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Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Here's a classic article on European anti-Americanism by German journalist Josef Joffe from the New Republic.

I was looking through Gregg Easterbrook's environmental articles in the New Republic and found this one praising George Bush's environmental record. Easterbrook, a centrist Democrat, admits to being surprised at the general good sense with which the Administration has acted regarding the environment. The article's from 2001 but I bet it's still accurate. Does anyone know anything about Bush's environmental record during 2002? Easterbrook points out, yet again, that nobody wanted the Kyoto treaty to pass, that Bush did nothing less to implement it than Clinton, that the Senate had voted 95-0 against its ratification during the Clinton era, and that it was the Europeans who torpedoed the treaty by refusing to accept American proposed modifications. The Europeans didn't like the Kyoto agreement any more than the Americans, and have managed to paint Bush as responsible for its lingering death, thereby looking virtuous in the eyes of their home constituency.

Monday, December 30, 2002

According to today's Vanguardia, Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar will launch a publicity campaign in order to try to swing public opinion toward Government policy regarding a possible American-Allied strike against Iraq. The Aznar government has long been one of the United States's best friends abroad. Spanish public opinion is strongly against an attack on Iraq: the latest CIS (official government statistics bureau) poll, which dates from September (maybe they ought to take another now that three months have passed?) says that 66.2% of Spaniards either oppose or strongly oppose "taking some type of international action regarding Iraq"--the Vanguardia itself points out that this does not necessarily mean using the military option--and only 16.9% are in favor or strongly in favor.

Aznar will, most importantly, try to show that Saddam is a real threat that must be dealt with, and also try to demonstrate that he is not just "obeying Washington's orders". He will emphasize the fact that Baghdad has already broken umpteen million UN resolutions. Aznar will also point out that the United States has helped Europe many times and that American citizens do not understand how European countries can turn their backs when "American blood has been spilled in the defense of Europe". He will say, in addition, that the United States has shown its solidarity with Spain through its cooperation against ETA. The article adds that Aznar, in private conversation, has made the point many times that "What would Spanish and European public opinion be if an airplane had been crashed into the Eiffel Tower and killed 3000 people?" It also says, straight out, that "the Government will not include questions about what interests Bush is hiding behind a hypothetical attack on Iraq". Oh, I think the interests are pretty straightforward. Saddam's Iraq is a nest of terrorism and crime. For everyone's safety, his government must be eliminated before he gets his hands on a bomb and commits nuclear blackmail against the world. However, faithful to the Latin conspiracy-theory aesthetic, the Vanguardia reporter states, in a news article, that Bush has got to be hiding something. Nothing is what it seems and some evil fiend is manipulating everything behind our backs! And the sky is falling! And here comes the Big Bad Wolf!

The article reminds us that the very first time the subject of support for the United States came up during Aznar's administration, on September 3, 1996, the Spanish government announced that it would "support the selective military operation" that the US carried out against Iraqi military targets when Saddam mounted a campaign against the Kurds, in order to force Saddam to "fulfill all his obligations".

Meanwhile, the lead international story on page 3 is headlined

US sanctions double standard
Washington promises diplomacy toward North Korea and force against Iraq

Seems that Colin Powell went on TV and said that there were still diplomatic cards to play against Pyongyang. The Bush Administration believes that North Korea is at its limit and will be forced to abandon its nuclear program through lack of resources to sustain it. They do not think that the North Koreans really have the bomb. North Korea will have to cooperate or the oil embargo against them will continue. Condi Rice added that Pyongyang poses a less immediate threat than Baghdad because of North Korea's lack of economic resources, while Iraq has made $3 billion from petroleum smuggling and has spent it all on armaments.

The other reason for the double standard is that America doesn't need anyone's permission to deal with Iraq. However, our allies South Korea and Japan would have to give us the green light to take military action against North Korea, since they're the ones within range of Pyongyang's missiles. Also, this area of the world is definitely considered by the Chinese to be within their sphere of influence, and we would have to take Russia's opinion into consideration too. Therefore, we cannot treat North Korea as we would like to, and must tolerate North Korean belligerent actions without responding militarily. Donald Rumsfeld said out loud and on the record, though, that the US has the capability to take on Al Qaeda, Iraq, and North Korea simultaneously if we should have to.This statement avoids the repetition of a mistake the US has
made before, that of not drawing a clear line about the kind of behavior that will provoke American military action, has thus been avoided; remember when we failed to make it clear we would fight for South Korea in 1950 or for Kuwait in 1991.

Sunday, December 29, 2002

In case you haven't already seen it, this article by Andrew Ferguson from the Weekly Standard is fascinating. And convincing. If you like investigations into history, which I do, you'll like this one.

Here's a story from the Onion for all you cat-fanciers out there.

Saturday, December 28, 2002

Everybody seems to be doing this, so I'll make a few predictions, too, for the year 2003:

There will be war in Iraq in the first three months of the year, which will be won by the Allies in a walkover, of course. Once ground combats begin, Saddam's regime will fold up and so will his army within the week. Do not rule out a Delta Force snatch operation to grab Saddam somewhere he thinks he's safe. No one will strongly object to a US-Allied attack, though France and Germany will grumble. China doesn't care and Russia will receive a free hand with the Chechens, who will be dealt with very harshly and will fight to the death. Neither gas nor germs will be used against Allied forces; those officers responsible will defy Saddam's orders to use them. Saddam will be captured alive and will receive the treatment that Ceausescu received at the hands of his military. There will be reprisals taken by the Iraqi people against those they consider sympathizers of Saddam, which Allied forces will not be able to control for at least a couple of days. America will be blamed by leftists everywhere for the "Tikrit Massacre", severely clouding world opinion toward the Allies. Meanwhile, news of horrible atrocities within Saddam's Iraq will be denied by Noam Chomsky and Susan Sontag.

Iran's government will not collapse. Iran will become, over the next few years as there is an evolution toward a more liberal society, at least economically, rather like China, not really a friend but not really an enemy, either. North Korea's government, however, will fall. The most likely scenario is that the government will run out of food and will be unable to feed even the army. Starving North Korean troops along the DMZ will lay down their arms and cross the parallel, followed by millions of North Korean civilians. Many of these refugees will be beyond help and will die soon,and film will be broadcast that will shock people like the films of Belsen did. Noam Chomsky and Susan Sontag will charge that it's a CIA frameup. There is the chance that the completely unbalanced North Korean leadership will go nuts and launch either conventional missiles into Seoul and Tokyo causing many deaths and much damage, or a nuclear warhead--I would be very surprised if they have one that works--causing a holocaust wherever it blows up, most likely on the launching pad but possibly in Seoul or Tokyo. America, Britain, Canada, and Australia, as well as Japan and South Korea and even China, will rush to send as much aid as possible. Sean Penn and Ed Asner (or am I thinking of Abe Begoda? One of those self-righteous guys from Seventies TV, anyway) will criticize these countries for not sending enough food fast enough.

India and Pakistan will not go to war; tensions will release after Saddam goes down. Somebody, either Assad, Mubarak, or King Abdullah--maybe even Musharraf--will be assassinated. Qaddaffi will somehow hang onto power in Libya. So will Castro in Cuba. Hugo Chávez will be overthrown by the Venezuelan military, and several hundred people will be killed in the fighting. There will be very little violence in Northern Ireland. The Chechens will commit several nasty atrocities in Moscow. The intifada will continue.

No dreadful terrorist actions will occur, at least not of the Islamic fundamentalist kind. Osama Bin Laden's body will be found, or whatever's left of it, in a Tora Bora cave. The Saudis will not stop supporting Islamic fundamentalism. Al Qaeda will be effectively exterminated mostly through police work, but other nutso organizations will try to take their place. Afghanistan will not stabilize.

Richard Simmons will not come out of the closet. At least one major sports figure will admit to being at least bisexual, though, possibly Magic Johnson; Dennis Rodman is another possibility. A famous ´60s British rock star--Charlie Watts? Ringo? Pete Townshend? but not Keith Richards--will die of something quite normal, a heart attack. Maybe Joe Cocker. Whitney Houston will be arrested for something and then very publicly go into rehab. Paparazzi will catch Bill Clinton with another woman, maybe Demi Moore, in compromising circumstances, a Gary Hart thing. Hillary will file for divorce, but will not challenge Bush until '08. The Dems will dig up some financial dirt on someone in the Bush family, perhaps having to do with the sale of the Texas Rangers. America won't go all hysterical, but there will be tough going for Bush despite the success of the Iraq war. If North Korea gets ugly, the political future is good for the Administration, since it will be very scary.

The economy will putt-putt along, pretty slowly with not much growth, but there won't be a severe recession. An easy win in Iraq will push the Dow Jones up. Dot com companies will continue to crash left and right; Amazon and ebay won't be among them but Yahoo will. Time Warner will try to get rid of AOL. There may even be a decline in consumer spending, mostly because people pretty much already have what they want.

Wild-ass prediction for the 2004 election: Bush and Rice defeat independent candidacy of McCain and Lieberman; Dem ticket of Nader and McKinney wins 3% of vote. Somebody tries to run on a black separatist platform, maybe Farrakhan, and gets stomped.

In the Catalan regional parliamentary elections, which will take place as scheduled, Socialist Pasqual Maragall, in coalition with what's left of the Communists, will thoroughly defeat Convergence and Union candidate Artur Mas. Both the People's Party and the Republican Left will make big gains as Convergencia's more conservative voters will move to the PP and its more nationalist voters will move toward the Republican Left. Sometime during the summer or fall Aznar's successor will be chosen, probably handpicked by him; I expect it will be Rodrigo Rato, though Jaime Mayor Oreja (but they need him to head up the ticket in the Basque Country) and Mariano Rajoy (but he really didn't look good during the oil spill mess) are also candidates. Everyone else is out of the question except maybe for Eduardo Zaplana, recently nominated a Cabinet minister and the Valencia party boss.

FC Barcelona will finish fifth in the Spanish league this season and will not be classified for the Champions' League next year. They will make it to the quarterfinals of this season's Champions' League and be knocked out by another Spanish team. Louis Van Gaal will be fired as coach and replaced by either Pichi Alonso or José Ramón Alexanco to finish out the season. Ronald Koeman will be signed from Ajax and will be next season's coach. There will not be enough money for any big signings, though several defensemen will be added--I like Curro Torres and García Calvo. Players who will not be with the team next season: Cocu, De Boer, Reiziger, Mendieta, Dani. Shocker: Xavi will be sold and replaced by Andrés Iniesta. They'll want to get rid of Overmars but will find no takers, and nobody will want to pay anything like the price the Barça paid for Rochemback and Geovanni. Valencia will win the League this season. Longshot: Arsenal will win the Champions' League this season.

The Chiefs will miss the playoffs this year but will be in strong position to put together a good team next season. Their offense is set. They need to draft all defense and pick up a half-decent cornerback or two from the free agents available. The Royals will suck again, as usual. Mike Sweeney and Carlos Beltrán will leave the team after the '03 season when the Royals lose 110 games. Serious talk about moving the team will start. This year's Super Bowl? How about the Packers? The '03 World Series will be won by a team with a payroll of $75 million or more.

Pee Wee Herman will get arrested again, Mike Tyson will hit somebody and go back to jail for assault and battery, neither Arnold nor Sly nor Bruce will appear in a hit movie, and everybody will forget all about Winona Ryder.

Friday, December 27, 2002

The top headline on the Vangua's front page is about the tougher treatment of prisoners that the Spanish government's new proposal is promising. The second, with a total lack of irony, says:

CIA Mistreats Al Qaeda Prisoners

Page Three, the most prominent international story, leads off with the headline:

United States Verging on Torture
Washington Post denounces inhumane treatment of Al Qaeda prisoners

And continues with this paragraph:

Since 9-11, some 3000 suspected terrorists have been captured in the whole world. Those within the power of the United States are detained, in the immense majority in secret installations in foreign countries, and subjected to interrogation by CIA agents. They are anonymous people in legal limbo, without the right to a lawyer or access to organizations like the Red Cross.

Now get what happens to these poor victims: if they don't "collaborate" with the CIA (many Europeans consider the CIA as the very heart of the Jewish-Masonic-Illuminati American Empire conspiracy; the three letters CIA indicate the anti-Americanness of a foreign paper: the more prominently "CIA" features, the more America-bashing you're going to have to sit through) they are, horrors, required to remain kneeling and blindfolded. Oh, the humanity. Sometimes they suffer from sleep deprivation or, even worse, the lights are left on all day and all night. So tragic. They use techniques of "stress and coercion", and if these techniques don't work, the prisoners are threatened with being turned over to Jordan, Egypt, and Morocco. These countries have much more ruthless secret services than the Americans, see. In effect, the Americans are causing these poor fellows stress by threatening to turn them over to their Muslim brothers. The tears are flowing freely down my cheeks--my ass-cheeks, too--in sympathy. Sometimes, even, get this, the interrogators are women. "This conflicts with their cultural patterns and contributes to their psychological pressure." How could those perfidious Americans stoop so low. Imagine, a woman asking you questions.

Here's the ineffable "Fettucini" Alfredo Abián in the Vangua's signed Page 2 editorial comment today:

Liberties in times of war

The crimes against humanity that were committed on 9-11 call for justice, not revenge. Amnesty International expressed it that way on the first anniversary of the apocalypse that struck New York, where 3000 people from more than sixty countries died. Remembering that the struggle against terrorist madness is not only a question of security but of values, it seems convenient at a time when bellicose rhetoric threatens to enslave liberties and those who defend them. The mercenaries of so-called order are taking advantage of the widespread fear among the citizens to shamelessly break the rules of the game. It's the same to investigate tens of thousands of foreign teachers and students who live in the United States as it is to hold the hundred of arrested residents, indefinitely and without charges, without communication with the outside and without legal assistance, all according to the fearsome Patriot Act. Now, the Washington Post shows that the Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners are tortured within the Allied bases in Afghanistan. Hundreds of them suffer in the same situation at the Cuban base of Guantánamo. And, beyond all reason, many of them are old, retired, farmers, shoemakers, illiterate Afghans whose only crime was to be recruited by force by the Taliban right before the invasion.

Now wasn't that a just lovely "Yes, but"? And the Vanguardia is the most pro-American paper in Spain. Imagine what they're writing over at the País, the Socialist paper, which is so solidarious with the poor that they've started charging to reach their Internet site, thereby taking away free access to the news. Since I refuse to pay a nickel to the País, I guess we'll never know.

UPDATE: Looks like everybody else linked to this one, too. Well, Fettucine Boy Abián stated right out that the Americans use torture, while the original Washington Post story only implied it. The news side of the Vangua also very strongly implied that America uses torture, though the closest they came to saying it outright was "US verging on torture" in the headline, which is of course what people will remember.

One of the most important sources of anti-Americanism is the American press. The Europeans, at least the journalists, read Time and Newsweek and the New York Times and the Washington Post. These officially prestigious news outlets bend over backward to give the liberal side of the story, as we all know. Well, imagine yourself a columnist sitting in Barcelona. You need a topic to write on. You flip through the newspapers on your desk looking for the last crusade that the American left and the American media have gone off on. That's not hard to find. Especially as horrible as the Times and the Post are. You find that crusade after about three hours of digging through news articles that you barely understand, because, let's face it, your English sucks. You then exaggerate what the largely leftist American news media says that coincides with your pre-established ideas. For example, we have caught Fettucine Boy red-handed upgrading an implied accusation of Americans using torture, as the Post rather sleazily made, to a flat-out statement that Americans use torture.

Now imagine, my fellow Americans, that the spin on the story they give in the New York Times and Newsweek was taken as gospel by 99% of foreign correspondents in Washington and New York, who are all too lazy to do any work and can't speak English anyway. I repeat: European reporters in America are morons who just do a half-assed translation of something from the NYT and palm it off as reporting. What opinion would you have of America if the crap they print in the New York Times were the only news you ever got about it?

I therefore conclude that the self-hating anti-Americanism of the Democrat Party's peace and justice wing, expressed through the major US media of communication, is one of the major causes of foreign dislike of or distrust of or hate for America and the American people.

Well, there's some news today to comment on. As it stood until now, the maximum possible amount of time a convicted felon could stay in prison was either twnety years or thirty years, depending on the crime. And, since the Spanish judicial system is extremely lenient, you can get all sorts of things like time off for good behavior and so on. Well, up until now people have been sentenced to ridiculously high numbers of years, 500 or 800 or just whatever. I seem to recall that the record was once held by a con-man, who got something like three thousand years. The deal with the sentencing is that by law, for every count you are convicted of, you get the sentence set by law for that crime (the judge may consider aggravating or mitigating circumstances). So if you kill five people, you get the stipulated time (let's say fifty years) for murder, multiplied by the number of counts you're convicted on--in this case you'd get 250 years.

Now get this. Those sentences seem ferocious, but nobody ever does more than thirty years in prison, ever. Until now, people with 250-year sentences have had their time off for good behavior counted from the 30-year maximum, so if they behave, they get out in say, twenty years. From now on, though, if you're a terrorist or if you've committed an especially horrible crime, you'll have your time off counted from your actual sentence and not from the thirty-year maximum. So you would have your time off calculated from a base of 250 years and not thirty years. I have no problem with this. At least these guys will do their full thirty years from now on; of course, the measure isn't retroactive. Also, if you stole public money, you can't get furloughs from prison or day-release (what they call here the tercer grado penitenciario) until you give it back.

Here are three examples of people who got off easy: a) Ex-police officer José Amedo, a member of the GAL government hit squad (?????!!!!? OK, I'll explain in a minute), got 117 years. He spent six years actually in the slam, and then had six years of tercer grado. Now he's out on parole. b) "Josu Ternera", the Number One, the big cheese, the capo di tutti capi of the whole goddamn ETA for its ten bloodiest years, 1979-89, got arrested in '89. He was in jail in France until 1996 and was then in jail in Spain until 2000, when the Supreme Court turned him loose on the grounds that trying him again would be double jeopardy since he'd already been tried for those crimes in France. He was then turned loose, and he got himself elected to the Basque Parliament on the EH (pro-ETA) party ticket. Meanwhile somebody, probably Judge Garzón (who must find himself quite handsome since he likes being photographed so much), filed new charges against him; "Ternera" disappeared and is now in hiding. c) ETA terrorist Félix Ramón Gil was sentenced to 298 years for various illegal stuff he did. They let him out of the Big House in October 2002 after serving thirteen years of his sentence. He committed suicide after a few weeks of his release.

Since you've already read about the Vanguardia's big scoop about how evil the Americans are in their treatment of captured terrorists, we remind you of 1980s Spanish government policy--when the Socialists were in power-- toward the ETA. What they did was set up a death squad called the GAL, made up of local cops and mercenary hired gunmen, that claimed to be something along the lines of a vigilante movement of outraged citizens. The GAL killed and / or kidnapped a few people, sometimes the wrong ones; Segundo Morey, a French businessman innocent of criminal involvement, was kidnapped by the GAL, who were at least decent enough to turn him loose when they found they had the wrong guy. Two real ETA terrorists, Lasa and Zabala, were tortured and murdered by the GAL. Eventually it was discovered that Interior (i.e. law-enforcement) Minister José Barrionuevo and his number two, Rafael Vera, were in on it, as well as the Basque Socialist party honcho, García Damborenea, and several smaller fry. They all swore on their mother's graves that Prime Minister Felipe González had no knowledge. Yeah, right, just like Reagan didn't know anything about the Iran-contra affair.

Thursday, December 26, 2002

There's not much news and I've been mentally lazy for about the last three days. So what I figured I'd do is translate some articles from Catalan that appeared in Avui, the Catalan-language newspaper, by Miquel Porta Perales. I translate a lot of America-bashing stuff, so I figured I'd be fair and give all of you something by an intelligent local writer. Catalonia is not just full of dummies like Eulàlia Solé and Baltasar Porcel and Manuel Vázquez Montalban. There are local voices worth listening to, like Pedro Schwartz and Xavier Bru de Sala and Porta Perales. Aleix Vidal-Quadras is brilliant and ultraconservative, so much so that when in 1996 Aznar had a relative majority in Parliament, but not an absolute one, and so had to cut a deal with Convergence and Union, their price was the defenestration of Vidal-Quadras. Miquel Roca was the best politician we've ever had around here, a guy who I would not only vote for but would volunteer for; he writes occasionally in the papers. He's so centrist that neither the left nor the right is willing to claim him as one of their own. Also, he's now the richest lawyer in town, and I don't think he wants to get back into politics. Quim Monzó and Eduardo Mendoza are two of our best local writers. Also Juan Marsé. Anyway, here's an article by Porta Perales from the November 30 Avui titled "Anti-American reserve". It's in italics.

The first anniversary of the terrorist barbarism that fell upon New York and the hypothetical American military intervention in Iraq is standing straight and tall before the traditional myopia of the rancid Left. For example, beginning internationally, articles by Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag, or Don de Lillo either include an anti-American "Yes, but" or proclaim their belief that what happened on September 11 was not directed against civilization and humanity but rather against that "conspicuously terrorist state" (Chomsky dixit) which is the USA. We could continue with the Italian Dario Fo or the Briton Ken Loach, who criticize others who either denounce terrorist barbarism from any point of view that isn't their own or attack the USA, which they consider to be the root of all evil. Back at home, a bunch of leftist ex-celebrities--we won't say their names, but if you think about writers, singers, editors, urban planners, and architects you can guess them easily--have jumped on the "We, the undersigned" bandwagon and signed a manifesto in favor of pluralism and against war and ideological uniformity. It is very funny to see those who were once spokesmen for (Marxist) ideological uniformity denounce it now.

But what's not so funny is the Manichaeanism and sectarianism that seeps through the manifesto and that shines most brightly in the case of a signer who, all on his own, stated that "We are threatened by president Bush's new Fascism and aggressive imperialism". For this old Stalinist who certainly never criticized the Fascism and aggressive imperialism of the hammer and sickle that he wore on his chest, isn't there any other threat than a supposed American Fascism? Really, the most worrying thing is not the Manichaeanism or sectarianism of the so-called progressive Left, but its myopia. How else could an intelligent and well-educated gentleman call Bush a Fascist? How is it possible that some ladies and gentlemen who have been involved in this thought and politics stuff for many years are so ingenuous as not to face up to threats and attacks like those of September 11? Why is our Left solely capable of making abstract proclamations? I think that the answer lies within psychology: there are some people who need a whipping boy on which to work out their own political frustration. That's why Catalonia, a country full of the ideologically defeated, is the spiritual reserve of Western anti-Americanism.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Check out this op-ed from today's Vanguardia by Fernando Ónega, who could probably be best classified as a neo-Fascist; he's a reactionary anti-capitalist. I included the prefix "neo-" because I'm sure he doesn't support the restoration of a dictatorship.

It seems that one of the last legends, that of people's capitalism, is crashing. this people's capitalism--what a contradiction!--appeared with the privatizations (of the government monopolies) and the stock market fever. Millions of citizens put their small savings into this form of investment and reached for a dream: to become rich. So we've all seen taxi drivers reading the "salmon pages" (business newspapers in Spain are normally printed on salmon-colored paper). In my town there are peasants who connect to the Internet to follow their bursatile ruin. Six million Spaniards dreamed about being Emilio Botín, president of the bank SCH.

Now, there are fewer and fewer stockholders in the middle class. Us poor people don't have a place on the board of directors, or among the elect. Some are going broke slowly, wondering who the hell told them to get into so many complications. Some escape with the shirts still on their backs and look for safer investments. And there are very few who had the wits or the intuition to get out in time. The only sure thing is that the variations of the market are kicking the poor out of the Promised Land, little by little, investor by investor, without the slightest lament for the end of the experience.

It's natural. Who tells the poor to have these dreams of riches? What us poor have to do is lose money so that the rich can gain it. This is the natural law of the economy. not everyone can win at the same time. All the rest is demagogic politics. The middle and lower classes have to stay where they always were: secure investments at guaranteed interest, which keeps them calm but doesn't make them rich. And buying bricks, the motor of an economy that ties you to a mortgage for a quarter of a century.

