Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Here are some more Gregg Easterbrook pieces from TNR on a variety of subjects, mostly related to environmentalism, energy, the Third World, and the like. This one on foreign aid, this one on energy policy and especially oil, this one with specifics on Bush's environmental policies, this one on SUVs and oil drilling in the Arctic, this one on how buying Gulf oil funds terror, this one on how oilmen view the world, this one on air pollution, and this one on the California electricity disaster are all well worth reading.
Here's a classic article on European anti-Americanism by German journalist Josef Joffe from the New Republic.
I was looking through Gregg Easterbrook's environmental articles in the New Republic and found this one praising George Bush's environmental record. Easterbrook, a centrist Democrat, admits to being surprised at the general good sense with which the Administration has acted regarding the environment. The article's from 2001 but I bet it's still accurate. Does anyone know anything about Bush's environmental record during 2002? Easterbrook points out, yet again, that nobody wanted the Kyoto treaty to pass, that Bush did nothing less to implement it than Clinton, that the Senate had voted 95-0 against its ratification during the Clinton era, and that it was the Europeans who torpedoed the treaty by refusing to accept American proposed modifications. The Europeans didn't like the Kyoto agreement any more than the Americans, and have managed to paint Bush as responsible for its lingering death, thereby looking virtuous in the eyes of their home constituency.

Monday, December 30, 2002

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

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

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

Meanwhile, the lead international story on page 3 is headlined

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

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

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

Sunday, December 29, 2002

In case you haven't already seen it, this article by Andrew Ferguson from the Weekly Standard is fascinating. And convincing. If you like investigations into history, which I do, you'll like this one.
Here's a story from the Onion for all you cat-fanciers out there.

Saturday, December 28, 2002

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 27, 2002

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

CIA Mistreats Al Qaeda Prisoners

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

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

And continues with this paragraph:

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

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

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

Liberties in times of war

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 26, 2002

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 23, 2002

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.J. O'Rourke once said, "Anyone who doesn't know what's wrong with education must never have screwed an elementary-ed major."
I wasn't going to do any blogging today, but I couldn't resist noting that bluegrasscountry.org just played a nice little country tune called "Osama Got Run Over by a Reindeer". They announced, by the way, that they're the fourth-most-listened-to Internet radio station.

Sunday, December 22, 2002

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

Saturday, December 21, 2002

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


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

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

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

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

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

Chicken with Wild Mushrooms:

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

Chicken with Artichokes and Rice:

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

Chicken with Fruit:

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

Meanwhile, in another pan, brown (in olive oil), first one sliced onion. When light brown, add five peeled and sliced tomatoes. After a couple of minutes, add three peeled and sliced apples, three peeled and sliced pears, and two small sliced eggplants. add salt and pepper and when it's all golden-brown add it to the cooking dish with the chicken. Let it sit over very low heat for 15 minutes so that the flavors will mix and then serve.
They've picked up on the Trent Lott thing over here; the Vangua ran, either yesterday or day before, a summary of the story in the International pages, and today they ran the story on Lott's resignation, again in a prominent place in International. I'm a little surprised that no one took the occasion to do any America-bashing, or Republican-bashing; the Vangua is pretty friendly toward the Democrats, whom they see as moderate and reasonable, while they consider Republicans to be raving neo-Fascists. Anyway, here are a few quotes from the article: "Lott was forced to resign yesterday due to the pressure of his own co-religionaries...", "Lott's fate had been sealed (Lott estaba sentenciado) since the President himself, George W. Bush, blasted him (le dio un rapapolvo) in public", "The vehemence (of Lott's apologies) was so exaggerated that it embarrassed his colleagues and wound up being counterproductive". That sounds pretty fair and like a reasonable summary of the facts.
Vice-President for Economics Rodrigo Rato announced that, unlike the last three years, the Administration will not manage to balance the budget this year, contrary to what had previously been announced. Rather, Spain will run a deficit of 0.2% of GDP. The budget is expected to be balanced in 2003 and 2004 and to run a surplus in 2005, as if they could predict something like that with any level of certainty. I'm not staying up nights worrying about a shortfall this small, though. Rato attributed the budget shortfall to excessive spending by regional governments and to the general economic slowdown.

