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Monday, February 27, 2012

EuroCopa Groups

Here are the groups and first games for the 2012 Eurocopa.

Group A  (06JUN12)

Poland vs Greece
Russia vs Czech Republic

Group B  (09JUN12)

Netherlands vs Denmark
Germany vs Portugal

Group C  (10JUN12)

Spain vs Italy
Republic of Ireland vs Croatia

Group D  (11JUN12)

France vs England
Ukraine vs Sweden

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Democracy in Action

I went from being completely ashamed of the violent police reaction to the student protests in Valencia to immense pride in how the kids conducted themselves when faced with repression. The students armed themselves with books against the police clubs (the book in the photo is Bukowski in Valenciano).  Yesterday was a peaceful day of demonstrations about cuts in public education. One sign read “ Less Police, More Education!”  It’s called democracy in action.

Monday, February 20, 2012

City vs Suburbs

No Strip Malls in My Neighborhood
I have said on countless occasions that what I think is one of the most important things in our existence is our living environment, something Howard Kunstler called “man-made geography.”  I have made no secret of the fact that what I believe is the best way to live is in a dense urban setting—not to mention the most sustainable.  I feel that it is my duty to inform others about the details of my lifestyle with the hope of convincing them that city living—at least for me—is far superior to the suburban model.  Whatever I my sacrifice in the way of personal living space I more than make up for in convenience and choice.

I think that when we talk about the merits of Urban/Suburban life we need to first talk about “The American Dream.”  This idea means a lot of different things to a lot of very different people but I think that many people would agree that at least part of this dream is a house with a yard and possibly a picket fence. I think it’s safe to say that when asked to define the American dream very few people would describe a small inner-city apartment surrounded by shops, theaters, and restaurants. I think that the challenge for me as a writer is to convince people that it’s time to redefine the American dream, to move it from suburbia to a densely-populated urban metropolis.

People who live in the country or suburbia would be surprised to hear me say that one of the big advantages to city living is its simplicity.  Simplicity isn’t generally associated with the city but life couldn’t be easier for me in my urban neighborhood. I live without a car. Most of my daily transportation needs can be effected on foot.  Within a block of my house I have three supermarkets, two green grocers, about a dozen cafés, a couple of pharmacies, and a host of shops.  For longer trips I only need to walk to the corner of my street and take out a bicycle from the bike share system that we have here in Valencia—a fairly common thing in European cities.  I can get almost anywhere in the city by bike in less than 30 minutes.

If bikes aren’t your thing (which would be unfortunate because they probably should be) you can take the bus or use the underground metro system. The metro services most of the city and the surrounding villages. It also goes to the airport for about $1.80 one way (or much less if you have a ten-trip metro card).  For most people here a car is unnecessary or a luxury. This isn’t to say that no one drives in Valencia; it’s just that they probably don’t have to drive if they choose not to. In Seattle, where I lived in the downtown area, my car was more like a recreational vehicle than something I depended upon, more like a jet-ski or a snowmobile than basic transportation.

For many Americans who live in a country or suburban setting, walking is not an option in their transportation model. The distances are just too great to get anywhere on foot. I happen to think that if walking has been eliminated from your daily routine, a grave mistake has been made in the design of your living environment. Period. I also believe that most people who live in this sort of environment have never lived in a city and don’t know the joys of having everything within a few minutes’ walk from their front door.

Another complaint suburbanites have about the city is that life there is impersonal. I would disagree strongly with this notion.  I have always found city life to be incredibly personal. As I walk around my neighborhood I am constantly greeted by people who I may not know by name but see on a regular basis: people who watch football in my bar, shop and café workers in the area, and many other people I see here and there. Suburban people spend lots of time in cars where there is no chance of any sort of human connection.  Not only do I meet a lot of people in the city I would say that urban life fosters a level of cooperation and compromise unknown in rural and suburban settings. This may explain why urban voters in American are almost overwhelmingly liberal. This may be because liberal people tend to move towards city life or it could be the result of many other factors. I am just speaking anecdotally here, from my own experience.

Non-city people often say that cities are dirty and unhealthy places to live. This is sort of ironic because it’s suburban drivers that cause a lot of pollution in the city. I don’t even have a damn car so you can’t pin it on me. City people walk a lot more than suburbanites and are therefore—on average—about 12% thinner than people who don’t live in the city.  I am lucky to live in a city that isn’t plagued by pollution.  If only more people in other cities rode public transportation, walked, or rode bikes perhaps life in other, more polluted cities would improve.  As far as the pollution problem of cities is concerned we are facing a problem that we have already answered: get people out of individual automobiles and into mass transit.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Another Look at Bike Sharing

This is old news for most Europeans cities. We've had it in Valencia for almost 2 years. The old saying "the greatest thing since sliced bread" will soon be replaced with "the greatest thing since bike sharing." It is what urban planners call "transformational" meaning it will change an entire city's attitude about public transportation. I have two bikes but I still use our system every day. I am shockingly lazy when it comes to walking and will avoid laughably short trips on foot in favor or taking one of these cool bikes. I pay 18€ per year.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Bike Parking in Valencia?

