Friday, January 31, 2003

Here's a link from Front Page; it's some real red-meat Nelson Mandela-bashing. It has some good Mandela quotes. It is by Lowell Ponte and therefore is just a bit hysterical in tone.
It looks like Iraq crisis news is cooling off; the lead headline on today's Vanguardia is "Alleged parking garage murderer arrested". They got him yesterday. Video cameras at a bank branch and at a subway stop identified him, his photo checked with the guy who had rented a motorbike parking place for a month, and they arrested him and compared his DNA with the hairs found in the first victim's hand. Fair cop. He's from La Mina, a crappy neighborhood in far northeast Barcelona largely populated by gypsies--there are some 16,000 there. La Mina has a bad rep partly because of them and partly because of the payos who live there. The murderer is a payo, a non-gypsy, and the gypsy community is much relieved that it wasn't one of them. La Mina is full of dirtbags--the bunch of thugs that beat a guy to death for fun last year outside the Puerto Olímpico, a complex of nightspots down by the harbor, were from La Mina. They were payos, too. Fortunately, La Mina is rather distant from downtown Barcelona and if you come as a tourist you will get nowhere near it since there's nothing worth seeing within a five-mile radius of the place. Everyone is very happy that this guy has been busted. There's a general feeling of relief. I imagine the public outcry (it never reached exactly panic stage, but people were afraid over this case--maybe something similar to the public reaction to the Washington snipers on a smaller scale) that was caused was partly because of the upscale neighborhood and the respectable nature of the victims, and partly by the general tone of concern and worry, not quite fear, prevalent here due to the international situation.

Anyway, on the front page below the fold, the Vangua's top international headline is "US manages to divide Europe", in reference to the letter from eight European leaders in support of the European-American alliance. Slovakia and Albania, of all countries, have signed onto the letter. The story behind it is that the Wall Street Journal contacted several European leaders to suggest they write an article in support of the trans-Atlantic alliance. José María Aznar wrote the first draft and circulated it. They didn't even bother sending it to France, Germany, or Greece (Greece is one of the most anti-American countries in Europe, even worse than France), and the Dutch declined to sign because they didn't want to contribute to any division within the EU.

German Chancellor Schröder has said that Germany will not vote under any circumstances, in the UN or anywhere else, in favor of military action. The German liberal / Christian Democrat opposition, which is quite strong and getting stronger, is making a big stink about Germany's possible diplomatic isolation. Schröder's party, the Social Democrats, is going to get creamed in two key state elections (Germany's federal, it has states like America, more or less, which in particular have a lot of economic power). In Hesse, one of Germany's richest states (its major city is Frankfurt), the conservative Christian Democrats, who already hold the state, will roll with an absolute majority. In Lower Saxony, northwest Germany, rather more industrial and poorer than Hesse, the Christian Democrats will sweep the current Social Democrat state government out of power; the polls are saying Christian Dems 46-48%, Social Dems 35-37%. This gives the Christian Dems control of the Bundesrat, the upper legislative house, from where they will be able to block pretty much any Social Dem proposal they want. Schröder's popularity is plummeting as unemployment increases and the economy fails to heat up. He's using the anti-war platform to try to swing these state elections to his party, and he's failing. I don't think this defeat will bring down the government, but Schröder's not far from having to resign simply because the opposition will blockade anything he tries to do--and his international posturing looks like mere bluffing when it can be seen that his own people don't support him on anything except being antiwar, and even there there's a division of opinion.

Former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González (to whom this country really does owe a great deal despite little things like, uh, the government organizing a death squad) has been talking a lot more left since he left power--Mario Soares of Portugal has been doing the same thing. Felipe called Aznar "Bush's altar boy", and said that "The (WSJ) letter means a breaking of the European Union treaty and opens up a wound that will be difficult to repair." Oh, shut up, Felipe. If you're worried about opening up wounds and causing divisions, why don't you consider moderating your antiwar position instead of demanding that everybody else moderate their pro-alliance position and calling that "negotiation"?

Remember. We're not pro-war. We're pro-alliance. Now, if the Atlantic alliance (except for a couple of weasels) should be in favor of a war with Saddam, who are we here at Iberian Notes to say no? I think that's a pretty good label to stick on those of us who are in favor of a tough policy toward terrorists and rogue states. Pro-alliance. Hey, if the pro-abortion people can call themselves pro-choice, we can adopt some slightly misleading way to frame our position too. (Note: I'm in favor of legal abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and afterward only in case of a threat to the mother's life, mostly for practical political reasons: restricting abortion any more than that would cause a political blowup much bigger than any the anti-abortion people have managed to cook up so far.)

Nelson Mandela is blowing whatever little credibility he has left. I believe that Mandela is a strong person but not necessarily a good person. I think messiah figures, from Gandhi to Kenyatta to Lenin to Hitler to Nkrumah to Mandela, tend to be self-aggrandizing and utterly convinced of their own rectitude and messiahhood. They can do horribly evil things--don't tell me Mandela didn't know about the murders that the ANC committed--and justify them for the Cause. Anyway, Mandela accused President Bush of wanting to "sink the world into a holocaust" and of "acting outside the United Nations". Well, accusation number two is fair in spirit but wrong in fact, because Bush is acting within the United Nations--if not, why is Colin Powell going to speak there on February 5? And accusation number one is ad hominem bullshit which can't be taken seriously by any adult.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament voted 287-209 to reject "any unilateral military action". The Parliament considers that a preventative strike against Saddam would be a violation of international law and that the violations of SC Resolution 1441 that have been exposed by the UN inspectors "do not justify the resort to military action." The Socialist, Liberal (which surprises me, these guys are supposed to be pretty moderate), Green, and European Left parliamentary groups supported the measure. The three Catalan nationalist Eurodeputies also voted in support. An amendment by the Popular group to add an amendment that would have called Saddam's violations of Resolution 1441 to be "continual and serious" was voted down 251-255. The Spanish PP leader in the Europarliament called the vote a manifestation of "a false, irresponsible pacifism". The leftist Eurodeputies had a good old time holding up "No War for Oil" signs.

The Vatican has shot off its mouth, showing extremely bad moral and political judgment. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, said, "The United States has not learned the lesson of Vietnam," and called for the Vatican to work to prevent a war against Saddam. He suggested that the Vatican send an envoy to Baghdad, and said "If this war is declared the gates to Hell will open", quoting approvingly Amer Moussa, foreign minister of Egypt and secretary of the Arab League. This is not a move calculated to win the sympathy of American Catholics, many of whom are furious at the Church because of the boy-buggering bishops in black and the craven coverup of the corruption of children. Expect defections to increase. American Catholics are often "Reagan Democrats" and fiercely pro-American. They are not gonna like this when they hear about it.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Crime update: The cops claim to have identified the parking garage murderer and they are now looking for him. As for the Tarragona doctor's boyfriend, he's definitely run off to Holland and the case is in the hands of Europol. If you're in Holland and you see a blondish balding well-built 30-ish Spanish guy, rat him out to the nearest cop.
OK. I've been putting this off all week. Our city's beloved FC Barcelona, "more than a club", the most important civic institution in the city with the possible exception of giant savings bank La Caixa, is having the worst season of its history. The glorious Barça, symbol of Catalonia, is in twelfth place (out of 20 teams) with a record of 6 wins, 5 ties, and 8 losses for a total of 23 points at the exact halfway point of the season. Real Sociedad is in first with 12 wins, 7 ties, and 0 losses for 43 points.

Except for a couple of seasons in the postwar era in Spain (the World War II era in Europe), Barcelona has never played so poorly. Nobody can remember a Barça this bad. I can't remember the Barça ever finishing lower than fourth. The last bad season they had was 87-88, and even that year the Barça qualified for European competition. This year they won't. It will be the first time since European competitions began that Barça will not qualify, which I believe is a European record. They need to come in at least fourth to qualify for the Champions League; currently in fourth place is Betis with 33 points. No chance. They need to come in at least seventh to qualify for the now fairly pathetic UEFA Cup, which is considered much more of a minor-league competition now that it takes the 5th, 6th, and 7th teams from the major European leagues rather than the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th teams that it used to take. In seventh place is Mallorca with 27 points, which I guess is surmountable. They may make the UEFA after all.

Anyway, despised coach Louis Van Gaal has been canned. After his firing, he agreed to renounce €2.5 million of his €6 million three-year contract. This is less than most of us expected him to be making and adds to the suspicion that Dracula, Mr. Burns himself, despised team president Joan Gaspart, only hired Van Gaal because he was available cheap after being fired by the Dutch national team when he failed to qualify them for last year's World Cup. Gaspart is a mama's boy. You know how some poor kids get picked on and bullied at school because they're small and weak? I hate that. If I ever catch any kid picking on any other in my class I blast him verbally until I've got him frightened and then I send him to the director's office. (That's not really a plan. It's just what I do because I get so angry. This is one reason why I cannot teach children any more. Somebody would get hurt and I'd go to jail.) But you know how there are a few kids who are little weasels who provoke everyone else and deserve every ass-kicking they get because of all the trouble they stir up? That's Gaspart all over. He whines and whimpers and is just a huge crybaby in general.

And he's incompetent. Barcelona is one of the richest clubs in football, or at least it was, and they banked something like sixty million dollars for Luis Figo straight of Real Madrid's pocket. So what does Gaspart do with the money? Overpays for overrated over-the-hill players (Petit, Overmars, Andersson) or overpays for overrated young guys who do well in South American leagues. From what I've seen of Saviola and Riquelme, they're competent players, but they're not big stars. They looked great back in the Argentinian league, but most of the really good Argentinian players are in Europe, so they weren't facing top-quality competition back home. Rochemback, usually on the bench, and Geovanni, who has already been loaned out to Benfica for what's left of the season, also both cost way too much money. So did Gerard, when they bought him back from Valencia, where he had played well, to the Barça, where he hasn't. And Gaspart gave Rivaldo away for free to save six million euros.

