Friday, December 31, 2004

Good God. They're talking at least 125,000 confirmed dead and as many as 400,000 more in Indonesia. There are maybe millions of refugees all over the place; fortunately, fears of massive epidemics seem to have been exaggerated. This is the worst thing I ever remember happening. The photos of the bodies piled up on the beaches--you've seen them. The aid is beginning to get there. The Americans, Aussies, and New Zealanders have got an airlift going and they're flying supplies into Banda Aceh, by far the worst-hit area, in C-130 transports. Unfortunately, one of the things they're carrying in are 80,000 body bags. The very professional and fairly large Indian Navy is sending out missions all over the Bay of Bengal, and the Americans are sending two battle groups loaded with supplies. International aid is flowing in from all over the world; they're saying they've already collected $500 million. Dozens of countries and millions of individuals are contributing. There's so much stuff coming in it's already piling up at Banda Aceh; they're having transport difficulties, not enough trucks and the roads are all washed out anyway. Sounds to me like helicopters might be a good idea; how about all the traffic helicopters at all the radio stations across America fly over there? They could make it in, say, 500-kilometer jumps by way of Alaska, and the cost of fuel and its availability would of course be no problem. They could be there in two or three days. Or we could stash several dozen of them inside one of those huge transport planes. The British did something similar at Dunkirk, but instead of traffic helicopters it was fishing boats. If the Saudis want to help out, a big old tanker full of gasoline would be nice. I bet they have plenty to spare. InstaPundit says that an easy way to give is through Amazon, which is running an aid campaign; 100% of the money Amazon collects will go directly to the Red Cross. Fox News says that, and I quote, a coalition of "the United States, Australia, Japan, India, and the United Nations" will be coordinating aid. So Clare Short has this to say, from the Scotsman via Matt Drudge.

United States President George Bush was tonight accused of trying to undermine the United Nations by setting up a rival coalition to coordinate relief following the Asian tsunami disaster.

The president has announced that the US, Japan, India and Australia would coordinate the world’s response.

But former International Development Secretary Clare Short said that role should be left to the UN.

“I think this initiative from America to set up four countries claiming to coordinate sounds like yet another attempt to undermine the UN when it is the best system we have got and the one that needs building up,” she said.

“Only really the UN can do that job,” she told BBC Radio Four’s PM programme.

“It is the only body that has the moral authority. But it can only do it well if it is backed up by the authority of the great powers.”

Ms Short said the coalition countries did not have good records on responding to international disasters.

She said the US was “very bad at coordinating with anyone” and India had its own problems to deal with.

“I don’t know what that is about but it sounds very much, I am afraid, like the US trying to have a separate operation and not work with the rest of the world through the UN system,” she added.

Fuck you, Clare Short. You're no goddamn help at all, and all you can do is bitch. Besides, if Fox News is right, you're wrong, because they say the UN is part of the coalition. Jesus Christ. This is the clearest case ever of "no matter what you do, it's wrong" anti-Americanism, not to mention a slam at the uppity former colony India, which is of course incapable of doing anything like, say, taking some responsibility and getting some shit done, because it's just got too many problems, you know.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

I forgot to mention something in the last post. It is not uncommon here for demonstrators to demonstrate just to be a pain in the ass. For example, there is a neighborhood called Gavà Mar near the airport. The residents are all p.o.ed because there's too much noise. (So why did you idiots buy houses by the airport? The airport's been there for much longer than that neighborhood has.) So they decided to hold a demonstration. Fine, you would think, let them stand in front of City Hall with their protest signs, even if their cause is stupid and selfish. But, nope, that's not what they did. They blocked the access road to the airport and wouldn't let anybody through. For more than an hour. Hundreds of people missed their flights or had to walk more than a mile from the demonstrators' barricade to get to the terminal. Traffic was backed up for kilometers. This just happened a couple of weeks ago.

Why the hell weren't they all arrested and trucked off to jail and charged with disturbing the peace, being a public nuisance, blocking a public highway (which, of course, belongs to everybody), and interfering with law enforcement and public emergency vehicles? That's not a peaceful demonstration. That's interfering with other people's rights. Something similar happens during the summer, every year, when farmers all get together and blockade the rural highways while "demonstrating" for more subsidies. Occasionally they set up barricades of burning tires. They're never dragged off en masse and booked on charges of being a general pain in the ass. I bet if that happened just two or three times these jerks would stop doing that crap and would confine their demos to the bounds of legality. I bet if the airport sued the organization that blocked the access Spain it wouldn't do any good at all.

I just don't know what to say about the tsunami. What a tragedy. So many dead people. Entire cities were destroyed. Now we've got to help clean up the mess; the US has already promised $25 million and more will be coming. This is the biggest natural disaster that I can remember. They're talking 100,000 possible fatalities. And on top of everything some self-righteous UN prick called us "stingy", apparently because we don't give enough money to his organization or something. Meanwhile, some other idiots are calling Bush uncaring and callous for not cutting his Christmas vacation short. There are a few more things to worry about than scoring some cheap political points right now, asswipes. Like say actually getting some medical people and food and supplies and housing and stuff in there as fast as we can. And help make sure crime and looting don't break out, and that food and such are fairly distributed. This would be an excellent chance for nations like France and Spain to show some leadership and organize some solutions. One thing Spain might do is send a few batallions of paramilitary Guardia Civil police to help keep order, perhaps along with some of the Spanish army guys who were in Iraq and did very well there.

Just for your enjoyment, here are a couple more of those little pieces from La Vanguardia on religion in the United States. One of them is almost ironic now in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami; it was published on December 23. Here it is.

According to American fundamentalism catastrophes are a divine warning, an opportunity provided by Providence so that human beings will change their lives. The Civil War was interpreted by this sector as a punishment because the Constitution omitted the name of God, and the depression of 1929 because America adored the false idol of science. It was like that even until September 11, which was blamed on the relaxation of conventions and the religious apathy of the citizens. This point of view contrasts with that of the European reaction to the Madrid attentats, where there was no providentialist background noise when causes and responsibilities were being discussed. One of the characters that has supported Bush since his first term is Tim Le Haye (sic), who is considered the most influential evangelical voice and who is the author of best-sellers in a genre that has been called "biblical fiction". The messages from God, the prophecies, and the final battle between good and evil at Armageddon, Israel, are his princlpal themes.

Where do I start? First, it is true that some people considered the Civil War divine punishment. It was, however, punishment for having committed the sin of slavery. It is also true that somewhat fewer people considered the Depression divine punishment, for the sin of worshiping the false idol of money. It is also true that the great majority of Americans frankly don't worry too much about divine punishment. A couple of loudmouths, like Falwell and Robertson, did say some stupid shit after 9-11, and the entire country as one called them idiots. Americans do not believe that September 11 was a punishment from God, except for the eight weirdos holed up at a ranch in Idaho muttering about black helicopters and The Turner Diaries. And, of course, there must be some sinister connection between Bush and paperback novelists like Tim LaHaye, whose books are nearly as popular in America as The Da Vinci Code and The Dante Club are in Europe.

Here's another one.

To the American fundamentalists, Bush is a direct messanger from God. An important officer in the Pentagon, general William G. Jerry, an evangelical who has caused more than one controversy by interpreting the antiterrorist war as a religious war, said in 2003 that "Bush is in the White House because God put him there." Those who know Bush talk about his "supernatural certainty" in his determinations and in the confidence he shows about receiving inspiration directly from God. Conscious of that, Kerry repeated in the first presidential debate that "you can be sure you're right but be wrong." A few months ago, in a private meeting with Amish farmers in Pennsylvania, they say Bush said the following: "I am sure that God speaks through me." This Messianic character that is attributed to a leader of a nation--which is more reminiscent of the Messiah king of the Jews than the Messiah of the "good news" of the Gospel--is viewed with suspicion in Europe.

Let me make something clear. When a mainstream daily newspaper is saying that Americans think Bush is a messenger from God, or that Bush thinks God is speaking through him, there is something very weird going on over here in Europe. No wonder they're so crazy. They're completely paranoid about us. They suspect anything that Americans do. I swear if Bush went to a Baptist church one weekend they'd accuse him of preparing for Armageddon.

And as for that last anti-Semitic crack, let me point out that, uh, Europe is the continent that originated and produced Messianic leaders in the 20th century--or don't we remember Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Mussolini, Trotsky, la Pasionaria, José Antonio, and even Franco? Now let's compare them to Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower. Who would you vote for?

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Two things I like about the Spaniards are their anti-authoritarianism and their live-and-let-live tolerance. I sincerely believe that these two marked traits that most Spaniards have are at least partly the reaction to forty years of not so much brutal but just plain boring Francoism. After the reprisals from the Civil War were over in the early forties, there wasn't too much killing done under Franco. There was, however, a lot of repression. Franco's ideal Spanish society was fairly military and strongly old-style Catholic, suspicious of foreign influence, paternalistic, traditional, and orderly and disciplined. Originality and creativity were not exactly officially discouraged, but they weren't presented as ideals in themselves as they are today.

If you'd lived through forty years of that, you'd be suspicious of authority and tolerant of individual difference, too, maybe even excessively so at times.

This leads to several problems we have today in Spain. The first is the lack of respect people have for the police. The police were seen in the Franco days as agents of the regime, whether fairly or not, and were widely regarded as corrupt and incompetent. (Franco did have a secret police, the so-called Political-Social Brigade, but they were small potatoes and not so much feared as disliked.) Well, today, now that we have a pretty professional, and democratic, police and security service--they've done a hell of a good job against ETA and Al Qaeda, and they've fought organized crime--the cops don't get enough respect.

