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Monday, April 28, 2014

No Charge

My advice to young American travelers: Leave your “University of Nobody Gives a Shit” T-shirts at home. If there’s ever a time when you should be thinking outside the tribe it’s when you’re traveling.*

Many years ago when I lived in Greece I was in the lobby of a small hotel on a remote island where I was staying when three young dudes approached the woman at the desk. The old gal only spoke Greek and after some fumbling between them I stepped in and translated. Afterwards one of the dudes who was wearing a Harvard T-shirt told me that he spoke French. “So do I but we’re in Greece,” I replied. He just had to let everyone know that he went to Harvard and he had to let me know that he spoke French, as if by not telling me he would be forfeiting the intellectual high ground he held by going to Harvard.

*Un consejo para los jóvenes viajeros estadounidenses: Dejad vuestras "Universidad de a nadie le importa una mierda" camisetas en casa. Si alguna vez hay un momento en que debéis pensar fuera de la tribu es cuando estáis de viaje.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty


I love the fact that Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, is absolutely humbled by the profundity of this work. This illustrates the fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives: liberals will change how they think when the facts tell them they should while conservatives keep to their hoary opinions at all cost.

I love how conservatives attempting to disparage this book point out that the author is French, as if that is all that needs to be said. They ask whether we in the USA wish to go the way of socialist Europe…or what, exactly? Will they have us go the way of Brazil in which a few oligarchs take everything while the masses fester in favelas riddled with violent crime and no hope of upward mobility while the children of the rich get into Yale with a C average?

What Piketty brings to the debate is extensive years of the study of economic history which has always been the most reliable method to predict future economic performance. Conservatives have, for the most part, only offered theories of what they hope will happen. My question to conservatives has always been the following: Show me an example of the type of society you wish to build. Because to me it looks like they are trying to rebuild the feudal era and we are hurtling towards that model.

I have been on a reading bender of books documenting just how much conservatives have perverted the American system and way of life. Beginning with Thomas Frank’s The Wrecking Crew which recounts how Republicans gained power and immediately began to disassemble the institutions protecting citizens which took us the better part of the 20th century to install. All of this destruction was done in the name of free market capitalism, or at least their highly selective version of it which protects the wealthiest businessmen while throwing most of the rest of us to the dogs.

From there I read Matt Taibbi’s The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap which tells how the income disparity has twisted our judicial system in such a way that ordinary citizens (a disproportionate number of them being black males) are thrown into prison while white collar felons are rarely, if ever, charge with a crime. 

Flash Boys is Michael Lewis’ latest work of financial journalism where he chronicles the insane phenomena of High Frequency Trading and how this legal practice has made unthinkable fortunes for a select few on Wall Street as they swindle their own customers. The title comes from a group of young executives who decided to create their own stock exchange to offer investors an alternative to the thievery of other traders.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Refresher Course

Learning another language is hard work. Not one to shy away from studying and overcome with the spirit of self-improvement I watched a few episodes of Me Llamo Earl for a refresher course on Spanish slang and vulgar terms. A few highlights:

Abogado de Oficio – public defender (very useful to know)
Calderilla – small change
Cargarse – to screw up
Colgado - druggie
Chucho – mutt, mongrel
Trullo – jail (other words I know for this include cárcel, prisión, trena, calabozo, and talego)
Zurullo – turd

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Copa del Rey 2014 Barça-Real Madrid

Barça Fanzone 

Real Madrid Fanzone

Tonight @21:30 Final Copa del Rey in Valencia:
 FC Barcelona vs Real Madrid 

11,000 Madrid fans arrive by the AVE high-speed rail, 4,000 from Barcelona on the Euromed line and tens of thousands more in cars.
Every policeman within 50 kilometers on duty; every bar in Valencia trying to kee`up with the crowds.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Sunday in Hell

This is recent film of the race and not A Sunday in Hell.

I may have taken this film a little too much to heart as I destroyed my rear wheel the other day on a tough ride over some bad roads. Of course, this never would have happened if I had bought a 29er (29 inch wheel mountain bike) to replace my old steed. The bigger wheels distribute the weight of the ride better...or maybe the weight of the rider was too much for the old wheel? I'm trimmer now and anxiously waiting to rack up some serious kilometers during my Easter break.

Friday, April 04, 2014

What Most Americans Don’t Know about Europe

I watched an older episode of Vice (HBO) about some political demonstrations in Spain and Greece and had I not known better I would have been led to believe that these two countries were on the verge of total anarchy. In one segment of the pseudo-documentary a group of Spanish anarchists were—as the filmmakers stated—about to “shut the country down.” First of all, the protests they were referring to lasted perhaps three days here in Spain and concerned a very small segment of the population and affected a very small part of the country. Secondly, these teenage anarchists probably wouldn’t have acted as destructively as they did had they not had an American film crew following them around. Even so, their attempt to “shut the country down” consisted of nothing more than graffiti and petty vandalism. And finally, things are not that bad in Europe. In fact, for most people life is damn good.

Sure, Spain now suffers from a very high rate of unemployment at something like 23%, levels we saw in America during the Great Depression. Things are tough for a lot of people here but there are a number of important factors to consider. These unemployment numbers reflect a huge age differential as young people are not working at rates as high as 44%. This sucks for the youth of the country but you also have to keep in mind that they mostly live at home. This means that they have a place to live, food, and some amount of money. What you don’t see in Spain are legions of homeless and desperate people sleeping in doorways, like you do in most big American cities today so imagine if we had Spain’s unemployment numbers.

Along with this there is a huge black market economy in Spain as people do everything and anything they can to make money and a lot of it isn’t reported in government statistics. I would estimate the black economy in Greece is ten times what it is here in Spain as Greeks are famous for avoiding government oversight and thus taxes.

I’m in no way saying that these countries don’t have a lot of problems but the situation here is hardly the chaos that many conservatives in America would like you to believe. An Ikea is soon to open up near Valencia and there were a reported 8,000 applicants vying for a little over 200 jobs so, yes, unemployment is a huge problem and especially so in the Valencia Community. This problem has not caused any major problems in political stability—at least not yet. It even looks like things are improving in the jobs sector. It is also important to point out that Spain and the rest of European Union haven’t tried to completely dismantle their security nets for the less fortunate as we have done in the USA. It is also important to stress that this global economic crisis wasn’t brought on by socialism; it was unbridled capitalism (if that’s how you would describe our banking sector).

American conservatives love to point to Europe as an example of how socialism has failed. What conservatives rarely note is that the European economic crisis was brought on a collapse of the baking sector as countries adopted American banking and mortgage policies that led to the American financial meltdown of 2008. Spain had almost no problem with its internal debt before 2008, ditto this with Greece. This is another of the inconvenient truths that American conservatives avoid at all costs.

In fact, American conservatives used the financial crisis brought on by Wall Street to attack social welfare programs in the USA, as if they had anything at all to do with the precipitous fall in real estate values in the US and Europe. But what do you expect from a group that is all too accustomed to smashing anything to bits in order to make it fit their completely ridiculous narrative?