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

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

Immodest / Indecent Ones (Impúdicos)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

that licenses to kill are given out in writing;

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 20, 2002

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food: Manchego cheese, made from some combination of sheep and cow milk, the more sheep the better, is easy to find in the US and is a rich, tasty dry cheese. You will like it if you like any varieties of cheese that aren't Kraft American singles, admittedly an atrocity against the tastebuds of the world. The Spanish olives available in the US, for some reason,.are generally crappy, I don't know why. California olives are better than those imported from Spain. Spanish olives are perfectly tasty over here, but the ones they send to America suck. If you see a can of olives with the brand name La Española, Carbonell, or Borges, then it will be pretty good, but the no-name ones are all lousy. Many people like La Española anchovy-stuffed olives. Spanish olive oil is hard to find in America but its quality is absolutely top-notch, especially the extra-virgin varieties--the Italians have the US market sewn up, though. I know Borges and Carbonell export to America. If you can find Spanish cured ham, usually called jamón serrano or jamón iberico, you'll like it if you're a pig-eater. It's rather like prosciutto or Virginia ham. You'll also like anything in the way of Spanish sausages you should find in the US, though they're nothing out of this world.
It's Friday, and that means it's Eulàlia Solé day in the Vangua! Lali isn't off on an anti-American kick this time, well, only implicitly, and she doesn't mention anything about communism this time either, but her arrogant and paternalistic attitude, her belief that she knows what's best for everyone else, and her willingness to use force to make everyone do what she thinks appropriate shine brightly through.

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

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

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

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

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

Inspectors Conclude Iraq Hiding Arsenals

Bush Begins Diplomatic Offensive, May Lead to War

China, Russia Sold Arms to Baghdad during Embargo

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

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

Recent Major French ETA Busts:

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 19, 2002

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

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

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

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

The shootout happened in the municipality of Collado Villalba, 38 km northwest of the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. The N-VI is the only highway that has been blocked. TV3 is giving the name of the unwounded prisoner as Godson Arambure, which is probably wrong but is what I think I heard. A more precise time for the shootout is mid-afternoon, which here means at about 5. The cops apparently suspected the car these three terrorists were driving and pulled it over, and somehow the shooting started. The car, a red Ford, contained a bomb; the police bomb squad performed a controlled detonation. They were certainly going to set off the car bomb somewhere in central Madrid.
There's a story breaking right now in Madrid. TV3, Catalan TV, is reporting that three ETA terrorists shot it out with two members of the Guardia Civil on the N-VI, the Coruña highway northwest of the center city. This happened just minutes ago. One of the police officers was killed and the other wounded. Of the terrorists, one surrendered, one was wounded and captured, and the third stole a car at gunpoint and fled. He is still at large. The unwounded terrorist has been identified by the cops; he is a member of ETA's juvenile arm who graduated to become an infrastructure member several years ago. The roads leading into Madrid, at least those from the north, have been blocked off. When I hear more I'll post it.
Let's see. There's actually a lot of interesting news. Prime Minister Aznar has visited Galicia, where the oil spill took place. He was roundly heaped with abuse, but he took all the blame for anything that went wrong. This makes sense because he's not running in 2004, so his strategy should be to assume responsibility whenever possible in order to deflect it from his subordinates, who are going to have to start campaigning pretty soon. Hell, Zapatero--here's a guy who goes by his second last name--is campaigning like mad already for the Socialists.

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

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

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

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

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

But what everyone in Barcelona is obsessed about is the soccer team, the glorious Barça, who gave its fans false hope last week with a 3-1 victory over Newcastle in the Champions' League only to go lose to 18th-place Sevilla, 0-3 at home on Saturday night. They played horribly. They stank. They blew dead donkey dongs. I swear I can play better than Frank de Boer. I know I can run faster, and I'm five years older than he is. OK, I'm exaggerating, but not by too much. Sevilla had scored eight goals in thirteen previous League games. In the Camp Nou they raised their total by more than a third. When the third goal was scored the stadium exploded, hurling abuse at the players and especially at coach Louis Van Gaal and Satanic club president Joan "Mr. Burns" Gaspart. Every single spectator was waving a white handkerchief, a sign of serious disapproval in Spain. It was quite impressive; there were many minutes of this. Barça hasn't had such a poor won-tied-lost record since the '40s. Meanwhile, if that weren't bad enough, Barça will have its stadium closed for two games as punishment for the pig-head throwing disturbances when Real Madrid came to town. This is a serious humiliation, since Barça prides itself (quite without any reason as far as I can see) on its sportsmanship and fair play. They haven't had their stadium closed since 1925, and that was partly for political reasons. Van Gaal and Gaspart are both toast and so are half the players.
Ironically, one of the things that English-speakers find most difficult to understand when they come to Spain are English words or names pronounced by Spaniards. That's not surprising; French names and words are very difficult for us English-speakers to say correctly. That's because French possesses sounds that English doesn't (front rounded vowels, nasal vowels, that French R) and English possesses sounds that Spanish doesn't (the W, the SH, both TH sounds, the J, the V, and several of the vowels, especially the schwa (the "uh" vowel sound) and what's often called the short I, as in "hit" or "sit". Spaniards give all vowels what some would call in English a "long" pronunciation. What we do when we hit a French sound that's not native to us is to pronounce the closest English sound to it, and that's just what the Spanish do when they run across an English sound they can't say: they substitute the closest Spanish sound for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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