Monday, May 31, 2004

I'm not feeling especially inspired these days. Oh, I could tear up the standard anti-American pro-appeasement load of wank the Vangua is putting out, or I could reiterate why I think the Coalition is right and Old Europe is wrong, or I could talk about Al Qaeda's continuing terrorism, but I've already been there and done that. Maybe I should just insult somebody.

People Who I Think Suck: Oh, wait, that'd take about four hours. Better be more specific.

Ten People I'd Most Like to Invite Over for Dinner: Rafael Ramos, Eulalia Sole, Eduardo Haro Tecglen, Vicente Verdu, Maruja Torres, Remei Margarit, Manuel Castells, Marius Serra, Javier Nart, and Julio Anguita. I'd poison the lot, of course. "Oh, that slightly bitter taste is just the almond sauce on the puffer fish filet..." (Evil chuckle)

Feel free to plan your own dinner party. Who would you invite? What would you serve? How would you dispose of the bodies?

Thursday, May 27, 2004

This discussion came up in the Comments section so I thought I'd explain. First, this is not my theory; it's somebody else's idea, I don't remember whose. Steven Den Beste at USS Clueless (check blogroll) has a link to the original article somewhere.

Anyway, according to this theory, Americans are divided into four main currents of political thought, Jeffersonian, Jacksonian, Hamiltonian, and Wilsonian, according to the following criteria, which I've sort of expanded upon.


Little government intervention in economy
Internationalist but anti-military intervention
Free trade
Little emphasis on personal morality
Today's archetype: Wall Street banker or lawyer


Farming and small-business oriented
Some government intervention in economy
High tariffs
Little emphasis on personal morality
Today's archetype: Guy selling Dead T-shirts, Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, California


Isolationist, except when angered
Some government intervention in economy
High emphasis on personal morality/religion
Generally pragmatist unless under influence of Jesus/alcohol
Today's archetype: A Kansas City car dealer


Interventionist, except when disillusioned
Some/high government intervention in economy
High emphasis on personal morality/religion
Today's archetype: University professor

The deal is that to be successful a policy must really please at least three of these groups. World War II, probably the most uniting event the USA ever experienced, got all four groups in favor of it. The Vietnam War was lost not when the Wilsonians bailed out on it in about 1965, nor quite yet when the Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians bailed out in about '68, but when the Jacksonians finally threw in the towel about 1970 or so. Regarding the civil rights movement, the Jeffersonians, Hamiltonians, and Wilsonians were convinced by the 1950s, but it took at least another generation to convince most of the Jacksonians. Today President Bush has most of the Jacksonians and the Hamiltonians pretty much with him, but the Wilsonians and Jeffersonians are completely opposed. Most Americans, I think, are Jacksonians at bottom--radical small-D democrats with a mean streak. A hell of a lot aren't, though, and if Kerry can win over some of the Hamiltonian vote--they're few but influential--he's likely to win--unless he absolutely destroys his own current level of support among the Jacksonians, which is entirely possible.

How would you divide up Spaniards? Certainly a great many of them are Marxist, mostly very superficially. Most are also Fascist, though they'd never admit it, and I mean Fascist not as an insult but in the sense of a paternalistic bureaucratic government-directed mixed economy with extensive social services, which I believe is originally modeled on Bismarck's Germany and perhaps reached its apogee in Vichy France, and has now been institutionalized in the European Union. A lot of country folk in Spain might fit pretty well into the Jeffersonian category, though they're all now dependent on government subsidy. Spanish intellectuals almost all fall into the disillusioned-Wilsonian category. Traditional Spanish conservatives would certainly have their own category; they're not very similar to either the Hamiltonians or the Jacksonians.

Spain's major problem in the 1930s was that Spaniards of that time fell into three categories: Rightists who wanted to kill Leftists, Leftists who wanted to kill Rightists, and everybody else who mostly just didn't want to get killed. Now both Rightists and Leftists have a bad reputation around here, because both of them killed plenty of the middle group, though the Leftists have managed to whitewash their past better than the Rightists. Partly this is because Franco's Rightist regime was sitting around repressing all the Spanish people for thirty-some years, while the Leftists only got to repress people in their half of Spain for three years. The bad stuff Franco did is on the record. The bad stuff the Communists or, worse, the Anarchists, would have done if they'd won is unknown, though if we take an educated guess based on what happened in Barcelona under the Republic we can feel pretty confident that the answer is plenty.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Hey, is this thing working? I can get into Blogger just fine and blog away as I please, but I can't view the website; every time I click on it I get a 404.

Lots of news from our friends at La Vanguardia today. Their international coverage, especially related to Iraq, is so slanted that they're no longer making any attempt to pretend they're unbiased observers. The headline is "Bush's Iraq plan doesn't convince". Says Sebi Val on page three,

George W. Bush couldn't overcome the general skepticism about his plans for Iraq...Only Republicans who had made up their minds beforehand saw, in the President's speech, a solid proposal to get out of the crisis.

And that's just the lead paragraph. (No, Spanish newspapers do not normally use the 30-word, two-sentence, 5-Ws-and-H, inverted-pyramid style they teach you in high school journalism in the States.)

Later on in the story, Sebi says,

Bush still trusts everything to his so-called good will, a Wilsonian idealism accompanied by military force. Crude reality on the ground has barely altered his way of thinking: the US is involved in a noble and necessary task, despite mistakes and setbacks, and there's no turning back.

I don't think I'd call Bush "Wilsonian", myself. I'd go more with Hamiltonian by birth, Jacksonian by temperament. No American political leader, however, is immune from an occasional bout of Wilsonianism (see: our various military interventions in Haiti, Somalia, Kosovo, Bosnia, etc.)

Says our man in London, Rafael Ramos, the guy who states flat-out that you have to go out with an American girl ten times before you can get her in bed,

Again Tony Blair has said the same thing as Bush but better. The Prime Minister, shackled to an American policy that he does not control at all...Blair's words reflect the collapse of the moral authority of the occupants after the publication of images of tortures in the prison of Abu Ghraib and the massacre of dozens of Iraqis who were merely celebrating a wedding near the Syrian frontier. Desperate, in their desire for survival, to find a solution that so far they had not bothered to look least Blair, contrary to Bush, pronounced the words "Abu Ghraib" correctly...

Boy, that's snotty, isn't it? Ramos himself can't even speak English, much less Arabic, so it's not exactly his place to criticize Bush's pronunciation. He doesn't mention the fact that the Pentagon states they were going after a terrorist meeting point and arsenal, or that the Coalition still has plenty of moral authority, a lot of which is coming from the publicizing of the Abu Ghraib abuses and the trial of those allegedly responsible.

This ugly scandal may even rebound favorably in the Iraqis' eyes: yes, there are a few bad guys among the Americans, but they get punished by the American authorities if they mistreat Iraqis. This is considerably better than what the Iraqis had under, say, Saddam Hussein, and I bet a lot of people are beginning to recognize it, if they didn't already.

By the way, neither Sebi nor Raffy bothers to mention all the good news out of Iraq, like that it's 95% pacified, that the people already live under elected local governments, that the port of Umm Qasr and Baghdad Airport are both open, that Iraq now has the freest press between Tel Aviv and Tokyo, that people's salaries are up, that the schools are open, that the hospitals and clinics are open, that the irrigation canals are functioning again, that there's a stable currency and effective banking system in place, that entrepreneurship and capitalism are blossoming all opver the country...but then again, nobody else seems to be reporting that, either.

Spain spent a big 370 million euros participating in the Iraq peacekeeping mission. That's what, about one-seventh of what they spent on the Forum. Already today, the Vanguardia has an on-line poll asking the question, "Do you think the Forum will last out its 141 scheduled days?" A sizable majority answered No.

Well, the Socialist government is actually promising to do a couple of libertarian things that I fully support. Among them are simplifying and speeding up divorce, decriminalizing abortion under certain unspecified conditions, and legalizing gay marriage. Get this idiotic bit, though. They want to prohibit criminals between 18 and 21 years old from going to prison without a direct order from a judge. Now, I figure most judges will send serious criminals off to jail if they get half a chance, but there's always some jerk who'll use any loophole to get a victim of society a lesser sentence.

Comment on gypsies: Here's the problem. Most gypsies lead an underclass lifestyle. They don't have a steady residence or a steady job; they actually don't have anything in particular except cars and trailers, and not all of them have that. Their subculture (no, "sub-" doesn't mean "inferior", it means "a smaller part of the whole") is heavily racist against "payos", as they call non-gypsies, is hostile toward work and education, and many gypsies devote their lives to drugs and criminal behavior. Spaniards often accuse gypsies of being dirty. Well, a lot of them are. Every gypsy camp you've ever seen looks like it was built on top of the city garbage dump. You also see a lot of them begging in the streets while carrying infants around. Now, other underclass subcultures, including redneck American whites up in them thar hills, are certainly capable of exactly the same sort of antisocial behavior as the gypsies. But you can take the redneck out of the boy; there's a large group of gypsies living here in Gracia, and they're all perfectly decent, law-abiding folk. As they say here in Spain, they're "integrated"; as we might say, they've joined the majority culture. Most American redneck whites and redneck blacks have made that jump, too. Both here and there, the problems come from those who haven't, who flout the norms of the majority culture way too much. And there's no question that the Barcelona areas where there is a significant non-integrated gypsy presence, Can Tunis, La Mina, Sant Cosme, and El Carmel, are among the less salubrious neighborhoods in the metro area.

But we couldn't leave without some more of the brilliance of Rafael Ramos. There's an exhibit on at the Tate Modern in London of Edward Hopper. Here's Raffy's criticism of the exhibit:

Edward Hopper, painter of the loneliness of the big cities, but also of the empty spaces in the human soul, defies the very Essence of the American dream. The Tate Modern's retrospective exhibition could not be more opportune, in the middle of the moral interrogatives highlighted by the Iraq War.

Only our Raffy could somehow establish a comparison between a 1930s realist painter and the Iraq war.

Hopper is an antidote to political propaganda, to manipulated messages, to the empire of the image and of public relations.

This is what happens if you have your seventh gin and tonic BEFORE you write your story rather than afterward.

