Friday, March 30, 2007

The West cannot allow Iran to take hostages.

Britain should apologize to Iran.

The hostages will be freed.

Then we take out their nuclear plants and military command and control.

If they respond by invading Iraq, then we respond by bombing everything resembling an Iranian military base.

That ought to provoke a revolution in Iran.

If it doesn't, well, we bomb everything resembling an Iranian tank and if innocent people get in the way, that's what happens in wars, and if Iran doesn't like it, maybe they shouldn't have started it.

This might also be a good object lesson for certain other countries I can think of.
A must-read: Der Spiegel (with its long history of America-bashing, as Davids Medienkritik has been pointing out for years) has an anti-anti-American article. Check it out.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Remember when the Catalan Generalitat designated the Latin Kings as a cultural organization and started handing them subsidies? Well, four Latin Kings went on trial today in suburban Madrid for the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl.

Everyone in Spain is talking about the silliest possible thing: Zap went on TV Tuesday night to answer questions from an audience. He didn't say anything new or different, of course; the whole thing was a waste of time. Some joker asked Zap how much a café solo costs, and he said eighty cents, which is a bit low--most places charge a little more than a euro. This somehow caught everyone's attention, and is the only thing people will remember about this little publicity stunt. It's Rajoy's turn next month, by the way.

Spain's national soccer team sucks, as usual. They beat Iceland 1-0 last night, and are in third place in their qualifying group for next year's Eurocup, behind such traditional soccer powers as Northern Ireland and Sweden. They've got good players: half of Valencia, Xavi, Iniesta, and Puyol from Barcelona, and a few other guys like Ramos, Alonso, and Cesc Fabregas. But they have never played up to their potential, possibly because none of them are top-level international stars who are capable of carrying a whole team and because they have never had a good coach. Luis Aragones should be fired now--actually, he should have been fired right after Spain crashed out of last summer's World Cup. By the way, Iniesta should definitely be a regular starter for Barcelona, and they need to sell off Deco to give him a spot--though Rijkaard says that none of the "big four" international stars, Ronaldinho, Deco, Eto'o, and Messi, are going to be sold. Ronaldinho is openly flirting with Milan in order to hold Barça up for a raise, though he's signed through 2010. I'd tell him to piss off, that if he doesn't like his contract he shouldn't have signed it in the first place.

Note: Some Spaniards and Catalans are a bit persnickety about the Spanish Ñ and the Catalan Ç, which we normally change to N and C in written English. Seeing "Barça" written as "Barca" or "La Coruña" as "La Coruna" just drives some of them up the wall. However, Barça and Iceland player Gudjohnsen's surname actually doesn't have a D in it; rather, where we and the Spaniards write a D, Icelandic has what looks like the phonetic symbol for the TH sound in English. Inconsistencies like this are a bit annoying sometimes. I think I'll start a campaign to get his name spelled right around here. Somehow, I don't think anyone will give a crap, since nationalists get their feathers ruffled only about minor symbolic things like this when they are directly affected; they don't care at all about what people from other national groups might think.

Speaking of which, I think we American conservatives need to start a campaign to take over the Guardian's Comment Is Free section. They've got a policy of running several opinion pieces a week on the United States, most of which are unfairly critical and even offensively bigoted, and the posters in the comments section are even worse than their writers. Also, they habitually drag in America even when it has little or nothing to do with the subject. Normally I'd say live and let live, we have our sites like LGF and Free Republic, and the lefties have theirs like Kos and Democratic Underground. The Guardian is different, though, because it is a newspaper that is supposed to present a variety of opinions, but generally doesn't. I vote we go over there en masse and stomp those dopes with our superior ideas and rhetoric.

Check out this moronic piece on Cuba, for example. A few quotes: "Cuba, being a secular country, avoided the anti-homosexual religious overtones of its neighbours. However, repression of homosexuals continued after the 1959 revolution under the umbrella of a dogmatic interpretation of Marxism. It is a tribute to the humanistic essence of the Cuban Revolution that its leadership was able to face up to its mistakes and change course. Cuba is now set to become the most socially liberal country in the Americas...Another set of people who can claim some credit for Cuba's enlightened approach is the international left and solidarity campaigns. While the pressure for equal rights came principally from within Cuban society, there is little doubt that the government also listened to their friends and supporters abroad, those who unconditionally stood by Cuba throughout her struggle against US-sponsored invasion and terrorism, and the 45-year-long economic blockade." (Boldface mine.)

What economic blockade? There's an embargo, not a blockade. Cuba is free to trade with any other country that wants to deal with them.

Spanish foreign minister Moratinos is going to visit Cuba on April 2 and 3 in order to help prop up what's left of the regime there. Gee, I thought the EU was trying to pressure the Castro dictatorship into freeing its political prisoners. Guess not.

Meanwhile, in Britain, the big story is of course the kidnapping of fifteen British sailors by the Iranian regime. The Iranians now have their hostages, and they will do the same with them as they did with the Americans in Teheran and Westerners in general in Lebanon. I vote we take their nuclear sites out tomorrow; there's nothing they can do about it but kill the hostages, and that gives us an excuse to take out the whole regime once and for all.

More rioting in Paris: train company employees stopped a scumbag without a ticket at the Gare du Nord station, and it degenerated into a six-hour riot that ended in nine injuries and 13 arrests, along with the sacking of the train station shops.

Deep analysis of American politics in today's Vanguardia: a story on page 10 runs down Giuliani's and McCain's histories of marital problems, and claims that they will be the key to the Republican nomination. The story contrasts Giuliani and McCain with Mitt Romney, saying, "Although his Mormon religion permits polygamy, he has only married once and has shared his life with Ann for 37 years." Uh, no, the mainstream Mormon church does not permit polygamy. There are a few isolated splinter groups way up in the Utah hills that still practice it, but they have no power or influence and are considered a bunch of weirdos by all concerned.

I find it interesting that La Vangua never said anything about John Kerry's marital history; what's most suspicious about that is Kerry's obvious marriage for money. Why else would he have married that harpy Teresa?

The cops busted eight ETA terrorists yesterday in the Basque Country and Navarre; they found thirty kilos of explosives, timers, detonating wire, and chemicals to manufacture chloratite. Lock them up and throw away the key.

New illegal immigration technique: Sign up for a cruise, get off at Barcelona, and don't get back on the boat. Spain now requires Bolivians to have a visa to enter the country, and there's a cruise ship in Barcelona harbor with 82 Bolivians on board who they won't let into Spain.

All of the Spanish media has, of course, paid tons of attention to Halle Berry, who's in Madrid promoting her latest movie. She is certainly a fabulous babe, and looks great in the photos they took. Also, she did not pull a Sarandon and slag off the States as so many Hollywood types do when they get over to Europe. My question is, simply, why is it such a big deal when an American movie actress comes to Spain?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Just a few quick links this afternoon.

Snopes reproduces an e-mail that's going around comparing Gore's energy-guzzling house with Bush's eco-friendly ranch, and judges it to be true.

Fox News reports that a cyber-asshole took one last shot at Catherine Seipp by posting under her name while she was dying.

At National Review, John O'Sullivan comments on the EU's fiftieth anniversary and David Freddoso takes a whack at the EU's Kyoto hypocrisy.

Anne Applebaum notes that most Europeans paid no attention to the Berlin celebrations because they're pretty apathetic about the EU.

The Wall Street Journal is rather positive about the EU, and there's a good historical piece about the anti-immigrant motivation behind Prohibition (and the progressive middle-class do-gooders who put it through).

Reason has an article reminding us, in response to the doomsayers, that the world is actually going along pretty well in most ways in most places.

Robert Hughes has a groovy article in the Guardian on surrealism, one of the artistic movements I most despise.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

No post today; I've been working like an African-American on a translation and am pooped.

In college, my friend Jed and I had great fun saying horribly racist or offensive things using politically correct euphemisms, which was in fact rather daring in those heavily PC mid-80s. Some of our favorites were:

"He wanted twenty bucks, but I Israelied him down to fifteen."
"No, you can't have it back, you Native American-giver."
"What a total mess. It was an East Asian fire drill."
"When you put your car in neutral while going downhill, that's called Latino overdrive."
"Wanna get the football and play Smear the Alternative Lifestyle Guy?"
"Something funny's going on. I think there's a person of color in the woodpile."

Monday, March 26, 2007

The big political news around here is that the Catalan independence party, Esquerra Republicana, has offered to dump the Tripartite and back CiU for control of the Catalan regional government, the Generalitat. CiU leader Artur Mas would become premier. The catch: Mas would have to promise to call a referendum on independence for Catalonia.

How completely irresponsible. We were hopìng for a little bit of governmental stability around here. I am not Socialist premier José Montilla's biggest fan, but he's a reasonably competent political hack with plenty of experience. Montilla has shown no signs of being about to screw everything up. He's not going to improve things much, but a few years of gray boredom and dullness would be just fine around here now that the Pasqual Maragall traveling circus has folded its tents.

So here goes Esquerra, which is part of the current Catalan governing coalition along with the Socialists and the Communists, and offers to dynamite the coalition in order to turn over power to the Socialists' Number One enemy, CiU. Now, this is probably just a tantrum whose goal is to get attention, since CiU is a) nationalist but not pro-independence and b) fairly practical; it knows that any referendum on independence would be unconstitutional and non-binding and therefore meaningless.