Anyway, when we get to the end of the year, we people's capitalists are still permitted two incursions into the world of money: investing in a pension plan--with the commitment not to touch it until retirement--and buying a lot of lottery tickets. The EU is pushing us towards a pension plan, with the caution that a public system may not arrive until 2020. We push ourselves toward the lottery, believing that it's the last outpost of social justice and that the winners should be from Galicia or wherever solidarity is neccessary. It happens sometimes, and with that hope we renew our investments. We can do it every week. The stock market, on the other hand, usually only gives you one chance.

a) The lottery is the worst possible "investment", as it pays off half the money it takes in, at most. The odds say the average player will lose half his bet, and that's in a generous lottery. Hope of winning is a false hope, and I'm speaking as someone who won a fourth in the 1998 Christmas lottery. The lottery hurts the poor much more than the rich, as a rich man can buy ten tickets without thinking, but a twenty-euro ticket is a lot for a poor person. It doesn't hurt the rich man to throw away a couple of hundred euros on the lottery.

b) Ónega just does not understand the basics of the system of capitalism, like most people. He thinks of the market as a sinister organism controlled by "the rich" and "the elect" that is out to defraud the poor, rather than what it is, a measure of what the supply of resources is and what the demand for them is. He believes in zero-sum economics, that the rich always win and their piece of the pie gets bigger while the poor's piece grows smaller.

c) He doesn't get the concept of the stock market, either. People who buy stocks because they think their value is going to increase are what is normally called speculators, not that there's anything wrong with that. Speculators are just betting that a stock is going to go up or down. It's not quite like roulette, in which every spin is completely random; it's more like blackjack, in which experience and intelligence can be used by players to increase their chances of winning. But the odds at blackjack are always the same in every hand, while the odds at any one moment in the stock market are different than those a minute before or the minute after. It's much more complicated to play the stock market than play blackjack. However, intelligent long-range investments in the stock market pay off. If you buy stock in solid companies that pay high dividends for their price, you'll make money in the long run--generally. You're an investor, not a speculator. You're betting that your company shows good long-term prospects, sure, but that's a pretty safe bet. Of course, don't put all your eggs in one basket.

d) Note the conspiracy theory. Who's responsible for this? (In the conspiracy theory mindset, nothing is accidental; every event serves the occult interests of those who really control everything.) There's some evil fiend telling the poor that they should invest in stocks, so of course the poor all go do it. Then they get burned because the rich (the Jews, the Masons, the big corporations, the Americans, the kulaks, the whites, the Republicans, depending on the time or place) always win in the end. If you put two and two together, it's obvious that the rich are cheating the poor, that the rich are the evil fiend. They're not rich because of their own or their family's efforts, but because they are rapacious parasites. This is not a new conspiracy theory, of course; Simon Schama says that the belief in conspiracy was one of the main causes of the French Revolution and of its violence. The "poor" (actually the middle class and working class, not truly poor indigents) could not believe that the Revolutionary economy was becoming much weaker due to prolonged war, disorganization, and the people's insecurity; they believed that if they were getting poorer, which they were, there must be a conspiracy against them, a nest of traitors inside the government, and that those traitors secretly working in the interests of the rich must be killed. That's what happened to Danton and Desmoulines.

e) Note that Ónega describes himself twice as one of the "poor". Now, this guy earns at least in the high five-figure range, in either dollars or euros. You're not poor if you have food to eat, clothes to wear, a house to live in, and a job or a government subsidy. By those standards, Mr. Ónega is one of the most privileged people ever to live. The daily necessities of his life are more than covered, and what was once untold luxury is his, and mine, and yours, thanks to democracy and capitalism.

f) I can't help but think that Mr. Ónega was one of the dopes who invested in Internet fur-bearing trout farms dot com or some other ludicrous company of those. Listen, Mr. Ónega, that's your own damn fault and your personal responsibility. You gambled and lost. Don't expect any sympathy from me. Nobody cheated you but your own self and your greed.

As I'm sure you already know, the Iraqis shot down an American Predator pilotless plane over the southern no-fly zone. This is, of course, just another casus belli. Iraq has regularly fired at American and British manned planes on patrol over the exclusion zone, something that up until now has been tolerated, I don't know why. Seems to me that shooting at our planes is an act of war; they have been trying to kill our pilots and aircrew. Of course, no one died this time, but it seems to me that if you shoot at us, we get to shoot back at you. And I vote we do a lot of shooting back.

There are a lot of historical precedents. In 1845 Mexico fired on American soldiers in the disputed territory between the Rio Grande and Nueces Rivers, and we used this as an opportunity to declare war. In 1812 we went to war with the British because they'd been seizing American ships on the high seas and impressing the sailors into the Royal Navy. It wasn't the first time we'd done that--we fought an undeclared naval war with France under the Adams administration for pretty much the same reason. We had no justification at all for attacking Spain in 1898, since now it is clear that the Spaniards did not blow up the Maine, though at least some people really believed they had at the time. In 1804 we went to war against the Barbary Pirates on Africa's north coast because they'd been boarding and capturing American-flagged ships and threatened to sell their prisoners into slavery. The main cause of American entry into World War I was German submarine warfare; though the Lusitania sinking happened in 1915 and the Americans didn't declare war until 1917, when the Germans resumed sinking civilian ships without warning. Then, of course, came the Gulf of Tonkin incident, in which the North Vietnamese fired on Navy ships. The proximate cause of the American Civil War was the Confederate shelling of Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. I would say that our grounds for going to war against Iraq are as strong as our grounds were in any of these cases.

Monday, December 23, 2002

Lots of news from over the weekend. Ibon Fernández, one of the etarras arrested in France and ETA operations chief, escaped from the Bayonne police station where he was being held. He managed to climb through a ventilation duct, from where he got out of the building and then climbed a wall. It took them several hours to notice he was missing, by which time he was long gone; they had him locked up in what usually serves as the drunk tank. Now, you don't need much security in the cell that's for the winos, since they're most likely not going to be thinking up an escape plot. They're more likely to be throwing up than acting up. However, professional terrorists should probably be kept in something a little harder to break out of than the drunk tank. This is a case of serious negligence and heads will roll.

Well, we didn't hit El Gordo, the big prize in yesterday's Christmas lottery, though we had three numbers that won the lowest prize, five times what you bet. Fifty-five dollars. That's about what we spent on tickets. The towns where the big numbers hit, first prize at 10,000 euros per euro you bet, second prize at 4800 times your bet, and third prize at 2400 times what you bet, were Aranda de Duero (Burgos, €198 million), Vélez Rubio (Almería, €162 million), and Calahorra (La Rioja, €138 million). As usual, the prize money tocó en barrios populares and was muy repartido. There is a common belief that Christmas lottery money always goes to areas that have suffered some kind of disaster, but Galicia as a whole won only €34 million. Catalonia gambled a total of €352 million and won only €4 million. The first, one of the fourths, and one of the fifths of the prize numbers this year were 08103, 00091, and 00457, "ugly numbers". The numbers range from 00001 to 66999. People don't like low numbers, nor, for some reason, numbers that end in 0. The third prize, 31203, is an example of an attractive number, since it begins and ends with the same digit. Numbers with repeated digits or numbers that are palindromes or close to palindromes are popular, and so are numbers that end in 5. This is pure superstition, of course.

On December 9 an armed gang killed two security guards; the guards were picking up the weekend take at a multiplex movie theater in Terrassa. These guys were cold-blooded, as the first thing they did when they saw the guards was open fire. Three shooters fired 17 shots and both guards were DOA. The total amount stolen was €214,000. The cops got onto their trail when witnesses recognized Juan Pedro L. F. as one of the three shooters. (In Spain they're not supposed to reveal the surnames of people who have been arrested and charged but not convicted yet. I don't know whether this is a law, an official guideline of some kind, or just generally accepted practice. This code is not universally practiced, especially by the more sensationalistic papers.) Anyway, Mr. L. F. had been spotted earlier that day near the theater, obviously casing out the job. He and his pals were known as big-time scumballs by the local cops; there was a warrant out for his arrest, since he'd been sentenced to 19 years for armed robbery and sexual battery and jumped his bail. A little research work led to his girlfriend, Soledad R. M., whose sister, Manuela R. M., is married to José Antonio N. A. Witnesses recognized Mr. N. A. as another of the shooters. They had recruited two well-known professional criminals, Javier L. M. and Sergio C. A.; Mr. L. M. probably drove the getaway car and Mr. C. A., who is only twenty-five but already a multiple killer, was most likely the third shooter. All these people have criminal records as long as Long Dong Sil--well, pretty long, for good stuff like car theft, drug dealing, armed robbery, and the like. The original hypothesis was that this was a gang of Balkan criminals, but it turned out to be just local losers. These guys had been on the cops' shit list for a long time, as they had a very ostentatious and expensive lifestyle, including heavy drug consumption, and had no visible means of support. They are suspected to be the gang who tried to hold up a whorehouse in October; some of the clients were also carrying guns and the robbery was unsuccessful. The same gun was fired in both occasions, the whorehouse job and the killing of the security guards. All four of these guys really could use a good hanging, and the women are guilty at the very least of hiding the gang out.

Several years ago they did an education reform in Spain, one of the Socialist government's bad ideas. Up until about the early nineties, Spanish education worked like this: you had to go to school until you were fourteen. If you passed the eighth grade, you got a certificate called the Graduado Escolar, which was the minimum educational acheivement. It certified that you could read, write, and do arithmetic. After you got the Graduado Escolar, you went either to an academic high school, called BUP; if you graduated from BUP after eleventh grade, you went on to COU, a twelfth-grade university preparation year. If you weren't an academic kind of person, you went to FP, Professional Formation, which gave you a three-year course in how to do something. Ambitious FP students, after graduating from FP I, could go on and do three more years of vocational training in FP II. People who passed FP II pretty much had a decently-paid job as some sort of skilled worker. Now, this was an elitist system. Only the top 15% or so of students finished COU. The others either went to work at age 14 or got FP training. However, BUP and COU were hard. They weren't a giveaway pass; you had to work to get through and go to college.

As a teacher, I like this system. You're not wasting both the kid's time and yours by trying to teach people who want to be car mechanics about Western civilization. The people in your BUP and COU courses are motivated to do well in order to get to college, and the kids in FP are learning useful skills that they can see the value of. There are a lot fewer discipline problems when things are run the old way. Agreed; the old Spanish system is guilty of tracking students. Big deal. Students should be tracked into remedial, regular, vocational, and college-bound; in that way, students will learn what's appropriate for them.

Well, what they did was listen to a bunch of "educational experts" who should all be shot at dawn who went off and got doctorates in education in the States and brought back all the half-baked ideas floating around American education departments. It was immediately decided that the old system just didn't work and that everybody had to be given the same curriculum. What they wound up with was mandatory education until 16, with no tracking, putting the future scientists of Spain in with the future car mechanics and the future unemployed. Now high school is too hard for the car mechanics and too easy for the future scientists. Everyone's pissed off, especially the teachers, used to teaching bright, ambitious, cooperative kids who want to learn and succeed in BUP and COU, now stuck with classes of widely varying ability and interest, not to mention attitude. The governing PP keeps talking about going back to the old way. And the teachers, for once, are in the PP's camp. There is some strange cognitive dissonance going here. Almost all teachers are lefties, especially in Spain, yet the lefty movement in education has obviously failed disastrously and the teachers have learned this firsthand--but they feel very strange about, for once, agreeing with the conservative government PP and wanting to turn back the clock to a system which had its problems but made sure that students would learn more or less what they needed to know.

P.J. O'Rourke once said, "Anyone who doesn't know what's wrong with education must never have screwed an elementary-ed major."

I wasn't going to do any blogging today, but I couldn't resist noting that just played a nice little country tune called "Osama Got Run Over by a Reindeer". They announced, by the way, that they're the fourth-most-listened-to Internet radio station.

Sunday, December 22, 2002

Des, who is no dummy because the questions he asks are closer on-target than those that most journalists ask, wanted information about Portugal a few days ago. I did the necessary research and will write about Portugal during the Franco regime. Just gimme till tomorrow.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

I thought I'd post a few Catalan recipes for readers to try, just in case you want to try something different or cook something nice for Christmas. The recipe for stock is mine (remember, I'm a vegetarian), and the other three are from Catalan TV's cooking show collection of recipes. They're recipes presented by chefs from reputable restaurants on TV every afternoon after the news.


For each liter / quart of water, slice up and put in:

1 carrot, 1 stalk celery, 1 onion, 1 leek, 1 white radish if you can find them, 2 cloves garlic.

Add: Salt, pepper, 1 bay leaf, thyme, olive oil, plenty (reduce amount if you add meat), vinegar, red or white wine, if you want (then don't use vinegar).

Add, if you're a carnivore, bones or pieces of whatever kind of meat you want. If you want to make one of the chicken recipes that calls for broth, for example, you might add any meat bone like steak or pork roast, and also whatever chicken parts you can spare. A few wings bought separately can add a lot to chicken broth, for example. Try putting in a slice of bacon or hunk of sausage. You can fish out anything you think is gross like chicken skin or whatever. Anyway, cook the whole big pot with however much stuff you've put in over low heat for a few hours until it has reduced in volume to about one-half. Bingo, you have stock, whether only vegetable or with meat added. If you're persnickety and want clear stock with no little chunks in it, then just strain it after it's been cooking for a couple or three hours and throw away the solid stuff WHILE SAVING THE LIQUID BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT YOU WANT TO KEEP AND USE LATER, DUMMY. Sorry. Just wanted to make that clear. Anyway, you can use this stock to make any dish tastier (just use instead of water, or half-and-half with water) or as a basis for soup.

Three Chicken Recipes: Use free-range chickens if possible. Cut up one chicken into however many pieces you want; Spaniards usually cut a chicken into 10 or 12 parts rather than the American standard eight. Salt and pepper the (clean) pieces of chicken and put them in a large ceramic cooking dish, or whatever you have that's large enough to hold a chicken and can go on top of the stove. Those square electric cookers / frying pans that plug into the wall in America are excellent. They don't have them over here, I don't know why, because they're really very useful. Anyway, you put a little olive oil in the dish and then lightly brown the chicken. Medium heat should do. Give it a good few minutes but don't worry about the chicken being fully cooked, because we're going to cook it some more.

Chicken with Wild Mushrooms:

Do as above with the chicken. When it's lightly browned, add two cloves of garlic, one cut-up onion, and one fresh cut-up peeled and de-seeded tomato to the cooking dish with the chicken inside. Let it cook a few minutes and add 1/2 cup of wine and 1/2 pound or so of mushrooms, wild ones if you can get them. Don't substitute canned. Let it cook ten minutes more and serve.

Chicken with Artichokes and Rice:

Do as above with the chicken. When it's lightly browned, add one cut-up tomato and a little paprika (the recipe doesn't say this but half a red bell pepper or a whole banana pepper, deseeded and cut into small pieces, might be good if you stuck it in with the chicken). Add two liters of stock or stock-and-water. The more stock, the better. Let it boil gently 20 minutes. Add 1/2 pound of fresh green peas and four cut-up-into-small-pieces artichokes, with the stems and ALL the outer leaves removed. If it's dark green, peel it off. I mean be drastic. Peel off the whole outer half and then peel some more. Don't worry about the fuzz, it's perfectly edible. Let it cook a few minutes more and add four handfuls of rice, 1/2 pound in total or so. Cover the pot. Let it cook over lowish heat for about 12 minutes, you may have to cook it a bit longer, I don't know. You may need to add a little more water. Let it sit a few minutes, then serve.

Chicken with Fruit:

Do as above with the chicken. When it's lightly browned, add a couple of bay leaves, some rosemary, a shot of brandy, and (the recipe says) a whole head of garlic. I might be tempted to cut that back. When the brandy has cooked down, add 1 (5 oz.) glass white wine and let it cook ten more minutes over low heat.

Meanwhile, in another pan, brown (in olive oil), first one sliced onion. When light brown, add five peeled and sliced tomatoes. After a couple of minutes, add three peeled and sliced apples, three peeled and sliced pears, and two small sliced eggplants. add salt and pepper and when it's all golden-brown add it to the cooking dish with the chicken. Let it sit over very low heat for 15 minutes so that the flavors will mix and then serve.

They've picked up on the Trent Lott thing over here; the Vangua ran, either yesterday or day before, a summary of the story in the International pages, and today they ran the story on Lott's resignation, again in a prominent place in International. I'm a little surprised that no one took the occasion to do any America-bashing, or Republican-bashing; the Vangua is pretty friendly toward the Democrats, whom they see as moderate and reasonable, while they consider Republicans to be raving neo-Fascists. Anyway, here are a few quotes from the article: "Lott was forced to resign yesterday due to the pressure of his own co-religionaries...", "Lott's fate had been sealed (Lott estaba sentenciado) since the President himself, George W. Bush, blasted him (le dio un rapapolvo) in public", "The vehemence (of Lott's apologies) was so exaggerated that it embarrassed his colleagues and wound up being counterproductive". That sounds pretty fair and like a reasonable summary of the facts.

Vice-President for Economics Rodrigo Rato announced that, unlike the last three years, the Administration will not manage to balance the budget this year, contrary to what had previously been announced. Rather, Spain will run a deficit of 0.2% of GDP. The budget is expected to be balanced in 2003 and 2004 and to run a surplus in 2005, as if they could predict something like that with any level of certainty. I'm not staying up nights worrying about a shortfall this small, though. Rato attributed the budget shortfall to excessive spending by regional governments and to the general economic slowdown.

It doesn't seem to me like Spain is suffering any too badly from any economic problems, though; running out of money is not a subject of anybody's conversation and people seem to be spending right and left. As I keep saying, the Spanish standard of living is very high, though Spaniards earn a lot less than Americans do even when you calculate purchasing-power parity. Their houses are smaller and not as fancy as Americans', but then many people have second houses, which Americans generally don't. They have one car, one computer, and one TV, while Americans might have several of each. They work a lot fewer hours, though, and enjoy a longer lifespan and guaranteed health care (it may not be real efficient but it is effective and you don't have to worry about how to pay your medical bills if you're Spanish; yes, I understand the national health care system has many faults, but from the standpoint of the average Joe, it also has plenty of advantages). They make a quite reasonable tradeoff, made possible by the fact that they're under the American military umbrella and thus don't have to pay for their own defense. They accept lower per-capita productivity and thus lower real incomes than the Americans, and in exchange they get security, a very decent though not high-luxury material standard, and more leisure time.

It sounds like a reasonable deal, and I'll point out that if Spain were suddenly forced to defend itself it could easily afford to quadruple its defense budget, raise it to Greek or Turkish levels, without causing too much pain. If I were them I'd spend the money primarily on the navy and air force, since we're practically an island. I'd have a crack division, 20,000 or so total soldiers, professional, highly trained and with high-tech gear comparable with that of the UK's best outfits, that could beat up big-time on the Moroccans or Algerians if they ever started trouble and drive back any attempted invasion, and I'd have another division, lightly armed though professionally trained, for peacekeeping missions. You could also throw these guys into the breach in case the Algerians try to grab the Balearics or whatever wild-eyed scheme some wacko just might think up.

Here's Alfredo Abián from Wednesday's page two signed editorial in the Vanguardia.

Immodest / Indecent Ones (Impúdicos)

Before leaving the 2004 Presidential race, Al Gore formulated one of the solidest criticisms directed at the Bush Administration from inside the United States.

OK, it starts off pretty slow, but it gets better.

Synthesized, the Democrat ex-candidate accused the president of wasting the enormous flow of solidarity after the 9-11 attacks,

What enormous flow of solidarity? Everyone in Spain, with noted honorable exceptions, immediately started saying "Yes, but..." on the very day of 9-11. I know because I was here. And the response in Spain was positive compared to the solidarity we got out of anywhere outside Europe.

and of having replaced that sympathy with a growing anxiety and uncertainty, not because of what the terrorists might do but because of what the Americans themselves may do.

What uncertainty? Everyone knows we're going to attack Iraq. We may put it off for a while in hopes that someone will bump off Saddam, but you're a fool if you didn't know that war was coming sooner or later no matter what. And who in his right mind outside Iraq is afraid what the Americans might do? OK, the Israelis, I can understand them getting a little nervous, they're right next door. But what threat does America pose to Spain? Zero. We're not going to attack or embargo or do anything in the slightest mean or nasty to Spain, and a world sans Saddam Hussein will be a safer place for everyone, Spain included. And it's disgusting, I repeat, disgusting, that Mr. Abián compares the Americans UNFAVORABLY with the terrorists who murdered three thousand people, not only Americans but people from all over the world. A Spanish woman died on September 11, 2001, in the World Trade Center. If I were that woman's family I'd let Mr. Abián know what I thought of the relative fear that the Americans and the terrorists caused me.

And, among Bush's team, the hawks have called attention to themselves (han acabado por mostrarse, literally "have shown themselves") in an obscene manner.

What? Cheney and Rumsfeld have been waving their willies in front of all the kids at the Air and Space Museum? Come on. I think what Mr. Abián is lamenting is the very existence of these gentlemen and of the rest of us hawks. Sorry. Not only do we exist, we're not afraid to say so, which Mr. Abián apparently considers most unaesthetic and vulgar.

The fanatics consider that during wartime the most minimal ethical symptom is disturbing and evidence of weakness.

That is, simply, a lie. Find me one person who believes this and I will personally kiss your ass on the Cathedral steps right in front of the caganer stands.

That's the only way to understand the jailing of citizens with no judicial process--an inadmissible and anti-American practice, according to Gore;

Are there any American citizens being held without any sort of judicial hearing? I really don't know. Taliban Johnny pleaded guilty and got ten years, I think, and I don't know what happened to those Yemeni kids in Buffalo. However, I would like the names and particulars of any Americans being held without trial or hearing or indictment.

that the Pentagon is so arrogant as to admit that it will poison the communications media with false news and that it will buy as many journalists as get within range of a dollar;

Oh, like nobody ever tries to manipulate the news during wartime. Every government in the history of the world has tried to control how it is perceived. The Americans are the first to admit it publicly. Lay off the "shocked, shocked" routine.

that licenses to kill are given out in writing;

And it ain't the first time, either. The Americans cracked the Japanese codes and learned that Admiral Yamamoto, the military genius behind the Japanese Navy, was to fly from Point X to Point Y on Day Z sometime in late 1943. What did we do? Did we dither about Yamamoto's right to life and self-expression and whether it was valid to take decisions of life and death into human hands? No, we did not. We blew his ass out of the sky. Good-bye and good riddance. Was there anything wrong with that? So why is it any different for us to target a missile in on some Al Qaeda dude driving through the Yemeni desert?

that conservative economic analysts propose leveling Baghdad so that the Dow Jones index will climb 2000 points when the first Tomahawk is launched;

Another just plain lie. Find me one instance of anyone saying that and I will--well, you already know what I'll do. Note the scare-word, "leveling". Of course the American objective is to kill as few civilians as possible. Also, I'm no economics professor, but my guess is that war is generally bad for the economy rather than good for it, since resources are being used up without producing anything.

or that they have the indecency to divide up the 44 billion barrels of petroleum in the Iraqi reserves between those companies whose countries collaborate in the war.

Lie number 3. Nothing of the sort has happened or will happen. Abíán may be referring to the deal the Americans made with the French and Russians that in the event of a war with Iraq, petroleum concessions belonging to those countries' companies would not be confiscated or re-awarded.

I'm not sure what brought about this spleen-venting on Abián's part, but he probably sure feels better after taking out all his frustrations on America. Now, Mr. Abián, have a nice cup of camomile tea and relax. You don't really believe all this stuff, when you sit down and think about it. All these left-wing conspiracy-theory jumps-to-conclusions and judgments made on the basis of taste, bias, and emotion are transparently anti-logical and anti-rational. Isn't that true, Mr. Abián? Hello? Mr. Abián? Yo! Hey! Over here! Mr. Abián...

Friday, December 20, 2002

Christmas ideas from Spain, either for your holiday celebrations or as last-minute gifts:

Wine: Any Spanish wine that they bother to import to the United States is going to be minimally decent, except for bottled sangria, which you should avoid at all costs. Spanish reds are generally rich and flavorful; anything marked Rioja is going to be pretty good. Siglo and Marqués de Caceres are two mid-priced good-quality brands that I've seen in the US for around ten bucks a bottle. Penedés reds, from here in Catalonia, are made from the same grape varieties as the Riojas, tempranillo, garnacha, and cariñena. Maybe sometimes merlot. Sangre de Toro, from the mid-market Torres bodegas, is a good solid wine that never disappoints. Should you find any Raimat wines, also made in Catalonia and one rank up-market from Torres, by all means try them. They make an excellent and not too expensive cabernet sauvignon. I've always been pleased with Raimat, and they make about ten different sorts of wine. I haven't tried them all. Ribera de Duero reds are good stuff, usually pricier than Riojas. Priorat reds are very rich and high-alcohol, and getting pricier as their quality improves. I imagine any Priorats that get to America are expensive and good, since it's not an area that produces that much. I don't much care for Valdepeñas wines, but they're popular in Madrid and southern Spain, and you might want to give one a try. They're certainly available in the US, as Valdepeñas, la Rioja, and el Penedés are the three best-known and probably largest-producing wine areas in Spain.

