Sunday, September 30, 2007

What a few thousand Cataloonies want to call "civil disobedience" is under way; they held a torching-of-photos-of-the-King in Manresa, and last night about 2000 of them had an illegal demo on the Ramblas in solidarity with the image-burners. They chanted slogans in favor of defunct Catalan terrorist gang Terra Lliure, and threw shit at the cops, who charged them five times with nightsticks. Go Cops! Beat 'em, thump 'em, Cops, Cops, Cops!

Down at the café this morning a non-loony Catalanist told me, "These guys are going to hand the general election to the PP, and they're making all of us look like carallots (fools)." They're really pissing off the rest of Spain, including the people who are generally moderate on political and nationalist / regionalist questions--and there's going to be a backlash. CiU agrees; Artur Mas called the photo-torchers "people who transmit an incorrect image of our country as a place where the citizens entertain themselves burning things in the streets."

Zap has leaked that he's not going to accept anything resembling Basque PM Ibarretxe's plan for negotiations about the "political normalization" of the Basque Country, or anything that smells like a referendum. Most of the press is speculating that this last genius idea from Ibarretxe is going nowhere and will be forgotten soon. The moderate wing of Ibarretxe's own party, the PNV, is behind Zap on this one; they believe that the elected democratic government should not take any steps that are among ETA's demands until ETA is out of business. Catalan PM Montilla is also against Ibarretxe's brainspasm.

Zap has also leaked that the general election will be in March 2008.

Disgracefully, the Zap administration has cut a deal with Cuba, with a public signing ceremony in Havana graced with the presence of a Spanish cabinet minister (Leire Pajín). Spain will provide more than €20 million of taxpayers' money in foreign aid to the Castro dictatorship; Spanish local administrations already send €15 million of their taxpayers' money to the Communist regime. In return, the Castroites have to do absolutely nothing. The next step is the reopening of the Spanish cultural center in Havana, "of great symbolic relevance," says La Vangua. Spain is Cuba's third-largest trading partner, with more than $1 billion in commerce per year.

FC Barcelona stomped Levante last night 1-4, with a hat-trick from Henry and another goal from Messi. Levante is a really bad team; it's not only that they have below-average players, but that they were disorganized the whole match, not even staying in their lines and bunching up far too much around the ball. They also committed a few pretty nasty fouls. That team is heading straight for Second Division. On Wednesday Barça beat Zaragoza 4-1, and Zaragoza is a good team with good players. The doubters are silenced, at least for now, though their silence never lasts long. Zambrotta and Touré are both hurt, but Puyol's back. I'd use Puyol as the right fullback, play Thuram and Milito as center-backs, and put Márquez at defensive midfielder to replace Touré.

Here's a sick story: A perv in Badalona went around to the local football fields and pretended to be a scout for a professional team. He told kids and their parents that he would make soccer stars out of them, and gained their confidence. The really sad thing is that all the kids were immigrants between 9 and 11 years old, with families who don't speak Spanish and need money badly. He then sexually abused them, including whips, chains, and dog collars, and videotaped the whole thing. The guy has a police record of sexually abusing children. Why did they let him out in the first place? And how long is he going to stay in prison until they let him out again?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Wackiness from here in Baja Andorra: Liberation theologist José Ignacio González Faus says in today's La Vanguardia:

In the name of progress and security, is humanity on the road toward a new form of world Fascism? The secret CIA flights authorized by NATO and Europe, or the jail at Guantánamo, are alarming indicators. We will reach that point after some "American-style" democracies in which we can only choose between the right and the far right. This world Fascism will last centuries, like slavery and feudalism. During those centuries people will look back on a few years in which humanity lived under fairly democratic conditions. When this world Fascism falls, we do not know whether the human species will be prepared to create a new democracy that has learned the lessons of the failure of the first one: that democracy and self-enrichment without limits are absolutely incompatible.

Wow. That's completely insane. I know a guy who knows González Faus, and says, "For a priest, he's a pretty good Marxist."

Note that what's driven him over the cliff into catastrophism are alleged CIA secret flights (transporting allegedly "kidnapped" terrorist prisoners to alleged torture camps in Eastern Europe) and the non-alleged prison at Guantanamo. The alleged CIA secret flights and torture camps don't exist, of course, and Guantanamo isn't exactly Auschwitz or the Gulag. One would think Father G. F. would have been much more shocked by, say, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, or the psychopathic killer Saddam Hussein, or the Kim dynasty in the North Korean police state, or the bloody-handed current Chinese dictatorship, or the Burmese military junta, or Assad or Khomeini or Gaddafi or Idi Amin or Bokassa or Castro, than these comparatively minor alleged American sins.
La Vanguardia has a bit of a scoop today. You may have heard that a woman calling herself Tania Head, who was until this week the president of the 9/11 survivors' association, has turned out to be an impostor.

She's from Barcelona and her real name is Alicia Esteve Head; her family are well-known Barcelona business people. Her father and brother were sentenced to prison in a 1992 fraud and forgery case. Between 1998 and 2000 she was a secretary for the company that owns Barcelona's Hotel Arts, Hovisa. Her co-workers say she always wanted to be the center of attention and was a "complicated" person who made everyone's live difficult. She was notorious for telling wild stories about her experiences; she claimed that a scar on her arm was the result of the surgical reattachment of the arm after a car accident, to have studied at Harvard and Stanford, and to have a plastic surgeon boyfriend in the US. Later she claimed that her arm was injured during the WTC bombings, but she already had the scar while living in Barcelona. Her co-workers say she speaks very good English.

Time magazine explains quite clearly why people like her do things like this:

"Why do people do this? There's an obvious benefit," says Elizabeth Loftus, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Irvine who is famous for her critical work on the recovered memories of alleged sexual-abuse victims. "It may not be immediately financial. But certainly being bathed in a love bath of attention and affection is a lot of benefit for a lot of people."

So La Vangua beat everybody on this one. Congratulations. But did they have to run it on the front page, give the story pages 3 and 4 (the top of the international section), and an editorial? It's not that big a deal, though the newspaper says that the case has "descolocado" (surprised, shocked) New York.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Agam, a blogger in Thailand associated with Pajamas Media, has the latest information from Burma. You'll want to read what he has to say. He links to Burma Digest, an opposition website with articles, photos, and videos about what is happening, and to another opposition site called The Irrawaddy. All three sites are constantly being updated. It's the amateurs who are getting the news out. This is important.
Basque prime minister Juan José Ibarretxe, in an act of stunning irresponsibility, declared today that the Basque Country would hold a referendum on a hypothetical "pact with the central government on the political normalization of Euskadi," to be held October 25, 2008. What Ibarretxe announced, therefore, is not a straight-out referendum on the question of self-determination, which would be anticonstitutional.

Rather, Ibarretxe proposes to negotiate bilaterally with Madrid in order to reach an agreement on "political normalization." Whatever that is. If an agreement is reached, then the referendum will serve to confirm the people's consent. However, of course, no agreement will be reached, since the more extreme wing of Ibarretxe's party, the PNV, has forced the moderate wing into submission, and Ibarretxe's demands will therefore be unacceptable to any central government, especially if the PP wins the general election coming up at the beginning of 2008.

If no agreement is reached, then the purpose of the referendum will be "to overcome the blockage." Uh, excuse me, no referendum held only in the Basque Country is valid for the rest of Spain, and it doesn't matter if they all vote to flap their arms and fly to the moon, it won't count for anything. Secession is not permitted by the Spanish Constitution.

Of course, we already know what the results of any referendum would be, anyway, since the Basques hold them every few years or so already. They're called elections. Never has there been a pro-independence majority.
There's been a lot of anger in the rest of Spain at the wave of burnings of photographs of King Juan Carlos here in Catalonia; the extremist Cataloonies did another one today at the university here in Barcelona. Torching the king's image is illegal in Spain, as is burning the Spanish flag, and those who have burned photos are being prosecuted for lese-majesté.

My opinion is that 1) burning an image or a flag is political expression--it says very clearly that you despise everything that what you're burning stands for--and should therefore be legal, as it is in the US 2) Anyone who does such a thing to a symbol of democracy is a complete and total asshole and should be scorned by all the rest of us 3) The law's the law, and until it's changed it should be enforced. Put these jerks on trial for lese-majesté; it doesn't bother me in the least. But don't put them in jail, that'd be counterproductive (and besides, I think jail ought to be reserved for violent criminals). Give them a massive community service sentence, and make sure that the service they do is cleaning up bedpans in nursing homes 4) Change the law. Don't fear free expression, unpleasant as it might be.

I understand the anger at the photo-burners, and what's interesting is that the rejection is coming from both the moderate wing of the PP and from the PSOE. The Communists don't seem to care, and there are elements of the far right who don't like Juan Carlos either. What the moderates are objecting to is the photo-burners' hatred of what they have created, a successful modern democratic Spain with all its faults--and its virtues.

King Juan Carlos is a symbol of Spanish democracy, the democracy built by the moderates on the right and the left. He was the most important single figure during the transitional period. If he hadn't set the transition in motion, and had been willing to serve as a puppet for the army (which is what Franco wanted him to do), Spain would be something a lot worse than it is today. If he hadn't spoken on TV to the people against the February 23, 1981 attempted coup, and made it clear that he would abdicate if a military junta took over, it might not have crumbled so fast--and don't forget, General Milans del Bosch rolled the tanks through the streets of Valencia that night, while rogue Guardias Civiles held the Parliament hostage. A weaker man might have folded.

The photo-burners say Juan Carlos is Franco's appointed successor. So what? Does that invalidate him as monarch? Juan Carlos certainly did the opposite of what Franco wanted him to do. Pasqual Maragall, Paco Ordoñez, Miguel Boyer, Adolfo Suárez, Manuel Fraga, and a whole lot of other people whose commitment to democracy is unquestionable worked for Franco's government, too, on the moral grounds that somebody competent had to run the country, whether elected or not.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

This is the funniest thing I've seen in months.
This is Iberian Notes's 2000th post on Blogger; I had a couple of hundred posts on the old Homestead site I set up back in February 2002 as well. That's more than five years of blogging. I still haven't figured out how to get the archives functioning on the Blogger template, but here's a link to them in case you're interested.

There's been news this week but I've been too lazy to post. The most important item was the deaths of two Spanish soldiers (paratroopers) in Afghanistan, Germán Pérez Burgos of Badajoz and Stanley Mera Vega, originally of Guayaquil, Ecuador, when their armored vehicle was bombed by Taliban terrorists. The Afghan interpreter was also killed. Three more Spanish soldiers were seriously wounded, and three more lightly wounded. The vehicle had a "frequency inhibitor" to prevent radio-controlled bombs from being set off, but this one was connected to a cable.

Our deepest gratitude and sympathy to the families and to the Spanish armed forces in Afghanistan.

The Communists are calling on Zap to cut and run just like he did in Iraq, but Zap's position on Afghanistan has been that it is a legal conflict declared by the UN and therefore Spain will participate, though with a very small force of 690 soldiers based at Herat in the southwest.

The PP is demanding that Zap admit that Afghanistan is a war zone, which doesn't make much sense to me. The logic seems to be that if Spain pulled out of Iraq, then it ought to pull out of Afghanistan, too. However, the PP backed Spanish participation in Iraq, and supports expanding the Spanish force in Afghanistan. I guess they're trying to make Zap look inconsistent, which his policy is, but their policy isn't too coherent either.

This contretemps, mixed with Ahmabignutjob's speech at the UN, sort of took away Zap's thunder, since he wanted to make a big deal of leading the global struggle against climate change or something ecosocialist like that. He had a big speech all prepared and everything. Nobody cared. Internationally, Zap reminds me a little bit of Eleanor Rigby, lonely and ignored though he tries his best.

For some reason, it is big news over here that Zap and Bush have never held an official meeting, and that Bush has given Zap the cold shoulder. I don't think it means anything, since of course official Spanish-American relations are handled by the appropriate ministries and departments and are going along quite smoothly, as usual. The two crossed one another's path at the UN, and Bush said, "Hola, amigo, ¿qué tal?" This was one of the top international stories in the Spanish press.

Meanwhile, the French cops busted fifteen etarras this week, four of whom are medium-size fish who had multiple warrants out for them. I just don't see ETA being able to sustain the terrorist struggle with all their guys getting arrested right and left. They let off a five-kilo bomb on Tuesday in front of the Basque regional police station in Zarautz, but almost no damage was done.

The political crazy nationalist news coming up is that tomorrow Ibarretxe, the Basque prime minister, is supposed to announce something important about the referendum on self-determination that the PNV keeps threatening to call. Since any referendum would be illegal and its results non-binding, it's pretty much mental masturbation on the part of the Basque Nationalists.

La Vanguardia ran a big article on changes in Spaniards' alcohol consumption. They've just discovered the concept of binge drinking, which 30 percent of males and 18 percent of females between 18 and 24 admit to doing on occasion. 14% of males between 18 and 64 have binged within the last month; the figure for females is 7%. People who binge-drink do it between twice and three times a month. La Vangua blames this alleged trend on Anglo-Saxon influence, of course. They quote a social worker who blames it on the consumer society. I must say I notice a good deal more drinking in general, and specifically among college and high school kids, since I got here back in 1987.

Last Friday there was a serious electrical fire at the Vall d'Hebron hospital, which I believe is the metro area's biggest. The entire electrical system went out and it still isn't back to normal. They had to postpone procedures and move patients to other hospitals; they've moved 20 generators there to provide electrical power. Things won't be back to normal for four months, and there's going to be some debate on closing it down, since it's more than 50 years old.

I have to admit that the city government's Bicing program--you sign up for fifteen bucks or so and get unlimited bicycle pick-up and drop-off usage--seems to be quite successful. They've got 3000 bikes, plan to add 1500 more in January and 1500 more next summer, and to expand the center-city area where there are pick-up points out to Les Corts and Poble Nou. 90,000 people have signed up, and you see people riding the bikes all over the place.

Somebody's going to get killed, though, mixing all these bikes with heavy Barcelona traffic. The city government came up with a whole set of new bicycle rules, which has hacked off the bicyclists since they are now going to get fined for breaking traffic laws.

The situation in Burma is getting a lot of press over here. Let's hope a real "people power" movement can force the dictatorship to step down without too much bloodshed. Burma's much poorer and more backward than any country in its region except maybe Laos, and the military junta is very hard-line. It's not quite as bad as North Korea, but it's still pretty bad.

Dumb Spain media thing: A Spanish woman snapped a photo in Morocco on August 31 of a young couple with a blonde girl who looked a little like Madeleine McCann. She went to Interpol. The media ran with it, especially television, and of course the girl turned out to be a nice Moroccan child named Buchra Achkar taking a stroll in the park with her parents.

Catalan prime minister Montilla is already promising how he's going to split up the pork-barrel money Catalonia is going to get. Companies who give "permanent" contracts to people under 30 will score a €2000 check; more discrimination against older workers, you could argue. The "death tax" will be eliminated on estates under €500,000, which sounds like an excellent idea to me. The metro will run all night on Saturdays and nights before public holidays, which is also a good idea, and he wants to spend the rest of the money on the health care system. Not too bad; I don't see way too much of this cash going to the Socialist patronage network, with the exception of €319 million to raise health care workers' salaries, and you can argue they deserve it.

The Police are in town tonight. Of course I'm not going.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Hey, guess what? We've got the far-leftists around here in a tizzy! A rather hysterical blog post (including such statements as "The US trained and armed Osama Bin Laden," "No nation has behaved more irrationally in the Middle East than the US," "warmongering lunatic," "This is the world of fantasy inhabited by the neocon revolutionaries in the US," and "History will not be kind to these despicable people") attracted these comments:

BTW: watch out when you mention Americans! Commenters at the increasingly mendacious Iberian Notes blog have now made it clear that they regard any disagreement with any American as 'anti-American'. This comes after that blog's author claimed that criticism of Bush counts as anti-Americanism because he was elected by some Americans.

Cool! I'm "mendacious," meaning I intentionally tell lies while knowing the real truth.

So it's interesting that I never said what I am alleged to have said. Criticize Bush and his politics and actions all you please. I criticize Zapatero all the time and I don't think I'm being anti-Spanish when I do so. What I did say was that gratituously insulting Bush is anti-American (e.g. "Fuck Bush"), especially when the gratituous insults would never be proffered by the insulter against, say, Castro, Assad, Kim, or Saddam. And I added that people who unnecessarily insult the democratically elected president show a lack of respect for the American democratic process.

Regarding Iberian Notes, I read it in the same way as many Catalans listen to COPE radio station: part masochism, part comedy value. Following their bizarre logic, PP’s criticism of the PSOE is anti-Spanish, and criticising the Tripartit surely must be anti-Catalan. It’s good for a laugh every now and then though.

Well, I'm glad that this blog provides masochists with pleasure. Wouldn't want to seem sexually intolerant, would we? Hope everyone finds it especially exciting today, especially those wearing nipple clamps!

The problem with Iberian Notes is that it seems to be moderately popular with people outside Spain - who often have no idea quite how distorted and misleading it is. Something should be done.

It's also moderately popular among people inside Spain and even inside Catalonia, but I digress. What I like is, "Something should be done." What? Hunt me down and kill me? Sabotage my site? Accuse me of working for the CIA--oops, La Vanguardia's ex-ombudsman already did that.
Sports update: Right now, the lead story on Yahoo news is that Ronaldinho is in trouble for too much partying. That's interesting; I didn't know English-speakers, especially not Americans, were particularly interested in a Brazilian soccer star who plays in Spain. But the Sun is reporting that Chelsea is going to make an offer for him.

La Vanguardia has blasted him for being a lazy drunk, comparing him to Best and Gascoigne, and also comparing him unfavorably to Romario, who was always out all night at discos but who has also never been seen intoxicated, at least not in public.

Last season Ronaldinho was criticized for staying out late, though there were few specific accusations made then. He missed training a lot, and the excuse was that he was working out in the clubhouse. He also often looked tired during the games, though in his defense he was the only top Barça player who didn't miss serious time because of injuries, and he hadn't really had a summer vacation because he'd played the World Cup with Brazil. However, La Vanguardia accused him of breaking training and drinking, along with Ronaldo and Adriano, while he was with the Brazilian team.

Ronaldinho hasn't played a full game so far this season, and he missed yesterday's 2-1 victory over Sevilla because of an alleged injury suffered in practice. He wasn't in the stands at Saturday night's game, though other injured players like Puyol and Eto'o were there, sitting with the club president. Ronaldinho was supposedly watching inside the clubhouse. He's missed training the last couple of days, too, supposedly working out in the clubhouse; he's also going to miss the next match on Wednesday in Zaragoza. There was massive criticism when it was reported last week that he had stayed out all night partying two nights before the Osasuna game.

I would say that if such negative stuff is being published in the fanatically pro-Barça local press, and being reported on TV3, it means the club hierarchy has concluded that Ronaldinho is more trouble than he's worth and has about one more chance before being shipped out, especially since Giovani Dos Santos and Bojan Krcic have looked so good this season.

That would really be too bad. Ronaldinho has had a good year, two great years, and then a disappointing but still pretty good year while with the Barça. I'd hate to see him leave under a cloud, since he seems like a pretty decent guy who has fun on the pitch and has tremendous talent.