How would Hopper paint Bush's USA, the contradictions of a country both military stronger and morally more alone than ever, split down the middle, in which millions of people feel ashamed because of the photos from Abu Ghraib?

Yeah, you guessed it, he found a way to work in Abu Ghraib.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

There's really not any particularly exciting news from around here. La Vanguardia is floating some cockamamie rumor about Spain sending troops to Haiti, of all places, rather than reinforcing the contingent in Afghanistan, as they promised they would do. Where are the screaming crouds howling, "ZAP LIED!!!"?

Meanwhile, Bush says we're not going to bail out on the Iraqis. Transfer of sovereignty will happen on June 30 as scheduled, but an American-led occupation force will stay on for a one-year renewable period. Sounds fair enough to me.

The news cycle of the Abu Ghraib abuses seems to have run its course here; the Royal Wedding broke it up. The situation still looks ugly. I want to know who approved what. And my position on torture is that I understand, and approve of, I suppose, using psychological stress on people we have a very good reason to want to interrogate. Like, say, somebody who got caught carrying a gun and shooting at US forces. I mean things like sleep deprivation, heavy metal music, intensive questioning, lie detector tests, and the like. The Spanish police are known to do all these things, as I suppose are many US police forces. Sexual humiliation: no. Physical tortures: no way, in no situation.

Seems that Zap has decided that he wants to renegotiate the various Statutes of Autonomy that the various autonomous regions of Spain have. The PP asked him to explain and specify exactly what he was talking about. Zap responded that it would depend on whichever autonomous region was in question. In other words, Zap has no plan. He's just responding to the demands of the Republican Left of Catalonia for a revision of the Catalan statute of autonomy; he'll give them what they want. Since nobody else except the Basques really wants any changes, this amounts to giving the regional nationalists pretty much a blank check. Oh, well, I'm generally in favor of a smaller central government, and especially in handling decisions that affect people at the lowest level possible. That is, I'd like to give the municipality as much power as possible; in various parts of the US, municipalities are in charge of education, police and fire protection, water and sewer administration, transport through the city limits, and other important suchlike things; they also have the power to tax. Then, the county handles things that are too big for the municipality. The state handles things that are too big for the county. The federal government handles things that are too big for the states. Decentralize everything you can as far as possible. I like that system.

The problem is that most Cataloonies don't want to decentralize; they want to recentralize. That is, they want to move as many of the powers of the central Spanish government to the regional autonomous Catalan government--but then they don't want to transfer any powers to the smaller organs of government. More Catalan autonomy would simply mean more power for Barcelona and less for Madrid. I will wager that Tàrrega and Cervera and Montblanc and Verdú and Guissona and Agramunt and Santa Coloma de Queralt and Esplugues de Francolí, just to name a few small cities I am fond of, will not get too much more say in their own municipal and subregional affairs.

Zap promises 400 more antiterrorist cops to work against international terrorism in the next 18 months. If he keeps this promise I'll give him the necessary props.

Two bad guys busted out of the courthouse at Prat de Llobregat; they grabbed a gun off a cop and shot and killed him. Then there was a general shootout and a painter on a nearby scaffolding was wounded. At least ten shots were fired. The bad guys carjacked somebody and fled at high speed toward home. They're still looking for these guys in the Sant Cosme area, which is about as bad as any neighborhood in Spain. I certainly wouldn't go there for any reason. Nobody who wasn't looking to buy heroin would go there. Needless to say, these two are gypsies. One of them has eight outstanding warrants, including armed robbery and murder, and has been arrested 16 times; the other has been arrested 30 times for armed robbery and theft. Can we please hang guys with warrants out on them for murder and armed robbery who murder a cop? Or would that be uncivilized and barbaric? This is not the first time escaping prisoners have murdered a cop; in a very similar incident in October 2001, one guy who, get this, was out on a Dukakislike prison furlough, sneaked up behind two cops who were transferring another guy from the hospital back to jail and shot them in the back. One was killed and the other paralyzed. The two escapees then murdered a man and raped a woman before being recaptured. Can we please hang them, too? Or would that be inappropriate?

Don't get me wrong, I am not anti-compassion. I honestly believe that, what with three thousand years of Judeo-Christian ethics behind us, not to mention 2500 years of Greco-Roman ethics, not to mention 1500 years of Catholic ethics, not to mention 500 years of Renaissance / Reformation / Enlightenment ethics, we have an obligation to the less fortunate. All of those different ethical systems clearly point to that stark staring moral fact, whether you're into Kant, Socrates, Mill, or the Bible. I vote we help out whoever needs it; I think we can actually afford that. But when a guy starts hurting other people in order to get what he wants, that's where compassion ends. Right there.

I'm not sure how smart this move is. Until now kids at age 14 have been able to ride a 49cc moped with a basic license. Technically they're considered mopeds, "motorized bicycles", rather than motorbikes. You can't go more than 60 kph or ride on divided highways. The Government is going to raise the age to 16. Now, at age 16, you've always been able to get a license allowing you to ride a 125cc motorbike. Those bikes are powerful enough to ride on the freeway. (You can't get a license to drive a car until 18.) So what this move is basically going to do is kill off the 49cc motorbike in favor of the 125cc, since no one will bother with a 49cc license when they can get one to ride a more powerful and more useful 125cc. Last year 20 kids under 16 were killed in moped wrecks; 350 were injured. 5,300 people were killed in vehicle accidents throught Spain. Still, you've got to wonder what the Law of Unintended Consequences is going to say about this one.

They're barely bothering to plug the Forum. Supposedly, they got 115,000 visitors last week, 6,000 more than last week, but "short of the goal of 125,000". Now, this is moving the goalposts, because before they were talking about an average crowd of 35,000 a day to break even, which sounds like a goal of 245,000 a week to me. Here's today's scare story: "The Forum yesterday welcomed 1,200 youths between 14 and 18 years old from Barcelona, Lleida, Sant Feliu, and El Prat, who presented their conclusions after a year of work and reflection in their various hometowns. The great majority of them coincided in the necessity of resolving conflicts with violence and demanded a "culture of peace". The director of the Forum, Jaume Pagés, promised to present the students' projects to UNESCO." Wonder what would have happened to a kid who supported the War on Terrorism and believed that Spain must strike back against the criminals of March 11? Remember that name, Jaume Pagés. When we take over he's the first up against the wall...

(CHORUS: And it's up against the wall, redneck mother
The mother who raised her son so well
He's thirty-four and drinking in a honky-tonk
Just a-kickin' hippies' asses and raisin' hell...)

Big T: I assume you can name the singer.

Well, the soccer season's over, with Valencia pulling off the double, winning both the Spanish League and the UEFA Cup. Congratulations to them on a great season. Barcelona came in second. Madrid crashed and burned. Their coach, Queiroz, has already been fired, and they're going to bring in José Antonio Camacho for next year, this time apparently for real. I would not be surprised if Figo leaves before next season if he has a big Eurocup. As for signings, now Barça is going to resign Cocu and now they're not; now they're going to resign Davids and now he's going to Inter Milan. Kluivert and Overmars are for sale to any idiot who might want to buy them. Reiziger is also gone. It's clear if Barça can't sign Davids then they need to buy another experienced player of similar characteristics and pay what it costs, since his acquisition was the turning point of the season for Barcelona.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Our friend and fellow Barcelona blogger Franco Alemán has set up his own site; it's called Barcepundit. So far it's mostly in Spanish but he promises that he'll be posting regularly in English, too, so check it out. You know it's going to be good.
Well, today is the Big Royal Wedding. Crown Prince Felipe is marrying newscaster Letizia Ortiz. They've been preparing the ceremony for months, getting the security all planned out and that kind of thing. There will, of course, be pageantry out the wazoo and lots of royal folks from lots of weird places. Too bad it's going to rain. All the TV stations are covering it live; they've been at it all morning and presumably will be at it all afternoon.

I must say Felipe made a pretty good choice. The future Princess is, of course, bright and media-savvy, and that's going to be a big help, especially as the media becomes more and more intrusive into people's private lives. There's no ridiculousness about her being a virgin; she's been married and divorced. She comes from a respectable middle-class family and will no doubt provide a fresh influx of healthy DNA for the heavily inbred Bourbon gene pool. She's pretty and seems to have had minimal plastic surgery, though she's "TV-attractive"--looks better on camera than in real life.

I haven't really posted about this because I don't especially care. I'm a Republican both with a capital R and a lowercase one. I'm against kings and nobles and all that crap; that's one reason we fought the Revolution, for Chrissakes.

However, I'm not a anti-monarchist fanatic, and I'm a fan of the maxim "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Spain's a parliamentary democracy under the rule of law with a governmental system that's about as good as the one they have anywhere else--I mean, if everyone on Earth lived under a system similar to Spain's, your human-rights activists and such folk would have to go out of business. The system ain't broke; it works rather well. So let's not mess around with it by deposing the powerless King; that would stir everyone up for no good reason. It would be merely symbolic.

There are some good arguments in favor of keeping the Royal Family. First, they're semi-official State ambassadors, and when they travel abroad they're on semi-diplomatic missions. Agreed, nothing important is ever decided, but having the King visit a country is likely to cause a few warm feelings among the visited. Lemme tell you, if some Spanish company wanted to put down a big investment in Kansas and wanted favorable treatment, a visit from the King would knock everybody flat and they'd be begging for the project. Second, I imagine they do something for tourism--people go to Baqueira because the King skies there, they go to Mallorca because the King sails there, they go to that mega-golf course in Andalusia, whatever its name is, because the King golfs there. He promotes Spanish vacation places by his attendance. Third, at least for some people, often the less politically aware, the King provides a symbol, a human being that they can identify with the abstract, distant State. Fourth, people older than 40 today can remember the Franco regime. After a rough start, Juan Carlos became one of the symbols of the transition to democracy. His role is normally exaggerated in the English-language press, but in many people's minds, both in Spain and abroad, he is associated with Spanish democracy. And, fifth, the Royals are cheap--they cost a few million euros a year, no more, they're not huge and expensive like the Windsors. Sixth, they're well-behaved. They keep their noses clean and never cause any embarrassing situations, unlike certain other royal families I could name. (I think the worst scandal they ever got in was when some paparazzi got photos of Juan Carlos sunbathing nude on his yacht.) I therefore conclude they're well worth the money, even though I have a natural dislike of monarchy. I'm letting pragmatics triumph over ideology.

