Sunday, December 31, 2006

Two people, both Ecuadorians, are missing and presumed dead in yesterday's Madrid airport bombing. They were both apparently sleeping in their cars. What I'd like to know is how the cops missed them while they were evacuating the place.

So ETA has murdered again. Of course, the only thing to do is what we'd said all along, keep the police and the courts coming down hard on them. What's there to negotiate about?

By the way, a standard report on Spanish TV news is some ETA killer being tried for some murders he did back in the '80s; one of the most recent is "Txapote," for example. The ETA killer is always intransigent, arrogant, and contemptuous of both the court and society. It's hard to believe that anyone who sees these near-nightly television performances by unrepentant murderers can maintain the slightest sympathy for ETA and its political branch, Batasuna, yet many leftists who should know better, especially your ignorant foreigners (cf. Mark Kurlansky), still try to justify or at least comprehend their acts.

The bomb was enormous, around 200 kilos of explosives. It completely destroyed an entire section of the three-story parking garage.

Iberian Notes sends greetings to new EU members Romania and Bulgaria. Welcome to lots of free subsidies! Seriously, of course, it's good news for all concerned. Stability is a good thing down in those parts, and EU admission means those places are now officially stable--since, of course, you get kicked out of the EU if you do something like pull a military coup or nationalize the banks.

Those folks who got all joyous and celebratory when Pinochet died don't seem to be doing much jumping up-and-down at the news of Saddam's hanging. Saddam, of course, was about one million times as evil as Pinochet. Approximately.

Here's Tikrit Tommy Alcoverro's lead on his Page 3 report in the Vanguardia:

"We heard how his vertebrae broke. It was horrible," said Iraqi judge Munir Hadad, one of those present at the execution of ex-president Saddam Hussein.

Sounds to me like Saddam got a cleaner and quicker death than most of his victims. You remember the ones he ran through paper-shredders. Also, "ex-president"? How about "mass murderer," or at the very least, "ex-dictator"?

Now get this:

The character, energy, and calm that Saddam showed in the last moments of his life have made forgotten the humiliating images that were transmitted around the world when he was captured in the hole in Tikrit, broken, hirsute, opening his mouth to be examined by an American military doctor.

Huh? Praise and sympathy for Saddam? Now get this:

The Iraqi ex-president Saddam Hussein is the first ruler executed by a court in his country, under foreign domination, in this region of the Middle East. His humiliating burial, his burial as one of those defeated by history, will be moving for millions of Arabs.

Tikrit Tommy sure thinks "humiliation" is a big deal. I don't see why Arabs should be humiliated by the execution of Saddam, just as I don't feel humiliated when Westerners who commit crimes are punished for their wrongdoing.

Now the last sentence:

Some day, not now, history will judge him.

Oh, I think history's verdict was pretty well settled about 1965 or so when Saddam, as a Baath Party hitman (supposedly he committed his first murder in 1958), was one of the leaders of the coup d'etat that put that gang of murderous fascists in power.

From the Cataloony department: The Generalitat has decided not to punish the various airlines that operate out of Barcelona, including British Airways, Air France, and Alitalia, for--wait for this--not issuing passenger tickets, boarding cards, and baggage claimchecks in Catalan! Seems the airlines, by using Spanish or English or French or Italian or whatever, are breaking the Linguistic Policy Act. The Catalan Consumer Agency has been spending its time, instead of checking whether our food meets minimal standards--there's been a minor stink about pesticide residues in vegetables, especially peppers--investigating what language the airlines are issuing official documents in. Why the hell weren't they investigating whether Air Madrid was flying safe planes or not, or whether it was selling tickets on flights it knew would never leave the ground? This is just ridiculous.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saddam Hussein is cold meat, as you undoubtedly know. The air is a little bit cleaner now that he's not breathing it.

This morning's big news in Spain, though, is that ETA planted a car bomb in the parking garage at Terminal 4 of Barajas international airport in Madrid. The explosion occurred at around 9 AM local time; the police evacuated the area, but one man, who was apparently asleep in his car, is missing and feared dead. About twenty more persons suffered non-serious injuries, several of them police officers.

The bombing is the end of their nine-month "permanent cease-fire," and certainly puts an end to the alleged peace process. It's definitely ETA, as Interior minister Perez Rubalcaba said at a press conference; they made two warning phone calls, one telling the cops to stay away since the bomb was a big one, and after the explosion they made another call claiming responsibility.

The airport is currently all snarled up, of course, on one of the year's biggest travel days, and thousands of people are stuck at Barajas. Hope you're not flying through there.

ETA has intentionally made Zap look like a complete moron, since last night he gave his year-end speech and said he was "convinced" that the negotiations with the terrorist gang "would be going better than now" within a year. To quote La Vangua on page 13 today, "Zapatero made a commitment to the citizenry that guaranteed the continuity and advance of the peace process, a continuity that did not seem so clear a few weeks ago."

This is going to mean a big hit to Zap's reelection chances; expect a several-point swing to the PP in the next surveys with only a year or so left before the next general election. I think he's a one-term accidental prime minister, a Spanish Jimmy Carter.

91,664 abortions were performed in Spain in 2005, 8% more than during 2004. That seems rather a lot when you consider that abortion on demand is technically against the law.

The Barcelona PP is calling for a ban on women wearing burkas in public. That's ridiculous. If somebody wants to wear a burka, it's that somebody's business. I would agree that police officers should have the right to demand that a burka-wearing woman uncover her face for identification purposes, but aside from such security concerns, keep the government's nose out of what people wear.

Irony: The Catalan Tripartite running the city of Barcelona, including the very Green and very Red Imma Mayol, is shipping off "organic urban residues," 50 tons a day, to somewhere in Murcia, nobody knows exactly where, to be "treated" and dumped in a landfill. The treatment plant, in Abanilla, has a lousy environmental record. Get this: the Metropolitan Environmental Authority, which is supposed to be in charge, had no idea this was going on. That's competence for you.

Tonight on TV 33, Catalunya TV's intellectual and avant-garde public channel, they're going to be showing two rock-pop-folk concerts at 11 PM and midnight that, one assumes, are supposed to appeal to a wide audience; this is a major TV-viewing night, one of the biggest of the year. So who's it going to be, maybe Dylan or Springsteen? U2 or Paul McCartney? How about Catalonia's most popular band, Estopa? Nope, it's old hack ultra-leftist Quico Pi de la Serra and then, get this, one of the guys from the mega-nationalist Electrica Dharma. I bet a total of 28 people tune in. If you have not yet seen total musical suckitude, here it is.

La Vangua says that Pau Gasol is going to demand a trade if Memphis doesn't get rid of him first; the article claims that Gasol's complaints were behind the firing of coach Mike Fratello, which if true makes the guy clubhouse poison, someone I wouldn't want on my team. This injury Gasol suffered in the national world championships has made him persona non grata, since he missed the first 22 games of this season, thereby immensely hurting the club that pays his high salary, and he's been playing lousy since he came back. I sure hope that world title was worth it, because this could be the beginning of a down-spiral that sees big Pau wearing blue and red stripes again.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Here's a New Year's roundup of links:

The Straight Dope message board has a very long and quite interesting thread explaining US popular culture and everyday life questions to foreigners, such as: What's the difference between "college" and "university"? What are those organizations with Greek letter names? Why do sports clubs move around from city to city? Is high school football really that important? What do the numbers 101, 411, and 911 refer to? Check it out.

Articles from recent issues of American Heritage that anyone interested in knowing more about the US might want to read:

A rather softball but interesting history of beer in America (June 2002)

A non-worshipful history of the FBI (August 2002)

A very disturbing history of eugenics in the US (February 2003)

US relations with France (by Richard Brookhiser of National Review--August 2003)

Presidential debates (August 2004)

An argument that slavery was much more economically important than often thought (February 2005)

This little bit, from Fametracker, is the funniest thing I've seen in months:

"Hi, I'm Tom Cruise. Good for you, Madonna. Adoption is great. I adopted my first two kids, but then when I met Kate, I just felt the time was right to try out biological procreation with a human female, and the feeling...I just can't put into words what it was like for me. And I've read lots of books about the sensations and mechanics of it, but even so, I still just find it indescribable. You know how, when you get into bed with a woman, and she's naked, and it's like...she has kind of an extra butt, but it's in the front?"

Blog roundup:

Expat Yank deals Agence France-Presse a good fisking.

Guirilandia comments on the Health Ministry, Burger King, and the Spanish diet.

Fausta opines on the Spanish surgeon who treated Fidel, among other things; as you know, she's prolific and wide-ranging.

Notes from Spain explains the concept of the chapuza, photo included.

Pave France looks back on the Chiraq administration.

The Euroserf is cynical about the EU's achievements in 2006.

Davids Medienkritik takes another well-deserved whack at Stern.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

It's been a nice Christmas break here at Iberian Notes. On the 21st Murph and I went to the Camp Nou to see Barça play Atletico Madrid; they tied, 1-1. It was a pretty good game; the Barça players gave it all they had, and they were operating at about 80% since they'd just come back from Japan. We got to see Ronaldinho score on a free kick, which is pretty cool. I don't go out to the stadium very much, and I really should go more often, since it's not that expensive, €30 for the cheap seats. You can see what's happening on the whole field, while the TV cameras only follow the ball.

