Friday, March 28, 2008

La Vanguardia has an article on what they call the Bologna process (what the goddamn university non-students were "striking" over), which is supposed to help make European universities competitive with American ones. According to La Vangua, of the 535 best universities in the world, 308 are in the US, 50 in the UK, 26 in Canada, 20 in Germany, 19 in Japan, and 1 in Spain, which is the University of Barcelona medical school.

Massive cognitive dissonance for Yankee-bashers: Americans are supposed to be ignorant, unintellectual, and uncultured. Yet the US has all the top universities and the most Nobel Prize winners, for whatever that's worth, and it attracts thousands of students from all over the world.

La Vangua claims that the US spends 3% of its gross national product on research and development, while the EU spends 1.2%, and that 5% of Americans between ages 30 and 50 are enrolled in university or post-graduate studies, while only 2% of EU citizens are. Therefore, the Bologna plan will devote more public spending to raising these percentages. The problem is that the majority of US R&D spending comes from the private sector, and that the 5% of Americans continuing their educations are doing so in order to reach personal, not public, goals.

Many Spaniards I've talked to are very critical of the Spanish university system; I've heard people say that it's based on memorization and regurgitation, that it discourages individual initiative, that it doesn't teach students how to think, that professors are distant and uninterested in students as individuals, that it's too bureaucratic and regimented, and that there is a lot of nepotism and patronage involved in choosing instructors. A personal observation of mine is that many Spaniards resort to invoking authority as evidence to back up their arguments--so-and-so said this so it must be true. I think they learned this at the university.

Poverty in Catalonia: 19% of Catalans live below the poverty line, which is a yearly income of €8276 (about $12,100) per person, up from 17.2% last year. Comparison with the US: About 12% of Americans live below the federal poverty line, which is $10,400 for an individual living alone and $21,200 for a family of four. In-kind benefits, such as food stamps, school lunches, and public housing, do not count as income in the US for purposes of measuring poverty. 46% of poor households in the US own their own home, 30% have two or more cars, 63% have cable or satellite TV, and 91% have a color television.

Here in B-ville, the city government is all excited about the tacky souvenir shops that surround touristy places like the Sagrada Familia and the Ramblas. Indignation waxes, especially at the flamenco-dancing dolls and the big Mexican sombreros. I have to admit I'm surprised at how popular the Mexican hats are among the Dusseldorfers, Rotterdammers, and Liverpudlians. If you buy one and walk around town all the locals think you're a complete idiot, but I figure everybody who reads this blog already knows that.

Personally, I never buy stuff at souvenir shops; I always get something at the museum gift shop. I especially like little reproductions of animal statues; my favorite is the Egyptian cat-god from the British Museum. Here in Barcelona, the City History Museum's shop on Calle Llibreteria has nice stuff worth at least looking at. They sell little silver reproductions of a Visigothic (early medieval) horse that was found during an archaeological dig, which are a bit pricey but worth it.

The goddamn bus drivers voted to go on strike indefinitely beginning on April 15 if the city government doesn't give them what they want. So far more than 200 buses have been sabotaged by the strikers.

Latino gang fight in L'Hospitalet. Gunshots fired. One hospitalized, stabbed in arm and leg. Three arrested. Gang involved: Dominicans calling themselves the "Black Panthers," in English. This is getting a bit out of hand.

Value-added tax (IVA) receipts are down 8% since January 1 due to the halt in the construction sector. This is going to play hell with the budget.

Ronaldinho has burned his bridges: his manager (and brother) threatened to sign him up with Real Madrid, and claimed he could legally break Dinho's contract for a €16 million buyout, far less than the €125 million buyout clause in his contract. So don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out. Luis Fernandez, Dinho's coach at Paris-St. Germain, just came out with a book accusing him of being a selfish player and breaking all the team rules, especially those related to eating properly and staying home at night.

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