Monthly Archives: January 2008

“Strong men also cry”

Some choice stories which I have failed to comment on over recent days:

Tomas Delgado – this is the man who killed a 17 year-old cyclist by running him over, and then attempted to sue the dead boy’s family for €20,000 in order to pay for repairs to his car. Hundreds of people descended on the court in Haro, northern Spain, to show their utter contempt for this heartless bastard. He then withdrew the lawsuit, but not because he felt guilty or had had some sort of ‘Road to Damascus’ moment. No, he was just pissed off with the negative attention his family were receiving from the press. I have the feeling that if Ron Paul ever got anywhere near power, he’d probably pass a law approving such damages. Perhaps even kick the parents out of their home. I mean, it’s an Audi.

Rudy Giuliani – this is the man who was incapable of opening his mouth without reminding people about September 11th, 2001. He has just retired from the race to become Republican nominee for US president after what might have been the most spectacularly poorly thought-out campaign in electoral history. At his last few speeches, he barely got 100 supporters showing up and you could almost feel sorry for him if he didn’t constantly debase himself and his country by doing everything he could to cash in on the deaths of the victims in the Twin Towers.

John Edwards – this is the man who was never really going to make it. Nice but a bit dull, he could probably have been a decent president. As someone else put it, he failed because his two rivals have stories which are much easier packaged. Ah well, it’ll probably make little difference anyway.

Martin Amis – this is the man who appeared on Start The Week on Monday criticising multiculturalism. He didn’t really say much except that Muslims are inherently backward and that he “invented” multiculturalism. Actually, it’s interesting that those who have abandoned the left to become neo-conservatives are now becoming quite fierce proponents of ethic nationalism (which is the only logical alternative to multiculturalism). It’s really not that surprising, though, as these fellows all refer to ‘the Enlightenment’ (which created, among other things, nationalism) as the high point of human reason. They’re all cribbing from the (interestingly named) Paul Cliteur anyway.

Don’t take photos of police cars

This morning, I took a turn around Cerdanyola with the idea of photographing some of the graffiti and posters I often see around the town. I got some half-decent shots around ‘el Barrio’ which is the part of the town made up of tower-blocks and little more. It’s an area which has been improved recently but it’s still clearly a poverty-stricken area.

Well, after getting a few decent shots in el Barrio, I moved on and spotted a decent shot of some police cars parked by the Policia Local station. I’d just taken my first shot (which was pretty crappy) when I looked up to see a policeman approaching with an angry/police look on his silly face. Now, I grew up living on and visiting various military installations and one thing I was always taught was: call the police ‘Officer’ because they like that. I used to be able to show my little ID card to Royal Marines guards and that was that. Let me tell you that being 27 in Cerdanyola del Vallès is not the same as being 12 in Dartmouth.

My shit photo of some police cars

So this police officer decided that I should accompany him back to the police station because I was taking photos of the police cars outside it. He asked me what was my motive for photographing the squad cars and all I could say was “Nada… interes… arte?”. They obviously thought I was some kind of potential Etarra (as if they wouldn’t drive past photographing the police station if they really wanted to do a recce). I showed him the photo I’d taken (which was, incidentally, rubbish: I’d only had time for one shot) and he said “What exactly were you trying to photograph here?”. I felt like saying, “Look, I know it’s a shit photo… let’s just leave it at that”… instead I muttered something about the lights on their cars. I probably looked like the worst kind of antisistema/ultraizquierda/ETA suspect they’d ever seen.

Anyway, I had to present my ID card which the desk sergeant was asked to check. And I didn’t show up on the computer, something which obviously made them more suspicious of me. I explained to the desk sergeant (the ‘good cop’) that there are often problems with my name, because in Catalonia they never understand foreign naming conventions. My name is technically Thomas R—— C—— Clarke and I’ve been identified with various combinations of the four names over the last five and a half years. This causes constant hassle with local authorities but La Caixa have always dealt with it very well.

Eventually, they found me on the computer (I told them to check my address) and they didn’t seem very happy as they just handed me my Targeta de Residència and turned away. I said sorry again and went on my way. Later, I saw a Mossos car and I was so conscious of being questioned that I actually turned by camera off and turned away. All because I took a shit photo of some policia local cars.

On the smudging of the political spectrum

One of the interesting things I’ve noticed when reading opinions from normal American voters (not bloggers – I mean people on forums, Yahoo! Answers and the like) is how confused many of them are when it comes to understanding the political ideas espoused by many of the candidates in the race to become president. For example, the view is often expressed that Hillary Clinton ought not be president because she is a ‘socialist’. Other Democratic candidates are equally dismissed as representing the ‘far-left’ or espousing ‘socialist healthcare’. Several times, I’ve been called a ‘Leninist’, ‘Communist’ or ‘Stalinist’ after questioning the official version of events from Downing Street or the White House. The New York Times, The Guardian and MSNBC News are all regularly referred to as being ‘of the left’, ‘far-left’, ‘socialist’ and even ‘communist’, despite the fact that they are broadly establishment-friendly liberal media outlets. In Spain, Aznar and the FAES-Libertad Digital-El Mundo alliance have regularly referred to the PSOE as ‘the socialists, communists and anarchists’ – language borrowed almost word for word from Franco’s fascist dictatorship.

