Monday, February 28, 2005

Here's Victor Davis Hanson in the Wall Street Journal.

After the Cold War, we only acerbated an already unwholesome parent-teenager relationship with the Europeans, who bragged of their new independence, snapped at their benefactors, but always counted on our subsidized protection. That simultaneous denial of and insistence on dependency was not healthy for a continent with a larger population and economy than the United States, as contemporary European insecurity always warred with past glories and unrealized potential capabilities...

Yet, if Europeans are ever going to enter into a full partnership with America, then we better let them move out, encourage them to rearm--or hope they find that the world works according to the refined protocols of The Hague. America must have the confidence that the European pan-democratic continent has evolved beyond warring against itself--and us as well. For all the diplomacy of Secretary Rice and President Bush, it is the Europeans' choice, not our call...

So we are in a dilemma. Until postmodern Europe rightly assumes a role commensurate with its moral rhetoric, population, and economic strength, out of envy or pride it will often seek to undercut and occasionally embarrass the U.S.--at least up to that fine, though ambiguous, point of not quite alienating its hyperpower patron. For our part, we cannot ridicule Europe's present military impotence only to oppose its nascent efforts at a unified defense establishment...

The United States should ignore all this ankle-biting, praise the EU to the skies, but not take very seriously their views on the world until we learn exactly what is going on inside Europe during these years of its uncertainty. America is watching enormous historical forces being unleashed on the continent from its own depopulation, new anti-Semitism, and rising Islamicism to Turkish demands for EU membership and further expansion of the EU into the backwaters of Eastern Europe that will bring it to the doorstep of Russia. Whether its politics and economy will evolve to embrace more personal freedom, its popular culture will integrate its minorities, and its military will step up to protect Western values and visions is unclear.

But what is certain is that the U.S. cannot remain a true ally of a militarily weak but shrill Europe should its politics grow even more resentful and neutralist, always nursing old wounds and new conspiracies, amoral in its inability to act, quite ready to preach to those who do.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Spring training is on and another baseball season begins. My favorite baseball website is The Hardball Times, and they run this hilarious story today on orientation at this year's spring training:

We have a number of drills designed to get you in fighting shape for the season. As you've no doubt noticed, your practice jerseys have different color armbands. That is specifically designed to keep you in groups for the various exercises. Yellow group goes to diamond one for the cup adjustment drills...You must be able to readjust your cup in no fewer than 10 moves. If you are unable to after eight tries, you'll be sent to remedial cup adjustment in the bullpen under the supervision of Denny Neagle’s, um, coach after the morning workout.

This is very important -- if you need over 25 adjustments it can cause vision impairment, blindness, and a shocking amount of staff turnover among the clubhouse attendants in charge of the laundry...For those of you using a thimble in place of your cup, urine tests are being held in the tent by the left-field fence -- try not to graze on your way there, it upsets the groundskeepers.

Speaking of the drug tests, everyone will be expected to visit the tent before we finish up today for the first of your series of urine tests. Please use your own this time. When we started this last year we discovered half the Yankees were pregnant and one third of the Tigers turned out to be golden retrievers.

The blue group will go to diamond two. There you will receive intensive sobriety test rehearsal. You will be blindfolded and required to spin around in circles for five minutes, then your eyes will be uncovered and you must try to walk down the first base line. Kindly remember to spit out any chewing tobacco before performing this drill. For those of you in need of remedial training in this regard, Richie Sexson has been retained to tutor you.
Just in case you're interested, the New York Times did a travel piece on Lawrence, Kansas, where I spent six years getting two college degrees.

I don't think I'd make a special trip from New York or LA just to see Lawrence, but if you're in the area it makes a nice weekend getaway and it's not expensive. Lawrence is very pretty, especially in late spring and early fall, and there's plenty to do there. The article doesn't mention crashing parties down in the "student slum" along Tennessee, Ohio, and Kentucky streets, where the local hippies and alternative folk hang out. Just follow the noise every Friday and Saturday night.

On the wild off-chance that somebody out there is thinking of going to an American university, Kansas is good and cheap, one of the two or three cheapest major state universities, and I highly recommend it. Lawrence is a nice introduction to America because it's small, low-key, and friendly instead of huge, anonymous, and bustling. They have a summer English-language program that's a good value for the money; you could also enroll for a full trimester. I used to teach there.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Last night Barcelona beat Chelsea, leader of England's Premier League, 2-1 in a fine second-half comeback in Champions' League play. I caught part of the game while I was translating for the Spain Herald.

Barcelona came out swinging and Chelsea played exclusively on the defensive, with eight or nine men back, looking for the fast break and trying to break Barcelona's on-side trap line. In the first half Chelsea scored on a rather lucky on-goal by Belletti while he was trying to head away a center into the area in the 32nd minute. Barcelona sort of fell apart for the rest of the first half, but after halftime they came out strong again.

Drogba, Chelsea's star forward, got himself kicked out of the game in minute 55 for generally being a dick. The proximate cause of his expulsion on a second yellow card was a charge into Barcelona goalie Valdés. Albertini started instead of Oleguer, who is mildly injured and needs some rest. Márquez moved back to Oleguer's place next to Puyol in the middle of the defense, and Albertini took Márquez's defensive midfielder spot, and he wasn't very good. Rijkaard's standard first-man-off-the-bench Iniesta replaced him in minute 56, right after Drogba's expulsion, and then Giuly, who wasn't terrific, either, went out for Maxi López, whom Rijkaard had been saving for Chelsea. López was excellent. He's big and strong and smart; I just might try starting him at center-forward and moving Etoo over to the right in place of Giuly, or putting him on the left of the attack, Ronaldinho in the center, and Etoo on the right.

López and Etoo combined for two quick goals, Lopez in the 65th and Etoo in the 73rd, and Barcelona continued to play well, with several more chances at goal. Chelsea stayed back, playing defense only, and after the second Barça goal it was pretty obvious they'd given up. If Barça had converted even one of those, this two-game matchup would be almost over. The game ended 2-1, though, and all Chelsea needs to do is beat Barca 1-0 at home and they go through to the next round.

It was another rough game; Puyol, Márquez, Belletti, and Albertini, Barça's thug squad, beat the crap out of Chelsea's forwards and the ref let them get away with it. Deco took a blatant dive in the area early in the match and he got away with that too. All this pissed Drogba off so much he acted like a dope and bought himself two yellow cards. Tiago, Cole, and Makelele were probably the best Chelsea players. I'd say Etoo, Deco, Xavi, Puyol, Márquez, Iniesta, and López were standouts for Barça.

Etoo is a horse and Puyol is a bull. Sticking with the metaphor, Márquez, Xavi, and Deco would be hard-charging rams, and Iniesta is a two-year-old thoroughbred. Ronaldinho had a pretty good game. He's a horse too, but he's like Seabiscuit--when he's good he's great but when he's not he's only OK. He's in just a bit of a slump, but he's still better than just about anyone else out there, and he's going to keep improving. A slump for Ronaldinho means a merely above-average performance. Ronaldinho hasn't hit his peak years yet. Etoo hasn't hit his peak, either, and he's playing like Secretariat this year.

Other Champions' League results, from the first leg: On Wednesday, Oporto 1-Inter Milan 1, Manchester United 0-AC Milan 1, and Werder Bremen 0-Olympique Lyon 3. Lyon is obviously through to the next round, while the rest of the series are wide open for the second leg. AC Milan, Barcelona, and Inter Milan are likely, in that order, to advance.

On Tuesday night, it was Real Madrid 1-Juventus 0, Liverpool 3-Bayer Leverkusen 1, PSV Eindhoven 1-Monaco 0, and Bayern Munich 3-Arsenal 1. Liverpool and Bayern ought to go through, and the other two are still undecided. Madrid and PSV would both obviously be favored to advance, though if I were going to pick one team of eight to turn the series around it would be Juventus.

So, assume Barça goes through along with Lyon, Milan, Inter, Madrid, Liverpool, PSV, and Bayern. Tough group. I would bet on Barça, Inter, Milan, and Bayern to be the final four. Lyon is the upset special. They have a lot of good French and African players, and they could knock out anybody, which PSV, Liverpool, and Madrid probably couldn't. If Juventus comes back and knocks Madrid out in this round, which is quite possible, they'd also have to be one of the favorites. There you have some completely awful predictions. Come back on March 8 and 9 for the second leg and you can either all laugh at how wrong I was or marvel at how brilliant I am.
For all those predicting America's economic doom due to its trade and / or budget deficits, read this piece from Foreign Affairs called "The Overstretch Myth".

Slight digression: This is an economic piece aimed at the general fairly-well informed public. It is about as complex a piece on economics as I can understand. I wouldn't be able to make most of the arguments in this article myself, but I do get the point the authors are trying to make. My experience with economics is ECON 140 in college and twenty years of more or less reading and sort of figuring out the Wall Street Journal and the Economist. Not that great, which is why I don't write about economics much.

One point they make is that people have been predicting America's collapse for a good long time and it hasn't happened yet. I remember reading a whole bunch of dumb stuff as a kid back in the '70s and as an adolescent in the ´80s and as an adult, more or less, in the '90s on how first Vietnam had laid us low and then that the Soviets were going to prevail and then that we were all going to get blown up and then that the Japanese had us beat economically and then that the environment was going to crash and then that we were going to run out of resources and then that we didn't have the national will to fight the Terrorist International and now Bush's fascist repression is going to enslave us all. So far all the predictors of doom have been wrong.

One thing I had problems with for a long time was the relative importance of the amounts of money that are involved in the world's economy. Here's a very non-exhaustive list of what different things' monetary value is.