As for rosés, I don't like rosé wine, so I'm no expert. Torres's rosé, De Casta, is drinkable.

Whites: Penedés whites are dry and crisp and not expensive; they're usually made from the macabeo, peralada, and xarel.lo varieties. Torres's brand is Viña Sol and is good stuff. Penedés chardonnays are always good. Galician white wines are light and good with seafood; a cheap one I like is Pazo, from the Ribeiro D.O. Txacolí is another light wine from the Basque Country.

Cavas: Can't legally call them champagnes, and from the about three times I've had good French champagne, I'll agree that there's really no comparison. That doesn't mean that cavas aren't good sparkling wines, though, and available considerably cheaper than the real thing. All cavas come from the Penedés or from some other area of Catalonia. More important than the brand is the category, which depends on the sugar content of the cava. Brut nature, with the least sugar, is the best. Then come brut, seco, and semi-seco. Anything sweeter than semi-seco is undrinkable. If you're not a wine snob and like your bubbly rather sweet, get Freixenet Carta Nevada (in the clear bottle) or Freixenet Cordón Negro (in the black one), a little drier and more expensive. These are the real crowd-pleasers, and people who drink wine once a year will like them. Codorniu, the people who own Raimat, is one cut above Freixenet, and Anna de Codorniu (which includes chardonnay) is a very nice dry sparkling wine. Segura Viudas is also a decent brand. Do NOT drink anything with the Rondel brand name, and do not drink any sparkling wine from Spain marked "sekt" in anything resembling a prominent place on the bottle, like especially right under the brand name--that means it's swill made for the German market, who like their bubbly even sweeter than Americans do. Also do not drink any pink cavas.

If you are a once-a-year wine drinker, there's nothing wrong with that, and you don't have to pretend to like funny-tasting stuff that other people say is great. What you want is Mateus or Lancers, light and slightly bubbly whites and rosés from Portugal, available nearly everywhere at reasonable prices. Wine snobs look down at these mass-market tipples, but ordinary folks like them, and your Aunt Dorothy will say, "I believe I will have another little glass," and get all spifflicated.

Food: Manchego cheese, made from some combination of sheep and cow milk, the more sheep the better, is easy to find in the US and is a rich, tasty dry cheese. You will like it if you like any varieties of cheese that aren't Kraft American singles, admittedly an atrocity against the tastebuds of the world. The Spanish olives available in the US, for some reason,.are generally crappy, I don't know why. California olives are better than those imported from Spain. Spanish olives are perfectly tasty over here, but the ones they send to America suck. If you see a can of olives with the brand name La Española, Carbonell, or Borges, then it will be pretty good, but the no-name ones are all lousy. Many people like La Española anchovy-stuffed olives. Spanish olive oil is hard to find in America but its quality is absolutely top-notch, especially the extra-virgin varieties--the Italians have the US market sewn up, though. I know Borges and Carbonell export to America. If you can find Spanish cured ham, usually called jamón serrano or jamón iberico, you'll like it if you're a pig-eater. It's rather like prosciutto or Virginia ham. You'll also like anything in the way of Spanish sausages you should find in the US, though they're nothing out of this world.

It's Friday, and that means it's Eulàlia Solé day in the Vangua! Lali isn't off on an anti-American kick this time, well, only implicitly, and she doesn't mention anything about communism this time either, but her arrogant and paternalistic attitude, her belief that she knows what's best for everyone else, and her willingness to use force to make everyone do what she thinks appropriate shine brightly through.

In the first four paragraphs she states that a lot more than junk is available on TV, and points out that there are documentaries, cultural programs, serious debate shows, opera and theater, not to mention news from several different perspectives, available at all hours of the day and night on Spanish broadcast television. So far so good; pretty banal and obvious, but perfectly reasonable things to say; she even includes a documentary about Christopher Reeve and his efforts at recovery as an example of a program worth watching, so she doesn't hate absolutely everything American. Now for a header into the cesspool of the last three paragraphs.

It doesn't seem reasonable, therefore, to bash television as if it were a homogeneous medium. Now, does the fact that the majority of TV viewers often choose programs that deserve the epithet "trash TV" excuse those in charge of the networks? The answer must be strongly negative. There is no doubt that if programs that celebrate triviality and bad taste didn't exist, nobody could watch them. And let's hurry to squash the argument of freedom of expression, because there exists expression that is so antisocial (alienante--means "deranging, madness-causing" according to Larousse) that it is an assault on the free will of the individual.

No one would think of defending drug traffickers by alleging that they merely offer the possibility of consuming drugs, without forcing anyone to do anything. In the case of banal, tasteless, or violent television offerings, we are dealing with drugs that are not materially ingested but that brutalize the mind. As they pervert the capacity of appreciation, they undermine day by day the intellectual level of the citizenry. Let's imagine for a moment that the only programs on TV were those I mentioned earlier. Some people would find some other kind of entertainment, while others would discover excellent programs which they probably would enjoy and which would open up unknown horizons to them.

TV viewers and television form an amalgam in which, in the end, the medium exercises a tyranny which cannot be absolved of guilt.

A few words came to my mind while reading Lali's screed. Among them were: CENSORSHIP, NANNY-STATE, PURITANISM, TOTALITARIANISM, THOUGHT POLICE, SPEECH CODES, RESTRICTED FREEDOM, and TYPICAL ELITIST "REVOLUTIONARY VANGUARD" BULLSHIT. This, people, is what's wrong with the European Left. They think they know better than you yourself about what's good for you. And they'll force you to behave as they think you should if you give them the chance.

La Vanguardia's front-page international headline today:

Inspectors Conclude Iraq Hiding Arsenals

Bush Begins Diplomatic Offensive, May Lead to War

China, Russia Sold Arms to Baghdad during Embargo

Gee, who'd'a thunk it?

Three cheers for the French cops! They've done it again. Ibon Fernández and Ainhoa García, the ETA "military" bosses, were captured yesterday morning by the French police near Bayonne. They were armed and offered resistance when they were stopped at a roadblock set up just for them, though they did not fire their pistols. They had only held these posts for three months, as their predecessors, Juan Antonio Olarra and Ainhoa Múgica, were arrested on September 16 near Bordeaux. Eight other etarras, some of them armed, were also picked up yesterday by the French police. The official release of their identities is pending, though one is known to be Olarra's girlfriend. Fernández had tried to blow up the entire PP leadership at the Zarautz cemetery when they were assembled for a memorial service for a murdered city councilman in January 2001, and wounded a cop in the French town of Monein in November 2001. García murdered José María Korta in August 2000, stole the getaway car for the killers of Santiago Oleaga in May 2001, and fingered Mikel Uribe, murdered in July 2001. She also sent two package-bombs, one of which blew off the recipient's hand. Fernández and García are believed to have been arrested due to information collected from the two etarras captured in Madrid on Wednesday; they had prepared the car loaded with explosives that was delivered to the Madrid Two.

On Wednesday at the Puerta del Hierro hospital in Madrid, surgeons performed life-saving surgery on Gotzon Aramburu, the etarra wounded in the neck and abdomen in the shootout. Aramburu is a cop-killer and vicious terrorist, the sworn enemy of the Western democratic system that defends the rights of all of us to live as we wish, free and prosperous and safe, and a man who planned to murder literally hundreds of innocent people like you and me with his ninety-kilo car bomb. It says something about the basic decency of Western democracy and of the Spanish people that they went out of their way to save this son-of-a-bitch's worthless life without any questions. No other society in the history of the world would have given two farts about Aramburu, and 99% would have considered it an act of public virtue to kill him off instantly in some horribly painful manner. And yet the ETA uses guns and bombs and terror to overthrow the very society whose humanity saved one of their assassins.

Recent Major French ETA Busts:

15 September 2000, Bidart. Ignacio Gracia, Number One of the whole organization, arrested. 14 arrests follow, including most of the logistics and forgery departments.

26 February 2001, Anglet. Xabier García, operations chief, arrested. 11 arrests follow, including the entire San Sebastián cell.

23 September 2001, Grenoble. Asier Oyarzabal, logistics chief, arrested. Arrest of Vicente Goicochea, Number Two of political department, follows.

16 September 2002, Talence. Mentioned above. Juan Antonio Olarra and Ainhoa Múgica, operations chiefs, arrested.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar visited President Bush in Washington yesterday for the third time this year, and there's a front-page color photo of the two shaking hands in today's Vanguardia. The caption to the photo noted that Aznar received "exquisite treatment, the kind given to principal allies", and said that Bush referred to Aznar as "one of the strongest world leaders against terrorism". Bush pointed out that Aznar understands the battle against terrorism "firsthand", and expressed his sympathy for the Guardia Civil murdered yesterday by ETA terrorists. Aznar and Bush agreed that they didn't believe the Iraqi report on weapons of mass destruction; they discussed the situation in the Middle East with Condoleeza Rice. Another principal topic was the economic situation in Latin America; Spain has some influence over American policy in that area, since Spain is the largest foreign investor in Latin America and what's good for Spain down there is also good for the US. Bush also expressed his sympathy for the people of Galicia suffering from the oil spill, and Christine Todd Whitman of the EPA, the American chief of Atlantic oceanography, and the head of the Coast Guard all discussed the Galicia problem with Aznar. Whitman is scheduled for an upcoming visit to the Galician coast, and America will send environmental assistance to Spain.

Great public relations on the part of the Administration. This ought to boost pro-Americanism in Spain, since Bush gave them the respect they think they deserve, demonstrated his concern for two of Spain's biggest problems (ETA and the oil spill), and offered practical help (there's an FBI team, expert in computers, working with the Spanish anti-terrorist police, and anything we can do to help with the oil spill won't be amiss). We've been saying for months they ought to do something like this. Our influence over the Administration increases daily.

By the way, they did it again; the Vangua assumes that "Todd Whitman" is the EPA director's surname. Nope. She uses just "Whitman".

ETA update: The etarras' Ford was loaded with 130, not 40, kilos of explosives. The plan was to set off a series of small explosions on Christmas Eve in shopping areas of downtown Madrid, followed by a ninety-kilo (more than 200 pounds)monster bomb--only a few kilos of explosive are required to make a deadly bomb, and a ninety-kilo job would have sown total destruction within a sizeable area; hundreds would have been killed or injured if a huge bomb like that went off on a crowded street. Many Second World War aerial bombs didn't contain ninety kilos of explosives. They're saying now that the murdered Guardia Civil, Antonio Molina, managed to unloose seven of the eight shots in his pistol after he was shot and before he died. He might have been the cop who severely wounded the terrorist Aramburu. I don't care which cop shot him, but I sure wish they'd blown his goddamn worthless criminal murdering head off. When it comes down to cops vs. terrorists you know whose side we're on. Aramburu, by the way, was wanted by the cops; he'd been sentenced to five years for providing information to ETA back in 1998. They let him out on bail while his case was under appeal and of course he disappeared. The first thing they're going to do with him when he gets out of the hospital is put him in the slam for that while they're trying him for murder. Hope he enjoys the treatment given out by common criminals to etarras in Spanish jails--they're one rank above child molesters and rapists and they're widely separated so that they can't plot together. A consequence of this is that there isn't a big enough group in any prison for them to get together and defend themselves. Their allies outside the prisons keep trying to get them all placed in prisons within the Basque Country, and the government will not cede. This is one of ETA's several demands to begin negotiations, and it is not going to happen so we're not going to see anything like the way the IRA took over the Maze around here. Screw negotiations. Lock them all up and throw away the key. Their organization is in the deepest trouble it's ever been, and I vote we double the pressure until they're exterminated. I would prefer that convicted terrorists, whether actual murderers or not, be executed, but that is unfortunately not politically possible. Since the death penalty was used so unjustly under the Franco regime, it's not surprising that one of the first things they did when he died was to outlaw capital punishment.

Just a comment on the complaints I've heard from certain Europe-bashers in the States, who have gotten all upset because the Europeans will not extradite anybody to any country, even the US, no matter how obviously guilty he is or how serious his crimes were, if he could possibly be executed. This is not some anti-American whim on the Europeans' part. The law of their lands prohibits them from doing so. It's in their Constitutions. They can't do it. It's their law, and we have to respect it the way we expect them to respect our laws. Remember, within living memory, literally millions of innocent Europeans were put to death by the State. They remember that. Jean-François Revel can tell you all about his friends killed by the Nazis. So could Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel and Simon Weisenthal. And if you want to hear about Communist judicial murder, just listen to Vaclav Havel or Andrei Sakharov or Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Lech Walesa. There is therefore a certain reticence in Europe toward executing anybody save Martin Bormann if he ever turns up. This is why the French refused to turn over dirtbag American murderer Ira Einhorn for so long, as he had been tried in absentia and sentenced to death under Pennsylvania law. French law prohibits trials in absentia and the death penalty, and they can't turn over anyone wanted by any other State under those conditions. When Pennsylvania offered to waive the death sentence and retry Einhorn in person, the French extradited him.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Here's the full story on the ETA terrorists in Madrid. At 3:45 yesterday two Guardias Civiles pulled over a suspicious car, a blue Ford, in Collado Villalba, 38 kilometers northwest of central Madrid not far from El Escorial. The car had TWO occupants, not three. Officer Antonio Molina approached the car to check the occupants' IDs, and he was hit by two point-blank gunshots, one in the leg and the second in the abdomen. He was DOA at the hospital. The other cop, Juan Aguilar, opened fire on the car and hit one of the occupants, Gontzon Aramburu, in the neck and the abdomen (good shooting, Officer!). The second occupant of the car, Jesús María Etxeberria, fired and hit Aguilar in the arm; Aguilar is recovering in the hospital. Etxeberria carjacked a woman's Renault and made her drive to Segovia, where he dumped her in a rural area and drove on to Valladolid, where he caught a bus to San Sebastián. The Guardia Civil were waiting for him in the parking lot of the bus station there. Aramburu is also in the hospital, where he is in serious condition but will live. When more police arrived to answer Aguilar's call, they inspected the munitions used and instantly determined it was an ETA job; they checked the car for explosives and, sure enough, it was wired with forty kilos. The terrorists were going to blow it up somewhere in Madrid. So the cops destroyed the car with a controlled detonation. Aramburu has been arrested several times for political street violence. He disappeared in 1999 to join the big boys with the guns and dynamite. Etxebarria did thirteen years in prison as a member of the ETA, from 1987 to 2000. When he got out of jail on parole, he immediately went back to terrorism.

What a lot of people are wondering is why a terrorist would get parole, ever. Another bit of speculation is that the cops have a high-level mole inside ETA, since their last few attempted crimes have failed.

Cinderella Bloggerfeller links, in jest, to the Best ot the Guardian from 2002. This is an amazing pile of shit, the worst writing and lowest journalistic standards available. Don't miss ding-a-ling Polly Toynbee, who has been perpetrating the exact same atrocities in print for the last thirty years; she is the English Maureen Dowd. If you'd forgotten why you despised the whole British Left, Polly will remind you. Petty, jealous, bickering, small-minded, and hateful, Polly and those other nostalgics for the good old days of the late Seventies haven't evolved in the least except for some of their hairstyles. Read her complete article called "The Last Emperor", which refers to...Gorbachev? No! Pu Yi? No! Romulus Augustulanus? Not even close. Why, it's George Bush, of course! Check it out, and repeat after me, "Jean-François Revel / Would say, "Go to hell," / And offer Polly a glass / Of the blue moscatel."

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

The shootout happened in the municipality of Collado Villalba, 38 km northwest of the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. The N-VI is the only highway that has been blocked. TV3 is giving the name of the unwounded prisoner as Godson Arambure, which is probably wrong but is what I think I heard. A more precise time for the shootout is mid-afternoon, which here means at about 5. The cops apparently suspected the car these three terrorists were driving and pulled it over, and somehow the shooting started. The car, a red Ford, contained a bomb; the police bomb squad performed a controlled detonation. They were certainly going to set off the car bomb somewhere in central Madrid.

There's a story breaking right now in Madrid. TV3, Catalan TV, is reporting that three ETA terrorists shot it out with two members of the Guardia Civil on the N-VI, the Coruña highway northwest of the center city. This happened just minutes ago. One of the police officers was killed and the other wounded. Of the terrorists, one surrendered, one was wounded and captured, and the third stole a car at gunpoint and fled. He is still at large. The unwounded terrorist has been identified by the cops; he is a member of ETA's juvenile arm who graduated to become an infrastructure member several years ago. The roads leading into Madrid, at least those from the north, have been blocked off. When I hear more I'll post it.

Let's see. There's actually a lot of interesting news. Prime Minister Aznar has visited Galicia, where the oil spill took place. He was roundly heaped with abuse, but he took all the blame for anything that went wrong. This makes sense because he's not running in 2004, so his strategy should be to assume responsibility whenever possible in order to deflect it from his subordinates, who are going to have to start campaigning pretty soon. Hell, Zapatero--here's a guy who goes by his second last name--is campaigning like mad already for the Socialists.

President Bush took our advice and said some nice things about the Spanish navy; he referred to their bravery, skill, and professionalism. He thanked Spain for its "decisive action" that was "important and effective", and he pointed out that Spain's participation in the international naval force is "important for the stability of the region". Bush praised Spain, which is basking with pride; even the anti-war folks are proud because nobody got killed and the Spanish navy looked good. Now, this is the first time the Spanish navy has looked good since early 1588, but let's not rub that in; the fact is they did a job that one would expect a real country, an important country, to do. Fire on a North Korean pirate ship full of Scud missiles, force it to stop, board it, and capture it, way out there in the Indian Ocean--that's the big time, that's the major leagues, that's Vegas, baby! Bush is smart to be generous with honest praise. That's what we told him last weekend when he called us up, anyway. Now if Rummy would just pay me the twenty bucks he owes me from that poker game with Bill Casey, Ollie, Liddy, and those two Lithuanians, or whatever they were, while we were hiding out at the backup safe house on Pringelstrasse in East Berlin that time we went to the mattresses with the Bulgarian KGB right after they knocked off Dimitrov's nephew with a blowgun-propelled dart dipped in the venom of a South American tree frog while he was getting off the Paris metro at the Gare d'Austerlitz. Rummy had tried to fill an inside straight...

They're taking the Gore withdrawal from the 2004 presidential race pretty seriously over here. I have a general feeling that Gore is rather overrated in Europe; they treat him as if he were somebody important instead of just another politician who lost. Perhaps this is because European political party leaders normally keep a seat in parliament even if they don't get to have their guy be prime minister; Socialist boss Zapatero, for instance, has a seat in Parliament which he uses as often as he can to slam Aznar and the People's Party. Zapatero isn't the Socialist guy who lost last time--that was Joaquín Almunia--but as top banana of the second biggest party in Spain, he's important. So the Spaniards look at Gore as being a Zapatero figure when he's really more like a George McGovern figure.

La Caixa has published a report saying that Girona and Almeria are the provinces with the highest percentage of immigrants, 7% in both places. They're both heavily agricultural and dependent on truck and fruit farming. Alicante, the Balearic Islands, and the Canaries are also high in immigration. Barcelona and Madrid are both 5% immigrant. Many rural provinces are still less than 1% immigrant; foreigners are still rather strange in places like Zamora and Jaén and Teruel. Third World immigrants--here to work--concentrate in Catalonia and Madrid, while Europeans--here to retire in the sun--live along the coasts, in Andalusia, Valencia, the Canaries, and the Balearics. Barely 4% of people living in Spain are immigrants, which is similar to Italy and Portugal, but well below Austria, Germany, and Belgium with 9%, the US with 10%, Canada with 18%, and Switzerland with nearly 20%. Economically, immigrants are moving into the industrial and service sectors, but 30% of domestic servants are still immigrants. Only 44% of immigrant children go to school.

Spain is breathless at the news of a new multinational lottery. This one will be played in Britain, France, and Spain and be called Euromillions. Its first prize will be some 15 million euros, and there will be drawings every week. Tickets will be two euros. The need for another lottery in Spain is urgent. As of now, we only have the Primitiva, the Bonoloto, the Loteria Nacional, the ONCE, the soccer quiniela, the 6/49, the Trio, scratcher tickets, and slot machines in every bar and bingo halls in every neighborhood. We desperately need more opportunities to gamble. John Hooper, using early ´90s figures, says that Spaniards are second in the world after Filipinos in the percentage of their incomes spent gambling. We need to show the world we can come in first at something! If we can't overtake the Philippines, what kind of cheap sports are we?

Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if the US has overtaken both of those countries, what with the expansion of casinos all over the country. I also wouldn't be at all surprised if, as the US economy downshifts, people begin devoting considerably less of their income to gambling. Vegas will do just fine, of course, but those so-called gambling boats in, like, Sioux City, Iowa, will start going belly-up pretty soon. The existence of casinos in rural Oklahoma is just ridiculous; they're obviously a symptom of the Nineties boom and their empty walls will long outlive them. Within ten years they'll be antique malls or flea markets.

But what everyone in Barcelona is obsessed about is the soccer team, the glorious Barça, who gave its fans false hope last week with a 3-1 victory over Newcastle in the Champions' League only to go lose to 18th-place Sevilla, 0-3 at home on Saturday night. They played horribly. They stank. They blew dead donkey dongs. I swear I can play better than Frank de Boer. I know I can run faster, and I'm five years older than he is. OK, I'm exaggerating, but not by too much. Sevilla had scored eight goals in thirteen previous League games. In the Camp Nou they raised their total by more than a third. When the third goal was scored the stadium exploded, hurling abuse at the players and especially at coach Louis Van Gaal and Satanic club president Joan "Mr. Burns" Gaspart. Every single spectator was waving a white handkerchief, a sign of serious disapproval in Spain. It was quite impressive; there were many minutes of this. Barça hasn't had such a poor won-tied-lost record since the '40s. Meanwhile, if that weren't bad enough, Barça will have its stadium closed for two games as punishment for the pig-head throwing disturbances when Real Madrid came to town. This is a serious humiliation, since Barça prides itself (quite without any reason as far as I can see) on its sportsmanship and fair play. They haven't had their stadium closed since 1925, and that was partly for political reasons. Van Gaal and Gaspart are both toast and so are half the players.

Ironically, one of the things that English-speakers find most difficult to understand when they come to Spain are English words or names pronounced by Spaniards. That's not surprising; French names and words are very difficult for us English-speakers to say correctly. That's because French possesses sounds that English doesn't (front rounded vowels, nasal vowels, that French R) and English possesses sounds that Spanish doesn't (the W, the SH, both TH sounds, the J, the V, and several of the vowels, especially the schwa (the "uh" vowel sound) and what's often called the short I, as in "hit" or "sit". Spaniards give all vowels what some would call in English a "long" pronunciation. What we do when we hit a French sound that's not native to us is to pronounce the closest English sound to it, and that's just what the Spanish do when they run across an English sound they can't say: they substitute the closest Spanish sound for it.

Both the W and the V sounds are pronounced by Spaniards sort of like the English B, so "whiskey" is pronounced "BEE-skee", "web" is "behb", or if you're Catalan, "behp", and "Vermont" is "behr-MON". "Virginia" is "beer-HEEN-ee-yah". "Woody" Allen is "Boo-dee". Clint Eastwood is "Cleen EASS-boot."

The J usually becomes a Y, so "John Wayne" is "Yohn BYE-nay". Michael "Jordan" is "YORR-dahn". "George Washington" is "Yorr BAHCH-een-tohn" (or "BAHSS-een-tohn"). "Jack" Daniel's is, of course, "Yahck".

The SH generally becomes a CH sound, as in "Chicago", pronounced in Spanish with a hard CH, "Chee-CAH-goh". "Shakespeare" is "CHAY-speer", making him sound like a tea-drinking Nazi war criminal. It may also become an S, as in "George Bush"--"Yorr BOOSS". New "Hampshire" is Nueva "HAHM-seer".

