Thursday, April 28, 2005

I'd be commenting more often but there's not much to comment on. It's been a slow week in the news. No deal yet on the next Basque government. Housing prices are through the roof, 15% per year; the areas seeing especially high growth are Castilla-La Mancha, probably due to expansion of the Madrid metropolitan area, and Murcia, newly prosperous territory in the southeast. This looks good for us, since we're locked into a five-year lease on this place, and they can't raise the rent, while Remei has her mother's apartment in Barcelona and the house in the country, whose value is skyrocketing. Immigration is up to almost 9% of Spain's population, a dramatic change very quickly. Ten years ago there weren't many immigrants and the ones there were were your standard Moroccans and Latin Americans. Now we got all those people and Eastern Europeans and Africans and Chinese and Pakistanis as well. Hey, I'm all in favor. Barcelona's much more vibrant than it used to be and a lot of the reason is the immigrants. They're really not used to all these foreigners around here, though, and there are going to be some conflicts. I'm optimistic; I think immigrants are going to fit in here pretty well. There are a good few pessimistic voices out there, though. I'll try to go into this more in detail in the next post.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

I know I'm harping on the subject, but it has occurred to me that I have posted many criticisms of the United States on this blog. Here's one from Lincoln's birthday, Feb. 12, 2004:

An important branch of our family--the Chappells, Colleys, Whitneys, Shannons--originates in the town of Paris, Texas, which was a hotbed of lynching; in fact, the burning of Henry Smith on January 31, 1893, at Paris, is possibly the single most notorious mob murder of all. Smith was a retarded black man accused of killing and raping a young girl. He escaped to Hope, Arkansas, Bill Clinton's hometown, just a hundred miles up the road, where a posse caught him. He was taken back to Paris by train, where a crowd of at least 10,000 turned out to see his death. It was well-planned; a scaffold was built so the crowd could see, and special trains were run to Paris from as far away as Dallas and Fort Smith, along with the posse's train, full of spectators from Texarkana and Clarksville. Here is a contemporary account. You probably don't want to see this picture.

Here is a list of black men lynched in Paris:

William Armor, John Ransom, John Walker, September 6, 1892
Unidentified man, September 19, 1892
Henry Smith, January 31, 1893
Jefferson Cole, August 26, 1895
George Carter, February 11, 1901
J. H. McClinton, December 25, 1901
Henry Monson, January 27, 1913
Irving Arthur, Herman Arthur, July 6, 1920

That's eleven men killed by lynch mobs in one small Southern town. In addition, during this period, there were three lynchings in neighboring Red River county and one in neighboring Delta county. Of course, I suppose that some of the people who participated in or witnessed these lynchings were ancestors of mine. Our folks were lower-middle class farmers; they owned their land but had no money or social status. These were precisely the people most likely to join lynch mobs. However, these are not the kind of family stories that your grandma passes on to you.

Anyway, I have no illusions about human nature.
If you've been reading the Spain Herald religiously as you ought to be doing, you'll be up on the news from over here. If not, I'll fill you in briefly: Parliament passed gay marriage, which includes the right for gay couples to marry--not "enter into civil unions", marry--AND adopt children. I've been going back and forth on gay marriage. Most of the time I figure, hey, no sweat, if they want to get married it's no skin off my nose, and so few people are gay (3% or so, not Kinsey's 10%) and relatively few of them are going to get married, and even fewer of them will want to adopt children. As for adopting kids, I figure that being raised by a couple of alternative lifestyle guys who actually want the kid is probably better than a lot of situations a lot of kids find themselves in now. Some of the time, though, I'm against it, mostly when I get pissed off at Andrew Sullivan.

The Socialist administration is going to do something very intelligent, for once, which is to make divorce easier. Right now it's a difficult and expensive morass of red tape. Supposedly they're also going to make abortion easier to get, which might kick up a real storm of opposition. I bet they get away with gay marriage and divorce and don't even bring up abortion. If they do it'll blow up in their hands. Right now abortion is effectively available in Spain. No point in staking any of your political credibility on the subject.

Anyway, it looks like the lavender marriage thing will go into effect sometime this summer. Prepare for Joan Clos and Inma Mayol to make a big scene about presiding over the first gay marriage in Barcelona. Rocco Buttiglione will not be invited. What I wonder is how the Spanish Socialists and Communists can balance out their Castro-love with their newfound respect for diversity, because Castro, of course, persecutes gays.

Meanwhile, the media is making a big stink about the Pentagon investigation concluding the Abu Ghraib tortures were an isolated incident, a unit gone out of control, and exculpating general Ricardo Sanchez and three of his aides. TV3 took advantage of the opportunity to compare the situation at Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, and to rerun the photos, of course. The two cases are totally different. At Guantanamo, remember, the prisoners there are Al Qaeda / Taliban captured in Afghanistan, and the controversy is whether the techniques used there, under higher-up supervision, such as sleep deprivation, getting cold water thrown over you, etc. in order to get suspects to talk, count as torture. The details about this were made public by the US military; Heather Mac Donald is the best source on this. The victims at Abu Ghraib were Iraqis, possibly innocent, not under interrogation, and their treatment was unknown to higher-ups and most certainly not authorized. There's no controversy. Everyone agrees that what happened at Abu Ghraib was torture, there's no dispute over that, and as far as I can tell those responsible have been punished.

That idiot Pasqual Maragall has now suggested that Catalonia should join the Francophonie. God knows why. He's also proposed that French should be the "second language" taught in schools, which I assume would put it ahead of both Spanish and English. Brilliant.

They're trying 24 alleged dirtbags who formed part of the Spanish connection in the September 11, 2001 bombings. Three of them, Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, "Abu Dada"", Driss Chebli, and Ghasub Al Abrash Ghayoun, are charged with being direct accomplices in the attacks. Abu Dada is connected to all the Islamist cells turned up so far in Spain, including the bombers of the trains on March 11, 2004. Two others are accused of personally preparing Mohammed Atta at the meeting held in Salou in June 2001, when the date for the plan to go off was set. Abu Dada was arrested two months after 9-11, and Spain has arrested more than 150 suspected Islamist terrorists since the attacks. The trial is expected to go on for months and set a precedent for the trial of those accused in the March 11 bombings, to be held in spring 2006.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

I haven't commented much lately because we've been busy at the Spain Herald this week and I can only spend so much time in front of the computer.

Everybody knows all about the new Pope. I think Ratzinger was a pretty good choice, conservative and in John Paul II's tradition, but not crazy like, say, Lefevre. He's certainly got the intellectual credentials. Now maybe there won't be much Vatican news for the next few years, which would be a good thing because I am heartily tired of this story. The Vanguardia has literally been running 10-12 pages daily on the subject. Now, this is understandable because the Vangua is very pro-Church and they make no bones about it, but everybody's been playing it up big-time.

The Basque elections went off fairly cleanly. The main problem has been this: Batasuna, ETA's front political party, was outlawed a couple of years ago by the Supreme Court under the Political Parties Act, which says that it's illegal for a political party to support terrorism. Batasuna's representatives were kicked out of the Basque Parliament, party offices were closed down, etc. So what they did, what they always do, was to change the name. First they set up a front group called AG, which stood for something like Aukera Gurriak. The Zapatero administration challenged their candidacy in court on the grounds it was a Batasuna front, a front for a front, and the court agreed and banned them. AG has not been heard from since. So they set up front group number two, called the PCTV, the Communist Party of the Basque Lands, and the Zap administration did not challenge them even though they're just as obviously Batasuna as AG was.

So the PCTV won nine seats out of the 75 in the Basque parliament. The total breakdown of seats is: Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) 29 seats, down four over their total in the 2001 election; Basque Socialist Party (PSE-PSOE) 18 seats, up 5; People's Party (PP) 15 seats, down 4; PCTV 9 seats, up 2; Basque Communist Party (EB-IU, traditional Communists) 3 seats, no change; Aralar (a nonviolent split off Batasuna) 1, up one.

What this means is that there are several possibilities to form a government. Probably the most likely is that the PNV will govern alone from the minority, making pacts as necessary. Second most likely is some sort of understanding between the PNV and the Socialists; I doubt they will openly form a coalition and split up the Cabinet posts, though they might. Third most likely is an arrangement between the PNV and the PCTV. The problem here is that the PNV would thereby burn its bridges in the Madrid parliament, where it has some influence, because joining up with the terrorists would not go over well there at all. Theoretically a Socialist-PP-Communist-Aralar coalition would only get 37 seats against a PNV-PCTV total of 38, and both the real Communists and Aralar are more likely to ally with the nationalists than the two "Spanish" parties.

Another thing this means is that the Ibarretxe Plan is dead, since the Ibarretxe administration had pretty much campaigned on the idea that last Sunday's election was a referendum on the Plan. Well, Ibarretxe's party lost five seats. Even Ibarretxe admits that if the election was a referendum, the Plan lost.

There is an unfortunate trend in country music toward doing bluegrass covers of classic rock tunes. I think Dwight Yoakam kicked it off ten years ago or so when he covered "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," which actually made sense because it's kind of a country song in the original version. Then somebody did a good cover of "Fat Bottom Girls", which again is basically a country-blues tune when you get down to it. Then the poo hit the fan and somebody did a whole album called "Lonesome Skynyrd Time" in bluegrass, which took the concept a little bit too far, but still kind of makes sense because there was of course a lot of country in Skynyrd. Then this group called Hayseed Dixie (get it?) came out with a bunch of bluegrass AC/DC covers, and the joke was funny the first couple of times you heard it. Then they got popular and did Motorhead's "Ace of Spades" not-really-in-bluegrass, which became a big hit and officially made country covers of rock songs uncool. Now there's a whole bluegrass tribute album to the Moody Blues, of all awful bands, and they just played "Knights in White Satin" on KHYI. We don't need this.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

I don't normally deign to go out of my way to write posts responding to critics in the Comments section, but I am going to make an exception in this case. I am annoyed by people who accuse me of insulting Barcelona, Catalonia, and/or Spain. I would not live here if I did not like it. As a matter of fact, I could earn a lot more money if I went back to the States, assuming my mental health held up.

To demonstrate that I have written many positive things about Spain, let's pick two months more or less at random, one from the early days of this blog and one from recent times, specifically avoiding "big news" months like the Iraq war, the March 11 bombing and subsequent election, and the November 2004 US election.

Here's some stuff from June 2003.

I have been accused of speaking scornfully of Catalan intellectuals. But, come on, if this is the best they can do, no amount of scorn is unjustified. And remember, Baltasar Porcel is the Official Catalan Candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Wouldn't it be great if they actually gave it to him one of these years?

OK, that actually was pretty snarky, but we are talking about Baltasar Porcel here.

As I've said before, Iberian Notes does not take sides on the Spanish Civil War. We're in favor of the victims and against the killers. That means we detest both sides, the revolutionaries and the reactionaries, equally.

That should take care of those who call us Francoists.

They actually had a cool anti-war protest here in Barcelona. First there was a manifesto that was a typical anti-Yankee tantrum, but then they read Lysistrata, the comedy by Aristophanes in which the women of a city at war refuse sex to their husbands until they stop the war. Well-known local actors, to whom I will give no publicity, were the readers. That's pretty classy; I much prefer Greek theater to the normal fare at a demo.

Isn't that pretty tolerant of me?

One of the reasons I appreciate Spain is its tolerance for cannabis use. I think it might be because all working-class men and most middle-class men over about 30 years old have done military service, and they learned to smoke dope in the Spanish Army. No kidding. There wasn't anything else to do, and Spain controlled northern Morocco (including the Rif, where more dope is grown than anywhere else in the world) until 1956 and the Spanish Sahara, due south of Morocco, until 1975. Spain still controls Ceuta and Melilla, outposts on the coast of the Rif, and the Canary Islands, just a few miles off the Moroccan coast. Andalusia is a short boat ride from the heart of the Rif. All these guys who were in the Army smoked dope, and they learned from personal experience that it's no big deal. Therefore they don't think it's some sort of evil monster.

See? I said Spain's policy on cannabis was better than America's.

I love Barcelona. I really do. Hey, just a couple of days ago it was Corpus Christi, and they have a cool local tradition: on Corpus, in the fountains in the city's several medieval cloisters, they place an egg on top of the spout and the water plays with it; I assume the inside of the egg is blown out first. Anyway, though, the egg is continuously held aloft by the water spouting up. It's called "l'ou com balla"--"the dancing egg". It's pretty to see inside the cloisters at Santa Anna or Felip Neri or Sant Pau. But I bloody well hate the verbena de San Juan, St. John's Eve. San Juan is a big holiday in Catalonia and they blow off tons of fireworks and everybody goes out and parties their asses off. There is an excellent fireworks display every year, but my problem is that every single kid in Catalonia is blowing off hundreds of firecrackers per second even as I speak.I don't like big crowds or loud noises. They make me nervous. They frighten the cats. And I don't like party nights when everybody goes out and gets wasted en masse. It's amateur night, a whole lot of people who aren't used to drinking hitting it way too hard and getting smashed and puking all over the place and starting fights and generally acting like a bunch of morons. Conclusion: If you like going out and wandering the streets and getting trashed and spending lots of money and being subjected to sharp loud noises and getting puked on, San Juan is your night. I will admit that the city's fireworks display is pretty spectacular for people who like that sort of thing. But except for that, I stay home on the night of San Juan.

That's pretty positive, isn't it? And the part that isn't positive is affectionate toward everybody but drunks. Also, anybody who doubts I know my way around town ought to be convinced by that little post.

This article from the Telegraph about street crime in Barcelona is sadly all too true. Muggings, pickpocketings, and purse-snatchings are much too common. Tourists who appear to be well-off are the main--really only--targets. Locals are rarely molested. The main culprits are Arab street kids. This is not racism. It is a fact. Holes in the Spanish legal and judicial system prevent us from either locking up the little bastards or deporting them. Yes, they were born poor--they now have plenty of ill-gotten cash and flashy name-brand sports clothes--and have had crappy lives. No, that doesn't give them the right to victimize those people who were not born poor and have not had crappy lives.

That isn't positive at all. However, if you read the whole post, some of which will piss you off, you will see that it is CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. That is, it identifies a serious problem and calls for action. It is not bitching for the sake of bitching. It shows that I care, because if I did not care I wouldn't have wasted my time alerting people to something that very badly needs to be fixed.

Anecdote. A couple of years ago I was in KC and I went to get my drivers license renewed six months before it ran out. The clerk down at the DMV got a little suspicious and asked why. I replied that I was going abroad and just wanted to make sure I had a valid license. She asked where and I said Spain. She said, "Oh, you'd better watch out in Barcelona, it seems like half the people who come in here for new licenses got robbed in Barcelona." If the first thing that comes to the mind of a typical, standard American, a clerk at the Kansas Department of Motor Vehicles, when she thinks of Spain, is "Barcelona is dangerous" and not "Spain is beautiful", then we've got a problem, Houston. Over and out.

This is another paragraph from the same post. Is this criticism constructive or not? Do I want to make things better or do I just not care?

Aznar, however, is scrupulously democratic and has been so ever since he discovered sensible conservative politics during his university days. If he were American he'd fit well into the moderate Republicans. He'd be rather left for a Republican on government spending issues. Aznar might also fit in pretty well with the Democrat "far right", but those Charlie Stenholm Texas wheeler-dealer guys might be too corrupt for his taste. See, one of the things Aznar did was to clean up the Spanish conservative wing, getting rid of old Franquistas and local caciques. The most famous to fall were Cantabria's Juan Hormaechea, who did some jail time, and the PP's Balearic confederation, up to their eyeballs in corrupt construction-development sleaze. By the way, several notable people who later joined the Socialists also worked in the government under Franco. To be fair, these were "technocratic" administration rather than ideological guys--somebody's got to take charge of the country's finances, for example, whether we've got a dictatorship or not. Two examples are former economics minister Miguel Boyer and the late former foreign minister, Paco Ordonez. Boyer has now jumped the Socialist sinking ship and is considered close to the PP.

Is this a reasonable conservative take on recent Spanish politics or not? Remember it was written while Aznar was still in power, in June 2003.

This damn Gibraltar thing--the Spaniards consider Gibraltar España Irridenta and they want it very badly. They consider the current situation, with Britain owning Gibraltar, intolerable and unacceptable. They also know they can't go to war with the Brits over this. So they continually pressure the British, and everybody else who might have some influence over them, to turn over Gib. Now, the problem is that 99% of the Giblets don't want to be turned over to Spanish sovereignty, and the British can't just turn 'em over without their say-so. This isn't like it was Hong Kong or something. Or, more accurately, Spain ain't China. Next thing the Arabs are going to start yelling for Gib to be turned over to them, since they did, after all, hold it from 711 to 1492, while Spain only held it between 1492 and 1714.

I wouldn't call that positive or negative. It's history. Is it unfair? Am I lying?

American Movies Most Overplayed on Spanish TV: 7. All those slapstick parody movies with Leslie Nielsen 6. Those damn Chevy Chase vacation movies 5. Thelma and Louise 4. Fried Green Tomatoes 3. Those pieces of crap with Clint Eastwood and the ape 2. The Shawshank Redemption 1. Mississippi Burning

What's wrong with that?

We preview Barcelona life in the immediate future
by Alan Murphy and John Chappell

All Barcelonans will be obliged to appear naked at the Diagonal Mar Fine Arts and Sustainable Urbanism Peace Camp at 6.25 AM tomorrow for the inauguration of the “International Workshop on Gender-neutral Encounter on Clothes-Optional Peace and Arts Sustainable Governability Project for Solidarity”. Organic pita bread and garlic-lentil casserole will be served for breakfast. All citizens must bring their pita-bread ration card, from which two Forum Solidarity Points will be subtracted.Those with “NO TO WAR” already tattooed on their left buttock cheek will be exempted from the Semiotic-Workshop on Body Messaging this evening. Those who have not yet fulfilled their solidarious commitment will have the message tattooed this evening. All citizens with surnames A-M will report to the Rigoberta Menchu Tattooage and Ethical Body-Piercing Commissariat at the site of the Lenin Barracks in Plaza Espanya by 22.00. Those with surnames N-Z will report to The Jose Saramago Forumization and High-Colonic Enema Institute, at the Port Olympic, also before 22.00. Failure to comply will result in obligatory attendance at the Sustainability of Solidarian Forum-Thought, to be held at the Manresa Rock Quarry from August 1-31 2004. As you all know, our right buttocks are being reserved for the “ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE” message to be inscribed there for the gala Closing Ceremony. Expect another directive on this during September.

Yours in solidarity,

I thought that was funny. I understand if you don't, but it's not offensive or anything.

Now here's one for Andrew Sullivan's Sontag Award. It's Paul Auster, who is very popular here among our local Illustrated and Enlightened--a good rule of thumb regarding fiction is if the Barcelona critics like it, it's probably a bunch of pretentious crap.

OK, that was pretty snarky, too, but I stand by it. I agree that the New York and London critics are equally obnoxious.

Auster, by the way, shows his philistinism regarding Spanish culture when he states he is going to Madrid to meet Pedro Almódovar and then to Granada to see Lorca's house. Oh, jeez, has any American ever heard of any Spanish writers except García Lorca, who is massively overrated and is still known--not read by anyone but Spanish lit majors, though--today largely because of the manner of his death? Trust me, people, forget all that crap about how Lorca reaches down into the soul of Spain and puts the depth of sensitivity of the pueblo de España into words on the printed page. Spare me that "Verde que te quiero verde" stuff. And I personally wouldn't bother crossing the street to talk to Almódovar. We'd have nothing to say to one another. He would hate me and I probably wouldn't like him.

See, my point here is that I LIKE, admire, and respect Spanish culture--there's so much more in Spanish lit than Lorca that most English-speakers know nothing about. I don't like Lorca. Of other 20th-century Spanish authors, I prefer Unamuno, both Machados, Juan Ramon Jimenez, Pio Baroja, Josep Pla, Eduardo Mendoza, even Miguel Hernandez and Camilo Jose Cela and Merce Rodoreda. Among many others. Spain's 2oth century literary record is excellent. And I don't like Almodovar, but I wouldn't like him if he were, say, Bulgarian either. The guy who really gets dissed in this post is none other than American author Auster.

There's bad news today regarding two of Spain's biggest social problems, illegal immigration and domestic violence. Nine immigrants drowned when their raft sank off the Canary Isle of Fuerteventura, the island closest to the Moroccan coast. So far in 2003 ten rafts are known to have sunk, with 67 confirmed dead or missing and presumed dead. These statistics include 15 drowned off Fuerteventura in January and 12 drowned from a raft found between Tenerife and Grand Canary in February. Yet the Spanish media go wild when a truck full of illegal Mexicans get found dead somewhere in West Texas. The problem in both countries seems to be the same to me; more people want to come to Spain and the US than, at least some believe, either country can handle. As long as that attitude persists, there will be illegal immigration and some illegal immigrants will die, since illegal immigration is by definition dangerous and full of low criminals likely to take your money and dump you in the sea under the pretext of guiding you to the promised land. By the way, Iberian Notes strongly supports the execution of "coyotes" who abandon their "clients" to die. That's first-degree premeditated murder with the aggravating factors of extortion and breach of promise. Hang them. They're scum.

More than forty people have died in Spain this year as victims of domestic violence. Yesterday, in the crummy part of the Sant Andreu working-class area of Barcelona, a man beat his common-law wife to death with a hammer. The two were fiftyish alcoholics. They had met seven months ago and she invited him to live with her, since he had nowhere to go. The two argued and fought all the time, according to the neighbors, and threats of violence were heard several times by different witnesses. The cops spent a lot of time breaking up fights at their place. Once she locked him out and he took off all his clothes and pounded on her door until three in the morning (there's the pacifism and tranquility of nudism for you). She finally got a restraining order. Not much later he jumped her from behind when she opened the street door to her apartment building; he was waiting inside and clubbed her to death with a hammer. She had been out walking her dogs. The reporters point out that the dogs, found in a state of shock by the woman's body, immobile and trembling, were the only so-called irrational animals in this story. This, of course, is another case of premeditated murder with aggravating circumstances, including violating a restraining order and breaking and entering to get into her building. There's no insanity defense since he knew what he was doing and knew that it was wrong. Hang him. He's scum.

This is not insulting. This is news. These are social problems. I point out that the same problems exist in America. I also slam the hypocrisy of certain elements of the Spanish media on this question. Well?

One Spencer Tunick, a New York "artist", called upon the people of Barcelona to come out and get photographed nude en masse. 15,000 people signed up and 7000 actually came out--at four in the morning--to get naked and get photographed on Avenida María Cristina near Montjuic. They're saying it's the "greatest collective artistic nudity" in history, breaking the record of some 4000 naked leftovers from the Sixties set by Tunick himself in Melbourne. Anyway, at 6:20 AM, Tunick decided the light was correct and posed the crowd two different ways, lying on their backs and curled up in a fetal position. He was finished by 7:45.

Says our intrepid reporter, Justo Barranco, "The most generalized feeling was that it was strange that the situation didn't seem strange," "We, all together, feel surprisingly like brothers and sisters," "Blai, a young teacher who came with his boyfriend, said, 'I thought it would be like a dream in which you wake up and you're naked and everyone else is too'," "People began doing "the wave" and shouting 'No to the war'," and "(Tunick) reminded us of the paradox that in Barcelona his work is celebrated as an "artistic happening" while in his country, the United States, and in his city, New York, it would have been considered a crime."

Oh, geez, here it is again, that part of the American Black Legend that says we are puritanical philistines. Nobody would have said boo if Mr. Alleged Artist put on his show in Central Park as long as he had a municipal permit, which they would have given him in the holy name of Art. It's New York. They've seen everything. This would be no big deal there, certainly not front-page news in the local newspapers. If he'd tried to put this crap on in Central Park, though, the Great Unwashed would have stood around in enormous crouds hooting and hollering and generally making fun of the stupid assholes who get up at four in the morning and get naked in the chill dawn in order to promote the notoriety of (and make money for) a fraud calling himself an artist. Our New York volunteers would not have enjoyed themselves nearly as much as the collection of pseuds, wannabes, and phonies who make up our city's element of the Illustrated and the Enlightened and who showed up at Montjuic.

Is it not a good thing to make fun of these people? I mean, come on, standing around naked for almost four hours before dawn is not very smart.

Manuel Trallero, the Vangua's gadfly, blows the whistle in his column in today's edition in an article titled "Catalunya racista".

"One of the most extraordinary things that has happened recently is that the so-called Plataforma per Catalunya has managed to win City Council seats in several Catalan municipalities, among them Vic. The fact that a xenophobic and racist organization has obtained such a result has seemed to all of us the most normal and natural thing in the world. No one has been screaming to the heavens or rending his garments. As usual in Catalonia, nothing happens around here.There is a perverse logic according to which, if there are immigrants, the logical result is racism. Racism in Catalonia is no longer socially looked down upon, it's not politically incorrect anymore. The attempts of the media of communication to hide their heads under their wings have failed.It isn't just that Mr. Anglada has won his first council members--Mr. Le Pen started off in France in exactly the same way--it is that anything goes against the immigrants. From the president of the Generalitat (Jordi Pujol) who blames them for the possible disappearance of Catalan--blames them, precisely those who just got here-- and who minimizes the violence in Can Anglada over and over, to the (racist) public statements of his honorable wife (Marta Ferrusola), or those of the former leader of the (ultraCatalanist) Republican Left, Mr. Heribert Barrera, who still holds his well-deserved medal awarded by Parliament, or the evacuation of a few immigrants camped out in the Plaza Catalunya, decreed one summer by (Communist) vice-mayor Mrs. Inma Mayol ("Chemical Inma") while the real mayor was out of town, while the workers of the Sintel company, all white, of course, camp out on the Paseo de la Castellana in Madrid as long as they feel like it.We've accepted that all this is normal, habitual, everyday, and that it forms part of us, ourselves. That is why Mr. Llauradó has committed the offense of raising suspicions when he denounced that Mr. Bassat did not use his second surname in order to hide his Jewish origin. This is an attack of, pure and simple, anti-Semitism, which anywhere in Europe would have provoked an enormous scandal, but here has been unnoticed.We still have the consolation that, if the cases of woman-battering are higher in Catalonia than in the rest of Spain, it is not because we Catalans are stupider and more violent (más energúmenos) than the Spaniards, but because our women are braver in calling the police. We Catalans, according to some, are seen as racists because we admit it, while the Spaniards keep their mouths shut. All I can say is good for them."

That is pretty critical. Manuel Trallero wrote it, not me.

Can we pass a law forcing members of the Basque Nationalist Party to be those who clean up the blood and guts and human hands blasted onto rooftops that ETA leaves lying all around Spain? Yes, Mr. Zugazugatxoia, that's you. Please pick up that severed hand and carry it down, the coroner is waiting, and then use these paper towels to mop up the blood and collect the bone fragments. Now may we have your reaction towards the latest ETA atrocity? You still seeking to remedy the root causes of the discontent of the oppressed Basque people, who are as wealthy and privileged and free as any group of people in the Western world, before worrying about arresting murderers and breaking up their support groups? Don't puke all over that hand, we need it for evidence, and we hear the widow wants to bury it along with the rest of her husband later.

That was pretty critical of certain people. Anyone out there disagree with me? Anyone deny that this post shows I hate ETA and care about the people who are ETA's victims and who deserve to live?

(In my mother-in-law's village, Montoliu de Segarra, they shot the priest. He was apparently fingered by two locals who were in the POUM, and a POUM hit squad came down from Cervera. My mother-in-law really detests the POUM even though it was Franco who put her dad in prison. She kind of gets the point of the brutality of the Franco regime--she hates Franco, too, but in a different way--but she doesn't understand the seemingly random killing of the POUM. --JC)

That's history. And my mother-in-law's real feelings.

Here's part of a fisking of a piece from Slate. My comments are in parentheses.

The first wave of oppression followed the Carlist Wars of the 19th century, after the Basques supported the losing cause of the pretender Don Carlos. (Because the Basques were reactionary rural Catholics and so was Carlos. They lost a lot of their autonomy after the defeat of the Carlists, but "oppression" is a pretty loaded word.) Things got much worse under Generalissimo Francisco Franco, who came to power after the Spanish Civil War and outlawed the speaking of Euskara. (Franco's dictatorship was unpleasant but not horrible, and speaking Basque at home and in private, and at church or among friends was never outlawed, nor could it be. By the Fifties published works in Basque were appearing again and a network of ikastolas, schools that teach both the Basque language and nationalistic politics, had been founded.) This repression led to the creation of ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna—"Basque Homeland and Liberty") in 1959. (The above is a pretty cheap-ass justification for turning loose a terrorist gang to kill as it pleases.) Though the Basque region was granted considerable autonomy after Franco's death, a small faction of separatists, (how about the T-word? Where's the T-word? The ETA are a bunch of Ts) who believe their culture is threatened, continues to fight for complete independence. There have been 839 people killed as a result of ETA attacks since 1968. (About 839 too many.)There are about 600,000 fluent Euskara speakers in Basque Country today, with the vast majority on the Spanish side, and another 400,000 speak Euskara as a second language—there has been a tremendous Euskara revival in Basque schools over the past two decades. (Still, most students in the Basque country study in Spanish, and most people who aren't born into a Basque-speaking family stay with Spanish. About a quarter of the Basques, maximum, can communicate in Basque.) A sign of the Basques' pride in their tongue is their word for themselves, Euskaldunak—"possessors of the Basque language." (That won't save you from getting murdered by the ETA, though, as José María Korta found out.)

Any complaints about my commentary? Any lies there? Any doubt that my sympathy is with Jose Maria Korta and the other ETA victims? Does anyone think I don't want to make Spain a better place? And have any of you done as much as I have to condemn terrorism? Remember, people around the world read this blog, 200 to 400 daily, and some of them are American and British journalists and diplomats and business people. I've affected their ideas. I've also received threats. Have you?

Friday, April 15, 2005

Andy Robinson in Tuesday's La Vanguardia: "Opinion and lack of rigor define new journalism in US". Methinks this is a case of that old cliché about people in glass houses and stones. Andy takes advantage of the opportunity to accuse the Bush administration of "poisoning the coverage of the war in Iraq by using anonymous sources."

We're getting better at doing things at the Spain Herald. I think if you follow the Herald's news coverage every day you'll have some kind of idea of what's going on in Spain, though of course our news stories are not neutral. They are, however, honest. I've never seen Herald management intentionally publish a lie.

The main problem with the Herald is now the same problem that exists in all aspects of Spanish politics: too damn much stress on symbolism. I think the stress on symbolism here comes from several sources:

1) Leftover behavior from the Franco regime, which marked both the right and the left before 1975; the majority of media bigwigs had their opinions formed before Franco's death. Under Franco (at least post-1955 or so) the press was semi-free; there were some things they could not do, like criticize Franco or the army or the Church, but they did have some liberty. One thing they were allowed to do was make a big deal out of symbolism, and so all kinds of ceremonies and flag-raisings and parades and official meetings got massive coverage, much more than they deserved, and they were interpreted by the Spanish press in the same way Kremlinologists used to look at photos of the Soviet leadership and base elaborate theories on who was standing next to Brezhnev. This has held over and won't go away until media outlets are run by people born after about 1965, too young to remember much about Franco.

2) There's not really a whole hell of a lot of major news in Spain. It's a country of 40 million people, and it's sort of comparable with California in population, size, GDP, lifestyle, and climate. And military power. Considerably less happens here than in California, though, because Spain doesn't have an international metropolis like Los Angeles. When you get past foreign policy, economics and business, and terrorism, not much happens around here except for your typical domestic politics stuff which is not of great interest to most people. The media therefore blows up little things of symbolic importance only in order to have something to write about.

3) The Spanish media is openly biased, with the biggest split between the right-wingers (the COPE) and the lefties (SER) on the radio; government-subsidized TV and radio, whether national or regional, are of course run by the government and say what the government wants them to say. This means every media outlet has a bone to pick with somebody, and when there's nothing important going on they'll inflate little things in order to have something to slam the other side with.

4) This is a country where one of the biggest political issues, regional nationalism, is mostly symbolism. Who gives a rat's patoot whether butcher shops have to label their merchandise in Catalan? Does it matter whether a bunch of old papers are archived in Salamanca or Barcelona? People to whom nationalism is important care a lot. Now, the regions have plenty of autonomy and anyway Spain is a democracy inside the EU, so there's nothing really important to complain about--so they make a big deal of whose flag should fly over the Manresa city hall or which politician didn't show up for whatever demonstration.

5) This is a country which is still deeply divided between right and left over historical issues, especially the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime. People my age remember Franco and lots of people who are 75 or 80 remember the Civil War--and nobody is finished with the fight. Physically, yeah, it's all over, but ideologically it isn't, so big stinks are made over things like whether to remove old plaques on walls with references to the regime on them. Every time they get a chance to commemorate or not commemorate something, a big deal is of course made.

6) Spanish people love demonstrations. They'll organize a demo at the drop of a hat, and mostly for pretty dumb reasons. My favorites are the ones they hold when somebody gets stabbed, strangled, or shot in order to show they're against it. I mean, who's in favor of people getting murdered? This is not precisely a controversial issue. This means that they're willing to go out and march over the name of a street or whether a statue ought to be removed or whose national anthem ought to be played before a soccer game. Or, get this, whether Catalonia ought to have its own roller-hockey team. My attitude is that anybody who thinks roller-hockey is a real sport ought to be forced to go through one NFL practice, but that's just me.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Barcelona got beat fair and square by Real Madrid last night, 4-2, in another exciting game from our boys in blue and red. Unfortunately, the last few exciting games they've turned in have not had incredibly positive results: eliminated from the Champions League by Chelsea, held to a tie at home by Betis, and now a loss at Madrid. Not much to worry about, though, since Barcelona controls its own destiny. They have a six-point lead plus the goal-average, effectively seven points, since if Barça and Madrid end up tied for first place Barça wins out. There are 21 points, seven games, in play, and neither team faces a particularly difficult schedule for the rest of the year.

Barcelona started out very weak on defense again, and Zidane and Ronaldo scored on headers within the first twenty minutes. This is exactly what happened against Betis and Chelsea, allowing the other team to get ahead early. This two-goal lead allowed Madrid to play conservatively, strong on defense (Gravesen was particularly good, and Helguera had probably his best game of the season) and looking for the fast break. Barcelona had a lot of chances at goal but could not seem to score until Etoo recovered a loose ball and poked it in for 2-1. Madrid then scored on another fast break that Raul knocked in right before halftime for 3-1, and it looked like it was pretty much all over.

After the half, Barça came out fighting but just could not seem to score. They had at least eight or nine chances and muffed them all. Meanwhile, Owen, who had an excellent game, as did Beckham, scored 4-1. Barça did not give up, they never do, and had a couple more chances at goal; Ronaldinho scored 4-2 in minute 75 and it looked like Barça might have a chance to tie if a miracle happened, but it didn't and the game ended up 4-2. Fair win to Madrid. The Barcelona press didn't complain too much, the way they usually do when Madrid wins. There weren't really any incredibly questionable calls; the ref was prudent and let them play, and it never got too rough.

Silver lining: The team never gave up. None of the players are in bad form. Some are not on hot streaks, but nobody is looking really bad. There's no reason why they shouldn't win most of the rest of their games, and they ought to be able to get 15 points (five wins out of seven games, or four wins and two draws) in what's left of the season.

Dark cloud: Etoo got hurt and will miss four weeks. Puyol was not playing at 100% because he got hurt a week and a half ago. The defense didn't look good. They can't keep letting other teams score so much, and Valdes did not have a good game, either.

Yeah, but: The reason they got Maxi Lopez was in case Etoo got hurt or needed a rest. Give the kid a chance. He didn't look too good against Betis but last night he was just fine. Ronaldinho looked pretty good. He's not off form, he's coming off an unlucky streak. There's a difference. Deco couldn't play last night, and he'll be coming back for the rest of the season. Give Puyol another week of rest and he'll be 100% next weekend.

We'll see what happens. That's why they play the games.

Wacky Anti-American Crap of the Week:

Wim Wenders, in La Vanguardia April 8: "The US became paranoid and has been living in fear since September 11...the shock, the fear the Americans felt afterward, and how the US government created the conditions to propagate this paranoia in favor of its plans...The windmills (an American film character) has in his mind were created by television propaganda...The paranoid person is incapable of viewing himself objectively...The most tragic thing you have to understand about the US is the lack of information...The American Dream has been fiction for a long time...(Poverty) is a subject that isn't popular in the US because they don't want to know that the wealth of some comes from the poverty of many." Wenders also complains about the fact that nobody in America wants to distribute his new movie and he's had to do it himself.

Let's see, Wim. American people are paranoid and live in fear. The government creates TV propaganda to make them this way so it can stay in power and accomplish its plans, whatever they might be. If Americans complain they're not paranoid they must be wrong, because they can't see themselves objectively, and besides that they're badly-informed, probably because they believe all the government propaganda. Americans are fools who don't understand the American Dream, whatever that is, is dead, and besides, they exploit everybody else to gain their wealth.

Noam Chomsky couldn't have said it better himself. And then Winders wonders why the Americans aren't lining up to see his movie, which, if it's anything like Paris, Texas, or Wings over Berlin, is long and boring and doesn't make much sense.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Here's some crap from Hugh Hewitt published in the Weekly Standard. I must say Hewitt is not one of my favorite conservative commentators, but he really should have thought at least four times before writing this.

Non-Catholics are best advised to keep silent on matters of doctrine within the Church. It is, after all, no more the business of a non-Catholic what the Church commands on the celibacy of its priests than it is a non-Muslim to opine on the proper keeping of Ramadan.

This reminds me of an argument I once had in college with a black friend of mine named Frank, who was in sort of a militant phase, and he had a list of resolutions the Black Student Union had made, almost all of which I disagreed with (they did want the university to recruit more heavily among Kansas black students, and I thought that was a good idea, especially if they started early in high school). His response to my criticisms was "You don't know what it's like to be black."

Boom. It's kind of hard to respond to a blatant play of the race card like that. I shoulda said "You don't know what it's like to be white, so does this mean nobody has the right to have opinions?" but of course I didn't think of it then. He got over the militant stuff pretty soon, but not all his friends did. Frank and I continued getting along--we were partners on the final project in a Spanish class the next semester--but we never talked about the subject of race very much again, not that I was ever going to bring it up in the first place anyway. I haven't seen him for almost fifteen years now.*

My reaction to Hugh Hewitt is kind of similar. Non-Catholics and non-Muslims have every right to opine about both Catholicism and Islam and their internal doctrines. If nothing else, because what the Catholics and the Muslims do affects all the rest of us, and so if a bunch of extremist Catholics start a campaign to bomb abortion clinics or if a bunch of extremist Muslims decide to bomb commuter trains or if a bunch of Irish morons have spent the last god knows how many years killing one another over whether their kids should get buggered by single Catholic priests or married Protestant scoutmasters, then the rest of us have got something to say. If Islam in certain countries includes clitoridectomy as one of its matters of doctrine, or if in certain countries it countenances slavery, or if it won't let women visit doctors or drive cars, or if it promotes blowing up Jews, I think the rest of us have a right to complain, just as when we complained about suttee and thuggee and untouchability and the caste system in Hindu India. Or does Mr. Hewitt think sharia, integral to Islam, is something we all ought to live under? Or that anybody ought to have to live under?

I'm a hardline agnostic who is not prejudiced, as I think all religions are equally dumb. I think anybody who fasts for religious reasons is a dope, so that should take in both the Muslims and the Catholics. I think anyone who imagines that saying magic words somehow means anything is a dope, so that includes the Catholics and the Muslims. I think anyone who believes that food or drink can be sanctified is a dope, so that includes them both. Being such a dopey man that you won't let dopey women officially intercede with God as part of your magic rituals, too, is ridiculous, and that takes them both in, too. Now, I have no problem with honest dopes who interpret their magic beliefs to mean they have to help and love others, be kind to people's grandmas, don't steal anyone else's stuff, and the like. I actually admire them greatly if they live up to the standards their beliefs set for them, which in some individuals are very high standards. It's damned hard not to covet, for example, or not to be proud. And, of course, lots of people who are dopes on this particular question are very non-dopey on most other issues.

So I leave it open: Who's right, me or Hugh?

*Nice guy. Hell of an athlete--he had a football scholarship. He was the first person I actually saw dunk a basketball. He liked to party, and I was more laid-back, but I actually don't distinctly remember a couple of bashes he threw. Good-looking chicks, that I do remember. A surprising amount of the football jocks at KU back then were smart--a lot of them were history majors for some reason, and I was in several upper-division history classes with 300-pound defensive ends asking smarter questions than me. They lost all their games, though--Sports Illustrated called KU, K-State, and MU "the Bermuda Triangle of college football" one of those years when the three teams all went 1-10, with each team's only victory against one of the others. (Can't be a dope and play football unless you only do one thing, which is why the special teams units in the NFL tend to contain several real dopes who are good at running real fast and smashing into people and not much else. They played positions in college but couldn't remember any plays and their natural talent got them through, but that don't work in the No Fun League.)

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Here's a fascinating piece ( by Michael Hirsh, who is a Senior Editor at Newsweek from the Washington Monthly (via Arts and Letters Daily) on why America's not so awful despite what the Old Europeans say about our barbarity, imperialism, aggressiveness, arrogance, ignorance, etc., etc. It's a review of a book by one Anatol Lievin. You'll want to go read it yourself, and I agree with a great deal of what Hirsh says at the very beginning and the very end, but I thought I'd point out a few disagreements I have and make a few comments of my own.

When it comes to grappling with the giant across the Atlantic, European thinkers of this generation tend to behave like Tolstoy's children. They toy intellectually with American power, lamenting its excesses, warning of its evils, advising endlessly on its better uses—usually without acknowledging that it is the very thing that has kept them free to have these discussions in the first place, and that today it continues to be the backbone of the international system that sustains them...On the whole the Europeans, having known three generations now without war—and earnestly desiring to become “postmodern states” that never again wage war—tend to forget that it is principally the U.S. defense umbrella that has made this dream possible.

Excellent point, and too many Old Europeans forget about this.

America spends more on defense than the rest of the industrialized world combined not because it is inherently belligerent or militaristic but mainly because America is today more than just the “lone superpower.” It is the stabilizer of the international system...With the exception of Iraq, this hidden infrastructure of U.S. power emerges into public view only occasionally, in tsunami relief or in America's unique ability to supply airlift and logistical support to hotspots from East Timor to Sudan...Yet, for too many post-Cold War Europeans, this stabilizing structure of American power has been so hidden as not to be worthy of note. Why exactly do they think their governments can afford to spend so little on defense (thereby subsidizing the European welfare state)?

Yep. I'm the first guy to say I'm not talking about closing down health care and pensions and the public schools and nursing homes and worker's compensation laws and the like. I do think there are about seven unnecessary levels in the bureaucracies that administer the social welfare programs here in Europe, and there's far too much unnecessary meddling by the state in the economy, which ought to be nearly as productive as America's instead of operating at 75-80%. I also understand that (if I may very broadly generalize) that, if allowed to make risk-benefit decisions, most Europeans will prefer greater security and less topside gain, while Americans tend to be willing to take bigger risks in order to win bigger should they succeed. I tend to think more like the stereotypical European than the stereotypical American in this regard; I'm not looking for the big money, or even the medium money. And I understand that Brits will accept smaller profits and demand more security than Yanks, as a rule, and this is a major difference between the two peoples. The Brits are more like the Continentals on this question than they are like us gringos.

Anyway, though, the review is going along great. So far. Now it's time to dive into the muck. some respects Lieven's book, America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism, is the most brilliant analysis of America's attitude toward the world to come along since 9/11...

Yo. Hold it. Wait a minute, dude. You be smokin crack. You just destroyed the book's thesis by undercutting the author's assumptions, and first you damn it with faint praise, OK, but calling this tripe "brilliant"? I guess you want him to still talk to you at Washington cocktail parties.

Like many in Europe—and many liberal Democrats here in the United States—Lieven allows his alarm at Bush's foreign policy to lead him to an excessively negative and sweeping critique of American culture and foreign policy...The book descends quickly to the level of diatribe and, despite much incisive analysis, never really manages to rise above it. In the end, the author's error is to confuse the pathology of the Bush administration with the alleged pathology of America.

Ah-hah. The problem isn't America, it's Bush! What's leading this author Lieven to slander America and us red-staters in particular is the Pathology of the Bush Administration. It's all Bush's fault! Blame Bush! The Old Europeans don't dislike us because they're ignorant and prejudiced, they just can't stand Bush. Yeah, right.

Lieven is at his best when he traces the lineage of this now-dominant strand of political culture. In three penetrating chapters that should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand Bush's election victory in 2004, he explains how this dominance has come in the form of a successful rebellion against the Eastern elites by the Southern/Frontier culture that has found its hero in Bush. Lieven describes how the “American Creed,” the exceptionalist “thesis” that traditionally defines the self-image of most Americans—of a people free, equal, and good—has become overpowered by the “antithesis” of America's “embittered heartland.” “While America keeps a splendid and welcoming house, it also keeps a family of demons in the cellar,” Lieven writes. “Usually kept under certain restraints, these demons were released by 9/11.”

oh my god it's the embittered demons they're flying out of the basement flapping their wings with big pointy fangs dripping with blood on their way down to the gun sale after church help help they're wearing white robes and pointy hoods and listening to merle haggard

What is Bush's tradition? Who are these demons?

Gee, I dunno, Mike. People who, like, believe in God and stuff?

In the most original part of his book, Lieven analyzes at length the influences of this “second strand” of American nationalism, which resides in a culture dating back to Andrew Jackson and Southern evangelical tradition. Building on the work of Walter Russell Mead, T.R. Fehrenbach, David Hackett Fischer, and Michael Lind, among others, he describes how the much-noted “Southernization” of Republican politics in recent decades has had a deeper impact on our foreign policy than many of us have realized.

Original? The demons are Jacksonian white Southerners? Even I've written about this subject.

The nation is now in the grip of a “radical nationalism” that traces its origins to the demographic makeup and mores of the South and of much of the West and Southern Midwest—in other words, what we know today as red America. As Lieven writes, this region was heavily settled by Scots-Irish immigrants whom King James I sent to Northern Ireland to clear out the native Celtic Catholics, which they did. Along with Anglo-Saxons, they then settled the American Frontier, moving westward from one piece of mean land to the next, suffering Indian raids and fighting for their lives every step of the way. The outcome was that a substantial portion of the new nation developed, over many generations, a rather savage set of mores. Thanks largely to this huge subpopulation, a quickness to fight and a dedication to total annihilation of any enemy has always been part of American culture. This tends to emerge in a “burst of chauvinist fury” and predominate during times of national crisis.

Let's see. Backwoods red-state Scotch-Irish and Anglo-Saxons have taken over America. They're mean people who were just terrible to everybody they met, from the Irish Catholics to the American Indians, while living in swinish poverty and cultureless deprivation. All this made them even meaner, and now they want to kill anybody who even looks at us funny. And they go to church too much.

"Original"? "Brilliant"? If this is Lieven "at his best", I could really have a lot of fun with his worst.

I will now state Chappell's Corollary to whoever's law it is that says, "In an argument, the first side to compare the other to Hitler loses." My corollary is, "The first side to call the other one racist loses."

Traditionally, it has also been balanced by a more diplomatic, communitarian Yankee sensibility from the Northeast and upper Midwest.

Oh, my ass. Texas=bad, Massachusetts=good, right? Please.

Perceptively, Lieven likens this Southern/Frontier nationalism to the more classic kind of radical nationalism that emerges from the cumulative frustration of defeat often found in nations, say of Germany in World War I (and which in that particular case helped buttress Hitler's rise to power half a generation later). In this case, however, the frustration of the South and Southern Midwest over the rise of godless modernity at the hands of the North and the Easterners built up over a century and a half during which Southerners were derided as “peckerwoods and rednecks,” as the former segregationist governor of Alabama, George Wallace, once put it. “The role of defeat in the genesis of nationalism resides not only in the defeat of a nation as a whole, but of classes, groups and indeed individuals within them,” Lieven writes.

This is "perceptive"? The embittered rednecks are all pissed off because they can't segregate against black people anymore and now, through the instrument of Bush, they're taking it out on all the rest of us? Chappell's Corollary goes into effect.

Bush is a Jacksonian pod person.

Huh? Whatever that is, it sounds pretty bad, though.

The coarsened sensibility that this now-dominant Southernism and Frontierism has brought to our politics is unmistakable...On foreign policy, the realism and internationalism of the Eastern elitist tradition once kept the Southern/Frontier warrior culture and Wilsonian messianism in check. Now the latter two, in toxic combination, have taken over our national dialogue...The only Easterners who are left are the neocons, whose grand global construct, a kind of Nietzschean will to power—Michael Lind once described the neocons as the brains of the Southern evangelicals—only feeds this out-of-control messianism and a deep-seated distaste for globalism that goes back to the “don't-tread-on-me” attitude of the Southern/Frontier tradition.

Oh, those coarse out-of-control messianic brainless Southerners, we just can't have them in the house, they'll do something frontiersy, and especially without the Eastern elites to watch over them, you never know what they might do, even let in those nasty grasping neocon Jews and their Nietzchean will to power!

The outcome (of the election) was far more about the fact that one side had a first-class campaigner and strategist (Bush and Karl Rove) while the other side put up rank incompetents (John Kerry and his masters of disaster, Bob Shrum and Tad Devine).

Well, now at least they admit Kerry was a loser. We didn't hear them saying this back in October.

If the Democrats can field a candidate only slightly more winning than Kerry, the Easterners will come down from the hills and rejoin the dialogue.

Let's hope they don't.

The new power centers in the country, meanwhile, will be forced to quell their Jacksonian furies when they come to understand the necessity of an international consensus in the age of globalization (in other words, it means their jobs). And that will inevitably shift American foreign policy back into balance.

I wouldn't take this for granted. Note that Mike thinks the only thing that will convince these coarse Jacksonians to be nice and moral like the Eastern elites and shift American foreign policy into balance is pressure on their pocketbooks. Pretty crude Marxism there, Mike.

All of which points out Lieven's central error: He does not account for the fact that vast numbers of Americans—including very many in red states—hate where Bush is leading their country and share Lieven's criticisms. Instead he attempts, lamely, to argue that Democrats or moderate Republicans would probably be taking the country in the same direction as Bush Republicans have.

Oh, what a tragedy for Mike's self-image when called upon to deal with the Europeans he meets in his daily line of work and they rip America a new asshole. The Europeans scorn us liberal Democrats just for being Americans, and they're wrong to do so, because we real Americans, the eastern elites, we who work at Newsweek, are NOT LIKE those coarse Southerners, but the Europeans won't admit us and they keep insulting us for being rednecks as if we were those frontiersmen who probably don't like black people.

But because he's decided to attack American nationalism in every form, Lieven attacks everybody.

