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.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Aimless thoughts while listening to REM:

My computer has been down since Sunday; seems there was something wrong with the battery and I had to replace it. Now it works again and I can return to entertaining the masses.

The situation in the high schools has become news. About twelve years ago or so, under the influence of genius American educational theorists, they got rid of the old elitist system and put in a new touchy-feely caring and sharing system.

In the old days, you went to elementary school until you were 14. Then you could attend an academic high school (BUP + COU), a vocational school (FP 1 + 2), or go get a job. Now everybody goes to the same high school and they have to stay until they're 16.

This has, of course, resulted in disaster, with classes full of kids who don't want to be there and get no benefit whatsoever. The teachers are furious, since they don't have the disciplinary power to enforce obedience, and so they can't get rid of the bad eggs, who screw up the system for the kids who want to learn.

There's been a wave of attacks on teachers, both by "students" and their parents, and bullying has increased a great deal, as of course the tough kids pick on the ones who want to learn when the two groups are mixed. Ten years ago no one had ever heard of the English word "bullying"; now it's part of standard Spanish vocabulary.

Solution: Go back to the old system and fire everyone who had anything to do with implementing the new one.

However, the solution that's been suggested is handing out prison sentences to individuals who attack public servants such as teachers or doctors, which is of course fighting the symptoms of the problem instead of its roots (not that I'm against jailing these scumballs). What I want to know is why people convicted of assault and battery don't go to prison in the first place, no matter who they attack and beat up.

There has also been a rash of problems with the Barcelona commuter train system, with the latest a train that was shut down for an hour and a half in a tunnel 300 meters from Sants station. The guy in charge's head has rolled, but that's not going to change anything. The Spanish train system, RENFE (Rogamos Empujar Nuestros Ferrocarriles Estropeados, Please Push Our Broken-down Trains), is actually pretty good at long-distance service, but the extensive Barcelona commuter system sucks and is getting worse. That's what happens when you put the government in charge of something that should be in private hands.

Says La Vanguardia in an editorial, "Renfe is paying for old organizational sins: a chronic investment deficit, lack of prevision of the growth of its most profitable lines, an obsolete business organization, and a labor structure that favors corporatist behavior and leaves the users as orphans."

The Marbella corruption scandal, in which tens of millions of euros of bribes were thrown around by crooked building contractors and sleazy city government officials, is also big news. A new wave of arrests has elevated the number of persons facing charges to more than 100, including the former president of Sevilla FC, mob lawyer Jose Maria Gonzalez de Caldas, and ex-mayor Julian Múñoz, who appears frequently in the prensa rosa, Spain's trashy celebrity press. The brain behind the scams was apparently Juan Antonio Roca, the city councilman in charge of urban development.

When Roca and 22 others were arrested, the cops confiscated property worth over €2.4 billion. That's billion with a B. When they came for another ex-mayor, Marisol Yague, they found €360,000 cash in her house, which she claimed came from "wedding presents."

This is why Marbella is such an awful hellhole, tacky "luxury" apartments all over the place for oil sheiks and arms traffickers and cocaine importers and celebrity hangers-on. I've never been there, but the TV footage of the place looks like a less tasteful Las Vegas.

TV ad note: They're using "Amazing Grace" as the music for a commercial advertising a mobile phone service, not just the tune, but the words--"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now I'm found, was blind but now I see." People, that's an American Protestant hymn written in the 18th century by a reformed slave trader named John Newton. The theme, of course, is salvation by God's grace. I remember singing it in church as a child. I'm sure all my great-great-great grandparents sang it too. They're probably singing it right now at some little church in some little town in, say, Kentucky.

First, it seems highly inappropriate to use such a song for commercial purposes--imagine if it were an Islamic hymn. I doubt they'd use it in that case. And second, I thought all of us over here were so enlightened and illustrated that we looked down on such manifestations of primitive American religious fundamentalism.

Our local Luddites (Esquerra and Saura's green Commies) are going to protest tomorrow's meeting between Zap and Chiraq in Girona. Seems there is a plan to transport electricity across the Pyrenees on a high-tension line, and all the tinfoil hats are furious. Of course, Spain needs a more stable electricity supply, especially in the wake of last week's Western European blackout, but the Luddites want to stop growth by stopping the necessary electricity and water supplies.

Says Francesc-Marc Alvaro in La Vangua,

The founders of the United States of America thought that the government tends to be malevolent and that society tends to be charitable. This suspicion impregnates the forging of the institutions of the American republic, as does a non-determinist idea of existence, based on great faith in the capacity of each individual to fulfill his dreams. Therefore, the American mentality is solidly based on the conviction that there is always a future that can be remade and a new chance to begin...