US business receipts, 1997: $18 trillion (12 zeroes)
US stock market capitalization, 1999: $16.6 trillion
US gross domestic product, 2004: $10.5 trillion
Euro area's gross domestic product, 1999: $6.53 trillion
US services output, 1999: $6 trillion
Japan's gross domestic product, 1999: $4.35 trillion
US industrial output, 1999: $2.16 trillion
US total federal spending, 2002: $2.01 trillion
US total federal receipts, 2002: $1.85 trillion
France's gross domestic product, 1999: $1.4 trillion
US total health care spending, 1999: $1.3 trillion
US total imports, 2000: $1.21 trillion
UK services output, 1999: $1.02 trillion
China's gross domestic product, 1999: $1 trillion
Euro area's total exports, 1999: $808 billion (9 zeroes)
Total US currency in circulation, 2003: $802 billion
US total exports, 2000: $782 billion
US current-account deficit, 2004: $650 billion
Spain's gross domestic product, 1999: $596 billion
US recreational spending, 1999: $534 billion
Spain's stock market capitalization, 1999: $431 billion
Russia's gross domestic product, 1999: $401 billion
UK industrial output, 1999: $343 billion
Brazil's foreign debt, 1999: $244 billion
Netherlands's total exports, 1999: $200 billion
China's total exports, 1999: $195 billion
Turkey's gross domestic product, 1999: $185.7 billion
General Motors's sales, 1999: $176.6 billion
Saudi Arabia's gross domestic product, 1999: $139 billion
Spain's government spending, 2002: $120 billion
Toyota's total sales, 1999: $115.7 billion
Spain's total exports, 1999: $110 billion
Japan's current-account surplus, 1999: $107 billion
Ireland's gross domestic product, 1999: $93.4 billion
Euro area's fuel imports, 1999: $82.8 billion
Volkswagen's total sales, 1999: $80 billion
Philip Morris's total sales, 1999: $61.8 billion
Pakistan's gross domestic product, 1999: $58.2 billion
Saudi Arabia's oil exports, 1997: $52.3 billion
Peru's gross domestic product, 1999: $51.9 billion
Brazil's total imports, 1999: $49.2 billion
Hewlett-Packard's total sales, 1999: $48.3 billion
Citigroup's capital assets, 1999: $47.7 billion
South Korea's exports of electronic goods, 1999: $45.8 billion
Spain's tourist receipts, 1999: $33 billion
Saudi Arabia's total imports, 1999: $30 billion
Nigeria's national debt, 1999: $29.4 billion
US spending on books, 1999: $27 billion
Value of US corn crop, 2000: $18.6 trillion
Deutsche Bank's total capital assets, 1999: $17.4 billion
Boeing's sales to US Defense Dept., 2002: $16.5 billion
Italy's textile imports, 1999: $15.5 billion
Nigeria's oil exports, 1999: $14.5 billion
US spending on recorded music, 2000: $14 billion
BSCH's total capital assets, 1999: $12.5 billion
Spain's energy imports, 1999: $9.7 billion
US foreign aid, 1999: $9.15 billion
Indonesia's oil exports, 1999: $5.4 billion
Total cost of Barcelona's Forum de les Cultures, 2004: $5 billion
UK spending on books, 1999: $4.6 billion

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

From James Taranto:

Belgian author Paul Belien, who kindly showed us around Antwerp when we were vacationing in his country last summer, has a piece on The Weekly Standard's Web site that gives us quite a chuckle. It seems that Belgium's Socialist Party, which is part of the governing coalition, marked President Bush's visit this week by distributing "piss stickers, specially made to be used in urinals," that depict Bush's face against an American-flag backdrop, with a caption (in English, not Belgiumish) that reads GO AHEAD, PISS ON ME!!

My reaction, if I ran across one of these things stuck inside a urinal, would be to decline to urinate on the American flag. I would therefore be forced to urinate on the floor. I might manage to urinate all over the walls as well. Or I just might use the sink, if I were feeling hygenic.

Also, somebody had to reach inside that urinal and stick that sticker on the wet germy porcelain. Yecch. Nobody ever said anti-Americans were smart, though.

Joke. American and Frenchman at NATO summit. Break in conferences. Bathroom time. They go, zip up, and then the Frenchman goes over to the sink to wash his hands while the American walks straight out the door. Frenchman says snidely, "En la France zey teach us to vash our hands avter ve micturate." American replies, "In America they teach us not to piss on our hands."
Sixty years ago today Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima was taken by the United States Marines. This excerpt is from John Keegan's The Second World War:

On 29 September 1994, Admirals King, Nimitz, and Spruance, meeting at San Francisco, agreed to make Okinawa the principal target for amphibious operations in the following year. Because a main aim of the advance to the Ryukyu Islands was to secure better air bases for the prepatory bombardment of Japan and to drive an "air corridor" between the home islands and the Japanese airfields on Formosa and Luzon, it was also agreed that a subsidiary base should be seized on another island nearby, which could be taken more quickly, to provide a staging post and emergency landing field for B-29s. Iwo Jima in the Bonin Islands seemed the best choice. On 3 October the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a directive for Iwo Jima to be attacked in February and Okinawa in April.

...The 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions assaulted Iwo Jima on 19 February. The (fact that the Ten-Ichigo kamikaze offensive was not yet ready to be launched) was the only mercy granted the Americans at Iwo Jima; heavily gunned and garrisioned, honeycombed with tunnels, its bedrock of basalt covered with a deep layer of volcanic dust, the island submitted the Marines to their worst landing experience of the Pacific War. Amphtracs lost traction and ditched on the beaches, to be destroyed by salvos from close-range artillery which three days of battleship bombardment had not destroyed; riflemen dug trenches which collapsed as soon as they were deep enough to give cover; the wounded were wounded again as they lay out on the beaches awaiting evacuation,. Robert Sherrod, the correspondent who had been at Tarawa and most island landings in between, thought it the worst battle he had ever seen: men died, he said, "with the greatest possible violence". When Iwo Jima was finally secured on 16 March, 6821 Americans had been killed and 20,000 wounded, over a third of those who had landed; the 21,000 Japanese defenders died almost to a man.

About 4000 of the American, British, and Canadian soldiers who landed at Normandy on June 6, 1944, were killed. About 1500 Americans have been killed in Iraq.

You might call up your local country music station today and ask them to play Johnny Cash's "The Ballad of Ira Hayes".

Slight change of subject. One of the reasons sports are fun is they are an artificial universe in which you can test your decision-making skills. Do we sign a midfielder or a defenseman? Do we play a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2? Should we get rid of Player X? You'll find out at the end of the match or the series or the season. Baseball is particularly fun because detailed baseball statistics have been kept for over 140 years, and baseball is one of the sports in which an individual's performance can be most easily measured. Baseball statheads and sabermetricians, led by Bill James, love to argue about arcane questions of baseball history (who was better, Edd Roush or Heinie Groh?). One of the concepts they've laid out is that when judging a player, you look at both his career value and his peak value. For example, Mickey Mantle, during his four or five really great seasons, was a better player than Willie Mays was at his peak. But Mays had eight or ten great seasons and ten more good ones, and Mays played every day, never got hurt, and took good care of himself instead of going out every night and getting drunk with Billy Martin and getting into the papers for various barfights down at the Copa. Mantle's last big year was 1961. Mays played steadily through until about 1971.

So who would you rather have on your team? Well, if you can choose one single player at his very highest peak performance, and you want to win the World Series this year, you take Mantle. If you're investing for the long-term, though, you'd take Willie, who will likely help you get to several Series.

I think you can make an analogy for career and peak value with musicians. For example, Johnny Cash's peak was in the '50s and early '60s; he was OK through the rest of the '60s, didn't do much in the '70s and '80s, and came back very strong in the 1990s. Gotta give Johnny cred for both a high peak and high career value. Hank Williams would be an example of a high peak value during a short career. Paul McCartney is a Mantle-ish guy who had a very high peak between about 1963 to 1968, but then his career value goes all to hell. The Stones had a long, steady very high peak value between 1965 and about 1972; then they were OK until about Tattoo You, and after around '83 decline had definitely set in, but '65 to '83 in the major leagues is a very high career value. Loretta Lynn would have a high career value but never really hit an enormously high peak; you could say the same about many singer-songwriters. Best combination of a really high peak and solid long-term career value: Bob Dylan.

I always thought that rock bands should be like sports teams, so, for example, Van Halen could trade Sammy Hagar to Whitesnake for David Coverdale and then re-sign David Lee Roth as a free agent with an incentive-heavy one-year contract, or Journey could cut Neil Schon and see if Alex Lifeson is on the market; as an alternative, they could swap their soundman to Black Sabbath for Tony Iommi and a roadie to be named later. Rush might be willing to give up Lifeson in exchange for a rookie bass player and a lead-guitar prospect. There would always be a solid market in free-agent session players, who might sign with Cyndi Lauper one season, get cut, and get picked up by Bonnie Tyler the next year. Some of these guys might go down to the minors occasionally, signing on with BTO or ELP or ELO, who are always looking for a veteran left-handed drummer with experience. Certain players might change position; Van Halen might move Hagar to rhythm guitar and replace him as lead singer with Coverdale, for example, or with veteran pickup Roth if Coverdale can't sing the hits in the clutch.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

I suppose everybody has heard about the "Bush tapes" by now. A family friend of the Bushes taped several private conversations he had with George W. in the late 1990s, and he has released them. The tapes were made without Bush's knowledge or consent, which is legal in Ohio, the state where they were recorded. I'm sure they're legit because they present Bush in a favorable light (he gets off a great line, saying that he reads the Bible every day "and the Bible is pretty good about keeping your ego in check"), but they weren't publicized before either the 2000 or 2004 elections, when they might very well have done Bush some good. I am also sure they're legit because the story is from the New York Times, which is not exactly a pro-Bush rag.

Those who think Bush is a right-wing caveman fundamentalist nut might want to read this passage from the Times article:

Early on, though, Mr. Bush appeared most worried that Christian conservatives would object to his determination not to criticize gay people. "I think he wants me to attack homosexuals," Mr. Bush said after meeting James Robison, a prominent evangelical minister in Texas.

But Mr. Bush said he did not intend to change his position. He said he told Mr. Robison: "Look, James, I got to tell you two things right off the bat. One, I'm not going to kick gays, because I'm a sinner. How can I differentiate sin?"

