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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Life as a Language Lab

For what seems like the 10th time I have begun reading Stieg Larsson’s Los Hombres que No Amaban al las Mujeres which in English is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I was able to find a slim volume of the book which makes it much easier to haul around with me as the other editions are as thick as a brick. I will make every effort to finally read this damn thing now as I have already seen the movie dubbed into Spanish. Everyone I know has read the book so I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  I read (or rather I reread) the first 80 pages yesterday and I thought I would give my thoughts on it thus far as a way to motivate me to finish the book.

He has a couple of nice anti-heroes in the novel with the punk rock chick and the incorruptible journalist. After living in Seattle I’m just not that impressed with anyone sporting a bunch of tattoos and piercings and just looking at the Salander character in the movie made me retch. That whole look is about the farthest thing from cool or individual in my view and I think that the average dork in Levi Dockers with a cell phone attached to his belt probably has more original ideas than these ultra-hipsters. From the dust jacket it appears that the author was one of those Docker-wearing dorks who was obviously impressed by the ‘tat crowd.

The Mikael Blomkvist is another projection of the author of the perfect male. I suppose that creating these ideals for ourselves is one very important aspect of fiction. Mikael is a talented and committed journalist and somewhat of a sex machine—at least that is what is described early on in the novel.

The story begins on a rather complicated note and becomes progressively messier and more involved.  It’s impossible for me to comment much on the author’s style as I am reading the book in translation. Not only am I not reading the book in the original Swedish but I am reading it in Spanish, my distant second language. Linguistically—at least from the point of view of a student of Spanish—the book is rather easy to read (in 80 pages I have only looked up six words).  I will be able to comment more on the style after I have more time to read.

A really interesting point brought up in the book is Mikael’s view of economic reporting which should be read by every reporter in the USA. He says that no political reporter worth her salt would take the gloves off when writing about a politician yet most economic reporters treat our richest entrepreneurs as if they were rock stars.  In the parlance of the new far, far right in America they call these folks “job creators” in their hagiographies. Kings and queens also created a few jobs, they also created a lot of servants yet America’s Right lumps all of our rich into the category of “job creators,” as if we should all fucking faint from the gratitude we owe them. It’s pretty sickening for me but I was raised in a fairly classless America.  

As I have said many times before, my reading habits are completely different now that I read almost exclusively in Spanish and French. I am more interested in feeding my reading obligation of at least 50 pages a day than I am towards reading the highest quality literature. I don’t mean this as a dig at anything that I have read; I’m just saying that what I read now is often determined on what I am able to read with my present skill level in these languages.  I would say that my Spanish is excellent yet I still find certain books to be linguistically out of my league. I just purchased a copy of the novel El Paraíso en la Otra Esquina by Mario Vargas Llosa. Perhaps I wasn’t concentrating hard enough but it just wasn’t sinking in when I read the first dozen pages or so. When this happens I shelve the book and return to it later when I have gained more skill in the language.

For French class the past two weeks I have been reading articles from the style section of Le Figaro that are loaded with hip new expressions in French that only a native speaker would know. I figure that this is the best way to take advantage of my private tutor, so at least from time to time I like to delve into the most modern French. Of course I have a long way to go in increasing my day-to-day vocabulary but I think that I am on a good course to raise my level of French to a very functional level.   

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sunday Lunch

If you don’t have a mandolin in your kitchen then you are living like an animal. I was living like an animal until Saturday. What a great little tool! The first thing I did was to start looking for a good use for it. Pomme de terre Dauphinois is a fancy way to say potatoes au gratin which was the first thing I made with my new gadget. I'm always looking for new ways to make potatoes and this classic will now be part of my regular kitchen rotation. A lot of the stuff I make I never prepare again, either because it just isn’t that mouth-watering or it’s a total pain in the ass to make. These potatoes, or some version of them, are delicious and well worth the effort. Plus, they refrigerate well.

I also made tapenade with roasted red pepper and roasted garlic. I used cheapo canned olives because it was Sunday and that’s all I had on hand. Next time I will use my usual big morada olives and pit them myself. Tapenade is the easiest thing in the world to make and with good bread and a bit of wine you have a perfect appetizer.

For the main course I also made breaded pork loin cutlets which were heavenly. I’ll have to recreate this meal on video because I was almost crying it tasted so good. I had already made ratatouille which went splendidly with the pork and potatoes.

I looked on YouTube for my recipe and selected this excellent version by Keith Snow. Next time I will try a more French version like this one.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Two Hobbies in One Video

Bad French, Good Dish

As I say in the video in French, Fridays are my French days. I have my class in the morning and then I try to do some reading or watch a movie in French. Today I made ratatouille.  I did quite a bit of research for this dish. I probably looked at ten different recipes, even the rat’s high-brow interpretation from the Disney movie. Mine came out very well although I made much more than I expected. Just what I am going to do with six liters of ratatouille is something I haven’t figured out just yet.  Any suggestions?