American politics have little to do with European, and even less with those practiced in Spain. Here, Zapatero withdrew the troops from Iraq with the same frivolity with which Aznar had previously ordered their deployment. American democracy is not perfect (abstention rates are very high), and to a European it may seem an overly restrictive game, but it offers lessons that would serve us very well: the correcting strength of legislative power cohabiting with a president from the other side, the direct responsibility of each person elected to his voters, and, above all, the people's enormous capacity to avoid discouragement and punish the rulers who have failed them.

I'll repeat: If more European correspondents and columnists were as fair as Mr. Alvaro and Eusebio Val, there would be a lot less knee-jerk anti-Yankeeism over here.

According to EFE, Spain's government-controlled news service, and why we need one I have no idea, the most common surnames in Spain are:

1. García 2. González 3. Fernández 4. Rodríguez 5. López 6. Martínez 7. Sánchez 8. Pérez 9. Martín 10. Gómez 11. Jiménez 12. Ruiz

The top male first names are:

1. José (Pepe) 2. Antonio 3. Manuel 4. Francisco (Paco) 5. Juan 6. David 7. José Antonio 8. José Luis 9 Jesús 10. Javier 11. Carlos 12. Miguel

Mohamed is number 77.

And the top female first names:

1. María 2. María del Carmen 3. Carmen 4. Josefa (Pepa) 5. Isabel 6. María Dolores (Lola) 7. Ana María 8. Francisca (Paquita) 9. Dolores 10. María del Pilar 11. Antonia 12. María Teresa (Maite)

Barça beat Zaragoza 3-1 on Sunday night, putting them back in first place, but they lost Leo Messi for three months and Javier Saviola for several weeks. Xavi, Belletti, Iniesta, and Edmilson are all tweaked and not at 100%, Puyol is of course recuperating from his father's accidental death (he did play on Sunday) and of course Eto'o is out until February. Barça is down to four forwards, Ronaldinho, Gudjohnsen, Giuly, and Ezquerro, and will almost certainly have to resort to the 4-4-2 instead of Frank Rijkaard's favored 4-3-3 formation.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Saturday evening blog roundup while listening to my favorite singer of them all, Johnny Cash:

Guirilandia sums up many people's thoughts on the Catalan election.

Planet Churro blasts job discrimination in favor of Catalan-speakers.

The Bad Rash features a very reasonable and moderate post (on environmentalism). In other news, the sun rose in the west, Perry Mason lost a case, Ronaldo passed up a donut, and an airborne, winged pig was sighted over Tibidabo.

South of Watford posts on the alleged Basque peace process. I'm afraid there isn't one. You have ETA, a terrorist gang, and then you have the democratic state under the rule of law. One must give in. Which? Well, ETA is unwilling to give in--and by give in, I mean lay down its arms in exchange for nothing--and so the state will continue prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law. And it should do nothing else.

Guirilandia quotes Orwell, as I have in the past, on why people care so much about nationalism. Read the essay, Notes on Nationalism--it ought to be available somewhere on the web.

Publius Pundit has three different posts on Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, all of which you should read.

Pave France dismantles a few French pretensions.

¡No Pasaran! features an enlightening video interview with an American humanist in Paris.

Fausta reads the tea leaves in the aftermath of the US election.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Well, Bush has admitted defeat by getting rid of Rumsfeld, and the Democrats took both the Montana and Virginia Senate seats for a 51-49 majority, so I'm going to throw in the towel and do the same thing. The Democrats won, and one must accept the verdict of the voters. What it's time to do is learn some lessons from the Republican defeat and move on. Bush is going to meet with Nancy Pelosi, the new Dem Speaker of the House (who is a left-wing nut that the Spanish progres are going to love), in order to reach some sort of consensus on how to run the country for the next two years. That's a good first step.

Election comments:

1) Pro-war Democrat Joe Lieberman's victory over anti-war Democrat Ned Lamont in the Connecticut Senate race--and Connecticut is of course one of the most liberal states in the country--shows that while the election gave a verdict on the Republicans, it didn't give one on the Iraq war.

2) The US is not going to bug out of Iraq. There will be policy changes, possibly significant, but there will be no cutting and running.

3) The Democrats quite wisely moved toward the center; most of the new representatives and senators are moderates, not far-out lefties (e.g. Bob Casey). The Republicans might learn a lesson, and should turn a deaf ear to those cultural conservatives who claim the Reps lost because they weren't conservative enough.

4) I don't think the Mark Foley scandal had much effect, but I do think the other corruption scandals, mostly involving Republicans, did. Duke Cunningham, Jack Abramoff, and Bob Ney helped do in the Reps. (Tom DeLay is not guilty of anything but angering the Austin DA.) And if the Reps are smart, there will be a thorough house-cleaning.

