Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid...

This story makes me laugh. I found it on a convenient (and aggravating) website that gathers a lot of information from the world press on what everyone is writing about America -

Apparently some French business and diplomat types are worried that the Big Brother Americans are spying on them. So, they are being told that they can't use their Blackberries anymore. It turns out that the information from the Canadian-built Blackberry is routed through the U.S. and the U.K. (You know how there are those things that some people do so they think everyone else does them too..?) It seems to me that there are any number of ways to spy now days - there is a lot of technology out there.

It got me thinking that it really riles some Europeans to no end that so much of the technology, innovations, and just plain stuff they use every day originates in the U.S. Let's review what they're thinking:

  1. Personal Computers - Guys, we really shoulda came up with this one. I mean these were some college-dropout Californian losers hanging around in their garages for Chrissakes!
  2. Microsoft - How come every day I turn on my computer I have to see that damn "Windows" screen! Why doesn't anybody use Linux around here? There must be something evil that the Americans are doing to be on everyone's computer so let's sue the crap out of 'em and try to put a stop to this. We sure don't have Jack to enter in the race.
  3. GPS - More nasty American military technology that we use on a daily basis. This really pisses us off. We can do better, right guys? Let's put our own satellites up there - it's easy right? They must be spying or something too. You know that they will probably just turn it off if there is a war or something... We would never do that.
  4. Boeing - We are sick and tired of always flying on those damn American jets. They have been so bad for the world. Moving millions of people all over the place since, well for a very long time. Let's get our own company and build the biggest freaking jet in the world. Of course we will have to use government money, but we are gonna kick their asses...
  5. The internet - No, no not that too! OK we know it came about because of more nasty military inspired reasons but we really use this one a lot. We woulda done this ourselves right? Uh, maybe not because we don't have a military - armies are so... crude. And our track record with the whole "world war" thing is not great.. Not sure we can make our own.... How about we ignore this one?
  6. Ipod - Again with these innovations! Apple must be evil too. They have a monopoly, yeahh, that's it. Their songs don't work on everyone else's MP3's! How can we stop our young people from buying this stuff? Let's sue them too.
  7. Google, Yahoo, et al. - Guys, I can feel it coming. Google's going to be bigger than Microsoft and I'm not sure this suing them thing is gonna work... And our people really, really like Google. I don't think we're going to be able to tell them to just not use it...
  8. The English Language - I guess Esperanto is not going to work out, and it doesn't look like French is really the language of diplomacy. Well, English is really from Europe.. It's not that bad. And everyone knows that English spoken with a British accent is much better than that low-class American babel.
I don't know but it seems to me that when a European company comes up with something better and kicks our asses in the market we just say to ourselves, "Alright, they kicked our asses, let's try harder..." It does not inspire a huge inferiority complex that then turns into paranoia.

I really hope Europe is successful with the airplanes, the GPS, etc., and I'm even willing to take the chance on them getting a military someday too. We could use a break. And just for fun, I want to see protests in front of the EU embassies. By the way, are there EU embassies?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Flicks by Mail

For all of you in Madrid who still go to the video store to get your movies, take a look at what is coming. In L.A., nobody goes to a DVD store. Blockbuster is basically out of business. We either watch cable or satellite T.V., or digitally record the shows to watch at any time, or our DVD's come in the mail – from Netflix. Go on-line, choose from an S-load of movies, and pay one rate per month to get three movies out at once for however long you want – no late fees, no lines at the store, you can download them too. Couple this with new, cheaper, flat screen T.V. technology, and there better be a good reason to go to the movie theater. That's why the theaters are not doing so well. Ticket sales are down.

Knowing this is coming to Madrid, I hear about the new potential genius law in Spain. One that would make theater owners show an obligatory amount of Spanish-made movies. I know it pisses them off that happy-ending, fluff American movies are more popular than seeing deep, depressing, state-subsidized Spanish films about people trying to commit suicide, or of people getting molested and getting hooked on heroin (I wonder why?). But the truth is people want to escape when they go to the movies, they want to have fun. Life is ROUGH and everyone knows it. Why not see some fantasy at the movies?

Unlike the deep, thought-provoking, and government subsidized Spanish movies, American movies (except clearly labeled public TV) are made with private money. Somebody actually takes their money out of the bank to make a movie hoping it will turn a profit. Hence, the people get what they want. Even with this silly market-driven system, Hollywood still manages to make some pretty good, and thought-provoking movies - of course along with some crap.

Guys, is it really so bad to let the people watch American movies? Why the fear? It seems like they may be terrified to learn that the Spanish movie-going public has the same tastes as the American public. That would take one more thing off of the, “Why We Feel Superior to the Americans” list.