I’ve always wanted to go to music school and cooking school. I’m a better cook than musician but that’s only because I’m a completely lousy piano player, not that I show much promise in the kitchen. Now that I’ve written that last sentence I realize there’s a bit of false modesty in saying that I can’t cook well. You’ll forgive my brief lapse into false modesty because much of the time I am forced to be modest because any other stance would be an outright lie regarding my abilities. I practice a lot in the kitchen so I’ve improved. I used to practice the piano a lot, too. I got better when I practiced a lot on the piano but it was barely perceptible, at least as far as I could tell. With cooking I can actually taste the improvements I make.

Cooking for me is just a great way to relax and clear my head.  It’s much more than the simple act of cooking, first you have to think of something to cook and then search out how to pull it off.  It’s also another phase I’m passing through but I have to say that it’s a highly useful phase.  I spent a lot of time and effort learning jiu-jitsu yet I hardly ever have to the opportunity to beat someone up. I suppose that “phase” isn’t really the correct word. The things I dedicate myself to are gaps in my education that I’m trying to fill. Learning to cook these days is very easy.  There are hundreds of professional videos on YouTube as well as thousands more made by inspired amateurs covering every possible dish on the planet.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Momentary Lapse of Common Sense


It’s a while since the last time but I took a good fall on my city bike yesterday. I was humping through Turia Park on my way across town and I was thinking about how I like to ride fast even if I’m not in a hurry. I left the bike path to get out of the park through the tunnel that goes under the road in front of the Jardin Reales.  The bike path takes a stupid dogleg that I never bother with and instead go across about five meters of sidewalk that isn’t quite wide enough for two bikes.

 A girl was coming towards me on her bike and I yielded a bit too much of the side walk and slipped off. I was pedaling pretty hard at this point and I hit a rut between the sidewalk and the dirt and it threw my front wheel sharply to the left. I knew I was going down right away but I had to hang on to my bike or risk being thrown over it so I held it with my right hand.  With my left arm I slapped the ground to break my fall and protect my head so it wouldn’t bounce off the sidewalk.

I came down hard and slid a few feet but I managed to keep the bike in front of me and I also kept my left hand from scraping the cement. Probably the most important thing that I learned from my years of martial arts training is how to take a nasty fall without doing too much damage to my carcass; it’s something everyone should practice. I was also saved by my new motorcycle jacket that I was wearing. I slid on my left elbow and forearm and without the jacket I would look like a piece of meat. The jacket even has slots for optional plastic elbow pads that you can insert for added protection. All I got out of it was a scuffed left knee and my left shoulder is a little sore from slapping the ground so hard as I fell—better than hitting my head.

I probably could have avoided the whole thing if my rear brake worked at all. I have been meaning to change the brake pad for a while now. I also should have been going a lot slower, especially through this narrow part. My bike took it worse of all. I’ll need to get out the duct tape to fix the front fender and the basket on the front got pretty fucked up. I also scared the shit out of the girl riding behind me who I had just passed before I ate shit. She stopped but immediately saw that I was OK although my jacket was completely covered with dirt.

As the title suggests, it was a short lapse in common sense. Only a couple minutes earlier a girl was pedaling toward me in the park and wasn’t paying attention and almost steered directly into me. We all do stupid things on occasion and most of the time we get away with it without a problem. And then sometimes you don’t.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What's in My Book Bag: The High Tech Edition


Every so often I do an essay on the contents of my book bag.  I recently dumped my bike messenger bag in favor of a briefcase.  I can’t find a good bike bag over here. I think they just went out of style and no one makes them anymore. I wish that I could design and make my own bag as none of the shoulder packs I have had were quite what I wanted; close but no cigar, as they say. I haven’t looked back on other posts about what’s in my bag but I’d guess that the contents these days have a lot more wires and batteries involved than in the past.

In my briefcase the on this occasion I am carrying a netbook computer, an external hard drive, two pen drives, and MP3 player, a digital camera, and a cell phone.  As a wrist watch I’m wearing my heart rate monitor which has about 25 functions.  If James Bond from any time before about 2009 walked around with a load of gear like this, movie audiences would have been dumbstruck by the technology. I’m definitely not a secret agent; I’m just an average dork who needs to clean out his briefcase or get a smaller one that doesn’t hold so much shit. I wouldn’t even consider myself a tech person, not at all. That just seems to be the way that life is going these days. I don’t know where this is all leading us but I suppose I could be prodded into making a few guesses.