The last Spanish troops have left Iraq.

In today's La Vangua, Xavier Batalla has read an article by Sidney Blumenthal, of all people, in the Guardian, so he has an analysis of the two schools of American foreign policy according to Sid. Now, Sid, as everybody knows, is by no means a neutral source; in fact, he's about the most extreme Clinton / Democratic Party partisan out there. Mr. Batalla does not mention this either in his article or his dandy little fact-sheet on the two opposing schools, which Sid apparently provided. According to Sid and Mr. Batalla, school Number One is the "Globalists", exemplified by a photo of a smiling Bill Clinton waving to somebody, and the other is the "Hegemonists", exemplified by a photo of a scowling Paul Wolfowitz. Above these two photos, by the way, is a still from the movie "Seven Days in May", an early-60s thriller in which the Army tries to pull a coup d'etat, whatever that has to do with anything. (Europeans keep referring to movies when trying to explain America. This is not precisely an accurate basis for analysis.)

Anyway, Bill Clinton's Globalists are described as:

Multilateral foreign policy
Multicultural national diversity
In favor of humanitarian intervention and nation-building
Stable world business scene
Economic globalization with multinational companies as base
Strength lies in multilateral cooperation
Supranational governmental institutions and polycentric diplomacy
Govern the international sphere as one among equals

as opposed to Paul Wolfowitz's Hegemonists:

Unilateralist foreign policy
Eurocentric and Christian nation
Anticipatory, preventive attacks and defense of national interests
Geopolitical competition and regional blocs
Military-industrial complex
Weakness results from multilateral cooperation
The State as lead actor on stage; unipolar leadership
Govern the international sphere not as one among equals

Oh, geez, where do I start? I'll leave off the most obvious criticisms of this wrongheaded and biased classification (I prefer the theory that divides Americans into Hamiltonians, Jeffersonians, Wilsonians, and Jacksonians) and just hits a couple of the high points.

1) Unilateralist? Yeah, we're only cooperating with like sixty countries in Afghanistan and Iraq.

2) No basis for saying "Hegemonists" are racist or religious nuts or anti-multiculturalism.

3) Let me tell you, any "Globalist" who did not look out for American interests first would not be President much longer.

4) What military-industrial complex? Weapons manufacturing is like .001% of the American economy. By comparison, Wal-Mart is like 1%.

5) Multilateral cooperation does lead to weakness if the countries you're collaborating with are weak. (Cf. Spain. One big scare and they're out the door.)

6) How could anybody possibly govern and be one among equals at the same time?

7) Is there any evidence that supranational governmental institutions work? No. Except for the EU, which is ironically Eurocentric and which many conservative Europeans want to make explicitly Christian, among them the editorial board of La Vanguardia.

8) How can you have "polycentric" diplomacy in a unipolar world? Because the facts, Jack, is that the world is unipolar and pretending it isn't would be silly. If there were any other country anywhere near as strong as the US, we would know about it.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Get this one from Francesc de Carreras in today's La Vanguardia. It's titled "Bush and the 'good American'".

Paragraph 1: The Iraq war is unwinnable.

Paragraph 2: The war was an "operation thought up by a reduced group of politicians and businessmen, well-situated in the sphere of political power, taking advantage of the emotional climate that took over the United States after 9-11." But the abuse photos will change everyone's mind, see.

Paragraph 3: Mr. de Carreras knows a young American who says that his family back in Manhattan doesn't know anyone who's in favor of the war.

Paragraph 4: "Although many Americans already disapproved of the war and their number has been growing in recent months, the tortures of Iraqi prisoners may be the beginning of the end for Bush, when they influence the opinion of a wide, decisive sector: the "good American" who up to now blindly supported his President. This "good American"--which, as you see, I am putting between quotation marks--is ultraconservative, ignorant of what is happening in the rest of the world, uncultured, naive, and nationalist, only convinced of one thing: that human beings can be divided between good and bad, qualifications that correspond to "Americans"--for them the equivalent of "estadounidenses"--and the rest of the world."

Paragraph 5: "To this "good American", the United States is the nation chosen to do good in the world." Follows a quotation by Herman Melville (whose first name Mr. de Carreras spells wrong, demonstrating his lack of familiarity with the subject) from the 1840s or so.

Paragraph 6: But the Abu Ghraib photos show everyone that the United States is not good. They will convince the "good American" of the evil of his nation's ways.

Paragraph 7: That's why Bush said that the abuses "don't reflect American character", because the "good American" can't stand the idea that our guys might behave like those evil foreigners.

Paragraph 8: Since "Iraq is a territory in which professional specialists train the American army to practice torture upon combatants who rebel against the invader", maybe the "good American", who is "simple, naive, and nationalist", will realize this and vote for Kerry.

Reaction: Mr. de Carreras is talking out his ass. Just in case he hadn't noticed, the Abu Ghraib photos are yesterday's story in the US, especially now that the problem has been recognized and is being dealt with. The Nick Berg photos seem to have had a good deal more effect on American opinion. Anyone who knows anything about the United States knows that. Also, Mr. de Carreras's contempt for the ordinary American is not well-taken. The ordinary American is no more and no less "ultraconservative, ignorant, uncultured, naive, and nationalist" than, say, the ordinary Catalan. If you don't believe me, I know some prime specimens of ignorance and lack of culture around here, starting with Mr. de Carreras, who with his arrogant dismissal of us folks from the flyover demonstrates that he is a fool who judges things he knows nothing about according to his preconceived stereotypes.

One more comment: I am deathly sick of ignorant jerks getting all pissed off because people in the United States call themselves "Americans". (Also, that's the term used in correct, standard French, German, Italian, Russian, Polish, etc. to refer to "people from the United States. It's only the Spanish language that getts all huffy about how Argentinians are Americans too or whatever.) That's correct, standard English. It's our language. We can call ourselves "Fucking Assholes" if we want, it seems to me. However, the term "American" to describe someone from, first, the English colonies, and then the United States, goes back to the seventeenth century in English. If Latin Americans and Spanish progres don't like this, they can use whatever terminology they want to in their own language.

Comment number three: You'll notice that Mr. de Carreras alleges a conspiracy theory behind the Iraq war. Some politicians and businessmen thought it up, you see. Now, he doesn't name any of those politicians and businessmen, of course; conspiracy mongerers never can. But how much do you want to bet he's thinking about those damn Jews again?

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Well, here's the news. The Tripartit government in Madrid is going to raise the minimum wage by 6.6%. Sounds good, until you notice that it's going up to 490 euros, which is a lot less than what most low-wage workers in Spain are making. The effective minimum wage in Barcelona is 735 euros net, which is what they'll pay you to work at your neighborhood Dia supermarket, sort of like the effective minimum wage in Kansas City is what they'll pay you to work at UPS or FedEx, ten or twelve bucks an hour or so. Meanwhile, buried in the Economics section at the back is the breaking of one of the Socialists' campaign promises: they now admit there's no way they're going to put up 180,000 housing units a year as they promised. Where are all the demonstrators yelling "ZAP LIED!!!"?

The Generalitat has announced that its 2003 deficit is nearly $1.2 billion; this, of course, is the fault of the Pujol government (in power since 1980), which couldn't balance the budget for a peanut stand, much less an autonomous regional government. Catalonia's total debt is $17 billion or so, 12% of yearly GDP. The Tripartit, now in power, is promising a balanced budget for 2008. Yeah, right. To my knowledge the only serious budgets in the history of Spain were those surpluses that Aznar used to run. Remember the good old days?

Bit of Catalooniness: They're reopening the "Salamanca papers" issue. This is about as dumb and symbolic as nationalism gets. Seems that back during the Franco Regime they got together all the papers and documents and government files and whatever that had some relation to the Civil War of 1936-39 in a single archive in Salamanca. Now, of course, all those papers have been microfilmed by now. Anyway, it seems that some of the documents the archive has are the records of the Generalitat, Catalonia's regional government during the Second Republic and the Revolutionary Triennial. They were seized by the invading Francoist troops when they took Barcelona in 1939. Now the Cataloonies would like those documents back.

One: Who really gives a rat's ass? It's not like packing up a bunch of documents and transferring them to Barcelona is going to change anybody's life. Two: Why spend the money it would cost to move the damn things? Three: They've microfilmed it. I certainly agree that sending a copy of the microfilmed documents to Barcelona would be perfectly appropriate, so Catalan scholars could have easier access to them. Hell, if they're so important, post them on the Internet so everybody can have access to them. Four: I'm against moving the records because of the people who want them moved. I consider most of those people to be idiots and am happy when their will is thwarted. Five: If the "Salamanca papers" are moved to Barcelona, I for one will support the removal of the Archives of the Crown of Aragon, one of the most important and valuable collections of medieval documents in the world and which is currently housed in one of the late medieval buildings that surround the Cathedral, to Zaragoza or to somewhere else in Aragon itself.

Aznar paid a private visit to Washington; he was invited by Chapman University to speak, and he met with representatives of Georgetown University, where he will teach two seminars this fall semester on European politics and trans-Atlantic relations. Oh, by the way, he also had private meetings with Bush, Rumsfeld, and a group of four congressmen. Since Mr. Aznar is now a private citizen who holds no government post and who, as far as I know, holds no party post, either, seems like there's nothing to object to. The Socialists are mad, though, because Mr. Aznar allegedly criticized their administration. They're calling it "disloyalty". Seems to me that Mr. Aznar, as a citizen of Spain, is entitled to all of the rights everyone else enjoys, among them being the right to free expression, the right to travel, the right to free association, the right to choose whatever job he wants, and all that sort of thing.

Writes Quim Monzó in La Vanguardia on the Forum: "On Friday, my friend who notices things went to one of those debates of a dialogue titled "Shared Memory" and drew the conclusion that rather than a dialogue it was a monologue with different voices, because everyone agreed that the world is divided into good guys and bad guys, and the bad guys are the Americans and the good guys everyone else. Among the speakers were Rigoberta Menchu, Danielle Mitterand, Mayor Zaragoza, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Gilberto Gil..."

