Monday, June 30, 2008

O'C promises lap dances; the chez is hot; all the WTF news that fits

I’m confused. Apparently Big Jake is running pornography for the eighth time? Or something like that. O’C just sent out some message about the XXX version of the VIII tournament. This hardly sounds like forensics to me (except for You Know Who and the All Girl Band, about which the less said the better). I guess pretty soon I’ll have to send out a Bump invitation if I want to keep up. This will be our NC-17th year of operation, if you’re wondering. O’C’s message does solve the biggest mystery of the weekend, however, which is why he couldn’t respond to my urgent argument-solving text asking if there were undead in Indiana Jones IV. He was just too busy making VIII into an XXX vaganza when, in fact, he’s supposed to be training Kentuckwegians on how to refute Habermas. I’ll bet you Habermas answers his text messages.

Once again this weekend I saw demonstrated why Apple is Apple and everything else isn’t. A few weeks ago I installed an AirPort base station, and it was as easy as cake. Unfortunately, while it did for the first time get a signal to the furthest reaches of the chez, it wasn’t much of an one, as G&S might say, although it was better than the previous nothing. I tried using my old Belkin to extend the network, and I’m sure it would work, provided I was willing to take a few months of night school training in advanced metaphysics at the local Diplomas ‘R’ Us, but I couldn’t get it to do anything but blink in impotent snideness. So I bought another AirPort, and 5 minutes later, there’s a green light glowing in the hinterlands of the chez and enough strength-of-signal bars to energize WTF’s minute-by-minute analysis of the arrival of the novices into LAX for years to come. I love Apple. They do really make products that work well and they build them so that you can figure out how to use them. On the down side, the signal is so strong that a lot of homeless people are now hanging out in my driveway, using the chez for free internet access. I never should have sent my network password to those Nigerian Viagra salesmen…

Not much else of note. We’re seriously figuring Massachusetts for the Northeast Chumps (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that yet), and we’ll probably have the First-Timers MHL at the Bronx, in aid of attracting more Manhattanites. Everything is still up in the air, though, although the dates are settled. I would expect much quiet on the forensic front for the next couple of months, as schools are out and institutes are in, and mostly people will be doing mental target practice. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop writing. You should be so lucky. I never stop writing, because there’s always something going on, even if only in my mind. And I’m sure you’ll be looking here for WTF updates in between their minute-by-minute reports. Some folks, I know, want to read about every second of the event. If you’re one of them, then you’ve come to the right place.

Friday, June 27, 2008

SCOTUS shoots the moon

Heller certainly gives us something important to think about. There’s some good pieces abroad; keep an eye on the Feed for some of the best. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this in a legal sense; I need to study it in depth. But I must say that I do not favor the idea of there being a fundamental right to private weaponry in the year 2008. It just doesn’t track, much as, for me, the right of society to perform acts of capital punishment just doesn’t track. I do not feel that the Constitution is absolute; it has often proven itself inadequate to a particular situation, and fortunately an amendment process exists for fixing those inadequacies. I mean, after all, the thing did once explicitly support enslavement of human beings, and there was that ping pong game over the use of alcohol; some locales, by the way, are still dry, although none still have slavery, for the most part. Questions of law as morality, or morality as law, become very interesting in this light. Anyhow, people will be barking up this tree for some time to come, as they have for some time past. Students of the game should, if nothing else, learn a lot from it regardless of their personal opinion. And, let’s face it. It’s not as if we didn’t know it was coming.

On the positive side, the next time O’C has a forty-day awards ceremony, I can just shoot him. Scalia will defend my right to this. (Come to think of it, who wouldn’t?)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Do you take this rez to be your lawful wedded something-or-other?