Later, he read aloud an aide's report from a convention of the Christian Coalition, a conservative political group: "This crowd uses gays as the enemy. It's hard to distinguish between fear of the homosexual political agenda and fear of homosexuality, however."

"This is an issue I have been trying to downplay," Mr. Bush said. "I think it is bad for Republicans to be kicking gays."

Told that one conservative supporter was saying Mr. Bush had pledged not to hire gay people, Mr. Bush said sharply: "No, what I said was, I wouldn't fire gays."
Here's another one for Alex Cockburn.

Alex, there's no need to feel down.
I said, Alex, pick yourself off the ground.
I said, Alex, 'cause you're a Communist clown
There's no need to be unhappy.

Alex, there's a place you can go.
I said, Alex, where Fidel runs the show.
You can stay there, and I'm sure you will find
Many ways to have a good time.

It's fun to stay in C-U-B-A.
It's fun to stay in C-U-B-A.

They have everything for Alex to enjoy
He can be one of Castro's toys

It's fun to stay in C-U-B-A.
It's fun to stay in C-U-B-A.

You can pick up a boy, you can pick up a girl, but they've eaten up all of the squirrels

Alex, are you listening to me?
I said, Alex, with Fidel they're not free
I said, Alex, but who gives a damn
When you can have fun in Havana

Alex, put away all your cares
I said, Alex, go and sample the wares
And just go there, to C-U-B-A
I'm sure you can get drunk today.

It's fun to stay in C-U-B-A.
It's fun to stay in C-U-B-A.
Here are the lyrics to Tom Lehrer's 1965 song "The Vatican Rag". I'm trying to do an Alex Cockburn (isn't that surname hilarious?) and Castro version.

First you get down on your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!

Do whatever steps you want if
You have cleared them with the Pontiff.
Everybody say his own
Kyrie eleison,
Doin' the Vatican Rag.

Get in line in that processional,
Step into that small confessional.
There the guy who's got religion'll
Tell you if your sin's original.
If it is, try playin' it safer,
Drink the wine and chew the wafer,
Two, four, six, eight,
Time to transubstantiate!

So get down upon your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!

Make a cross on your abdomen,
When in Rome do like a Roman;
Ave Maria,
Gee, it's good to see ya.
Gettin' ecstatic an' sorta dramatic an'
Doin' the Vatican

How about:

First you get down on your knees,
Give Fidel a hug and squeeze
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!

If your name is Alex Cockburn
And your brain is like a glowworm's
Then you're gonna wanna write
Odes to Fidel every night
Doin' the Digital Rag

Don't you worry 'bout those gulags
Hit the beach to cure your jet lag
Then go down to Old Havana where
Teenage hookers cost a dollar there
You can have a life that's nice
Praise the Cuban paradise
C - U - B - A
Even Alex can get laid!

So get down upon your knees,
Forget corruption, drugs, and sleaze
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!

Write that Fidel Castro's glorious
Don't dare ask what the real story is
Viva Che Guevara
Libre mi bandera
Ethically I'm midgetal
Sexually I'm Gidgetal
Doin' the Digital Rag!

Monday, February 21, 2005

Check out this interview with Ricardo Alarcon Quesada, "Vice President" of Cuba and "President of Cuba's National Assembly", from Alexander Cockburn's digital rag CounterPunch. It is damning. Zap is not only kissing Castro's ass, he's trying to get the rest of the EU to do it too.

Landau: Specifically, vis a vis Europe. Initially, when Cuba jailed the dissidents in 2003, the European Union responded very critically, going along with the U.S. position, and now the EU is about to resume friendly resume friendly relations.

Alarcon: Formally, we always had economic and diplomatic relations with European countries. It was rather childish what the EU did. Unfortunately, following Spanish government advice, the EU followed the American line on Cuba. Even on the Helms-Burton law. Europe at first complained to the WTO about Helms-Burton and then negotiated and reached what they called an understanding with Washington. They withdrew their complaint.

And on May 2004, in the U.S. plan for Cuba, Bush announced that the U.S. will examine on a case by case basis, country by country, in terms of implementing Chapters 3 and 4 [punishing countries and companies trading with Cuba] of Helms/Burton more efficiently.

They forgot their commitment to Europe to eliminate or change those chapters and instead declare they will implement them more thoroughly. No complaints, no protests from Europe in what is tantamount to a U.S. slap in Europe's face. With news of the dissidents' arrest [Cuba arrested 75 anti-government activists and charged them with working for the U.S. government against Cuba in March 2003], the Europeans had an opportunity to protest against the "illegal" arrest of people not only in Cuba, but throughout the western world. I refer to widespread torture and the violation of habeas corpus and other legal principles. Europeans behaved as accomplices to these policies as did on U.S. policy toward Cuba. Then they took some childish steps like refusing high level contacts with Cuba. Some countries ignored that decision. Another step: eliminate cultural exchanges. Last year, the Havana book fair was dedicated to Germany. At the last moment, the German government, following the European position, withdrew from the fair. In spite of that, many writers, publishers and artists from Germany came to Cuba.

And they added another step. They would invite the so-called dissidents to their official, diplomatic functions like national holidays and so-on. In other words, they tried to insult us. Not to have high level or important contacts with the Cuban government and to put those people [dissidents], those American agents, at the same level as legitimate Cuban authority.

Our answer was simple. We cut off contacts with the embassies here. We said we are prepared to wait the necessary time. On a personal basis, I enjoyed this period. It's a burden to attend these diplomatic functions like receptions and diplomatic dinners if you have work to do. Of course, we continued as before normal functions with African, Asian and Latin American embassies in Havana. But now the Europeans realize it was nonsense and are changing. But more important, I said that Europe had followed Spanish advice. That was when Mr. Aznar headed the conservative government in Spain. In March, Spaniards elected a new government, which withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq, and proposed other progressive steps on women's rights, etc. And regarding Cuba, the new government openly said it wanted to change the Aznar policy. The socialists have a more respectful and friendly approach. That was the source of Europe's new position. Let's hope the EU will follow the new Spanish counsel. By the way, it's as if we're still a Spanish colony, which we're not. But I think we've turned the page. I hope the Europeans have matured and will not repeat that nonsense.
In weekend soccer action, FC Barcelona romped all over Mallorca at home, 2-0, goals by Etoo and Deco. Real Madrid lost 0-2 at home to Athletic Bilbao, giving Barcelona a seven-point lead with fourteen games left to play. Barça has 57 points and Real Madrid is their only challenger with 50. Betis and Sevilla are tied for third place, way back with 41 points. (You get three points for a win and one for a draw.)

The season is over as far as first and second places go; Barça has about an 80% chance of finishing first, I'd guess, with Madrid the only possible second place team. The Big Two get the two automatic bids to next year's European Champions' League. The competition now is for spots three through six. If you finish third or fourth, you get a bid to the playoff round of the Champions' League, and if you finish fifth or sixth, you get a bid to the UEFA Cup, the second most prestigious of the Europe-wide club competitions.

So there are four spots open for Europe next year and seven teams in the hunt. They are Betis and Sevilla with 41 points each, Villarreal with 40, last year's champion Valencia with 38, Espanyol with 38 also, Athletic Bilbao with 35, and Atlético Madrid with 33. None of the other 11 teams have positive goal-averages. Deportivo de la Coruña, in recent years a top Spanish club, is not having a good year and will finish in the middle of the final standings. Villarreal and Betis are currently hot and I would expect them, if they can keep it up, to take the two remaining Champions' League spots. Espanyol and Valencia are both in a slump and are the two teams most likely to fall out of the top group in the league table. Sevilla appears to be playing over its head, since they have the worst goal average among the top nine, and I'd expect to see them drop from their current fourth place as well.

At the bottom of the table, the three teams that come in last drop down to Second Division next year. Numancia with 17 points and Mallorca with 21 are almost sure to be demoted, and the last demotion spot will probably go to either Albacete with 23, Racing Santander with 24, Levante and Getafe with 27, or Málaga with 28.

In the second division the first three teams, of course, move up to First Division next year. There are eight teams in the hunt for those three places; the Second Division race is going to be much more exciting than in First, in which we already know who's going to win. Cádiz leads Second with 47, followed by Celta de Vigo with 46, Elche and Eibar 45, Alavés Vitoria and Valladolid 42, Recreativo de Huelva 40, and Xerez 39.
The Spanish press seems to be putting as much emphasis on the low turnout for yesterday's non-binding referendum on the European Constitution as on the fact that the large majority of the 42% who came out voted yes. I would have voted yes, too. Some of my more libertarian, anti-statist friends disagree strongly with me, and they have a lot of very good points, but I don't think this constitution does much more than codify the current regulations of the EU. I have as many complaints as anyone else about the imperfections of the EU structure and its thick-headed bureaucracy, and I too support the idea of having as small a government as possible, but things in Europe are going pretty well along about now.

(Digression: Rule Number One of international politics is that people vote with their feet. This is why they want to leave places like Mexico and Morocco and go to places like America and Spain. If you are a place that people are risking their lives to reach, you are doing a pretty good job in general, so Europe ain't nearly as badly off as some conservative Europeans in despair over the large state sector of their economies think. Other comments: Note that there's been no flood of refugees leaving Iraq. Note also that at least a couple million Afghan refugees have returned to Afghanistan. Note in addition that absolutely nobody except for a few crazy expatriates [NOT "ex-patriots", that's a horrible ignorant mistake to make and I've seen it in print] like me emigrates from the United States, while there are quite a few Europeans, at least a million, who have moved to the States. A lot of these people will go back home at some time or another, but I bet at least half of them stay.)

I admit not having read the whole Constitution, though I have read the press reports on its contents fairly thoroughly, and I'm pretty sure that if there were anything horribly scandalous in the Constitution somebody like Libertad Digital would have informed us. One of the major factors creating my opinion is that my favorite Spanish political party, the PP, supported the treaty, and I tend to go along with what those guys recommend, since I figure Aznar and Rajoy and Rato are probably the smartest people in Spain and if they're for it, then it can't be too awful. Also, most of the active opposition came from groups I despise like Esquerra Republicana and the Spanish Communist Party, not to mention Le Pen and his neo-fascists (who we should not forget came in second in the last French presidential election). So if those dopes are against it and the PP is for it, I reckon it's probably a pretty good idea.

