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!