Second is an excess of tolerance towards public demonstrations. The right to demonstrate was one of the shibboleths of the left during the late Seventies transition period. Well, I totally agree, when we're talking about a case of the people going out and peacefully making their opinions known. An example would be 2003's antiwar demonstration in Barcelona, which, much as I disagreed with it, was generally orderly and was conducted in a legal fashion, with municipal permission and police protection and all that. Spaniards love to go out and demonstrate now. Every chance they get, for whatever reason, they'll call a demo. Fair enough, if done according to the law. The problem is that this spirit of tolerance toward public demos makes society much too permissive toward blatantly illegal actions committed by demonstrators.

A third problem is a combination of a Marxist perspective on education--that society is capable of educating its citizens in the direction that whoever's in charge of society wants them and it to go--and a reaction to the horrors both of the Republican and then Francoist prisons. What this means is that the Spanish judicial system is much too permissive and has an idealistic emphasis on rehabilitation.

Keep all that in mind as we present the Iberian Notes roundup of news from around here.

One other problem we've got is that of skinheads and squatters. The skinhead phenomenon is common all over Europe. They're scum. I hate them. They're violent raving racist Nazi thugs, tattoo-faced football hooligan freaks. I can't decide whether they're stupider or uglier. Squatters operate all over Europe, too, but they've done especially well in Barcelona. They're scum. I hate them. They're violent raving left-wing anarchist morons, safety pins through their eyebrows and no bath for a month. I can't decide whether they're uglier or stupider.

So they had a skinhead-squatter gang fight in the street during the Gracia Fiesta Mayor back in August and some skinhead thug stabbed some squatter punk. The punk went into a coma. They arrested the skinhead who did it and then let him out on bail, of all things, instead of say locking him up on charges of aggravated assault and battery, illegal use of a weapon, conspiracy to commit an act of violence, belonging to a gang, and anything else they could throw at him. The punk just died after four months in a coma. Now they went out and slammed the skinhead in jail on charges of second-degree murder, which seems like the appropriate thing to do, for once.

So the squatters all got together and organized a protest demo march from plaza Urquinaona to plaza Sant Jaume on December 23. They trashed everything in their path, including bank branch offices, the McDonalds, and the city's official Christmas creche. They left trails of graffiti over every wall along their route, burned the trash containers, and pulled up a traffic light by the roots, as it were. Then they took on the cops in the plaza Sant Jaume, where the City Hall and the Generalitat building are. Three municipal and eight regional police oficers were injured. Four rioters were arrested. 200,000 euros of property damage was done.

The cops damn well knew something like this was going to happen. What I'd have done is, once they all get into the plaza Sant Jaume, which is a limited place, simply cut off all the exits, read the riot act, tell the crowd to calm down, and arrest anybody who doesn't. A few hundred cops ought to be able to handle that, and then we could throw the lot of them in jail for attacking the cops. That won't fly around here, though, I'm afraid. The squatters are claiming thirty of them were injured by the police. Good.

Meanwhile, the local cause celebre is some idiot fourteen-year-old kid sent out a bunch of anonymous e-mails signed the "Army of the Phoenix" to several supermarket chains, demanding that they label all their products in Catalan. If they didn't, he threatened them with computer harassment. He sent them images including that of a Spanish flag burning. Naturally, this was taken seriously. The cops hunted the perpetrator down and it turned out he was fourteen. They charged him with terroristic threats. The Cataloonies have come out en masse promising solidarity with the brave youth who was only expressing his freedom of speech. Uh, if you make anonymous threats if your ultimatum is not complied with, that's called extortion where I come from, no matter whether you're fourteen or not. I say he goes to Juvie for a year.

Meanwhile, the street crime rate in Barcelona is through the roof. If you're a lone woman tourist at night in a dodgy area, like say the Ramblas or the Raval or the Barrio Gótico, you're almost certainly going to be the victim of a mugging. If you're drunk or trying to buy drugs, that probability rises to 100%. I would advise anybody to be damned careful, no matter who you are. Keep an eye on what's happening around you and you should be all right, but use enough common sense not to get yourself into trouble. This is a disgrace, I am afraid, and I do not enjoy having to point it out. The cops know exactly who the street criminals, basically junkies and Arab street kids, are, and every single one of them ought to be behind bars.

Also, right now, there is a serious trial going on. It seems that two dirtbags by the names of Brito and Picatoste broke out of prison in March 2001. Those morons gave Picatoste a prison furlough, of all ridiculous things. He disappeared, of course, got six of his dirtbag friends together, and they made a plan. Brito threw himself down a stairway in the prison and got himself into the hospital, from which Picatoste and company broke Brito out while seriously injuring the two cops guarding him. One was left paralyzed. The two took off on the run and a couple of weeks later they came upon a couple parked out in the middle of the woods. They killed him, tied her to a tree, and Brito raped her. They were then arrested, and they've been charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, illegal weapons possession, car theft, assault and battery, and rape.

Can we just hang these sicko criminals, please? No, I'm afraid. The prosecutor is asking 83 years for Brito and 72 years for Picatoste. The problem is no matter if they get ninety-three thousand consecutive life sentences they get out in thirty years no matter what. That's the law in Spain.

Friday, December 24, 2004

I admit it, I'm a nerd (though I claim not to be a dork, geek, spaz, goon, or doofus). I love statistics. I have entire books full of them and I can quote them at you all day long. I just went back to check on some stuff I'd said before. (I'm wrong about 1/3 of Americans being Catholic. It's 21%. The stats are Protestant 57.9%, Catholic 21.0%--though the Catholics are bigger than any single Protestant denomination--, other Christian 6.4%, Jewish 2.1%, Muslim 1.9%, nonreligious 8.7%, other 2.0%.) Anyway, I started flipping through the World Almanac and decided I'd come up with this quiz on US statistics. Let's see how well y'all do. Obviously, you're not supposed to go look up the answers; you're supposed to make your best guess among the four choices. Post your answers on the Comments section. My source is the 2004 Encyclopedia Britannica Almanac. First prize is a date with the Jedman. Second prize is a date with the Jedman with tongue. Third prize is a night in a cell downtown at 12th and Locust with the Jedman.

(Local Kansas City doggerel:

Hocus pocus
12th and Locust
There's a party in the city jail
You must be indicted
To be invited
Unless your mama throws you bail.)

1. What percentage of Americans are black?
A. 4% B. 12% C. 18% D. 26%

2. What percentage of Americans have moved from one house/flat to another in the last year?
A. 2% B. 9% C. 16% D. 31%

3. What percentage of Americans were born outside the United States?
A. 1% B. 5% C. 10% D. 19%

4. What's the average workweek in the US?
A. 39.5 hours B. 42.5 hours C. 46.5 hours D. 51.5 hours

5. What's the murder rate in the States per thousand people per year?
A. .06 B. .37 C. .96 D. 1.47

6. What percentage of Americans went to at least one movie last year?
A. 28% B. 45% C. 66% D. 86%

7. What percentage of American households own a car?
A. 54% B. 73% C. 84% D. 95%

8. Rank American consumer spending, in order first to fourth, on these leisure activities:
A. books B. spectator sports C. movies D. flowers and gardening

9. What are America's three biggest crops (in value, not quantity)?
A. Wheat, cotton, tobacco B. Wheat, corn, cotton C. Cotton, tobacco, corn D. Wheat, soybeans, corn

10. What's the median income per US household?
A. $19,000 B. $28,000 C. $35,000 D. $43,000

11. Which of these is a US household's biggest expense? Bonus point: rank them in order.
A. Housing B. Health care C. Food D. Transportation

12. Which country receives most American visitors?
A. Mexico B. United Kingdom C. Ireland D. Israel

13. What percentage of Americans have completed secondary education (high school until age 18)?
A. 53% B. 67% C. 84% D. 97%

14. What percentage of its GNP does the US spend on its military?
A. 1% B. 3% C. 9% D. 18%

15. How many Europeans visit the US every year?
A. 1 million B. 4 million C. 11 million D. 22 million

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Here's an article from today's Avui by Pilar Rahola, which I've translated from Catalan. The title is "Francis Fukuyama is right: the militant anti-Americanism of Zapatero and his Islamist friends".

A general thesis, famously explained by such great thinkers as Hegel, Nietzche, and Tocqueville, states that modern democracy is no more than the secularization of Christianity. If we look at it in those terms, it is evident that it is difficult to visualize the democratization of Islam, since we are dealing with a history, a culture, and a tradition different from the West. In one way, this is the pessimistic vision of Samuel Huntington in his famous The Clash of Civilizations, which a good friend of his, Francis Fukuyama, is arguing against in his latest book, The Construction of the State. Revising his "end of history", which has been rotundly disproven by events and which he himself analyzes autocritically, Fukuyama makes two fundamental asseverations: the values of the Enlightenment are universal and universalizeable, and that radical Islamism, because of its own suicidal nature, will burn out in ten or fifteen years. He adds a statement that is pure common sense: "People want to live in freedom", even under the most strict Koranic regimes. They want it, in the same way they want scientific and medical advances, they want economic well-being, and they want social organization. That is, Islam is not incompatible with democracy, because the values it is based on are basic to human needs, beyond the religions or the cultures that define those needs.

I started this article with these notes on Fukuyama because, with all modesty, I have supported the same thesis for a long time. I maintain the conviction, which I have expressed in several articles, that the asphyxiating vacuum of freedom that millions of people suffer in the name of Allah is not caused by a cultural impossibility but a political will. And I maintain, as a consequence,that what we must do is denounce the stereotypes, take off the masks, and show the real face of the monster. It's not a god. It's not a religion. That which condemns a Nigerian woman to be stoned to death, which teaches Palestinian children of eight years to love martyrdom and death, which can kill a child from Ossetia in the name of a cause, which prays to Allah while it crashes an airplane into a tower, which fills the burning ruins of a train with death, or writes books which teach how to beat your wife, all this has one origin, the political will of certain regimes and leaders to traumatize Islam and convert it into the transmissor of a totalitarian ideology while sustaining the chain of social privilege. It is not true that Islamism is alien to the West, and the clearest example is Osama Ben Laden himself. Dressed as a medieval sheikh, with a royalist aesthetic included, ben Laden uses Western communication methods perfectly, his ideology has a nihilistic base which is rooted in the twentieth-century European totalitarianisms, and many of his practices have drunk from the fountains of Stalinism. As if it were a perfect symbiosis of Fascism and Communism with an Islamist aesthetic. That is: it is perfectly transmissible to the West, even though it bases part of its ideology on hate toward the West.

