Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The More Things Change ....

You know the rest…. All right, it’s, “The More They Stay the Same,” especially in politics. That is a genuine poster from the 1982 Spanish general election when Felipe Gonzalez began his long fourteen-year tour of duty. I was a student wandering the streets, usually after a long night of learning a lot of new information in Spanish bars and pubs. Around 4 AM or so, they would start plastering up the political posters all over the city. I would ask the poster hangers for one of whatever they were plastering that morning. Then, I proceeded to hold on to the damn things for about 26 years. Crazy huh?

I framed one of the coolest PSOE political posters and put it in my Piso - so I don’t have a scan of it now. It is one of the “Juventudes Socialistas”. It's very colorful, and “Movida” looking, with a whole group of very happy and youthful people holding up sparklers. I’ll scan it one day. Update: I found it online. They are selling it for 50 Euros at Todocoleccion.net:

As you can see Felipe Gonzalez’s slogan was “Change”. Hmm, I wonder where I’ve heard that one before? Barack Obama ripped Felipe off!

For you history buffs, here is the predecessor to the Partido Popular. The party head was Manuel Fraga, a former Franco minister. He's the one that made the slogan "Spain is different" popular as minister of tourism. Hey Pedro Schwartz! You don't run into that name too often in Spain.

Check out this guy. Talk about a major-league Facha. It says, "Spain United and in Order." I bet! I actually love this one - it is so military looking although this guy, Blas Piñar, was no military man. He was a notary (kind of like a lawyer/judge). Needless to say this party, Fuerza Nueva, did not have major success at the polls and was soon disbanded. It continued on only as a publishing house for very right-wing writings. I considered framing this one too and putting it up in my house but had second thoughts. Guests may not understand that it is interesting to me only because it is so outrageous. I have enough problems being an American in Madrid without putting this guy on my wall. Besides, this gentleman is not that pleasant to look at.

I saw that Tom over at Simbolos y Senyals likes this kind of stuff, so I thought I would post them. He is welcome to them if he is interested.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Dateline Vegas, Baby

Las Vegas is a trip. You have to check it out at least once if you are ever over on the West coast of the U.S. It’s a Disneyland for adults. I am not a gambling fan but the pure spectacle of the place is fascinating. True, more than a few days in Vegas may drive you nuts.

For the uninitiated, each hotel has a theme that carries through all aspects of design, such as a Venetian theme, Paris theme, New York theme, Pirate theme, etc. That's supposed to be St. Marks Square in Venice up there.

And the place looks like China in terms of how much construction is going on. How the hell are they going to fill up all those buildings?

Lots of Europeans running around there too. All kinds of languages are heard. It’s pretty expensive but if you are spending Euros, you’re in luck.

You don’t have to gamble. There are all manners of ways they get your money. You can hang out at the pool and drink, go out to nightclubs and drink, go to very good restaurants and drink, shop and drink, go to Broadway quality shows and drink, and of course gamble and drink. I think you can see a common thread here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Spain Machista? – Hell Yes!

One thing that has always impressed me about Spain is how you can see attractive women doing jobs that they would rarely be doing in the U.S. I have turned my head many a time to check out female workers in jobs that I just wouldn’t expect them to be doing, like security guards, letter carriers, cops, and even street sweepers, etc. Now this could be because jobs are scarce so woman will take what they can get, or it could be because there are just more good looking woman in Spain. I’m not sure. But does it prove that Spain is not Machista?

Let's take a look at Zapatero’s new cabinet. But first, let me show you what we are used to in the U.S. in terms of females working for the president - just to put this in context:

That's Janet Reno and Medeline Albright. Competent, smart ladies I’m sure, but not very easy on the eyes. I think you would agree.

Now compare to some of Zapatero’s picks:

Ok, maybe they are not ready for the Paris runway but I think the improvement is obvious. Check out this one. Her name is Bibiana. I guess not in Spain, but around these parts (LA) "Bibiana" is a porn-star name:

These are not bad-looking broads. They are feminine, know how to dress, and are kind of sexy, to tell you the truth. Of course there are some older gals on the cabinet also (conveniently not shown). But even some of those woman, although past their expiration date, used to be not bad - you can tell. I can’t see this level of looks on a US cabinet any time soon.

So is Spain Machista? Well, are they trying to fill a quota of women? I wouldn't like the sound of that. Also, are these gals good at their jobs? I hope looks are not playing a part in who gets hired. If so, Spain is just about as Machista as this post.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Things That Piss Me Off About Madrid

Well, not really. Actually, these are things that Piss Roberto off about Madrid. He’s over at Diarios de Tetuan, a Blog where you can actually learn something. I think he got up on the wrong side of the bed one day and decided to vent a little about Madrid.

