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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Travel Made Very Easy

Walking out of my hotel in Madrid and heading for home I have a few transportation decisions in my path, most of them embarrassingly sophisticated for an American. Spain is leading the world in many areas of mass transit while the USA languishes in 20th century concepts. I have to walk about one block to the Madrid Metro stop of Gregorio Marañón. I had already purchased a 10 ride ticket for 12.20€ at the beginning of my stay. After changing trains I arrive at Madrid’s Atocha station 12 minutes later. From here I take the AVE high-speed train to Valencia. The Madrid-Valencia part of my journey is 391 kilometers and takes about 95 minutes—I didn’t even get up out of my seat and spent the time completely absorbed in a book. I paid more for my ticket but a round trip can be found for 52€. I arrive at Valencia’s Joaquín Sorolla station and grab a Valenbisi bike from the rack and pedal the 2 kilometers to the bike station a half block from my front door. Home!

Madrid's Puerta de Atocha station
The best trains in the world

Valenbisi bike share

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Journalism vs. Propaganga Sloganeering.

This great piece by George Packer is at least as enlightening as it is depressing in telling the story of the maddeningly  irrational beliefs of lower-middle class Americans who cling to the Republican Party and their completely bankrupt (literally, at times) slogans about building a better America. The problem is the article weighs in at over 7,000 words and the mouth-breathers have the attention span fit only for a one line slogan. Here is a teaser from the article.

“…societies with lower levels of social mobility. As America has grown less economically equal, a citizen’s ability to move upward has fallen behind that of citizens in other Western democracies. We are no longer the country where anyone can become anything.

Inequality saps the economy by draining the buying power of Americans whose incomes have stagnated, forcing them to rely on debt to fund education, housing, and health care. At the top, it creates deep pools of wealth that have nowhere productive to go, leading to asset bubbles in capital markets bearing little or no relation to the health of the over-all economy.”

I can't imagine anyone in America disagreeing with the Bernie Sanders piece in the NYT...other than Wall Street bankers. Or this:For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Welcome to Winter

Winter begins today at 23:48. Happy Solstice!

Tomorrow will have 1 second less of daylight than today. Go figure.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Bike Riding Paradise

I you can't get motivated to go for a ride in this weather you're dead already.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Thoughts on the Podcast Serial

When I first heard about the podcast program Serial it sounded intriguing. I listened to the first two episodes of Season 1 about a high school couple in Maryland, a first generation Pakistani kid and his girlfriend who was from a Korean family. They were both exemplary high school kids: athletic and also good students from middle class families. The girl was murdered after they couple broke up and the kid was eventually arrested and finally convicted of first degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison and now is in a Maryland prison. In the end I found the podcast to be compelling but also infuriating and frustrating.

The podcast takes up the story 15 years later and tries to get to the bottom of the case. The woman journalist has all the earnestness you expect from a public radio host hatched from This American Life. It’s obvious from the beginning that she is hoping beyond hope that the boy is innocent. From the beginning I was thinking that I didn’t really give a shit one way or another, innocent or guilty.

From the beginning of the program I wondered why she doesn’t ask the most important question of all: if he didn’t kill her then who the fuck did? Who else had the motivation? It's the old Occam’s Razor principle that the most likely explanation is probably the truth (Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected). So why wouldn’t the earnest talk show host ask this simple question? Or did I miss that episode because I had stopped listening? I didn’t think the host asked any good questions to anyone she interviewed. She seemed more inclined just to let them talk and most of the people interviewed are too stupid to have much of anything to say. Even 15 years later they come across as high school stoners. The tapes from the trial paint both the prosecution and the defense as pretty dim bulbs. As Tom Wolfe says in The Bonfire of the Vanities, heaven help anyone caught up in the American judicial system.

It’s not that random killings don’t occur in America but this case didn’t really have that sort of feel to it. I would venture to say that the police didn't have the evidence necessary to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the kid did it but it seems obvious to me that he did. He's completely unrepentant of the crime which is fair if he didn’t do it but there is something else in his discussions of the crime. He doesn’t seem to give a shit that she is dead. This is the attitude you hear from all of the kids interviewed on the podcast. It’s like they are talking about losing a football game instead of a young girl who is murdered in cold blood and her body left in the shallow grave, as in First Degree Murder. Almost no mention is made of the victim in any of the episodes.

The kid came from a devout Muslim family, so devout that they came between the couple when they found out they were dating, going so far as storming a school dance and dragging their 17 year old son away. That incident in itself would send up some red flags in my book and would suggest a sort of pathological bipolarity in the young man. On the one hand he was having sex with the girl (so they say) and smoking marijuana while playing the part of a devout Muslim who went to the mosque regularly and attended a Muslim conference with his father. The kid was almost an adult (17 at that time) yet he couldn’t stand up to his mother and father about wanting to have a normal American teenage life? The girl dumped the kid and he says he was cool with that. I somehow doubt that this was true.

