Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Congratulations to our pal Franco Alemán from Barcepundit (just click on Barcepundit over there on the left, then click for Barcepundit in English) for being Instapundited. Franco has the link to the just-released film from a security camera of the March 11 bombing at Atocha Station in Madrid. I haven't seen it, but from what I read in La Vanguardia what struck me was that when the bombs went off everybody panicked. That strikes me as much more like normal human behavior than what we see in the movies.

I'm not sure what the effect of this film of the bombing will have; I hope it brings back a little of the anger toward terrorism that seemed to disappear right after the March 14 election. Kicking out Aznar and the PP seemed like a catharsis--oh, now we've voted in the nice peaceful candidate and he's pulling our troops out of Iraq, the rest of us have nothing to worry about, what happened to them won't happen to us. You'd hardly believe that 191 people had been murdered en masse on their way to work only seven months ago from the way it's been whitewashed from the collective public mind.

While Zap and his Ministry of Clowns keep themselves amused, the Spanish intelligence and police services are doing their jobs very well and deserve our congratulations. Last weekend there was a major ETA bust that took down a lot of what was left of the gang's infrastructure, not to mention an enormous arsenal. Now there's been a bust, this Monday, of eight Islamists who were planning to set off a 1000-kilo suicide truck bomb to blow the Audiencia Nacional and Judge Garzón to hell and gone. The arrestees are all Algerians and Moroccans, and they seem to have met up in jail where they were doing time for minor common crimes. The leader, Mohamed Achraf, is allegedly a member of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group; that´s their connection to international terrorism. These guys just arrested were quite possibly a lone group, with no connections to the outside except Achraf, who was constantly traveling back and forth from Switzerland. They are not connected with the March 11 bombing crew or ETA.

Two ironic bits: the Spanish media has sided with Fidel Castro over this deportation of the Spanish Member of Parliament from Cuba. They pretty much all agree that the guy's trip to Cuba to meet with dissidents was a provocation and an attempt to stir up trouble at the same time that the European Union is debating the relaxation of its strictures against Cuba. See, it's all a conspiracy run by these right-wing nuts who don't believe in the Revolution. Meanwhile, Pasqual Maragall and the leader of the opposition, Artur Mas, went to China. Quite logically, they portrayed Catalonia as a Chinese springboard into the Spanish market as a whole rather than as a destination in itself.

Some folks would say that's an example of typical Catalan common-sense seny (be the salesman, get the investment) beating out the Catalan wilder side, known as rauxa (get all proud about how special we are). I think Robert Hughes made up this theory.

See, Catalan nationalism's bases are fairly fragile. I think there are three of them. The first is what's left of old 19th century nationalism, the common belief held by the English or Germans or French (or Catalans) that they were somehow a superior people chosen by God or somebody and so their desire for more power and glory is justified by the fact that Catalans are special. This rhetoric is widely used even today, though not so blatantly as I've put it, as it fell into general intellectual disfavor around 1919 or thereabouts.

Second is the Catalan language, something solid that actually exists. One common answer to the question "who's Catalan?" is "someone who speaks Catalan". That sounds fair enough. The problem is that it's exclusive of those who do not speak Catalan for whatever reason, and that all Catalan-speakers also speak Spanish while many Catalan-speakers don't consider Catalan to be an integral part of their identity, so it makes just as much sense to say that everyone in Spain who speaks Spanish is Spanish--which is the argument that the Catalanists hate the most. Anyway, though, I think the language claim is a pretty solid one--we speak a different language, so we're different. It runs up against the fact, though, that life outside the big cities is pretty much the same in Catalonia, Aragon, Navarra, and Old Castile.

This is where argument number three, the fet diferencial, comes in. If we renounce aggressive blood-and-thunder nationalism, and if we agree that the language plank is strong but not sufficient to make Catalonia completely unique, we're left with redrawing Catalan culture to suit the idea of a fet diferencial, a "differencing factor". This is why the regional government spends jillions of euros subsidizing obscure variations of popular dance, theater, puppetry, and the like--you see, that's stuff that only exists here! So it makes us different!

I think this is what the common identification of the Catalan character as being a yin-yang between calming Appolonian seny and agitating Dionysian rauxa comes from. It's an opportunity to say, "See, look, we're different, we have our own national character. Seny plus rauxa--that's us.". The problem is that everywhere you go, most people act with common sense most of the time and occasionally do something stupid. This is by no means a trait unique to Catalonia. In fact, I'd be surprised to find any group of people where some balance of rationality and irrationality wasn't struck.

The Vangua says that an EU study shows Spain with the highest automotive death rate. In deaths per 10 billion vehicle-kilometers, Spain comes out with 28, more than double the EU's average of 13. Holland has 9, Sweden 8, and the UK 7. I have no idea where to find the equivalent stats for the United States.

FC Barcelona plays at AC Milan tonight. Should be a hell of a game. Samuel Etoo of Cameroon, one of Barcelona's new signings who is genuinely a spectacular player, and young, too, has been going about making slightly obnoxious racial comments (e.g. "I'm going to have to do a lot of running to keep up with that nigga" (Cafú) or "I´m here to work like a nigga and get paid like a white man". I guess they're not any worse than what you hear in and around the NBA, which is probably where he got the idea in the first place.

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