The two TH sounds--one voiceless, as in "three" and the other voiced, as in "bother"--come out differently. The voiceless TH generally becomes T, so "birthday" is "BEERT-day" and "Elizabeth" becomes "Eh-LEE-ssah-beht". "Perth" is "Peart". "John Wilkes Booth" would be "Yohn BEEL-kehs BOOT". The voiced TH is unpredictable, but often comes out as a T, an S, or a Z. "Brother" would be "BROH-tair". Or "BROH-zzehr". "Martin Luther King" is "MAHR-teen LOOT-hair KEEN".

This is occasionally slightly funny. I went to the bakery a couple of days ago to get some chapata bread and they had this pie on display made out of some egg custard with ham and cheese on top. It was labeled "Kiss de jamón". Question: What product were they purveying? And why was it called a "kiss"? No, it has nothing to do with tourists, everyone in this neighborhood speaks Spanish or Catalan.

Let me go off track a minute. I've corrected thousands of English-language compositions in my time. I consider myself a pretty tough grader, but I'll let spelling mistakes on difficult words slide if the word is used correctly and the writer obviously knows what it means. There are a lot of words in English that are simply very hard to spell correctly, and occasional mistakes are quite acceptable as long as there's not a pattern of error. I think most American teachers these days probably would follow this rule if more of them knew how to spell. I'm very tough on punctuation, though, probably because all my English teachers in junior high and high school were very tough on it. Mrs. Duke in 10th grade English gave you a zero if you had any punctuation mistakes, for example. I figure that there are very simple rules for punctuation (yes, I know I don't follow the rules myself with quotation marks, but I do follow my own coherent system just because I like it better. When I teach I teach the standard rules) and that it's just plain carelessness if you don't learn them. Especially on my Up-Shit-Creek-With-a-Turd-for-an-Oar list are people who commit comma splices and run-on sentences. Spaniards do this all the time. They don't learn the goddamn punctuation rules in Spanish, which aren't that different from those in English, because the teachers don't care about things like paragraph breaks or not sticking eight goddamn sentences together with nothing but goddamn commas. They do care about spelling, though. Hoo, boy, do they ever care about spelling. Spanish is a language with relatively few sounds compared to English, and it also has very regular spelling rules, again in comparison with English. The only real problems native speakers with eight years of school behind them ought to have are with the letter H, which is silent, and with B and V, which are pronounced the same. Anyone who finishes high school should be able to spell Spanish perfectly. High school and university teachers, if they are hard-nosed, will flunk students over one spelling mistake--in science or social science classes, not only in language and literature. This is considered being tough but fair, because after all, it is highly uncultured to spell words wrong and everyone knows it. So we Americans and the Spanish are exact opposites: we let spelling slide but are fanatics about punctuation, and they don't bother even teaching punctuation but are psychos about spelling. Go figure.

Back off track again. English-language figures with three or more names, like Martin Luther King, generally have two first names and one last name. Martin Luther King's surname is "King". James Earl Jones's surname is "Jones". This generally works for Americans, though not always, and it works less often in Britain, where David Lloyd George's surname is Lloyd George, for example. Spanish people, though, have one first name (or a compound like José Luis which everyone recognizes) and two last names, first the father's and then the mother's, though they may use only one. My wife's name is Remei Guim Galofre, and she uses the name Remei Guim, though she adds on the Galofre for legal papers and bank accounts and phone bills. Some people use both surnames, like the businessman and jailbird José María Ruíz Mateos, always called "Ruíz Mateos"; Rodríguez Ibarra, the prime minister of Extremadura, Durán i Lleída, a leader of Convergence and Union, and García Lorca, the poet. Most people who use both surnames have a very common first one and use the second one to distinguish them from all the other Juan Garcías out there. Occasionally you'll see someone who drops the first surname and uses only the second, like Pablo (Ruíz) Picasso or (José) Antonio (González?) Banderas. Or official national bimbo Ana (García) Obregón. Catalanists will use the second surname if it's obviously Catalan in origin, if their first surname is obviously Spanish. Durán i Lleída is an example. The soccer player Óscar García Junyent is another. Alfred Rodríguez Picó, the TV3 weatherman, is one more.

Anyway, though, this difference confuses Spanish newspapers, who often refer to King on second mention as "Luther King" as if Luther were his first surname. James Earl Ray is often double-surnamed as "Earl Ray". Frank Lloyd Wright was identified in the Vangua in a headline as simply "Lloyd" just this week, something like "New blueprints by Lloyd discovered." I've seen Lee Harvey Oswald referred to as "Harvey" and John Wilkes Booth referred to as "Wilkes"--which, ironically, the real Booth used as his first name.

The urban legend about whatever starlet / bimbo / old hag / ho--it depends on which country you're in--had her breast implants explode on an airplane is told in Spain about Ana Obregón.

By the way, Spanish TV women's-show hostess Belinda Washington claims, first, that that's her real name, and, second, that she's a descendant of the real Yor Bahsseentohn. Impossible. Washington died childless. As far as anybody knows, anyway.

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Last Sunday the Vanguardia published this interview with Jean-François Revel, the French essayist and author, always brilliant and controversial and extremely often right. The French get a well-deserved bad rap for having perpetrated Derrida and Foucault and Sartre and foisted them off on the rest of an unsuspecting world as "thought", but there are Frenchmen who are equally eminent who talk good old-fashioned sense and Revel is one of them. Give Revel, who is 80, the respect he deserves. He was country (pro-capitalism and democracy, anti-Communist) when country wasn't cool. I should have done this translation several days ago, but my social life interrupted, which is probably a good thing. Anyway, here goes. The questioner is Victor M. Amela. His questions are in italics.

Revel is a bulldozer of ideas: solid, potent, unstoppable. When in Europe the equation "intellectual=leftist" was still in effect, Revel banged his shoe on the table with "Neither Marx nor Jesus" (1970). He continued lashing Nazis and Communists (he equated them in "The Totalitarian Temptation", 1976) and political Utopias: "They have been the incarnation of evil, murder, and immorality!" he said to me four years ago. Now he is slapping those he calls "anti-American obsessives" upside the head.

Who are you referring to?

I am capable of being occasionally anti-American, but never systematically anti-American. I am referring to those who are systematically anti-American, those who fall into a pure obsession.

Couldn't it be that you are systematically pro-American?

I am systematically looking for the truth. That's my obsession!

So in all this, what's the truth?

That the information publicized in Europe about the United States is normally false, systematically hostile viewpoints, biased, pregnant with resentment. Lies.

Lies? Do you believe that?

Yes, I detect the resentment of the weak against the powerful.

The United States is a superpower.

Oh, sure, all right, but ask yourself this: Why is the United States a superpower?

Because of its military strength, its...

No, no, go to the roots. The United States is a superpower because of Europe! It isn't one because of its own merits, but because of the demerits of Europe.

Be more specific.

The United States became a superpower in the twentieth century because Europe committed suicide.


In the twentieth century, Europe damaged itself with two totalitarian systems of extermination: Communism and Naziism. And besides, it decided to bleed itself dry militarily twice in the two world wars.

True, true...

And who came to save Europe from itself on both occasions? The United States! And, look here, the Americans didn't want to come over...It was we who begged them to come.

Right, but...

And, besides, since 1989 they've been the winners of the Third World War, the Cold War, due to the grotesque collapse of the Communist bloc. The fall of the Wall has made them even more of a superpower!

So...what are you getting at?

That the United States's world hegemony is the daughter of historical determinism, of evolution, not of an imperialist agenda, not of so-called American imperialism.

Now are you denying the existence of American imperialism?

The Romans built an empire, a genuine military empire, from the origin of a small tribe in Latium that continued conquering new lands, one after another...the United States, an empire? The United States is a little group of Europeans who went to fill an almost vacant continent, and they have enough work doing that! I insist: The United States is what it is, not because of its abilities, but because of the stupidity of the rest.

You say that in Europe they lie about the United States. Is Bush's bellicosity a lie?

Here we say, "Bush the son wants to finish Bush the father's job, when he attacked Iraq." But it was Iraq who attacked Kuwait! Saddam is a very dangerous guy. He invaded Kuwait after a war against Iran in which 700,000 people died. 700,000 people!

But if we can avoid another war...

Saddam has systematically laughed at the UN and Europe. Before the Gulf War he refused to negotiate anything.

And the United States crushed him.

An international coalition, including Arab countries, expelled him from Kuwait.

You support Bush, then.

Bush is defending the right to disactivate anyone who represents a threat to everyone. And Saddam used chemical weapons against the Kurds! He's a real danger!

Jean-François Revel faces off against anti-Americanism, a well-established way of thinking in the active antiglobalization movement, which Revel also bashes.

The antiglobalization people only want to correct the injustices of globalization.

Injustices of globalization? Thanks to globalization today there is less hunger in the world than 50 years ago. Hunger is in retreat! Agriculture with genetically modified seeds has multiplied cereal production by ten. Now there are no longer the famines there were in India fifty years ago.

But in Africa...

In southern Africa there is still hunger, yes, Whose fault? Local politicians, insane people like the megalomaniac Mugabe, who has made prosperous Zimbabwe into hell: by transferring agriculture from white control to black, (losing the experience of the white farmers), he's destroyed agriculture and three million people have starved to death. And Africa has received more aid per capita than Asia or Latin America!

In France there are antiglobalization activists, like Bové.

Yes, our ineffable destroyer of McDonald's, that great thinker...

Are you making fun of Bové?

Do you know what the "homeland cooking" the very protectionist Gallic farmers are advocating consists of? Very European cows and poultry...fed with used industrial oils, dioxine, and sewer excrement mixed with plaster and beet pulp...This is our well-loved homeland cooking! Its great purity contrasts with American junk food, of course.

Globalization is the remedy against hunger, then?

Yes: let's get rid of customs barriers. Today, the subsidized farmers of the rich countries (that of Bové and the French agriculturalists, for example) are crushing under those in the poor countries. Thanks to subsidies, Europe and the United States export their products at artificially low prices.

Do Bové and company hurt farmers in the poor countries?

Yes: the European antiglobalization advocates, while defending their own interests, are the worst enemies of the hungry people. In order to put an end to hunger there it is imprescindible that there be democratic governments and free trade there. Democracy is a fundamental prior condition for the elimination of hunger! Amartya Sen, Nobel Economics Prize Winner, says so, and it's true: if there are poor countries that make no progress, it's because they don't have democracy.

Revel has fervently defended democratic capitalism ("liberalism") for forty years, since his first books and until today. In order not to be confused by terminology, I asked him for some definitions.

How do you define "liberalism"?

It is the only reasonable system! It is the system that guarantees a separation between political power and economic power--which allows the market to function--and for which political democracy is imprescindible.

Is there liberal democracy in Russia?

More or less...but stained by a very strong police tradition. What's happening there is like in China, which is liberalizing its market without giving up political authoritarianism: they don't understand that the only road to prosperity passes through full democracy.

What do you think will happen?

That can't hold up for much longer; it will blow up. At some moment the market economy will collide with the political structure.

I came to the interview with a recent copy of the French weekly the Nouvel Observateur, with a cover titled "Have we all become 'reacs' (reactionaries)?", in allusion to the French sociopolitical environment.

The French, reactionaries?

It's trendy in France to talk about the "new reactionaries" in reference to certain writers and thinkers. Nonsense!

Don't those reactionaries exist?

No. There are people who have finally understood that socialism failed and the only system that works is liberal capitalism with political democracy.

Who will watch over the welfare of the weakest citizens?

The structure of the liberal system accepts policies of solidarity and redistribution of wealth for those who have the most difficulties.

With socialism marginalized?

Yes, because Socialism was based on the collectivization of the means of production and exchange. This has failed, it's already the past. The real reactionaries are those who are nostalgic for this failed past!

But there are no communists left!

Yes, there are, and really, I'm more Marxist than they are! Because Marx taught that theories must be demonstrated through praxis, experience, and praxis has demonstrated that communism does not work. But they still believe in it! They're pseudo-Marxists!

Has communism been a belief, a faith, a religion?

Yes. the belief system, the ideology, are always marginalized by praxis, the facts. That's why an ideology can last so long although reality may contradict it. If it fails, its faithful say it was the fault of circumstances and human beings: they will never admit that the cause is in the ideology itself.

It was all a beautiful Utopia...

Political Utopias have already done too much damage to Europe. Trying to convert morality into a collective matter ("we'll create a just, ideal society!") leads to murder.

Speaking of morality, I ask Revel about his point of view on whether the European Union constitution should or not include a clear allusion to the Christian roots of Europe.

Should we put it in writing that Europe is Christian?

No. There's no need, thank you very much. We Europeans have fought for two centuries to achieve the secular state, that is, so that religion is a respected right in the private sphere but it should not interfere in the public sphere: not in politics, not in science, not in the schools. If we've already achieved that separation, should we turn back now? Maybe people are anxious for solid references and clear values.

But if religious codes dominate our social lives, then what will happen? In France there are 4.5 million Muslims, and many refuse to attend class when Voltaire is taught, because Voltaire wrote against Mohammed (and against Catholicism). They don't want to know anything about Darwin because it contradicts the Koran, or do homework on Fridays. So why have we fought during two centuries for secularism, the separation of the political and the religious? No: neither Islamic nor Christian restrictions. Europe, secular. For everyone's good.

And, within Europe, how do you see Spain?

From the dictatorship, it became one of the most democratic countries in Europe. In Spain, your Left has not been totalitarian, and your Right has achieved the largest economic growth in Europe. Aznar's Government has been successful, without a doubt.

And its anti-terrorist policy?

Look: modern terrorism only acts against democracies. There is no terrorism against Saddam, for example! Well, there should be no place for terrorism in a democracy, since all issues must be debated in Parliament. And, since ETA and Batasuna are the same thing, it's good that Batasuna has been outlawed.

From now on, our standard response to idiotarians will be, "Jean-François Revel / Would say, "Go to hell."

Here's an example of just how hard negotiations can be and how difficult it is to get both sides to comply with what they have agreed to. And we can't accuse anyone of being a bullheaded foreign intransigent or an crafty alien snake-oil salesman because, guess what, everyone involved in this mess was American! The question of what to do about captured prisoners-of-war was critical during the American Civil War (1861-65). Each side held tens of thousands of prisoners, and both sides treated their prisoners quite badly. The death rate in both Confederate and Union prisons was high--a distant relative of mine, a great-great-grandparent's brother, died in the Union prison at Elmira, New York--but Andersonville, Georgia, is the best-known and by far the most deadly of the prison-camp hellholes of the Civil War. When Andersonville opened in 1864 the Confederacy was already collapsing, on the defensive on all fronts and east cut off from west by the Union capture of Vicksburg, sealing off the Mississippi. Food was short for everyone and there was little to spare for prisoners, and men died by the thousands in Andersonville during the summer of 1864. They could have been saved through a prisoner exchange, but they were not, and the following passage by John McElroy, a journalist and Union soldier captured in Virginia and sent first to a Richmond prison and then to Andersonville, which he survived, explains why.


Few questions intimately connected with the actual operations of the
Rebellion have been enveloped with such a mass of conflicting statement
as the responsibility for the interruption of the exchange. Southern
writers and politicians, naturally anxious to diminish as much as
possible the great odium resting upon their section for the treatment of
prisoners of war during the last year and a half of the Confederacy's
existence, have vehemently charged that the Government of the United
States deliberately and pitilessly resigned to their fate such of its
soldiers as fell into the hands of the enemy, and repelled all advances
from the Rebel Government looking toward a resumption of exchange. It is
alleged on our side, on the other hand, that our Government did all that
was possible, consistent with National dignity and military prudence,
to secure a release of its unfortunate men in the power of the Rebels.

Over this vexed question there has been waged an acrimonious war of
words, which has apparently led to no decision, nor any convictions--the
disputants, one and all, remaining on the sides of the controversy
occupied by them when the debate began.

I may not be in possession of all the facts bearing upon the case, and
may be warped in judgment by prejudices in favor of my own Government's
wisdom and humanity, but, however this may be, the following is my firm
belief as to the controlling facts in this lamentable affair:

1. For some time after the beginning of hostilities our Government
refused to exchange prisoners with the Rebels, on the ground that this
might be held by the European powers who were seeking a pretext for
acknowledging the Confederacy, to be admission by us that the war was no
longer an insurrection but a revolution, which had resulted in the 'de
facto' establishment of a new nation. This difficulty was finally gotten
over by recognizing the Rebels as belligerents, which, while it placed
them on a somewhat different plane from mere insurgents, did not elevate
them to the position of soldiers of a foreign power.

2. Then the following cartel was agreed upon by Generals Dix on our side
and Hill on that of the Rebels:


The undersigned, having been commissioned by the authorities they
respectively represent to make arrangements for a general exchange of
prisoners of war, have agreed to the following articles:

ARTICLE I.--It is hereby agreed and stipulated, that all prisoners of
war, held by either party, including those taken on private armed
vessels, known as privateers, shall be exchanged upon the conditions and
terms following:

Prisoners to be exchanged man for man and officer for officer.
Privateers to be placed upon the footing of officers and men of the navy.

(additional verbiage deleted)

ARTICLE II.--Local, State, civil and militia rank held by persons not in
actual military service will not be recognized; the basis of exchange
being the grade actually held in the naval and military service of the
respective parties.

ARTICLE III.--If citizens held by either party on charges of disloyalty,
or any alleged civil offense, are exchanged, it shall only be for
citizens. Captured sutlers, teamsters, and all civilians in the actual
service of either party, to be exchanged for persons in similar

ARTICLE IV.--All prisoners of war to be discharged on parole in ten days
after their capture; and the prisoners now held, and those hereafter
taken, to be transported to the points mutually agreed upon, at the
expense of the capturing party. The surplus prisoners not exchanged
shall not be permitted to take up arms again, nor to serve as military
police or constabulary force in any fort, garrison or field-work, held by
either of the respective parties, nor as guards of prisoners, deposits or
stores, nor to discharge any duty usually performed by soldiers, until
exchanged under the provisions of this cartel. The exchange is not to be
considered complete until the officer or soldier exchanged for has been
actually restored to the lines to which he belongs.

ARTICLE V.--Each party upon the discharge of prisoners of the other party
is authorized to discharge an equal number of their own officers or men
from parole, furnishing, at the same time, to the other party a list of
their prisoners discharged, and of their own officers and men relieved
from parole; thus enabling each party to relieve from parole such of
their officers and men as the party may choose. The lists thus mutually
furnished, will keep both parties advised of the true condition of the
exchange of prisoners.

ARTICLE VI.--The stipulations and provisions above mentioned to be of
binding obligation during the continuance of the war, it matters not
which party may have the surplus of prisoners; the great principles
involved being, First, An equitable exchange of prisoners, man for man,
or officer for officer, or officers of higher grade exchanged for
officers of lower grade, or for privates, according to scale of
equivalents. Second, That privates and officers and men of different
services may be exchanged according to the same scale of equivalents.
Third, That all prisoners, of whatever arm of service, are to be
exchanged or paroled in ten days from the time of their capture, if it be
practicable to transfer them to their own lines in that time; if not, so
soon thereafter as practicable. Fourth, That no officer, or soldier,
employed in the service of either party, is to be considered as exchanged
and absolved from his parole until his equivalent has actually reached
the lines of his friends. Fifth, That parole forbids the performance of
field, garrison, police, or guard or constabulary duty.

JOHN A. DIX, Major General.

D. H. HILL, Major General, C. S. A.


ARTICLE VII.--All prisoners of war now held on either side, and all
prisoners hereafter taken, shall be sent with all reasonable dispatch to
A. M. Aiken's, below Dutch Gap, on the James River, in Virginia, or to
Vicksburg, on the Mississippi River, in the State of Mississippi, and
there exchanged of paroled until such exchange can be effected, notice
being previously given by each party of the number of prisoners it will
send, and the time when they will be delivered at those points
respectively; and in case the vicissitudes of war shall change the
military relations of the places designated in this article to the
contending parties, so as to render the same inconvenient for the
delivery and exchange of prisoners, other places bearing as nearly as may
be the present local relations of said places to the lines of said
parties, shall be, by mutual agreement, substituted. But nothing in this
article contained shall prevent the commanders of the two opposing armies
from exchanging prisoners or releasing them on parole, at other points
mutually agreed on by said commanders.

ARTICLE VIII.--For the purpose of carrying into effect the foregoing
articles of agreement, each party will appoint two agents for the
exchange of prisoners of war, whose duty it shall be to communicate with
each other by correspondence and otherwise; to prepare the lists of
prisoners; to attend to the delivery of the prisoners at the places
agreed on, and to carry out promptly, effectually, and in good faith,
all the details and provisions of the said articles of agreement.

ARTICLE IX.--And, in case any misunderstanding shall arise in regard to
any clause or stipulation in the foregoing articles, it is mutually
agreed that such misunderstanding shall not affect the release of
prisoners on parole, as herein provided, but shall be made the subject of
friendly explanation, in order that the object of this agreement may
neither be defeated nor postponed.

JOHN A. DIX, Major General.
D. H. HILL, Major General. C. S. A.

This plan did not work well. Men on both sides, who wanted a little rest
from soldiering, could obtain it by so straggling in the vicinity of the
enemy. Their parole--following close upon their capture, frequently upon
the spot--allowed them to visit home, and sojourn awhile where were
pleasanter pastures than at the front. Then the Rebels grew into the
habit of paroling everybody that they could constrain into being a
prisoner of war. Peaceable, unwarlike and decrepit citizens of Kentucky,
East Tennessee, West Virginia, Missouri and Maryland were "captured" and
paroled, and setoff against regular Rebel soldiers taken by us.

3. After some months of trial of this scheme, a modification of the
cartel was agreed upon, the main feature of which was that all prisoners
must be reduced to possession, and delivered to the exchange officers
either at City Point, Va., or Vicksburg, Miss. This worked very well for
some months, until our Government began organizing negro troops. The
Rebels then issued an order that neither these troops nor their officers
should be held as amenable to the laws of war, but that, when captured,
the men should be returned to slavery, and the officers turned over to
the Governors of the States in which they were taken, to be dealt with
according to the stringent law punishing the incitement of servile
insurrection. Our Government could not permit this for a day. It was
bound by every consideration of National honor to protect those who wore
its uniform and bore its flag. The Rebel Government was promptly
informed that rebel officers and men would be held as hostages for the
proper treatment of such members of colored regiments as might be taken.

4. This discussion did not put a stop to the exchange, but while it was
going on Vicksburg was captured, and the battle of Gettysburg was fought.
The first placed one of the exchange points in our hands. At the opening
of the fight at Gettysburg Lee captured some six thousand Pennsylvania
militia. He sent to Meade to have these exchanged on the field of
battle. Meade declined to do so for two reasons: first, because it was
against the cartel, which prescribed that prisoners must be reduced to
possession; and second, because he was anxious to have Lee hampered with
such a body of prisoners, since it was very doubtful if he could get his
beaten army back across the Potomac, let alone his prisoners. Lee then
sent a communication to General Couch, commanding the Pennsylvania
militia, asking him to receive prisoners on parole, and Couch, not
knowing what Meade had done, acceded to the request. Our Government
disavowed Couch's action instantly, and ordered the paroles to be treated
as of no force, whereupon the Rebel Government ordered back into the
field twelve thousand of the prisoners captured by Grant's army at

5. The paroling now stopped abruptly, leaving in the hands of both sides
the prisoners captured at Gettysburg, except the militia above mentioned.
The Rebels added considerably to those in their hands by their captures
at Chickamauga, while we gained a great many at Mission Ridge, Cumberland
Gap and elsewhere, so that at the time we arrived in Richmond the Rebels
had about fifteen thousand prisoners in their hands and our Government
had about twenty-five thousand.

6. The rebels now began demanding that the prisoners on both sides be
exchanged--man for man--as far as they went, and the remainder paroled.
Our Government offered to exchange man for man, but declined--on account
of the previous bad faith of the Rebels--to release the balance on
parole. The Rebels also refused to make any concessions in regard to the
treatment of officers and men of colored regiments.