Oh, by the way, the loudmouth who actually made the proposal in question is Francesc Vendrell, a former member of the political branch of the Cataloony terrorist gang Terra Lliure (final score: Cops 4, Terrorists 1, game over circa 1990. It would be Cops 5, Terrorists 1 if we count Juan Carlos Monteagudo, who when Terra Lliure broke up went and joined ETA and blew up a bunch of Guardia Civil families at the cuartel in Vic and got Clyde Barrowed when they tracked him down three days later.)

Here's the difference between minor sports in America and in a mid-sized country like Spain. Seems they had the world championships in synchronized swimming and Spain's team did rather well, winning several medals. Now, does anybody really give a crap about synchronized swimming? Hell, no. Like team handball and rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming is one of those collectivist sports that they tried to make the opiate of the masses in places like East Germany and the former Yugoslavia. Boring.

But since the Spanish team did well, it's all over the news, leading off the sports report on the TV news for the last several days and getting an editorial of congratulations from La Vangua today. Now, I think the Americans got at least one medal, since they beat out Spain for a bronze in one of the various events, and the Spanish coach accused the judges of distributing medals according to political criteria. But have you heard about the synchronized swimming world championships over there in the US? I'll just bet you haven't.

Marius Carol gets obnoxious in La Vanguardia. Seems that Wolfgang Puck announced that he won't serve foie-gras any more, since geese are force-fed to make their livers fatty and it's sort of cruel. Carol, by the way, mistranslates "humane standards" as "standards of humanity" and makes fun of Puck for misusing language. He then says:

By the way, if Puck is so worried about the standards of humanity in his state, he might make a statement against the death penalty in California, although the meat of the condemned is not served in brochettes. The United States is a curious country, where the Chicago city council prohibited the possession, sale, and consumption of foie gras as if it were a drug.

What a smart-ass. Comparing laws requiring humane treatment of animals and the death penalty is like comparing geese and people. Geese are not responsible for committing first-degree murder, which people have to do in order to get the death penalty in California.

Nobody is going to ban eating animals, but the laws do demand that animals being slaughtered for meat be treated with minimum decency and killed with as little suffering as possible.

Forcefeeding geese so their livers get fatty and swollen violates the minimum-decency standard, which says, "Don't make animals suffer or die unnecessarily." We don't need foie-gras or fur coats. Meat, yes, people are naturally omnivores (though I'm a vegetarian), and animals must die to provide meat. And as long as the cow dies, you might as well make her skin into leather. Medical experimentation on animals is necessary, but other kinds of experimentation are not and should be banned.

In a world closer to the ideal, we wouldn't eat mammals. I don't criticize those who do, because it's natural for humans. Birds are borderline. Chickens and turkeys are pretty dumb, a less clear-cut case than mammals, which are all at least as intelligent and self-aware as very retarded people. As for your cold-blooded animals, fish aren't too bright and mollusks and arthropods are very primitive. I wouldn't have the slightest moral qualm about eating shrimp or mussels, though I don't. I don't think a shrimp is any smarter than a plant.

Andy Robinson gets a front-page teaser headline for his denunciation of homelessness in New York on page 31 of today's La Vanguardia. He tosses out all the usual claims from the usual suspects; you've heard it all before. Andy adds that "economic polarization in New York is reaching levels of inequality comparable with cities in the Third World." He claims that many families only earn $1000 or $1500 a month, and that a two-bedroom apartment is $1000 a month.

I dunno. If we calculate minimum take-home pay at $5 an hour, which is far less than anyone actually earns in New York, and multiply that by 40 hours, we get $200, or a little more than $800 a month. Multiply that by two, and you get a family income of a little more than $1600 a month, not counting aid from the government, which you will get if you earn that little. That would be the absolute rock-bottom for the working class. Unemployment is, what, 5% in New York? Probably less. Seems to me that anyone who wants a job can get one.

Here's what the Census Bureau has to say:

Real median household income in the United States rose by 1.1 percent between 2004 and 2005, reaching $46,326, according to a report released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. Meanwhile, the nation’s official poverty rate remained statistically unchanged at 12.6 percent. The percentage of people without health insurance coverage rose from 15.6 percent to 15.9 percent (46.6 million people).

That's not perfect, but it's a damn sight better than a lot of other places. And, agreed, there are some other places that are more generous with government assistance than the US.

In New York state in 2005, the median family income was $59,686. Not too bad.

As for homeless statistics in the US (and these stats come from a homeless advocacy group, who in turn says it got them from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development), one study says that there were 744,000 in the US in 2005, of which about one-quarter were chronically homeless. That's fewer than 200,000 chronically homeless in the US. The US population is almost exactly 300 million, meaning that one of every 1500 Americans is chronically homeless. Yes, that's a shame, and all good-hearted people support aid to those of us who cannot take care of themselves, but one out of every 1500 isn't a lot.

Barça news: Rumors flying this week with no league matches, since the national teams are playing qualifiers. Spain plays Iceland tomorrow. Whooptedoo. Supposedly Barça wants to sign Terry and Lampard, and they've already got Cristiano Ronaldo in the bag. Also, rumors have it they want to buy Xabi Alonso from Liverpool, and got a quote of €26 million from Sevilla for Alves. They resigned all their fullbacks, so won't be needing Alves anyway. Alonso would presumably replace Motta and Edmilson. On their way out: Motta, Edmilson, Giuly, Ezquerro. Probably out: Saviola. Rumors surrounding: Deco (swap for Cristiano Ronaldo?) and Ronaldinho (skips training, flirting with Milan and Inter).

Baseball season starts in a week. Kansas City looks below-average but not horrible, like last year and, actually, most of the last decade except that one year they got so lucky.

The lineup I'd like to see, along with a conservative prediction for OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging)

DeJesus, cf, 800
German, 2b, 800
Teahen, rf, 900
Gordon, 3b, 875
Shealy, 1b, 825
Butler, lf, 850
Gload/Brown, dh, 800
Buck, c, 700
Peña, ss, 675

Not a bad-hitting lineup except for the 8 and 9 holes. Peña's defense is supposed to make up for his weak bat. Buck is just not a very good player, but he is still young and might improve. This year is probably his last chance. It's the starting rotation that is going to be trouble; the bullpen looks like it's OK, at least better than the past. We're hoping for 75 wins, development of young players Gordon and Butler, and Grudzielanek, Sanders, and Brown being shipped out for prospects at the trade deadline. Sweeney will, of course, get hurt.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Zap government just blew it big-time with Batasuna leader Arnaldo Otegi. Otegi was to be tried before the National Court yesterday on charges of exaltation of terrorism. If convicted, he would have had to go to prison, because he's already got a fifteen-month suspended sentence that would have been unsuspended upon conviction. So the prosecutor's office, which to my knowledge is part of the Justice ministry and responsible ultimately to the prime minister, dropped the charges and Otegi walked.

This is just ridiculous. Exaltation of terrorism is against the law. I'm not especially fond of laws that block free political expression, but I can understand them in a country that's lost 800 dead to ETA. Therefore, the law should be enforced and those who exalt terrorism should go to jail, no matter how much popular support they have in the Basque Country.

Besides, the government's strategy should be to put as much legal pressure on ETA and its political branch, Batasuna, as it can. The goal should be to lock the bastards up and keep them there until they agree to a real peace, which would start when ETA renounces violence and turns over its arms. The only concessions I would be willing to throw them would be a) release of prisoners in for political crimes (e.g. Batasuna members in for illegal demos or exaltation or holding meetings of a banned party), but emphatically not of anyone involved in a violent crime b) the legalization of Batasuna (after a public renunciation of violence, of course), but with any member convicted of an ETA-related crime to be permanently inhabilitated from holding public or party office.

The PP is right on this issue. The Zap government screwed up badly, and it is responsible.

By the way, parts of the more extreme wing of the PP have been raising the specter of a breakup of Spain as a result of the Catalan statute or Zap's climbdowns in the De Juana Chaos and Otegi cases. That's a bit of an exaggeration. It's not going to happen anytime soon, among other reasons because the current Spanish constitution makes it impossible for any part of Spain to secede. You'd have to change the constitution before any region could split off legally.

Anyone trying to split off illegally would certainly face military intervention by the central government, and nobody's that dumb except for ETA and its crowd. Also, of course, no one splitting off illegally would be invited into such organizations as the EU, UN, and NATO.

I suppose my attitude, as an outsider on the inside, is that if a region of Spain (Asturias, for example) really, really wanted to be independent, and proved it by voting massively (say, two-thirds or three-quarters of the vote) in favor of a non-violent, democratic party that wanted Asturian independence at three or four elections in a row, then you'd have to change the constitution and let Asturias have a referendum on independence. The thing is, of course, that there is no region in Spain in which such a party gets more than about 15% of the vote. Neither CiU nor the PNV favors independence; ERC does.

By the way, I'd feel the same way in the US. If Alabama voters voted overwhelmingly in several consecutive elections for an Alabama Independence Party, I'd want to change the Constitution and let them go. That, of course, is highly unlikely. Yes, I know this argument leads to the question, "What about the Civil War?" Well, first, the Southern states were not a practicing democracy by my definition, since slavery was legal. Second, the (white) people of the Southern states never voted in favor of secession in a referendum. Secession was voted by the (elected, it's true) state legislatures. Third, many white people in the South (though not a majority) did vote for the Southern Democrat candidate, Breckenridge, in the 1860 election. However, Breckenridge was not calling for secession during the campaign. We can't say a vote for Breckenridge was a vote to secede. And anyway, he got less than a majority in one election, not a huge majority in three. And fourth, I'd have been against starting a war with the South in order to preserve the Union. So was Lincoln, though he figured that the South would start the shooting sooner or later. The South did start the war by firing on Union troops, and once the war starts, you need to win it--and while you're at it, abolish slavery.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

I just reread that long post I wrote this afternoon on the campaign organized by the Catalan establishment in favor of its taking over control of the Barcelona airport. I didn't make my specific accusation clear enough.