As an American citizen, I support the closer integration of the European countries. Anything that more closely unites the Europeans, who got more than two hundred million people killed around the world during the 20th century with their world wars and their Fascism and Communism, under a democratic system is fine with me. I'm not afraid of France dominating a more united EU: I figure Britain, the Eastern Europeans, and the NATO Nordics will keep them under control. I am also not afraid of European competition with the United States; we are not going to go to war against one another. Our peoples will not let us. There is no way you could get the American people to support an invasion of, say, Ireland or Greece or Portugal, even if you were crazy enough to suggest it, and there is no way you'd ever convince the Europeans to go to war with America, either.

Non-military competition, in economics and business and technology and science, is good for everybody and I hope Europe will become much more competitive with the United States than it is now. A kick in the butt from Europe would do American society a world of good, kind of like the kick in the butt we got from the Japanese in the late '70s and early '80s. I do not think this treaty will impede that butt-kicking from happening, though I'm not sure it will help much, either.

Meanwhile, the deal in the Middle East is getting done. Israel began turning loose the 500 Palestinian prisoners they promised they would. This is an excellent step forward, and when Sharon pulls the Israeli settlements out of Gaza, it will be proof to the whole world that Israel means what it says and is willing to make concessions in its honest desire for peace. The Arab states and the Palestinians should (and I think they will) lose all legitimacy they still hold in European eyes if they continue with anti-Israeli terrorism.

I have a considered comment to make on torture. It seems that there is solid evidence that a prisoner died at Abu Ghraib while being hung up by the arms; at least this is my understanding. It is also my understanding that at the very least severe psychological pressure is being applied to prisoners at Guantanamo with the goal of making them talk, and that we are not being informed of what the CIA or other intelligence agencies might be doing.

My standard is that psychological pressure is legitimate if there are grounds to believe that a person has knowledge that might determine the life or death of American or allied troops or innocent civilians. This pressure must be carried out by official interrogators only, not by ordinary guards, who should be held to the standards of guards in American military prisons where U.S. soldiers convicted of crimes are held. All cases of guards meting out psychological pressure or physical torture must be severely punished.

By psychological pressure I mean sleep deprivation, humiliation, good cop-bad cop treatment, lying to them, frightening them, intimidating them, playing Barney music 24 hours a day, forcing them to watch film of their bloody work over and over, making them eat pork or nothing, isolating them, and threatening them with deportation to less savory countries where they are wanted by authorities (and then actually deporting them if they don't cooperate), not to mention anything else they can think of. This is legitimate if ordered by interrogation officers for the express purpose of getting information, and military lawyers should be informed of what is being done, who it is being done to, and what the results are.

Physical torture should be verboten under all circumstances, period. Yeah, we all know the extreme example of having Osama in your hands half an hour before the planes hit. Of course you torture the hell out of him to make him talk and if he dies so what. Get medieval on his ass. But that is a very extreme example, and under 99.9% of circumstances there is no justification for torturing people physically. The Gestapo and the KGB do that, not us. At least that's the way it should be.
Well, the referendum happened. If you want to read about it, or any other news from around here, check out the Spain Herald for a good solid right-wing anti-Socialist dose of information. I actually like this translating thing.

The Drudge Report has these excerpts from Bush's Brussels speech. Excellent. Just what the Europeans want to hear, with the added advantage that it's becoming more and more clear that Bush means what he says. Bush has been so rough on Europe in the past that this is a real olive branch, and even France is getting a chance to pick it up. Note that nobody's doing Zap any favors, though. Zap's honeymoon with the public isn't over yet; all the surveys I've seen show that the Socialists would win if an election were to be held now, though the PP would make a race of it. Zap's honeymoon with the non-El Pais media is about over, though, because it's also becoming more and more clear that Zap is a dope. And Spain is in the deep-freeze as long as Zap's PM.

"The alliance of Europe and North America is the main pillar of our security in a new century. Our robust trade is one of the engines of the world economy. Our example of economic and political freedom gives hope to millions who are weary of poverty and oppression. In all these ways, our strong friendship is essential to peace and prosperity across the globe - and no temporary debate, no passing disagreement of governments, no power on earth will ever divide us."

"Today, America and Europe face a moment of consequence and opportunity. Together we can once again set history on a hopeful course - away from poverty and despair, and toward development and the dignity of self-rule … away from resentment and violence, and toward justice and the peaceful settlement of differences. . . . As past debates fade, and great duties become clear, let us begin a new era of transatlantic unity. . . . "

"Our greatest opportunity, and our immediate goal, is peace in the Middle East. . . . "

"We seek peace between Israel and Palestine for its own sake. We also know that a free and peaceful Palestine can add to the momentum of reform throughout the broader Middle East. . . . "

"Lasting, successful reform in the broader Middle East will not be imposed from the outside; it must be chosen from within. . . ."

"Together, we must make clear to the Iraqi people that the world is also with them - because they have certainly shown their character to the world. . . ."

"All nations now have an interest in the success of a free and democratic Iraq, which will fight terror, be a beacon of freedom, and be a source of true stability in the region. . . . Now is the time for the established democracies to give tangible political, economic, and security assistance to the world's newest democracy. . . ."

"America supports Europe's democratic unity for the same reason we support the spread of democracy in the Middle East - because freedom leads to peace. And America supports a strong Europe because we need a strong partner in the hard work of advancing freedom in the world. . . ."

"The nations in our great alliance have many advantages and blessings. We also have a call beyond our comfort: we must raise our sights to the wider world. Our ideals and our interests lead in the same direction: By bringing progress and hope to nations in need, we can improve many lives, and lift up failing states, and remove the causes and sanctuaries of terror. . . ."

"Our alliance is determined to promote development, and integrate developing nations into the world economy. . . . "

"Our alliance is determined to encourage commerce among nations, because open markets create jobs, and lift incomes, and draw whole nations into an expanding circle of freedom and opportunity. . . ."

"Our alliance is determined to meet natural disaster, famine, and disease with swift and compassionate help. . . ."

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Well, I've been busy lately. Thanks to our friend Franco Alemán's mediation, I got a (very part-time) job translating for The Spain Herald, which is the English edition of Libertad Digital, the Spanish conservative news-and-politics website. (The link is in the blogroll on the left.) Every evening they send me one several-paragraph story and four one- or two-paragraph news briefs and I put them in English. It doesn't take long, forty-five minutes to an hour fifteen, or so. I don't translate the opinion stories; someone else does that. They did say I could submit opinion stuff, though, and yesterday they posted a little piece I reworked and sent them.

I also get to be in the local media again. Helena García Melero from TV3 has a show on Saturday at noon on Radio Barcelona, which is the SER network, and they invited me to be on it. It's going to be an hour-long interview; apparently what she does is picks out an everyday someone who is a little offbeat, and I seem to qualify. We're going to record it tomorrow afternoon and it will be on Saturday if you want to listen. I don't know if it will be available on Internet or not, but try Radio Barcelona's website.

If this doesn't get me on Gran Hermano VIP I don't know what will. I can just see myself smoking a few spliffs and talking literature with Pocholo. I'm willing to compromise, though. I'll accept Hotel Glam. What I am not going to do is go on one of those survival-on-a-desert-island ones where you have to eat bugs and get sunburned. My skin is very sensitive. I don't lie out in the sun because the consequences are painful. I am also a vegetarian, and I don't eat mammals or birds, much less bugs and worms.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Ana Palacio zaps Zap in the Wall Street Journal. (Hat tip: Franco Alemán.)

MADRID -- In some Spanish political circles, people wonder why Condoleezza Rice didn't come to Madrid on her grand European tour last week. But the omission shouldn't surprise anyone. In the 10 months since José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero took office as prime minister, Spain has abandoned a high-profile foreign policy and today relishes in an ill-defined role as a second-rate player on the world stage.

It did not have to turn out this way. When Mr. Zapatero took over last March, Spain was the world's eighth largest economy, the sixth biggest investor worldwide (second in Latin America) and the fifth most popular destination for investment. It was one of the most open economies in the world, boasting a balanced budget and a growth rate double the EU average. It was at the height of its political influence in Europe and the world in recent memory.

In no time, this inspiring picture turned dark. In his first action of note in European affairs -- the final negotiations on the new European Constitution -- Mr. Zapatero negotiated away Spain's position of influence in the EU by diluting its voting powers in the new constitution. In economic policy, he seems driven by an obsession to intervene, from limiting stores' opening hours to backing an attempt to raise the minimum wage. Of course, the economic costs of mismanagement aren't felt by consumers immediately. But the Bank of Spain has revealed that only eight months into Mr. Zapatero's term, direct foreign investment had fallen by 80%.

On the international stage, Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos had the temerity to accuse the previous government, in which I served for two years in his job, of having supported the attempted 2002 coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. This accusation was only echoed in the official mouthpiece of Cuba -- which is no doubt grateful for the Zapatero government's efforts to lift EU sanctions against the Castro regime and to keep dissidents out of EU missions on the island. And of course, in one of its first decisions, the new socialist administration last spring rushed a reckless withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq, and later irresponsibly called for other members of the coalition to follow its lead.

Monday, February 14, 2005

As I think everyone knows by now, a skyscraper in Madrid, the Windsor Tower, was completely gutted by fire over the weekend; the building was 32 stories, more than 300 feet tall. Yesterday afternoon it was finally declared under control; the building did not collapse, as was feared, but it will obviously have to be destroyed. The most important thing is that nobody was hurt, and, fortunately, the fire did not spread to any neighboring buildings such as El Corte Inglés.