Among people they announced for the Forum who aren't going to show: Bill Clinton, Susan Sontag, Juan Goytisolo, José Saramago, Kofi Annan, Jorge Semprún, Helmut Kohl, and Jacques Delors. Clinton informed them the standard 1000-euro fee that Forum speakers are receiving isn't quite up to what he charges. Susan Sontag is pissed because Joan Clos announced twice that she was coming and she informed him twice that she wasn't, so stop using her name.

As for the prices for these dialogues, they run from 33 euros to 450, according to the Vangua. Nobody's coming to them, so they're going to cut the prices and paper the house by "ceding 30 or 40% of the seats to sponsoring institutions", apparently for free. The Vangua has one of those instant polls; 91.8% said Forum tickets were overpriced and 1.7% said they were good value for money. Attendance figures are running well under the 35,000 a day average that they're going to need in order to break even, the average they need for the five million visitors they promised.

I would say this here Forum is already a disaster. Nobody outside Catalonia is paying any attention to it whatsoever and not too many people inside Catalonia give a crap, either.

The Vanguardia has its annual journalism prize, which it calls the Godó Prize after the count who owns the paper. Guess who got it this year?


That's right, it's Baghdad Bob Fisk. Get this: the story he won it for is titled "The looters of a devastated Iraq", published in La Vangua on June 4, 2003. Now, if I remember correctly, it turned out that there was virtually no looting of anything of value in Baghdad after the American capture of the city. Yet they give him the award. There are three pages of Fisk's pontifications, including the back-page interview. I'll save you Bob's splutterings of outrage.

Among the jurors were "Gang of Five" member Alberto Abián and totally useless Vanguardia ombudsdickhead Josep María Casasús, the guy who accused me and Trevor of being American government agents.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

We're going to play a little game today. We're going to flip through the Vanguardia and see if we can find any particular slant toward the news regarding the United States and international affairs.

Page One: Above the head: Bush Promises US Will Not Leave Iraq, Page 3

Page Three: Headlines: US softens treatment of prisoners; "The New Yorker" accuses Rumsfeld of ordering sexual abuses; "Boston Globe" photos from porno website

"Clamor against torture...sleep manipulation...forced to squat...use of dogs to frighten them...indignation caused by the abuses...the Pentagon's Number Two and brain behind the war, Paul Wolfowitz...inhumane treatment...torture and sexual humiliation...approved last year directly by Rumsfeld...secret plan...brutal techniques...the tool of sexual humiliation...blackmail..."

Page Four: Xavier Batalla: "One year after the fall of Saddam, which was saluted as victory, the neoconservative utopis has been shown to be myopia, like in Vietnam, which has left Washington in a dead-end street. Colin Powell is talking about a withdrawal if the Iraqis ask for it. Iraq is Bush's great error."

Headline: At least 45 Iraqis die in clashes with occupying troops; British soldiers kill 20 militia fighting off ambush

"Fatal incidents...45 Iraqis and 4 American soldiers have Iraqi civilian died...grenade attack...son of a businessman who dealt with the occupation troops...American soldiers killed 21 Iraqis...four Shiite militaimen killed in combat...holy city of Iraqis killed...American soldiers opened fire to repel grenade-launcher attack...four deaths on Friday...rocket attack...four Iraqis killed, twenty wounded...mortar attack in the city of Mosul."

Page 14: Carlos Nadal: When Horror Uncovers Its Face

"We're under the volcano without wanting to find out. Life goes on. Hasn't it always been that way? So we see the President, George W. Bush, who, instead of announcing that he will clean up his own house, looks at the rest of the world for new enemies. And he points at, with his accusing and threatening finger, the Syria of the Baathist President, apparently guilty of sheltering terrorist groups...It's been a long time since the majority of peoples have not been able to say what they want. And those who understand are left with the bitter taste of being subjected to frauds of enormous proportions."

Page 23: Aznar ready to appear before 3/11 investigating committee

"...Aznar stated that the torture was not generalized and that he was sure the conditions that allowed them will be corrected. The ex-Prime Minister stated that the distribution of the images in which the tortures and abuses are shown have been, 'of course, a serious blow' to US credibility. However, he stated that there is also a 'stupid and rudimentary anti-Americanism' in Europe which impedes an essential alliance in order to win the war on terror. Aznar stated that the American tortures, "which have been exposed and will be corrected", cannot be compared with the "systematic murders and tortures" of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Aznar reiterated his support for the invasion of Iraq, although the weapons of mass destruction have not been found. "We did what we should have done, withougt a doubt, " he said. He advised the United States to stand firm in the struggle against terror. He insisted that the withdrawal of the Spanish troops from Iraq means sending "the wrong message to the terrorists," because it "only pleases Al Qaeda and weakens the international coalition against terror."

All right, that's enough. There are a couple more paragraphs of Aznar saying extremely sensible things. Then there are about thirteen more articles, from the likes of Eulàlia "Chemical Lali" Solé (titled "Torture and hypocrisy", of course); a full-page image on the front page of the week-in-review section showing the photo of Iraqi victim with the cables (a total Christ-figure, just perfect, with those arms outstretched and the Ku Klux Klan hood covering his head) inside a black frame and the headline "Moral defeat" in red; inside, the Lynndie-England-with-dog-leash photo and the Vietnam photo of the naked girl running away juxtaposed; an article by Andy Robinson, which I will not quote from because I'm tired of promoting his Trot / Anarcho shit by translating it here; and an extremely bad "satirical poem" by the guy who does the alleged humor section on how Donald Rumsfeld can only get an erection if he's watching a scene of torture; and some other crap.

No, I think I will quote the alleged poem, written in a parody of Spanish 18th century style and signed by one Marquis de Esade (ha, ha, ESADE is a Very Establishment Bourgeois Barcelona Business School. Get the joke? It's funny. I think. Maybe not.)

Executioner of the empire
Rumsfeld goes to work
The world is a cemetery
And the cities are Guernica

At his orders, unquestioning
The lumpen soldiers torture
Young people who are silent
While they abuse and kill

"These inhuman beings
Don't understand democracy"
Shouts Rumsfeld with his hands
Stained by fallacy.

Everyone has his own demon
And I see Rumsfeld
Who can only get it up
If he's watching a person tortured.

"...y a Rumsfeld se me figura
que sólo se levanta
si presencia una tortura."

That's actually really sick. I can't believe a newspaper would publish something that revolting, such a foul caricature of the truth. The guy who writes this shit is named Jaume Collell, whose job I could do much better myself, and Spanish isn't even my native language.

José María, we could use you in Kansas. Wanna be governor? I think all you need is a year or two residency to run. I bet the Spanish and American governments would be willing to make a special-case deal for you to be bi-national. Take a job at KU for a couple of years--they'd treat you like God, you'd be the biggest thing that ever hit Lawrence, an actual person of influence. Then run; you'll whip whatever loser the Dems put up.

Seriously, totally off the subject, why don't we draft governors from out of state? We hire city managers and school superintendents and police and fire chiefs and insurance and banking and transport commissioners and other really important jobs like that from all over the US; we pick the best candidate available whether he's from Honolulu or Houston--or Hong Kong, for that matter, though I imagine American citizenship is required for these jobs as a general rule.

There are at least a few decent people over here. Mr. Aznar is about as good as they get. And that's pretty damn good.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Last night, as I am occasionally wont to do, I went down to a certain bar downtown where I ran into an English guy I know named Simon. Very nice fellow, well-educated and a decent sort. Also a lefty, as almost all the expats in Barcelona are. He's quite indignant, and with some justification, about the situation in Iraq.

Anyway, he asked me, "How many Iraqis have been killed in the war?" I thought for a second and said "I guess one to five thousand", figuring he meant enemy combatants. He said no, he meant civilians too, and I thought for another second and then said, "OK, five to ten thousand, one's way too low." Simon vehemently disagreed and claimed a much higher figure, but we agreed like gentlemen to actually go look it up and get as close as possible to the truth, and I promised him I'd post what I found here.

He told me to go to a website called "Iraq Body Count", so I did. According to them, there have been a minimum of 9137 and a maximum of 10,994 "Iraqi civilians reported killed" as of today, which actually isn't too far from my high-end estimate.

Red Flag Number One: This is a partisan site. It is not neutral. It has political objectives in mind.

One problem with these high numbers is that they are quite openly "reported": that is, based on adding up all the numbers reported in the various media of communication. So, if some villager tells a BBC reporter that seven people were killed in his village, it goes into the count apparently without being checked.

On Iraq Body Count's front page, they say that 692 people with "names and surnames", as they say here, are confirmed dead. My guess is that this more conservative number of identifiable people killed is more likely to be accurate than their higher estmated numbers based on adding up numbers from the media.

From that front page, you can click on "Database" where they give you a list of the various incidents reported that they've used for their "maximum" and "minimum" body counts.

The nine most recent cases are (the "k" numbers are the code numbers assigned to each case, then come the date, time, place, target, method, maximum dead, minimum dead, and the sources):

k135, 29 Apr 2004, 9:50 AM, Baquba, US convoy, bomb, 1, 1, AP 29 Apr AFP 29 Apr

Looks like an enemy attack on the Americans in which a civilian was killed in the explosion.

k119, 25 Apr 2004, Mosul, rockets, 4, 4, AFP 25 Apr, AP 26 Apr

Looks like an enemy terrorist attack on civilians.

k120, 24 Apr 2004, Haswa, near Iskandariya, bus carrying 21, roadside bomb, 13, 14, Tel 25 Apr, AFP 26 Apr, AP 25 Apr

Looks like an enemy terrorist attack on civilians.

k121, 24 Apr 2004, PM, Sadr City, Baghdad, possibly offices of Badr group, rocket or mortar, 1, 1, AP 24 Apr, REU 24 Apr

Looks like internal faction fighting.

k133, 24 Apr 2004, AM, market, Sadr City, Baghdad, rockets, 13, 14, WP 25 Apr, AFP 24 Apr, NYT 24 Apr

Looks like an enemy terrorist attack on civilians.

k136, 21 Apr 2004, 7:15 AM and 8:15 AM, Basra and Zubair, police stations and police academy, car bombs, 74, 74, AP 23 Apr, AFP 23 Apr

Looks like an enemy terrorist attack.

k132, 20 Apr 2004, Abu Ghraib prison, Baghdad, (Baghdad Correction Facility), mortars, 22, 22, AP 01 May, AFP 21 Apr, REU 20 Apr

Looks like an enemy terrorist attack.

k131, 19 Apr 2004, Near Samarra, al-Iraqiya employees, gunfire, 2, 2, AP 19 Apr, REU 19 Apr

Doesn't say who killed them. I imagine enemy terrorists.

k130, 18 Apr 2004, Suss, near Kirkuk, shepherdess, daughter of tribal chief, gunfire, 1, 1, SMH 19 Apr, AFP 19 Apr

I bet the US Army didn't have anything to do with this one.

