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Monday, October 20, 2014

What is Comedy?


I wasn’t a big fan of the movies but this is one of the best sight gags of all times (from The Pink Panther Strikes Again). I know all of you are busy but if you can spare 17 seconds you should check this out. I laugh every time I watch it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What Does it all Mean?

The first USB memory device I bought I think had a whopping 256 megabyte capacity. At the time it was expensive but a wonder in the computer world because now I didn’t have to copy information to a CD which was always a clumsy format. I just bought a new external hard drive the other day with a 1.5 terabyte capacity. How long before my amazement at this technological leap seems quaint? How long will it be before you can have one small device that contains every movie ever filmed, every song ever recorded, and every book ever published? The more important question is what will this mean for humanity?

With my new eBook reader I no longer have a need for a public library as this new technology serves me better than any public library I have ever visited. I have access to any book I care to read without leaving my desk. I can carry my new library anywhere. I read a lot but I must admit that I don’t plow through as many books as I used to years ago. I lived by a small library in Florida and I’d go there at least once a week and return with a stack of books that I would put on my kitchen table. I’ve never read as much as I did during these years of my life. I had nothing in the way of distractions at home except the occasional movie I’d rent from the local video outlet.

That was before the internet. Now I have quite a few more things vying for my attention. A long time ago I lived in Greece for three years during which time I only talked on the phone to my mother on a handful of occasions. I wrote letters but probably no more than one or two a week, if that many. Today I send at least a half a dozen emails every day, most of them longer (and better written) than my correspondence from yesteryear. I can watch TV series in Spanish, French, and English. I have every movie at my disposal. I still read a hell of a lot but a quiet night at home no longer means only a book.

The good news for gypsies like me is that moving no longer means leaving your books behind or going broke shipping the old technology of paper books. Books are an enormous burden when you move and represent one of the heaviest and bulkiest of household items. I have a houseful of books after eight years in Spain so if I decide to move to the other side of the planet again I won’t be quite as heartbroken to leave behind my library of physical books.

I have to say that my lust for buying paper books is waning very rapidly. IN Valencia it takes a true bloodhound to sniff out the best places to buy used books. I still make the rounds of the second hand stores and pawn shops where I find used books but not as much as I did in my pre-eBook reader phase. I have to admit that I now prefer reading on my device; it’s just a lot easier to use than the technology it is quickly replacing.

And to all those screeching about how eBooks are destroying reading I say this. Get stuffed! What are important are the words on the page, not the technology used to deliver them. When the printing pressed rolled in, the ancient scribes howled about that technology as well. Plus ça change plus c’est la même chose.

So what does it all mean? It simply has to mean more than just convenience, that your next move will be easier because all of your media now fit in an area smaller than a pack of cigarettes. It is up to each and every one of us to take responsibility for our own enlightenment and edification by using this glorious new technology instead of just sitting back and watching old episodes of The Brady Bunch or whatever. I don’t think that’s what the minds responsible for this technological leap had in mind.

Too good not to share:

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Right Tool for the Job

To make a really good tortilla it’s best to start with a really good pan. This enameled fry pan is perfect but I don’t want to give you the impression that a normal slob like yourself can make a tortilla like mine simply because you have a good fry pan. That would just be cruel on my part.

P.S. Just in case people still think that we have crappy food in the USA I present Exhibit A, a take-out pizza from Washington. I would kill for a pizza like this here in Valencia.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Potato and Zucchini Soup

I wanted to try a new soup recipe. I was determined to make only a few servings instead of my usual “Feed an Army” strategy until I passed through the vegetable aisle at the supermarket and they had bags of great looking potatoes in bags of five kilos for less than 2€. If you think that I'm capable of walking away from a deal like that then you don’t know me at all. So it looks like I’ll have soup for at least 20 people.

It’s a simple enough recipe. Boil some potatoes with an onion and garlic. Add zucchini and when it is all cooked pour off some of the water and liquefy. Add some stock, either beef or chicken and you can add some cream (I added Greek yogurt) to thicken it up. I added browned onions cooked with the bacon I just cured. The only seasoning I used was salt and pepper.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

From Naomi Klein’s brilliant new book, This Changes Everything:

Climate change has never received the crisis treatment from our leaders, despite the fact that it carries the risk of destroying lives on a vastly greater scale than collapsed banks or collapsed buildings. The cuts to our greenhouse gas emissions that scientists tell us are necessary in order to greatly reduce the risk of catastrophe are treated as nothing more than gentle suggestions, actions that can be put off pretty much indefinitely. Clearly, what gets declared a crisis is an expression of power and priorities as much as hard facts. But we need not be spectators in all this: politicians aren’t the only ones with the power to declare a crisis. Mass movements of regular people can declare one too.

Slavery wasn’t a crisis for British and American elites until abolitionism turned it into one. Racial discrimination wasn’t a crisis until the civil rights movement turned it into one. Sex discrimination wasn’t a crisis until feminism turned it into one. Apartheid wasn’t a crisis until the anti-apartheid movement turned it into one. 

In the very same way, if enough of us stop looking away and decide that climate change is a crisis worthy of Marshall Plan levels of response, then it will become one, and the political class will have to respond.

As she points out in the book, no one is out there to save us and certainly not our political and business leaders (I shudder to use the word "leader" in this context) so it is incumbent upon the public to lead on the issue of the environment.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Makin' Bacon

Homespun Catchphrase #913
If life gives you raw pork belly, make honey-cured bacon.