The most important effects of the fire are that traffic in the area has shut down and offices in the area are closed down until Wednesday. Three subway lines are cut off as well as Madrid's central commuter train line from Chamartín to Atocha. The company most affected by the fire is the auditing firm Deloitte & Touche, the largest in Spain. They own Arthur Andersen. They occupied twenty stories of the building. These guys audited dozens of large companies, including 21 of the 35 listed on Spain's stock market index. Meanwhile, they still haven't decided what caused the fire, but it reached temperatures of over 800º C and took more than 200 firemen more than 24 hours to put out. The building was the property of the Reyzábal family and was insured for 84 million euros by Allianz. The conspiracy theories may begin.
FC Barcelona solidly defeated Zaragoza, 1-4, on Saturday night; Real Madrid won 1-2 against Osasuna in Pamplona. Defending champion Valencia lost 1-2 against Deportivo de la Coruña, which is also having a lousy year, pretty much putting the last nail in their coffin. They'll be lucky to finish third the way they're playing, and they no longer have any hope of catching Barcelona.

The Zaragoza-Barça game started out in the second minute with a ridiculous own goal; Zaragoza defender Toledo made a surprise poorly aimed pass back to third-string goalie Ruben, who failed to stop it, and it dribbled right into the goal. 0-1. Game over right there. Give the Barça an advantage like that and you're toast. Zaragoza did manage to put up a fight; they played with their defense up, in an attacking position, attempting to catch Barcelona with the onside trap. This worked a few times. Then Ronaldinho fed Etoo through the Zaragoza defensive four, and Etoo flicked it to Giuly coming in on his left, and it was 0-2. Then Ronaldinho received a pass in the middle of the field, paused, looked up, and vaselined a pass right over their heads; Etoo was off like a racehorse, controlled with his chest, put the ball down, flicked it over the goalie's head, and tapped it in. 0-3. Wonderful. This one will be replayed over and over for years. Zaragoza scored the "goal of honor", a very nice play, as their forward blasted home a shot from the top of the area that somehow found its way through Márquez and Puyol, who were all over him, and wrong-footed Valdés, who might have stopped it had he not been surprised. In his defense, he probably didn't see where the ball was coming from since there were two defenders all over the guy blocking his view. Then, off a corner kick, Márquez, who along with Puyol is an excellent player with his head (in both senses of the word; he and Puyol play up on corner kicks while smaller guys like Giuly, Xavi, and Van Bronckhorst play back, rather like safeties in American football), "combed" the ball (changed its direction with the top of his head). 1-4.

The second half of the game was pretty rough; Zaragoza did a lot of hacking, and our badass boys in blue, especially Belletti, hacked them right back. No cards in the first half. Six in the second half, two yellows for Barcelona and four for Zaragoza. Rijkaard was afraid Giuly and Van Bronckhorst were going to get broken and replaced them with somewhat larger people; I would have put in Albertini just to hack somebody Italian-style but Rikjaard preferred to use Iniesta, who is always the first man off the bench--which I think is brilliant use of this guy, who has unlimited potential but is only 21, so you get him twenty or thirty minutes a week of top-level competition without wearing him down--Sylvinho, and then Gerard.

The crowd was obnoxious. They're all pissed off because they think the refs have been favoring the competition, and they really took it out on this particular ref during the game; this guy was actually not too bad. Players from both teams shook his hand as they all ran off the field at the end of the game. Meanwhile, the crowd was throwing shit on the field, especially at Belletti, who takes the corner kicks from the right side, and at the very least certain racist elements--maybe even most of the crowd--were taunting Etoo with the well-known ape noises; Etoo responded, after scoring 0-3, with an ape-dance in celebration of his goal. Gotta admit the guy has attitude. He's quite a personality. He's also rumored to like the high life a little bit too much, though; supposedly he parties down at the Puerto Olímpico.

By the way, I think Barça's road uniforms are ugly as hell. They're medium-blue with strips of very dark blue that makes them look like Inter Milan. I'd go with two different sets, one in a dignified navy blue and the other in a moderate burgundy. Or, if they decide they want to go with a completely alternate set of colors, how about red and yellow, which are the colors of the Barcelona, Catalan, and also Spanish flags?

It is also a total joke that Barça claims to wear no advertising on their jerseys. OK, they don't have a corporate logo right in the center of the shirt like 99% of teams have. They merely have the Nike swoosh on the upper right front and the TV3 logo on their left sleeves. The hilarious bit is that they were talking about getting a corportate sponsor and sullying the front and center of the glorious jersey of the Barça, and they were trying to talk to several different companies about it. Well, how about, maybe, one of the Big Four Spanish corporations, Telefonica, Repsol, BSCH, and BBVA, or Seat, or another car maker, or a major producer of consumer goods like Coca-Cola, or La Caixa, or some established, prestigious company like that, somebody who will add to your respectability? No, they seriously discussed a proposal from, get this, an Austrian internet-gambling company. Yeah, great, that's gonna make us look just swell, promoting gambling, which is itself a cancer on sports as the recent German betting-and-game-fixing scandal makes clear. Gee, one wouldn't think that the gambling company would be able to put a little pressure on the team they're paying like ten million bucks a year to sponsor, would one? Fortunately, that proposal got shot down.

The Barça owns a couple of shops called "La botiga del Barça"--I know they have one down at the Maremagnum mall at the foot of the Ramblas--and they sell all manner of Barça junk you don't need. I figure that's fair enough, every team does that. They have everything you could imagine, from stuffed toy lions to motorcycle helmets, with the Barça logo on them. My problem started when I noticed that they have, or at the very least had, last time I checked a couple of years ago, Barça wine. Well, all right, wine is a traditional part of the local diet, and if the Barça can ally itself with a good winemaker and make them both a little extra money, I guess that's OK. Hell, low-to-moderate wine consumption is actually good for you. But they also had Barça whiskey. Right there is where I get off. That's hard stuff and definitely not part of the traditional local diet. Here's the Barça promoting drinking for the sake of drinking, which, to be frank, is the reason people drink hard stuff. And, even worse, so bad it's unimaginable, is that they had Barça CIGARETTES. If there's anything as ridiculous as a sports club, and the Barça is a real club, not just a corporation, sponsoring smoking, I can't think of it. Well, maybe the German supporters of gay rights for penguins. Or the entire Forum de les Cultures. Or the Plan Ibarretxe. Or any words that come out of Zap's mouth. Or anything that was supposedly decided at the Porto Alegre hippiefest. Or the entire concept of the Burning Man festival. Actually, it's not that hard to think of a whole bunch of really ridiculous things, but Barça brand cigarettes is fairly high on the list.

On TV3 recently they showed a documentary called "The New Puritans". I saw a few minutes of it. Same old shit. Go to Idaho and find some Turner Diaries fans. Mention Janet Jackson and Howard Stern. Interview a couple of Jesushead nuts, visit one of those suburban megachurches, remind everyone that there are some hardcore antievolution wackos out there, go to some small town where they've passed a law against letting your buttcrack hang out while you're walking down the street, and that's it. Then pontificate on how these Protestant crazies are really running George Bush's regime and will soon take over the world!

Same old formula. Don't mention that, say, the American government does not subsidize religious schools. Or that the idea of an obligatory public-school class in religion would be impossible there. Or that abortion and divorce are both actually legal and easily available in the States, which they certainly aren't here. Or that most American Christians, who are Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anglicans, and the like, are moderates. Or that Christians, Jews, Muslims, and nonbelievers manage to live together in the US with minimal frictions; most frictions that exist are caused by intolerant nonbelievers who resent anything that smacks of Jesus. Or that there is simply no evidence that the Bush administration is working for Jesus first and America second, and making such charges is akin to those leveled at Kennedy and Al Smith that they would be loyal to the Pope first and America second, or those leveled at Jews throughout history that they were working for Judaism first and their country second.

By the way, I want to wipe out one common "There's-no-freedom-in-America" argument in America that is completely ridiculous. It is the following: "If you go topless in America you get arrested." Well, no, actually, if you go topless you are requested politely to put your top on. If you should wish to go topless, there are certain designated places it can be done. The reason is quite simple. Some people object to seeing topless women walking around, and it's a social norm that you must at least wear a bikini at most beaches. That, frankly, does not seem like a limitation of freedom to me. And, I ask: would the Europeans who complain about not being allowed to watch women tan their tits at Pacific Palisades make similar complaints if they were visiting, say, Iran? Isn't it a little arrogant to go to someone else's country and demand that they change their social norms for you? And isn't it ridiculous to judge a country on its position regarding topless sunbathing than its position regarding, say, the right to a fair trial or the freedom of speech and assembly or the separation of church and state or the idea of checks and balances or the principle of judicial review or the rule "One person, one vote" or equal civil rights for minorities or the rule of law as codified in the Constitution.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

This has got to be a joke. Not the part about the gay penguins, but the part about the gay-rights protestors.

BERLIN (Reuters) - A plan by a German zoo to test the sexual appetites of a group of suspected homosexual penguins has sparked outrage among gay and lesbian groups, who fear zookeepers might force them to turn straight.

"All sorts of gay and lesbian associations have been e-mailing and calling in to protest," said a spokesman for the zoo in the northwestern city of Bremerhaven on Friday.

He said the zoo concluded the penguins might be gay after seeing male penguins trying to mate with other males and trying to hatch offspring out of stones.

German media reported that female Swedish penguins would be brought to the zoo to test the theory, but when word got out about the plan, the phones started ringing.

"Nobody here is trying to break-up same sex pairs by force," the zoo's director Heike Kueck told public broadcaster NDR. "We don't know if the three male pairs are really gay or just got together because of a lack of females."

