|Inside Europe: Iberian Notes|
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Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Lomborg's response is that he believed that a person like him who gave money and support to Greenpeace and went to meetings and protests and signed petitions and the like was a member. Lomborg was never on any Greenpeace list of official members, but the Greenpeace organization includes only a hard core of a few dozen cadres in each country where it is present as official members--and they make all the decisions. Very few Greenpeace activists are actually members with a voice in the organization.
Also, Lomborg does not present himself as a "repentant ecologist". He is an environmentalist. He simply believes that the environmental movement would be much better off if it stuck to the facts rather than using scare tactics.
López also says, "The book "The Skeptical Environmentalist" has been denounced in Denmark for "faults of scientific rigor" by the Public Committee in charge of guaranteeing the rigor of scientific publications."
This is Lomborg's statement on his website:
"The Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DSCD) have finally ended their case on March 12, 2004, rejecting the original complaints. They have decided that the original decision is invalid and has ended any further inquiry.
The Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation has, on December 17, 2003, repudiated findings by the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DSCD) that Bjørn Lomborg’s book “The Skeptical Environmentalist” was “objectively dishonest” or “clearly contrary to the standards of good scientific practice”.
The Ministry, which is responsible for the DSCD, has released a highly critical assessment of the Committee’s January 7 ruling. The Ministry finds that the DCSD judgment was not backed up by documentation, and was “completely void of argumentation” for the claims of dishonesty and lack of good scientific practice.
The Ministry characterises the DCSD’s treatment of the case as “unsatisfactory”, “deserving criticism”, and “emotional” and points out a number of significant errors. The DSCD's verdict has been remitted."
So. Mr. López of Greenpeace has slandered Mr. Lomborg, accusing him of having ulterior, hidden, conspiratorial motivations behind his statements and publications, calling him a liar regarding his environmentalist activist past, and saying that the Danish Committee on scientific dishonesty has censured Lomborg's book without mentioning that said committee's censure has been repudiated by the government ministry in charge of that committee.
What I find interesting is that Mr. López of Greenpeace didn't bother to come up with one factual argument to rebut Mr. Lomborg's position.
Also, if we want to go ad hominem, Greenpeace is a wonderful target. Greenpeace was indicted in a US court for criminal conspiracy in 2003. Greenpeace has been accused in the US of money laundering--of transferring tax-free donations to a non-tax-free subsidiary without paying the required taxes. The Greenpeace organization has been repeatedly criticized for its lack of transparency and the dictatorial control that its cadres exercise over it. Greenpeace is a big business; it takes in more than half a billion dollars every year, including contributions from major foundations such as Merck and Rockefeller. Greenpeace has repeatedly broken the law in its protests and endangered the lives of both its activists and others.
No links, of course. However, I suggest Googling the words Greenpeace, indictment, money laundering, foundations, membership, and transparency. There's a lot of interesting stuff out there.
You may be wondering how La Vanguardia gets away with publishing crap like this letter or Ramon Aymerich's article. The answer is that nobody from the outside ever reads it or has the slightest idea what kind of libels it is spreading, so it never gets sued. Yet 200,000 Spaniards read it every day and, presumably, believe it. No wonder most of them are gibbering imbeciles when it comes to economics, politics, and any other significant issue. And La Vanguardia is probably the best newspaper in Spain. Imagine what people who read El País believe.
Monday, August 30, 2004
The Ethically Aware Parents Group are having a cookout; we can see boxes marked "Vegan Garlic Burgers", "Whole-Grain Garlic Rolls", and "Eco-Friendly Charcoal". They all have scraggly beards (if male), nose rings (if female), and are dressed ethnically. Meanwhile, Tarquin and the other children are off behind the shed cooking up some sausages and hamburgers.
Malcolm: I hope the young people have got plenty of sunblock on...the global warming's really bad today.
Nigel: Yes, this sunny weather just isn't natural. We never used to get hot weather in July.
Malcolm: I know. Just think of what this is doing to the polar ice caps.
Trevor: The icebergs will go extinct.
Sylvia: All the planet's rainforest regions will turn into barren deserts.
Cressida: All the Earth's water vapor must be escaping out through the hole in the ozone layer.
Nigel: I blame Western science.
Daphne: Absolutely. And now all these polluting scientists are pretending to be environmentally concerned. It makes me sick!
Trevor: All scientists are white middle-class males. That's the problem.
Sylvia: If we all lived like the pre-industrial non-science-based peoples of the Third World, everything would be lovely. It's been scientifically proven.
Nigel: It's all to do with the Environmental Chaos Theory. If an extinct butterfly can't flap its wings in Borneo, you get a hurricane in Wales. It's been proven.
Daphne: I blame overpopulation.
Malcolm: Well, absolutely. All those millions of unwanted Thrid World people are breathing out far too much carbon dioxide. The planet can't sustain them.
Sarah: Western pharmaceutical companies have kept Third World populations artificially high so that they've got more people to sell their contraceptive pills to.
Cressida: That's right. These people are deprived of a scientific education so they don't understand the risks.
Sylvia: When we went to see the Taj Mahal, there was hardly room to stand.
Nigel: Now it's starting to rain! It isn't natural. We never used to get rain in July.
Malcolm: I know. Just think of what all this rain is doing to the endangered butterflies in Borneo.
Trevor: Their wings will get too soggy to flap.
Daphne: The rain will cause sea levels to rise. Half of London will be underwater.
Cressida: All the planet's desert regions will turn into floodplains.
Sarah: All this rain must be pouring through the hole in the ozone layer.
Nigel: The earth has never seen such extreme weather as we see now. Mankind used to live in peaceful harmony with the elements.
Malcolm: Gaia, the Great Earth Spirit, is angry. Her forces of Nature are turning against mankind.
Sarah: It's all the fault of our Western consumerist society.