It is: La Vanguardia intentionally tried to torpedo Iberia's stock price.

They ran a banner front-page headline saying, "Iberia stockholders look for buyer." No other newspaper ran anything similar anywhere near its front page. I therefore conclude that La Vangua gave excessive importance to its report, and that it must have had some reason to do so. And, as Marxist conspiracy nuts say, it's no accident that the big Catalan establishment whooptedoo about the airport happened on the same day La Vanguardia ran that headline.
Here's my bit of conspiracy-theory paranoia here in Catalonia. TV3 and La Vanguardia, the two organs of the local establishment, are running a campaign in favor of "making Barcelona airport more important." So today the Chamber of Commerce, the employers' association (Fomento), and the Royal Automobile Club held what La Vangua called "an academic act" at IESE "in defense of the future of the Barcelona airport." The various universities, including UB and the Pompeu Fabra, backed the meeting, as did several professional organizations, including the engineers. So, of course, did the regional government, the Generalitat.

(Translation: Barcelona airport is building a new terminal, so it will have more flight slots. Right now the airport is run by a Spanish state-owned company called AENA. AENA's management has generally been somewhere between rather and extremely crappy. AENA will also have the right to decide which airlines get which slots for which flights in the new terminal. The Barcelona establishment wants more long-distance flights to prestige destinations like Tokyo and New York, and fewer cheap-ass EasyJet low-cost companies flying in drunken teenagers from non-prestige destinations like Manchester and Dusseldorf. Therefore, the Barcelona establishment wants the right to decide which airlines get which slots for which flights all for itself.)

Now come on. This is not news, and it is not from the grassroots, either. This is what was vulgarly referred to in those old Sinclair Lewis novels, like Babbitt, as "boosting." The local powers that be, from the government down to the media, have decided that what Barcelona needs are more long-distance flights, and they are trying to polarize public opinion behind them. That is a textbook example of what is called "manipulation" of the media and the public by your average everyday Chomsky worshippers around here. So manipulating the media is so bad we have to falsely accuse the Bush administration of doing it, but it's OK if it's done in our economic interest?

This is pure business. There's nothing but money involved here. There's nothing high-minded or idealistic about this campaign at all. The Catalan establishment is trying to get something it wants, and it has no qualms about mobilizing the local government, media, universities, and professional organizations.

Comment: I don't think the establishment is ever this unified in Kansas City. There are always dissenting voices, from the universities, which often take pride in their anti-business attitude, to the no-growth people, of whom there are a surprising amount, from the civil-rights organizations demanding their piece of the pie, from the unions demanding theirs, from the media, which are pretty much pussycats in KC compared to the rest of the US but are dangerously radical investigative Woodwards and Bernsteins compared to La Vangua's reporters.

Here's what TV3, which belongs to the Socialist-controlled Generalitat, had to say to kick off today's afternoon news:

Representatives from more than one hundred organizations from the business and academic world had a united public meeting in order to demand pressure that would permit El Prat airport to continue as a world reference as a node of communication, with international connections, and that the regional and municipal governments, along with society, should have the capacity to decide on the strategic actions that affect it...

This is not news. This is publicity. And you note they are not demanding that the airport be privatized. They are demanding that the Barcelona airport be turned over to them--specifically, the regional and municipal governments. And "society," whatever that is. I bet it's the Chamber of Commerce itself.

TV3 ran a visual, "OBSOLETE AIRPORT MODEL." Below it was this statistic: Intercontinental Flights Daily; London, 868; Madrid, 168; Barcelona 19.

That is not news, it is advocacy, and of the cheapest kind: blaming everything on Madrid. Look, I personally do not think that the airlines are dumb. I think the model of competition provides us consumers with the best of all possible worlds. If there was a demand for direct flights from Barcelona to, say, Tokyo or New York, someone would be filling that demand, and those flights would be available. Sounds to me like the Catalan establishment doesn't like what the market has to say--that is, the people who want to come here are mostly drunken teenagers from Newcastle and Rotterdam--and they want the government to do something about it.

La Vanguardia, meanwhile, headlines on the front page: "Iberia stockholders look for buyer," and below it, "El Prat fifth fastest-growing airport in world." The Catalan establishment is royally pissed off at Iberia, the former state-owned airline based in Madrid, because it decided to pull most of its flights out of Barcelona and hub out of Madrid. La Vangua is therefore thrilled to slam Iberia. It's talking up the report that Iberia is up for sale, that several major stockholders including Caja Madrid, BBVA, and El Corte Ingles are looking to cash in now and get rid of their shares, since Iberia stock is up 31% since January 1.

The Catalan establishment is quite open about talking up what they want AENA to do: grant as many slots as possible to Spanair / Star Alliance. So they are throwing all their support, mobilized by the local media, to back the interests of a particular corporation. This is what's wrong with the way things are sometimes done around here.

Inside, in the business section, there's a list of the airports with most passenger traffic. Unsurprisingly, the top five are Atlanta, Chicago, Heathrow, Narita, and LAX. There's a rather lame joke about not even being able to get to Heaven without changing planes in Atlanta on the way. 15 of the top 30 are in the US, including such metropoli as Denver and Minneapolis. Madrid is #13, with 45 million passengers a year, and Barcelona is #34, with 30 million. Barcelona's 10.5% yearly growth is trumpeted. But you have to look at the figures pretty closely, though, to see that Madrid's growth is 8.1%! Seems to me that both airports are going to gain more passengers, as economic growth in Spain continues at more than 3% yearly, and tourism is growing enormously.

Meanwhile, Zap said that the central government, through AENA, would keep its power to decide which airlines get which slots at the new terminal. He had a whack at the Catalan establishment, too, saying that the reason they were concerned about the airport was that the central government had spent €3 billion on it. La Vanguardia called Zap's attitude "state unilateralism."

Please tell me that I'm wrong, I'm paranoid, and that I'm a conspiracy nut. There are no economic interests behind political forces here in Spain, are there? If there really are economic interests behind political forces in Spain, might that not influence Spanish opinion about what is behind political forces in other countries, particularly the "Anglo-Saxon" ones? Is it possible that Spaniards might overestimate the influence of, say, the oil industry in the US, since economic interests are so powerful over here?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Not much news from around here. The PSOE has been blasting away at ex-Prime Minister Aznar's refusal to apologize for joining the Coalition in the Iraq War. Way to go, José María! Stand up to those appeasers of terrorists!

PSOE head apparatchik José Blanco wants the International Criminal Court to put Aznar on trial for war crimes. The PP's irresponsibility counts for little compared to this, wanting to bind over your country's former elected leader to a bunch of foreigners for trial and punishment--for having made the correct and morally difficult decision. I suppose the US will have to grant him political asylum.

One of the more childish examples of sniping against Aznar are the repeated mentions in the press to what is called "la foto de las Azores." Seems that Bush, Blair, Aznar, and Durao Barroso had a meeting in the Azores Islands right before the war began, and a photograph was taken. Ever since then, Spanish commentators (as always obsessed with images) have attacked Aznar for, alleging he entered the Iraq War in order to get his photo taken with Bush and Blair. Naturally, this ridiculous accusation is made by those whose lives would have been complete if they had posed in a photo with Arafat, Mao, or Che, and project their infantility onto others.

Batasuna leader Arnaldo Otegi is in big trouble; the National Court ordered him to be arrested this afternoon. He is to be tried, starting tomorrow, on yet another count of exaltation of terrorism. He's currently out of prison, but has a 15-month suspended sentence to serve. The National Court is going to throw out his appeal on yet another conviction, though, (but not until after the May municipal and regional elections) and he'll have to serve both sentences in a real prison. It's about time.

In related news, Otegi announced that it is an "error" to use terrorism in order to gain independence for the Basque Country. This will be news to all the victims of ETA. Of course, he's lying, and he left himself an out by claiming that ETA is only using violence "to achieve democratic conditions."

The Dutch health department has announced that, get this, they want to ban smoking tobacco in "coffee shops." Coffee shops in the Netherlands are places where they sell cannabis for consumption on the premises; they are technically illegal, but openly tolerated. You will still be able to smoke all the weed you want there, but you can't light up a Marlboro.

Contradictions in Catalonia: There's been a lot of talk around here about how we want to attract a higher class of tourism, not your low-rent European drunken youths that flock to the Catalan coasts every summer. So guess what--the Generalitat is extending legal drinking time for an hour starting this summer! Discos will be allowed to stay open till 6 AM, and "music-bars" (basically what we'd call a bar in the States, that is a place where you go to drink) until 3:30 AM. Cool, I suppose--I haven't been to a disco for years, or closed down a "music-bar," either.

Some Scandinavian magazine rated the beach at Barceloneta one of the top fifteen in the world. Huh? It's not one of the top fifteen in Barcelona province, much less the world, and the water is filthy. I remember going in once, many years ago, and getting all itchy. My favorite beach towns are Cadaqués and Collioure. each of which is worth at least a weekend.

Only German animal-rights activists would want to kill this little fellow. Fortunately, their calls will not be heeded.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Time for a quick blog roundup, since we haven't had one for about a week.

The Brussels Journal links to some rather sobering statistics on immigration into Europe from the Third World in the Telegraph. Check out the map. The former Soviet Union is being depopulated. Everyone who can get out of there is going. No ideology has ever been wronger, in both senses of the word, than Marxism-Leninism. Look what a mess the former Russian Empire made itself into during seventy years; it'll take another seventy to fix it.

Catherine Seipp died. That's a shame. Our greatest sympathy to her daughter, "Cecile Dubois."

Chicago Boyz has a rather sad bit of historical explanation.

Colin Davies isn't surprised that Spaniards like the EU, and he also has an extensive and very funny list of contemporary Spanglish terms.

Confederate Yankee doesn't feel too sorry for the illegal immigrants getting deported.

Davids Medienkritik is feeling satirical.

Eursoc is a bit dry about the EU's birthday celebrations.

Expat Yank shoots down a rather dumb moral comparison in the Independent.

Fausta has commentary, including video, on a ridiculous Barbara Walters interview with Go to Hell Hugo.

Guirilandia has some entertaining Barcelona photos with amusing captions. Check it out.

Ibex Salad runs his stock market recap every weekend. Very useful for a quick snapshot of the Spanish economy.

La Liga Loca has a roundup of last weekend's football action.

Pave France heaps deserved scorn on Dominique de Villepin.

Playing Chess with the Dead has another update on the March 11 trial.

Rainy Day reflects on the Iraq war.

¡No Pasarán! points out that Zapatero's appeasement of Al Qaeda has simply led to more blackmail of the West.

Monday, March 19, 2007

I completely agree with Christopher Hitchens about Iraq.

Bret Stephens has an article in the Wall Street Journal on the unholy alliance between the Islamist reactionaries and the European Left. Key paragraphs:

For Muslim voters in Europe, the attractions of the Socialists are several. Socialists have traditionally taken a more accommodating approach to immigrants and asylum-seekers than their conservative rivals. They have championed the welfare state and the benefits it offers poor newcomers. They have promoted a multiculturalist ethos, which in practice has meant respecting Muslim traditions even when they conflict with Western values. In foreign policy, Socialists have often been anti-American and, by extension, hostile to Israel. That hostility has only increased as Muslim candidates have joined the Socialists' electoral slates and as the Muslim vote has become ever more crucial to the Socialists' electoral margin.

More mysterious, however, at least as a matter of ideology, has been the dalliance of the progressive left with the (Islamic) political right. Self-styled progressives, after all, have spent the past four decades championing the very freedoms that Islam most opposes: sexual and reproductive freedoms, gay rights, freedom from religion, pornography and various forms of artistic transgression, pacifism and so on. For those who hold this form of politics dear, any long-term alliance with Islamic politics ultimately becomes an ideological, if not a political, suicide pact. One cannot, after all, champion the cause of universal liberation in alliance with a movement that at its core stands for submission.

Jay Nordlinger says in National Review:

You have to ask which the American president should be more worried about: correct policy or the approval of Le Monde. They don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Beyond which, when we say “Europe,” what do we mean? There is more to that continent than Frenchmen, Belgians, and David Cameron. When Eastern European leaders spoke out in favor of the U.S., Jacques Chirac said they were not “bien élevés” — that they were not well brought up — and that they “missed a great opportunity to shut up.” He further called them “infantile.” Frankly, I would rather appeal to a Czech or two than to Jacques Chirac. (You should hear Vaclav Havel on America.) Look: Trying to get Europeans to like you is a) a fool’s errand and b) not a fit concern for a U.S. president, particularly in war.

Meanwhile, some idiot in the Guardian justifies Iran's nuclear program and calls on the West to accept an Iranian bomb.
Last weekend was another big demonstration fiesta around here. The PP had a big old wingding in Pamplona against the incorporation of Navarre in the Basque Country, as extremist Basque nationalists demand and most Navarrese strongly oppose.

I am more than tired of all these damn demonstrations, especially when Rajoy comes out and demands that the Zap government pay attention to the voice of the people. Demonstrations are meaningless in a democracy. The voice of the people is expressed at the ballot box.

Anyway, the Zapathetics decided that they had to have a demo of their own, and so decided to protest against the Iraq War, with Communist, Palestinian, Cuban, and preconstitutional flags, along with banners emblazoned with Che's ugly mug. Signs bashed Bush and Blair and called for a boycott of the United States, along with demands for Spain to leave NATO and close down American military bases. Rosa Regas repeated the old lie about 650,000 victims of the Iraq war, and of course didn't mention that 99% of the victims there have been were killed by the terrorists. Pedro Almodovar was there, of course.

Zap behaves like he is still running for election, and he has only one issue: He's against the Iraq War and against the United States. There's nothing else he can appeal to voters with. He stands for nothing else except for peace with ETA on ETA's terms, and that's not exactly a winning position on that issue.

The Spanish press is making a big deal out of the Polish law that would require government workers to declare whether they had collaborated with the Communist regime or not. One point is that those who confess collaboration will not be punished. I'm not sure this law is such a good idea, either, though I would be in favor of opening up the secret police archives and hey, what's in there ought to identify plenty of spies and informers. La Vanguardia and El Periodico have both called the law a "witch hunt," though, which it most certainly is not, since there was no such thing as witches, but there were lots of collaborators with the Communists. I will note that the Spanish left has repeatedly called for the punishment of those who collaborated with the dictatorial regimes of South America during the '70s and '80s. Finally, I will also note that neither side in Spain seems very interested in identifying collaborators with the Franco regime here; I have never heard of a single Spaniard identified publicly as a Francoist informer.

La Vanguardia gave Andy Robinson pages 3 and 4 for an emotional outburst on the sad fate of illegal immigrants in the US, specifically Nebraska. Of course, it ain't no paradise for illegal immigrants anywhere, including Spain, but we'll let that slide. Seems that Immigration is "rounding up" illegals and deporting them, perhaps a total of a thousand or so in three recent raids. Which is what the law says Immigration is supposed to do, but Andy's upset. He quotes one Luis Lucar as saying, "There is a psychosis here right now, we are seeing violations of basic civil rights. Immigration has knocked down doors without a warrant in order to arrest people. There are children who have seen their mothers deported." An anonymous person adds, "I have very bad memories of the guerrillas and the army in Guatemala, and now the same thing is happening here with Immigration."

Now wait, there's a difference. The army and the guerrillas were killing people in Guatemala. Immigration is deporting people from the United States. Anyway, Andy quotes a union guy as saying, "It's no accident that they chose Swift, where we have union representation. It's an attack on organized labor." It's no accident that only Marxist conspiracy freaks habitually begin sentences with "It's no accident..." Andy also notes that the reason some children's parents have been deported is, get this, that the United States grants citizenship to anyone born within its borders, whether his parents are citizens or not. He fails to note that this law, as far as I know, is unique in the world. Mexico, for example, does not have such a policy.

My reaction to the whole piece is: So they deported a thousand illegal aliens from Nebraska. That's not even morally wrong, much less illegal. Why are the two main international news pages devoted to it, rather than, say, to the terrorist massacres in Iraq, the starvation in Darfur, the repression in North Korea, the Chinese labor camps, the anarchy in the Congo, the nuclear threat from Iran, or the mafia running Russia? The news that Al Qaeda has been using chemical weapons (chlorine gas) against civilians in Iraq got a small mention at the bottom of page 6.

Because, of course, one must bash America, mustn't one.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

News from out here west of the Besós:

The story that's probably gotten the most attention recently in Spain is the suicide of a woman with muscular dystrophy who had been living in pain for years. She finally got the courts to allow her to turn off her life support. The Catholic hospital she was in would not comply with her wishes, so she was moved to a different hospital which would. Now she's dead.

This opens up the old euthanasia can of worms, of course. This is a pretty clear case of someone who consciously wanted to die, and it seems very cruel not to allow her to. There's an analogy here with De Juana Chaos, who threatened suicide through hunger strike. I'd have allowed him to do it without force-feeding him, which they did for a while.

We had a problem with this in the States, though, that was named Jack Kevorkian. Kevorkian facilitated suicide for many people who were nowhere near terminal cases; some of his victims were merely depressed, and he apparently talked people into killing themselves. It's the old slippery-slope argument that comes up on the terrorism and torture issue, too.

For a country whose media is constantly talking up alleged censorship in the United States, there have been a couple of good ones recently over here in Spain. The first was an ad campaign for the loud, flashy, and tasteless fashion firm Dolce & Gabbana. The photo shows a semi-nude gentleman, surrounded by three other semi-nude gentlemen, restraining a lady in a position somewhat reminiscent of rape.

A Spanish feminist group got all outraged, of course, and the government got into it, and D&G pulled the ad in Spain, saying that Spain "was still backward" and did not know how to appreciate artistic photography. I guess I don't, either--the photo seems just sleazy to me. Reminds me of Mapplethorpe. It doesn't appeal to normal heterosexuals at all. And, of course, the ad campaign did its job--it got massive publicity for the company, which Iberian Notes is right now providing more of.

Meanwhile, the (Socialist) regional government of Extremadura financed, with taxpayers' money, an exhibit of Catholic-porno photos. Naturally everybody got offended. The answer to this is really simple: no government financing whatsoever of the arts. Let the market take care of it. Get private funding. It's not like there aren't thousands of foundations passing out grants. If one of them wants to subsidize photos of Jesus having a wank, fine, but the government ought to stay out of it.

And, of course, the difference in the treatment handed out to Christians and Muslims is appalling. The Zap government criticized the famous cartoons of Mohammed for offending Muslims. But we can subsidize photos of the Virgin Mary giving Jesus head and that doesn't offend anybody.

Meanwhile, get this. The Generalitat, Catalonia's regional government, subsdizes this guy to make porno movies in Catalan. He has received almost €30,000 "in order to contribute to the diffusion of the Catalan language."

I think I'm going to apply to the Gene for a subsidy myself. Let's see. I'm one of the most flatulent people in the world, due to my vegetarian diet which is heavy on those beans and cruciferous vegetables, not to mention the occasional egg. I'm going to bottle my own farts. They're a work of art. My ringpiece is a musical instrument. Perhaps I'll even provide the audio for each bottled fart. I'm sure true aficionados will appreciate the difference between a long-built-up bean burrito fart and a quick-and-juicy scrambled eggs job. Where's my €30,000?
John in Tokyo, a regular commenter, posted in the Comments section about Pilar Manjón. I thought his post was worth reproducing here.

"Stockholm Syndrome. I usually dislike attempts to frame politics and ideology in psychological terms because people believe what they believe for many reasons and it is impossible for others to know why they do. In any event, the political psychoanalysis is usually just as ideologically distorted as the people/ideas it attempts to examine.

However, this case is just too blatant to ignore and too bizarre. One cannot help but wonder about the thought processes of Pilar Manjon. It's simply amazing that this woman (and she is not the only case like this) can direct her outrage and contempt at a wide range of targets, people she sees as responsible for creating the conditions in which her son was killed. But she has not even an ounce of anger toward the people who, you know, actually deliberately planned the murder of her innocent son and others.

This is a true inversion of cause and effect, she is blaming the people who oppose her son's murders, and thus, the cause of terrorism becomes fighting against terrorism, to her mind. Imagine that someone burns down your house. No matter how dissatisfied/frustrated you were with the response of the Fire Dept., Police, etc., would you ever become so unhinged that you stopped blaming the arsonist and focused your anger on the firemen? Granted, losing your house (or son) is traumatic and might make it hard to think clearly, and firemen should not be immune from criticism - maybe their mistakes made the problem worse.

However, the problem with this mentality is that it is unlikely to put an end to arson (or terrorism). In fact it encourages more, making it ultimately self-destructive. I honestly think that most educated, intelligent, good thinking, and good hearted citizens of Western countries have still not grasped this basic concept (for a variety of reasons). When (if) they do, terrorism will not survive long and many of the conflicts that plague us will dry up.

But until then, we are doomed to be targets of terrorism because we reward terrorists with the effects and outcomes that they desire. We become paralyzed, arguing endlessly about the proper meaning and response. We stop and consider their grievances and objectives (and even if their grievances and objectives are insane, there are are always a few points that do appeal to our sensibilities and which inevitably distract people like Manjon and our old friend Joan.) Most of all, many of us, like Sra. Manjon, strike out at all of the people who are trying to stop, arrest, or kill the terrorists, inadvertantly or otherwise, coluding with the terrorists against their enemies."

John in Tokyo 03.15.07 - 9:15 pm

Thursday, March 15, 2007

I'm not sure what they did to this guy at Guantanamo, but whatever it was, it worked.

There's no question that some techniques used at Guantanamo, like sleep deprivation, Metallica at 100 decibels for hours, and especially waterboarding, border on torture. Not to mention all the psychological stress they must be using.

The question, as always, is does the end (=learning about lots of plots, foiling them, saving perhaps thousands of innocent lives, arresting more terrorists) justify the means (denying Khalid Sheik Muhammed the most elemental of his human rights)?

My answer, I suppose, is that it depends on the end and the means. In this case, I think the end in question does justify the means in question, basically because KSM is who he is. Everyone knew he was guilty as hell all along.

(Yes, I've heard the slippery-slope argument, and it has a lot to be said for it. We start out by forcing KSM to listen to "Enter Sandman" at 100 decibels for a week nonstop, and wind up like the Gestapo and the KGB with a Gulag of our own. It's a genuine concern. My response, I suppose, is that I don't think we've slid too far yet. An example of too far is Abu Ghraib. That wasn't anything like Guantanamo, in the sense that whatever goes on at Guantanamo is done on orders by higher authority, eventually reaching up to the President, while Abu Ghraib was a unit gone bad. But the sadism and perversion of the Abu Ghraib torturers, mixed with the fact that the people tortured there were small fry, clearly is far beyond the limit at which the end justifies the means.)

It sort of reminds me of what was effectively the US assassination of Admiral Yamamoto in 1943. Our intelligence learned that he was going to be flying from Point X to Point Y on Day Z, and our fighter planes were sent to blow him out of the sky. They did. Admiral Halsey's reaction was, "What's so good about that? I had hoped to lead that bastard up Pennsylvania Avenue in chains."

I think KSM is just as much an enemy combat leader during wartime as Yamamoto was, and deserves no better. Yamamoto pulled off Pearl Harbor; KSM pulled off 9/11. He will, of course, be executed after his military trial, I have no doubt about that.
Pilar Manjón, the leader of the pro-Socialist victims of terrorism group, gave a speech on March 9 listing everyone she held in contempt. Manjón's son was killed in the March 11 bombing. Manuel Trallero of La Vanguardia, who has pissed me off more than once, responds with some contempt of his own. Manjon's words are in bold and Trallero's responses in italics. It's long, and highly colloquial, so slightly edited.

For those who are violent
That's in the Bible. Amen.

For the Fascists
That's too easy.

For those who support the mustache (a reference to former prime minister Aznar)
And what about those who called the bombing at Barajas Airport Terminal 4 "an unfortunate accident" (a reference to PM Zapatero)? What about them, Mrs. Manjón?

For those who support wars
They're very bad, yes, ma'am. Good thing some of them lost their lives against Mr. Hitler or we'd all be goose-stepping. But they were very bad. Many were even Americans.

For those who support the torture at Guantanamo
I completely agree, Mrs. Manjón, but we're not bringing up the subject of Cuba today, are we?

For those who did not find the weapons of mass destruction
To hell with them. By the way, where were you when Saddam was cutting the Kurds' throats? Where?

For those who lied to us then
Of course. But for all of them, including the speaker on the Hora 25 program on (pro-Socialist) SER radio, who mentioned the rumors running around Madrid that the elections would be suspended. For him too.

For those who are lying to us now
Yes, that's even a sin. Saying we're better off than last year and not as well off as this year in the peace process. (a reference to PM Zapatero).

For the friends of the former prime minister
They, Mrs. Manjón, did not place the bomb that killed your son.

For the friends of the former interior minister

For the friends of Bush

For those who lose an election and get angry
I do not know a single politician who does not react in that way.

For those who bless the bombings
As Mr. Solana, secretary-general of NATO, a Socialist from the days of "NATO no," ordered and blessed the bombs that fell on Belgrade to stop the massacre in the former Yugoslavia.

For those who bark when they speak
You would prefer everyone to be silent, beginning with the church bells and finishing with the TV images. You decide who barks and who speaks. On TVE they already do that.

For those who use terrorism to justify everything
Not to justify everything, of course. But there are one thousand dead people on the table. Should we look away?

For those who insult me
Take them to court. Why don't you sue them? .

For those who threaten me
You're right. But would you mind giving us the names of those who insult and threaten you? Couldn't you give us a few details?

For all of those, and in my name, my most contemptuous contempt.
And for the murderers of your son, not a tiny bit of that contemptuous contempt? You didn't even mention them. Interesting, isn't it?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Just a couple of quick links--it's been a long, busy day, which included taking my mother-in-law to the hospital for a preliminary eye exam for her cataracts operation in two weeks.

The Times has a piece on the feud between Vargas Llosa and García Márquez. This is even more fun than Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal. I'd love to see Mailer and Vidal slug it out in a no-holds-barred caged death match, so I could root for them both to lose.

Jonah Goldberg has an article in National Review--it's on American politics, but is very applicable to Spain--on why controversy and dissension in a democracy are a good thing.

Snopes looks at a probably spurious quote attributed to Robert E. Lee.

The Daily Standard has details on a French law that would ban private individuals from filming acts of violence. And some people say America is full of censorship.

Julian Barnes has a review in the NY Review of Books of what looks like a very interesting history of the rivalry between England and France.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Tom from the Bad Rash has a post up on the PP demo in Madrid last weekend. I have a few disagreements.

It seems that the BBC are reporting on a new opposition demonstration in Madrid every weekend now, inadvertently showing the pictures of falangist flags and Nazi salutes that the Spanish media seems not to see.

I dunno. Much as I dislike demonstrations, I must admit that last weekend's went off without trouble. Since the Socialist Party controls TVE and TV3, and since I regularly watch the news on both, if there had been a lot of Nazi saluting I think I'd have seen it.

...the PP government released no fewer than 64 prisoners on the same basis as De Juana Chaos's original release schedule.

