Monday, December 31, 2007

El Sucko Still at it.

I continue to have an ass-full of El Roto. I realize that I can't think of a clever name for him so I will just resort to being childish. This El Pais cartoonist never misses an opportunity to put a negative spin on the U.S. Of course it is very politically correct to do this in Spain, it sells papers, it provides a convenient scapegoat, it very clearly states that in America we are so different than everyone else - sorry, not true. Nationalism, religionism (if that's a word), regionalism, and flag waving, are going strong all over the world. But only the Americans are perceived as being "too patriotic". Why is this? And why does it irritate Europeans so?

Check out this optimistic gem to help you bring in the new year:

I am really surprised there wasn't an American flag painted on the side of that rock. I also noticed that the 2008 asteroid seems to be headed right for Spain.

Happy New Year Spain! - from El Roto!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The 10 Best Things About the U.S.

I’m jumping on the “10 Best Things List” band-wagon. It all started with Notes From Spain’s “10 most annoying things about Spain”, then moved on to Ben's "10 best things about Spain”, because Spanish people got so pissed, to Show Me Spain’s “Top 10 best things about the states” list.

Now it’s my turn. I certainly wasn't going to do a “worst” list about Spain. That is just scary because I value my life. But let's just say that a few of my "10 best" are items that I think Spain could learn from.

Here goes:

1) Ethnic Diversity, Integration and Solidarity.

If you come to the U.S. from wherever, and you want to be part of the club, you will be. You will be an American and no one will tell you you’re not. I don’t care if you have an accent, are a funny color, worship funny gods, etc. This club is open to all and we are the best at the difficult task of integrating different people into our group. There is no Catalan silliness here. Texans may think they are “bigger” than New Yorkers, but in the end they know they are Americans just like the rest of us.

2) Continuity of Government, The U.S. Constitution, and Amendments.

We may fight and complain about who we elected as President but we know that there will be a President and not a General in charge. Even when all that crap went down with Al Gore and the Florida voters, nothing really nasty happened. Of course we knew there would be no Coup or something stupid like that. And the Constitution and Amendments? We really take those pieces of paper seriously. We have been discussing them, arguing over them, re-reading them, and following them, etc. for hundreds of years! Pretty wild.

3) General Honesty from People.

Generally speaking, I believe you can expect honesty when dealing with people in the U.S. We are taught that it is morally right to be honest. This is our strength and weakness. Sometimes people come from countries where this is not the case, where you have to screw your fellow citizen just to survive (not Spain). These people find that the U.S. is a giant playground made specifically for them to rip off trusting Americans, or the government – until they get caught. September 11 was possible because we trusted those scumbags to behave, just like we trust everyone who comes here. That one jumped up and bit us in the ass.

4) Best Movies, TV Shows, and Music.

Of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but our movies kick ass. TV shows also are really the best (of course there are crappy ones too). We even do it without government subsidies. All Spanish movie stars know they have made it when they can go to Los Angeles and make movies. American movies make the most money even in Europe where hordes of moviegoers crowd theaters then feel guilty about liking American movies. And music? Please… Jazz, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Blues… Everyone likes at least one type of American music.

5) Incredible Geographic Diversity and Beauty.

We really have it all from slimy cities to incredible unspoiled beauty and wide-open spaces and everything in between. There are beaches, deserts, mountains, forests, and junk yards. If you want to drive on a straight road with nothing in site for hundreds of miles you can do it. If you want to ski in Southern California and then surf the next day you can do that too. Oh, and the coast of California … No nasty hotels or apartments on the beach.

6) Best Customer Service.

We are reaching a critical level of people complaining about this in Spain - something has to give. In the U.S., businesses know who is the boss. When they forget - they go out of business. Businesses and service providers here better kiss your ass or we get pissed. Everyone here knows the saying, “The customer is always right.” We believe it and expect it. In Spain it seems like companies feel that, “The customer is the one we get to screw”.

7) Best Place to be Creative, Start a Business, Make a Million Bucks.

The U.S. is the place to think of something new, something off the wall, something creative, that new device, that thing that cuts onions better than anything, etc. and make a million bucks, or just a living. Maybe it is something boring like selling hangers… whatever it is you can start your own business, work your ass off, sell a jillion of them, and be an obnoxious rich American (wink). Sure there is red tape, taxes, and hoops to jump through, but there is less here.

8) Rule of Law, You Can Fight City Hall and Win.

We take the judicial system seriously and follow the rules. If you don’t like your government, something it did, something it ruled on, how it treated you… you can fight City Hall and win… It may not be easy but it’s easier here. If you think a company is screwing you or the people. You can sue, you can vote, you can run for office. You can go on the evening news and get people on your side.

9) The ACLU and the NRA.

We have all types, all free to try to get whichever crazy idea they have turned into law. We have the American Civil Liberties Union defending pedophiles and fighting for the rights of Nazis to march in the streets and we have the National Rifle Association making sure you can go buy a gun if you want to. Now that’s freedom!

10) Best Place to get an Education.

Let’s be honest. Some people in Europe like to say that Americans are stupid. Does this really make any sense? All the best universities are here. There seems to be a lot of research and innovation coming out of these stupid Americans. If you want an education and you are serious about working hard, you will get one. You will find grant money, or loans, or go to a state university basically for free.