7. At this juncture General B. F. Butler was appointed to the command of
the Department of the Blackwater, which made him an ex-officio
Commissioner of Exchange. The Rebels instantly refused to treat with
him, on the ground that he was outlawed by the proclamation of Jefferson
Davis. General Butler very pertinently replied that this only placed him
nearer their level, as Jefferson Davis and all associated with him in the
Rebel Government had been outlawed by the proclamation of President
Lincoln. The Rebels scorned to notice this home thrust by the Union

8. On February 12, 1864, General Butler addressed a letter to the Rebel
Commissioner Ould, in which be asked, for the sake of humanity, that the
questions interrupting the exchange be left temporarily in abeyance while
an informal exchange was put in operation. He would send five hundred
prisoners to City Point; let them be met by a similar number of Union
prisoners. This could go on from day to day until all in each other's
hands should be transferred to their respective flags.

The five hundred sent with the General's letter were received, and five
hundred Union prisoners returned for them. Another five hundred, sent
the next day, were refused, and so this reasonable and humane proposition
ended in nothing.

This was the condition of affairs in February, 1864, when the Rebel
authorities concluded to send us to Andersonville. If the reader will
fix these facts in his minds I will explain other phases as they develop.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

I had an idea earlier this weekend; I've been rather social lately, since a couple of days ago we went out for dinner with Remei's friend Nati and her boyfriend, and then last night my pals Clark the Virginian and Murph the London Irishman came over. We listened to this bluegrass CD my sister sent me from Nashville and, uh, indulged in vice. Anyway, Murph and I did; Clark left to go see his girlfriend and Murph, somewhat the worse for wear, wound up spending the night. While indulging in vice with Murph, though, I had a thought: I've got to start making a little money off this. So I had this idea.

Blogger had the gall to have a redesign contest. Normally, in the business world, things work like this: you need, say, advertising, you go to several agencies, you choose whichever company you like the best (whether because you like their past work they showed you, because they offer a great price, because their young art director seems to have a lot of fresh ideas, whatever), you hire them and give them your guidelines and you agree on a budget, and they go to work and do the job. Well, Blogger did it the other way around. They said, "Hey, guys, all of you out there, let's see a finished job for a site redesign. All of you who want to enter our contest do the whole redesign job, and we'll pick the one we like the best. The rest of you, you've wasted your effort as far as we're concerned."

So I figured, "Hey, why can't I do that if Blogger did? No one can criticize me for following this now seemingly accepted business practice." Therefore, we're announcing the official Design a Logo for Us Contest. If you know your way around HTML code and want to come up with a design for a logo for Iberian Notes, you're free to enter. I was thinking of something like a map of Spain in red with Catalonia in yellow and Barcelona marked with a dot on the map, and Inside Europe: Iberian Notes in navy blue across that. But you can probably think of something better. Anyway, I'll go to that company that makes T-shirts and coffee cups and the like and get some made with YOUR logo on them! Then I can sell them and make like two bucks off every fourteen-dollar T-shirt or whatever the deal is. You get a free T-shirt out of it.

Just in case you're interested, we've been averaging 150-250 hits a day lately, more if other blogs link to us in their texts; for example, Pejman linked to us a couple of days ago and sent 75 hits over here in a day. Jessica from Chloe and Pete linked over here earlier this week and sent about 25 people over. Other hit sources: by far the most importantly, both to us personally and as a percentage of total hits, about 200 regular readers have us bookmarked and visit at least once a week or so; about a hundred come each day. Twenty-five people come over every day from the InstaPundit blogroll, five or ten a day from Samizdata, and a total of about 25 a day from like-minded smaller blogs like ours (Mount Beacon, Atlético Rules, Buscaraons, Dissident Frogman, Cinderella Bloggerfeller, No Replacement for Displacement, Sasha Castel and Co., Nordic Musings, Rainy Day, and the Belligerent Bunny). We also get about ten Google hits a day. That adds up to a minimum of 165 a day; in reality we range from rather less than 165 (on Sundays) to a good bit more, since we get a couple of text links a week from other blogs. Any text link is worth at least ten hits that day, and anyone whose blogroll we're on will send over at least occasional hits, no matter how small or new the blog. The only time we actually broke a story that got round the Web was back in June, when we noticed that on the Harvard-MIT anti-Israel petition there were eighteen signers from Chomsky's department, and on the pro-Israel petition that came out in response, there were no signers from MIT Linguistics. We figured this conformity and lack of dissent was worth writing about and InstaPundit picked it up; we got 1100 visitors the first day and 600 the day after. Those numbers are extremely rare for us. Anyway, we got more than 5000 hits last month and we're at 2600 so far this month; we had a total of 31,000 on the old site, which we started in February but which nobody read until about April except for Patrick Crozier and Tom from Tom's Desk and a couple of the guys down at the clinic, those who can focus their eyesight enough to read and have attention spans long enough to boot up a computer and aren't heavily sedated most of the time, which makes a total of about three, including the staff. Grand total: about 38,600. This is considerably better than fanzines and underground newspapers used to do in the old days.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

David Frum has something intelligent to say in NRO:

The Lesson of the Scuds

To me, one of the most interesting facts about that Yemeni Scud story was that the intercepting ship was Spanish. It’s a reminder of two things – that America is not waging this war in the unilateralist way the president’s critics complain – but second, that our allies receive too little attention and too little credit for their contributions.

My American Enterprise Institute colleague Radek Sikorski, the ultra-robust director of the New Atlantic Initiative, likes to remind Euro-skeptic conservatives that most of the troops now present in Afghanistan come from Europe, not the United States.

But if the forging of an effective coalition to fight the war on terror is an American success story, the larger relationship between the U.S. and its allies is not – and that failure is not entirely the allies’ fault. The U.S. has made a major commitment to anti-terrorist public diplomacy – but so far, almost all the effort has been dedicated to the Arab and Islamic world, and virtually none to the allied countries of Europe, Australia, and Canada. Americans did not make this mistake in the Cold War.

The U.S. has been dismantling its public diplomacy structure for more than two decades now. It needs to be rebuilt – and fast – as a global project, not just a unique appeal to one uniquely hostile region of the world.

Here in Catalonia creches--you know, representations of the stable where Jesus was born with the figures of the shepherds and Joseph and Mary and the like--are very popular. Down at the Plaza de la Catedral they're holding the Fira de Santa Llucía, St. Lucy's Fair, where stands that sell figurines and such are set up, and in the Plaza Sant Jaume they put up a large-scale Belén (Bethlehem, as they call it). Some places even have Belenes vivientes in which people represent the creche figures. By the way, this column in Spanish by Quim Monzó from the Vangua a couple of days ago is well worth reading. I'll translate the first paragraph. (I recommend Monzó for people who read Spanish or Catalan pretty well. The guy's written some good stuff, especially in the short story, essay, and newspaper column departments. And he's no idiotarian, though he's not especially conservative. Just Google his name and you should get plenty of links.)

Last week Barcelona Parks and Gardens posted on their website that the creche they set up every year in the Plaza Sant Jaume will this time serve as a political protest against "the serious situation that thousands of people are suffering in the Near East and the need for dialogue for peace". The creche will be "inspired by the Palestinian countryside" and there will be dunes, palms, olive trees, bushes...I reread the text without managing to understand what the political protest content was. Will they put figures of Israeli soldiers and tanks between the chestnut tree and the aluminum foil river? Will there be Palestinians holed up in a miniature reproduction of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem? Will the caganer have the head and body of Ariel Sharon? Maybe even, infiltrated among the little shepherds, they'll put a figure of a Hamas militant about to blow himself up with a belt of explosives.

Says Robert Hughes in his must-read-for-anyone-who-wants-to-come-here, Barcelona :

If you find yourself in Barcelona just before Christmas, go to the Cathedral and browse the stalls that have been set up in front of its façade, where figures for the creche are sold. They are what you expect; the shepherds, the Magi, Mary, Baby Jesus, the sheep, the oxen. But there is one who is a complete anomaly, met with nowhere else in the iconography of Christendom. A red Catalan cap, or barretina, flopping over his head, the fellow squats, breeches down, with a small brown cone of excrement connecting his bare buttocks to the earth. He is the immemorial fecundator, whom nature calls even as the Messiah arrives. Nothing can distract him from the archetypical task of giving back to the soil the nourishment that it supplied to him. He is known as the caganer, the "shitter", and he exists in scores of versions: some pop-eyed with effort, others rapt in calm meditation, but most with no expression at all; big papier-mache ones three feet tall, minuscule terra-cotta ones with caca pyramids no bigger than mouse turds, and all sizes in between. During Christmas 1989, the Museum of Figueres held an exhibition of some five hundred caganers, borrowed from private collections all over Catalonia. (There are, of course, collectors who specialize in them.) It was solemnly and equably reviewed in the Barcelona papers, with close-up photos of one or two of the figures, just as one might wish to reproduce a David Smith totem or a nude by Josep Llimona. The origins of the caganer are veiled in antiquity and await the attention of scholarship. Sixteenth-century sculptures of him exist, but he seems to be curiously absent from medieval painting. He is, essentially, a folk-art personage rather than a high-art one. His place is outside the manger, not inside the altarpiece. Yet he makes an unkistakable entrance into twentieth-century art in the work of that great and shit-obsessed son of Catalonia, Joan Miró. If you look closely at The Farm, Montroig, you will see a pale infant squatting in front of the cistern where his mother is doing the washing. This boy is none other than the caganer of Miró's childhood Christmases; it may also be Miró himself, the future painter of Man and Women in Front of a Pile of Excrement. Nor can it be an accident that the other scatologist of modern painting, Salvador Dalí, was a Catalan.

Hughes goes on to have a little fun with the Catalans. Everything he says is, of all things, true.

The Catalan preoccupation with shit would make Sigmund Freud proud; no society offers more frequent and shining confirmations of his theories of anal retention. In this respect, the Catalans resemble other highly mercantile people such as the Japanese and the Germans.

The pleasures of a good crap are considered in Catalonia on a level with those of a good meal. Menjar bé i cagar fort / I no tingués por de la mort, goes the folk saying: "Eat well, shit strongly, and you will have no fear of death."

The image of shit has a festive quality unknown in the rest of Europe. On the Feast of the Kings, January 6, children who have been good the previous year are given pretty sweetmeats; the bad ones get caca i carbó, "shit and coal", emblems of the hell that awaits them if they do not mend their childish ways. These days the coal is left out (not true: you see sugar-candy colored black in the shape of lumps of coal) and the gift consists of brown-marzipan turds made by confectioners, some elaborately embellished with spun-sugar flies. Then there is the tío, or "uncle", a cross between the French bûche de Noël and the Mexican piñata. This artificial log, filled with candy and trinkets, is produced amid great excitement at Christmas; the children whack it with sticks, exclaiming "Caga, tiet, caga!" ("Shit, Uncle, shit!") until it breaks and disgorges its treasures.

Hughes then goes on to explain that Remei's village's hero, Vicens García, the famous Rector of Vallfogona, Catalonia's greatest (and only) Baroque poet in the early 17th century, wrote On a Delicate Matter, "which roundly asserts that no person, however low, not even a Portuguese, could have anything bad to say about shit."

Here's a Vanguardia article from last Christmas season; seems that somebody made the mistake of letting members of the Great Unwashed, the Teeming Millions, the Booboisie, or whatever you prefer to call them, know that caganers existed.

The caganer war has broken out. A controversial display by the Catalan artist Antoni Miralda in the Copia Museum in the town of Napa, California, has awakened the protest of the inflential Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights, which has 350,000 members, and which is demanding the removal of some of the figurines on display. Contacted by telephone by this newspaper in his studio in Miami, Miralda said he was "very worried" and "enormously surprised" by the situation, since "we're dealing with a work that does not have the slightest intention of causing offense." He added, "The problem is that these people haven't understood anything at all."

Although, in Catalonia, the appearance of a celebrity as a caganer means nothing more than his consagration in the world of fame, on the other side of the Atlantic, Miralda wakes up every day these days with aggressive cover stories from local newspapers where, next to photos of his figurines, the question "Is this culture?" is asked, and the letters to the editor even talk about "pornography". William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said yesterday, "I don't understand what motive he has to show the Pope and some nuns defecating to show his appreciation for Mother Nature."

"I've already spoken with the management of the museum," says Miralda, "and they're very worried. They're going to talk to the Catholic League and explain to them what a caganer is and I hope they'll retract. I've already told them that, in my country, these objects are bought in front of the Cathedral as part of the holidays." Though he doesn't know how everything is going to turn out, he says, respectfully, that whether or not to remove his figurines or not "is the director of the museum's decision." But the director, Peggy Loar, will not give in, she said yesterday.

...Miralda isn't sure why this has happened to him when "there are so many publications and exhibitions with caganers--even the Metropolitan has them in its collection of creches!" Nevertheless, to the Catholic League, the exhibition is "insulting, gratuitous, and unnecessary," and Donohue states that he will fight against it because "it is financed with taxpayers' money". The Copia Museum is one of Robert Mondavi's projects--he is one of Napa's most important winemakers; he contributed $20 million. The museum, which has received very good reviews, ended up costing $74 million. the difference was paid for by the state of California. Its annual budget is covered by private donations.

Just a couple of comments: 1) I don't buy that "no desire to offend." This guy must know that there are conservative religious groups in the US, since it's part of the stereotype that Americans are religious nuts. He's an artist, so he must have heard of the Andrés Serrano Piss Christ hoo-haw and that other one, I think at the Brooklyn Museum, where they had the Virgin Mary covered with elephant dung or something. If he'd just exhibited plain old regular caganers, probably no one would have said anything, but the Catholic League (didn't they use to be the Catholic League of Decency or something like that, or was that another organization?) disapproves of depicting the pope and nuns taking a dump. If Muslims objected to depictions of Mohammed taking a dump, I think their disapproval would be taken into account. Remember, the Catholic League wasn't angry about the caganers in themselves, it was angry that the leader of their religion was depicted in such a disrespectful way. 2) This is why I am against spending ANY GOVERNMENT MONEY AT ALL on arts and culture and the like. If people want museums, ballet, drama, and the like, let them pay for it themselves. I am willing to make an exception for the Smithsonian and for other such national museums, the British Museum and National Gallery, for instance, or the Louvre or Prado. Don't tell me that museum couldn't have been done for half the price with generous contributions from Robert Mondavi's wine-growing pals. It's not like Ernie and Julie Gallo are running short of cash.

By the way, here's today's editiorial cartoon from the Vanguardia. Check it out.

Today's top headline in La Vanguardia:

Bush returns the missiles confiscated by Spain to Yemen

US releases cargo ship with 15 North Korean Scuds after confirming destination

Washington praises Spanish Navy assault in Indian (Ocean)

Here's a list of current, up-to-date Spanish colloquialisms to spice up your vocabulary. I got them all out of Sin control; they're all used frequently by ordinary people. You might call them examples of respectable slang.

gorrear (v.)--to bum, to scam, to invite yourself to something. Me gorreó un cigarro--he bummed a cigarette off me.

a saco (adv.)--very hard, very fast, to the max. Trabajamos a saco--we worked our butts off.

ir / estar de juerga (v.)--to party, to go partying. Estábamos de juerga hasta las 6--we were partying till six.

ser pan comido (v. phr.)--to be easy, to be a snap. El exámen fue pan comido.--the exam was a snap.

un rollo (n.)--a drag, a bummer. La fiesta fue un rollo--the party was a drag.

tropecientos (mil) (n.)--a lot. Te lo he dicho tropecientas (mil) veces--I told you a thousand times.

fatal (adj. / adv.)--terrible. He dormido fatal--I slept badly.

genial (adj. / adv.)--wonderful. La película es genial--it's a great movie.

Feminine Language: I'm not being sexist, this is a concept in linguistics and philology. There are words and expressions that are used mostly or only by women; if men use them, it sounds juvenile or effeminate. Women who want to be perceived as no-nonsense or businesslike also avoid feminine language. Examples in American English are "precious", "sweet", and "cute". I can imagine some women saying "itty bitty", but not a man. This seems to be true in all languages. Here are some examples from Betty's Spanish.

chiflarle, molarle--function like gustarle and mean the same thing. ¡Me chiflan las fiestas!--I love the holidays!

mono--cute. Tu hermanito es muy mono--your little brother is really cute.

-ito--diminutive suffix. Me he comprado unos zapatitos y una faldita--I bought some (little) shoes and a (little) skirt.

-ísimo--augmentative suffix. Este niño es monísimo--this child is so cute.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Here's the list of the Hollywood 100 from MSNBC so that ninety-nine percent of us can boycott anything these people have anything to do with. Fortunately, it is absolutely impossible to consume any Hollywood product without encountering one of these people in it. Therefore, we will simply have to stop watching TV--exceptions made for music, news and sports, Clint Eastwood movies, and stuff like the History Channel--and going to mass-market movies, which will be healthy for all of us. That will give us more time to be with our families and friends, read books and blogs, translate porn for Frenchy the porno purveyor, and the like.

(Thanks to Rumination, a cool blog that you guys ought to check out.)

Here's the list and our comments.

Gillian Anderson--Too bad, she's hot.
Edward Asner--Are you surprised? I would like to tie this guy up in one of those caves where millions of rabid bats live and watch them devour him.
René Auberjonois--Wasn't he the gay guy on Benson?
Amy Aquino--Who dat?
Jordan Baker--Who dat?
David Bale--Who dat?
Kim Basinger--Not surprising, Kim suffers from "lights on but nobody home" syndrome.
Ed Begley, Jr.--Wasn't he the goofy guy on some Eighties doctor show?
Theo Bikel--Who dat?
Barbara Bosson--Wasn't she Dick Van Dyke's wife or something? Or was it some other Dick?
Jackson Browne--How's Daryl, Jackson? Slapped her around lately? Is that restraining order on you still in force?
Peter Buck (REM)--Like their music, don't like this guy.
Diahann Carroll--Between making psychic TV friends late-night infomercials, had time to sign. Or is that Dionne Warwick?
Eugene J. Carroll, Jr. (Rear Adm. U.S. Navy (Ret.)--Good thing he's Ret., I'd hate to have wimps like him in charge of anything important. Notice that he's a REAR admiral, with all that implies.
Kathleen Chalfant--who dat?
Don Cheadle--too bad, I liked him in "Traffic".
Jill Clayburgh--I thought she was dead. Didn't she get killed in Looking for Mr. Goodbar?
David Clennon--who dat?
Jack Coleman--who dat?
Peter Coyote--Yeah, right, if Peter Coyote knows anything about anything but snorting coke I'm Jodie Foster's girlfriend.
Peter Crombie--who dat?
Lindsay Crouse--who dat?
Suzanne Cryer--who dat?
Matt Damon--are you surprised after the ignorant political speeches they put in his mouth in that dumb movie those guys claimed they wrote?
Dana Daurey--who dat?
Ambassador Jonathan Dean (U.S. Rep. to NATO-Warsaw Pact)--Probably during the Carter administration.
Vincent D’Onofrio--who dat?
David Duchovny--I never liked the X-Files, I can't stand that UFO BS.
Olympia Dukakis--are you surprised? I am. I figured nobody on the left would ever want to be associated with anyone named Dukakis again.
Charles S. Dutton--who dat?
Hector Elizondo--who dat?
Cary Elwes--who dat?
Shelley Fabares--who dat?
Mike Farrell--I would love to watch this guy get squeezed to death by a boa constrictor.
Mia Farrow--This woman is completely insane. Does everyone realize this? She needs to be committed, not be asked for her opinion about current events.
Laurence Fishburne--Too bad. I liked him.
Sean Patrick Flanery--Who dat?
Bonnie Franklin--Thought she was dead. She looked like she was in her fifties back in the Seventies.
John Fugelsang--Who dat?
Janeane Garofalo--The absolute dumbest thing I ever heard a Hollywood star say was several years ago after O.J. was acquitted, on Politically Incorrect. She said that the fact that OJ got off was due to the patriarchal society that didn't care whether men killed women. Uh, Janeene or however you spell your name, remember that there were TWO victims, one of whom was a MAN. Also, O.J. obviously got off largely because no black jury would convict him after the pre-trial circus. Duh.
Larry Gelbart--The evil genius behind the subversive TV program MASH.
Melissa Gilbert--Laura Ingalls is a Commie rat fifth columnist tool of Satan?
Danny Glover--Gotten any good roles lately, Danny?
Elliott Gould--I can't believe this guy is still alive, either. He sure looks like he ought to be dead.
Samaria Graham--Who dat?
Robert Greenwald--Who dat?
Robert Guillaume--When was Benson on, like in 1979?
Paul Haggis--Eat him. Whoever he is.
Robert David Hall--Who dat?
Ethan Hawke--Oh, yeah, here's Hollywood's other resident intellectual.
Marg Helgenberger--Who dat?
Ken Howard--When was the White Shadow on, 1977?
Helen Hunt--Rumor has it she is the biggest bitch diva pain in the ass in Hollywood.
Anjelica Huston--Too bad. I liked her. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that her political ideas are wacky.
LaTanya Richardson Jackson--They let a member of the Jackson family sign this thing and they want it to have credibility?!?
Samuel L. Jackson--Too bad. He was great in Pulp Fiction.
Jane Kaczmarek--Who dat?
Melina Kanakaredes--Who dat?
Casey Kasem--Oh, shut up, Casey, your program was the lamest thing ever on the radio. Is it still on?
Mimi Kennedy--Who dat?
Kevin Kilner--Who dat?
Jessica Lange--Not surprising, she was already on our boycott list.
Téa Leoni--Too bad, she's hot.
Donald Logue--Who dat?
Wendie Malick--Who dat?
Camryn Manheim--Who dat?
Marsha Mason--I read this as Marsha "Manson" and wondered fleetingly if either Marilyn or Charles had a sister.
Richard Masur--Who dat?
Dave Mathews--The musician? Yeah, like he has time to think about global issues between bong hits.
Kent McCord--Who dat?
Mary McDonnell--Who dat?
Robert Duncan McNeill--Who dis pretentious three-named Wasp guy?
Mike Mills (REM)--Like the music, don't like this guy.
Janel Moloney--Who dat?
Esai Morales--I think he's the guy who played the Hispanic gang dude on Hill Street Blues and like eight other cop shows.
Ed O’Neill--Yeah, getting this top intellect to sign adds a lot of prestige to the signers' list.
Chris Noth--Who dat?
Peter Onorati--Who dat?
Alexandra Paul--Who dat?
Ambassador Edward Peck (former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq)--Probably during the Truman Administration.
Seth Peterson--Who dat?
CCH Pounder--Who dat?
David Rabe--Who dat?
Alan Rachins--Who dat?
Bonnie Raitt--Can tolerate the music, don't like her.
Carl Reiner--Too bad. I liked him. What about Rob? Didn't have the guts?
Tim Robbins--Not surprising. I would like to see him being devoured by piranhas.
Eric Roberts--Julia's brother? Why didn't Julia sign? Didn't have the guts?
Steve Robinson, Sgt., U.S. Army (Ret.) (National. Gulf War Resource Center)--Good thing this guy was a sergeant, because if he had been an officer I would have made sport of him.
Mitch Ryan--Who dat?
Susan Sarandon--Not surprising. I would like to see her slowly strangled with the last extant copy of Thelma and Louise.
Tony Shalhoub--Who dat?
Jack Shanahan, Vice Adm. U.S.N. (Ret.)--Good thing this wuss is Ret. We don't need weenies like this ordering our guys around. Note that he's a VICE admiral, which fits in well with that other guy, the REAR admiral.
William Schallert--Who dat?
Martin Sheen--Not surprising. I would like to see the whole Sheen family buried up to their necks and then pour honey in every visible orifice.
Armin Shimerman--Who dat?
Gloria Steinem--I thought everyone had already forgotten about her. Playboy bunny days are long gone, huh, Gloria?
Marcia Strassman--Wasn't she Gabe Kaplan's wife? Or was that on TV?
Michael Stipe (REM)--Like the music, absolutely hate this guy.
Susan Sullivan--Who dat?
Loretta Swit--Another nitwit associated with the evil Communist TV program MASH.
Studs Terkel--Has it ever been cleared up whether this guy holds a Party card? I'm serious.
Lily Tomlin--Is exceedingly ugly, so ugly I shouldn't mention it out of common decency.
Blair Underwood--Who dat?
Dennis Weaver--Didn't he shoot his wife? Or was that Baretta?
Bradley Whitford--Who dat?
James Whitmore
James Whitmore, Jr.--Who dey?
Alfre Woodard--Isn't she one of those serious black actresses? You know, the ones who always play the kind, gentle, wise schoolteacher?
Noah Wyle--Who dat?
Peter Yarrow--I really did think this guy was dead. If he isn't, he ought to be. I suggest that action be taken post haste. And why didn't Paul and Mary sign? Are they dead, too? Is Peter really alive or is this some kind of cryogenic time warp?
Howard Zinn--What the hell is this Communist, and he really is, doing as a signer? I'll hold judgement on most of the rest--probably a lot of these people are so dumb that they're not sure what they signed but like, dude, think that peace is cool--but this guy is clearly a non-patriot, and it's ridiculous that any document that claims to be signed by American patriots should include the name of this human cesspool of intellectual offal.

