Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Aimless thoughts while listening to REM:

My computer has been down since Sunday; seems there was something wrong with the battery and I had to replace it. Now it works again and I can return to entertaining the masses.

The situation in the high schools has become news. About twelve years ago or so, under the influence of genius American educational theorists, they got rid of the old elitist system and put in a new touchy-feely caring and sharing system.

In the old days, you went to elementary school until you were 14. Then you could attend an academic high school (BUP + COU), a vocational school (FP 1 + 2), or go get a job. Now everybody goes to the same high school and they have to stay until they're 16.

This has, of course, resulted in disaster, with classes full of kids who don't want to be there and get no benefit whatsoever. The teachers are furious, since they don't have the disciplinary power to enforce obedience, and so they can't get rid of the bad eggs, who screw up the system for the kids who want to learn.

There's been a wave of attacks on teachers, both by "students" and their parents, and bullying has increased a great deal, as of course the tough kids pick on the ones who want to learn when the two groups are mixed. Ten years ago no one had ever heard of the English word "bullying"; now it's part of standard Spanish vocabulary.

Solution: Go back to the old system and fire everyone who had anything to do with implementing the new one.

However, the solution that's been suggested is handing out prison sentences to individuals who attack public servants such as teachers or doctors, which is of course fighting the symptoms of the problem instead of its roots (not that I'm against jailing these scumballs). What I want to know is why people convicted of assault and battery don't go to prison in the first place, no matter who they attack and beat up.

There has also been a rash of problems with the Barcelona commuter train system, with the latest a train that was shut down for an hour and a half in a tunnel 300 meters from Sants station. The guy in charge's head has rolled, but that's not going to change anything. The Spanish train system, RENFE (Rogamos Empujar Nuestros Ferrocarriles Estropeados, Please Push Our Broken-down Trains), is actually pretty good at long-distance service, but the extensive Barcelona commuter system sucks and is getting worse. That's what happens when you put the government in charge of something that should be in private hands.

Says La Vanguardia in an editorial, "Renfe is paying for old organizational sins: a chronic investment deficit, lack of prevision of the growth of its most profitable lines, an obsolete business organization, and a labor structure that favors corporatist behavior and leaves the users as orphans."

The Marbella corruption scandal, in which tens of millions of euros of bribes were thrown around by crooked building contractors and sleazy city government officials, is also big news. A new wave of arrests has elevated the number of persons facing charges to more than 100, including the former president of Sevilla FC, mob lawyer Jose Maria Gonzalez de Caldas, and ex-mayor Julian Múñoz, who appears frequently in the prensa rosa, Spain's trashy celebrity press. The brain behind the scams was apparently Juan Antonio Roca, the city councilman in charge of urban development.

When Roca and 22 others were arrested, the cops confiscated property worth over €2.4 billion. That's billion with a B. When they came for another ex-mayor, Marisol Yague, they found €360,000 cash in her house, which she claimed came from "wedding presents."

This is why Marbella is such an awful hellhole, tacky "luxury" apartments all over the place for oil sheiks and arms traffickers and cocaine importers and celebrity hangers-on. I've never been there, but the TV footage of the place looks like a less tasteful Las Vegas.

TV ad note: They're using "Amazing Grace" as the music for a commercial advertising a mobile phone service, not just the tune, but the words--"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now I'm found, was blind but now I see." People, that's an American Protestant hymn written in the 18th century by a reformed slave trader named John Newton. The theme, of course, is salvation by God's grace. I remember singing it in church as a child. I'm sure all my great-great-great grandparents sang it too. They're probably singing it right now at some little church in some little town in, say, Kentucky.

First, it seems highly inappropriate to use such a song for commercial purposes--imagine if it were an Islamic hymn. I doubt they'd use it in that case. And second, I thought all of us over here were so enlightened and illustrated that we looked down on such manifestations of primitive American religious fundamentalism.

Our local Luddites (Esquerra and Saura's green Commies) are going to protest tomorrow's meeting between Zap and Chiraq in Girona. Seems there is a plan to transport electricity across the Pyrenees on a high-tension line, and all the tinfoil hats are furious. Of course, Spain needs a more stable electricity supply, especially in the wake of last week's Western European blackout, but the Luddites want to stop growth by stopping the necessary electricity and water supplies.

Says Francesc-Marc Alvaro in La Vangua,

The founders of the United States of America thought that the government tends to be malevolent and that society tends to be charitable. This suspicion impregnates the forging of the institutions of the American republic, as does a non-determinist idea of existence, based on great faith in the capacity of each individual to fulfill his dreams. Therefore, the American mentality is solidly based on the conviction that there is always a future that can be remade and a new chance to begin...

American politics have little to do with European, and even less with those practiced in Spain. Here, Zapatero withdrew the troops from Iraq with the same frivolity with which Aznar had previously ordered their deployment. American democracy is not perfect (abstention rates are very high), and to a European it may seem an overly restrictive game, but it offers lessons that would serve us very well: the correcting strength of legislative power cohabiting with a president from the other side, the direct responsibility of each person elected to his voters, and, above all, the people's enormous capacity to avoid discouragement and punish the rulers who have failed them.

I'll repeat: If more European correspondents and columnists were as fair as Mr. Alvaro and Eusebio Val, there would be a lot less knee-jerk anti-Yankeeism over here.

According to EFE, Spain's government-controlled news service, and why we need one I have no idea, the most common surnames in Spain are:

1. García 2. González 3. Fernández 4. Rodríguez 5. López 6. Martínez 7. Sánchez 8. Pérez 9. Martín 10. Gómez 11. Jiménez 12. Ruiz

The top male first names are:

1. José (Pepe) 2. Antonio 3. Manuel 4. Francisco (Paco) 5. Juan 6. David 7. José Antonio 8. José Luis 9 Jesús 10. Javier 11. Carlos 12. Miguel

Mohamed is number 77.

And the top female first names:

1. María 2. María del Carmen 3. Carmen 4. Josefa (Pepa) 5. Isabel 6. María Dolores (Lola) 7. Ana María 8. Francisca (Paquita) 9. Dolores 10. María del Pilar 11. Antonia 12. María Teresa (Maite)

Barça beat Zaragoza 3-1 on Sunday night, putting them back in first place, but they lost Leo Messi for three months and Javier Saviola for several weeks. Xavi, Belletti, Iniesta, and Edmilson are all tweaked and not at 100%, Puyol is of course recuperating from his father's accidental death (he did play on Sunday) and of course Eto'o is out until February. Barça is down to four forwards, Ronaldinho, Gudjohnsen, Giuly, and Ezquerro, and will almost certainly have to resort to the 4-4-2 instead of Frank Rijkaard's favored 4-3-3 formation.

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