Important Notice

Special captions are available for the humor-impaired.


Monday, December 28, 2009

The Great War/Wall on Terrorism

I don’t know if I am the first writer to make the analogy between our war on terrorism and China’s Great Wall. Unfortunately, it seems that our president was unable to make the connection as he stood on this monument to failure. America’s failure in its current wars will not be accompanied by any sort of monument or photo opportunity; our colossal failure will simply be measured in lost opportunities, in what we could have done as a nation if we had chosen a different path besides war and a continued reliance on the use of arms to solve what is essentially a political and law enforcement problem. We won’t have a physical reminder of our current fiasco like China’s wall. At least the Wall serves today as a tourist marvel. Our folly will simply be billions of dollars in military and civilian hardware abandoned in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Great Wall of China, like the Cathedrals in Europe and America’s war machinery dumped in Iraq and Afghanistan, serves as a testament to what could have been. Instead of a wall that proved to be largely ineffective, what if the Chinese had built something else with those resources? What if we had chosen another path besides war to combat the rise of Islamic extremism? It’s impossible to imagine a worse outcome for America than the disastrous past few years, a debacle that will continue to plague America and stifle achievement in other areas.

Our true enemy in this war is not Islamic extremists. They have never posed a true threat to this country. Of course we were all lead to believe that we have been living in imminent danger for the past eight years because fear—whether real, perceived, or invented—has always been used to manage populations. I’m sure that there China probably did have a bit to fear from their neighbors to the north but the Wall seems like more of an exercise in futility and megalomania than a defensive structure. The fear of invasion was probably a very useful and powerful tool in Chinese politics in the centuries of wall construction. The urban myth that the Wall can be seen from the moon is untrue but here doesn’t seem to be much construction during this period that may have actually benefited the average Chinese person even when you examine the terrain with a microscope.

The same legacy of failure and waste plagued most of the Christian era in Europe. Examples of the benevolent nature of religion in European cities are pretty hard to find. Cathedrals they have, dozens in each major city. During this era the church used the fear of god as a mechanism for control. By control I mean grinding the peasantry into the mud and taking the side of the monarchies while doing very little to help the common man.

For almost 50 years Americans were taught to be scared shitless of the Soviet Union until that pathetic beast crumbled and died after decades of rot. America’s intelligence apparatus wasn’t able to predict the Soviet Union’s collapse even as citizens physically dismantled the Berlin Wall, another less ambitious testament to a failed military and social strategy. Our current intelligence apparatus is even more incapable of explaining how to counter Islamic fundamentalism or just how big this threat really is. You could argue that the CIA and NSA are two more Great Walls but that will have to wait for another essay.

What is doing the real damage to America is our outrageous military budget. By and large the American people don’t want these wars to continue, we had an election last November that proved that. So who does want our military campaigns to continue? It certainly isn’t the soldiers fighting the wars. A lot of the generals running the show and calling the shots seem to be enthusiastic about the whole mess we have created. I would attribute this to the fact that they are less concerned with the results than they are with their own careers in the military and then the much more lucrative civilian military contracting jobs they hope to walk into after they retire. Either this or they are just plain stupid and refuse to face the facts, facts that they should have learned from Viet Nam. Once American soldiers set foot in predominantly Islamic countries we lost the whole “hearts and minds” campaign. And remember that Iraq was completely secular under Saddam Hussein—I doubt that you will be able to say that again anytime soon.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Leftbanker’s Christmas Message to the World*

Hey, what the hell, if the Pope can do it then so can I? This may seem a bit ironic considering the fact that not only am I not a Christian but I’m a life-long atheist. Yes, I really mean life-long. I never for a second believed in any of the shit my Catholic parents more or less forced us to endure as children. I suffered through mass after excruciatingly boring mass, at least until I was smart enough to tell the folks, god bless'em, that I was going to the early mass. With that said I skipped out on church and went to the park and played baseball, football, basketball, or skated. I am the only person I know who had “Atheist” proudly emblazoned on U.S. military dog tags. I think this is sort of a gutsy move for a young kid. I really hate Christmas and always have. Even as a kid I thought that it was retarded. With that said, I would like to deliver my Christmas address to the world.

OK, maybe not to the whole world because to be truly honest, most of the world probably cares less about Christmas than I do—god bless them. You see, most of the world isn’t Christian either. Granted, a lot of them believe in some other form of hooey that is sometimes even more repugnant than the tenets of Christianity but that is something for another essay. This fact isn’t going to stop me from giving my message to the world. My message is one of enlightenment and peace and not nearly as lame as the words that spew out of the Pope’s mouth on this day every year since I can remember.