Regarding the new rezzes, CP sez: “I'm pretty sure the marriage one [United States law ought not recognize marriage] is trying to say that marriage shouldn't be enshrined in law anywhere in the US. thus it becomes a cultural, religion-separation, etc issue. I rather liked that one...” You’ll no doubt not recall that my take was that it was differentiating between federal and local law. There is, of course, a belief among some that there should be a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, or more specifically limiting marriage to one man and one woman of the human persuasion, I gather because gay marriage challenges the very concept of marriage (whatever that is). This would provide a legal entry into the debate. And there are the issues of whether gay marriage, allowed in one state, must be recognized in states where it isn’t allowed, and although this is the sort of nice point of law that doesn’t allow for much interesting discussion, it nonetheless is a constitutional concern. I’m rather interested, actually, in the differentiation of state and federal polities. What belongs to one and not the other? This is one of the core issues of any federal state, and in our own, has led so far as to four years of civil war. I enjoy tracking the roots of the war between the states back to the Revolution, and earlier. There’s an inevitability much like reading a Shakespearian tragedy, the fatal flaw that isn’t going to work out well. But, of course, that’s just my particular hobbyhorse. Anyhow, aside from gay marriage, I haven’t heard anyone much say, damn, let’s do away with marriage (except, on a case-by-case basis, their own).

This was my least favorite rez of the bunch, and if CP’s interpretation is the one that takes root, that would not change my feelings about it. There are certainly interesting aspects of the civil-izing of naturalistic rituals, and one could take a hermeneutic/structuralist view of marriage and study how it fits into secular societal structures, or, for that matter, into non-secular societal structures: marriage is not at its core an act of religion, despite many religions’ claim on marriage as sacramental; i.e., marriage is more elemental than religion. Thinking along these lines, one starts to track back on a chicken/egg continuum: in the social context, was marriage first a civil act or a religious act? Not that this would determine what it ought to be, but the idea of marriage as something different from mating for life makes one think along those lines.

Anyhow, since we’d be talking about US law in general, i.e, law in the US, one would be hard-pressed to suggest that marriage should not be recognized as a legal action. It is, by any definition of the thing, a contract agreed to by consenting parties, and as such has the intrinsic legal aspects of any contract. (Coincidentally, I have just been polishing up the contracts section of the Hillary Duff, so I’m buff on this stuff.) So on the affirmative we would either have to argue that marriage is some other kind of contract that doesn’t really exist in the wild, or that it is no contract at all. A negative might get up and show the relative portions of the lectures from “The Paper Chase” to make his or her point clearly enough. And I won’t begin to enumerate all the civil issues that radiate from marriage (shared ownership of property, rights of survivorship, child-rearing—damn, I just did begin to enumerate them; I am so untrustworthy!).

Not that I ever disagree with CP, of course. Or anyone else, for that matter. This activity is about unity and fraternity and—no, wait. That’s not this activity.

If marriage makes it as a topic, I owe CP a drink. If I have to judge any rounds of it, he’s going to owe me drinks for life.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The injustice of justice; -273.15 degrees Celsius; the Summer of Love

I spent a little time with Justice last night. The problem is complex. People have been thinking about justice since what seems the beginning of time. At best, we can come up with a general sense of what it is, but the minute you start pinning it down, it looks up at you as if you’ve got a hole in your head and points to something you just said and shows you how that is entirely wrong, which is soooo frustrating. Normally the fact that a concept is slippery would not bother me all that much. Plenty of philosophical concepts are slippery, so what’s new this time? Well, the thing about justice is that it seems to inform practically every LD resolution. We are constantly saying that we are attempting to achieve justice, which forces us to explain what it is that we are achieving. While we all, perhaps instinctively, have a sense of what justice is, that’s not always good enough for a debate round. Certainly the fly-by phrase doesn’t capture it, i.e., “giving everyone their due” or “defined as fairness.” And at the point where we’re trying to achieve something that we can’t categorically define, even though we clearly know and agree that the thing exists roughly a certain way, there are people who will take advantage of your lack of a categorical definition, easily going so far as to say that your concept of justice must therefore be false, and often going to the extreme and saying that justice itself is a false construct. Show of hands, ladies and germs: how many people noticed that the new list of LD resolutions only uses the word “just” once? (All right. Actually, it’s the word “unjust”.) Maybe the committee is tired of nailing this particular jelly to the wall? Could be, folks, could be. It’s been explicit so often in resolutions lately, maybe they’re hoping that someone will finally come up with a new value or two in the rounds themselves. Now for a while, I don’t think. We’ll have to shake off a lot of old justice dust first.

