Friday, June 22, 2007
Hence the former working class districts of Madrid, with a few exceptions, have stopped voting Socialist, and turned to the PP. The slightly higher middle class echelons, who used to vote left are also demanding public services of higher quality, and free of immigrants. Their vote is a clear endorsement of the privatization of education and health now being carried out by the PP, tending toward a dual welfare state: poor-quality public services for immigrants and the poor; tax rebates, capital gains and privatized, ethnically cleansed services for the middle classes.
Hmm. This does seem pretty American, doesn’t it? As in John Edwards’ Two Americas. Especially noticeable here is the way race and class factor into the equation. Madrid’s ‘native,’ i.e. white, working classes, suddenly upwardly mobile, are all too eager to separate themselves from the new lower class of South Americans (who, many Madrileños complain, are taking over the city) by accessing the more exclusive private system.
So what we have here is not cultural Americanization, but an American-style economic stratification taking place, based on class differences that themselves are largely racial (as the two so often overlap). He continues:
For at least a century, European social science has wondered why there is no socialism in the United States. The answer seems to lie in the persistent combination of high rates of immigration and social mobility—so that all the social strata, pushed upward by immigrant pressure from below, keep climbing without time to acquire a feeling of class solidarity. And for several decades now Madrid, viewed in terms of economic and demographic growth, and of social restructuring, has resembled the American pattern.
Gil goes on to contrast the relatively young European city of Madrid with older Barcelona—which has fewer immigrants and a more established cultural and class solidarity—while comparing it with Los Angeles. The whole article is short and quite worth reading. Especially with the imminent release of M. Moore’s Sicko, we’re going to see a lot of discussion of America’s shabby health care system, and more generally the merits of private vs. public services. Gil provides a thought-provoking theory that I'd like to see drawn out in more detail.
[ To access the article, go to the IHT, which has a publishing partnership for several int’l newspapers in English. On the drop down menu, go to “regions” and select “publishing partnerships” at the bottom. El Pais will be at the bottom. Open page 2. ]
Miss Merkel looks remarkably calm for someone who wants to rip that Polock's big round head off and stuff
bratwurst down his throat.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Dean Sarko talks on the cellie with his homies back at le chateau. Before kicking it live with the EuroMuscles in Brussels, he reasserted his bold vision of reform to the French people, who after the Chirac era have been so hardened against the possibility of change that they surely won't believe the little half-Hungarian until there's no unemployment. And a chicken in every pot. Allez, you can do it, Sarko!
Over at Davids Medienkritik, one of the few consistently interesting Euro blogs I've found, Ray Drake writes about his appearance on a CBN report about Anti-Americanism in the European Media. (Yes, it exists.)
As I menionted in a recent post about hearing misinformed liberal smacktalk during our rooftop party, European political and cultural thought is poisoned by considerable anti-Americanism. Again, given the many legit reasons for bemoaning current US direction, the institutionalized anti-US stance seems facile and ignorant.
You can check out the interview, and considerable feedback (I'm so jealous! That Davids... he's such a badass!) here. If you don't believe the Davids people, here is a similar report in from the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Of course, this is technically only an economic report. But we Americans know that it is precisely our stellar economy that is the basis for our extravagant lifestyle, which is of course the envy of those all over the world-- Europeans more than anyone else! Here's the irrefutable evidence:
- We develop car-based lifestyles structured around highways, the mall, and the cookiecutter suburb, and what does Europe do? Copy it.
- Our dollar kicks butt on the world markets. Europe's response? A Euro-dollar of their own, defensively named the "euro".
- We become the paragon of conspicuous consumption and the liesure-based lifestyle; Europe is hot on our coattails (but demographically they´re not in it to win it).
- Our absurd wealth, weakness for indulgence in rich foods, plus advanced transportation technology leads to an obesity problem-- which Europe is finally experiencing as well. (Eat it, fatties!)