You see where they're getting these numbers from? They're counting anyone some journo says (agreed, they have at least a double source on each one) was killed, and they're including all civilians killed in the fighting, no matter who killed them. What it looks to me like is that 95% of the civilian victims are being caused by the enemy. If their maximum estimated reported number of 10,994 dead is true, then I figure the Americans probably killed about five hundred of them. The rest of the estimated reported deaths are due to enemy action.

Here is a Sydney Morning Herald summary of the charges made by the atrocity mongers. Most respectable sources are not quoting Iraq Body Count's numbers; among those who do are the Guardian.

Here's a Christian Science Monitor piece from eleven months ago with estimates of civilian deaths during the military portion of the war.

This is from Editor and Publisher on the AP body count from the military portion of the war, which is quite high. Either the AP body count of 3240 civilians killed in the Baghdad fighting or the Iraq Body Count numbers are used by almost everybody who is writing on this subject. (If you Google it, you'll see that almost every story on "civilian deaths in Iraq" is a leftist activist source. Neither source, the AP nor Iraq Body Count, says that these were people killed by Americans or Coalition forces; both counts apparently include everyone killed as a result of fighting, whether killed by the Coalition or by the enemy. This Ed and Pub story includes the damning expose that one of the people who did the body counting in Iraq for the AP was one of the atrocity mongerers who was responsible for the No Gun Ri hoax.

Regarding atrocity stories, I came across this guy named Matthew White's webpage. White seems reliable to me. He's an American lefty but by no means a crackpot, and he includes this as part of his discussion on the history of atrocity. Then click on "Historical Atlas of the 20th century". Scroll down to the bottom, under "Sources", and click on either "Detailed death tolls of the major bloodlettings of the 20th century" or "Index of Wars and Tyrants". Browse around for a while. It's interesting.

I'm stealing a large part of Matthew's writing, the Notes from his introduction. Here it is (it requires some clicking and scrolling to get here on his site, so I'm reproducing it all. Should Matthew object, he just has to say so and I'll take it down.) By the way, he mentions Rummel, the guy who wrote that book called Democide on the subject of mass killings by governments and political movement).


"... numbers matter ... correct numbers."

This sentence is fraught with complications.

Firstly, the numbers only matter in a sociological, scientific sense; they certainly don't matter in any meaningful moral sense. For example, the American Revolution killed anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 people, which is many, many orders of magnitude higher than the number of people that were dying under the British tyranny the colonials were so upset about. Was it worth 50,000 lives to create an independent United States rather than to peacefully evolve into a bigger Canada? The answer to that question, of course, has to be decided on the basis of intangible principles, rather than a simple mathematical formula of comparative body counts.

Secondly, as to the concept of "correct numbers"... where to start?

Although we all know that a butcher is a butcher whether he murders a thousand or a million, as a practical matter we are often forced to chose the lesser of two evils -- Hitler vs. Stalin, Mao vs. Chiang, Castro vs. Batista, Sandanista vs. Contra. We can argue the intangibles all day long and still not decide, so sooner or later someone is going to get the bright idea that numbers are objective, so let's just compare body counts.

Simple, scientific.

The problem is that the numbers aren't objective. As long as the moral meaning of an event is in dispute, the numbers will be in dispute. Until we agree on the interpretation of the event, we won't agree on the death toll.

For example, it was quite easy for me to find the number of soldiers killed in the First World War. The first encyclopedia I opened had all the casualty statistics right there in the W's. So did the second one I checked -- the exact same numbers. The first history of World War One I checked also had the same numbers, as did the next four sources I checked.

Why the unanimity? Probably because everyone agrees on the moral significance of the First World War -- it was a colossal, bloody blunder. Because the accepted death toll confirms that interpretation, no one has ever felt the need to go back and recalculate. On the other hand, if someday our interpretation of the war's significance changes (let's say, to "a glorious crusade against evil"), then a new generation of historians might feel that the old numbers are getting in the way of the new interpretation, and they'll take a second look.

And when they take that second look, they'll find that the statistics are a lot messier than the agreed numbers imply. This was, after all, the war that created the tomb of the unknown soldier. People were simply blown into oblivion. Hell, entire nations were blown into oblivion -- Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire -- who could keep keep track of all this mayhem? There are huge gaps in the data that have to be filled by guesswork, and that guesswork is tilted by the historian's preconceptions.

Similarly, the death toll for the Congo Crisis of the 1960s is remarkably similar in most of the sources I've checked -- 100,000 -- a suspiciously round number. It's as if somebody somewhere took a wild guess at the order of magnitude, and since this is the only number available, everyone else just accepts it. Since there is, as yet, no vast body of American scholarship on the Congo, there's no dissenting opinion. So here again we see that everyone agrees on the body count because they all agree on moral significance. In this case, however, the moral interpretation of the event is "who cares?".

Contrast this with the death toll attributed to the Castro regime in Cuba. It runs from 2,000 to 97,000. Why? Because we can't agree whether Castro is an excessively severe reformer or a psychopathic tyrant. A researcher who is predisposed to being extremely anti-Communist is going to look under every rock for hidden horrors, and interpret every statistical inconsistency as a hint of some dark evil. Faced with the need to fill in gaps in the data with guesses, he will always assume the worst. Meanwhile, the less anti-Communist (no one admits to being pro-Communist nowadays) will set a higher burden of proof -- perhaps stubbornly insisting that every accusation be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, even though historians routinely make judgements based on evidence that would get tossed out at a jury trial.

Ironically, these disputes sometimes spill over and infect the estimates of unrelated atrocities. The death toll of the Duvalier regime in Haiti runs from 2,000 to 60,000, and I suspect that the number you pick depends less on your opinion of Duvalier himself (everyone agrees he was a brutal kleptocrat) and more on whether you want to label Duvalier or Castro as the bloodiest thug of the 20th Century Caribbean.

Take a look at three major histories of the Spanish Civil War and try to find which side was responsible for more political executions: Gabriel Jackson said it was the Right Wing with 200,000 killings, compared to 20,000 by the Left. Hugh Thomas agreed that it was the Right Wing, but his ratio was more balanced, 75,000 to 55,000. Stanley Payne put the heavier guilt on the Leftists: 72,000, compared to 35,000 killed by the Right. Which side should the world have supported? Which side was the lesser of two evils? Beats the heck out of me, but whichever side you prefer, I've just given you the numbers to back it up.

I sometimes wonder if the only solution to this endless bickering is either to admit that all death tolls are subjective, or else to decide that morality is not mathematical so it really doesn't matter who killed more than whom.

Each of these solutions, however, creates uncomfortable philosophical implications. The first implies that death tolls exist merely as quantum probabilities that only collapse into certainties when we agree. This means that if we, as a society, decide that a certain horror never happened, then it really, absolutely never happened. Taken a few steps further, this implies that the past has no independent, absolute existence beyond our memories and interpretations of it, and that it's all myth.

I suspect that most of us would lean towards the second solution. After all, very few of us would have a problem consigning both Adolf Hitler (15 million murders) and Idi Amin (300 thousand murders) to the same circle of Hell despite the 50:1 ratio in their death tolls. But if we're willing to ignore a 50:1 ratio to make Hitler and Amin moral equals, then we can just as easily find a moral equivalence between 300,000 deaths and 6,000. Pretty soon, we've removed the shear scale of the crimes from consideration, and because every ruler, no matter how benign, is probably responsible for at least one unjust or unnecessary death, we're claiming a moral equivalence between, say, Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler (which -- and do I really need to say this? -- there isn't). Not only does this foul Churchill with Hitler crimes, but it also whitewashes Hitler with Churchill's virtues. After all, if two people begin as moral equals, then it doesn't take much to tilt the balance and make one of them (either of them) morally superior. Maybe even Hitler.

So this footnote has come full circle, and we still have no answer.


"A useful rule of thumb ..."

Mathematically, I'm talking about the median, the number that is lower than half the others, and higher than the other half. I find this to be a more useful average than the mean (the per-unit average, the sum of all the numbers divided by the count), which can be dragged off-center by one eccentric entry. If the spread runs 1,2,2,2,18, then the median is a nice reasonable 2, while the mean is 5, which is far higher than most of our numbers. Even worse than the mean is the range. By saying that our numbers range from 1 to 18 (strictly true), the impression is that the true average falls midway, at 9.5. Thus, by using the range, we are focusing on the two most eccentric numbers (1 and 18), instead of focusing on the central, most typical number (2).

A few other rules of thumb (and really boring rules of thumb at that, so you might want to escape now while you can) would be ...