Warning: This is not how I feel about Madrid. I love it. I’m not sure what his problem is …. ? So all nasty comments please direct them to Roberto, a real live Spanish person, at his original post here. All nice comments can be left below for me.

Apologies to Roberto for my translation, I have done very little translating in my life so I just do it in my own writing voice.

Here are the things that Piss Roberto off about Madrid:

1) Either there are too many people in Madrid or the city is too small. I think the city’s too small. Most other European cities with the population of Madrid are at least double or triple Madrid’s geographic size. The only thing I know is that there are definitely way too many of us.

2) Madrid has really crappy public services. I’m talking about the health department, the courts, the school system, local government, even the county and national services. All of them are overwhelmed. There are ridiculous rules meant only to make you lose half the day trying to do a simple task. The so-called ”public servants” treat you like shit because they are fed up and angry at life. And the worst part is the people don’t even complain, they don’t even realize that they are being treated like crap – and get to pay for the privilege through taxes. They have never known it any other way.

3) The people are loud and like cattle. Everyone goes to the same place at the same time. It’s amazing that in a city of almost 6 million people there is so little diversity.

4) Everyone is rude, aggressive, ignorant and selfish. Even those of us born outside of Madrid don’t take long to learn new bad habits from the locals.

5) There is a lot of racism here. Surprisingly or not (I’m still not sure) the newcomers are at least as racist, or more racist, than the Spaniards. A lot of the locals consider the newcomers as a threat so they make things difficult for them – just because. A lot of the recent arrivals feel transient and don’t even try to integrate themselves into Spanish society because it doesn’t seem worth it to them, or even possible. This is not good.

6) The food in Madrid is terrible and expensive. The drinks are just as bad and more expensive. Housing sucks and it's way too expensive. The quality of life in Madrid is lousy and costs too much.

7) Madrid is dirty and noisy. The dogs shit wherever they damn well please and dog owners don’t care either. Cars speed by at 80 KPH burning rubber at one in the morning right through quiet residential neighborhoods.

8) Kids think that splashing nasty graffiti all over the place is art.

9) People mix less and less. Social groups are more and more separate. Ghettos are starting to spring up separated by nationalities, or by level of income. People are marking their territory like dogs. This is a recipe for disaster. Just give it time.

10) Traffic here is crazy and the drivers are psychopaths. This is not a pedestrian friendly city. The car is king, cross-walks are rare. The sidewalks and parking lots are merely improvised. I sincerely hope that some future Mayor has the balls enough to charge 5 or 6 Euros for people to enter downtown in a car. I shouldn’t have to put up with some dude from Las Rozas or Getafe who comes in every morning with his SUV to MY city where I pay taxes so I can then breathe HIS exhaust fumes and deal with HIS honking. He should pay to come, or take the train, or buy a goddamn smaller house in Madrid! You can’t have it all in life.

11) Downtown Madrid is turning into some kind of theme park for tourists. It’s filled with dive-bars, pickpockets, hookers, and small-time drug traffickers.

12) There is no longer a sense of community in Madrid. Everyone does his or her own thing. We think that if we vote every four years – that’s enough. And since the politicians feel no pressure from us they do whatever they want. This is why we have a far-right PP and a PSOE that acts like some comedy routine from Pajares and Esteso. We get just what we deserve.

They say “After Madrid there is only Heaven.” Let me tell you, after living here – we’ve earned Heaven!

Wow! Roberto is pissed off! I think he needs a weekend away in the Sierra. He assures everyone that he is feeling better now though.

Just remember folks, I love Madrid and there is no way I agree with any of these complaints. That would be wrong. Especially for a foreigner like me to stick my nose where it doesn't belong.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

La Inmobiliaria Bubble Revisited

About a year ago I wrote about the coming so-called Real Estate Burbuja in Spain. What have I learned since then? Did any of what I said hold up? Well, the main point of my post then was … it’s always something you didn’t expect – that’s what jumps up and bites you in the ass!

The real estate market is cyclical. People get greedy and think it’s never going to end, so they jump in expecting to make easy money. This always happens. Warren Buffet says something like, “Be cautious when everyone else is greedy, and be greedy when everyone else is cautious.” This works for real estate as well as for stocks. I knew prices were going to fall, but I thought (and still think) that if you buy real estate correctly, and can afford it, and can hold on to it - it will continue to rise in the long run, and out grow any short-term losses.

But I will tell you what I did not expect. And honestly, I still really can’t quite wrap my mind around it. It’s this “sub-prime” business. I thought bankers were not complete morons, and maybe they are not. I would say, however, that whoever gets stuck with the bill for the mortgages people can’t pay - might be the morons. I’m just afraid it will be the taxpayers – in the US and Spain.

