaining it. Lieberman is going to have to drop out if he can't do any better than 3%. As for the candidates' positioning, Dean and Clark are dividing the "BUSH LIED!!!" vote, and Kerry and Edwards are dividing the Mainstream Democratic Blow-Dried Senator vote.

My guess is that two of these four guys will have to drop out after New Hampshire, and we'll be down to one mainstream and one stop the war candidate. Kucinich is a complete joke, though he's going to keep his Naderish far-left campaign going. Al Sharpton is waiting around for the Southern and big-city primaries to bring out the radicalized black vote. What he wants to do is somehow grab enough delegates to force the party to give him the mike at the convention. If he does, it'll cost the Democratic Party at least two precent of the vote, since everybody who isn't radicalized and black hates Sharpton, most notorious for inciting to arson and to riot and for falsely accusing innocent people on race-baiting charges. (Sharpton is supposedly the model for the slick Harlem political preacher in Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities.)

This is not good. The only Dem candidate I really liked was Lieberman, and he's toast. I'm guessing a Dean-Kerry race for the nomination. Two unelectable northeasteners, neither of whom has an acceptable position on the war on terrorism.

Oh, yeah, lemme point something else out. At caucuses and primary elections, you also vote on who your party's candidates for lesser office will be. This is why each state does it individually, because the voters have to vote on candidates for governor and senator and representative and state senate and state representative and mayor and city council and sheriff and whatever. This is where an individual vote can have real effect in politics. One vote among the many millions out there voting for President can seem meaningless (though Florida 2000 proved that's not always true), but one vote among the hundreds in your city council district or for the local school board does mean something, especially if you can mobilize people you know to vote the way you do.

For example, I am registered as a Republican in Kansas, which allows me to vote in the primaries there. Now, at the state and local level, Kansas is almost a one-party state; the Republicans generally win at the general elections in November unless they're badly split. The important thing is which faction is in charge within the Republican party, and there are two different factions: the one I sympathize with, which means you're for low taxes and good schools and law and order and balancing the budget, and the Christian Right faction. The Christian Right took over the state Republican party in the mid-nineties and nominated their guys for office, and a lot of them got in. Heads rolled.

(This is where that ridiculous story about Kansas banning evolution came from. What happened is that the Christian Right took over the state school board and passed a measure that made the teaching of evolution non-obligatory in state public schools. That is, they couldn't say "don't teach evolution", so they said "you don't have to teach evolution". To my knowledge, no local school boards in the state dropped evolution from their biology curriculums during the Reign of Terror.)

What happened was that the moderates marshaled their troops and managed to take the state party away from the Christian Right. Fortunately. And changed that silly evolution thing. It cost the Republicans the House of Representatives seat that Dennis Moore is now occupying. See, during the Reign of Terror, the Democrats nominated Dennis Moore, who is a moderate Dem with a good record as the tough-on-crime district attorney of Johnson County, the state's most populous. The Republicans put up some Jesus freak with some ridiculous surname like Spooneybarger because the Biblethumpers outvoted the moderates in the primaries, and Dennis Moore cleaned Spooney the Jesus freak's clock and took the seat for the Democrats, with significant support from moderate Reps. He's done rather well and has held the seat.

The primary elections are, perhaps, their most significant at their local level. There's an issue in my town, Leawood. It's a carefully regulated suburb. Some people want to tear down the country club and put in more expensive housing, which would jack up the tax base. Some people don't like that idea because it would make the area more crowded and produce more traffic; Leawood is a prosperous suburb because it is leafy, green and quiet. This kind of issue is where your individual vote really counts, because you vote for the city council candidate who wants to either build the housing or keep the club, depending on your sympathies. A few motivated people really can change what happens in their local area. This would be impossible in Spain, where all such decisions are in the hands of bureaucrats.

In yesterday's La Vanguardia Juan M. Hernandez Puertolas opines about the Iowa caucus: "The procedure could not be more antidemocratic, because the vote is not secret and the identification of the persons who participate in the meetings is not too strict, so it is theoretically possible for electors to visit two or more sites."

Oh, come on, Mr. H. P. Antidemocratic? Seems to me that the system allows people to vote on who their party's candidate will be. A political system this open would be impossible in Spain, where a party's candidates are nominated by the party's leaders, and most everyday decisions (ones that would be made by people who have to stand for re-election both by their party, and then by the electorate as a whole, in the US), are made by people who are appointed by the party who wins the elections. See, in our system most decisions are made politically at a local level. In Spain most decisions are made bureaucratically at a centralized level.

Mr. H. P. also scored an interview with Dennis Kucinich, in which Kooch says, "Regarding Iraq, I would say to the French, 'Vous avez raison!" That's a great way to appeal to the mainstream American people, scorning our foreign policy and celebrating France's.

Oh, by the way. Language trivia. The word "caucus", despite its Latin appearance, is not Latin at all, but from the Iroquois Indians.
You might be interested in this interview with Andrew Sullivan from Front Page. Speaking of Sullivan, he links to this hilarious story from the Daily Mirror. Seems Winston Churchill's parrot, Charlie, is still alive; it's over 100 years old. The photo sure looks like a damn old parrot. Anyway, Churchill taught it to say "Fuck the Nazis!", which the bird still constantly repeats.

I'd love to be able to interview that bird. Well, no, I guess I wouldn't; rather than enlightening us on Churchill's conversations with Roosevelt or his memories of Dunkirk or the negotiations leading up to D-Day, all it'd probably say is "Bawk! Bawk! Brawk! Fuck the Nazis! Braawk! Braaawk!" You know, that parrot quote right there isn't a bad three-word summary of most reasonable political opinions. Charlie the parrot's smarter than a lot of 1940s French intellectuals. Including Drieu la Rochelle, Celine, Brusillach, and Vichy official Francois Mitterrand.

