|Inside Europe: Iberian Notes|
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Tuesday, November 30, 2004
For the sulfur pit. How did I feel about the death of Yasser Arafat? Permit me an indirect reply.
Jean Chiappe was a pre-WWII French fascist, who made his name as a repressive police chief in Paris during the early 1930s. When France fell to the Nazis, Chiappe went over to the puppet Vichy regime, who appointed him High Commissioner to Syria. While he was on his way to take up this position, Chiappe's plane was shot down by the British.
Hearing of this event, George Orwell noted in his diary (December 1, 1940): "That bastard Chiappe is cold meat. Everyone delighted…."
Here are a few excerpts from Aznar's opening statement.
On March 11, three days before the general election, Spain suffered a horrible attack by Islamic terrorism that murdered 192 people, wounded hundreds, and caused a brutal upheaval in our society. What did the government that I presided do?...The summary of the government's actions is that in 60 hours:
1. The government made sure that the citizens´lives could continue normally.
2. The government did everything it could to assure all kinds of help to the victims and their families.
3. The government began the rapid and effective investigation by the security forces of the State, which two days after the attacks led to the arrests of various of the perpetrators.
4. The government informed (the citizens) with a speed and a transparency without precedent in an investigation of this kind.
5. And the government made sure that it was possible, on Sunday March 14, to hold the general election normally, as happened.
Aznar went over the timetable of the events of the morning of March 11 after the bombs went off at three Madrid train stations just after 8 AM. Before 9 AM the Socialist Party had incorrectly attributed the attacks to ETA in a public statement. The president of the Basque Country did the same at 9:35. The minister of Interior did not attribute the attacks to ETA until a press conference at 1:30 PM, and he did so based on intelligence the government had received from the security authorities, which soon turned out to be wrong. At 4:45 PM the minister of Interior informed Aznar that the van (which turned out to be the one the Islamic terrorists had used, and was the first clue that ETA was perhaps not responsible) had been found; it was then searched, evidence was found, and this information was made public by the Minister of Interior at 8:20 PM. The government contacted opposition political parties and the media of communication before the 8:20 statement was made. Opposition political parties and communications media, especially the radio network SER, then proceeded to go nuts. In the early morning of the next day, Friday March 12, the autopsies demonstrated there had been no suicide bombers, and at 2:40 AM an unexploded bomb was found in the wreckage. Analysis of the bomb and the other contents of the backpack it was hidden in became the decisive clue that made it clear the bombings were an Al Qaeda job. Arrests of the perpetrators began. There is no evidence the government covered up anything. There is no evidence that the initial, incorrect assumption that ETA was guilty, which everyone from Carod-Rovira to Ibarretxe jumped to, was in anything but good faith. There is a great deal of evidence showing the government acted responsibly in dealing with the tragedy. The proof is that they found out who really did it within a day and made the first arrests only a day later, that society did not fall apart, that the elections went on as scheduled, that the PP lost, and that they participated in a democratic transition of power, only Spain's fourth ever in history.
I maintain that opposition parties and media of communication known for their delirious obsession against the Partido Popular government lied; they fabricated a "big lie" about the government's management, they tried to destabilize it, and they had their role on a "day of reflection" (the day before the election, when all political campaigning is prohibited, so the PP could not answer back) which they used to support the organized harassment of a democratic political party, still responsible for the government of the nation at one of the most difficult moments we can remember, a few hours away from the general election.
I would like to support this statement with several facts:
First, the false information that there had been suicide bombers, which was directed at discrediting the government's management and introduce what, if it had been true, would have been a determining element in confirming Islamic perpetration of the attacks.
The government was accused of knowing about and covering up, since the morning of March 11, the contents of the van found in Alcalá. A false accusation. False then, and certified false by the testimony before this very commission.
The rumor was propagated that high-ranking police officers had resigned en masse in a protest against the government. Again, false information, which I can only understand as an attempt to destabilize the leadership and the management of the antiterrorist struggle at that moment.
The story was fabricated that the minister of Interior had seen the King and submitted for his signature a decree suspending the elections. Again, a malicious rumor aimed at creating a climate of abnormality and delegitimization of the government through libel and rumor.
It was even said that the White House was going to publicly announce Al Qaeda's responsiblity. The White House never thought of doing such a thing.
Things led to such a level of deformation that when the existence and the contents of the video claiming responsibility were announced, one radio network actually reported to its listeners that they had known about the existence of the video since that morning, but they had held up the news in order to behave responsibly. (That video was not filmed until 5 PM on the day it was found.)
Such a level of journalistic irresponsibility and unprofessionalism is unthinkable in any politically sophisticated society, as is the mass stampede of a sizable bloc of Spanish voters based on their uncritical acceptance of what they were told. Fortunately, more than 9 million Spanish voters were not swayed, but unfortunately, with the help of Osama Bin Laden, the Socialists and their allies in the press managed to hijack the election.
See, in a democracy, there are written and unwritten rules regarding what you're allowed to do in order to influence the voters. These rules may change over the years. An example is that before about 1980, in US politics, there was an unwritten rule that the press didn't interfere in politicians' private lives. By 1990 that had changed. There is still an unwritten rule that the press shouldn't interfere with politicians' children until about age 21.
One of the most important unwritten rules is that if you're a responsible informer, you don't spread rumors. You don't announce stuff on the air that you don't know for sure is true, whether you're a reporter, an opinion commentator, or a politician yourself. There is no way that the Spanish media, especially the SER, can be said to have behaved responsibly between March 11 and 14. They absolutely did not obey this unwritten rule. I doubt they know it exists.
Friday, November 26, 2004
The Accidental Prime Minister
November 25, 2004 6:16 a.m.
"I don't want to be a great leader," Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told Time magazine in September. In that case, Mr. Zapatero's first nine months in office must be called a resounding success.
The young prime minister made his unique mark even before he could find his away around the Moncloa Palace, ordering Spain's troops to cut and run from Iraq, pronto. His hasty decision last spring was the perfect "thank you" note to the terrorists who bombed the Madrid trains on March 11, and pushed him, unexpectedly, into office.
Incidentally, contrary to Socialist claims that the previous government exposed Spain to terrorism, we now know that the Madrid attacks were planned long before the Iraq war. The pullout, which cost Spain friends and influence abroad, brought no security at home. Spanish police have foiled several terrorist attacks since then. Spain remains both a target and a hub for Osama's global network.
Mr. Zapatero's unrelenting flurry of anti-American jibes make even French and German diplomats flinch. He twice urged U.S. allies to defect and leave Iraq. Yet he somehow expected President George W. Bush to return his calls. It would be tempting to shrug all this off as the blunders of an inexperienced prime minister who will eventually become wiser. But Mr. Zapatero's policy seems to be not as much driven by inexperience as by ideology, and this is hard to change.
This worldview helps explain his affinities for the last remaining bastions of socialism in Latin America. He's lobbying hard to have the European Union's sanctions against Cuba lifted, ostensibly to encourage reforms in that totalitarian island. Cuban dissidents, however, such as Oswaldo Paya, are not deceived. "The EU governments can act according to their interests and abandon this ethical position. But what no one can say, without insulting our intelligence, is that to abandon this position . . . is in the interests of Cuba and peaceful change." Strengthening Spain's ties with Venezuelan strongman President Hugo Chavez is another of Mr. Zapatero's pet projects. On a state visit in Madrid this week, Mr. Chavez rhapsodized about how "the vibes have been very, very good" between him and Mr. Zapatero. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos even backed Mr. Chavez's accusation that the previous conservative Spanish government supported an attempted "coup" against him. The conservatives immediately denounced this as a lie, asking for Mr. Moratinos's resignation.
Mr. Zapatero is entitled to his views. But the Spanish people would be justified in asking just what do they get out of their leader appeasing terrorists, coddling up to dictators and whittling away Spain's global standing? There may be four long and dark years ahead on the Iberian peninsula.
Ouch. La Vanguardia has the story on page 16, and in the headline they spell the newspaper's name as "The Wall Stret Journal". A couple of quotes: "The conservative American media...the tone of the commentary was very offensive and sarcastic..."
Now, get this. Zap's ambassador in Cuba, Carlos Alberto Zaldivar, met with Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque on Thursday in Havana, in the first official meeting between Spain and Cuba for 17 months.
1. The European Union has not lifted its diplomatic sanctions on Cuba.
2. The European Parliament last week requested that no EU country change its policy toward Cuba until all Cuban political prisoners are freed.
3. Zaldivar said "There is a complex process, initiated by Spain, in order to create a more normal situation in EU-Cuban relations." I think what this means is that Zap's Spain is trying to get the rest of the EU to pucker up and plant one on Castro's bum.
4. The Zap regime didn't tell anyone else in the EU that they were going to do this.
5. The Zappers didn't even wait for an upcoming EU meeting at which the question of relations with Cuba is scheduled to be on the agenda.
6. Pérez Roque said, "We've called on the Spanish Ambassador as a result of the process begun by his government, and expecially by his foreign minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, and we are reestablishing official contact with the Spanish Ambassador in Havana.
7. Castro has made absolutely zero concessions regarding the question of human rights or living up to any standard of reasonable behavior.
8. La Vanguardia's Joaquim Ibarz, from whose article I freely plagiarized this post, said that "Spain's unilateral action" had caused a crisis within the EU leadership, where there is "no unanimity about what EU policy toward Cuba should be".
This is unprofessional, chickenshit, cowardly, and the ass-bussing of a dictator. And they talk about alleged American unilateralism. The Zappers went off and did something totally out of bounds according to every rule they accepted they would obey when they joined the EU, and then they whine about Bush only having justification to take out Saddam any time he wanted under a mere three or four UN resolutions.
In case you didn't realize what a shambling disaster the Zap regime has become, Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's democratically elected dictator, showed up in Spain this week. It seems that the major motive for the effusive welcome Chávez received is that the government-owned Venezuelan oil company is going to buy two natural-gas transport ships from a Spanish government-owned shipyard, Izar, located in Sevilla. This will occupy said shipyard for the next three years and Izar will not have to go bankrupt or fire all their workers, as they would otherwise have needed to do. It also seems that back in 2002 Venezuela's government oil company was going to buy eight ships from Izar, but then came the attempted overthrow of Chávez, the Aznar government of Spain sided openly with the anti-Chavistas, and Chávez broke the contract because he got all pissed off.
