Important Notice

Special captions are available for the humor-impaired.


Monday, February 28, 2011

Drug Testing Made Easy

Is "a lot" the wrong answer?

With police forces having to cut back on spending we have come up with a way to save millions in expensive drug testing procedures.  Not only are the results inexpensive and highly accurate, they are immediate and the squad car video footage should be uploaded to Youtube.

Instead of time-consuming field sobriety checks, inaccurate breathalyzers, and costly blood-alcohol tests that can’t be administered in real time, we have come up with a fool-proof method of determining whether or not someone is too drunk to drive. After you have pulled over someone suspected of being intoxicated ask them to get out of the vehicle. Next, ask the suspect how much money he has with him. If he digs into his pocket and pulls out a wad of crumpled bills you can slap on the handcuffs and throw him in the pokey for the night. The female equivalent would be dumping out her purse on the hood of the squad car, rooting through it with both hands while intermittently applying make-up, and then screaming with joy upon finding a lost credit card.

If you suspect someone of being under the influence of marijuana just mention to him/her that perhaps our universe is just a single drop of water in a vast ocean of another, larger universe. If the driver reels back in deep thought and falls over, this is clear proof that they are stoned out of their mind.

If you think a driver is coked-out ask them—job interview style—what they think is their strongest asset. If they go on for twenty minutes talking your ear off about how great they are, they probably have their sinuses full of blow.  After putting on the handcuffs, duct tape their mouth shut unless you want to hear about how popular they were in high school while you drive to the station.

This drug is difficult to detect without complicated chemical testing but all you have to do is say to the driver, “Can I give you a hug?” If they proceed to tell you how much they love you, too, it’s a pretty certain sign they’re on X.

This drug basically turns users into complete morons. If you ask them to recite the alphabet and they ask you to please spell that, they’re on meth.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fallas Is Near

The first mascletà* was today which means I will have 19 more before the end of Fallas which officially begins on March 15th and ends on the 19th. The Mascletà always begins on the Sunday at the beginning of the month or, as is the case this year, a couple of days earlier.  It was a gorgeous day after a sort of dreary morning. I rode my bike down to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento and waded into the crowd in front of the post office. The Mascletà serves to sort of get the juices flowing and get people into the mood of Fallas.

I like everything about the Mascletà. One cool thing about the spectacle is that there are no jaded souls in the plaza at precisely 14:00. Children, young kids, and old folks like me are here to celebrate, ready to be overwhelmed by how your clothes beat against your body, by the smell of sulfur, and by the tremendous NOISE! The orgasmic finale leaves the crowd howling with joy. I have never experienced anything like it and I try to make it every day.

Even watching this video gives me chills.    

*A daytime percussion fireworks display. The back-slash accent is Valenciano.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

No God, One Life, No Problem!

Ever since I can remember I have never believed in God. As a child I could never get my little head around the idea of heaven and hell; it simply violated my personal concept of justice. I just thought that it was an absurd idea to think that we could be punished for eternity for making a bad decision during our lifetime. My parents were fairly regular Catholics, if not really very religious. It’s not like they were Jesus freaks or anything like that, they just went to church every Sunday. Consequently, I went to church every Sunday for the most boring and pointless hour of my week. I was also forced to attend Catholic religious instruction once a week on Wednesday evenings which was even more horrible than going to church.

I found a way out of attending mass on Sundays. I would simply tell my parents that I was going to the early mass and go out and play. Then I would return home and they would go to the mass at 11:00. Avoiding the Wednesday night Catechism was a little more difficult, unfortunately.  The classes were so fucking boring that I often felt like I was going to faint. My father died when I was 16 and I stopped the charade of being religious and never went to church or religious training after that, nor did I claim to be attending services as I did before. I had wasted enough of my life on religious silliness. As an adult I refuse to set foot in a church unless it is for the purposes of tourism. I won’t validate religion’s claim to have any jurisdiction in our lives with things like funerals or weddings. I stand out in the street during this part of the ritual.

Most of the Spanish that you meet here in Valencia are either atheists or very occasional Catholics. Almost no one attends mass regularly except the very oldest of the old ladies. Catholicism still serves a bit as a tradition for weddings, funerals, and a few baptisms but few people follow the tenets of the faith—whatever the hell those are. I think a lot of Valencianos are like me in that when they see a priest we wonder if he is a child molester. Nuns totally creep me out to the point that I have the urge to cross the street to avoid walking past them.