The Sevilla game was very good. Both teams were strong in the first half, Barcelona wore them down, Henry had a couple of good chances and played the whole match--he's just been unlucky, he's not washed up--, Messi scored a tremendous goal on a volley off a center by Henry, and Poulsen tackled Giovani in the area for a penalty which Messi converted. Then, in extra time, off a misplay by Oleguer, Kanouté broke through and lobbed Valdés for 2-1.

Messi is the Barça fans' new hero, and he certainly is a good player; I doubted him at first, and he's proven me wrong. But when Barcelona signed him up when he was a young kid, they got a doctor to diagnose him as undersized and to prescribe him human growth hormone. That's right, the club fed a teenager HGH.

Joan Golobart, the football commentator who seems to make the most sense, says that 1) Marquez and Milito, as center-backs, get the ball to the midfielders a lot quicker than Thuram and Oleguer do; 2) Messi and Iniesta are Barça's best players right now; 3) Deco's performance has been subpar but he's in good physical shape and sure plays hard; he also gets booked much too often; 4) Abidal is an excellent player, Zambrotta looks much better than he did last year, and Barça now has a very solid defensive back line; 5) Barcelona is a better team with Ronaldinho, but he is not irreplaceable.

They've made a big deal out of Norman Foster's design for a remodeled Camp Nou, and it's about time the stadium was refurbished. It's all concrete inside, and not too attractive from the outside. Inside it looks great, but the standard criticism is that too many seats are too far away from the pitch; the remodeling is supposed to move a lot of seats in much closer.

Foster's remodeling will cost at least €250 million, begin in 2009, and be completed in 2012. Supposedly, they'll be able to continue playing there while the construction is going on.

The remodeled Camp Nou is supposed to have a transparent outer skin that will be lit up, much like Foster's Agbar Tower, also known as the "giant suppository" or "giant dildo." Foster claims to have been inspired by Gaudí and his broken colored tiles. Here's the promotional video showing what the new stadium will look like. They could have done a much better job on the videoclip. Too much computer special effects crap. Keep it simple. Just because you can do something on the computer doesn't mean you should.
Budget and spending follow-up: The Solbes-Castells pact on how much pork-barrel spending Catalonia is going to get means that Catalonia will receive €30 billion more in central government cash over the next six years. Catalan "infrastructure" spending will rise from €4.0 billion in 2007 to €5.9 billion in 2013.

La Vanguardia asked a bunch of powerful locals, business and union leaders, what the Generalitat ought to do with this windfall of cash. Their list of priorities was:

The commuter train network.
The freight train network. (Railroads handle only about 3% of goods transport in Catalonia; in the allegedly energy-wasting US, it's more than 40%.)
The high-speed passenger train from Barcelona to the French border.
Widening the road that runs Barcelona-Vic-Ripoll-French border.
Better access from the suburbs to Barcelona city.
Better access to the port of Barcelona.
The airport.
High-tension electric line connecting to the French grid.
"Neighborhood rehabilitation," whatever that is. Probably slum clearance. Or payoffs to "community leaders" for organizing workshops on empowering lesbian immigrant Sandinista single mothers.
Business schools.
Maintenance of rural roads.

I'll agree that a lot of this seems pretty reasonable. Gotta maintain your infrastructure; if we're going to spend taxpayers' money on something, railroads and highways ought to be a priority, as they benefit nearly everybody. And since in the construction business you pretty much get what you pay for (unless too much of this cash goes into the pockets of the local party machines), it makes sense to spend a few bucks and get the job done right.

Spain's booming economy has led to a record budget surplus this year. Economics minister Pedro Solbes said it will reach €19 billion, much more than the expected €7 billion. They'd calculated that GDP growth would be 3.2% in 2007, and it will turn out to be about 3.8%, meaning that government revenues will be 5.8% higher than planned for. Solbes admitted the Econ Ministry intentionally underestimated its predictions for growth in order to avoid pressure from the Communists and ERC for increased spending last year; he said that increased spending would have caused more inflation.

(I hate giving Zap credit for anything, but this is the third consecutive budget surplus the Socialists have run. Zap's by no means a brilliant administrator, but he did have enough sense to pick Solbes and Fernandez Ordoñez as his economic policymakers. You can argue that the PSOE is able to run a surplus now because Aznar's administration cleaned up the economic mess Felipe Gonzalez left us in eleven years ago, and the PP does that with some justification. You can also argue that maybe Zap calls himself a socialist, but he hasn't nationalized anything or introduced a 30-hour workweek or tripled everyone's wages or done anything radical and stupid with the economy.)

So Solbes, Fernandez Ordoñez, and the Bank of Spain want to use the windfall cash to pay down the national debt (a total of €391 billion, 37.7% of Spain's yearly GDP, which is €1.2 trillion), which sounds like an excellent idea to me.

Zap wants to spend it, though; he calls it "fulfilling campaign promises." So he's going to spend nearly €5 billion of the surplus on this year's proclaimed new programs: €900 million to cover Dependents' Law requirements, €850 million for "infrastructure" in Andalusia, €825 million for the same in Catalonia (Andalusia and Catalonia are of course the two regions that give Zap the most votes), €1.5 billion for the newborn child payments, €785 million to subsidize young people's apartment rentals, and €45 million on dental care for children. And Zap is going to spend €1.1 billion more on "social policy."

The remaining €6 billion of the surplus will be transferred to the Social Security reserve fund; that's enough money to pay everybody's pension for seven months.

Fernandez Ordonez, the governor of the Bank of Spain, warns that this government spending boom cannot be sustained, because one of these years coming up there's going to be a recession. And, of course, the PP says that if we're running such a huge surplus, maybe we ought to cut income taxes.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A new Spanish daily newspaper, Público, will begin publication on September 26. The money behind it is Jaume Roures, and Ignacio Escolar will be editor-in-chief.

Roures is a media mogul, boss of Barcelona-based Mediapro, a movie and TV production company that is part-owner of the TV network La Sexta. Mediapro put up some of the cash for Woody Allen's Barcelona movie, and owns the rights to FC Barcelona games, along with Barça's and Real Madrid's TV channels. Roures is part of the Catalan Socialists' patronage network, and is considered close to Montilla and Zapatero. Escolar, an anti-American lefty, is probably Spain's most popular blogger, at

Público will be "clearly to the left of El Pais," according to El Mundo, and they're going to sell it for fifty cents, half the price of every other Spanish newspaper. Great, just what Spain needs, another America-bashing Zap mouthpiece spouting sustainability, solidarity, and surrender.

They've been running an extremely offensive ad on La Sexta--I saw it several times last night during the Barça game--that leaves no doubt about Público's political attitude. The theme of the ad is that Público is going to be everybody's newspaper; viewers see a series of shots of diverse people doing various things. One of them is a young girl who comes dancing out on her balcony wearing a tank top that says, "FUCK BUSH," apparently displeasing an old lady who pours water from the balcony above on her. Then the old lady turns around, and the back of her blouse also says, "FUCK BUSH." So it wasn't the message on the tank top that offended her, you see.

What's sad about this: The Mediapro people, experienced TV and advertising pros in Spain, have determined that using this insulting anti-American slogan is going to help their sales, not hurt them.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Spanish media has made a big deal over the jerk college kid who made a fuss and got himself tasered at a John Kerry speech at the University of Florida. TV3 made it appear as if it were a question of police repression of freedom of speech, the Gestapo dragging away a protestor who asked dangerous questions. Of course, what happened was the guy 1) charged to the head of the line of people asking questions and grabbed the mike 2) went way over his allotted one minute and wouldn't give up the mike when asked to 3) resisted the police when they came to remove him from the premises 4) had someone filming the whole thing for his web site 5) is a notorious "prankster," but seems more like a guy with a long record of jerk behavior.

Also, somebody is already selling "Don't tase me, bro" T-shirts.

La Vanguardia is reporting that Cuban baseball star Alexei Ramirez, the Cuban league's top home-run hitter, has defected to the Dominican Republic and plans to sign a major-league contract. I hope the Royals sign him.

A World Health Organization study ranks Barcelona as the 8th worst city in the world, out of 26 cities surveyed, in air pollution, specifically suspended particles. Here's the ranking, along with the number of micrograms of particles per square meter of air in each city.

New Delhi 170
Peking 105
Bombay 90
Seoul 65
Santiago de Chile 63
Prague 62
Bucharest 60
Barcelona 60
Milan 58
Mexico City 56
Berlin 50
Oslo 48
Los Angeles 45
Sevilla 43
Helsinki 42
Hong Kong 41
Budapest 41
EU goal for maximum particles in suspension in 2010: 40
Vienna 40
Madrid 38
Munich 35
Johannesburg 35
Amsterdam 35
Tokyo 32
London 30
New York 25
Brussels 21
WHO recommended maximum of particles in suspension: 20
Stockholm 15

Barcelona doesn't do well at all, especially not compared with those nasty environment-destroying Anglo-Saxons who don't believe in the Kyoto treaty. Hard to believe our air is more polluted than Mexico City or Hong Kong or Tokyo. Supposedly 1200 Barcelona residents die every year from excessive air pollution.

La Vanguardia is making a big stink about the Blackwater incident: what happened was that last weekend a State Department convoy was passing through Baghdad when it was attacked. Security guards working for Blackwater repelled the attack, but eight people, at least some of whom were civilians, were killed. Of course what happened needs to be investigated, and I must say I don't like the idea of private security forces running around a war zone packing serious weapons.

But check out what Eusebio Val in La Vanguardia has to say (I've shortened it a bit):

"The most visible face of the privatization of war...they have a license to kill...modern mercenaries...Rambos out of a movie...they opened fire indiscriminately...succulent government authentic private military no value on Iraqi lives...indignation."