Anyway, last weekend Barcelona lost 2-0 in Vigo to Celta and that was it for Louis Van Gaal. A short recent history of FC Barcelona: Johan Cruyff as coach: 90-91 won Spanish League, 91-92 won League, Champions Cup, 92-93 won League, 93-94 won League, lost final of Champions Cup 4-0 to Milan, team broken up, 94-95 nothing, 95-96 nothing. Bobby Robson as coach: 96-97 UEFA Cup. Louis Van Gaal: 97-98 League, 98-99 League, 99-00 nothing. Llorenç Serra Ferrer as coach: 00-01 nothing. Charly Rexach as coach: 01-02 nothing. Louis Van Gaal as coach: 02-03 nothing. The fans are fed up waiting for a winning team and Van Gaal is not providing it. He has been booted and it looks like Charly Rexach, Barcelona's jack-of-all-trades, will finish out the season as coach, mostly because they don't have any money to spend on anyone else.
The Vanguardia's headline today, which seems a bit sensationalistic to me, is "Bush begins countdown to war". Well, I suppose it's true. The Vanguardia is taking for granted that there will be an Iraq war and that it will begin soon. There's a lot of replay of Bush's State of the Union speech, including a full page with the most newsworthy sections. The general take is that it was a good speech, well-done, and that it accomplished the important purpose of laying out clearly when and where damning evidence against Saddam will be presented.

A letter signed by eight European leaders, President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, and prime ministers Aznar of Spain, Blair of the UK, Berlusconi of Italy, Barroso of Portugal, Medgyessy of Hungary, Miller of Poland, and Rasmussen of Denmark expressed solidarity with President Bush and asked that the EU show unified support for the United States.

The letter says, "The true link that unites the United States and Europe is represented by the values we share: democracy, individual freedoms and human and legal rights."

"The attacks of September 11th showed how far the terrorists--those enemies of these common values--are capable of going in order to destroy them...Today more than ever the trans-Atlantic link is a guarantee of our freedom."

"The relationship between we Europeans and the United States has stood the test of time...thanks to the continual cooperation between Europe and the United States we have been able to guarantee peace and freedom on our continent. The trans-Atlantic relationship should not become a victim of the persistent attempts by the Iraqi regime to threaten world security."

"We should remain united insisting on the disarmament of the Iraqi regime. The solidarity, cohesion, and determination of the international community constitute our best hope of achieving it peacefully. Our strength is in unity."

"Saddam continues to maintan the same line as always: deception, rejection and failure to fulfill the resolutions of the United Nations. Our governments share one responsibility: standing up to this threat. If we do not, we will be negligent toward our own citizens and the world."

"We can not tolerate that a dictator should violate systematically these resolutions. If he does not fulfill them, the credibility of the Security Council will disappear and world peace will be affected."

That's pretty strong language. I'd sign that letter. "Eight European leaders and Iberian Notes agree on declaration of principles and intentions." Terrific stuff. This ought to show that Europe is behind the United States despite what the French and Germans would have you think. The Axis of Weasels has signed up Belgium and Luxembourg on their side in NATO; they are blocking any NATO response to the United States' request for logistic help in case of war. That's it. That's all the support they've got. They have NOBODY ELSE behind them. They are risking being left out in the cold diplomatically, not to mention the other foreseeable consequences of backing the wrong side in a war. That is why I think Chirac will allow himself to be persuaded to, at the very least, change his NATO vote and support UN Resolution #2. I'm not so sure about Schröder. Even he may come over, though it may cost him the next election.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

This is mind-boggling. The second edition of the huge TV hit "Operación Triunfo" (a sort of Pop Stars / Big Brother thing--contestants all live together, learn to be pop singers, play concerts, and the winner represents Spain at the hallunicinatorily bad Eurovision Song Festival next summer) closed out Monday night with the victory of Ainhoa Cantalapiedra--great Castilian surname, her family must be from Soria or Burgos originally. Arnaldo Otegi, who is most likely a paranoid schizophrenic from what I've observed, and I'm pretty good at these diagnoses, since I have some experience in the field of mental illness, said that Ainhoa's win was a setup, see, because Ainhoa is a Spanish-speaking Basque girl. "There are people who have an interest in, at the next Eurovision Festival, seeing all us nice little Basques there all rooting for Ainhoa, which is just like rooting for Spain," said Otegi, spokesman for whatever Herri Batasuna, the political branch of ETA, is calling itself these days. Otegi then took his pills and soon after drifted into a catatonic state from which he was not aroused for the next fourteen hours.

The only conspiracy theory I've got about "Operación Triunfo" is that the fat chick automatically wins because she is the one the majority female audience sympathizes with most. This is the second year in a row, and the program is only two years old, in both of which the fat chick has won. People identify with her more than with the hotter babes.

Speaking of which, my pal Clark, with whom I am entangled in a couple of arguments down in the Comments section (hey, people, keep those comments coming, that's what they're there for), is the Most Famous English Teacher in the World, because he's in charge of the English-class part of the program. About 7,500,000 people watched the finale Monday night, and all of them follow the show so they all know who he is. It looks like ratings are down by about a fourth since last year, but what they got is still pretty good, solid hit-show numbers. No longer runaway-success numbers, but good enough so that they're casting OT III for next year. OT comment: OT contestants had 6 of the top 10 LP/CDs in Spain in 2002. The Spanish music industry is really pissed because these OT punks are getting their sales and gigs.

Hey, Clark, why don't you come over after work Thursday, or failing that, Murph and I have tentative plans to go to Miguel's on Friday night. You in? I haven't seen you for a while.
A few days ago we mentioned the "parking garage murders". Two women were murdered in the same parking garage within twelve days in the middle-class neighborhood of El Putxet, right next to our neighborhood of Gràcia. The garage was a private one, open only to the owners or renters of the parking spaces located in the basement of a large apartmemt building. The only way in is if you have the key or the remote control that open the door, unless you somehow manage to sneak in directly behind an entering car and not get noticed. It is held as a condominium by the owners of the parking spaces, most of whom live or work very close by. The murdered women, coincidentally, both held parking place number 15 but on different floors. Everybody associated with the parking garage has apparently been checked out.

The most interesting lead is a guy who telephoned the first woman's husband asking for €2000 in exchange for the identity of the murderer; they set up a meet with him but he didn't show. The cops definitely suspect him. They're passing around photos of known criminals who meet the following description: 30-ish, white, well-built. The killer, assuming it's the same guy, is known to have stolen the first victim's bank card and to have withdrawn €300 from her account from a cash machine without a videocamera, but the motive is thought to have been murder rather than robbery. The most interesting speculation that I've heard is that the second victim's husband hired a hit man to kill her. He screwed up the first time and killed the wrong woman on the wrong floor of the garage but in the right space. So he went back after the heat was off and killed the right woman. The reasons I like this hypothesis are that it provides a motive for both actions. Also, whoever did it was a pro as he left few clues behind him. This would also provide a reason for the different methods of the two murders; the first one was stabbed and the second woman was beaten to death. The pro did it that way because he knows that normally a killer uses only one technique no matter how many people he kills, and in this way he throws off the cops.

The neighborhood is in terror. Some people are parking in the street because they're afraid to go into parking garages. Husbands are picking up wives who work in the neighborhood. They're setting up impromptu watch organizations though there are "more police than at the Moncloa". The Vanguardia reporter says that the tension in the neighborhood is growing rather than shrinking because of the lack of progress made in the investigation and that "no one talks about anything else (in the cafés), not even Van Gaal (Barcelona's much-hated just-fired soccer coach)."

Also, a young woman doctor from Tarragona disappeared eleven days ago and there's no trace of her. The cops are looking for her boyfriend, who disappeared the day after the woman. He took money out of a bank machine near the airport and is suspected to have taken a flight to Holland. A blanket from the woman's bedroom, stained with blood, and fingerprints were found inside her car. He is known to have quarreled with her recently because he told her a stack of lies about himself, including that he was a teacher of English, when he was really a taxi driver. However, their wedding was still on for the upcoming autumn. The cops are waiting for some DNA results to come back before they put out a warrant for him.
Everybody in town seems to be talking about only three things, and that's pretty much what you see on the TV news too: Iraq, the Barça, and the "parking garage" murders.

The Vanguardia's lead story is on Bush's State of the Union speech; they call it "one of the most transcendental speeches of his term." Bush accused Saddam of lying and specifically said that Saddam holds 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulism toxin, 500 tons of sarin gas, mustard gas, and VX nerve gas, and 30,000 warheads capable of carrying chemical weapons. That sounds to me like a solid, direct, specific accusation of a "smoking gun" that Bush will now have to back up. Bush also said that there is evidence linking Iraq and terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, obtained through espionage, secret information, and the statements of arrested prisoners. Colin Powell will present this evidence, which includes photographs, to the UN Security Council on February 5. The Vangua has reported that the British will have a draft resolution ready by then.

The Vangua pays comparatively little attention to the rest of the content of Bush's speech, though they do resume the key points: a $674 billion tax cut over ten years (good move, George!), the necessity to extend health care protection to more of the uninsured (Important problem! Let's hear some specifics. This is a public quality-of-life issue, and it's perfectly justifiable to spend tax money for everybody's benefit to control contagious diseases like TB and AIDS and hepatitis C--they said on today's news that one million Spaniards may have hep C and most don't know it--and to improve the general level of health of the population. How about my plan for a National Preventative Health?), and federal subsidies for religious groups that rehabilitate drug addicts and alcoholics (Bad move, George! The government shouldn't subsidize any religious institution except for, of course, giving it a tax exemption as a charity. Exception: education vouchers "spent" at religious schools. You could argue that the subsidy is not being given to the school, but to the parent, who has the option of choosing one of a number of schools, some public, some private, and some religious.