I suppose one upside to the ubiquitous nature of modern technology is that people can’t argue a completely fallacious point in drunken bar discussions.  If someone tries to tell you that Germany won the World Cup in 2010 you can look this up on your cell phone and show it in their face to shut them up.

I certainly am not a cell phone geek but then again I don’t really need a cell phone much as do many people for their work. I barely even talk on mine and only use it to send and receive text messages. I don’t see why people find their phones to be so fascinating that they will sit and mess with them constantly instead of taking out a book and reading. I forgot to mention that I also have at least one book in my briefcase

Another downside is that almost all of this technology is highly consumable, which is good for producers but pretty shitty for the environment. People swap out their cell phones like they change their underwear these days. Computers don’t have much of a lifespan and digital camera technology changes practically daily.  I’d bet that everyone reading this has a closet full of tech garbage.

For as obsessed as we are about phones these days I almost never talk on mine. I don’t know if this is a Spanish thing as many people here have rather expensive plans and thus don’t chat on the phone. It’s mostly about text messages. I hate talking on the phone and would much rather conduct any sort of business via emails.  Phones have become more of a homing device than a means for personal communication.  They are great for finding someone in a crowd or knowing whether or not someone is home but few people I know use them for actually talking to someone.

Digital photography has turned all of us into half-way decent photographers, which I suppose isn’t a bad thing. I saw a video of a scientist who was photographing the life of his family inside his house. He had captured every relevant moment in the life of his young son: his first words, his first steps, etc. Besides being horrifically boring to anyone but the author of the experiment and his immediate family I found it to be kind of creepy. I don’t think that I would like to have photographic evidence of my entire life. What kind of life will/would that be when humans have a photographic supplement to their memories? I’m not sure it’s healthy to be any more self-absorbed than we already are. And how would you like it if everyone on the planet could see when you took your first step?  As I said, it gives me the creeps.

Not a day passes that I don’t do at least a bit of reading. I have had phases in my life when I have read a lot more than I do now.  All of the shit in my briefcase certainly works as a distraction to keep me from the other thing I put in there, a book.   

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dumbing it Down: The Conservative Strategy

I don’t know which is worse about America’s conservatives: the fact that they have torn the country apart and created a nation of serfs and aristocrats, or that they have had to make idiots of a good part of the American public so as to follow their ideas.  Conservatives and the religious right both have a lot to gain by keeping people ignorant of basic facts of modern life.  Most of these facts run contrary to their message, things like global warming, evolution, and modern socialism in Western Europe.

Ask any lower-middle class conservative their opinion of France and you will hear a 30 minute tirade about what a freedom-hating hellhole it is and how they will fight to the end to prevent America from adopting so much as one idea from this country. A casual visit to France will prove all of this wrong but so what? Conservatives have an endless supply of anecdotal evidence condemning France which is much better (for their purposes) than real evidence.

Conservatives have made “progressive” a bad word which is absolutely incredible if you think about it for more than five seconds. Progressive as in progress is somehow evil in their way of thinking, whatever their way of thinking is. As I said, they have made being stupid a virtue. 

I wish I had a nickel for every time I have heard a conservative say that Europe is bankrupt and headed for disaster. The countries that are having the most problems in Europe have suffered more from capitalism than socialism. Most of Europe is weathering this crisis—brought on mostly by out-of-control banking deregulation—better than the USA which looks like the Titanic with only the first class passengers making it into the lifeboats.  For all the problems they have in Spain with unemployment, no one is talking about dismantling their social welfare system or their total commitment to one of the most advanced public transit system in the world. But you would never hear an American conservative say anything but dire predictions for Europe’s future. From where I sit I would have to say that Europe has done a lot more to prepare for the exigencies of the coming years than the USA.

In fact, even mentioning that perhaps we should start rethinking our future is enough to draw fury from the Right. In a recent Newsweek article right-wing ass George Will actually mocked rail transit as a 200 year old technology. This is what I mean about making idiots of people in order to sell them a conservative product. A 200 year old technology? For one thing, roofs are a lot older technology but we still think they’re a pretty good idea.  Secondly, I’d like to see someone ride in a modern high-speed rail line and call it an antiquated technology. His main point was that trains take away our freedom, which is such a fucking moronic stance that it’s almost embarrassing to attack. Just what conservatives mean by “freedom” is a mystery to me.

A quick Google search shows that this half-witted attack against mass transit has practically gone viral among right-wing shitbags.  Will’s article was entitled “Why Liberals Love Trains.” I could answer that by saying that liberals may have actually ridden on good trains and anyone who has would immediately see how much sense trains make. But will is talking to people who have never left America and have been brainwashed into not trusting anything European, even if it could radically improve life in our country.  

