Monday, March 26, 2007

The big political news around here is that the Catalan independence party, Esquerra Republicana, has offered to dump the Tripartite and back CiU for control of the Catalan regional government, the Generalitat. CiU leader Artur Mas would become premier. The catch: Mas would have to promise to call a referendum on independence for Catalonia.

How completely irresponsible. We were hopìng for a little bit of governmental stability around here. I am not Socialist premier José Montilla's biggest fan, but he's a reasonably competent political hack with plenty of experience. Montilla has shown no signs of being about to screw everything up. He's not going to improve things much, but a few years of gray boredom and dullness would be just fine around here now that the Pasqual Maragall traveling circus has folded its tents.

So here goes Esquerra, which is part of the current Catalan governing coalition along with the Socialists and the Communists, and offers to dynamite the coalition in order to turn over power to the Socialists' Number One enemy, CiU. Now, this is probably just a tantrum whose goal is to get attention, since CiU is a) nationalist but not pro-independence and b) fairly practical; it knows that any referendum on independence would be unconstitutional and non-binding and therefore meaningless.

Oh, by the way, the loudmouth who actually made the proposal in question is Francesc Vendrell, a former member of the political branch of the Cataloony terrorist gang Terra Lliure (final score: Cops 4, Terrorists 1, game over circa 1990. It would be Cops 5, Terrorists 1 if we count Juan Carlos Monteagudo, who when Terra Lliure broke up went and joined ETA and blew up a bunch of Guardia Civil families at the cuartel in Vic and got Clyde Barrowed when they tracked him down three days later.)

Here's the difference between minor sports in America and in a mid-sized country like Spain. Seems they had the world championships in synchronized swimming and Spain's team did rather well, winning several medals. Now, does anybody really give a crap about synchronized swimming? Hell, no. Like team handball and rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming is one of those collectivist sports that they tried to make the opiate of the masses in places like East Germany and the former Yugoslavia. Boring.

But since the Spanish team did well, it's all over the news, leading off the sports report on the TV news for the last several days and getting an editorial of congratulations from La Vangua today. Now, I think the Americans got at least one medal, since they beat out Spain for a bronze in one of the various events, and the Spanish coach accused the judges of distributing medals according to political criteria. But have you heard about the synchronized swimming world championships over there in the US? I'll just bet you haven't.

Marius Carol gets obnoxious in La Vanguardia. Seems that Wolfgang Puck announced that he won't serve foie-gras any more, since geese are force-fed to make their livers fatty and it's sort of cruel. Carol, by the way, mistranslates "humane standards" as "standards of humanity" and makes fun of Puck for misusing language. He then says:

By the way, if Puck is so worried about the standards of humanity in his state, he might make a statement against the death penalty in California, although the meat of the condemned is not served in brochettes. The United States is a curious country, where the Chicago city council prohibited the possession, sale, and consumption of foie gras as if it were a drug.

What a smart-ass. Comparing laws requiring humane treatment of animals and the death penalty is like comparing geese and people. Geese are not responsible for committing first-degree murder, which people have to do in order to get the death penalty in California.

Nobody is going to ban eating animals, but the laws do demand that animals being slaughtered for meat be treated with minimum decency and killed with as little suffering as possible.

Forcefeeding geese so their livers get fatty and swollen violates the minimum-decency standard, which says, "Don't make animals suffer or die unnecessarily." We don't need foie-gras or fur coats. Meat, yes, people are naturally omnivores (though I'm a vegetarian), and animals must die to provide meat. And as long as the cow dies, you might as well make her skin into leather. Medical experimentation on animals is necessary, but other kinds of experimentation are not and should be banned.

In a world closer to the ideal, we wouldn't eat mammals. I don't criticize those who do, because it's natural for humans. Birds are borderline. Chickens and turkeys are pretty dumb, a less clear-cut case than mammals, which are all at least as intelligent and self-aware as very retarded people. As for your cold-blooded animals, fish aren't too bright and mollusks and arthropods are very primitive. I wouldn't have the slightest moral qualm about eating shrimp or mussels, though I don't. I don't think a shrimp is any smarter than a plant.

Andy Robinson gets a front-page teaser headline for his denunciation of homelessness in New York on page 31 of today's La Vanguardia. He tosses out all the usual claims from the usual suspects; you've heard it all before. Andy adds that "economic polarization in New York is reaching levels of inequality comparable with cities in the Third World." He claims that many families only earn $1000 or $1500 a month, and that a two-bedroom apartment is $1000 a month.

I dunno. If we calculate minimum take-home pay at $5 an hour, which is far less than anyone actually earns in New York, and multiply that by 40 hours, we get $200, or a little more than $800 a month. Multiply that by two, and you get a family income of a little more than $1600 a month, not counting aid from the government, which you will get if you earn that little. That would be the absolute rock-bottom for the working class. Unemployment is, what, 5% in New York? Probably less. Seems to me that anyone who wants a job can get one.

Here's what the Census Bureau has to say:

Real median household income in the United States rose by 1.1 percent between 2004 and 2005, reaching $46,326, according to a report released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. Meanwhile, the nation’s official poverty rate remained statistically unchanged at 12.6 percent. The percentage of people without health insurance coverage rose from 15.6 percent to 15.9 percent (46.6 million people).

That's not perfect, but it's a damn sight better than a lot of other places. And, agreed, there are some other places that are more generous with government assistance than the US.

In New York state in 2005, the median family income was $59,686. Not too bad.

As for homeless statistics in the US (and these stats come from a homeless advocacy group, who in turn says it got them from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development), one study says that there were 744,000 in the US in 2005, of which about one-quarter were chronically homeless. That's fewer than 200,000 chronically homeless in the US. The US population is almost exactly 300 million, meaning that one of every 1500 Americans is chronically homeless. Yes, that's a shame, and all good-hearted people support aid to those of us who cannot take care of themselves, but one out of every 1500 isn't a lot.

Barça news: Rumors flying this week with no league matches, since the national teams are playing qualifiers. Spain plays Iceland tomorrow. Whooptedoo. Supposedly Barça wants to sign Terry and Lampard, and they've already got Cristiano Ronaldo in the bag. Also, rumors have it they want to buy Xabi Alonso from Liverpool, and got a quote of €26 million from Sevilla for Alves. They resigned all their fullbacks, so won't be needing Alves anyway. Alonso would presumably replace Motta and Edmilson. On their way out: Motta, Edmilson, Giuly, Ezquerro. Probably out: Saviola. Rumors surrounding: Deco (swap for Cristiano Ronaldo?) and Ronaldinho (skips training, flirting with Milan and Inter).

Baseball season starts in a week. Kansas City looks below-average but not horrible, like last year and, actually, most of the last decade except that one year they got so lucky.

The lineup I'd like to see, along with a conservative prediction for OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging)

DeJesus, cf, 800
German, 2b, 800
Teahen, rf, 900
Gordon, 3b, 875
Shealy, 1b, 825
Butler, lf, 850
Gload/Brown, dh, 800
Buck, c, 700
Peña, ss, 675

Not a bad-hitting lineup except for the 8 and 9 holes. Peña's defense is supposed to make up for his weak bat. Buck is just not a very good player, but he is still young and might improve. This year is probably his last chance. It's the starting rotation that is going to be trouble; the bullpen looks like it's OK, at least better than the past. We're hoping for 75 wins, development of young players Gordon and Butler, and Grudzielanek, Sanders, and Brown being shipped out for prospects at the trade deadline. Sweeney will, of course, get hurt.

No comments: