Sunday, October 31, 2004

Absolutely the worst form of organizing society possible is anarchism. Communism and Fascism are bad enough, but imagine the complete destruction of the government and the rule of law. No one would be safe in his life, liberty, or property. Disputes would not be managed by police intervention or by court decision; they would be decided by violence and soon the many would be slaves to the few strongest, just as it was before the rule of law, the free market, and the liberal state--these the result of the evolution of Greco-Roman-Judeo-Christian traditions intermingling, the payoff for all those years of artistic and cultural development since Moses or Homer or Hammurabi or whoever--were introduced into Europe.

True anarchists believe that society, which is prima facie corrupt, must be violently destroyed in order that whoever survives will be able to start over again from a tabula rasa. That means that the guy in the black T-shirt hauling out his Chomsky anarchist rap wants to destroy your family, your job, your human rights, your possessions, your ideas, your religion, your traditions, your laws, and your life. Everything must be destroyed so that the Utopian future may come to pass. And a bunch of incredibly wrong-headed people with twisted good intentions actually believed this along about 1890 and they went out and acted on it. Bakunin lied, people died.

Barcelona, along with Paris, was one of the cities that suffered longest and hardest through the Anarchist frenzy of the late 1800s and the turn of the Twentieth Century. (I suggest the essay on anarchism in Barbara Tuchman's The Proud Tower.) The Anarchists and their CNT labor union were a leading factor in Catalan politics until they were destroyed by the Communists during the Spanish Civil War, during the first year of which they behaved brutally. After the Francoist victory, any surviving Anarchists were quickly hauled off to jail and not infrequently shot. Most historians agree that the Right (1939-75) killed fewer Catalan civilians than the Left (1936-39), and that most of the Left killings in Catalonia were done by Anarchist militias in the first six months of the war.

Here's an article by Joaquim Roglan from today's La Vanguardia looking at things from a non-Chomskyite (remember, Noam calls himself a "libertarian anarchist" and thinks that the utmost perfection that society has achieved was in the militias and the communes of the Spanish Anarchists) perspective.

"The same week that (Socialist) Prime Minister of Catalonia, Pasqual Maragall, proposed that someday the memory of the victims of "uncontrolled elements during the Civil War" (that is, Anarchist militias and hit squads) should be commemorated and justice be done, the official website of the Barcelona City Government is promoting a tourist route through the history of Anarchism in the city. Organized by the Barcelona Institute of Culture, the visit takes four hours on a bus, with stops at places chosen by some self-proclaimed artists from the Tactical Tourist Group. Its spokesperson, Maite Ninou, stated, "We don't want to just show the typical sights."

Maybe that's why the new "historical and cultural" tour doesn't stop at the Liceu opera house, where the Anarchist Santiago Salvador threw two bombs that killed twenty people in the year 1893. It doesn't pass along the Arrabassada Highway through Collserola where during the Civil War the FAI (Federation of Iberian Anarchists) firing squads shot their victims of all ideologies in the neck after "taking them for a ride", people like the journalist Josep Maria Planas. And it doesn't include the many other spots pointed out by the historian Gerald Brenan, obviously no right-winger, as sites of "anarchist terrorism".

Since the bus tickets are all sold out until November, your reporter decided to follow it on a motorcycle, a vehicle which the Anarchists were the first to use to commit attentats, and a technique which two Catalan Anarchists who were working for Al Capone introduced into Chicago. (*) The tour begins at the south end of the Rambla. A young Argentinian guide explains, in Spanish, to a group of Catalan senior citizens, that in the year 1870 the celebrated Ascaso died there during an attack on the Drassanes barracks. He mentions that "the workers burned the church of Santa Madrona". But since he doesn't mention that throughout their history the Anarchists also burned Santa Maria del Mar and the Mercè basilica, among other churches, and turned out into the street the bodies of the dead nuns buried in the Salesian convent, the tour doesn't go by those places. He does mention the monument dedicated to Columbus, because "from those statues of lions two Anarchists planned to kill Franco." But though it's so close to the harbor, he forgets the prison ship Uruguay, from which the Anarchists kidnapped and killed prisoners during the Civil War.

Then, the bus enters the (working-class) Raval neighborhood to evoke the murder of the union organizer Salvador Seguí, "Sugar Boy", at the hands of employer-paid gunmen. He doesn't say anything, though, about Canvis Nous Street, where on Corpus Christi, 1896, an anarchist threw a bomb at the authorities and killed seven workers and a recruit. Then the bus goes down the Paralelo to see the site where a celebrated street barricade was raised during the Tragic Week of 1909, but no one mentions that the famous prostitute María Llopis, alias "Forty Cents", led a band of anarchists that destroyed everything along the popular boulevard, even overthrowing streetcars. Then it passes in front of the Hotel Ritz, which in 1936 was turned into a "popular canteen", though no one says that its luxurious rooms were occupied by the leaders of the CNT and FAI.

The vehicle then turns toward the Camp de la Bota (a once-abandoned strip of land near the sea). There, the senior citizens stroll to the place where the Francoists shot Catalan nationalists, republicans, and democrats of all parties, although, according to the artist, "the majority were Anarchists". He also mentions that "some rebel (Francoist) army officers were shot here", but he doesn't say that along the same beach buried by the Forum the Anarchists also killed monks and priests. On the way back downtown, it goes up Via Laietana, where today the union headquarters offices are, but he forgets that in 1891 the Anarchists threw the first bomb in their Barcelona history at Fomento del Trabajo, the headquarters of the Catalan employers' association.

The high point comes at a bar at the corner of Consell de Cent and Girona. In a doorway, the young anarchist Salvador Puig Antich was arrested, the last anarchist executed by Francoism in 1974. (**) Then, the bus goes up Paseo San Juan using the excuse of the "people's library" Arús. But it passes without stopping the church on the corner of Valencia Street, sacked by Anarchists. And, maybe because it's not there anymore, the bus doesn't stop at where the Scala nightclub was, burned down with Molotov cocktails in 1978. Four workers died in the last Anarchist attentat committed in Barcelona.

Then the tour visits Güell Park. There the CNT sponsored the Libertarian Days in 1977. It was the last international Anarchist meeting in the history of Barcelona, though those of us who were there remember it as a huge, enjoyable happening more like a rock festival than a union meeting. And, as we see, that tradition is maintained, since for the entertainment of the tourists an artist performs; he only speaks Spanish, recites an intolerable poem, and tells a demagogic story making fun of the Socialist victory of 1982, of the Barcelona Olympic Games, and of Mayor Joan Clos's city of business.

Finally, we visit the graves of the Anarchists Ferrer i Guàrdia, Ascaso, and Durruti at the Montjuïc cemetery, and the mass grave where the names of the victims of the Francoist repression are recorded. It is here, where Prime Minister Pasqual Maragall wants to remember as well the victims of Anarchism, another guide says that she is a university professor of art and opines that "students don't know the history of the Civil War". So we have her and these other low-quality artists to teach it, promoted and supported by a City Government whose Socialist Counselor of Culture seems to have forgotten that he was once the director of a historical magazine.

(*) I don't believe this. I have read fairly extensively into the subject of crime, and I've never heard this story before. Capone used to import hitmen from New York (Murder, Inc.) and Detroit (the Purple Gang), but not Catalan anarchists.

(**) Puig Antich is normally held up as a sainted martyr around here. I don't know about that. He was an armed Anarchist who planned to commit violent acts himself. He knew what he was doing when he picked up that gun, he knew the risks, and he picked it up and shot a cop. Let me make that clear. He shot a cop, and the guy was local police, a guy with a uniform and a badge, not political police or secret police, just a cop, a working-class guy doing his job. Puig Antich didn't get executed for being an Anarchist. He got executed for the murder of a policeman. But he was a nice Catalan boy from a nice middle-class Catalan family who was an idealist, don't you see, not one of those nasty dirty police people who are "not like us". No, I don't see. He shot a cop. My sympathies lie with the cop's family, not the murderer's.
Just to show that not all Barcelonese are idiotarians, here is a column from today's La Vanguardia by Josep Piqué, former Foreign Minister under Aznar and one of the leaders of the Catalan PP. He is a well-respected leader of the Establishment, known for his intelligence and moderation in both political and business matters; about his only fault is that he's a little long-winded. If he were American he'd be a moderate Republican from the non-Christian Right, pro-business wing of the party. (Translation: The guy understands the basics of economics.)

There are a surprising amount of people, like Mr. Piqué, who show basic common sense around here. About 15% or so (in Barcelona, that is) vote PP, and another 20-25% vote Convergence and Union. Some of the CiU voters are a little Cataloony, but generally they're not too bad, mostly pretty moderate folks. Then, about 40% of the people vote Socialist. At least half of these people are pretty moderate, too. They're what I'd call in the States "goddamn liberals", but when you get right down to it they're reasonable. They're not going to renationalize the phone company or set up labor camps or collectivize the kulaks or anything like that. There will be no purges or cults of personality, and they don't really believe in the labor theory of value any more. You'll get some anti-American guff off them, but they're realistic and not overly unfriendly. Now, the 15% remaining vote for either the Cataloony Republican Left or the Communist Initiative for Catalonia. Those people are nuts. Don't bother talking to them. It's like talking to a brick. Don't be unfriendly or anything, just nod politely and find something else to do.

To those who accuse me of scorning dialogue with my intellectual opponents, a question. Would you waste your time back in the States talking to someone who actually voted Communist? Or to a proselytizer for the Jehovah's Witnesses? Or a member of the Ku Klux Klan? Of course not. You'd leave politely or go across the room to the other side of the party or whatever, but both you and I know it's a waste of time to talk about serious matters with religious nuts of whatever stripe, be they Christian, Marxist, or nationalist. If you wouldn't do it back home in English, why bother doing it over here in Catalan or Spanish?

Anyway, here goes Mr. Piqué.

"These days we've been seeing different surveys which show how Europeans in general, though there are significant differences between countries, would prefer Senator Kerry to win the next Presidential election rather than President Bush. Also, I have personally observed, with some surprise, that people across the whole political spectrum find it incomprehensible that someone whom they consider, euphemistically, unadmirable (Bush) might win.

And it is true that a certain stereotype of Bush has jelled, with the unestimable help of the media of communication. A stereotype of Bush which reduces him, in my judgement very simplistically, to a crude, simple, aggressive character, ultra-right-wing, a religious fundamentalist, obsessed with terrorism, who prefers security to freedom. I know that this feeds the anti-American spasms that are so present in some European countries--which, nevertheless, owe their freedom, security, and prosperity to the sacrifice, the commitment, and the protection of the United States--and especially in Spain, all across the political spectrum. But, sincerely, I think this shows a lack of the intellectual rigor which will be necessary in order to deal with our international relations and their demands, in the best interests of our citizens.

Let's take this in order. The visceral anti-Americanism that we see every day--even in our own Administration!--may satisfy our primary instincts or even win votes, but it is not in harmony with the objective realities of our global context. The United States has been the guarantor of European freedom against the totalitarianisms, and we should remember that if the European Union has today no less than twenty-five members, it is thanks to the defeat of the Soviet Union by the United States in the Cold War. It wasn't so long ago that, two hours by air from Barcelona, in the Balkans, we Europeans were incapable of stopping the genocide that was happening and so the United States had to pull our chestnuts out of the fire. How short memory is sometimes! But, besides, with a certain schizophrenia, we criticize the so-called "lack of culture" of the Americans and at the same time we do not see the beam in our own eye. It is often argued that they know nothing of Europe and, in many cases, it is true. But do we know, in general, what is the capital of Florida, for example? Or Michigan? And, even more, are we Europeans capable of naming right off hand the capital of Slovenia or Estonia, countries that are members of the European Union? I think we need a little humility.

But this schizophrenia is produced also when we criticize their habits of living but then copy them in every detail, sometimes, as with eating habits, with very negative results. But what about cinema, music, or fashion? And I don't know anybody who has ever had the chance to visit New York, New Orleans, or San Francisco who hasn't been fascinated.

What's going on, then? Isn't it that, from our millenarian history, we Europeans feel the clichéd scorn toward the nouveau riche or the arriviste, the best student, who beats us out in so many things?

If I may make a personal reference, I consider myself a fervent Europeanist who has had the immense luck to put into practice, in some of my political posts, his Europeanism. But I have always thought that one is not less European by being pro-American and favorable to the strengthening of the trans-Atlantic link. If we weaken that link, Europe will establish itself more firmly on the real periphery of the world. The planet's center of gravity is no longer on the Greenwich meridian, but in the Pacific. And it is an unchangeable and irreversible trend. Whoever is not conscious of this is gravely wrong. And this can only be partially compensated for if we strengthen our relationships with the Americas and Asia simultaneously. This is what is in our interests as Europeans, not isolating ourselves in our bubble of well-being and defending ourselves as we can against the enormous pressure of immigration so that our societies will continue to be reasonably organized and integrated, and thinking that in the long run, if there is some threat, we'll always have the Americans, although they may see us as non-contributors regarding our own security.

I remember a headline of a very important newspaper of reference which, on September 12, 2001, ran on the front page a headline, not about the attacks or the victims of terrorism, but the "fears" of the world about Bush's eventual reprisals! Think about the logical reaction of an American citizen to that.

The United States feels threatened by an invisible, unpredictable enemy which has attacked, for the first time in its history, its continental territory. And it seeks solidarity and cooperation. And I should express a conviction: foreign and defense policy will not change whether either Bush or Kerry wins. Democratic presidents--with the arguable exception of Jimmy Carter-- have never been "soft" regarding foreign policy. Think about Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, or Clinton himself, who I believe was President when NATO bombed Belgrade, with no resolution from the United Nations Security Council, with Javier Solana, the future European Union Foreign Minister, as the secretary general of the Atlantic alliance.

The differences are more tangible in domestic policy, though Bush is presenting himself as the best guarantor of American security and Kerry is putting more emphasis on relations with the allies.

Because of all this, I think our attitude toward the elections should transcend our personal sympathies or antipathies based on stereotypes--remember what was said about Reagan in Europe and today, everybody admits he was a good president who won the Cold War and managed the economy well--and base itself on objective factors that will have real repercussions on our interests as European citizens when it comes to defending our collective security or thinking about our economic growth or our capacity to generate jobs and well-being. At least that way our analysis will be more complex and much better supported, less vain and more realistic regarding our limits.

Europe is in the middle of a very difficult time of construction as a political and economic union. We have advanced enormously in the last fifty years, much more than it seems due to constant governmental crises. But we have not only lost strategic and political influence, in relative terms, to the United States; we have also done so regarding culture and economics. One fact to think about: in the last thirty years, since 1975, the United States has grown at an annual rate of 3.2%. The European Union has done so at a rate of 2.3%, a difference of nine percentage points annually, though the most worrying aspect is that the difference has been growing over the years, marking the trend that widens the growth gap between the US and the EU. The reasons for this are diverse, but a lot of it has to do with the entrepreneurial mindset, business dynamism, less public intervention, and more market flexibility, and, in any case, with a capacity to create jobs that is very superior in the United States. Therefore, Washington's economic policies affect us in a very important way, as much or more so as its foreign policies, which, excluding minor changes, will continue down the same path as it's been on since September 11. And there, in economic policies, is where Bush does not have a good record. What we don't know is whether Kerry would offer better solutions.

So let us leave the American citizens to decide what, although their decision affects us all, they are the only ones capable of doing. And, by the way, did you know that the publication of the surveys that I mentioned at the beginning increased the support for Bush? I think we Europeans ought to think about this a little."

Thank you, Mr. Piqué. That was very reasonable.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

I've been keeping track over the last seven days about the American presidential election memes La Vanguardia has been putting out in their News section. This does not include the opinion or interview or whatever else sections, but here is the list in approximate order of frequency with which La Vanguardia mentioned them.

a) Iraq is a quagmire and it's Bush's fault
b) Bush has been a disaster for the American economy
c) Either Americans or Bush or both are Jesus freaks
d) Minorities are being disenfranchised even as we speak
e) Bush doesn't care about poor people
f) Bush will manipulate the upcoming electoral chaos
g) Israel
h) Remember how nice to Europe Bill Clinton was?
i) Either Bush or Americans or both are ignorant jackasses
j) The US press has endorsed Kerry
k) Americans are gun nuts
l) The surveys are manipulated by the Bush campaign
m) Tony Blair is Bush's lapdog
n) Abu Ghraib
o) US imperialism
p) the CIA
q) Bush's Middle East policy has been appropriate and effective (Ha! They actually did print an interview with Bernard Lewis in which he said that. That's one pro-Bush meme of eleventy-seven.)

There was an insane rant by Rafael Ramos on Friday in which he talked about the betting line according to the London bookmakers on the US election. Odds on Bush are 4 to 6 and on Kerry 10 to 11, meaning the bookies favor Bush, but Ramos isn't writing about that. Here's what he's writing about. It's in quotes.

"At this point it's impossible to win enough money for a dinner--much less get rich--by betting a modest amount on the Democrat or the Republican. Says Robert Hash, from the Ladbrokes agency, the only way to win real money is to take a few chances and risk a multiple bet. For example, that John Kerry will be elected President, he'll take Ohio and Pennsylvania, Bush will sue, the 'butterfly ballots' will be the center of attention in Florida, hundreds of thousands of blacks won't be allowed to vote, the case will go to the Supreme Court, and there will be no decision for forty days, breaking the record or chaos and bungling and uncertainty of 2000.

But that's not strange enough a situation crazy enough, it won't make you a millionaire. The winning formula will be wilder. For example, Bush wins, he becomes a model of moderation and common sense, he promotes peace in the Middle East, he pulls out of Iraq, he accepts abortion and homosexual marriage...

Not an impossible scenario. The perfect bet is somewhat simpler. The current president will win and, in his second term, he will attack Iran, authorize petroleum drilling in the national parks, use the Kyoto protocol as toilet paper, the number of Americans without health insurance will top 50 million, there will be new tax cuts for the rich, unemployment and the profits of the pharmaceutical and insurance companies...Yes, a Bush victory will mean money. But millions of Britons, against the war and neoconservatism, will have the feeling of having lost no matter what."

Now how's that for foaming-at-the-mouth hatred? Ramos really hates us, not just Bush but all of us. If he was your server at Taco Bell he'd spit in your food just for being a gringo.

Oh, that wasn't enough? OK, here's some more Rafael Ramos, from Saturday, Oct. 16.

"European Social Forum seeks alternative to US hegemony

Tens of thousands of activists have joined together this weekend in London, within the Third European Social Forum, in order to dream of a freer and more just world, where the fear of terrorism is not the pretext to give free rein to the excesses of the right, destroy civil liberties, and close frontiers to immigrants.

'Through time, philosophers have interpreted the world in many different ways; the question, however, is how to change it,' says the inscription of Karl Marx's gravestone in Highgate Cemetery, under a bouquet of wilted flowers. More than twenty thousand idealists from all over Europe have met together this weekend in London precisely in order to talk about how to change the world--and not necessarily from a Marxist viewpoint--in the era of globalization, the unbridled greed of the big corporations, and the hegemony of the United States.

Hundreds of organizations are participating in the third European Social Forum in order to lay out the shape of a better world than the one of the Iraq war, racism, desperate immigrants who die on their rafts only because they want to feed their children, cheap patriotism, the destruction of the environment, the deterioration of civil liberties, laboral precariety, hunger in Africa, discrimination at work against women, the corruption of democracy, and social injustice."

"Bush...neocons...lone superpower...Blair Bush's lapdog...relative economic well-being...the right advances...Gerry Adams...Che's daughter...the British union organizer Frances O'Grady...imperialism...hegemonic world...Washington wants the biggest piece...China will make the United States commercial dominion tremble...structural problems of an economy based on credit...politics inspired in fear...Marx...change things..."

Sorry. I sort of compressed the last part of the interview. Isn't it strange, though, how angry this guy is? He's pissed off at the society that allows him to work as an alleged journalist in London. And his rage against the United States has, I am sure, literally unbalanced his mind.

Ever since the end of the Renaissance and the beginning of truly modern Europe, those damn Europeans have gotten together every few decades and killed one another by the boatload in order to decide who was to be in charge of Western civilization. Now, all this war and killing actually did have a lot of benefit for society: modern bureaucracy within the nation-state system was established, governments were centralized (maybe too much, but that's certainly better than not enough), a banking and financial system were established, the rule of law became standard, the economy developed as technology improved, organizational systems big enough to manage a whole army and navy were developed--and all in order to create, or as a result of creating, effective armed forces.

Still, though, we generally assume today that war and killing are bad and to be avoided. This is not something they naturally assumed in the past. (Indeed, one hallmark of the modernization of society is its softening. In 1704 they would hang children for stealing a shilling. In 1804 they'd just deport them to Australia. In 1904 they'd put them in a reform school. In 2004 they'd give the kid a medal for stealing only a shilling.) Indeed, through Western history people have generally thought that war was a good thing if you could get what you wanted out of it.