As health care costs continue to skyrocket and millions more people are left without medical coverage, conservatives refuse to look objectively at socialized health care systems that are working much better. Even more diabolical is how the right has pitted the lower-middle classes against each other, as if unions are to blame for all of the country’s problems. This comes from the same people who declare that America’s alarming income inequality is of no concern. Forget about the fact that former Treasury Secretary Paulson made $500 million in one year, the problem, according to conservatives, is that school teachers in Wisconsin have health care coverage.

The vast propaganda/disinformation campaign waged by the Right has done an incredible job of repeating the same lies over and over until to refute them seems almost foolhardy. Of course Ronald Reagan was the greatest U.S. president. His hagiography was being carved in stone even before his death. Government is bad and robs citizens of their freedom. Just who is supposed to fill the power void when we have completely dismantled our democratic system is something the conservatives leave out of the discussion, although I’m quite sure they know who it will be. I suppose that less government regulation would have helped at the damaged nuclear reactor in Japan.

Stupidity and God and the Right skip merrily along the road to America’s dimming future in which a handful of our citizens will control practically all of the wealth. Look at some of the leaders on the Right: Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Bachman are just a few of the know-nothing screwballs whose every word is digested by their minions.  I watch Bill Maher’s show Real Time but I also think that he is a complete idiot on a number of topics. Conservatives seem to circle the wagons and defend everyone and everything they say. I won’t defend everything Paul Krugman writes (but I agree with him most of the time). The Right certainly doesn’t encourage dissent in the ranks. Their ideology is meant to be endlessly repeated, not questioned.  If evidence is needed to the irrational nature of American conservatives just look at their complete lack of doubt on any issue.

Voltaire said it best, “"Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd."

No Country for Old Men


I had read No Country for Old Men in Spanish a couple of years ago and although I liked it very much I found the story to be unconvincing in many places. I read it again this morning in one sitting, this time in English after watching the movie last week. The book and the movie are both brilliant but I was left with the same problems in the story line. Had I been asked to advise the Coen brothers I would have told them to end the movie with the scene when Chirugh returns the money to whomever the fuck he was working for (a scene left out of the film).  

Some of the major events that compelled the plot just didn’t make much sense. First of all, there is just no way in hell that the protagonist would have returned to the scene of the drug deal massacre just to give a man—probably dead by now—a drink of water. And why, when he kept getting found in hotels, did he keep staying in hotels? Was he afraid to camp out for a bit? If the character had a lick of sense at all this detail was left out of the book and the movie. He made one mistake after another until he ran out of mistakes.

I think that McCarthy is a terrific writer and his conversations in this short book prove this over and over. I don’t think it would kill him to use a bit more punctuation but that’s just how he wants to write so what can we do? I suppose his style works but sometimes he sacrifices clarity for style. The main purpose of grammar and punctuation is clarity.

I think that one of the things that I like best about the book is the idea of someone having to disappear. It’s a fun thing to consider, at least for me. I remember ten years ago, maybe more, a guy who worked for an armored car company made off with one of the trucks and something like $20 million in cash. He got away clean, at least at first. Months later, pretty much after the police had given up, he was captured by Wells Fargo agents who were tracking him for the company he had worked for. The guy had put a gun on his partner and tied him up. He transferred the cash to a van which he drove from Florida to (I believe it was) South Carolina. He ditched most of the cash in a self-storage unit, drove to the border, and crossed into Mexico.

The problem was it was a one man job and he had no way to access the money other than return to the States and get it himself. I don’t think he liked it in Mexico much because he shouldn’t have even needed money so soon after the robbery. Had he stayed away a bit longer he probably could have seriously reduced his chances of capture upon returning for more money. I doubt that the people whose money he took would give up on him, not after stealing that much, but after a while their passion for the crime would diminish.  Anyway, he made out better than the character in No Country for Old Men.

I’ve dabbled enough in crime fiction and movies to know that an important thing is to stay disappeared directly after the crime. The last thing you want to do is exactly what Lewellyn did in the book which was to drive back to the scene of the crime. How stupid would you have to be to leave your vehicle near the scene? It’s easy to track the owner of a vehicle and it’s even easier to see it out in the middle of the desert. I just think that McCarthy could have found a better plot device for Lewellyn getting found out by the thugs than his own stupidity.  I suppose I understand the author’s motivations, I just don’t agree with them.

So in review, if you are being pursued by pitiless psychopaths, don’t leave behind anything that leads directly back to you—like your truck , you idiot.  And you definitely want to stay away from hotels if you are on the run. Most of them these days require identification and perhaps a credit card. You may as well ask to sleep in the city jail.

Lewellyn took over $2 million from the drug dealers which can buy you a lot of options. Of course, you can’t travel by air unless you want your name showing up, ditto with renting a car or using any vehicle remotely traceable back to you.  In No Country for Old Men he didn’t plan on taking the money, he just happened on it by chance. This means he had no time to make a plan and little time to dream one up as events occurred.  He should have stayed with his wife as there wasn’t much advantage in splitting up and possibly double the risk.