Trevor: Total environmental meltdown is just around the corner.
Cressida: Gaia will restore her eco-balance by wiping us all out with skin cancer, food shortages, and rising sea levels.
(Seven hundred years ago. Our ethically aware parents are m, s+tanding around outside a hut wearing fourteenth-century clothes.)
Proto-Nigel: The world hath never seen such extremities of weather as we do suffer now.
Proto-Malcolm: God is angry. Mankind hath incurred His great wrath.
Proto-Sarah: It be all the fault of our sinful ways of living.
Proto-Trevor: The end of the world is nigh.
Proto-Cressida: God will restore His order by destroying us all with plague, famine, and flood...
Not too subtle but a pretty good point.
Sunday, August 29, 2004
One Ramon Aymerich has an article that exemplifies a lot of typical Spanish bad logic and bad faith in argument. It's about Bjorn Lomborg, whose book is well worth reading.
"The case of the Dane Bjorn Lomborg must be unique in the field of social science. A statistician of vaguely environmentalist beliefs in his youth, Lomborg switched sides after reading the economist Julian Simon. He wrote three articles in which he denies several basic assumptions of environmentalism: global warming, the lack of biodiversity, and deforestation. Collected in the book "The Skeptical Environmentalist", they brought him to fame."
Yeah. Lomborg slaughters an awful lot of environmentalist sacred cows in his book, and he does it with the same numbers and the same studies the environmentalists use. He does not investigate or do research; he is not a scientist. What he does is examine whether the conclusions that environmentalists draw from said studies and numbers are legitimate according to the laws of statistics and probability. He demonstrates conclusively, in my mind, that the environmentalists' conclusions are generally bogus. Lomborg shows that the panic over global warming, dimunition of biodiversity, and deforestation is greatly exaggerated.
"From the beginning, Lomborg has gained the hate of the ecologists and the enthusiasm of the businessmen who contribute the most to global warming. His theses are tranquilizingly simple: the environmental apocalypse has been exaggerated, there's nothing technology can't solve, and the market will decide how urgent these problems are when their costs have been quantified..."
An extremely common argument around here is to call an argument you disagree with simple or simplistic. Lomborg's arguments are anything but. His book references hundreds of studies with thousands of footnotes. Lomborg does say that those environmentalists howling disaster are wrong. He emphatically does not say that there's nothing technology can't solve; he says that technology will solve some problems and create others. Duh. The whole point of new technology is to be able to do something you couldn't do before--that is, solve a problem. And Lomborg is absolutely right when he says that any government making environmental laws needs to look at the economic costs and benefits thereof. Also, note that Aymerich has already begged a question when he says that those businessmen who contribute most to global warming support Lomborg's analyses. No, no, first you have to prove that global warming a) exists and b) is a problem before you go around accusing people of profiting by it. That would get you flunked out of Introduction to Logic where I went to school.
"...What if Lomborg really isn't the convert he pretends to be? And what if he were merely a professional sophist whose discourse is used now from the neocons' trenches in order to pulverize three decades of environmental research?"
What if you, Mr. Aymerich, stopped assuming everything is a conspiracy? What if you didn't insinuate that people who disagree with you have been bought off by the powers that be? What if Mr. Lomborg is a honest man who actually believes his analyses are correct? And note that Mr. Lomborg's theses are based on the statistical analysis of the studies published during a lot more than three decades of environmental research. Lomborg does not attack the studies. He attacks those who draw unwarranted conclusions from the studies because they don't know jack-shit about statistics and probability.
"Just like the Bush administration has questioned birth-control policies because of their Malthusian connotations, Lomborg is useful now to settle accounts with books free of all suspicion such as "The Limits of Growth" by the Club of Rome (1972) or the Carter administration's Global 2000 report (1980). The ideological swing is so strong that Lomborg's adepts' crusade against the theory of global warming is very similar to that which the fundamentalists began twenty years ago against the theories of Darwin."
Note Mr. Aymerich's use of guilt by association. If you agree with Bjorn Lomborg, you're doing so for ideological reasons, you're some kind of anti-Darwin fundamentalist, and you most likely are going to vote for George Bush. Lomborg's whole point is that statistics have no ideology and that if anyone's been manipulating the facts for ideological reasons, it has been the people who have shouted that the sky is falling based on faulty conclusions drawn from ignorance of mathematics. Does anyone understand that line about Bush and Malthus, by the way? Also, just one more point: Global 2000 and "The Limits to Growth" have both been long since discredited, mostly because everything they predicted was wrong.
"Lomborg's relevance--you guessed it--is in the opportunism of his discourse in the middle of the debate over Kyoto and CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. But it is surprising and strange that the anti-Kyoto sectors don't make recourse to dissident scientists (there aren't any) to invalidate the theory of global warming, and on the other hand they get a statistician--something like the pharmaceutical industry's getting an industrial engineer to deny that AIDS existsd. Strange and surprising, but there it is: Lomborg, the man with the easy answers."
See? Lomborg's a creature of the evil corporations who want to stop the Kyoto accord. Well, first, the Kyoto accord has been dead ever since the U.S. Senate rejected it unanimously, 95-0, back in 1995. No significant nations have actually made any plans to meet its criteria. Second, there are plenty of scientists who disagree with the standard environmentalist doctrine on global warming. Third, it's cheating to compare global warming with AIDS; AIDS exists. You still have to prove that global warming exists and is significant, Mr. Aymerich. Fourth, I certainly would consult an industrial engineer if I were going to manufacture anti-AIDS drugs, just as I would consult a statistician if I were going to draw conclusions based on statistics. Fifth, notice how Mr. Aymerich insinuates again that Lomborg is part of a conspiracy.
Conclusion: Ramon Aymerich is unintelligent, a poor writer, a worse logician, dishonest in argument, ideologically biased, and a conspiracy nut. Par for the course in Spain.
