Thursday, March 31, 2005

I think the Spain Herald is improving. I'm getting a lot better at translating and I'm especially improving as an editor; the first thing I do is cut excess verbiage, which shortens the average story by half. We're also selecting better stories, though we are of course the mouthpiece for the PP (something I don't mind being) and have to run one short a day on whatever the PP's latest complaint against Zap is. I complained about the number of stories we were running on our particular bete noire, Gregorio Peces Barba, who is merely a Socialist clown of no particular importance, and that's been cut down, and the number of stories bashing our media enemy, the Grupo Prisa, which runs the competition's radio station, the SER, and El Pais. (Our radio station is the COPE.) Those subjects have been cut back, though they still crop up occasionally.

I think the error we're making in the right-wing media and the PP is continually refighting the last election. It's the same mistake the Democrats made after 2000. The Dems could not accept that Bush won fair and square according to the law, and spent the next four years whimpering that Gore should be President instead. They never came up with any sort of reasons people should vote for them except for pure hate against Bush and they proceeded to get creamed in the 2002 midterms and then clobbered again in 2004. They had no message, they weren't in favor of anything, they gave no one hope for the future. No wonder they lost.

We, the PP, are in danger of doing the same thing. Look, Zap won fair and square according to the law. Yes, it was a freak victory that would never have happened if not for the bombings, and the behavior of the left-wing media and the PSOE was scandalous, but it was nonetheless a victory and we have to accept that. Now let's move on. Let's come up with an alternative program. Let's tell the people how we're going to improve the economy and keep taxes low and shrink the state and return to responsibility in foreign affairs and defeat the terrorists and cut down crime and improve education and reduce local government corruption and move away from the politics of symbolism, and let's stop whining about getting beat in 2004. What we need to do is concentrate our full attention on beating them in 2008. Everybody sympathetic to us has already heard our message on what a bunch of lying sacks of shit the Socialists and their pet media are, and they're convinced; everybody unsympathetic to us has already heard that message, too, and we're not going to convince any of them no matter if we prove that Bin Laden is Zap's personal dominatrix.

If you check in today over at the Herald you'll see a story on Zap's newest education reform, which is of course a pile of hippie crap. I thought I'd steal an old gag, though, and design the official


1. If we sell €1.3 billion worth of arms to one Latin American dictator in the name of peace and solidarity, and earn a profit of €400,000, how much money will we make if we sell the same amount of arms to five Third World dictators?

2. Koldo is an ETA terrorist. If he is sentenced to 1,762 years in prison for fourteen murders, but the maximum time served in Spain is thirty years, and Koldo gets twelve years off for good behavior, how many months in the slam will Koldo serve for each murder he committed?

3. If the government owns a heavily subsidized, obsolete failing shipyard that will go broke in two years, and gets an arms contract that will allow the shipyard to survive four more years, how many union votes will the government pick up and how much will each new Socialist vote cost the taxpayers?

4. If an average of ninety people live in each Barcelona apartment building, and an incompetently designed and built subway tunnel collapses destroying four buildings, how many people will be left homeless, how much money did the Socialists in the local regional and municipal governments scam off the top, how many of them will actually be tried and convicted for embezzlement and abuse of power, and how much will the taxpayers be hit up for when the government promises each homeless family an indemnization of eight bajillion euros in order to calm them down?

5. Jordi is in a coma at the Leganes hospital and the government-approved management decides to turn off the machines keeping him alive and give him an overdose of sedatives in order to permit him to die with dignity. What are the chances Jordi is conscious of his situation and, at the rate of one Jordi a week, how many other helpless people has the hospital management killed?

6. Mohammed is wanted by the Moroccan police though he is only fifteen years old, and so he fled to Spain. Mohammed commits on average one armed robbery and one mugging a week. How many people will he victimize before the cops arrest him, how many times will he be arrested before he gets put in jail, and how many hours will he serve before he is released? Extra credit: How many people will Mohammed have victimized before he turns 20, and how likely is he to ever get deported?

7. Pepa flunks reading, writing, and math in the ninth grade, but is neverless passed up to tenth because she can pass with three failing grades under the new education plan. How many classes will she fail during her entire high school career if we assume she flunks three a year, and how much of the teacher's and other students' time will be wasted in the course of trying to deal with her over an entire school year?

8. The Prime Minister insults the United States publicly twice a month. How long will it take before the United States does the Prime Minister any favors, and how many seconds will the next conversation between the President and the Prime Minister last?

9. The extreme regional nationalist Esquerra Republicana party has one seat in Parliament, but the government coalition is dependent upon them as well as the Communists. How long will they get away with making the administration kiss their asses in public in order to get anything done before the entire population of Spain gets pissed off at the country's being run by clowns, freaks, and psychotics?

10. The average issue of El Pais contains 28,359 words. If 98% of them are lies, how many true words does El Pais print a day?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

An Open Letter to Brian Burns

Dear Brian Burns,

I'm sorry to say I haven't bought any of your CDs yet, but I do plan to buy all four next time I go to Amazon. I like your historical songs a lot; one particular reason is that you are a guy who's trying hard to be serious. It's hard to write songs in the first place, and it's much more difficult to be serious than it is to be funny; also, you choose first-rate cover songs. Also, you're quite obviously a good musician and singer, and you put together a quality project with first-class sidemen and production. You're a guy who doesn't rip off his fans. I also think it's great that you do shows at schools, and I'd recommend that any school hire you as a boost for their social studies program.

I must say I'm bothered by the lyrics to two of your songs, though, both of which KHYI plays quite a lot. One of them is the one that goes "I won't make a record if I ain't got nothing to say." That's kind of snotty. I understand you're irritated that people who are bigger names than you can put out what is comparatively crap and get richer and more famous, but that's always been the deal in showbiz and you know that. You don't need to proclaim you're better than other singers; that's perilously close to Vanilla Ice territory.