Keeping the money safe should also be a big part of your plan.  In this story he just walked around with it like it was a pet. It would be hard to spend that much cash in $100 bills.  I’m certainly no expert on how to launder money but I’m pretty sure you don’t want to walk around with that much cash on your person. I think burying it somewhere seems like an easy and safe way to hide it—at least for the short term.

You can buy a used car without identification off the internet or a newspaper. Traveling by car seems rather risky as most people have most of their run-ins with the police because of traffic related issues. For the short term you could probably get away with using a car. Crossing the border isn’t too much of a problem as there aren’t many people on the Mexican side trying to keep Americans out. Where you go from there is another issue.  You’ll probably need a passport at some point, the sooner the better. Instead of trying to get a fake passport it’s probably easier and safer to get a real passport in someone else’s name with your picture.  With a lot of money to spend it’s very possible.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Few Observations on Fallas 2011

Peaceful Plaza
After beginning with the worst weather I have seen during Fallas we have seen the best weather ever for the last two days of the festival. I did a lap around a good part of the city on Valenbisi and I wish I would have put on a little sunscreen. As I was swapping out my bike at a station at the university I happened upon a huge square that was completely deserted and completely quiet—not an easy thing to find at any time and certainly much more difficult during Fallas. I stopped and listened to a bit of my Spanish audio book on my MP3 player. It was a very welcome break from the mayhem.

The crowds this year are absolutely mind-boggling as they are every year. The number of people is the most impressive thing for me about Fallas. My neighborhood of Russafa is positively stuffed to the limit every evening. Huge waves of people wash in and out to see the two major Fallas on Calle Sueca and Calle Cuba. In between and on all of the side streets there are dozens of stands selling for and drinks and most have picnic tables to lure the passersby. The bars and cafés are filled to the brim as well. As if that weren’t enough there all lots of freelancers walking around selling cans of beer for 1€. You can’t walk ten meters without someone pushing a beer in your face.

I don’t understand how they get all the people to man the countless marching bands that parade around the city, and by “countless” I mean that literally—if that makes sense. I mean they are on every block of the city. I just saw one group parade past this café and a minute later another one passed going in the opposite direction. It could have been the same band. In fact it could be the same damn band and they just hump all over tarnation during Fallas although this explanation seems unlikely. Granted, they only play about three tunes so I suppose that the bar to entry in these roving musical gangs. They always look like they are having fun. I missed out on the whole band experience as a kid and I regret it.  

I have actually been taking it easy this year; last night I was home before 4 am.  Yes, getting home at 4 am is considered taking it easy. I also had a good sleep which is not normal for me. Usually we I get in late I wake up at my usual early hour or maybe an hour later. The fireworks last night—the last of Fallas—began at 1:30 am so it’s impossible to have an early night. It always cracks me up to be dragging myself home at some ungodly hour and see children running around like it’s the middle of the day.

I have dubbed our local bar as the casal faller for our group. The casal fallers here are like neighborhood clubhouses where all of the festivities are celebrated. They are like the mafia social clubs of New York but without the assassinations. For the most part Fallas is an incredibly tribal affair with most people staying in their neighborhoods.

Very loud firecrackers are very much a part of Fallas so be warned if you plan to visit. The enormous percussion fireworks display every afternoon in the town square, called La Mascletà, sets the tone for the entire event.  Last night in Calle Tomasos there was a sort of low rent mascletà. It was just three guys tossing really fucking loud firecrackers in the street, one after the other. It was deafening and it went on for at least a half an hour. It was enormously obnoxious yet mesmerizing at the same time.

Today is my favorite day of Fallas and the last. There are hundreds of mascletàs around the city as every neighborhood Falla prepares for the cremà (rhymes with cremation) in the evening. This is when they burn the constructions. So to put it all in review: first they blow shit up and then they burn everything. What’s not to like about that? 

Ironically, one of the best things about Fallas is the day after it finishes. I think that is sort of the point of the festival. They want it to be so completely crazy and extreme so when it’s over it comes as a big relief. On the morning of the 20th of March you wake up to a quiet city again—or as quiet as Valencia can be which compared to most cities isn’t very quiet. No more firecrackers, no more marching bands, just a city that is more peaceful than normal. The good news is that this year the 20th falls on a Sunday so most people are off work. It will be a very welcome rest for everyone. The bad news is that the last night of Fallas falls on a Saturday so it will be another very long night for most people. Most years the last night is a bit on the mellow side as there aren’t any fireworks and no street parties following the fireworks.