Oh, just one more comment: Mr. Lomborg is openly gay. I just bet he's in league with those Christian fundamentalists.
Saturday, August 28, 2004
"Two illegal goals, including the one in sudden death overtime that gave the victory to Germany two minutes into the second overtime period, pushed Spain off the podium that its team deserved...they deserved the medal that the Danish judge took away from them...The Spaniards had already protested the very first goal scored against them..."We saw it clearly. It shouldn't have been a goal," said Kiko Fábregas. "I think we did more than they did to win."
Waah. Waah. Waah.
Friday, August 27, 2004
Today's Vanguardia shows everything that's wrong with the Spanish attitude toward sports and toward the United States. They just cannot deal with the fact that they lost. Somebody must have cheated.
I quote from Juan Antonio Casanova's article:
"The USA had two decisive weapons yesterday: the outside shot and the immeasureable help of the referees...the Americans did everything--committing clear traveling and three times the fouls that were called on them...the referees gave them all the doubtful loose balls, some that clearly belonged to Spain...No surprise because of the official interest that the USA continue in the Games...Why was there no European referee?...The referees' abuses kept increasing and Gasol could not score in the last eight minutes..."
Did you get that? He's saying that it was all fixed beforehand anyway because the powers that be wanted the Americans to win, so the referees gave the game to the USA. Otherwise, of course, things would have been radically different.
Says Juan Bautista Martínez, regarding a time-out that US coach Larry Brown called late in the game with the US up by eight, "Brown's action exemplifies the arrogance of NBA basketball, which, when the outside wrapping of the marketing comes off, will use any dirty trick, not to win seductively, but to crush the opponent and stomp on his throat with their boots...Everyone (in the arena) wanted to see the USA lose because of their players' petulance...they aggressively booed the controversial referees' decisions, and the excessive permissiveness of the referees in the paint. When they refereed the game according to the NBA rules, the Spanish players, especially Navarro, became unhinged..." He also accuses American assistant coach Greg Popovich of "physically intimidating" Spanish coach Mario Pesquera when Pesquera threw a temper tantrum and got in Larry Brown's face, screaming and finger-pointing, at the end of the game.
I don't think I can root for the Spanish basketball team any more, and I will actively root against any team that Pesquera coaches or that Navarro or Calderón (the two whiniest and most babyish players) plays for in the future. Also, if I were one of the American players, I might be tempted to give Pau Gasol an exceedingly hard time next time I saw him on an NBA court. Within the rules, of course.
Notes: The two referees were from Australia and Mexico. They called 27 fouls on the Americans and 18 on the Spaniards.
As long as the United States was playing the part of inept Colossus, bricking 3-point shots, getting dazed and confused by international rules, generally looking like a team that was going home without a medal for the first time in Olympic history, everything was all right in the world of Olympic basketball. But when the U.S. kicked it into gear on Thursday afternoon against Spain in the quarterfinals of the medal round, all hell broke loose.
Playing in front of an anti-American crowd that booed and whistle-jeered them throughout -- King Juan Carlos of Spain was there but I don't know whether he was booing -- the Americans finally found their shooting touch, and their aggressiveness, during a 102-94 victory over Spain, which was the best team in the tournament during pool-round play and now finds itself playing for seventh place. Spain's players and its coach, Mario Pesquera, have reason to be peeved at a system that has them go unbeaten in five games, then get eliminated by a team that had lost twice.
Not surprisingly, the U.S. emerged as the bad guy, but not merely for ending Spain's medal hopes.
Enraged by a late timeout that Team USA coach Larry Brown had called with America leading by a comfortable margin, Pesquera (a) said his respect for Brown was a thing of the past because of the late timeout, (b) charged that "the game had been played by NBA rules and not FIBA rules," which permitted too much traveling and physical play, (c) hinted that the Americans had laid down in the pool round and (d) stuck the knife even deeper into Brown by commenting that Dean Smith, one of Brown's coaching heroes, "would've never done anything like that."
I've been a consistent critic of the U.S. play in Athens, but Pesquera was out of line for a variety of reasons.
Brown was too cautious in calling for the late timeout and, in retrospect, probably wouldn't do it again. But he says that he tried to signal for the timeout earlier, with the U.S. up eight, but didn't get the attention of the refs until 23 seconds were left and the lead had grown to 11. Then Brown tried to cancel the timeout, which can be done in international rules, but the refs granted one anyway. I don't know whether that is true, but I do know that teams have blown big leads in short amounts of time and that this American team is not particularly reliable at holding onto the ball or making free throws.
Brown and two of his assistants, Gregg Popovich and Roy Williams, tried to explain all of this to Pesquera after the game, but the Spanish coach would have none of it. There was an angry exchange as the teams left the court, and Pesquera may well have gone after Brown physically had there not been a crowd around.
Second, the game was indeed physical and, for wont of a better term, NBA-ish. But that's partly because Spain plays that way, too, a fact that Brown had talked about the day before the game. Though no one in the U.S. camp would say it publicly, the Americans were ecstatic with this first-round draw because they knew it was an ideal matchup.
Third, the U.S. didn't lay down in the pool round; it just played abysmally, primarily because it couldn't shoot, an aspect of the game that is inevitably beginning to improve. (It could hardly have gotten worse.) Pesquera's implication is that the U.S. laid down to arrange a certain matchup; otherwise what's the point of laying down? That charge is groundless. The Americans had no way of knowing what team would end up where in the other group and, in fact, didn't even know that it had finished fourth in Group B until the results were in on games over which they had no control.