A lot of religious people claim that atheism is itself a religion. I heard a great rebuttal to this: Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby. What happens when you die? This is a question that always comes up when you tell someone about your lack of beliefs. I simply ask people, “What was it like before you were born?” That prospect doesn’t worry me. I wouldn’t want to live forever; I can’t imagine how boring that would be. I also can’t imagine wasting a lot of this life trying to find answers to unanswerable questions. There are too many interesting things to learn that are actually knowable.

So the answer is No. No, I do not believe in God or any other hocus-pocus or spirituality or whatever else you want to call it. I realize that you probably don’t give two shits about what I believe or don’t believe in but, as is the case with just about everything I write here, this was written just to define myself better to myself.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Definitely Not a Shopaholic

I detest shopping. In my book there isn’t a more loathsome activity than buying clothes for myself. I have been mostly getting by on what I brought over here to Spain with a few amendments.  I have needed to buy a lot in the way of summer apparel as that was lacking in my wardrobe transferred from Seattle where summers are short and not very hot. For the life of me I can’t understand how a lot of people seem to enjoy shopping. I’m actually a decent dresser but that’s only because I have fairly classic taste when it comes to clothing so I never look stylish or out of style—if that’s even possible. All I know is that I REALLY need to buy some new clothes.

Fuck. I tried to buy a pair of casual shoes yesterday and it was like I was trying to find a backroom transplant organ.  “Here’s a kidney for you but it probably isn’t compatible.”  I actually picked out a pair that I could see from outside a store that I go by regularly, like seeing a shiny object from the surface of a poisonous well.  So in this clumsily-construed mixed metaphor I needed to dive into the poisonous well to retrieve a mismatched organ. I don’t think that I have ever performed an impulse buy in my life. I had been thinking about this damn pair of shoes for a couple of weeks, mostly trying to talk myself out of the purchase. It turned out I waited too long because when I finally worked up the nerve (or whatever) to go inside they were out of my size. Fuck.

I despise shopping but I like the fact that here in Spain there are so many little stores to choose from. I have tried the big mall at El Saler but that place just creeps me out. So now I’ll have to start all over again? Or I can just wait it out until it’s time to wear shorts and sandals again.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Inside Job (2010)

Besides Mat Taibbi in Rolling Stone magazine it’s almost as if everyone has already forgotten about the financial crisis. If you haven’t seen this movie already I highly recommend it to everyone.

It’s difficult to say what is the most terrifying revelation of the movie Inside Job.  Certainly the end result was terrible which has been probably the greatest transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich.

Maybe what bothers me the most is the complete capitulation and failure of Barack Obama. The American voting public attempted to make some sort of correction on this miscarriage of justice yet absolutely nothing was done. Instead of prosecutions there were compensation packages in the hundreds of millions. So much for democracy.  

Maybe it’s that in the face of a complete breakdown and failure of our banking system we have seen nothing in the way of new regulations.

Maybe it’s how the financial industry has turned our government into the moral equivalent of their pool boy.

I think the worst thing about this crisis is how conservatives have managed to sell their story to such a vast swath of some of the poorest Americans.  Lower and middle class teabagger slobs have been defending the criminals responsible for the crisis.  They are also avidly parroting the talking points provided by the industry that we should be blaming the millions of homeowners who have been thrown into bankruptcy by predatory lending practices engineered by Wall Street. The bankers barely understood these sleazy loans they were writing; how could we expect lower class, working class people to have a clue as to just how insidious these loans were in many cases?

Biggest Shitheels in the movie:

  • David McCormick, Under Secretary of the Treasury Bush Administration
  • Scott Talbot, Chief Lobbyist Financial Services Roundtable, who says that financial officers in the industry have earned their staggering salaries.
  • Glenn Hubbard, Dean Columbia Business School, a more unctuous asshole would be hard to find, even in this movie of unctuous assholes.
  • Hank Paulson, former CEO Goldman Sachs and Treasury Secretary for GW Bush. He walked away with $500 million, tax free after driving his company into the ground. 

The $124 billion Savings and Loan scandal of the Reagan years looks like child’s play. Sherman McCoy of The Bonfire of the Vanities looks like a slacker in comparison to this new breed of Wall Streeter.  

Another frightening thing about all of this is that America's "best and brightest" are drawn to this sleazy industry instead of actually creating something worthwhile. Of course they aren't the best and brightest. As my brother Mat pointed out before there exists this Risky Business generation of privileged assholes with a sense of entitlement unknown even during the monarchies of the Middle Ages.

