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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.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Yes, I Speak English

“Do you speak English?” Without a doubt these are the four most terrifying words for many Spaniards. What would inspire more fear in the hearts of people in Spain: a group of armed, hooded terrorists or the sight of a young Swedish family looking alternately at a tourist map and at the multitude in the desperate hope that someone will give them directions? Even after years of studying English grammar most of you would rather face the terrorists head on instead of trying to help the nice Nordic family find the train station as you cross the street in panic.

"Do you speak English?" Even with this simple question so many people in Spain misunderstand its true meaning. What most Spanish people think this question means is “Are you William Shakespeare?” when what it really means is “Can I buy a pack of cigarettes around here?” Instead of answering “Yes, I speak English” almost everyone I have observed will begin with a string of apologies. “I speak it only a little” or “My English isn’t very good and I regret that I’ve only been able to translate some of the minor works of Charles Dickens” or some other exasperatingly modest reply.

Spain’s inferiority complex when it comes to speaking English has left a deep scar. People here are constantly reminded at how remiss they are in their language studies and if they don’t try harder they won’t get any dessert and they won't be able to play with the cool kids in the European Union. The Spanish are told that they should be more like the Dutch or the Finnish or the Norwegians or everyone else in the entire world who supposedly all speak perfect English. Let me begin by saying that no one speaks English perfectly because it’s a nightmare of a language. Most of the people who speak it well are either native speakers or people whose language isn’t widely spoken. If your native tongue is spoken by fewer people than watch a Saturday football match between Alcorcón and Albacete you have a much greater need to learn English than someone who speaks a language shared by 500 million people in 22 countries on several continents.

Americans are also criticized for only speaking one language but what should someone study who lives in the middle of such a big country? In many areas in Northern Europe people may cross one or two national borders only an hour from home. In Spain people have to drive farther than that just to go to IKEA. Even in the United States, the country most responsible for English being so widely spoken worldwide, a person could easily live their entire life speaking only Spanish. Por Dios, last year’s Superbowl was broadcast in Spanish for the first time in history. What is a worldly and sophisticated Spanish speaker to do?

First of all people should stop apologizing because they don’t speak English perfectly. If I have learned a single thing it’s that there's no finish line when it comes to learning languages; it’s a life-long process. I always joke that on my deathbed I’ll probably have a Spanish novel in one hand and a Spanish-English dictionary in the other. This isn’t saying that learning Spanish will be my undoing but it certainly seems that at times. One important aspect of language learning seldom taught in Spain is the value of confidence and attitude, so everyone repeat after me: Yes, I speak English!

(any advice on this translation is very welcome)

Yes, I Speak English

"Do you speak English?" Sin duda estas son las cuatro palabras más aterradoras para muchos españoles. ¿Qué inspiraría más miedo en el corazon de la gente en España: un grupo de encapuchados terroristas armados o la visión de una joven familia sueca mirando alternativamente un mapa turístico y a la multitud con la esperanza desesperada de que alguien les dé instrucciones? Incluso después de años de estudio de la gramática inglesa la mayoría de vosotros preferiríais enfrentaros a los terroristas y en vez de ayudar a la bonita familia nórdica encontrar la estación de tren mientras cruzaís la calle en pánico.

"Do you speak English?" Incluso con esta pregunta sencilla muchas personas en España no entienden su verdadero significado. La mayoría de los españoles piensan que esto significa ¿Eres William Shakespeare?" cuando lo que realmente significa es "¿Puedo comprar un paquete de cigarrillos por aquí?" En lugar de responder "Yes, I speak English" casi todos los que he observado comienzan con una serie de disculpas. "Hablo sólo un poco…" o "Mi inglés no es muy bueno y lamento que sólo he sido capaz de traducir algunas de las obras menores de Charles Dickens" u otra respuesta tan modesta que exaspera.

Este complejo de inferioridad español en cuanto el inglés ha dejado una profunda cicatriz. Aquí se hace recordar a la gente constantemente lo negligente está en sus estudios de la lengua y si no se esfuerza más no va a recibir su postre y no puede jugar con los chicos populares en la Unión Europea. Se dice que los españoles deben ser más como los holandeses o el finlandeses o los noruegos o todos los demás en todo el mundo que, supuestamente hablan perfecto el inglés. Permitidme comenzar diciendo que nadie habla inglés perfectamente porque es un idioma de pesadilla. La mayoría de las personas que lo hablan bien son o hablantes nativos o personas cuya lengua materna se habla por pocos. Si tu lengua nativa se habla por menos personas que se ve un partido de fútbol los sábados entre Alcorcón y Albacete tienes una mayor necesidad de aprender inglés que alguien que habla un idioma compartido por 500 millones de personas en 22 países de varios continentes.

Nos critican también a los americanos porque solo hablamos nuestro idioma. ¿Qué lengua debería estudiar alguien que vive en medio de un país tan grande? En muchas zonas del norte de Europa la gente puede cruzar una o dos las fronteras nacionales a sólo una hora de casa. En España la gente tiene que conducir más lejos solamente para ir a IKEA. Incluso en los Estados Unidos, el país más responsable de que el inglés se habla tan ampliamente en todo el mundo, una persona puede vivir fácilmente toda su vida hablando sólo español. For God’s sake, el Superbowl del año pasado fue transmitido en español por primera vez en la historia. ¿Qué debería hacer un español sofisticado?

En primer lugar, la gente debería dejar de pedir disculpas porque no habla inglés perfectamente. Si he aprendido una sola cosa es que no hay una meta en el aprendizaje de idiomas; es un proceso de toda la vida. Siempre digo en broma que en mi lecho de muerte probablemente tendré una novela española en una mano y un diccionario Español-Inglés en la otra. Esto no quiere decir que el aprendizaje de español va a ser mi perdición pero ciertamente lo parece que a veces. Un aspecto importante del aprendizaje de idiomas que rara vez se enseña en España es el valor de la confianza y la actitud, por lo que todo el mundo repetid conmigo: Yes, I speak English!

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Parking Is Hell

This audio is from Freakanomics. Listen to the podcast here:

There was a TV commercial years ago that showed a luxury sedan careening down a winding country road with the tagline: Either live closer to work or own the road in between. I chose door #1 and that has made all the difference. I haven’t driven a car in eight years (even before that I drove little) and if I never drive again that would suit me fine. If you have to drive to effect every aspect of daily living (shopping, work, school, entertainment, etc.) your life has some major flaws. If you disagree with this imagine if everyone on the planet shared your opinion and decided to drive everywhere every single day.

Many people will read this and blow a blood vessel in their brain but all I am saying is that if everyone on the planet drove every day the world would find itself in peril. We can’t all buy the road to work but many of us can live closer to where we need to be every day.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Just Before the Valencia Rice Harvest

My pathetic and amateur attempts at photography don’t begin to do justice to the humbling majesty of the Albufera of Valencia, the vast wetlands directly south of my fair city where most of Valencia rice is cultivated. Valencia isn’t the birthplace of paella for nothing. This beautiful area is also a veritable Disneyland for cyclists with hundreds of kilometers of deserted roads that crisscross the rice patties, lonely farm houses, and small villages of this area. Granted, on this day with early morning humidity at 86% and temperatures over 34 degrees it wasn’t the best day for a 60 kilometer hard and fast ride but what the hell else do I have to do on a Saturday morning?

Monday, September 01, 2014


I was looking through my photos file and was going to delete this bunch of random video clips but decided to throw it into the YouTube trash instead. I just cleared over one gig of space on my hard drive.