Finally, the comment about Dean Smith was simply bush. Pesquera should've directed his anger at the system; I had some sympathy for him in that regard. After five preliminary games, the pool winners, in this case Spain from Group A and Lithuania from Group B, should be allowed to come back and contest for the bronze if they lose a first-round game in the medal round. But Pesquera chose to lash out at the obvious target, which is certain to amp up the anti-American feeling for Friday's semifinal game, probably against Argentina.
Thursday, August 26, 2004
I started out rooting for Spain for various reasons. First, I live here. Second, I'm a Pau Gasol fan. Third, I don't like the American team; you've read all the people who know more about basketball than I do explain why they suck. Fourth, as a KU alumnus, I have very mixed feelings about Larry Brown--on the one hand he coached the Hawks to their only NCAA title, but on the other hand he got them put on probation and took off for a better job. Fifth, I tend to root for the underdog, as I imagine most people do.
Anyway, the announcers on TVE1 were very fair and balanced during most of the game, but with about five minutes left, as the Americans began to pull away, they suddenly became very nasty. They started complaining about the referees' calls, as did the Spanish players and coaches. The Spanish coach started screaming and finger-pointing, and several of the Spanish players broke into mock applause of the US team in the last few seconds. Then the announcers started complaining about the fact that if you lose in the quarterfinals, you're out of competition for a medal. Now, of course, these were the rules set up beforehand, which everybody agreed to before the Olympics even started. But the sudden outburst of "bad loserness", to coin a phrase, made me so irritated that I wound up cheering when the Yanks won.
Spaniards tend to be very bad losers, and I think I know why. It's because of the extreme rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid. If you're a real Barça supporter, you know the whole thing is fixed so that you'll lose and Madrid will win no matter how well your team plays. You honestly believe this, and you honestly believe that it's somehow important in the scheme of things. Every time your team loses it's because the other guy cheated and the refs were fixed beforehand, and the bitterly partisan sports press floats dozens of rumors about the other team's skulduggery. And, of course, Real Madrid is not merely a sports team. It's evil incarnate. The players are crooked, the club management is corrupt, and the fans are thugs.
If you're a Madrid fan, you tend to take the rivalry a little less seriously--it's kind of like Red Sox fans take the rivalry a lot more seriously than Yankee fans. The bitterness of the fans of the team that normally loses is greater than the arrogance of fans of the team that normally wins. But the Madrid press and Madrid supporters are just as obnoxious as Barcelona fans, and according to them Barcelona has never beaten Real fair and square, either.
This extreme rivalry in which you never accept that hey, our team lost and that's all there is to it, the other guys played better, that's what happens in sports, has carried over to all sports in Spain. If we win, we're the greatest ever; if we lose, it's because the fix was in.
Besides, people, this is just sports. It's not like it actually matters which bunch of eight foot tall guys throws a ball in a hole the most times.
Comment: America has certainly not supported its Olympic basketball team this year, for many reasons. Just for example, they suck at playing as a team, and I could go on from there for several more paragraphs. But I wonder how much of it has to do with the fact that all the players are black.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Moratinos, you might recall, is the guy who claimed that he had been asked by the powers that be to mediate between the Israelis and the Palestinian Lack of Authority. He also got called on the carpet by Tony Blair and then went outside after the short, tense meeting (all by himself) and said that the British were perfectly happy with the Socialists' weaselly behavior regarding Iraq. I know a little something about mental illness, and I suspect Moratinos suffers from an inferiority complex which causes him to overestimate his own importance in the scheme of things.
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
They've been having the Fiesta Mayor of Gracia over the last week or so. Gracia, the neighborhood where I live, is known within Barcelona for having a unique personality--sort of politically aware working- / lower-middle- / petit-bourgeois- class. Up here we still talk about "going down to Barcelona" when we mean going downtown (we're perched on the side of a hill above the city); it's almost like a small town within Barcelona. There's definitely a strong local identity. Anyway, they have a big bash of a Fiesta Mayor in which they have lots of traditional stuff, like dances in the squares and decorating the streets in high-school-gym-dance style and lots of free food if you know where to look for it. That and lots of booze, of course. The local squatters, however, have decided to take over the fiesta and raise hell until six in the morning while fighting it out with the local skinheads. Meanwhile, all the drunks who normally hang out in uncool places are showing up here from all over the metro area. Everyone up here is royally pissed off because Gracia is already the coolest party district in town, if you're an adult who prefers listening to good music and a couple of quiet beers in an interesting bar to partying and puking all night. The locals get pretty pissed off about all the noise, with some reason, and the Fiesta Mayor has been pretty much the last straw. People are mad up here.
The Forum is an absolute and complete disaster. They've gone so far as to announce false attendance figures. Meanwhile, they had to shut down the main building for a couple of days because it was leaking--for some brilliant reason, they decided to cover the roof of the building with water.
The Vangua hasn't said too much that's horribly offensive recently--you know, just some more of the same crap about how Americans are stupid and ignorant mixed in with pro-Saddam arguments. Same old everyday thing that I've already translated eight hundred times. It looks like Asshole Andy Robinson, special British correspondent in New York, has been paying some attention to me and Franco A. and Trevor, because he's started documenting his articles. However, he still doesn't bother mentioning that all his sources are from the extreme left. Tikrit Tommy Alcoverro is reporting on Najaf from back home in Beirut. He sure seems to have a vivid imagination. Anyway, virtually nobody in Barcelona is exposed to any information that might somehow be interpreted as, well, not anti-American. At least not from the newspapers and the TV. There's a right-wing radio station, the COPE, but they're often just as dumb as the local left. As for information from the foreign media, Josep Sixpack doesn't know English or any other non-local languages.
Monday, August 16, 2004
Hold it right there. If you dislike Bush just because he's the US president, and you dislike Sharon just because he's the Israeli prime minister, then you ARE anti-American and anti-Semitic. And how could a good French intellectual be anything else? M. Boniface gets off a pre-emptive strike, calling those of us who insist he IS anti-Semitic and anti-American scum guilty of making "a dishonest amalgam of ideas."