Seems to me that the zoo is simply trying to find out whether this lavender-penguins business is what they call "situational homosexuality", like at British boarding schools (I love a good stereotype as much as anyone) or in your average prison. Also, one would assume that the zoo is hoping that the hot Swedish bikini penguin babes will produce fertile eggs and baby penguins. Finally, let me remind unsuspecting readers of La Vanguardia that these Swedish penguin babes are obviously from a Swedish zoo rather than from the frozen Antarctic ice shelves of Lapland.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Franco Alemán links to a devastating post from ¡No Pasarán! Check it out.
I told y'all a couple of days ago that the tunnel they were digging to extend Line 5, the blue line, from Horta through the Carmelo, collapsed. Nobody was hurt, but a thousand people were evacuated and are going to have to be rehoused, because they're going to have to tear down that entire block. It seems that the soil in that area is not particularly solid and there are a lot of fissures in it. It's such a big deal that Zap came to town to soothe everybody's nerves, promising checks of fifteen thousand euros. Maragall, the prime minister of the Generalitat, compared this mess to the sinking of the tanker Prestige a couple of years ago off Galicia, which resulted in an unpleasant though not disastrous oil slick.

I don't think the comparison is apt at all. What happened with the Prestige was that it was a foreign-owned ship in Spanish waters and it was going to sink. The Aznar government was on the spot; this was an emergency situation and they had to make a quick decision: should they tow the ship to port, which would certainly wreck whatever harbor they towed it into, or should they tow it back out to sea hoping that either the thing would hold together or that no significant damage would be done because the oil slicks could be stopped before they reached the shore?

They had no time to dither and they went with the second choice, towing it out to sea, which sort of worked because none of the national seashores nor the prime fisheries were affected, though an ugly mess was created that cost some time and effort to even partially clean up. The point remains, though, that criticizing the Aznar government over the Prestige affair is second-guessing, armchair-generalling, Monday-morning quarterbacking, looking back with 20/20 hindsight.

Meanwhile, this little mess should have been foreseen by the planners, who should have known what sort of soil they were tunneling through. Years before construction even began on that subway line extension, they should have known what kind of soil there was as part of the most basic planning. This is not a case of making a questionable decision in an emergency situation like the Prestige; this is a case of not doing your homework. It's negligence and somebody's head needs to roll.
Remember a couple of days ago I promised y'all Mr. James Howard Kunstler's reaction to that sad little story about the kids getting run over while one of the neighbors was teaching his son to drive? Here it is.

What on earth does one make of a story like this? I conclude that the local culture, in effect, accepts the death of little children like Michael Brown as a necessary cost of doing business. Atlanta's economy is based on suburban development for its own sake. That is, suburban development IS the economy. This particular pattern of development requires the continual use of personal transport machines, cars, which tend to be dangerous and require some skill to operate. Teaching these skills is the responsibility of the family. It can be hazardous to bystanders. Sometimes members of other families are present in the area of instruction. Sometimes hazards cannot ba avoided and injuries or death result. Of course, everybody regrets the loss, but all--including the parents--are eager to forgive and get over the unhappy incident and get on with the next order of business: Real estate must be sold, development deals must be signed, the roads have to be widened to accomodate all the extra cars from the new subdivisions and their accessory strip malls. Children will grow up there, and sooner or later virtually all of them who are mentally and physically able must be taught to drive cars so that they can go out and play adult roles in the Sunbelt economy.

What a pile of shit.

1. While people are to some degree motivated by economics, everybody who isn't an utter cynic will agree that economics is not people's ONLY motivation, and that there may be other factors like, I don't know, love, loyalty, kindness, generosity, and such silly Sunbelt Christian things. The Brown family and those who offered to help them seem to be a fine example of these non-economic impulses.

2. Atlanta's economy is quite obviously based on a whole lot of things besides suburban development. Just to name a few: Coca-Cola, CNN, dozens of other corporate headquarters, the airport, the medical centers, Emory, Morehouse, and Georgia Tech (all fine universities), the railroad connections, federal and state employment, banking, insurance, state legislature pork, strip bars, porno vid rentals, escort I need to go on?

3. People have always had accidents with dangerous things. Before cars it was railroads and ships, not to mention horses. An awful lot of people got killed in carriage wrecks or when being thrown. Farm machinery, which kids in the old days had to learn how to work by the time they were twelve, is dangerous now and was a lot more dangerous then. Factory work, which kids in the old days were often doing by the time they were twelve, could be extremely dangerous. Let's not even get into coal mining. Our kids are tremendously better protected today than even fifty years ago.

4. Moron, in the US we have something called "drivers' education", which dopes like a certain relative of mine teach in the public high schools. It's taught in the public schools because it's considered a useful and necessary skill. I personally remember, at age fifteen, drivers ed class. When we passed the course we got provisional licenses, which required us to drive only with another adult in the front seat until we turned sixteen and took the real state drivers' license exam. (This was Texas in 1982.) Probably the guy who did more than anyone else to teach me to drive was our neighbor across the alley, Mr. Grimley.

5. People want to forgive other people because, I don't know, maybe because they believe that forgiveness is the ethical way to behave? And people want to, in the jargon, reach "closure" when a tragedy like this one happens. It is utterly cynical to insinuate that Mr. Brown feels forgiving to his neighbor because he knows that real estate must be sold.

6. Just one little comment. Haussmann (that's the correct spelling of the guy's surname, which I think I managed to spell three different ways in the last post. Two S's, two N's) quite clearly had, among the objects of his plan to beautify and organize and modernize Paris, a) increasing the value of real estate b) making money for Haussmann's own Robert Moses-esque operation c) improving traffic circulation. I don't see much difference between that and "selling real estate, making development deals, and widening the roads". Yet Kunstler praises Haussmann and his patron, Napoleon III. OK, that's fair, those two really did a lot to make Paris the beautiful city we know, but neither of them was at all democratic nor particularly honest, something I'll bet a lot of these Georgia real-estate developers actually are. Oh, yeah, Nap III wound up losing his throne due to the idiot war he started with the Prussians, thereby getting God only knows how many of his countrymen killed, firing up a real revolution that had to be bloodily suppressed, and losing two of his country's richest provinces to the Germans. Some hero. Bet you can't name a cracker fundamentalist with that kind of record for incompetence, stupidity, arrogance, and being the direct cause of thousands of deaths. OK, Jimmy Carter, but that's just one.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Arthur Miller is dead. Well, every man's death diminishes me, but I always thought he was overrated, at least since about the time I was 19. I remember we read Death of a Salesman and The Crucible in ninth-grade English class, and, frankly, Arthur Miller operated on about a ninth-grade mentality. There's just no comparison between him and the real American dramatist of the 1950s, Tennessee Williams.

He did nail Marilyn Monroe. On the other hand, I have always thought Marilyn was way, way overrated as a sex symbol. I just don't get the whole Marilyn thing, though I wouldn't be surprised if it's mostly a gay camp deal. She wasn't at all bad as a comedy actress, though, and she was great in the Misfits. I guess it would be cool to go around saying you'd nailed the same broad as JFK, but then on the other hand, what with all the broads JFK nailed, probably a lot of guys could say that, and from what I've read about Marilyn, she got around too. In my opinion the coolest guy to nail Marilyn was undoubtedly Joe D.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The news from Spain today is that ETA let off a bomb at the Madrid trade fair / convention center. Over 40 people were injured but none seriously, so it turned out to be just a scare.

There seems to be a growing tone of guarded optimism around here in reaction to the news of the cease-fire agreement made at Sharm el Sheikh and Condi Rice's appearance in Paris. American policy seems to be on a winning streak. I'll bet within a couple or three days we'll start seeing some expressions of real hope out of the Spanish press. We'll keep you posted. I also think it's becoming much more clear to the average José over here that the "resistance" are a bunch of terrorist killers, as they tried to sabotage the elections and then have continued to murder Iraqis.

You know, I think that Iraq Body Count has, despite its obvious partiality, has given us a clear perspective of the cost of the war on Iraq. They say that about 16,000 civilians have been killed since the Anglo-American invasion, according to generally accepted journalistic reports. They do not say, of course, though it's obvious from their case file, that probably 90% of those killed are victims of the terrorists. They add that the number of identified and proven dead civilians is over 3000; that number, to me, is the absolute bottom possible. I'm willing to believe the 16,000 figure as the possible ceiling, though that would require an average death toll of more than 20 a day, which seems high to me. But then I only know what I read in the media.

The question is: is getting rid of Saddam, eliminating his military threats and terrorist activities, and establishing a reasonably free government in Iraq worth between 3000 and 16,000 civilians dead? Not if you're one of those people, and not likely if they're in your family. But I dunno. In World War II we certainly killed hundreds of thousands of enemy civilians, and Germany, Japan, and Italy have all since become civilized places. Was it worth it to kill all those German and Japanese kids and mothers and old people? Well, the world is certainly a much better place than it was in 1945, that's for sure.

I guess for me it comes down to motive. If your motive is to deliberately kill civilian people, like the Anglo-American terror bombings of Germany and Japan, that's evil. Did it have to be done? Well, the war had to be won and we could not be finicky about our methods, but you can justify almost anything with that logic. This time, though, in Iraq, we tried to minimize civilian dead and wounded to as few as possible. The motive wasn't to kill them. The current Western alliance, to my knowledge, is the only one in world history to fight wars while actively trying to kill as few civilians as possible.
Murph lent me this awful book on urban geography by some guy named James Howard Kunstler, who is American and wrote this thing in 2001.

Chapter One of the book is an ode to Hausmann's Paris, which is more than fair enough, Paris is a beautiful place, though of course it wasn't all created by Haussman. Kunstler does debunk the myth that Hausmann designed his plan in order to more easily put down urban uprisings; he has enough evidence to prove the main points were slum clearance, installation of functioning water and sewer systems, improvement of traffic, and increasing real-estate value along the new boulevards. He also points out that Haussmann's plan certainly did not seem to help much in the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune, which did have the long-term effect of eliminating the Paris mob as a political force. So Chapter One isn't bad at all. I actually learned something.

