Friday, July 27, 2007

Update: EU constitution, er, REFORM treaty

Call it what you will, it’s looking like the secret is out on the latest EU Treaty. The secret is that the sexy new reform treaty, recently modified under Miss Mild Mannered Merkel’s leadership at an emergency Brussels summit in order to be re-presented to the public after failed referenda in France and Holland, is barely different from its predecessor. Granted, those few differences are formidable, as will the political spin put on the whole 2nd draft, but most of the treaty remains the same. This fact is the source of both critics’ ire and proponents’ glee. That is to say, the latter still like the original idea, the former still don’t. The more things change…

Now those nasty sceptics— who won’t be happy until the EU is broken and oozing internal goo like Humpty after his fall— are going to throw a tantrum. They are going to start breaking the good china in the House of EUrope until there’s nothing left to eat on and everyone reverts to animalistic grunting. So we have conservative EUroskeptics par excellence Open Europe arguing that its exhaustive analysis shows that 96 percent of the new text is the same as the rejected constitution. Sure, in quantity maybe only 10 items have changed, but that speaks nothing about the quality of the changes, idiots! What about direction, the future, sacrifice, teamwork?! No no no. Instead we have fingerpointing (with chubby little baby fingers):

"If Brown now tries to carry on pretending that this is somehow a different document, it will be one of the most audacious political lies in the last couple of decades. It would be simply ludicrous," said the group's director Neil O'Brien.

Meanwhile, proponents of the Reform Treaty are taking classic political measures in order to justify the bypassing of a national referendum: they are relying on semantic bullshit. Thus the new, strapping young British foreign minister David Miliband claims:

"The concept of a constitution has been abandoned. That is made clear in the new treaty. In that context we don't think there needs to be a constitutional referendum."
See? No wonder he got the job.

The poor reform treaty! How will it ever pass, now that people are beginning to realize it’s not really that reformed! And one of the Reforms was to take away the EUro symbols—itself a terrible sign! Joder, things are looking bleak.  Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Remembering 1992, Spain’s moment

A lovely and historic moment last night here in Bcn: the same archer who famously lit the Olympic torch with Elvin accuracy while the world watched , was invited back for a redo to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Games.

The archer, Antonio Rebollo, appears to be aging like a fine Rioja. He met the high expectations of everyone who’d seen his first shot by nailing the target again, this time from outside the stadium—a tough shot, though he did have literally years to prepare (and, most likely, exclusive use of the stadium area for target practice, along with that cool white outfit) .

Most Barcelonans look back proudly on their famous Summer Games, “the best ever,” according to ex-Olympic Committee honcho Juan Antonio Samaranch (a Catalan). They were certainly the best Olympics I have ever been to. Although I was only 14, the trip I took with my father to Spain that summer was unforgettable—in retrospect, it’s clear what a watershed year it was for the country, one which set it on the path to its current esteemed place in Europe.

With the crazy decade of the Movida (popularized by Almodovar in his early films) following Franco’s death in 1975, Spain had already undergone a notable transition into capitalist democracy. But 1992 set the world’s eyes on the country in a way that can’t easily be repeated.

Madrid was named the cultural capital of Europe, and Sevilla was hosting the funky futuristic World Expo. Both of these medium-term events brought with them significant monetary, cultural, and infrastructural advances. The crowning jewel of this Year of Spain was the public unveiling of the hip new Barcelona. During the Olympics, it really was a magical city filled with a palpable spirit of glee and camaraderie. It was like the good old days: the city looked gorgeous and shiny and new, the events and housing went off without a hitch, and the US Dream Team even won the Gold Medal in basketball (though they spurned the spartan Olympic Village accomodations for a luxury hotel). The sporting highlight for me was making my first trip to the Nou Camp stadium (which I revisited in June to watch Barcelona throw away their season by giving up a last-minute tie to crosstown rivals Espanyol) for the gold medal soccer match, which the hosts won by scoring with 2 minutes left against Poland. Imagine 100,000 Spaniards going bonkers in a stadium-shaking, flag-waving goosebumpfest, singing the classis Olé! Olé Olé Olé! song for hours afterward. I was hooked.