What I really think is fantastic is how a lot of people in America now have the courage to say out loud that religion is bullshit. Well, maybe it isn’t courage, maybe it is just the same herd mentality, the courage of the mob, the sort of thing that made religion popular long ago. Now we are just a mob that is a bit more rational. I just think that if you have arrived at this point in the 21st century and live in the West and you still believe in these far-fetched fairy tales, then you haven’t been reading much. Why do I need a stupid fairytale like the Old Testament Genesis when I have Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale? And just how am I supposed to feel about Christmas? Should I be waiting patiently for Santa? Should I send a birthday card to Jesus? I am grateful for one thing about Christmas: it is a day off from work.

And what do we do when we have a day off from work? We go to a bar and get loaded and try to hook up. Pathetic you say? Tell me how you spend the day and I’ll probably tell you the same thing. The good news is that in my immigrant-intensive barrio of Russafa (I used the Valenciano spelling of “Russafa” instead of the Spanish “Ruzafa” to be more ethnic), there are so many non-Christians around here that you would hardly notice that it’s a holiday. No one seemed to have sent the “Christmas is a holiday” email to many of the bars, restaurants, hilal butcher shops, newsstands, green grocers, and other businesses.

Here is another irony: I am not one of those grumps who have a hemorrhoid whenever he sees a Christmas tree or a nativity scene in a public place in a supposedly secular nation (Yes, Spain is a secular nation—at least on paper). What does upset me is when otherwise rational people tell me that they believe in this silliness. The truth is, I just don’t believe that they really believe it themselves. I just think that a lot of folks are in so deep that they are afraid to admit that it’s all bullshit. They are afraid to break the cycle of tradition that has been handed down to them. It’s like being afraid to have the family pet put to sleep after you receive the diagnosis that it has a fatal and debilitating disease. It’s like Republicans not wanting to admit that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are complete pieces of shit because these people have said otherwise for too long. Saying anything to the contrary now will make them look stupid and lacking in foresight. All I have to say to them is that being stupid and lacking in foresight is a hell of a lot better than continuing to believe in a dangerous lie even after all the facts are in.

I know what a lot of people would say if they read what I have written thus far. They would say that I need to “lighten up” and “chill out.” These are people who generally have never had an opinion in their entire lives and haven’t ever come close to having an original thought. Religion is tailor-made for people who are terrified of ever having an original thought; it’s made for people who simply want to blindly accept everything that is placed before them to save themselves the bother of making their own decision; religion is for people too afraid to look behind the curtain.

I suppose that I had it easy. I grew up in a being exposed primarily to Catholicism which is about as ridiculous as religion gets…unless it’s Islam or Judaism or Hinduism or Mormonism (Is that an “ism?). It was really easy for me to resist Catholic beliefs because I never really understood what those were, exactly. I mean, come on, saint? What the hell are saints? And I remember my priest trying to explain the holy trinity to my class of first graders. My eyes rolled back in my head so hard I almost fell over backwards.
I think that Judaism is also pretty damn vague as far as what they believe in or what purpose their religion serves. At least Islam provides a very clear-cut set of beliefs about how you should comport yourself in this life and what you should expect when you croak. It may all be perfectly stupid but at least it is comprehensible to the average slob—and I am nothing but an average slob.

The thing is, I am an average slob with a healthy respect for the role doubt should play in a person’s life. I have never been one to take anything at face value. I have never been prone to believe in Bigfoot or ghosts or extraterrestrials. I have never experienced anything in my life that couldn’t be explained by the laws of science. I hold astrology in complete contempt, as any sane and rational person should, so why should I fall for religion, or Santa Claus? Santa seems to be in the same league of as religion when it comes to farfetched ideas. Sorry, I just can’t buy into any of it.

Would the world be a better or worse place if all of a sudden people just stopped acting out all of the Christmas nonsense that has become so much a part of our consumerist society? I doubt it could possibly be worse for it. I think the world would be a much better place and a hell of a lot less annoying—at least for me.

*I have always loved the Charlie Brown Christmas special so I guess that I’m not a total asshole in the eyes of Christians.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Beginner’s Guide to Dive Bars

The cruel fact is that there just aren’t enough bars in the world, so you can’t always pick and choose where you go for a drink. A dive is generally a place where you’ll probably feel more of a need to wipe your feet as you leave than you did on the way in. You can almost always spot a dive from the outside, but if you were fooled by the exterior, some sure give-a-ways that you're in a dive are dead animals mounted on the walls, a pool table in worse shape than a hillbilly’s front yard, a jar of pickled eggs, mullets, black eyes, and lots of “ain’t”s (there are dive bars in non-English speaking countries so I should probably amend this to say “bad grammar” except I ain’t smart enough to detect bad grammar in any language besides English).