- Finally, and most obviously, we develop the most successful federal union of states in the history of the universe, and what does fractured, war-torn Europe do? Why, they come up with the US of Europe, known officially as the EU. Nice one, guys!
Give it up, Europe! All this work and you're still 20 years behind us!
(And let´s not even talk about military strength!)
American exceptionalism—or the fact that I hail from the most powerful and important nation on earth— is always in sharper focus when I’m living abroad. Granted, I may be a bit Europeanized and thus not the 'typical American', but (1) I am American (hell yeah!) and (2) what is the typical American, anyway, in a country as diverse and unique as ours? (A question for another time.)
Three articles this morning have me thinking along these lines. First, Azar Gat writes about the return of Authoritarian Capitalists, in the form of China and Russia, as giants on the world stage. He invites us to wonder where the world would be today without the leadership and perseverance of liberal democratic America. (Touche', mon ami, but I do hate having to define our greatness through contradistinction to countries that suck.)
Second, also in the IHT, Margarita Mathiopoulos writes about the European (and worldwide) need for a strong US and an improved transatlantic alliance. In short, we need to get over our much-ballyhooed but relatively insubstantial differences and think in terms of global hegemony (as any global hegemon should). This means working together in containing long term threats such as int'l terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and China & Russia's rise to power (though hopefully that will become a huge rivalry that we can exploit!). We've cooperated in the first area, but the other two have been overlooked, possibly to our great detriment.
Finally, on a well-timed lighter note, Paul Krugman writes in the NYT that American stature is diminishing—literally, we are getting shorter and have ceded our title as world's tallest people to all the other advanced industrial countries. I’m serious. We also have a significantly shorter life expectancy. This could be because we are becoming what we eat-- i.e. crappy fast food--and/or because we don't take care of our children as well as we used to, and/or because we sit in front of the telly/laptop too much. One could call this quintessentially "American", but I prefer to think of it more as a universally human response to living an 'easier', more sedentary post-industrial lifestyle. This is the lifestyle we are exporting to the rest of the world, via Europe, which is now having to deal with its own obesity epidemics. It'll be interesting to see if this trend develops as strongly in Asia, which has increasingly higher standards of living but hasn't yet seen a comparable health deterioration.
Taken together, these articles reinstill a sense of the historic moment I believe we are living. It is not the best of historic moments for our great nation. If the world were a sports league and countries the players, we would continue to be the ten-time MVP. But one can't help but worry we've become the aging veteran, clinging to our last days of glory, before younger, more ambitious superstars take over the reins. Or perhaps we are the big-time rock star of the world who, at the very peak of his popularity and potential, pisses away his talent and money and, like, ODs.
Put simply, there are more and more signs that we are a decadent society weaving our own destruction through a combination of quick-fix, entertainment culture and short-sighted, hyperpoliticized policy. So obvious now are these signs that we (or our children) will gape with wonder at how we could have been so willfully ignorant for so long, until it developed into a full fledged, undeniable crisis (I'll save the signs and the reaction for a separate post).
We’re surrounded by a cacophony of voices from countless media outlets, so I suppose one could find opinion pieces like these 3 pretty much every day. The problem with this info overload is that the messages are reduced to so much white noise in the background of our lives: real and true but so unapproachable that we take for granted the disconnect between the two. There’s the endless stream of news and talking heads, and there’s today’s to-do list. Except for a minority of lucky (or cursed) people, there’s hardly any overlap between the two. Maybe that’s the way it’s always been, but it seems like the infamous postmodern claim that explosion of information leads to implosion of meaning has real merit in our time. To echo Mathiopoulis, the creation of a global village and global solidarity movements doesn’t necessarily bring us all together. It might bring many micro-groups together, say video game players, Portuguese language enthusiasts, Sopranos viewers, mountain climbers. But I still feel that, in this moment of the information society where distance and time are nullified, the world both comes together in new ways yet remains as fractured as ever--or even more so. Especially for well-educated young people with many career options, it's so easy to get caught like a dear in the headlights: a chaos of causes, effects, opinions and sources (blogs are great for this!) which leaves you wanting to crawl into your own shell of safety and comfort.