So. In 1648 the big mutha of all European wars ended at the Peace of Westphalia, at which the Hapsburg countries, Spain and Austria, were supplanted as leaders of Europe by France and the Northern countries. 1683 was the last Islamic threat to the West, the Turkish defeat at the siege of Vienna. Then, in 1715, after the Wars of Louis Fourteenth, England denied France's bid for undisputed top spot. In 1815, after the Wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, France's ambitions were permanently crushed and England became undisputed number one, though the Bear grumbled.

England's World Championship lasted for a full century, and in a lot of ways was a very positive time. Most of what we recognize as modern society began in England during the Industrial Revolution and the Victorian era. For all their faults, the Victorians are recognizably the first people more or less like us, urban, with very specific jobs, nuclear family, leisure time, appreciation for both high and low culture, public education, mass literacy, the beginnings of material comfort for the masses, more softening--duels stop, most violence is punished, capital punishment reduced, welfare state begins. Most Americans can trace their genealogy back to the Victorian era, but no farther, because that's when records started being kept, just for example.

It couldn't last, though. France was almost squashed, but Russia was making noises and Germany came out of nowhere to put the triple whammy on France in 1871. Germany made a run at England's Number One spot in 1914, and it took until 1945 to make them stop. The United States (highly influenced by Britain, sort of Britain, Junior) then came into the picture and took over as Number One, but with England as Number One-A. Germany and France were reduced to American satellites. Russia took part in the squashing of German ambitions, but then failed in a long materialschlact against the United States and its allies/satellites. As of 2004 the United States is undisputed number one, with Russia still out of the picture, the various European former powers reasonably calm and stable, the growing Far East also fairly calm and stable, China unfriendly but fairly cooperative, and what's left of the Islamic threat, having been comparatively harmless since 1683, is the United States's only challenger. Thus the Terrorist War on America.

Now, the Europeans have just signed the Constitution of the European Union. So far this is just a declaration of general principles; it has not been ratified yet by any of the signers, and undoubtedly there are still a lot of adjustments to be made. I think this is an extremely positive thing, however. (Note: I am not British. If I were British I would advocate pulling out of the EU and joining some sort of Commonwealth-NAFTA project.) Look, these idiots on the Continent have been fighting each other over such stupid crap as whether the people of Bohemia want to be Hussites or not for the past several centuries. Under the British Century, people started to get used to the idea that war and fighting were really not a good thing (and that slavery ought to be banned, and that everybody had some sort of human rights), but it took the 1914-45 War to finally convince all those morons on the Continent of this fact. Remember, both World Wars effectively broke out when Britain decided Germany had pushed it too far, the first time probably wrongly but the second time absolutely correctly.

Since 1945 there has been peace on the Continent, with the exception of the comparatively minor wars of the ex-Yugoslavia, for the first time ever. This is largely because 1) the Europeans have actually learned how awful war is and certainly aren't going to have any more with one another 2) European governments have successfully bound themselves together in such organizations as the EU and NATO and so on, which provides stability 3) the Americans have been watching them and won't let anything get too out of control and 4) until about 1989 they were pooping their pants they were so scared of the Russians, so they had no time or inclination to get into it with one another anyway.

So let the Europeans get together and make the union more stable. That can only be good in the long run, unless you fear that a superpowerful Brussels dictatorship will crush all dissent. I don't think it will, for several reasons. 1) Each state will maintain its own elected government which will complain loudly at any unacceptable EU intrusion. 2) the EU was created by the very elected governments which will serve as watchdogs; it was founded democratically and is not likely to quickly fall into the hands of dictators. 3) the EU has basically demilitarized except for Britain and France. Nobody's really got the power or the desire to fight anyone about anything, and especially not to force the Belgians into slavery or whatever. This is why the EU depends on the United States to fight the West's battles. Which is not a bad thing. The obvious next goal, by the way, is to bring Russia into the EU, and that's what I'd be concentrating on right now if I were the powers that be at the EU, right after they get this constitution through.

Will they complain about the Americans? Sure, but hey, that's fairly healthy. We've got to understand that a lot of this anti-American guff is just blowing off steam about one's lack of strength, and isn't to be taken seriously. You can find a poll that says that 68% of Frenchmen think Yankees are the spawn of Satan, probably, but you will get 0% agreement if you ask, "Should France go to war with the United States?" They don't want to go anywhere near that far. Now, in 1904, probably 68% of Frenchmen were in favor of going to war with Germany at the slightest excuse. This is a major difference.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Check out this astonishing interview on the back page of yesterday's La Vanguardia. It's Victor M. Amela interviewing Richard Labévière (we will dispense with further accents). M. Labeaver is "a journalist, specialized in Islamic terrorism, former Middle Eastern correspondent, now with Radio France International". Let's just get right to it. The interview is in quotes. My comments aren't.

"Q. Al Qaeda terrorism...
A. Al Qaeda disappeared on September 12.
Q. Al Qaeda doesn't exist?
A. There was a factual Al Qaeda that planned Sept. 11. But afterwards no hierarchical structure, a terrorist international, has come to exist again. Al Qaeda is just a name, a symbol...
Q. Well, it's a ubiquitous symbol...
A. Because Bush waves it like a flag. Before Sept. 11, when Al Qaeda existed, Bush behaved as if it didn't exist, and since Sept. 11, when Al Qaeda doesn't exist anymore, Bush gives it life! Because Bush needs there to be an Al Qaeda, an international network of Islamist terror.
Q. In order to justify his policies?
A. Yes Bush needs a global terrorism that justifies his global superpotency. So Al Qaeda substitutes for the old USSR.
Q. I'm sorry, but if I think of March 11 in Madrid, it's hard for me to follow you.
A. I'm here to tell you that the people originally responsible for March 11 can be found, precisely, in the White House and the Pentagon."

Whoa there. This guy is accusing the Americans of being behind the Madrid bombing. This is beyond the bounds of sanity. Right here is where the interviewer should have packed up, said he had a train to catch, and left quickly, rather than devoted a whole page to this lunacy. What in the name of journalistic standards is going on here?

"Q. Can you back that up?
A. Al Zarqawi is behind March 11, a guy whose legend is beginning to replace Bin Laden's already among the new Islamist generations. This salafist Jordanian fought in Afghanistan, from where he fled after the bombing of the Tora Bora caves. And do you know precisely where he went?
Q. No. Where?
A. To Iraqi Kurdistan, with the Kurds, friends of the United States and enemies of Saddam! And there in Iraq, this new generation of terrorists--extremist Sunnis--is being born, which kills above all Shiite Iraqis, more than soldiers of the occupying forces..."

So, if I'm reading correctly, the fact that Zarqawi hid out in Kurdistan is proof that Bush planned the March 11 bombing.