We had the annual Christmas dinner at my mother-in-law's apartment; fifteen people, among aunts and uncles and cousins, showed up. Remei did the cooking; she made escudella i carn d'olla, which is basically chicken noodle soup with meatballs, and then chicken and shrimp in romesco sauce, which is based on nuts and olive oil. As the local vegetarian, I had salad. Spaniards don't get vegetarianism at all, and if they do get it, they think you're a health-food nut. They can deal with the concept of someone who denies himself the pleasure of eating ham for health reasons; that seems more or less reasonable. What they don't get is someone who takes no pleasure out of eating ham, and wouldn't do it if you paid him. The concept that a person might find eating our fellow mammals a form of cannibalism goes way over their heads, too.

My mother-in-law was a pain in the ass as usual; she's a cranky old bat who has always been a bully, and she feels herself losing power as she gets older and can't get around as well as she used to. Her response to her decline is to get angry, and she's decided to pick on me about speaking Catalan. Now, I speak Catalan to her, since that's what she wants, but when actually trying to talk to other people about difficult or complicated subjects I almost unconsciously switch to Spanish, since I speak it better than Catalan. So dinner-table conversations with other people were salted and peppered with demands for linguistic normalization, and none of the rest of us killed her, since everyone else is as sick of the woman as I am.

Note: This behavior is a complete aberration. No one else I have ever met is this obnoxious about Catalan. The rest of the family and I are always glad to see one another and it doesn't matter which language is spoken.

Get this. The chief of surgery at Madrid's Gregorio Marañón hospital, which is publicly owned and operated, flew off to Cuba to treat Fidel. He says Fidel doesn't have cancer. I bet he's lying. His trip was paid for by the Cuban government, and was approved by Esperanza Aguirre's Madrid regional government. He brought "medicines and technological equipment that the island's heath service does not have." Doctor García Sabrido, at the press conference, applied his lips firmly to Castro's buttocks, saying that Fidel has "a fantastic, innate intellectual activity." Aguirre wondered publicly whether Cuban political prisoners get the same level of health care.

The alleged peace process with ETA is going nowhere in the wake of the discovery of an arms cache near Bilbao. The Zap government is claiming that the cache was an intentional setup by ETA so that the general public would know that the gang still has its weapons and is ready to at. I think the Zap government is nuts and that the discovery of the arms cache along with the robbery of the pistols in France shows that ETA is just waiting for its chance to strike again. Street violence continues in the Basque country, and Basque businessmen are still receiving extortion demands.

James Brown and Gerald Ford died. May they both rest in peace. Congratulations to those who picked them in this year's Dead Pool.

Meanwhile, the Zap government's health ministry is still trying to crush Burger King's ad campaign calling on consumers to pig out on a half-kilo monsterburger. La Vanguardia referred to the product in question as a "Doble Whooper," which sounds to me like somebody who is going to break out a family-size can of whoop-ass. Seems to me that people ought to have enough common sense to decide what they want to eat, and if they want to eat crap they have every right to eat crap.

The local cause celebre for the last ten days or so has been the manslaughter charge slapped on a man who shot a Romanian armed robber in a town near Manresa. From what I've pieced together, a group of suspicious people had been casing out the luxury house belonging to the Tous family, a well-known clan who own a chain of jewelry shops. Then, one night, the family's security director, also a son-in-law of the patriarch, got a robbery call. Two men were inside the wall surrounding the family property. The security guy drove up to the Tous house, where two guys were waiting out front in a car. He opened fire, killing one and wounding the other. They were Romanians equipped with burglar kits.

The security guy was charged with manslaughter and jailed without bail. He will presumably come up for trial in about three years, as the slow wheels of Spanish justice turn. I assume they will eventually grant him bail. In Texas they would have given him a public service medal. You need to remember that traditionally the first question a Texas jury asks itself is, "Should the deceased have departed?"

Our man Franco Aleman at Barcepundit links to this Heritage Foundation piece demolishing Zap's brainchild "Alliance of Civilizations." Definitely check it out. Here's a good paragraph:

The Alliance of Civilizations is a disappointment. Far from offering a "bridge" to cross the divide, the Alliance of Civilizations report offers little more than platitudes and wishful thinking, one-sided analysis, justification for constraining freedom of expression and religion, and repackaged calls for increased assistance from Western countries. The lack of substance and originality in the report—the report itself acknowledges several times that many of its recommendations and initiatives are already in place or being pursued—explains the lack of interest in the report since its release in November.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Somebody asked about rent control in Spain, so I thought I'd look it up. And whaddaya know, there's a monograph in English on the subject available on the Net. It's not well-translated and is written in a highly legalistic style, but this is what I gleaned:

Only about 11% of Spanish households rent their dwellings. One-third of new dwelling units are purchased for investment purposes. In places with little government regulation, a person who buys a place for investment purposes (what the left calls "speculation") rents it out, in order to receive a steady income, until he decides to sell.

In Spain, however, the minimum lease on a dwelling unit is five years, and the rent can only be raised annually by the rate of inflation. So if the housing market is gaining, say, 10% a year in value, and you're the landlord and you can only raise the rent, say, 4% a year, you're losing money. And you can't sell the place until the five years is up. Meanwhile, there are lots of persnickety little clauses regulating what the landlord can do.

These laws, of course, make it unattractive for people who own vacant dwellings to rent them out. So there aren't many places to rent, and the ones out there are pricey.

By the way, if you were lucky enough to rent your place before 1985, you can stay there forever and they can't raise your rent more than the rate of inflation. No tenants ever give up these rental contracts, and this of course keeps a good chunk of rental housing off the market.

In last Sunday's issue of the Vanguardia, which is the big classified-ads day, there is only one page of flats for rent (compared to about 30 of flats for sale) in the whole Barcelona metro area, Here are a few of the flats on offer here in Gràcia:

75 square meters, €1200
3 bedrooms, €950
4 bedrooms, €900
80 square meters, 3 bedrooms, €1080
2 bedrooms, €800
Studio, €700
60 square meters loft, €900
Studio, €800
4 bedrooms, €1000
3 bedrooms, €900
2 bedrooms, €850

Not awful by London or New York standards, but this is Barcelona, and lots of middle-class white-collar people only earn €1000 a month.
Anne Applebaum has an article in Slate on the EU, the US, and Iraq. Check it out. Also read Ms. Applebaum's book Gulag as soon as you get the chance.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Tom from The Bad Rash doesn't believe that anti-Americanism is rampant in Europe and the Middle East, as Iberian Notes and Barcepundit and Davids Medienkritik and Biased BBC and Expat Yank and ¡No Pasarán! have been saying for years.

I'd like to recommend that Tom read this 2004 interview with Paul Hollander (note: I think the questioner is guilty of anti-Islamic bias) and this Iberian Notes post from October. I would recommend the link in the October post, but it's broken now.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I haven't done a blog roundup for a long time, so here's a short but sweet one.

Barcepundit reports on a police roundup of suspected Islamist terrorists in Ceuta.

Davids Medienkritik has another one from the "If This Had Happened in Cleveland" department.

Expat Yank takes a chainsaw to the BBC and Amnesty International. Blogger Robert is highly prolific.

Pave France fills us in on Le Pen's new multiculti campaign.

Samizdata reflects on the series of murders in East Anglia, which have gotten little press here.

¡No Pasarán! reports on political correctness gone mad in Austria.
Most of the 120,000 people stuck without a ride home in Europe and Latin America in the wake of Air Madrid's suspension of activities are still there. The Fomento ministry has chartered five airliners, who have transported 5000 people so far. Looks like ticket-buyers are only going to get some of their money back. Air Madrid was selling tickets up until the very morning they closed down, and there's obvious breach of contract here, so somebody is going to jail in about 12 years, given the way the wheels of Spanish justice turn. The people hurt are almost all Latin American immigrants in Europe, who can't afford to lose this money.

Get the latest genius Generalitat plan to deal with the high cost of housing. If you own a dwelling that is vacant for more than two years, you will be legally obligated to rent it out, even if you don't want to. One reason many people don't want to rent out property they own is because of government rent control. So how do we solve the problem? More government interference in the market, of course. This trial balloon is going to get shot down in flames.

Barça choked again this morning, losing 1-o to Internacional Porto Alegre in the world club championship match. They played OK, but couldn't score; one reason was that Internacional slapped two guys on Ronaldinho and pretty much shut him down. This is arguably the fifth big choke of the season, after the loss to Sevilla in the Euro Supercup final, the loss and draw vs. Chelsea in the Champions' League first round, and the loss to Real Madrid in the League a few weeks ago. Hey, I know you can't win them all, and nobody is about to jump off the bandwagon here. Still, Barcelona hasn't done well this season in big games.

Wacky Art Watch: Some local brilliant artist has rewritten an Ionesco play, I don't know why. Naturally, it is now set at a McDonald's. One of the three characters has been recast as Uncle Sam. This is actually playing at a Barcelona theater. Can't wait for the Broadway version.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The big news around here is that low-cost airline Air Madrid has suspended operations, leaving 120,000 passengers stuck in Latin America. Seems that the Ministry of Fomento (business regulation, etc.) threatened to pull their license because of maintenance problems and long delays. The company closed down in response. No one knows anything right now about what's going on, and people holding tickets are probably screwed. Hope you're not one of them.

