Monday, December 26, 2005


Madrid Taxis

I’m finally sorting out the trek notes from my North Africa trip this past fall and thought I'd give you some of my thoughts and impressions.

Que Ciudad!

On the way to work in Morocco I had a short layover in the Old World.

Madrid is a striking city. I wish I’d had more than 48 hours to take it in.

I’m a veteran “urban trekker,” though, so two days gave me enough time to get a feel. I covered over 20 miles on foot around town and had a great time. Probably even lost a pound or two.

Anyone traveling in Europe can’t help being impressed with the real affection the locals have for their cities. Madrid is a case in point.

You can see it in the dogged determination to hang on to historically significant buildings and neighborhoods, in the reverence for place that drives meticulous efforts to highlight beauty at every corner, and in the way Europeans actually “live” in their public places. Parks and plazas and streets are always full of people hanging out and enjoying the pleasure of being around other people.

It’s not that we Americans don’t like our cities.

But it seems we’re more ambivalent about our urban scapes.

We sort of like them and are willing to hang out with each other in movie theatres or malls or in stadiums.

At the same time, we’re willing to let cities deteriorate or die if it “makes sense” to do so and--in general--we seem to have a lot less trouble scraping even the most important buildings or sites.

A pretty interesting difference. You can’t help but notice it.

I kicked back in my room after the two day trek and watched a little television the night before heading out.

Didn’t have many choices so I ended up watching a local game show.

Some of it was familiar since it was very loosely based on “Jeopardy.” The production values were current.

The host could have passed for conventionally hip here. Slightly overweight, 30-ish, ironic and pleasant, soul patch, male pattern baldness, stylized 50’s bowling shirt and 60’s IBM ‘scientific management” heavy frame glasses.

The contestants had to answer detailed questions about various neighborhoods around Madrid. It was pop culture stuff along with the most specific questions about history and geography and architecture and current events.

If you didn’t know the city in great detail you got embarrassed.

The people on the show knew their stuff.

I guess that wasn’t so surprising. Any show can find individuals that will make the grade.

What surprised me was that the show is a big hit in Madrid. Again, Europeans may value their cities more than Americans.

If a show like that ever made it in a place like Los Angeles, contestants would have to know who built the Watts Towers or give the exact street corner of the giant stucco doughnut atop Randy’s in west LA.

I can answer both of those questions—even after moving out of town two years ago—so I guess in at least some ways I’m a European at heart.

The Color of White

Many European cities are full of millions of white people.

I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising. But it really is for an American traveling in Europe.

A place like Madrid can feel exotic to a New World citizen because most of our cities are so "racially diverse.”

Even a city like Minneapolis—the frozen home of powder milk biscuits that help Nordic Protestants do what needs to be done—can come across like the capital of the 3rd world compared to some places in Europe.

By nature I tend to look for difference and diversity, but like most Americans, I’m used to a racial and cultural idiom of white, black, brown, red and yellow.

Madrid, where pretty much everybody in the central city is “white” according to that simple “crayola crayon” world view, moves you into distinctions often lost in America.

I saw “white” people with dark brown eyes, light brown eyes, light green eyes, dark green eyes, light blue eyes, and dark blue eyes. Even red eyes post vino.

Every shade and hue of blonde hair, red hair, brown hair, black hair and sometimes blue hair among the grannies. Straight hair, wavy hair and kinked hair. Thin hair and thick.

Dark brown skin, light brown skin, pinkish skin, reddish skin, pale skin and pale skin with freckles.

Then you’ve gotta take the different eye, skin and hair colors and textures and mix ‘em and match ‘em into cool and complicated combinations to do justice to the actual people on the street.

Is there another “racial” group with more physical diversity than “white” people?

Makes you wonder if there’s more to things than the crayola thinkers imagine.

At the very least it makes “white people watching” in Europe pretty entertaining.

Lithping with the Betht of Them

I’ve noticed that people of various Spanish speaking nations are convinced that their version of Spanish is superior to others.

My family and I lived in Guatemala many years ago for a number of months doing intensive language study.

The Guatemalans laughed out loud at the way Mexicans speak Spanish, and some Argentines I met there thought that Guatemalan Spanish barely qualified as “civilized.”

Turns out Castilians are the cockiest of the lot.

My feeble attempts to speak the mother tongue provided amusement for more than a few of the locals I ran across.

They asked me about my “Mexican/American” accent with a knowing smile and encouraged me to soften my ‘c’s.’ In Castilian Spanish a name like “Garcia” is pronounced gar-thee-ya rather than gar-see-ya.

Ath a rethult, everybody thounds like they’ve got a lithp.

By my thecond day I wath lithping with the betht of ‘em.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Illegals in Narnia

Andrew, Jan and Grandma Marge saw “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” this past weekend. I guess the movie is a blockbuster.

Something really bothers me about this Narnia mania, though.

Let's face it. The whole thing is nothing but a celebration of illegal immigration.

"Snow-Backs" Crossing Over

Yes, yes, I know that Lucy, Susan, Peter and Edmund ended up making a significant contribution to the economy and well being of their new country.

But that doesn’t change the fact that they crossed the border illegally and broke the law. Narnia’s got to be a country of laws or eventually all hell will break loose.

Something needs to be done and done fast. Let’s stop this nonsense about a guest worker program. We all know that would just affirm lawbreaking and would let those humans who have already illegally crossed into Narnia off the hook.

There's only one reasonable and effective response. We must fortify and electrify the wardrobe. That’ll make ‘em think twice about crossing over.