Back to Iraq. The Vangua has a good report on the diplomatic maneuvering going on right now in Europe. It looks like Blair, Aznar, and Berlusconi, the Gang of Three, the Triple Alliance, the Troika, the Third Triumvirate, are on board with Bush despite a few quibbles. Australia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary are also listed as being on board. In addition, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are behind the US. Anyway, Berlusconi is meeting with Blair today and will meet with Bush tomorrow, after which he will go to Russia and get Putin on board; Putin will need to have his palm greased but will almost certainly go along. Berlusconi and Putin are known for being simpáticos. They're both crooks, so that might have something to do with it. Tomorrow Aznar is meeting with Blair in Madrid. Bush and Blair are meeting at Camp David on Friday, and Blair is then going to France where he will meet with Chirac on Monday and get him on board. Bush, meanwhile will meet with Leszek Miller, prime minister of Poland (remember that name, you'll be seeing it a lot in the weeks to come) on Monday. Miller is already on board so this is probably a pep talk.

All of this makes me think that there will be a showdown in the UN Security Council on February 5 and that the British will propose a second resolution authorizing the use of armed force against Iraq. The US, UK, Spain, France, and Russia will vote yes. China and Germany will abstain. The resolution will pass and the war will begin very soon, within a few days. It will end very soon with a complete collapse of the Iraqi regime. Fewer than 1000 Iraqi civilians will be killed in the fighting, but there will be some gruesome scenes when rough justice is meted out by the people against Saddam's thugs. Very unpleasant stories will come out and many former anti-war people will be convinced of the war's justice after all of Saddam's atrocities are revealed. We then will have to occupy Iraq for at least five years. Since they can produce three million barrels of oil a day, the income from that ought to be more than sufficient to rebuild the country.

Spain has announced that it will not send troops, but will authorize United States use of its bases here. Spain will take charge of logistics in the Mediterranean, and will prepare to back up the Turks if that should be needed. It will provide hospitals and, after the war, a specially trained Guardia Civil unit with experience in Kosovo will form part of the occupation and peacekeeping force in Iraq. That sounds like cooperation pretty much to the limit of Spain's abilities. They really haven't got much of a military.

The Socialists have been challenging Aznar to go to the Congress of Deputies (Parliament) and state his case on the Iraq war. He will do so on February 5, the same day that Powell goes to the UN. Gee, you think Aznar might know something about what Saddam's got up his sleeve that they're not telling us yet? The Socialists are puffing out their chests and bragging that Aznar is only going to speak to the Parliament because they pressured him into it. The Socialists these days are really a bunch of jerks. Felipe González is not my idol, but he did preside over Spain's climb to real First World status during his administration between 1982 and 1996. The guys they've got now, though, are small-minded and petty; they have no plans or ideas except that of opposing Aznar and his governing PP, and so they whine, whimper, and complain every time Aznar announces he's thinking of getting someone to mow the lawn at the Moncloa.

Also, the Americans shot a bunch of Talibans in Afghanistan, eighteen says the Vanguardia, and captured another dozen. These guys were hiding out in the mountains near Pakistan, from where what's left of the Taliban are obviously being supplied. This is the biggest anti-Taliban operation since last March's Anaconda. Anaconda was, of course, much bigger.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

The Vanguardia's take on the Iraq situation is that the inspectors' report was "ambivalent". They didn't say that they'd found any weapons of mass destruction yet, but that they certainly weren't ruling out that Saddam may have some. The inspectors complained about lack of "full and sincere" cooperation on the part of Saddam, and they suspect that Saddam is hiding important quantities of chemical and biological weapons. Hans Blix asked specifically about what happened to massive amounts of VX nerve gas, mustard gas, and anthrax, which Iraq definitely had in the nineties and has not accounted for, much less in their 12,000-page declaration on the weapons in their possession; Blix called the pile of documents the Iraqis gave him "recycling". That is, garbage. Blix also suspects that the 16 warheads adapted for chemical weapons that were found may be "the tip of the iceberg". Blix says that he believes that the Iraqis are attempting to hide information from him. However, he asked for more time to continue inspecting.

We think the United States should just say No. (Not to drugs. I'm saying No to saying No to drugs. To further inspections.) First, this was supposed to be Saddam's last chance to come clean. He was supposed to be totally forthcoming with all the information he had and to directly answer all the inspectors' questions while letting them go wherever they wanted. He hasn't been. He is clearly trying to hide something. That right there is a breach of the UN resolution by Saddam. Second and most important, the UN inspections have been merely a distraction. They have not addressed the real point, which is this: In the wake of 9-11, the United States has decided that further terrorist massacres are not going to happen again. The United States suspects that Saddam's government, based on its more than twenty-year record of international criminality, may be working towards another such massacre. Therefore, the United States has decided to get rid of Saddam Hussein, and I am sure that Saddam Hussein is merely the first name on the list. All the UN blah-blah and mumbo-jumbo is merely window-dressing, aimed at tranquilizing those consciences that haven't gotten it through their heads yet that the war is already on and it was Saddam who declared it.

Interestingly, Ari Fleischer contrasted Saddam's obstructive behavior with that of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and South Africa when they denuclearized for real. Those countries would have been more than thrilled to show UN inspectors their own secret porno collections should the inspectors have requested it. They'd have submitted to the international equivalent of proctology. They said, "Please, please, come inspect us! Ooh, ooh, inspect us some more, don't stop now! Oh my God......" Levity aside, they were serious about what they were doing. Saddam obviously is not.

I wonder what Bush is going to say about the State of the Union. I bet he lets loose at least one of the cards he has up his sleeve, probably one which will prove that Saddam really does have weapons of mass destruction and we can prove it beyond a doubt. If that happens, the French and Germans will have one more chance to get on board when Bush asks for a second Security Council resolution for appearances' sake in the first week of February. If France vetoes it or Germany votes "No", that's their business, and they will face the diplomatic consequences, but that's not to be worried about at this point. The Allies are likely to act soon after the passage (or failure) of the resolution. If they act after a No resolution, the United Nations will be fatally wounded--well, really, it'll just be the coup de grace for the UN, which has proved itself to be little more useful than the League of Nations. Lots of "ifs" here, I know.

By the way, Bush called up Aznar on the phone again, something Aznar is always ready to make public; Fleischer called Spain "a close ally whose counsel is much valued in the current circumstances." Fleischer congratulated Spain on the recent Al Qaeda bust. In case you were wondering, all sixteen of the arrested still in custody have been bound over for trial and are sitting in a lovely Spanish prison. Let's hope they don't put these guys in Can Brians, our local jail that's about as hard to break out of as a chicken farm with no chicken wire.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Catalunya TV is reporting that Hans Blix has given his report to the UN; Iraq has not made clear what happened to quantities of VX gas, anthrax, and Scud missiles, among other things. The only cooperation the Iraqis have given has been passive. Sounds to me like there's a smoking gun here.
Just a comment. I noticed on TV that Hugo Chávez was speaking from behind a lectern on which was draped a Venezuelan flag. Now, my trusty World Almanac has a picture of the Venezuelan flag, with a broad yellow stripe on top, then a blue stripe, and then a red stripe, with seven stars in a rainbow arc in the middle of the blue middle stripe. The flag Chávez was using, though, had a large black Venezuela below the arc of stars, and the shape of Venezuela on that there flag did not correspond to that on your National Geographic map. It corresponded to that of Venezuela AND Guyana. Seems that Chávez is claiming that Guyana is part of Venezuela. Now, there's been a long-standing border dispute between Venezuela and first, the British, who took over Guyana as a colony and held it until the 1960s, and then the Guyanese, when they became independent. The Americans at one point at the turn of the century were called in to mediate the border dispute between Britain and Venezuela. Now it looks like Chávez is claiming the whole thing. He's the typical nationalist jerk who gets wrought up over lines in the jungle, and that kind of person is very dangerous; look what happened in 1995 between Ecuador and Peru, Official Dumbest Latin American War of the Nineties. (The Official Dumbest Latin American War of All Time would be the time El Salvador took on Honduras over the results of a soccer game--or the time Paraguay went at it with Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay and only like 30,000 Paraguayan men survived, so polygamy had to be introduced to restock the population--or when Peru and Bolivia went after Chile and got creamed--or that time Bolivia and Paraguay had it out over the utterly useless Chaco--or the other two previous Ecuador-Peru wars--or Argentina deciding to take on the Royal Navy--or Santa Anna taking on the US again in 1846, after he'd already been beaten by just the Texans. Only Cool Latin American War Effort Ever: when Brazilian troops fought with the Allies in the Italian campaign between 1943 and 1945.)
Is anybody in America writing about this incredible piece of irony: that France has unilaterally deployed military forces in the Ivory Coast, also known as Côte d'Ivoire? An attempted coup in that former French colony has turned into a nasty civil war. France brought together a group of other West African countries, most of which are French satellites and are considered to be within Paris's sphere of influence, and representatives of both sides in the conflict, at a meeting under the supervision of Jacques Chirac and Kofi Annan in Paris. Now's when the story gets good. This is from today's Vanguardia; the reporter's name is J.R. González Cabezas, who's in Paris.

Violent anti-French reaction in Ivory Coast capital

The capital of the Ivory Coast was yesterday the scene of violent demonstrations against France, in rejection of the agreement reached in Paris to put an end to the civil war. The riots broke out while the conference of West African leaders was preparing to ratify an agreement in the French capital itself, under the active protagonism of Chirac and with the approval of the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan. What happened in Abidjan confirms the fragility of the commitment formalised in Paris and also the risk assumed alone by France in its diplomatic and military adventure.

After intervening personally on Saturday to obtain President Laurent Ghagbo's acceptance of the agreement, Chirac had to intervene again on Sunday to demand Ghagbo's energetic call to put an end to the violent anti-French riot in Abidjan. The (French) minister of Foreign Affairs, Dominique de Villepin, did not doubt in attributing the events to "extremists close to power".

Starting on Saturday night, dozens of thousands of furious supporters of President Ghagbo, many of them armed with machetes and clubs, invaded the center of Abidjan and assaulted the French Embassy, which was attacked with stones and Molotov cocktails. Hundreds of exalted demonstrators tried to penetrate into the 43rd batallion of marines' military base; they are garrisoned in the capital. The French cultural center, a students' group, department stores, and various business and government offices were also attacked there.

The French soldiers used anti-riot weapons to repel the demonstrators, who also burned the Burkina Faso consulate; that country is accused of supporting rebel groups. Air France suspended its two flights to Abidjan, while Ghagbo and the French ambassador hurried back to the country, where 16,000 French nationals live.