The other one is "Welcome to Texas". I hope the "I" in that song is a character rather than your real opinion, because it is distinctly unwelcoming, even disdainful, and standard anti-migrant nativist crap. We have enough difficulties assimilating people to life in the US--as you know, some 10% of Americans are immigrants from other countries--that we don't need some country singer stirring up anti-Yankee migrant sentiment. Yankees are, remember, your fellow Americans, and they don't mind Southern humor when it's good-natured. But I can tell you that bullying of Yankee kids happens in Texas schools, and much of it is carried out by the group that calls themselves "kickers" or "ropers". Country music ought to help outsiders join the group, not help keep them out. I'm sure you'd agree with me that's true for kids originally from China or Mexico or Vietnam. It's also true for kids from New Jersey and Chicago.

My father is a fifth-generation Texan on both sides; they came out of Kentucky and Tennessee about the time of the Civil War. My mother is fifth-generation on her mother's side--that's the bunch that came out of Alabama and Mississippi and was part-Cherokee, and when most of them took land in Oklahoma or got deported, however you want to look at it, our guy moved to Texas instead of going with the rest--and second-generation on her father's side, because her dad was an Austrian German from Kansas. How authentically Texan am I? Now consider that I was born in New York and grew up in several Northern suburbs, moved down to Richardson in the ninth grade, and regularly got the crap beat out of me by the local white trash (I didn't name them that, the students whose parents had jobs called them that) until finally losing an all-out bloody brawl with a much bigger kid, which brought me under the protection of some of the jocks since it was the third time I'd put up a fight. After that I was even allowed to play pickup football after school in the vacant lots under the high-power wires along straight-as-a-rod Meandering Way, and people stopped pissing in my gym locker and sabotaging my bicycle.

Sincerely yours,
John Chappell

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Just got back from the pueblo. Lovely weather out there and it's now definitely spring. the almond trees are in bloom, white all over the place, and the wheat and barley have just come up so the fields all look like carefully mown lawns. The wildflowers aren't out yet, but just wait a couple of weeks. There are tiny lambs up at the sheep pen above the village, so small they're still nursing, and the songbirds are out in force. I took the dog up the hill a couple of times, once down the Guimerà road and once up the Segura road, and a good time was had by us both. It's Holy Week so they had the procession Friday night; it's a very small procession. I saw them pass by the house. A few of them were even dressed up like the Klan. It was especially peaceful since the electricity went out and there was no TV two nights in a row. I hate TV except for soccer. I read this book called An Army at Dawn by candlelight. It's a pretty good look at the 1942-3 North African campaign, and not too high on Ike; surprisingly sympathetic toward Fredendall, who does seem to have been a bit of a scapegoat. We brought home twenty liters of olive oil from the local cooperative and about 20 kilos of potatoes from Remei's potato field.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

You guys want to do me a favor? I'm confused about what US states permit what. I've heard in the Spanish media over the last couple of days that a) Massachussetts allows gay marriage and b) California allows gay couples to adopt children. I am embarrassed to say I don't know whether either is true. So I have these questions: Who, if anyone, allows gay marriage? Gay adoption? Medical marijuana? Euthanasia? If so, under what circumstances? Have any states declared English the official language? Do immigrants receive different treatment in different states? What about welfare, disability, pensions, etc? Are there differences in the labor laws?

For you furriners, in the whole US abortion on demand is legal at least through the first trimester. Divorce is easily obtainable in every state. Gambling is legal in some and in different ways--e.g. Kansas has a state lottery, dog racing, and horse racing, but no casinos. Alcohol used to be different in different states, but now it's pretty much the same everywhere. Main thing--gotta be 21.

In Spain this is in the news because people are talking about all this stuff. Right now divorce is a difficult and costly process to go through, so most people who would be divorced in the States are "separated" here. The government wants to legalize gay marriage and gay adoption and that's under debate over here right now, with the usual suspects lined up on each side. Abortion is technically illegal except for rape, incest, danger to mother's health, etc., and so girls get some shrink to say they'll go nuts if they have the kid. No questions asked in London or Amsterdam, though, if you prefer that option. Cannabis and other "soft drugs", which I assume are shrooms and the like, are legal to possess in certain designated quantities and to use in certain designated places (e.g. your house). My impression is that buying and selling soft drugs is illegal, however. It is certainly not too furtive, though. Alcohol and gambling are of course rampant in Spain, and teenage binge drinking is becoming a major problem. It's got its own name, "el botellón".

This teenagers-getting-wasted-till-they-puke stuff is new. They used to drink, but not like this. Teenage drinking used to be five beers on Saturday night. Now it's getting trashed on half a liter of vodka two nights a week and smoking a bunch of dope as well, it's that easy to get and they smoke it openly. There's a major debate right now over euthanasia, especially after the Oscar-winning weeper movie The Sea Inside, based on a real case. Everybody in Spain has seen it.

Comment on drinking. Spain is a country where kids traditionally drank the local wine as part of the diet and so learned young whether they had a taste for it or not. They then learned to control themselves if they did. Enjoying alcohol was great, approved of, celebrated in song and story, but getting drunk was trashy. Half a liter of wine, brandy with your coffee, and if you were pretentious whiskey on the rocks after that, is still not unusual in Spain, and I know several specimens of the middle-aged macho type who can double that easily and only get in one car wreck or so a year. Neither is the morning carajillo or the lunchtime quinto. But you couldn't get loaded, at least more often than at New Year's, San Juan, and the local fiesta mayor, unless you were some hick or bum or town drunk. Now, though, public drunkenness is becoming more and more common. The old Spanish saying, which I subscribe to, is "Bebe poco pero bien." Drink good stuff, but don't drink too much. Enjoy a bottle of quality wine over dinner rather than slamming seven vodka-and-Cokes. Try traditional local prestige products like Mascaró or Torres brandy or Pujol rum, and if you dare, try a copita of Aromas de Montserrat, which tastes to me like eating grass with sugar. Do not try anis.