In any case, I will end up with a working definition, plus some historical analysis and some applications. At the point at which a debater can argue successfully that there is no such thing as justice, we have performatively proven the existence of justice by performing an act of injustice (picking up that argument), thus confirming the positive by confirming the negative. Can’t have cold without hot, in other words. For that matter, all you need is colder; even if you can’t prove the existence of absolute zero, you can demonstrate one thing is colder than another, and the colder one is the closer of the two to the absolute. If cold is the goal, the colder one wins. Same thing applies to selling your soul to the devil, which never happens with an atheist. I mean, if the devil came up to an atheist and said, sell me your soul, the atheist would immediately see that the existence of the devil, the negative, proves the existence of God, the positive, and therefore, would keep his (un-)damned soul to himself. (What? Selling your soul to the devil is a metaphor? Now they tell me!)

I see that institutes have started up, along no doubt with the annual drive by instituters to get passed the resolutions they trained on during the summer. There may be a cart/horse situation here in terms of why they chose to train on those rezzes in the first place, but this practice does afford undue theoretical advantage to institute students above and beyond the sheer act of having gone to the institute. The good news is that almost every case written on a rez at an institute sorta sucks. A self-correcting machine of sorts, then. In the past one of my hardest coaching jobs has been demonstrating to campers the errors of their institutional ways. Occasionally they haven’t believed me and debated their summer loves, and the resulting heartbreak, while predictable, has still brought a tear to the eye. Summer loves are chimerical. Trust me on that. Not that I’m not in favor of institutes: I rather like the idea, actually. It’s just the cases themselves that are problematic. Wait till Yale. You’ll see.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The joy of techs; the joy of Vegas; farewell to the summer of 08; Feed thoughts

I managed to send Little Elvis into an uproar yesterday by downloading a bunch of TV shows from iTunes. When you have little or no hard disk space, the last thing you need is too much new data. Fortunately at some point I remembered the raw podcast files, and cleaned up five—count ‘em, 5—gigs of space, and the problem was solved. A new Airport base station arrived yesterday, adding another joy to the electronic life of the chez, but I didn’t install it yet. I need to extend the network to the upper forty; it seems a simple enough deal according to the Mac support docs, add to which the ease of doing, well, almost anything on the Mac versus doing that same thing on the PC. Of course, maybe everything is peaches and cream on the PC side now that Vista is out there. (That’s meant to be a humorous statement, if you were wondering.)

Things are pretty quiet on the forensics front, of course. NatNats is over, although I gather a few coaches stayed behind to actually enjoy Las Vegas without the handicap of minors transported across state lines distracting them from the city’s main attractions. I admit I enjoy Las Vegas for the gestalt of the place, which can pretty much fill your brain for three or four days before you even realize it. I like to gamble, but I don’t, much, because aside from statistical deviation, you are guaranteed to lose your money, which is not all that much fun. And on a more level playing field, so to speak, I’m not a good enough poker player to attempt it against strangers (although I’m intrigued by the idea of a backroom game some day against JV and maybe a few other sly dogs). I do like shows, however, where the spectacle outweighs the content (i.e., 17 different iterations of Cirque de Soleil). And who doesn’t want to get beamed aboard the Enterprise? And there’s plenty of good restaurants, unlike the olden days where it was all $1.99 buffets featuring all the filet mignon you could eat (most of which tasted as if you had gotten it from a $1.99 buffet, if you could get to it after pushing all the senior citizens out of the way, which isn’t easy because those walkers give them an extra purchase on their chosen turf). The first time I went to Las Vegas was in the 50s, so I’ve seen it change many, many times. And vice versa. Anyhow, as soon as they announce a debate tournament there for coaches only, I’ll be the first one to sign up.