Keep it Simple

Don’t order a martini unless you want a glass of luke-warm rot gut vodka and an olive that looks like it rolled behind the cigarette machine a few months ago yet somehow made it into your glass. In fact, avoid drinks that require any sort of fruit or garnish, and ordering wine is just asking for a fight. Even the ice may be suspect depending on the local drinking water. Stick to plain-and-simple domestic beer and whiskey. The good news is that the last time I checked these two staples contain alcohol (Completely overcome with the spirit of investigative journalism, I actually checked out this fact last night).

The Bathrooms

I've been in bathrooms so squalid that I interrupted the stream of my pee so that germs and other critters couldn’t swim, salmon-like, upstream into my pride and joy. You're a lot safer just doing your business in the parking lot—no one will notice, I promise. On a further anthropological note, some of the best graffiti I've ever read I found in dive bar toilets—sort of ironic when you consider that about the only thing the customers read in these places are arrest warrants and eviction notices.

Se Habla Baseball

Unless you are at the bar in the roll of a Dian Fossey-like researcher, you will want to interact with the local wildlife. A safe lingua franca of dive bars is baseball. Talking about sports is sort of the Esperanto of knuckleheads, a sub-group I claim as one of my own. Just say a few kind words about the team the locals support and you will have friends for life, or until closing time—whichever comes first. Even if I were miles behind enemy lines in a dive bar in the Bronx I think I could find a few good things to say about…gulp (this is really difficult for me)…the Yankees.

E Pluribus

My first dive bar was a place called the 101 Club. I guess that stood for Dive Bars 101 and was a required course at my university. It was as crappy as any bar I have ever seen; sort of like a rough Mexican cantina but without the good food. The jukebox had the worst music ever collected in one place. One night I pumped in about five dollars worth of quarters and looked for the worst song I could find. It happened to be Paper Roses by Marie Osmond so I played the B side about thirty times and went back to playing pool. After the miserable little tune had played about six times we looked around to see how this was registering with the other patrons. None of them even seemed to notice the awful music or that it had repeated half a dozen times.

The point that I'm trying to make here is that hicks are different from you and me. They're a tougher breed who fight our wars, install our cable TV, fix all the shit we break, and their kids beat up your kids. Next time you're in a dive bar show your appreciation and buy a round of drinks.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Opera in el Mercado Central de Valencia

This is from La Traviata but I'm not too familiar with Verdi so I can't say for sure. I wish they would come to my market here in Russafa. If this doesn't bring tears of joy to your eyes then you had better have a doctor check that out for you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Putting Everything in Context

Fundamentally, no word really means anything in isolation, almost all words derive their meaning from the totality of language (and silence, as an alternative to speech...) in which they occur, and that includes the other possible word choices one could have made instead of the word one did choose. It´s a very dynamic, active model and every language approaches the communication of reality in a different way.

I found this wonderful quote on a forum on the wonderful resource called wordreference.com. I will fall back to the old adage, “I couldn’t have said it better myself,” which is what we say for almost everything we aren’t clever enough to come up with on our own. This entry was in a forum about the Spanish expression “desde luego” which I learned—after living here only three freaking years—means “of course.” In my defense I have to say that I know several other ways to say “of course” and “desde luego” is probably the least literary manner to say this, and up until now most of how I express myself in Spanish is a result of the vocabulary and expressions I come across while reading. While I still believe that reading is the best and quickest way to ingest information, I am advanced enough in my Spanish foray to include other learning devices.

I watch a couple of Spanish series on television, more as educational tools than entertainment but it’s nice when the two go hand-in-hand. As I have said many times before, I can justify any sort of silliness if it is helping me to learn the language. This can even mean watching Ace Ventura dubbed into Spanish, yes, Ace Ventura. I still think that reading is the fastest way to learn new vocabulary and grammar but listening comprehension is also necessary. I don’t think that TV and movies are a very efficient method of learning simply because there often isn’t a lot of dialogue, especially in a lot of movies. I would certainly prefer to listen to recorded books but I won’t to complain again here about the vast shortage of recorded books in Spanish.

TV shows have, in general, much more dialogue than movies and are therefore a better way to improve listening comprehension. My latest learning tool is the American TV series How I Met Your Mother dubbed into Spanish as Como Conocí a Vuestra Madre, a show I probably would never watch in English but I have been very entertained thus far with the Spanish version. I’ve learned a lot of new vocabulary (I have www.wordreference.com open on my laptop when I watch the show), some of it is probably too slangy and hip for me to use but other words I hope will be useful (putilla = slutty could be a good one). I can’t believe that I have lived in Spain for three years and had to learn from Barney on Como Conocí a Vuestra Madre that the innocuous reflexive verb meaning “to brush,” cepillarse, can also mean “to do someone.” It’s not like I even had to look up the alternative meaning as the context made it very, very clear that it was something of a sexual nature.