Careful on cannabis. You're not going to get in trouble with the law for buying the stuff, but you are likely to either get ripped off or robbed if you try to do it at the Plaza Real or on the Ramblas. Don't pay more than €30 for a die-sized chunk. They're making plenty of money on that deal, and it's likely to be wax anyway. It's hard to get them much lower than €30, from what I hear. A better source would be one of the cooler, cheaper discos, the more trashy ones, and the all-night bars. If you're one of that sort of people you'll have no trouble finding one. Just stand around and act fucked up and someone will approach you. But in most other European countries it's as illegal as it is in the States and you can get in real trouble. "Hard drugs", like cocaine, are also as illegal as they are in the US, and if you're idiot enough to be into that stuff you already know the risks you're running.

Monday, March 21, 2005

People interested in the reading habits of the US presidents will like this piece from the Weekly Standard. ( Folk who think Bush is an idiot might look at this paragraph:

Married to a former librarian, Bush likes short speeches and, judging from a recent reading list (Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton, Joseph J. Ellis's His Excellency: George Washington), lengthy books. Early in its first term the Bush White House established an authors lecture series, which enabled the president to pick the brains of David McCullough, Edmund Morris, Martin Gilbert, Bernard Lewis, and Robert Kaplan, among others. Bush has publicly acknowledged his debt to Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy, which distinguishes between "free" and "fear" societies, and exalts Ronald Reagan's moral confrontation with Soviet tyranny. A recent New York Times story described his admiration for Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America.

Bush's reading list looks a lot like mine, actually. Or Murph's, if I can ever talk him into reading one of the McCullough books I have. Except I don't actually think Tocqueville was particularly accurate, for want of a better word. Elegant in the mathematical sense, maybe. You can read just about anything you want to into him, sort of like Nostradamus. Or the Bible, for that matter. Or even the Constitution, if you try hard enough.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

I posted this at a baseball message board called Baseball Fever. I'm reproducing it just in case anyone's interested.

Let me preface this by saying it's a wild, far-out suspicion based on no proof whatsoever. I came across an online book called In the Reign of Rothstein by a New York reporter named Donald Henderson Clarke, which came out in around 1930. It is about, of course, Arnold Rothstein, the gambler who fixed the 1919 World Series, and of interest to anyone who likes that period.Here's the link:'m about halfway through the book, and some guy, one of Rothstein's buddies, testified that he lost some $35,000 to Rothstein betting on Pittsburgh in the NL and Cleveland in the AL to win the pennants sometime "in September 1921", and they seemed like pretty good bets because they were several games ahead. Both teams folded and the Giants won the NL and the Yankees won the AL. Rothstein was known around New York as "The Man Who Backs the Giants", which might mean betting on and might mean part-owning, since it looks like Horace Stoneham, the Giants' owner, was all mixed up in stinky stuff with AR.Were those teams, Pittsburgh and Cleveland, in the tank? I went back and took a quick look at the 1921 Pirates. They sure did fold up at the end of the season, and they lost five straight and then two out of three to the Giants. I'm going to do some more research on my own, of course, but I wondered if any of you were interested in this one.
I love Arts and Letters Daily; it's my homepage. It links to just about everything you might want to read, and the articles it calls to its readers attention are as good as anything on the Web. In case you're a furriner, the website is run by the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is the university teachers' trade journal. I just thought I'd go through a few issues discussed in the Nota Bene section.

Here's a piece on the relationship between Sartre and Camus ( My first reaction was who gives a crap. My reaction after reading the piece and being reminded of a few things is that Camus was by far the more attractive personality, a nice guy who behaved honorably, and that Sartre was a prick as well as being on the Wrong Side of history. Camus, in his liberal constitutionalism and his French patriotism, was on the Right Side. He opposed the Nazis, Vichy, the Communists, and the FLN, and he actually put his money where his mouth was. For the lowdown on Stalin-loving Sartre, read Paul Johnson's Intellectuals. Besides, Camus was a good writer and a bad but merely naive philosopher while Sartre was an awful writer and a philosopher of evil, of violence, of revolution, of nihilism. Camus is still read. Sartre, except for No Exit, is forgotten, and No Exit won't stand the test of time any more than, say, Marat / Sade.

Here's Timothy Noah bullshitting about the word "bullshit" ( If I understand Noah, bullshit is when you say something without caring whether or not it's true. It's not lying: if you lie, then you are intentionally saying something false. Lies are always false. Bullshit could be either true or false, it doesn't matter. Noah's examples are the stuff that the Bush Administration said before the Iraq War, the stuff about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and Saddam's trying to buy uranium in North Africa and Saddam's links to international terrorism. All that stuff turned out to be true, of course, but Noah maintains Bush was bullshitting anyway because Bush really didn't care whether it was true or not. Well, here's where Noah begins to bullshit himself. Noah's claim is IT DOESN'T MATTER whether the things Bush said about Saddam turned out to be true, because, assumes Noah, Bush didn't know or care that they were true when he said them. This, Mr. Noah, is bullshit, because you don't know what Bush knew or thought at that time any more than anyone else but Bush himself does. And it is cynical bullshit to label what is usually called "truth"--Saddam did have WMDs, Saddam was trying to buy uranium, Saddam was linked to international terrorists--as "bullshit".

By the way, I'd define "bullshitting" as "talking when you don't know what you're talking about." It's very dangerous to assume that Mr. Bush doesn't know what he's talking about. Several people have already misunderestimated him and look where they wound up.

Now, here's where bullshit hits Camus. Here is a piece by the guy interviewed in that first bit on Camus and Sartre ( The author claims that Bush misquoted Camus when he stated, "Freedom is a long-distance race." Evidence: That particular quote comes from an internal monologue by a generally unattractive character. Bush took it out of context. Now, come on. Would you claim Bush was misquoting Shakespeare if, in order to illustrate a point, he took a line out of the mouth of such an unpleasant character as Macbeth or Othello or Shylock or Brutus or Antony or Hamlet, all of whom are murderers and half of whom are psychos? Of course you wouldn't. That's why that statement by the author is bullshit; he accuses Bush of ignorance when he actually doesn't know how deeply Bush has read into Camus. I would personally not be surprised if Bush actually has read a book or two by the guy, being married to a librarian and hanging out with all these intellectuals all the time. Camus isn't difficult at all to read, it's not like we're talking Milton or someone like that.