5) If we look for the silver lining, a shakeup like this will help the Reps by getting rid of some deadwood (cf. Lincoln Chafee, George Allen) and bringing in some new blood. This election wasn't a wipeout; the Reps came close to holding the Senate and maintained 200 seats in the House. If some new, young candidates are able to step up in 2008, the Reps have a very good chance of winning back both houses.

6) If Bush attempts to cooperate with the Dems, and they refuse, they're the ones who look bad. Legislative gridlock, which is likely to happen, might backfire on the Dems.

7) Maybe this will prove once and for all that the Republicans do not steal elections, and most certainly did not do so in 2000.

8) I also hope it proves that the conservative Christians, while an important social group worthy of respect, don't run America, as Andy Robinson seems to think.

9) Bush's domestic programs, like making all his tax cuts permanent, are going to be held up and probably shot down. Also, of course, so will his judicial nominees. The one thing I would do, if I were the Republicans, is warn the Dems that unless they play ball on our nominees, we'll block all their judicial nominees whenever they get a chance to make some.

I was going to translate some anti-American crap by Manuel Castells and Andy Robinson, but, hell, you've heard it all before. Instead, it's time for a very reasonable blog post by Washington correspondent Eusebio Val from the day before the elections.

Covering the legislative elections for La Vanguardia, I took a coast-to-coast trip across the United States for 12 days. From Connecticut, on Long Island Sound, to the beaches of Los Angeles; from the poverty-stricken Afro-American neighborhoods of Detroit to the exhibitionist opulence of Beverly Hills to the Indian reservations in Montana. The goal was to take the pulse of the country's state of mind, to escape from the over-politicized and deceiving (engañosa) atmosphere of Washington and to talk to ordinary people in different environments. I have seen strong contrasts, heard contradictory opinions, some measured and others extremist.

The first conclusion is that the war in Iraq concerns the Americans a great deal, although only a small fraction is affected directly. Other questions--the economy, moral values, immigration, health insurance--are secondary at this moment. There is wide and deep unhappiness at the way the administration has managed the Iraq crisis. The Democrats say it openly and rancorously. The Republicans admit it discreetly and with some bitterness.

It is difficult to synthesize average opinion. I would say that it is moderate and centrist, which could be represented by either the Democrats or the Republicans. The American soul is not with either the left which is pressing for a rapid retirement, or with the rhetoric of an administration that is too discredited by its mistakes and its obstinate resistance to admitting them. Differently from Europe, these centrists were in favor of the war in 2003 and contributed decisively to Bush's reelection in November 2004.

This calm, non-strident America that does not flourish in the surveys and public opinion is the key to understanding the United States. That America is anguished and disappointed, but be careful! It doesn't want a hurried and irresponsible pullout, either. They are sincerely patriotic Americans, with patience. Their fathers or grandfathers fought in Vietnam, Korea, World War II. They know the United States is playing for high stakes in the Middle East. This sector will support a consensus formula seeking a gradual withdrawal.

The great virtue of democracies is that, through simple mathematical logic, when such a wide mass is consulted, frequently the people's common sense is thereby distilled. The complicated thing is turning that into a governing majority with concrete policies. The farmers, the people tied to the earth and its natural cycles, also have that common sense. Perhaps that is why one of the most revealing interviews of the entire trip was not with a politician, analyst, or intellectual. It was in the cabin of a tractor in a recently harvested corn field in Waseca, Minnesota.

Peter Zimmerman, 43 years old and the father of four children, told me that his family is from a Republican tradition and believes in conservative values. Despite being well-off farmers, with 800 hectares of land and investments in Brazil, his brother Paul is a lieutenant colonel in the Minnesota National Guard, a voluntary, part-time force. Paul is risking his life now in Iraq, where he is serving for one year.

I was impressed by Peter's clarity in explaining his ideas. He confessed his disappointment with the Bush administration. In his opinion, the president "is a good man," but has made the mistake of surrounding himself with too many people that think like him and of not being capable of creating a solid international coalition. Despite everything, Peter is going to vote Republican in this election because he trusts the Democrats even less. I have the feeling that this farmer has a lot of company in the US, as do the numerous Democrats who would not like an exaggerated backlash in Washington. No matter what the results of the elections are, the US is calling for moderate, bipartisan, public-spirited politics.

If all European correspondents were as fair as Mr. Val, Europe would have a much better idea of what the US is really like.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

With most of the results in, the Democrats have taken the House of Representatives and the Senate is still up in the air, 49-49, with two seats (Virginia and Montana) still to be decided. Since the vice-president (Cheney) breaks tie votes in the Senate, the Dems need to win both to gain control.