"Q. What are you trying to say with all this?
A. That the chaos Al Zarqawi is sowing helps to justify the occupation, and Bush has created in Iraq a new generation of international terrorists...I wondered, why didn't Bush catch Bin Laden? And Al Zarqawi? Why did the CIA deny that it negotiated making peace with Bin Laden in Dubai on July 12, 2001, apparently unsuccessfully?
Q. Did you find an answer?
A. When I investigate the financial trails of Islamist terrorism, I always find the same thing at the end of the thread: Saudi banks and crossed interests of Saudi Arabia and American multinational corporations.
Q. Do you have any proof?
A. Saudi Arabia and the CIA have always financed Islamist terrorists against leaders uncomfortable for the United States (Nasser, Arafat, Soviet Afghanistan). More evidence? Look at the Carlyle group: among its stockholders are, together, the Bushes, princes from the Saudi royal family, and members of the Bin Laden family! They invest in oil pipelines through Afghanistan, they're suppliers to the Pentagon...The American press is careful not to talk about this 'Bin-Laden-gate'."

OK. So Bush, in cahoots with the Saudis, invaded Iraq in order to train a new generation of Islamic terrorists, and the press is covering it up. The end goal is to build a pipeline across Afghanistan. The journalist promptly asks the appropriate question.

"Q. But does it make sense that these interests would put American lives in danger?
A. Yes, because it's a price that capitalism accepts in order to globalize itself. The last phase of capitalism, globalized capitalism, demands global terrorism! It is a necessary terrorism, the apex of the system; terrorism is the superior state of capitalism.
Q. What you're saying is very shocking.
A. Terrorism has been listed on the stock market for a while, ever since Bin Laden. And the American aeronautic-military industrial complex needs a global enemy, and global terrorism is ideal!
Q. If you see a cause-and-effect relationship...
A. Doesn't the Pentagon make the decisions in the United States, and doesn't it support the militarization of international relations?
Q: If it's like that, does it matter if Kerry wins?
A: Bush makes it impossible to talk with the United States, you can't say a thing to them! With Kerry, it will be possible to talk to them again."

OK, now we've gotten down to it: this guy hates the US for the same reason as all the rest, because it's richer and more powerful than Mr. Labeaver's favorite power network. In fact, Bush's United States doesn't even pay the slightest attention to what cheese-eating surrender monkeyland has to say. We must therefore make strange warmed-over Marxist charges that have been out-of-date since before Marx died, and we must assert that the United States is, of course, not really a democracy. This helps us temporarily blow off steam about our comparatively insignificant status.

"Q. OK. Will this be good for anything?
A. It might soften the current neocon doctrine of 'preventative war', which excuses and justifies all the lies of the State. Remember that they orchestrated an impeachment of Clinton (which cost millions of dollars) for lying about a roll in the hay with a girl--and Bush is allowed to lie with impunity about the motives behind a war...neocons...put an end to international law...Iraq war generates more terrorism...imperial hegemony...the neocons know they have to surround balls itch."

Sorry, I wound up compressing the rest of the interview into that last answer.

I repeat. With legitimate newspapers publishing this tripe, which has absolutely nothing to do with reality and is the fruit of the paranoid imagination of a bitter person, is it surprising that Europeans believe all the crap they believe?

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Thursday night was the First Occasional Blogger Bash here in Barcelona. Franco Alemán of Barcepundit presided and Golan of HispaLibertas, in town from Malaga, was the life of the party. Several other bloggers and blogreaders were there, including Trevor from Spain Media and Nihil Obstat, a total of fifteen or so, and a good time was had by all. The only problem was since it was Thursday, no serious drinking or visiting of gentlemen´s clubs or anything of the sort went on since people had to work the next morning. Also, we need more chicks next time; only one showed up, and, while she was lovely and gracious, a bunch of babe magnets like us should have attracted the nipple rings of a few irresponsible young right-wing heiresses with tailbone tats. Other than those minor complaints, the evening was a great success and I vote we do it again. There were several people I didn't really get a chance to talk to.

Common note: Everyone in the group was thrilled to be among a group of people among whom we didn't have to watch what we said. It is, at best, socially unacceptable to be conservative or classical liberal or non-Catalanista or anti-anti-American (and especially pro-Israel) around here. I've been told off several times, and I'm careful not to let people I don't know well in on what my genuine ideas regarding politics and society and suchlike are. I think in general leftists are much more intolerant of rightists personally than vice versa; I noticed this to be true even in Kansas City.

The Vanguardia today is priceless. Page Three, top of the International Section, by Sebi Val, begins, "The American elections of November 2 will not be held with the guarantees of democratic integrity worthy of a developed country. Ex-president Jimmy Carter warned of this several weeks ago. Other voices and the facts on the ground are confirming this. Twenty international observers, invited by the pro-human rights organization Global Exchange, have come to the same conclusions."

Jesus Christ. This is actually not an uncommon tactic among anti-Americans of the European Left; they flat-out deny that the United States is a democracy. Based on what? Well, Sebi and Global Exchange admit that "there have been advances made in order to avoid new chaos like that of 2000". But: 1) the officials who supervise the elections in the various states "have a partisan character". That means, uh, that these folks are elected by the voters. That's grass-roots democracy, it seems to me. 2) Convicted felons are barred from voting in eight states, says Sebi. Huh. I thought it was more. So what's the problem with that? Who wants people like George Steinbrenner to be allowed to vote? Well, seems that "4.7 million citizens--with a high proportion of African-Americans and Hispanics" are affected. Seems to me that this disenfranchisement is merely a symptom of a root problem, which is that felonies are committed to a disproportionate level by blacks and Hispanics. 3) There are confusing rules about voting. Yeah, that's what happens when you put the government in charge of something. It gets all bureaucratic and complicated. I've complained about this before. However, the main cause of the complexity is that each jurisdiction, and there are literally tens of thousands of them in the US, conducts its own elections. More grass-roots democracy, it seems to me.

Get this, though. "The most negative consequence of many of the weaknesses and faults is discrimination against voters of minority groups--Hispanics, African-Americans, and American indigenous people". Oh, please. The sum total of these complaints is that stupid people might not figure out how to vote, that criminals can't vote, and that elections are held at the local rather than national level. That does not invalidate America's status as a democracy, the best damn one there's ever been.

Jimmy Carter really is an international embarrassment.

This is even worse, of course, it's Andy Robinson on page 4. Andy's been to a Bush rally at Hershey, Pennsylvania. "...the 20,000 Republicans who attended the rally paraded under the rain to their 4x4s shouting "Four more years!" Then they came across a small group of Democratic demonstrators. "Communists!" shouted Heath Gephart, 31, pilot and Baptist. "The Democrats are a bunch of liberals, more or less the same as Communists," he explained. "They're against the ethical principles of this country. Against the culture of life. They support murdering babies. We are the moral majority." Chris Thomas, a soldier of 34 years who has just arrived from Iraq, could not control himself when he saw the demonstrators' poster that said "Protect life, leave Iraq". "They're lucky there are guys like me so that they have the freedom to protest", he said. "Get a real job!" another shouted. Hundreds of Republicans circle the demonstrators. Some of the demonstrators begin to cry..." Andy then begins to beat conservative Protestants over the head for a while. If you believed Andy, you'd think that all of America was like the Ozarks. Or, even worse, most of England.