What really pissed me off is the precious line right at the beginning of the piece about how all the Europeans are laughing at us uncultured gringos now. First, a total of zero people until this guy came along knew exactly where that quote came from. Most Europeans are much more interested in soccer and car racing and TV variety shows starring slutty broads with plastic boobs and getting loaded and going to Cuba to screw twelve-year-olds for a dollar than they are in the fine points of analyzing Camus. Second, why should we care what the Europeans think about us anyway? My attitude is if they like us, fine, and if they don't like us, well, that's their problem. If they're determined not to like us nothing's going to change their minds anyway, not even if we find the cure for cancer. (Which we just might do.)
It's a beautiful sunny spring afternoon in Barcelona, and of course I went down to the Plaza Rovira for some coffee and the newspaper. Of course there were people all over the place, that's one of the attractive things about Barcelona. Lots of old folks walking their little old chubby dogs. Not so many kids playing with their dads watching them, but at least there are a couple. The Pakistanis banging on their orange butane tanks which they're carting around on a dolly in order to alert the customers they're out there. Teenagers wearing lots of makeup. Quite a few couples without kids.

Lots of people at the sidewalk cafes. Lots of people buying lottery tickets at the Bar Vall, since there's a drawing of the Primitiva. Folks either overdressed--leather jackets--or underdressed--tank tops--for the weather. I'm wearing blue jeans and a cotton sweater and am comfortable. Chat for a moment with Pedro the drunk guy, who's a friend of mine. He's a Communist but likes John Ford, Charlie Parker, and Dos Passos, so we get along just fine. Nobody in the pet store where I pick up the monthly huge bag of catfood, but they've got really cute baby gerbils. Can't get any, not with five cats. There's a crowd in the Bodega Manolo doing the traditional weekend pre-lunch "vermut", in which they drink either straight Martini red (yecch) or beer and eat salty snacks like anchovies and potato chips. At the Manolo they also have potatoes with allioli and steamed mussels with garlic and parsley.

They're widening the sidewalks on Torrente Flores, our main up-and-down street, but of course nobody's at work, it's Saturday, so there's a ditch along one side of the street that's just sitting there. I checked out the birds; we've got four main urban bird species, your plain old standard pigeon, your basic normal sparrow, ring-necked doves, and these green parakeets that supposedly are native to Argentina. I especially like the parakeets. We also have seagulls, but you don't see many up here three miles away from the harbor. The harbor is a lot cleaner than it used to be, by the way; there are several different kinds of fish living there now. They've also done at least something about dumping raw sewage into the sea, though they need to do a lot more work with water purification. Barcelona is flanked by two rivers, which are of course glorified streams, the Llobregat on the left and the Besos on the right. They used to be really filthy, the Besos was a dead river that could not support any life. Now they're a lot cleaner, and a fairly attractive park has been installed along the Besos. It ain't the Seine or even the Tiber, but it doesn't stink any more.

Anyway, I took my bike out and rode up and down the side streets for about half an hour. Lots of spring cleaning going on, all the balconies wide open. I look dorky in my helmet, but you really do need to wear one because there's no telling when you might get nailed by a butane truck or a sixteen-year-old on a moped. It's kind of a crappy old bike, but a friend of ours gave it to me and I've got a sentimental attachment to it. And, besides, it's not like I'm riding in the Tour de France or anything.

Oh, I got a new computer, it was about time. I bought the previous box secondhand in 2000, and all the other stuff, monitor, etc. was from 1996. The monitor barely worked, Internet was incredibly slow, and the damn thing kept crashing. Also, Murph bought this computer game that wouldn't even work on that computer, and that's when you know your setup is obsolete. This one's much nicer. Cost me €800, bottom-of-the-line laptop, and I got the latest Norton security thing as well, since I had a bunch of adware and junk on the old computer and I don't want to get any of that crap on this one.

The TV thing went OK, though there were too many people. The question was what we thought about the Zapatero administration, and I kept it short and sweet and said that Zap had jumped from being a US-UK ally to a France-Germany ally, and that France and Germany then abandoned Zap. leaving him with only Cuba and Venezuela for friends. I said the Iraq pullout was a bad idea and that Spain was now internationally isolated. I said Zap's error was putting Spain on the wrong side of history. Last thing I managed to say was that I didn't think Gonzalez and Fernandez Ordoñez would have carried out a foreign policy like that of Zap and Moratinos. The deal was they wanted people to comment on a variety of issues, and most of the invitees were critical from the left and there to talk about gay marriage or whatever. It would have been better if they'd spread it out over five days and given, say, 15 minutes each to family issues, religious issues, economic issues, foreign policy, and education / social services issues, for example, over the whole week, rather than jamming it all into 30 minutes on Friday.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Somebody decided "passion" was the cool word in advertising around here a year ago or so and now there isn't a single ad anywhere that doesn't use it. I mean, for Chrissake, there's this brand of shampoo going around advertising "Passion for healthy hair"....Tasteless ads are bigger over here than in the States. For example, there's this one ad over here for sore throat menthol candies that features the model sucking on one and then suddenly her boobs pop out to size 48 triple-D. Everybody knows this is tacky but it goes over....Here's one for local tastelessness. My wife's forty-fiveish female cousin told this joke in front of everyone, and acted it out too. You need to know that Lepe is the town in Spain where stupid people come from, rather like Polish jokes in the US or Irish jokes in the UK. It's a beauty contest. Miss Seville is ready to go down the catwalk. They tell her, "Pose." She poses. They say, "Smile." She smiles. They tell her, "Moisten your lips." She licks her lips. They say "Thank you," and she parades off. Here comes Miss Barcelona. Pose. She poses. Smile. She smiles. Moisten your lips. She licks her lips. Thank you. Next. Here comes Miss Lepe. Pose. She poses. Smile. She smiles. Moisten your lips. She looks confused for a moment, then the lightbulb in her head goes on. She licks her fingers good, sticks them inside her bikini bottom, and starts rubbing...Would people do that in the States in front of their mother-in law and three people they barely know?
I'm going to be on Cuni's show tomorrow, Friday the 18th, apparently as part of a debate on Zapatero's first year in office. TV3, about 11:45 AM or so. Tune in and see how it goes.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Here's a piece I submitted to the Spain Herald. We'll see what they think. I know it needs some editing.