Spain Goes to War: Spanish Navy Boards North Korean Ship Carrying Scuds

On Monday, off the southern tip of India, the Spanish frigate Navarra and its accompanying ship Patiño, on patrol in the Indian Ocean as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, were informed by the American navy that a North Korean ship, flying no flag, was approaching. The Navarra ordered the North Korean cargo ship, which claimed to be carrying cement, to stop. It refused and the Navarra sent its speedboats out to prepare a boarding. The North Korean ship again refused to stop and the Navarra fired warning shots. Then the cargo ship stopped and was boarded. According to Defense Minister Federico Trillo, the ship contained fifteen Scud missiles with fifteen high-explosive warheads and various chemicals, which have apparently not been analyzed yet. The ship was bound for Yemen, whose government has alleged that it was buying the missiles legally. Yeah, right. As Trillo said, "We've caught them red-handed." (con las manos en la masa, literally "with their hands in the (bread) dough".) The crew and officers were arrested and turned over to the Americans. I guess we get to keep the cargo ship as a prize of war, or have I been reading too many eighteenth-century British Navy novels?

I highly recommend that President Bush make a big deal out of this. One of the main causes of European resentment against the US is that America is arrogant and prepotent. What that really means, of course, is that they feel ignored, disrespected, and underappreciated and this turns them against the folks who they think aren't appreciating them enough. That's perfectly reasonable. Remember that happiness is caused by others giving you your props, shame is caused by not being able to live up to the props that you know you're going to stop getting pretty soon if you don't shape up, and anger is caused by not getting the props you think you feel you deserve. When the Europeans think about America they feel both shame and anger, shame at the fact that they've lost the importance they had only twenty years ago and the props that go with it, and anger because they still feel they deserve the props they've lost. This is not infantile behavior, it's natural human behavior.

Well, one way to improve the situation is by giving the Spaniards some props for this one. They did their job well and made an important contribution. American appreciation for this show of military solidarity would decrease some of the shame and anger felt around here with regard to America.

Here's how important American approval is to the Spaniards. The Vanguardia is a conservative newspaper, which doesn't prevent it from printing a good bit of Marxist crap, but it's socially very conservative, very pro-monarchy and pro-Church. It's owned by this nobility dude named the Count of Godó, and the Count of Godó has set up this thing called the Count of Barcelona Foundation in honor of the father of the current king of Spain, Don Juan de Borbón, one of whose titles was Count of Barcelona. I suppose that King Juan Carlos now holds the title. Anyway, the Count of Barcelona Foundation has set up this award called the Count of Barcelona International Prize, and the very first one was given to...get this...drumroll...the New York Times! At the very moment when the Times is at the darkest moment of its history, when Howell Raines's editorship has made the paper nothing more than an American Guardian!

The specific excuse adduced was the exemplariness of the Times's reporting after 9-11. Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. showed in person to collect the prize, which consists of a small, ugly bronze statue and a hundred thousand euros. The Vangua devotes FIVE full pages to this, including a front-page color photo of Sulzberger, his wife, the Count of Godó himself (squeezing into the photo, which is focused on him), the Queen, the King, and Princess Cristina and her husband Iñaki Urdangarín. They also put out a special TWENTY-EIGHT page Culture supplement on the relationship between Barcelona and New York, which I wasn't actually aware existed, but if they say there's one, all right, I'll go along. Most of the supplement consists of five New Yorkers kissing up to (haciendo la pelota a) Barcelona opinion and a bunch of Catalans kissing up to New York opinion. This whole episode, a piece of manufactured news if there ever was one, is something that is very important to them. It means respect, it means attention, it means that Barcelona and Catalonia and Spain are significant.

Note: Juan Carlos officially calls himself Juan Carlos I. Somebody needs to tell him that you don't get to be a I until there's a II. That's why, in, say, English history, King John is just King John and King Stephen is just King Stephen because there was never a second king with one of those names, and why Elizabeth I was never I until the current Elizabeth II inherited the throne. This drives me right straight up the wall.

Here's a blog in Spanish by a young woman named Betty (Elisabeth, probably, not an uncommon name here) called Sin control. She lives in Barcelona, she's pregnant, and she seems very nice if a little flighty. She avoids politics and the like and talks about more down-to-earth stuff; don't underestimate her intelligence, she writes beautiful colloquial Spanish. Check it out if you can read Spanish.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Here are some excerpts from a letter to La Vanguardia by a fellow living in Charlotte, North Carolina, named Juan Mullerat. He says:

How can a country which considers itself the main world power leave its people without electricity?...Thousands of businesses are still without electricity in the middle of chaos, they say worse than Hurricane Hugo which happened a few years ago. Almost 1.6 million homes are without centers looked like ghost towns last night...A technologically advanced country, the majority of whose people think they live in Utopia, is now living in the 19th century or worse, because "we weren't ready". A representative of Duke Power said yesterday that all repairs would not be finished for 12 days! Obviously I live in a "ghost country", in the two meanings of the term. (The word ghost, or fantasma, in Spain means someone who talks big but does little.)

Juan, let me explain something to you. You have been in a FREAKIN' ICE STORM. Ice storms are unusual but happen every few years, and I can tell you that it gets scary when the lights go off and they cut off the gas and the trees and power lines start crashing. It's even scarier if you're racing one driving up through Oklahoma and it catches you at about Lamar, Missouri. Trust me. Good thing my sister was driving because I'd have slid us off the road and we'd have had to wait for the snowplow and tow truck guys, who might not have gotten to us for a good few hours. What you do if you live in America is be prepared for freaks of nature like tornadoes and hurricanes and blizzards and have a few cans of food, a lighter, a flashlight, a few candles, a battery radio, spare batteries, and a couple of bottles of water on hand. There's nothing you can do to stop an ice storm, and there's nothing you can do to alleviate its effects. The trees and power lines are going to come down and people are going to get killed. The best way to avoid getting killed is to just stay home until everything's pretty much over, which shouldn't take more than a couple of days. Then there is all kinds of junk all over the streets that has to be cleared up, and that's hard and dangerous work because of the power lines, which in their turn have to be put back up and reconnected. There's no way to speed up the needed work, and thank God those guys know what they're doing, because I sure wouldn't know what to do and would get myself electrocuted or crushed by a falling branch.

Juan, I guess what I'm trying to say is take a little responsibility for yourself. Be prepared for nasty acts of Nature, because Charlotte gets plenty of them though it has the sort of climate most Americans like best--four seasons, mild winters, a little snow but usually not much, not horrifically hot summers, and enough rain to keep the forests, fields, and yards green but not so much that you don't see the sun three days out of four.

Here is a fairly random sample of recent weather disasters in the US, from the World Almanac.

2001--Tropical Storm Allison, $5 billion damage, 41 dead.
2000--Drought / Heat Wave, $4 billion, 140 dead.
2000--Western Fire Season, $2 billion, 0 dead.
1999--Hurricane Floyd, $6 billion, 77 dead.
1999--Oklahoma-Kansas Tornadoes, $1.1 billion, 55 dead.
1998--Texas Flood, $1 billion, 31 dead.
1998--Northeast Ice Storm, $1.4 billion, 16 dead.
1997--Mississippi-Ohio Valleys Tornadoes and Flood, $1 billion, 67 dead.
1997--West Coast Flood, $3 billion, 36 dead.
1996--Hurricane Fran, $5 billion, 37 dead.
1996--Blizzard of ´96 and Flood, $3 billion, 187 dead.
1995--Hurricane Opal, $3.3 billion, 27 dead.
1995--Southern Storms and Flood, $6.6 billion, 32 dead.
1994--Western Fire Season, $1.1 billion, ? dead.
1994--Southeast Ice Storm, $3.3 billion, 9 dead.

So, dude, like, stop complaining and find out how to volunteer for the cleanup. I'm sure they could use people, at least to serve coffee and donuts.

Here's the Washington Times story on the situation in North Carolina from two days ago. This clearly counts as a major disaster, with more than 27 dead and billions of dollars in damage. Meanwhile, here in Barcelona, the traffic lights still short out every time it rains (rained today; bingo, the light at Balmes and Plaza Molina went out and things snarled up badly before they got a cop to the corner to direct traffic), and the government is being accused of "not being ready" for the oil spill.

Seems that a bunch of Hollywood lefties want us all to know about their opinions on foreign policy. Great. As soon as I find the complete list, I'll link to it so we can all boycott movies and TV shows in which they appear. Meanwhile, this link lets us know in advance who some of them are. National Review provides this parody.

Monday, December 09, 2002

Here's the good sports news. The Chiefs are waking up. Joe Posnanski, who is a very good sports columnist, devotes his column to the Chiefs' awesome offensive line, who blast open huge holes for magnificent running back Priest Holmes, who is arguably the best player in the NFL right now, and give quarterback Trent Green, who is a competent pro and who wears a Super Bowl ring, plenty of time to run an effective passing game just like back in the Seventies, when teams would pass only fifteen or twenty times a game but those would be real passes, not little dinks. With three competent wide receivers, brilliant tight end Tony Gonzalez, and top return man Dante Hall, the Chiefs can light up almost any defense. The problem is the defense, which for most of the season has been just as bad as the offense is good. In the last two games, though, the Chiefs have shut down admittedly pathetic Arizona and the unpredictable Rams to a total of only ten points. Now they finish the season against the Broncos, Chargers, and Raiders. They're 7-6. 10-6 is possible. The Chiefs offense can do the job, and if your defense can shut down Priest Holmes you deserve to win anyway--the Chiefs have no right to complain if the other guys play well enough to hold their offense to 17 or 24 points. The question is whether the Chiefs defense can hold the other guys to, say, 27 or 30 points. If they can do that Holmes and the offensive line just might put them in the playoffs. I predict that these next three games will be some pretty exciting football.

Here's the bad news. Barcelona choked again, this time 1-0 in Madrid against a bad team, Rayo Vallecano. There's no excuse for this. We don't expect Barça to win every game, but it is fair to demand that with all the money they spend on players--and a lot of that money comes from the 104,000 season-ticket holders and from the six million Catalan households who sit through the advertisements that TV stations pay millions of euros for--they put together a team that is competitive. This team is not functioning. Saviola is a good little player but he's not the top goal-scorer they need. Neither is Riquelme. They wasted the money they got from the sale of Figo on Petit, Overmars, Geovanni, and Rochemback, none of whom have had any effect. Rochemback is not a bad midfielder, but he's not worth nearly what they paid for him. Mendieta is playing poorly, which really is a surprise. Meanwhile, Couto, Nadal, and Pellegrino, all of them sold off years ago, are having good seasons yet again, just when Barça could use a couple of defensemen, and Simao, who was supposed to replace Figo but never really got a chance, is tearing up the Portuguese league. Sonny Anderson is tearing up the French league. Rivaldo is playing well at Milan. And Barça can't beat Rayo Vallecano, which is like being so bad you can't even beat the Royals.

Barcelona plays Newcastle this week at home in the Champions' League, where they are 7-0-0 but have beaten only one good team, AS Roma. Newcastle, coached by Sir Bobby Robson, Barça's ex-coach, whom they never should have got rid of and especially not for Van Gaal, is a good team. If Barça beats them there are grounds for limited optimism. If they tie, it's not good. If they lose, it will be just about the last straw, and if they lose again, Van Gaal will be fired, assuming he hadn't already been. Joan Gaspart, Barça's elected club president, is on the verge of being forced to resign. Good. Everybody hates him. Earlier this season some guys made a banner with a picture of Mr. Burns from the Simpsons and labeled it "Gaspart". Cracked everybody up because Gaspart really does look like Mr. Burns, but nobody had made the connection before. The TV cameras picked it up and now they run the shot of the banner as part of the highlights every time Barça loses. See, whenever Barça loses, which is a lot these days, they also run long stories on how the Barça has really been losing a lot lately. Gee, this wouldn't be a campaign by Convergence and Union, the Catalan nationalist party, who control local television, to put their own man in charge of the Barça in the place of the PP sympathizers, especially Gaspart, running the board of directors, would it? Of course it would. A big deal a few weeks ago was made when Sixte Cambra of Convergence joined the board in an attempt by Gaspart to reach out to the powerful CiU faction within the club. Cambra will stab Gaspart in the back as soon as he gets a chance. I normally sympathize with the PP, but the fact that I respect and approve of Prime Minister Aznar doesn't mean I want that prick Gaspart to run the soccer team into the ground.

Here's what they need to do. Fire Van Gaal. Give me the job as coach. I'll run a lineup of Bonano in goal, Puyol, Cocu, Gabri, and Navarro as defensemen, Xavi and Rochemback in midfield, Riquelme as the "quarterback", and Overmars, Kluivert, and Saviola at forward. This lineup will give up goals. It had damn well better score a few. And we'll put Luis Enrique anywhere we can shoehorn him in when he comes back.

In the Spanish first division Real Sociedad, Valencia, Celta, Betis, Mallorca, and Real Madrid are at the top. At the bottom are Rayo, Sevilla, Español, and Recreativo. In the English league it's Arsenal, Chelsea, Man U and Liverpool at the top and Bolton, Sunderland, and West Ham at the bottom. In Germany it's Bayern Munich way out front and then Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen; at the bottom are Kaiserslautern and Cottbus. In Italy AC Milan, Lazio, Inter Milan, and Juventus are at the top and Atalanta, Reggina, Torino, and Como at the bottom.

As I've said, I have five cats. The youngest, Oscar, is long, slim, sleek, and all-black. Bart is about three and is a stocky, muscular, red-tabby and white little cat who is not too smart but who is very affectionate. Lisa is a dark gray tabby with a white front and a high, squeaky voice. We found all three of them as kittens. Chang and Eng, the Siamese twins, found us; they lived on top of a roof below our back window in the last place we lived, and they sort of invited themselves in back in '96. They were already adults; the way to tell them apart is that Chang only has one-third of a tail and has crossed eyes. He also drools. A couple of minutes ago I walked into the kitchen, where Chang was sitting at my head level on top of the microwave, which is on top of the fridge. I went over to him and he proceeded to happily bump and rub his head against mine; this behavior is cat language for "I am content and I like you. Pet me." Then--and I saw it coming--he shook his head fast like a wet dog does. Cat drool all over my face. Yecch.

Hitchens does it again, this time skewering anti-Americanism in Slate. He's dead on-target, making many of the same points we've made here (and that Paul Hollander also makes) very eloquently. I love his line about America's being the source of libertinism and vice and sedition and that we should be proud of that. Jonah Goldberg from NRO also says several things we've been saying. My, aren't we all clever? I hope this guy from Opinion Journal is telling the truth about his attempted attendance at an antiwar protest.

Today's back-page interview in La Vanguardia is with Michel Girin, who is the top EU oceanographer; he was the guy in charge of the Erika cleanup in 1999. It seems to me that most of what he's got to say is pretty reasonable.

-What can we do now?
–Grit our teeth, work hard, and not lose hope.

–Everything looks terrible here.
–I understand. It's an ecological, economic, and human tragedy, but we can fight against it. Look: I went swimming at the beaches affected by the shipwreck of the Aegean Sea in summer 1993, seven months after the accident, and in France the waters where the Erika sank in December 1999 were already clean in summer.

--That fast?
– If it's cleaned up correctly, yes. The first thing is to collect all the fuel possible, and then Nature can regenerate itself. I'm not saying there isn't ecological damage, besides the economic damage, but it's not eternal. After two years a recovery is visible and it is completed in ten years

–Ten years! That's a long time for people live near the sea or from it
–I know. But there are no immediate or perfect solutions. Everybody needs to understand that.

–Too many mistakes have been made.
–I'm trying to be cold and unemotional. Don't expect any easy criticisms from me because I've been in charge during several crises like the Erika and I can assure you I made the decisions that my intelligence, the circumstances, and the pressures that I received permitted me. Later it was very easy to contemplate these done deeds from the comfort of an office, and with all the facts in hand, say that I had made errors

–Did you make errors?
–When you make a decision, you don't know what the weather will be like in five days or whether the ship will break in half and sink.

–You could tow it to a port.
–No port will accept a damaged ship. Would any port have accepted the Prestige?

–There are politicians who say that ports should be obligated to give refuge, but when I hear this, I think, "Great, so if there's no danger let's send the dangerous boat to Paris or Madrid." Maybe one day we can begin discussing the creation of a network of ports of refuge, compensating local people for the risk.

–What has the Prestige taught us?
–For those of us who make a career out of combatting these catastrophes, it's a special case. It's a historical example for the world.

–The Prestige is the first case in the history of shipping in which the option of a hurried distancing (of the ship) from the coast toward the high seas and then sinking it has been used.

–Until now all these accidents happened with the ship sinking near the coast. The fact that the sinking was so far out has positive aspects. It gives us time to fight spilled oil on the high seas with pumping boats like the 11, from 7 different countries, that have already pumped out 10,000 tons of fuel from the Prestige. This is good for everyone.

–So what's the bad part?
–The bad part for a lot of people is that the spilled oil is going to float along hundreds of miles of coast in the form of small oilslicks. The not-so-bad part for Galicia is that all the oilslicks that go somewhere else won't wash up on their beaches.

–“Nunca máis”, (Never again), the Galicians say. Will there be “máis”?
Yes. That is the sad truth.

–Day before yesterday there was a collision between an oil tanker like the Prestige and another ship off the coast of Singapore that caused a spill of 400 tons of oil into the sea. Every week there's a spill of a hundred or more tons and every year there's one of more than a thousand tons. It's like car accidents.

–But that happens far away from us.
–Yes, but sometimes it happens here, too. It's also true that the Prestige has marked a tipping point. The European condemnation has never been so loud and I think this will force the EU to take very serious measures; there are demands from all over Europe for more protection for the coastlines.

–What will happen?
–Measures will be taken. I'll leave it for the politicians to decide which ones, but I know what they are.

–Tell us.
–There are many, and on many fronts: improve the ships, improve the training of the captains, improve work schedules, improve the ports, improve the laws.

–What for, since nobody obeys them?
–Force them to be obeyed making the companies responsible for the economic damage, and the ecological damage too. Prohibit them from using our ports if they don't offer guarantees. These days the shipowners declare bankruptcy or hide behind an insurance policy that insures nothing. It's complicated, but we must make progress, and anyway the laws we have are obsolete.

–The laws of the sea have become obsolete because they provide an unlimited guarantee of the right of ships to circulate freely through the English Channel and the other main sea passageways...

–Like the Strait of Gibraltar.
–Yes, when those international laws were passed, they were fair and necessary for world trade because then cargoes were not dangerous for the people and the environment. But today 50,000 tons of oil or chemical products in a ship are an enormous danger for everyone. They have no right to travel by sea without controls.

I disagree with Girin about towing the ship to port. It seems to me that the Prime Minister could have decided, "Look, let's get this ship somewhere it won't do too much damage," and have towed the ship into the port of El Ferrol, which is an ugly dump and anyway was Franco's hometown. Damage outside the port of Ferrol would have been insignificant, a few hundred tons of oilslicks, and as for damage inside the port, who cares? Evacuate the population and bomb the place flat and burn up not only the nasty oil but also the ugly town. Well, OK, that might be a little excessive, but the idea would be to concentrate the damage in the least bad place. That's called cost-benefit analysis and is not a really hard thing to do if you are cool and unemotional.

Note that Girin's automatic reaction, when asked how to alleviate the problem, is to demnd new laws and law enforcement. I actually agree with him; just like there's an international standard for aircraft and an international network of air-traffic control, I don't see why we can't have a system of ship-traffic control which would supervise dangerous cargoes and set standards that ships transporting this hazardous stuff would have to meet. I mean, traffic by truck is controlled and supervised, and so is every other form of transport I can think of. You're not allowed to drive gasoline tanker trucks through downtown Barcelona for obvious reasons. Why can't we do something like that with ships?

I also disagree with Girin about the utility of insurance policies. The American system of oil tanker control requires that tankers docking in a US port have an effective insurance policy; therefore, it's something that can be done, as we proved when we tightened our rules after the Exxon Valdez in 1989 and haven't had an important spill since. You get those insurance company inspectors and actuaries looking over your oil tanker and, believe me, if there's something wrong with it you're going to find out when they invalidate your policy as fast as you can say "Rustbucket". It shouldn't be too hard to regulate oil tankers, since almost by definition oil tankers sail between oil-producing countries and oil-using countries. If the big oil-using countries slap high standards on tankers, and pressure the big oil-producers to do the same thing, that ought to take care of the problem without creating some new international body. If you combine real insurance policies, tough port standards, and a ship-traffic control like air-traffic control, that ought to do it, I say as we sit in my comfortable office far away from the problem.

Did you notice that the Spanish interviewer's first reaction when the French scientist proposed tougher laws was to cynically say, "Why bother, nobody obeys the law anyway?" The problem with this attitude is that it makes it very easy to justify, say, cheating on your taxes, or evading solid currency overseas, which is why there's no money in Argentina--it's all in Argentines' bank accounts in Miami, and not just the rich people, either, but the whole damn Argentine middle class. This negative attitude is common to all Spanish-speaking countries; Spain, for example, never had a decent government until democracy arrived in the late Seventies. No wonder people don't trust the government, but you have to learn to do so as a society in order to have an effective fiscal policy. This is what they call an asignatura pendiente in Spanish; in school, that means a required course you haven't passed yet.

I mentioned a couple of days ago that Girona, north of Barcelona, is the unfriendliest place I've ever been. Toledo is full of Fascists, who are assholes by definition. Chicago, outside the singles-bar district at Rush and Division, where everybody is so drunk that they're tolerably nice, ranks right up there. There are a lot of nasty people in Houston, though my opinion may be tainted because my grandmother lived in a lousy neighborhood there, near Hardy Road and Crosstimbers just north of 610, until the late '80s. No problem with the Mexicans--they were cool, just regular hardworking folks trying to move their families up in the world. Yeah, they'd drink some beers and turn up the gadinga-dinga music on Saturday nights, but that doesn't hurt any, and they'd invite you if you were around. When I was about 16 I made friends with the girl next door, Cristina, whose family was from Reynosa down on the border and who was in and out of my grandma's house--Granny was the kind of old lady who'd talk about niggers and Meskins, just as a matter of course, but her behavior didn't have anything to do with her language, if you see what I mean. I think if I were, say, black, I'd rather deal with a white person who is a straight-shooter although somewhat racist, but not in a hateful way, than with some liberal who is always tiptoeing around on eggshells trying not to offend. No, the problem around there were the white people, who were about as rednecky as I've ever seen, and I don't mean picturesque farmers up in some Appalachian holler, but people who owned lots of guns and mean dogs and worked as repo men and bounty hunters. I ran distance in high school and worked out every day, even when visiting the folks, and I carried a two-foot-long iron bar when I went running in that neighborhood, ostensibly for the mean dogs, but really for the mean people. I can't believe they never held a cross-burning. Had they, I imagine there'd have been a pretty good turnout, and everybody would have brought his own sheet and pint of Evan Williams. By the way, the absolute biggest redneck I know is my dad's cousin Larry, who lives in Lufkin, Texas. Hi, Larry! Since you can't read this, I don't know why I bothered to say that. I remember the last time we went to visit them, twenty years ago, and Larry talked about niggers the whole time in a hateful way, his kid Kenneth tried to pick a fight with me (Larry said it was fine, that Kenneth liked to fight and that he would only mind if Kenneth ever ran away from a fight), and his other kid whose name escapes me cut her foot on a piece of broken glass while running around the front yard barefoot and it was gushing blood. We left and in the car my mom, who is very diplomatic, said, "You know, I believe I would have taken that girl to the emergency room," and my dad kind of snorted and said, "I have never been so appalled in my life," which is strong language coming from him. We haven't seen them since. They didn't get invited to my sister's wedding, I know that.