The Zap government is trying to pass the pompously titled Recovery of Historical Memory Act, which is a terrible idea. The law's purpose is to revive memories of the Spanish civil war; it would allow persons who consider themselves victims of the war or the Franco dictatorship to demand that the authorities recognize injustice done them. Basically, the law is just symbolic, it won't change much.

The problem, of course, is that the Spanish Civil War wasn't good guys against bad guys, it was bad guys against bad guys. Neither the Republicans nor Nationalists behaved anything like democratic governments are supposed to behave. Both sides executed thousands of civilians.

The difference between the Spanish Right and the Spanish Left is that the Right has basically admitted that its side was in the wrong in the Civil War. You will hear no right-wing politicians exalting the Franco government or the Nationalist side in the war. The Left, however, with its "hyper-legitimacy complex," continues to exalt the Republic. It will not admit that its side was in the wrong, too.

Here in Barcelona air pollution is so bad--it exceeds EU standards almost 100 days a year--that the Generalitat is going to cut the speed limit on the freeways in the metro area from 120 kph to 80. Actually, that's probably a pretty good idea, as cars really do produce a lot more emissions at higher speeds. I'll bet it doesn't go over very well, though. One thing they need to do is get a lot of old junker light trucks and vans off the roads, since they're major smog producers.

It's not unusual, up here in Gracia, to look down over the city and see a greyish-brown haze in the air down there. It really is pretty nasty and something needs to be done; I vote in favor of spending our some of our tax money on making the air less stinky, instead of, say, subsidizing movies in Catalan that will never be shown. Ever. Anywhere.

Speaking of which, there's an education controversy going. Seems that the Zap government in Madrid has decided that kids in elementary school here in Catalonia must study ONE MORE WHOLE HOUR A WEEK of Spanish language. That will make a total of THREE WHOLE HOURS A WEEK. The Cataloonies, of course, are livid. What's wrong with this picture?

Anti-Americanism Watch: They had a debate on TV2, you know, the serious (seriously leftist, that is) public TV station, on the question: Is understanding possible between the West and Islam? The purpose of the show, of course, was to promote Zap's egghead do-gooder Enlightened and Illustrated Alliance of Civilizations. The debaters were PSOE ministry of foreign affairs heavyweight Bernardino León, who is a reasonable and serious person; PP shadow foreign minister Gustravo de Aristegui, of whom the same is true; a reporter from El Pais named Javier Valenzuela; and some silly woman who claimed to be a writer. Of course, it turned into a debate on you-know-what.

Valenzuela, of course, took the first swing at the Americans, saying something like "How can we tell the Muslims what to do when we do things like the horrific torture at Guantanamo?" which seemed completely off the subject to me. Then the silly woman said something like, "How can we criticize Islamist fundamentalism when George Bush is the biggest fundamentalist in the world?" She went on to justify terrorism by saying, literally, that Israel was committing genocide. Both continued with their moral equivalence between Islamist terrorism and the West's, and especially America's, response to it.

The fun part was that more than 75% of the people who called in--of course, viewers were supposed to call in with their opinions--voted No, that understanding is not possible. The moderator of the debate was very disappointed.

My attitude, of course, is that Islam is one thing and Islamist terrorism something else, and that understanding with Islamist terrorism is not possible. I will point out that Islamist terrorism is operating in almost every Islamic country, and the great majority of violent conflicts in the world involve extremist Islamists.

From El Periódico, by Havana correspondent Mauricio Bernal:

"Our prostitutes are the best-educated in the world," bragged Fidel Castro at the beginning of the '90s, when the large increase in prostitution in Cuba began. A boast in bad taste which made light of a reality that leaps into your eyes in the streets of Havana, including its most traditional streets: friend from the First World, there's a mulatto girl for you. Being a man and traveling alone to Cuba makes you suspected, and maybe that's why your flight's closed-circuit TV repeatedly runs an announcement warning about child prostitution. The message is clear: be a bad boy, but not a pervert.

It is no secret that Cuba is one of the countries with the highest level of HIV in Latin America. There's a reason some Cubans advise tourists to look for an ugly woman instead of a mulatto girl with a good figure, since the risk is less. But the warning, just look at the streets of Havana, is not heeded. It isn't that Cuba is the country of mixtures; it's the fact that in every hotel lobby, every disco, and every tourist restaurant, there is a European who has paid in order to be well-accompanied.

The son of a Cuban writer told me that Cuban prostitutes are not prostitutes in the full sense of the word, and that all they want is a good time, to be taken to a good restaurant and a nice discotheque. Places where, if it were not for the tourist's wallet, they could never enter.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Reflections on Pinochet and Franco:

1. These two dictators are by far the most hated historical characters among the international Left. This is probably because both of them brutally turned back a pre-revolutionary, internationalist Leftist movement. Many of those executed in Chile were young leftists who had come from other countries to help the revolution along, what were later called "Sandalistas" in Nicaragua. And, of course, the Spanish Left received Soviet aid both before and during the Civil War. During the war, as everyone knows, the International Brigades were run from Moscow.

2. Both were bloody killers. Franco was probably responsible for about 100,000 executions/deaths through mistreatment, and Pinochet was probably responsible for about 4000. (Castro is probably responsible for about 15,000-20,000. Mussolini was probably responsible for fewer than 1000. Mao was responsible for as many as 65 million deaths of all kinds, including those from famine.)

3. Both were generals who led military coups against a democratically elected Leftist government that had begun to behave very undemocratically. Both military coups were resisted and resulted in great violence. Both claimed to be responding to the chaos caused by an incompetent and pre-revolutionary government. Both had significant popular support. Both were backed by conservative elements--business interests, the Church, the middle classes, farmers, nationalists, anti-Communists.

4. Both gave up power peacefully, through an organized transition, though Franco did not do so until his death.

5. Both established the economic order necessary to allow constitutional democracy to succeed them.

6. There was no serious domestic opposition to either of them during their regimes. Nor did either receive serious external pressure.

7. Both enjoyed some cooperation from the Western democracies. During the Civil War, Britain, France, and the US embargoed arms sales to the Republic, and to the Francoists too--but since the Francoists were getting what they needed from Germany and Italy, they were not hurt by "non-intervention." While the US was not behind Pinochet's coup, we did know about it in advance and did nothing to stop it. Later on in their regimes, both were treated in a fairly friendly way by the US and UK.

8. Both were on the right side, among the winners, of the Cold War. Leftists hate this fact, and for some of them it invalidates our victory. However, few of them seem to be pissed off that Stalin and Mao were among the winners of World War II.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Go read this article from the Economist on the PP and its problems--specifically, its need to move toward the center. I've been saying this for at least eighteen months, and this article has come out now that Rajoy really is trying to position himself closer to the center. Here's an excerpt:

National politics in Spain is a two-party affair. If the PP is to oust the Socialist prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, it needs voters in the centre. But it shows no sign of wooing them. Instead, it angrily opposes all government initiatives, from gay marriage to Catalan devolution, to peace talks with the Basque terrorist group, ETA. Like Britain's Conservative Party in the past, it risks seeming to be a “nasty” party...Yet at the root of the PP's troubles is its inability to shake off the trauma of its loss of power. This came three days after Muslim terrorists killed 191 people on Madrid trains. The day before the vote, angry protesters came out on the streets demanding to know who was to blame. Was it ETA, as Mr Aznar insisted, or Islamists? As the evidence leant towards the second, voters who had been ready to vote for the PP shifted.

Correction: The Aznar government admitted it might not have been ETA late on the very day of the bombing, and by election day official announcements made it clear that Islamic terrorists were guilty. I'm not so sure that many PP voters switched parties; I think what happened was that many usual abstainers came out and voted against the PP.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

I'm translating away pretty much full-blast around here, but found time to read this excellent article by Christopher Caldwell in the Weekly Standard on West African immigration to Spain. Don't miss it. We have been posting about this for years, and this is the first extensive piece I've seen on the issue.

Here are a couple of interesting paragraphs:

Spanish laws towards foreigners are generous, and punctilious about human rights. They also invite chicanery. You cannot detain an immigrant for more than 40 days unless you charge him with a crime, and you cannot deport an immigrant unless you know where he comes from. If he can keep his mouth shut for a month or so, or if he can mis direct the bureaucracy until his 40 days have elapsed, he's in like Flynn. A common way to throw authorities off balance is to pretend to be from somewhere else. Since Spain does not have an extradition treaty with strife-torn Ivory Coast, for instance, many of the Senegalese who have arrived by boat in recent weeks have claimed to be from there (even though the two countries speak mutually exclusive sets of African languages).


The often proclaimed motto of the migrants--which horrifies Senegalese public opinion and would horrify Spaniards if they ever heard it--is Barça mba barsakh. Translated out of Wolof, this means "Barcelona or Death!" Barcelona in the sense of the soccer team, not the place. One of the kids at the camp near Esmeralda told me that when he got to the Spanish mainland he wanted to live in "Real Madrid" (another soccer team, of course). What courage! What ignorance! And how hard it is to say which of the two predominates.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Semi-random notes while listening to Jelly Roll Morton and making excuses for not having posted for a couple of days:

Actually, I've been busy with a translation and so have had little desire to do any more typing. One thing running this blog taught me how to do is touch-type, and I'm actually pretty fast now.

The media over here has given a lot of attention to the so-called Baker Plan, which I doubt will actually lead to anything. I don't like the idea of negotiating with Iran and Syria--it reminds me of Captain Furillo negotiating with the gang leaders on Hill Street Blues--and I particularly don't like the linkage of Israel and the Palestinians with Iraq. Oh, well, everybody will have forgotten about it in a week.