Leave it to ye old pessimist to dismiss the utopian promise of the internets. But all this new tech supporting a realignment toward a new world order hasn’t changed politics as usual in the US (or the world, if we look at the G8/WTO crew)—at least not yet. The Netroots seem to be our best hope for challenging the dominant paradigm, and their organizational capacity and cultural influence are growing (though they're mostly a negligible group of people talking to/at each other). Whether they’ll pull the Democratic Party leftward or otherwise trip up the GOP is another question. Movements take time: I'm not about to write off the digital underground.
But for now, the US ship of state, a historical giant and the single most important hope for the future of liberal democracy, seems to be sinking. This at a time when urgent global challenges require our fullest attention and leadership. I truly hope we do not pull a Titanic. Boy oh boy is the next president going to have his/her work cut out for him/her!
New York, for example, would certainly be near the top of my list. But what are the other big-time N cities? Newcastle? Nuremberg? Nanjing (is Nanjing still called Nanjing? Wasn't that city 'raped'?)? Nairobi? New Delhi is a good one. But still, N doesn’t make my cut. Neither does K. Take a few minutes and send your lists and short explanations. I will post them!
Also, anyone who can guess my letter and my 3 cities wins the prize (all are European cities, since that’s all I know, sadly; at least until December). The prize for today is a one-way business class ticket to Papua New Guinea. Good luck!
Thursday, June 21, 2007
As if the EU weren’t facing enough problems in reorganizing the failed constitutional treaty, it now has to deal with the
I am convinced that some day it will be revealed that the brothers were actually born Siamese twins and had to be separated at the skull. The operation, dangerous under any circumstances, was performed at a subpar hospital of the Communist days by a team of drunken surgeons, and left both twins with formidable mental incapacities.
From this perspective, their rise to the top of Polish Politics is an admirable triumph in the face of adversity. Still, we are left with the problem that the retards are running the most important eastern-bloc EU member-state into the ground, and threatening to drag the EU down with them.
Could the tubby twins possibly be ruining
--Edward O. Wilson, "The Bottleneck," Scientific American, Feb 02. Extract from The Future of Life (2002)
I would suggest reading the whole article, because it's fascinating and scary, but what's the point? It's just a very detailed and convincing portrait of what we pretty much know already: that we're all going to die. And by "all" I don't just mean us as individuals, but us as the human race, as in extinction. At least we won't live to see it.
Now did the Mets win tonight or what?
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
--"Nintendo Deals With Good Versus Wiivil", New York Times
A coupla weeks ago my roommates, their friends, and my friend Ian and I escaped to a wonderful beach about an hour south of Barcelona, just north of the small city of Tarragona. To my delight, this beach fulfilled most of my qualifications for greatness:
- isolated location, ideally a challenge to arrive at so as to keep it real (+keep the riff raff out);
- fine sand and crystal clear water, ideally with waves (lakes are boring);
- a good vibe, if indeed there are others at the beach;
- fun topography to explore, such as cliffs, rocks, dunes, or a forest;
- to bring: a few choice beach toys, food/drink, and, of course, good company.
At the beach, Ian and I ran and played like kids. I brought reading and did none of it. We threw the disc, played paddleball, walked up and down the coast and swam back along the cliffs. Ian, a wonderful guy who is also a bit too adventurous, also climbed not one but two cliffs starting from the water-- the second of which was at least 15m high and downright scary. I had never seen this done before and was relieved that Ian didn't ruin the day for all of us by falling. He came away with only a few scratches—sea-battered limestone is kind of sharp—but must have gotten quite a rush. I was unable to keep up with that but did manage to whip his ass in paddleball. Small victories, people.