The Border

But if people won't listen to reason, and if the government won’t do anything about it, we’ve got to take matters into our own hands. In that case I'd support legions of “Minute-Dwarfs” who sit in folding lawn chairs with GPS devices and shot guns and guard the frontier along the wardrobe.

So let’s ignore this sentimental silliness about Edmund improving his life in Narnia, blah, blah, blah. Time to get tough and serious about a real problem. If we don’t, you never know what kind of Narnia we might pass on to our children in the years to come.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Clay Feet and Political Power

The last cupla posts were fun at the expense of people trying to do very hard jobs, but I do think getting into the heads and hearts of world leaders--especially with the stakes as high as they are--is important.

In his autobiography, Clinton spoke about the way his father's alcoholism practically effected his presidency.

After the fact, of course.

He wrote that growing up with an abusive and alcholic father helped develop his own tendency to live his life along parallel tracks, one filled with work and achievement and high control and the other an internal and personal world sometimes characterized by lots of pain and, at times, irresponsible behavior.

Helps make some sense of some of the best and the worst of the Clinton years, doesn't it? Particularly the Monica Lewinsky situation, which virtually everybody--no matter what their political or cultural views--recognizes helped change the direction of American politics. Without that scandal, would the election in 2000 have turned out differently?

If those kinds of factors can influence practical politics so clearly, why can't we talk about the fact that Dubya was an alcoholic into his 40's? I think some of his presidential behavior makes more sense if you take that reality into account.

I have the greatest respect for anyone who overcomes a life threatening addiction. I would even say I have the greatest 'affection' for them, though that term is probably inappropriate to use with somebody I don't know personally.

But recovering addicts do tend to struggle with fairly predictable issues. Our president is a recovering addict. Why is that last sentence so hard to say publicly?

Why is it these kinds of important factors can only be discussed 20 years later by historians?

And what does it say about our current political system that people with clearly addictive personalities have led the country for the last 14 years?

Those of you who know me recognize that I'm fairly sceptical about pop psychology and even, at times, about more serious psychological explanations. But in the case of these past two American leaders, I wonder why we haven't been freer to discuss these issues in real time?

I’m observing and not concluding. I’d be very interested in people’s thoughts.

Friday, December 09, 2005

A Tale of Two Presidents

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Part two (see "Poor Judgmint") of my brief and balanced exploration into the minds and values of world leaders :^)

The president of Iran suggested yesterday that Israel be moved to Europe (!???). This is the same guy who said a few months ago that Israel should be "wiped off the map," so I guess that means he's warming up to the Jews.

Ahmadinejad is becoming more surreal than Baghdad Bob, the hilarious Iraqi "information minister" who kept announcing the glorious Iraqi victory over American troops even as they rolled into Baghdad.

What is it about goofy religious beliefs and way too much power and money that sometimes produces such self-delusional nonsense from national political leaders?

The biggest difference between our current home grown delusional nonsense and the Iranian variety is that our leaders are still legitimate objects of satire.

It's only when things get so silly they're beyond satire that you're dealing with something really scary. Welcome to Tehran.

Hey, I can get behind a US president who isn't beyond satire. You just have to compare him to the right people.

A lot of us think Dubya tends toward self-delusion and ideological thinking, but at least he's not completely divorced from reality. You've got to hand it to him that he's never suggested solving the strategic challenges of the Middle East by simply moving Iraq to Canada. That kind of common-sensical restraint demonstrates some flicker of an instinct for clear-eyed observation and practical problem solving in my book.

If I think of it that way, all I can say is, "Three more years!"

See, if you just have the right point of view, even those of you who can't stomach our present national leadership can find something good to say about 43 :^)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Poor Judgmint

Highest Values: Enrichmint, Armamint, Sacramint
Approach to Facts: Disengagemint and Embellishmint
Approach to Disagreemint: Revilemint

This can all lead to:

Eat 'Em With Conviction....

Bought some of these "Bush mints" the other day. They actually taste pretty good. I'm using 'em for stocking stuffers. I think you can order em online too from the Unemployed Philosophers Guild.

My apologies to my conservative, Republican friends. I try to avoid cheap shots at political figures but I couldn't help myself. Mint nothing personal.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Baby It's Cold Outside

Frigid Front Yard

We're in the middle of a cold snap here along the Front Range.

Temps have been sub 30 for over a week and we're in the depths of it now. As I write this the official temp is 0 but the real temp including wind chill is -12. Tomorrow is supposed to be even colder.

Yesterday we had 60 to 90 mile an hour winds all day. Think tropical storm in Florida stuff but with temps below zero. A little scary. One gust slammed a car door into my elbow. Owww....

Pretty unusual. We rarely get temp readings this low. November was beautiful with mostly clear days in the 60's. Wind speeds get that high here once a decade or two.

I love it. Growing up in California and living there for so many years, I never experienced anything like this.

When it gets this cold and dry you get a kind of painfully beautiful visual clarity. Humidity drops to Saharan or Arctic levels. Everything looks razor sharp and made of crystal.

Materials lose their normal properties so everything acts differently. Snow squeaks really loudly underfoot and snot freezes hard under your nose.

I took some pics in our front and back yards cuz everything looked so new.

One time when our daughter Rebecca was little we drove from LA to Denver during December. We hit a huge tongue of Arctic cold air flowing south while we drove through Utah. Just a few miles outside of Richfield on I 70 heading east we got a flat tire after dark. It was 15 below zero. Jan and I never changed a tire so quickly.

By the time we pulled into Green River, Utah to stay overnight, the temp had dropped to 40 below. Coldest I've ever experienced.

On our way to our motel room I stepped into a large pile of dog do. It shattered into shards and crystals. Who says there's no upside to 40 below temps?