Now, now. First, "mercenaries" is the wrong word, since they have been hired by their own country's government, and their mission is exclusively defensive. That is, they can't go out and do a patrol and shoot up some alleged terrorists; they're restricted to defending what they're told to defend.

Second, "license to kill" is out of a James Bond movie, since Blackwater security guards are not allowed to intentionally shoot at anybody who is not attacking them.

Third, Mr. Val has definitely seen too many movies. Rambo? Please.

Fourth, the great majority of subcontractors in Iraq are, like, cooks and truck drivers, not security guards.
Since there is a general election coming up before March 2008, Zap has been making promises of government grants and subsidies to pretty much everybody and his dog. Two days ago he announced that persons between ages 22 and 30 with gross earnings of less than €28,000 will receive a monthly rent subsidy of €210, along with a €600 loan to meet the deposit and a government 6-month payment guarantee for the landlord. The measure will take effect January 1, 2008, and will cost €436 million a year.

More Zap government spending programs:

The new Dependents' Law, in effect since January 1, 2007, will provide €13 billion of central government money between now and 2015 to some 225,000 seriously disabled people. The various regions are to match central government spending with €13 billion more.

€2500 per new child born, in effect since Zap announced the measure on July 3. The plan is to make the payment retroactive to include all children born in 2007.

The minimum government pension will be increased by double the average increase of all pensions.

The National Health will pay for the dentistry work of all children between ages 7 and 15. This will take effect next year, benefit some four million children, and cost at the very least €160 million a year.

The PP has suggested that instead of subsidizing rental apartments for people under 30, Zap might consider reducing everybody's income tax instead. They also suggested that the government might consider providing better legal security to landlords, who have great difficulty evicting tenants who don't pay and repairing damage caused by said tenants; this would bring more rental apartments onto the market, as many people are unwilling to rent with current laws. Even the Communists have pointed out that landlords are very likely to simply increase the rent they demand by €210 a month.

Personally, I don't like this particular rent subsidy; what I'd do is pass better landlord-protection laws, get rid of rent control (which keeps literally millions of dwellings either off the market or occupied for rents far below market level), and re-zone extensively to make it easier to build housing.

I'm a moderate on government social spending in general: I prefer for spending and taxes to be as low as possible. However, I also understand that we have a social contract to protect the weakest among us. In that spirit, I like the Dependents' Law; if most of that money is spent reasonably, it ought to help out Spain's most severely disabled people a lot. I also like raising the minimum pension; these are retired folks getting by on very little, and they need all the help they can get. Paying for children's dentists should be means-tested. Poor children are weak and vulnerable and deserve to have their cavities filled just like everybody else, but middle-class folks ought to be able to pay for their kids' dentist themselves.

I'm going back and forth on the subsidy for newborns; the government's purpose is to raise the birth rate, and I guess that's important enough that all taxpayers ought to kick in in order to make sure there are enough kids born now to pay for our pensions in thirty years or so. On the other hand, I can't help wanting to means-test the payment. And I don't think a €2500 check is going to convince a lot of middle-class people to have kids, and I'm not sure we ought to encourage the reproduction of those who are willing to bear a child in exchange for a check.

By the way, the money spent on these programs is going to add up to a lot less than the "infrastructure" central government transfer to the Catalan regional government. It has been decided that 18.8% of all Spanish government "infrastructure" spending is to be transferred to the Catalan government in order to invest as it pleases; Catalonia produces 18.8% of Spain's gross domestic product.

So on Monday economics minister Solbes and Catalan economics counselor Castells came up with their new definition of "infrastructure" spending: it will consist of not only spending by the Development and Environmental ministries, as it had until now, but also spending on industry, commerce, agriculture, technology, and research and development. So this year the Catalan government received €3.2 billion from Madrid for "infrastructure"; next year it will get €4.3 billion, in addition to an extra €800 million for 2007.

On one hand, I'm not offended at all. This is just divvying up the pork, something that exists everywhere, and the Catalans are doing their best to get as much of it as they can. That's what I'd do if I were a Catalan politician.

However. All this extra cash is going to be turned over to the members of the political machines currently in power, the Socialists, Communists, and Esquerra. It's no secret that what they call "clientelism" is rampant in Spain, and it's reminiscent of big city boss politics in the bad old days in the States. The money is going to be handed out in the form of jobs and contracts to party loyalists, and the Socialists are going to get the biggest slice of juicy ham.

And it's ridiculous that political machines hide behind the ideal of nationalism--"we poor Catalans are getting screwed over again, Madrid is stealing our money, they want to keep us down, that's why they won't let us be independent, so they can exploit us, and blah blah blah." Come on. Catalonia is prosperous and Catalans have a high standard of living, and I figure that most of the problems (none spectacularly important) we have around here are pretty much our own fault. But it's such fun to blame Madrid.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Sports update: FC Barcelona played a mediocre game in Pamplona last night, a scoreless draw against Osasuna. Barça fans, and especially the Barcelona sports press, are already panicking. TV3 is speculating whether coach Frank Rijkaard will be fired before Christmas. Calm down, there are 38 league games, and Barça has won once at home and drawn twice away. That's not exactly horrible, especially when you figure that three of the team's best players, Puyol, Eto'o and Messi, are out with injuries. They still have plenty of time to put it together.

Last night all four new signings, Henry, Touré, Abidal, and Milito, played; so did Giovani and Bojan. That's six new players in one game. It'll take a few games to get them all used to one another.

Thuram looks slow, and Henry doesn't look especially fit. Marquez should be playing instead of Thuram, since he's the only defender they have who can make the long pass. The best thing to do with Henry is to let him play until he proves he really is washed up, rather than just a bit out of shape.

The Chiefs lost to the Bears. Everybody's calling the Chiefs the worst team in the league all of a sudden, although they made the playoffs last year. I'm not expecting them to be great, but the worst team in football is a bit of a stretch. Before the season, I figured they'd go about 7-9 or 8-8, and two away losses, one to last year's Super Bowl runner-up, don't mean disaster.

Spain lost the final of the European basketball championship to Russia. Spanish fans really jumped on the basketball bandwagon when Spain beat Greece in the world basketball championship last year. I can understand why, since the national soccer team is an embarrassingly perennial underachiever, and the basketball team has done very well lately.

Another thing, I think, is that the basketball players are mostly middle-class guys, more appealing to many people than the working-class football players. Many of the football guys seem to be model citizens, but some of them are kind of rednecks, some of them are OK but not very smart, some of them like living large in the way that the basketball guys don't, and some of them are out-and-out jerks.

Ranking of Spanish Sports Guys in Order of General Belovedness: 1) Rafael Nadal 2) Fernando Alonso 3) Raul Gonzalez 4) Pau Gasol 5) Iker Casillas
From La Vanguardia today: Local philosophy prof Norbert Bilbeny, who was in my class for a couple of years, writes an ethics column in La Vanguardia. Today he answers a letter from a woman who claims that an American couple offered her daughter $85,000 to be a surrogate mother (by the way, Bilbeny says that surrogate motherhood for pay is unethical, which sounds fair enough to me, though there are obviously arguments on both sides).

I looked up surrogate motherhood, of course, and found that 1) surrogate motherhood is illegal in Spain, and in some US states, so there's something dodgy about this story already; Arkansas, Nevada, and Florida are the only states where surrogate motherhood contracts are legally enforceable 2) where it is legal, surrogate motherhood is handled through official channels, including doctors and lawyers, rather than through casual offers 3) 95% of those who volunteer to be surrogates are rejected 4) the going rate is about $15,000 5) surrogate motherhood is comparatively unusual, maybe a thousand births a year in the US. I therefore conclude Bilbeny got suckered into answering a bogus question.

I've never been entirely sure why the Spanish press jumps onto Anglo-American media frenzies the way it does; it never makes a big deal out of continental European media hoo-haws. They've jumped on the "OJ busted for armed robbery" story, which is weird because OJ was never a star outside the United States, and they're all over the Madeleine McCann story, which the English press is wild about. Paris Hilton and Britney Spears get lots of press in Spain, too, God only knows why. Probably because people around the world are fascinated by slutty drunk rich white trash chicks.

Best guess on Madeleine McCann: Her doctor parents were in the habit of sedating her when they went out. They gave her a little too much the night she died, and the parents panicked, got rid of the body, and made up the kidnapping story.

Remember, European newspapers have to print stories on the negative side of what they always call "the American way of life" at least once a week or their readers get all anxious that people in the States just might be better off in some ways than people in Europe. The readers need reassurance, you see.

So La Vangua's lead story yesterday, all of page 3 and part of page 4, is on how those overworked Americans have to get up horribly early in the morning. Evidence: A USA Today graphic showing that in 1990, 9% of Americans got up in the morning for work before 6 AM. In 2000 it was 11%, and in 2006 it was 12.3%! Boy, that's a major trend there. Eusebio Val, however, says, "The current trend is due to a combination of factors: the expansion of the suburbs, traffic jams, workplace pressure, and the generalized hyperactivity of the society." Oh, come, come, my good man. There's nothing wrong with getting up before 6 AM, though it helps if you go to bed at 10 PM, when most Spaniards are sitting down to dinner. When I was teaching in Lawrence I had to get up at 5:45 to make 8:00 class, and I survived.

Val also says that longer working hours "are one of the reasons for the sharp audience decline of the big television networks, which still run between 6:30 and 7:30 PM, when many people are still in the middle of a traffic jam." I doubt it. I think it's because those newscasts are old-fashioned and out of touch, made by people over 55 for people over 55. And, of course, because the mainstream media has lost credibility among even the moderate right.