It's now illegal to chain your bike to a tree or a lamp post or any "mobiliario urbano" which basically means anything man-made. So where the hell do we park our bikes. An assistant to the mayor here reminded cyclists that there are 4,000 bike parking spots in Valencia. This is a city of about 800,000 people so you do the math. This film has a couple of good ideas.

Adding bicycle parking will actually make neighborhoods safer, more attractive, and the cost is negligible. What are we waiting for, Valencia?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Stench on the Bookshelf

If I were to die unexpectedly I wouldn’t be ashamed in the least of someone finding my porn stash. And by the way, that video isn’t bestiality, it’s just two guys in a moose suit—big difference. I would be a little ashamed of the fact that I have the first season of 90210 on my iPod, something I downloaded for a friend’s 14 year old daughter (note to self: delete it now!). I’m more worried about someone coming across Tuesdays with Morrie or Eat, Pray, Love in my book collection. I have some explaining to do.

Like any pseudo-intellectual dipshit, I wouldn’t normally be caught dead with pieces of shit like those two in my library, but I believe that, given my current living situation, there are extenuating circumstances. I buy books compulsively, especially when they are really inexpensive. I pass by a pawn shop about once a month to buy books for .50€ each. Books in Spain are generally a bit expensive so at this price I will buy almost anything—even the two pieces of shit mentioned above. I give away lots of books to friends and acquaintances, especially when they come this cheaply.

I actually read Tuesdays with Morrie, or at least I speed-read part of it for the purposes of this essay and I had read Eat, Pray, Love some years ago, or at least most of it. Both are best sellers meant for people who almost never read. They are books for people who claim a book is brilliant simply because they were able to finish it. I think that anything people read is better than not reading, but that’s all the praise I have for these particular works that promise to give the reader the deep meaning of life. Any book that claims to explain the mysteries of life and death should set off the alarms for anyone with half a brain, books like the Bible or the Talmud or the Koran.

I’m sorry folks. There are no “answers” in life. There is only wisdom and wisdom takes time, certainly more than the 192 pages that make up Tuesdays with Morrie. Answers are usually created by people who are terrified that there might not be answers. The problem is when religions or the Mitch Alboms and Elizabeth Gilberts of the world start infringing on the domain of the rational with their moronic explanations of the spiritual or existential. I would say that these institutions (religions and hack writers) constantly violate the airspace of the rational and scientific.

Tuesdays and Eat claim to be instruction manuals for life. They have about as much spiritual depth as a newspaper horoscope or a fortune cookie. In the case of the aphorisms in Tuesdays I’d say they were pretty lousy fortune cookies. A few examples:

Learn to forgive yourself and forgive others.
Accept the past as past and what you are not able to do.
Don’t assume that it’s too late to get involved.

Wisdom is difficult to define but I think I know it when I see it. I ain't seeing it here.

P.S. If I dated a girl who had Tuesdays Morrie wit on her bed table I would probably escape by jumping out her third story bathroom window. It would creep me out, like when that girl saw the fingernails in the wall in Silence of the Lambs.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Un Prophète

With time on my hands and no inclination to do all of the stupid shit you are supposed to do during the holidays I thought that I would catch up on what was going on in the world of movies.  I can’t remember the last time that I saw a movie that I thought was good, let alone great. I waded through a couple of “Best of 2010” lists until I clicked on Newsweek ‘s picks and found A Prophet at the top. I read the short paragraph about it and they had me with “prison movie.” For some strange, inexplicable reason I love prison movies. I suppose that it has something to do with prison being some sort of ultimate challenge for a man. It just happens that I was also looking for something to watch in French, not that I understand film French all that much. Movies are always very difficult for the student.

Apt Pupil and Master
Malik al Djebena (Tahar Rahim) enters the prison for what we learn will be a six year sentence. He looks as frightened and alone as anyone could possibly be in this impossible environment but his tattered body testifies that he’s not really new to hardship and crime. I like how the director doesn’t insult us by interfering with the beginning of the film by showing scenes from Mali’s tragic childhood. Instead we just see the result of his youth, a body covered in scars and a 19 year old boy who knows he needs to learn fast to survive inside. His first opportunity to prove himself—to make his bones, as they say in gangster movies—comes all too soon.