Here's a fascinating story from the Atlantic about the life of a pro football center, the least glamourous position on the team. Football fans ought to read Football Outsiders, the best independent pro football site so far. Peter King, King Kaufman, and Gregg Easterbrook all read FO. If you can't get enough football this Super Bowl week, read Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback every Tuesday afternoon at

Sunday, January 18, 2004

HEY, YOU! You live in the Barcelona area and you want a cat, right? That's right, a nice friendly playful affectionate beast to keep your feet warm at night. Well, we've got one for you. His name is Sugus (a Spanish kind of candy) and he's a very handsome big male black-and-white "tuxedo cat". He's really a good cat. He's very communicative and active, and gentle. He's good with kids. He's been neutered and has all his vaccinations, as well as the necessary accessories (carrying box, etc.)

You ask me, "So why are you trying to get rid of this paragon of a cat?" Well, my wife and I live in an apartment that's about 75 square meters and we already have five cats, all adopted off the street. We've picked up and then given away five more. If we can give this one away to a good home then it's much easier for us to take in further cats, which we of course will continue to do. Sugus belonged to a friend of a friend who managed to get herself pregnant by a guy who's allergic to cats, so for the guy to move in the cat had to move out. We're known as cat-adopters, so we get desperate cases like this very occasionally.

Anyway, if you want to take in Sugus, who is one hell of a good cat, let me know in the Comments section. Or e-mail me at And if nobody wants him, we'll just keep him, though poor little Oscar is terribly jealous. He'll get over it, I guess. The important thing is they didn't have to put Sugus down.

I used to call our apartment "Els Quatre Gats" (The Four Cats; the Catalan expression also means "just us few insiders") after the famous Barcelona bar of the same name where Picasso and Casas and Rusinyol and the boys used to hang out a hundred years ago. Then we got Oscar, Cat #5, and I had to change the name to "The Cathouse". (Non-Americans: "Cathouse" is a mildly vulgar term for "bordello" or "brothel".) No changes in name are currently foreseen due to the hopefully temporary acquisition of Sugus.
No matter how much we all hate to admit it, we have been significantly influenced by our environments, even when those environments are negative. For example, my parents went to segregated high schools in the Fifties in rural Texas. Fortunately, they're basically decent people and so have fled from the racism they were taught when they were young. I don't think they got over it completely until about the mid-Sixties, though, and a lot of people from that place and time never got over it. (Here's a shout-out to Cousin Larry in Lufkin! Larry don't like niggers. I don't like Larry.)

Anyway, a lot of people in Spain have a hangover hostility towards Protestantism from Franco's "National Catholic" regime. There are very few Protestants in Spain and very little is known about Protestantism. Some Spaniards find it strange that Protestants and Catholics can even coexist in the same country; those are the people who frequently refuse to believe that these days in the US it doesn't much matter whether you're one or the other, or Jewish, or nothing, or whatever.

You sometimes see arguments with roots in the old days made by people who you wouldn't figure. For example, many non-religious Spanish Leftists are quite irritated at the success that evangelical Protestants, many based in the US, are having recruiting in Latin America. This is an evil Yankee plot, of course, to extend gringo culture over Latin America. You also hear the Old Lefty argument that Protestantism is the source of capitalism; therefore, since capitalism is bad, Protestantism must be, too. (These people occasionally cite Max Weber and de Tocqueville, always incorrectly.) I have also heard it said that Protestants are individualists and therefore the idea of "solidarity" with other individuals is difficult or impossible for them to comprehend. Finally, the millions of Protestants ranging from France to Sweden to the Czech Republic are often confused with the Puritans, a small 17th-century English group, now long-dead; the modern group descended from the New England Puritans is the Congregationalist church, now very liberal. It is also often assumed that all Protestants are Calvinists, which is of course not true. In fact, the great majority of American Protestants are members of one of various sects--Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ--descended from the Church of England. The Presbyterians and the Reformed are what's left of the Calvinists in the US.

Anyway, this column by Enric Juliana from Friday's La Vanguardia lets loose a hellacious conspiracy theory. It's called "Torpedo Da Vinci" and it's about the novel "The Da Vinci Code", which I have not read.

It's the biggest best-seller of the season, but it isn't just that: it's a potent ideological artifact as well. With four million copies sold in the United States--more than 300,000 in Spain--the novel "The Da Vinci Code" is becoming a phenomenon that goes a good way behind literature, a field in which it does not precisely stand out in its virtues.

I'm about tired of intellectual geniuses slamming popular fiction. Look, dorkwad, people like thrillers and that sort of books because they're fun and exciting, not because of the deep exploration of character and motivation or whatever. I will also point out that it is a hell of a lot more difficult to write an exciting thriller or a funny comedy than it is to write another novel about a writer living in a big city who's moved there from a small town and is searching for her sexual identity or whatever. I will further point out that Spain is not a country whose current production of "good literature" is anything to brag about and whose current production of popular novels is abysmal--I mean, when Vazquez Montalban is your best mystery writer, you have problems.

Although the first pages taste like cardboard, the plot ends up winning out. Electric and fascinating as the book goes along, its author, the little-known Dan Brown, ends up firing a powerful torpedo at the damaged prestige of the Catholic Church in the United States. And although Opus Dei, characterized in the novel as an organization willing to resort to crime in order to preserve its power, seems to be the principal target, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that there is a greater iconoclastic ambition behind the last world success in the bookstores.

Well, you heard it here first. "The Da Vinci Code" is an evil Yankee-Protestant plot to bring down the Church, and Dan Brown is the Antichrist! Seriously, thrillers frequently center on a respectable organization infiltrated by evildoers: the Pentagon, the police (over and over), the US government, big corporations. Look at John Grisham's first success, "The Firm". The whole plot is that this apparently highly respectable law firm is really a front for the Mafia. Or the whole paranoid fantasies of Oliver Stone's movie "JFK" or of the James Ellroy novels.