Where are Spain's moderate leftists?

David Horowitz is a well-known conservative American writer and polemicist; Libertad Digital, the Spain Herald's Spanish-language mother ship, often publishes pieces by him in Spanish. Horowitz's most recent project is the Discover the Network website (, which documents the connections between various organizations and individuals on the Left, mostly in the United States .

Horowitz divides individual Leftists into five groups. The first two, Totalitarian Radicals (example: Fidel Castro or ETA) and Anti-American Radicals (example: Noam Chomsky) should be obvious. The two brands of Radicalism are often found within the same person. Unfortunately, it is all too common in Spain, among the comfortable "parlor pinkos" and "limousine leftists" whom Tom Wolfe so successfully skewered a generation ago, to actually give support to these enemies of freedom. American parlor pinkos tend to fall into what Horowitz calls "Affective Leftists", who really don't know what they think but feel that the Left is Good and the Right is Bad. Affective Leftists (example: Barbra Streisand) are mostly just goofy, though, and nobody really cares what they say. Affective Leftists are also not really serious about destroying liberal capitalist democracy, which has treated them so well. Totalitarian and Anti-American (or Anti-Spanish, over here) Radicals are. The United Left and Batasuna fall into the Radical categories, and Esquerra Republicana and the PNV are flirting dangerously with Anti-Spanishism, getting entirely too friendly with groups like ETA that practice violence.

Sometimes it's difficult to decide which celebrity or politician fits exactly into which group. Jane Fonda? I'd say Radical, she actually went to North Vietnam. Sean Penn? He's just a dope. Affective. Not that Jane Fonda is smart. Michael Moore is Radical. Everybody who signed the pro-Castro petition? Radical. Here in Spain? The Bardems are Radical. Almodovar is Affective. Zapatero and his bunch mostly strike me as Affective, though they're slightly tainted by Radicalism. All those boring Communist singers (Llach, Aute, Sabina, Victor Manuel, etc) are Radical. Most movie people like Penelope Cruz and that lot are Affective. Too many Radical bad writers, like Jose Saramago and Rosa Regas, get a lot of publicity from their politics.

Horowitz's two other classifications are a little less obvious. Just plain Leftists are democratic socialists. They are neither capitalist nor liberal, but at least they're constitutionalists and they generally oppose the use of violence. They are also generally not particularly patriotic, at least not pro-American or pro-Spanish. Most of the Spanish Socialist Party would fit in here, as would Jimmy Carter, Howard Dean, Jesse Jackson, Ted Kennedy, and John Kerry are Leftists.

Moderate Leftists are exemplified by Bill Clinton. He's not a socialist. He's not antipatriotic. He's not wholly anticapitalist. He's actually fairly liberal in the European sense of the word regarding the economy. His sympathies are with the ideals of the Left, but he's pragmatic enough to compromise his principles, something he does not have a lot of, by the way. Two other Americans who would fit in here are Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt, and I'd stick Hillary in with this lot.

Moderate Leftists are actually a good thing to have in a democratic system. Of course, we'd prefer for the conservative candidates to win most of the elections, but Moderate Leftists won't be a complete disaster if they take over, and they will probably stay out of the economy enough not to completely undermine the business sector. Moderate Leftists are a guarantee of constitutional stability, just like Moderate Rightists. They may not like to use the armed forces or the cops, but they will if they have to.

An excellent example of a Moderate Leftist is Tony Blair, who has been wrong on every single small issue but absolutely right on the one big one. I'd trust Tony Blair's moral and practical instincts almost blindly. Of course, one big advantage Blair has over Clinton is his personal integrity, but, hey, a Moderate Leftist who's honest is often not a bad thing at all. Look at Harry Truman or Franklin D. Roosevelt--or Teddy Roosevelt, who was considered a dangerous progressive at the time, or Lincoln, who pulled such socialist big-government stunts as instituting the permanent national debt, the income tax and the draft, not to mention organizing the single greatest army of the 19th century and all the centralization that involved, and who was the greatest individual agent for radical change in American history.

But who would fit in here in Spain? If Felipe Gonzalez had been more honest, he'd fit in here very well. He publicly renounced Marxism, instituted a sort of social democracy allowing business to operate more or less, allied with the United States and NATO, and fought ETA. Those are all major Moderate Leftist achievements, Sure, he spent a bunch of tax money on huge but arguably necessary projects, and sure, Socialist party hacks embezzled some of the cash, but worse things have happened. And though I'd have voted for either the AP or PP candidate against Felipe, especially if he was Aznar, Felipe's administration was not horrible. If you don't mind a little corruption and a death squad or two.

I can't think of any respectable Moderate Leftists in Spain today, though. Zapatero? He's so dumb he's an Affective, and his foreign policy is Anti-American Radical. He's not much of a Spanish patriot either. Moratinos? He sure acts like a Radical, what with all this love for Fidel Castro. Carod-Rovira? He's close to Totalitarian. The Basque left? They're crazy. The Communists? It makes me laugh.

About as close as I can come to a Moderate Leftist in Spain today is Jose Bono, the minister of defense. He's pro-Spanish and anti-terrorism, at least, and we don't know what he thinks about Spain's pullout of troops from Iraq, but he probably would have supported staying there. OK, Bono is a party hack, a regional boss. He runs Castilla-La Mancha the way Mayor Daley used to run Chicago, if you know what I mean and I'll bet you do. But, if you can stand a little corruption, you can at least trust Bono not to behave like a clown and to keep the country functioning. I am afraid that Zapatero has proven, in his first year in office, that he is no Moderate Leftist. Bono might be.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Sorry not to have posted for a while--I've been busy with the news side of the Spain Herald, and then we went out to the pueblo last weekend for the annual family calçotada.