Even the words and expressions I don’t plan on using, because of their slang or too hip nature, I am grateful to have learned simply because they add to my overall fluency in Spanish. Your vocabulary can’t ever be too big.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chicken Cacciatore

Don’t ask me why I made this staple of old school American-Italian cooking. I had some chicken leg quarters and I was looking to make something different, or just something that I haven’t made in a long time. I also had a small amount of dried garbanzos I wanted to clean out of my cupboard. I began with my tomato sauce recipe (something everyone should know how to make). Next I cooked the garbanzos in my pressure cooker along with a bit of chorizo, onion, garlic, bay leaf, and salt.

I salted the chicken pieces which I had cut into legs and thighs. I dredged the pieces in flour and fried them in olive oil until slightly brown. You don’t have to cook the chicken fully because you will cook it again with the sauce. I arranged the chicken pieces in my clay baking dish. I made the sauce from the tomato sauce and the beans and poured this over the chicken. Then I baked the dish for about an hour covering it for the last 30 minutes to keep it moist.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Visca el València*

Valencia held on for the win last night against Bilbao despite a late and very dubious penalty call. The shot hit the post for a bit of frontier justice. I don’t think I could have watched Valencia CF suffer another draw because of a late-game foul like last week. At least last week’s penalty was deserved. The win puts Valencia ahead of Sevilla with 28 points. David Villa scored his 11th goal in twelve games. I have been saying how fun it is to watch Valencia play this year but I wouldn’t say that about last night’s match. The team looked fairly rudderless without David Silva who will miss about a month. I hope the team can get it together without Silva before the next game.

This Saturday Valencia hosts Real Madrid and a win could give us a tie for second in La Liga (with Real Madrid) behind Barça. Valencia did manage a draw against Barça earlier this season and a draw against Madrid wouldn’t be horrible. Valencia certainly is capable of winning against Madrid and any other team in Europe, for that matter. The team has fantastic players with five of them on the Spanish National squad. In the area of management is where Valencia is lacking. I just don’t understand how you can lose money on a European football team is a city as big as Valencia and with a team with so much tradition.

Barça doesn’t suffer from the problem of poor management. The team has more money than god and fills their huge stadium every single week. There only seem to be and handful of teams in La Liga here in Spain that are legitimately capable of beating Barcelona: Madrid, Sevilla, Valencia, and perhaps Villarreal and Atlético de Madrid, and these teams have to play the game of their lives to win. Barça does occasionally lose to lesser teams but it’s a fluke.

*Hooray for Valencia in Valenciano. This is a line taken for the hymn of Valencia Club de football. Feel free to sing along:

És un equip de primera
nostre València Club de Futbol
que lluita per a defendre
en totes bandes nostres colors.

En el Camp de l'Algirós
ja començaren a demostrar
que era una bona manera
per a València representar.

Amunt València, Visca el València, és el millor
Amunt València, Visca el València del nostre cor.
Units com sempre els valencianistes et seguirem,
en cada estadi per a que triomfes t'animarem.

En la capital del Túria
és el València qui vist de blanc
i defén la camiseta
ple de coratge per a guanyar.

En Mestalla continuaren
sempre esforçant-se per a triomfar
i les glòries arribaren
i en competència continuaran.

Amunt València, Visca el València, és el millor
Amunt València, Visca el València, del nostre cor.
Units com sempre els valencianistes et seguirem,
en cada estadi per a que triomfes t'animarem.

Amunt València, Visca el València, el campió!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

World Cup 2010

The World Cup groupings are out and it’s time for everyone to post their opinions about how the tournament will play out next summer. What the hell else do I have to do while I sit at home waiting for the football match to come on TV at 22:00 between Coruña and Barça?

Group A:
South Africa
And leaving this group for the next round… South Africa, Mexico. France got in by the skin on their ass with a hand ball by Henry against Ireland in a playoff game because they didn’t qualify outright from their lame-o group. The host team always advances, that's just the way it is.

Group B:
South Korea
… Argentina, Nigeria. I predict that Argentina won’t even lead this group and may qualify on goal differentials. Maradona was a great player but he is a retard as a coach.

Group C:
…USA, England. England was shit-hot in their group and the USA did beat Spain last summer.

Group D:
…Germany, Australia.

Group E:
…Netherlands, Cameroon.

Group F:
New Zealand
…Italy, Paraguay. God, I hate Italy.

Group G:
North Korea
Cote d’Ivoire
…. Brazil, Cote d’Ivoive. Portugal may squeeze by if Ronaldo is healthy. This is hardly the "group of death." Brazil is certainly capable of winning it all but I just don't like how this team has meshed together thus far.

Group H:
… Spain, Switzerland

I have to go with Spain winning it all next summer. Spain is incredibly deep at every position. They could easily field two great teams but just one should be sufficient to make it all the way. A lot can happen during the weeks of play.