The novel expounds on an argument that lovers of enigmas cannot resist: the existence of other Gospels which the Catholic Church has done everything possible to wipe off the map; occult knowledge among Jesus and his disciples--"the other truth"--that might be in the hands of an ancient secret organization, the Priorate of Zion, the supposed precursor of the Knights Templars. (Totally beside the point note: my wife's village, Vallfogona de Riucorb, was once a Templar fief.) The game of enigmas is always suggestive, above all in times of confusion like those today, in which perceptions of the world are changing from a solid to a liquid state: everything is moving and the demand for schemata (or "signs") to give meaning to the chaos can only grow.

It seems that the author, Mr. Juliana, thinks everything is confusing today. So his natural reaction is to go into a Derridaist-Saussureist deconstructionist freakout.

Like any good system of signals, "The Da Vinci Code" hides some very up-to-date messages. And we will add that they are very much connected to the ideological ferment of the Bush era. Here are three examples. The novel refers to the legend that Mary Magdalene was Jesus's lover, but it adds something else: Jesus belonged to the House of David, and the Magdalene was descended from the house of Bengamin, so their union had a political and dynastic meaning, capable of giving symbolic continuity to the kings of Israel. By hiding the true role of Mary Magdalene, the Catholic Church not only reduced the feminine role in Christianity, but it also blocked a "historic project": the reconnection of the figure of Christ with the fate of Israel, an ideal which is not strange to the religious right of the United States, a powerful constellation which includes Protestant groups who have no doubt in calling themselves "Christian Zionists".

WHAT? Here Mr. Juliana goes again, making an enormous stretch to link the American religious right with the pro-Israel activists. This is not an unusual theme for the Vangua to resort to. Mr. Juliana: Despite the occasional ravings of John Ashcroft, admittedly a non-traditional religious extremist, there is no connection between mainstream Protestantism and the few loony far-out jokers who believe that the Bible prophesied everything, and the religious wackos have little influence over the Bush administration or anything else of any importance. (Bush is a Methodist, hardly a raving fanatic.)

Remember, Mr. Juliana is claiming that the novel "The Da Vinci Code" is the cover for an attack on the Catholic Church by radical pro-Israeli pro-Bush Protestants. Now, this is pretty far-fetched. We could even call it a conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theories grow when people, like Mr. Juliana, are confused about the state of the world, so they have to come up with some explanation for it that makes sense to them. The explanation is that there are some secret powerful people--in Mr. Juliana's theory, the Bush Administration, the radical Protestants, and the Israeli lobby, that is, the damn Jews again--who control everything. See, the world really is responding to a fixed schematic structure, says Mr. Juliana, even though that scheme is hidden from most of us except, of course, he himself. This belief is called Gnosticism. Every religion is Gnostic, since the fixed schematic structure of the world (God's the boss, he made everything and gave us rules to live by) that every religion reveals to us is the whole point of the religion. An a-gnostic is someone who doubts the existence of ALL hidden world structures, including the religious one. Does that make sense?

But there's more. Through the figure of the Priorate of Zion, the novel plants the antagonism of the Church of Rome and Gnosticism, the Christian faction that gave a sacred dimension to individuality (freedom as an American divine project is a recurrent idea in George W. Bush's discourse), the Gnosticism that some authors like Harold Bloom consider to be the principal bedrock of the United States's "national religion". And Dan Brown falsifies without shame the number of victims attributable to the Holy Office. The Inquisition was frightening, but it did not send five million women to the bonfire in Europe: five million victims! A number that equalizes Catholicism with Nazi terror.

No, no, you've got Gnosticism all wrong, Mr. Juliana. You, the guy looking for a conspiracy under every bed, are the Gnostic, not the Protestant who says that he has an individual relationship with Jesus Christ without need of anyone to intervene for him. And, yes, you are right, the Inquisition was pretty nasty but they didn't kill five million people; most likely twenty or thirty thousand or so.

A secretive Rome, the enemy of freedom...without a doubt, any similarity between the novel of the year in the United States and any strategic plan under way is a pure coincidence.

No further comments. In case you're interested, here's Christianity Today's take on the novel and its depiction of Christian history.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Just a couple of comments this morning: I assume almost everybody heard that Prime Minister Aznar has been on the road, first at the inter-American conference they had in Monterrey, Mexico, (not Monterey, California), and then in Washington with President Bush. Bush said some very nice things about Aznar, who responded by saying some very nice things about Bush. (A mistranslation in the US press had Aznar calling Bush an "emperor".)

Interestingly, the whole Aznar-Bush thing was considered highly newsworthy by TV 1, Antena 3, and even Tele 5, but it didn't get too much attention on TV 3 and got buried way back in the Political section in the Vanguardia. Of course, TV 1, controlled by the central government, is totally pro-Aznar, though not all their foreign correspondents always toe the line. TV 3, controlled by the Generalitat of Catalonia, is totally anti-Aznar. This is why MEDIA OUTLETS SHOULD NOT BE GOVERNMENT-CONTROLLED.

I can see a role for a non-commercial cultural / fine arts channel, along the lines of TV 2 and TV 33 and PBS, funded by the government, but there's no way the government ought to be in commercial TV, much less providing news. The government also owns a polling agency and a press agency, both of which ought to be privatized immediately, along with all government-owned commercial TV and radio stations. Then you wouldn't have unpleasant fights about which party is going to get to run the government TV, like the one going on right now between the various Catalan political parties. You see, with the change in government from CiU to the Socio-Communist-Independentista coalition, the board of directors of the TV and radio corporation are going to be shaken up, as will be the heads of programming and news and the like. No more TV news stories about old guys in the Pyrenees who still make sandals by hand. Lots of new TV news stories about plucky working-class organizations that join together to Fight the Power.