In the prison yard we see two uneven sides of prisoner affiliation.  The Muslims on one side represent the majority, albeit unorganized and directionless.  On the other side are the heavily-outnumbered Corsicans who are organized, violent, and well-connected with the prison administration. Malik is singled out by the Corsican boss, César Luciani (Niels Arestrup) to perform a rather tricky assassination for them.  Their first meeting together isn’t a job interview; it’s a threat of kill or be killed.  

If you get one thing from this film it’s that movie stars are not only unnecessary to make a great film, but that they are often a huge impediment. I couldn’t imagine this movie with the usual Hollywood assholes in the leading roles. Think about what a complete piece of shit The Departed was mainly because of the ridiculous cast of superstars.  For all I fucking know this actor playing Malik is a Franco-Arab criminal and I sure as hell believe that the Corsican boss is the thug he portrays in the film.  The realism in this movie is unparalleled, unmatched in any movie I have ever seen depicting prison life. It’s more life-like than any documentary could be, if that makes sense.

Scorsese has nothing on Jacques Audiard and he had better be studying this guy because the stakes have been raised in the crime film genre. Save your money on Jack Nicholson and other has-been assholes, forget about chase scenes and explosions, and try to keep your story as close to the truth as possible.

(I originally posted this last January)

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

What They Say (and What They Mean)

This whole right to marry for gays is a complete non-issue in most of Europe but the Rick Santorum crowd (and candidacy) lingers on. How many times can American conservatives be on the wrong side of history? I suppose it’s possible for them to be wrong more than every time if history repeats itself, as my friend Eric pointed out in a brilliant observation.

1)      God hates fags. (I could go for a big, fat cock right about now.)

2)      It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve! (If I have to have sex with my wife one more time I’m going to throw myself under a bus.)

3)      The want to teach the gay lifestyle in our schools. (Will my daughter notice that I have her Justin Bieber magazine?)

4)      Sodomy is an abomination. (This rubber fist in my butt feels amazing.)

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Hoping the Problem Will Simply Go Away

I have often said that the automobile is the worst idea of the past century, or at least the way in which it has completely dominated American society—not that we are the only car-obsessed nation.  I would say for most Americans the car is their sole form of transportation.  Even walking has been removed from the transportation formula for many people living in the suburbs as distances are simply too great to do anything but exercise on foot. With our transportation model dating back to the 1950s we seem incapable of changing our idea of what it means to live in a modern society.

Most conservatives feel that there simply isn’t any sort of problem whatsoever, at least not one that we can’t fix by drilling in the Arctic or giving oil companies and even freer rein to do as they please.  Conservatives mock any attempt at…well, conserving. As ironic as it appears, being conservative or judicious with the use of petroleum seems to be anathema to conservatives.

Making automobiles that use less fuel or use some alternative just doesn’t seem to be any kind of answer. Even if we made cars that ran on sea water we would still need all of the resources to build them, and maintain the roads, and the parking, and then we’d still be saddled with the danger of automobile traffic.* If we are not making a vigorous attempt to lower the amount of cars we use then we are just kidding ourselves. It reminds me of a child trying to hide behind a curtain that doesn’t cover his legs.

Once again we are trying to solve a problem for which we already have the answers staring us in the face.  Public transportation in many American cities is woefully inadequate and most citizens view it as the last resort of poor people.  I would imagine that there are many places in America where only the poor ever set foot on city buses.  Only a handful of American cities have a working metro rail system, something that is generally viewed as being a bit more dignified and sophisticated form or urban transit.  

And forget about bikes; most Americans probably would never consider riding a bike for transportation.  It would probably take an entire generation to convince people that a bicycle is actually quite a sensible option for many urban transportation scenarios.  I face a similar mentality here in Spain where the car is seen as a middle class right. Some people are positively astounded to learn that almost all of my transportation is effected via the lowly bicycle.    

*The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was positively bubbling over the fact that there were only 37,261 traffic deaths in 2008. Even if that is an improvement over previous years it is still a wholesale slaughter of US citizens.  

Monday, February 06, 2012

Random Thoughts #3

Topping out at 5’9” I thought I had everything it takes, but after a few clicks on Google I find out I’m probably too fat to be a jockey. Once again my dreams are shattered. Curse you Spanish ham!

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Bicycle Diaries #1

I have written hundreds of entries about my life and bikes but this is a new feature describing brief accounts of the joys and perils of the urban cyclist.

This is either the fucking coolest thing I’ve ever done on a bike or the biggest asshole move ever, although I see no reason why it can’t be both. I was riding down the bike path along Avenida Cortes de Valencia (a very busy thoroughfare) yesterday afternoon. I was crossing an intersection with the green light for pedestrians and cyclists when I saw that a motor scooter was flying through the traffic circle and about to pass through the crosswalk on their yellow light.