Anyway, for some serious talk about the elections. With help from the excellent site Election Projections, here is what one probable outcome might look like.
Bush MUST WIN: The eleven states of the Deep South (Virginia 13 electoral votes, North Carolina 15, South Carolina 8, Georgia 15, Kentucky 8, Tennessee 11, Alabama 9, Mississippi 6, Arkansas 6, Louisiana 9, Texas 34). If he loses more than one of these states, he loses. He'll almost certainly sweep the Republican Solid South, though.
The fourteen states of the Intermountain West and High Plains (Alaska 3, Idaho 4, Kansas 6, Montana 3, Nebraska 5, North Dakota 3, Oklahoma 7, south Dakota 3, Utah 5, Wyoming 3, Colorado 9, Wyoming 3, Colorado 9, Arizona 10, Nevada 5, New Mexico 5). Bush can afford to lose at most two of these states, and New Mexico and Arizona are probably going to be close. If Kerry can win five or six Southern and Western states, he wins the election.
Kerry MUST WIN: The four states of the Pacific West (California 55, Oregon 7, Washington 11, Hawaii 4). Oregon and Washington look a little iffy; if I were Bush I'd spend some time up there and make Kerry fight.
The thirteen states of the Northeast (Maine 4, New Hampshire 4, Vermont 3, Massachussetts 12, Rhode Island 4, Connecticut 7, New York 31, Pennsylvania 21, New Jersey 15, Maryland 10, Delaware 3, District of Columbia 3, West Virginia 5). Kerry needs a sweep here; he can only afford to lose Maine, West Virginia, and New Hampshire. Bush will fight hard in Pennsylvania and if he can win there, things look very good for him all over.
UP FOR GRABS: The eight states of the Midwest (Ohio 20, Indiana 11, Illinois 21, Michigan 17, Wisconsin 10, Minnesota 10, Iowa 7, Missouri 11). This is where the real war will be fought. Bush's Southern and Western support base will more or less balance off Kerry's Pacific and Northeast base. Bush will win Indiana. Kerry will win Illinois. No questions there. Bush must win Ohio and Missouri and pick up at least two other Midwestern states. Iowa and Wisconsin look like his best bets.
Florida (27). This atypical state--or maybe super-typical because of its variety--is as up-in-the-air as it comes. Whichever candidate wins it will likely win the election.
By the way, here are the current polls: Bush's job approval was 51% according to Gallup on 8/11 and 46% according to Pew on 8/10. In a Bush-Kerry-Nader race, Zogby on 8/12 has Bush 43%-Kerry 47%, Gallup on 8/11 has Bush 48%-Kerry 46%, and Pew on 8/10 has Bush 45%-Kerry 47%. Looks to me like the popular vote is very close three months before the election.
If the popular vote is this close at this time in the election year, it's a pretty safe bet that the incumbent President is going to win. First, Kerry has already had his convention bounce, the surge in the polls that's supposed to happen after the candidate gets the spotlight at his party's convention. Bush hasn't had his yet. Second, Bush is a known quantity. People know what he stands for. Kerry doesn't have much of a national image and is still little-known to many Americans. Many people are therefore susceptible to having their image of Kerry framed by Bush's people. Third, the Kerry campaign hasn't got any dirt on Bush. If they had, the Dems would have used it back in 2000; remember, the best dirt they had on Bush was a 30-year-old drunk driving conviction. They released it the weekend before the November election, and this cost Bush in the vote. We don't know what kind of dirt Bush has on Kerry, but I get the feeling the Bush campaign knows several things about Kerry's Vietnam days and Seventies political career that might be troublesome.
Fourth, the economy's doing fine and the big issue everyone is up in arms about is gay marriage, not Iraq. If people's attention is focused on this minor question rather than on issues which Kerry has some basis to criticize Bush about, Bush wins. Fifth, my bet is that we have more and more success in Iraq and the War on Terrorism, and that the Bush campaign will use 9/11 to remind people of why the war is being fought. Sixth, Kerry is boring and a jerk and people don't like him, and the more they're exposed to him the less they're going to like him. At least some people like Bush. Nobody, but nobody, likes John Kerry. Seventh, some of the radicals are going to vote for Nader again, costing Kerry a percent or so, which might make the difference.
So, barring disaster, I see a fairly easy Bush victory. Not a landslide; Kerry will win a minimum of 150 electoral votes. I doubt it will be nearly as close as people around here are guessing, though.
Saturday, August 14, 2004
I figure the Olympics need to be culled. What I would do is get rid of embarrasingly minor sports and only have those sports where winning the Olympic medal is the biggest thing you can do in the sport. So I would say:
KEEP: Track and field; boxing (that is, honest boxing); gymnastics; wrestling; swimming; diving; weightlifting.
CULL: All the rest for either being minor boring sports (e.g. team handball) for which the yearly championship is much more important; important professional sports where Olympic competition is well below top standards (e.g. basketball, tennis, soccer, baseball, cycling, even volleyball and water polo); or traditional military sports of no interest today (pistol shooting, archery, fencing).
Thursday, August 12, 2004
Boy, I dunno. On one level these Gibraltar-Catalonia-Basque Country-Spain nationalist arguments are juvenile and childish efforts whose only purpose is to gain more prestige for the groups they champion and more power for themselves. On another level, this is a really basic question that hasn't been completely answered yet, and that problem is political legitimacy.
This is difficult for us Americans because there's no problem of political legitimacy in the United States. It's safe to say that at least 98% of Americans agree that the United States government is legitimate. If you ask them why, they'll just look at you funny. "Well, you know, we vote for the Congress, and they make the laws, and we vote for the President, and it's all organized and written down in the Constitution, and we've been doing it for more than two centuries now and the last major complaint we had was between 1861 and 1865." Even extreme leftists and rightists, of whom there are proportionally quite few in the US, often proclaim themselves the real upholders of American democratic values, as against the major parties who have "betrayed" them.