I think I'm going to change the focus of this blog. Since I spend a couple of hours a night translating stuff to English, I don't particularly want to do even more of it here. The thing about the Spain Herald is that what it says in the news section is accurate to the best of my knowledge and to the best knowledge of the management, and they pretty well cover everything of importance that happens on the political side around here. Yeah, it's slanted, but they admit it--they don't pretend to be neutral--and their slant on the issues is pretty much mine too. If they ever asked me to translate something I found genuinely objectionable, I wouldn't do it. That hasn't happened yet and there's no reason for me to think it ever would.

Anyway, what we don't cover, our friends Trevor at Barcelona Reporter and John B. at Spain Media do, and for opinion our friends Franco Aleman at Barcepundit in English (y en español tambien) and the boys at HispaLibertas in Spanish pretty much write about everything of importance. Check with our man Robert Duncan in Madrid and on Catholic topics. Also, the Spain Herald's opinion section is excellent, with articles by such notables as economist Pedro Schwartz and my man Jorge Valin, a personal friend of Iberian Notes. And, of course, you'll want to look at all the other sites on the blogroll over on the left, too.

What I'm going to do is begin posting a bit more personally. I'm going to start writing more about society and culture and less about politics in general. We'll see how it works. Give me a month or so to hit a stride.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Here's an e-mail from my mom back in Kansas on all this stuff.

These are definitely the Shoemakes we know and love. Annie Bone is the “Eve” of our Indian ancestors as far as I know. #14v, John Wesley, #11i James and Sarah Tomlin Shoemake are Jim’s parents and #24 to 34 are Jim’s brothers and sisters and William #10 is a brothers of James #11i. June, Johnine & I went to Okla and found their graves very tidily maintained two summers ago. James #11i was the last of the brothers to die within a span of a few months and his grave did not have a marker, so John McDowell had made an aluminum one with the letters engraved on it (small enough for them to bring on the plane) and we installed it along with several stones from various locations (my grandfather’s grave in Marathon, our yards in KS and TX) since it is a Cherokee tradition to put stones of significance on graves. Anyway, I sent the e-mail on to Johnine who will be fascinated that you just ran across it. We knew most of the names, but not all the dates and locations which are indicated. Thanks!! We looked up the Indian files at the local library in the town where the graveyard is located (I can’t remember the name of the files, but they are extremely detailed.) There is a really interesting living history museum in that town as well which has young college Indians who illustrate all kinds of Cherokee traditions and myths, etc. And buildings and games, etc. LOVE MOM
How a French Aristocrat Gave His Surname to a Cherokee Cowboy (Maybe) (Part II)

Granddaddy Jim was born in Cotulla, Texas, down by the Rio Grande. As a young man, he went west to the Marathon area and got a job as a cowboy on a ranch, which in those days was a not a glamourous job at all. He held several different ranch jobs out there before he married Aunt Jennie in 1896 and sort of settled down, working as a clerk in one of the general stores, since he was literate and numerate and honest. Later on, though, when he was in his thirties, he joined up with the newly-established Mounted Border Patrol, which wasn't founded until 1904. Their main job, then as now, was catching illegal immigrants while using no violence unless attacked. During the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910 and spiraled on with dizzying complexity, bandit gangs raiding across the river became common--these guys were mostly livestock rustlers--, and Jim was in more than one gunfight; his partner was shot dead beside him in one of these skirmishes.

Jim always said that he was part Indian, and everyone believed him, it's been family lore for decades that we're part-Cherokee, but we never had any real evidence. Jim didn't have too much to say about his family, and the story is that he left home young because his father mistreated him. Jim's father was named James Preston Shoemake, and he was born in 1826 in Jackson County, Alabama, which was Cherokee territory then. James Preston moved west, away from his family, down to the Rio Grande area sometime before 1860, since in that year he married a woman named Sarah Louisa Tomlin in Texas. We don't know anything about her family. James Preston died sometime after 1896 in Cotulla, Texas. James Preston had two brothers, William H. and John Wesley Shoemake (the name John Wesley indicates they were already Methodists, which the family has been since time immemorial), among other siblings, and he had two first cousins named Lula B. and Mary E. Shoemake.

I'm going to quickly jump back a generation. James Preston's father was John A. Shoemake, who might have been born around 1803, perhaps in Chesterfield County, South Carolina. John A. married a woman named Elizabeth, whom we know nothing about, in about 1824, and he was out in Jackson County, Alabama, part of the Cherokee lands, at that time. He died in a village called Crowtown in that region in 1855. Now, John A. had at least two other sons, James Preston's brothers William H. and John W., and William had two daughters, Lula and Mary. Here's where it gets interesting.

There is a document called the Dawes Roll, compiled in I believe 1893 in the Indian Territory, what is today Oklahoma, that lists all the members of the Cherokee Nation who were entitled to certain federal government rights. William H. Shoemake is number 32130 on the Dawes Roll, Lula B. is 32131, Mary E. is 32132, and John W. is 32133. James Preston would therefore have qualified, too, but he was down in Cotulla rather than in Oklahoma with everybody else. Why he chose to go to Texas while the rest of his relatives all went to Oklahoma, I do not know. What I do know is that all the Jackson County, Alabama, Shoemakes left there or died there before the 1850s.

Let's go back to John A. Shoemake, father of William, John, and James Preston. John A. was the son of Anna Thorn (or Anna Bone) and an unknown man, and he was probably born in 1803. We don't know whether Anna was married to the man or not; this is why we're not sure what her original surname was. But Anna, possibly recently widowed or possibly with an illegitimate child on her hands, married a man named John Shoemake, called "Balljack", sometime in the decade of 1800. Balljack adopted John A. as his stepson and gave him his surname. To repeat: Balljack was not John A.'s biological father, but Anna was his biological mother. This means that Anna is as far back as we can trace the bloodline, because Balljack and his ancestors are not related to my family by blood.