Robert Gates got some press when he said during his Senate hearing that the US was not winning the war in Iraq. However, they paid little attention to his later statement that the US was not losing, either.

I will admit that there seems to be a little less anti-American rhetoric over here since the Democrats won the congressional election and Bush began to build bridges both domestically and internationally. That's "opinion": folks angry about one particular policy, rather than "bias," folks who just hate America. Unfortunately, while a lot of the "opinion" antis have calmed down a good bit, the "bias" antis are just as loud as they ever have been.

From today's La Vangua, credited to "Agencies," on page 6, regarding sales of the "Baker Plan" in book form in the US: "Once again, American citizens have surprised the entire world with their voracious reading and interest in politics. In only 24 hours (the Baker Plan) has become a best-seller, both in the country's principal bookstores and the Internet." Fair enough, but why would the entire world be surprised at Americans' civic behavior? Oh, wait, because you guys in the European media have been telling the entire world for years that we're a bunch of morons.

The local media also made a big deal about the Seminole tribe's buying the Hard Rock Cafe chain. The photo of the Indians all dressed up in "traditional clothing" on the balcony of the New York outlet made the front page of La Vangua and the TV3 news, too. TV3 claimed that those evil white people had tried to commit "genocide" on the Seminoles, which of course is not true. Several long, desultory wars were fought in Florida beginning before 1820, and many Seminoles were deported to Oklahoma. Remember, though, the Seminoles were one of the Five Civilized Tribes, those that practiced sedentary agriculture, white-man style--and owned black slaves, whose descendants are known today as Black Seminoles. The whites never tried to wipe the Seminoles out. (Nor, as far as I know, did they ever attempt to wipe out a whole tribe, though there were certainly wars and massacres.) The history of the way they treated the Seminoles is ugly enough, and there's no need to make it worse.

Here in Barcelona the big news seems to be the squatters. The media is reporting that there are more than 300 squats here in town, ranging from small houses to large factories. More than 60 of the squats are in my neighborhood, boho Gracia. Last week the cops kicked them out of an old factory in Poblenou, and they immediately moved in and took over another unused factory. They actually hired private security guards, who allowed people to enter and leave while the place was supposedly surrounded by the police! Supposedly the squatters use these places to exercise their creativity, claiming that their squats are cultural centers. I don't buy it for a second, since several of them are open as unlicenced, illegal bars. I will say that they are centers for the diffusion of ultra-leftist political philosophy.

Many of these people are not locals; they've come from all over the world to hang out here. They have a political agenda, calling themselves "anti-system," and they frequently riot and commit vandalism. Most people in Barcelona are heartily sick of them and the disturbance their mere presence causes, and resent their moving into unoccupied houses and buildings without paying a duro in rent or tax. What broke the camel's back was the suspension and then cancellation of the EU's housing summit, involving diplomats and officials from all 25 EU countries, and a nice feather in the cap for Barcelona, when local authorities informed the Zap government that they could not guarantee security against squatter anarcho Black Bloc rioting.

Wacky bit of Catalooniness: Regional cabinet counselor Joan Puigcercos of ERC, a former member of Keystone Kops terrorist gang Terra Lliure, ordered that the Spanish flag be taken down in front of his department's offices. This is against the law, which clearly states that the Spanish flag is to fly at all government buildings, whether national, regional, or municipal. New Premier Montilla made him put it back up, thereby demonstrating that he is not going to put up with any clownishness from these guys.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Libertad Digital has an extensive interview this week with Stanley G. Payne, who I think is the best historian of Spain; he is also one of the least leftist. The interviewer is Fernando Diaz Villanueva, who I have met a couple of times; nice guy. The questions are in boldface, and Payne's responses are in normal type, for legibility reasons.

Mr. Payne, you were born in Texas. Why did you become a historian of Spain? What attracted your attention to our country?

My interest in Spain did not begin until I began my doctoral studies. When I was 19 or 20, I knew very little about Spain and its history. I knew something about Spanish literature because of some university courses, and little more. A few years later, the summer I began my doctorate, I read two books that called my attention to Spain, one British titled "The Spanish Temperament," and another on Spanish medieval art, which I liked very much.

When I began my doctorate I decided to specialize in contemporary European history and the question came up: Which country? I decided on Spain, because I already knew some Spanish and because I met a series of professors who motivated me, to become self-educated in Spanish history, since at that time there were almost no Hispanists, and even less so in the United States.

Your first books about Spain were censored, so they had to be published (in Spanish) in Paris by the Ruedo Ibérico publishing firm. Why were they censored?

For obvious reasons. My first two books were about, first the Falange and then the army, which at that time were the dominant forces in the Franco regime. I think it was inevitable, because both studies were critical.

Why does the Spanish Civil War still have so much international repercussion? Was it that important an event in twentieth-century history?

I don't think it has that much international repercussion today. There is some interest, but not the same as thirty or forty years ago. When I began my studies there was great interest in the Spanish war, both because of its political components and having been the preamble of the World War. Today, memories of the war are still alive inside some groups, but there is no doubt that there has been a serious decline. In fact, among American historians, their main specialization is modern history, the period of the Spanish empire. Specialists prefer the Golden Age to the Civil War, which has long lost that special air it had forty years ago.

The Spanish left has been using the Civil War for electoral purposes for more than a decade. What do you think this anomaly is due to?

It's the process of a complex. It began during the 1993 election campaign, when for the first time Felipe Gonzalez waved the bloody shirt of the war despite the fact that he had always respected the pact of the democratic transition. He did it because it was the first time in ten years that he saw his power in danger. In Spain the Left has a historical complex that goes back to 1931. Since then the Left has had a super-legitimacy complex, as if it had the right to govern. That is, they are the only ones worthy of the people, and the others, the conservative parties, are nothing more than decorative elements that represent nobody. In this way the Spanish Left does not accept the fact that it might lose, it does not accept any adversaries. In addition, by the 1990s the army had already lost its role of preponderance in Spanish politics and this, which had meant the end of the specter of the risk of a coup, made the left feel stronger. Don't write off the ideological factor, either. In the last fifteen years the worldwide Left has experienced an ideological evolution toward the dominant ideology today, which is political correctness or do-gooderism. Finally, the culture of victimism, which has taken root in the Spanish Left, has something to do with it. This can be seen in its interpretation of the Civil War in a sectarian and victimist manner.

In contrast with other European countries which suffered dictatorships (which are almost all of them), Spain has not learned to live with its past. Why?

European history is complex, and curiously, the Germans have confronted their past better than the other Europeans. They have accepted their historical past and have found a democratic balance. In the Spanish case, what I see is a cultural deficit whose roots are in the belated modernization of Spain. The fact is that today, the modernization of Spain has been a total success, but nevertheless, the same effects as in the rest of Europe have not happened.


I think there are a lot of factors. The dictatorship, for example, lasted much longer than in Italy or Germany, until a very late date. But there is also another aspect: in Spain there is a Leftist culture of opposing the adversary that is more extreme than in other Western countries. There has been a tendency toward maximalism among the Spanish Left that is stronger than in countries like Germany. In any case, there is so much in this question that I'd have to write a whole book about it.

Is there a "Spanish singularity" in comparison to other Western European countries, or is our history in general similar to that of the French, the Germans, or the British?

The answer is both yes and no. Spain is a fully Western country, it has always had the same institutions: the monarchy, the parliament, the Church...Nevertheless, the history of these institutions, the way of using them, has been different. Spanish history is very much marked by the Islamic invasion and the Reconquest. After this period, which was very long, there was another dominated by constant war and world preponderance. Other European countries do not have these peculiarities. Religion, for its part, has always been very closed in Spain, for centuries. Finally, modernization was very slow, and it came late. By the 20th century, revolutionary movements were much more virulent than anywhere else in the West. This revolutionary effervescence wound up in a civil war and an abnormally long dictatorship, in Western terms. The weakness of Spanish nationalism, that is, the process of national integration during the 19th century, was also important. This was nothing like France or even Italy, which is the most similar country to Spain.

Going back to the Civil War, what would have happened in Spain if the army had not risen up?

There would have been a Leftist government for some time, that's for sure. Then, anything could have happened. The Popular Front government might have broken up as in France, where it lasted only one year. Another possibility is that the revolutionary forces would have taken over the situation by turning the government over to Largo Caballero, who would have tried to carry out his revolution. It is possible that as time went on, there would have been some sort of civil war among the Left, as happened in the real Civil War in May 1937.

Was the Spain of July 1936 still a democracy with completely guaranteed rights?

No, by that time no. It was a democracy with most rights, not all of them, guaranteed. Since February, due to the policies of the Popular Front government of not enforcing the laws and of violating the Constitution, democracy had been devalued. During those months, the activities of the revolutionary movements, illegal demonstrations, and generalized violence put democracy up against the ropes. By July it can be said that Spain was no longer a full democracy, but something similar to a Latin American country...The truth is that the military rebellion was a rising more against the lack of democracy than against the excess of it. If democracy had been maintained, the officers who were not democratic would have had no complaint, and this would have made the rising much more difficult. What happened in the end was that democracy was not recovered with the rising, but another class of republic was formed.

Seventy years after the Civil War, debate about it has become sharper. Why didn't this happen before?