By the way, nothing of particular interest happened at either meeting, Monterrey or Washington. The Vangua's correspondent is talking about a Cuba-Venezuela-Brazil-Bolivia alliance against the hated Yankees and their lackeys. I bet George Bush is sweating awake as he tosses and turns at night.

The Vangua is reporting that China and Russia are going to get into a space race against Washington. Please. First, I think Bush made a grievous mistake in his announcement of new missions to the Moon and Mars. Unless, of course, we privatize NASA, or keep NASA as a Pentagon-like agency which adjudicates private contracts to companies for specific jobs. But it seems to me that to the degree with which we can spend money on space exploration, we get a lot more bang for the buck by sending out unmanned probes to actually find out what's out in space for scientific purposes than we do by setting up a manned base on the Moon or putting some dude on Mars. Putting a robot on Mars, great, let the robot do the exploring. I bet we learn plenty from this most recent expedition to the surface of Mars, I really do, I think this kind of thing is well worth the money spent (and NASA's budget is a very tiny piece of governmental spending). So who needs a man out there when the robot is doing so well?

This whole Bush space challenge thing struck me as pretty bombastic. I understand that great national projects, like putting a man on the Moon in the Sixties, are sometimes necessary for national morale, but this ain't the time or the place for this sort of great national project. It seems to me that we are already engaged in a great national project, that of founding a democracy in Iraq and defeating the terrorist-rogue state alliance.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Here's the civil-rights case of the week. Seems that a gentleman named Mohamed Kamal, who is the Muslim imam in the city of Fuengirola, wrote a treatise in which he asserted that according to the Koran a husband has the right to hit his wife under certain circumstances. Kamal wrote in his 2000 book, Women in Islam, as the answer to the hypothetical question, "Does a man have the right to hit his wife?", that Mohammed himself warned women not to marry abusive men, but that a man could hit his wife if he did so while not in a fury of anger, if he did not hit her in "sensitive parts", and if the blows were not hard or painful.

Kamal was charged with incitement to violence against women and convicted yesterday; he got fifteen months in jail, which will be suspended, and a 2000 euro fine. This is only the second conviction in Spain under Article 510 of the Spanish Penal Code, which basically says that provoking "hate crime" violence is illegal. The first conviction was that in 1999 of the notorious Nazi apologist Pedro Varela, who ran a bookstore here in our lovely barrio of Gracia selling all kinds of poisonous rhetoric; he got five years for advocating genocide but the sentence was suspended. I think the bookstore has been shut down. By the way, all 1668 copies of the imam's book will be confiscated and presumably destroyed.

I dunno. I'm a First Amendment kind of guy. I don't like idiot bookstore owners selling Nazi propaganda or seventeenth-century-minded Muslim imans informing their faithful the conditions under which it's OK to whack your wife around. On the other hand, should we stop people spreading ideas that we know to be evil but that others don't? That's awfully unhealthy for a democracy.

I guess I'd come down with this criterion: If it can be proven that a book or newspaper provoked an actual person to commit actual violence, then we can get the writer and/or publisher for incitement to violence. But you've got to wait and see if something illegal happens or not before exercising prior restraint on printed material.
Here's a letter to the editor from yesterday's Vanguardia.

Hunting down the people

On Saturday, November 8, I was the victim of one of the photographs that the Barcelona municipal police takes with its radar detectors situated strategically to catch the people who drive their cars with an excess of velocity. The location of this police vehicle was ridiculous (vergonyosa). It was at the entrance to Barcelona through the Plaza Glories coming in from Gerona. So: at the work zone on the freeway the limit was 50 km/h (30 mph) and I was going 105 (65 mph). After a short time I received the letter fining me 400 euros and, as if that weren't enough, I lost my license.


What an asshole! This jerk gets nailed doing 65 in a 30 and he has the unmitigated gall to bitch about it! In a work zone, no less, with workers out there doing, like, work (in Kansas so many jerks used to run over highway workers that now any fine you get in a work zone is doubled). Mr. Menescal, I'm GLAD you got fined 400 euros and I'm THRILLED they took your license away.

4000 people get killed every year in traffic accidents in Spain, and double that number are injured. The major causes of fatal accidents are drunk driving and reckless driving. That is, it's idiots like Mr. Menescal who drive recklessly, at more than double the speed limit in a work zone, who cause most of those thousands of deaths and injuries. I, personally, do not have enough courage to drive a car in Spain. I let my wife do it. She's a better driver than I am anyway.

Scofflaw attitudes like Mr. Menescal's are the cause of all this drunk and/or reckless driving that kills so many people around here. If Mr. Menescal wants to kill himself in a car wreck, that's his problem, but his rights end where my nose begins, and I sure don't want to be the poor bastard he would take out with him one of these days if his license hadn't been pulled. Let's see the cops crack down on these killer drivers who have no respect for the law or their fellow citizens.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Check out Media Research Center's list of the best media idiotarian quotes of 2003. It's a good long 6-page list; scroll down, click on "Page One", and then click on "forward" at the bottom of each screen. Bill Moyers, Peter Jennings, Katie Couric, Lesley Stahl, and Baba Wawa are all quoted in context. Excruciating. And they've got links to the videos. And some dare to deny that the American mass media tends to be leftist.

Some joker among the quoted says there are three kinds of media: talk radio; cable TV; and traditional news sites like newspapers, magazines and network TV; and therefore, the conservatives have two-thirds of the media and the liberals only one-third. Now, now, when you compare Rush Limbaugh's and Fox News's right-wing output to that of the New York Times, the LA Times, Time, ABC, CNN, and NPR, not to mention that of every local news broadcast and regional newspaper in the country, that ain't exactly two-thirds against one-third.
Here's an excellent article on how people become terrorists by James Q. Wilson. I particularly liked these two particular bits:

Ideological terrorists offer up no clear view of the world they are trying to create. They speak vaguely about bringing people into some new relationship with one another but never tell us what that relationship might be. Their goal is destruction, not creation. To the extent they are Marxists, this vagueness is hardly surprising, since Marx himself never described the world he hoped to create, except with a few glittering but empty generalities.