OK. Let's go through it again. My grandmother, Bonnie Shoemake (1910-1988), was the daughter of James Lafayette "Granddaddy Jim" Shoemake (1874-1960), who was the son of James Preston Shoemake (1826-1896?), who was the son of John A. Shoemake (1803?-1855?), who was the son of Anna Thorn or Anna Bone and the stepson of John "Balljack" Shoemake.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

How a French Aristocrat Gave His Surname to a Cherokee Cowboy (Maybe) (Part I)

Bonnie Shoemake was my grandmother's name. I always associated her a little bit with Bonnie Parker because 1) obviously they have the same first name 2) they were both born in West Texas 3) in 1910 4) in the same sort of lower-middle upper-working class family 5) they were feisty, tough, and intelligent 6) they were very small (Parker four-foot-ten, "Granny" four-foot-eight) 7) they were both "flappers" in the Twenties, or what passed for it in that part of the world 8) they both knew how to use a gun 9) they even look a bit alike. (Photos to follow.) Of course, 10) Granny wasn't dumb or amoral enough to do any crimes or silly enough to fall in with a habitual criminal like Clyde Barrow was. She was a good woman and she married a good man. They weren't perfect, but they were good people, and we all loved them both.

Granny was born, as I said, in 1910 in Marathon, Texas, which you've never heard of because it's about as close to the middle of nowhere as it's possible to get. (You have probably seen Marathon in a movie; the deserty motel scenes in "Paris, Texas" were filmed there. I've stayed in that motel. It's not hard to find. It's the only one there.) Marathon is where you turn south off Highway 90 to get to Big Bend National Park. It's actually become a little foo-foo, there are a couple of art galleries and bed and breakfasts and stuff there now. In the old days, though, it was West Texas ranch country and nothing but. The Southern Pacific main line runs through there, and that's how John Frederick Aust met Granny.

Pappy, as we all called him, was a German. German was his first language, and he didn't learn English until he went to school. He was a skilled mechanic and worked on a series of railroads maintaining the signals; seems that he was particularly good with electricity, though he could fix or rig up about anything. He was working on the Southern Pacific in 1934 and that's where he met Granny and they got married and had my mom and my aunts and that is of course why I'm here.

Pappy was from Western Kansas; his grandfather and father had immigrated back in 1888 from a town called Illeschestic in a region called Bukovina that was then part of the Austrian Empire and now is in Romania. They were originally from Wurttemberg in southern Germany; what happened is that in the beginning of the 1700s the Austrians conquered a bunch of land in the Balkans from the Turks and, since it was vacant territory they needed to repopulate it. What they did was declare the area "the Military Frontier" and give free land to anybody with the guts to take it--you never knew when the Turks might come back. These Wurttembergers took the Emperor up on the deal and entire villages moved out east to Bukovina and similar places. Then, toward the end of the 1800s, word got to Bukovina that land was so cheap it was almost free in Kansas, and those entire villages packed up and moved again, this time to Ellis County and the high plains.

If you're European, you might be wondering why I know all this. The answer is paradoxical. We Americans are the descendents of people who moved, and our people often moved more than once, like Pappy's ancestors; you Europeans are descended from people who stayed home. Therefore, Europeans know where they come from, because their great-great-grandparents were from the same place as they are. Europeans don't make a big deal about finding roots because they just know automatically that they have them. Every American's roots, though, come from somewhere else and we don't always know where. This makes us curious, and it's why so many Americans are interested in genealogy.

Back to Granny. Granny's mother was named Virginia Alice Hovis, and everyone called her "Aunt Jennie". She lived until 1952, and my mother and aunts remember her very well. Aunt Jennie's family were poor white folk from the Mississippi hills, and we really don't know very much about them. Her father was a buck private in the Confederate Army, and he fought at Antietam, where he was wounded in the ankle and sent home from there. That's about all we know.

It's Granny's father's family that we know something about. Granny's father, Aunt Jennie's husband, was named James Lafayette Shoemake. He was very long-lived, born in 1875 and died in 1960; my mother and her sisters called him "Granddaddy Jim". Jim was a larger-than-life fellow, a guy who made an impression. People liked him, and they remembered him well. My mother's family still swaps Granddaddy Jim stories, and the fascinating thing is that every one I've been able to check out turns out to be true.

This looks like a good place to stop. The title's a bit of a teaser, isn't it?

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Tasty comment by John Derbyshire in The Corner over at National Review; I like The Corner because it's generally pretty lighthearted, sort of a break from the normal fairly serious tone of National Review. I'm surprised at how often Derbyshire and I agree, though he's a social paleocon and I'm not. What we both are is pro-religion atheists and strong believers in the scientific method, if that makes sense. Big bang, yes. Evolution, yes. Global warming, dopey. Lomborg, yes. Ockham's razor, yes. God, no. But religion, at least the moderate kind, good.

I subscribe to this 100% and I rather wish I'd written it.

"Mr. Derbyshire---Your review of Simon Singh's book in the Feb. 28 issue of National Review included a general defense of the integrity of scientists. Singh, you say, 'gives the reader a valuable lesson in the progress of scientific inquiry, in the nature of scientific method and the means by which controversies in science are resolved. A great deal of nonsense is talked and written about this, particularly by anti-evolution propagandists. Singh's account shows plainly that the generality of scientists are neither passionless Mister Spocks, weighing evidence with cold, flawless objectivity, nor grim upholders of a pseudo-religious dogma determined to defend crumbling theories to the last ditch.'

"Would you be as comfortable with that quote were 'anti-evolution' replaced by 'anti-global-warming'? I'm afraid that I can't recall whether you have written anything about Bjorn Lomborg, but National Review has certainly had a lot to say about the scientific establishment's defense of the 'pseudo-religious dogmas' of environmentalism against Lomborg's skepticism.

"You say that scientists are 'reluctant to let go of the convictions of a lifetime, but usually willing to do so when faced with convincing evidence.' Do you believe that to be as true of environmental scientists as it is of physicists? What about evolutionary biologists?"