The agreement for the formation of a government of national reconciliation with the presence of the three rebel groups is considered as a finish by Ghagbo's followers. "When the war is not won, one discusses and arrives at compromises, and I have not won the war," he said before leaving Paris, after formally agreeing and promising to put the accord completely into practice, as Chirac demanded. France's unusual interventionism has gone so far as to name, in Paris, the "consensus" prime minister and new strongman of the Ivory Coast, Seydon Diarra, age 69, a Muslim from the north. The EU has pledged €400 million to reconstruct the country.

I am staggered at, first, how much this looks like any early-20th century American intervention in some banana republic, and second, that the French are acting just as unilaterally as you please. They got their other West African dependents to put their stamp of approval on the French military intervention, but I don't recall France consulting with, say, the United States on this, and Kofi Annan is apparently looking on smilingly, though I don't remember ONE SINGLE UN RESOLUTION SAYING THA...OK, OK, I'll calm down and, like chill out for a minute. There. Nice, calm, dignified. I even edited out a seven-letter present participle.

The Vanguardia's take on the Iraq situation today is that the US has made it public that it is willing to go it alone and attack Saddam Hussein. Colin Powell, the designated dove in the Administration, the good cop as opposed to Rumsfeld's bad cop, said at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the Americans "will act although others are not ready to join us", that "if Iraq doesn't disarm, it will be disarmed", and that "It is a fact that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction".

Meanwhile, the Social Forum, the Rainbow Festival of the Perenially Indignant in Porto Alegre, Brazil, has kicked off, and though absolutely nothing useful or original will be said or done there, it is getting big coverage in Spain. Lula da Silva said that he wants us to give him some money. He also said "Peace is not a moral obligation, but a rational imperative, and a peaceful solution at the hands of the UN must be found." The Vanguardia's correspondent mentioned that Da Silva talked a lot about poverty and stuff but said nothing concrete in the way of plans to do anything. Lula's pal Hugo Chávez showed up and "was received with enthusiasm" and "harvested support". Chávez claimed that he will introduce the "Tobin tax" "against monetary speculation" in Venezuela, which I calculate ought to deepen Venezuela's crisis regarding currency reserves. He didn't bother mentioning how, when, or with what he is going to do this.

Maybe we could call Castro, Chávez, and Lula the "Axis of Evel Knievel", since they're all like motorcycle stunt riders, either accelerating at full speed towards the jump off the cliff over the Snake River into oblivion (Lula), already well out over the canyon and heading into a steep nosedive (Chávez, who has also lost control of the steering mechanism on his bike), or having crashed straight into the canyon floor when his (red) parachute failed (Castro).

Cultural note: Barcelona is quite a civilized place to live. It has a brand-new "National" Theater and 34 other stages for plays. Stuff that you might have heard of that's currently on includes "The Vagina Monologues" (hey, I didn't say it was all good or anything), "La Casa de Bernarda Alba" (there's always a Lorca revival on), "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" (there's almost always a David Mamet on, too), "Excess" by Neil La Bute, and "Arsenic and Old Lace". There are two bits of existential pretentiousness on, one by Bergman and the other by Camus. There are two local comic "showmen" on, Ángel Pavlovsky and idiotarian Pepe Rubianes, the internationally-known mime group El Tricicle, four musicals (two local originals) that I've never heard of before, and two plays by local dramatists (J.M. Segarra and J.M. Benet i Jornet, both of whom are also pretentious as all hell, but hey, at least they're producing local drama in big theaters and people go to see it). Local favorite actors Joan Pera and Paco Morán, who are very funny and who always have a crowd-pleaser--these guys' shows, Neil Simon-like comedies, run for months and sell out on the weekends--have another one out. Part of their schtick is they adapt these foreign plays so that the characters and their actions fit in with Catalan and Spanish daily life and popular culture--Oscar is a Barça fan, of course, in their version of "The Odd Couple". Also, fitting in with bilingual real life here in Barcelona, Pera (the straight man) speaks Catalan on stage and Morán (the clown) speaks Spanish. It's a masterful formula. Everybody's happy linguistically and can sit back and enjoy the show.

I am not much of a fan of classical music and don't claim to understand it, but if you like that sort of thing, Barcelona has a first-class opera house, the recently rebuilt and expanded Liceu, and two major concert halls, the much-criticized new Auditori and the Art Nouveau Palau de la Música Catalana, inside a spectacular Domenech and Montaner building. If you're a music fan you'll want to make a concert at the Palau part of your agenda while here. There's something on almost every night and prices are quite cheap. You don't have to dress up though, like, leather shoes, slacks, and a shirt with a collar might be nice.

There's a major trend that I've noticed here. All kinds of Eastern European orchestras are touring Western Europe playing popular favorites. They are advertised on billboards and with stick-up posters around the city. Coming to Barcelona soon are the Bielorussian Chamber Orchestra doing Handel's "Water Music" and Vivaldi's "Four Seasons", the Bulgarian State Opera Orchestra and Chorus doing chorales by Verdi and Bizet and "Carmina Burana", the Minsk Symphony doing De Falla's "Aranjuez", Rachmaninoff's Second concert for piano, "Swan Lake", and "Scheheradze", and the Russian National Orchestra and Chorus doing Bach's "Passion of Saint Matthew", Beethoven's Ninth, and Schubert's Unfinished. They must be making money doing this, giving the people what they want, and they must not have been making too much dough back home because if they had been, they'd be there, not here.

The Communists produced too many classically-trained musicians, more than their internal market could support, and not enough pop and rock and gadinga-dinga music. This is a beautiful example of the laws of supply and demand--there's not enough demand and too much supply of classical music in Eastern Europe since Communists disdained pop music and trained musicians only in classical styles, underemployed Eastern classical musicians see there's money in the West but not much demand, they create a demand by advertising they're going to play pieces that ordinary Joes like me have actually heard before, and they carry around prestigious-sounding names to reassure the casual concert-goer that he's seeing a real quality performance.

Meanwhile, I'll bet five bucks that Western pop groups are raking it in in Eastern Europe due to the lack of tradition of commercial pop over there. I know there are a lot of American groups playing American music--country, blues, gospel, rockabilly--who tour around Western Europe calling themselves authentic Americans with real roots and soul. There are a lot of Europeans interested in those kinds of music, but not enough of them to make that stuff part of the mainstream over here--but enough to pack a club. What these Americans are is competent bar bands who'd make a decent living back home but get treated as if they were, like, the real thing over here. Often, if it's a smaller band playing in a small club, only the frontman will be American and his sidekicks will be locals.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

In the Sunday section of today's Vanguardia, there's an article titled "A State Crime?". It's a full-page story, and the hook is that one William Pepper has published another book, this one called "An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King". William Pepper is a notorious conspiracy fruitcake whose crowning achievement was, in 1999, to persuade a mentally borderline Memphis jury to decide, in a civil case, that one Lloyd Jowers had been behind the King conspiracy. The award was $100.

The best book on the King assassination is Gerald Posner's Killing the Dream, which concludes that James Earl Ray did the murder, possibly with the help in the planning and the getaway of at least one of his brothers. It cannot be excluded that there was a low-level conspiracy, as it was a well-known rumor in America's prisons that there was a reward out, to be paid by some racist businessmen, for King's head. There's an outside chance that rumor might have been true.

I googled "william pepper king conspiracy" and found these five articles from fairly respectable sources, all of which condemn Pepper as a fraud, a nut, or both: The Washington Post (by Gerald Posner, a must-read), Court TV, CNN/Time, Slate, and the Boston Globe (another must-read, by Christopher Hitchens).

Here's the article, in italics, of course.

Maybe it was because of the glacial cold that froze the large neogothic tower of the Riverside church in Harlem last Thursday, but an audience of thirty people didn't seem like much to listen to the lawyer and former collaborator with Martin Luther King, William Pepper, at the release of his new book, "An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King". The work is the fruit of an investigation which has stretched on for more than ten years, in which Pepper has brought to life a series of evidence that prove that King was the victim of a plot coordinated by various American intelligence services, with the collaboration of the Army, the Memphis police, and the local Mafia.

"The media in the United States doesn't want to listen, this book will never come out in the newspapers," assured Pepper. And, in fact, despite the unending homages to the black leader rendered these days because of Martin Luther King Day, only the weekly Village Voice has published an article about the book. The New York Times asked Pepper for an op-ed, but they pulled out at the last moment.

Although Pepper's exhaustive investigation seems made for Hollywood, after the success of Oliver Stone's JFK, not even television has shown any interest. White but committed, Pepper worked with King during the year prior to his assassination on April 4, 1968. "They were times," Pepper recalls, "in which the reverend and civil rights activist became radicalized, strengthened his opposition to the Vietnam War, and widened his accusations to include "economic racism".

Just a year before falling, hit by a sniper's bullet on the balcony of a Memphis hotel, King had made a speech in the selfsame Riverside church in New york, and the rebellion of the Afro-Americans spread throughout the country and combined with the campaign against the war. "After that speech in this church," Pepper explains, "a hundred cities were under siege and the country in flames. They were very frightened in Washington, and King had to be eliminated."

This lawyer's arguments do not have much to do with the movies. Pepper is Professor of Law at Oxford University (???--not the one in England) and has been accumulating abundant evidence since he began representing James Earl Ray, the small-time crook who was accused of the death of King because of alleged racist motives and who remained in jail until his death in 1998.

"Ray was a docile, passive person who was no more racist than any working-class guy," explains the researcher. "He told me that he said he was guilty because they'd warned him that if he didn't confess, he'd fry in the electric chair." In any case, as soon as Ray entered jail, he asked for another trial. "Ray," says Pepper, "was set up in an operation planned together by the Army's military intelligence staff and a group of arms traffickers linked to the Mafia."

For this chronicler of the life and death of King, it is proven that the intelligence services considered that it was an absolute priority to subvert the civil rights movement, so they even infiltrated its ranks. The King operation was carried out by the Army, "because it had more blacks than the CIA and so it would have to take care of the protests."