Also, Spain's monster oil company, Repsol-YPF, produces 100,000 barrels of petroleum a year in Venezuela; this is about 10% of the company's production. They want more Venezuelan concessions and are apparently going to get them. The Venezuelan government is planning to form a mixed public-private company with Repsol in order to explore for even more oil (most likely either off the Venezuelan coast or in the Amazon jungles, for all you Greens out there) And, finally, the Venezuelan military has been talking about buying military radar sets from Indra, the Spanish high-tech company.
Chávez was supposed to meet with the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in order to talk about spending some of the money he's been raking in, because of high oil prices, on Pharoah-like public projects, which will all turn out to be a huge disaster, of course, but he blew them off to speak to Communist union members from the CCOO. La Vanguardia says that the thousand union members who were at the speech gave him several ovations, and "they were at the point of carrying him out of the room on their shoulders". He promised the construction of not two, but three ships, and a repair contract to get production going right now. See, according to La Vanguardia, Zap had personally expressed "his worries regarding the difficult situation that the Spanish government-owned shipyards are going through" to Chávez. Meanwhile, rioting and strikes continued at the (also government-owned) Izar shipyard in Cádiz.
And, of course, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, Spain's ineffable foreign minister, had to get into it. He accused the Aznar government of having openly participated in the attempt to get rid of Chávez in April 2002, and roundly criticized Aznar's alleged participation, for which even the Zappers admit there is no documentary evidence. This is, of course, something that a democratic leader doesn't do--you don't go back on the actions of the former government and diplomatic corps of your own country, at least not officially. Chávez then chimed in, saying he had no doubt Aznar had been behind the attempt to remove him.
Then, fortunately, Chávez went home.
In a final burst of clownishness, the Socialist Party and its allies lost an important parliamentary vote on the appointment of judges yesterday because many of their deputies didn't bother to show up, including Zap and several of his top Zappers.
Pasqual Maragall, in Mexico, said "The world is becoming more and more prepared to be governed by the left...we must find a new paradigm, which has recently been called the Buenos Aires Consensus, and which was born at the Universal Forum of Cultures as the Barcelona Agenda for Development...we must find a substitute for the Washington Consensus, the fruit of the Second World War, and it is time to change the basic norms of the international liberal (i.e. capitalist) economy, since whenever the World Bank and the IMF have intervened it has been to impose capitalist policies and their influence has not been positive."
Yeah, right. When he wakes up he'll find himself among damp, sticky sheets.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
The Europeans, who would have voted massively, but, to their misfortune, only virtually, for John Kerry, woke up in a rather bad mood the morning of the 3rd when they learned that George Bush had been reelected, and besides that, triumphantly, as the American president.
Good. I hope they felt just like you feel in the morning after you've drunk too much beer and eaten some greasy fast food and then three-holed all over yourself the night before.
The additional mobilization of 15 million more voters than in 2000 did not work, as one would have thought, in favor of the Democratic candidate, but rather clearly for the Republican, who won by nearly four million votes.
Yes. One would have thought so, wouldn't one? Iberian Notes was the only major medium of communication that actually predicted a high turnout would favor Bush, by the way.
It is an unpleasant reality, but one must accept it: the Americans do not share the opinion of the Europeans about their president.
Rather than "an unpleasant reality", I'd say, oh, I dunno, "a damned good thing".
This is the proof that, although what the United States thinks is central to the planet, what the rest of the world thinks doesn't matter to the US.
Substitute "France" for "the rest of the world" and you'd be closer to the truth.
International support was not a decisive advatntage for Kerry, who saw himself almost forced to hide it during the campaign, as if it were more of a handicap than an advantage, as if the support of the rest of the outside world were somehow suspicious, as if the interests of the US and the rest of the world were necessarily different and even contradictory.
M. Carabuena is again conflating "France (and its Old European pals, Germany, Belgium, and the Zap regime)" with "the rest of the world". As far as I know Zap was the only leader of a democratic state who openly called for a Kerry victory. Meanwhile, yes, "international support" should be suspicious to the American public, because the interests of other countries are not necessarily the same as those of the US government, and it is the President's job to see that American interests prevail when they contradict those of another country. For example, it was in the French economic interest for Saddam Hussein to stay in power. This contradicted the fact that it was in the American security interest for Saddam Hussein to leave power, by force if necessary. President Bush was quite correct in saying the hell with French interests, go pound sand, this guy has got to go, not only for practical security reasons but in addition for humanitarian reasons. No American President should have put French interests before American.
What will be the impact of Bush's reelection on trans-Atlantic relations? There is a widespread fear that George Bush, in possession now of the clear, rotund, and massive approval of the American electorate, will not only not change his policies, but will rather intensify those followed since 2002. Policies in which power is more important than law and where the opinion of the outside world, including that of the European allies, has no value. That is, the unilateralism that has so irritated the majority of the governments and the whole of the European peoples will not settle, but will rather overflow, since it has been approved by a majority of American voters.
Now, wait, Pasky. Again, you're confusing "France and its Old European poodles" with "the rest of the world". Second, since when is power more important than law? Bush, by law, needed approval from the US Congress in order to send troops into Afghanistan and Iraq. He got it. I don't see anything illegal about that. Third, what unilateralism? Washington has the support of London, Rome, Canberra, Warsaw, Moscow, and Tokyo, among many other capitals. About the only outright opposition it has is that of Paris, Berlin, and Madrid. Fourth, note that what's really pissing Pasky off is France's lack of power and prestige. France just isn't getting enough attention. No one cares what France thinks. So Pasky is going to pout.
Nevertheless, although the whole world has been concerned about these American elections as if their future depended upon them, as if their destiny might be changed, the negative consequences of George W. Bush's reelection run the risk of being in reality much more important inside domestic America than on the world scene.
You wish, Pasky.
Domestically, the differences between the candidates were very clear. From the right to abortion to legislation on firearms, from economic policy to tax rates, from homosexual rights to the problem of welfare, the choice was very clear between Kerry and Bush. The choice of the Americans in favor of social themes that would be classified at least as reactionary in Europe runs the risk, in the long run, of increasing the growing divergences in the Western family between the European and American societies. Can we be sure we are still sharing the same values? If, to this, we add the fundamental difference of the role of religion in these respective societies and the debate over the death penalty, it is possible that we will see an increase of the split between the two sides of the Atlantic. These social differences may bring about not unimportant strategic consequences.
Jesus Christ. And they dare to call the Americans arrogant. Here's this guy threatening "not unimportant strategic consequences" if we don't adjust our domestic policies to fit his liking. Exactly what is France going to do, cut off cheese exports? That'll have the Americans on their knees in a week. Look, moron, the American people voted democratically for what they wanted, and they have every right to get it, whether some intellectuals in Paris think it's reactionary or not. The Constitution says that we have the right to own guns. The Supreme Court says that abortion-on-demand is legal, that the states have the right to decide whether they want to use the death penalty or not, and that discrimination against gays is illegal. The President has no power over any of these questions. The President does have power over economic, tax, and welfare policies, and the American people elected George Bush in part because they agreed with his positions and actions on these issues. It is unseemly for M. Boniface to threaten international reprisals to domestic policies carried out by a democratically elected President, who needs the approval of a democratically elected Congress to do just about anything because Congress is in charge of voting the money. As for religion, we have absolute separation between church and state, something true only in France itself among EU countries. Spain, for example, has an established church, the Roman Catholic. So does the UK, the Church of England. The United States does not. If some American people, as individuals, cast their ballots according to their religion, is that not their right? I will point out that, democratically, Jean-Marie Le Pen came in second in the most recent French elections, and that Frenchmen in glass democratic systems shouldn't throw stones.
Things are much less clear in international policy. Kerry's election would not have ironed out all differences between Americans and Europeans. Bush's election is not necessarily an irremediable catastrophe. It is true that Kerry's election would have caused the exit of the neoconservatives, a change in tone, and a calming in relations between the two sides of the Atlantic. It would have attenuated American unilateralism. However, it would not have eliminated it.
I see. So Kerry would have been merely a lesser evil. The Americans would have been the bad guys no matter who had won. I think this is called "damned if you do and damned if you don't." No matter who got elected, America wouldn't have paid enough attention to France because that's just the way Americans are.
Of course, Bush might feel the temptation to continue a policy unpopular in the world but popular in the US. He does not seem a man haunted by doubt or critical reflection.
I think that was supposed to be an insult.
But, no matter how strong his tendency might be to continue down the same road, he won't be able to do it. He cannot keep up his unrestrained unilateralism...
How many times is this guy going to use the word "unilateralism"? Buy a thesaurus, dude.
...which has led him to a dead end. He is in no position to start another war like that in Iraq.
Who said Bush wanted to go to war against anyone else? Iran and North Korea are certainly on the shit list, but nobody's talking about invading them.
He is already at the end of his military capacity in Iraq, and the American army is having recruiting problems. The military occupation is expensive (between 80 and 100 billion dollars annually) and the budget deficit is now colossal. Bush will have to break his international isolation, which is a strong source of weakness for American power.
Wishful thinking, Pasky. The US budget deficit is at 4.5% of GDP. This is why we're devaluing the dollar, moron. The American figure is not much higher than France's, and the United States is currently at war. The American budget deficit will shrink again when the war is over. The French will not, because it's caused by poor domestic policy. And, Pasky, you keep confusing American unfriendliness toward France and its pals with isolation. The US is constantly in contact with London and Tokyo and Moscow and Riyadh and Rome and Canberra and Seoul and The Hague and Prague and Istanbul and Taipei and Bangkok and Warsaw and Oslo and Islamabad and Cairo and Jerusalem and Lisbon and Copenhagen and Mexico City, and we do care what they think. We just don't care what France thinks. Or Havana, either.
It will be very hard for him to deny the reality of his unpopularity. In order to overcome it, it won't be enough for him to improve his communication policy.
This sounds like another threat, with conditions this time. It won't be enough for Bush to come crawling up to France and plant a big fat one on M. Boniface's ass on the steps of the Hotel de Ville. France won't forgive him that easily. Bush is going to have to do penance.
