Saturday, July 7, 2007

competitive eating: american pastime

"It was kind of hard to concentrate on my own stuff," said Erik Denmark, a challenger from Seattle, Washington. "I felt the emotion of the event."

Indeed! If I were back in Brooklyn, there's no way I would've missed the Nathan's Famous hot-dog eating contest in Coney Island. The world's best competitive eaters gathered at the home of the world's most... er, famous hot dog maker, in the scenic Coney Island National Historic District. And, as the IHT reports, it was a scene out of Rocky: an unknown young American, left, defeats the lean, mean, foreign 6-time defending world champion (right), restoring gluttonous glory to the true home of overeating. Even the other competitors (including super-cute Sonya "the black widow" Thomas, who ended 5th with 39 hot dogs) were overwhelmed by the historic clash of titans. Jo-ey!! Jo-ey!!

I've forwarded this article to some euro friends, because it has really brought out the nostalgia, and it's something that nobody here seems to understand. When I describe how last summer's Brooklyn bbqs were spectacles of proud overeating--to the point where it was difficult to actually get drunk despite being surrounded by dozens of our own crumpled beer cans--after which I inevitably ended up passing out with a stomach ache, I'm met with confused headshaking. I'm asked why anyone would do that. I'm like, "Whaddya mean why?"

On days like this, how can I ever hope to bridge le fracture transatlantique?

Maybe it's just the frustration of the July 4th bbq that I never had, but I can't help but pine for Brooklyn this morning. A day at the beach, a ride on the Cyclone, a view of the projects, and the tasty treat of watching human freaks eat 60+ hot dogs in 12 minutes. So damn American it hurts!

"Joey Chestnut: American Hero:" coming to cinemas in 2008.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

High speed chase in the Netherlands

There is a reason the Dutch drug policy, which we might want to compare against our own some day, draws the legal line at pot. (If only the EU would sack up and follow suit, so the Continent could spend more time tracking real criminals and less time breaking stoners' balls.)

Dussen, Netherlands, June 22, 2007—Crop circles on crack? No, just a car driver on coke.

A panicking driver high on cocaine led several police cars and a helicopter on a chase through a rural area in the Netherlands.

After knocking over two apple trees and ramming a metal fence, he zigzagged through a grain field before being caught, local police said. (National Geographic News)

Now, if the fellow had simply obeyed the law smoked some weezy before attempting this work of art:
  • he could've entered without attracting the attention of the authorities;
  • the drawing would've been much prettier and less frenetic;
  • plus he'd've avoided the apple trees and damage to his car.
But no: he had to get all coked up and ruin his shit! Now, in addition to paying for the damages, he'll probably be fined 25euro by the police and forced to apologize to the farmer. A Dutch judge will probably also recommend he lay off the pipe--er, lay off the coke, I mean, and hit the pipe: "Calm down, son!"

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

toma, Telefonica, muy hijos de puta!

Never one to miss a party, the newer sexier EU is delivering some fireworks of its own on this July 4th. One of my most hated companies ever, Spanish monopolio Telefonica, has been busted for being a big bully. Toma! I’m going to recharge my Movistar mobile today with something resembling glee. (Glee: a weird word.)

Aside from lovely beaches and scrumptious food, Spain is known for having the highest mobile phone rates in Europe—which is saying something. (It is saying that Spaniards and their happy expat communities are consumerist fools who willingly overpay for the luxury of sending messages all night from a bar without actually paying attention to their immediate surroundings and, like, talking on the metro.) Worst among the offenders is Movistar, a company famous for its ubiquitous publicity and just-good-enough customer service that saves lazy people the stress of switching to a smaller, less monopolistic network. In a world market where bad companies should go the way of the Insular Cave Rat (that is, extinct) and the consumer should be king, Movistar reveals capitalism's unfortunate loophole, in which the rich get richer and the masses keep getting screwed.

How appropriate indeed that the EU mark the anniversary of my great nation’s founding by invoking one of its most sacred values: fair competition in an open market. Granted, we still have a few monopolios ourselves in America—especially when they are believed to serve the public good in certain industries, like computers and the international arms trade. But whatever. Rest of the world, you should know this by now: Do as we say, not as we do.

we'll pay you to make babies!!

NYT reports the latest advance in social welfare from Western European states whose demographics are squeezing the same system to the breaking point:

Families will get $3,400 for each baby born in Spain as a reward for helping to raise the country’s low birthrate, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero told Congress in his State of the Nation address. Spain’s birthrate for 2006 was 1.37 lifetime births per woman, among the lowest in Europe. (Reuters, July 4 2007)

And this was the highest such level in Spain since 1991! What gives? Well, like other Europeans, Spaniards have had fewer kids as their society has grown richer since the days of la vieja Espana. But it’s not just that. This is a complex phenomenon that is changing the face of EUrope and has people up in arms about future policy responses. And it directly affects all of us (by "us" I mean Europeans; luckily I am a member of the excellent American welfare state).