The bailout should have been to insure that not a single family lost their home and worked from there.
Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

This great Daily Show clip about the public workers debate in Wisconsin.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Another Day, Another Cool Bodega

Just in case I start to forget what I love about living in Valencia I happened upon this little bodega in Cabanyal (Cabañal in Spanish), the old fishing port of the city. I didn’t go inside because for me 1 pm is a little early for a glass of wine—I guess I’m not very Spanish after all.  I was also on a Valenbisi bike with the clock ticking. This is on my way to my French class and is about 20 minutes via a sweaty bike ride.  I’ll have to make time to stop in sometime soon as it looked as charming on the inside as it does outside.

Penne Rigate Bolognese

This dish began at my butcher stall in the Ruzafa market. My butcher has hamburger patties for sale but I have found the meat to be too lean for most dishes requiring hamburger. As I have on other occasions I had him grind some meat for me to my specifications. We used a good amount of pork loin which is a bit fatty and mixed that with beef. This is the only way to buy minced meat and I only wish that I always had time to go to the butcher.  I was buying the meat because I had a craving for a really good hamburger after looking at pictures of this quintessentially American dish on a website of French restaurants that serve burgers.  As usual I bought a lot more meat than I planned so I began thinking of another dish I could prepare.

I have made Bolognese sauce before but not with much enthusiasm so this time I did a bit of youtube research and came up with a decent recipe. In the end I went with a version of Mario Batali’s take on this dish.  For the pasta (as stated in the title) I used Penne Rigate n.73. I also threw in some Spanish habas, or broad green beans because I had seen a recipe that called for peas and the habas just looked better.

I didn’t finish cooking until at least midnight and I was really hungry after a day of cycling. I had two big bowls before I passed out and I slept like a dead guy. The next time I’ll make a video.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Socialism in Action: Part 1

Bike Sharing

The main tenet of American conservatism seems to be that it is a tonic against the evils of socialism. Only unbridled, unchecked, and unregulated capitalism can keep us from the horrors of actually trying to build certain elements of our society collectively. They invoke the words of Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, and even goofball Ayn Rand to tell us of the sort of paradise that can only be accomplished through competition in the market place. Ask them to point to an example of this sort of paradise and they stutter and cough and change the subject and eventually call you a socialist. I could point to many societies here in Europe that I think the United States should emulate, at least in many ways. Let’s start right here in Valencia and our new bike share program.

What could be more socialist than a system of bike sharing for an entire city? At 18€ a year it would be hard to find a more democratic price for this program in which users can get a bicycle from one of hundreds of stations around town and ride it for 30 minutes. If they need more time riders can simply dock their bike at a station and take another one for another 30 minutes, and on and on all day, every day. As it turns out Valencia’s bike share system, called Valenbisi, is mostly a private operation run by JCDecaux, a leading outdoor advertising firm.  The city actually makes money on the system in exchange for granting advertising contracts to JCDecaux.

I am an extremely satisfied user of the system and can tell you that if this is socialism then give me more. I think it is one of the truly great ideas in urban transportation. That word “urban” scares the shit out of many American conservatives because they cull their ranks mostly from folks who have never lived in a city. I have stated before that city life in itself promotes a sense of cooperation not generally found in the suburbs. A bike share program wouldn’t make sense for many red state people where suburban driving distances are too great to effect on a bike. Too bad for them.

As is the case with so many other things in Europe dealing with socialism, it is a mix of capitalism and socialism.  The end result is hard to dispute. The Valenbisi system is truly a marvel of urban transportation using 19th century technology mixed with a high-tech infrastructure. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Obama and Egypt

I suppose it’s necessary to know who you are dealing with when you hear people say that Obama failed in Egypt. For the most part these are people who energetically supported every move made by former president GW Bush and don’t consider anything in his dreadful legacy to have been a failure.  These are folks who, contrary to the vast consensus of the world’s climate scientists, refuse to believe that the human race is in any way capable of adversely affecting the environment. A great many of them think that evolution is some sort of liberal hoax. So to hear them say that Obama failed in Egypt is in no way any more foolish than the other tenets of their wacky conservative faith.

Just what Obama should have done few on the right ventured to put forth—that would have been too much of a risk had their advice actually been followed by the President. No, the conservative attack model is just to criticize whatever Obama does no matter what the outcome. And a better outcome for the Egypt issue would be hard to imagine. The ouster of Mubarak was done without violence (or what little violence there was came from his minions). The revolution—as the one earlier in Tunisia—had absolutely nothing to do with Islam, whether militant or otherwise. Just what happens next will be a trickier matter for the U.S. but what we need to do if to assure the Egyptian people that they have choices that include a secular and democratic future.