The number 64 comes from El País. My understanding is that the Aznar government had no legal choice but to release the ETA prisoners that they did, since it is the judicial system rather than the administration that decides when a prisoner's sentence is up. The Zapatero government did not decide to release De Juana Chaos from his prison sentence for the 25 murders he committed; that was done by the courts. What the Zapatero government did decide to do was to permit De Juana Chaos to serve out his sentence for writing threatening letters under house arrest rather than in prison. De Juana Chaos then called off his hunger strike, indicating that he found the Zapatero government's concessions to be sufficient.

In their largely unsuccessful co-opting of traditionally left-wing means of protest, the PP fail to offer one important thing: their alternative. They're opposed to dialogue with ETA, so how do we achieve peace in the Basque country? Not interested, is the response. "Wipe them out" is the stupid and unhelpful proposition from some foreign observers (who've never had to live under the threat of terrorism).

A) Forms of protest are not owned by anyone. B) I agree that demonstrations (in democracies; in dictatorships, demonstrators are more courageous than I would probably be) are a particularly infantile form of protest more typical of the Left than the Right. C) I may be wrong, but I think Iberian Notes is one of the "foreign observers" referred to. And I think the way you deal with terrorists, just like any other kind of murderer, is by throwing their asses in jail if they're just collaborators and hanging them if they actually pulled the trigger. I will add that I have most certainly lived under the threat of terrorism during my years in the United States and Spain, and that is one of the most important reasons why I despise terrorists. And everybody else in the world has lived under the threat of terrorism, too. Or don't we remember 9/11, Black September, Munich, Entebbe, Carlos the Jackal, the Red Army Fraction, Oklahoma City, Lockerbie, the African embassies, Casablanca, Bali, Baghdad...must I go on?

The truth is that no solution will ever be found without dialogue.

I'm not sure what good dialogue would do. ETA has basic demands--a referendum on independence, the annexation of Navarra, the release of their prisoners--that no Spanish government could ever accept. And the Spanish government has one basic demand--stop killing people--that ETA has not accepted yet. What exactly is there to negotiate about?

The AVT, while effectively a grassroots campaign group for the PP, technically remains a separate entity...

Yep. And Pilar Manjón's group is effectively a grassroots campaign group for the PSOE.

There are those in the PSOE who accuse this united front of plotting (or even attempting) a coup d'etat against the elected government.

Well, you heard it from Tom. The PSOE is accusing the PP of planning a coup d'etat. That is not the behavior of a political party that wants to calm down the political situation. It is not the behavior of a party that respects its opponents as a democratic opposition, either.

I think that's an exaggeration.

See, look, we can agree on something! There's still hope for Tom. He can yet be saved. Don't give up, brothers and sisters, we can lead him to the light! (Pardon me while I ululate for a while.) There, that's better. Amen.
Clive James has a must-read piece in Slate on Grigory Ordzhonokidze, one of Stalin's lesser-known but more important henchmen, including reflections on the nature of power.

By the way, I highly recommend Simon Sebag Montefiore's biography of Stalin; I've got a signed copy that I bought at the Waterstone's on Oxford Street.
Very quick blog roundup:

José at Barcepundit chastises the PSOE, deservedly, for their heated rhetoric. He points out that the big PP demo last weekend is exactly the same tactic that the PSOE used against the Aznar government.

Colin Davies has more, among his daily reflections.

Davids Medienkritik has more on global warming eco-hysteria and the German media. So does Expat Yank, on the British media.

Eursoc has an extensive look at Jack Chiraq in the wake of the announcement that he won't run again. So does Pave France.

Fausta looks at honor killings and the code of silence about them in Palestinian society.

Ibex Salad runs a weekly look at the Spanish stock market. Here's last week's.

La Liga Loca reviews the weekend in Spanish football.

Publius Pundit posts positively on the President's Latin America tour.

Sal de Traglia and friends have been out tapas-bar hopping in Madrid.

Playing Chess with the Dead does not like my ex-boss. I'm not a huge fan, either. I've met his son, who's a nice guy.

¡No Pasarán! points out the hypocrisy inherent in anti-Americanism.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial yesterday on Zap and Spain. As you might have imagined, it's not precisely pro-Socialist. It's generally good, but we have a couple of quibbles.

The Zapatero government has encouraged Catalonia, the Basque Country and other regions in this highly decentralized state to seek new autonomy deals that call into question the current constitutional order, and may be a stepping stone to the possible break up of Spain.

That's a little catastrophic, I think. The Catalan statute is going to be tossed out by the Constitutional Court. If, somehow, the statute survives, it's still nowhere near a step toward independence. I don't see Spain breaking up anytime soon. And Spain is not highly decentralized, at least not by American standards. Spanish regions have much less power than American states.

And, to complete the picture of a state divided, wounds from Spain's awful 1936-39 civil war and the subsequent four decades of General Franco's dictatorship that most people assumed were long healed were ripped open by Mr. Zapatero. In a break with previous Socialist rulers, he openly plays politics with history. Rusting Franco-era statues are ceremoniously torn down. The church and the so-called bourgeoisie--the enemies for the divisive Second Republic of 1931-36--have come under attack. Anyone on the right is, often by implication, a fascist.

That paragraph starts out OK. Zap has been irresponsibly waving the bloody shirt of the Republic. If the worst consequences so far are the removal of a couple of statues, that dumb Salamanca archive thing, and several boring documentaries on TV2, though, it's not yet time for us on the right to get agitated. Also, I have not heard Zap and the PSOE attacking the Church or the "bourgeoisie." Some juvenile loudmouths on the left, like Pepe Rubianes and his ilk, will attack anything that smacks of authority, but Zap hasn't gone that far. And, again, there are elements on the left of the PSOE that do throw around the word "fascist" to mean anything they don't like, but American idiotarian leftists do that all the time. Zap hasn't called the PP fascists, at least not yet.

I feel like I'm defending Zap, which is not something I want to do. I would never vote for him, and I hope he loses the next election. But he's not evil, he's just rather naive and not very smart. Spain will survive him.
From the "Never Praise Your Country When at Home, Nor Criticize It When Abroad" department:

La Vanguardia has an interview with Harold Bloom today. Bloom is much more famous in Catalonia than in America, since he has written positively about Catalan literature.

Interviewer: In your book you say the United States is not a democracy.

Bloom: That's it. We are not a democracy, and it is ridiculous for us to affirm that we want to bring democracy to the world, because we have no democracy to export. The United States is equal parts a plutocracy, a theocracy, and an oligarchy; political families that govern generation after generation.

Int.: American Religion insists on the special relationship that the American people has with God.

Bloom: More than 90% of Americans believe in God, though what fascinates me is that each one of them is convinced that God loves him personally. They think God is on their side. Bush, who is responsible for the current disaster in iraq and this country's deficit, says that Jesus is his favorite philosopher. Can you believe that he got through Yale without reading a single book?

What an East Coast intellectual snob. Furriners who wonder why 90% of America despises these people and ignores everything they say now know why.

However, Bloom, toward the end of the interview, demonstrates that he knows as little about contemporary fiction as he does about the country that he is a citizen of, that took his ancestors in, and that he scorns so harshly.

Bloom: Baltasar Porcel is at the same level as Don DeLillo or Philip Roth.

Yeah, at the same level of muddle-headed politics, I'd agree. At the same level of literary talent? No, not really, no.
You'll want to read this piece on global warming eco-hysteria from, of all places, ABC News. (Note: It's three pages.)

Key quote:

Herein lies the moral danger behind global warming hysteria. Each day, 20,000 people in the world die of waterborne diseases. Half a billion people go hungry. A child is orphaned by AIDS every seven seconds. This does not have to happen. We allow it while fretting about "saving the planet." What is wrong with us that we downplay this human misery before our eyes and focus on events that will probably not happen even a hundred years hence? We know that the greatest cause of environmental degradation is poverty; on this, we can and must act.

Climate change is a norm, not an exception. It is both an opportunity and a challenge. The real crises for 4 billion people in the world remain poverty, dirty water and the lack of a modern energy supply. By contrast, global warming represents an ecochondria of the pampered rich.

Yep. Poverty and disease can be at least partially fixed with decent government, private property rights, the rule of law, and access to free markets, along with development aid administered by the West. It wouldn't even cost all that much money. Several trillion dollars, of course, but a lot less than "fixing" global warming would cost.

One thing I find interesting is the religious and ideological nature of environmentalism. Environmentalism is mostly not a reasoned response to real problems, as conservationism is. Instead, as that environmentalist guy said in El Periódico the other day, it's an ethical (or, I'd say, unethical) movement. Environmentalists believe that Western society is evil and must be radically changed. Capitalism, growth, development, private property, the profit motive, individual economic rights--it's all got to stop. Bogus Marxism didn't work, so equally bogus environmentalism has replaced it; you have noticed, of course, that most Greens are also Marxists. Look no farther than Iniciativa, our local commies. They don't really give a crap about ordinary people or want to make their lives better in the here and now; that would be reformism. Instead, they want to throw out the whole system and start over, with themselves in charge, of course.

This is why environmentalists are against using biofuels, like ethanol, or building more nuclear power plants. They don't want to solve problems in a way that would make our current system better, since our current system is itself unethical and must be destroyed.

La Vanguardia's best columnist, Francesc-Marc Álvaro, today compares the global warning panic to the nuclear panic during the Cold War. He points out that nuclear destruction of the planet was a genuine possibility, while we're not even sure that global warming actually exists, whether it is man-made if it does exist, and whether it is a serious problem if it is man-made.