What, then, are the roots of the problem? The thesis I personally defend and that I now see corroborated in Fukuyama's magnificent book identifies those responsible for the Islamic conflict and does not get lost in the ethereal conflict of cultures and religions. The theocratic regime of Saudi Arabia is first on the list of the guilty, the real motor of the exportation of a paranoid, totalitarian, and violent Islamism, and the base of the Salafist ideology (doesn't she mean Wahhabist?-JC) that feeds the brains of the suicides and the hearts of their bombs. Saudi Arabia is a disastrous country, in submission to stratospheric corruption, governed by a bunch of despots who, during decades of wealth, have built nothing more than poverty, fanaticism, and anti-modernism. And which exports its totalitarian ideology to the whole world. Behind every imam who preaches the disrespect of freedom and enlightenment in European mosques, the Saudi hand is there. Behind the subsidies to the parents of the girls who cover themselves up there is the Saudi hand (or didn't you know that the veil is subsidized?). And the ideology that all the ideologues of terrorist fundamentalism support was born among the Saudis. Even in the case of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Obviously, countries like Iran, the direct financier of terrorist groups (like those which are staining the Iraqi Christmas with blood), or the terrorific Sudanese government, the paradise of Islamist totalitarianism, or also Syria, are on this list too. But, as Fukuyama himself says, no country is as dangerous as Saudi Arabia.

Where am I going with this? Toward some theories of political do-gooderism, of which Rodríguez Zapatero and his project of an alliance of cultures are the main exponents. I want to go there because I have the impression that his focus and the people he chooses to deal with are both incorrect. We don't have a problem with Islam, but with those who condemn Islam to be interpreted in a totalitarian way. And these are exactly the people who Zapatero wants to make into his allies. Maintaining the profound political imbecility of militant anti-Americanism, Zapatero thinks that King Fahd or the president of Syria or that of Iran should form part of the round table of the new world, as if it were logical that democracy should give its seal of approval to totalitarianism. Despots like King Fahd have never formed part of any solution to the Islamist problem; rather, they are the hard core of the problem, they are its source, they are today its focus. And at the same time Zapatero elevates them to the category of friends, while he puts down the evil Yankees. Could anyone be so wrong so honestly? Certainly, as the wise man said, there is no one more ignorant than he who is sincerely ignorant.

I love that phrase, "the profound political imbecility of militant anti-Americanism". I'll be using it in the future.
I knew I'd get in trouble over that last post. Just a few points:

1. I have nothing against the Church. I disagree with the official Vatican line on many things, including the Iraq war, divorce, contraception, and first-term abortion. Not to mention papal infallibility. But I respect the Church as an enormous organization basically dedicated to doing good. Sure, the Church has its faults and failures, but I bet 95% of what it does is generally worthy, which is a pretty high percentage for an organization made up of imperfect human beings.

2. I repeat what I said about Catholic influence on Spanish culture. Spanish atheists and Communists, who are all radically anti-clerical, still maintain a way of thinking that I believe is indigenous to Catholic culture, most specifically as regards attitudes toward Protestantism, the state, and the market.

3. I, personally, am a hard-core agnostic about one inch away from atheism. My family is from the Methodist tradition, basically low-church Anglicans. I do not deny the influence that this sort of Protestantism has had on my own way of thinking.

4. Most Protestants have nothing to do with Calvinism; the only Calvinist groups of importance I can think of in the States are the Presbyterians, most of whom are about as Calvinist as my cat Oscar, and the Dutch Reformed. In the States, you've got the Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists and most American-based fundamentalists coming out of that tradition; then you've got the Lutherans and their Germanic ilk, and we mustn't forget the Catholics, who are the largest single group in America with over one-third of the population. I believe America has more practicing Catholics than any other country. The thing about America is there's a lot of competition in the religious market and the Catholics have to compete just like everyone else. This makes the American Catholic Church, in my opinion, a good deal more progressive and active than its European counterpart, since it has to keep its members faithful or they might run off and join the Mormons or whatever. In Spain and Latin Europe, on the other hand, you've basically got two choices, Catholicism or some brand of anti-clericalism. This leads to problems we have around here, like the dust-up going on between the government and the Church on whether religion should be a required course in the public schools or not.

5. No, most Spanish Catholics do not know that there are almost twice as many American Catholics as there are Spaniards of any sort.

6. I maintain what I said about Gypsies and Latin American immigrants often being members of the very lowest social classes in Spain, just as I would affirm that blacks, white rednecks, and Mexican immigrants make up a disproportionate amount of the lowest social classes in the US. That's not an insult; I think it's a neutral statement of fact. How many Gypsies and Peruvian immigrants do you see rubbing elbows with the Catalan bourgeoisie up in Pedralbes? I also maintain that most converts to Protestantism in Spain are Gypsies and Latin Americans, and that their brand of Protestantism is charismatic and evangelical.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

I was watching TV1 news this afternoon, and they of course reported on the rocketing of the American military base in Mosul which left about 25 dead. No complaints there. The problem was that the focus of the story was on alleged US censorship of the coverage from Mosul.

Now, that is just ridiculous, since reports from Mosul started coming out minutes after the attack happened, and they included disturbing images and verbal descriptions of American wounded and dead. TV1 itself showed them, and they appeared on the front pages of all the Spanish newspapers this morning. I do not know whether there is actual US military censorship going on, but I wouldn't be surprised if there is. That's what happens in wars, and I see nothing wrong with it. A journalist's right to free speech is abridged by the military's necessity to stop information from getting to the enemy. But the US military certainly did not prevent anybody from printing full-color photos on their front pages of wounded and dead American soldiers.

Let me point out that I have nothing against the media's showing us graphic and disturbing images of war. War is a terrible, ugly thing, and we need to see these images to remind us of what the people involved are really going through as we sit safely in our nice, warm houses. War should only be used as the very last resort, and these photos help make that very clear.

Changing the subject, I wonder if it is possible to say that Catholics and Protestants in Europe are different ethnic groups as well as being different religions. Here in Spain, I continually see reminders of how Catholicism affects Spanish culture; even Spanish atheists are affected by Catholic cultural attitudes. My favorite example is Spaniards' collective misunderstanding of the various Protestant factions. Now, in Spain there are very few Protestants, and Spanish Protestants tend to be charismatic evangelists who are most successful among the very lowest social classes, especially Gypsies and Latin Americans. Spaniards tend to identify Northern European Protestants with their local equivalents, who really are often poorly educated fanatics and often converts from Catholicism--and there's no one more radical than a convert. That, and of course they've seen all those Hollywood movies about inbred southern preachers handling snakes and damning Darwin while being hypocritical drunken lechers in private.

La Vanguardia has been running, get this, a series in the features section on how Americans and Europeans see religion differently. It's hilarious.

...The aspiration of the fundamentalist Chrisitan groups is that religion and politics should be as closely joined as possible. Bush's policies have created, in this direction, the so-called Faith-Based Initiatives. These are social programs carried out by religious organizations that receive million-dollar subsidies and which are the American answer to the European welfare state...

No, no, no. The two largest pieces of the American federal budget are Social Security (pensions) and Medicare/Medicaid (health care), at around 29% each. Defense, by the way, is 17-18%. I would be amazed if the "faith-based initiatives" cost even one percent of what we spend on these massive, long-established government programs. Most Spaniards don't even know these things exist. I will also point out that a lot of social spending is done at the state rather than the federal level, so it doesn't show up on the federal budget. Another comment I will make is that one nice thing about Americans is that they give lots of money to charity, more than double what Europeans give. The last comment I have is that if I found myself homeless in Kansas City, the first place I'd go is Crosslines, the interdenominational organization that helps out the homeless and the poor, and if I needed a place to stay I'd go to the Salvation Army.

The American moral has Calvinist roots. Each individual must answer alone to God for his actions and for the efficiency of his work as a sacred obligation to change the world. In Genesis, God gives Eden to Adam and Eve so that they can cultivate it, but after they eat the forbidden fruit he condemned them to work hard in order to get food. The Calvinists add that this punishment should be accepted with dedication because it is the true reason for the presence of man in this world far away from God. Max Weber's classic theory explains capitalism as coming from this accent on work and individual responsibility. For many Americans society does not improve through ideal state structures, but through the virtue, responsibility, and work of each member. Individual sin exists, but there are doubts about the existence of the collective. The Third World countries, for example, suffer because of the low virtue of their citizens.

I think you can actually learn more about the culture and society of the guy who is trying to interpret a foreign society than you can about said foreign society. Note that the anonymous author of this piece places a high value on the collective as against the individual, that he believes that the state should be entirely responsible for people's welfare, that he believes that individuals are not responsible for the circumstances they find themselves in, that he believes Americans are dour eighteenth-century Scottish Presbyterian beings who work entirely too much and never have any fun, that he considers that Americans judge others mostly on their material wealth, and that he considers Americans as quick to jump to an unfair negative judgement of people from other societies.

In the United States there exists the general belief that religion is important in order to be rich. Prosperity is a symptom of good relations with God. Poor people, on the other hand, are suspected of not obeying Him. It is the theology of success, and it is based on several passages of the Old Testament in which material success is equated with divine protection..."God bless you" (original English), used like our "adiós", has its roots in this spirit. Like the sentence "In God We Trust" written on every dollar or the invocation of God made on Wall Street after closing a million-dollar deal. TV preachers brodcast solidarious telethons in which blessings are given out according to how much money is put on the table, like the indulgences that the Reformation criticized in Europe.