Fox News took an exit poll, and its analysis of the results show why voters did what they did. Definitely check this link out. I have to admit that the poll makes clear that the election was, at least partially, a referendum on the Bush administration and the Iraq war. I'm not yet prepared to admit defeat, though, because the Republicans are going to score more than 200 representatives (out of 435)--that is, the election wasn't a wipeout--, and we'll still have to wait and see how the Senate comes out.

Important point: The Republican candidates piled up a total percentage of the vote that is considerably higher than any of the five parties in the Catalan election. That is, the word "repudiation," which we are going to hear a lot over the next few days in the local press, doesn't exactly apply.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Tuesday afternoon blog roundup while listening to the incomparable Bob Dylan:

(Hey, you know, if you click on the above links you get groovy music clips!)

La Liga Loca has the lowdown on last week's Spanish soccer action, and Rob and Rany on the Royals fill us in on the latest about our boys in powder-blue.

¡No Pasarán! blasts the enviro hysteria surrounding the infamous Stern Report.

Winds of Change is pessimistic on nuclear proliferation.

Angie Schultz posts on advertising and today's US elections; Right Wing News has specific predictions on the Senate races; so does Real Clear Politics; so does Power Line; Michelle Malkin warns of aggressive leftist poll watchers; Expat Yank comments from England; Daniel W. Drezner asks what effect Google-bombing might have on elections;

Publius Pundit has a long, interesting, and complete post on the Nicaraguan elections. Highly recommended.

Pave France analyzes France's role in NATO.

Akaky cracks me up.

Patterico fisks a pro-Saddam article in the Guardian, of course. The Rottweiler joins in and savages the Guardian's appalling stupidity. (Comment: I pronounce Guardian as GWAR-dee-un, because that's the way I always heard the word back home, including at school, as in "Students, your report cards must be signed by your parents or guardians." The Brits pronounce it as GAR-dee-un, which is fine with me, but they insist on correcting my pronunciation, which is not. And these are the people who pronounce "duel" as if it were "Jew" with a glottal stop on the end.)

Outside the Beltway asks whether it is rational to vote.

Davids Medienkritik blasts Der Speigel's anti-Yankee bias again, including its coverage of the US election.

Monday, November 06, 2006

On the first international page of today's edition of La Vanguardia, Beirut correspondent Tikrit Tommy Alcoverro calls Saddam "the overthrown (derrocado) president of Iraq" rather than, say, "ex-dictator," which would seem a little more neutral to me. Tikrit Tommy goes on to play up wacky conspiracy theories that claim that the death sentence was timed to influence the US midterm elections. Quote: "Since the beginning of this controversial trial, it has been reiterated (se ha insistido) that political motivations are behind it, and that it has not conformed to correct procedure."

Speaking of the US elections, the latest polls have the Republicans closing the overall vote gap with the Democrats.

Zap went to Montevideo for the Ibero-American summit meeting and things didn't go too well. Supposedly King Juan Carlos is going to "facilitate" talks between Argentina and Uruguay, who are not getting along particularly well. Sounds like a big mistake to me--the King can only lose prestige. Zap agreed to cut back interest payments on Argentina's €800 million debt to Spain. Evo Morales called Zap a hypocrite on immigration, which he is, and Alvaro Uribe dressed Zap down for making a stupid comment comparing the alleged threat to the environment to terrorism. The US border fences with Mexico were roundly condemned; of course Spain has border fences up at the Ceuta and Melilla land frontiers with Morocco, at which thousands of desperate African illegal immigrants are piled up trying to get across somehow.

Around here there have been repeated complaints about strict airline security. Eusebio Val in Washington points out a difference between Spaniards and Americans:

The stoicism and patience with which, in general, American passengers behave when faced with the discomforts of airports, are surprising: long lines at the checkpoints, taking off shoes and jackets, taking computers out of their cases, and other operations which, when in a hurry, can become very irritating. It is very unusual for someone to protest or raise his voice because he feels mistreated or loses his nerves.

So far, so good. Note the comparison Val makes with the way Spaniards behave in such situations.

This acceptance is possibly due to the fact that here there is more respect for authority--and fear of punishment--than in countries with a Latin tradition, along with greater acceptance of civic responsibility in that the antiterrorist struggle demands sacrifices from everyone. Perhaps pragmatism also has an influence: why argue if it doesn't change anything?