It seems like somewhat of a central issue in his life yet there is hardly any mention of the kid’s religion in the podcast. Nor is much mention of the kid’s Pakistani roots which I would think mattered quite a bit in the kid’s mental state and possible motivations, and by “motivations” I don’t mean simply criminal motivations but the sort of things that would have steered his behavior. 

The host of the show would make a terrible police interrogator as she seems terrified to ask any tough questions of anyone. She seems like the quintessential NPR host who would rather be PC than get to the heart of a matter, like we must respect everyone’s point of view. At times I get the feeling that the host is talking to a bunch of toddlers about who broke something and she takes everything they say as beyond reproach, at least when she is talking to them directly. At one point when she is interviewing some kid she says, "I don't mean to sound judgy or something but was there like any point when you should go tell the cops." Like her being "judgy" is the worst thing someone could do trying to get to the bottom of the case of a young woman brutally murdered and dumped in the woods. Grow a fucking pair and stop being afraid to make the little shits you are interviewing squirm a little.

At one point, while not actually asking who may have killed the girl if it wasn’t the kid the host talks with someone about an earlier murder case of a young Asian woman and they tell they host about the killer, “…and he said that he got out and became active for fourteen months, his release date was January 1, ’99.” The host gasps, “Oh my God.” Just why she gasps is strange because the older case was about a sex crime, that this criminal always had sex with his victims, a point not even mentioned by gasping and grasping for straws host. She does ask who is more likely to have killed the girl: the career criminal or the boy who had never been in trouble before? News flash: every criminal has to begin with a crime so the "never been in trouble before defense" is just stupid. In fact, almost all murders are committed by people who know the victim.

A little later in the final episode when the kid is told that they are finally going to check DNA samples in the case after 16 years (15 of which he has been locked up) he says, “There’s nothing about my case that I’m afraid of,” and we are left hanging without a response or challenge from the host, like this shows how he must be innocent. Of course the kid isn’t afraid of his case, he’s already serving life in prison in a state without a death penalty so what more can they do to him?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

How's the Weather?

I realize that no one cares about the weather in Valencia but I like to post these from time to time so that in the future I have an easy way to see what to expect at this time of year. Lots of sun. I plan on getting out a lot on my bike during the long holiday season here in Spain.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

A Clash of Civilizations?

    I should preface this essay by saying that I find Islam repugnant as I do all religions. I may find Islam more repugnant than Christianity and Judaism but that is a matter of degree.

I would have to agree with the Republican morons that what we have now is a clash of civilizations; however, it isn’t the West against Islam but educated Americans against slogan-driven bigots who have no knowledge of history and no common sense. The clash of civilizations is about those who think that our failed occupational wars in the Middle East were mistakes from the outset against those who seem to lack any sort of memory of our very recent past.

Listen to this interview with Robert Pape, author of Dying to Win which explains how suicide bombing is almost always about a reaction to occupying forces. Saddam Hussein was about as hated in his country as were the American occupying forces, the difference being that word “occupying.”  No matter what we have been told over and over again, the attacks of 9/11 we the result of our occupation of Saudi Arabian territory. It wasn’t because they hated our values. They may hate our values but that has nothing to do with suicide bombings.

From The Atlantic Monthly:

The leading GOP presidential candidates reject that. They believe defeating the Islamic State requires some dramatic, if vaguely defined, new military and ideological exertion. Obama, by contrast, thinks America simply needs to not screw up. That means not being “drawn once more” into an effort to “occupy foreign lands,” thus allowing the Islamic State to use “our presence to draw new recruits.”

We need to pull out of Muslim countries. Immediately! We should never have invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and our presence only made matters much worse in both countries for almost everyone involved. And now Republican idiots want us to go into Syria?

Monday, December 07, 2015

The More Things Change?

It seems that regardless of any conscious effort on my behalf the style of my living quarters throughout my adult life has boiled down to the same thing which can be explained in a sort of math word problem: what happens when a truck carrying sporting equipment going 140 KPH crashes into a library? And a kitchen.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

París No Se Acaba Nunca (Paris Never Ends)

The title of this post was supplied by the often hilarious memoir by Enique Vila-Matas. The drawing is, of course, another great cover of The New Yorker magazine which lovingly portrays exactly what it is about this city that has made it the capital of civilizations for hundred of years. Paris is a symbol of everything we have suffered and fought for to create the sort of society we feel elevates the dignity of the individual, a society that fosters free thought, romance, and the pursuit of happiness. Because going out for a drink with friends certainly makes me happy.