As for friendly places, all of California is right up there except for San Francisco leftists, Berkeley students, and rich folks in LA. People in Kansas City are really very nice. New Orleans earns a high ranking. My sister says Nashville people are super-friendly. You won't believe this, but every time I've been in London, the only place I've really been in England, everyone was great except for the bums hanging around Euston Station. Narbonne and Nîmes are particularly friendly places in France, Soria, Santander, Zaragoza, Córdoba, Navarra in general, and Barcelona (if you stay away from the Cataloonies--hint: run should you learn that an Elèctrica Dharma concert is imminent. Also flee the mere appearance of sardana bands and sardana dancers) are congenial cities in Spain. Oporto in Portugal is full of nice people.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

I listen on Internet-streaming radio to Now that I have a decent computer and an ADSL line it's easy to get and sounds good. I imagine that if you have an old puter and a dial-up line it might be hard to get. (By the way, there's another good Internet-only country station, KWCA. I don't know any more info than that, but if you google something like "KWCA country" you'll get it.) Anyway, picks up this Australian bluegrass show from Sydney, and the DJ just a couple of minutes ago was reading off some of the e-mails they'd gotten. One was from these quarry workers in Virginia who said that they were thrilled to be able to listen to this Internet "station" because they couldn't find a radio station near there that played bluegrass, honky-tonk, and classic country in general. The DJ said, "Good on ya, mate, you know you can always count on us Ozzies." Damn straight. The Ozzies, Kiwis, Canucks, and Brits can be counted on, and Spain, Portugal, Denmark, and Norway, as well as Italy, and the Pro-American Three, Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary, are showing lots of backbone. Romania and Bulgaria fall in there, too, two countries making great strides and earning themselves a place in the West. And, of course, stalwart Israel.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

Cool Stuff Machiavelli Said:

For he who innovates will have for his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new.

Hence it comes that all armed Prophets have been victorious, and all unarmed Prophets have been destroyed.

It should be borne in mind that the temper of the multitude is fickle, and that while it is easy to persuade them of a thing, it is hard to fix them in that persuasion.

He deceives himself who believes that with the great, recent benefits cause old wrongs to be forgotten.

Still, to slaughter fellow-citizens, to betray friends, to be devoid of honour, pity, and religion, cannot be counted as merits, for these are means which may lead to power, but which confer no glory.

Those cruelties we may say are well employed, if it be permitted to speak well of things evil, which are done once for all under the necessity of self-preservation, and are not afterwards persisted in, but so far as possible modified to the advantage of the governed. Ill-employed cruelties, on the other hand, are those which from small beginnings increase rather than diminish with time.

...The aim of the people being more honourable than that of the nobles, the latter seeking to oppress, the former not to be oppressed.

Another post from the old site, on minority languages, which we can never stop talking about in Barcelona. It is the number one issue in many people's minds here. Tonight in prime-time TV3, Catalan government TV, run by the Catalan nationalist Convergence and Union party, is running what they call a "documentary"--I'd call it a "partisan propaganda film"--on those goddamn files in the Civil War Archive in Salamanca that the Catalan nationalists want returned to Catalonia. Let me make something clear. ABSOLUTELY NOBODY GIVES A RAT'S PATOOT ABOUT THOSE GODDAMN FILES. Except for a bunch of idjits who have their heads so far up their own rectums that the most important thing in the world to them is the slight done to Catalan honor by the presence of these sixty-five-year-old papers in Castilian Salamanca. I am not exaggerating. War, poverty, economic disasters, terrorism, yeah, they'll pay lip service in the name of solidarity, but the only thing really important to them is the question of Catalan national prestige. These are the people I call Cataloonies, and about 20% of the people in Catalonia (the sum of all those who vote for the Republican Left and 1/3 of those who vote for Convergence and Union, plus a Trotskyist or two; the Stalinists and anarchists, all seventeen of them not living in squats, tend to be anti-Catalanist on the grounds that any form of nationalism is bad) fall into the category.

(Oct. 23, 2002): A reader from Belgium reminded us that not all of Belgium is French-speaking; of course, it isn't.
Wallonia, in southern and eastern Belgium, is French-speaking. Although Brussels is within Flanders, it is Flemish-French bilingual. Flanders, in northern and western Belgium, is Flemish-speaking (Flemish is a variety of Dutch). We were in Brussels once and I lost my passport under very strange circumstances at the airport. I had to talk to a lot of people, singly and in groups, at the Brussels airport, in English, of course. They all seemed to use Flemish and French more or less interchangeably with one another at work, in much the same way that both Catalan and Spanish are used in Barcelona. Another thing I noticed is that when I knew the context--the context of the conversations centered on passports and this American guy, me, who didn't have one--I could understand what they were talking about. Not every word, but the gist and some details. When I didn't know the context, I didn't understand a thing.

Belgium is one of the many places in Europe where the users of different languages have to make accommodation with one another in the same place. Remember that true bilinguals, people who speak two languages naturally, are fairly unusual and are most common in places where one language is used at home and the other by the State. We'd say that there are three possible scenarios:

1) Two strong languages coexist in the same place. That would include Belgium, with French and Flemish/Dutch, and Switzerland, with French, Italian, and German. Always, in these cases, one region of the country speaks language A and the other one speaks language B. Educated people in these places tend to speak both local languages as well as English, in which they can communicate even if one of them is really bolshy about not speaking the other local language. Though most people in these places are not too bolshy, they tend to be native speakers of only one language and to speak the other one as a "foreign" language. Next time you meet a smart Belgian or Swiss, ask him about this. Odds are he'll say something like, "Well, I'm from Antwerp, so my first language is Flemish, but I can speak French, too, about as well as or maybe a little better than I can speak English, which is pretty well but not perfectly." Some Flemish people, believing that Flemish should receive extra government protection, consider Flemish to be a weak language and that Belgium really falls into Group 2. We don't buy it.

2) A strong language and a weak language coexist in the same place. This is the situation of Irish Gaelic, Welsh, Breton, Galician, Basque, Catalan, Frisian, and company. Normally in these places there is a local language used by a significant number of natives of the area with their families and neighbors and in local economic activity, and a State language used in education, the bureaucracy, the media, larger-scale economic activity, and high culture. (Intellectuals call this diglossia.) Of these languages listed, Catalan is the strongest and has the most significant cultural history, but when Catalan culture went into decline in the eighteenth century--the causes are debatable--and Spanish was the language of the centralized State, it replaced Catalan as the State language inside Catalonia. Since Catalanists are people who think Catalan rather than Spanish should be the State language again, part of their program is to replace Spanish with Catalan in the abovementioned areas; this is what they call "linguistic normalization". Catalan has replaced Spanish as the language of regional and municipal government and their respective bureaucracies, and as the primary language used in education--public schools teach all subjects in Catalan except Spanish language and literature. Catalan has been fairly successful in such high-cultural fields as literature, theater, and the like, but by no means has it displaced Spanish. It's been fairly successful in the media, too, though it certainly hasn't displaced Spanish, either. TV and radio in Catalan are both widely popular, though we believe that all the broadcast media outlets in Catalonia that use Catalan are government-subsidized or -owned, and Spanish is a good bit more common than Catalan on the airwaves. The Catalan daily newspapers like Avui, El Periódico's Catalan edition, and El Punt lose tons of money and are only kept afloat by government subsidies, though; Catalan has also failed completely in larger-scale economic activity, as virtually no non-Catalans want to learn Catalan. It's also failed in popular culture; Catalan movies and popular music are generally dreadfully bad, though we genuinely like the singer Joan Manuel Serrat--who sings in both Catalan and Spanish and is popular in the rest of Spain and in Latin America. You could argue, though, that Serrat, like, say, Bob Dylan, could count as high culture--the lyrics are an important part of his songs and he does things like set well-known poems by Spanish authors to music. Some Catalanists, concerned about Catalan's prestige, would say that Catalan is a strong language and Catalonia really belongs in group 1; we don't buy it.

3) A strong language exists in urban islands, surrounded by another language. This is particularly common in wealthy areas with large numbers of immigrants. Thus there are islands of Turkish-speakers, who speak enough German to get by, in German cites and islands of Arabic-speakers, who speak enough French to get by, in France. A historical example is that of the Austrian Empire cities of Prague (Prag), Bratislava (Pressburg). Ljubljana (Leibach), and Budapest. Robert McNeill explains in Plagues and Peoples that in the pre-modern-medicine days, cities had considerably higher death rates than birth rates and thus relied upon in-migration from the surrounding countryside for growth--or just to keep the population stable. Since these cities were government, economic, educational, and cultural centers, and the State language of the Hapsburg Empire was German, the language used in these fields in those cities was German. The local bourgeois adopted German as their home language, often because they intermarried with the German-speakers from other areas who moved in as teachers, civil servants, business people, and the like. The urban lower classes and the rural peasantry that both surrounded the cities and flocked to them as in-migrants continued to speak Czech or Hungarian or whatever, but they were the most ravaged by the urban epidemics and died wholesale. When modern medicine put an end to epidemic disease in Europe between, say, 1850 and 1920, the Czech and Hungarian and whatever population of these cities, which until then had been fairly small places, began to grow hugely as more and more peasants moved in--and stayed alive. Nationalism, an urban phenomenon linked to ancestral feelings for the land and the traditional rural way of life left behind in the countryside, grew up. The Czechs and Hungarians and whatever seized power after World War I (OK, Hungary in 1867) and made their tongues the State language, replacing German. Similarly, Barcelona is a Spanish-speaking island surrounded by Catalan-speakers; the difference is that the peasantry drawn to Barcelona after 1914 was mostly from Spanish-speaking parts of Spain, who have mostly continued using Spanish and who have displaced or absorbed the old Catalan-speaking Barcelona working class. Thus, Spanish is both a State language and a people's language in Barcelona; the Catalan-speakers in Barcelona are middle-class folk, who are more nationalist than most Catalans outside Barcelona and run the regional and municipal bureaucracies and control local economic activity. This is why the Catalan economy is disproportionally endogamic (a lot of its commerce takes place within itself). It's locally successful on a small-to-medium scale, but it doesn't compete too well outside Catalonia; this is why Barcelona is prosperous and happy and not too internationally important or cosmopolitan. (Ooh, the Barcelonese are going to hate that last comment, but we think it's true; hey, I'm from Kansas City and we, too, are provincial rubes who don't like to be reminded of it. It's also true that both Kansas City and Barcelona are surprisingly nice places to live, much better than, say, Oklahoma City or Valencia, and right up there with better-known places like Madrid, St. Louis, or Dallas. However, both Kansas Citians and Barcelonese want to compete with New York and Paris and London, and they're--well, we're--not even in the same league.)

Here's another from the old site that we thought new readers might be interested in.

Oct. 3, 2002: One of the five articles listed by Steven Den Beste in his Recommended Reading names seven factors that contribute to a state's lack of success. As you can see, Saddam's Iraq pretty much has all of these characteristics. What about Spain?

Restrictions on the free flow of information. Not true in Spain, though the leftism of the media is rather more monolithic than in the US and the central government owns its own TV channel, as do several autonomous regional governments including Catalonia.

Subjugation of women. Not true in Spain, though there is rather more societal sexism here than in the US. Still, women have it pretty good in Spain compared to a lot of other places. We certainly wouldn't call them "subjugated".

Inability to accept responsibility for individual or collective failure. This exists in Spain to a certain degree. Spaniards talk about the individual, left at the mercies of rampant capitalism, forced to compete or fail on capitalism's terms. This is certainly an excuse for individual failure. As for collective failure, Spaniards and especially Latin Americans often blame others--especially punching-bag America--for the fix they got themselves into. An example from here in Spain is that "You Americans imposed Franco on us." Completely false. America remained neutral in the Spanish Civil War, which Franco won largely because his side was united and the other side spent more time squabbling among themselves. (Yes, we know this is an oversimplification. Please don't write us about it.) Franco maintained power, even though the Americans were boycotting Spain, through the Forties and into the Fifties. Then Eisenhower decided that, though we still didn't like Franco, he would be a useful anti-Soviet ally, and so gave American recognition and military aid to the Franco regime because we figured that bad as it was it was better than a communist regime--only fourteen years after Franco seized power. The Spaniards manifestly failed to get rid of their own dictator, but they refuse to accept that responsibility. A lot of over-55 loudmouths in the Spanish press today kept nice and quiet thirty years ago or so.

Extended family or clan as basis for social organization. Used to be more acute in Spain than now. People still tend to trust Cousin Luis more than somebody they're not related to, though. It's still nowhere near as bad as Somalia.

Domination by a restrictive religion. Not true at all in Spain today. Spain de-Catholicized pretty rapidly in the Seventies; society was already clearly mellowing in the Sixties. In the first, say, twenty years of the Franco dictatorship, though, Spain was in the puritan grip of the Church. What happened was that, as society became more liberal, so did the Church. The Church's influence is often positive today, though it is still pretty antiquated on divorce, birth control, and abortion, especially on divorce, which is still difficult to obtain. The Church was never anywhere near as repressive as, say, the mullahs in Iran, though, and today it is a surprisingly liberal organization.

Low valoration of education. Very much not true in Spain.

Low prestige assigned to work. Not exactly true in Spain, though in the South there are still a good few "agricultural day-laborers" who work a couple of months a year and get paid off in government subsidies. Perhaps one difference is that the American dream is a family, a house, and a good job in a career you like at good pay. If you've achieved that, you've "made good". The Spanish dream, however, is winning the lottery and cashing in big so that you don't ever have to work again. Low regard for work seems to be much more true in Latin America than Spain.

We think that Spain is pretty healthy and doing pretty well, based on these seven factors. It's not a perfect country, but then what is?

Here's one we posted back on the old site. Note the dead-on election prediction.

Oct. 2, 2002: According to an article from National Review Online by Byron York from a couple of days ago, a very recent Gallup Poll taken by telephone of 2500 Americans showed the following results, which might be of interest to certain folks who tend to underestimate Americans' general intelligence. The question was, simply, whether the respondent had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the person in question.

Person Favorable% Unfavorable% No opinion% Never heard of%

G. W. Bush 70 28 2 --
Cheney 65 24 7 4
Powell 88 6 3 3
Rumsfeld 61 19 10 10

The American people know who their president and the other main members of the Administration are. Everyone in the country knows who the President is and 90% of them know who the Secretary of Defense is. We bet that fewer than 90% of Spaniards know who their own Minister of Defense is. Also, Americans clearly have a very positive view of both President Bush and the three Administration leaders named. Colin Powell is the most popular, of course, because he is approved of by all Republicans and also by many Democrats sympathetic to people of his ethnic background. In addition, Democrats probably approve of Powell's publicly-taken positions (whether he really believes them or whether he's playing a preassigned role), which are perceived as more dovish than those of the rest of the Administration.

Gore 46 47 7 --
Daschle 39 26 16 16
Gephardt 40 23 19 20
H. Clinton 47 44 9 --
B. Clinton 47 49 4 --

All Americans know who the ex-president, his wife, now Senator, and the ex-vice president and presidential candidate are. We bet more than 7% of Spaniards don't remember who the Socialist candidate who was most recently thrashed by Aznar was. More than 80% of Americans have heard of the two opposition leaders in the Congress. Also, Americans have a lot of questions and doubts about the Democratic leadership. Both Clintons' and Gore's negatives are very high, and Daschle and Gephardt have lower negative scores but also low positive scores. On the basis of these poll returns, we predict a win for the Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections. Not necessarily a huge one, but a pretty good-sized win. You have to figure that swing districts will lean Republican because of people's sympathy for President Bush and their much greater negative feelings toward the Democrats. And "Wag the Dog" scenarios are BS; Bush doesn't need to attack Iraq in order to bring up his approval rating. The Democrats are the group with the low approval ratings.

Blair 69 8 9 14

More than 85% of Americans know who Tony Blair is, and their opinion of him is extremely favorable. Shows that Americans are at least somewhat informed about important international affairs and that they are appreciative when foreign leaders show their friendship with the United States.

Friday, December 06, 2002

Now this is the kind of policy I can support. This Victor Davis Hanson piece from NRO is right on target; I may translate it and send it to Baltasar Porcel and Eulàlia Solé. For a summary of American attitudes toward other countries in the world, check this out.

Today is a national holiday in Spain; it's Constitution Day! Absolutely nobody seems to give a, uh, hoot. It's just a day off work. So Remei went over to her mom's house across town this morning; I managed to avoid accompanying her and spent the morning with a cup of coffee and the newspaper down at the bar in the plaza. Now, I'm generally a well-behaved, fairly polite fellow, in public at least. It just seems natural to me to say, "A café con leche, please," when I order, and "Thanks," when I get it. People in Spain don't usually do that. They leave out the "please" and the "thank you". They're not ruder than we are, it's just that saying that kind of thing when it's obviously the guy's job to do it isn't part of their customs. Spaniards do have a reputation as rude in the rest of Europe because they don't say those polite formulae. If you feel like having fun with a Spaniard, point this out to him. He'll probably respond that Spaniards aren't rude, they're just not hypocritical, and they don't say things they don't really mean. It's true; if you do a Spaniard a real favor he'll almost fall down on his knees and thank you. It's not that they have no sense of gratitude, it's just that they only express it when they really feel it. That's the system here in Spain.

This, however, is not the way to act if you're a Spaniard when abroad. I suggest to Spaniards the British formula, in which you say "Please" when you ask for something and "Cheers" on all other possible occasions. It's very easy to remember and pretty soon you get in the habit. As for us Anglo-Americans in Spain, I figure it's better to be too polite than not polite enough, so I use "por favor" and "gracias" whenever I would back in Kansas. Remei says that it seems phony and kind of brownnosing to her, but I maintain that's not my intention, and anyway nobody ever gets mad at you for saying "Thanks."

A nation that has an unfair reputation for being rude is France. I've been to France many times and have met no more rude people there than anywhere else. (The absolute biggest all-around hundred-percent asshole I've ever come across as a service person is one particular Barcelona taxi driver and the second is one particular Barcelona restaurant owner. That and everybody in the city of Girona, where the locals are so unfriendly they even hate Catalans from Barcelona, not to mention you, wherever that's not Girona you're from. The only nice people in Girona are the Spanish-speakers.) The deal is that they have an even higher standard of politeness than we do. If you want something, you say "Pardon, Monsieur, si'l vous plait", when you get it you say "Merci", and if you get completely confused say "Si'l vous plait, je ne parle pas bien le français" and that's the magic English switch. You don't use "tu", you use "vous". If you follow the correct standard of behavior you get treated just like an ordinary French person. In small towns outside tourist areas, where they really may not speak English, high-school French will get you honored guest status. Just be nice to them, follow their rules as you would expect them to follow your rules if they went to your country, and they're like people everywhere else: 85% are pretty reasonable and 15% are unmitigated jerks.

(Note: The above paragraph is not in any way, shape, or form to be considered as an endorsement of French foreign policy.)

Anyway, Remei's mom made a dish of callos especially for her, which she brought home and began eating. I therefore retreated in here, with the bathroom and kitchen between me and her callos. I'm a vegetarian and am rather squeamish, and callos are known in English as tripe. They are immensely gross. I instructed her not to kiss me with tripe on her breath and she replied, "I'm Celtiberian. We're tough. We eat intestines. Take it or leave it."

The Vangua has a story by Rafael Poch, who's normally their Moscow correspondent and is quite obviously in the pocket of the Russian government (whether from misuse of his own free will, because they slip him a few lechugas, or because they have photos of him with a handsome sailor in St. Petersburg, I don't know). Anyway, he went off to China for some Sino-Russian summit meeting, which received absolutely no coverage in the rest of the world because any joint declaration between Vladimir Putin and whoever is running China--or not, as the case may be--is worth less than the Internet bandwidth it takes up. Mr. Poch reports over and over about how the Russians and the Chinese are going to get together with India and Indonesia and, like, Iran or Vietnam or somebody and set up an alliance that will be a counterweight to Washington. This is extreme wishful thinking on the part of Mr. Poch and his editors. Instead of advocating something that might be a little painful to increase Europe's relative power compared to the United States (by, say, increasing defense spending, or cutting social spending and reducing intrusive regulation, things which would be good for all concerned in every way), Mr. Poch would prefer to have somebody else provide that power counterweight. Why he seems to favor that counterweight being still-Communist and undoubtedly despotic China and unstable, mafia-ridden Russia is beyond me, but seems like the height of irresponsibility.

By the way, a very dumb notion that is being peddled around here is that the United States is applying pressure on the EU to admit Turkey in order to dilute the naturaleza of Europe. The Vangua's editors and especially the Catholic bigot and anti-Semite Xavier Bru de Sala are pushing this line. See, Europe's nature is Christian, and if they have to let Islamic Turkey in, it will somehow dilute Europe's natural essences and bodily fluids and therefore weaken the EU, leaving Washington paramount and without challengers. This is completely nuts, of course. An EU including Turkey would suddenly have a much more kick-ass army than it does now. Turkey, if given a deadline by the EU for admission, would have to take those steps necessary that still remain between where it is now and real democracy. And, of course, EU entry for Turkey would nail down that large, populous, strategically important country as both an ally and market and prove that Islamic societies can follow the guidelines of democratic capitalism. Perhaps American pressure is having some effect; Schröder and Chirac proposed the opening of negotiations with Ankara in July 2005 if Turkey fulfills the Copenhagen criteria for admission, which apply to all new candidates. Sounds fair enough to me.

Anyway, a few days ago in the Vanguardia there was a story about what representatives of the various political parties thought about putting a plank on how Christianity is one of the pillars on which the EU is based in the European constitution. The Communist, Socialist, Republican Left, and, guess what, the conservative People's Party were all against it. The only ones in favor were the Catalan Nationalists, demonstrating, first, how strong the connections between Catalan nationalism and the Catalan Church are and second, that Catalan nationalism, while not racist in nature, is not precisely real open to folks who aren't Catalan nationalists, with all that implies.

Getting back to Mr. Poch, today's big story is that he's in Chungking, that the place is an absolute hellhole, but it's the biggest city in the world with 34 million inhabitants. I said, "Hmmm, who knows, might be true, there is huge urban growth in China," and proceeded to read farther. Then Mr. Poch lets slip that the Chungking city limits include 80,000 square kilometers, which would be 200 kilometers X 400 kilometers, 120 by 240 miles, or a good bit more than half of Kansas. I bet if you counted everything between Wilmington and New Haven as one city it'd top Chungking. Or what if we counted southern Holland, northern Belgium, and the Ruhr as one city? That'd probably top Chungking, too. And neither of those places are hellholes.

I got a Google hit for "Bayern Mencken football team". Uh, that's Bayern München, or as we call it Bayern Munich. H.L. Mencken was an early 20th century American essayist and critic. Important to distinguish between the two.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

OK. This is it. James Taranto's column includes this testimony:

"Saddam was something of a loner, famous for carrying an iron bar wherever he went that he would heat until it was white hot and then use to impale unwary animals--dogs, cats, whatever made the mistake of coming within his reach."

Saddam impaled kitty cats and puppy dogs with a white-hot poker. I have five cats, and I am now even more in favor of getting rid of Saddam than before. How can anyone, especially the liberal cat-lovers who listen to NPR, be against overthrowing a kitty-cat torturer?

The news from the Galicia oil spell is bad. Spilled fuel has reached the middle Galician coast in quantity between Corrubedo on the south and Cedeiro to the north. Fishing and shellfish gathering are banned in that area, which includes the major ports of La Coruña and El Ferrol. There are several different smaller pools of fuel moving into the three Rías Baixas, the three southernmost fjordlike inlets in Galicia closest to the Portuguese frontier. This is said to be the richest area in either Europe or the world for shellfish gathering. Other pools are making their way north of Galicia into the Bay of Biscay; fuel in amounts so far insignificant is washing up on the shores of Asturias and Cantabria, but it's moving toward the Basque Country and France. There are five suction boats working to prevent the fuel from moving north and six trying to keep it out of the Rías Baixas. One new Italian suction boat arrived yesterday and another is arriving today. Thousands of recipients and containers of various sizes have been set up at the Galician ports to hold the fuel being brought out by the suction boats, who are working heroically. Thousands of volunteers, cleaning fuel up with shovels and buckets, are already working, and more thousands are expected to arrive this weekend. There may be so many that they get in the way. If you're thinking of traveling to Galicia to help, you might help more if you stayed home. If you want to do something ecological, clean up a vacant lot in your neighborhood and plant some flowers or something there.