He will have to change his international policy and show himself more active regarding the Palestinian-Israeli question. The death of Arafat should allow him to put more pressure on Sharon. In order to get out of the Iraqi quagmire, he needs international help. He needs the Europeans more than the Europeans need him.
Serious wishful thinking, Pasky. Note that Pasky's condition for the penance Bush must do is to make Sharon give the Palestinians what they want, which M. Boniface surely must know is impossible, because what the Palestinians want is the extinction of Israel and they will accept nothing less.
Often he has been compared to Ronald Reagan. Must we remind him that Reagan, after denouncing the evil empire and evoking the possibility of a limited war in Europe, would put an end during his second term to the Cold War--true, thanks to Gorbachev--and would even evoke the idea of a world without nuclear weapons? Bush II might be, therefore, less unilateralist than Bush I. And, if he is not, he will weaken his country and will accelerate, as a reaction, the construction of Europe.
Sounds to me like another threat from Pasky. Unless Bush mends his ways, the Old Europeans will somehow magically all get together and grow some testicles or something.
The result for the rest of the countries
PASKY, IF YOU SAY THE REST OF THE WORLD AGAIN WHEN WE ALL KNOW YOU MEAN FRANCE, I WILL HUNT YOU DOWN AND FORCIBLY LOBOTOMIZE YOU WITH A SOUVENEIR MINIATURE EIFFEL TOWER.
is a feeling of disappointment with the results of the American election along with a feeling of not accepting as the only options alignment or criticism, both a confession of impotence. Denying American preeminence makes no sense and is equal to blindness. Deducing that this can only result in submission is no more realistic.
You heard Pasky! France will not submit! France is not impotent! Aux armes, citoyens! Remember Marshal Pétain! Where's the Viagra?
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
"RS - Britain, Italy, Poland and Ukraine supported you in Iraq with troops, but their publics are sceptical.
PW - Some of the hostility among European publics comes from basic, deep-seated factual misrepresentations. Left-wing academics say that this is a war for oil or for Halliburton or other absurdities. Political leaders could take on some of this falsehood and demagoguery. If the US president talked as regularly and as critically about Europe as some European leaders talk about the US, there would probably be a lot more anti-European feeling in this country than there is. And I am surprised that given the American sacrifice in Europe, 50, 60 years ago, more Europeans don't think that the Iraqi people or the Afghan people are entitled to a similar consideration. It's astonishing to hear liberals and socialists, whether in Europe or here, effectively saying that Saddam's fascist, genocidal dictatorship should have been left alone.
RS - The US would have won more support in Europe if it had justified war on humanitarian grounds - Europe accepted war against Serbia on that basis.
PW - But we would never have had 15 votes in the UN on that proposition. The UN was what forced us down the WMD path, which was a legitimate argument. When the president first went to the UN, he made three arguments. He talked about terrorism, he talked about WMD and he talked about abuse of the Iraqi people. Even with the UN resolution, we might have pushed harder on this issue. On the other hand, the Syrians weren't going to vote for a resolution that endorsed removing Saddam for the sake of the Iraqis.
RS - The leader of the British Tories, the pro-Atlanticist Michael Howard, was cold shouldered by the White House because he dared to criticise Tony Blair's presentation on Iraq. So if you want to be received at the White House, do you have to show obedience these days?
PW - If we expected obedience we wouldn't have any relations with Europe at all. It's usually our practice to meet with politicians from across the spectrum.
Look, we've been through 50 years now of the most successful alliance in history. It's had its downs. We're in the middle of a war which hasn't been won yet and it's tough and nobody likes a war. I can understand people being anti-war, even if they know all the facts. But I still believe that freedom is a powerful force that will help sort this out. It's also a glue that holds us together. Who would have dreamed ten years ago that a Nato force would be keeping the peace in Kabul, so that Afghanistan could build a democracy? There's a lot that's creative and good."
I honestly know very little about the Ivory Coast. I know where it is, that it used to be a French colony before about 1960, that it was governed by a fairly typical African despot, Houphoet-Boigny, who was nonetheless at least somewhat enlightened and who was also in the pocket of France, that it either produces or used to produce a hell of a lot of cacao, and that over the last few years instability has greatly increased. I do not know whether the bad guys in this situation are the French-supported government, which apparently controls the south, or the rebels / terrorists / oppressed masses, who apparently control the north, or both. I'm willing to bet both.
I do know, however, that French troops are in combat in the Ivory Coast. I also know that they wiped out the tiny government air force for some reason. I know that they have taken casualties. I also know that the French felt called upon to intervene because Ivory Coast falls within the French sphere of influence, and, particularly, because there are a goodly number of French citizens living in Ivory Coast who are in danger.
The French intervention does not particularly bother me. I understand that Africa is an international disaster area that needs a lot of help from the West, and one form of help we can at least sort of provide in some places is security. If there's a civil war on, it's got to be stopped if possible, and the French are at least trying to make that possible.
What does bug me is the standard French third-world America-bashing line, according to which the Yanks are a bunch of goddamn imperialists while the French are, get this, all moral and solidarious. People: there is absolutely no moral difference between American intervention of Iraq and French intervention in the Ivory Coast, except that Saddam was a proven international danger and besides was making a hell of a lot of people more miserable and brutalized than any Ivory Coast warlord ever did.
First, and most importantly, there's "moral difference" racism. If you think that, say, Polynesians are subhuman--human defined by you as your own group, of course--and therefore don't deserve the same consideration as any other human being regarding basic human rights like life, liberty, property, and equality under the law, I can't see any mitigating aspect whatsoever to your thinking. You are an asshole and your sort of thinking led to the Holocaust and the Atlantic slave trade and every other enslavement and/or expoliation and/or extermination in human history. This is what I'd call pure racism.
Second is "physical difference" racism. I've decided I don't think this is racism after all. Hey, look, Polynesians are mostly really fat if they live in a wealthy society where there's plenty of food. Statistics bear this out; the fattest countries in the world are not the US or UK, but places like Samoa and Tonga. And a lot of them are physically huge. Is it racist to point this out? This is why you see a good few Polynesians who are successful sumo wrestlers and NFL players. (I vaguely knew one of them, Chris Maumalanga, in college; he was one of my students' roommates in the dormitory. Nice guy.) Also, young Polynesian women are often very attractive, certainly much more so than your typical Midwestern white-bread German-Scandinavian-Bohemian heifers. Is it racist to say that?
Third comes "intellectual difference" racism. This is sometimes considered to be the result of a slippery slope--that is, if you admit there are physical differences between racial and ethnic groups, then you're open to charges that you think there might be mental differences, too. But come on. One look at Colin Powell and Condi Rice and Vernon Jordan and Andy Young and Thomas Sowell and Clarence Thomas should demonstrate that, say, African-Americans are just as bright as anybody else. No one sensible thinks any other thing. Yes, African-Americans on average score lower than other Americans on IQ tests, but my guess is that this is an artifact of the tests and the variable is most likely environment--African-Americans on average grow up in poorer households than whites and therefore sometimes do not have the same access to education and culture as wealthier people do.
Fourth would be "social difference" racism. That is, the group in question has certain social habits that make it stand out from the mainstream. For example, Polynesians love pork, and they eat incredible quantities of Spam. In fact, they tend to like canned meat in general; they sure eat a lot of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. I don't know what's racist about saying that. It's kind of like saying that people from Kansas are often overweight and that they eat huge portions of food in restaurants. That's true. (Note: They actually eat a pretty healthy diet. It's just that they eat way too much of it.) But, see, this is tricky. If you're not tolerant of that particular social difference, or if you're conspiracy-minded and you misunderstand it, then this can be just as bad as (or even worse than) "moral difference" racism. For example, Jews tend to place more value on education and high culture than non-Jewish Americans. This means that they tend to be at least middle-class and middle-income (the two things are different, of course). Ignorant and conspiracy-minded people, who are often poorly educated and uncultured, sometimes resent this and libel Jews as scheming, dishonest manipulators. This leads to very unpleasant results.
Conclusion: I don't think "physical difference" racism is really racism. "Intellectual difference" racism is just plain stupid; it's like believing that the world is flat. "Social difference" racism is often not racist at all; it becomes racist when the social difference is stigmatized, and then it is as reprehensible as "moral difference" racism.
Saturday, November 20, 2004
I personally think Barcelona is going to win for a variety of reasons, including (very importantly) home-field advantage, with 110,000 screaming culés making monkey noises at Roberto Carlos, as is their habit, and howling "traitor" and "Judas" at Figo, as is also their habit. Barcelona's players are confident, Barça has the better coach, Barça's players are younger and hungrier, Barça has a better bench, and so on. But, I think, if we compare the two teams position for position, we'll see that Barça's players are generally superior.
Goalie: Barça Valdés, Madrid Casillas. No contest here. Valdés is a perfectly decent player who is quite adequate as goalie, but Casillas is the best goalie in Spain. Advantage: Madrid.
Left back: Barça Van Bronckhorst, Madrid Roberto Carlos. R.C. is still fast and powerful and has a blistering free kick, but he's getting old and doesn't play much defense. Van Bronckhorst is a solid player who's good defensively and offensively; his centers often result in goals. Advantage: Barça.
Left defender: Barça Puyol, Madrid Pavón. No contest. Pavón is a perfectly decent player, and at least he's young, but Puyol is the best defender in Spain. Advantage: Barça.
Right defender: Barça Oleguer, Madrid Samuel. Samuel has been very inconsistent so far with Madrid, and he's been gimpy too. Oleguer is young and strong and has won himself a job. Expect to see him around for the next eight years or so. Advantage: Barça.
Right back: Barça Belletti, Madrid Salgado. Salgado is mediocre, probably Madrid's worst regular player. Belletti plays on Brazil's national team. Advantage: Barça.
Left wing: Barcelona Ronaldinho, Madrid Zidane. These guys are both great. Ronaldinho is younger and has more to prove. Advantage: Tie.
Attacking midfielder: Barcelona Deco, Madrid Raúl. Raúl has been in awful form over the last couple of years. Deco is having his best season ever after winning the Champions' League with Oporto and coming second in the Eurocup with Portugal. Advantage: Barça.