This phenomenon casts light on two particular points worth looking at. Firstly, that the propaganda of the cold war era still courses through many people’s veins. People still fear socialism in a more primal way than they fear even Islamism or other far-right ideologies. The United States is not at risk of getting a socialist president any time soon, so why is this irrational fear perpetuated? The reason is that the USA represents a spectacularly unequal capitalist society and has all the accompanying problems that might be expected. Rather than noting that socialism might offer a solution to some of these problems (as it clearly does), people are instead encouraged to have a Red Dawn* style view of socialism. The true ‘threat’ of socialism is, of course, an empowered and united labour force.

The second point is that it has become standard practice to label any political opponent who is even slightly to the left of yourself as ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’. Hillary Clinton, on any normal political spectrum, would be regarded as having a centre-right political ideology. But it is not uncommon to hear commentators and citizens alike using the term ‘socialist’ to describe her point of view. And I’m not just talking about Mark Levin or equally perverse ‘shock-jocks’ and fetishists. Mainstream media outlets like Fox News Channel (a channel which, incidentally, spends a lot of time criticising the ‘mainstream media’!) have regularly used terms like ‘socialist healthcare’, ‘socialised education’ and so on as a scare tactic. Actually, public health and education, free at the point of use, are generally accepted now as being good for society, good for business, good for the country. It’s the word ‘social’ which seems to scare people so much. all the while, the right is referred to as merely ‘conservative’.

Spain has had a left of centre government in power for the last four years and despite the PP-FAES-Libertad Digital-El Mundo alliance’s shrill warnings about ‘the end of Spain’, dark terrorist conspiracies and economic collapse, Spain seems to be doing OK. This is the reason why the PP rarely challenges the PSOE on any policy issue except when it touches on concepts of ‘national unity’ and alleged threats to tradition. Rather, they spend their time posturing and holding press conferences, much as they did when they were in power. Despite being from the ‘far left’, the country is doing fine. But I know that this is a story which won’t be told in the United States, where fear of a single word still dominates political discourse.


*Red Dawn – if you haven’t seen this film, try to download it or something. It’s a fiercely jingoistic anti-Soviet propaganda movie from about 1984 starring Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen, and it recounts the events following a Soviet-Cuban invasion of the United States. I imagine it gave a lot of impressionable teenagers nightmares and a firm hatred of socialism, which was exactly its intention. It’s a pretty terrible film but also quite amusing in parts.

News from Spain

Quite a big split has taken place in the right-wing Partido Popular, with the more Catholic conservative side (Aznar, Rajoy, Aguirre and Acebes) now claiming victory over the more centrist elements (Gallardon & Piqué). This is good news for the PSOE as a right-wing shift in the PP might convince potential non-voters to come out and back the centre-left. John at Iberian Notes (in between a couple of misogynistic and racist remarks) reckons that it would still be better for Spain if Rajoy won, if only to prevent Zapatero from having two terms. Now that’s what I call party loyalty. Mariano Rajoy is a politician who somehow manages to make Zapatero look statesmanlike, confident and wise. Actually, I wouldn’t vote for either candidate but on balance, Zapatero hasn’t had that bad a time in office.

The national anthem lyrics which I mentioned the other day, after being firmly rejected by the Spanish public, have finally been withdrawn by the Spanish Olympic Committee. They were, as you can see, awful lyrics. But it seems that the ‘Viva España!’ rallying call (which features twice in the proposed song sheet) was what upset the most people. ‘Viva España!’ is a phrase which for most people still evokes Franco’s fascist regime – the old coot used to say it every other breath. Tourists – this may be why people stared at you and muttered under their breath when you tried to express how much you love Spain.

Actually, this opens up an interesting debate about Spanish nationalism in general. At some point in the future, it’ll become more possible to shout ‘Viva España!’ and not be called a fascist. But for the moment, expressions of nationalist or patriotic pride always seem to hark back to the dictatorship. You would think that the chap who wrote the proposed lyrics for the national anthem, would have known the import of including a couple of ‘Viva España!’s… but I doubt that he realised he was saying anything that could cause anyone offence. An unemployed man from La Mancha (‘Castilla la Nueva’), I suspect he is in fact pretty cut off from public opinion in the big towns.