And Mike just hates that. Lieven shouldn't be attacking him.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

I like soccer, and I'm a fan of FC Barcelona (yes, I was really pissed off at them when they had the team come out with the "Barça for Peace" banner and when they rented the team to Qaddaffi's kid for a "friendly" match, price half a million bucks, and when their fans threw pig's heads and whiskey bottles at Luis Figo and when they racially baited Madrid's black players and when they hired Serbian fascist Radomir Antic as coach, but they did get rid of the board of directors that did all that crap and elected some people who seem to know what they're doing and hire Frank Rijkaard, Mr. Class, to run the team), so of course I went down to the bar with Remei and Murph to watch Barcelona play Betis at 5 PM. Big game. Barcelona came in leading the league by 11 points, they play Madrid on Sunday the 10th in the last showdown, and they needed at least a point at home against the third-place team, Betis of Seville.

Betis looks really good this year, though I'm afraid they'll disappoint next year in European play because they're going to lose a couple or three of their best players. They've got a comparatively small budget, and when the big money comes knocking on the door for one of their good players they take it. They're a club known for a potent youth squad, and this year they've got several young guys, including left winger Joaquin and central defender Juanito, who are on the Spanish national team, and three Brazilians. Damned good players, all of them. Rumor has it Madrid will buy Joaquin and Barça will buy Juanito. Betis is also a popular team, the team everybody likes. They've traditionally been Seville's working-class team (the other city team, Sevilla CF, is the richie club), and their following is known as never-say-die but nonviolent unless the game's with Seville. Caen simpatico.

So we get to the bar, which I will call Bar X, about ten minutes after five and they can't figure out how to get the pay-TV to work. Finally turns out that they were supposed to hit the "OK" button on their remote control and they were hitting first the O and then the K keys and so it wouldn't work. I am not making this up. Takes about ten more minutes before this gets figured out, and by then Joaquin has scored one for Betis and Etoo's equalized for Barça on a penalty. We can see the game now, they're off the phone with the pay-TV people. Betis backs up in their area and plays for the fast break, especially since they're down to ten players after somebody gets red-carded, and they catch Barça's defense with their pants down, Oliveira puts it in, and it's 1-2. Halftime comes along. We get more beer. Remei wants potato chips. Hell of a ballgame we got going so far. Barcelona's had about eight shots on goal and Betis has had three or four (very good for any team in any game and damned good for anyone playing in Barça's stadium) and scored on two of them. Barça's also had like six corner kicks, and they can't get anything to go in.

Barcelona comes back after halftime and they throw everything but the kitchen sink at Betis. They put in young Maxi Lopez, the 20-year-old star they got from River Plate for six million bucks, and he's all over the place but can't drive it home, and they pulled alleged defensive midfielder Gerard, who was stinking up the field. Their defense is even weaker, though, because stalwart central defender Carles "Clydesdale" Puyol got hurt on Wednesday playing with the national team against Serbia, and regular defensive midfielder Rafael "The Beast" Marquez, Mexico's best player, had to sit out because he'd piled up five yellow cards. Xavi and Deco had to be careful because they had four cards each, and didn't want to get one in this match and have to miss Madrid next week; Deco was unsuccessful and so will sit out.

Anyway, this is fun, Barça is banging on the door over and over, Betis has only ten men, and then, wouldn't you know it, Betis gets the ball to Joaquin on another fast break and he beats goalie Victor Valdes and it's 1-3 and it looks like it's all over, but these guys don't give up. They bang on the door about four more times, and on every single one either Deco is trying to blast it in from twenty meters or Maxi muffs it in the area. Then Belletti gets the ball (I thought this guy was like 31, but he's 26. No wonder he never seems to get tired) in the area and gets fouled, and he embellishes it just a bit and it's a penalty and Etoo drives it to the right and it's 2-3 with about eight minutes left. I actually believe it's going to happen and it does. The ref does not blow the whistle and about five minutes into extra time left-footed Giovanni van Bronckhorst gets the ball at the top of the area and bingo, tie score and game over. Barcelona 3-Betis 3. Barça gets out with a tie that tastes like a win, and the fans sure the hell got their money's worth.

We got home from the bar and I did tonight's translating for the Spain Herald, which is of course all about the Pope for obvious reasons. Then Remei was watching this silly program on TV, a Spanish sitcom, and I wandered in and watched it with her for about five minutes. The sitcom took place in a neighborhood bar-café, superficially a lot like the one we'd just been in. I did, however, note a few differences.

1) On TV, nobody was drunk. This was not true at Bar X.

2) On TV, no one was shouting "¡Penalti, coño, me cago en la leche!" This was not true at Bar X.

3) On TV, bar patrons made witty comments to one another. This was not true at Bar X.

4) On TV, there were attractive women patrons at the bar. This was only true at Bar X because Remei was there.

5) On TV, people spoke in complete sentences. This was not true at Bar X.

6) On TV, one of the characters was stereotypically gay. This was not true at Bar X. Fortunately. Most of the stereotypically gay people I have met would not enter Bar X under any circumstances.

7) On TV, no one yelled that Barça's Cameroonian forward Samuel Etoo "had put on a lot of shoe polish." This was not true at Bar X.

8) On TV, nobody ever pays the bill at the bar. This was most distinctly not true at Bar X. I'm not complaining, though, fourteen bucks for seven beers, a Coke, and a bag of potato chips is not out of line at all, especially when you're watching football illegally, since the bar's not allowed to show the game to an audience. Uh-huh, sure. On TV nobody breaks the law. This is probably never true at Bar X, since I figure at least one person in that place is up to something, even if it's as semi-innocuous as dealing hash, which I freely admit I've seen no signs of.

Friday, April 01, 2005

It looks like the Pope is actually going to die this time. I've had my problems with John Paul II; I can deal with all his positions, though, except for the ban on condoms. I can deal with being anti-abortion, anti-divorce, anti-chemical contraception, pro-having 10% of your priests being major freakazoids--no, wait, that's a major problem I've got with the American Church, the small percentage of priests who are weirdos and the hierarchy's coverup. But, still, you can't blame the Pope for that one, and the Protestants have had their share of freakoids, too, from Jimmy Swaggart to Jim Bakker to your local scoutmaster. Being against condoms, though, is dangerous. I don't see why the Church can't allow sinners to use condoms so their sins don't rebound upon other innocents. Allow the condom-user to be no more of a sinner than the fornicator. I mean, right, sin is bad, but if you're gonna do a sin no matter what, and having sex is something that people are going to do, shouldn't you at least do it the safe way so that nobody gets hurt? That's why fornication is merely a venial sin, because the Church knows people are going to do that. It's adultery, cheating on your spouse, that's mortal. And if you're committing adultery, it ought to be obligatory to wear a raincoat so you don't infect your innocent spouse later. The raincoat seems very minor compared to the breach of trust that adultery is. Getting drunk is a sin, I suppose, but if you are bound and determined to get loaded shouldn't the Church be in favor of your doing it safely at home rather than going out and driving to a bar and then risking a major wreck?

100 years from now, when historians are writing about the end of the 20th century, Pope John Paul II is going to be right up there with Reagan and Thatcher and Kohl as a key civilized leader who helped cause the fall of Communism. His stances on sex-related social problems will be forgotten, because they'll be no different from those of other Popes. What will be remembered is John Paul II's gutsy stand on the correct side of history even after the KGB, the Stasi, and the Bulgarians got together to murder him. He'll go down in history as a great man.