This isn't true in Spain. You'd be surprised at how long memories go back around here. The current royal dynasty, the Bourbons, were placed on the throne in 1714 after the War of the Spanish Succession; Catalonia and the other regions of the Crown of Aragon were forcibly incorporated into a Spanish nation-state. Before that the Aragonese territories had had different laws and privileges than the other Spanish kingdoms. So there's grievances number one and two: the Bourbons are an illegitimate dynasty in the first place, since they were placed in power by the various European states after the War of the S. S., and their control over Catalonia is illegitimate because it has imposed a foreign system of laws and rights different from those that were previously accepted in Catalonia.
(Note: the ultra-Spanish nationalists who get their underwear all knotted up over Gibraltar should reflect that the Treaty of Utrecht, which gave England Gibraltar, also gave to the Bourbon dynasty and the centralized Spanish state direct control of the former territories of the Crown of Aragon. Seems to me they might reflect before calling Utrecht neocolonialist and imperialist and all that.)
Skipping a couple hundred years of alleged Bourbon oppression and two or three rebellions by the Carlists, who never accepted the legitimacy of the Bourbon dynasty, our man Franco overthrew a communist government in 1939 (after an anti-communist coup d'etat by General Casado), which in turn had overthrown anarchist and far-left militias in 1937, which had overthrown a parlimentary Republic in 1936, which had pushed out a limited monarchist parliamentary state in 1931. Meanwhile, the Catalanistas in Barcelona and the Socialists and other leftists in Asturias, in 1934, also attempted to overthrow the Republic but failed.
So right there you have a bunch of people who don't respect the legitimacy of the current Spanish state: those who say the current government isn't legit because of its Franco heritage, those who say only a leftist state can be legit, those who are against all monarchies, those who are particularly offended by the Bourbons, those who claim the '34 revolt was legit, those who hold a brief for those romantic but sickeningly violent anarchists that Christopher Hitchens still fantasizes about, and so on. Now, these folk are nowhere near a majority, but you'd be surprised to hear what we consider normal and rational people to go off on a ranting tangent related to some 300-year-old war. This is what they mean by Old Europe. Really Old Europe.
Somebody called the World Survey of Values has come out with the results of a questionnaire about religion. Check out these stats. Of those surveyed, 96% of Americans, 85% of Spaniards, 72% of the British, 100% of Egyptians, and 99% of Iranians believe in God. 88% of Americans, 51% of Spaniards, 56% of Britons, 100% of Egyptians, and 98% of Iraqis believe in heaven; 75% of Americans, 37% of Spaniards, 35% of Britons, 100% of Egyptians, and 98% of Iranians believe in hell. 81% of Americans, 53% of Spaniards, 58% of Brits, 100% of Egyptians, and 98% of Iranians believe in life after death.
60% of Americans and 36% of Spaniards go to church at least once a week; 71% of Americans and 33% of Spaniards pray.
I'm not at all surprised, though the Vanguardia's first line in the story is "The image that Spaniards themselves and many foreigners have as a unanimously Catholic and very religious country is not true." That shouldn't be news to anyone who has actually spent some time here. Sure, they have a lot of religious festivals, but they're mostly an excuse to get drunk and party. Most people, especially the younger, the more urban, the better-educated, the better-off economically, and the more, uh, male, are not particularly religious. The family that only comes to church for Christmas, Easter, and first communions and weddings, is a local stereotype.
Here's Alfredo Abián's signed editorial on page two of today's Vangua: "...the United States wins a medal, because there 75% of those surveyed takes for granted that hell exists. The problem is that Bush's homeland has become a theme park of sects in need of a supernatural threat. Without counting the reverend "telepreachers", the American paratheological fair includes deacons capable of finding the Mark of the Beast on a bottle of Heinz ketchup, clerics who pray for the Antichrist to come and let loose the final Armageddon; ultra-enlightened Mormons who have split off from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, along with all kinds of born-again Christians." Mr. Abian says that it's just as well that Spain isn't particularly religious, which I actually agree with him about, since I'm a hardline agnostic, and adds that the four countries where absolutely nobody doubts that Satan is out there are Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, and Morocco.
I'll respond to Mr. Abián by saying that most American religious believers are perfectly stable people, that there are a bunch of sectarian wackos who get a lot of media attention but who have very little influence, that one aspect of religious belief in the US is that blacks are the most religious and socially conservative Americans, and that Mr. Abián certainly wouldn't want to do anything so un-PC as to critically stereotype blacks or Hispanics or immigrants, who add up to some 30% of Americans, for generally being religious believers. I'll add that in the US people have almost an infinity of religious choices they can make, unlike Spain, where the only option has always been Catholicism. I'll also add that just because Tom Cruise and John Travolta are Scientology wackos and that Madonna seems to have lost her last marble with this kabala crap does not mean that those jokers in Hollywood have anything to do with real American life. And, by the way, as Mr. Abián is kind enough to point out, the real dangerous religious nuts tend to pray on Fridays.
Anyway, the Vangua has been interviewing tourists on the Tourist Bus. They came across three young Belgian girls who said this: " 'This getting up at 10 AM is great, and taking a nap after lunch is wonderful. In Belgium people get up at seven and have no free time after lunch, though we get off work earlier. In Barcelona, in Spain, everything is calmer, people take things much less seriously, while in Brussels everything is much more sped-up. And here it's always sunny.