American readers, I think, need to accept that this way of thinking about America and Americans is an integral part of Spanish culture and that it comes straight from the Catholic Church. We're not going to be able to change Spaniards' attitudes toward America because so many of them are so deeply held as an integral part of Spanish culture itself. America is held up in Spanish culture as the living example of the opposite of what Spain should want to be as it develops. Sure, the Americans are rich, but they're not happy, and they believe crazy things, and their morals and values are hypocritical, materialistic, and false, and they don't understand the way life should really be lived, which is of course the way it is done here in Spain.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Murph and I just spent half an hour trying to add an RSS feed to this blog. First, it looks like there's a difference between an ATOM feed, which you use if you use Blogger, and an RSS feed, and they're not the same thing.

Second, all I want to know is what I'm supposed to fill in when I see "Site Feed Server Path" and "Site Feed Filename" on the "Settings" menu on Blogger.

Third, what I really fucking want is to be able to press a fucking button and have the fucking computer do what I fucking want it to do. If it can't do that, what the hell is the point? I don't care HOW it works or WHY it works, and I don't want to need to know ANYTHING about computers except where the on/off switch is. If you can't push one button and have it work, it's not fucking user-friendly.

Fourth, why do I want a RSS feed anyway? I still don't know why it's any sort of advantage. I mean, all you have to do is hit the Iberian Notes link on your Favorites menu or on your home page or on Franco Aleman's or InstaPundit's and here it is.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

There's not too much that's a big deal to write about. The Tripartite (Socialist-Communist-Cataloony) government has been in charge of the Catalan Generalitat for one full year now and La Vanguardia has an extensive writeup. My feeling is that the Tripartite has failed, mostly because they've done nothing useful on the positive side and, on the negative side, the Cataloonies have managed to piss off the rest of Spain.

Agreed, the rest of Spain should not respond to Carod's infantile provocations with anything but ridicule. But Carod should not go around provoking people all the time, either. And what Carod has managed to do is anger regular normal Spanish people as well as the radical nationalist Spains-in-the-Ass. The stupidest thing he said, after putting his foot firmly in his mouth with his denunciation of the city of Madrid's Olympics bid, was "All I did was say in public what a lot of Catalans really think but don't say." Several local Cataloony jerks, especially those who write in the Avui, actually publicly agreed with Carod and wrote articles on the theme "What should we do, be hypocrites and not tell the truth?"

Well, guys, when the truth is you just plain hate the rest of Spain except for the ETA, with whom you held a secret meeting, that's a damned ugly truth. Maybe you would be better off being hypocritical and at least pretending not to be bigoted and biased. Other people might like you more that way. And if you pretend not to be a bunch of prejudiced racists, who knows, the practice of mouthing insincerities might eventually catch on to such a degree that you'll start to believe them.

Note: I am, of course, speaking to the Cataloonies here, not to the moderate Catalan nationalists.

Says Josep Piqué in La Vangua,

We must tell the citizens that our problems are serious and complex, that simplism and frivolity are not valid. we must be serious and rigorous.

And we must accept our responsibility. We can't say that Madrid has better transport infrastructures and oppose the "fourth freeway belt" (an outer loop around the Barcelona metropolitan area). Or complain that the high-speed train is not in service yet, but impede the necessary electric line. We want a radial transport plan, but do nothing to accomplish it, like the fourth belt or serious improvement of our connections with Valencia. "Madrid" is not responsible for any of this. We are doing things badly here in Catalonia, in our government. A government that centers its energy on resolving--daily!--its internal contradictions, and barely governs: how many laws have been passed in the Parliament? What positive measure of the Government can the citizens remember? They remember, however, the tax increases and the imposition of new fees as the very first change.

Besides this, there is their strange policy of making friends everywhere. One day, denying a drop of water to the Murcians because they'll just waste it, telling the Valencians what they should call the language they speak, calling the Basques insolidarious (because they get to keep all their tax money and Catalonia doesn't), telling Andalusia what it should do, and then recommending that the Catalans not drink Rioja wine in order to support the consumption of Catalan wine, and, to top it off, asking the Catalans not to support Madrid's candidacy for the 2012 Olympic Games. This is a series of absurdities.

Let's hope the New Year is better, and that this one ends as soon as possible.

Says Enric Juliana in La Vanguardia,

Everyone should realize this: we've made fools of ourselves with the Madrid 2012 affair and the cava boycott. The stereotype of the Catalan frightened when he sees his interests endangered has appeared again this Christmas. "Goodbye, Spain," say those who brag and boast when there are no consequences to fear. These days it's been obvious again that the Catalan economy is strongly rooted in the Spanish market, although less exclusively than a hundred years ago. The manufacturing and agricultural-food industries, the major services, high finances, and the unions are "autonomists" or "federalists". (That means they either like the system as it is or they would like to see a federal Spain. They oppose an independent Catalonia. -JC) The sectors that clamor for a "goodbye and see-you-later" either live off the budget or the local-scale service economy. Their dialectic is bubbly, excited, and even juvenile, but when industry sneezes, run for it! The bugler Patufet (imagine Gomer Pyle in a barretina) is sounding the retreat, as he is regarding the European referendum, just a few months ago the imagined scene of an epic, daring, audacious, and definitive battle. Tremble, Brussels!

Today's Vanguardia also contains an article on how the poor exploited Eskimos may not survive all the terrible global warning tragedies that aren't going to happen. It includes this sentence: "The Arctic indigenous people depend on the polar bear, the seals, the penguins, and other species, not only for their food supply but also as elements of their cultural identity." You spot the mistake.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Two other bits that may interest only me: First, the MNAC, the rather grandiosely named National Museum of Art of Catalonia, is free to get in all weekend, Friday through Sunday. It's that big old Palau Nacional building on Montjuic going up from Plaza España. There is a fascinating Romanesque section, mostly frescos lifted off Pyrenean church walls in the early 1900s, which I have seen several times and which I always like to go back to. The Gothic section is pretty good, too, perhaps a little overwhelming in quantity, but there is some nice stuff in there. It seems that they have stuck part of the Thyssen collection that used to be up in Pedralbes in there, too, and there is a collection of El Grecos (he was very prolific; many cities in Spain have at least several El Grecos), a bunch of Baroque stuff (I'd classify El Greco with the Mannerists), and some more modern Catalan stuff that is often very good. I've often thought that some of the Catalan Art Nouveau guys, like Casas and Rusinyol and the Llimonas and Nonell and company, was underrated.

Second, everybody seems to be talking about the performance that the woman who is the leader of the victims of the March 11 bombings' association put on before the Parliamentary commission. I was frankly appalled; she waved the bloody shirt and complained that the government wasn't doing enough for the victims' families and so on. She basically tried to blame the Aznar government, and also the Socialist government that succeeded it, for the loss she suffered, which is not fair. Blame Al Qaeda, not Aznar or Bush.

Look, I'm sorry, but I thought the government had been generous to the families of the dead and injured. I'm also terribly sorry this woman's son was killed, along with all the rest of the people. Remember, this is the blog that ran the biographies of the victims in memoriam. That was about all I could do. But as far as justice goes, well, the people responsible for the bombing have either been arrested and jailed, and they will be tried, certainly convicted--no question these guys are guilty--and sentenced to the maximum penalty, an effective 30-year jail term, or they blew themselves up in that apartment house in Leganés, or they're on the run under an international arrest warrant.

There are still several loose ties of the investigation, including exactly how the connection between the Spanish low-lifes who supplied the explosives and these Al Qaeda dudes came about and whether ETA connections played a hand or not. That's why the investigation is continuing, you see. The attacks were only nine months ago. Sometimes it takes longer than that to wind up a case--look at the Martin Luther King case, for example. We know James Earl Ray had accomplices but we still can't prove who they were. And, no, they weren't the FBI or KKK or the Memphis cops, they were a St. Louis gang of small-time rednecks which included at least one of Ray's scumball brothers. (JFK--Oswald did it alone.)

I'd also like to know more about the connections between these Al Qaeda guys and the ones who did the Casablanca bombings, and I'd like to know if and how these guys are connected with radical Algerian groups. One thing we do know for sure, though, is that the planning for the March 11 attentats began long before Spain sent any troops to either Iraq or Afghanistan. You can't blame Aznar's decision to send Spanish troops into Iraq for the murder of those people in Madrid. You have to blame the real murderers, the guys who placed the bombs on the train and the guys who helped them do it and the guys who are their bosses.
Hey, I need to send a shout-out to my buddy Scoretiz, who is currently stuck down in Arkansas. I should be back in the States between about mid-March and mid-April, and I'll drive down there and look you up. The Score and I go back to high school together; one year when I was in grad school and he was in law school in the early '90s we roomed together with the Jedman and Brad the Eggroll King. That was ugly. Actually, that year we were all surprisingly responsible.

I've put up a link to Robert Duncan over there on the blogroll, so go check out his site. Some of it's about Catholicism, which is cool with me, of course, though I don't share Robert's faith. A lot of the Catholic stuff is very informative historically. The rest of it's about Spain and stuff like that. Highly recommended, as of course are Barcepundit, BarcaBlog, Kaleboel (I need to fix my link), Nihil Obstat, Europundits, Eursoc, HispaLibertas, Buscaraons, and 1972. Follow other links from those blogs and you'll find tons of good stuff out there.

I regret to say that I've been falling behind on expanding my vision of the blogosphere/magosphere. I find myself reading the abovementioned blogs, James Taranto, Glenn Reynolds, National Review, FrontPage, Mickey Kaus, PowerLine, Command Post, Mark Steyn, and not much else. I check Arts and Letters Daily every two or three days. I'm boycotting Andrew Sullivan and I find I don't miss him at all. But I'm kind of in a rut, and one of the things I've noticed is that I find myself being able to predict what each of these outfits is going to say before they say it. Reynolds is probably the least predictable, except on guns. (I hate guns and I'd like to keep the damned things under pretty tight control, not so tight as in England, but one thing I like about Spain is that you don't have to worry about guns. They certainly may rob you with a knife or using plain brute force, but they don't have guns.) Kaus would be second. Either I'm developing mental telepathic powers, an ability to predict the future, or I spend entirely too much time reading stuff on the Internet as it is.