Among many cultural sectors, there is no debate, but rather a very biased and distorted line of interpretation. What is dramatic now is not the abundance of debate, but the absence of debate. What there is, is a well-organized movement on the Left to use the Civil War with political ends. This is linked to the idea of super-legitimacy that I discussed before. The Left feels very strong in the cultural and academic spheres, and it shows its power in this way. In addition, the Communists, parties like the United Left, or the Catalan left wing, have an imperious need to use their version of history as a political argument. Really, it's the only thing Communism has left in ideological terms.

Pío Moa is today, probably, Spain's most controversial historian. What do you think have been his principal contributions to the history of the Second Republic and the war?

Moa has succeded in opening up debate and making a very important analysis of the Republic and the origins of the Civil War which, I think, is his most important contribution, his research on the period between 1933 and 1936. His analysis is really original and his conclusions have not yet been refuted. He has been denounced and ostracised but they have not managed to disprove his theses about the Republic. I consider what he has written on the war and on Francoism to be more controversial.

The "battle of historians" taking place currently in Spain is especially virulent, and personal attacks are not uncommon, at least against historians like Moa or Cesar Vidal. How did we arrive at this?

Because of the convergence of two historical-cultural processes. One, which has occurred in the entire West, is the unstoppable rise of political correctness, whcih wants to impose its version of everything, exclusively, silencing the voices of those who disagree. The other, more specific to Spain, is the development of this new Leftist culture in the state universities, which are the majority. This has made discourse monolithically Leftist and always dominated by the same people. Those who disagree are denounced and eliminated from the debate.

The United States, your home country, also suffered a civil war in the 19th century. Did its effects last as long as in Spain?

The effects are always more traumatic among the defeated than among the victors. In this case we would have to compare the South with the Republic. Half a century later, in the first decade of the 20th century, there was no longer so much interest on the part of Southern society about the war, and it began to be considered one more historical event. In some social sectors there was a certain resentment, but without political ends. I think that by the time of the Spanish-American war reconciliation had already happened. In Spain a similar point was reached during the transition, which is when the idea of "the two Spains" began to decline...Sixty years after the war, this desire for revenge on the part of the defeated did not exist in the United States. Anyway, it was not the same kind of civil war. In the war between Confederates and Unionists, there were no major differences except for the emancipation of the slaves and the right to secession. In Spain there was a very ideological civil war, framed within the revolutionary struggles of the 20th century. Spain's was a fight to the death, a battle between two ways of understanding civilization, almost a religious war, radical and revolutionary, which opened up an abyss between the two sides.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Well, of course, first we need the porn, so here are those photos of Britney Spears bottomless that you might have heard about. Sure looks intentional to me. For publicity purposes, I assume. Well, she's gotten plenty. Let's see if this starts a trend.

Second, we need celebrity scandal, so click on to find out who's doing cocaine and who's gay and who's had nasty plastic surgery. Perez, who is apparently good with colors himself, calls on the following closet cases to come out: "Anderson Cooper, Jodie Foster, Kevin Spacey, Clay Aiken, Queen Latifah, Ricky Martin, Matt Dallas, Wentworth Miller, Richard Simmons, (and) Sean Hayes." I'm not sure who most of these people are--Jodie Foster and Kevin Spacey are of course real movie stars, Ricky Martin is a real pop star, and Richard Simmons is a way over-the-hill TV guy. Never heard of the rest. But, in case you were wondering, they're gay.

Now, sports. In case you haven't seen it, or want to see it again, here is the video of Ronaldinho's goal "a la chilena" last week against Villarreal. It's definitely the best goal of the year--and I would argue the second best in the history of FC Barcelona. This one, by Rivaldo, is the best. Artistically, both goals rate a 10. But Ronaldinho's was scored late in a 4-0 walkover of a mediocre team. Rivaldo's was scored the last day of the season in the dying minutes of what was going to be a loss to Valencia, which would have knocked Barça out of European competition for the first time ever. Talk about in the clutch--Rivaldo's goal gave Barça the last-minute draw and clinched them a spot in Europe.

Next, we need the violence, so here's the video of the greatest NBA fight ever and the most famous movie scene ever.

And transvestites!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

American Heritage, the United States's best-known history magazine, has opened nearly its entire archive to Internet browsers. This will keep history fans like me occupied for months, since the archives go back to the early Fifties and include, literally, more than ten thousand articles.

For those not familiar with it, American Heritage is known for its rigor and reliability, and its lack of a political agenda. (I wouldn't call it "pro" or "anti" American, but it is most definitely American in its tone.) The magazine is not a scholarly journal; rather, it's aimed at college-educated middlebrows with some knowledge of the subject. Many American Heritage authors are prestigious academics, and quite a few are famous; David McCullough, Barbara Tuchman, Henry Steele Commager, Bruce Catton, William Manchester, and Richard Rhodes are just some names that turn up.

Non-Americans whose knowledge of US history is sketchy--and that's almost all of you folks--now have an excellent resource to turn to.

My only criticism is that the archives have obviously merely been scanned and not proofread, and so there are occasional scanning errors that can be confusing. But, hey, what do you want for free?

Here are just a few pieces I've read in recent days:

One from 1993 on drug prohibition in the US, with pro- and anti-legalization historical arguments.

One from 1974 on the disastrous Revolutionary War Penobscot expedition which ended up in the court-martial of Paul Revere.

One from 1969 on Washington's destruction of the Iroquois during the Revolution.

One from 1977 on the development of the Mormon church.

One from 1980 on the political maneuvering that led to the Emancipation Proclamation. (Don't miss Frederick Douglass's assessment of Lincoln at the very end.)

An unusual one from 1998 by John Lukacs on how the bourgeois of 1901 thought.

One from 1990 by the Army officer who investigated the My Lai massacre.

I've merely scratched the surface, of course; these are just a few that I particularly noticed.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

As Bush flies to Jordan and Iraq spirals into civil war, it is quite clear that the Iraq war has not come out the way that the Bush administration--and I--had thought it would. The majority of the Iraqi people have spoken up for democracy with their votes, supporting our Wilsonian belief that rogue states can be turned into law-abiding nations. But there are at the very least tens of thousands of Iraqis who are willing to kill their fellow-citizens in order to stop that from happening.

So what is to be done?

The Administration is looking for a way to bail out. That would be a mistake. We helped break it--Saddam and the Baath Party and the Republican Guard and that lot are, of course, responsible for most of the breakage, but we helped--and so we've bought it. Whether the United States likes it or not, once you take responsibility for fixing a country, you'd better follow through and fix it, or be taken a lot less seriously by the rest of the world for years.

Strategically, the US and the rest of the world cannot afford to let Iraq become another Taliban Afghanistan, hosting and sheltering Al Qaeda and other terrorists.

The thing to do, I think, is recognize that the artificial borders drawn by the colonial powers after World War I in which they split up the former Ottoman Empire are just that--purely artificial, and an impediment to peace. Iraq is a melange of three different areas which have little in common with one another, only one of which is violent.

Split up Iraq. Make the Kurds in the North and the Shiites in the south independent. If the Shiites decide they want to ally with Iran, fine. If the Turks don't like an independent Kurdistan, fine. But those places are capable of taking care of themselves. We should pull out of there and let them handle their own business.

As for the central region around Baghdad, mostly Sunni but with a large Shiite minority, where the great majority of the violence is happening, it is quite clearly not capable of taking care of itself. Both Al Qaeda and Saddamite insurgents are committing mass murder there, and Shiite groups are doing the same, with the government trying to deal with both of them. The situation has grown so ugly that it is time for a very ugly response.

The Americans are going to have to go in hard and launch a major offensive in the Sunni Triangle in order to severely damage the Al Qaeda-Saddamite organization. The killers cannot be allowed to keep killing. If we can't do that, we need to admit defeat and bail out, which would then be followed by global retrenchment and an abandonment of at least some international commitments, along with the movement of popular opinion toward isolationism, and probably European-style protectionism and nativism. I wouldn't like for that to happen.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Semi-random notes while listening to a New Orleans jazz compilation:

The big news in Spain over the weekend was the demonstration called by the Association of Victims of Terrorism, which brought out something like a million people in Madrid. All the heavy hitters from the PP showed up. I'm about fed up with AVT demonstrations. Agreed, everybody has the right to speak out, but they keep having these demos for no particular reason.

The demo's stated purpose was to oppose government negotiations with ETA, a cause I firmly agree with. There's nothing to talk about except where and when they turn over their weapons. ETA's robbery of 250 pistols in France has pretty much derailed negotiations for now anyway. My problem with the AVT, though, is that they've already demonstrated for the same reason three or four times this year. Once is enough.

The demonstrators called for Zap's resignation, which I would like to see, but ain't going to happen, and most disgracefully, perpetuated the completely insane 9-11 conspiracy theory, you know, the one that says that the Socialists and ETA plotted to blow up 200 people and pin it on Al Qaeda in order to screw over the PP.

Russia is an out-and-out Mafia state, which is, I suppose, better than being an out-and-out totalitarian state. Then again, wait until the Godfather starts auctioning off nukes to the highest bidder. I assume the Godfather isn't that crazy, since he has to deal with the Chechens back home.

Ecuador elected another nut as president--anybody remember Abdullah Bucaram? The Vegas line is 3-1 that this new guy doesn't last a year.