"The role of the Army and other governmental agencies that collaborated in the murder of Dr. King," writes Pepper in his book, "has been one of the most sinister secrets of our country." According to his version, that afternoon of April 4, 1968, a team of Green Beret snipers just arrived from Vietnam had traveled to Memphis with one order: to assassinate Martin luther King and another black leader, the reverend Andrew Young.

Two of them, who now, after changing identities, live in Costa Rica and are Pepper's direct sources, were posted on the roof of a building nest to the Lorraine Motel, where King was staying the day before leading a demonstration of sanitation workers, principally blacks, as part of his campaign against economic racism.

Forced to change the room he had been given on the first floor for 306, on the third floor and much more exposed. King leaned over the balcony and was hit by a bullet that entered his jaw, went through his neck, and lodged in his shoulder. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

Nevertheless, it wasn't the military intelligence agents who had fired, says Pepper. When he was aiming at Young, the military sniper, Pepper's source, heard another shot. It had been fired, Pepper assures, by Earl Clark, a Memphis policeman who was hiding with one of the members of the gang of arms traffickers among the weeds of a nearby vacant lot. Clark, according to the investigator, was following orders from the Mafia padrino of Memphis Frank Liberto and his superior in the New Orleans Mafia, Carlos Marcello, involved in illegal arms trafficking to Latin America.

After King's assassination, the protest movement in which the campaign against the Vietnam War and the struggle for Afro-American civil rights entered into decline. A year before, Malcolm X--another irreplaceable leader--fell victim to another bullet. "Do you think the government killed Malcolm, too?" asked a middle-aged black woman in the Riverside church. "In the case of Martin Luther King I know for sure," Pepper affirmed; "with Malcolm X it would be a speculation, but yes, I believe the government killed him too."

Many of those present, survivors of the struggles back then, let it be known that they think the same thing. "The groups of special operations went to the demonstrations with photos of thise who the authorities considered to be dangerous, with orders to select them as targets in case a riot broke out," said Pepper.

What was said that day in Harlem should have been a front-page news story, if not in the United States, in the rest of the world. But it was too cold for the journalists to go to the Riverside church.

You see what we're up against over here? This article can kindly be understood as the ravings of a paranoiac schizophrenic or unkindly considered as the cynical lies of a charlatan, depending on what you believe William Pepper is. What it's not, though, is anything that anybody with the slightest common sense could believe. It is out-and-out bullshit. Bullcrap. And bullfuck. Yet it is published in La Vanguardia, the conservative leading newspaper--200,000 or so daily circulation--in Spain's second-largest city, as if it were fact. They didn't bother looking up William Pepper, that's for sure, so they're guilty of gross journalistic negligence at the very least. Of course, if they did look up Dr. Pepper, as he likes to be called, and discovered what a nut everybody respectable says he is, then they're guilty of bad faith. I suspect the latter, though the former can't be ruled out. Probably some combination of the two.

But if you're an average intelligent educated Spanish Joe who believes what he reads in the paper and sees on the TV news about the US, you see this crap and you believe it. Perfectly reasonably, they say, "Hey, that's what I read in the newspaper, so I believe it's true." No wonder they all think America is Satanic, if this is what the conservative press stakes its journalistic respectability to print. Imagine what the leftist press is like.

I did look up the Village Voice piece. It's mildly skeptical, not nearly enough. It does mention that Dr. Pepper's next mission is to go to Venezuela and preside a "fact-finding commission"--at Hugo Chávez's personal request.
It's an incredible day in La Vanguardia. I'm going to be here translating and typing all afternoon (hey, people, if you need an English-Spanish / Spanish-English translator with lots of experience, just e-mail me at Why? Because the only weapons we have against the idiotarians are logic, reason, facts, and ridicule in our war for the hearts and souls. Translating this vile steaming putrid suppurating filth (remember that disgusting room that Luke and Han Solo and Chewbacca get stuck in in Star Wars? Even more maggot-infested than that) gives us an ability to use those weapons against idiotarianism.

I've wondered whether what I've been doing here is mere "preaching to the choir", since I've been asked about it. I've decided that no, what I write is not going to convince too many people who have already decided that I'm wrong. However, it might convince some people who are right now sitting on the fence, not sure of what to think. It might also reinforce the opinions of those people who are predisposed to sympathize with my libertarian free-market hawkish perspective. So, since I'm not convincing a lot of Socialists and anti-Americans, am I wasting my time? I don't think so. It's not a waste of time at all to either provide more ammunition to your side or to try to bring over people who might not have made up their mind yet.

Now, what I need to try to do better is to focus my posts. I want some of them to give support to other people who share my ideas, and perhaps influence my allies on smaller points within the general framework of a democratic capitalist system (e.g. we may both be free-market on economics but you might believe in, say, exclusively private health care, while I would defend a mixed private-public system). But I want other posts to try to convince middle-of-the-roaders to come over to democratic capitalism, to vote for candidates and parties that support a democratic capitalist system. One thing I'm going to do in those posts is to cut down the ridicule and sneering (and bad language) that I so gleefully fill this blog with. Middle-of-the-roaders are people who aren't sure what they think, who can't choose between two or three or four options, and who are looking for someone to persuade them and win them over. Being straight-up, treating your opponents with respect, and trying to see the merit in opposing points of view while being firm in your own basic convictions is what will persuade the undecided of your decency and reliability.

Now we'll see whether I can actually do that. To paraphrase St. Augustine, "Give me good taste, credibility, and dignity--but not yet!"

Anyway, Cinderella Bloggerfeller has a post on today's Bartasar Porcel eruption. Someone also provided a rather free translation of Porcel's column at the Axis of Porcel HQ. Our translation here is somewhat more traditional yet less expressive. It's in italics. Wiseass comments by us which will only serve to annoy moderates and drive them away are not.

Models of War

The American secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, has insultingly nicknamed us "Old Europe". Well, he did it to France and Germany, which means the same thing. Because if it turns out that Spain, because Aznar blindly follows Bush's war drums, is the New Europe, we're ready: we're Luis de Galinsoga's (a Francoist writer) "sentinels of the West" again! Rumsfeld adds that the new center of European gravity has moved to the east. Where? Russia, Chechenia, the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, places they barely know the location of? I don't think Bush is ignorant, as they say; I think his whole team is. Besides, so inefficient in preparing war--these months of rummaging around bellowing at thousands of soldiers have exasperated the Americans themselves--or in hunting Bin Ladin like Aznar has done and is doing with the chapapote (Galician oil spill).

Comments: a) the last sentence is out-and-out incomplete, with no subject or predicate, and can't be justified as a case of intentional rule-breaking for stylistic purposes. It's a case of Porcel's not even bothering to go over the three or four paragraphs of rant that he sents in to the Vangua every day. b) Porcel knows less about preparing war than my cat Oscar. c) Note the standard canard that Americans know less about geography than the cultured Europeans. My response when confronted with someone who tries this one--"Americans don't know where Barcelona is"--is always, "Oh, I managed to get here just fine. You just fly from New York to MADRID--that's BARAJAS Airport, near Madrid, which is the CAPITAL of SPAIN. Barajas, near Madrid, is a BIG airport to which LOTS of flights come from New York. Then you change to a SMALLER plane to fly on to Barcelona." If they persist I say, "Look, give me one really good reason why someone in Kansas needs to know where Barcelona is. It's not like he cares or anything." Fisticuffs are normally threatened at this point. d) Note that Porcel proudly includes himself among the "Old Europeans" without any invitation at all to do so. e) Note Porcel's obvious bad faith; he knows perfectly well that Rumsfeld and Fleischer were talking about NATO allies Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and, yes, Bulgaria, rather than Russia and Chechenia and Serbia, as the "New Europe". Were I from a Western European country, I would not shoot off my mouth regarding what happened in the former Yugoslavia.

Saddam is a brutal dictator who is only good at oppressing the people and submitting it to hunger, but Bush wants to overthrow him, we don't know exactly why, unless it's to give it to other masters, like for instance his allies the Saudi rulers, one of the major embarrassments on the planet and who whip up the fundamentalism that blew up the Twin Towers more than Saddam himself. And all because of the chapapote! Why doesn't Bush go to Galicia and get what's there, which has even been blessed by Fraga (the conservative prime minister of Galicia, rather a Strom Thurmond figure). It's shocking that international politics have reached such low quality.
Comments: a) Nice "yes, but". b) More bad faith or just stupidity: Iraq will not be turned over to the Saudis. That is just not on anyone's agenda. c) The Galicia oil spill, of course, had nothing to do with American international policy. Porcel is blatantly trying to swing both disparate clubs the Spanish anti-Americans and anti-Aznarites are trying to bash Aznar on: the oil spill and the upcoming Iraq war, which are entirely unconnected.

But we should be specific: the minister in Washington labels us old-fashioned because we don't believe in war or in war without reasons. That is, Germany, with three horrible wars in a century, the biggest that humanity has seen, and France, unleashing them too or suffering from them, while the peace of the EU has broght us an unimaginable tranquility and prosperity, should embrace weapons because (America says so), with blind enthusiasm. Donald Rumsfeld: we must remember that name and, if we see him on one side of the street, cross over to the other side. Russia, massacring the Chechens yesterday and today, and with its gulags behind it, has become the model: uf!

Comments: a) Russia is not the model for anything. It's Poland, the Czechs, and Hungary who are the model. This was explicitly stated. Porcel's bit of bad faith and / or ignorance is repeated, making it clear that the first time wasn't a mistake. b) Mr. Porcel, you and the rest of the European Left did damn little to dump the gulags on the trashpile of history. c) The contempt for Rumsfeld is rather pathetic, since it's fairly obvious who the better man is when we compare Rumsfeld and Porcel himself, and anyone who's been writing a newspaper column which opines on international issues for like about the last fifteen years ought to know who Donald Rumsfeld is already. d) Europe has enjoyed peace since 1945 because of NATO and the American nuclear umbrella, not because of anything the European Union ever did. Since Mr. Porcel is so eager to consider himself alluded to by the phrase "the Old Europe", he might remember Old Europe's admirable skill and dexterity in handling the Yugoslavian debacle. Old Europe neither can nor will fight and so it tries to make a virtue out of this.

