Monday, December 23, 2002

Lots of news from over the weekend. Ibon Fernández, one of the etarras arrested in France and ETA operations chief, escaped from the Bayonne police station where he was being held. He managed to climb through a ventilation duct, from where he got out of the building and then climbed a wall. It took them several hours to notice he was missing, by which time he was long gone; they had him locked up in what usually serves as the drunk tank. Now, you don't need much security in the cell that's for the winos, since they're most likely not going to be thinking up an escape plot. They're more likely to be throwing up than acting up. However, professional terrorists should probably be kept in something a little harder to break out of than the drunk tank. This is a case of serious negligence and heads will roll.

Well, we didn't hit El Gordo, the big prize in yesterday's Christmas lottery, though we had three numbers that won the lowest prize, five times what you bet. Fifty-five dollars. That's about what we spent on tickets. The towns where the big numbers hit, first prize at 10,000 euros per euro you bet, second prize at 4800 times your bet, and third prize at 2400 times what you bet, were Aranda de Duero (Burgos, €198 million), Vélez Rubio (Almería, €162 million), and Calahorra (La Rioja, €138 million). As usual, the prize money tocó en barrios populares and was muy repartido. There is a common belief that Christmas lottery money always goes to areas that have suffered some kind of disaster, but Galicia as a whole won only €34 million. Catalonia gambled a total of €352 million and won only €4 million. The first, one of the fourths, and one of the fifths of the prize numbers this year were 08103, 00091, and 00457, "ugly numbers". The numbers range from 00001 to 66999. People don't like low numbers, nor, for some reason, numbers that end in 0. The third prize, 31203, is an example of an attractive number, since it begins and ends with the same digit. Numbers with repeated digits or numbers that are palindromes or close to palindromes are popular, and so are numbers that end in 5. This is pure superstition, of course.

On December 9 an armed gang killed two security guards; the guards were picking up the weekend take at a multiplex movie theater in Terrassa. These guys were cold-blooded, as the first thing they did when they saw the guards was open fire. Three shooters fired 17 shots and both guards were DOA. The total amount stolen was €214,000. The cops got onto their trail when witnesses recognized Juan Pedro L. F. as one of the three shooters. (In Spain they're not supposed to reveal the surnames of people who have been arrested and charged but not convicted yet. I don't know whether this is a law, an official guideline of some kind, or just generally accepted practice. This code is not universally practiced, especially by the more sensationalistic papers.) Anyway, Mr. L. F. had been spotted earlier that day near the theater, obviously casing out the job. He and his pals were known as big-time scumballs by the local cops; there was a warrant out for his arrest, since he'd been sentenced to 19 years for armed robbery and sexual battery and jumped his bail. A little research work led to his girlfriend, Soledad R. M., whose sister, Manuela R. M., is married to José Antonio N. A. Witnesses recognized Mr. N. A. as another of the shooters. They had recruited two well-known professional criminals, Javier L. M. and Sergio C. A.; Mr. L. M. probably drove the getaway car and Mr. C. A., who is only twenty-five but already a multiple killer, was most likely the third shooter. All these people have criminal records as long as Long Dong Sil--well, pretty long, for good stuff like car theft, drug dealing, armed robbery, and the like. The original hypothesis was that this was a gang of Balkan criminals, but it turned out to be just local losers. These guys had been on the cops' shit list for a long time, as they had a very ostentatious and expensive lifestyle, including heavy drug consumption, and had no visible means of support. They are suspected to be the gang who tried to hold up a whorehouse in October; some of the clients were also carrying guns and the robbery was unsuccessful. The same gun was fired in both occasions, the whorehouse job and the killing of the security guards. All four of these guys really could use a good hanging, and the women are guilty at the very least of hiding the gang out.

Several years ago they did an education reform in Spain, one of the Socialist government's bad ideas. Up until about the early nineties, Spanish education worked like this: you had to go to school until you were fourteen. If you passed the eighth grade, you got a certificate called the Graduado Escolar, which was the minimum educational acheivement. It certified that you could read, write, and do arithmetic. After you got the Graduado Escolar, you went either to an academic high school, called BUP; if you graduated from BUP after eleventh grade, you went on to COU, a twelfth-grade university preparation year. If you weren't an academic kind of person, you went to FP, Professional Formation, which gave you a three-year course in how to do something. Ambitious FP students, after graduating from FP I, could go on and do three more years of vocational training in FP II. People who passed FP II pretty much had a decently-paid job as some sort of skilled worker. Now, this was an elitist system. Only the top 15% or so of students finished COU. The others either went to work at age 14 or got FP training. However, BUP and COU were hard. They weren't a giveaway pass; you had to work to get through and go to college.

As a teacher, I like this system. You're not wasting both the kid's time and yours by trying to teach people who want to be car mechanics about Western civilization. The people in your BUP and COU courses are motivated to do well in order to get to college, and the kids in FP are learning useful skills that they can see the value of. There are a lot fewer discipline problems when things are run the old way. Agreed; the old Spanish system is guilty of tracking students. Big deal. Students should be tracked into remedial, regular, vocational, and college-bound; in that way, students will learn what's appropriate for them.

Well, what they did was listen to a bunch of "educational experts" who should all be shot at dawn who went off and got doctorates in education in the States and brought back all the half-baked ideas floating around American education departments. It was immediately decided that the old system just didn't work and that everybody had to be given the same curriculum. What they wound up with was mandatory education until 16, with no tracking, putting the future scientists of Spain in with the future car mechanics and the future unemployed. Now high school is too hard for the car mechanics and too easy for the future scientists. Everyone's pissed off, especially the teachers, used to teaching bright, ambitious, cooperative kids who want to learn and succeed in BUP and COU, now stuck with classes of widely varying ability and interest, not to mention attitude. The governing PP keeps talking about going back to the old way. And the teachers, for once, are in the PP's camp. There is some strange cognitive dissonance going here. Almost all teachers are lefties, especially in Spain, yet the lefty movement in education has obviously failed disastrously and the teachers have learned this firsthand--but they feel very strange about, for once, agreeing with the conservative government PP and wanting to turn back the clock to a system which had its problems but made sure that students would learn more or less what they needed to know.

P.J. O'Rourke once said, "Anyone who doesn't know what's wrong with education must never have screwed an elementary-ed major."

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