You know, actually, I agree one hundred percent with the obviously fictional Chris Thomas. Heath Gephart--great name, Andy--is even more obviously phony.

Anyway, on page 6 Xavier Batalla has a long dull opinion piece on whether the Americans can afford to pay for both the Iraq War and the social welfare system (Answer: Yes, Xavier, we can. The $422 billion deficit Bush has run up is a blip compared to the size of America's $9 trillion economy. You just wasted seven triple-length Spanish paragraphs.)

In the editorial section, Balto Porcel says that really bugs the Europeans about American throwing around its weight is the fact that the Americans do it so incompetently. He says, "(There is) a global feeling of insecurity, we know we are tied to its leadership, but it seems brutal and clumsy to us, as incapable of solving conflicts as absolutely hegemonic among the peoples. Why does the United States go to war if it doesn't know how? Why does it try to lead the world if its leaders are that lousy Bush, his Texas oilmen, and his radical and arrogant thinkers? It's incomprehensible...Warning: This problem, like that of relations with all of Islam, comes from the old Palestine-Israel chaos also sponsored by the United States and which has gotten worse under Bush."

In other words, Balto objects not to US imperialism but to incompetent US imperialism. It would be okay if we killed people more effectively, you see, like the NKVD and the Gestapo used to do. How long do you think the Iraqi "resistance" would last if we went after them like, say, Lenin or Goering would have? Oh, by the way, it's all Israel's fault in the long run. Balto, like most Europeans, has forgotten that the trouble down there is not the fault of Israel, which openly expresses its desires for peace, but that of Palestinian terror organizations, who continue massacring civilians inside Israel and thus forcing retaliation. Continued: "These elections will cost more than $650 million...twice Barcelona's Forum." Wrong. The Forum cost more than €2 billion.

Friday Sebi Val had a piece on how the NRA and the Bible-banger Protestants are powerful lobbies with lots of money. They're powerful lobbies with lots of money because a lot of people support them, you dipstick! They have political muscle, it's true, but no more than their share. Meanwhile, we are informed that the Dems are sending out ten thousand lawyers to contest the vote everywhere they lose. I am genuinely angry at the Democrats for this strategy of impugning the elections if your man didn't win. What they're trying to do, in case you haven't noticed, is take away the political legitimacy that the candidate who has won an election has earned. Also, Andy Robinson informed that "the African-Americans of Philadelphia feel genuine rage about the robbery of black votes in Florida and other states in the previous presidential elections." Now, come on. A more accurate sentence would be something like "The Democratic Party has as usual been trying to play the race card in the inner cities by falsely making claims that black voters were somehow cheated in the 2000 elections, and they have had some success by repeating this distorsion ad nauseum."

News from around here: I really haven't been keeping up with it but there's been a struggle for power within the PP. Seems that Esperanza Aguirre beat out Alberto Ruíz-Gallardón for control of the Madrid party. Aguirre is a standard-model conservative and Gallardón is the most "moderate" PP leader, which I think means "the guy who has been trying to distance himself the most from Aznar". Watch out for Mr. Gallardón. Seems like someone with ambition to me. This is mostly notable because it's been the first major stink within the party for some time; under Aznar, everyone was disciplined. Now that Rajoy's the boss, some people are going to try to test his authority.

There's a survey about Barcelonese opinion regarding municipal services. The most criticized areas are parking, traffic, and crime, in that order. Citizens are the happiest about the subway, the buses, citizens' information, cultural information, and public street festivals. I'l agree with the parking, traffic (which really isn't that awful, it's just scary) and crime as aspects of life that could certainly be improved, and crime is the worst. I'll also agree about public transport being generally good; you can actually get around town without a car, which a lot of people do. As for information, though, give me a break, and as for as popular cultural street fiestas, here in Gracia we're sick of them. Revealing stat: Gracia was the only neighborhood of town whose main complaint is noise, most specifically the noise made by the goddamn Fiesta Mayor. The poorer areas all said crime or immigration; the wealthier areas said cleanliness or parking; and we said noise. I'll agree with the wealthier areas that the city is quite dirty, one of the dirtiest in Western Europe, and that some of the dirt (along with the noise, traffic and parking problems) is because the place is so crowded.

The big sports whoop-te-doo here is--the World Series! No, six million Catalans don't give a damn. The Patriots' win streak! No, six million Catalans don't give a damn. The big whoop is that the Catalan roller-hockey team (roller hockey! Is there a dorkier sport?) has been internationally recognized and has won a place in the International Roller Hockey Premier Division or whatever it's called. This is the main sports story.

Something that the local lefties are criticizing with good reason is the government's handling of the plane crash that killed 62 Spanish soldiers on their way back from Afghanistan on May 26, 2003. Yes, I know tragedies and accidents happen, and that something like one-fifth of combat soldiers killed are done in by friendly fire. But this one didn't have to happen. It was a Soviet Yakovlev plane with a Ukrainian crew, and, I'm sorry, I wouldn't fly in a Soviet plane no matter what. Couldn't they have hired somebody flying American or European planes to do it, or, failing that, couldn't they have done it themselves? I would certainly hope that the Spanish Air Force is at the very least capable of transporting 62 soldiers from Afghanistan back home. If it isn't, something's very wrong. There are also allegations about poor airplane maintenance and an exhausted crew that had been on duty for 23 hours.

Finally, congratulations to Loyola de Palacio, currently vice president of the European Commission, who said she hoped Fidel would kick off as soon as possible because that's the only way there will be change in Cuba ("I'm not saying kill him. I'm saying let him die," she clarified), pointed out that Castro is "a sinister dictator with many deaths upon his shoulders", and poured scorn on the Socialist government's attempt to improve relations with Cuba, saying "That's playing the game of distinguishing between good dictatorships and bad ones." The implication is, of course, for Zap and the Socio-Communist-Cataloony government in charge, Castro's is one of the good ones. You go, Loyola!

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Further information released by the police shows that there was a connection between the terrorist cell that was just rounded up, the one that was going to blow up the Audiencia Nacional, and the cell that committed the March 11 bombings. In addition to the nine arrests of suspected terrorists, nine more suspects already in prison have been identified as part of the same gang. The link is the Algerian Armed Islamic Group, and three of the nine suspects already in prison have been linked to Allekema Lamari, leader of the March 11 cell. Lamari's remains were just identified last week; his was the last unidentified body from the apartment in Leganés where what was left of the March 11 cell blew itself up.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Congratulations to our pal Franco Alemán from Barcepundit (just click on Barcepundit over there on the left, then click for Barcepundit in English) for being Instapundited. Franco has the link to the just-released film from a security camera of the March 11 bombing at Atocha Station in Madrid. I haven't seen it, but from what I read in La Vanguardia what struck me was that when the bombs went off everybody panicked. That strikes me as much more like normal human behavior than what we see in the movies.