Val quotes a teacher named Amy Rhodes, who whines, "I don't like this 24/7 trend. Our society is too stressed, too self-centered. We don't see our friends enough, or even our own family. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I wouldn't mind going back to when stores closed down on Sundays and at night. That would force us to manage our time better and to relax. It would let us have stronger families and communities."

She's nuts, of course, since teachers work comparatively few (but intense, if they're any good) hours. School in many places starts at 8 AM, so they have to get up at 6, but they go home at 3:30 or 4. Two of the three people quoted bitching in Val's article are teachers, and the third is a Washington bureaucrat, which fits into what I've learned through the years in the teaching business: a sizable minority of the people who work in the public sector are lazy, complaining, and perpetually dissatisfied with life.

Val adds that, well, average US family income did increase to $48,200 last year, and only 12.3% lived below the American poverty line ($20,000 for a family of four), but that's bad because more people are working more hours! The average employed American works 1777 hours a year, which is clearly abusive and exploitative when you compare it to the average employed Spaniard's 1745 hours a year. A Spaniard works 22 whole hours less than an American per year.

Val concludes this think-piece by blaming the tragedy of the American working week on "sprawl." He quotes some book by some guys who call American suburbs "artificial, idealized, unsustainable, and self-destructive." Yeah, right. They seem like quite pleasant places to me, in general.

On Page 4, they also run a piece by Marc Bassets, who says, "The first impression of a new arrival to New York is that in shops and restaaurants, service is faster and they are friendlier. After a few days, one discovers that frequently the friendliness is linked to tips."

1) You only tip waiters, bartenders, cab drivers, and hotel bellmen. I've heard that women tip their hairdressers. You don't tip the great majority of service workers with whom you come in contact.
2) I remember pulling beera s few times at the football stadium fifteen years ago or so. We weren't supposed to accept tips, but some people would give you one anyway.
3) Yes, some waiters and bartenders are friendlier than they would be if they weren't expecting a tip. So what's wrong with that? If the customer's happy, who cares about the waiter's sincerity? It's not like you're going to be best friends or something anyway.
4) In the US there's a sort of "We're all in this together" mentality--you do your best not to give other people a hard time, and other people will do their best not to give you a hard time. That means, when at work, you try to be helpful, and you expect other people to be helpful when they are at work. Acting like a jerk to the customers when you hold a service sector job is simply socially unacceptable, and it will get you fired. That way the jerk waiters are filtered out quickly; they get demoted to dishwasher or janitor or somewhere they don't have to deal with people.
5) In the rest of the US, the stereotype of New Yorkers is that they're rude. Europeans think New Yorkers are so friendly they must be phonies. This tells you something about how friendly many Europeans are.

Regarding the Iraq War, Xavier Batalla adds, "Bush's authentic strategy is to hold on until he can pass the war in Iraq on to his successor." Carlos Nadal says, "The real withdrawal, which may be the fatal hour of a shameful abandonment like that of Vietnam, with incalculable consequences, will not affect Bush, but his successor...This is an attempt to reach the 2008 presidential election with the least possible damage for the Republicans." That is, the job of Mr. Batalla and Mr. Nadal, as analysts for La Vanguardia, is to translate the latest Democratic Party talking point into Spanish, and then sign it themselves as if it were an original idea or something.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Remember the truck driver who got busted for driving drunk while hauling a load of propane and claimed he was unimpaired though he'd swigged like half a bottle of brandy? Here's another Only in Spain: At 6 AM this morning near Vandellós, a trucker was hauling a tanker-load of 15,000 litres of sodium hydroxide, which is that highly corrosive alkaline used in oven cleaners. He was drunk. He drove his truck off the road and flipped it. They had to call out ten different fire trucks to handle the mess. Here's a photo of what's left of the truck. The driver suffered minor injuries.

This crap happens entirely too often around here. "Hey, it's six o'clock in the morning. Might be a good idea to get drunk and then haul a tank of sodium hydroxide." I don't think anyone in America does this, not even in Arkansas.
News from west of the Besós: Nationalism rears its ugly head as usual as a cover for a blatant pork-barrel grab. Cataloonies, and not a few non-loony Catalans, believe that the Madrid government is screwing them over because it takes in more tax revenues from Catalonia than it lays out in public spending in Catalonia. This makes them very mad and they get all worked up about it, since they believe that Madrid is doing this out of the purely evil desire to exploit the hard-working Catalans for the benefit of those lazy Andalusians.

Now, this is completely nuts, simply because INDIVIDUALS, not REGIONS, pay taxes. Catalonia is an area of above-average wealth, so the average Catalan pays more in taxes than the average Andalusian, who comes from an area of below-average wealth. However, of course, a Catalan and an Andalusian who make the same amount of money pay the same amount of taxes.

As for the divvying up of the public spending pork, let's not pretend there's any high nationalist motivation behind it. Catalonia wants as much of the pork on its plate as it can get, and that's fair enough. If I were a Catalan politician I'd be demanding lots of government spending in my region too. (In the United States one of the main reasons the people either re-elect or vote out their Congressional representative is whether he is good at bringing in the public spending for their district. This is why every post office in West Virginia is named after Robert Byrd.) What I wouldn't do is wave the bloody shirt of nationalism as a way of justifying my greed for ham, bacon, chitlins, chicharrones, butifarra, lomo, sobrasada, fuet, and pickled trotters.

So Spanish economics minister Pedro Solbes and the Generalitat's counselor for economics Antoni Castells are having a big old wingding meeting on Monday to divide up the jamón for the next seven years. Currently state spending ("investment in infrastructure") in Catalonia is €3.2 billion. Catalonia is supposed to get 18.8% (Catalonia's percentage of Spain's gross national product) of state spending on "infrastructure"; however, they can't agree on the definition of "infrastructure." Last year it was "spending by the ministries of Development (Fomento) and Environment." The Generalitat, however, claims a much broader definition of "infrastructure," adding up to €25 billion a year for all of Spain, and they claim Catalonia ought to get 18.8% of that, nearly €5 billion a year.

On September 11, the Catalan National Day, King Juan Carlos was in Girona at the grand opening of the local university's new science and tech facility; in other words, doing his job. So about 400 radical Cataloonies had a big old illegal demonstration and torched photographs of the King. That's pretty stupid and tasteless, of course, because there are much better ways to oppose the institution of monarchy if you're dumb enough to make a big deal about whether Spain has a figurehead king or not.

So these dopes are now in big trouble for lese-majeste; the National Court's prosecutors are going to file charges against the two guys wearing hoods who actually burned the pictures. TV3 and La Vanguardia have been trying to downplay this story--they didn't mention it until this morning--while Antena 3 and El Mundo have been playing it up big.

More fallout from September 11: The radical Cataloonies who show up in the morning in order to insult nearly everyone who comes with flowers for Rafael Casanova's statue were caught on film shouting "Gora ETA (long live ETA)," "Tots morts (kill them all)," and "Fills de puta (sons of whores)" at their targets, especially the representatives of the PP. Disgusting. I'd file charges against those filmed shouting in favor of ETA (exalting terrorism is illegal) and in favor of killing their political opponents (making threats of violence is illegal too).

Said Manuel Trallero in La Vanguardia yesterday:

They whistle at the prime minister of the Generalitat, calling him a traitor; they whistle at (Miguel) Poveda for singing in Spanish; they call all the politicians "sons of whores"; they warn (PP leader) Alberto Fernandez Diaz to check under his car, in allusion to a possible attack. All this happens in front of (Catalan regional police) the Mossos d'Esquadra, who do not move a finger. Joel Joan tells us, "I am not a friend of ETA and I never said I was." It must have been the reporters, visibly excited, who understood him wrong when he said, "Right here, Xirinacs spoke of his friends (ETA and Herri Batasuna)," adding, "Today I will not speak of his friends, of my friends. I will speak of my enemies." Groups of radicals face off against members of ERC at the Fossar de les Moreres...Catalonia, an example of coexistence.

You must be a real radical Cataloony to feel driven to go out and provoke members of Esquerra, who are wild-eyed Cataloonies themselves, if somewhat less crazy than the far-out extremists.

I can't believe this: The WWE's Smackdown Tour drew 15,000 people, a sellout, to the basketball arena in Badalona. Tickets cost, get this, €25 to €125. That means they took in €750,000 at an average price of €50 a ticket, and I'll bet it was well more than that, what with souvenirs and all. The WWE scammed Catalonia (sorry, 15,000 Catalan individuals) for a million bucks. I really did honestly think that there were some things too cheesy for Barcelona, but I was obviously wrong; I just found out they regularly hold monster-truck rallies at the Palau Sant Jordi. What next? Mud wrestling? Girls Gone Wild?

So next time you hear a European brag about European cultural superiority, just nod and smile knowingly.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

News from round these parts: September 11 is a holiday in Catalonia, the National Day, commemorating the fall of Barcelona in 1714 to Bourbon troops. So nobody had to go to work and nearly everyone went to the beach or something. Traditionally, in the morning, all the civic organizations and political parties lay wreaths at the statue of Rafael Casanova, the Catalan leader during the siege. Wacky far-out Cataloonies show up and scream at them for not being radical enough. In the evening the kids come out and play; the Esquerra youth brigade brought out three or four thousand in a demo, and assorted radical groups shouting slogans in favor of the defunct terrorist gang Terra Lliure brought out about the same number. Used to be they'd have some rioting, but there wasn't any this year.

Idiot jerk actor Joel Joan, known for his appearances on local TV since he couldn't get a job on any network that reaches more than seven million people, screwed up again. He made the mistake of publicly praising crazy old Cataloony coot Lluis Xirinachs (who offed himself earlier this year), and Xirinachs's declaration that he was "a friend of ETA," at the Catalanista wingding they have every year at the Fossar de les Moreres, where those killed in the 1714 siege are supposedly buried. The actor has denied it, but he's almost certainly lying; a couple of years back, in an attempt to shoulder the mantle of victimism, he claimed to have been kicked out of a restaurant for speaking Catalan. He'd made up the story, and was forced to retract after the restaurant's owners and clients publicly challenged him on it.