I'll agree with the "respect for authority," because I believe most Americans respect authority because they feel that authority is legitimate, that authority is responsive to their concerns and listens to their voices. The situation is not the same in Latin countries, especially not in countries that had dictatorial governments well within living memory. I don't think fear of punishment is a factor--they can't put you in jail for getting pissed off and acting like a jerk. Good manners is a factor, and so is other people's opinion; there's an unwritten American law that says you don't bother strangers with your problems, you suck it up and deal with it. Also, if you lose your temper and start acting like a three-year-old, everyone will think you're a dick, and most people don't want to be thought of as dicks.

Americans' experience in traveling, their knowledge of weather problems and air traffic saturation, make them very understanding in situations that would cause a collective riot in other latitudes. Instead of protesting noisily, they choose to rapidly find a solution to their individual problem.

I think that's called "maturity."

I remember Val writing something on this subject a couple of years ago. Val's sympathy for the individual American is a bit unusual among Spanish correspondents.

Just to clear up a misunderstanding that some people had: A former FC Barcelona soccer player named Sergi Lopez committed suicide on Saturday by throwing himself under a train in his hometown of Granollers. Lopez apparently had serious marital problems, and had recently left his wife in Argentina and returned to Spain. He is the older brother of Gerard Lopez, former Barça and Valencia player currently with Monaco.

Lopez was not a particularly well-known player, participating in some twenty matches with Barça's first team between about 1989-91. I didn't remember who he was when I heard the story, and had to be reminded.

Anyway, though, the player who killed himself is NOT the much-better-known Sergi Barjuan, known footballistically simply as "Sergi," a fine left fullback for Barça and then Atletico de Madrid, and a regular on Spain's national team, between about 1992-2002.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The new Catalan administration will be Tripartite II; everyone was surprised at how quickly the deal was made. I was expecting weeks of tense negotiations. Montilla will be premier and Carod-Rovira will be vice-premier. Montilla told Mas on Friday that he did not want to deal with CiU, and on Saturday Mas offered Carod half the cabinet portfolios and the chief of cabinet post. Carod turned him down and today met with Montilla, when the deal was cut. Supposedly Carod is going to behave himself and Montilla is going to be the boss. I dunno; Montilla is an inside-politics guy, a party hack, and will probably do a lot better keeping Carod in line than the charismatic dilettante Maragall did.

The PP is rubbing its hands in glee, since they can paint Zapatero as the guy whose party made a coalition with that crazy separatist Carod who went and met with the ETA in Perpignan for the next year and a half until the 2008 election.

The US midterm election is getting some coverage over here, though not intense. The general perception is that it's a referendum on Bush, which is of course a bit simplistic. Politics in the United States is largely local, and most people vote mostly on local and domestic issues. Agreed, foreign affairs plays a role, as do people's images of the national parties, but I think a House or Senate race is more of a contest between the two local candidates than a verdict on national politics.

Right now the polls say things are very tight. My gut feeling is that the Republicans will hold at least one of the two houses. If they can hold both, that would be impressive, since historically the electorate moves against the incumbent president toward the end of his second term.

If the Democrats win both houses handily, I'll be willing to agree the election was a referendum on Bush. If not...

There's been some typically brilliant commentary in the local rags from the likes of Manuel Castells and Andy Robinson, which I'll translate for tomorrow.

Football. Barcelona drew 1-1 with Deportivo at Riazor in a hard-fought but not especially stylish game. Carles Puyol's father was killed on Saturday afternoon in a labor accident--he ran a small company that owns excavating machines, and was out doing some work on a rural road when his excavator turned over and crushed him. Shows you something about Puyol and his family, hard-working salt-of-the-earth Catalan folk. Though the son is a multimillionare soccer player, Dad kept on with his everyday life. Of course Puyol instantly flew back home to his family, and Thuram substituted for him.

Ronaldinho is at about 80%; the guy could use a rest, I think. He hasn't had much rest since the summer of 2005. Thuram is not quite fitting into the defense; one explanation I've heard is that Juventus ran a much more solid defensive scheme, and Thuram had a lot of help there, while here at Barça he is often left on his own with an opposing forward while everybody else is halfway down the field. Saviola looks OK, but one problem is that he's small, and so are Xavi and Giuly and Iniesta and Deco and Messi, and you put all those guys on the field at the same time, especially against somebody like Chelsea, and they'll just beat the crap out of your quick skill players.

Real Madrid lost at home in the Bernabeu, 1-2, to Celta. Not good. Unless you're a Barcelona fan, of course.

They're going to hang Saddam. Good. I hope he finds the experience unpleasant. Zap said something about how the EU does not approve of the death penalty. I think the Iraqis don't give a rat's ass what Zap thinks.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Daniel at Planet Churro has a very good piece on why most of us Barcelona expats are rather unsympathetic to Catalan nationalism. Definitely check it out.
Notes on the aftermath of the Catalan elections:

Mathematically, there are three realistic possibilities for a governing coalition: PSC + IC + ERC, the Tripartite; CiU + PSC, Sociovergencia; and CiU + ERC, a nationalist front.