A further distinction: in Germany, left-wing terrorists, such as the Red Army Faction, were much better educated, had a larger fraction of women as members, and were better organized than were right-wing terrorists. Similar differences have existed in the United States between, say, the Weather Underground and the Aryan Nation. Left-wing terrorists often have a well-rehearsed ideology; right-wing ones are more likely to be pathological.

I am not entirely certain why this difference should exist. One possibility is that right-wing terrorist organizations are looking backward at a world they think has been lost, whereas left-wing ones are looking ahead at a world they hope will arrive. Higher education is useful to those who wish to imagine a future but of little value to those who think they know the past. Leftists get from books and professors a glimpse of the future, and they struggle to create it. Right-wingers base their discontent on a sense of the past, and they work to restore it. To join the Ku Klux Klan or the Aryan Nation, it is only necessary that members suppose that it is good to oppress blacks or Catholics or Jews; to join the Weather Underground, somebody had to teach recruits that bourgeois society is decadent and oppressive.

By contrast, nationalistic and religious terrorists are a very different matter. The fragmentary research that has been done on them makes clear that they are rarely in conflict with their parents; on the contrary, they seek to carry out in extreme ways ideas learned at home. Moreover, they usually have a very good idea of the kind of world they wish to create: it is the world given to them by their religious or nationalistic leaders. These leaders, of course, may completely misrepresent the doctrines they espouse, but the misrepresentation acquires a commanding power.

Yep. If we extend the analogy to Spain, the strongest terrorist group is ETA, which started out as a nationalist terrorist gang with ideological overtones. As ETA matured, it suffered several schisms; in each one, the more ideologically leftist, more intellectual, less violent branch left the organization and gave up violence. The more nationalist branch, who consider themselves to be carrying on the tradition of Sabino de Arana, has continued killing. The GRAPO, a strictly ideological ultraleftist gang, had its glory days at the same time as the Baader-Meinhoffs and their ilk. It never had anything like the mass social support ETA enjoyed (and still does in some places) in the Basque Country. It's still going, but it's down to a few active members. Occasionally they do something really bad like rob an armored car and kill the guards, but they're mostly pretty quiet these days.

In the 1970s, I attended meetings at a learned academy where people wondered what could be done to stop the terrorism of the German Red Army Faction and the Italian Red Brigades. The general conclusion was that no counterattacks would work. To cope with terrorism, my colleagues felt, one must deal with its root causes.

I was not convinced. My doubts stemmed, I suppose, from my own sense that dealing with the alleged root causes of crime would not work as well as simply arresting criminals. After all, we do not know much about the root causes, and most of the root causes we can identify cannot be changed in a free society—or possibly in any society.

The German and Italian authorities, faced with a grave political problem, decided not to change root causes but to arrest the terrorists. That, accompanied by the collapse of East Germany and its support for terrorists, worked. Within a few years the Red Army Faction and the Red Brigades were extinct. In the United States, the Weather Underground died after its leaders were arrested.

But Islamic terrorism poses a much more difficult challenge. These terrorists live and work among people sympathetic to their cause. Those arrested will be replaced; those killed will be honored. Opinion polls in many Islamic nations show great support for anti-Israeli and anti-American terrorists. Terrorists live in a hospitable river. We may have to cope with the river.

Yep. He's right. Nobody but a bunch of squatters, a few radical sociologists, and eight guys with long, dirty beards who smell of cheap wine ever supported the GRAPO. ETA still has solid support across the board in much of the Basque Country. Now, arresting the terrorists has worked very well against both gangs, but ETA has been able to survive because it's the crazy uncle or the black sheep of the Basque nationalist family. My guess is that most Basque nationalists wish ETA would stop with the killing already, but they can't bring themselves to openly condemn their boys, bad boys though they may be.

Read the whole article. It's very interesting.
The Spanish nationalist Right is in rather a silly snit over Socialist boss in Aragon Marcelino Iglesias's proposal to make North Valencian cooficial in Aragon. There is a sizable area along the frontier between Aragon and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Catalonia, called the "franja de Aragon", where Mainland Mallorcan is spoken. Personally, this doesn't bother me because Eastern Aragonese is a perfectly valid language, and if the democratically elected government of Aragon wants to make it cooficial, I don't see what the big deal is.

The Vangua is making a big stink about Paul O'Neill's "revelation" that Bush had it in for Saddam from the get-go. Guys, that's not news. Bob Woodward, in his book on Bush, explains that Bush was at the very least open to the opinion that Saddam's expulsion of the UN inspectors in 1998 was a casus belli in itself. The preparation of contingency plans to attack Iraq had actually begun under Clinton. When 9-11 came along, Bush was determined to knock out or neutralize as much of the loose rogue state-terrorist gang alliance that was responsible for those attacks and whose visible hand was Al Qaeda. Since we already had about fifteen damn good reasons to go in and overthrow Saddam, he became Phase Two on the military side, Phase One being the Taliban. I mean, this is not news. Time magazine excerpted it, for Chrissakes.