You're free to ignore any one estimate on each list, no questions asked. If I could only find one source, then maybe no one else is able to corroborate the body count, so you can legitimately ignore it and leave a big question mark beside the atrocity. If I could only find two estimates, then you can pick whichever one you want. On the other hand, if ignoring one estimate still leaves a half dozen others, then you're just being mule-headed if you refuse to believe the general order of magnitude.
Watch for sleight of hand, and don't be afraid to ask, "Didn't we count that already?" If different writers describe a death toll as "100,000 people starved", "100,000 war dead", or "100,000 children died", don't automatically add them all together. Although strictly speaking, these are all different categories, the various writers might be talking about the same 100,000 labeled differently. We can't tell from these descriptions how distinct each count is or how much overlap exists between them. It might have started with an estimate that "100,000 people, mostly children, died in the war, often from malnutrition," and subsequent writers interpreted and rewrote that estimate with slight, but significant, differences. Similarly, "50,000 prisoners executed" may or may not be included among the "200,000 deaths in forced labor camps".
Don't be afraid to ask, "If this [regime, dictator, massacre, whatever] was so bad, why has no one else mentioned it?"
Writers usually focus on the biggest, most impressive totals they can get their hands on, so when one says, for example, "5,000 prisoners were executed in the first year of the new regime", he is probably calling attention to the first year because he considers this to be the peak. If another historian says that "45,000 were executed in the first five years", you can't just reconcile them by saying, "OK. 5,000 were killed in the first year, and 10,000 per year after that," because, after all, why would the first writer focus on the first year alone if the killing actually intensified? Sometimes different authorities are just irreconcilable.


"... the best thing about Rummel ..."

The unbest thing about Rummel's numbers is that they fit his theories just a little too neatly, so you might want to approach with caution. Here are a few dangers to be aware of:

He generally goes high on the numbers killed by Totalitarian regimes. If the range of estimates for the number of deaths under a communist like Stalin run from 15 to 60 million, Rummel will usually pick a number near the top. Thus, his estimate for the total number of unnatural deaths under Communism even exceeds the number set forth in The Black Book of Communism.
At the same time, he often goes low on the numbers killed by Authoritarian regimes. For instance, his estimate for the number of democides in the Congo Free State is the lowest of eight authorities I consulted.
During eras of widespread civil war, Rummel sees a proliferation of local governments rather than an absence of central government. By calling every bandit hideout a quasi-government, he can fit killings by Chinese warlords, Lebanese militias, lynch mobs, paramilitary death squads and corporate security forces into the death-by-government pigeonhole, rather than tallying these as examples of death by the lack of government. Therefore, "Government" gets blamed coming and going.
Some of his conclusions seem rather tautological. For example, his assertion that citizens of democracies are far less likely to die at the hands of their own governments is not surprising when we remember that not killing huge numbers of your own people is already included in the definition of democracy.
Based on Rummel's calculations, it has become customary on the Internet to accuse Government of 170 million murders during the 20th Century. The small print, however, is still important:
Of Rummel's 169 million democides, 118 million (or 70%) were victims of just three regimes -- the USSR, Communist China and Nazi Germany. That means that if the world were a single village of 1000 people, we would be basing complex socio-political theories of governing on the behavior of just three guys, the last of whom died a quarter century ago.
The margin of error for these three regimes can dramatically alter the total, and more importantly, it can alter the sociological conclusions we draw from it. For instance, I estimate that these 3 nations committed 45 million murders, which by itself would reduce Rummel's total by 73M. With Rummel's original total, democide is far and away the leading cause of preventable death in the modern world. My numbers would put it at about the same level as smoking.
In table 16A.1 of Statistics of Democide, Rummel lists 218 pretty nasty regimes, but only 142 of these were sovereign states, and the median number of democides committed by these regimes is 33,000. Sure, that's a lot. It's more people than I've killed; it's almost 3 dozen Titanics, but even so, it means that the average member of this 20th Century rogue's gallery killed about the same number of people as a couple of years of drunk driving in America (32,000 alcohol-related fatalities in 1999-2000).
Rummel accuses quasi-governments of some 6,681,000 democides, which may not seem like a big slice of the overall 170M, but it actually indicates that lack-of-government might be more dangerous than government. The 24 quasi-governments on Rummel's list racked up a median death toll of 100,000, which means that, on average, quasi-governments are three times bloodier than governments.
And most importantly: Governments don't kill people; people kill people.

I think all of Matthew's points are well worth taking into consideration.

Finally, here's Josh Chafetz's criticism of Iraq Body Count's methodology from the Weekly Standard.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Forum news: Jose Saramago isn't going to show. Bummer.

Yesterday they got about 4000 people, most of them students on class trips and old folks bussed in by the Inserso, the government department that provides activities for citizens "of the third age". The fact that it rained again didn't help anything. Also, the Orquesta Baobab was only there one day, so that's that; I'll keep an eye out for them if they ever play the Jamboree or the Bikini.

They had the first "dialogue" with former Prime Minister Felipe González; admission to the "dialogues", (depending on who you're "dialoguing" with; Mikhail Gorbachov is to be here) will cost up to 300 euros, was not encouraging. Seems that they built this enormous convention hall, which, says one of the Vanguardia's writers, is reminiscent of one of those enormous People's Republic halls guys like Ceaucescu built or, perhaps, something Albert Speerish. It seats a couple of thousand people, the ceiling is painted black, and the seats are navy blue. Well, they had to paper the house; the Vangua notes that a lot of the attendees were civil servants of a certain rank, and wonders whether they paid the full admission price. Even then they didn't get the place half full.

And there was nothing resembling a dialogue; supposedly, in the first row, some regular people were supposed to sit there and ask the honored guest questions; this didn't happen with Felipe. Instead, the thing droned on for four hours and a guy up on the stage nodded off to sleep, where he was caught on camera.

A Vanguardia instant poll thingie said that 92% of Barcelonese consider admission to the Forum to be too expensive. Also, there's been a to-do about people bringing in their own food and drinks. Employees of the Forum are allowed to, and schoolchildren are allowed to, but everyone else has to pay the astronomical prices within the perimeter. Now, there's nothing more Catalan than showing up somewhere with the whole family and a big bag full of sobrasada, fuet, and tortilla sandwiches, always wrapped in aluminum foil; being Catalan, you're thrifty and are opposed to paying twelve bucks for the kiddie menu. Strongly opposed.
Well, if you were shocked, as I was, by the photos from Abu Ghraib, this ought to jolt you back to reality. Although we have a few bad individuals who do bad things on our side, their side is made up entirely of very bad people who do very bad things.

I'm about to say "Screw the rest of the world. Look, we are now internationalists. We send guys halfway across the world to solve what are, at bottom, other people's problems. Other people don't seem to appreciate this. So why should we continue being internationalists?

Let's tear up the Al Qaeda / Saddam / Baath / PLO complex, as an example, so that no one even thinks about ever screwing with Americans again, and then go the hell home."

Foreign countries should be able to choose from three different statuses in American eyes: Allies (we support one another on everything; you MUST be basically a democracy, at, say, the level of Turkey or India), Neutrals (we don't necessarily support one another, but we don't get in each other's way), and Enemies (do what you want at home but don't touch us or our allies). That way, say, France, could become a Neutral and not have to pretend to be an Ally anymore. We wouldn't interfere with them in anything, and they wouldn't do so with us.

I imagine few countries would want to be Allies, maybe not even Canada and almost certainly not Mexico. Britain and Australia would of course be in if they wanted, as would the Eastern Europeans and the Taiwanese. Israel would certainly be in. Japan would probably sign on. Most of Old Europe wouldn't, with the possible exception of the NATO Nordics, Holland, Norway, and Denmark (they were all liberated by US/UK troops and have long memories). I imagine the Iraqi Kurds would be Allies.

What I am in favor of is an end to useless efforts at diplomacy and further fucking around, dicking off, and jacking about. Let's either state flat-out, "We are going to stay in Iraq until we have killed or captured every last terrorist," do it, and then pull out, or pull out after the elections on September 30 give us an excuse to--and when I say "pull out", I mean pull all the way out. Like, for instance, there will be no more American warships in the Persian Gulf to guarantee Europe and Asia's oil supply. We don't need Middle East oil. (In 2001 we imported about 27% of the energy we used, according to the Economist.)The transition to purchasing exclusively Allied or Neutral energy supplies and augmenting domestic production will take some time and be bumpy, but I don't see why we can't make our way through it if we accept a slightly lower standard of living for a couple of years or so.


Tuesday, May 11, 2004

In case you're interested, I am probably going to be on Catalunya Radio tomorrow at about 9:50 AM to talk, like, war and stuff. In Catalan. This ought to be fun. I am known as the only right-wing wacko American in Barcelona; this is why the local media interviews me every now and then on politics and the like.
The much-ballyhooed Forum of Cultures started on Saturday. This is going to be a major disaster of Millenium Dome proportions.

The original idea, see, several years ago, was that Barcelona had made a major jump in 1992; the Olympic Games provided the impetus (and government funding) for major improvements; among other things, they fixed some of the sewers, built a loop around the city, fixed up Montjuic, built the Villa Olimpica, thousands of slapped-together jerry-rigged apartment buildings that are falling apart, and a good few other things. In addition, Barcelona, a heretofore distinctly minor-league city, became fairly well-known around the world; it began to impinge upon people's consciousness.

So what the city fathers decided to do was have another one. The problem was that there wasn't any other major event they could get. So they decided to make up their own, and since they're a bunch of crypto-leftists, it had to have something to do with sustainableness and participitorihood and multiculturalistaism and that kind of thing. However, since most of them are more crypto- than -leftists, they got corporate sponsorship from several dumb companies. Embarrassingly, one of them is an arms manufacturer, giving some real hardcore non-crypto-leftists an excuse to boycott the Forum. And, don't forget, the real motivation behind the whole thing is to give a shot in the arm to urban development, building several major structures as part of the fiesta.

But absolutely nobody gives a crap. In yesterday's Vanguardia, the headline is "The Forum kicks off without agglomerations". 16,000 went to the Forum on Opening Day, Saturday, when, like, the King was there and all. (This gave the Cataloonies an excuse to start an argument over whether the Spanish flag should fly and the Spanish anthem be played. The Solomonic decision was to fly the flag and skip the anthem.) That same day 40,000 people went to the stadium on Montjuic to see Espanyol play Deportivo de la Coruña. 108,000 went to the racetrack at Montmeló to see the Formula One race. Probably at least 50,000 people went to the Feria de Abril, a horrible rednecky imitation of the real Feria de Abril in Sevilla.

On Sunday, when it rained, only 6000 people showed up.

Problems: They didn't successfully fix the sewers down in the rather run-down part of town where they built all the Forum buildings, so it smells.