That's my list.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Kadafi - What a Guy!

One of the standard gripes that many Europeans have against the Americans is what they perceive of as us acting “in our interests”. This is usually applied to any dealings by the U.S. with unsavory world leaders, dictators, related business deals, etc., especially during the cold war, and usually because dealing with said character was the lesser of two evils. A perfect solution? Hardly. But there you have it. The world is complicated.

I really can’t count the number of times I have been in discussions when Europeans have brought up this issue. Man they love to bitch about this! They naturally expected the U.S. to always do what they perceived as the "right thing" in each situation. The implication being that European governments would not act like the U.S. government.

Now the EU is growing up, and growing up means decisions must be made on your own. Spain, France, all of those guys, now have to decide what is in THEIR best interests. Kadafi the dictator is in town and European leaders are lining up to kiss his ass, sell him services, sell him guns, buy oil, in short, everything in their interests.

Hey, I’m not saying it’s wrong necessarily... Making decisions in this complicated world is not easy. I just wish that the hypocrisy was recognized. But doubt it will be ....

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Spanish Inferiority Complex Alive and Well

What the hell is going on with these Spanish people getting their panties in a wad over some silly (very mild) criticisms about Spain?

I really am trying to make sense of this. It may take me awhile to write something coherent. There is a HUGE inferiority complex running rampant in these people.

And talk about a disproportionate response! The commenters go for the juggler on the Brits calling them pigs, drunks, dirty…. etc. They even dragged the Americans into it because they can’t tell the difference between Brits and Americans. I thought only Americans can't distinguish nationalities? Yeahh, right.

And my favorite foil completely adds to the fire by mischaracterizing Ben’s site as one whose main point is to criticize Spain – what A-Holes!

Again I say, the Spanish have no idea what it means to take criticism on a daily basis about your country... with aplomb.

What I Accomplished in Madrid

Answer - not much.

I was in Madrid for a while (back in L.A. now) and since I am a goal-oriented individual I am usually thinking about what I've accomplished, or what I haven't accomplished - so I can then feel badly about it.

Let's see .... I found this old table top in the street near the Plaza Mayor. It is from a bar there called "La Posta de Quitapenas". Which I would say means, "The Place to Forget Your Troubles". It looked like a deal - free. So I picked it up carried it home and worked on it a little to make it presentable. Not much, just added some stain around the edges to make the cheap particle board look "aged", cleaned the front with furniture polish, etc, and hung it on the wall. I like the "old Madrid" look, and I like the sentiment too. I do want Madrid to be the place to forget my troubles at least.

Did you know that Madrid now has THREE IKEAs? I'm afraid that I do. I went to all of them on this trip, which is pretty pathetic since I was in Madrid - where there are a few things to see other than huge furniture stores that are exactly the same in Los Angeles.

IKEA is a total pain but I love it. You see, things are expensive in Spain. The dollar sucks ass, and there seems to be only two versions of furniture stores. 1) The fancy Spanish or Italian (modern or traditional) store where everything costs a boatload of money and the people seem to enjoy paying for it for the status or something and, 2) The really crappy old-looking furniture that Grandma buys and seems to be in every Spanish house you walk into. I am trying to do a modern look so my only (affordable) choice is IKEA.

Don't get me wrong. IKEA is a battleground. You have to know what you want, know how to put it together, know that however much you plan something will be missing, or they will be out of the one thing you want (hence the trips to the 3 stores in Madrid), and just know that you are on your own - actually that's the way I like it.

This trip's goal was to install one section of kitchen cabinets (a pantry) and to replace the old propane tank stove I've been using with an electric one. Well, most of the job was done. I got the kitchen pantry installed including a section for the "bar" but the stove is not in, it is purchased though and sitting in the house - which believe me, is an accomplishment.

There is still a piece of "Zocalo", or baseboard, missing over there in the corner. Guess what that means? Another trip to IKEA to get another piece ..... next time..

Other than these two jobs I mostly just ate and drank too much. Nice!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dessert - A good Habit?

There is one thing that is never thought of as a good thing for your body in California – and that is dessert. Dessert is what you indulge in then feel badly about later. Dessert rots your teeth, adds inches to your belly, and takes the place of the healthy stuff that you are supposed to be eating.

But in Spain dessert is much more than the sweets. To be honest, Spanish desserts just aren’t that spectacular. The ice cream is mediocre (Italian ice cream in Madrid not included), there are no pies, and there are only a few cakes. At least the the flan is good.

What they do have that is fantastic is the fruit. Melon, tangerines, oranges, pears, bananas, hell, even an apple. If you are at someone’s house or in a restaurant, they will always ask, “Postre?” (Dessert?) It is a great opportunity to eat a balanced diet. Go for the fruit, maybe a yogurt, sometimes they even offer a glass of milk.

It seems odd to Americans since to us “dessert” equals “ sugar”. Something we got from the Brits? I'm not sure why this is but I do know that thinking of "dessert" as a piece of fruit is one of those very simple, but life changing habits, that we can learn from Spain. It ranks right up there with olive oil.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Madrid Research

I've been in Madrid for the last several weeks so I can't seem to get anything done except ... being in Madrid. Late nights, late mornings, and no writing. Gotta get back to the more boring home town to have time to say something.