Fallas is a fantastic spring ritual and spring is definitely something worth celebrating here in Valencia. I think the proper attitude to have for Fallas is either to accept everything about the festival or get the hell out of town for the week. Complaining about it just shouldn’t be an option.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Which One of You Slackers Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Among America’s rarified financial elite, $1 million might be enough for a grade schooler’s allowance but it’s a disgrace for any self-respecting robber baron. Add two or three more zeros to the end of that number and your TV show may spark their interest.  Who Wants to be a Bazillionaire?  Now you’re talking! Let’s begin tonight’s program.

1) With a range of 3,400 nautical miles at Mach 0.80, the Gulfstream G250 corporate jet has the capability to whisk away you and three of your board members—also under indictment for securities fraud—to the closest country without an extradition treaty with the U.S. Where would that be?

A) Brazil
B) Tunisia
C) Laos
D) Manhattan

Sure they make Marie Antoinette look like some sort of under-paid case worker for social services but they earned their money the old fashioned way: by creating all of the laws that allow them to accumulate huge swaths of our national wealth.  If they fail they get bailed out by the government. Pure genius!

2) How many $40 bottles of Bling Water® does it take to fill your bath?

A) 40
B) If you have to ask, you can't afford to bathe.
C) Is that sparkling or without gas?
D) $40 seems like a lot but remember that you get a nickel deposit on each bottle!

The 400 richest Americans now own more than the bottom 150 million Americans and 20% of the people own a remarkable 85% of our national wealth.

3) How long can America's richest citizens count on the support of the bottom 80% of wage earners?

A) Until the presidential election (yeah, right)
B) Until the rich decide to make new rules
C) As long as the poor keep believing they’re one lotto scratch away from being the Beverly Hillbillies.
D) Are we sure all those guillotines were destroyed?

Need a lifeline? You can make a call to Czar Nicolas II and family. No answer? Just let it ring.

3) This question was posed to Gordon Gecko in the movie Wall Street: How many yachts can you water-ski behind?

A) 1
B) More than 1
C) “Don't I pay someone to water-ski for me?”
D) Find out the record number of yachts someone has water-skied behind and simply add one more yacht. Do we have to do everything for you?

And now for the final question.

2) How much is enough?

A) Can you repeat that, I was busy demeaning my servants.
B) Is this a trick question?
C) More than I already have, that's for damn sure.
D) Everything seems just about the right amount.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fool For Pain and Suffering


Don’t plan your April Fool’s jokes until you have read this:

If I learned one thing as a kid from watching countless hours of The Three Stooges and Tom & Jerry cartoons it’s that violence is funny.  And is there anything more precious in this world than the sound of a child laughing at a guy who just got hit in the face with a coal shovel? What is more entertaining than the sight of a cat being run over by a rodent-driven steam roller? In any given humor situation the laughs will increase exponentially with the addition of a little sadistic mayhem.  Remember this while you are planning this year’s April Fool’s gag that you’ll spring on unsuspecting friends and family.  You can stick with whatever lame and unfunny concept you have mapped out already, just don’t forget to add a bit of the sick and twisted for that extra oomph at the punch line.

To help you gain more laughs from whatever hoax you have dreamed up for the holiday we have prepared these easy-to-use joke add-ons.  You will be amazed at how much your own gag can be improved with a little savagery.  Let’s say that you came up with the brilliant idea of buying fake vomit. Add this timeless classic to one or more or the below options and you instantly have a comedic winner.

…Push subject down a flight of metal stairs
…Use ski rope to attach elderly relative’s wheel chair to back of subway car.
…Balance bowling ball on top of door so that it falls on head of unsuspecting friend.
…A slippery floor, a gentle nudge from behind, and a wood chipper. LOL!

...or any number of thousands of sick ideas we took directly from children’s television programs.  Even Hannibal Lector flinches a bit while watching episodes of The Roadrunner and he thought many of the gags went too far.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Plein Soleil vs The Talented Mr. Ripley

I saw that a friend of mine was reading a book by Patricia Highsmith with the title En Pleno Sol.  He described what he had read thus far and I thought that perhaps it was another in the Mr. Ripley series but after reading the first page I learned that this is another title for El Talento de Mr. Ripley which I had just finished in Spanish. It is common to change titles of translated books with different publications or different translations but I wondered how they came upon this odd variation of the original title. On the back cover of this edition I learned about the French film Plein Soleil (1960) directed by René Clément and staring Alain Delon in the role of Tom Ripley. If you think this French title is odd (it means “full sun”) the English title of the movie is Purple Noon so everyone is guilty of massacring titles in translation.  I loved the book, both when I read it as a very young man in English and even more the second time around in Spanish. I also enjoyed the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) directed by Anthony Minghella.