I suppose here are my ideal gun laws, by the way. It ought to be just like cars. You have the theoretical right to own a gun, just as you have a theoretical right to own a car. They're both damned dangerous things, not to be toyed with. But you need a license to drive a car, and each car has to be registered with the state. You normally need a training course in order to get a license. All purchases and sales of cars must be registered as well. You must be 16 years old to drive a car. Your car must be insured. All cars that are not legally registered are considered to be stolen and can be seized by the government. If you're drunk and operating a car, you get arrested and maybe go to jail. If you use a car to commit a crime, the cops can seize the car. There is a set of strict rules about how you are permitted to handle your car in public. If you break those rules, you may lose your right to drive a car, and if somebody gets killed because of your carelessness or stupidity when driving, you are in serious trouble. Socially, misusing your car is considered very irresponsible; it's rather shameful to get busted for drunk driving or reckless speeding, for example. That all seems fair enough to me.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The latest piece of received wisdom going around here--see, around here an awful lot of educated people were educated to be Marxists, and therefore suffer from a combination of blind faith that somehow capitalism isn't going to work, a complete ignorance of economics, and a strictured formula of thought, leavened with Old European anti-Americanism--is that the United States economy is going to crash and Bush will be humiliated and the Yanks will have to pull out of Iraq and those damn Americans will be taken down a few pegs and they'll have to come running to Zap for the multilateral support they allegedly don't have now. It even shows up in Baltasar Porcel's column today, as if Porcel has the slightest idea about anything except obscure Mallorcan Baroque poetry and how to get Generalitat subsidies.

Dream on.

First, the American economy is running at about 4% annual growth, with very low inflation and unemployment less than half of Europe's. I don't know where anyone figures from that a sudden collapse of any sort.

Second, the United States has not one, but TWO different deficits, something Vanguardia and Periódico editorial writers don't seem to be able to keep straight. There is the BUDGET deficit and there is the TRADE deficit.

First, the budget deficit. The latest figures show the US federal government budget deficit at 3.5% of GDP. This is no more than many European countries, including France and Germany, are running right now, and is certainly nothing to panic over, especially since spending is artificially high right now because of the war. But even if the war goes on for years, which it won't, our economy is so huge that it can handle a deficit at this level.

Here is the problem with the budget deficit. That 3.5% of GDP that the government is spending has to come from somewhere, and a lot of it is covered by the sale of bonds. People and companies and institutions both in the US and around the world buy these bonds because they trust them to be a good investment. This means the United States can pay lower interest on its bonds than less creditworthy countries can. Right now United States interest rates are very low. If the Americans start running a really huge deficit, then the US's creditworthiness will drop, investors will start leaving for safer places to put their money, and the Federal Reserve will then have to raise interest rates in order to attract other less risk-averse investors. Higher interest rates mean slower economic growth, since it's harder for business people to get capital. But there's plenty of room for interest rates to grow, and the American budget deficit also has room to grow before America's credit really goes south.

Now, I am as against running a deficit as anybody else. I'm for balanced budgets, and I think Bush is going to have to jerk the economy into a recession with an interest-rate hike in 2005, assuming the war is still going on. But I don't see disaster looming any time soon.

Now for Part Two. The trade deficit is the difference between what the United States economy exports and what it imports. Right now that trade deficit is high because the American dollar is strong; this means imported stuff is cheap for Americans to buy and American exports are expensive for foreigners to buy. If the dollar declines in value, then imports get more expensive and exports get cheaper. So, you say, let's just have a weak American dollar and then they'll buy all our stuff and we'll all have great jobs, right? Well, the problem is that if the American dollar loses value, then foreign investors run away from American-dollar investments very fast. This means we have to raise interest rates to attract those foreign investors, and we need foreign investors because of the budget deficit, and you see where this is going, toward slower economic growth.

The problem is that this looks like an insoluble problem. It isn't. Best-case scenario is we stomp 'em in Iraq, military spending drops and public confidence stays steady, interest rates go up in 2005 and we have a year or so of negative growth, the tax cuts kick in and that provides more money for American investors, Europe's economy continues in the doldrums so American bonds still look pretty attractive, and we're comparatively out of the woods by 2008 and Jeb's prez until 2016. Worst-case scenario is we somehow muddle through again just like the '70s and Hillary gets elected in 2008.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Well, I just had a humbling experience. I googled my own name just to see what would show up, and I'm afraid I'm not the most famous John Chappell in the world. I'm not even in the top twenty. Or fifty. I was hoping I'd at least make the top ten.

The best known John Chappell in the world is probably a basketball player at the University of South Carolina. Second is a guy who has written some guitar-playing books. Third would be a technical guy who works out in Hollywood. Fourth is a music prof at the U. of Wisconsin. Fifth is an environmental dude who works as a professor of geology at someplace I've never heard of. Sixth is some dead dude on somebody's geneaology pages (there are actually about seventeen of these, but they're all dead now). There are several other John Chappells, including a guy in prison in South Carolina, a bookie in Swanage, England, and a guy who owns a bar in Dexter, Maine, who show up before me. Then, finally, I appear in a Franco Alemán post that's about sixtieth on the Google list. Oh, well. I should have gotten my name listed as translator in the credits of that porno translation Murph and I did. I sure would show up all over the Internet then, all right.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

No huge news around here. The Portuguese government has resigned and general elections will be held. Carod-Rovira and Bargalló are acting like irresponsible demagogues as usual; Bargalló went so far as to claim that the grass-roots boycott of Catalan cava going around in Spain-in-the-Ass* circles doesn't exist, which is a rotund falsehood. Maragall hasn't said anything comprehensible recently. Oh, sure, he's talked a lot, but as far as making sense goes, well, he hasn't done it. There's a good bit of Cataloony campaigning against the proposed European Constitution, all of it on the grounds that Catalonia just don't get no respect.

Look. I am in favor of the European Union because I think it is positive for the people of Barcelona, Catalonia, and Spain. We are not England; we have no particular form or tradition of democracy (England's evolved naturally over several hundred years, in a form very different from the democracies of Continental Europe) that is worth saving. In fact, the current government is the only decent one Spain's ever had. Our current democratic system here, fairly new and untried, is strengthened by being part of a supranational democratic organization. As for our independence, let's face it, we're not independent now. We depend economically on the EU and for security on the US and NATO. As one of the medium-level countries of the EU, we stand to benefit by the strengthening of ties with both wealthier and poorer European nations. Regarding European competition with the United States, I think a strong, united Europe is in everybody's interest. No matter how crazy the French get, they're not going to declare war on the US. We have too much in common; we form part of the same civilization. And I can't imagine an EU with Poland, the Czechs, the Estonians, and the Hungarians in it that's going to be too anti-American. Or, for that matter, the Danes, the Dutch, and the Irish.

Now, if I were the British, I would prefer to be part of the EU regarding trade and commerce and the like, but I would not give up my national independence, especially regarding international and defence policy. Britain is really independent. It can defend itself and it is mostly in charge of its own economy. I would not surrender any of this independence to the Continental Europeans. Free trade, yes, but not too much more. What I would actually prefer to see (and I know it's nearly impossible) is some formal alliance of the English-speaking countries, including the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and perhaps South Africa, Singapore, Ireland, and former British colonies with democratic governments.

*As per Joan's request, we have a new phrase. A Spain-in-the-Ass is a radical, obsessed Spanish nationalist, the equivalent of a Cataloony. Moderate Spanish nationalists do not fall into this category any more than moderate Catalan nationalists fall into the Cataloony category. A good test for determining who is a radical nationalist and who is a moderate is George Orwell's. Orwell said, more or less, that a radical nationalist is a person who looks at every issue through the prism of his national group and especially obsesses over the relative prestige of his group. Radical nationalists tend to be very big on symbolism, by the way, said old George. He went on to define the word "patriot" as someone who loves his country and its culture but has no desire to force his ways on other people. I would call Orwell's "patriot" a moderate nationalist. And I would call people who try to tell other people what language they must speak radical nationalists--i.e. Cataloonies and Spains-in-the-Ass.

By the way, before you get the idea that here in Barcelona we fight over language all the time are wrong. I don't think I've ever seen an argument between two people over what language they should use. Ordinary people here get along just fine, whichever language they are truly native in. (Tests for what your true native language is: In what language do you count and do simple mathematics? In what language do you pray? In what language are your words "right" and "left"? In what language do you talk with your mother? In what language do you talk with your children? These tests aren't infallible, but indicative.) You occasionally hear morons who are normally three chatos to the wind in a local bar proclaim that everybody ought to speak Catalan or vice versa, and he'll have a few specious and aggressive arguments to back up his position, but that's fairly rare and most people just ignore the loudmouth.

By the way, here's Iberian Notes's official Guide to How Much Catalan You Need to Know to Live Here, Assuming You Already Know Spanish.

-The numbers. Not too hard.
-The confusing system of telling time.
-Basic pleasantries ("Good morning", "Please", "Thank you", and the like. Not too hard.
-A list of about fifty everyday words that are dramatically different from their Spanish equivalent: blau, taula, vermell, cadira, pastanaga, forquilla, oli, formatge, poma, pernil, fill/a, gos, fotre, cullons, etc. (blue, table, red, chair, carrot, oil, cheese, apple, ham, child/son/daughter, dog, fuck, balls, etc.) Not too hard.

That should be enough to get by. Most people will figure that's plenty good enough and not hassle you about not knowing Catalan. They will then switch to Spanish. And, come on, learning those few things isn't too much to ask; it's no more than I'd have to do if I went to England and started having to say "kip" and "fag" and "petrol" and "slag" and "chav" and "cheers" and "quid" and "pissed" for drunk and "mad" for crazy and "sod off" and "wank" and "fookin' cunt" all the time.