(Editor's note: They're right about the taking things less seriously. That's one reason why Spain's GDP per capita is several thousand bucks a year below Belgium's. They're also right about the after-lunch debate--that is, do you prefer ninety minutes or two hours for lunch in Spain, but a quitting time of seven or seven-thirty, or quitting time at 5 or 5:30 but only half an hour for lunch like in the rest of Europe. That seems like a personal choice to me. They're also right about the sun. They're wrong about the briskness of life here; this is August and half the city has shut down. Most of the year there are lots of people rushing around in vain, late to three different appointments, looking for the right goddamn bureaucratic paperwork necessary to, like, pay their automobile tax or something.)
The stereotypes keep coming. 'The bad thing is the food. Everything is too greasy and heavy, with lots of eggs and meat dishes, always chicken, omelets, and fried potatoes. In summer, especially with this heat, fresh and light food is more appetizing, like vegetables, fruit. That's much healthier.'
'Yeah, the bad thing is the food, but the worst thing is the way men look at you, the things they say in the street without knowing you at all. The first time it's funny, it calls your attention, but then you get really tired of it. I was on an Erasmus scholarship in Seville, for six months, and I got tired of telling men that just because I was blonde I wasn't necessarily German and I didn't necessarily speak English. In Belgium people don't do that. Ever.'
(Editor's note: They're right. Spain is still a pretty sexist place, and lots of men do make comments, often rude, to passing women, and they're not shy about trying to pick up foreign women. Blatantly. It's not just, "Hi, honey, you're a hot babe", but more like "Great tits! So, your place or mine?" Anyway, at this point a couple from Seville sitting there butts into the conversation, furious at the alleged stereotyping.)
'In Seville we like pretty women, and we don't think it's bad if it's done with gracia,' says Emilio from the next seat, turning around. 'And, excuse me, little girl, but do you know what gaspacho and salmorejo and salad and ensaladillas are?' asks his wife, María José. 'You can't come to Spain for two days of sightseeing, eat in a couple of fast-food places, and talk like that about the cooking. It's absurd.'"
(Editor's note: Note how free Spaniards are throwing around stereotypes of other countries but how they can't stand it when they're stereotyped? First, the girl who was in Seville for six months, not two days, knows what she's talking about. Second, Spanish food is particularly bad when served at affordable restaurants that cater to tourists and/or working-class locals. It is greasy and fried and heavy and served hot and is just the thing to make you sick on a ninety-degree afternoon. Gazpacho and salad are generally not available. Ensaladilla rusa, which is just potato salad with egg and mayonnaise, is, but it's likely to give you salmonella. Now, if you go to a good restaurant, you'll eat very well, but you'll pay for it. Just like pretty much everywhere else. Third, Spaniards are notorious for ripping off tourists in vacation spots, and they get more than 50 million to rip off every year.)
Now, I like Spain very much. But those Belgian girls are a lot closer to the truth about Spain than Alfredo Abián is to the truth in the United States.
I don't think anybody over here gives much of a crap about the Olympics.
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
We went out to the pueblo last weekend and it was nice and pleasant as usual. We went swimming and farted around generally and did nothing useful.
Here's the goofy new bit of Catalooniness. for the last couple of years it's become popular among many Spanish young folks to wear T-shirts with the profile of the Osborne bull on them. Osborne is a big maker of brandy down in Jerez--their most popular brand is Veterano, which is just fine to dump in your coffee in the morning. Their symbol is a profile of a bull in black, and they began putting up huge signs with their bull symbol all over Spain on the highways way back when, I guess something like the old Burma-Shave signs there used to be all over the US. So, the Osborne bull has become sort of symbolic, like an old-time thing that everyone knows about that's always been there. And some smart guy started printing the Osborne bull on T-shirts, and people thought it was cool and bought them. Then people started putting little Osborne bull stickers on the back of their cars.
(NOTE: this is a sure sign of someone's being tacky and tasteless here in Spain: does the guy put stickers on the back of his car, especially those which are the equivalent of those "Makin' Bacon" bumper stickers that people buy at Stuckey's? If so, he most certainly hasn't been to college.)
So the Cataloonies decided they needed to hit back against this Osborne bull epidemic. They've come out with two sticker and T-shirt possibilities: one is the typical Catalan donkey, which is on at least one of every ten cars, and the other is a black cat (CAT = Catalonia, get it?), which seems to be much less popular. Some people, I guess as a joke, have started putting on stickers of a moose in profile. I'm not sure what that would have to do with anything.
Monday, August 02, 2004
Half the city has left town for the August month of vacations. Many shops and other places are closed; others are on reduced hours. Up here in Gracia it seems strangely empty; downtown, or course, is swarming with tourists. Advice for Non-Eurail Semi-Adult Visitors: Try to find somewhere to stay outside the Old City. It's much more relaxing. Spend a day looking around the Ramblas, sure, and then get away from there and check out the rest of town.
John Kerry is going over very well over here, largely because everybody just hates George Bush. Now, nobody in Spain actually knows anything about either of the two men, but they've all got plenty of opinions. Meanwhile, Zap is doing quite well in the polls, for some unknown reason. Here's the saddest part: "What are the three main problems that exist in Spain today?" Answers: Unemployment 61.1%; ETA terrorism 47.4%; Crime 20.1%; Housing 19.7%; Immigration 17.0%; Economic problems 13.0%. Gee, wasn't it about five months ago that almost 200 people were killed in Madrid by terrorists of the Al Qaeda variety? How come that's not on the list? Answer: The Spanish genuinely beleive that Islamist terrorism is not their problem, and that the pullout from Iraq has gotten them off the Islamist hitlist. You may have seen that they have just warned of an Al Qaeda plot against American financial centers and have raised the alert level: the Vanguardia, of course, claims it's just a political ploy by Bush. These people have conspiracies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Guess what? The Forum has come out with a strong condemnation of sexist violence and patriarchy!