Quote: I do not want--and I think many agree--climactic change to become our new daily source of terror or frightening images of voracious deserts, overflowing seas, and perpetual storms to begin to haunt my dreams until they become nightmares. We didn't spend our childhoods watching images of antinuclear refuges on TV in order to spend our adult years terrified by climactic Apocalypse. Let's pay attention to the scientists, listen to the governments, consider the interests of the companies, but let us not accept a new conceptual Alien. Other things, like flourishing fundamentalism and populism, deserve much more space in the shop window of contemporary threats.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

It's the third anniversary of the March 11, 2004 bombings. Al Qaeda murdered almost 200 people in Madrid. Most of the media turned on the government. The opposition PSOE won the election held three days later. The new prime minister, Zapatero, pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq as soon as he took office. The message he sent was one of cowardice and appeasement. We made them mad by sending troops to Iraq, so we'll withdraw our troops, and then they won't be mad at us anymore. If only it were so easy.

The West is at war with Al Qaeda and Islamist terrorists, in New York, London, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Spain too, a war we did not start. Zapatero does not recognize this. He honestly believes that if the West does not meet the Islamists' demands, some of which he considers legitimate, then the consequent struggle is our fault. And, twenty years ago, he believed that if the West did not meet the Soviets' demands, some of which he considered more than legitimate, then the consequent struggle was our fault.

Fortunately, Zapatero has little international power or influence, except among the Another World Is Possible crowd. After he loses the next election, which he probably will despite the PP's incompetence, he will be no more than the answer to a trivia question. Twenty years from now, he will be remembered vaguely as a figure of appeasement, much like Neville Chamberlain.

Unless, of course, Zarqawi and Osama win the war and reconquer Al-Andalus. Not likely, I agree. However, Zap and the rest of those who want the US to lose have most certainly not considered the consequences.
José at Barcepundit has a rundown on yesterday's demo in Madrid. Publius Pundit has more.

I don't like symbolic politics and demos and stuff like that. I like thought, serious talk, and real action, which the opposition PP has not been providing lately. Of course, the dreadful Zap administration has never provided any of that, either, so it's kind of like Scylla or Charybdis, not much of a choice.

The demo's purpose was to censure the Zapatero administration in general, its anti-ETA policies more specifically, and the transfer from prison to house arrest of terrorist Iñaki De Juana Chaos in particular.

Well, I agree with the demonstrators. I don't like Zap, his ETA policy, or his release of De Juana Chaos, either. I also think the Zap administration's attempt to deflect criticism of his own performance on the De Juana Chaos affair by attacking ex-PM Aznar's policies was about as demagogic as a political argument can get. No, it doesn't matter whether we're doing something stupid and wrong right now, because the PP did something sort of similar in the past!

I wouldn't have marched in the demo, though. I don't like the mass-rally attitude toward politics at all.

And my attitude toward De Juana Chaos, of course, is that he should be dead. Unfortunately, Spain has no death penalty.

Note: It's always fun, after a big demo, to look at the various reports of how many people were there. I've seen estimates ranging from 300,000 (El País) to 2.2 million (the PP). There were most certainly a hell of a lot of people there, and they were well-behaved; fortunately, no one did anything to tarnish the image of the Right, always a risk at public demos.
It was a wild one last night at the Camp Nou, where FC Barcelona and Real Madrid drew 3-3 in what is always the biggest game of the season. Certainly an exciting game--anyone who thinks soccer is boring should have seen this one. Neither team was disciplined, and both showed huge holes on defense. Leo Messi scored a hat-trick for Barcelona, and Ronaldinho had an excellent game. Here are the highlights from the match, along with a Spanish radio commentator's voice-over.

Madrid started the scoring with a goal by Van Nistelrooy off a defensive error by Thuram in minute 5, but Messi tied it up right afterward off a pass by Eto'o. Later in the first half Oleguer committed an obvious penalty, and Van Nistelrooy converted the penalty kick. Then Ronaldinho took the ball into the area from the left, shot, Casillas stopped it, but Messi volleyed in the rebound for 2-2. Near the end of the first half, Oleguer was sent off after two yellow cards, and Barça was left with ten men. Rijkaard substituted Sylvinho for Eto'o in order to set up a four-man defensive line, and nobody managed to score for most of the second half. Then Guti centered a free kick from the right of the area, and Ramos somehow knocked it in with the top of his head. It looked like Madrid was going to win, but in the last minute of regulation Ronaldinho got a through ball to Messi, who beat Casillas to make it 3-3. Three minutes of injury time, and Ronaldinho gets it into the area once more and Ramos knocks him down. It's a penalty, but the ref doesn't call it, and the game ends 3-3. There was only one more really dubious call by the ref; he warned Ramos for a brutal takedown of Ronaldinho from behind, and even the TV announcers agreed it should have been a red card.

So where does that leave Barça? Probably still in second place after today's matches, but within easy striking distance of Sevilla. Valencia is likely to make up points on Barça, too.

I now think Barcelona has a 60% chance of winning the League, down 20 points from a couple of weeks ago, with Sevilla and Valencia at around 20% each. They haven't been eliminated from the Spanish Cup yet; they came back and eliminated Zaragoza to go on to the quarterfinals, so they still have a chance to win that, too. The Cup is a comparatively minor trophy, but it would be nice to win it, and a League-Cup double would definitely salvage the season. That's still possible.

There's some debate around here about what to do with the squad for next year. Elements of the local media are talking about selling off a sizable number of players. I imagine that if Barça does not win the League, there will be even more calls for change in the clubhouse. That, to me, is nuts. This team has won two Leagues and a Champions, and you don't break up the squad over a second-place finish.

I think there are three groups of players on the club. The first is your group of core players from your own youth system. You want to keep every single one who's good enough to play in First Division. For the Barça, that would be Valdés, Puyol, Oleguer, Xavi, Messi, and Iniesta, all of whom still have upside to their careers. The second is your group of international superstars. You want to keep these guys, too, until they prove they're not superstars. Ideally, you sell your superstars one year before their performance begins to decline. That would be Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Saviola, and Deco. This might be a very good time to sell Deco. The third group are your solid professionals who you bring in to fill out the team. These guys are replaceable. They are Belletti, Márquez, Van Bronckhorst, Sylvinho, Edmilson, Gudjohnsen, Zambrotta, Thuram, Giuly, and Ezquerro.

I would: a) keep all the core players from the cantera, except for Motta, who I would ship out to anyone who will take him b) keep Ronaldinho and Eto'o no matter what c) keep all your pros who are under 30, which would be Márquez, Gudjohnsen, and Zambrotta. Sell the rest; their careers have entered the decline stage. Possible exception: Sylvinho, who is in great physical shape though he's about 33. Most players (except goalies) are done at about 30.

That would leave you with a basic lineup next year of Valdés; Oleguer, Puyol, Márquez, Zambrotta; Iniesta, Gudjohnsen (who played holding midfielder at Chelsea), and Xavi; Ronaldinho, Eto'o, and Messi. Saviola is your 12th man, the striker off the bench.

Now you need to sign some players; I'd bring in a right fullback, a left fullback, a central defender, a holding midfielder, a left winger, and a right winger. Olmo, from the youth squad, looks like he might be ready to step in as a central defender, and Dos Santos, also from the youth squad, is about ready to spell Xavi and Iniesta as playmaking midfielders. Also, strange as it may seem, I actually liked Real Madrid's idea of bringing in one superstar player a year. With these caveats: Get rid of one superstar a year, too, don't buy superstars you don't have a place for, and buy them experienced in Europe but still under about 26. Don't buy Latin American stars untested without a couple of years in a major European league. I'd get Cristiano Ronaldo; the local papers are claiming that Barça already has him tied up for next season. They should get some cash for Deco that they can spend on C.R.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

We got a link from Slate (last paragraph). Cool.

If I may drop a few names, Iberian Notes has gotten links from National Review, Front Page, the Daily Standard, Andrew Sullivan, InstaPundit, and Little Green Footballs. We're on the blogrolls of the latter two. The funny thing is that the links we get are almost always on stuff I just dashed off in three minutes, like the Captain America post that Slate linked to, while stuff I spend a couple of hours on, like that post on the Spanish Civil War, are universally ignored.

There's a lesson here somewhere.
Tom from The Bad Rash says, regarding Ann Coulter,

This is yet another story which gives the lie to conservative 'ownership' and 'custody' of morality. I wouldn't mind them so much if they didn't spend half their time slagging people off for doing things they, or their mates, are perfectly happy to indulge in. The point is that no one, left or right, can own morality… but it is conservatives who frequently claim to.

I responded in his comments section:

Tom, many Republicans, among them Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, are not social conservatives. The Republican Party is actually a coalition of several different factions, including the free marketeers, the deregulation folks, the small government / low tax squad, the foreign policy hawks, the business-as-usual people, patriotic traditionalists, cranky old folks who want to go back to 1910 or whatever–and the social conservatives, who are largely religiously based. Most Republicans fall into several of these categories (I'm a free marketeer and a foreign policy hawk, for example, and also an advocate of small, local government, but definitely not a social conservative), but few fit into all of them.