Chapter Two's on Atlanta, though, and boy, Kunstler sets the tone early: "...the system had clogged up like the porkfat-lined vascular system of a baby boom Bubba behind the wheel of his beloved suburban utility vehicle (SUV), and Lordy, the entire fretful coastal plain had become a united parking lot". And this: "pathogenic characters who fed off the metastatizing tumors of suburban sprawl". Or this: "It went against their current politics, their whole belief system, really, which boiled down to the notion that Atlanta was the ideal expression of democracy, free enterprise, and Christian destiny." Or this: "the people of the Sunbelt, U.S.A., a regional group who, culturally speaking, had crawled out of the mud about twenty-three years ago." Or this: "Saying there was anything wrong with Atlanta was like being against America". Or this: " was unlikely that everyone in the Sunbelt (formerly the Bible Belt) who subscribed to the fundamentalist Christian idea of heaven as a sort of eternal theme park was necessarily a genius. What it actually prompted one to think was how childishly incoherent Sunbelt theology was...".

The contempt drips off every word. Note to assorted American leftists: You are going to continue losing every election from here to eternity unless you stop treating everything from Sacramento to Newark as "the flyover". Scorn and disdain are not the best techniques for convincing people of your beliefs. I find it interesting that Kunstler does not bother to investigate why the people in suburban Atlanta more or less like it more or less the way it is. After all, if people didn't like it, they wouldn't move there, and there sure seem to be a lot more people moving into Atlanta than moving out of it. But Kunstler takes the easy out, chalking up the people's (most likely logical) preferences to their childish Bible Belt theology. Oh, yeah, note to assorted Europeans: You make a mistake when you take such examples of the bicoastal self-appointed cultural elite's opinions as anything resembling the actual state of events. Let me add, by the way, that Atlanta is probably America's largest metropolitan area in which blacks are powerfully influential.

Kunstler then offers up this story from the Saturday, September 9, 1999, Atlanta Journal-Record, which I've summarized below. Your job is, while reading through this, to think about what this news story means in the larger scheme of things, and then to guess what Mr. Kunstler's interpretation of the story is.

"Comfort and hopeful news are pouring in for the Brown family. Days after their son Michael, 3, was killed after a 14-year-old neighbor practicing driving with his father hit the toddler and his six-year-old brother Brandon, the Gwinnett County family has been deluged with offers of sympathy. "We've been showered with unconditional love and support," said Richard Brown on Friday...On Friday doctors removed (Brandon's) neck brace and hope to take him off an intravenous feeding tube soon. "He's doing very well," Brown said. "It's steady progress." The family has received encouragement and offers from family, friends, and business around the country, all anxious to help the family, whose van overheated on the way to the hospital and was still in the shop Friday...The Brown family has continued to maintain an attitude of forgiveness toward their neighbor, Dimitras Iliadis, and his 14-year-old son. Gwinnett County police say Iliadis was attempting to teach his son to drive when the teen pressed the accelerator and the car took off, striking the Brown children who were playing in their yard."

Take your best guess below; tomorrow I'll post Mr. Kunstler's interpretation. Whoever comes closest receives an eloquent testimonial he can put on his resumé; just don't tell anyone you got it from me.

Monday, February 07, 2005

James Taranto runs this note on his Best of the Web column today:

Three cheers for the Czech government, which has quashed a plan by Spain's Socialist government aimed at quashing dissent in communist Cuba, as the Prague Post reports:

"In their first foreign-policy victory since joining the EU, Czech officials in Brussels have blocked a proposed ban on inviting Cuban dissidents to receptions at European embassies in Havana.

The ban would have suspended a 2003 resolution that called on EU countries to support anti-Castro dissidents by inviting them to parties celebrating national holidays.

Spain proposed the ban as part of a package of measures--including the resumption of EU missions to Cuba--designed to ease tensions with Havana. It became a sticking point when the Czechs threatened to use their veto in the 25-member Council of Foreign Ministers, where unanimity is required on policy decisions."

Having actually lived under communist domination for more than 40 years makes the Czechs less accepting of Castro's depredations than some of their Western European counterparts. As the Post puts it, "Debate over the ban touched a nerve here, where many former dissidents entered politics after communism fell in 1989."

You gotta love the country that produced Vaclav Havel, and be embarrassed that clowns like Zap and Moratinos are running this one. Look on the bright side; three more years of Zap means that the PP will win the next four or five general elections in a row, while the fact that Zap's term is limited and will thankfully come to an end at the next election means that he won't have time to screw things up real bad before his term expires.

Let's see you guys add a few verses to this one.

How many times must Moratinos screw up
Before we can call him a jerk
And how many times will Zap make plans
That in practice aren't going to work
And how many times will the Pope get mad
And tell Zap he should go more to church

The answer, meus amics, is not in El País
The answer is not in El País
FC Barcelona got beat fair and square at home last night, 0-2, by Atlético de Madrid. It was a fairly rough game, since Atlético is notorious as another team that deals in "leña" and Barça is perfectly capable of passing it out as well as taking it (keep an eye on Puyol, Belletti, Márquez, and now Albertini). I am guessing, though, that teams are finding that the way to challenge the Barça is to play rough, since they don't have a lot of men on the bench to sub the regulars. The arrival of Albertini and López and the return of Gerard should do something to relieve this problem, but right now the Barça players are getting banged up every week by teams willing to play a physical game, and nobody gets much of a rest. Another thing is that teams are discovering that by putting relentless pressure on the midfield they can at least partially shut down Barça's passing game.

Atlético scored on a very nice goal in the very first minute. Somebody centered into the area and Ibagaza volleyed the ball off his heel (let's be frank, this was a bit lucky, but it was very pretty) to Fernando Torres, who knocked it in for 0-1. Atlético proceeded to retreat to its own half of the field and let Barça take the game to them, but they defended aggressively at the midfield stripe, not back around the area, and they shut down Barça's midfield and cut off Ronaldinho and Etoo from the ball. Both teams had several opportunities that they bungled. The ref was lousy; he didn't favor either team, his calls were equally bad for both sides. He failed to call a couple of real penalties, and he erred in calling one in favor of the Barça in the first half, which Ronaldinho muffed, and then calling another in favor of the Atlético in extra time (Valdés seemed to take down Torres in the area) that Torres sent home. Neither was a legitimate penalty. Barcelona had not lost at home for more than a year. They are still in first place, four points ahead of Real Madrid, who stomped Espanyol at home 4-0. Next week Barça plays at Zaragoza and Madrid plays at Osasuna; these are both midtable teams who do well when playing at home, and there might be more than one little surprise.

As everyone knows, New England beat Philadelphia in the Super Bowl. They were showing it at several of the local bars that cater largely to expats, but there was no way I was going out at midnight and stay up until 3 AM on Sunday night. That's three Super Bowls in four years for the no-longer Patsies, and this year in the playoffs they beat all three of the teams that were a legitimate challenge for them, Peyton Manning's Colts--Manning just had the best regular season a quarterback has ever had--, Big Ben's Steelers, and then Donovan McNabb's Eagles. They can start talking dynasty; I believe that the last team that was so dominant were the Cowboys of the early Nineties.
My feelings on the upcoming referendum on the European Union Constitution are rather mixed and slightly confused. Part of the reason is that I'm an American citizen (a legal resident of Spain), and I view this from rather an outside perspective.

If I were British or Irish, I'd be very suspicious of the EU, and I would support some kind of associate membership in both the EU and NAFTA. I would vote no on the treaty.

If I were Spanish, I would hope I would be honest enough to admit that Spain has a very poor record at self-government, and that membership in international institutions--first the UN and then NATO and the EU--has been key in making Spain part of the international community. I would actually figure that full 100% membership in the EU would be a guarantee on Spain never sliding back to the old ways; you have to remember that Spain was a dictatorship until the old SOB died in bed in 1975 and that the Army tried to pull a coup as late as 1981. Democracy in Spain was established as recently as 1978. Eastern Europe wasn't free until 1989. That's only an eleven-year difference. Spain has also received lots of dough from the EU over the years, and it would be sort of selfish to pull out now that the people who are going to get the big subsidies are Slavs and Magyars.

I know that's kind of superficial, but if I were Spanish I would vote yes.

If I were Catalanista I would figure that the stronger the EU bonds are, the looser identification with the state there will be, and that therefore there will be more of an opportunity to hype regional identification. I would vote yes.

As an American I figure anything that binds democratic governments closer together is a good thing, and I think it is very positive that places like Poland and Slovakia and Hungary are already part of the West. I do not believe that a more united Europe will be a challenge to America; we are similar peoples, both part of the great Western civilization of the Greeks, Romans, Jews, and Christians. (This does not exclude Muslims or anyone else, by the way, since our tradition should allow other religions to freely express their ideas in our countries, of course.) Our interests are similar and our goals are similar, and in the long run things will work out with a lot of jaw-jawing and no war-waring, because there is no way a bunch of democracies are going to go to war, not even if the French somehow get hold of the central apparatus. As an American I urge you Continental Europeans to vote yes.

The best argument I have heard against the EU constitution is that it adds another useless layer of bureaucracy. Fine, I say. Let's vote for the party that promises to cut down our state bureaucracy and hand over its responsibilities to the EU.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

I haven't complained about the Cataloonies for a while, so here goes. To my knowledge, in Catalonia, right now, it is legal to label your product either in Spanish, in Catalan, or both. This, right here, is dangerous, because the problem is that EVERYONE in Catalonia can read Spanish, including all of the many visitors from other parts of Spain and quite a few of the visitors from foreign countries, but my guess is that one-quarter of locals and 99% of visitors from other parts of Spain and foreign countries can't read Catalan.

Now, most of the time Catalan and Spanish are quite similar, but occasionally there might be a major problem. Take, for example, my mom (in real life). She's both diabetic and allergic to gluten. Let's imagine my mom is a working-class immigrant from Andalusia who's been here in Barcelona for 25 years but isn't well-educated and can barely read Spanish, much less Catalan. Fair enough? There are quite a few people like that. Now, my mom can figure out that "trigo" means "wheat" and that "azúcar" means sugar, and she knows enough to read the labels on food products to check if they contain those things. But will she be able to figure out that "blat", not "trigo", is Catalan for wheat, and that "sucre", not "azúcar", is Catalan for sugar? This is why all product labels should be in Spanish because EVERYONE understands it. If companies want to label in Catalan as well, that's just fine, but they should be required to label in Spanish.