For practice listening to Catalan, watch the news on TV3. You should be able to pick it up pretty quick, in a few weeks. In addition, TV3 will piss you off so much that you'll have more motivation to learn exactly what they're saying so you can write e-mails to them calling them Cataloonies.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Here's La Vanguardia's Ombudsman, Josep María Casasús, in last Sunday's La Vanguardia. The title is "No one can escape generalizations".

The Letters to the Editor section of La Vanguardia has sent me, over the last two weeks, the messages of protest they have received against the cover of the Money supplement on November 21, which alluded to the effects of the death of Arafat on the Israeli and international financial world.

They are e-mails that have come to us from various countries and cities. In this aspect, they reflect the international projection of this newspaper, with the largest reach inside and outside Catalonia among those published in Barcelona. From there comes its influence among the wide sector of public opinion with access to texts in Spanish.

Wait a minute, Casasús. You're getting internationally slammed for blatant anti-Semitism and you start off the article by patting yourself on the back?

Reader Daniel Kantor wrote from Rome, reader Enrique Tirado from Mexico, and reader Esperanza Garrote Larra, from Madrid. There are other letters, like that of Manuel Vider, which we do not know the origin of, but I think they come from various places.

It has been an international protest with an unprecedented territorial diversity.

One clarification at the beginning: it states in the Ombudsman's Statute that, in some cases, letters sent to the Letters to the Editor section may be dealt with in this section, which I publish without fail every Sunday of the year.

Those in charge of the Letters to the Editor section and the editors decided in this case that the protest messages could be sent to the newspaper's ombudsman.

In other words, a bunch of Jews wrote from all over the world to complain. See how important La Vanguardia is? Second, notice how legalistic Casasús is about the Ombudsman´s Statute. One wonders exactly what else the Ombudsman's Statue says, since it apparently permits the newspaper's bosses to hide a whole pile of outraged letters to the editor in this buried section rather than printing one or two a day on the editorial page. Third, Casasús has the gall to pat himself on the back again.

What appeared on that cover that caused so many complaints? Reader Eric Judkiewicz describes it in his letter to the editor in this way: "On the cover a blood-red Star of David appears, with an ascendent arrow insinuating that with the death of Arafat the stock market in Israel has gone up. To my knowledge, the Israelies did not kill the leader of the Palestinian Authority, unless the contrary is proven. The most serious thing is the headline of the article: "Jewish money buys the post-Arafat era"." That's how it was.

The headline is the thing that most readers who wrote about this case criticized. The headline has been strongly criticized, but not the text, in contrast. No one who called me by telephone has had anything to object. Reader Simón Emercui admitted this expressly in the conversation we had on November 26. "Regarding the article, I have nothing to object to." I corroborate that.

Oh, great, Casasús. You have a full-page blood-red Star of David and a headline that says "Jewish money buys the post-Arafat era", which your boys attached to an apparently innocuous article of no particular importance that you guys then stuck on the front page of the Money supplement, and your first line of defense is not even the Jew Simón Emercui objects to the article. The article is not the problem, idiot.

The readers, several more of whom are named, said the following things: "Many times this newspaper makes a serious error when it mixes religion and citizenship. There is no 'Jewish money'...ignominious...proof of total anti-Semitism...a headline that attacks the Jewish people in general...You transmit anti-Semitism to the Spanish and Catalan population...Sir, money has no religion nor race, it is insult, as old as Naziism, of identifying the Jewish people with speculation or usury...I would never think of relating all of Christianity to the Vatican finances and even less making fun of its symbols...clearly Judeophobic and anti-Semitic...anti-Jewish...I have rarely seen in your newspaper criticisms of Palestinian terrorism." Casasús has the arrogance to snap back at this gentleman, "There are, of course." No, Casasús, there are not. I read this newspaper every day and it publishes two of the most blatantly anti-Semitic alleged journalists on earth, Tomás Alcoverro and Robert Fisk. I still remember Alcoverro's melodramatic bullshit report from Jenin claiming he could smell the rotting bodies all around.

Casasús, this is a long list of very serious charges that these people are making about your newspaper. Don't you understand that? They are accusing you of behaving like Julius Streicher, spreading anti-Semitic imagery and innuendo.

Well, here's Casasús's response.

I showed this list of grievances to those in charge of the Economy section and the Money supplement, Manel Pérez and José Manuel Garayoa, and I ask them about the case. I sum up the questions I asked as representative of the readers who have made these complaints to me. The journalists reply at the beginning, "In journalism, the use of adjectives that identify a group when allusion is made to money is accepted in a sense that integrates the concept of economic or financial interests: American money, Irish money, Catalan money."

Well, looks like that excuse is good enough for Casasús, but:

In those examples there are only nationalities. The word "Jewish" refers to a religion," I insist, in my role of ombudsman.

Oh, Casasús, this is hard-hitting stuff!

"Yes, but the expression "Jewish lobby" is frequently used as an everyday expression in the financial and political world," assert these journalists, willing to give explanations that will contribute to constructive dialogue with the readers of La Vanguardia.

Yeah, that's a good reason to put an eight-inch blood-red Star of David on the cover with the headline, "Jewish money buys the post-Arafat era." And, actually, the term "Jewish lobby" is not used in the financial world. It is a political term referring specifically to the AIPAC and ADL and similar groups, which are openly registered and regulated United States political organizations that attempt to influence legislation and policy in an aboveboard manner, not some cabal of elders of Zion.

Casasús then mentions that he's also gotten complaints about the identification of Chechens and Irish Protestants and Catholics as terrorists. His Solomonic solution: "No one can escape generalizations." Right, Casasús. The problem is not that, however. The problem is that La Vanguardia should not perpetrate "generalizations", especially when those "generalizations" reek of the spirit of the Nuremberg Laws.

What the hell is this guy good for? What purpose does he serve? My guess is he has no real influence inside the paper at all, because I cannot remember a single change that Casasús has made in the way La Vanguardia has traditionally done things. I think he's a combination of a salve on the conscience of the bosses of the paper, allowing them to think they're running a principled organization because they've got an ombudsman, and a mere fashion statement--since everybody else has an ombudsman, let's us get one too. Come on, La Vanguardia. You ought to be smarter than this. Fire this guy and bring in someone who's actually willing to question your standard procedures, or don't bother pretending to have an ombudsman. And it's very cynical to bury this wave of angered letters you have received in the least-read section of the paper.
After the first round of the Champions' League finished up this week, it's clear that FC Barcelona is by far the best team in Spain this year. Despite the fact that they sent out a team without Ronaldinho, Etoo, Deco, Márquez, and Oleguer in a meaningless game against no-names Shaktar Donetsk and got trounced 2-0 on a cold night as quiet flowed the Don, Barcelona's been winning in the Spanish League--they have a huge lead--and has looked good in the Champions'.

Real Madrid simply hasn't looked very good at all. They've been scraping by, more wins than losses, in third place in the League, and they squeezed through to the second round of the Champions' with an 0-3 victory over AS Roma, for whom the game was meaningless. They're not out of it in either competition, and they have so many great players that you can never predict what they'll do, but it looks to me like this is a team in decline.

As for Spain's other two powerhouses, Valencia and Deportivo, they got embarrassed in the Champions' League. Deportivo didn't score even one goal in six games and stunk up the joint. They managed, get this, two 0-0 draws. Valencia was playing for a spot in the second round of the Champions', and all they had to do was beat Werder Bremen (a good but not great team) at home. Werder kicked the crap out of them 0-2 and everyone involved on the Valencia side behaved disgracefully. The soon-to-be-ex-coach, Claudio Rainieri, whined on camera about the ref favoring Werder. Meanwhile, after Werder's first goal, some of the Valencia players got in a fight with some of the Werder guys. Angulo committed an extremely nasty foul on the guy who had scored and then he spit in the face of one of the Werder players. The ref red-carded him, of course. This should get him a rest-of-the-year suspension. During all of this, the Valencia fans were throwing shit on the field, and the ref got hit in the head with a flying cigarette lighter. The club's board of directors is pissed off and forced Rainieri to apologize publicly, and the UEFA, the European football association, is opening an investigation of the events.

Neither Valencia nor Deportivo has been particularly impressive in the Spanish league, either. The midtable teams that are looking good are, in order, Espanyol, Sevilla, and Betis. Espanyol is quietly putting together a low-key success of a season. They haven't been getting a lot of attention but watch them qualify for a place in Europe next year.

Barcelona is down to thirteen first-team players, or maybe twelve, since Belletti and Giuly are gimpy and are going to have to sit out next weekend in Albacete. Albacete is a very weak team, and the Barça should have no trouble picking up the win. I imagine Damià will move into Belletti's place and Iniesta will replace Giuly. That leaves them with a bench consisting of Sylvinho, Navarro, and a bunch of kids from the B-team who didn't look too great in Donetsk. You just have to hope nobody else gets hurt. Probably not coincidentally, Edmilson, Gabri, Gerard, Motta, and Larsson are all out for the rest of the season after popping ligaments in their knees. Their leg muscles just got too powerful for their ligaments.

Right now they are wishing three things: that they hadn't let 17-year-old Cesc Fàbregas get away to Arsenal, that they hadn't sold off Luis García this preseason, and that they hadn't sent Javier Saviola on loan to Monaco. Supposedly they are interested in acquiring the loan of Tacchinardi from Juventus to back up the midfield and Carew from Besitkas to fill Larsson's role. I think it would be cool if they signed up Fernando Morientes, who has announced, "play me or trade me," to the Real Madrid junta directiva. He says he'd like to go to Monaco, and he won't accept a loan-out this time.