Defending midfielder: Barcelona Márquez, Madrid Guti. Guti is sort of a Pete Rose kind of player, gets a lot out of limited talent and lots of guts. Márquez, probably Mexico's best player, has broken out this season. Advantage: Barça. I wouldn't mind having Guti on my team, though.
Organizing midfielder: Barça Xavi, Madrid Beckham. Xavi is another Barça player having a breakout year; he's won a spot on the national team. Beckham is not nearly as good as he is famous. Advantage: Barça. I would consider getting rid of Becks if I were Madrid--the guy is too much of a media circus.
Right wing: Barcelona Giuly, Madrid Figo. Figo is getting old and has been in lousy form over the last couple of years. Giuly is a fixture on France's national squad; he looked so good this preseason that they sold off Luis García, a fine player himself. He has not disappointed. Advantage: Barcelona.
Center forward: Barcelona Etoo, Madrid Ronaldo. Etoo is motivated. Very motivated. Ronaldo is another guy wrapped up in a media circus lifestyle. Not that Ronaldo's not great, but I'd rather have Etoo. Ronaldo is a star. Etoo really, really wants to be a bigger star than Ronaldo. Advantage: Barça.
Bench: Barcelona Iniesta, Larsson, Gerard, Sylvinho, Damià. Madrid Owen, Morientes, Celades. Advantage: Tie, more or less.
It looks to me like Barcelona is clearly superior, position for postition. Of course, now they have to play the game.
Friday, November 19, 2004
OK. Let's see if we can get this straight. First, according to Lomborg, 65% of US energy consumption is oil and natural gas, 25% is coal, and other sources (mostly nuclear, hydro, and wood) add up to 10%.
Now, here's the list of the world's largest energy producers, adding together all sources of energy. It's measured in million tons of coal equivalent per year.
The United States is number one with 2510. Russia, number two, produces half as much, 1360, and China is third with 1270. Then comes Saudi Arabia at 670, less than 1/4 US production. No. 5 is Canada with 520, then the UK with 380, then India with 340. Eighth is Iran with 330, about 1/9 US production. Then, all together around 300, are No. 9 Mexico, No. 10 Venezuela, No. 11 Indonesia, No. 12 Norway, and No. 13 Australia. The UAE is 14th with 210. Kuwait is 19th, Nigeria is 21st, and Libya is 26th. Iraq doesn't even make the list.
Now let's look at energy consumption, again in million tons of coal equivalent per year.
Again, the United States is number one at 3120, and we import 850 of that, making us the world's biggest importer, too. (Curiously, we're the 15th exporter at 120, most of which is Alaskan oil shipped to Japan.) Number two is China with 1210, so they're pretty much self-sufficient. Russia is third with 830, leaving them 520 to export and making them the world's largest exporter. Japan is fourth at 660, and they're the second-biggest importer with 580. Germany is the fifth-largest consumer and the third-largest importer; they consume 470 and import 330 of that. India is the sixth consumer at 410, and they produce most of that, importing 90. The seventh consumer is Canada at 340; they're the fourth exporter at 250. Consumers eight and nine are France and the UK, with 320 each, but the UK is a net exporter (only about 50) while France is the sixth biggest importer at 210. Italy is the 10th consumer with 240 and they import 220 of that, making them the fifth importer.
The biggest exporters are, of course, Russia in first with 830, and then Saudi Arabia with 500. Norway is the third exporter with 270, and then comes Canada with 250, as we said. Fifth is Venezuela with 210, sixth is Iran with 190, and then comes Australia with a surprising 170, mostly coal. Then we have the UAE with 160, Indonesia with 160, the UK with 150 (but they import 100), Algeria at 140, Mexico at 130, Kuwait at 130, Nigeria at 130, the US at 120, and the Netherlands at 120 (though they import 150, putting them at a deficit of 30). Everyone else exports less than 100. Iraq is at 50, below Malaysia and above Angola.
This means the US's net energy deficit, imports minus exports, is 730. We could meet that buying only from our friends in Russia and Canada and Mexico. We are not dependent on Middle Eastern oil. We import a lot of it because it's cheap and easy to produce compared to other sources, but we don't need it. The countries most dependent on imports are Japan, Germany, South Korea, Italy, France, Singapore, and then Spain, with an energy deficit of 130. Japan imports two-thirds as much energy as we do, and they produce barely any of their own.
These are the countries that are vulnerable to oil blackmail. Notice that they're all in Continental Europe or the Far East. Also notice that many of the countries that support the United States in Iraq--the UK, the Netherlands, Australia, and Norway--are not dependent on Middle Eastern oil. I believe that this is no coincidence. These places aren't up to their necks in sweetheart deals with mysterious sheiks because the sheiks know that they need these countries and not vice versa. The sheiks, on the other hand, do know perfectly well whose balls they've got in the twister. Can you say "France and Germany"? The Japanese have been pretty gutsy during this whole thing. So have the Italians, despite all the crooked schemes Berlusconi has been up to with shady characters. Also notice how dependent upon the US and European energy markets Russia has become. This might be one reason Putin supports Bush.
The direct translation of "black" into Spanish, in all senses of the word, is "negro". The deal in Spanish is that, when said normally (e.g. "I know a black guy from Cameroon named Pierre" = "Conozco a un negro de Camerún que se llama Pierre") it's perfectly non-offensive, merely a statement of fact. It becomes racist, though, when it's said impolitely (e.g. "Los putos negros son todos vagos y ladrones"). Then it's better translated as "nigger" into English, and that sentence would be "Goddamn niggers are all lazy thieves."
Well, our national soccer coach, Luis Aragonés, did an Al Campanis or Jimmy the Greek. At a training session a few weeks ago, he called French player Thierry Henry a "negro de mierda", which would best translate as "fuckin' nigger". When called on it in public by the British press, he first actually came out with the "some of my best friends are black" line, and then proceeded to blast the British over their colonial record, saying that he knew some black people whom English colonists had tried to hunt down. This did not endear him to anyone except a bunch of assholes.
Meanwhile, at Wednesday's Spain-England friendly match in the Santiago Bernabeú stadium in Madrid, the crowd made ape noises every time one of England's four black players (Cole, Jenas, Defoe, and Wright-Phillips) got the ball. A common crowd chant in Spain is "Pogo, pogo, if you don't pogo you're a (merengue or culé or perico or whatever the enemy team's followers are called)". On Wednesday night "nigger" was substituted. The English players lambasted the Spanish crowd, saying they'd never seen the like before, not even in Newcastle, which is sort of England's Philadelphia. The Vanguardia interviewed some of the 30-odd black players in the Spanish soccer league and they confirmed that they received racist insults, most commonly the "uuuh, uuuh, uuuh" ape noises, everywhere they play--even at home, because their home crowds insult the black players on the rival team. This is, of course, an absolute disgrace.
Now, get this. La Vanguardia's take is that the importance of this incident is--you won't believe it--the competition for the 2012 Olympic Games. See, the British press is trying to work up aminadversion toward Spain in order to torpedo Madrid's chances of getting the Games and thereby help London. The French press is following them, trying to benefit Paris's candidacy. This is the subject of the Vangua's LEAD EDITORIAL today. Uh, no, the importance of this incident is that Spain's fans and coach have been revealed as a bunch of racist bastards.
Anyway, La Vanguardia is just rolling in it, loving the idea of anything disprestigious (like having their candidacy shot down) that happens to the city of Madrid. They actually ran, on the front page today, a story about a power station outage in Madrid that affected thousands of people for several hours, and framed it in the perspective of the further damage it would do to Madrid's candidacy.
The Spanish press, especially El Periódico, have been making a huge stink about the Marine who shot a wounded terrorist in a mosque in Fallujah. Pardon me while I weep. There. I'm done. What if the guy had had a pistol? Or a hand grenade? Then you'd have several dead Marines along with anybody else around there. That was a judgement call on the part of the Marine--kill this guy I'm suspicious of or hold fire while I check out whether my suspicions are justified or not. Nobody except that man right there could make that decision. This is a war and that was the middle of a battle, not in cold blood. Combatants sometimes get shot while combat is happening. Surrender is not always accepted. Wounded combatants are presumed to be still in combat if they're capable of fighting.
Also, let me point out several other things. First, these terrorists are not lawful bearers of arms. They are illegal combatants--they are not the representatives of a state--and as such have absolutely no rights under the Geneva Convention, which of course is a treaty between states. We could take every single one of these guys out and shoot them, perfectly legally. That's the deal with Guantánamo. Those guys are not prisoners of war, so they have, basically, no rights at all. They're not common criminals and what they did didn't happen inside the US, unless of course they're mixed up with Al Qaeda, which they are in some way, so they don't get a criminal trial before a judge. We don't want to shoot them, although we could. A couple more comments are that these guys don't obey anything resembling international law, what with the mass murders of Iraqi civilians and the beheadings of hostages they're committing, and so there's no reason to treat them under international law anyway. Also, under international law, religious buildings like mosques and churches are supposed to be places of sanctuary. The terrorists, by using the mosque as a fortress, were breaking international law yet again.
On a side note: The figure from The Lancet, that 100,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq, is now gospel over here. Xavier Sala i Martín wrote a column in La Vanguardia about how bogus those numbers are; they've already been adequately refuted all over the blogosphere. Suffice it to say that Iraq Body Count and Human Rights Watch, not exactly part of the Pentagon PR machine, cite an estimate, based on journalistic reports, of 10-15,000 civilian dead, almost all of them killed by the terrorists in bombings, mortarings, snipings, and the like. The number of proven civilian dead--remember, Saddam's Iraq had everybody under control with ID cards, multiple other papers, and tight security, it was a police state--is considerably below this estimate. My guess is that the number of civilian dead because of the war is significantly less than the number there would have been if Saddam's brutal repression had been allowed to continue.
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Tom Russell has a new record out; the single is called "Tonight We Ride". This guy is awesome. His songs actually mean something and they sound cool too. His last album, which has "Racehorse Haynes" and several other terrific songs, was called "Modern Art" and I highly recommend it. I'm still not sure what the new record is called but this guy deserves to have a lot more fans than he does.