It's true that the United States was basic and decisive in freeing western Europe from Naziism and we must be thankful. But this constant desire to go to war, whether with the Rifle Association which has the country under siege, with General Custer and company eliminating the Indians, with the ferocious internal racism, with the exporting of films with demential violence, or with its protection for the dictatorships of the south, it is not at all convincing, no.

Comments: a) Note the SECOND "Yes, but" of this article. b) It's obvious that Porcel's concept of the US comes almost completely from the movies, not from any sort of research into or reading about the subject. c) Boy, a good Porcelazo doesn't come along too often, but when we get one, it's a good one.
John Bono from No Replacement for Displacement has a hilarious takedown of the Rolling Stones' pretentious anti-global-warming concert.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

I just do not get this column from NRO. If I read it right, the author is saying that real pirates and buccaneers were horrible people, and it is incongruent that pirates have rather a rebellious, devil-may-care image today when in real life they were horribly frightening. So far so good. Then he tells us that he thought it was appropriate that the Patriots won the Super Bowl last year because of their name. OK, no prob. Then he says we should root against the Buccaneers because their name is so inappropriate, like calling a team the Rapists or the Robbers or the Murderers. I'm still with him, but the problem here is that the Buccaneers' rival is the Oakland Raiders. Uh, the Raiders use pirate imagery, too, and have been using it for more than forty years, while the Bucs have only existed since '77. In order to be consistent, we would have to root against both teams for glorifying pirates. I always root against the Raiders, no matter what--I could no more root for the Raiders, ever, even if they were playing the SS Amerikanisch Fussball Reichsformationgruppe team, than I could for the Cowboys, or the Yankees, or the Lakers--so I'm going to ignore the whole glorifying-pirates issue and root for Tampa Bay. Even though they have some insufferable loudmouths on their team and I like Rich Gannon and Jerry Rice.
Just a few jottings while wondering whether Shane McGowan ever got his teeth fixed...Sandra Bullock, in Madrid to flog a movie with Hugh Grant, said, "Why doesn't Bush take a vote so that the American people can give their opinion?" Uh, Sandy, we already did that. It's called an election. Hugh Grant kept his mouth shut, demonstrating that he really is smarter than most actors...The "parking garage" murderer is still on the loose after killing two women in twelve days in the same uptown Barcelona parking garage. The papers are really hinting that the cops are interested in the second victim's husband. In both cases the killer took the victim's credit card and tried to use it; he got 300 euros out of a bank machine after the first murder...A band calling itself the Misfits, with Jerry as the only original member left, Marky Ramone on drums, and Dez Cadena of Black Flag on guitar played here in Barcelona. They did about forty songs, including half a dozen Ramones covers. I'm sorry I missed it, though those guys are just as big dinosaurs now as the Floyds and Zeps and ELPs that they started out as a reaction to were then...Johann Mühlegg, the "Spanish" "winner" of two gold medals at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, has been hit with a two-year suspension for what they call "doping" over here. He got mad at the German Olympic committee and decided to change nationality, so he sold himself to the highest bidder, who turned out to be Spain--€72,000 per gold medal. Mühlegg won two gold medals in cross-country skiing. He then came in first in the main event, the 50-km race. He then failed a drug test. They stripped him of the medal for the 50-km race but allowed him to keep the other two. His suspension will run out before the next Olympics, so he's training away...Pau Gasol almost had a 20-20 game; he had 24 points and 17 rebounds against Sacramento. The FC Barcelona basketball squad's pride and joy, Slobovian (or some country called something like Slobovia) small forward Gregor Fucka, is having a disappointing season. We have nicknamed him, of course, "Mutha".
According to La Vanguardia, the State Department has announced that Americans living abroad should be prepared for a possible evacuation. I'm not too worried, but I am going to call up the consulate and let them know where we are just in case. You never know.

The Vanguardia's take on the current diplomatic turmoil is that the Americans and British are willing to wait a few more weeks for the UN inspectors to continue inspecting between now and the eventual attack on Iraq, which everybody seems to have decided sometime during the week is now inevitable. There's definitely a feeling in the Spanish media that the decision has been made and the war is on, that it's only a question of when. The purpose will be to do a little more convincing and arm-twisting on Congress and American public opinion while giving Germany and France another chance to get on board. Meanwhile, Spanish Foreign Minister Ana de Palacio met with Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday in Washington and backed the American position in the press conference afterward. Madrid "is considering" a second Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. That means Spain, with a seat on the Security Council (though no veto--we're not a permanent member, only on for two years) will vote yes should the Americans and/or British introduce such a measure. The Vangua mentions that the NYT reported that a White House source says that Bush talks with Aznar more often than with any other European leader. Good. Aznar deserves recognition for his gutsy stand with the US and UK and Australia and Canada against terrorism.

I suppose you've all heard that Donald Rumsfeld referred to Germany and France as "the old Europe" and Ari Fleischer emphasized that the US was by no means "going it alone", that we have the support of the UK, Australia, Spain, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, and several other Eastern European nations. Boy, did the Axis of Weasels ever get mad. Said elegant, sophisticated Roselyn Bachelot, the French minister of Ecology, "Merde." That was also the title of the lead editorial of Libération, the French Socialist newspaper. Jacques Derrida said "It is a shocking, scandalous, and typical statement. (Rumsfeld's) words do no more than underline the importance of European unity." Derrida, therefore, seems to wish that the US and Europe were enemies rather than friends. Jürgen Habermas said "Rumsfeld is responsible for a security doctrine that laughs at international law. The criticisms of his European friends trip over the American ideals of the 18th century." Romano Prodi said, "It's not age that makes Europeans oppose the war, but prudence. The Europeans are not old, they are wise." Jorge Semprún said, "We could turn the question around and say: the problem is Bush. While Europe tries to prevent an unjust and absurd war it will be, whether old or young, in the correct position." Le Figaro called Rumsfeld's words "an insult to Europe" and Le Monde said "Old Rumsfeld's words reveal the incapacity of America to tolerate an independent ally that will be called Europe." Régis Débray, who got himself thrown in jail back in the sixties for helping Che Guevara start a failed revolution in Bolivia and who probably should have been shot then, said, "The joint opposition of France and Germany against America and their rejection of war make me happy and fill me with hope...At last Europe has a dimension of foreign policy."

Huh. These Europeans are mighty sensitive. Who was it who said the Americans were simplistic or cowboys or warmongers or crudely imperialistic? Who called Israel a shitty little country? Whose newspapers are full of vicious anti-Americanism every day? Seems that they can dish out insults but can't handle the truth. The truth is this. Europe was the most important place in the world from about 1500 to 1945. In 1945, America and Russia took over as most important, but between 1945 and 1991, Europe was one of the most important places in the world in American eyes--remember we all thought that if war with the Russians came, it would be triggered by Soviet economic weakness and come in the form of a Soviet conventional invasion overrunning Germany? I remember thinking that until about 1988. We needed the Europeans then, not only for diplomatic support, but to fight.

What happened, though, is that when the Warsaw Pact collapsed everybody cut defense spending hugely. America did, too, and hawks repeatedly claimed that Clinton had been underfunding the military for eight years. But the Europeans, even the Brits, cut their defense spending so much that they didn't really have legitimate armed forces anymore. They left themselves dependent on the idea that there would be no more threats, that they could finally relax, that the threat of war that hung over the whole twentieth century (1914-1991) in Europe was finally finished. They also left themselves dependent on the United States for protection against outside threats, whether they realized what they were doing or not; no European country is now capable of fighting a real war alone. If you are a dependent, your status is different than that of a smaller equal.

Check out this metaphor. Imagine that you, a generally decent and fairly moral person, go to a tough high school where there are bullies who sometimes gang up against smaller, weaker people. You are a big, strong guy, and the bullies can't push you around. They don't even try. You worry, though, about all the bullies ganging up on you at once, and so you need friends. There are some other decent, moral fellows in the school who don't like the bullies, either, and so you all naturally gravitate toward one another and help one another out. If you have to fight one of the bullies, your friends watch your back. They may not be as big and strong as you are, but you need them, and you respect them. Now, you also have dependents. These are guys who can't take care of themselves, who aren't strong enough to fight the bullies. You, being a fairly decent guy, sometimes interfere if the bullies start picking on these guys. These dependents really hate you, because they hate themselves for being weak, and you always have to watch out for them. They are actually a danger to you, because they're untrustworthy and indecisive and are so insecure that they'll take unfair advantage to move up the pecking order and regain some self-respect. They can even be brought to side with the bullies against you if they think that it will help them regain status.

So, anyway, you finally cow all the bullies. Some of your friends remain your friends, ready to fight bullies, though their help isn't needed anymore. Others forget that they once needed to fight and sink to the level of dependents.

Europe is no longer one of the most important places in the world to the Americans, and hasn't been one for about twelve years. Britain, Spain, and Italy have been realistic; they've seen that it is both intelligent and right to be friendly with America even though they have lost importance in America's eyes. The Norwegians, Danes, and Dutch have similar attitudes. They don't like bullies and aren't going to stand for any bullying. Even though America doesn't need them, they're decent folks and will still watch America's back. Other countries like Sweden and Belgium have generally been more neutral, but have not usually fallen into unfriendliness. France and Germany, however, have ranged from pricklish neutrality to downright unpleasantness. They've become dependents. They've lost their moral strength so much that they either stupidly don't recognize or, worse, cravenly connive with, the small bullies who are still around trying to stir up whatever trouble they can.
Thanks to InstaPundit for instapunditing us and Ibidem. All y'all first-time visitors, thanks for coming by and we hope you'll stay around a while and set a spell.
The Al Qaeda arrests here in Barcelona (see below) are significant news. They are solid proof that Al Qaeda is a threat to the civilized world. They planned to commit acts of terrorism, apparently using chemicals, right here. And in London, Paris, and Strasbourg. If this doesn't convince Europeans, including those in France, for God's sake, that it's time to draw a line in the sand and say "Take your stand. You're either with us and against the terrorists, and we mean all the terrorists; you're neutral and will enjoy the advantages and also suffer the drawbacks of having been a fence-sitter; or you're on their side. Which is it?"--then I don't know what will. And if anyone doesn't see by now that Al Qaeda is in cahoots with Hezbollah, Al Fatah, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, and all those other flaming bags of shit, you are willfully ignoring the obvious. And where do those people get their money, weapons, and support? Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, North Korea, Sudan, Algeria. AND certain people, some highly placed, in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and everywhere else in the Arab / Muslim world and a lot of places outside it.