All in all, a fine day trip which culminated perfectly with a little polylingual jam session and the consumption of tepid beer. Also, one of the prettiest topless girls insisted on doing handstands right in front of us. A great scene all around, and a lovely sunset as we walked back toward the cars along the longer, more popular beach further south.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
As I expected, our rooftop is an ideal party venue: the fresh air, the view, the privacy, our apartment just below, and a nearly deaf 6th floor neighbor. Hence the 2am jam session. My roommate Tomas, who studies percussion, broke it down on the cajon with a young virtuoso guitarrista in a flamboyant white shirt and a woman who loved to sing. Then some guy sang some blues in English, which was more entertaining still. He could be easily heard at street level.
I love these international parties because, aside from meeting new people, you’re guaranteed to learn something about another country. If you’re lucky you’ll have someone insult the USA, or at least the Bush Administration. Depending on the person and my mood, I may try to defend Bush vehemently and expose the hypocrisy behind this person’s singling out the US as the Evil Empire. There is nothing like playing the gung-ho American devil’s advocate. The truth is, just as many liberals think young conservatives are clueless, selfish, or just out to lunch, rather the same can be said for many liberals, especially non-Americans who offer a terribly unsubtle and confused “liberal” critique of current American hegemony and culture. Granted, there is a lot to criticize. But that only encourages these people (and Americans on the left, as well) to conclude that Bush and his cronies are uniquely responsible for the downfall of mankind.
I love fucking with these people— even if I generally agree more than disagree with them. They often do not understand the basic fact that countries with power use it in their own best interest, and that the US is only the latest example of this logical trend. Further, they are incapable of admitting the good that the US has done for the world, and continues to do, even if Bush has epically bungled what might have been a manageable situation (in Afghanistan, Iraq, w/climate change, torture, our int’l reputation, etc). At the party I met a nice Italian who fit the stereotype of the Chomsky-esque, anti-US, anti-Israel (or at least pro-Palestinian), anti- historical perspective that I’ve run into so often in the last six years. Such people refuse to see how the atrocities of WWII and the realpolitik of the Cold War framed so much American foreign policy for so long; and, as far as the fight against int’l terrorism goes, they tend to think the US sort of ‘deserved’ to be attacked, or perhaps that Americans planned 9/11 or permitted it to happen (hate to say it, but the last of these accusations is not, unfortunately, beyond the realm of possibility).
This speaks to a phenomenon that I cannot fully describe here, but will try to develop for future posts, wherein Europeans and South Americans love to hate on American leadership and culture. I am not completely offended by this, because I admit I know where they are coming from; but I find the ignorance behind many of their claims to be alarming and illogical. When you get young people going on this issue—especially if they’re drinking at a party—they may reveal a visceral hatred of the US that boggles the mind in its simplicity and hypocrisy. American accomplishments and contributions are conveniently forgotten, while eternal problems of the Middle East are blamed exclusively on us, as if Europe has been standing on the sidelines of history. The Bush Administration, in both substance and style, has undoubtedly galvanized normal people into adopting this unhelpful perspective in which extremely complex issues are treated as black and white and American policy is dismissed out of hand. No alternate solutions are offered, of course, and no one wants to talk about how crappy and corrupt their own political scenes are (unless it is in the context of blaming part of this on the US or Americanization).
It is really quite a scene! How I would love to embrace the violent, crude American in me and break a bottle over some of these people’s heads! And then take a digital photo of it, post it on my blog, and pretend to be imitating the violent self-righteousness of a Muslim terrorist like a good old reactionary American patriot.
I kid. I don’t need to break bottles. Words are my weapons! Sharper than knives, yo. I am willing to offer a more balanced perspective, but more and more I wonder what the point is. These nice and otherwise intelligent people are convinced that America and its culture are toxic. Being a bit of an adopted European myself, I can’t entirely disagree. But with these people, moderation seems to have been tossed out the window, which allows the odor of ignorant righteousness to blow into the room like the foulest of Ignatius Reilly’s flatulence. And I, in my most unlikely efforts to defend our president, end up claiming that the dunces have aligned against George Bush—a comment typically met with the type of silence that allows us to move on to another topic of discussion.