The French movie isn't bad but I had some problems with it. Four minutes of precious movie time is spent showing how Ripley forges Dickie’s passport and signature when the book dealt with this matter in about two brief sentences.  He simply forged the signature and used Dickie’s passport without any alterations.  There’s another precious minute lost showing Ripley wandering around the market in Naples while waiting for Marge to write a letter to Dickie who Tom has already eliminated— yet another scene of the director’s imagination and not from the book.  Was he out to make a crime thriller or a travelogue of scenic southern Italy?

Minghella copied directly from the French film. A case in point is when Freddy goes to visit Dickie only to find Tom living in the apartment. He leaves and then Tom is betrayed by the signora who sees him from a few flights below on the stairwell.  In the book she simply mentions to Freddy as he is leaving that Signor Greenleaf had not left the apartment that day which is why Freddy returns and is subsequently murdered by Tom. Minghella copies another scene from Clément when Dickie, Tom, and Marge are on the boat and Dickie and Marge have sex in the cabin below while Tom fumes on the deck above. In the book Marge and Dickie weren’t really even lovers.  

The French movie is so divorced from the book that it reminds me of the children’s game of telephone where a story is told in the ear of the person sitting next to you and passed around until the last person. Why bother to base a film on a great book if you are going to make such radical changes?  I suppose that if you separate the film completely from the novel it could actually be decent; the trouble is that I actually read the book. The Talented Mr. Ripley is one of the best crime novels of the 20th century so it puzzles me that anyone would stray so far from it when making a film adaptation.  My biggest complaint with Plein Soleil is that there isn’t anything in the way of character development.  

This wasn’t a problem with the Minghella version. As was the case with the novel, I had a perverse desire to see Tom get away with his theft of Dickie’s life. I grew to detest the character of Freddy Miles (played superbly by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the film) that I practically cheered when he was brained with a statuette and summarily tossed along the roadside.  There was nothing in the way of tension in the French version while in the novel and the modern remake you are on the edge of your seat for most of the ride. 


It’s not as if Minghella was incredibly faithful to the novel but he wasn’t too off-the-mark. He took the whole homosexuality thing and ran with it whereas Highsmith only hinted at in the novel. Times change and it’s the director’s movie but I would have to fault Minghella most of the times his story drifted too far from the book. When Tom kills Dickie in the book it is completely premeditated but in the movie it is almost an accident, a crime of high passion (in the French version it was something out of a Freddy Kruger movie).


If you haven't read the book already I highly recommend it. It beats the hell out of both films.   

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Perpetual Student

The long march to learn Spanish continues. It never ends and anything resembling an end is far, very far from the horizon.  It’s not like I suffer from false modesty when I say that I have a lot to learn and it’s not like I’m such a perfectionist that I can’t be happy with the command of the language I now possess, it’s just that I know better than anyone how much I have yet to learn and how much I want to improve. Learning Spanish has given me a better perspective on my current hobby of improving my French. My goals in French are modest and very realistic: I’d just like to have a good working knowledge of the language and be able to read more. To this end I picked up a copy of Albert Camus’ La Chute at a bookstore near the main square in Valencia while I was waiting for the Mascletà on Sunday.

I was going to go to the local movie house last night just to force myself to sit through two American films dubbed into Spanish.  I happened to turn on the TV just before I was going out the door and their happened to be a movie that interested me so I stayed home and watched that instead. I ended up watching two dubbed movies back-to-back so I got a good dose of Spanish comprehension practice. The movies were Up in the Air and The Matador and I understood almost 100% of both of them. I even found a couple of Spanish expressions I had just learned last week from something I'm reading. I can’t even remember what the expressions are now but I assure you that I know them in Spanish. French movies thoroughly kick my ass and I imagine it will be a while before I’m able to watch them without subtitles—but as I said, that isn’t really my goal in French.

As any American ex-pat will tell you, it’s incredibly easy to NOT learn the language of where you are living. Television here has many channels in English, there is a large foreign population as well as many Spanish people who speak English, and English dominates in countless arenas in the modern world.  I am less guilty of relying on English than many native English speakers here. I will always speak Spanish unless I’m in a group of all English speakers. I’m sure that people who speak other European languages beside English have fewer opportunities to speak their native languages here and thus learn Spanish quicker. I don’t know this for a fact but it just seems logical.

As I have said over and over, I only read in Spanish (and now in French). My one major drawback in my study of Spanish is that I don’t write much. I write so much in English that I never make the effort to write in Spanish aside from a few short emails. I’ve actually been trying to write something in French before each weekly class. My written Spanish isn’t bad (my Spanish friends always comment on the fact that I insist on including all of the proper accents when I send text messages*) but it needs a lot of work. I would like to write competently in Spanish one day so I had better get cracking.