In the globalized 21st century, increased wealth comes with increased financial and professional instability. It’s quite hard for young people to get stable jobs (Spain has the highest percentage of young people with temp work in the EU). Also, due to the recent absurd housing boom —especially in the two big cities—rents are quite high in proportion to salaries, which remain low. And for a young couple to buy a flat? Don’t ask:

The average house price in Spain was €276,300, or $373,668, in December, according to Sociedad de Tasación, a property company. That is a 107 percent increase since the same period of 2000.

Joder! Read more gory detail here.

Add to that the fact that public university education is virtually free, which allows Spaniards to change their major 4 times and aprovechar de los anos estudiantiles--take advantage of the student years—for a long time. While living at home, of course.

This goes a long way toward explaining why so many young Spaniards (and their compatriots across Europa) are nervous about the future: careers are hard to start and starting later, pisos are $upercaro$, and to top it off, parents react by telling them how things were simpler when they were our age, and what a shame they missed the Movida (the hedonistic celebratory '80s boom that marked Spain’s entry into capitalism, democracy, consumerism, drugs. In a word, Almodovar).

Zapatero’s solution? Pay to procreate! Plus offer more attractive loans to young homeowners, or their parents. While this is a logical move, it’s only worsening the epidemic of debt that is spreading across the nation.

So there you have the briefly outlined vicious circle of trying to gain financial independence in Spain these days. It ain’t easy being young and middle class anymore (though at least mom still cooks up a nice paella).

More on this situacion en future posts.

big problems in little Lisboa

The erstwhile objective EU Observer can’t help but ooze with sympathy for poor Portugal, who will endeavor to meet the challenges of its EU Presidency, even though they have no shot in hell of doing so.

Why so glum, Observer? All they’ve got to do is get everyone to ratify the former “constitution”, which while taking a new name and throwing a couple of key bones at nasty stragglers (Poland and Britain), remains virtually the same long, controversial document that was only recently rejected. If mighty Germany couldn’t solve these problems, what can we expect of puny Portugal?

“Lisbon must turn the outline agreed by EU leaders at their bad-tempered summit ten days ago into a 'reform treaty' – a document to replace the ill-fated European constitution that was rejected in 2005 in two referendums.”

Uh oh. How are they going to change the minds of the grumpy pessimists no-voters? Well, for one thing, they’re well organized:

It plans to have a full draft treaty ready for an EU foreign ministers meeting on 23 July, the day official treaty negotiations start and get the whole thing wrapped up by mid-October.

Great! Way to prepare ahead, guys, especially for a lazy-ass Mediterranean country! There’s hope yet!

But there are already signs it may not go as smoothly as Lisbon officials hope.

Ack! What could the problem be??

Poland is threatening to re-open a key part of the agreement, claiming that during the summit it was promised stronger powers to block decisions than is currently stated in the text.

Poland! Again! The twittering twins! They just won’t go away, will they, malditos gemelos de mierda! But wait-- what about the miraculous face-saving agreement struck in Brussels just a week ago?

Opening the negotiating door somewhat, foreign minister Luis Amado said that Lisbon "will have to clarify what really was agreed that night.

Doh! Wait—is this why people make fun of the EU?

Well, I for one love the soap opera. The high stakes! The colorful personalities making their mark on history! The inspiring need for former rivals to work together for the common good! The cute way that nice little countries can now talk tough to big ones!

Portugal, as your presidency begins, I salute you. May God have mercy on your soul and guide you through this troubled period. Don’t worry—it only lasts a few months! And hey—it’s not an impossible task, this “constitution” bit. After that, you’re practically home free. Right, EU Observer?

Aside from pinning down Polish and other leaders to what they agreed last month - Portugal also has to stop member states being sidetracked by the Turkey issue, which France is threatening to force onto the political agenda.

Doh! F*cking Turkey! F*cking France! F*ck!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

a newer, sexier EU

Well folks, sometimes the right thing pops up at the right time. For example, just as my buddy Drew arrives in Belarus afraid of getting bored, cafebabel profiles an unlikely rockstar in the last bad-boy dictatorship in Europe. A cool Belorussian for Andrew to hunt down before he himself is hunted down for dissent-- nice timing! At the same time, as I'm desperately searching for a way to better focus my europe-ish (europy?) blog, and how to make the topic 'sexier' to the largely indifferent public, the EU drops this number on its YouTube site! There is a god!

There are so many one-liners to crack about this that I would like to hold a contest. Please come up with a quip, headline, or caption-like phrase for this friggin awesome EU video, entitled "Let's come together!"

I will happily list entries here. As always, a prize will be awarded to the best quip/caption/headline/joke about this video. (Last contest's prize, as some of you may remember, was a one way business-class ticket to Papua New Guinea.)

More on this groundbreaking piece of political propaganda later. I'm going to watch the video a few more times. And try to get my hands on the director's cut.

Until then, if you need some help deconstructing the film, find some reactions here, here, aki, hier, et ici. Une nouvelle Union Europeene plus sexy? Moi j'adore!