They won't let you bring in your own food and drinks, and everything's expensive and the service is lousy.

If you leave, they won't let you back in the same day.

There's not enough information about what's happening.

To meet their expectations--the goal is five million people--, an average of 35,000 people will have to visit every day.

Oh, by the way, in case you're wondering, the total budget for this thingie is 2.8 billion euros, of which 736 million come from the city and provincial governments, 232,000,000 from the Generalitat, the regional government, 139,000,000 from the Spanish government and the EU, 82,000,000 from the local universities, and a whopping 1.671 billion from private companies.

Look. Here's why nobody wants to come. Tickets are like twenty bucks a day and you have to pay their prices for food and drinks. And here's the offer:

The French group Les Grooms dress up and play orchestral music on popular street instruments.

Oulad Sidi Hmad ou Moussa Acrobats from Morocco.

"The French group Cavaluna combine theater and flamenco in a reacreation on stilts of "Bodas de Sangre" by Federico Garcia Lorca in which the audience becomes the author."

The Indian group Apostrophe 99 presents a small repertoire of the extraordinary diversity of Indian arts and cultures.

Storytelling with Tim Bowley from Great Britain and Casilda Reguiero from Galicia.

"Frozen Tongues: An Andalusian dance company made up of dancers with mental discapacities."

Orquesta Baobab: A Senegalese music group with influences from Cuba and Puerto Rico.

Voices: "...diversity...celebrate...human communication...linguistic and cultural diversity...individual and collective freedom...necessary dialogue between diverse cultures...commitment...equality...plurality."

The Memory Tree: " the group Comediants (right there is all you need to know to make you flee screaming in terror, shock, and awe toward the exits)...sustainability...defense of the environment...the discovery of a tree, a universal symbol that represents life and fertility...the tree becomes a structure full of the end, a member of an entity of citizens will plant a tree typical of the Mediterranean and expresses a wish which will be hung on the Memory Tree."

The Giant of the Seven Seas: " that we will reflect on the degradation of the sea..."

Higroma: "with the objective of reflecting on our environment...the aggressive effects of human development on the natural environment...relativising the supremacy of the human species in the natural balance in favor of peace and cooperation."

Warriors from Xian: Somehow they got some of the terracotta soldiers from the Emperor's tomb at Xian.

Now, I am willing to pay money to see the Chinese terracotta soldiers. That should be really interesting, and I'll bet they've got a good, informative setup explaining their history and all. And the Baobab Orquesta sounds like it plays some pretty funky rhythms; that's the kind of group I'd pay five or ten bucks to see at a club one night.

But that's it. I can't imagine anybody else being interested in the rest of this crap at all. Therefore, it will fail. Disastrously. That's almost three billion euros. Probably the money invested by corporations won't be too badly wasted, since they're the ones who will wind up owning the buildings, but the rest of it is being thrown away.
Swell. Blogger's gone over to a new format. I sure hope it works.

Thoughts on Iraq:

1. Bush has done a reasonably good job weathering the storm; he's gained some credit due to his interview with the TV channel Al-Arabiya and, of all things, due to the Bob Woodward book, which has reinforced his image as a decision-maker. No one can claim any more that Bush is a dumbass whose strings are being pulled by sinister and nefarious oil interests.

2. The torture scandal is getting worse by the day. All I can say is that the Army seems to be telling us what it knows. Now what we have to do is see how high up the orders to use torture went; that is, if the guy who gave them was a lieutenant or captain like Calley or Medina at My Lai, then you punish everyone involved and the Army's honor is stained but intact. If the guy who gave them was a major or colonel, then you punish everyone involved AND sack every one of their superiors who should have known about this, and the Army's honor is shot to hell. If the guy who gave them was a two-star general or higher, I see no other possible response than a planned withdrawal from Iraq, with the only condition being that we take Saddam with us. Then our military needs to be purged up and down because a lot of the wrong people are in it.

3. This is not to insult the great majority of brave and decent American soldiers who do not torture or kill prisoners. But if these guys at Al Ghraib were acting under orders that go back to the top, then the wrong people are in charge and they need to be got rid of and replaced before we can reasonably go around telling other countries how to behave.

4. If we decide to pull out of Iraq, I think this means that we need to go a little more isolationist than we've been for a while. We can't trust the UN to do anything useful, so let's pull out, exceptions being made for effective UN departments like the WHO. As for NATO and our other military alliances, let's keep them in existence as figurehead institutions, but let's pull in the line that we're willing to contain. If, say, South Korea or Germany decides it doesn't want American protection, that's fine. We'll pull out and be willing to maintain perfectly friendly relations, but the alliance is off. From now on American alliances will be bilateral only. Regarding international trade, I have no problem with the WTO; let's maintain a low-tariff or no-tariff policy toward those countries that are not openly our enemies. And regarding war, we should not go into one in the future unless we or one of our real allies (that requests our aid) are actually attacked.

5. What does this mean now? Well, we were actually attacked by Al Qaeda, and the war against them and all other terrorist gangs does not stop. Ever. Until they are defeated and preferably dead. We will hit anyplace in the world Al Qaeda is operating, kill them, and then get out. No matter what a bunch of psychos some of our soldiers are.

If we leave Iraq, it will demonstrate to any other potential enemies that our will is weak, there's no denying that. That is a huge risk. It means that our word isn't worth a damn. Which, if we've been torturing and killing prisoners under orders from the top, it isn't.

Iraq will likely fragment into an independent Kurdistan, which will be an American ally--screw the Turks, they didn't help us when they could have--and some sort of Shiite state governing from Baghdad. Fuck the Sunnis. They had their chance at fair treatment by siding with us and they blew it. That will be their problem. Turn them over to the Shiites. If the Iraqi people wanted a decent government, they'd have sided with us by now. We will also have to be prepared for hundreds of thousands of refugees from Iraq; we can't bail out on the people who supported us this time like we did in Vietnam or last time on the Kurds and Shiites.

As for the oil, that's not our problem. We have plenty of fossil fuels at home (really, enough to last for hundreds, if not thousands, of years) and our neighbors, Canada and Mexico, also rich in fossil fuels, will be thrilled to sell us more. Now, it would cost us more to extract these fossil fuels--natural gas and coal as well as petroleum--than it would cost us to buy oil from the Middle East.

See, right now we live under an international market system in oil. Now, let's say Saudi Arabia can produce oil at $5 a barrel, which it can. Even if the Saudis jack up the price to $25 a barrel, making them $20 per barrel (THIS is why oil is a problem; we don't want to steal Iraq's oil, we're afraid of what Iraq will do with all the money that keeps rolling in from its oil) it's still cheaper than it would cost us to extract some of this shale oil or whatever, which would cost $60 a barrel, say. Now, we already extract enormous quantities of fossil fuels (we're first in coal production, second in natural gas after Russia, and second after Saudi in petroleum) at competitive market prices. If the market price of Middle East oil doubled, then it would become economically feasible for us to exploit these coal-tar sands and shale and whatever. Get it?

We're all going to make economic sacrifices if we go more isolationist, since we're going to pay higher prices for energy. Since energy is only one of the many small-to-medium factors important in the economy, everything will be a bit more expensive than we're used to. It won't be hugely more so, but it'll cost Wal-Mart more to send those goods to your local superstore by truck. Two things we ought to do are slap a 25-cent-a-gallon federal tax on imported oil (maybe except for Canada or Mexico) in order to reduce consumption--yes, the consumer will eventually pay for it in higher prices on everything) and slap strict controls on the gas mileage that cars sold in the US have to get. No more Lincoln Explorers, lots more Honda Civics. Both of these measures will be highly unpopular, which is why George Bush will have to be the guy who imposes them after he wins reelection. Oh, yeah, the thing NOT to do is subsidize ethanol production, since it's more expensive to make ethanol than it is to refine gasoline.

7. As long as we're going to stay in Iraq for the foreseeable future, though, let's do what we have to to win. The only dumber thing than to go to war and win is go to war and lose.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Timothy Noah of Slate, a liberal (US meaning) Democrat, is a writer I read but rarely link to. He's good, but his stuff is usually farther to the left than my opinions. Here's one worth reading, though (no, I don't agree with everything he says), on the question of: where are the Iraqi refugees?
There's been a hilarious media flap over here in Barcelona. Miquel Sellares, Socialist Pasqual Maragall's press secretary, wrote up an internal dossier on the various Catalan media of communication. It got leaked to the press, of course. La Vanguardia is tremendously pissed off, I think mostly because the dossier exposed them as the grasping for-profit company they are rather than the public benefactors they'd like to be seen as being. They compared the writer to Josef Goebbels, not once but twice, which is of course completely uncalled for. Especially when you conside La Vanguardia's utter lack of ethics: it prints articles that are false, plagiarized, biased, and fraudulent.

(Note: La Vangua takes itself very seriously as a dependable, legitimate source of information, which, of course, it isn't, but they love to think of themselves as significant. My favorite place where La Vanguardia shows up in history is in a book called Workers Against Work, available on-line, which discusses Barcelona during the revolutionary 1930s and mentions that, instead of working, "the staff of La Vanguardia would repair to a nearby tavern to drink and gamble." See, with the revolutionary militias in power, nobody could make these people do their jobs.)

Check out some of these quotes from the maddened Vanguardistas. "(They) insult the freedom of the press and of information, provide all sorts of defamations, which dishonor their authors, blah blah, blah, the Catalan government should react so that this episode does not end up damaging its credibility..." Uh, guys, the report damages YOUR credibility, not theirs. There are several more of these. The Vangua is truly pissed off. Ha, ha, ha. I just wish the Socialists had investigated a few Vangua stories to see if there was any journalistic wrongdoing behind them, the way we have. Ramos, Val, Alcoverro, Poch, Sole, Margarit...there's a list of a few names to start off with.

The report on the Vangua begins, "The paper which receives the most subsidies from the Generalitat has been the most hostile toward the new Administration." Interesting. I didn't know the Vangua got ANY subsidies from ANYBODY. I thought they were an independent newspaper. I guess I was wrong.

