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?

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