I say let the market decide what succeeds. They'll probably even find out that the poor Spanish producers can figure out what sells best at home (without government Euros) and that they can give the Americans a run for their money - if given the chance. If they don't, and they try to legislate behavior, the theater business will suffer in Madrid. People will just stay home and watch what they want to on their flat screens with surround sound.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The First, and Last, Good Spanish Tagger

I hate the graffiti in Madrid. It drives me crazy. And with all the construction going on in town someone just puts the finishing touches on the remodel of some stately 100 year old building and the next day it is covered in very ugly and incomprehensible graffiti. There was a time though when I liked graffiti - at least the "work" of one man, Muelle.

Up until about 1984 there was hardly any graffiti in Madrid. This bad habit had not yet been imported from New York and Los Angeles. But there was this one Tio working hard defacing property. He was a perfectionist and quite famous at the time. We saw his signature all over the place - and I mean ALL OVER the place.

Big and small, in simple black and white letters or very ornate with a whole bunch of colors - it was on telephone booths, mailboxes, in the metro, and on billboards. Muelle ruled the walls of Madrid.

What was different about Muelle was how well done all his "tags" were. He really was an artist. Of course, "muelle" means "spring" and the spring is part of his mark, along with an arrow. He also put the "Registered Trademark" symbol at the top. This seemed to confuse his imitators - and there were many. They would do a bad signature, very messy in simple black spray paint, then put a half-assed arrow on the bottom, then put a "K", or some other letter, in a circle somewhere, with no clue what it meant! You still see graffiti today that vaguely looks like Muelle's.

Muelle was Juan Carlos Arguello from the Madrid barrio of Carabanchel. His tag apparently was a childhood nickname because he built a bicycle using a car suspension. He was just a guy trying to start a rock band during the Movida years painting walls on his down time. I'm afraid he died young so there will be no more "Muelles" in Madrid. I did find one though as recently as 2004 and there still could be a few out there so keep your eyes peeled.

Back in the old days when I of course did not personally know him, I liked Muelle. Why? He chose one thing to do, did it well, and stuck with it. It's true that it was a useless and childish thing, going around painting walls with your name and an arrow, but he did it with such dedication that he was assured success. A lesson for all! He sure made an impression on me, here I am still remembering and talking about him.

Having said all that, here comes comes a healthy dose of hypocrisy. Madrid really has to get serious about eradicating graffiti. And what the heck is going on in Malasana? Did they just give up? They don't seem to even bother to clean it anymore.

Hey Madrid, take it from Los Angeles, don't let this get out of hand! These are not misunderstood youth trying to express themselves. Trouble starts this way. Pretty soon the city looks like crap with gangs fighting over writings on the wall.

And Muelle started it all. Thanks a lot Muelle! Now that you are gone you left us with a bunch of delinquent amateurs.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Real Grapes of Wrath

This is a picture of my grandparents - as parents. My father is the youngest boy of four children, held by my grandfather. They were share-crop farmers in Oklahoma when the dust bowl hit and they migrated, not to California like the book, but to Arizona. I'm afraid that like most Americans I really should know more about their experiences. My father died when I was ten so I did not have the chance to really ask him about this real life history. I do know that they did not suffer so much like in the book. Of course it was hard in Oklahoma. I remember my grandfather talking about when the farm dog broke his leg he had to get a saw and cut it off. The dog survived many years after that. My father also got a whole bunch of perfect attendance certificates from the public schools in Oklahoma (I still have them). He went on to study at Arizona State University under the G.I. bill.

The migration to Arizona was a success. Unlike the drama in the book, I think they just got in the car and drove to Arizona in a couple of three days, no big deal. After world war II (and after serving in the Filipines) my father moved to Los Angeles and met my mother (from North Dakota). I post this because John at Iberian Notes brought up how the book may be slightly sensationalized.

Now this is heavy, but when my father was ill before his death, his childhood friend from Oklahoma would visit and read to him from the Grapes of Wrath. They got a big kick out of it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Hey, Keep it in the Family, Pal!

This guy really chaffs my ass. This is a letter to the editor to the English version of El Pais about Condoleeza Rice's visit to Madrid. I know everyone has a right to express their opinion, but why not disagree with Bush at home where it could do some good? Where we vote! This letter seems almost ... disloyal. This guy says , "He is EMBARRASSED by the actions of Condoleeza Rice"? What? Did she pick her nose in public or something? Did she make a pass at Moratinos?

Of course, I have never seen any editorial piece or letter to the editor (or actual story for that matter) even remotely positive about the U.S. in El Pais, so I won't bother to write a rebuttal. I understand the score. They are the left in Spain and they hate us - no problem. If I had a problem with that I would read ABC. But what is this guy's purpose in writing this letter? Why write a letter to a foreign newspaper to list everything wrong in the U.S. and say you are embarrassed by your country? It seems to me the only reason is to preach to the Choir, to ingratiate himself with the Spanish press. It goes down a virtual laundry list of things they always say is wrong with America. And there is NOTHING they love more than a real American agreeing with them. But is he real? The letter is almost too perfect! (his syntax is a little screwy too). He lists all the big hits, like from a manifesto:

- The U.S. is the axis of evil.
- The U.S. is not really "ideal". (What?)
- We're corrupt.
- We're religious fanatics
- Bush wasn't really elected.
- The rich man keeps you down
- They control you with fear.
- Only the rich benefit, everyone else is screwed.
- Tax cuts screwed everybody.
- Iraq.
- We get no vacations.
- We got no medical insurance.
- Oh, and Miguel Angel Aguilar (with all the correct accents) is totally right.