Statistic: Median family income per month in Barcelona's richest neighborhood, Sarriá-Sant Gervasi, is €1941. In Barcelona's poorest neighborhood, Ciutat Vella, it's €1388. That's not very much. I'm not going to do the math, but I think that €1388 a month is well below the US poverty line for a family of four. 31% of Ciutat Vella residents consider crime "a serious problem."

According to a US Senate investigation, Equatorial Guinea earned $130 million selling petroleum internationally in 1998. Dictator Teodoro Obiang kept $96 million of that himself. One-fourth of Equatorial Guineans suffer from malnutrition.

A further case of taking "Borat" far too seriously, by Llatzer Moix in La Vanguardia. Moix enumerates the gun dealer who recommended a 9mm Glock to Borat when he asked for "the best weapon to kill a Jew," the rodeo guy who didn't like homosexuals, and the drunken South Carolina fratboys as examples of "the least attractive characteristics of Americans."

No, no, Mr. Moix, they're examples of not-very-nice people. The great majority of Americans share few, if any, characteristics with those folks.

Moix continues,

Borat is an unleashed, colossal response to the political correctness that has governed American society for the last fifteen years, and also proof of its limited effects: under this makeup of correctness propitiated by the use of euphemisms and verbal restrictions, xenophobia and discrimination have conserved--and who knows, might have aumented--all their vigor.

Mr. Moix, trust me, there is a good bit less xenophobia and discrimination in the United States than in most of Europe. Spain is going to be a test case: can it handle a mass increase in the number of Third World immigrants without a mass increase of xenophobia and racism? More than 10% of Americans were born outside the US, which has been true for a good many years. About 8% of the people living in Spain are immigrants, and that number has changed drastically in recent years and will change further.

As for discrimination, I think it is considerably less vigorous today than it was when employers could ask you whether you were married and how old you were and if you planned to have kids, when flat owners were free to refuse potential renters based on nationality, when bars and nightclubs kept racial undesirables out at the door, when the police could stop you and ask you for ID without cause, or when they could hold you incommunicado for 72 hours--oh, wait, all those things are still true in Spain!
From the "It-Happened-in-Queens" department:

Tragically, New York police officers shot one unarmed man to death and seriously wounded two others last Saturday morning. Two of the three were black and the third was Hispanic.

Clearly, this is a case of police error. According to Andy Robinson's story in La Vanguardia, police were summoned to a dodgy nightclub in Queens--the club had been under police surveillance for months due to prostitution and drug dealing--at four in the morning. The cops saw a fight between several nightclub patrons, including Sean Bell, the man who was killed, outside the bar. They called for backup, saying "Things are getting hot on Liverpool Street. I think he's got a gun," as the altercation continued. Then Bell's car crashed into a police van and the cops opened fire, putting 31 shots into the car. They made a mistake, because Bell and his two companions were unarmed. There was no gun. Bell was to have been married the next day.

More than anything else, this reminds me of the case where the cops shot the unarmed Brazilian on the London underground, though it's also reminiscent of the Amadou Diallo case in 1999, when New York police shot an innocent, unarmed Guinean immigrant while on an emergency rape call.

Naturally, Andy Robinson has to accuse the NYPD of racism: "Though Mayor Bloomberg has moderated Giuliani's most-criticized measures of harassment of the black communities, zero tolerance police tactics are still used aggressively in African-American neighborhoods, like Queens and Brooklyn." Seems to me that according to Robinson's own story, the cops thought they were in danger, and they screwed up and shot three unarmed men. Racism charges are out of line unless somebody's got some proof, and if there were any you can bet Robinson would have mentioned it.

Of course, this story was all over TV news all weekend over here in Spain, and it makes page 11 of La Vanguardia's international section, above the fold, with a photo, while the violently racist Paris lynch mob made page 57 in the sports section. Wonder why?

Meanwhile, La Vanguardia's Washington correspondent, Eusebio Val, had another extremely reasonable article in Sunday's paper. School violence has become a cause for concern in Spain, and the Vangua ran a collection of briefs from its foreign correspondents on the subject. Mr Val's piece said:

USA--reputation worse than reality

The public perception, both within and outside the country, of violence in the schools of the United States is worse than reality. News like the massacre at Columbine, Colorado, in 1994, or the recent attack against a school in the Amish community in Pennsylvania, contribute to the bad press. But the truth is, according to statistics, that violent incidents have decreased notably since the mid-nineties. In 1994 there were 13 cases for every 1000 students. In 2003 it had declined to 6 cases in every 1000. The decline is mostly due to the citizens' awareness and the measures taken, among them the metal detectors at the front door of urban high schools. Still, robbery, aggression, drug use, and the presence of students with weapons are a reason for concern. Bullying has increased, though it is possible that it is reported more often now that it is officially recognized as a problem.

Aggression among students is much more common than students' attacks on teachers. Even less frequent are parents' attacks on teachers. Nevertheless, figures from between 1998 and 2002 indicate that there were some 90,000 violent incidents involving teachers and 144,000 robberies. These statistics are relativized if one keeps in mind that in the US there are almost 100,000 public schools, some 60 million students from kindergarten to high school, and 3 million teachers.

The schools depend on municipal or county authorities, and so policies regarding punishment for violent students may vary according to the area. If the aggression is serious, the police and the justice system become involved. Disciplinary sanctions inside the school system are taken rapidly, in a question of days or weeks.

Below there is a photograph, a movie still, with the caption "Movies about problematic students like "Dangerous Minds" have given an excessively worrying perspective of American public schools."

If Mr. Val continues being so fair and balanced, Josep Maria Casasus will accuse him of being in the pay of the CIA, too.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

From the "If-This-Had-Happened-in-Cleveland" department on page 57 of today's Vanguardia:

Death by the stadium

Policeman in Paris kills PSG supporter in defense of Jewish fan

Lluís Uría, Paris correspondent

It was a question of time. The growing violence among the groups of radical supporters in French soccer caused a death on Thursday night. A plainclothes policeman killed a Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) fan with one shot and seriously wounded another when he was attacked by a numerous group of violent "ultras" shouting racist insults.

The events ocurred after the UEFA Cup match between PSG and Hapoel Tel Aviv at the Parisian Princes' Park stadium which resulted in a 2-4 victory for the visitors. The police officer, Antoine O., a 32-year-old black man of Martinican origin, who was observing the area, intervened to defend a Tel Aviv fan, Yannuv Hazout, a 23-year-old Frenchman of the Jewish confession, who was being chased by a crowd of PSG "ultras" shouting "Dirty Jew! Dirty nigger!"

The version of the policeman and of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, which has been corroborated by various witnesses, indicates that the policeman shot in self-defense, though an internal investigation has been opened and the officer is under temporary arrest.

The policeman and the Jewish fan who he was protecting tried to flee from the "ultras," but were surrounded near the entrance to a parking garage. "Behind me, get behind me!" shouted the officer, who tried to drive away the crowd of rioters with a tear-gas bomb in vain. The aggressiveness of the group of supporters, made up of about 100 people, increased, and the policeman, who was knocked down and beaten, pulled out his pistol and fired. Two youths fell, one of them dead. Then the two ran to shelter inside a McDonald's, which was surrounded and attacked by the rioters. Several vanloads of the riot squad arrived and put the aggressors, five of whom were arrested, to flight. The Interior Ministry stated that the officer said from the beginning that he was a policeman, though he was not wearing the identifying red armband.

Both the dead supporter, 24 years old, and the wounded one, 26, who is in serious condition but whose life is not in danger, had police records for their violent behavior. Both were members of an ultranationalist sector of the Kop Boulogne radical group, which includes five groups of extreme right-wing supporters. Some thirty radicals yesterday assaulted the field at which the PSG players train; the latter had to take shelter, along with the reporters, in the dressing room.

The event shocked all of France, not only because of its tragic result but because it is evidence of the racist and anti-Semitic escalation among the groups of radical supporters. At the match against Tel Aviv, the PSG hooligans shouted slogans like "Death to the Jews!" and "Heil Hitler!" President Jacques Chirac expressed his "stupefaction" and "horror" at the events and firmly condemned the violence and racist behavior of the fans. Prime minister Dominique de Villepin spoke in favor of stiffening legislation against soccer violence.

A racist lynch mob assaults a Jew and a black cop after a major sporting event and two of the mob get shot, one fatally, by the cop. In Cleveland, it's page one with photographs and deep sociological commentary. In Paris, it makes page 57. In the sports section.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Marius Serra, La Vanguardia's house plagiarist (Angie Schultz busted him bang to rights three years ago) has a piece in today's issue on new regional premier Jose Montilla's accent in Catalan.

They're televising the whole parliamentary debate on the new regional government on TV3, and boy, is it boring. I should have been taking shots of Ron Pujol every time Joan Saura said "sustainable"--I'd be passed out by now. Saura, who is our number one Luddite and who is spreading the falsehood that power lines emit cancer-causing radiation came out and said that the most important issue facing society is stopping climate change. The leader of Ciutadans, the anti-Catalanista party, has been using Spanish, which is highly scandalous on the floor of the Catalan parliament.

Jose Montilla is absolutely the most boring speaker in the world. Boring, boring, boring. Well, we need some boredom around here after all the excitement of the Maragall regime. His speech included naming every previous premier of the Generalitat, all 183 of them or whatever, and a word-for-word reading of his party's platform.