Buy anything you see that's by Asleep at the Wheel. These guys put on the best live show I've ever seen, spark and style and commitment and balls-all-the-way-out-but-under-control. This is Western swing the way it ought to be.
BR-549 has some new stuff coming out, too, and if you love real rock and roll with some twang this is your band. I saw these guys at the same show I saw Asleep at the Wheel and they rock. I actually vaguely know the lead singer, Charlie Mead, because he comes from Lawrence, Kansas, too. I remember seeing him and his band the Homestead Grays all the way back in 1986. They used to kick off their shows with "The Wreck of the Old 97". Then they'd play "Jesse James" and Bob Dylan's "Love Minus Zero", and they had this hilarious song called "Workin' on the Dude Ranch". They had plenty of originals, too, one of which, "Chains of This Town", made it onto a BR-549 record.
Junior Brown. Slade Cleves. Ray Wylie Hubbard. Robert Earl Keen. The Derailers. Check out these guys from St. Louis called the Rockhouse Ramblers. Jack Ingram. Dale Watson. There's this guy who's really good named James McMurtry; he's the author Larry McMurtry's son.
For great country music out of Dallas, go to khyi.com. KHYI is the best country station in the world. Other stations on Internet that you ought to check out--just google the call letters--are WWOZ, jazz and blues from New Orleans; KBON, Cajun-country-whatevertheywannaplay from Lafayette, LA; KJHK, the best modern music from Lawrence; and KUT, the University of Texas station out of Austin.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Q. When will Bush meet with Zapatero?
a) Very soon, Moratinos is such a slick diplomat
b) Very soon, when frogs grow hair
c) At 6 PM, according to the Greek calendar
d) The relationship is so close they don't even need to meet
e) Not for a long time. Let those Yankees wait.
TOP TEN REASONS BUSH HASN'T CALLED ZAPATERO
10) Jenna accidentally threw away cocktail napkin with Zap's phone number on it in lipstick
9) Never actually falls for it when somebody writes "For a good time, call Zap, 867-5309" on a bathroom wall
8) Just totally turned off by those eyebrows
7) Too busy washing his hair
6) Occupied listening to new Junior Brown CD
5) Last date asked for money for his sister's operation
4) Thought it was just a one-night stand
3) Depressed over Dallas Cowboys' atrocious performance last week
2) His mama told him never to talk to strangers
1) "Call who?"
I have a copy of the Economist's 2002 World in Figures collection of statistics. It's fascinating. I know it's a little obsolete, but I imagine that the relative order among the various countries in the following list is accurate. It's the fifty largest national economies in the world, in terms of GDP, in billions of dollars.
The United States, of course, is number one with $9.15 trillion per year in GDP, a staggering amount of wealth. Japan is a solid number two with $4.35 trillion, more than double Germany at number three and $2.11 trillion. The UK is fourth at $1.44 trillion and France has $1.43 trillion in fifth, so they're effectively tied. Italy is sixth with $1.17 trillion. These are all standard Western-style, reasonably liberal democratic states, six of the Group of Seven.
The first non-democratic state on the list is China at number seven, with $.98 trillion, and Brazil is a surprising number eight at $.75 trillion. This is a place to be reckoned with if it can ever get a decent government. I guess Lula isn't nearly as bad as he might be. If you can speak Spanish or some other Romance language, it might be very much worth your while to invest a year or two of study and pick up Portuguese. Canada is ninth with an excellent $.63 trillion for such a small population, and then, in tenth place (hurray!) is Spain with $.60 trillion. We're number ten! We're number ten! That's actually pretty damn good, beaten out by only the G-7, China, and Brazil. I think we've got a lot of room to improve, too. Not even Zap is going to be able to completely screw up the Second Spanish Renaissance.
Mexico is another surprising number eleven--these with .49 trillion, and India is next at $.45 trillion. South Korea is a very good thirteenth at $.41 trillion and then Australia punches above its weight at fourteenth with .40 trillion. Who was missing up till now? Right, Russia, at number fifteen with $.40 trillion. Pathetic. All those years of misrule. What a tragedy. They're living off exporting raw minerals, mostly energy and metals. They have to import food, for Chrissake. It's their second-biggest import. And they've got an incredibly high seven percent of their people working in agriculture.
Now we're starting to see comparatively minor differences between the countries on the list. Effectively, the five previous countries fall into a mid-sized group.
Now we start getting small, wealthy countries, the Netherlands $.39 trillion and sixteenth place and Taiwan at $.28 trillion in 17th. Eighteenth place is Argentina, which should be as rich as Canada, at a weak $.28 million. Nineteenth is the Swiss, at $.26 billion, and 20th is Belgium. Also above $.20 trillion are No. 21 Sweden and No. 22 Austria.
Now we get the first Muslim country on the list--Turkey with $.18 trillion in 23rd place. Also above $.15 trillion are No. 24 Denmark (with only like five million people), No. 25 Hong Kong (they're just an island), No. 26 Poland, the first ex-Soviet satellite on the list, and tiny No. 27 Norway, the first of our countries (barring Russia and, sort of, Canada and Mexico) whose economy is heavily dependent on exporting energy.
Above $.10 trillion per year are No. 28 Indonesia and No. 29 Saudi Arabia (two big, poorly-managed oil producers), No. 30 South Africa, our first African country, and then No. 31 Finland and No. 32 Greece. Then come growing No. 33 Thailand, Portugal at a respectable No. 34, and then two more poorly-managed oil-producers, Iran and Venezuela. The last in this group is No. 37 Israel, which ought to dispose of the myth that the Jews control everything.
Now we're at $.10 trillion, which is of course $100 billion per year in GDP. Going down from there we have Ireland in thirty-eighth place, Egypt at No. 39 (demonstrating just how badly off Middle Eastern countries are), No. 40 Colombia (how much of that is drugs?), No. 41 Singapore, not bad for a tiny island, No. 42 Malaysia, No. 43 Philippines, No. 44 Chile, and a terrible No. 45 Pakistan, which gets us through a group of East Asians and Latin Americans. We don't see New Zealand until No. 46, but that's because there are like eight of them divided up along forty million sheep. The Czech Republic is forty-seventh, Peru is 48th, Hungary is 49th, and Algeria, tragically, with all its energy to sell and its horrible insane political conflict, is fiftieth at $.04 trillion.
So what have we got? Wealth is concentrated in North America, Europe, and parts of East Asia. Duh, I guess. Larger Third World countries have a big enough economy to be influential. Look specifically at how insignificant oil-producers are compared to the really big countries. The United States could buy all Saudi Arabia's yearly production of everything combined and barely burp. Note that Latin America and Southeast Asia at least make the list. Only Greece from the Balkans makes the list, and only one country in sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa, makes it. No Jordan. No Syria. No Iraq. No Libya. Not even any Kuwait or UAE. No former Soviet states but Russia.
This is why many Muslims, particularly the Arab nationalists among them, fear, hate, and envy the West. They're weak and poor and have little influence, and they'd have none whatsoever if some Middle Eastern states didn't have the most accessible plentiful source of oil for Europe and Japan (and the whole Third World outside Latin America--note that Americans can afford $50 / barrel oil and the consequences are a few consumer complaints about allegedly expensive gas, but what are the consequences of $50 / barrel oil in, say, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Bosnia, or Benin? Ask the gentle, solidarious folk of OPEC).
To mangle a Francis Fukuyama argument, I think many Arabs and Muslims feel ashamed of their countries' weakness and poverty. They take it personally and feel diminished as both individuals and as a people by the fact that they can't beat Israel in a war or manufacture anything for themselves or give their citizens Western living standards or produce a non-corrupt, non-dictatorial government. As Fukuyama would say, their self-esteem is being violated in two ways: they feel anger, which is when you feel other people are infravaloring you (those Westerners don't respect us enough! We'll teach 'em a lesson, by Allah's beard), and they feel shame, which is when you feel that you haven't lived up to your own standards, that you have overvalued yourself (why aren't we rich and strong like them? We most certainly should be, and yet we're not. Therefore there's someone abusing and mistreating us, because this situation couldn't possibly be our own fault. Let's find that someone and kill him, by Allah's beard).
So what do you do if you're a jealous, envious nationalist, deeply hurt in your prestige and self-esteem by your society's inability to compete? Well, you either tear down the enemy (e.g. Arab allegations that the all-powerful Jews are behind all-powerful America, the huge tree that refuses to give the Muslim sapling a chance to grow) or you build yourself up (e.g. Muslim / Arab boasting about their ancient civilization, never mind the state of things now). But you, yourself, know in your heart that the building-up is phony, that you're sublimating your rage and envy at your own society into a bitter hate toward an amorphous West, and more concretely toward the United States, the largest, most visible Western phenomenon. This psychological cocktail of fear, rage, bigotry, and resentment leads to violence. At least that's what I think.
Monday, November 15, 2004
Thursday, November 11, 2004
Arafat never wanted peace. Proof of this is that he turned doen the Camp David accords of 2000, when Ehud Barak gave him the best offer that the Palestinians are going to get from any Israeli prime minister. He wanted only one thing: the destruction of Israel. That and power and wealth: there are various reports going around of the size of his bank accounts, ranging from several hundred million dollars up to five billion. (Forbes estimates his worth as between $1 and 3 billion.) Way too much of this cash came from the pockets of the European Union's taxpayers.
Meanwhile, Europe has been rocked this week by instability. French forces have gone into action in Ivory Coast in an attempt to stop the conflict between the thoroughly offensive government and the bloody, cruel terrorist insurgents. Among other things, they destroyed the government air force on the ground. La Vanguardia has been quick to go with the Quai d'Orsay's version of reality: the United States is locked in a struggle with France over leadership in Francophone Africa, and is trying to replace France's influence with its own. Therefore the US is supporting the mostly Christian southern government against the mostly Moslem northern rebels. I personally really don't think the US has a dog in this fight. I think this is French paranoia.
Naturally, there has been a total of zero France-bashing demonstrations on the streets of Barcelona saying "No to the war!"
There has been serious conflict in Holland since last week's murder of controversial filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamist radical. Eight mosques and four churches have been torched by different mobs, whether nativist or Islamist. Holland is trying to deal with the idea that they have a significant population of immigrants that does not share the goals of Dutch society, no matter how well they have been treated by the tolerant and generous Dutch government and the moderate and generally reasonable Dutch people. (Note: Holland is a member of the Coalition in Iraq, along with Norway and Denmark. That's right, the liberal North Europeans are in it with the Yanks, Brits, and Aussies.)