Reply: The key phrase there is "convincing evidence." Broadly speaking, when evidence is very sparse, the human side of scientists comes out, and there is much grandstanding, politicking, and ego-tripping. So it was with the Big Bang until the 1970s, when the weight of evidence began to make the anti-Big-Bangers look silly. When evidence reaches a critical mass, science at large swings behind the better theory. A few eccentrics like Hoyle might hold out; but science **at large** knows the difference between a theory that fits the evidence parsimoniously, and one that doesn't. Not only does it know it, in fact, it depends on that knowledge for its livelihood and reputation! I don't know any counterexamples to this rule. The problem, again, is that when the evidence is scanty, pretty much anything can be made to fit.

With global warming things are much worse than they were with Big Bang because there are more political points to be made (Rich countries BAD! Poor countries GOOD!) and more gummint money to be spent. The fundamental problem is the same, though. The evidentiary database is just too sparse. You can make any sort of case from it. The earth is a large object: measuring its average temeperature is a tricky business. Trying to see whether that temperature has changed across decades is an order of magnitude harder. And then you have to try to figure out whether, if there *is* change, it's caused by human activity. (Followed, of course, by the question: If there is change, and it is human-caused, DOES IT MATTER?)

Evolutionary biology presents a different case. The origin of species by natural selection via mutated forms is the only theory we have. There isn't another one. ("God makes it happen!" isn't a scientific theory, only a metaphysical one.) There is no competition of theories here, of the type Big Bang vs. Steady State, or Global Warming vs. No Global Warming (or Man-Made Global Warming vs. Natural Global Warming). Nobody has an alternative theory. This may be just a failure of imagination on the part of biologists. Perhaps next week someone will come up with an alternative theory for the origin of species that will make Natural Selection via Mutations look silly. Until that happens, though, NSvM is the only game in town. And it looks pretty good. We don't have any observations that contradict it (e.g. a species of winged insects arising in a single generation from a species of un-winged ones). *And* the more we learn about the actual mechanisms of morphology & inheritance, the better the theory looks. Of course it might be all wrong -- it's just a theory; but at present there is no reason to think it's all wrong, and again, NO ALTERNATIVE THEORY.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Arts and Letters Daily links to a new very German website (in English) called Sight and Sign. Here's an excerpt from a piece by Gotz Aly on the Nazi origins of the German welfare state and why many Germans supported Hitler. My personal belief: The German Romantic movement, combined with virulent nationalism springing from the hundreds of years of German disunity and weakness, and combined with the German youth movement (Wandervogel) which fed on "blood and soil" ideology and the idea that pure, uncorrupted youth could and should overthrow the old ways, led to the cultural conditions that caused the First World War and then Naziism. I think it's fascinating that the radical Green environmental movement started in Germany; I honestly think the extreme Greens would fit very nicely into the naive wing of the Nazi Party. Just in case you were wondering, by the way, the Nazis were of all things animal-rights activists. One of the charges that '20s and '30s Nazi propaganda threw at the Jews was that kosher slaughtering was cruel and inhumane.

By the way, of course, most of the Spanish welfare state originated under Franco, and a lot of Spanish societal, legal, and political quirks spring from Francoism.

For the majority of young and by no means monstrous men, National Socialism meant freedom and adventure, a physical and mental anti-ageing program. They were looking for challenges, fun and the ultimate kick in the modern mobile war. They were in their early twenties, trying to find themselves, spurred on by feelings of omnipotence. They lacked the social skills to fit in. They created, in a destructive sense, the most successful generational project in modern history.

Hitler oriented himself to the mood of the population. He asked himself on an hourly basis how he could better satisfy the German majority. Playing a constant game of give and take, he established the redistributive state par excellence. The tax incentive for married couples, so vehemently defended by the conservatives in 2002, stems from 1934. The kilometre flat-rate so dear to today's Bavarian government dates back to the same tax reform law which stated: "It is a constitutional prerogative of National Socialism that citizens have their own homes in the open countryside ..." Since 1941, German pensioners have had a right to health insurance and are no longer dependent on public or church welfare. Under Hitler, the number of holidays was doubled.

Bonuses for working on Sundays, bank holidays and late shifts were taxed until October 2, 1940 at which point the Nazi government wrote them off with a flick of the wrist. Even the Reich's finance minister gave his approval "naturally, on condition that the war is over in 1940." And he rightly anticipated what a "strong impression" this good deed would make on the German public in the midst of a "gigantic war".

Anyone trying to understand the destructive success of National Socialism should look at the public face of the annihilation policy – the modern, cosy and obliging welfare state. During WWII, German soldiers' wives received twice as much family support as their British and American counterparts. They had more money than in peace times. The generosity of state benefits meant that women saw no reason to work. In 1942 it was suggested that state benefits be reduced and taxed but Hitler blocked the idea, fearing public opposition. Funk, the Reich's minister for economic affairs commented drily, "Our economic policy during the war was overly opulent. It is not easy to correct such a thing."

Until May 8, 1845, 80 percent of Germans paid no direct war taxes. The indirect taxes were limited to tobacco, brandy and beer. The Regime's cautious handling of the Volk was apparent in every last detail. In the so-called "South-Eastern German consumer region", the tax on a litre of beer (which Goebbels referred to as a "positive mood element") was 10 Reichspfennigs; in the North, it was about 30 more. There was no tax on wine because it would have affected wine producers who were "already struggling economically".

Protection against unfair dismissal, tenant protection regulations, protection from seizure under execution: hundreds of finely tuned laws were aimed at socio-political appeasement. Hitler ruled according to the principal of "I am the people", later to form the basis of the German Republic's welfare state. The Schröder/Fischer government now faces the historic task of bidding a prolonged farewell to the German community of the Volk.

Hitler gained overwhelming support with his policy of running up debts and explaining that it would be others that paid the price. He promised the Germans everything and asked little of them in return. The constant talk of "a people without living space", "international standing", "complementary economic areas" and "Jew purging" served a single purpose: to increase German prosperity without making Germans work for it themselves. This was the driving force behind his criminal politics: not the interests of industrialists and bankers such as Flick, Krupp and Abs. Economically, the Nazi state was a snowballing system of fraud. Politically, it was a monstrous bubble of speculation, inflated by the common party members.