The Spanish don't do bacon. I do bacon so I took it upon myself to cure it at home. Once again, YouTube has come to the rescue with video tutorials on how to go about curing bacon at home. It's easy although I can't speak for the finished product as my first attempt is still a couple days from fruition. I used salt, raw sugar, and honey for  the cure put it in a zip-lock bag for what will be ten days. I don't have a smoker so I'll skip that part and go right to the frying pan part.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Top Ten List (revised…slightly)

"There's more to life than books, but not much more." The Smiths

I’m not as fond of list making and favorites as most people. Upon a bit of reflection I feel that a top ten list of books isn’t a bad idea simply because it may let someone, who may have thought otherwise, know that books are important to some people. In a culture where books seem to be increasingly irrelevant this should be the duty of all who read. Here goes.

 1) The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe

I have read this book about eight times and I defy anyone to open the book to any page and not find something brilliant. Every chapter is a well-crafted short story and can be read as one. Wolfe is an excellent reporter and in this novel he captured the rich and the poor, the powerful and the lowliest citizens of NY in the late 20th century.  

 2) La Tía Julia y el Escribidor, Mario Vargas Llosa

It's called Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter in English. This is by my favorite Latin American author who once ran for president of Peru. Writers are actually important people in some parts of the world and not just the academic douche-bags who make up most of American letters in our time. This novel is uproariously funny in telling the tale of Llosa’s teenage romance and marriage.Llosa created my favorite character in all of fiction, the manic auteur of radio soap operas, Pedro Camacho.

 3) L’Etranger, Albert Camus

The first book I read in French. I was in college and studying some boring-as-hell economics text. I was in one of Indiana University’s smaller libraries and wandering the stacks trying to wake up when I came across this novel. I sat down and began reading and was thrilled that my French was adequate to propel me through this most existentialist of existential novels. Reading this book also taught me a lot about how to learn a language. I have since rejected the study of grammar and stayed with reading.

 4) Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut

I could put any and all of his novels but this was my first. I discovered Vonnegut as a 17 year old kid bored to tears with school and equally bored with high school social customs. Vonnegut made me think that maybe I wasn’t the weird one or at least it was OK to be weird. I loved his absurd sense of humor and have tried to imitate his and Groucho Marx’s wit my entire adult life. What I especially like about Vonnegut was that he was funny as hell right up to his death. I hope I can be funny, mildly hip, and relevant as I get older.

 5) Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, John Ralston Saul

Written in 1991 by the Canadian polymath and fortune teller, this treatise on the modern world is incomparable in its scope, wisdom, and foresight. He explained to the public how much of what America feels is capitalism, like many of our biggest publicly-held corporations, is no such thing. More than anything Saul saw the rise of the plutocrats in the West and the damage they are doing to our society. His essay on the modern novel is the best thing I’ve ever read on literature.

 6) The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

I now find his racism and bigotry disturbing and disappointing. I will refrain from criticizing Hemingway because he was a product of his time, as are most mortals. I read it first when I was a hick kid of 17. It made me want to live in Europe and learn to speak French and Spanish and that’s what I did. Shaping a human life is pretty strong stuff for a novel. I am grateful to Hemingway for inspiring a kid to dream and learn (often the same thing). I’ve since reread the entire Hemingway bibliography in Spanish which has been a boon for learning my adopted language. His books are easy to find here in translation (and cheap!). As a person I think he was an idiot but that shouldn’t concern the reader much.

P.S. I much prefer the European title for this book, Fiesta, as it’s much less pretentious and reflects better the novel itself.

 7) Generation X, Douglas Copeland

It’s really not much of a novel and certainly not a very good one but this was the first book that I read that took the piss out of “the American dream,” whatever the hell that was or is. I came across this book at the perfect time, just after I returned from three years living a most idyllic existence in Greece during my military service. I knew then that the bourgeois life of wife, job, kids, house, etc. held absolutely zero interest for me and this book let me know that I wasn’t alone. Generation X has what so much of American fiction lacks: insights.

 8) Earthly Powers, Anthony Burgess

"It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me." This is how you begin an epic masterpiece and this one is a vague pastiche on the life of Somerset Maugham. I’ve read this 800 page book three times, and each time when I finish, I’m sorry it has to end.

 9) Sin Noticias de Gurb (No Word from Gurb), Eduardo Mendoza

Without a doubt the funniest comic novel I’ve ever read in any language. Gurb tells the story of two extraterrestrials who touch down in modern Barcelona. They can take any form. Gurb takes human form and in an attempt to explore gets into a car with an earthling and disappears for parts unknown. Most of the rest of the story, written in ship’s log form, concerns his unnamed partner’s search for the only being capable of piloting their craft. The book gives an outsider’s view of Spanish culture and hit home for me as I am Gurb. It’s a very short and simple book but the idea and execution are pure brilliance. I can’t believe this hasn’t been adapted into a film.

 10) Memoirs of an Invisible Man, H.F. Saint

I can state without any exaggeration that the umpteen times I have made it through this book cover-to-cover were the most fun that I've ever had reading. This last reading I pulled off in a single day! I also think that it's interesting how many people state that this is their favorite book. Although the protagonist is turned invisible in an accident at the beginning of the book most of the book is his quest to make himself completely invisible, like someone in witness protection. Don’t confuse this modern masterpiece with the piece-of-shit movie supposedly based on it.