As amazing as the Games were, the real triumph of Barcelona '92 was one of urban planning, toward the long-term goal of achieving a fully integrated and dynamic city of international reknown.

As most residents will explain to guests—say, upon bringing them to the Olympic Village, beach areas, or Montjuic—much of the city was renovated or rebuilt in preparation for the Games. The scale of investment and work is staggering, but it has become a paragon of large-scale urban renewal projects around the world, a phenomenon still being studied today.

This is not to say that the operation was carried out perfectly, because it wasn’t, but one simply cannot compare the pre- and post-Olympic Barcelonas. Barcelona’s current success and beauty are the result of a bold (yet logical, I would think) vision, good teamwork, and not-that-much corruption getting in the way.

In preparation for the Games, the inustrialized and largely abandoned beachfront, several km worth, was cleaned up and re-introduced to the city; the Olympic Village was turned into long-term housing; it served as the motor for the eventual comeback of the industrial, bleak Poble Nou neighbourhood. A new wave of renovations continues, as Barcelona expands its seafront amenities and Poble Nou (perhaps the Williamsburg of Bcn) renovation toward the Diagonal Mar area, while also consolidating the infrastructure of the Old Town and Eixample. Projects like Diagonal Mar and the Forum will be the subject of future posts, but for now imagine them as new pieces being added on to geographically essential areas of the larger urban grid. (If you’re interested in getting a handle on the city’s history, neighborhoods, and the scope of urban renewal over the last 20 years, check out the Barcelona Field Studies center; For those of you wondering what happens when Olympic games fail on an urban renewal level, look no further than Atlanta ’96.)

A simple stroll around the old town reveals that Barcelona has always been a uniquely beautiful Euro city. However one cannot comprehend its ascent to one of the coolest cities in Europe without knowing about the Olympic project. That’s why, sitting on Bogatell beach, I always compare it with the happy scene of 15 years ago; I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I’m lucky to have developed such a personal connection with this special place, and I’m going to miss it very much.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

French gov't sick of all the thinking, putain!

No, seriously, my fellow French:

Look into my eyes... Now, think less. ...And just work more.

Have I heard this before?

Sarko the darko? He looks kind of scary in this picture next to Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who got rich as a big-time Chicago lawyer and looks like a robot in a Simpsons episode.

I still don’t believe it. Surely these are just bizarre coincidences! There must be some explanation for this blatant anti-intellectualism! Some sort of historical or philosophical background would be in order. For example, maybe his father abandoned him when he was young and forced him to work hard and depend only on himself to rise to the top? Maybe his Napoleon complex comes from being shorter than even the girls in the class and being made fun of for his atypical features?

Look, everything’s going to work out just fine with mon mec Sarko, my friends. As one of my favorite songs of all time has it: no one said... it would be easy. So put down the croissant and roll up your sleeves, you lazy frogs! You can't just sit around at home or protest every government reform-- if you want a chicken in every pot, you've got to kill some friggin chickens. Tu bouge quoi!

Just give the man some time to calm down… and think about things in between doing them.
Hey, at least he's got some great old turncoat Socialists to help him think up a way to rescue France from its morass, its malaise, its... je ne sais quoi, mais... zey are ol go-eeng to haf to woryk too-gezair.

must-see non euro fotos

Ladies and gentlemen, I am normally not one to post ‘random’ material, but some things are worth the diversion.

I made a bizarre comment earlier about a Burmese python trapped in Florida. That was a reference to an article I’d come across waaaay back this morning about this invasive species of Burmese pythons that appear to be taking over Florida. I forgot where I'd originally seen the article, but I googled my way to this pic. Now that is some nature for you!

I’ve never wanted to go to the Everglades, by the way. I mean, I wouldn’t not go if you asked me to take a nice drive and gave me a gun. But it’s not high on my list. I know it’s pretty, but it seems to me one of the last savage and brutal spots on the planet. Or at least in America, which is rather large and diverse. For me the Everglades is like the deepest forest off the grid in the Rockies, or the vast cracked desert plain of Nevada, or any scene out of Cormac McCarthy. Beautiful, but forbidding. Nay, positively frightening, because the opaque water hides these horrific creatures that will bite off whatever part of your body unfortunate enough to penetrate the surface. 