*I thoroughly despise text messages but they are unquestionably useful and unavoidable. I can never bring myself to use any sort of Text Speak shortcuts like “u” for “you.” When people use these things in emails it drives me crazy; are they in too big of a hurry to be literate?

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Wine, Olives, and Football:Valencia CF 0-1 Barça

Valencia Club de Fútbol is playing Barcelona Fútbol Club tonight on La Sexta (one of Spain’s major TV stations) and I’m at home instead of a bar for a change. I love how sporting events on a weeknight begin at 10pm in Spain.  I'm having a difficult time writing this while watching the game because it’s a real nail-biter with a lot of action from both sides. I’m having a glass of Valencia wine (Torre Oria, Marqués de Requena) paired with some fantastic olives I bought at my hilal butcher shop in the neighborhood.  I am sticking with Valencia wine these days almost exclusively and I’m definitely 100% Valencia CF. ¡Amunt!

The game has been on my mind throughout this very hectic day. Earlier today I did some shopping for what will eventually be my dinner tonight, penne with vodka tomato sauce. This is a fairly iconic dish in Italy and on the menu in many Italian restaurants in the USA.  This will be my first attempt at it but it looks pretty easy. The problem is that I can’t cook and watch this great game at the same time. Another problem is that I haven’t eaten much today.  It was actually about 4:30 this afternoon before I realized that I hadn’t eaten anything more than a handful of granola with my coffee in the morning. 

I literally stopped in my tracks when finally decided that I needed to eat. It had been kind of a screwy day with a few errands to run and then I went downtown for the Mascletà.  I’m three for three so far this year and I’d like to go to all of them (17 more to go).  So I sat down in a café and had a slice of tortilla de patatas and a glass of red wine.

With so little in my stomach it’s hard for me to be objective about the penne vodka I’m devouring now in the second part of this 0-0 match.

Fucking Leo Messi does it again. Barça is like a great white shark that never stops. The game isn’t really all that important in La Liga but I made a bet with a friend’s 8 year old son for 5,000€. I’m hoping he won’t remember or I can convince him that it wasn’t 5,000€ but five packs of football cards (I give him a pack of cards every time I see him. I think I enjoy the cards more the he does).  Either he forgets or he and a couple of his thug buddies beat me to within an inch of my life for welching. I freely admit that I deserve it.

Valencia CF 0-1 Barça (Goal by Messi*)

*Unai Emery, the coach of Valencia CF upon hearing that Barça’s coach wouldn’t be on the bench tonight because of a back problem asked why Messi couldn’t miss the damn game because of his back.

For those of us who never had an Italian grandmother, here is La Signora G's version of Penne alla Vodka.:

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Fair Game: Hippies


You have to be pretty careful in these days of political correctness about who you make fun of.  But let’s face it, we have to pick on somebody to get a laugh; that’s just the nature of humor.  The trick is to pick on one sub-group that nobody will defend, either because no one likes these people or no one cares about them.  We should pick a group who weren’t born with their affliction, they chose to be who they are freely and thus should take responsibility for who they are.  The thing is, hippies actually choose to be hippies.  It’s incredible to believe but it’s true. It’s like choosing to be a stumbling, babbling, semi-coherent mass of fetid flesh and dreadlocks—which is exactly what hippies are.

Even if both of your parents and both of your parents’ parents were hippies this doesn’t mean that you have to be a hippie.  In fact, it probably means that you hate hippies as much as the average man or woman.  The mere fact that your childhood was ruined because you were forced to eat soy bacon and attend drum circles should insure that as an adult you will be anti-hippy. According to recent studies there is a certain amount of “Stockholm Syndrome” when it comes to being raised by hippies.  However, most children violently oppose their captivity and lash out in drastic manners. Some children of hippies even go on to wear loafers and enjoy professional wrestling. In 2010 4,228 former hippy children changed their names from “Sky” and “Heaven” to Ernie.

Why are hippies so bad? Why should we pick on them? I’ll tell you why. Everyone knows that hippies love weed more than anything in the world  but did you know that a hippy would blow his own dad for just a little bit of weed, a tiny little bit of weed? I guess the real question is who wouldn’t a hippy blow for a tiny amount of weed?  We can’t answer that question and would prefer to never know the real answer.

Here is a hippy historical detail that may help you put this whole anti-hippy tirade into some sort of perspective. In August of 1972 at an outdoor concert in Redmond, California Jerry Garcia performed a four day guitar solo.  Appalling, yes, but not as bad as the fact that none of the 12,438 hippies in attendance moved from where they were standing. They didn’t leave to go to the port-o-lets, nor to shower, and definitely not to apply deodorant (not that any of them brought deodorant).  The toxic fumes from the rock concert completely annihilated a neighboring population of vultures—so much for the hippy’s supposed “love” for the environment.

Still out to defend your furry hippy friends?