Says Francesc de Carreras in La Vanguardia:

During the days previous to the National Day on September 11, the media reflect, every year, a dissatisfied and victimist Catalonia, desperate and agonized, because of the statements and rebuttals of our politicians. It all usually reaches a delirious climax in the various official ceremonies and the street demonstrations: it always seems as if we were at a key moment in history, facing crucial dangers, heroic challenges, and a glorious and attainable future.

In reality, nobody believes any of this, not even the politicians themselves; it is simply a ritual, mere protocol, boring and dull. For many years, few Catalan flags have been seen hanging on balconies, and those who can go to the beach and enjoy the last sunny days of summer. The last thing they're thinking about, on such a pleasant and relaxing holiday, is discussing the past and future of Catalonia, the dangers and challenges it faces. Though on TV3 and BTV they never stop beating us over the head with the subject, adoctrinating us with a falsified version of history, fortunately there are other channels. Official Catalonia and the real Catalonia are so different.

Other nationalist news: Josu Jon Imaz, the fairly moderate president of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), is stepping down because of the conflict between the party's moderate and more extremist wings. Seems that the extremists, which include Basque regional premier Ibarretxe, want to call a referendum on Basque independence now. The moderates don't want to call one on the grounds that a referendum is one of ETA's objectives, and they aren't willing to support any ETA objectives while ETA is still committing acts of terrorism. Neither of the two groups seems to realize that any referendum they may call will not be legally binding, since referendums on regional independence are specifically banned by the Spanish constitution, but anyway.

Spain's national soccer team has looked ridiculous this past week, with a draw against Iceland and then a 2-0 win over Latvia. Get this: their big game is going to be Denmark. If they can't beat Denmark, they're likely eliminated from the next European Cup. Geez. Iceland, Latvia, and Denmark. Real powerhouses. Spain should have fired racist old coot coach Luis Aragones a long time ago; he's completely out of touch and seems to have lost all control over the team. Hire someone young and intelligent like, say, Emilio Butragueño, or get Rafa Benitez. Aragones has to go.

La Vanguardia actually gives page 10 over to Fidel Castro's claims that the Cuban KGB discovered an alleged far-right plot to, get this, assassinate Ronald Reagan in 1984, and informed the American government. The US government proceeded to lock up those involved on trumped-up unrelated charges. Yeah, right. Fidel also claims that the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was a CIA plot of some kind. In case you were wondering who the "truthers" are listening to, it's Fidel. The old international left, the new ecological left, the radical nationalist left, and the insane Islamist far right all have the same goal, overthrowing American power, and very strange alliances are being formed.

All the little carpet-munchers and ankle-biters went back to school yesterday. Good.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Baseball is currently of some interest in Barcelona since the European championship is being played here. The Netherlands and Italy are the favorites. Of course, a European baseball tournament is like an American cricket tournament.

So José Martí Gómez, local know-it-all, has an article in today's Vanguardia on why some sports have different levels of success in different countries, specifically the United States and Spain. Says Martí Gómez:

I think my long stay in the United States, completed with experiences in previous summers, allows me to understand why baseball has not caught on in Spain.

My guess is:

1. Baseball is rather slow and not too exciting if you don't know what's going on.
2. If you've never played a sport, it's hard to know what's going on. Baseball equipment is expensive and a field requires a lot of space, so few people in Spain are interested in playing it when you can put together a pickup soccer game with a ball and an empty plaza.
3. I could be wrong here, but I think bat-and-ball games are a particularly English-speaking thing. I can't think of any bat-and-ball games popular in Spain but tennis, and that's of Anglo-French origin and popular mostly among the middle class and up.
4. Baseball is a pre-television sport, unlike the NFL and especially the NBA, which have been successful overseas on television. TV doesn't show baseball nearly as well as it does the NBA and NFL, both of which have adapted their rules for TV.

5. A large part of being a sports fan is "rooting for laundry," and no Spanish fans have grown up rooting for (and / or against) a particular baseball team. They've got no stake in any particular game. They don't hate the Yankees or love the Dodgers. Similarly, one reason Americans don't go in big for soccer is that we have no particular team to root for.

But Martí Gómez has his silly stereotype joke all ready:

It's simply because of a question of dietary habits.

A baseball game usually lasts between three and four hours. Let us observe how the crowd behaves. They arrive loaded down with bags of popcorn bought outside the door of the stadium because they're cheaper there. They sit down and attentively observe the beginning of the game. Then they get up and go for some hot dogs with mustard. Seated now, they buy a beer from the kid selling them from a box carried on his head. They applaud a play and get up again to go buy a hamburger with ketchup. While they eat the hamburger they have fun with the lady who tries to win five hundred dollars while catching the three balls thrown to her. They'll go buy an enormous ice cream and call over the kid selling peanuts before buying a bag of potato chips to eat in the car on the way home.

Before leaving the stadium he'll comment on the game with those sitting near him. A three-ring circus applied to baseball, everyone knows how to analyze why they have won or lost, though they've only been seated for half the game. A Spanish spectator undergoing such stress wouldn't survive the whole baseball season.

Snicker, snicker, guffaw, guffaw. Of course he's exaggerating. The thing about baseball is that 1) they play every night, not just once a week, 81 home games a year. That means that baseball tickets are cheap in most places--you can still get into a game in KC for less than ten bucks--, which in turn means that people who are not serious fans can afford to go a couple of times a season just for an evening out. They're the ones buying all the burgers and crap. Also, baseball games attract drunks who pay $8 for a beer. Eleven times. 2) Serious fans don't appreciate the loud family with the fat kid who keep getting up and blocking the view, or the drunks, but tolerate them because the team wouldn't stay in business without their money. 3) A standard 9-inning baseball game should be about, say, 200 pitches. That means if you miss a few pitches you still know what's going on in the game. 4) Cultural difference: Most American fans do not absolutely live and die with their teams the way many Spanish fans do. Barça fans are so, well, fanatical that their eyes are glued on the whole game the whole time without ever relaxing. Americans might become stressed under such conditions, since most of them don't take a baseball game as seriously as a Spanish fan does a soccer game.

If I understand about baseball, I'm still confused about why football, called soccer there, has not caught on. Thousands of boys and girls play. Grass fields. Coaches from different countries. Perfectly equipped players and tournaments for all ages.

"They're kids with no references; they have no (soccer) heroes," an English coach told me. Not even David Beckham. Their families have gotten tired of the only thing that ever interested them about the Beckhams, their private lives. These boys and girls who pay two hundred dollars per season to play soccer don't watch European football, though some TV channels broadcast the important games played in England, Italy, and Spain.

Soccer hasn't really caught on in America as a spectator sport because:

1. It's a pre-TV sport, like baseball, and it hasn't adapted itself the way the NFL and NBA have. It's difficult for sports that aren't good on TV to make it big among fans.
2. Americans don't grow up rooting for a particular soccer team, of course, so the commitment to the Barça you see around here would take decades to develop over there.
3. We already have so many pro sports in America that there may not be room on TV or in viewers' brainspace for any more.
4. Americans won't commit to a spectator sport that isn't played in America at the highest level. It's hard to become a big Kansas City Wizards fan when everybody knows these guys suck and wouldn't even be on the field in England. I'm a perfect example: I'm a soccer fan, and a KC Royals and Chiefs fan, but I don't give a crap about the Wizards. I couldn't name a player on their team or tell you anything else about them. Who wants to root for a bunch of schloops?
5. Note that he's appreciative of America's grass soccer fields. Spanish fields for amateurs are generally hardpan dirt.
6. Operation Beckham failed. He's simply not a soccer superstar any more, and it's obvious he doesn't live up to the hype. He's not an interesting person, and nobody cares about his team. As for Posh Spice, she's too low-rent to ever make it in Hollywood. We're not talking Catherine Zeta-Jones or Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan or Hugh Grant here, we're talking a couple of chavs. Becks should have stayed at ManU.

7. Televised soccer is beginning to catch on among middle-class college kids in America. They grew up playing the game, and understand what's going on, and they are now globalized enough that they want to be into what is cool in England. The fact that you can now watch top-level soccer, the English and Spanish leagues, on American cable TV, shows there is a market for it, though the fact that it's still on fairly obscure channels shows the market isn't all that important yet. When the Premier League gets on an important US sports channel, which I predict will happen before 2015, that'll be the point when we can say that there's enough of a market for soccer that it's worth investing some real money. I still don't think soccer is ever going to catch on among the American working class, though.

Oh, yeah. The English constantly give the Americans crap because we call our baseball championship "the World Series." There's actually a perfectly logical reason. In 1903, the date of the first World Series, America was the only country where baseball of any kind, let alone professional baseball, was played. Therefore, the American champion would perforce be the world champion. That's a little boastful, of course, but that was back before the First World War, when everybody everywhere was boastful and ethnocentric. We've kept the "World Series" name because it's the tradition; in fact, the World Series is 26 years older than the Spanish professional soccer league. US pro baseball goes back to 1869, and the National League goes back to 1876. A few teams that are still playing today, such as the Chicago Cubs, were founding members of the NL.

Another argument I've heard is that the name "World Series" reflects the fact that, say, 95% of the world's best baseball players are in the US major leagues.