Tournament-style play starts now; the top sixteen teams have qualified for the second round. Both Barça and Madrid finished second in their groups, so they will draw one of the first-place teams in home-and-away knockout competition. Teams classified first in their group: Monaco, Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus, Olympique Lyon, Arsenal, AC Milan, Inter Milan, and Chelsea. Both Barça and Real Madrid will draw one of these teams in the round of 16 (exceptions: Barça can't get AC Milan and Madrid can't get Bayer Leverkusen). Ouch. Each of these teams is capable of knocking out Barcelona--Barcelona is quite capable of knocking out any of them, too--and I think most of them are likely to knock out Madrid.

The other teams classified for the round of 16, who finished second in their groups as well as Barça and Madrid: Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, PSV Eindhoven, Werder Bremen, and Oporto. Ouch. None of these teams is precisely the Kansas School for the Blind, either. All the really weak teams, your Maccabi Tel Avivs and Sparta Pragues and Rosenborgs and Anderlechts, are now gone.

The other things in sports I need to mention are that Spain beat the US in the Davis Cup final this week. Both teams played well and Spain's 18-year-old Rafael Nadal beat Andy Roddick in singles. Everything was sportsmanlike and very well-done; there were crowds of more than 25,000 people in Sevilla, where the finals were held. The US team praised the organization and the fans.

And, of course, the Balco steroids and Dope-Is-Us outlet scandal. Over here most of the attention is going to Marion Jones, who of course is the most internationally famous of the jocks involved. In the States, though, I think the baseball scandal is bigger. Several of the game's biggest stars have been proven to have greatly improved their performances by using roids since the late 1990s. The most important one is Barry Bonds. We've all known Bonds was on the juice ever since he got all huge and started setting all-time batting records at age 35, just when even the best hitters are going into an unstoppable decline. Nobody was really willing to admit it, though, because we were all having too much fun with the home-run records. Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield, of the Yankees, have both been exposed as roid monsters as well, and I will bet money that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were on steroids when they had their 1998 race for the home run record.

The saddest thing is that Ken Caminiti, until then a run-of-the-mill player, got all roided up in 1998 and had an MVP season. Bill James, the baseball historian and statistician, says that was the flukiest performance in major league history--never before had such a mediocre player (as his career record demonstrates) had such a great single season. Well, now Ken Caminiti is dead, apparently of a heart attack. The football player Lyle Alzado long ago admitted taking steroids, and he accused them of causing the brain tumor he died from. And Florence Griffith-Joyner was on something, too. I wonder how many more of these guys are going to die young.

All I can say is that these guys' records don't mean anything now. Does anyone seriously think that Barry Bonds would be about to break Babe Ruth's and Hank Aaron's records without drugs anymore? Would Bonds and Sosa and McGwire have come even close to Maris's and the Babe's records if they hadn't been doped? No matter what it says in the record books, from now on Maris has the single-season home run record again, and even if Bonds hits nine hundred home runs, Hank Aaron is still the all-time champion. Oh, by the way, Mr. Bonds, you've behaved like an asshole to your fellow players, the fans, and the media for years, the complete opposite of proud, dignified, gentlemanly Hank Aaron. You are nowhere near the player nor the man he was. And as for Babe Ruth, sure, he was on the juice all the time, but in his day and his case "on the juice" meant "a pint of bourbon down and two to go". He'd have hit eight hundred home runs, too, if he'd taken care of himself. And at least he was a nice guy even if he was usually drunk and more than likely either just getting over or just about to get the clap. That's probably where the baseball player tradition of scratching your genitals on the field began.

Completely Off-Topic Sports Anecdote: Jesús Angoy, a Spanish soccer player who was once the backup goalie for the Barça (probably didn't hurt that he was Johan Cruyff's son-in-law) became the placekicker for the Barcelona Dragons back before their untimely demise. One year he got invited to training camp with the Denver Broncos. I'm paraphrasing him when he came back: "Oh, it was great, first-class all the way. They treated me like the rest of the players, and it was interesting to watch an American professional team from the inside. I wasn't actually expecting to make the team, so I'm not too disappointed. The only thing I couldn't figure out is that you can't get a "bikini" in the US." A "bikini", in Barcelona-speak, is a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich. The thing is you have to realize that your local slang doesn't work around the world. I can just imagine Angoy in a Denver coffee shop trying to explain to the waitress that he wanted a bikini.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The following comment appeared:

"The first is (Blog X), which is unfortunately only in Catalan"

El que et deia,

ets un fill de puta,

ves amb compte.
Puf | 12.06.04 - 5:04 pm | #

Now, normally I don't worry too much about anonymous threats that come my way over the Internet, since people who make anonymous threats are generally cowards, but this guy is such an asshole I'm going to find out who he is and press charges. From the various comments he's left, he's a grade A moron--hell, he even thinks Joan of all people is anti-Catalan. And, Mr. Puf, that sentence I wrote about Blog X was directed at the many non-Catalan readers of Iberian Notes, who unfortunately won't be able to enjoy Blog X because they don't know Catalan. Duh.
I couldn't resist this one.

Movie star Morgan Freeman's flying dreams have been dealt a severe blow - he has been grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for breaking altitude rules.

The 'Driving Miss Daisy' star was reprimanded when he failed to observe landing regulations at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, and now he has no idea when he'll be able to take off again.

The actor explains, "I'm being censored by the FAA and they're going to ground me. The hardest thing about flying is holding altitude. It's a three-dimensional effort."

"I was grounded because I was flying into Teterboro and it was a very busy day. In every airport they have what you call an approach which is how you're going to get in with step downs - flying technique for lowering altitude."

"But you don't go to these altitudes until you're told. So I'm going into Teterboro and I was at 3,000 feet coming down from an altitude of 21,000 feet. I'm looking at the approach plate, which reads what altitude your plane should be at, and it says I should be at 2,000 feet in the air. So I better get down there and I got down to 2,000 feet."

"And the control tower said, 'What are you doing?' And I said, 'I'm following the approach.' They said, 'You weren't cleared for 2,000 feet, go back up.' If you change your altitude by five hundred feet the computer automatically catches it."

Exactly how are they trying to censor him? Seems to me that getting your license pulled for breaking air traffic laws has more to do with, say, what goes on down at the Department of Motor Vehicles rather than the Hays Office.
I promised you a couple of good ones today. This is from Monday's La Vanguardia. It's by Toni Orensanz. The aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy is in the port of Tarragona for a couple of days and the sailors are getting a couple of days of rest and recreation. They have behaved themselves fairly well--I've seen no reports of anybody getting arrested or anything like that.

Off the subject: I know an Barcelona ex-cop, who's admittedly not all there in the head (literally and figuratively--he made a suicide attempt, stuck his pistol up under his chin and fired, and what he succeeded in doing was lobotomizing himself. He's pretty much bald, and he looks like somebody whacked him in the left front corner of the head with a golf club, at least going by the shape of the indentation where the bullet came out. He is the scariest guy I know), and he has an ethnic theory of crime. He says, and I'm of course paraphrasing, "Your typical small-time street hoods are Gypsies and Moroccans. The hash trade is in the Moroccans' hands, but the retail heroin trade is controlled by gypsies. Most armed robbers are junkies from around here. You get a lot of just plain street bums from Germany and Scandinavia, and every once in a while one of them gets murdered. The pills trade is run by the Dutch. Cocaine is South Americans. Prostitution--Eastern European mafia, who are responsible also for a lot of car theft and a good bit of general mayhem. British--alcoholics who get in street fights. Dutch and Scandinavian and German tourist drunks pass out all over the place. You Americans only cause problems when the Sixth Fleet comes to town, and what we used to do was just turn them over to the shore patrol, who could do something worse to them than we could ourselves." The thing is I've never heard of any serious misbehavior by US military guys in or around Barcelona, and I read the Vanguardia every day so I'm sure I'd be informed if there had been. Anyway, here's Orensanz's story. Read the first paragraph carefully and don't miss the last line.

John Robert, 21, is wearing a white short-sleeved T-shirt, jeans, and Michael Jordan sneakers. You're right: he's American, from Michigan, a sailor from the aircraft carrier JFK, anchored in the port of Tarragona until last weekend. He spent Thursday night alternating shots of bourbon with beer and his small eyes got smaller as he continued bending his elbow. At this time (seven in the evening) there were only warriors in the bar--an Irish pub in Roman Tarraco--loudly celebrating that their friend John had gotten behind the bar to get a photo along with a local beauty, the waitress, dark, a pink sweater. I don't know how many they killed over there in Iraq...

That's right, United States sailors are no different than a Nazi Einsatzgruppen. I believe this is known as "drawing a false moral equivalence".

I contemplate the scene from a table, accompanied as an observer by the sperm-breathéd smug asshole, actor Oriol Grau, a member of the platform Tarragona Heritage for Peace. Oriol suggests that I notice several details. The first: they smoke without stopping, anxiously, despite all the anti-tobacco campaigns "made in USA"...I know it may sound simplistic, but none of these guys seems like he ever killed a fly. They're young, well-built, more or less good-looking, closely shaven, some quiet, they laugh happily, they are friendly if you talk to them. Anybody would say they are happy. "And they're authentic machines, trained to kill," says Oriol. "Today you drink a beer, elbow-to-elbow with them, and tomorrow they could shoot you in the head, if they got the order." Even the worst of murderers might have the face of a child. Whether for good or for bad, only in the movies do the bad guys have the faces of bad guys...

Oriol, Oriol, Oriol. First, the guys in the Spanish military--or the Catalan police--would also shoot you in the head if somebody gave the order, which would never happen anyway because the Americans and Spaniards aren't in the habit of shooting civilians in the head, unlike certain armed forces and terrorist gangs I'm sure you've heard of. Secondly, it's funny that precisely these guys get damned as evil murderers by some wiseass who doesn't understand that he's allowed to have his debate about whether people should speak Catalan or not in Barcelona barber shops precisely because other guys like these made sure that it wasn't going to be German or Russian.