Not only are there alligators (and crocs, I suppose), but there are also 20 foot pythons that will eat alligators. Or try to, at least. This photo shows what happens when a species is put in an environment to which it is not naturally accomodated: it explodes.

See more incredible photos on Monga Bay (my favorite rainforst/fish/Madagascar photo blog aside from Natty Geo).

Finally, I have to admit I want to tab this as globalization because, well, the global pets market and illegal importation of exotic pets and the ecological damage that results-- it's endemic to the globalized world we've become. We should expect it to reoccur, sort of as collateral damage for the crisscrossing of people and goods (and animals) around the planet. Textbook! That is why the EU has very tough laws about pet transport.

Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

... blackout update... blackout update...

New shit has come to light: the cause of the Big Barcelona Blackout of 2007 has been a massive power cable that snapped and went loco like a Burmese python trapped in Florida (we're talking chain reaction, fire, all out chaos)!

Though most service has been restored, the papers are still reporting on each and every development in the blackout story. Barcelona has been sent back to the middle ages, after all.

Because a single cable snapped. Half or a third of the city is in the dark for two days. Don't just call and complain! Let us take to the streets! The Catalans, the richest and most advanced non-Spaniards in all of Spain, will not accept this!

biba epanya! osea catalunya!

Monday, July 23, 2007

wknd recap + blackout anarchy

As a result of the current power outage, I had the strange opportunity this morning to ride through a city without working traffic lights. I crashed my bike and passed by another accident, but for the most part things seemed to go smoothly.

In truth, the bike crash was just a wipeout and entirely of my own doing. I am still getting used to this “new” bike (my previous one, a sweet Rock Climber with front shocks, was stolen), which let's say doesn´t suit my reckless driving style nearly as well. Plus it came with an unwieldy U-lock that has no fixed mounting place on the frame, so is kept around the handlebars—not ideal if you bike fast. So I tried to affix the lock closer to the handlebar T, where it might clank less. What I did of course was negate my ability to drastically turn the bike to either side, which I had to do not 3 minutes later to avoid a pedestrian. So, like an idiot, I wiped out on my own in front of confused onlookers. Luckily I escaped without tumbling onto the ground. My piece of shit bike was ok too. I took a bow in front of the crowd and got back on the horse.

The Eixample neighborhood has tons of traffic each morning, and it was eerie to see cars driving much more cautiously than normal. (Btw, no one had any idea why that part of town is blacked out or when it might come back; the press is reporting massive traffic jams and general chaos, but I didn't see any of that, and we have electricity here in the Raval, so who knows. It would probably be much cooler if we were blacket out too, because then we'd probably go have a drink.) You might think that no traffic lights would translate into traffic anarchy, but most drivers seemed to understand they ran a risk of ruining their day. The one thing that everyone did was edge up into the intersection as much as possible, so as to potentially deter oncoming traffic and effectively force them to yield the right of way. This seemed like a question of critical mass: one car jutting its way forward looked aggressive and dangerous, but 3 lanes’ worth seemed like something to stop for.

Aside from a minor fender bender I passed, it was just another lovely morning in the Eixample. Oh—in both police cars I saw driving around, the officers were visibly amused. I assume they found this morning’s lawlessness a welcome departure from the norm.

I'll try to get to the bottom of this blackout situation. In the meantime, other highlights from this wknd:

1) P, G, S and L are all visiting Bcn this wknd, or longer—having so many friends coincide can be tricky, but P and S know each other (and me) already from Budapest, so that helps. Saturday afternoon was spent at the beach in Castelldefells, where ultimate frisbee practice was later held. L showed up directly from the nearby airport in business attire and luggage. Saturday night saw some good eating and epic partying—first a house party (friends of friends), then Tiefschwartz at Nitsa, a great show at a great venue. Closed down to a full house at 6.30. Tief were celebrating their 10th anniversary and were in a very good mood, and the crowd loved it, even jumping onstage at one point to dance right in front of the decks, to the DJs’ delight, until the records inevitably skipped, and we all had to step down. That type of thing rarely happens without security pummeling you, so we felt lucky. A great moment of the summer.