My wife has quite a lot of family in Ciudad Real province and while the older generations are lovely, warm and sensible country people, the cousins who are our age, are spectacularly badly informed, racist and nationalist. They even took part in that pathetic anti-Catalan boycott a few years back (and had the temerity to invite Gemma, who lives in Catalonia and is Catalan, to take part). Actually, one of them also intended to have a medieval-themed wedding at which all the guests would have to dress up in silly costumes. I found this even more offensive than the stupid boycott.

Spanish national anthem gets some lyrics

For a long time, Spain’s national anthem has been without words. The original set of lyrics, deemed excessively militaristic and overshadowed by General Franco’s fascist dictatorship, were laid to rest more than 30 years ago. Since then, the anthem has been hummed or laahed, which is what drove the Spanish Olympic Committee (COE – no relation to Seb, so far as I know) to launch the contest for new lyrics.

Apparently, the new words have caused some consternation… partly because the first line is ‘Viva España!’, not a phrase which goes down well with a significant proportion of the population.

I’m planning to obtain Spanish nationality sometime soon and I’m now worried that I’ll have to learn the new words. I can’t help but remember the schoolyard version I’ve heard sung by many Spanish and Catalan twenty-somethings:

“Franco, / Franco, / que tiene el culo blanco, / porque su mujer / lo lava con Ariel” – I hope I don’t lose points for singing that version. I’d rather they left it without lyrics – I always thought there was rather more nobility and style to standing still and quiet than to reciting some dull hymn. That said, Els Segadors (Catalonia’s national anthem) is replete with incitement to violent uprising and is actually rather stirring.

Anyway, there’s a video on El País which gauges Madrileño opinion to the new words.

Update: Here are the lyrics in English (nicked from the Guardian, so they may not be 100% kosher)

Long live Spain!
We sing together
With different voices
And only one heart

Long live Spain!
From the green valleys
To the immense sea
A hymn of brotherhood

Love the Fatherland
Which knows how to embrace
Below the blue sky
People in freedom

Glory to the sons
Who have given to history
Justice and greatness
Democracy and peace

By the way, a lot of people seem to come to this page looking for the lyrics to the Barça anthem… so here they are:

Tot el camp, és un clam
som la gent blaugrana, Tant se val d’on venim
si del sud o del nord
ara estem d’acord, ara estem d’acord,
una bandera ens agermana.
Blaugrana al vent, un crit valent
tenim un nom, el sap tothom:
Barça , Barça, Barça!
Jugadors, seguidors, tots units fem força.
Son molt anys plens d’afanys,
son molts gols que hem cridat
i s’ha demostrat, i s’ha demostrat,
que mai ningu no ens podrà torcer
Blau-grana al vent, un crit valent
tenim un nom, el sap tothom
Barça, Barça, Barça!

Senior US officials implicated in nuclear black market

An interesting post at Lenin’s Tomb asks why more isn’t being made of Sibel Edmonds’s claims about corruption in the US government.

State Secrets laws don’t permit her to talk to a judge about it, much less a television reporter, and much of the media has avoided looking too intensely at the matter. Apparently, she knows that several high-placed American officials put US nuclear materials on the black market, some of which were going to Pakistani secret police individuals with connections to ‘Al Qaeda’.

By the way, lots of work on at the moment… I’m still working on a few longer posts though.

King for a day (or two)

Today was Kings’ day (Epiphany) and according to Catalan (and Spanish?) tradition, we ate some Tortell de Reis (Kings’ Cake). This cake is magical because it contains two secret ingredients, a bean and a king. They are packaged carefully and hidden in the cake. The person who finds the bean in their slice of cake is supposed to pay for the cake, while the person who finds the king is deemed to be king for a day. This was the second year running that I’ve been lucky recipient of the piece containing the king.

As a staunch republican, you might expect me to reject the king status and propose, say, a people’s committee to oversee activities for the next 24 hours. And I did think of that. But in truth, I feel that the best way to spread ill feeling about the monarchy is by acting badly while holding the title ‘king’. So I intend to act as despot for the next 24 hours, as a warning to those who would accept a king as their master. And if the message doesn’t get through, I might have to extend my rule by a day or two. For their own good, you understand.

George MacDonald Fraser: 1925-2008

I was sad to hear about the death yesterday of George Macdonald Fraser, author of the Flashman series of historical comic novels. His books were politically incorrect, naughty, adventurous, educational and above all seriously funny. They charted the story of the British Empire through arch-cad, Harry Flashman’s eyes, placing this coward and poltroon at many of the key events and battles of the mid to late 19th century. He wasn’t, as some will claim, an apologist for empire or colonialism… far from it. In fact, MacDonald Fraser occasionally used his writing to warn of the dangers present in the waging of imperialist campaigns far from home.

Flashman remains, in my opinion, one of the great comic characters of the English novel and now his creator has died without giving any answer as to how Flashy managed to fight on both sides during the American Civil War.

I nearly shed a manly tear.