Montilla would prefer another Tripartite, but he wants to put conditions on ERC's behavior because he doesn't trust them farther than he can spit. Zapatero says he plans to stay out of the coalition-making and let Montilla make the arrangement he thinks best. If I were Zap I'd lean on Montilla hard to La Vanguardia points out that if there is a new Tripartite coalition, Montilla, the candidate whose party lost the most seats, would be premier, and Mas, the head of the opposition, would constantly be able to remind him that he, Mas, received 140,000 more votes. Another problem is that the last Tripartite broke up precisely over ERC's refusal to back the new Catalan statute of autonomy (regional constitution), agreed upon by Mas and Zapatero, which the PSC and IC supported.

ERC says it would prefer a Tripartite, too, but is holding out to see what kind of deal Montilla is offering. They have the bargaining chip of opening negotiations with CiU if Montilla's conditions are too stringent. Many of ERC's members would prefer a nationalist front to another Tripartite coalition, and since the party is very loosely organized, significant blocs of members might go as far as splitting off.

CiU would prefer a Sociovergente coalition with Mas as premier; Mas and Montilla are meeting today. The deal Mas is offering would give the PSC pretty much anything it wants, except for the premiership. CiU would agree to pipe down with the nationalist demands and, more importantly, would promise support for Zapatero in Madrid. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me and if I were Montilla I would take it rather than be forced to govern in coalition with ERC. Mas can also hold a possible nationalist front with ERC over their heads during the negotiations, but I'll bet he'd rather hug a stingray than pact with Carod. He's not ruling it out, though; he meets with Carod on Monday.

Geopolitical stuff that interests only me: All ten of Barcelona's districts voted the same way they had in the last election. The four districts that tend toward the middle class, Sarrià-St. Gervasi, Les Corts, the Eixample, and Gràcia, gave CiU a plurality; the other six, more working class, Sants-Montjuic, Ciutat Vella, St. Martí, St. Andreu, Nou Barris, and Horta-Guinardó, gave the PSC a plurality.

CiU did best in Sarrià with 44.6%, Barcelona's wealthiest and most Catalan district (more than 51% voted for the two nationalist parties), and worst in Nou Barris with 19.3%, Barcelona's most working-class and most Spanish district. Of course, the PSC did best in Nou Barris with 37.5% and worst in Sarrià with 11.2%. The PP did best in Sarrià, with 19.5%, and worst in ideosyncratic Gràcia, with 9.5%. IC did best in Ciutat Vella, with 15.5%, and pulled 15.4% in Gràcia; of course, it did worst in Sarrià, with 7.7%. ERC did best in the largest and most heterogenous district, the Eixample, with 17.7%, and worst in Sarrià, with 7.4%. Ciudadans did best in Sarrià, with 5.8%, and worst in Ciutat Vella, with 3.1%.

In the suburbs, the PSC did best in Montilla's hometown Cornellà, Santa Coloma, and Viladecans, with over 40% of the vote. Cornellà is almost certainly the most leftist town in Catalonia, with a total of 58% of the vote going to the two leftist parties. Les Borges Blanques is probably the most nationalist town, with a massive 71% of the vote for the two nationalist parties; Vic is second with 68%. The PP pulls a surprisingly strong 15.8% in Tarragona city. ERC peaks in Les Borges Blanques with 31.4% and Montblanc with 29.1%.
This is off the Associated Press wire today:

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli forces opened fire Friday on a group of women who streamed to a Gaza mosque to serve as human shields for gunmen holed up there, killing one and wounding 10, Palestinian officials and witnesses said.

A 22-year-old Palestinian man was also killed in the northern town of Beit Hanoun, which troops seized Wednesday in a bid to halt Palestinian rocket fire on southern Israeli communities. More than 20 Palestinians, most of them militants, have been killed in the offensive.

Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers quickly surrounded the mosque after gunmen fleeing troops sought refuge there, the military and Palestinian security officials said. Most of the gunmen — estimates ranged from one dozen to several dozen — were thought to be from the military wing of the Palestinians' ruling Hamas party.

That is, Hamas was hiding behind women and shooting at the Israelis. What cowardice. How pathetic. Follow the above link for the rest of the story.

Now here's TV3's story, their top international report on this afternoon's news:

The Israeli army's land and air offensive against the Gaza strip, which has already caused 34 deaths according to Hebrew sources and 25 according to Palestinian, continues. The most recent victims in an exchange of fire between soldiers and armed Palestinian activists at a mosque in Beit Hanoun. They are two women who acted as human shields so that the hundred women occupying the mosque could escape. Israeli army sources state that their soldiers shot at armed "militars" (literally "soldiers", but I think they mean "militants") who were participating in the women's protest at the mosque in the northern Gaza strip.