I'm not sure what the effect of this film of the bombing will have; I hope it brings back a little of the anger toward terrorism that seemed to disappear right after the March 14 election. Kicking out Aznar and the PP seemed like a catharsis--oh, now we've voted in the nice peaceful candidate and he's pulling our troops out of Iraq, the rest of us have nothing to worry about, what happened to them won't happen to us. You'd hardly believe that 191 people had been murdered en masse on their way to work only seven months ago from the way it's been whitewashed from the collective public mind.

While Zap and his Ministry of Clowns keep themselves amused, the Spanish intelligence and police services are doing their jobs very well and deserve our congratulations. Last weekend there was a major ETA bust that took down a lot of what was left of the gang's infrastructure, not to mention an enormous arsenal. Now there's been a bust, this Monday, of eight Islamists who were planning to set off a 1000-kilo suicide truck bomb to blow the Audiencia Nacional and Judge Garzón to hell and gone. The arrestees are all Algerians and Moroccans, and they seem to have met up in jail where they were doing time for minor common crimes. The leader, Mohamed Achraf, is allegedly a member of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group; that´s their connection to international terrorism. These guys just arrested were quite possibly a lone group, with no connections to the outside except Achraf, who was constantly traveling back and forth from Switzerland. They are not connected with the March 11 bombing crew or ETA.

Two ironic bits: the Spanish media has sided with Fidel Castro over this deportation of the Spanish Member of Parliament from Cuba. They pretty much all agree that the guy's trip to Cuba to meet with dissidents was a provocation and an attempt to stir up trouble at the same time that the European Union is debating the relaxation of its strictures against Cuba. See, it's all a conspiracy run by these right-wing nuts who don't believe in the Revolution. Meanwhile, Pasqual Maragall and the leader of the opposition, Artur Mas, went to China. Quite logically, they portrayed Catalonia as a Chinese springboard into the Spanish market as a whole rather than as a destination in itself.

Some folks would say that's an example of typical Catalan common-sense seny (be the salesman, get the investment) beating out the Catalan wilder side, known as rauxa (get all proud about how special we are). I think Robert Hughes made up this theory.

See, Catalan nationalism's bases are fairly fragile. I think there are three of them. The first is what's left of old 19th century nationalism, the common belief held by the English or Germans or French (or Catalans) that they were somehow a superior people chosen by God or somebody and so their desire for more power and glory is justified by the fact that Catalans are special. This rhetoric is widely used even today, though not so blatantly as I've put it, as it fell into general intellectual disfavor around 1919 or thereabouts.

Second is the Catalan language, something solid that actually exists. One common answer to the question "who's Catalan?" is "someone who speaks Catalan". That sounds fair enough. The problem is that it's exclusive of those who do not speak Catalan for whatever reason, and that all Catalan-speakers also speak Spanish while many Catalan-speakers don't consider Catalan to be an integral part of their identity, so it makes just as much sense to say that everyone in Spain who speaks Spanish is Spanish--which is the argument that the Catalanists hate the most. Anyway, though, I think the language claim is a pretty solid one--we speak a different language, so we're different. It runs up against the fact, though, that life outside the big cities is pretty much the same in Catalonia, Aragon, Navarra, and Old Castile.

This is where argument number three, the fet diferencial, comes in. If we renounce aggressive blood-and-thunder nationalism, and if we agree that the language plank is strong but not sufficient to make Catalonia completely unique, we're left with redrawing Catalan culture to suit the idea of a fet diferencial, a "differencing factor". This is why the regional government spends jillions of euros subsidizing obscure variations of popular dance, theater, puppetry, and the like--you see, that's stuff that only exists here! So it makes us different!

I think this is what the common identification of the Catalan character as being a yin-yang between calming Appolonian seny and agitating Dionysian rauxa comes from. It's an opportunity to say, "See, look, we're different, we have our own national character. Seny plus rauxa--that's us.". The problem is that everywhere you go, most people act with common sense most of the time and occasionally do something stupid. This is by no means a trait unique to Catalonia. In fact, I'd be surprised to find any group of people where some balance of rationality and irrationality wasn't struck.

The Vangua says that an EU study shows Spain with the highest automotive death rate. In deaths per 10 billion vehicle-kilometers, Spain comes out with 28, more than double the EU's average of 13. Holland has 9, Sweden 8, and the UK 7. I have no idea where to find the equivalent stats for the United States.

FC Barcelona plays at AC Milan tonight. Should be a hell of a game. Samuel Etoo of Cameroon, one of Barcelona's new signings who is genuinely a spectacular player, and young, too, has been going about making slightly obnoxious racial comments (e.g. "I'm going to have to do a lot of running to keep up with that nigga" (Cafú) or "I´m here to work like a nigga and get paid like a white man". I guess they're not any worse than what you hear in and around the NBA, which is probably where he got the idea in the first place.

Monday, October 18, 2004

In other news, one Gersende Rambourg of AFP lets European lefties know that John Kerry is the man most sympathetic to them on the question of capital punishment. Kerry has spoken out against the death penalty several times in the past. For some reason this is a huge issue to the European left; they love to beat America around the head with the fact that some states execute some murderers. Interestingly, they never criticize Japan or India, the other two large democracies that use the death penalty, nor are they swift to condemn Cuba whenever Castro has somebody shot.

If anybody ever comes up to you with that ridiculous argument about how the rest of the world should be allowed to vote in the American elections since America rules the world, try this string of arguments on him: 1) America doesn't rule the world in the first place 2) why should you jokers vote on issues that only concern us anyway--what do the Belgians know about water issues in the Far West 3) we'll let you vote in our elections if you let us vote in yours--if you have them, that is 4) you can't have representation without taxation, so when y'all start kicking in to the US treasury that's when you get to vote 5) if you want the vote in US elections, you must agree to live under US constitutional law, or else what's the point?
We sure are getting lots of coverage of the US elections around here. Sebi Val from the Vanguardia says, as part of his news article, "The electoral campaign, in its homestretch, has gone back to the path of the purest propaganda, with both sides appealing to the citizens' fear of terrorism and to the anxieties and emotions generated by the Iraq war". Gee, that seems a little excessive to me, and I was there just a week ago. Sebi thinks this is the most deeply emotional campaign since 1964 when "they"--that is, Johnson's campaign--appealed directly to the fear of nuclear holocaust. Oh, come on, name one Democrat campaign between 1972 and 1988 that didn't appeal directly to the fear of nuclear holocaust.

The Vanguardia's editorial says, "Analysts agree that whatever happens on November 2, things will not be the same as before: President Bush, if he is reelected, will have to change his unilateralist policies." Oh, he will, will he? Says who? And besides, what unilateralist policies? I thought pretty much everybody was on our side except for a few Third World dictatorships, France, Germany, and the European Left.

Duran Lérida has been reconfirmed leader of Union, half of the Convergence and Union conservative Catalanist coalition. Union is the Christian Democrat wing and Convergence is the centrist wing, to simplify. Union´s come out hardcore against gay marriage, gays' rights to adopt children, and in favor of state money to Catholic schools. In response to Pasqual Maragall's blathering on about how now here in Catalonia there are seven million of us, Duran said, "Here at Union we want there to be seven million of us too, but not only through immigration, but because the regional government maintains a policy in favor of the family that allows Catalan families to have children when they want."