Of course, in Spain there is no corruption (except in Marbella). Religion plays no part in anything (except the state funds all kinds of Church programs and abortion is officially illegal). Bush wasn't really elected (except for that second time). There are no rich in Spain (except you have a much better chance of becoming "the Man" in the U.S. than in Spain because the rich keep you down so well). Only the rich benefit in America (that's why everyone wants to immigrate to the U.S.). There is no fear in Spain (except for global warming, immigrants coming to get you, globalization, and THE AMERICANS!). Who needs tax cuts in Spain? (everybody needs them and they are coming - it looks like they'll start in France). Iraq? (well, he's got me there. At least we tried). Lots of vacation in Spain (except that they really can't afford that anymore. Employers are afraid of hiring anybody because they can't fire them). Spain has "free" medical insurance (except that most of my friends in Madrid go to private doctors and brag about it). But Miguel Angel Aguilar - with all the correct accents from El Pais - is a genius!

I am not saying we don't have problems, of course we do. Let's just not whine to the foreign press about it. We can bitch and moan at home.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Ibiza of California

I have never been to any of the vacation islands of Spain, i.e., Las Canarias, Mallorca, etc. I imagine that when someone from a pretty good beach town on the Costa del Sol wants a better beach they go to Ibiza. Likewise, when Californians want a better beach they go to Hawaii. It is a little farther though. Five hours over solid ocean from L.A. - the same amount of time as it takes to get to New York. But it sure doesn't suck once you get here, as you can see.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Wanna be an American 007?

So I'm off to Maui from L.A. for a short trip and I see this advertisment on a lighted billboard in LAX (pronounced "El-Lay-X") like it was an ad for milk or something. The ad is looking for new employees for the CIA and they're telling it like it is. The ad says "National Clandestine Service Careers". To tell you the truth, seeing it even caught me a little off guard. They did not advertise like this in the past.

It made me think of what Europeans think of the CIA and how they probably would be very freaked out to see this ad if they were passing through the airport. The Spanish commonly think that the CIA is in control of everything - at least everything bad - and that they are behind every door. Coups, wars, anybody missing, Argentine banking crisis, the Prestige sinking (not really 'cause the PP was in power), etc. They seem to think that the Americans are so competent (and devious) that we could pull the strings on just about anything - but at the same time with a straight face they will tell you that most Americans are not too bright. I wish they would make up their minds.

Even when I was looking for a loan for my Piso I was asked by my very nice banker lady, Carmen, if I was CIA. I was kind of flattered to tell you the truth. Why a CIA agent would need a loan for a piso I'm not sure, but she was serious. I WAS very organized with a pre-printed package listing all my income potential, assets and debts for them to review. I guess that smelled like a conspiracy.

To be fair the CIA has done a fair amount of meddling (and maybe worse). I think this is what most irritates the Europeans. However, it is not like the British, the French, the Germans (maybe not the Germans anymore), do not do the same thing. A common complaint in Spain is the Americans will "do what is in their best interest". I say everyone does what is in their interest. I know we are not trusted in the world, but who could be trusted? The Chinese? The French? Would they act in the best interest of another country against their own?

To me, some people are confused about what's in their best interest though. It is convenient for them, to think of the U.S. as the enemy, that Europe is so different from the States. I'm not so sure. Even though this will make a lot of Spanish people very uncomfortable, I'd say Europe and America's interests are pretty much the same.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

I Just Like this Picture

These are two of my roomates when I spent my first year in Madrid. This was taken in Cartagena circa 1983 - Wow that long ago? We took the train to Cartagena from Madrid then went driving along the coast in a Seat 600. The Seat 600 was the Spanish version of the Italian Fiat 600 (makes sense). It looks like this:

This is a picture from 2005. I found this car on the side of the road, a little dejected, while on a motorcycle ride around Madrid. Nostalgia made me take the picture. You do see some Seat 600 's around Madrid - lovingly restored to their original tiny luster.

Back to our trip from Cartagena to Alicante. The most notable occurance was when my roomate Jose's Seiscientos was overheating. There were no parts to be found - and no money to buy them. We found an abandoned Seiscientos (much like this one) behind a building, and I, being the mechanic of the group, stole the radiator out of the abandoned car and installed it in ours. It was a very macho roadside repair if I do say so myself. The roomates were impressed. In Los Angeles, you learn to work on cars at an early age. I bought my first car (a Ford Cortina wagon - a what?) from my sister's boyfriend at age 15 and proceeded to completely rebuild it (with the guidance of my Brother - the ultimate handy guy). Thanks Steve, you taught me so much.