Cartoon on Friday in La Vangua. George Bush, flanked by two military officers on a podium, announces: "After Afghanistan and Iraq, our next humanitarian objective is to liberate the oil fields of Sudan--excuse me, I meant free the refugees." That's right, they've been printing story after story over here explaining that there is apparently some oil in Sudan--big deal, there's almost certainly oil under my parents' backyard in Kansas City. So of course, all this talk about people starving to death and evil militias and slavery and oppression of Christians is just a cover-up for another oil grab. Just like Afghanistan, Panama, Haiti, Somalia, and Bosnia were all oil grabs. And, of course, everything is a conspiracy.
Breaking News: Jerry Falwell Supports Gay Marriage; Britney Spears Scores 1600 SAT; Robert Fisk Writes Something Not Totally Anti-American. In yesterday's Vanguardia he's got a piece about the Iraqi police and how proud and loyal they are. About time, since it's been the Iraqi police those terrorist bastards are mostly trying to kill. I suppose the anti-American angle is that Fisk portrays these guys as poorly-paid, badly-armed, and not getting the respect they deserve. OK, I can see his point, though I don't believe the bit about their Kalashnikovs jamming after firing two shots. My understanding is that 1) Kalashnikovs are simple, sturdy, and effective weapons that will function with minimal care and 2) there are enough guns floating around Iraq that the cops ought to be able to get something better than Kalashnikovs anyway.
The 3-11 commission has adjourned without deciding anything. Both the Socialists and the PP behaved like idiots, the PP trying to justify their (our) major screwup--not act of bad faith, screwup--in originally attributing the bombings to ETA, and the Socialists attempting to insinuate that there was, too, an act of bad faith, which is just not true to my knowledge. La Vanguardia ran a pro-American editorial (more breaking news) on the 9-11 commission, saying that it actually did what it purported to do, investigate and draw a conclusion without letting politics get in the way. This whole 3-11 commission has been, pretty disgracefully, an opportunity for partisan sniping and nothing more.
Everybody's in a snit about the alleged diplomatic offense committed by the British government in sending defense minister Geoffry (sic) Hoon to next Wednesday's celebration of the 300th anniversary of the capture of Gibraltar by the British. Everyone from the PP to Izquierda Unida is all fired up. Izquierda Unida has censured the British government for its "imperialist and philo-Fascist attitude". The Socialists said Britain's behavior was "colonialist". The PP said Zap was too incompetent diplomatically to persuade the British that such activities don't do much good except to inflame the most revanchist side of Spanish nationalism. Nobody pointed out that Gibraltar is British territory according to a treaty Spain signed, that if the Crown wants to nominate Ozzy Osbourne to serve as the Grand High Poobah of Gibraltar, it has no obligation to consult Spain on the matter, and that the people of Gibraltar are unanimous on only one issue: they don't want to join Spain.
The latest outrage the Spanish public is up in arms about is a proposal to charge each person who visits the National Health one euro per visit. I think it makes sense. One euro is a small enough amount that paying it won't hurt anybody, not even the poorest widow on a pension, and certainly not the average Joe, yet it's a round enough number that people might take it seriously enough not to show up at the local clinic every day just for something to do.
Also, I remember reading an interesting study done by some education people (still more breaking news!) on English-as-a-second-language programs aimed at immigrants in the United States. What they did was test different groups at the different centers offering English-for-immigrants in, I think, Queens or somewhere like that. Some groups were charged a nominal sum, ten dollars or the like, for their semester of English classes, and the rest were given the classes for free. What they found was that the students who were paying the small sum were considerably more motivated and--this is key--had much better class attendance. They therefore learned much more, on average, than the students who were not paying. The small payment of their own money gave them a stake in the class and made them want to get their money's worth out of it. Let's see if people start taking the national health service (which, as I have stressed, is excellent in my opinion, though overbureaucratic. The doctors and personnel are first-class and the equipment and medicines are, of course, the latest) a little more seriously.
Back on page 35 of Friday's Vanguardia there's a story about the opening of a new art exhibition; it's called "From Paris to the Mediterranean: The Triumph of Color". They have 85 works by mostly French artists painted in Provence attempting to catch the light of the Mediterranean between about 1860 and 1940, and the painters include Manet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Corot, Modigliani, Cezanne, Vlaminck, and Utrillo, as well as many other big names. There are also several major works by less well-known painters like Maguin, Signac, and Picabia. I'm going to go check it out, of course; no hurry, it's on till October 10. Ironically, this little exhibition is of a great deal more cultural value than the whole damn Forum, excluding of course the Chinese warriors. And it cost probably about one-one thousandth of that whole shebang.
FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are both touring East Asia raking in some cash playing exhibitions while beating up on some J-legue teams. At this point I'm guessing we're going to see a 4-3-3 lineup like this one: Valdés; Belletti, Puyol, Márquez, Sylvinho; Deco, Xavi, Van Bronckhorst; Giuly, Ronaldinho, Larsson. Expect to see plenty of Gabri, Gerard, Luis Garcia, and Iniesta. Oleguer and Navarro will be the backup defensemen. That leaves nobody but Xavi and Puyol as starters from the horrible team of two years ago. Rustu is going to be sold to somebody; they can't keep a player of his quality on the bench and they can't use him because they'll have too many "extracommunitarians" on the roster. I believe they can have four on the roster and three on the field at any one time. Gerard is horribly overpaid; I imagine if he stays on the team he either has taken or will take a salary cut. They are probably going to get rid of Saviola; he has apparently pissed them off by playing for Argentina in the South American cup instead of training with the Barça club. He played well, but what that's done is raise the price they can get for him. The big soccer news around here has been over Etoo, who is from Cameroon, plays for Mallorca, and is owned 50-50 by Mallorca and Madrid. Supposedly Barcelona wants to buy him, but Madrid is asking a very high price for their half of his contract. This is apparently very exciting news.