2) Sunday we strolled through the wonderful Ribera/Borne neighborhood (which is probably already too hip for its own good, but just so gorgeous and so fun that you don't care; in fact, it makes you want to be rich so you can buy the hip clothes here and eat at all the hip restaurants) and ended up eating at a wonderful place in Borne, Origens 99.9, which serves authentic Catalan food in a traditional rustic setting. We highly recommend the cava sangria. Then we hit the beach by sundown and walked up north to Nova Mar Bella, where there were 3 great parties at 3 consecutive chiringuitos: a gay, lesbian, and ‘normal’ one. We ended up drinking mojitos at the lesbian one, digging the house music and the whole scene, which was apparently a warm-up party for Loveball, the European gay and lesbian festival, which is coming to Barcelona the first week of August. Curiously, some young Kiwi visitors we met at the bar were absolutely amazed that there was such a big and public gay party in the city (it didn't seem too bizarre to me-- though the lesbian couples going at it on the beach were hard not to watch)-- these guys have no idea what's in store for them!

3) Then we made it over to the party we were actually looking for, which was mobbed—the dance floor spilled over onto the beach, and tons more people were seated in the vicinity, while the elevated promenade was lined with onlookers as well. Lots of attractive, happy people; a nice balance bw natives and internationals. A few swimmers, a few too many drunk guys pissing in the ocean. Luckily for my professional life, the music was killed at 1am. No one was ready to leave. But, being a responsible adult with a sort-of job waiting for me the next morning, I suggested we let our weekend end there, and get some sleep. Anyway, these ubiquitous informal beach parties are precisely the type of thing that make Bcn so attractive. How many big cities can compete with this? Even without a big party, the chiringuito scene offers music and food/drink with an unsurpassed view-- basically, the perfect vibe, day and night. And sheer amount of beach (4 km? more?) make it so easy to meet up with friends and simply chill out, with plenty of space and no hassle. In short, the beach is Bcn's park. Add to that the Forum, which is not a beach but a multi-use port-marina-park complex that offers a swimming area, expositions, great summer concerts, and a massive, iconic solar energy panel. What else could one ask for?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Iberia (2): Update

The day after I waxed theoretical on Saramago's vision for a federal state of Iberia, El Pais published an article (again only in Spanish) on the same topic by Miguel Mora. It is a bit more realistic than my post. Here is an English article about the story.

The basic conclusions from the press are that, despite a clear sense of Iberian solidarity between the two countries, Saramago is indeed off his rocker. The fact is that Spain and Portugal are already quite commercially intertwined, and EU membership already accomplishes much of what an Iberian arrangement would. So an Iberian federation might be more hassle than help. Mora claims:
Today, in the 21st century and thanks to the only rampant ideology (the free market), Spain and Portugal are, paradoxically or not, more united than ever. Money, markets, workers, turists and companies flow without end from here to there, and political utopia seems to have lost all its sense. But there has been such a long time of mutual scorn that the idea continues to excite people.
All this not to mention the sticky issue of nationalism: even if the countries found an adequate power-balancing mechanism, the perceived threat of a Spanish-dominated Iberia to the small Portuguese population would likely be more than enough to kill the project. I would still agree with Saramago that Portugal would not risk losing its own identity as part of a greater Spain renamed Iberia (look at Catalunya and Pais Vasco). But the essential question here is: what's the point? It is hard to believe that Portugal would have that much to gain economically. Still, I would like to see some figures.

All the same, it's fun to think about if you're into federalism and post-national political configurations. Some more info and Iberian statistics on this blog post. Also, if you want a fun idea to gnaw at, check out Jan Zielonka's Europe as Empire, which claims the EU is turning the Continent into something more closely resembling the old neo-medieval and Holy Roman Empires: a looser and more complex structure, with interlocking levels of governance, fluctuating relationships and agreements, and its own organic rhythm beneath the chaos. Provocative and smart stuff.