I have been chiseling away at the Hillary Duff. Some of it was in better shape than other parts of it. I’ve also got some other projects I’m working on of a non-debate nature, so the evenings are filling up pretty quickly. Summer is always so short. I mean, it’s already practically over. The 4th of July is next week. That’s about half of it. And then, well, it’s September. Whew. That was fast. Damn. I didn’t get half of the things done that I needed to do. On the plus side, all that time elapsing so quickly means that there’s that much less time remaining in the Bush presidency. So, there’s a positive side to everything.

This whole Zimbabwe story, while sad, is fascinating. It’s got everything: freedom, tyranny, racism, globalism, violence. The Policians have studied Africa at great length, which is something we haven’t done in LD (or in Pffft, at least on topics I recall, but my experience there is more limited). I fed (feeded?) a story yesterday demonstrating growth of nations, and I was listening last night to an interview with Fareed Zakaria, author of The Post-American World. We see growth on the globe everywhere but Africa. Why is this? Why has this one continent missed out on so much? It is, as I say, fascinating, but also sad. And I don’t see any big change coming in the short term. Or, for that matter, the long term. Maybe the growth of China, and their need for resources, will ultimately make the difference. I have no idea.

Friday, June 20, 2008

LD wording committee takes a long enough break from the slot machines to present next year's topics. Huzzah!

Ahhhh. The new LD resolutions have been sent out to a waiting world. I love watching people dicker about them on WTF. Someone will list the absolute best, and the next person will list those same ones as the absolute worst. Of course, often we can’t tell about the mechanics of a resolution until we get into the trenches, but why should I not contribute my two cents just like everyone else?

R: Military conscription is unjust.

Interesting subject, although, well, it’s not. Unjust, I mean. Oh, it could be handled unjustly, I guess, but not inherently. Still, this rez would force people to evaluate what responsibilities we have as individuals to society, and it also might raise questions about just/unjust wars, so it could be interesting.

R: On reservations, sovereignty claims by indigenous peoples ought to be prioritized above the plenary power of the United States federal government.

Again, interesting subject in a new area for a lot of students. Awfully wordy, though, but apparently of necessity. Anyhow, sovereignty to me is one of those subjects that is wide open, and therefore interesting to argue.

R: In a democratic society, felons ought to retain the right to vote.

Curious subject area, but I’m happy to admit that once again it opens the door to some interesting research about the rights of the disenfranchised, or maybe more specifically the limits of disenfranchisement.

R: A parliamentary form of government is preferable to the United States presidential system.

Come on. If this isn’t the NatNats topic, I’ll eat your hat. Or else it will not be any topic, because it is way too complex for a short debate round. Still, you could feed off this one all year if you wanted to.

R: United States law ought not recognize marriage.

What? Oh, well, every deck has a joker. I guess what they’re going for here is the limits of federal law, but marriage (gay, straight or just marginally askew) is a local—and not a constitutional—issue, unless we were to make it such, and why would we. I can’t see this one getting off the ground at all. (Even if this one was a typo, and it should say “gay marriage,” I’d still not think much of it. We’d still only be arguing federal versus state statutes, which is awfully precious for two months of argumentation.)

R: United States immigration policy ought to prioritize admitting skilled workers over reunited families.

This is sort of an apples and oranges resolution with a rather forced conflict. I’d like to study immigration, but I don’t think the rounds would be too good on this one.

R: The United States ought to submit to the jurisdiction of an international court designed to prosecute crimes against humanity.

Again, sovereignty, international law, all that good stuff that is so vague in our standard texts and our standard approaches to resolutions. I’ve got a feeling, though, that arguments would go off that track into analyses of crimes against humanity per se, but this one might be okay.

R: Public high schools students in the United States ought not be required to pass standardized exit exams to graduate.

One of the biggest hot-button issues in the US today. My only issue is that it is so likely to go stock so quickly, there being not too many positions on either side beyond the obvious big ones.

R: The United States ought not issue torture warrants.

Again, wording is a little curious, but who doesn’t want to argue torture?

R: Vigilantism is justified when the government has failed to enforce the law.