What the hell is the government doing subsidizing a newspaper, for Christ's sake? How can the newspaper possibly stay neutral and report honestly if it's getting government money? Why is the government spending taxpayers' money buying off the press with subsidies? This damn well should be investigated. It stinks of corruption. Unfortunately, there are no competent Spanish investigative journalists; the few who claim to be so are invariably peddlers of conspiracy theories.

Jose Antich, Jordi Juan, Enric Juliana, Alfredo Abian, and Jordi Barbeta are blasted by name as being slaves of one political party or another. Hilarious. From now on these guys are the "Gang of Five".

Regarding El Periodico, the report says, "They have a positive attitude toward the Administration of the Generalitat. The current editorial line is one of support for the coalition government of Catalonia. They expect better treatment from the Generalitat regarding subsidies."

Well, El Periodico's sold out too. Is anyone surprised?

The report says that El Pais has varied its editorial line according to what the PSOE in Madrid has wanted it to, which is no surprise, since we all know that El Pais is the Socialist Party's Pravda. Now get this. "They are expecting a subsidy, which they claim never to have had, and also good treatment regarding the penetration of Localia. They are working on--to publish or to pressure--an article on the CiU Administration's subsidies to communications media, demonstrating especially favoritism toward its direct competetor, the Grupo Godo (the owners of La Vanguardia)." Localia is a chain of very small local TV stations that belong to the Grupo Prisa, the company that owns El Pais, which has only one station in Catalonia out of its 76. Spanish right-wing conspiracy mongerers enjoy blaming everything on some kind of Grupo Prisa-El Pais evil scheme that only Batman can defeat.

As for Avui, it's losing tons of money and would go under if not for the subsidies it receives from the Administration.

So: The four major Catalan newspapers are on the take from the regional government. And you wonder why the newspapers around here ars so lousy?

Friday, May 07, 2004

Some guy in Portland, Oregon, got arrested because his fingerprints were found on some stuff that it had no reason to be on. This dude is a convert to Islam (he's white, by the way) and a lawyer who represented some guys charged with terrorism. My perspective? I don't know anything more about it than anyone else. Here's Fox News's story.

I've added three new blogs to the blogroll: Zapatitos Pinocho, a Spanish-language blog dedicated to smearing Zap; Jordi Orwell, another Spanish-language blog by one of our regular posters here; and Flux, a very nicely written Catalan blog with a focus on culture. The author, Jaume Subirana, includes both his own writings and quotations from others'. A great source for anyone interested in Catalan culture. Both Flux and the single best Spanish-language blog (written by an ever-growing bunch of Spanish liberales), HispaLibertas, reprint these statements made about the Perejil Island mini-crisis by Colin Powell in, of all places, GQ magazine, so I don't feel too guilty about stealing it. Check this out.

He started with a long, wandering meditation on chicken exports to Russia and slid from there into a glowing assessment of America's role in the world, saying, "We're trusted not to want anybody's land, not to want to exercise dominion over any other peoples," and then without pause dived into a story about "this little stupid island that I had to deal with about a year and a half ago, off the coast of Morocco, which is as big as two soccer fields. Nobody lives on it. And for some reason, the Moroccans went aboard and claimed dominion over the island—not even an island, it's a rock. It's 200 yards off the Moroccan coast. It belongs to Spain."

"Why would they want it?" I asked.

Powell winked. "Because it belonged to Spain, and it's 200 yards off the Moroccan coast. And they've been arguing about it for a couple hundred years. Next thing we knew, it was an international crisis. The European Union immediately said, 'Spain is right,' and the Organization of Islamic Conference—the fifty or so Muslim nations in the world—said, 'No, Morocco's right.' So there you have it. Well, what are you going to do? Take it to the U.N.? No. What are we going to do?" He paused for effect. "Call the U.S. secretary of state on a Thursday night.

"And so the brand-new Spanish foreign minister, who is now one of my best girlfriends, Ana, calls me. She calls me and says, 'I have a problem,' and she explains this rock. And she gets finished and I say, 'Why are you calling me?'

"And she says, 'You need to fix my problem.'

" 'Ma'am, what's this got to do with me?'

"Well, over the next forty-eight hours, I did nothing but work this rock problem. I must have made, oh, I think we counted it one day, thirty-eight or forty phone calls to her, the prime minister of Spain, and the king of Morocco. And the only way both sides would agree to the outcome is if I would write a letter to both of them telling them what they agreed to do to each other and if I would sign the letter. Not each of them—I would sign the letter. If I would cosign this deal!

"So I wrote the letter at home," he continued. "I shipped it out to the two of them. They both started arguing about the letter. It was a major problem in that the name of the island on the part of the Moroccans was one name, and the Spanish called it something else. And this wasn't going to work. So what to do, what to do? I say, 'Can't I just call it "the island"?'

" 'No, it's got to be more than that.'

"So I went to the State Department cartographer, and I got the exact coordinates of the island, and we put into the letter 'the island located at da-da-da.' Okay, that'll do it. And then, when the deal was about done, the Spanish agreed to it thirty minutes before darkness. Couldn't find the king of Morocco. He'd gone off in his car to go to another city. I tried to reach him, and they said he doesn't take calls in his car. I said, 'Well, you need to find him in ten minutes, because I'm going to go play with my grandchildren, and the Spanish won't leave the island. So he needs to pull over somewhere.' And he did. They caught him. He pulled over, called me from somebody's house. The king got on the phone. I said, 'We got the deal, but you've got to approve the letter.'

"He said, 'But the letter isn't here. It's back in Rabat.'

"I said, 'I've got to have you approve the letter now, Your Majesty.'

"And he said, 'But I only saw an early draft. What does it say now?'

"I finally said, 'Your Majesty, the letter does what I told you it would do. Trust me.'

"And he said, 'Mr. Secretary, I trust you.' And he got in his car and went off where he was going. I signed two copies of the letter, faxed one to Spain and one to Rabat. The Spanish left, and they've been buddies ever since."

He paused for a second. "Now, that's a silly story," he said, "but it illustrates so much. They come to the United States. It takes diplomacy. It got almost no attention in the press. Why would it? I mean, it's not terribly exciting. But that's what diplomacy is about."

Thursday, May 06, 2004

As you've probably heard, former Economics Minister Rodrigo Rato, Jose Maria Aznar's man for the last eight years, is the new head of the IMF. He ought to be pretty good. Seems like what he wants, right off, is for the Americans to reduce their budget deficit (I completely agree, with the exception that we're going to have to spend what it's going to cost to fight the War against Terrorism) and for us to reduce our commercial deficit.

Now, my impression is that the American commercial deficit is actually beneficial to America on the grounds of comparative advantage. We export high-priced, high-value-added goods and services, and import low-priced, low value-added products and services, as a general rule. Also, our internal market is so huge that there's enough demand in it for our own high-priced-and-value-added goods and services to make up for the deficit produced by importing less than we export, if that makes sense.

This is why we have a major commercial deficit with China. We import all kinds of low-priced manufactured goods from there, but there's not really much we can sell them. Our stuff is higher-priced than most of their needs, which they meet either internally or through imports from other low-price countries. This is not a problem. We sell our higher-priced goods to countries which can afford them, or in our own enormous domestic market. Note that I know no more about Econ than your average Joe, so if you have any corrections to my theorizing, please contribute them.

(MAJOR EXCEPTION: Education. The Chinese government is not dumb. There are flocks of PRC students at all the less-expensive American public universities. They are more than willing to pay what it costs for adequate-quality education, which is what you get at, say, Emporia State. They've decided that fifteen thousand bucks or so a year, with which they can send someone to Emporia or Fort Hays or Washburn and pay for his keep at a frugal level, is well worth the money if your guy is in the sciences or engineering.)

Rato's policy is going to be tough on Argentina--he's going to make them negotiate with their creditors without giving them any help--, tough on Brazil--Lula wants to count "infrastructure spending" off-budget, which Rato isn't going to swallow--, and nice to Mexico, which has met all IMF criteria.

Here's a good one. Spain's government has all but broken off relations with the United States, right? I mean, unilaterally pulling out of the Coalition is a pretty serious step to take. Well, they want the loan of an AWACS to patrol the skies during Prince Felipe's wedding. One would think Spain's government wouldn't be asking for any favors. What I would do is provide the airplane so just in case the whole collection of royal personages present gets blown up they can't blame it on us. I would also pointedly remind all representatives of the Spanish government that this AWACS plane is being provided thanks to the American "military-industrial complex" and the enormous investment the United States has made in defense technology, without which it would never have been produced, much less even thought of. I'm assuming we're going to charge them rent, that is, the costs of keeping said plane on duty for 24 hours. Greece wants one for the Olympics, too, and I vote we charge them, say, four or five times what it costs to run the thing, at least. Portugal wants one for the soccer Eurocup; I vote we provide one for free. And if the French want one for the Tour de France...forget it. (Morbid note: I would not like to be Lance Armstrong. There's no way they can adequately police those crowds, and he's a notorious and much-disliked American in France.)

The press is making some hubbub over the supposed American reluctance to send the Olympic team to Athens, though the Olympic Committee has already publicly squashed those rumors. The only sports team I know to have bailed out of a game alleging fear of terrorism was precisely the Pamesa Valencia basketball team, which refused to travel to Israel to play Maccabi Tel Aviv and forfeited the game. There were rumors that Pamesa was trying to get Maccabi off its home court and force them to play someplace neutral, thereby getting Maccabi's loud, obnoxious crowd out of the game.

More sports: Well, the Champions League final is going to be Oporto vs. Monaco, neither of which was a favorite to even make the semifinals; everyone was talking about Real Madrid and Milan and Arsenal and the like. Oporto knocked out Deportivo de la Coruna in a game in which most of Spain was behind Depor, and Monaco, starring Fernando Morientes, the Real Madrid cast-off, kayoed Chelsea, the best club dodgy money can buy.

As for the League, it's Valencia in first, Madrid in second, and Barcelona in third right now; Depor will certainly take at the least fourth place and the last Champions League slot. Madrid is in a slump while both Valencia and Barca are playing well. Athletic Bilbao will be fifth and I believe a couple of teams are still in the hunt for the sixth position and the second UEFA slot. Espanyol is a heavy favorite to drop to second division; Murcia is going down for sure.