Not every American city has a sports team that is an integral part of the city fabric, the way Barcelona would be unimaginable without the Barça. I'd say the teams that are real institutions in baseball are the ones that go back to 1901 or before in the same city. That means that everyone who saw the team's first game is dead now. Generations have grown up listening to the games on radio. Literally millions of different people have watched ballgames in those cities over the years. Those teams would be the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, and St. Louis Cardinals. Surviving stadiums in semi-original condition are Fenway in Boston, Wrigley in Chicago, and Yankee Stadium in New York. You could make an argument for the Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants, and Los Angeles Dodgers, which all date from the 1950s, as basic parts of their cities' identities. (By the way, the Phillies set a milestone this season: the first major league team to lose 10,000 games. That's got to be a record for all professional teams in the world.)

There are six hockey teams, the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, and Chicago Blackhawks, that go back to the 1920s.

NFL teams that go back to the Thirties are the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, and New York Giants. I'd say the Cleveland Browns and maybe the San Francisco 49ers (1940s) are also integral parts of their cities; perhaps the Dallas Cowboys from the 1960s as well.

There are only two original NBA teams left in their original 1946 cities, the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics. I'd say the Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers, and Los Angeles Lakers, which go back to the '50s or early '60s, are also parts of their cities' identities.

As for college teams, that depends on your state; most people pick the college they went to, or a college from their state. A few states, like California and Texas, have eight or ten Division One teams; most states have two or three. Kansas has two, KU and K-State. Notre Dame, traditionally the working-class urban Catholic (especially Irish) team, is the only university with a national following.

You can tell a lot about a person by his sports team, but maybe even more by the teams he doesn't like. For example, I hate the Yankees in baseball, the Raiders and the Cowboys in the NFL, the Lakers in the NBA, and Notre Dame and Duke in college sports. Not because they have any players I don't like or whatever; I just always root against these teams. I imagine in your country you have teams you'll always root against; in Spain, mine is Real Madrid. I was very anti-Atletico Madrid when Jesús Gil was running it, but now that he's dead I've toned it down to mere dislike. I'm rather of two minds about Athletic Bilbao; on the one hand I like the way they bring up lots of players from their youth squad, but I dislike the way they discriminate against non-Basque players. I have nothing against Espanyol, though many Barça fans despise them.

Monday, September 10, 2007

News: ETA let off a small bomb last night around 12 AM at the Defense ministry building in Logroño. No damage was done. However, the small bomb was supposed to be the trigger for a 80-kilo car bomb, which would have blown the whole thing to hell and gone. ETA also sent a communiqué to their front papers in the Basque Country blaming their recent campaign on, get this, the government, for, get this, "breaking its word," and announcing that the bombings will continue.

On Sunday afternoon they had a nice big riot in San Sebastián; the pretext was a homage march called by ETA front group Gestores Pro Amnistia in honor of ETA prisoners. The Basque government quite legally banned the march, and when the demonstrators showed up anyway, the cops read the riot act. Then the fighting began. Eleven people were injured, including a cop whose neck was badly cut open by a flying broken bottle, and nine were arrested.

Other notes: The Dalai Lama is in town. They asked him what he thought about an independent Catalonia and he said it wasn't any of his business. The slaughter continues with 32 deaths on Spain's highways over the weekend. Car racing scandal: Spain's big hero Fernando Alonso is suspected of industrial espionage, specifically of sharing Ferrari technology with McLaren Mercedes. Alonso is extremely popular here in Spain, but everyone else in the world thinks he's a jerk. The US soccer federation is extremely popular right now in Catalonia because it's asked the Spanish federation to allow the October 14 Catalonia-US friendly match in Barcelona. I'm not often sympathetic to the Catalan nationalists, but it does seem silly not to allow them to play a soccer game. If the teams and players want to play and the people want to see them, why not?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

I posted a set of Johnny Cash duets over at Hard Country. Don't miss the one with Louis Armstrong, the one with Eric Clapton, and Ray Charles's version of "Ring of Fire."

Friday, September 07, 2007

News from these here parts: The Portuguese cops are interrogating Madeleine McCann's mother, and she is apparently going to be charged in the girl's disappearance. If this is true, it's going to be explosive news in England, which has gone all O.J. over this case.

Pavarotti died. As usual, it's a shame he's dead, but I never liked him. I can't stand opera, and I don't believe anyone else really likes it, either. Sort of like abstract art, modern dance, and Swedish movies, it's one of those things people pretend they like in order to seem cultured. Comment: I think it's interesting that opera was most popular among the German-speaking bourgeois about 100 years ago, and look what those people wanted to do with the world. It seems like every bad idea from anti-Semitism to Marxism to Freudianism to Esperanto to modern nationalism comes from the German-speaking bourgeois in the second half of the 19th century. Nietzche, anyone?

Two sea disasters: A Spanish fishing boat sank off Cádiz with eight dead, and a cayuco full of African immigrants sank off Grand Canary with at least ten dead. Free trade with Africa now! Stop the desperation that makes these people risk their lives! Give them a chance to make something of their countries! Down with agricultural subsidies in the EU and US!

TV3 is making a big deal out of a BBC survey taken in 22 countries saying that 65% of those questioned think the US should withdraw its troops from Iraq. Fortunately, surveys don't count. Note to Western European hippies, pinkos, and peaceniks: No, the US government doesn't care what you think, no matter how many pots you bang. Interestingly enough, the three countries where those surveyed did not think the Americans should bail out are all Third World countries under pressure from Muslim neighbors and / or minorities: Kenya, India, and the Philippines.

Comment: There's a Western European media backlash going on right now against India; there have been several documentaries and news reports lately about how it's so awful that 200 million Indians have become middle-class while so many others are still poor. Typical. A Third World country picks itself up by its own bootstraps and earns its own place in the world, and the leftists can't stand it because India isn't doing it their way. Uh, people, everyone can't become middle-class instantly. It's going to take quite a few years, but it's going to happen eventually. And they're all going to speak English.

Some Romanian guy in Valencia set himself on fire in order to protest that he didn't have any money or something. He now has burns over 70% of his body. What a dope--actually, he's probably got severe mental problems, because choosing to set oneself on fire demonstrates that one has poor decision-making skills. Anyway, anybody can get free food and a place to stay in Spain, and it's not that hard to get a job.

The sick joke going around--the guy was wearing a Valencia football jersey when he torched himself--was that he was a frustrated fan fed up with the hijinks going on in the Valencia front office and dressing room. Another football-related comment going around Barcelona is that the Barça has signed so many black players that it looks like an NBA team. That's a little tasteless, as if there should be a quota or something. Barcelona now has seven black players on the first squad: Thuram, Abidal, Touré, Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Henry, and Dos Santos. This is wonderful, not because they're black players but because they're good players. Touré is going to be awesome.

Nationalist wackiness: The Catalan "national" soccer team was going to play the United States in Barcelona on October 14. The Spanish football federation refused to authorize the game on the grounds that regional teams traditionally play at Christmas, which is a pretty dumb reason. So the Generalitat is recommending that the Catalan team play the game anyway, which would be a violation of the (dumb) law. Everyone looks like an idiot, the Spainiacs for not letting the kids play their game, and the Cataloonies, for throwing a tantrum about it. And, get this, if they do play the game without authorization, the players are the ones that get in trouble; they could be fined or suspended by the Spanish federation.

And get this one, too: Barcelona defender Oleguer Presas has been indicted for assault and battery on a police officer. Seems that in 2003 there was some kind of squatter protest in Sabadell, and Oleguer, who is into all that stupid shit, got caught throwing rocks at the cops. I guess they were playing intifada or something. He could get three years in jail. If he's guilty, I hope they lock him up, just like they would do to you or me if we were throwing rocks at cops. That would be hilarious, a Barça player in the slammer.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Remember La Vanguardia's comments section and all the crazy leftie anti-American stuff that people kept posting there? Well, a few pro-Americans have shown up, and so have quite a few racists. Here's the discussion about an article saying that the US has warned several European countries that a major Al Qaeda attack may be in the works.

So if you want to know how Spaniards really think, this is a pretty good example; there are arguments coming from several different directions here. Some are sensible and some definitely are not. Note the folks who want to expel Arab immigrants and nuke Teheran--and note the guy who thinks I should be killed because I voted for Bush.

Pepi (Minneapolis): Uf! I hope Spain takes this seriously.

Pilar (San Francisco): At this point you can't believe anything at all.

Robaperas (Terrassa): And we do nothing but watch their latent Fifth Column install itself among us. I'm sick of these limousine leftists!

Luis1 (Barcelona): But wasn't the March 11 attack Aznar's fault because of "the great intervention in the Iraq war"? This is the most farcical government Spain has ever had in its history.

Fodel: Fear and manipulation have always gone hand in hand. As old as the history of humanity. FEAR is a form of politics that benefits a FEW. Belligerence, arrogance, looting, and expoliation, by a few who are very full of GREED. Let's not fool ourselves, the USA has that weapon of mass destruction called FEAR. Let's be free and hope John Waine (sic) doesn't attack us when he goes on stage.

Terror: We should be most frightened of governments and their state terrorism.

Josep (Barcelona): Yes, Luis1, our armed presence in Iraq made us the target of Islamist groups. If not, then why March 11? The problem is that international terror has also globalized.

Asimov (Barcelona): Those silly Yankees, always imagining things. What were September 11, March 11, and July 7 but optical illusions?

Weasle: Fear and manipulation? John Wayne? You watch too much TV. Come on, man.

A. Vila: Thanks to the USA for warning us. But don't worry, in Spain / Europe we live with chronic blindness. Here instead of prevention, we release fundamentalist Islamic fanatics every day. Just in case, USA, don't lose sight of us and watch out for us, because our politicians will continue being indifferent.

Luis1 (Barcelona): Josep, then why didn't this government's "partners": the PSC, ERC, IU, etc., hold demonstrations over the presence of Spanish troops in Afghanistan? They gladly called demonstrations when the PP was in power. Do you know why? Because they're demagogues and frauds.