The European Union currently has a fairly strong position against the Castro dictatorship that is largely the fruit of the labors of the old Aznar government. The new Socialist government is trying to change this; they want an EU policy that favors the Castro régime more. So, get this. A PP member of Parliament, Jorge Moragas, was deported upon arrival by the Castro government because he was going to meet with Cuban dissidents. Foreign Minister Moratinos officially deplored such treatment of a Spanish MP, but Rafael Estrella, a PSOE backbencher, accused Moragas and the PP of trying to torpedo the Socialist government's moves to improve relations with Castro. Communist leader Gaspar Llamazares couldn't resist demanding that the Socialist government "maintain its commitment to reestablish dialogue with Cuba and the Cuban people, which has always existed, except when Aznar interrupted it."

Barcelona beat Espanyol 0-1, goal by Deco. Madrid tied Betis 1-1 and Valencia lost to Sevilla 1-2, leaving Barcelona at 6-1-0 and 19 points, well above second-place Seville and Valencia with 14 each and Real Madrid in eleventh place with 10. Next week Barcelona plays Osasuna at home, a game they ought to win, and Madrid plays Valencia at home, so whatever the result is one Barcelona rival will be hurt. Several Barcelona players are injured, including Giuly, Sylvinho, Edmilson, Gerard, and Gabri, leaving Rijkaard with only 14 first-team players and guys off the youth squad. I dunno--it still looks like a pretty good team to me.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

I'm back in Barcelona and Iberian Notes is ready to come back full-blast. Everything sure is small here. And the streets are really full of people.

The big stink around here is utterly symbolic. October 12 is Spain's national holiday, the Día de la Hispanidad, commemorating of course Columbus´s first voyage. Every year the Army has a parade because it´s also Armed Forces Day. The more politically correct among us like to call it "el Pilar", since October 12 is also the day of Our Lady of the Pillar, Aragon´s patron.

So, anyway, this year they rather pointedly decided not to invite the Americans to participate in the parade, as they had done the past two years. The Americans rather pointedly had the ambassador blow off both the parade and the King´s reception afterwards. La Vanguardia made a very big deal of this, from the rather surprising perspective that the Zapatero regime needs to be somewhat more solicitous of the US government.

Meanwhile, somebody had the geniusy idea that they would invite both a Spanish member of the Leclerc division, the allegedly French military formation that allegedly captured Paris in 1944--there were a good few Spanish Republican refugees in France, and some of them joined up with Allied forces as they passed through--and a member of the División Azúl, the allegedly volunteer force of 18,000 Spaniards that fought as part of the German Army against the Soviets on the Eastern Front. Both. At the same time. Brilliant plan. That'll prevent controversy.

Pasqual Maragall showed up at the parade for the first time for a Catalan prime minister. Jordi Pujol had always blown it off. The Republican Left, the Communists, and Convergence and Union all had a great time booing and hissing Maragall for attending such a show of support for the evil rotten Spanish army that so brutally oppresses us all.

Foreign minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos and party bigwigs José Montilla and Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba threw a snit about the American ambassador´s absence from the big fiesta. They looked like third-graders.

The problem here is, when you get right down to it, symbolism such as this shouldn't really mean a crap. The best way to deal with such a thing is to do the minimum necessary without standing out either for your enthusiasm or your indifference. Somebody has a ceremony? Show up, smile for the photographers, shake hands, go home, and jack off. Don´t make a big deal about it. It´s that simple.

The Vangua is not escatimating on the coverage of the US elections. Today there´s a story titled "Xenophobia against the Hispanic invasion" from Arizona--this is a drum that Spanish journalists love to beat on, claiming that Hispanics are mistreated in the US. They've got an op-ed piece by one Jeremiah Purdy, who if my memory is correct is a former child prodigy who wrote a book about how we were all too ironic and didn't take things seriously enough, calling Bush a poophead. (If we don't elect Kerry, "the country will be drawn toward an ultraconservative society that, we must fear, will be like Brazil: divided, unequal, and frightened.") Andy Robinson, of course, has dredged up a weirdo who claims he´s an ex-porn addict who´s now leading Jesusheads for Bush or something and is using him as an example of how Americans are all a bunch of religious nuts, Andy´s pet theme. Andy, this technique is called "pointing out the extreme example and framing it as the norm".

Yesterday they dug up James K. Galbraith, whoever he is, with a bad economics piece about how the Federal Reserve is wrong when it predicts a 2004 economic growth rate of about 4% for 2005, it's all Bush's fault, and Kerry and Edwards should win the election and then "sit down at a table with the real leaders of business and labor in order to seriously examine the real situation we're in and the policies we should adopt." No, I think it would be better to sit down around an oil drum with a fire lit inside it with the homeless guys down by the waterfront and seriously examine the real situation we´re in and then shake down everyone for a quarter apiece to get another pint of Mad Dog. Eusebio Val had a piece on how the Indians are discriminated against, and there was a story on Bruce Springsteen and "Rock My Head" or whatever it´s called.

Oh, yeah, the current stink involving gays is that some Italian guy who's up for European Commissioner said that homosexuality was a sin, so there was a big foo-faw. This gentleman´s name? Rocco Buttiglione. Sounds like Sylvester Stallone´s character´s name in "Party at Kitty and Stud´s". Then some guy named Mirko Tremaglia, who sounds like the actor who plays the dude who always carries the ammo until he´s the first of the good guy's squad who gets blown away in a Jean Claude Van Damme flick, said that it was too bad the majority of Europeans are "culattoni", which is apparently Italian for "rump rangers". The Perenially Indignant are, of course, all indignant, and we must admit that Mirko might have gone a bit too far when he claimed that the EU is dominated by the homosexual lobby. (Insert Greek Army joke here.)

Friday, October 01, 2004

The Presidential debate is just about over and I'm getting my thoughts down on it pre-spin. I would give Kerry a win on points, but he didn't land anything like a knockout punch. Kerry is a more articulate speaker than Bush, no question about that, and he wins on style. What Bush was trying to do is characterize his opponent as a flip-flopper, and he harped on that theme to the exclusion of almost everything else. Kerry, on the other hand, attempted to characterize the Iraq war as a failure and tried to slam Bush on the issue of possible nuclear proliferation. Nobody really made any new points or said anything that hadn't been said before. The weirdest thing was the emphasis that wound up occuring on the question whether bilateral talks with North Korea (Kerry) or multilateral talks including Russia, China, South Korea, and Japan (Bush) would be more successful at countering the possible North Korean acquisition of nuclear weapons, which by the way happened on Clinton's watch. That bit was a waste of everybody's time.

Effect on the campaign: This ought to shore up Kerry's position, which has been rapidly collapsing over the last couple of weeks, but it won't help him mount a comeback. Bush wins with 35-38 states, I still think.