Anyway, though, Serra's piece in today's Vangua is dedicated to criticizing Montilla's poor accent in spoken Catalan. Mr. Serra, as someone who boasts of his own linguistic skill, wit and cleverness with great frequency, should have heard of that concept called first-language interference. That is, when you learn a second language, your first language is going to limit your second-language ability. This happens with everyone, and it is a pattern; it influences pronunciation more than anything else. Mr. Serra undoubtedly speaks English with a strong Catalan accent, and there is nothing he can do to change it.

Well, since Mr. Montilla was born in Cordoba, he speaks Catalan with a strong Andaluz accent. Mr. Serra runs down the list of pronunciation and grammar errors Montilla made during his speech:

--He does not voice the intervocalic s sound to the equivalent of English z, so Catalan "fermesa" /fermeza/ becomes /fermesa/.
--He does not use the apostrophized article before a noun beginning with a vowel, so he says "el Estatut" instead of "l'Estatut."
--He does not pronounce word-final "n" after a consonant, so "govern" becomes /gover/.
--He cannot pronounce the Catalan "j", changing it to a "y" glide, so "major" becomes /mayó/.
--He cannot pronounce the palatal "ll" at the beginning of a word, so "lloc" becomes /yoc/.
--He has difficulty pronouncing the schwa, which all non-stressed vowels in Catalan are converted to.
--He occasionally fouls up prepositions and conjugations.
--He does not use "weak pronouns."

All these mistakes that Montilla makes are due to interference from his first language, Spanish. They're not his fault personally. So what? We can all understand what he's trying to say, and, anyway, 100% of native Spanish-speakers using Catalan make the same mistakes. Just as 100% of Catalan-speakers using English cannot distinguish between the "i" sound in "hit" and the "ee" sound in "heat," or pronounce the "rl" combination in words like "world" or "girl," or make the "w" sound in "window," or distinguish between word-final "p" and "b" as in "cop" and "cob," or pronounce the English "r", or figure out the difference between "at," "in," and "on."

Serra concludes his piece making light of Mr. Montilla's minor language difficulties by calling on Montilla to improve his spoken Catalan.

1) What more do you want? Catalan nationalists constantly bitch that Spaniards who move here don't learn Catalan. Mr. Montilla has learned Catalan. Now people like Serra bitch and moan and say it's not good enough, he has to improve even more.
2) I would prefer for Mr. Montilla to spend his time in office working on being a good premier rather than learning how to do those damn silly pronoms febles.
3) I call on Mr. Serra to learn to speak English as well as Mr. Montilla speaks Catalan, and to phone me up in three months for his oral pronunciation exam. If he can't pass it, maybe he should shut up about Mr. Montilla's language abilities.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Quick Wednesday afternoon blog roundup while listening to the Grateful Dead:

Trevor at Kaleboel comments on crazy Catalan level tests.

La Liga Loca has your midweek Spanish football rumors. I don't think Rijkaard is going anywhere, and I don't think they need any new midwinter signings, since those guys would become unnecessary when Eto'o, Messi, and Saviola come back by February.

Notes from Spain features a comment from a British expat who does not like his new life.

Planet Churro explains why Barcelona's lousy air connections are not a nationalist issue.

Puerta del Sol discusses recent Real Academia language decisions.

¡No Pasarán! has a roundup from France with news on the election and the Robert Redeker affair. Don't miss Eursoc's take. Pejman has more.

Samizdata has gone to see "Borat," too.

Fausta has posted a must-see video; we wrote about this miscarriage of "justice" when it happened.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Directionless thoughts while listening to Neil Young:

British serial killer Tony King went on trial today for murdering Rocío Wanninkoff, a Spanish teenage girl, four years ago. King's DNA was found under the girl's fingernails, which makes it pretty clear that he did it. He is currently serving life for murdering another teenage girl, Sonia Carabantes. King also committed several sexual assaults in the UK. Can we please hang this low-life piece of trash?

Meanwhile, some nutcase kid in Germany shot up his old school; fortunately, nobody was killed except for the shooter, who committed suicide after wounding eight people. La Vanguardia featured no deep sociological commentary on how German culture is intrinsically violent today.

Remei and I went to see "Borat" along with Murph on Sunday night. We thought it was pretty funny, though of course there wasn't much of a plot, just sketches stuck together. It wasn't a devastating comment on American culture, though, it was just another fish-out-of-water movie (like Moscow on the Hudson or Crocodile Dundee, or even Mork and Mindy.) I thought the funniest bits were the ones in the worst taste, of course, especially when he goes to the snobby dinner party and takes a crap in a plastic bag. One thing to notice is that the born-again Christians--of course, Borat goes to a Pentecostalist church--are the ones who accept him best. The feminist academics certainly weren't very tolerant. Also notice that the gun store wouldn't sell him a gun, since he wasn't a US citizen. The fratboys are suing, claiming that the producers got them drunk (yeah, I bet they needed a lot of encouragement) and promised that the movie would not be shown in the US. The Romanian villagers who served as the natives of Borat's hometown are also suing, for obvious reasons, claiming they had been told it was a documentary on poverty.

The series comes on tonight and I plan to watch it, in English, of course. Fortunately TV3 gives you that option.

Here's another example of taking pop culture too seriously in today's Vanguardia by Jordi Balló. He's writing on a TV series called "Masters of Horror," which includes episodes in which American soldiers in Iraq become zombies, a family man goes psychotic violent after his son dies, "an apocalyptic parable on violence against women," and "a ferocious criticism of the anti-abortion movement," which includes a woman inseminated by the devil who ends up shooting her own child.

Gee, sounds like a bunch of cheap horror flicks to me. If you like that stuff, great, but I don't; I avoid horror movies. Real life is scary enough.

So here's Mr. Balló: "This series expresses being deeply fed-up. Fed up with America, with the United States, with fundamentalism, with sexism, with Bush, with patriotism, and with the sacred essences."

Three points: 1) I believe Mr. Balló is doing what Freud called "projecting." 2) Notice that Mr. Balló identifies the US with fundamentalism, sexism, and patriotism. Am I in Catalonia, where at least 10% of the population is fundamentalist Marxist, where domestic violence is daily news, and Esquerra Republicana is in the government, or not? Nothing wrong with Catalonia, it's a wonderful place, I'm very happy here or I would leave, but hey, it's imperfect just like everywhere else. 3) Mr. Balló is pretty clearly a case of bias, not opinion.

The CIS, the government polling agency, and why we need one I don't know, just released a Spain-wide survey showing the PSOE and the PP virtually tied in voter intention. The results if an election were held today are PSOE 39.3%, PP 37.9%, IU (communists) 5.1%, CiU 3.1%, ERC 2.8%, and the PNV 1.7%. Seems that the big kerfluffle about the Catalan statute and the breakdown of "peace negotiations" with ETA have hurt Zap, and the PP's move toward the center has helped Rajoy. Rumor has it that Esperanza Aguirre has her knife sharpened and is out for Rajoy's jugular.

All four minor parties, along with several others, would get parliamentary seats, of course, and this is one problem with the proportional-representation system: it allows people who most voters think are complete nutcases into positions of power. Look at the Catalan regional government and the Barcelona city government: the generally moderate Socialists have to share power with the Communists and the national socialist Esquerra. Joan Saura is going to be running the regional police, for God's sake, and they put Esquerra in charge of the Orwellian "linguistic normalization" department.

Check out this letter from today's Vanguardia:

I have been working at the department of justice for 18 years, first under the state (Spain) and then transferring to the Generalitat (Catalan regional government). I have held a medical degree since 1987 and passed the level B Catalan-language certificate test in 1998. This was demanded of me in order to do my job.

Now they demand that I obtain the level C certificate and I have been warned that if I do not, I may be fired. Because of this, I asked to take the necessary course, organized by the department, and I signed up for an obligatory level B exam, though I already have the certificate., in order to take the level C course and exam. Previously, the linguistic normalizer (bureaucrat) informed me that after the exam, it would be decided whether I can enter the level C course or whether I will have to pass a course "in order to obtain level B again," when I have had the certificate for years.

All the above is absurd and has no justification. When you acquire an accredited certificate, you do not have to take any more exams. Imagine an obligatory exam in order to reacquire a high school diploma, medical degree, or drivers licence...

Signed, Maria Pilar Pellegero, Ripoll

Gee, you'd think if she's a doctor, her job performance rather than her linguistic ability ought to be how she is judged, no? This is, of course, corporativism, as anyone who graduates from a Catalan high school automatically gets a level C certificate in Catalan. Linguistic laws serve to exclude persons from other parts of Spain from government jobs in Catalonia, and local nationalists want to extend these discriminatory laws to private business too.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Here's a fascinating AP story on the release of extensive Nazi Holocaust archives, which will certainly provide us with much more specific knowledge on what happened in all of Europe during the Second World War.

Meanwhile, Burger King has launched a new monsterburger here in Spain and our local enlightened and illustrated are of course indignant, so indignant that they've roused the Health Ministry.

And the Christian Science Monitor has an extensive report on Zap's Alliance of Civilizations.