Another example is highway signs. Now, most of the time Spanish and Catalan are pretty much the same. "Centre Ciutat" is pretty much the same as "Centro Ciudad". But all highway signs should be in Spanish because it's the language everybody can read, including all drivers from other parts of Spain and many from foreign countries; for example, every trucker who covers the Alicante-Copenhagen route, knows how to read Spanish, no matter if he's Danish or German or French. But would a guy from Cuenca driving to Gerona, or a working-class van driver from El Prat, know how to figure out this temporary sign that was up for a couple of years in the very early '90s while they were working on the N-II, the main Barcelona-Zaragoza-Madrid highway: "Perill. Pont tancat." Which, in Spanish, would be "Peligro. Puente cerrado." or in English, "Danger. Bridge closed."?

Again, if the Catalan government wants to require the use of Catalan on road signs in Catalonia, that seems fair enough, but it makes absolutely no sense not to put them up in Spanish as well.
Here's some poetry by the Jedman; it should be set to music and sung by someone like Emmylou Harris.

Chadwell says that Jean has a big butt and fat ankles
Chadwell says that Jean eats too many desserts at the Golden Corral
Cheesecake, pie and fudge, fudge, fudge.

But, Jean is beautiful, no matter what Chadwell says.
Chadwell's words can't bring Jean down. Oh no.
Jean is beautiful in each and every way.
So, Chadwell, don't you bring Jean down today.

Chadwell says that Jean drinks too much beer
and hits the bacon and gravy buffet too often.
Chadwell says that Jean has hag hair
and a big mouth. She asks too many questions

But Jean is beautiful no matter what Chadwell says.
Chadwell's words can't bring Jean down. Oh no.
Jean is beautiful in each and every way.
So, Chadwell, don't you bring Jean down today.

I am just guessing that "Jean" is a friend of ours who lives out in Oakland, and that "Chadwell" is a composite character of me and this woman's loser boyfriend, who is also a friend of ours. The Jedman got the name "Chadwell" from his roommate the first year at the dormitory. As Jed said, "Chadwell has a loud stereo. It's not a good stereo, but it's a loud stereo". John Chadwell was a Neanderthal-looking big thick guy with a mullet--he looked something like Barcelona player Carles Puyol. who used to do crazy shit like getting drunk and crawling out on the ledge below the fifth-floor windows. He was kind of a jock; we used to play tackle football on weekend afternoons and Chadwell was a beast, damn near impossible to take down in the open field. He'd just run over you. He used to be pals with Mike the Marine, who was, of course, going into the Marines. Once it rained like hell for like a week and Chadwell and Mike the Marine climbed up on the concrete awning above the dorm's front door and jumped off into the flowerbed beside the entrance. It was like twenty feet high, but the mud in the flowerbed was like six feet thick, so they didn't get hurt. A couple of other idiots then tried it, and the whole thing ended up in the Great Hashinger Mud Fight of 1986. Another time those dopes went down to this pond across Iowa Street from the dorms, which is on university land, and caught a snapping turtle. They got it to bite onto the middle of this eight-foot-long stick and brought it back to the dorm. It was a monster, like two feet long, and it had hold of that stick in its super-strong beak and it was not going to let go, and each one of them was carrying one end of the stick with the damn thing hanging off it. They brought it back and everyone went down and got a look at it. Then somebody said, "Well, what are you going to do with it?", and they didn't know. I imagine a couple of the Chinese students would have known how to turn it into turtle soup, but they just finally took it back to the pond and tossed it back in. Chadwell had a very impressive collection of soft-core porno mags, and he used to practice drawing and painting the chicks; he was an art major, but his tastes in subject matter ran toward what a girlfriend of mine once labeled "heavy-metal bimboes from Mars".
Here's Luis Racionero in yesterday's La Vanguardia. The piece is titled "American culture". These are just a few excerpts rather than a full translation, since it's a long article.

...Eurocentric intellectuals despise what they know nothing of*, egged on by the persistent anti-American campaign over Bush's wars, and also the inferiority complex of the Europeans themselves...My working hypothesis is that during the 20th century, the United States developed a culture--that is, art, literature, science, standard of living, rule of law--that, during the century, eclipsed and replaced the European in world hegemony...In the 20th century's own art form, film, the hegemony of the United States is total. Regarding science, it is enough to look down the list of Nobel Prize winners, universities, and scientific journals...

At the end of the 20th century, the heritage of all the European brains recruited by the United States--after 1945, with high salaries and good laboratories--had created cultural conditions considerably above the already high European level. Given these objective conditions, does it make sense that the Europeans--badly advised by some of their intellectuals, especially French ones--should scorn American culture and accuse it of cultural imperialism?...Why not adimt that, like the European grapevines transported to California and then returned to France after the deadly phylloxera**, European culture has been transplanted to the United States, from which it can return, brought back by those who bother to study in its universities and inquire without prejudices, openly, into that culture which has been that of the 20th century?

Notes: * is a well-known quotation from the early 20th century by the poet Antonio Machado, of the "Generation of 1898", a group of authors who lamented the decline of Spanish culture during the decadent 1800s and by their work did a great deal to revitalize it. Here's the complete couplet:

Castilla miserable,
ayer dominadora,
envuelta en sus andrajos
desprecia cuanto ignora.

(Poor Castile,
yesterday overlord,
wrapped in its rags
scorns what it ignores.)

**Phylloxera was a plant disease that attacked and destroyed all European grapevines in the late 1800s, with a lot of serious social consequences--it caused a mass emigration from the Catalan countryside into Barcelona and other industrial cities in search of work. The old dead grapevines were replaced by California ones of original European stock that had been transported over and mixed with the genes of native American grapevines, making them immune to phylloxera. To my knowledge 100% of grapevines in the world today originally come from these California hybrids.
James Taranto links to this Australian Broadcasting Corp. report:

The Iraqi police have investigated a case in the village of al-Mudhariya, which is just south of Baghdad. The villagers there say that before the election insurgents came and warned them that if they voted in last weekend's election, they would pay.

Now the people of this mixed village of Sunni and Shia Muslims, they ignored the threat and they did turn out to vote.

We understand that last night the insurgents came back to punish the people of al-Mudhariya, but instead of metering [sic] out that punishment the villagers fought back and they killed five of the insurgents and wounded eight. They then burnt the insurgents' car. So the people of that village have certainly had enough of the insurgents.

Sounds like these people are ready to fight for freedom.
My only comments about Bush's State of the Union address are that, first, I don't generally put a lot of stock in speeches, but, second, Bush is spending an awful lot of political capital on this democracy and freedom stuff, and he sure keeps talking about it a lot, so he just might mean what he says.

The pro-freedom forces have certainly won their share of victories lately. There's Bush's reelection and John Howard's reelection and Tony Blair's holding firm. There are the elections in Afghanistan and Iraq and Palestine. Abu Mazen is actually going to meet with Sharon at Sharm el Sheikh, and Mubarak and the King of Jordan and Condi Rice are going to be there and some kind of deal is going to get cut. There's the fact that dozens of Third World nations, from the world's brightest hope, India, to the Philippines to Thailand to Nigeria to Brazil to South Africa, are improving despite all their troubles. And Mexico. If you want to see a country that's gone from a hellhole to a functioning nation, take one look at the revolution south of the border that NAFTA has created.

The next challenge for us is the election in the Basque Country. Vote PP. If you can't stand to vote PP, vote PSOE. But go out and vote and we'll beat them.
Here's a letter to the editor from today's El Periódico signed Aladdin Maruf Alwali of Barcelona.

The elections in Iraq have shown what the people wants in its future: democracy and freedom; all of us united in civilized elections in order to build the new Iraq. The poor perspecitve offered by the media of communication about Iraqi affairs has also been demonstrated. The few of us Iraqis who live here have rarely heard or read anyone who understands the legitimate hopes of the people to put an end to dictatorship and terror. For a long time they have talked about a civil war--which we have not seen, nor will we see--, they talk about the "Iraqi resistance as if it were the French against the Nazis, and not as they are, the ex-executioners of the people supported by foreign extremists. And, also, now they talk about the Sunnis, as if they did not know they (the Sunnis) had also suffered from the dictatorship. I hope that free people will help enslaved peoples. If they cannot support us materially, at least they can encourage us. We will never forget the help that the free peoples have offered us, especially the Americans and the British.

Mr. Alwali, that was very eloquent. About all I can do from here is send you, and the people of Iraq, all my best wishes. Together we will change things.

Friday, February 04, 2005

IBERIAN NOTES DENOUNCES A SPAINIAC or From now on you goddamn Cataloonies can't call me a Spanish nationalist any more

Here's a letter to the editor from today's La Vanguardia.

Don't break up Spain

Spain is a nation that is formed by a people, the Spaniards, which grants itself, in virtue of its own sovereignty, a state.

We defend our positions through our representatives in the Congress of Deputies or through citizens' platforms, all of them registered within the legal bounds of the Constitution and of democracy which all of us Spaniards have granted ourselves, independently of our geographical origin. Spain is a historical, legal, political, and cultural reality which we are proud to belong to, despite the problems that today beset our nation.

Attempting to break up such a reality based on illegal and biased proposals does not at all contribute to the peaceful, plural, and progressive coexistence that the great majority of we Spanish people work for every day.

I'll bet I can completely change the meaning of this letter to the editor in fewer than 100 keystrokes. My changes are in capital letters.


CATALONIA is a nation that is formed by a people, the CATALANS, which SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO grant itself, in virtue of its own sovereignty, a state.

We defend our positions through our representatives in the PARLAMENT DE CATALUNYA or through citizens' platforms, all of them registered within the legal bounds of the Constitution and of democracy which all of us CATALANS have granted ourselves, independently of our geographical origin. CATALONIA is a historical, legal, political, and cultural reality which we are proud to belong to, despite the problems that today beset our nation.

Attempting to break up such a reality based on illegal and biased proposals does not at all contribute to the peaceful, plural, and progressive coexistence that the great majority of we CATALAN people work for every day.

I think that's fewer than 100 characters changed. But it's the same rhetoric.