What I find amazing are all the educated, intelligent people who are perfectly willing to believe that mobile phones fry their brains, that Monsanto is trying to take over the world, that the CIA or the Mafia or the Teamsters killed Kennedy, that there's a conspiracy between the government, the referees, and some obscure figures with "muchos intereses" to screw FC Barcelona out of the League again this year, that opening the window when it's hot outside is bad for you, that you can catch a cold if the wind blows on you, that crystals have a lot of power and so do pyramids and that everyone has an energy field (and that mine is negative), that feng fuckin' shui is something more than a millenarian superstition, that electric power lines give off radiation, that there are people out there who pay untold sums of money to watch snuff movies, that there are Satanic cults sacrificing babies infiltrating our nursery schools, that it's possible to lose weight without eating less, exercising more, or both, that AIDS is a plot by the federal government to exterminate blacks or gays or both, that the CIA was running drugs from Nicaragua into the USA to fund the contras, that you can learn a foreign language by paying thousands of dollars and sitting at a computer terminal, that the US Army had hit squads to kill deserters in Vietnam, that O.J.'s son was the one who really did it, or that this whole war thing is a devilish plot cooked up between the oil companies, the Pentagon, the arms manufacturers, Dick Cheney, and the Bavarian Fuckin' Illuminati, yet they are unwilling to believe that there are governments and organizations out there that are working together with the goal of destroying everything that we all cherish about our Western society and that maybe we ought to take action against them now while we still can rather than wait until we can't anymore.
The Vanguardia is reporting (click here for their 10:30 PM local time update) that the 16 suspected terrorists in custody in Spain are members of the Salafista splinter of the Algerian GIA. They provided information and infrastructure to Al Qaeda. Spanish police made 12 raids in Barcelona and the surrounding autonomous region of Catalonia. Among the items confiscated, as well as some chemicals (earlier reports said "ricin", this update says "resins") and explosives, along with bomb-making materials and all sorts of electronic gear, not to mention enough radio gear to contact Algeria and Chechenia, and a few guns and lots of papers and documents, was equipment for forging documents and credit cards. The forged credit cards were a source of income.

Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar confirmed that the "suspects" were preparing attacks with explosive and chemical material. He stated that this was "an important unraveling of a network of terrorists linked to al Qaeda", and a "strong blow" at the terrorists' financing network. He also confirmed that the suspects had been in contact with those arrested in Britain and France who had planned attacks in Strasbourg, Paris, and London. Minister of Interior (law enforcement) Ángel Acebes said that Spain was "at the forefront" of the struggle against Islamic and all other forms of terrorism, and pointed out that 35 suspected Islamic terrorists have been arrested in Spain since Sept. 11, 2001.

Two different groups were broken up; one was based in Barcelona and led by Mohamed Taraqui, and the other was based in Banyoles, a small city with a fairly large population of Arab immigrants near the French border, and was led by Bard Eddu Farji. Both men are Algerian, as were some of the other men arrested; others are Moroccan and Pakistani. All those arrested have been identified and their names released except two.

The origin of the trail leading to today's actions begins with the arrest of Mohamed Bensakhria by the Spanish police in Alicante in June 2001. He was the leader of Al Qaeda's operations organization.

For lots more information check Ibidem.

Friday, January 24, 2003

Here's Catalunya TV's take on the Al Qaeda arrests in Catalan. What they say here is pretty much what everyone else is reporting. They clarify that if the arrestees are not charged with any crime in Spain they will be extradited to France. The anti-government spin on this one is that the government screwed up and looked like doofuses. My take on this one is the government arrested sixteen terrorist dirtbags and while doing so arrested three people who were later released and incorrectly broke down some drunk old slag's door. So far there have been no further updates of importance.
Here's Fox News's report in English on the Spain Al Qaeda arrests; it's their top international story. Check out Jesús Gil's Ibidem for more info; he's all over this one.
Breaking News: Major Al Qaeda Bust in Barcelona

Click here to read La Vanguardia's online story in Spanish.

Acting on information from the French judicial police, Spanish police arrested 19 people in Catalonia this morning in an operation that began at 3:30 AM. Three of them have been released. Eleven have been sent to Madrid where they will be held under tight custody. More than 150 police officers participated in the more than a dozen raids made. Guns, bomb-making material, explosives, and two barrels of ricin were confiscated. The arrested are allegedly linked to Al Qaeda and to an Algerian radical splinter group. They have been linked to the bombing in Bali, the planned attempt to blow up Strasbourg Cathedral, and the plans to release gas in the Paris metro and the London underground.

The arrests were made in Barcelona and Girona provinces, some in Barcelona and Girona themselves, and others in Banyoles, Olot, Salt, Santa Coloma de Gramanet, and L'Hospitalet. The arrested are of Algerian, Pakistani, and Moroccan ancestry. They had apparently planned to use the confiscated material for actions in Algeria and Chechenia.

I have checked three news sources; La Vanguardia and Television Española emphasize the arrests, the confiscated material, the police work, and the terrorist connections of the arrested. TV Catalunya, however, controlled by the Catalan nationalist government, emphasized the police errors--they interviewed one of the arrested who was later freed and he said, "They came in with guns and kicked down the door and my wife and kids were in there." (Sorry, dude, if you're suspected of being a terrorist they can kick your door down and arrest you with a warrant, which they had. Be thankful you live here where you get turned loose if you're really innocent, unlike, say, wherever you come from.) They interviewed a Catalan friend of one of the others arrested, who looked like a goddamn squatter (the Catalan guy), and he said, "He's not guilty of anything. And if he's guilty of something, then it's being a good person and letting some people stay at his house." (Uh, I think that's called harboring, if those people were terrorists and he knew it.) They showed several of the kicked-down doors and a couple of weeping wives. (Sorry they took hubby away. Hope he's innocent for both of your sakes. But I'll bet he's not.) In general, they made it look like this was the act of the oppressive police going after framed people. The police did bust down one wrong door, realized they had the wrong place--TV Catalunya gave a long interview to the woman, who looked like an old slapper and was clearly drunk while the reporter was talking to her--said, "Sorry," left, and busted down the right door.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

A cursory look at today's Vanguardia tells us that the French and Germans are making antiwar noises again. I don't think it means too much, though French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin suggested that France might use its veto on the Security Council to torpedo any authorization for war on Iraq. I'm not demanding that it's France's duty as an ally to support us. I am saying that it's their duty as an ally not to actively oppose us. I don't care if they abstain. It doesn't even really matter whether Germany backs us up or not, though a German no vote in the Security Council would be a clear sign of lack of German common decency. But if France vetoes a US-UK proposal to go to war in Iraq, I vote we revoke all France's privileges. They should no longer be considered even a friend, much less an ally. No need to make an enemy of them, but no reason to do them any favors, either. We'll nod politely as we pass one another on the street, and that'll be it.

In Venezuela, underhanded Chávez maneuvers--he's retroactively fired one of the judges and invalidated all decisions he had taken part in--caused the Supreme Court to suspend the February 2 non-binding referendum demanding that Chávez resign which opposition petitions, signed by more than 2 million people, had legitimately demanded. Sounds a lot like what the Nazis did in order to seize power in Germany. Instead, Chávez bussed thousands of his rural supporters into Caracas with the objective of intimidating demonstrators. Sounds a lot like the March on Rome. (The Blackshirts didn't march, they traveled by train. You think Mussolini could have marched more than about twenty feet with that gut?) Venezuela is looking at a 25% drop in GNP, unemployment up to 28%, hyperinflation, and hyperdevaluation of the currency. They will have to suspend payments on the national debt within weeks.

What the Cataloonies seem most offended by, in Chief Judge of the Constitutional Court Manuel Jiménez de Parga's verbal diarrhea against the "historical nationalities", is that he said their ancestors were dirty and unwashed 1000 years ago while a great civilization flourished in Andalusia. Boy, did that ever make them mad. Meanwhile, the Catalan shopkeepers' association have said that they have no problem with the Generalitat law on the commercial use of Catalan, but they have requested subsidies in order to buy new signs. Yep; if the government is interfering with private businesses in matters that aren't related to public safety, it--that is us--ought to pay for the costs of its interference until we get together and vote said government out of office. One of the requirements of the law is that there must be at least one employee capable of attending clients in Catalan. So if I move to Barcelona from, say, Cáceres, because I want to open a comic book shop there, I have to either learn Catalan myself or hire someone who knows Catalan. What if I don't want to hire any employees? I have no choice. Catalan-language laws are effectively barriers and constraints on trade and employment. I should be allowed to use whatever language I want. If I want to attend clients in Latvian, that's my business. It might be smart for me to hire someone who knows Catalan, but I shouldn't be forced to do it. As PP Justice Minister José María Michavila said, "The problem is when language is not used as an element of communication but, on the contrary, when there are people who want to use it as an element of confrontation."

In a survey of 12,000 students between 12 and 16 years old in the five Spanish autonomous communities with most young immigrants, Madrid, Catalonia, Andalusia, Valencia, and Murcia, 36.5% have a negative point of view toward immigration, and 9.5% of them "totally reject" immigrants. It seems that Spanish parents do not object to immigrants if there are less than about 10% of them among the students; teachers do not see problems until the immigrant percentage gets up to 15-30%. Several elementary schools in the Barcelona immigrant ghettos downtown--Pakistanis on Sant Pau, Dominicans on Carders, Chinese around Princesa, Filipinos on Bonsuccés, Arabs and South Americans in several areas--have 60% or more immigrant children. The reporter lets an ethnic judgment slip through, implying that schools with a low percentage of Arabs among the immigrants have fewer problems than those with a high percentage of what are now called "Maghrebies".