The papers this week have been dissecting the dramatic ending to no end, and have wasted no time prognosticating the big moves this off-season. There is general consensus among the pathetic writers who make their living talking about soccer that, while Madrid made an excellent, perhaps inspired, run to close out the season, Barcelona blew the league through a combination of overconfidence (which led to one too many ties), overexertion (too many stupid promotional tours in addition to a grueling international schedule), and devastating injuries to stars (Messi and Eto'o out 2 months each). Being a Cule myself (Barcelona fan), I could give even more excuses, and tell you why this Madrid doesn't deserve the title, but what's the point?
The point is that Barcelona made one too many mistakes and I didn't get to crown my great weekend with a frickin victory parade down the Ramblas, with all of Barcelona drinking in the streets, setting off fireworks, and praising their heroes as they drive by slowly on a double decker bus, grinning wildly and spraying cava every which way. Not that I dreamed about the moment or anything.
Instead, Barcelona was awfully quiet on Monday, save for the handful of rival Espanyol and Madrid fans (they're everywhere) who roamed the streets defiantly, screaming and setting off fireworks. And of course it even rained for the first time since I've been here (though the rain was a nice respite from the heat on the beach, in all honesty). Madrid has won their 30th league crown, overrated Raul gets to wrap a Spanish flag around the monument at Cibeles, and Tom Cruise is rewarded for attending the match to cheer for his new neighbor and buddy, Dave Beckham. I'm actually a fan of Becks, but still: somebody shoot me.
Well folks, Sonar 07 has thoroughly rocked Barcelona once again, and this time I was here to witness the scene first hand, rather than read about it on the Rhythmism messageboards. Some of it, anyway.
During the day, I had the pleasure of hearing/feeling the reverberating muffled bass during the afternoon at work, while staring out the window and seeing a bunch of happy tourists mill around, drinking beer and/or smoking joints in public view. Degenerates!
During the evening, the festival featured concerts at a (as I found out during daylight) massive industrial park outside of Bcn, with at least 5 interconnected venues. My friend and I arrived at around 3, just as Spanish chica rapper Mala Rodriguez was finishing up. We were just in time for an intense dose of techno from the legendary Jeff Mills. I was pretty revved up to just let myself go and become a man-machine, reverting back to the instinctual fort/da nature of childhood pleasure. After pounding the masses into willing submission, Mills handed things over to Dave Clarke, but we were pretty techno-d out by then (to stay any longer dancing like I was would've required chemical stimulation).
Then we moved over for the finale of the evening, Miss Kitten, passing some poppy and mostly bad trance along the way (though it was singable and "fun," which my friend liked). MK went on around 5 and finished up her encore by 7.30ish, and thousands of young people were getting down. Her set was tons of fun, not to mention the fact that it was outside, which is noteworthy because sunrise can really invigorate a set. It’s so much fun to see clearly the faces of the tons of colorful (mostly drugged) people you’ve been dancing with and around for hours. People in costumes, smudged makeup, dirty clothing, drugged-out eyes, sweat everywhere, and everyone dancing and whooping in anarchic harmony-- yes, this is my idea of a good time. (One of them, anyway.)
Miss Kitten maybe did a bit too much singing toward the end of her set (I think she was having trouble cueing one of her records, actually), but it was wonderful all the same. She's incredibly talented, knows how to play to the crowd and just when to drop a beat. She even came out and danced a couple of times (she's kind of cute and weird looking, if that's possible). I gave Jeff Mills the edge in intensity (but then again…that’s the point of techno), while Miss Kitten was more fun and diverse in her set—though not as much fun as my friend would have liked. Being an electronic music neophyte, she wasn’t overly impressed with “hearing the same song for 2 hours.” Though she did dance a bit. And mostly she was a very good sport so I didn’t have to go alone, which would've been muy lame-o. Fair enough!