Meanwhile, in Belgium, the supreme court has declared the country's largest political party, the Vlaams Blok, illegal on the ground that it is racist. The Vlaams Blok is a far-right Flemish nationalist party which, among other lovely ideas, calls for the expulsion of all immigrants from Belgium. Anyway, of course, all the VB is giong to do is change its name and they'll be right back in business. They're also going to change their platform; from now on they will only call for the expulsion of immigrants who don't agree with them politically.
Here in Spain, there are two different stinks brewing. One of them is how badly Zap has pissed off the Americans. It seems that the combination of Zap's pulling Spanish troops out of Iraq, which was bad enough, and then Zap's call for everyone else to follow Spain's lead and pull out too, which put Zap into the position of leader of the anti-American Old European backlash, have the White House so pissed off that it's going to be a long four years for Spain. Zap also managed to personally offend the American ambassador, George Argyros, with his juvenile behavior at a couple of symbolic public acts. So, probably in order to make a point, José María Aznar (apparently an actual personal friend of Bush) has received a good bit of positive publicity on his recent trip to the US. He got a personal meeting with Bush, a spot for an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, and a speaking appearance at Georgetown University. Nice photo ops. They also announced that the King and Queen are going to visit Bush at the ranch in Texas sometime this month; I suppose they're making it clear that the problem isn't Spain, it's Zap. (Note to anti-monarchists: This is one of the things the King is useful for. One of his jobs is international feel-good ambassador for Spain and he does it very well.) Zap still hasn't had his phone call to Bush returned; the Vangua mentions that the leaders of El Salvador, Georgia, Denmark, and Romania have recently received personal calls from Bush.
The other one is this absolutely insane debate going on about "the unity of the Catalan language". I don't know all the details; the political maneuvering is both too complex and too stupid to figure out. It seems that the European Union constitution will not make Catalan an official language of the UE, so the Cataloonies have announced that they're going to vote no on the whole constitution because of this one little thing. You morons. The European Union is good for Spain, Catalonia, and Barcelona. Meanwhile, the Spanish government recognizes both Catalan and Valencian as different languages, and so the Constitution will be translated separately into both of them. Now, this is ridiculous. Catalan and Valencian are different dialects of the same language according to the basic linguistic definition: can the speakers of the two forms carry on a natural conversation?, and parts of Catalonia (Lérida province and southern Tarragona province) speak something that's more similar to Valencian than to Barcelona Catalan. The deal, though, is that Valencia does not like Barcelona any better than Barcelona likes Madrid. Valencia is very prickly about not being part of the Paísos Catalans, the Greater Catalonia dreamed of by some Cataloonies. They consider themselves to be Spanish first, Valencian second, and Catalan not at all. This leads them to make ridiculous statements about how Valencian is not Catalan. What I would do if I were the Cataloonies is say, OK, we're going to change the name of the language to Valencian. Here in Barcelona, from now on, we speak Valencian. Now can we agree it's the same thing?
"Spanish PM Phones, Bush Doesn't Pick Up
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
WASHINGTON — The White House has put out word daily of calls flooding in from around the world to congratulate President Bush on his re-election victory. But somehow, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero just hasn't been able to get his call past the switchboard.
Zapatero phoned Bush not long after his Nov. 2 win, but wasn't put through to the president. Now, more than a week after the voting, the two leaders still have not hooked up.
The White House explanation signaled something of a cold shoulder toward the Spanish leader, who angered the administration by withdrawing troops from Iraq just after taking office in April.
"I think that may be the case, that he has tried to reach out," Bush press secretary Scott McClellan said Wednesday. "Calls are scheduled at times that are mutually convenient. Some calls are able to be scheduled quicker than others."
Meanwhile, Bush met privately on Tuesday at the White House with Spain's former prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, who was a chief Bush ally in the war in Iraq."
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
I think Bush won the election for the following reasons.
1) Most Americans think that the country has made progress since 2000, despite our being at war since September 11, 2001. There hasn't been another terrorist attack on US territory since, and the economy is chugging along quite well. Most Americans feel pretty prosperous and reasonably secure. Since Bush has been the president for those four years, let's re-elect him.
2) Most Americans are in favor of United States policy on terrorism and on Iraq. They see Al Qaeda and the Taliban and Saddam and all the other Islamic terrorist groups and regimes as somehow being connected and as the enemy. They believe we should defeat the enemy before we negotiate with him, since he declared war on us, not vice versa.
3) Most Americans feel closer to the moral and ethical values of the conservatives rather than those of the liberals. That's not saying that the ethics of liberals are somehow wrong or immoral; in probably 98% of cases they're the same. (I.e. both liberals and conservatives agree you shouldn't kill people or steal stuff or beat people up or rape them or rip them off or destroy stuff that doesn't belong to you or dump your garbage in the river or discriminate against people or generally act like a dick.)
Where liberals and conservatives disagree on social issues is on the smaller stuff--we all agree that unemployed single moms can't be left to starve in the street, we disagree on the methods the government should use to try to deal with the problem. We all agree the government should help disadvantaged people (kids from poor families, that is) to get a leg up, to get an education and some skills in order to have a decent, productive, generally happy and pleasant life. We disagree over what precisely the kids ought to study. We all believe gay people shouldn't be persecuted and should have the same rights as everyone else to live their own lives. What we're not all sure about is whether this includes the right to get married. We all agree that shooting heroin is bad for you and should be discouraged. We disagree on...but you get my point.
Right now most people tend to agree more with the conservatives on these issues.
So I suppose my point is that you don't have to be particularly well-informed, which most people in Spain and America aren't, to know where you stand on these issues. Another point is that being well-informed has nothing to do with being leftist or Democratic. Many, perhaps most, of the well-informed voted for Bush. A third point is that there's nothing wrong with being ill-informed. Most people have a job, a spouse, a kid, a dog, a house, some friends, some relatives, a hobby or particular interest, a favorite TV show, kind of music, and/or sports team, one vacation per year, probably some sort of religious belief, a set of ethical standards, a collection of experiences, and that more or less fills up their lives. That doesn't mean their lives are empty, far from it. It just means that politics and current events aren't one of the things that fills them.
Monday, November 08, 2004
Well, I dunno. First of all, I figure about 20% of people in both America and Spain are simply incapable of voting, whether they're senile, illiterate, crazy, in the hospital, in prison, stoned, or just too damn dumb to find their way to the polls without anybody to hold their hands. Like certain cousins of mine.
Of the 80% remaining who are more or less sentient beings, here's what percentage of them are exposed to various sources of information.
IDIOTIC CRAP PEOPLE TELL YOU: 1OO% in both countries. You'd be surprised at some of the stupid shit people believe and repeat if you stopped and paid attention. I mean really ridiculous crap. And now it's going around incredibly fast due to cellphones and text messaging. The rest of you should all be ashamed of yourselves.
LOWEST-COMMON-DENOMINATOR MEDIA CRAP: 99% in both countries. This includes most movies, nearly all television, nearly all radio, nearly all popular music, sports, pornography, and advertising.
LOWEST-COMMON-DENOMINATOR MEDIA CRAP YOU ACTUALLY HAVE TO READ: Maybe 60% in both countries. This includes sports papers, revistas de corazón, the National Enquirer, Family Circle, Harlequin romances, Tom Clancy novels, and the like.
MIDDLEBROW TELEVISION AND RADIO: This includes US late-night talk shows and their Spanish imitations and fairly serious morning or afternoon talk programs, e.g. Oprah or Julia Otero. Maybe 60% in both countries.
BROADCAST TV NEWS: Local TV news probably reaches 90% of the sentient, at least occasionally, in the US. Network TV national news probably only reaches about half the sentient in the US; it does better in Spain, probably reaching 80%.
TALK RADIO: Surprisingly popular. A lot of people listen to it at work in both countries. I'd bet half of Spaniards listen to some kind of talk radio every day, and maybe 30% of Americans. Talk radio trends conservative in the US and leftist in Spain, except for the COPE network.
CABLE TV NEWS: I bet half of our sentient beings in the US at least occasionally watch one of the cable news channels. Doesn't really exist in Spain.
MIDDLEBROW CULTURE: By this I mean "serious" fiction, "good" "cinema", PBS, your theater and dance and more sophisticated music, museums, non-fiction books, and so on. Sentient human beings in Spain tend to have somewhat more interest in and knowledge about this than sentient Americans do. I emphasize "tend to". It's considered socially preferable and even admirable in Spain to be "culto", which means familiar with and knowledgeable about this stuff. That's not true in America, at least not among most of the middle class. You could, however, make a fair argument that Pepe Español is more likely than Joe American to know a little something about classical music, his country's literature, or fine art. Or you could argue that the American is less likely to be pretentious and pretend he knows something when he really knows almost nothing.
NEWSPAPERS: Hard to say. Maybe 70% of the sentient in America, not even 50% in Spain. American newspapers are generally much more locally specific than Spanish ones, and Spanish newspapers contain more hard news and a good deal of middlebrow culture. They're also aimed at a high-school-graduate level, not a sixth-grade level like many smaller American papers. Quality newspapers are read by maybe 10% of the American sentient. One thing is that newspapers in Spain are not home-delivered and cost a euro, rather than appearing on your doorstep every morning and costing just $17.95 a month or whatever.
MIDDLEBROW MAGAZINES: Time, National Geographic, etc. More popular in the US, reaching maybe 30% of the sentient. In Spain 10% at most.
INTERNET: That's really hard to say. Probably 60% of American and 30% of Spanish sentient beings use the Internet at least sometimes, but I'm damned if I know for what. Probably chat and porno. I will guess that maybe 5% of Americans look at serious stuff (i.e. blogs!) on the Internet. That percentage is going to be smaller in Spain.
CONCLUSION: Probably about half of sentient beings in both the US and Spain ingest almost nothing but media crap and whatever rumor or story or other BS is going around the office. As for the rest, most aren't especially well-informed, I don't think, not in either country. There are a lot of available resources for information out there, many more in the US than in Spain, but most people don't take advantage of all of them and few in either country are what I'd consider knowledgeable about political issues.