What were Obama’s alternatives to basically just sitting back and being a witness to the process? Military intervention? That would have probably been the Bush Administration’s first choice. Or he could have thrown his full support behind the protesters which would have seemed like meddling on our part (and of course it would have been meddling). Most of the chimps criticizing Obama just can’t imagine any foreign policy problem that doesn’t have a military solution, and we have two on-going wars to prove it—not that we have solved a damn thing with either of them.

For the first time in the last 30 years there has been a vast public uprising in the Middle East without the United States being used as the bad guy. That in itself is an enormous victory, if not for Obama then for the country. So fuck all of the dissenters, all of the know-nothing idiots who would have us follow in the footprints of Bush son and father who used was as the only tool of diplomacy. The charges of Obama’s inexperience ring very hollow coming from people who were cheerleading us into two disastrous Middle East conflicts during the Bush years.

Next on my wish list of shitty little regimes to fall would be Saudi Arabia where at least half of the population (women) are basically political prisoners with very limited human rights. Like Egypt and Iran, the vast majority of young people in Saudi Arabia despise the country’s leadership. Iran would have fallen years ago had we not invaded Iraq and given the Mullahs a bit of help in their campaign to portray the West as everything that is wrong with the universe. Of course Saudi Arabia is another staunch US “ally” but with allies like them who needs enemies? 

Valencia CF 1-1 Shalke 04 in Champions League

Raúl did it to Valencia yet again. This guy has scored almost as many goals in Mestalla as David Villa and could prove to be our Achilles heel in the return game in Germany. Valencia missed a lot of good opportunities in what was an exciting and fast-paced game, especially the first half. I am hoping that Valencia can make it out of this round. I suppose a 1-1 draw at home isn't the worst possible result but it does certainly give the advantage to Shalke. I heard that thus far in the Champions Valencia has on of the best records in return matches so we'll see in two weeks.

To Valencia's credit they are coming off a big win from Saturday when they beat Atlético de Madrid away and pulled into thrid position in La Liga. I think the team is doing remarkably well this season and I've enjoyed watching them play. That's all that really matters.

 In the other game of the night Tottenham beat Milan 0-1. From the highlights I saw it looked like an ugly game more resembling rugby that football.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Fair Game

In case anyone has forgotten what a sack of bastards made up the administration of George W. Bush the movie Fair Game will refresh your memory.  It tells the story of how Bush and Co. outed CIA agent Valerie Plame in retaliation for an opinion piece in the New York Times written by her husband Joe Wilson. Wilson was sent to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq was attempting to purchase yellow cake uranium for a nuclear weapons program. Wilson found the claims to be false but the Administration publicly announced that the story was true in what was but a single act of how Bush manipulated and falsified intelligence to support his push for a war that we are still fighting many years later.

The movie is quite good and worth seeing although the actress who portrays Valerie Plame isn’t nearly as attractive as the real thing. The movie does a good job of showing the couple for who they are: two people who were dedicated to serving their country and whose reputations were muddied by one of the slimiest administrations in Presidential history—and that’s saying a lot.  

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bikes and Anti-Bike Policies

Just when it seems that Valencia has taken some major strides forward in becoming a bike-friendly city it seems to want to take a couple of steps backward.  A new bike ordinance prohibits chaining bikes to lamp posts and “mobiliario urbano,”* whatever the fuck that means. I know what it means but it’s so vague that it could mean damn near anything. I had a cop tell me that I couldn’t chain my bike to a railing in front of the town hall in Burjassot. There isn’t a single bike rack in the square in front of the town hall so basically what they are saying is that you can’t ride a bike in Burjassot. Well, you can ride a bike there but you can’t stop. Just where the hell am I supposed to chain my bike would be my question to Valencia’s civic leaders (none of whom have ever ridden I bike I would presume).

Cops also seem to have a special hard-on for cyclists riding on the sidewalk. I have been told on several occasions that it is illegal to ride on the sidewalk.  I was nowhere near a pedestrian at these times. I realize that bikes on the sidewalk can sometimes present a problem but nothing on the scale of, let’s say, a car running a traffic light at over 80 kph, something that you see almost every time a light changes in this city. I wish that cops here were half as worried about motorcycles driving on the sidewalk as they are about bikes.

According to a snarky little pamphlet I found cyclists are required to have a bell on their bike. A bell? How about this, how about if I just use my God-given voice to get someone’s attention?  It’s not as if drivers here will respect a cyclist just because he has a twinky little bell.  I just think that if the city wants people to ride bikes they should be bending over backwards to accommodate them instead of writing silly new rules for two-wheelers. 

*Street Fixtures or Furniture