Meanwhile, estimates of the amount of fuel leaked range from an almost certainly too low government figure of under 11,000 tons, while the wildest high estimate is 55,000 tons. The Portuguese are claiming that more fuel is leaking from the sunken wreck of the ship, which the Spanish deny; they claim that the bathyscape inspections that a French ship and crew made prove that no fuel is leaking out.

Remember, this situation is not the Spaniards' fault. The boat was perfectly legally passing by the Spanish coast on the way from one place to another, neither of which is in Spain. It just happened to get in trouble near Spain. Now, you can argue that the Spanish government should have reacted more quickly and done more earlier, but you can't blame them for the situation's having happened in the first place. This situation is a farily serious political blow to the conservative PP governments in power in both Madrid and in the Galicia autonomous region. Most Spaniards think they've bungled the job so far, and Prime Minister Aznar hasn't visited the affected area yet. Remei said cynically, "He's supposed to pay attention to his constituents. Well, he stayed at the NATO meeting instead of going to Galicia. That's because he wants to be President of the European Union next. All those government leaders and foreign ministers were there, and they're the people he wants votes from now. They're his new constituents."

I was looking through Paul Johnson's Modern Times as long as I'd gotten it down from the bookshelf, and I came across the conflict between Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. It reminded me of those "Ginger or Mary Ann?" ads that used to be on TV and were based on the mid-90s parlor game in which the questioner gave a choice between two pop culture icons; the choice the answerer made was supposed to tell you something about the answerer's personality, you know, like "Lennon or McCartney?" So I made up a list. Feel free to put down your answers in the Commernts section, in which case I will psychoanalyze you, or to add more questions.

Sartre or Camus?
Carlos Fuentes or Octavio Paz?
Burke or Paine?
Whitman or Dickinson?
Harold Lloyd or Charlie Chaplin?
Jefferson or Hamilton?
Eisenstein or Riefenstahl?
Tom Wolfe or Hunter Thompson?
Byron or Keats?
Wellington or Marlborough?
Ingres or Delacroix?
Lee or Grant?
P.D. James or Dorothy Sayers?
John Ford or Howard Hawks?
Dillinger or Bonnie and Clyde?
Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra?
George Bernard Shaw or Oscar Wilde?
García Lorca or Machado?
Velázquez or Goya?

There's twenty, that's plenty.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Chomsky-bashing is kind of like masturbation in the sense that you always know you'll want to do it again. Here are a few smacks upside Noam's head from Front Page.

From Right Wing News:

14) I don't know who popularized this incredibly disgusting web page with a picture of some guy's naked ass and horribly deformed anus, but they should be beaten with a nine iron until they talk in an Al Gore style monotone for the rest of their lives. I could provide a link to this page or worse yet, trick you into going there like many people do on forums and other websites, but that would be unconscionable. Take my word for it -- trust me -- you don't want to see this website.

You heard John. Not me, the other John. Pay heed. Do not go to this site. Whatever you do.

Actually, of course, prison rape is no joke. Check out this report from Human Rights Watch. You might look at a few of their links if you want further information. Christina Hoff Summers, in Who Stole Feminism? asserts that quite probably there are more male rape victims, due almost exclusively to prison rape, than female rape victims. We're not taking sides, we're just saying that we're against anybody's getting raped.

We've written several times about the English-school frauds that have been news in Spain over this summer and fall. Well, Alfredo Ibáñez, the boss of Brighton, which collapsed in October, was arrested last Friday by police who came with a search warrant and found the company books, which Ibáñez had taken with him when he "disappeared" to his palatial house in Cabrils.

Brighton has always been known to local English teachers as a rotten place to work, where they paid poorly and usually late, didn't provide the teachers with professional materials and support, and threw together students of widely different abilities and ages in the same class. The only people who would work for them were newcomers, who didn't know any better, and people who were desperate for some income somehow.

When I came back to Barcelona in fall 1994 after getting my master's degree back in Kansas, I applied for a job at Brighton, needing money right away. I went in and there was absolute chaos. I finally found someone who could give me an application; all they asked was very basic information, and then they gave you this long psychology test. I wrote at the top of the application, "I think this is pretty silly but I'll play along," and filled out the questions honestly. Then I waited a long time and some guy who was ugly and had no social skills interviewed me in Spanish. By then I'd sussed out that this place was extremely bad news. They never called me back, which is just as well since I found a good job at the beginning of 1995. I did know an English girl named Hannah who was around here in 1998 or so; she worked for them and had to threaten to take them to court to get her last couple of paychecks.

Brighton kept going downhill after that; Ibañez spent a lot of money on expensive full-page ads in La Vanguardia, from where it is rumored that he got kickbacks, and there are a lot of rumors that he spends a lot of money on cocaine, among other things essential to a rather pimpish lifestyle. By the beginning of this year they were having trouble meeting rents and payroll. They were evicted from a couple of their centers, and they haven't paid all their teachers all they owe them; a lot of people are short one or two months' pay.

According to Ibáñez, the bankruptcy of another English-school chain, Opening, that used similar techniques of very aggressive, almost violent selling caused the number of students to drop 70% at Brighton and drove them to the wall in October 2002. Ibáñez took off with the books and the computer and students and workers sacked the offices when they heard the news. So, you figure, no big deal for the students, right? The school closes, they stop paying, right? Wrong. When students had inquired about Brighton, they were immediately subjected to a hard sell and they agreed to sign up for a year or more at a time. (And, Sr. González, if you sign up for THREE years you get a 75% discount on the third year!) The students were given the impression that they were signing a deal by which they would pay Brighton X amount of money a month for Y months of English classes, and that they could stop paying if they stopped attending classes. What they were actually doing is signing up for a bank loan; the bank paid Brighton up front and the student's deal was thereafter with the bank. And the bank wants to be paid back the money it gave to Brighton, which the student legally borrowed. The bank is fully within its rights. So if you're one of the unfortunate 3500 Brighton students, or one of the some 5000 Opening students, in the Barcelona area, who signed up for one of those deals, you're going to be paying off your bank loan for whatever remains of Y months, and Brighton or Opening already has the cash.

Ibánez has been indicted for fraud, and the money involved may be as much as three million euros, all of which Ibáñez has certainly spent. The prosecution asserts that Brighton was still accepting money from students while they knew they were going to have to close up, that people who tried to pay by Visa card were instructed to go to a nearby ATM and get the money in cash, and, get this, that during the month that separated the collapse of Opening and the collapse of Brighton, Brighton aggressively tried to recruit former Opening students, who had already been defrauded once, offering them special huge discounts on English courses. What gall. ¡Vaya cara! That's almost as bad as the official definition of chutzpah: the guy who murders his parents and then at his trial throws himself upon the mercy of the court as an orphan. Hacienda, our local IRS, is also coming down on Ibáñez; he owes them and Social Security more than a million euros in back taxes.

So they've thrown Ibáñez in the Modelo, the notorious "Black Hole of Catalonia", the worst of the Catalan jails. Since last Friday he'd been in one of the holding cells at the Via Layetana police station, and now he's being held without bail, awaiting trial, with the worst father-stabbers, mother-rapers, and father-rapers in this whole lovely land of six million. Ever hear that song, "Texas Jail Cell", by Jon Wayne? "Ossifer, Ossifer, this here big Indian next to me says he needs some sexual healing! Ow! Hey!" Deliverance is on TV tonight; hope it doesn't give any of the guys in the slam any ideas.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Here's a story from Front Page on the loony Christian left in the US. The language and rhetoric used by Christian far-leftists in the US is exactly that used by such Spanish organizations as Justicia i Pau (Justice and Peace). Thomas Friedman of the New York Times imagines President Bush writing a letter to the leaders of the Muslim world. One nitpick: Bush wouldn't really have called the deaths of innocent Palestinians "shameful", as the Israelis are not intentionally killing Palestinian civilians. He would have said something like "tragic and unfortunate".

There's a discussion going on in the Comments section about Henry Kissinger. Feel free to join in. Just scroll down a few posts.

That stupid asshole Liam Gallagher picked a fight in Munich and lost it along with two of his teeth. He started trashing his hotel room (come on, dude, that wasn't even cool when Keith Moon used to do it in the Sixties), they called the cops, Gallagher kicked a cop in the chest, and the cop beat the crap out of him. Gallagher spent the night in jail and has been charged with assault and battery. Good. I hope they convict him and lock him up for a few months. What a jerk. This reminds me of the time a few years back when Marky Mark Wahlberg got his ass kicked in Manchester for hitting on the wrong chick in a Pizza Hut, of all places.

Here's some good news for tourists visiting Barcelona and Catalonia. Currently, Barcelona Metropolitan Transport runs what they call the Bus Turístic, a double-decker bus that runs a loop around Barcelona with stops at all the major tourist attractions. It's a good idea and it even makes a profit; it gets a million users a year and last year it made six million euros. And it's a very simple, practical way for Barcelona to show itself off and leave a good taste in visitors' mouths so they'll want to come back. Never forget that tourism is Spain's largest industry, and anything that makes it easier and more fun to be a tourist that doesn't cost us locals an arm and a leg is good for all of us in the long run. Anyway, what they are planning to do is launch two new tourist bus routes, one to Girona (the old Jewish quarter, the Arab baths, the medieval churches) and maybe Figueres (the Dalí museum), and the other to Tarragona (Roman ruins, including an amphitheater, a triumphal arch, and an aqueduct, a great archaeology museum, and a medieval cathedral, along with lovely views over the ocean.) These places are all well worth visiting and deserve some touristic promotion, too; this will be good business for everyone concerned and will make life much more convenient for tourists, especially those interested in visting the aqueduct and the triumphal arch, which are both a few kilometers away from downtown Tarragona. Even better, the new routes will be a public-private venture, with two well-known bus companies taking part. The service will begin next spring.

Here's a story from today's Vanguardia, on page eight in the International News section.. Steven Erlanger, a New York Times correspondent in Europe, spoke in Barcelona yesterday on America and Europe. Here's what he had to say:

"The Americans view Europeans as teenagers asking for the keys to the car."

"(The alliance forged after World War II) is breaking up; this is inevitable and dangerous, but that's the way it is."

"The Americans feel that they're at war; the Europeans don't. (9-11) was an act of war and the US responded as a country attacked in a wartime situation."

"(Germany perceives the world) as a peaceful place where no one has a conflict with them, the Germans, and they only want social welfare and ecologism from the EU....This is a tacit and not-thought-through view of the world...Seeing the world as a benign place is strange and absurd, and it creates an unhealthy European dependence on a United States that protects them."

"(Europe is used to territorial terrorism, like the IRA and the ETA), and it does not understand what 9-11 meant and what Al Qaeda is...a form of totalitarianism that promises a world changed through war, sacrifice, and the dictatorship of an elite."

"There's no way in which a Mohammed Atta could one day feel himself self-identified as a German...Europe does not integrate its first and second-generation immigrants. And it doesn't want Turkey in the EU, something essential to legitimate moderate Islamism as an alternative to Islamic jihad."

"Europe is a fantasyland, a wonderful bourgeois paradise that doesn't believe that what it is creating deserves to be defended...Europe should begin taking itself seriously so that the United States will begin to take it seriously, too...What are the Europeans willing to fight for? This is a question that Europeans never ask themselves."

The Vangua reporter, Plàcid García-Planas, was favorably impressed by Erlanger, who comes off as rather a Cassandra in the article. He says, "(Messages like Erlanger's) are a breath of fresh air, a hard but essential wind to help clear up something that needs to be cleared up: the values for which the citizens of the different NATO countries are willing to fight for." Intelligent, sensible man.

Monday, December 02, 2002

This piece by a Canadian journalist on recent diplomatic blunders and Canada's military preparedness is well worth a read. David Frum's new daily political column in NRO is an excellent source for those who want to keep up with US politics; today's takes apart new Presidential candidate John Kerry of Massachussetts and calls the Dems dum-dums, a party going nowhere because their current stances are simply reactive to whatever the Reps do. They have no coherent platform of policies and are taking the initiative on nothing. In his blog on Slate, maverick Democrat Mickey Kaus takes a piece out of Kerry, too, and links to some other non-conservative writers who are also Kerry-critical. If the moderate-liberal New Republic is slagging off Kerry two whole years before the 2004 elections, his candidacy will go nowhere. (But then we all know that TNR is in Al Gore's pocket.) But I don't think the Dems have any concievable candidate who can derail Bush, barring unforeseen disaster. Kerry might be the best that they can get, in which case the Reps win in a walkover. Glenn Reynolds links to this article by Barry Rubin from Foreign Affairs called "The Roots of Arab Anti-Americanism", which you ought to check out; no earth-shaking developments here, but an excellent summary of the situation. James Taranto links to the just-released British government report on human rights abuses in Saddam's Iraq. It makes horrific reading. Among the sources are such notorious right-wing imperialist groups as the United Nations, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. This is a must-read. Get this, AI is slamming the British government for warmongering, using this report to justify a war against Saddam. Well, the report bloody well justifies a war against Saddam. I can't believe that any responsible person can read such an indictment and not demand that something be done to stop these crimes.

Here's a piece by Oriana Falacci, the Italian journalist, on Israel and European anti-Semitism. This is a polemic; Falacci is very emotionally involved with this issue, and she exaggerates the level of anti-Semitism in Europe. It exists, though, and I for one am concerned about it. There are very few Jews in Barcelona, a couple of thousand at the very most, and people here simply have had no personal experience with Jews and so don't see them as people like you and me who happen not to eat pork and who get the tips of their willies clipped off. Jews are seen as aliens, not frightening ones, but definitely not just plain Spaniards like everyone else. Many people here still believe that Jews hold a great deal of power, especially financial power, and that Jews are behind-the-scenes manipulators in the Spanish worldview's great conspiracy that is made up of everything. There's a good deal of anti-Israeli feeling around here, and one thing you'll hear a lot is that America supports Israel because of the Jewish lobby in Washington. To be honest, there is an influential, organized Jewish lobby in the States, just as every group from the undertakers to the universities to the underwear manufacturers to the Ugandan refugees has a lobby. This lobby is a factor in the degree of American support for Israel, but it is by no means the main factor. The main factors are that Israel is the only 100% democracy in the Middle East--hell, Israel and Turkey are the only countries in the region that could be called stable--that it is a stalwart American ally, that it is a real military power, and that we all owe the Jews a homeland of their own after so many hundreds of years of brutal abuse culminating in the Holocaust. Spaniards don't usually dislike Jews as individuals, though. They did a survey a couple years back among Madrid university students, and they found that 36.5% had a negative opinion of Gypsies, 35% viewed drug addicts negatively, 30.5% disliked alcoholics, 26.5% are down on Arabs, 26% don't much care for Communists, and 23.5% are not too big on Catalans. Below the Catalans come the French, the Americans, and priests. At the bottom come the Basques, with 11% disfavorable, and Jews, with 6% disfavorable. (Source: Manuel Trallero, Los siete pecados catalanes.)

I received this bit of spam today. It looks like one of those typical Nigerian scams, but this one has an interesting twist. The baited hook is that if you don't cooperate and open a bank account with your money so they can transfer alleged funds there, the money in question will go to buy arms "to promote War in Africa". So it's your moral duty to help these guys get this money out of the country. In addition to the greed motivation, they're appealing to the altruistic motivation. Great scam. Somebody must bite occasionally, or they wouldn't continue sending these things to everybody in the world.

You want to see a piece of real American history? Check this out. When you get there, click on "Gallery of Photos". This was a famous museum exhibition a few years ago. People with sensitive stomachs should not click here, and young children should not see this. This is what we had to overcome, all of us Americans, and we're not all the way finished with overcoming it. But the great majority of us are pretty decent people, and we're doing what we can. As for the rest of you, please don't condemn us without remembering the similar horrors in your recent pasts. You have to confront the past head-on if you're going to make any real changes in your society. This is why I am a moderate libertarian conservative. I firmly believe that a representative democracy with the rule of law, a Constitution, and a Bill of Rights, with government as limited as possible and individual freedom as extensive as possible, and with emphasis on the rights of life, liberty, property, and, yes, Jefferson was right, the pursuit of happiness, is the way to promote everybody's well-being. If I weren't convinced that democratic capitalism is the best system for everyone, the rich and the poor, the Americans and the Mozambicans, then I wouldn't be in favor of it.

And I hate those evil people who monopolize power without respecting the intrinsic human rights supposedly guaranteed to everyone by democratic capitalism. I can live with some dictatorships, though I don't love them--but reasons of state sometimes take precedence. You think I like being allied with Musharraf, for example? Hell, no, but sometimes you just have to hold your nose. There are some dictatorships that are so evil they must be crushed, though, like the Allies crushed the Axis or like NATO crushed Communism. I seriously think that the point has come where it is time to say that enough is enough and, since we helped to get rid of our former dictator friends like Marcos, Duvalier, Somoza, Pinochet, Chun Doo Hwan, and Trujillo, who apparently got so out of control even the Americans couldn't stand him anymore and had a CIA hit squad knock him off, it's about time we got rid of the former Soviet satellite governments in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, as well as the goddamn Saudis. We can do it. We've got the men, we've got the ships, we've got the money too, as the old rhyme went.. Come on, you international Leftists. How can you possibly defend these regimes that not only tyrannize their own people but also pose a threat to their neighbors? Anyone really in favor of human rights would be jumping up and down and screaming "Three cheers for the 101st Airborne and the Desert Rats!" as they captured brutal jailers and secret police assassins while rolling straight to Baghdad, Damascus, and when we get through with them, Riyadh. Note that I didn't mention Iran; I'm convinced that they're evolving toward democracy, maybe a sort of weird kind of it--imagine a country with free elections but a rather modernized version of the sharia law code. Iran was never a Soviet stooge; they hated the Soviets even more than the Americans, and I think they're salvagable without violence. As for the rest of them, somebody needs to let them know that flights to the French Riviera are quite cheap and it might be real smart for them to be on the next one.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

Des is in transition between troll status and useful citizen status like the rest of us; he's got another good question which deserves a good answer. We talked about this back on the old site (which for some reason hasn't been taken down yet), several times, but it's about time we talked about it again.

How is Spain and the ordinary Spanish Juan coping with the North African influx?
Des | Email | 11.30.02 - 10:53 p

a href="">This link is to a May 22, 2002 article from La Vanguardia on the subject. When asked their opinion of immigration--and everyone in Spain associates immigration with North African Muslims--42% of Spaniards said they had positive feelings about the general concept of immigration, while 31% were against. I suppose the other 27% are confused and could go either way depending on how things develop. However, here in Catalonia, the figures were 37% negative-35% positive, with 28% not real sure how to spell their last names, much less opine on anything of serious import. (Look, everywhere you go 50% of people are of below-average intelligence by definition. Catalan dumbasses are no smarter nor dumber than dumbasses anywhere else, with one possible exception.) The theory that Catalans are more anti-immigration because they are one of the regions of Spain with most immigrants is defeated by the fact that other Spanish regions like Madrid and Andalusia also have a lot of immigrants and their citizens are much more favorable toward immigrants than the Catalans. What I'm afraid this means is that, simply, there are more racists in Catalonia than in other parts of Spain. A clue to this is that 52% of Catalans, but only 41% of Spaniards in general, say there is a connection between immigration and crime. The age groups in all of Spain that were most anti-immigration were the over-55 group, which isn't too surprising or too worrying, because these folks are going to die off, and the 18-24 group, which is something that Spanish society ought to be concerned about. The lower, lower-middle, and middle classes are anti-immigration, while the upper-middle and upper classes are in favor. (Remei says, "They're hypocrites. They'd never eat with a Moroccan.")

Gràcia, where I live, is a very multi-culti and boho kind of place, and here we're all pro-immigrant, because we see the advantages of immigration. First, the first thing immigrants do is open up restaurants, and now there are many Lebanese, North African, Egyptian, and Syrian places around here. At some of them you get good food and two of them are rather high-dollar, or should I say high-euro. Second, this is a very crowded neighborhood, the most crowded in Barcelona, which is the most crowded city in Europe as far as inhabitants per hectare goes. I calculated it once and Gràcia is well more densely-populated than Manhattan. This means that there is all kinds of small-scale economic activity around here, and I mean shops the size of your bedroom are all over the place. So a lot of cheap labor is needed, and everywhere we go we're faced with immigrants from somewhere. You can either say, "Well, it's cool, I don't care who they are if they don't break the law," or you can get all bitter and nasty and wind up getting nowhere in the end. Most people here have made the wise choice and welcomed immigrants. And, as far as I can tell--I spend a good bit of time in rural Catalonia because my wife's family has a house there--country people don't have a problem, either, as long as you can pick lettuce or whatever they've hired you to do. Seriously, the central Catalan agricultural area of la Segarra, l'Urgell, la Noguera, les Garrigues, and la Conca de Barberà would have real problems if it weren't for North African workers, and there are in particular a lot of Arabs in the slaughterhouses in Guissona and the prefabricated housing factories in Sta. Coloma de Queralt. The people there aren't real enlightened but do recognize that these people are human beings.

This isn't true in more working-class neighborhoods. Remei has family in the industrial suburb of Terrassa, and these people are stereotypical racists. They believe and repeat such well-known urban legends like the one where the government is giving free apartments to immigrants who then proceed to use the bathtub for a coal scuttle or whatever. I seriously think a lot of the problem is sexual; the sexual taboo is the only one that still exists between the races in the United States, and the United States is a hell of a lot more enlightened on racial / ethnic matters than Catalonia is. It shouldn't be surprising that if that's the only taboo surviving in America, then it certainly exists here. There have been several serious ethnic disturbances in Catalonia, mostly in lower and lower-middle class industrial areas, and the one in Terrassa about two years ago in the Ca'n Anglada slum is the one I remember. Arab youths lounging around a plaza made comments or something to some local girls and a scuffle turned into a gang fight turned into damn near a pogrom, with Arab-owned bars and shops assaulted. Good thing no one was too badly hurt. Remei's redneck relatives, of course, were terribly offended that these scumballs were daring to speak to local girls.

The Vanguardia article, self-exculpatorically, names three possible factors to explain the greater rejection of immigrants in Catalonia than in other parts of Spain. The first is the controversy about a proposal to build a mosque in Premià up the coast; the locals were afraid it would attract bad elements. Joder. People who attend religious services don't tend to be people who do bad things. Now, certain Muslim leaders in Catalonia have said certain very stupid things in public, but no dumber than what I've heard some Christians say, and so I vote we give the Muslims the benefit of the doubt and wait till we see some Talibans hanging around the mosque before we start to get too worried. The second is that Artur Mas, now Convergence and Union official candidate to succeed current Catalan Prime Minister Jordi Pujol, in office for 22 years, shot off his mouth about there being a disproportionate number of North Africans in Catalonia. That didn't help anything any. The third seems to me to be a crock of crap: they blame the Madrid central government's denouncing immigrants as the cause of the most recent crime wave, which I don't remember happening at all. I think La Vanguardia is making it up. I do remember statistics being released that said that 40% of those arrested in Spain were foreigners, which I believe, but not all foreign dirtbags are North African.

Different people have different interests for different reasons. I'm from Kansas City--my ancestors come from Texas and Kansas and before that Tennessee; they originally came over from England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland (before the American Revolution, who knows exactly when or how; they were definitely largely Scots-Irish, Ulstermen who mostly emigrated during the first part of the eighteenth century) and from Austria during the 1880s. Well, Harry Truman was from Independence, Missouri, which for a long time was an important town on the trails West but now has been absorbed as a suburb of KC, and Ike Eisenhower was from Abilene, Kansas, about a hundred or so miles west of KC and definitely within its catchment area of influence. So between 1945 and 1961, perhaps the most critical decade-and-a-half of the 20th century, America was governed by people who were from where I'm from. This is why I'm fascinated by Truman and Eisenhower and their times. I know I'm a partisan, but I really think they were two of the four best Presidents of the 20th century; the other two would be Franklin Roosevelt, despite all his faults, and Reagan. TR would be number five and Wilson would be damn near at the bottom, though above Kennedy and Carter.