He saw me coming through the intersection and he actually accelerated. I said “Fuck it” and accelerated as well, putting us on a collision course in the zebra crossing. The idiot had this crazed look on his face as he gassed it for all it was worth, like a kamikaze pilot rocketing towards an American destroyer.  I’m extremely confident in my cycling skills.  I know that I can judge speed and braking better than anyone on a motor scooter so I kept up our game of “chicken.” At the last second he had to slam on his brakes and his scooter started to slide out from under him right in front of me. I deftly pumped a bit harder and avoided the crash but I could see that he was freaking terrified.  He didn’t fall but he came close. I’m guessing that this tool will think long and hard before trying this stunt again.

I know that this was a stupid thing to do but I’m really sick of assholes bullying cyclists and pedestrians. What I did wasn't anywhere near as stupid as a motorized vehicle accelerating through a crosswalk.

In another episode of aggression against cyclists some numb-nuts honked at me the other day. I'm not talking about a little toot but a sustained blast for no reason other than he didn't care to share the road with a cyclist. He felt that I was in his way even though we were five meters before a red light. I was on the driver's side and he had his window rolled down. He started to say something to me about how I needed to watch where I was going even though I was in my lane.  I cut him off with a wave of the hand. I told him that maybe if he rode a bike once in a while his prick would work for something besides going pee pee (a line in Spanish I have rehearsed so that I call blurt it out rapidly and clearly). Then I stood up on the pedals and acted like I was going to sprint foward through the light but I hit the brakes and did sort of a track stand. He saw me and thinking the light had changed he accelerated through intersection on the red light and almost got T-boned.

I swear that I'm a very considerate and respectful cyclist, at least about 99.99% of the time. More and more I avoid riding in the street and I will go way the fuck out of my way just to use the bike paths. Until police tame drivers Valencia will never be the sort of bike paradise that it deserves to be. People here are afraid to ride bikes and for good reason.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Random Thoughts #2

As a representative of all the patches of rubber left in the street either by rapid acceleration or deceleration I would like to register our collective outrage over the fact that our name has been highjacked by fecal stains in people’s undergarments.
Signed, Randolf J. Skidmark

Friday, February 03, 2012

Random Thoughts #1

If I were a famous scientist and I came up with a concept which explains how removing one element from an organism and inserting another can adversely affect the molecular nature of the organism, I would call that theory The Shemp Factor for reasons obvious to anyone who has seen The Three Stooges. I seriously doubt I’ll come up with a theory like this so if you want to use the name, go ahead.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

What's the Deal with Hippies?

What’s the Deal with Hippies?  #1

Although this has never happened to me it would make me smile to see some children yelling and pointing, “Mom, look! A hippie! Can we keep it?” The mother replies, “Oh hell no, the last time you forgot to poke holes in the lid of the jar and it died.”

Just because I love children and I think that pets can teach kids about responsibility.

What’s the Deal with Hippies #2

A hippie would blow his own dad for just a tiny bit of weed. I guess the real question is who (or what) wouldn’t a hippy blow for a bit of dope?  I’d prefer to never know.

What’s the Deal with Hippies: True/False Test

One True answer means you’re a hippie:

1)      I have tried to bum weed from a total stranger.
2)      I’ve had a conversation about the guitar solo in “Stairway to Heaven.”
3)      I camped out all night for tickets to see Rush only to find I didn’t have any money.
4)      I have used the expression “blow your mind” without being ironic or sarcastic.
5)      When confronted by well-meaning friends complaining about my body odor I tell them to “chill out, man.”
6)      I have smoked oregano on occasion.

What’s the Deal with Hippies #32

In August of 1972 at an outdoor concert in Redmond, California Jerry Garcia performed a four day guitar solo.  Appalling, yes, but not as bad as the fact that none of the 12,438 hippies in attendance moved from where they were standing, not to go to the port-o-lets, nor to shower, and definitely not to apply deodorant (not that any of them brought deodorant).  The toxic fumes from the rock concert completely annihilated a neighboring population of vultures (Cathartes aura)—so much for the hippy’s supposed “love” for the environment.

What’s the Deal with Hippies? #33

OK, we all like to joke around but please remember: hippies are people, too.  Well, that’s not entirely true at all but it sounds nice.  Although they share a bit of our DNA, hippies are more or less the biological equivalent of mules. They are an offshoot of human evolution but unable to have offspring.  It’s not that they lack the reproductive capacity; it’s simply because they are too stoned to have sex.

I forgot to mention that you should always wash your hands after coming in contact with a hippie so you don't get salmonella.