Speaking of the security-intelligence side of the war, they're reporting that the US government had intelligence about the planned hijacking of an Air France plane and also about a major attack in Las Vegas during the holidays. So the heightened state of alert and the precautions taken on transatlantic flights really were a response to something that was up, as we guessed at the time. What bugs me about the way the Vangua is telling the story is that they're spinning it like this: "Antiterrorist paranoia is being fed by the constant leakings of supposed threats." (Eusebio Val)

1) It ain't paranoia if they're really out to get you, as the above revelations show. And I am constant contact with Americans back home in America and none of them is crazed with fear. OK, my dad is a little worried, but he worries about everything. 2) Does the use of the words "leak" and "supposed" mean that Mr. Val is skeptical about the existence of the "threats"? 3) Is this the dumbass Chomskyite theory about the manipulation of the media by the nefarious evil US government in order to keep the citizenry in a state of agitated panic favorable to the military-industrial-petroleum interests again? I say it is, and I say it stinks in the international news pages of a major newspaper.

Interesting stats on immigration in Spain. There are 1,647,011 legal immigrants, of whom yours truly is one. The number of foreign immigrants in Spain has tripled since 1996 and doubled since 1999. Catalonia has almost 400,000 immigrants, giving us the greatest number of immigrants among Spanish regions. 20.3% of legal immigrants are Moroccan, 10.6% are Ecuadorian, 6.5% are Colombian, and then come the big EU states, the UK, Germany, and Italy, many of whose natives are attracted to Spain by the sun and low prices. The Ministry of the Interior estimates that there are between 600,000 and one million illegal immigrants in Spain.

As I said before, I am pro-immigration as a general rule. It would be sort of dumb if I weren't, seeing as how I'm an immigrant myself. The immigrants have added a lot of color to Barcelona, I must say. When I got here in 1987 everybody was White Celto-Iberian Catholic (WCIC). There were a few Arabs. Now there's a much more interesting mix on the streets, and you actually see real black and Asian people who live here. The offer of foreign restaurants has expanded a great deal and the competition and influence of different kinds of cooking have revitalized Catalan / Spanish cuisine, legitimately considered as among the world's finest. English is also much more commonly used now than then. It seems that everybody at least knows very basic English now and it also seems that the locals are a lot more accustomed to dealing with foreigners than they used to be.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Check this one out. Franco Aleman and Golan from HispaLibertas have put together a damn good fisking of an article from Wired about weblogs in Spain. (Their piece and the original article are both in English.) The Wired article portrays blogging in Spain as more significant than it really is (hey, everybody knows I love blogs, but they're not influential yet over here and I'm not going to pretend they are) and depicts Spanish blogging as a left-wing movement out to tell the truth about the right-wing media. The Wired author couldn't have got the story more wrong. Go read this one.

Read this one too. Trevor from Kaleboel has lots of good stuff, as always, and this one is a piece demonstrating that the repression of the Catalan language under Franco has been massively exaggerated by Catalanist victimists. He's got, like, evidence and statistics and even a graph. Highly recommended.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

There's lots of fun stuff out there today. La Vanguardia ran a survey on the upcoming general elections on March 14. According to said survey Mariano Rajoy and the People's Party will score 174 of 350 deputies in the Parliament, just two away from an absolute majority. Zap and the Socialists will pull 137, the Communist United Left would pull 11, Convergence and Union 10, the Basque Nationalists 9, the Canaries Coalition 4, the Republican Left of Catalonia 3, and other parties 2.

Now, let's figure that Mr. Rajoy runs a good campaign, which he knows how to do, and Zap runs a poor campaign, which he shows every sign of doing. Let's also figure that there's still a concealed vote for the PP; that is, the PP invariably scores three or four percentage points more than the surveys say it will, since it is politically incorrect in some circles to admit that one is a PP voter. This happened again, as usual, in the Catalan elections, where the PP gained three seats after the surveys said they would just break even.

If he's this far ahead at this stage in the campaign, Rajoy is going to breeze to an easy victory by absolute majority, drawing at least 180 seats. What he has to do is get out his sympathizers' vote and simultaneously not do anything to piss off the center--or even ostentatiously do a couple of things that will appeal to the center.

Like President Bush. I must say that President Bush's timing on the prescription-drug benefit, the middle-class tax cut's kicking in, and the proposed legalization of illegal immigrants show that there is to some degree political calculation behind them. Nothing wrong with that, and that's precisely what La Vanguardia was accusing him of when they said a couple of days ago that Bush was pandering to the Hispanics. I don't think Bush is doing that, with one possible exception: he'll win Texas and Florida anyway and he'll lose New York no matter what. California is the one place where chipping into the Hispanic vote might be helpful. I really think Bush is appealing not so much directly to Hispanics as he is appealing to--or pandering to--the center, to Middle America, trying to show moderates that he's not a fire-breathing dragon like the media says he is.

Back to the survey. La Vanguardia makes a horrendous error both on the front page and on the front page of their political section, labeling a graph on the percentage of each party's vote as "in Catalonia" when it should obviously be "in Spain". At least, that's the only way it makes sense. The PP will draw 42.6% of the vote, the Socialists 36.5%, the Communists 7.2%, CiU 3.0%, the PNV 2.1%, the Republican Left 1.4%, and the Canaries Coalition 1.0%. I wouldn't be too surprised if what we get is the PP with about 45% and the Socialists at about 35%.

Judged on an approval scale of 1 to 10, Rajoy ranks at 6.0, with Zap at 4.9, Mara Gall (because he has a hell of a lot of gall) at 4.7, Duran Lerida at 4.5, and Flaming Gas at 4.0. That's a damned big difference of opinion. 75% of Spaniards think the economy is doing average or better. 55% say that they think Aznar's performance has been more positive than negative. Only 43% approve of Aznar and the PP's foreign policy.

Note the difference between Catalonia and the whole of Spain on that last one. It you took that poll in Catalonia only, you'd get 80% disapproving of the PP's foreign policy. Also note that the 43% who approve of the PP's foreign policy is eerily similar to that 42.6% who stated they would vote for Rajoy in the March 14 elections.

