Tuesday, December 07, 2004

You've probably heard that ETA has let off some more small-scale bombs around Spain. On Monday, at around 1:50 PM local time, bombs went off in Málaga, Ciudad Real, Ávila, Valladolid, León, Santillana de Mar, and Alicante. Thirteen people were slightly injured, none seriously. Not much damage was done. The cops think it's the work of two different cells without a fixed base, which means they should be very easy to catch. ETA is down to gangs of poorly trained kids. Aznar's strategy of the clampdown worked. I think part of ETA's problem is they're just not extremist or brutal enough any more, neither their tactics nor their objective. I mean, what with these massacres of Iraqi civilians by the terrorist insurgents, suicide bombers all over Israel, beheadings of innocents on Al Jazeera, and airplanes crashing into towers, ETA's '70s-style nihilism and violence seem almost quaint compared to what we're seeing east of Suez. An independent Marxist-Leninist racist/hypernationalist state in Euskal Herría? That just ain't shit compared to the complete destruction of Western civilization.

Laura Freixas has a rather lightweight column in yesterday's Vanguardia in which she comments on us gringos' national character. The headline is "Happy because of legal imperative".

For anyone coming from Europe, and especially if he lives in cities like Paris and Madrid, where you so often have to bite your tongue in order not to ask, "Do you charge extra to smile?" or to cite the Chinese saying, "If you don't know how to smile, don't open a shop", one of the most noticeable things about the United States is the cordiality of its inhabitants.

Fair enough. We do tend to be friendlier than some sourpuss Europeans, although there are certainly some rude, cranky bastards in the US. In the States, again, people from the Northeast and especially New York City have the reputation of being rude, though I personally have never been treated so rudely and scornfully in the US as I have in Los Angeles, which is overrun with snotty rich kids.

Your neighbor on the airplane will ask you where you're from and what you do, and he will entertain you on the long trip from Houston to Minneapolis telling you everything you ever wanted to know and had no one to ask about the American pension system, the field in which he works, or what life is like in Saudi Arabia, where he lives and teaches English. The stewardesses smile at you; the police joke with you while they check you out; the customs agent asks about the classes you're going to give according to your visa, and he laughs when, after telling you he knows nothing about literature, you reply that you certainly wouldn't be able to give a dissertation on the customs service; the shopgirl in any store wishes you "a nice day" with such warmth that you would swear she really means it, with all her heart...

You know, the shopgirl in the store probably really does mean it; you can tell whether she does or not by the way she says it. There's an attitude in the US of, hey, you don't want to hear about my problems, I'm sure you have plenty of your own, when you're dealing with someone casually. People often try to be as pleasant as possible because it makes your life and everybody else's much easier. The mistake many Europeans make is concluding that Americans are superficial because of this. Some Americans certainly are, just like everywhere else. Most folks, however, save their intimate emotions for home and family, and don't share them with people they don't know well.

As is well-known, the Declaration of Independence of the United States includes happiness among the rights of its citizens.

Hold it right there. Major misconception. People around the world will swear the US Declaration promises the right to happiness. It does no such thing. What it says is that everybody has the right to "life, liberty, and the PURSUIT of happiness." What "the pursuit of happiness" means is the right to do what you want, whatever you think will make you happy, unless your doing so interferes with somebody else's rights. Your success in pursuing happiness is by no means guaranteed. I may be a nitpicker, but I think it's important to get these things right. Anyway, the rest of the column becomes pretty silly, as Ms. Freixas opines that if we have the right to be happy, we should have the right to be unhappy too, as if anybody was going to try to regulate people's moods.

Wait till you see tomorrow's post. I have a couple of good ones.

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