Wow. That's a completely different story. There was a demonstration at the mosque, not a bunch of terrorists using it as a fortress. Two righteous women were killed by the Israeli army while valiantly protecting fellow protesters.

It seems that there were a hundred women occupants. The majority, however, managed to escape when the victims left the mosque and attracted the attention of the Hebrew army. In all, it is thought there are still between fifteen and twenty Palestinian women in the two buildings that make up the holy place.

I've never heard TV3 call a church a "holy place."

The army, which has the mosque surrounded and has called on the Palestinians to surrender, stated that the Palestinians shot at them from inside the mosque. Some sources have also stated that military bulldozers have knocked down a wall of the masque, causing the roof to cave in above one of the rooms, which fell on the militants and may have killed some.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army's air offensive against the Gaza Strip continues. Hebrew airplanes fired two missiles that caused the death of four Palestinians. The first missile left three wounded and one dead. Half an hour later, a second missile killed three Palestinians in the same area. In three days of operation in Beit Hanoun, the Israeli army has killed 34 Palestinians, according to the electronic edition of the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot. That figure contrasts with the number of victims given by Palestinian medical sources, who say that 25 Palestinians have died.

Jeez. With the media spouting such biased information, never mentioning why the Israelis have invaded Gaza in the first place--because Hamas is firing rockets at Israeli civilians--the fervid anti-Israel feeling in Spain, and especially Catalonia, is no surprise.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Thursday afternoon blog roundup while listening to Hank Williams:

Here's Planet Churro's commentary on yesterday's Catalan elections, along with his pre-election predictions.

Barcelona Reporter has more, including a chart with all the exact numbers. Several posts.

Nihil Obstat in Catalan and Red Liberal in Spanish (a dozen posts; read them all) have further comments.

The Rottweiler is unhappy with John Kerry. Note the photo. So is Daniel W. Drezner, though without profanity. Patterico is mad not only at Kerry, but also the New York Times.

Beautiful Horizons opines on the Nicaraguan election, and Publius Pundit reports on Hugo Chavez's involvement with the failed insurrection in Oaxaca.

Right Wing News has a thoughtful post on why Republicans should turn out next week.

Winds of Change has another excellent one on the struggle against Al Qaeda in Iraq.

And La Liga Loca fills us in on Real Madrid's poor showing in Bucharest, and warns the English to lock up their transsexuals because Guti might be on the way. (If I remember correctly, Guti has been romantically linked to transvestite Bibi Fernandez.)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

One small change with more than 95% of the vote counted: it's CiU 48, PSC 37, ERC 21, PP 14, IC 12, Ciutadans 3.

Further notes: Maragall didn't look at all happy or too sober up on the stage while Montilla was claiming victory; Montilla's line was that CiU failed in its attempt to get more votes than the Tripartite. Zapatero's extensive campaigning in Catalonia does not seem to have done the PSC much good. CiU certainly did not do anywhere near as well as the surveys said. The PP is out of play; no one wants anything to do with them, and I imagine Ciutadans is in the same boat.
80% of the vote has been counted. It's CiU 47, PSC 38, ERC 21, PP 14, IC 12, Ciutadans 3. You can see the nationalist vote from the provinces coming in late. With these results, a CiU-ERC nationalist front gets the 68 seats it needs, so there are now three possibilities along with Sociovergencia and the Tripartite. The awful thing is that unless the PSC is willing to accept playing second banana in a grand coalition, the ERC national socialists will get to decide what the next government will look like.
The vote in Barcelona city: PSC 27.6%, CiU 27.3%, PP 13.0%, ERC 12.4%, IC 12.3%, Ciutadans 3.3%. You can see that Barcelona is less nationalist and more leftist than the countryside.

Big winners so far: Convergence and Initiatiative. Big loser Esquerra.
Official data with 53% of the vote in: CiU 30.1%, 47 seats; PSC 29.4%, 40; ERC 13.6%, 19; PP 10.8%, 14; IC 9.6%, 12; Ciutadans 3.0%, 3.
With 31% of the vote counted, the percentages for each party are barely changing with each new report. Now the distribution of parliamentary seats is CiU 45, PSC 42, ERC 19, PP 14, IC 12, Ciutadans 3.

Points to remember: Most of the early vote coming in is from Barcelona province, where the PSC, PP, IC, and Ciutadans are comparatively strongest. The three other provinces, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona, are traditional strongholds for the nationalist parties, CiU and ERC. If the number of allocated seats changes, it will likely be to the benefit of these last two.