47% of Spaniards would prefer Rajoy to Zap as Prime Minister, and 79% believe that Rajoy will actually be that next PM. 51% said they thought Rajoy trustworthy, while only 35% said the same about Zap. Zap's "distrust" rating is a whopping 64%.

Zap is gonna get zapped. It's too late for powerbrokers Bono and Ibarra to throw him overboard. He is the candidate the Socialists are stuck with for these elections. Damn, I hate to see the Socialists reduced to such a pathetic level. What they need to do is throw out the whole bunch of party hacks running things right now and start over. Of course, that's not going to happen, which is too bad for Spain because if the Socialists keep going down the road they're on we'll be reduced to a state with only one serious political party pretty soon, like right after Rajoy whips up on Jose Bono in 2008.

There's a really good bit of intrigue going on here. It seems that a gentleman named Joan Cogul was the director of the Catalonia Tourism Consortion between 1992 and 1995. What Mr. Cogul and some friends did was take the tax money dedicated to tourism research (i.e. marketing and the like, you know, "What do visitors to Catalonia want?", actually a useful idea in a region that lives and dies by the tourism euro) and for job training in the tourist industry (i.e. teaching unskilled yoofs to be waiters, actually a defensible idea in a place where you have a good few otherwise unemployable dumbass teenagers and a lot of sunburned Germans demanding more beer RIGHT NOW) and spend it on, well, probably whiskey and cocaine, I dunno. Whatever, the money never turned up, though Mr. Cogul did turn up in the Philippines.

He turned up dead. There was a warrant out for his ass on charges of abuse of trust, embezzlement, fraud, and conspiracy, for which he was gonna get twelve years upon conviction. And Mr. Cogul was gonna get convicted, all right. His wife, Carmen Fargas, and eleven other people will face similar charges. Many of those involved are connected to the center-right Catalan nationalist party, Democratic Union, the junior partner in the Convergence and Union coalition.

Juicy scandal stuff, huh? Anyway, Cogul apparently shot himself with a .45 in the bathroom of his Manila apartment between 7:30 and 8:00 on December 17. One gunshot had been fired into the ceiling. The second went into Cogul's mouth. The family did not notify the police until 1:15. They then had the body cremated after the autopsy; according to Spanish custom funerals are held as soon after death as possible, unlike in the US. Photographs of the scene apparently demonstrate that the dead man was Cogul. Cogul left two notes behind; the Philippine police have determined it to be a suicide.

Still, you never know...

FC Barcelona royally sucks. The Blue and Crimson couldn't score in a Bangkok whorehouse and the Catalan team's defense is more full of holes than a John Pilger article. Frank Rijkaard's boys got beat 1-0 by a Second Division team, Levante, in the Spanish Cup (a competition open to clubs outside the First Division). Pathetic. Laughable. Can they possibly do worse? Yes! They're going to sign Edgar Davids! If the team from Les Corts continues wasting its money on over-the-hill cast-offs that good teams like Juventus want to get rid of, it will continue to suck.

You'll notice that I put several synonyms for FC Barcelona in boldface to emphasize a point about Spanish writing style. Supposedly, it's good not to repeat words, but rather to use a synonym. Now, we do this in English, too, to some extent, but nowhere near as much. In Spain, though, they'll go to lengths to find something they can sub for a word in order not to use it again.

This is a major problem when the Vanguardia decides it needs a synonym for the proper adjective "Israeli". They use two: "Jewish" and "Hebrew". Now, these words are not exact synonyms; "Jewish" refers to anyone of the Jewish ethnicity or religion, "Israeli" refers to a citizen of the state of Israel, and "Hebrew" refers to the language spoken by many Israeli Jews. Many Jews take umbrage at the confusion of the three terms, justifiably so, I think. I mean, the Vangua refers frequently to the Israeli Defensive Forces as the "Jewish army", which is to say the least not exact. Seems to me that as sensitive as Spaniards are capable of being about using the proper terms referring to their country, they could do the Israelis and the Jews a bit of a favor and get their own terminology right.

Some guy sent in five letters to the Vangua's less-than-useless ombudsman, Josep Maria Casasus, complaining about this and pointing out that such misuse of terminology goes against the EFE (Spain's press agency) stylebook. Casasus told him to fuck off, saying that although the words in question aren't exact synonyms, they're "partial synonyms" and that's close enough for him, and Spanish style demands the extensive use of synonyms. Besides, adds editor Magi Camps, "Would we be lying if we spoke about a "Jewish-Muslim" conflict?"

Yeah, you would, because most Jews are not Israelis, some Israelis are not Jews, most Muslims are not Palestinians, and not all Palestinians are Muslims.

From now on at Inside Europe: Iberian Notes, we will refer to the language spoken in the provinces of Gerona, Lerida, Barcelona, and Tarragona as "North Valencian" or "Mainland Mallorcan". That's close enough, isn't it, Mr. Casasus?

Friday, January 09, 2004

Just thought I'd provide a couple of local reactions from la Vangua's Letters to the Editor page so you'd know how local folks really think around here. In case you didn't know, el Dia de los Santos Inocentes (Day of the Innocent Saints) is celebrated here on December 28. There is a play on words involved; "inocente" in Spanish means both "not guilty", as in a court of law, and naive, in the sense of being the one who never gets the joke that is always played on him. It's the Spanish equivalent of April Fool's Day.

This one is called "Day of the Innocents".

To the detriment of English, Esperanto is taught in the schools and it spreads over the whole world as a universal language. All flags disappear and an improvement in society begins, making the differences between social classes smaller and smaller. The arms industries invest in irrigation in all the poor countries of the world and they distribute free vaccinations in those countries against the diseases that are now eradicated in the First World.