Yet somehow society survives and even thrives.
Sunday, November 07, 2004
"Most international observers, especailly the Europeans, are undergoing intensive treatment with Prozac in order to be able to digest the triumph of Republican populism in the eclections of November 2. Although the anti-Bush structure has proven to be ephemeral, the 'party line' on the defeat is following a script that is as sophomoric as the ineffable Michael Moore's documentaries. According to them, the Republicans have woven their victory thanks to an astral confluence of high finance with farmers who collect guns, gum-chewers, ignorant cowboys who consume mass quantities of beer and country music, eaters of enormous Texas beefsteaks, Puritans of all sorts, and radical evangelists on a Christian crusade. With these sermons, supposedly progressive and easily exploited by the Republicans, a resentment has developed among various layers of American society against the arrogance with which they feel treated by some East Coast limousine liberals or the self-proclaimed progressive Europe. the problem is that the concept of liberalism is so weak and lacking in solid references that in the United States it has come to exclude industrial workers and ordinary religious families, worried about attacks on their values. Probably more than one person voted for Bush because he feels misunderstood and scorned both in his own country and on this side of the Atlantic."
Here's Xavier Sala i Martín, economics prof at Columbia.
"I observed that many European media of communication were not objective and gave more credibility to Michael Moore's clownishness...than other more impartial analyses. Just so we understand: a Moore 'documentary' about George W. Bush is about as objective as one by Zaplana about Esquerra Republicana. Now that the elections are over, it's time to distill the propaganda out of the truth...
Bush's economic policy, as I have written repeatedly, has not been good: the increase in public spending has been excessive, the steel tariffs were a bad idea, and the agricultural subsidies that hurt the poor countries so much went up again. But this doesn't mean that the catastrophes being predicted this week are true.
(GDP growth in 2004 was 3.8%, in 2003 it was 4.2%, and in 2002 it was 2.3%--not too shabby. Bush's tax cuts gave an equal break percentagewise to wealthy and working classes alike. The 1% most wealthy pay 34% of taxes, the 5% most wealthy pay 53% of the taxes, and the 50% most wealthy pay 96% of them.)
They've shown us images of American beggars while commenting that in that country there are 35 million poor people. Very unfortunate images because the definition of poor in the United States is someone who earns less than $18,000 a year and the majority of those 35 million are not only not beggars, but own houses, cars, televisions, and computers...The budget deficit is 4.5% of GDP. That's high but not very different from France (4.1%) or Germany (3.8%).
Looking into the future, the truth is that the second term will be better than the first; as he does not have to run for reelection, Bush will no longer fall into protectionist temptations and will be able to limit subsidies without fear of losing votes in rural states. Also, the existence of the deficit will permit no more additional fiscal partying. And it does not look like there is a bubble in the stock market like that of 2001.
To sum up, they painted us a pessimistic picture and, fortunately, they exaggerated; although Bush has not been a good economic manager, things in the locomotive of the world aren't all that bad. And they will be much better for all of us when the communications media give up their addiction to drawing such a deformed and negative version of the United States."
Thursday, November 04, 2004
"Em sembla lamentable que haguem d'aguantar l'imbècil mes gran del mon quatre anys mes. Felicitats als ignorants i analfabets; els seus vots sí són vàlids."
I think it's terrible that we have to put up with the biggest imbecile in the world four more years. Congratulations to the ignorant and illiterate; their votes do count.
"i l'altre es l'insult amb motiu, i aquests menja-hamburgueses ara per ara se'ls mereixen tots, només un poble com ells, després de veure TOTES les desgracies que ha fet Bush, el tornarien a votar per "campechano i cristià"... s'ha de ser BURRO."
Another thing is an insult with a good reason, and those hamburger-eaters deserve all there are right now, only a people like them, after seeing all the bad things Bush has done, would vote for him again because he's "friendly and Christian"...they must be stupid.
"pero Bush, desde que està a la casa blanca, l'únic que ha fet es donar per darrera a tothom que se li ha plantat per davant"
Bush, since he's been in the White House, the only thing he's done is (perform anal sex on) everybody who stands in his way.
"La segona guerra mundial potser s'hauria guanyat igual pq els Alemanys anaven ja de cap a caiguda quan USA va tirar la bomba atòmica... És més, encara ens portaràn a una Tercera GM."
The Second World War might have been won anyway because the Germans were already going to lose when the US dropped the atomic bomb...and besides, they're going to take us to a Third World War.
"aquí el que s'està criticant és que hagin escollit a un senyor que es pot aixecar un dia amb el peu esquerra i decidir que s'ha d'exterminar a tota la comunitat gai o a tots els musulmans perquè discrepa dels seus sistemes de vida."
Here what we're criticizing is that they chose a man who might get up one day on the wrong side of bed and decide to exterminate all the gay community or all the Muslims because they don't agree with his way of life.
"Malauradament ens esperen 4 anys més de prepotència, mentides i violència....Aixó sí, gràcies a ell tenim un món molt més segur que fa 4 anys...Algú s'ho creu aixó???"
Unfortunately, we're awaiting four more years of arrogance, lies, and violence. But thanks to him we have a much safer world than four years ago...Does anybody believe that?
"més de la meitat dels ciutadans d'aquest país són una colla d'imbècils. Me'n faig creus de com en pot arribar a ser d'estúpida i interessada la gent. Costa imaginar-se que un altre món és possible amb gent que no té dos dits de seny. Trist, lamentable, increïble i el pitjor: un malalt al poder. La inteligència brilla per la seva absència..."
More than half the citizens of that country are imbeciles. I'mm shocked at how stupid and selfish people can be. It's hard to imagine that another world is possible with people who have no brains. Sad, unfortunate, incredible, and the worst thing: a sick man in power. Intelligence stands out for its absence.
"No crec que siguin imbècils. Tenen un greu problema de baixa qualitat en la seva educació i també de falta d'informació. A ells els passa el que ens passarà als espanyols d'aquí a uns anys, que se conformen amb "pan y circo", o sigui hamburgueses, tele i consumisme; i no els hi preocupa gaire les cagades que faci els seu president amb la resta del món, perquè segurament no són capaços de comprendre-les en tota la seva envergadura."
I don't think they're imbeciles. They have a severe problem with low quality in their education, and also a lack of information, What's happening to them is what will happen to the Spanish in a few years, they will be happy with "bread and circuses", that is, hamburgers, TV, and consumption; and they don't care about the crap their president does to the rest of the world, because they are surely not capable of fully comprehending it.
"pensem que als EEUU no hi ha la mateixa informacio que hi ha a Europa, que no tenen els mateixos valors, que els eduquen pensant que ells viuen al mon i la resta de paisos som d'altres planetes, que les armes son coses que un banc pot regalar per obrir un conte a la seva entitat, i sobretot un pais que escull als seus liders de una forma dictatorial... blanc o negre, dos candidats al 50%, i despres el que governa ho fa sol i es fa el que ell diu.... quina diferencia hi ha amb una dictadura?"
Consider that in the US they don't have the same information that there is in Europe, they don't have the same values, they bring them up thinking that they live in the world and that the rest of the countries are other planets, that guns are things a bank can give away for opening an account, and above all a country that chooses its leaders in a dictatorial way...black or white, two candidates at 50% each, and then whoever governs does it alone and they do what he says...what's the difference with a dictatorship?
"Hi ha guanyat Halley burton i totes les petroleres americanes, han guanyat les grans multinacionals, ha guanyat la contaminació, han guanyat els trangènics, han guanyat els rics, ha guanyat el racisme, ha guanyat l'esglèsia nord americana, han guanyat els inversors de borsa, ha guanyat guantánamo, ha guanyat israel, ha guanyat l'exèrcit, han guanyat les bombes, ha guanyat la guerra... I ha guanyat el terrorisme!"
Halley burton (sic) and all the American oil companies won, the big corporations won, pollution won, genetically modified food won, the rich won, racism won, the American Church won, the stock market investors won, Guantánamo won, Israel won, the army won, the bombs won, the war won...and terrorism won!
America is a divided country and must now heal its wounds.
Bush has been strengthened and legitimized.
Kerry was dignified in defeat.
The Republicans have been strengthened in Congress.
Bush won't be able to pack the Supreme Court because the Dems have enough votes in the Senate to block nominees.
Wall Street is happy Bush won.
It was the Religious Right that tipped it for Bush.
This was the strategy of the "Machiavellian" Karl Rove.
Americans have an image of Bush as a strong commander-in-chief and a person with moral values.
The "sociological majority" in the US is conservative.
Karl Rove brought out the Red state vote so Bush won.
"Bush country is a peculiar mix of Rural America, a culture of farmers and hunters, the religious right, post-racist (!) Southern conservatism, and sectors of the new suburban middle class seduced by the "society of owners" pushed by the Republicans...He is someone they understand because he explains things to them in black and white in a simple way."--E. Val
"The Democrats usually err with a certain intellectual arrogance regarding Bush Country. They think that those who don't vote for them are primitive and ignorant. The aristocratic personality of Kerry, a son of New England, contributed to the negative perception."--E. Val (Explaining things with images again!)
Men and white people voted for Bush. He did pull 41% of the Hispanic vote.
"(The Hispanic vote) can be explained by the positive effect that the President's conservative message on social issues like abortion, defense of the traditional family, and rejection of gay weddings. One should not underestimate the response that Bush's economic and tax policies finds among the Hispanics who are making economic progress, among those who have bought a house and have achieved--or are convinced they will achieve with hard work--the American Dream."--E. Val
"The culture of the welfare state--so deeply rooted in Europe--is not rooted to the same degree in the US. This is why the negative evolution in health care and the rise of poverty has not hurt Bush. Historically, the US ias a country of opportunities, of pioneers and fighters. State protection is considered secondary."
Bush won because the Jesusheads voted for him.
Bush won because of marketing.