The turnout is very low. Regional elections get lower turnouts than municipals and generals, because a sizable number of voters who do not feel particularly Catalan do not come out for the regionals. In the generals and municipals, the Socialists generally win here in Catalonia, while CiU generally wins the regionals. Nobody, not even the parties involved, cares too much about the European parliamentary elections.

Right now CiU and ERC sum up 64 seats, four short of the 68 they need for a majority. If the votes are out there in the provinces, a nationalist front is not out of the question. Still, though, it looks like either Sociovergencia or the Tripartite.
They've just released another projection, with 15% of the vote counted: CiU 29.3% of the vote, 44 seats; PSC 31.7%, 43; ERC 12.9%, 19; PP 10.7%, 14; IC 9.1%, 12; Ciutadans 2.8%, 3.

Looks like there are two realistic outcomes: a CiU-PSC grand coalition, which is what I predicted, or Tripartite II, which I just don't think is going to happen.

We have to keep in mind that these are nowhere near definitive figures, of course. CiU seems to be doing much more poorly than expected, and the big surprise is Ciutadans, which I had completely counted out.
With 5.6% of the vote counted, TV3 projects the following results in the Catalan regional election: Catalan Socialists (PSC) 32.6% of the vote and 47 seats; Convergence and Union (CiU) 29.6%, 42; Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) 12.7%, 18; People's Party (PP) 10.4%, 14; Initiative for Catalonia 8.6%, 11; Citizens of Catalonia 2.5%, 3.
Here in Catalonia, it's a Japanese girl's favorite day--Erection Day! This afternoon on the TV3 news, as is traditional, the first fifteen minutes were devoted to film of the various candidates depositing their ballots in the plexiglass urns. The results will be announced at 9:30 PM tonight, which would be 3:30 Eastern time in the US. Iberian Notes will liveblog them.

According to an October 15 survey quoted in La Vanguardia, Catalans identified the following as "principal problems at this moment":

Housing 60%
Immigration 58%
Crime 39%
Unemployment 30%
Health care 24%
Education 18%
Government finances 15%
Corruption 15%
Infrastructure 15%
Use of Catalan 13%

Looks like citizens' priorities are pretty clear. Housing prices are through the roof and significant Third World immigration is just beginning to affect Catalonia. Esquerra Republicana was playing the immigration card so heavily for a reason. People appear to be pretty content with the educational and health care systems, both of which provide fairly decent service for huge unwieldy government bureaucracies. And nobody gives a rat's ass about the language question except for the fanatics; I'll bet that 13% who think use of Catalan is a problem are exactly the same 13% who vote for Esquerra.

Wacky Anti-Americanism Watch: Halloween, as you probably know, was yesterday, and today is Todos los Santos, All Souls' Day, when Spaniards traditionally go to visit their ancestors' graves at the cemetery. I remember back in the mid-70s, when I was a kid, Halloween was basically a kids' holiday, and it wasn't really that big a deal. I don't remember adults participating, except to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters. Now, in the States, it's an excuse for adults to dress up and get drunk, and it's become one of the major celebrations of the year.

Some smart European marketers decided they'd try to sell Halloween junk over here and tried to introduce the holiday into Europe. They've had some success--by now everybody has at least heard of Halloween--but it's still most distinctly socially tainted as an American custom.

So, according to La Vanguardia,

Father Joan Maria Canals, Director of the Spanish Bishops' Conference's Episcopal Committee on Liturgy said that when a loved one dies, children are kept away from the corpse, while during the Halloween holiday, based on fear, death, the living dead, black magic, and mystical monsters, minors dress up using these elements. "Death is not a game or a party to have fun one day a year. What idea of death is left in the heart of the child who has dressed up as a skull and has been playing?" wondered Canals. "On one hand, schools and parents encourage their children to dress up on Halloween, and on the other, when the death of a loved one arrives, what happens?" In his opinion, Halloween must be given "a Christian meaning," since it is celebrated on the day on which the Catholic Church "recalls the memory of all those who are now in Heaven contemplating the Lord."

I think this guy might be taking the whole thing a bit too seriously. Wonder how he'd react to Mexico's Day of the Dead? That's even more morbid than Halloween. Oh, wait, it's Hispanic and Catholic. Must be OK.

Hell of a soccer game last night as Barcelona and Chelsea tied 2-2 at the Camp Nou. Barça dominated for most of the match, but Chelsea is a great team and was able to pull out a draw in extra time. Lots of good plays by both teams in a rough game. Ronaldinho is back in form. Barça now has to win its two remaining games, against Werder Bremen at the Camp Nou and against Levski in Sofia. If they can't do that, they don't deserve to advance.