Each of these factions, along with each of the several factions of the Democratic Party (the unions, the civil rights establishment, government employees, the feminists, the universities, Hollywood, the big-city political machines like Chicago, the greens, the anti-system folks, and the socialists who have no other home)claims to have a monopoly on what the right way to do things is–that is, on morality. Every single political group claims to have morality on its side, always has, and always will.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

So Marvel Comics has killed Captain America. I don't care, of course; I've never had any interest in superheroes or comic books, except for Mad and Viz. (Other things I never liked: Horror movies. Gilligan's Island and '60s comedies. Star Trek and space shows. '70s cop shows. James Bond.) But it made TV3 news this afternoon. Get this quote from their website:

Interpretations of the hero's end have not taken long to appear. Many see an allegory of the state of his country. It isn't strange, since Captain America incarnates the fundamental values of the United States, and so his death could be interpreted as the end of these values.

That's just earth-shatteringly dumb. This is a comic book character, for Christ's sake. Remember that nutcase thing Ariel Dorfman wrote back in the '70s on how Donald Duck symbolizes gringo imperialistic capitalism? This is nearly as bad.

One problem with Europeans' ideas about the United States is that most of them come from American popular culture, which as we all know has little or nothing to do with reality. They tend to take images very seriously as well, because they're much easier to understand than the complicated reading that would be necessary to have informed ideas about American governmental policy, much less the society as a whole or its history.
Arts and Letters Daily links to this Stephen Schwartz article, which was written as a response to the Eric Hobsbawm piece (in the Guardian, of course) on the Spanish Civil War that we commented on a few days ago.

Schwartz justifiably carves up Hobsbawm's ignorance of the subject and his parroting of the Stalinist line in his piece, but he repeats his own set of clichés in praise of the non-Stalinist revolutionary left. These groups, the Socialist PSOE, the anarchist CNT-FAI and semi-Trotskyist POUM, committed as many atrocities as the Communists did, and were no more democratic. Their middle-class allies, Manuel Azaña's Republican Left and Lluís Companys's Esquerra Republicana, were also guilty of collaboration with the assorted revolutionary groups and of a good few atrocities of their own; they were not democrats, but Jacobins, believers in radical change carried out by an intellectual vanguard--that is, themselves.

Of course, Schwartz admits none of this; he and Hobsbawm are both wrong. They merely sympathize with two different factions of revolutionary leftists. Neither understands that in 1936, Spain was sharply divided between Left and Right, that the Right had some pretty good arguments in its favor, and the Left had had a disastrous record since 1931. Nor will either admit that both sides, Right and Left, committed enormous atrocities during the war and deserve equal moral condemnation, or that when forced to choose between Franco, the Communists (who quickly dominated the PSOE and the Jacobins after the July 17 coup failed), or the CNT-POUM, a lot of people chose Franco. Most of those who chose Franco were working and middle-class center to right-wingers who had sympathized with the conservative CEDA, populist Radicals, or right-Catalanist Lliga Catalana before the war. (The Basque PNV originally threw in with the Republicans in 1936, and then pretty much switched sides in 1937.)

Quotes from Schwartz's article:

Hobsbawm embodies a principle on which I and others have long written: the distinction that must be made between the war of 1936-39 as experienced by the Spanish people, and the parallel conflict fantasized by intellectuals of a leftist persuasion mainly (and now retrospectively) situated, to paraphrase Trotsky, in the Bronx of the Young Communist League. The two had and have nothing in common.

That's Schwartz's thesis statement, and it's true enough.

This band of memory-murderers have never come to grips with the fundamental lie of Stalinist propaganda, which holds that the Republicans would have won the war if they had submitted to dictation from Moscow – a claim every educated Spanish individual knows to be absurd.

Schwartz is starting to go off track here. Yes, he's right about the Stalinists, but notice his last phrase there. Actually, there's still a lot of debate among historians between three theses: A) The Republicans would have won the war if they'd submitted to direction from Moscow. B) The Republicans would have won the war if they'd told Moscow to take a hike C) There was no way the Republicans were going to win the war no matter what. Hobsbawm believes A. Schwartz believes B. I tend to go for C. The problem with A is that they pretty much did submit to Moscow after the May 1937 mini-civil war in Barcelona, and the problem with B was that the CNT, POUM, and PSOE-Communist militias never once stopped a Francoist advance. Note Schwartz's extensive use of loaded language and his appeal to the spurious authority of "every educated Spanish individual."

But the Spanish, I am glad to say, know better than Hobsbawm what happened; they understand that the war involved five main forces. On the right, the counter-revolutionary military and, outside the Basque country, traditionalist Catholics, were supported by a tiny fascist movement.

By contrast, three distinct trends appeared on the Republican side:
a) the Catalan Left, Basque nationalists, and other liberal bourgeois trends who wanted to carry out a Jacobin-style modernization;
b) the proletarian upsurge of the CNT, Socialists, and POUM;
c) the Stalinist conspiracy to create a one-party dictatorship.

Schwartz has C down pretty well. As for B, what to some is a proletarian upsurge is a murderous rampage to others. I note that the Republicans killed more people in Catalonia, some 8000, than the Francoists did, and that most of them were victims of the CNT and POUM, killed in the last six months of 1936. (The rest were victims of, mostly, the Communists during the rest of the war.) And as for A, they were weak amateurs easily dominated by the much more ruthless and effective Communists.

He's flat wrong about the Right, though. In the January 1936 election that put the Popular Front in power, more than 4,000,000 people voted for the Right, mostly for the CEDA. Several hundred thousand more voted for what have been called Center parties, including the PNV. (Some 4,700,000 people voted for the Popular Front parties.) Not all of them were traditionalist Catholics, and even if they were, that does not mean they should be dismissed. They were simply people who did not believe that a revolution was a good idea, farmers, shopkeepers, skilled workers, professionals, and a good few manual workers.

The Right challenged the fairness of that election, by the way. ("The second round runoff contests were held at the end of the month under leftist supervision and considerable pressure from the leftist street mob." --Stanley Payne. After the Right won in Granada and Cuenca, the results in those provinces were invalidated by the Left.)

As for the army, the whole problem was that it was not united behind the July 17 coup. If it had been, there would have been virtually no resistance to the coup, and it would likely have gone smoothly with little bloodshed. But the army was divided about half-and-half between Right and Left, though most of the good units (the Legion and the Regulars) were under Rightist control. If the Left hadn't had some of the army. along with some of the Civil Guard and all of the Storm Troopers (the Republic's own police force), they'd have had nothing whatever to resist the coup.

Moscow tried to unite a) with c) to overcome b), but a) and b) had more in common with each other, and the attempt failed. Stalin, however, succeeded in effectively sabotaging the Republican defense; his discreet 1938 message to Hitler indicating Soviet willingness to withdraw support for the Republic was a crucial step.

No. A and C did unite under Moscow's leadership after May 1937, and B was crushed. Also, Stalin didn't sabotage the Republic so much as he used it for his own purposes. He would have been more than happy to see the Communists win in Spain, but he certainly wasn't willing to invest the money and take the necessary risks to do so.

As to the POUM, it is in discussing this phenomenon that Hobsbawm reveals the extent of his obliviousness about the Spanish civil war. He refers with something approaching disdain to “the murder of its leader Andrés Nin [having] caused some international protest.” In reality, as is well-known in Spain today, protests over the brutal murder of Andreu Nin were commoner in Catalonia than outside Spain, and the Catalan Stalinists never overcame the ignominy the crime brought down upon them.

Yes, Nin was brutally murdered by Comintern agents after the POUM was crushed in May 1937. The problem is that he and his Leninist-Trotskyist POUM were a gang of brutal murderers themselves, who had no qualms about shedding innocent blood to make the revolution. Note how Schwartz keeps going on and on about conventional wisdom in Spain and citing it as an authority.

In 1945, a faction of the POUM formed the Moviment Socialista de Catalunya, which helped organize a Stalinist-free Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya (PSC) that was joined by other prominent POUM members in 1976. The PSC happens to govern Catalonia today. The outstanding historical figure of the post-Franco Catalan Socialists, Pasqual Maragall, served as an extremely popular mayor of Barcelona and president of the Catalan regional Generalitat, and has written and spoken vividly about the relevance of the POUM for modern Catalan politics.

Oh, come on. Today's PSC is run by José Montilla, the exact opposite of a fiery revolutionary. The PSC has absolutely nothing to do with the POUM. Pasqual Maragall a POUMista? It is to laugh. The PSC is a moderate European social democratic party, much like in Germany or Italy.

The Spanish people fought for three years, in a libertarian fashion – not limited to the CNT and POUM militias, but also in the militia formations of the Esquerra, the PSOE, and the Basque Nationalists, alongside the “traditional” Republican military units to which the Stalinists were so attached. As the Spanish today know very well, the militia units generally fought better than the militarized units. In particular, the Stalinist-controlled International Brigades and the militarized Republican soldiery with whom they were coordinated were known for incompetence in battle, desertion, and, in the case of many of the foreigners, their reassignment to special groups ordered by the Russians to kill leftist dissidents, since the Spanish would not carry out such duties.

Schwartz has gone round the bend into his own myth-making. 1) The Spanish people? Including the half of them who supported Franco? 2) The militias were lousy. They never won a battle. 3) The Republican Army and the International Brigades were pretty lousy too, and the only important battle they won was when they stopped Franco at the gates of Madrid in December 1936. They did, however, hold out for two more years after that lone victory. 4) I have never before read that "the Spanish would not carry out such duties" as forming firing squads. Plenty of people on all sides served in firing squads, of course, since probably more people were murdered behind the lines in the Civil War than were killed in combat.