Here are the main planks of the A of C's platform:

• The international community should draft a white paper to analyze the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
• An international conference should be convened to reinvigorate the Middle East peace process.
• Ruling parties in the Muslim world should provide space for the participation of peaceful political groups.
• Leaders and shapers of public opinion should behave responsibly and work to promote understanding among cultures.
• The UN should appoint a high representative to assist in defusing cross-cultural tensions.
• The UN should establish a forum for the alliance of civilizations under its auspices.
• Journalists should receive improved training in intercultural understanding.
• Media content should aim to promote intercultural dialogue.
• Educational materials and media literacy programs in schools should face a critical review.
• Governments should increase the number of international youth exchanges and youth-oriented websites.
• The international community should create media campaigns to combat discrimination.

Just brilliant. That'll fix everything. The only concrete steps I can see in the plan would involve censorship: "training journalists," which would mean indoctrinating them; media promoting "international dialogue," , which would mean someone controlling what they report; a "critical review" of educational materials, which would amount to a complete rewriting; "creating media campaigns to combat discrimination," which would mean straight-out official propaganda.

Speaking of "censorship," here's Josep Cuní of TV3's morning show, on which I have appeared several times. Note that Cuní is the TV3 guy who Manuel Trallero was accusing of bias in favor of Israel the other day. Cuní brags about having spent a couple years in the US, and once recommended a Jeremy Rifkin book to me. Why, of all people, that idiot Rifkin, I have no idea, but that's the kind of person Cuní seems to take seriously.

Although the official excuse is that no distributor has been found in the United States to facilitate (Al Jazira's) programming on cable, which is how the world reaches a Yankee, the truth is that Washington's pressures have, for now, impeded the empire from seeing the "terrible side of the conflict."

What an arrogant and ignorant jerk. Cable, "how the world reaches a Yankee"? Ever heard of internet, radio, broadcast TV, newspapers, and newsmagazines, Mr. Cuní? Hint: The Americans invented all of them in their modern form, with the possible exception of newspapers, for which some would claim British priority. As for "Washington's pressures," that is cheap conspiracy theory crap. Who in Washington? What pressures? And the use of the words "Yankee" and "empire" demonstrate that Mr. Cuní is suffering from sovereign-nationalist anti-American bias.

We're going to see "Borat" this afternoon; TV3 is going to begin running the TV series on Tuesday and their slogan in the teaser ads they've been showing is "The program that puts the United States up against the ropes." For some reason, over here in Spain they don't really get a lot of Anglo-Saxon comedy. They think stuff like the Simpsons is an acid commentary on the hellishness of American society rather than just being a laugh. Today Jorde Batlle Caminal in La Vanguardia called the movie "an extremely furious sociopolitical satire." I asked Murph, my informant on all things British, and he said, "No, it's just a piss-take."

Friday, November 17, 2006

Pointless thoughts while listening to the Allman Brothers:

Zap and Chiraq had their meeting in Girona and agreed not to make any decisions on the controversial high-tension power line across the Pyrenees between the two countries, since France has both presidential and legislative elections and Spain has municipal elections next spring and neither one has the balls to piss off the watermelons--green outside, red inside. Of all ironies, among the three members of the Catalan Tripartite, two are against it--Initiative and Esquerra--and the Socialists are in favor. I don't get the controversy--do these morons really believe that power lines cause cancer or something? This project has been in the planning stages until 1982.

The Two Stooges also announced their Middle East peace plan, to include 1) a cease-fire 2) a meeting between Olmert and Abu Mazen 3) a government of national unity in Palestine 4) an exchange of prisoners 5) the deployment of a peacekeeping force in Gaza and 6) a regional peace conference. The Israelis will have no problem with numbers 1, 2, and 6. It's more likely that I'll grow tits than Number 3. As for Number Four, what, you want the Israelis to trade tried and sentenced terrorist murderers for hostages held by those same terrorist hands? Israel will rightly never agree to anything of the sort. And Number Five would depend on whether the peacekeeping force is to disarm the terrorist gangs running Gaza, or not. If not, then precisely what good would it do? Josep Pique, whom I am starting to like more and more, ironically called the plan "a genius idea," which he attributed to the Stooges' "ignorance" about international politics.

Girona comment: It's a lovely city with a lot to see and do, located conveniently near both the Pyrenees and the Costa Brava. However, I have never been anywhere where the people were so unfriendly. and they were nasty not so much to me as to my molt Katalanisch wife. We were virtually kicked out of a restaurant for the sin of entering, were treated rudely by patrons in a cafe, and got honked at (because our car has Barcelona plates, of course) not just once, but several times, while trying to find our way around town. The only place they were nice was at the Bocatta fast-food joint. Neither of us has ever received such unpleasant treatment anywhere else in Catalonia, Spain, the rest of Europe, the US, or Mexico. Nobody's ever been rude to me in France, to explode one urban legend, and I speak lousy French.

Equatorial Guinea is Spain's only ex-colony in black Africa, and it is run by an absolute scumbag murderous corrupt dictator named Teodoro Obiang. This guy is a hundred times worse than Pinochet or Marcos or Batista, and he just paid an official visit to Spain. He was received quite politely by the King. Zap was photographed shaking his hand. It seems that the oil and gas sector, led by Repsol, pressured the administration to make nice to Obiang. To Mariano Rajoy's eternal shame, he too held a half-hour meeting with Obiang.

According to La Vanguardia, "With an income thanks to petroleum of $3 billion a year during the decade of the 1990s, the population should have the second highest per-capita income in the world. In reality, however, the country occupies one of the lowest positions on the UN human development index." The Vangua adds that Obiang's son owns mansions in Paris, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Los Angeles, and Malibu, and a collection of Bentleys, Lamborghinis, and Ferraris. His salary as minister of agriculture and forestry earns him €4000 a month; he is nicknamed "the lumberjack" in Equatorial Guinea, since the timber industry is the country's only other important economic activity.

Here's the fun part. Angel Exposito, on page 20 of Thursday's Vangua, makes every cynical pro-imperialist argument that can be imagined in support of Spain's dealing with Obiang. "Either we continue to act foolishly...or we begin a new stage with a country that will be fundamental in Africa within a very few years, where they speak almost perfect Spanish, which is Christian, which has a leadership class that studied at Spanish universities, and whose future, inexorably, is Westernization." See, it's all for those poor benighted Africans' own good.

Exposito continues: "There are four possibilities: allowing the United States to continue exploiting Point Europa north of the island of Bioko, without even talking to a Guinean; allowing the Chinese to continue expanding in Bata and Malabo with there shops as they buy liquefied gas at the price of gold; allowing France to incorporate Guinea into the Francophonie step by step; and, the last one, taking advantage of our chance once and for all."

There's more, but that's enough. So some respect for United Fruit and Anaconda Copper, all right? They were just doing what they had to do, isn't that right, Mr. Exposito?

The big local news is that the cops pulled a massive raid on the Barrio Chino, Barcelona's historic red-light district, and arrested 110 individuals involved with trafficking in prostitutes. Almost all of them are Rumanian. One of the streets raided was Calle Robadors, where I lived back in 1987 when the Chino was still the Chino. My building was next door to a private VD clinic, and there were twelve or fifteen whorehouses up the street--the hookers, all middle-aged Spaniards, would sit out front as the clients paraded by pretending they weren't looking for what they were. It was rather picturesque. The funny part is that on the back page of today's Vanguardia is an interview with Rumanian ex-president Petr Roman, who states, "There is no Rumanian mafia." Uh-huh. Whatever you say, Pete.

The malodorous Andy Robinson accuses the United States of censorship:

Al Jazira began its new service in English today...but in the principal English-language market, the United States, almost nobody has the chance to watch it...Everything indicates that the major cable television companies' decision amounts to "de facto censorship," according to Norman Solomon, author of War Made Easy. "Millions of people want to see Al Jazira's programming in English, but there are influential groups who do not want to offend the Administration or the advertisers.

Yeah, millions of people in the US are clamoring at this moment to watch Al Jazira instead of Desperate Housewives.

Finally, I am absolutely disgusted by the following comment by Manuel Trallero:

Where is the Jewish lobby?

I would like to know where the components of the arch-famous Catalan Jewish lobby are hiding now. Where is Mrs. Pilar Rahola, where is Mr. Vicenç Villatoro, Mr. Joan Oliver, or the Open Catalonia Foundation? Where are they now? Now that the Israeli army has massacred children because of a "technical error" or now that the gays and lesbians of Israel have had to hold a demonstration inside a stadium in Jerusalem for fear of reprisals by ultra-Orthodox Jews. Hadn't we agreed that the Talibans were precisely the other ones, the "moros"? None of them, of the Catalan Jewish lobby, so powerful on a certain TV3 morning program, has opened his mouth.

Fuck off, Mr. Trallero.

Now that we've got that out of the way: 1) "lobby" implies these people are paid, which they are not. AIPAC is the Israeli lobby in the US, and it is openly run as a lobbying organization that tries to influence legislation. Comparing individuals who support Israel to paid lobbyists is unfair. 2) The fact that Trallero can only name four individuals proves that the "Jewish lobby" around here is very small. I would imagine that 90% of Catalan intellectuals are anti-Israeli. 3) The Israelis do not kill children on purpose. They would not have fired on Gaza if Hamas had not been firing rockets at them from that very place. 4) None of those four people believes that all "moros" are Talibans, and implying that they do is wrong. And putting the slur "moro" in their mouths is the height of disgraceful behavior. 5) I imagine that you are going to get a furious response from the people you named, Mr. Trallero. Nice troll. You reeled us in, you anti-Semitic piece of shit.