"Karl Rove intentionally divided the two Americas, the ultraconservatives in the ever-growing Bible Belt and, on the other hand, the liberal and progressive cities. Bush was chosen by Rove in the mid-Nineties as the perfect vehicle for this kind of aggressive Republicanism in Texas...a bitter confrontation with the more liberal sectors of society. The reconciliation Bush talked about yesterday is almost impossible."--A. Robinson
Not many Spaniards have been to the United States and those that have have normally seen New York and Disney World and not much else. However, they've been so bombarded by images, both from Hollywood and the television news, that they think they understand what's going on even though they've never actually read very much about it. They imagine that their images, which are often dramatic, striking, sexual, violent--those are the kind of images that get distributed widely--are an accurate reflection of the real thing. Actually, of course, all these images (and they've got thousands of American images in their heads, everthing from James Dean in the leather jacket to the airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center) are very exaggerated or even wildly fictional, because they're either news--by definition, things that show up in the news are unusual or even extraordinary--or Hollywood product--by definition false.
I noticed that on every Spanish TV channel--Big T and I flipped back and forth between TV1, TV3, and Antena 3--all the genius intellectual people they brought on to analyze the election results kept doing it, over and over, by calling images to mind, whether that of the naked Vietnamese girl or Harry Truman holding up the "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline or George Bush listening to the Secret Service guy and then continuing to read the story on 9-11. They referred, over and over, to "Bush trying to project the image of a folksy good ol' boy" or "Kerry's image is perhaps too European".
There was very little discussion of anything like a real issue that people might be voting on. Not much discussion of tax cuts or the budget deficit (and how small it is) or military preparation or education reform or prescription drugs or tort reform or Social Security. See, those are difficult and complex subjects and there aren't any arresting images of them. Therefore, I conclude that Spanish journalists tend to provide their readers and viewers with information about a lot of things they've seen, but not much about what they've read or what they've heard.
One other new insight, such as it is, is that over here they've come up with several formulae through which to interpret America. "The American Dream" is probably the most common. Everything that happens over here is interpreted through that prism--i.e. "The Americans are aggressive because they believe that one must work hard and look out for oneself in order to be successful and achieve the American Dream...". Another one is "the American Way of Life". They're not quite sure what that is, but they think it involves plenty of vulgar materialism and overeating. A third is the Western movie. They think that we actually have the same sort of frontier ideals that they supposedly had in the Old West and that are exemplified in John Wayne movies. This prism is usually used to explain any military action that the US might take.
These are among the most common frames of reference that were used during election coverage over here.
Things they made a big deal of because they're different in Spain:
Different systems of voting depending on where you are. They made this seem to be incredibly complex, but they didn't make the point that each individual has to deal with only one of the possible types, or that there are plenty of people from both parties or the poll watchers who will help them out if they don't understand, or that if you can't figure out such a simple thing as a ballot you might not be real smart.
Campaigning the day before the election. Can't do this in Spain.
The Electoral College and how weird it is. Let me explain it like this: Systems tend to simplify as they develop, because people familiar with the system will figure out how to improve it. This happens with languages, which become simpler in their grammar as they evolve, and with any form of technology, which becomes more efficient as time goes on. It also happens with the political system countries have.
Look, we're the oldest democracy in the world and so a lot of our practices are left over from 1788 and the original Constitution. That is, the original system the Founders set up was unnecesarily complex in a lot of ways by our standards today. But in America it's very difficult to amend the Constitution, and a damned good thing that is too, so we don't do it very often. Therefore we're stuck with all these old leftovers, relics of a system set up two centuries ago, that have been streamlined out in newer systems.
The Electoral College is something that's pretty much functioned for the last 200 years, so nobody's really ever worked up the energy to change it, as if you could. (The samll states wouldn't stand for it and they're powerful enuogh to block it.) Every time they tried something that really didn't work, like slavery and prohibition and trying to run a real government without an income tax, enough energy was gathered up to change it and actually amend the Constitution.
Voting on a working day. Here it's always on Sunday.
The lack of what they call here party discipline--the fact that a senator or representative can vote against his party if he wants. That's why they can't figure out voters splitting their tickets, either, since you can't do that here. Here you vote for the political party, not the candidate. Also, they don't understand that we vote for all kinds of different offices on the same ballot. Here there are only four kinds of election: municipal council, regional parliament, national parliament, and European Parliament, and they're generally held at different times.
Initiative and referendum. They're fascinated by this. The idea that the people can actually propose a law and then vote it into existence, thereby going around the legislative branch, does not register here. The one about prohibiting bear hunting using donuts for bait in Maine really caught their fancy over here. They sure thought that was funny.
They just do not get that this is not one election, it's 13,000 different elections happening simultaneously.
There's some lacking of comprehension regarding the virtues of the two-party system. I would say that its advantage is that it incorporates smaller, fractional, one-issue political interest groups into larger organizations that must take positions on every issue. It therefore prevents power from falling into the hands of small radical fringe groups. I guess most of the people criticizing this aspect of American politics are people who belong to radical fringe groups over here.
There's also a lack of understanding regarding that the two parties are actually coalitions of different interest groups. The Republicans are not a monolithic whole. There's the pro-business wing, the hawkish wing, the happy-with-things-as-they-are wing, and the social conservative wing, among others. Most of these groups sympathize more than one another than with the groups that form part of the Democrats. The Democrats are a coalition too. There's the labor wing, the civil servants-teachers wing, the minority-interests wing, the feminist pro-abortion wing, the university ideological left wing, the Hollywood wing, and so on.
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
Glorious Victory Portent of Bright Future Ahead
BARCELONA, November 3--FC Barcelona, led by its stars Ronaldinho and Etoo, convincingly came back to defeat AC Milan 2-1 Tuesday night before 90,000 spectators at the sold-out Camp Nou stadium in Champions' League soccer tournament play.
Milan's top-class squad, including Cafú, Kaká, Maldini, and Shevchenko, fell before a team that they had beaten soundly, 1-0, only two weeks ago in the last Champions' League match.
Etoo scored the first Barcelona goal in the 38th minute to tie the score 1-1, a volley off a cross by midfielder Xavi, and then two minutes before the final whistle Ronaldinho blasted home the tie-breaker from the edge of the area after beating two Milan defenders.
Barça will certainly pass to the second round of Champions' League play (two more first-round games remain), and must be considered a favorite to eventually take the Champions', Europe's most prestigious club soccer competition, in June 2005.
Barcelona has battled injuries all season, but has amassed an unbeaten record of 7-2-0 in Spanish league play and a very solid 3-0-1 in the Champions' League.
In other news Tuesday night...
Tuesday, November 02, 2004
Everything in television land this morning was very professional, all the personnel were very nice, and Josep Cuní, the host, is intelligent and personable. He is clearly trying to inform rather than to do showbiz.
The other Americans were a mixed lot. One was, of all people, a former college professor of mine at the University of Kansas. I had her for 20th Century Spanish Literature in 1991; she's now working over here. There was a guy who's involved in the music industry who's fairly leftist but reasonable, an older woman who's Spanish but has worked with Americans for many years and has spent time there, and a fortyish woman who seemed to have some personal problems which were more important to her than the question of whether Bush or Kerry would make a better President. Everything was quite cordial, and the music industry guy and I (who had both obviously studied up) are going on again tomorrow for the aftermath.
Monday, November 01, 2004
1. The economy is doing very well, contrary to conventional wisdom. According to La Vanguardia, quoting the IMF's estimates for 2004: Economic growth 4.3%, unemployment 5.5%, inflation 2.4%, the deficit at 4.4% of GDP, and median income was $43,318. To compare, in 1984, when Reagan was overwhelmingly elected, growth was 6.8%, unemployment at 7.5%, inflation at 4.3%, the deficit at 5.0% of GDP, and the median salary was $32,878. Most people are better off now than they were four years ago, despite 9/11.
2. I think more people trust Bush than Kerry on the security issue.
3. I think more people would prefer to continue the current strategy in Iraq rather than change it.
4. I think most people feel closer to the conservatives' non-negotiable minimum demands on social issues (no partial-birth abortion, no federal funding for cloning embryos for scientific purposes, no euthanasia, no gay marriage, few restrictions on guns) than the leftists' non-negotiable minimum demands (constitutional right to abortion on demand, no capital punishment, gays in the military, lots of gun restrictions, affirmative action, multiculti education). As for older negotiable conservative demands like no premarital sex, no homosexuality, no divorce, no birth control, etc., they've given up on those long since.
5. I don't think anybody really cares what Susan Sarandon thinks. Nor do I believe that the whole both-candidates-and-Vietnam thing will have much effect. Or whether people prefer Laura or Teresa as First Spouse. Or Cheney vs. Edwards for VP. Or what Jacques Chiraq thinks.
6. I think people do care about likeability, and my guess is most Americans consider Bush more likeable than Kerry. Let's face it, Bush is a bit of a putz, but Kerry's a dick.
7. Ralph Nader will siphon off between 1 and 5% of the vote, depending on the state, and a vote for Nader is a vote against Kerry.
8. I honestly believe that among certain circles (education, fine arts, media, state employees) it is so socially unacceptable to vote Republican that some people won't even admit it to a pollster. That's worth a couple of points in every state.
9. I think this election is so hyped up by the ever-more-intrusive media that turnout will be high, and since I believe that more people are likely to support Bush than Kerry, the higher the turnout the bigger Bush's margin.
10. I think Kerry will win the following states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachussetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, DC, Illinois, Michigan, Washington, Oregon, California. I think Bush will take the rest for a fairly large Electoral College win, and I think the popular vote will go 52%-47%-1%. I also think the Republicans will keep control of the Senate and the House, neither one by a large margin.
First things first
Climate change doesn't mean the end of the world - yet. Bjørn Lomborg says we should focus on the areas where we can really make a difference
Thursday October 28, 2004
"In a world where we cannot deal with all the problems at the same time, we need to ask: what should we do first? This was the question answered by the Copenhagen Consensus, a project that brought together 38 of the world's top economists to set up a list of the global priorities. They looked at the main challenges to humanity, and the many solutions that we already have, analysing both their benefits but also their price tag. By using cost-benefit analysis the expert panel of economists found that HIV/Aids, hunger, free trade and malaria were the world's top priorities. Equally, the experts rated urgent responses to climate change extremely low. In fact, the panel called these ventures "bad projects", simply because they cost more than the good they do."
Precisely what I've been saying for years.