My vote for the European Constitution

I’m departing from my usual schedule of posting only on Wednesdays, because tomorrow is a VERY BIG DAY, the referendum in Spain, the first in Europe, on the “Tratado por el que se establece una CONSTITUCIÓN para EUROPA.” Yesterday, after weeks of seeing articles and TV debates pro and con, I finally sat down to read it (El País had delivered it free with a weekend issue back in January). I’m not a Spanish citizen or even a European, so my vote won’t count, so I can only cast a virtual vote “Sí”. And I do it enthusiastically. This Constitution/Treaty (it’s really both things at once) is a marvelous advance for one very large, important part of the world.

It’s got problems, sure. I agree with the left (in Spain, Gaspar Llamazares of Izquierda Unida is the most outspoken opponent) that the Constitution is far too deferential to the United States, especially in defense, where it abjures an independent military force but repeatedly mentions obligations to NATO, and in trade. (This deference is mostly because of pressure from Tony Blair, acting as a conduit for pressure from Washington; Chirac and Schroeder were pushing for much more independence). And too many of the decisions, including amendments to the Constitution itself, have to be unanimous, meaning that any country – including weaker ones most vulnerable to U.S. economic and other pressure – has a veto. Thus, with this Constitution, Europe does not empower itself against U.S. military adventurism, and that’s a pity – we Americans are just going to have to do it ourselves.

Still, the great thing about this Constitution is that it binds all its member states to legal principles that have been pretty shaky in some of them. These include equal rights for ethnic minorities (maybe the Gypsies and others will finally get a fair shake) and women, free primary and secondary education for all children, etc. Another important right (far in advance of current U.S. practice) is that to organize trade unions and other associations to defend the interests of any group. The Constitution creates a kind of European citizenship, whereby nationals of any member state will enjoy all the privileges of citizens – including voting, once they meet residency requirements – in any other member state. Also, it forbids torture and abolishes the death penalty for the entire continent. And it gives all citizens of all states rights to elect members of the European parliament directly (in addition to the representation they have through their nationally elected officials) and to present petitions for laws to enact the principles announced in the “Values” and “Objectives” of the Constitution listed at the beginning.

So, with all its weaknesses, and the inevitability of conflicts in interpretation and the complexity of its mechanisms, this is a great step forward toward global democracy. Spain could have approved the Constitution in Parliament, like most of the European states – since both major parties, PSOE (socialists) and PP (conservatives) favor it, it would have passed by 80% majority. However, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the President of the Government, wanted the widest possible debate and backing for this big step toward European integration. It is a lengthy and complicated document, and many potential voters have avoided studying it or have rejected it because of some some comment they have heard. However, the alternative to this Constitution is not a stronger one, but no European constitution at all – and that would be a much greater pity. I believe Spanish voters will approve it tomorrow; I hope a large enough proportion of them turn out (whichever way they vote) to justify Zapatero’s faith in the people’s capacity for reflection and decision.

P.S.: On Wednesday, Susana & I will be flying back from Almería to New York, via London, so there will be no blog posting until later. Ciao.


When trends collide

The world has never held still, but now it seems that the conditions for human life are changing faster than at any time since the thawing of the last Ice Age. Some of the trends are appalling – if things go on the way they have been, this planet will become uninhabitable or at least extremely uncomfortable in less than a century, and since another trend is the increase in life-spans, a lot of us may be around to suffer it. But simultaneously, many other things are also changing the way we live, processes in areas as different as ecology, demography, economy, communications and politics. If we can take intelligent advantage of the moments and points where these vectors intersect, our species may be able to muddle through this tough period with some of our civilization more or less intact.
Climate & ecology
Deteriorating rapidly, as today’s start of the Kyoto accords reminds us. Worst hit will be those areas that are poorest already: increasing desertification in Africa and Asia, flooding of deltas and low-lying islands, diminished crops, etc.
The “120-Year Olds Club” just met in Havana. By 2050, some demographers predict, there will be more elderly in the world than youth under 15. Meanwhile, there will also be a lot more people of every age, especially in the poorer countries where birth rates are highest. This is mostly because the poor have less control over their lives (including reproduction) and because they often see their offspring as the only kind of wealth available to them. The lop-sided demographic growth is bound to drive ever heavier migration from the poorer to the richer countries. But the increasing proportion of older people, with longer memories and greater caution, could be a force for environmental care.
We’re running out of petroleum and water (among other resources), which drives up the price of everything, increases competition, and contributes to the widening income gaps, exacerbating the unequal demographic growth and mobility.
We’re all getting more and more connected, with information from everywhere available faster anywhere. Thus more of us are aware of climate and other environmental changes and everybody is aware of income disparities, and it is becoming much easier to influence (whether to inform, mobilize, or bamboozle) great masses of people quickly.
“Democracy” is becoming more popular, at least as a slogan, even among its traditional enemies. The same political-military establishment that overthrew democratically elected governments in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954) and Chile (1973), and which supported numerous other dictatorships against democratic opponents, is now promising (or threatening) to install “democracy” all over the globe. Why? Because with the huge numbers of relatively poor people who are all interconnected and capable of mobilizing terrorist cells or mass demonstrations, some local support is essential for the industrial giants to maintain control. The old tactics of “Shock and awe” just aren’t enough.