The ultranationalists, the religious fanatics, President Bush, and many others beat themselves over the head, damaging the part of their brains that makes them so pathetic, and they stop being tht way. Racist and xenophobic people, after a night of fever and convulsions. recover their memory and remember their origins and those of their ancestors, making them feel stupid and immediately stopping hate of foreigners and other races, and after that moment they will judge people on their behavior and not because of their physical characteristics.

Manu B. Rodriguez, Basauri, Vizcaya

I think it's interesting that the first thing Manu denounces is the use of English as the international language. The first thing you mention is normally the most important thing you have in mind, so Manu must be just pissed off as all hell at the facts that English is the language and America is the reason. He wants to replace it with Esperanto. Yeah, right. Manu is a naive idiot and guilty as charged of having written an extremely stupid attempt at satire and then having the utter nerve of forcing it upon the other residents of his community. I hereby sentence him to eight lashes with Ron Jeremy's wet noodle. Oh, yeah, what's this crappo about the arms manufacturers irrigating the world? My cat is smarter than that.

Here's another one titled "Disarmament for Everyone".

When will the US disarm itself? It is at the very least ridiculous that they demand that hundreds of countries disarm and they demand inspections to determine whether they possess arms of mass destruction. That is, by the way, something most of us do not know the meaning of. And the US? It has rarely used its power in a dissuasive way, but rather it has demonstrated an interest, almost surreal, in using its arsenal of weapons. And if it hasn't done it tiself, it has delegated to allied countries, without question, providing the weapons.

Now, with Japanese rearmament, advised by the US, we see monstrous reasoning: in order to defend ourselves form North Korea, the great military and economic power that is threatening the world?

Xavier Delgado, Sant Cugat del Valles, Barcelona

Yeah, right. Let's get India and Pakistan to fight so we can sell them arms. To the detriment of the 99.9% of our economy that has nothing to do with military weapons. In case anyone is interested, defense is 16% of the US federal budget and something around 3-4 percent in percentage of US GDP spent on defense. Spain, by the way, is pretty pathetic about defense spending, trusting the US and NATO so much that they cannot defend themselves against any significant threat.

By the way, the latter letter is so poorly written that I had to improve it so it would make sense, sort of.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

The Vangua has some good ones today, for a change. I guess everyone has finally slept off his hangover and gotten over his two-week holiday break. The top international affairs story is President Bush's proposal to provide illegal aliens with guest worker status, allowing them to stay for a period of three years. Their permits will be renewable. Also, in the future, employers will be permitted to recruit employees overseas, who will receive guest worker permits. Finally, the number of "green cards"--permanent residence permits--that are issued will be increased.

Not even La Vangua can manage to spin this one completely negatively, as it points out that former illegals, besides all the other advantages of having legal status, will receive at least the minimum wage and will receive all the laboral rights that citizens have. It mentions that there is a security aspect to Bush's plan: that it'll give us a lot better idea of who's in the country. The Vanguardia says there are 8 million illegal immigrants in the States, a figure I find hard to believe--I'd guess there are maybe a million or two--but it is sort of dumb to fingerprint people coming with a visa and not to find out who's living here illegally. And it is pretty generous to offer legal guest worker status to those illegals in exchange for their identifying themselves. If Bush wanted to he could have La Migra kick down every restaurant kitchen door in California and run 'em all out on the next southbound train.

Naturally, though, instead of a generous offer to the poorest people in America, instead of a helping hand to the people who do the dirtiest work in our society, instead of a recognition that "the system isn't working", to quote Bush, instead of the fruit of the President's experience as governor of the number two state in illegals, instead of a logical and necessary security measure, instead of a plan with such leftist-loved effects as people (mostly of the poor brown variety) getting better working conditions and incomes and health care and education, not to mention the protection of the laws, the Vangua says that Bush made his proposal--for electoral purposes! Yep, that's right, Bush is trying to nail down the Hispanic vote. As if he had anything to worry about with a 59% approval rating and Howard Dean as the prospective Dem candidate.

Baltasar Porcel is back, and the dude be wack. Rather than translate all four paragraphs, we'll just do the first sentence:

I've seen the third "Lord of the Rings" movie, which might be fairly good with an hour less of battles, with its dark, spectacular backgrounds full of special effects.

And the last one:

Everything a religious black or white, with wholesale war: Bush.

You don't want to know how exactly he manages to get from the beginning to the end, though.

Plagiarist, thief, and liar Marius Serra would like you to know that he's happy about the Brazilian measure to fingerprint Yankees, to use his term, entering Brazil. See, Mr. Serra thinks that

if someone takes your hand and passes it over (a scanner) it is an intimate act, of an almost sexual nature, so without the required consent such a maneuver could be considered sexual abuse.

He doesn't mention that if you show up at US Immigration and ask to be permitted to pass through, you are giving your consent to being photographed or fingerprinted, and to having your baggage or self searched. If you do not wish to give such consent, don't show up at US Immigration asking to get in. And, come on, sexual abuse? Porcel be wack, but this dude be smokin crack.

...the always envious Jones of Connecticut will decide to...visit Mexico entering the Aztec nation illegally, where so many wetbacks escaped from the Migra. They will survive and their experience will cause other intrepid couples to enjoy the pleasures of reciprocity. How about Cuba?

And, if we're going to be reciprocal, the Americans have so many countries to choose from! Not just on their continent. Also in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania, a progressive American citizen can find many nations to visit in order to be abused. All he needs is a small desire to experience for himself the adventures that his successive governments have gone on here, there, and everywhere.

Now, if I get this straight, Mr. Liar and Thief is getting all moral and saying the United States is bad and so are its citizens, Mr. and Mrs. Jones from Connecticut, and so they ought to be treated badly as individuals so that the Poor and Abused of This World, among whom rich, fortunate Mr. Serra certainly counts himself, can get some revenge. I guess that'll make Mr. Serra feel better about himself and his own powerless power unit.

That's infantile and stupid. I expect no less from Mr. Serra.