Monday, July 12, 2004

We haven't done this for a while; let's take a look through the pages of the most recent numbers of the Vanguardia. This should be fun.

The Vangua is making a big deal about the International Court of Justice's finding that the Israeli wall (never 'fence') is illegal. They don't mention anywhere that the jurists who made the decision were mostly from non-democratic countries and that the head of the tribunal was Chinese, for God's sake. Or that the reason that the wall is causing so much anger is that it works. Terrorism is way down within Israel. Comparisons with the Berlin Wall are ridiculous, as the Israeli wall is built to keep violent criminals out, while the Soviet wall was built to keep innocent civilians in.

They're having lots and lots of boring political party conventions. Meanwhile, the British nuclear sub Tireless docked in Gibraltar over the weekend; everybody, from right to left, complained that this was a British "provocation". Left unanswered? Why would the British want to provoke Spain into anything except sitting down and shutting up? Seems that Zap is floating the story that this is somehow payback for Spain's switch to the Froggo-Toadish party line. Yeah, I know, sending a message to Spain by docking a British Navy sub at a British possession doesn't make much sense to me, either. Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos is meanwhile taking credit for the initiative that international troops should leave Iraq in January 2006. This guy has delusions of grandeur.

Xavier Sala i Martin skewers an idiot by the name of Vicente Navarro who seems to be some kind of Marxist economist. Navarro claimed, in a public dressing-down of Sala, that under Reagan economic growth had been less than under his predecessors and successors, and that poverty in the US had increased "as never before" under Reagan.

Sala points out that average economic growth per year was 2.68% under Nixon, 1.50% under Ford, 3.20% under Carter, 3.34% under Reagan, 2.11% under Bush-41, and 3.17% during Clinton's first term. As for poverty, it decreased by 0.5% points during the Nixon Administration, did not change under Ford, rose by 2.4% points under Carter, dropped by 1.2% points under Reagan (from 14% in 1981 to 12.8% in 1989), and rose by 1.6% points under Bush-41. Navarro claims to have been an advisor to Hillary Clinton between 1992 and 1994, when poverty rose by 0.3% points, from 14.2% to 14.5%. He then entertains three hypotheses, that Navarro was talking off the top of his head based on his own prejudices and didn't look anything up when he made his statement; that he's a deliberate liar; or he doesn't know that 3.34% is more than, say, 1.50%.
Sala doesn't say, but my guess is some combination of the three.

Manuel Trallero points out what we said a few days ago and which nobody else has mentioned anywhere, to my knowledge:

We're very lucky to be Catalans, yes, sirree. If one is Catalan he can obtain some information--not all of it, of course--about what happens, say, in jails in Iraq. One can see, through shocking images, the tortures the American troops inflicted on Iraqi prisoners; one can even read some very deep analyses among all sorts of condemnatory comments; one can also, if one wishes, hear the public apology that the United States Secretary of Defense made, and one can even discover that the first court-martials have already happened, that some of those found guilty have already been sentenced, and that those responsible for the prisons were instantly fired from their jobs. But, of course, the Americans are bad, and Bush is a natural assassin.

Here in Catalonia things are fortunately very different, because in the same way that the Americans are bad, we, the Catalans, are not just good, but supergood. And if there are tortures in a regional government police (Mossos d'Escuadra) station in Rosas, it's just an isolated incident, and if at the Quatre Camins prison, after a prison riot on April 30, 26 prisoners were mistreated, it's--according to the statement of the Counselor for Justice, Mr. Vallés--an "indication of irregular conduct among prison personnel with reference to the use of force," and so far only the medical subdirector of the prison has lost his job. Mr. Vallés uses the euphemism of "indications of conduct" just like, under Franco, "the forces of public order were obliged to intervene."

...I don't know what Catalan public opinion wants to know, but I know exactly what I want to know, and that is what happened, and I want to know now--more than two months seems to me to be enough time for prudence before the release of information--with the same sort of details with which I know, for example, what happened in a jail in Iraq, because I, at least, when I went on the streets to shout for "Llibertat, amnistia, i Estatut d'Autonomia", did not contemplate that torture would be used in the prisons of my country. I could say this louder, but not much more clearly.

That's a pretty good satire-bomb, that is. I very often disagree with Mr. Trallero, but I like him. Of all things, he's an antique-dealer by trade who works semi-professionally for La Vangua as a columnist and sometimes features writer. This means that he has a rather different perspective on life; he actually knows how to, say, run a business or get through government red tape. He is also highly cultured, and that's exactly his job, putting his historical and artistic knowledge to practical use and making money off it. So many alleged journalists around here have no knowledge of anything. (For example, Trallero is currently doing the entire pilgrimage to Santiago on foot and sending in a daily chronicle to the Vangua. It's quite interesting. I'd translate it but it's much too long. I think that a collection of quality travel writing by Spaniards about Spain--right off the bat I can think of Cela and Pla--might do quite well translated into English. You gotta figure there are some half a million Spain buffs out there who might be interested.)

OK. FC Barcelona is getting rid of Cocu, Reiziger, Quaresma, Mario, Enke, and Davids. Luis Enrique is retiring, I think. Kluivert and Overmars are for sale. They've picked up Belletti to play right back, Giuly for left wing, Larsson for center-forward, Deco for attacking midfielder, and Sylvinho for left back. Supposedly they still want to sign another forward who can actually score goals. Sergio García, Óscar López, and Ramón Ros will be loaned out to other Spanish First Division clubs.

Right now this leaves them with a lineup of something like Valdés; Belletti, Puyol, Oleguer or Márquez, Sylvinho or Van Bronckhorst; Giuly or Luis García, Ronaldinho, Deco, Xavi or Motta or Gabri; Larsson and Saviola or Mystery Signing. I would say the only untouchables are Puyol, Ronaldinho, and Deco. Deco and Motta count as Europeans, as will Sylvinho in about a month. That makes your four non-EU players Márquez, Ronaldinho, Belletti, and Saviola. I don't know what they're going to do with Rüstü, who's from Turkey and whom I suspect they would prefer to use rather than Valdés in goal. I heard some bogus claim about how the Barça was going to sue in order to get Turkey considered as a EU nation for soccer purposes, or something absolutely ridiculous like that.

As for the Tour de France, Armstrong is in fine form. Yeah, a few guys have about a ten-minute lead on him, but they're sprinters and will burn out about halfway through the first mountain stage. There's no good reason why, barring accident, he shouldn't repeat. Oh, yeah, there's the Lance Conspiracy Theory. See, the organizers didn't want Lance to win again, so they picked a fairly undemanding course with less emphasis on the mountains and the time trials, Armstrong's twin strengths. Meanwhile, though the course is not real tough, it is real dangerous. There have been an awful lot of crashes, at least one a day; the organizers included two sections over cobblestones, literally, which they hadn't done for like fifteen years. They also ran the first third of the course through wet, rainy Belgium and Atlantic France rather than the drier central and southern areas. Avoiding crashes is partly skill--and Lance manages his bike as well as anyone--but also partly luck. If the guy right in front of you takes a spill, it's probable you'll go down too, and you just might get badly hurt. Armstrong's already been involved in one crash from which he emerged unhurt. So, basically, what they've done is increase the luck factor; the easier course reduces the necessary and sufficient talent needed to win, the course design plays against Lance's strengths, and the risk factor makes it more likely that a rider will go down and be eliminated through a random accident. You know, it's a conspiracy theory and all, but I wouldn't put it past the French.

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