Monday, August 02, 2004

Well, it's hot and humid here in Barcelona as usual in August. My strategy is knocking off as early as possible from whatever I'm doing and go sit in a nice air-conditioned bar. We've spent a couple of weekends out in the pueblo and we're going back this Saturday. It's hot there, too, but the air is dry and clean and there's always a breeze. The house is nice and cool, too, down in the cavelike basement.

Half the city has left town for the August month of vacations. Many shops and other places are closed; others are on reduced hours. Up here in Gracia it seems strangely empty; downtown, or course, is swarming with tourists. Advice for Non-Eurail Semi-Adult Visitors: Try to find somewhere to stay outside the Old City. It's much more relaxing. Spend a day looking around the Ramblas, sure, and then get away from there and check out the rest of town.

John Kerry is going over very well over here, largely because everybody just hates George Bush. Now, nobody in Spain actually knows anything about either of the two men, but they've all got plenty of opinions. Meanwhile, Zap is doing quite well in the polls, for some unknown reason. Here's the saddest part: "What are the three main problems that exist in Spain today?" Answers: Unemployment 61.1%; ETA terrorism 47.4%; Crime 20.1%; Housing 19.7%; Immigration 17.0%; Economic problems 13.0%. Gee, wasn't it about five months ago that almost 200 people were killed in Madrid by terrorists of the Al Qaeda variety? How come that's not on the list? Answer: The Spanish genuinely beleive that Islamist terrorism is not their problem, and that the pullout from Iraq has gotten them off the Islamist hitlist. You may have seen that they have just warned of an Al Qaeda plot against American financial centers and have raised the alert level: the Vanguardia, of course, claims it's just a political ploy by Bush. These people have conspiracies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Guess what? The Forum has come out with a strong condemnation of sexist violence and patriarchy!

Cartoon on Friday in La Vangua. George Bush, flanked by two military officers on a podium, announces: "After Afghanistan and Iraq, our next humanitarian objective is to liberate the oil fields of Sudan--excuse me, I meant free the refugees." That's right, they've been printing story after story over here explaining that there is apparently some oil in Sudan--big deal, there's almost certainly oil under my parents' backyard in Kansas City. So of course, all this talk about people starving to death and evil militias and slavery and oppression of Christians is just a cover-up for another oil grab. Just like Afghanistan, Panama, Haiti, Somalia, and Bosnia were all oil grabs. And, of course, everything is a conspiracy.

Breaking News: Jerry Falwell Supports Gay Marriage; Britney Spears Scores 1600 SAT; Robert Fisk Writes Something Not Totally Anti-American. In yesterday's Vanguardia he's got a piece about the Iraqi police and how proud and loyal they are. About time, since it's been the Iraqi police those terrorist bastards are mostly trying to kill. I suppose the anti-American angle is that Fisk portrays these guys as poorly-paid, badly-armed, and not getting the respect they deserve. OK, I can see his point, though I don't believe the bit about their Kalashnikovs jamming after firing two shots. My understanding is that 1) Kalashnikovs are simple, sturdy, and effective weapons that will function with minimal care and 2) there are enough guns floating around Iraq that the cops ought to be able to get something better than Kalashnikovs anyway.

The 3-11 commission has adjourned without deciding anything. Both the Socialists and the PP behaved like idiots, the PP trying to justify their (our) major screwup--not act of bad faith, screwup--in originally attributing the bombings to ETA, and the Socialists attempting to insinuate that there was, too, an act of bad faith, which is just not true to my knowledge. La Vanguardia ran a pro-American editorial (more breaking news) on the 9-11 commission, saying that it actually did what it purported to do, investigate and draw a conclusion without letting politics get in the way. This whole 3-11 commission has been, pretty disgracefully, an opportunity for partisan sniping and nothing more.

Everybody's in a snit about the alleged diplomatic offense committed by the British government in sending defense minister Geoffry (sic) Hoon to next Wednesday's celebration of the 300th anniversary of the capture of Gibraltar by the British. Everyone from the PP to Izquierda Unida is all fired up. Izquierda Unida has censured the British government for its "imperialist and philo-Fascist attitude". The Socialists said Britain's behavior was "colonialist". The PP said Zap was too incompetent diplomatically to persuade the British that such activities don't do much good except to inflame the most revanchist side of Spanish nationalism. Nobody pointed out that Gibraltar is British territory according to a treaty Spain signed, that if the Crown wants to nominate Ozzy Osbourne to serve as the Grand High Poobah of Gibraltar, it has no obligation to consult Spain on the matter, and that the people of Gibraltar are unanimous on only one issue: they don't want to join Spain.

The latest outrage the Spanish public is up in arms about is a proposal to charge each person who visits the National Health one euro per visit. I think it makes sense. One euro is a small enough amount that paying it won't hurt anybody, not even the poorest widow on a pension, and certainly not the average Joe, yet it's a round enough number that people might take it seriously enough not to show up at the local clinic every day just for something to do.

Also, I remember reading an interesting study done by some education people (still more breaking news!) on English-as-a-second-language programs aimed at immigrants in the United States. What they did was test different groups at the different centers offering English-for-immigrants in, I think, Queens or somewhere like that. Some groups were charged a nominal sum, ten dollars or the like, for their semester of English classes, and the rest were given the classes for free. What they found was that the students who were paying the small sum were considerably more motivated and--this is key--had much better class attendance. They therefore learned much more, on average, than the students who were not paying. The small payment of their own money gave them a stake in the class and made them want to get their money's worth out of it. Let's see if people start taking the national health service (which, as I have stressed, is excellent in my opinion, though overbureaucratic. The doctors and personnel are first-class and the equipment and medicines are, of course, the latest) a little more seriously.

Back on page 35 of Friday's Vanguardia there's a story about the opening of a new art exhibition; it's called "From Paris to the Mediterranean: The Triumph of Color". They have 85 works by mostly French artists painted in Provence attempting to catch the light of the Mediterranean between about 1860 and 1940, and the painters include Manet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Corot, Modigliani, Cezanne, Vlaminck, and Utrillo, as well as many other big names. There are also several major works by less well-known painters like Maguin, Signac, and Picabia. I'm going to go check it out, of course; no hurry, it's on till October 10. Ironically, this little exhibition is of a great deal more cultural value than the whole damn Forum, excluding of course the Chinese warriors. And it cost probably about one-one thousandth of that whole shebang.

FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are both touring East Asia raking in some cash playing exhibitions while beating up on some J-legue teams. At this point I'm guessing we're going to see a 4-3-3 lineup like this one: Valdés; Belletti, Puyol, Márquez, Sylvinho; Deco, Xavi, Van Bronckhorst; Giuly, Ronaldinho, Larsson. Expect to see plenty of Gabri, Gerard, Luis Garcia, and Iniesta. Oleguer and Navarro will be the backup defensemen. That leaves nobody but Xavi and Puyol as starters from the horrible team of two years ago. Rustu is going to be sold to somebody; they can't keep a player of his quality on the bench and they can't use him because they'll have too many "extracommunitarians" on the roster. I believe they can have four on the roster and three on the field at any one time. Gerard is horribly overpaid; I imagine if he stays on the team he either has taken or will take a salary cut. They are probably going to get rid of Saviola; he has apparently pissed them off by playing for Argentina in the South American cup instead of training with the Barça club. He played well, but what that's done is raise the price they can get for him. The big soccer news around here has been over Etoo, who is from Cameroon, plays for Mallorca, and is owned 50-50 by Mallorca and Madrid. Supposedly Barcelona wants to buy him, but Madrid is asking a very high price for their half of his contract. This is apparently very exciting news.

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