Tarragona seems like heaven to them. "It's not exactly like home, but at least there isn't any shooting around here, you can sit in a restaurant, buy something for your family, and see that normal life continues," says Officer Michael, a huge guy who wants to see his wife and two children back in Virginia. The war stays behind, with its days of eighteen to twenty hours on duty. One fact: From the JFK, airplanes that took off have dropped, nothing more and nothing less, than a mere 27,000 kilos of bombs.

Where they found warmth and attention is among the shopkeepers of Tarragona. The soldiers go to their "home, sweet homes", and the shopkeepers receive them with their arms and cash registers open. They collect among themselves around 500 million old pesetas in three days. "It's like a present from the Three Kings for the small businesses of Tarragona," says the president of Tarragona's small business association, Rafael Tatay. This si so true that the last time they came to tarragona, the shopkeepers demanded that a resident remove a banner he had hung on his balcony protesting the prisoners in Guantánamo. But while the shopkeepers were biting their fingernails so that the Yankee clientele wouldn't get indignant and run away scared, the Americans took photos with the slogan behind them. They found it surprising, maybe exotic.

"In my opinion, all these people would be welcome if they came as tourists, but the JFK is not a cruise ship, it is a weapon of mass destruction, a symbol of an unjust society, and part of an illegal war," says Oriol Grau. And it is a fact that last year the City Council declared Tarragona a "City Against War"...

Get the spin on this. First, the American sailors are unwitting dupes of an evil society that manipulates them and all of us in order to fight illegal wars. They are directly comparable to Nazi or Soviet soldiers, says this article. Second, the Tarragona shopkeepers are traitors who have sold out to the Yankees for 500 million pieces of silver. This is fun, accusing elements of your own society of betrayal of their principles.

There's no point at all in talking with someone with such an extreme attitude. I don't even bother engaging these guys in dialogue. I have better things to do. And, hey, Oriol, what's the story? Looking for a little attention? You haven't been on TV since about 1998, if I recall correctly. Got to get that career jump-started.

Here's what's really pissing Oriol Grau off. He was on a local TV show that tried to rip off the American style of talk show, and they had a moment in the sun and then everybody got tired of them because they ran out of ideas and they got cancelled. Obviously, Oriol watches Conan and Dave and Jay and even Jerry all the time, and he's just not anywhere near as talented as anyone on those programs' staffs, and he knows it. Oriol can't even get himself back on TV here, much less make it in the real world free of big subsidies from the Catalan government if you go so far as to jerk off while moaning in Catalan and call it performance art.

Stay tuned for tomorrow; I have one that's even better than this!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

You've probably heard that ETA has let off some more small-scale bombs around Spain. On Monday, at around 1:50 PM local time, bombs went off in Málaga, Ciudad Real, Ávila, Valladolid, León, Santillana de Mar, and Alicante. Thirteen people were slightly injured, none seriously. Not much damage was done. The cops think it's the work of two different cells without a fixed base, which means they should be very easy to catch. ETA is down to gangs of poorly trained kids. Aznar's strategy of the clampdown worked. I think part of ETA's problem is they're just not extremist or brutal enough any more, neither their tactics nor their objective. I mean, what with these massacres of Iraqi civilians by the terrorist insurgents, suicide bombers all over Israel, beheadings of innocents on Al Jazeera, and airplanes crashing into towers, ETA's '70s-style nihilism and violence seem almost quaint compared to what we're seeing east of Suez. An independent Marxist-Leninist racist/hypernationalist state in Euskal Herría? That just ain't shit compared to the complete destruction of Western civilization.

Laura Freixas has a rather lightweight column in yesterday's Vanguardia in which she comments on us gringos' national character. The headline is "Happy because of legal imperative".

For anyone coming from Europe, and especially if he lives in cities like Paris and Madrid, where you so often have to bite your tongue in order not to ask, "Do you charge extra to smile?" or to cite the Chinese saying, "If you don't know how to smile, don't open a shop", one of the most noticeable things about the United States is the cordiality of its inhabitants.

Fair enough. We do tend to be friendlier than some sourpuss Europeans, although there are certainly some rude, cranky bastards in the US. In the States, again, people from the Northeast and especially New York City have the reputation of being rude, though I personally have never been treated so rudely and scornfully in the US as I have in Los Angeles, which is overrun with snotty rich kids.

Your neighbor on the airplane will ask you where you're from and what you do, and he will entertain you on the long trip from Houston to Minneapolis telling you everything you ever wanted to know and had no one to ask about the American pension system, the field in which he works, or what life is like in Saudi Arabia, where he lives and teaches English. The stewardesses smile at you; the police joke with you while they check you out; the customs agent asks about the classes you're going to give according to your visa, and he laughs when, after telling you he knows nothing about literature, you reply that you certainly wouldn't be able to give a dissertation on the customs service; the shopgirl in any store wishes you "a nice day" with such warmth that you would swear she really means it, with all her heart...

You know, the shopgirl in the store probably really does mean it; you can tell whether she does or not by the way she says it. There's an attitude in the US of, hey, you don't want to hear about my problems, I'm sure you have plenty of your own, when you're dealing with someone casually. People often try to be as pleasant as possible because it makes your life and everybody else's much easier. The mistake many Europeans make is concluding that Americans are superficial because of this. Some Americans certainly are, just like everywhere else. Most folks, however, save their intimate emotions for home and family, and don't share them with people they don't know well.

As is well-known, the Declaration of Independence of the United States includes happiness among the rights of its citizens.

Hold it right there. Major misconception. People around the world will swear the US Declaration promises the right to happiness. It does no such thing. What it says is that everybody has the right to "life, liberty, and the PURSUIT of happiness." What "the pursuit of happiness" means is the right to do what you want, whatever you think will make you happy, unless your doing so interferes with somebody else's rights. Your success in pursuing happiness is by no means guaranteed. I may be a nitpicker, but I think it's important to get these things right. Anyway, the rest of the column becomes pretty silly, as Ms. Freixas opines that if we have the right to be happy, we should have the right to be unhappy too, as if anybody was going to try to regulate people's moods.

Wait till you see tomorrow's post. I have a couple of good ones.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

You know, I think there's more anti-Catalan feeling in the rest of Spain now than there was ten or fifteen years ago. This is, of course, ridiculous when you think about it; there's no point in being anti any national or ethnic group. Individual Catalan people have done absolutely nothing to individual people from the rest of Spain, and vice versa, and you would think we'd all get together and realize this. But no.

I think a lot of the anti-Catalan feeling originates among a fairly small group of extreme Spanish nationalists. They are angered by the idea that a few extreme Catalan nationalists consider that they are not Spanish. They feel rejected, since these Catalans have chosen to reject a Spanish identity. Something that always goes along with feeling rejected is the reaction that those who rejected you consider themselves superior to you. Spanish nationalists therefore expand their dislike of extreme Catalan nationalists into a dislike of anything Catalan, and vice versa. We think it's all pretty childish, and from our perspective it is, but we do some things that seem pretty childish to them, so I suppose it more or less balances out.

Since Catalonia is a good bit richer than most other regions of Spain, it kicks in more tax money than most other regions of Spain. Some Catalans resent this and call for the Catalan government to receive all the taxes collected in Catalonia, rather than only a part of them. This is considered non-solidarious and selfish by Spanish nationalists; Catalan nationalists conclude that less hard-working Spaniards are ripping them off through the tax system. Add to this the fact that Catalan nationalist political groups have been decisive in four of the last five Spanish legislatures (González's last two terms, Aznar's first term, and then Zapatero's new term), and you get some Spanish nationalists going around complaining that Catalonia is far too influential in Spanish afairs and needs to be taken down to size.

Recently we've seen an outburst of minor incidents that are all adding up together to provide a climate of irritation. A key issue, of all things, is the damn water plan. Remember? They were going to transport water from the Río Ebro down to Valencia and Murcia. Catalonia and Aragon bitterly opposed the measure, which was shot down when the Socialists won the last elections. So Valencia and the southeast are really p.o.ed at the Catalans. Another one is the damn sports teams. Some Catalan nationalists really, really want their own sports teams. Spanish nationalists will not tolerate this attempt at athletic separatism. There's no middle ground on this question, and a lot of Spanish nationalists are feeling triumphant right now. It's goddamn roller hockey, for Jesus H. Christ's everloving sake. Add to that the stink about whether the Valencian dialect is a form of Catalan or its own language, and the extreme Catalan nationalists' very irresponsible public outcry against the new European Constitution because it doesn't recognize Catalan as an official language, and you've got mucho bad feeling building up on both sides.

Then that demagogue Carod-Rovira, who is completely irresponsible, went off and demanded that Catalonia not support Madrid's bid for the 2012 Olympics in revenge for alleged pressure applied by Spanish nationalists to the goddamn international roller-hockey federation. Everybody agrees that was just going too far, even most Catalanistas. So did Carod do something to soothe the savage breast, like say apologize? Of course not. Then some fuel was added to the fire when the Catalan wine-growers' association (heavily subsidized by the Generalitat) made much publicity of the "fact" that Catalan wines had beaten out Rioja wines in allegedly blind taste tests that they paid for. Reaction? There's a grass-roots Spanish nationalist campaign now going around calling for a boycott of cava, Catalan sparkling wine, at Christmas this year.


Sorry. Hope I made myself clear.

Wine suggestions: I'm no wine snob. I like inexpensive wine. Not wine-in-a-box, you know, stuff that comes in bottles with corks and costs five bucks or so. If you want red, try Torres Sangre de Toro and Raimat Cabernet Sauvignon from Catalonia, Señorio de Sarriá from Navarra, and Campo Viejo, Siglo, and Marqués de Caceres from La Rioja. For whites, Alella Marfil, Torres Viña Sol, Marqués de Monistrol, and the no-name stuff that comes from Verdú that we buy in four-liter jugs out in the pueblo are all just fine. They're all from Catalonia. I like Anna de Codorniu, Segura Viudas, and Torelló Brut Nature cavas.