So what happened (as far as I can tell)? I think two main scenarios occurred to create the sub-prime problems in the U.S. (By the way, “sub-prime” just means lending money to people who really couldn’t afford it in the first place).

1) Greedy loan sellers lent other people’s money to homebuyers just to get the commissions. They came up with shaky, creative ways to sell people loans – loans the people could not really afford. They got their commissions and split. Still not sure why the people with the money would give it to these hucksters to loan out in the first place.

2) Greedy banks or loan sellers gave out a bunch of bad loans then sold them in a bundle, to other investment banks (like Bear Stearns). Bear Stearns thought the loans were OK and that they would be getting a bunch of interest off of them. All the loans were crap though.

Blame the Americans

There’s a lot of talk in the Spanish press about this and how all Spain’s problems can be blamed on our situation. It seems to me that banks and people are pretty much the same all over. Our mistakes will be their mistakes. In Spain, they have sub-prime also. They just don’t call it that. Spain’s “sub-prime” were the very low interest, variable-rate loans commonly available during the boom. Buyers qualified for these low introductory rates and now can’t afford the payments after the Euribor rose – so they don’t pay. Especially since their piso is not worth so much anymore. That’s sub-prime.

Remember that variable-rate interest loans are the majority in Spain. In the U.S., they are not. I have not figured out why fixed-rate interest loans are not commonly available in Spain, other than the banks can screw you better with variable -rate loans.

I don’t pretend to fully understand the whole situation. And I’m sure the people writing about it in the press don’t understand it either. They just scream and yell. I do know that if you stick to the fundamentals and have some common sense – you will survive the horrible “Bubble”.

Coming next, Rules to Survive the Bubble.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Announcing Your Politics

Madrid is a city where life happens publicly and very visibly to all because you are always en la calle. People check you out and decide what your deal is immediately. Are you a student, a foreigner, what kind of foreigner?, a business type, pijo (yuppie), nice old lady, etc..

It is difficult to hide who and what you are, or at least it’s hard to prevent people from judging you immediately from the available information. Take one innocent pastime – reading your newspaper with a café con leche in a bar. Sounds simple enough. However, which newspaper are you reading?

Newspapers in Spain have clear political leanings. You know what you are getting when you buy a particular newspaper, Left or Right. You basically know what that newspaper’s take is going to be on the major issues, and whom they don’t like. In the U.S., newspapers are supposed to be objective and not take a political side (except in the editorial pages). How successful they are at this is another story.

Back to Spain. I don’t know about you, but when I buy a newspaper in Madrid there seems to be some kind of invisible force willing me to conform to the socially acceptable position in Madrid. And that means buying the left-leaning El Pais. Maybe it's my imagination, but I am embarrassed to buy, and to show publicly, a conservative leaning newspaper like ABC. Am I nuts? It seems like I would be announcing to the world what a horrible Fascist I am.... The chicks would not dig it.

My solution? I’ve decided to keep them guessing. Now I always buy both the Left-leaning El Pais, and the Right-leaning ABC. This way I hope to end up right in the middle where I belong. And people can just guess what my politics are – like it’s supposed to be.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Mari's Law

Another U.S. import coming to Spain. Too bad that it is necessary. This article in El Pais talks about the hand-wringing that will go on over the perceived "Big-Brother" issues of registering sex offenders. I find it interesting (yes, again) that El Pais does not mention the U.S. and our system, only that "some European countries" also register sex offenders. I guess they don't like to admit that yet again, what happens in the U.S., happens in Spain. And that with all their talk of how the U.S. takes away freedoms and has a police state, Spain will have to do exactly the same thing because all societies have nasty perverts.

The Death of Mari Luz sounds pretty damned familiar. For us it was Megan Kanka raped and killed in 1994. The law requiring sex offenders to be monitored and kept an eye on is called Megan's Law. Now there is an internet data base of every person ever convicted of a sex offense showing where they live and what they look like. Check out this link and follow the instructions to get to the map page. Put in "91367" in the zip code (postal code) box and click "view map". This is a run-of-the-mill L.A. neighborhood. There are a lot of blue dots out there - click on them. It is pretty scary if you put in your zip code too.

This system does cause some unintended consequences of course. Once people find out these guys live near them they don't want them there, they don't want them anywhere. Many of these people have no place to go because of this. Well, I guess they made some choices in life that brought this upon themselves.

Critics here say this is double punishment. This same argument will be made in Spain of course. But in the end some kind of equivalent system is surely going to come out in Spain. I know Spain thinks we are too harsh on criminals. But I'm pretty sure people in Spain get pissed off about rape and murder just like we do.