A second woman was murdered inside the same parking garage in the Putxet area, right next door to Gracia, only fifteen or so minutes away from my apartment on foot, within the past two weeks. El Putxet is an upper-middle class area where nothing ever happens--at least not until a woman was stabbed to death twelve days ago by an unknown assailant. Somebody, either the same guy or someone else (sharp thinking there!), killed another woman yesterday; this time she was beaten to death. Looks like the cops might suspect the second woman's husband, at least in her own death.

Lay's gets busted! Lay's, the number one potato chip brand in Spain (pronounced "Lies"; "Roof-lehs" are also popular) has gotten itself into trouble for deceptive advertising. Lay's advertised one of its products, Lay's Mediterranea, as being made with olive oil; they went far enough as to hire Antonio Banderas to do TV ads. Well, only 6% of the oil used in the production of Lay's Mediterranea is real olive oil. So a judge sentenced Lay's, which is a subsidiary of Pepsi, to cease and desist and to pay the court costs. All right! Get those corporate cheaters! False advertising really pisses me off.
Pau Gasol of Memphis in the NBA gets a lot of attention over here, since he's a native of Barcelona. He gets outrageous praise in the local media since he's a hometown favorite. I googled around through the sports sites to see what real NBA writers had to say about Gasol, to see whether the press he gets here is overhyped. It isn't. Gasol is really considered to be one of the best young players in the NBA and a future All-Star, maybe as early as next year. He struggled for a while early this season, but so did everyone else on the team, and that was largely due to coaching confusion--Memphis fired its coach early in the season after going 0-8 and brought in old-school Hubie Brown, who is like 96 years old but who has stabilized the team. Hubie hadn't coached since 1986. Gasol has played quite well so far in January. He had four straight 20-point 10-rebound games. As a check, I googled "pau gasol sucks". No hits. Therefore, none of the many sports blogs, which are often highly critical and foul-mouthed and also often are dead-on in their puncturing of overblown jock egos, have it in for big Pau. That's unusual. To confirm, I googled "pau gasol blows". No hits. He really must be pretty good. The criticism I saw of him is that he needs to bulk up--he's still only 23, seven feet and 240 pounds--and that he has to play more consistently and, particularly, play tougher on defense. Hubie Brown ought to be able to convince him to do that, and those criticisms are rather mild compared to the praise Gasol gets--he can score 20 a game, he's got a nice touch, he's extremely well-coordinated for someone so tall, he's fast, he's a good rebounder and passer, he's a good outside shooter, he's a crowd-pleaser (loves to slam-dunk), and, according to this gay sports site I came across, good-looking. They ranked him as the fourth-hottest NBA foreign player. Not bad.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

There's a discussion going on down the page in the Comments section about Dick Cheney's connections with Halliburton and Iraq. I googled "cheney halliburton iraq" and figured that these five articles from relatively respectable sources, National Review, UPI, the Washington Post, the Observer, and the Nation, summed up the story pretty well. Even the Nation admits that the two deals Halliburton did with Iraq, involving oil equipment worth some seventy million bucks, while Cheney was its boss during the period of the embargo, were legal under the oil-for-food arrangement. The deals were never a secret nor were they covered up by anyone. Regarding financial matters, Cheney's Halliburton pushed the law pretty close to its limit and got caught breaking it once, for which it was fined. In general, it looks to me like Cheney's conduct was not pure as the driven snow but not outrageously out of line for the boss of a big company. They've got nothing on him, which is why the matter has been dropped. A comment, by the way, is that Cheney has consistently opposed sanctions and embargoes as a part of US policy.
Here's a link to a National Review article by Andrew Stuttaford on cults, specifically the Raelians and suchlike. The article points out that Jimmy Carter once claimed to have seen a flying saucer, which is true. This one is on Chávez and Venezuela, from FrontPage. Comment: an ad hoc international "Friends of Venezuela" group has been formed to try to assist in negotiating a bloodless solution to the Chávez problem. It consists of the US, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico. Sounds good, the Americans, the Iberian democracies, and the three most important relatively stable democracies in Latin America. Respectable folks, for the most part. Chávez wanted to add Russia, China, and Cuba to the group. Not even Lula would go along with that and the group has remained at six. Here's another one on Venezuela, originally from the Washington Times.

This one is from National Review; it's a review of the Almodóvar flick, "Hable con ella", which won the Golden Globe for best foreign movie. It's a fairly positive review, though it points out the weakness of all his flicks: they get stuck in the plot about halfway through and then either the story chugs along and peters out or something totally absurd that torpedoes the movie's believability happens. The Vangua said a couple of days ago that it was ridiculous that "Hable con ella" wasn't chosen as Spain's candidate for the Oscar for best foreign movie, and attributed this failure to the efforts of Almodóvar's enemies being small-minded and getting back at him through the Spanish Academy. It's going to look especially stupid if "Hable con ella" pulls an Oscar nomination in a regular (non-foreign) category, which it might in this very weak year for Hollywood. I repeat that I am no fan of Almodóvar, but I respect his competence, professionalism, and creativity. He certainly makes more interesting movies than almost anyone else in Spain. By the way, the Spanish film industry is yelling again for more subsidies from our tax money. They shouldn't be getting a duro, of course; it shouldn't be the government's job to finance movies. Well, they already get some, and they want more so they can "level the playing field" against the big American studios. Sorry, guys, the big American studios get zero government subsidies. The playing field is not only level, it's tilted toward the Spanish industry, and further subsidies would only serve to make more movies that nobody will ever see. No kidding. There are at least several movies completely financed by the Catalan government alone that are still in the can and have been for up to several years because they're so unwatchable that not even Catalan TV will show them. I don't think Almodóvar gets subsidies, and if he does, he doesn't need them.

Here's another review from NR, this one of "The Gangs of New York", and on the real history behind the movie. Scorsese apparently confuses his gangs. According to Luc Santé in Low Life, the first dangerous gangs in New York were Irish and sprung up in the 1820s and 30s in the Five Points, a rough part of the lower East Side. They included the Roach Guards, the Plug Uglies, and the Dead Rabbits. In response to them, other gangs sprang up in the poor Bowery area, especially the Bowery Boys and also the Atlantic Guards and the O'Connell Guards. The disputes between Five Points and Bowery gangs were more territorial and classist (the Bowery gangs were working poor, the Five Points gangs were underclass) than ethnic; though some of the Bowery gangs were Irish and others nativist Americans, they would join together to fight against the Five Pointers. By the 1840s the Dead Rabbits had become the undisputed leader of the Five Points gangs and faced off in conventional, planned, almost ritual battles with the Bowery Boys. Says Santé,

As vocational schools, the two gangs had their different specialties. The Dead Rabbits turned out numerous keepers of dives...and enforcers, shoulder-hitters, mayhem artists...The Bowery Boys, on the other hand, specialized in supplying votes for political entities, for poll fixing, poll guarding, repeat voting, and any number of other activities. The clash between Tammany and nativist factions constantly threatened the stability of the gang, which somehow always survived....Both gangs probably reached their apex in the summer of 1857. At the time the city had two competing police forces, the Municipal Force and the Metropolitan Force, as a result of political machinations...and as rival cops showed more interest in fighting each other than in curtailing crime, the city was virtually unpatrolled.

On the night of July 4th a large party of Dead Rabbits and Plug Uglies raided the clubhouse of the Bowery Boys and the Atlantic Guards at 42 Bowery. An all-night battle ensued during which the Bowery side seemed to prevail....The next day...the Roach Guards joined the Rabbits and the Uglies in an attack on a Broome Street dive called the Green Dragon, which they demolished with iron bars and paving stones while drinking up the entire stock of liquor. The Bowery gangs hastened to the scene...the riot swelled as reinforcements for both sides arrived from all over the city...The police of both forces would make sporadic arrests...Three National Guard regiments arrived late in the evening, and the fighting stopped. The toll was officially set at eight dead and over a hundred wounded, but these figures seemed absurdly low.

The following day the New York Times ran the following notice: "We are requested by the Dead Rabbits to state that the Dead Rabbit club members are not thieves, that they did not participate in the riot with the Bowery Boys, and that the fight in Mulberry street was between the Roach Guards of Mulberry Street and the Atlantic Guards of the Bowery. The Dead Rabbits are sensitive on points of honor, we are assured, and wouldn't allow a thief to live on their beat, let alone be a member of their club."

The other significant New York gangs at that time were out-and-out criminal organizations of muggers, thieves, and robbers operating on the waterfront, of whom the Daybreak Boys were the most famous. Their specialty was robbing ships at anchor at all hours. Their two leaders were hanged in 1852 and then "Slobbery Jim and Patsy the Barber had an epochal fight over the division of twelve cents from the pockets of a German immigrant they had killed, in the course of which Jim murdered Patsy; he was never seen again." The police reported killing twelve of them in the single year 1858. These dirtbags were obviously treated quite differently by the authorities from the mostly non-habitually criminal Dead Rabbits and Bowery Boys.

In 1863, spurred on by their unwillingness to be drafted to fight in the Civil War, the New York mob rose in the most serious civil disturbance in America, the Draft Riots. The targets of the rioting were blacks, many of whom were lynched, and wealthy Republicans. There may have been as many as 100,000 rioters and nobody knows how many people were killed, though I'd be willing to believe up to several hundred in the several days of violence. It took troops hustled from the Gettysburg battlefield to put down the rioters. They were most likely led by the Five Points gangs, but it's not fair to simplify matters and say that the rioters were all Irish and that their only motive, if anybody had a motive, was racism. Nor is it fair to go on and on about the discrimination that the Irish faced when they came to America; most of those Irish had it rough in the first generation, not too bad in the second, and up to an approximation of the average in society in the third. I don't think they had it much worse than anybody other group of immigrants.

Anyway, the Scorsese movie conflates the Dead Rabbits-Bowery Boys gang wars with the Draft Riots. The NR review explains all about that.