The meeting points of these trends is where we can maneuver, to push for an ever broader, ever truer democracy, taking advantage of the propaganda of the imperial democrats in Washington and challenging them to make it real, and also using to the fullest the new communications possibilities to mobilize the people most affected to take action around economic and environmental issues. It’s happening already, and we need to be aware that it is happening and how it is happening. Greater democratic control is not just a good idea philosophically or morally; it is the only strategy possible for saving the planet.

Una plumita verde, o el erotismo inocente

Entre las hojas de la libretilla que llevo a todas partes, como un fotógrafo su cámara, encuentro una plumita verde y suavecita del desfile el domingo pasado del Carnaval de Águilas, pequeña ciudad en la costa de Murcia. Las primeras de las más de 50 peñas que pasearon el largo de la avenida principal hacia la playa, eran de bailarinas emplumadas que, con sus rumbas y sambas perfectamente coreografiadas, provocaban un gran deseo de desplumarlas – que no pude, pero si conservo una plumita soltada por el ala o posiblemente la cola de alguna de esas apetecibles aves. Después pasaron otras peñas de niñas de 5 o 6 años, también adornadas de plumas y telitas brillantes, imitando los gestos eróticos de sus mayores, después señoras mayores disfrazadas de colegialas imitando la inocencia de las niñitas, y otras muchas payasadas. Unos señoritos con sombreros planos y chalecos negros galoparon con grandes faldas en forma de caballos – y cuando se desvestían de sus caballos, revelaban medias de red y tacos altos de mujer, y se acercaban a las señoras espectadoras para sentarse en sus faldas con gestos obscenos; otra peña de maricas – auténticos o disfrazados como tal, con pantalones, chaquetas y bufandas de color rosa, cantando “Marica yo, marica tú, maricas tooo-dooos!” En otra, muy divertida, bailaban unos hombrecillos pequeñísimos pero con cabezas y sombreros enormes; en realidad, personas de tamaño normal con el cinturón de los pantalones al nivel de las rodillas, la cara pintada en la barriga, y los hombros y brazos escondidos dentro del sombrero. Pero muy favorito – después de las deliciosas bailarinas que quería desemplumar -- fue toda una peña de señores grandes, de caras y panzas como para ser ediles del concejo municipal o gerentes de empresa, disfrazados con pintura, falditas y sombrillas como Mary Poppins. Qué bueno tener un día para hacer el ridículo. Supongo que en Águilas, como en otras partes, el resto del año tienen que ser mucho más serios.
Lectores y lecturas
El diario El País está distribuyendo ls "Clásicos de la literatura española" a solamente un euro por libro cuando se compra con el diario los lunes, martes y miércoles. Usted seguramente fue obligado a leerlos en colegio, pero para mí -- que estudié en los EE.UU., donde eran totalmente desconocidos -- son novedades. El primero de la serie era ésta que resumo a continuación:

Rojas, Fernando de (2004). La Celestina (Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea). Madrid, Diario El País. Primera edición: Burgos, 1499.
Calisto, para seducir a Melibea, contrata a la vieja alcahueta Celestina, que complica a los criados de Calisto para sacarle la mayor cantidad de plata posible para la empresa. Al final todos mueren por codiciosos o imbéciles: los criados matan a Celestina con tanto escándalo que se matan saltando de una ventana para huir de la policía, y el gentío los remata cortándoles las cabezas; Calisto se cae de cabeza desde una escalera a salir del huerto de Melibea, y ésta -- ante la muerte de su amante y el inminente descubrimiento de su deshonra por sus padres -- se tira de una torre. Es una farsa en 21 actos de puro diálogo, lleno de chistes a costa de la credulidad de los amos y las burradas de sus sirvientes. Al final del Acto Tercero, Celestina conjura al diablo, "triste Plutón", para ayudarla a seducir para Calisto a Melibea, amenazándolo (al diablo) así: "Si no haces con presto movimiento, tendrasme por capital enemiga; heriré con luz tus cárceles tristes y escuras; acusaré cruelmente tus continuas mentiras; apremiaré con mis ásperas palabras tu horrible nombre. Y otra y otra vez te conjuro. Y así, confiando en mi mucho poder, me parto para allá con mi hilado, donde creo te llevo ya envuelto." Fue impreso primero en Burgos en 1499; gran ejercicio en leer el castellano del s. XV.