All in all, I had not been to a really big party like that for a very long time. After a daytrip to Parque Guell, the house party (see post), the Sonar party, and the hourlong journey home of walking, waiting, training, etc, we were exhausted at 9am when we got home. I think I woke up at 5pm, and had Ultimate practice on the beach at 6 (where I nearly puked for the first hour, but then adjusted). Swimming in the Mediterreanean at 8pm set me straight though. Then we were all set to return to the city and watch Barcelona blow the 2007 Liga (Fuck Espanyol, fuck Tamudo, and fuck Mallorca).
I was thinking a bit more about why I ridicule the G8 protesters almost as much as the leaders. It is a terribly cynical perspective. There is no doubt that most of them are there for a good cause; it’s great that they want to make a difference and are willing to sacrifice their own time and money to attempt to do so; and certainly there is legitimate reason to think the G8 countries do not sufficiently manage the world system (or, perhaps, that they deliberately mismanage it, i.e. to their own mutual advantage and to the seemingly eternal disadvantage of so many other countries, who, while ostensibly receiving aid and ‘developing’, are also, in very real ways, getting screwed.)
There are two questions about the protesters. First, what do they want?
Second, what are they trying to accomplish?
I don’t think these two questions mean the same thing. The former relates to the politics and philosophy: what are your gripes with this meeting, these leaders, the new world order? The latter is practical and refers specifically to their appearance at the meetings, the way they carry out their protest, and what larger movement this act attempts to fuel.
My gripe is this: in 2007, hasn’t the g8 protest been done before, and done better, to sufficiently good results? Isn’t it time for the next level? I’m not sure what that level is, but it would ideally be more practical. And less violent, for chrissakes.
It’s so easy to dis and dislike the protesters, and not just for their inevitable violent antics. What do they expect the G8 to do, exactly? Who, exactly goes to and/or recruits for these events?
Well here is an example. This is the British Socialist Party in 2007. Just in case you didn’t realize that people like this still exist. In their defense, I should admit that part of me considers part of myself to be a bit of a socialist. But come on—“How imperialism condemns millions to poverty”? Hey guys—the Cold War is OVER. (You LOST.) You would do well to follow the lead of the Eastern European former Communist Parties and at least change your name, invoke your cause under the banner of Social Democracy, and nominate some clever career bureaucrats to appear as the benign public faces of the “new” Party. I mean, there is a relatively successful precedent for this. Instead, the Socialist party website offers up gems like ‘Make Homophobia and Capitalism history!’ I mean, not just one traditional institution, but the other? Covered in one digestible article on their website? Can we please elect these people now?
Don’t get me wrong: protesting of course has a proud history and sound moral ground. I just wish these people would organize resistance in a sustained and strategic grass-roots way, without turning the G8 into a carnival and making themselves look like naive troublemakers. The other option, I suppose, would be to mount a truly impressive and noteworthy demonstration, a la Seattle, again in 2008. But as I've mentioned, it seems the mere possibility of such an event has been neutralized by the movement's own carnivalish predictability.
In any case, I should be dissing the G8 leaders themselves, I guess, though I’m still not sure what for exactly. Not solving the world’s problems? Not bringing about equality while still defending their best interests? Isn’t it true that much of our obscene standard of living would be compromised if we were really to bridge the income wealth gap? Insofar as our wealth is inversely proportional to their poverty? (Isn’t someone always being exploited to the benefit of those with—obviously—the power to exploit?) I wonder how much these protesters--the ones with nice lives in the First World, anyway--are ready to give up the many fruits of their imperial victory. They want free trade, but what about when their economies suffer and their own jobs are put at risk?
The movement I’d rather be part of could be called "let’s make capitalism better in some obvious ways here, and then we can talk about non-capitalist long term solutions." (Succinct and catchy: I should've gone into advertising.) The anti-globalization movement and culture is quite something else. Most importantly, it is self-defeating. But hey, they’ve got leadership, experience, and a detailed wikipedia page. We'll see what develops.