Marco (Barcelona): Well, then, let's just stay home until the "threat" passes.

Tony (Barcelona): Fear, wherever it comes from, is always what limits our freedom, the fear we carry within us, each being, each individual, and some know very well how to use it and manage it meticulously, so that it reaches us little by little, each one of us, this is a true war against freedom, it is an invisible but effective war, and since man has existed, it has always been precticed, by a few to govern many.

Birrero (Barcelona): In the end those who say that to put an end to this kind of attacks, the only option is to send every living creature with two legs who looks like an Arab back to his country, are going to be right.

Anonymous: Luis1, isn't that because Iraq was a war that wasn't even supported by the UN? If in Afghanistan, instead of doing humanitarian work, we were mixed up in an ILLEGAL war, yes, illegal like the one in Iraq, a genocide with the unique objective of looting petroleum, I think that everyone would demonstrate too.

Alexandre: Once upon a time there was a country called the Kingdom of Spain, governed by a bunch of nostalgics for May 1968 who practice naivete in international relations. Those politicians tell us that fundamentalist terrorism has its origins in the Iraq war, but it turned out that once we left the Euphrates, now what they're demanding is the recovery of Andalusia. THAT'S ENOUGH BLINDNESS! WE'RE PLAYING WITH DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS HERE.

GBA: Another attack like September 11 or March 11 would completely justify the atomic bombing of the countries that support Islamist terrorism. God Bless America (original English).

Hermes: If we hadn't gone to Iraq the excuse would have been that we're in Afghanistan, or that Al-Andalus belongs to them, or that we were an imperialist country. They always look for a reason to attack us, while we continue blaming one another, even justifying the terrorists' reasons for attacking.

Pace: Such a threat is credible, and Bush's political desire is that an attack happens in Europe. The West kicked over the wasps' nest by stealing petroleum from Islamist countries. This mixed with religion produced a dangerous cocktail. What is Europe doing stuck in Afghanistan? Everything is cause and effect.

Josep* (Girona): The Muslims back to their country. They're cultures that are too different to live together. They make their women wear chilabas and walk three steps behind, and we have them leading our country. Screw the Muslims. It's politically incorrect, but it is the solution. Important fact: 85% of arrests are of immigrants, and 80% are recidivists. That can't continue.

MV: In Afghanistan, if the UN wasn't there the Talibans would be killing and beating women for walking the street alone, even wearing burkas to their ankles when it's 40º in trhe shade. Enough justifying terrorism! But of course, since it's super cool to be a defender of those who don't want to integrate...If they want to come to Europe, there are norms and a way of life. Let them adapt, not us to them, and what's worse, they laugh in our face and attack us!

Francesc: Many of them have European passports thanks to our governments. We're paying for our politicians' errors.

Franchu (Las Palmas): If we once expelled the Muslims from our country it was for a reason. I think the solution is this, enough of them moving as they wish in European territory, bring back frontiers and customs controls. This is snowballing out of our hands, and it would justify the use of nuclear weapons against the countries that support terrorism: Iran, Syria, and Sudan.

VivaBush (Barcelona): Hey, GBA, I'm impressed that there are people as sensible as you, me, and the rest of us with the same ideas. I thought that in this country of hippies there was nobody with a brain. Now, more than ever, God Bless America, its soldiers, and its president.

Carmi: That's the way, kill them all, and that way we'll put an end to the problem. That's sick!!!!!

Mau: Thank you Bush, keep going with the Iraq wasps' nest. The bad thing is that all of us pay for your mistakes.

MonsieurTon: If things were as clear as some of you paint them (get out "moros," they want to recover Al Andalus, they hit women...) we would be in a rose-colored situation. Islam has many more reasons to fear and hate us than we have to hate them. 19 crazies could not have done September 11 no matter how much they wanted. The US has imposed reactionary dictators and regimes all over the world, and all its friends have nuclear weapons. Please realize that most of what they sell us as "information" is mere propaganda, impossible to prove, no matter how professional the journalist who propagates it is.

MonsieurTon: Iran knows that if it attacks Israel or the USA in any way, their country will be reduced to ashes. Why do you assume they are so silly and blind? The threat is not a little attack like September 11 or March 11, it is the complete destruction of cities and infrastructures. Isn't it that they are looking for excuses to keep colonizing the world in our interests?

Mau: America began by massacring the indigenous Indians and it hasn't stopped until our times. The bad thing is we pay for the consequences.

Pepe: I'm sure it's all a conspiracy of the USA (I don't know if it's Judeo-Masonic like they all used to be) in order to gain at the expense of others, and not as we do in Spain, where with "talante" and alliances, we lose so that others gain.

Mak: But are you all stupid or what? Stop blaming the governments, what does it matter how we got where we are. The question is that we are here. The problem is: They want to kill us. It doesn't matter if it's a majority or a minority. The question is they want to wipe us out. So enough fooling around and let's take action for once.

Mau: More of the same. I just read in El Pais at least 14 more dead in Baghdad after an American airstrike, according to a policeman the dead are civilians, naturally no comment from the USA.

Pepe: Monsieur Ton, we don't have to make up possible attacks. You are certainly one of those that justifies the unjustifiable, but while living in a Western and Christian country.

Carmi: Look out white man, they want to wipe us out. Maybe we thought there would be no reaction to the genocide and expoliation we have been committing for years? Come on, man, let's not have illusions.

Monsieur Ton: Unjustifiable, what bollocks, Pepe...if you and others "justify" what we do in response to three bombings, what must they be thinking when they see our countries occupying and wiping out their lands? Doesn't it seem easy to you to justify an Iraqi wanting to kill Bush, Blair, and anybody who votes for them?

Rufo: Islam literally means submission to Allah, and the Muslim countries have their own reduced version of human rights. If this is not proof that Islam is incompatible with our world, I don't know what is. Islam neither can nor wants to function with half-measures, and sharia law is not an option, it's a mandate from God. As more countries give in (just ask Turkey), it will be like going back to the Inquisition. The freedom we enjoy today is not guaranteed. We have to defend it and not give in AT ALL!

Monsieur Ton: Keep saying "they're bad and we're good," because if they do the same as we do then total collapse is assured (economic and ecological). Since I can abuse, I do, and when they can of course they will do the same. It is incredible how some of you live among your clouds as if this situation of hegemony were eternal through the grace of God. The harder they fall. You bunch of anesthesized people, stop watching TV.

Citizen Kane (Barcelona): The influence of the stupid war in Iraq on Islamic terror activity is minimal. They've been pulling off attacks for 30 years. The origin? The rage they feel that such a rich and proud culture is licking the floor of poverty and despotic regimes. Since they don't dare to blow up the God that has abandoned them, they are looking for human sacrifices.

MV: Monsieur Ton, let them respect us too. If they come to our house they should adapt. Besides, if they didn't mix religion with politics so much it would be better for them. And above all, more general culture and less studying only religion. It would be like that in Europe for us if we only studied the Bible, without cultural progress.

Rufo: By the way, those who believe indiscriminately killing innocents in trains and offices is a legitimate tactic, let me tell you something. Go live in Saudi Arabia, you don't fit in here.

Mek: If we want peace, we must prepare for war.

MV: They have their women reduced to mere OBJECTS for the use and pleasure of men, WITHOUT any rights at all. Here nobody makes them wear a burka and they can CHOOSE to study, work, go shopping, think, wear a bikini, and if they want to, they can work in porno, since they can CHOOSE. Long live women's rights!

Pepe: I support mutual respect, but me in my house, them in theirs, and God in everybody's. Monsieur Ton, since Western civilization (European and / or Christian) does not convince you, I wonder why you live in a country like the one you describe so well, rather than enjoying an Islamic republic.

Cub: We've reduced our women to mere sexual icons? That's the argument that Islamist fanatics use: Western women are whores. No, sir, Western women are free, and those that belong to the fanatics are slaves.

MV: I've always been worried about the subject of women's rights, and I've always followed the problems they have with the Talibans. Maybe because I have a mother, sisters, and daughters? Come on, less phony anticapitalism. And if you defend your anti-Western ideals so vehemently, try living in an Islamic republic and express yourself freely as you do in Europe. The day it affects you, you'll change your mind!

Betuli (London): We have to separate the wheat from the chaff. Our policies against Islamic extremism must be strong, while we integrate the great majority of peaceful Muslims into Western values. The carrot and the stick. Putting all Muslims in the same sack leads us to a dead end.

Cub: Of course, Betuli. We should remember that the first victims of religious fanatics are the citizens of their countries. But we should also remember that we have already escaped religious fanaticism, we have made great social advances in a fight that has lasted centuries, against our own fanatics. We should not cede a millimeter.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Foreign Policy has an interesting graphic on the Durex sex survey. One thing it shows is that Spaniards are pretty conservative sexually: average loss of virginity age 17, average number of sexual partners six, about 25% have had "unprotected" sex, and less than 5% have sexually transmitted diseases. Comparable figures for the US: average loss of virginity age 16, average number of sexual partners 11, more than 50% have had unprotected sex, and about 10% have sexually transmitted diseases. UK and Canada figures are almost identical to the US.

Interestingly, Scandinavia and Australia really are the most sexually uninhibited places. 21% of Norwegians are infected with STDs, and more than 75% have had unprotected sex. The average Turk claims to have bedded 14 people, by far the most in the world, and all I can figure is a) they're lying, b) they're including prostitutes in their counts, or c) they didn't survey any Turkish women. I just can't imagine Turkish women getting it on with more than about three guys per lifetime, if that much. Maybe I'm just prejudiced, but this goes against everything I've ever heard about Muslim countries. The other Muslim countries surveyed, Malaysia and Indonesia, show predictably conservative sexual behavior.