I can’t see this one working out. I like analyses of law qua law, as in the old resolutional chestnut of civil disobedience, but CD is one of those things that could conceivably be relevant in one’s own life, whereas vigilantism hardly ever comes up at the dinner table, at least in my house.

If you’re keeping score, this has to be one of my most favorable critiques of one of these lists ever. Good work on the part of the committee. They should be commended for it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Meanwhile, who are the Jonas Brothers; there's something out there; calendar gel

As soon as you start looking at something to edit it, you end up rewriting it. Or at least I do. By the time I’m done with the Hillary Duff, it will be the Miley Cyrus. Oh, well. It’ll be better. That’s what matters. (Not that I’m saying Miley Cyrus is better than Hillary Duff, mind you. This is not a theological discussion. Then again, I wouldn’t know either of them if I saw them in a police lineup. I mean, be realistic here.)

I’ve been Feeding a lot of metaphysics pieces, it seems, and I am struck by the number of leading lights (going back to Plato) who have suggested that, since our senses are limited, there is probably some whole ’nuther thing out there underlying reality, which they maintain exists because they can’t know through sensory data that it exists. What??? Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the same thing as paranoia? Then again, paranoia would be, I can’t see them, but I know they’re out there, while in this case it’s because I can’t see them, I know they’re out there. I was obviously not cut out to be a metaphysician. I just hope my Ethicist License doesn’t expire any time soon.

Next year’s calendar remains in flux. It’s looking as if Newark will hold two-day novice divisions as part of their invitational, which is something we discussed back at Northeast Chumps. We were all very much behind this; it would eliminate the MHL that weekend, but everyone would benefit from more rounds. O’C and I would tab the event, probably at a separate school for both LD divisions. However this works out, I like it. From my perspective it makes Newark so much easier than trying to shuttle down two separate groups on different days. Another weekend starting to take shape is the one before Bigle X, with an expanded ALJ event and possibly a conjunction of NY and NJ UDLs somewhere else. We’ll see how that works out, but it, too, might end up MHL-less, but with all the MHLers debating elsewhere. More to come on that, but probably not soon, as school years are coming to a crashing thud all around us.

And I see that we are now going into round 382 of the NatNats hostage situation in Las Vegas. WTF reports that the event is predicted to end by Labor Day. With any luck.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

C-3PO down and out; Hillary Duff alive and well

I see that NCC-1701 and THX 1138 have broken in Duo. Or something like that. I’ve always liked T-1000 (although his teammate T-1003 used to dip the girls’ pigtails in the inkwell). HAL 9000 is my BFF. And as for 666, why, I even keep the number of the Beast as a cell phone speed dial. I find it soooooo useful that WTF is publishing these lists of random numbers. I don’t know about you, but I print them out and paste them on my bulletin board as keepsakes for all time.

Except, well, I don’t really print them out.

And I don’t have a bulletin board.

But you knew that.

Last night I began the updating of the Hillary Duff, which is one of my summer goals. I really haven’t looked at it in a while, and I always did like it. There will be a general editing, including better material on justice, plus a few imported famous French people. It’s interesting how styles of lesser lights change over time. The concepts set forth by Locke and Mill and Rawls remain essential ideas that one must master to understand basic social philosophy, but someone like Maslov, whose name used to pop up three times a day and twice on Sundays back in the 90s, hasn’t been heard from in years. He was never particularly enlightening, of course, except insofar as he easily exemplifies the rather banal nature of safety as a social value. I would say that Derrida is the Maslov of today, someone no one ever seriously reads (can you name a book you’ve read cover-to-cover by either; or, if that’s too hard, a book either of them wrote that you’ve even heard of?) but who comes up now and then in aid of…something. The Old Baudleroo also fits that limited context, but at least he’s fun to read, regardless of the fact that he’s full of bull-arkey. Anyhow, styles change, even though most people think that they’re serious diggers into the mother lode of brilliance rather than just fashionistas studying the latest mental hemline height. (Except, of course, your theory people are becoming pretty déclassé even in academic circles these days; $ircuit judges may be the last holdouts wearing these particular mental leisure suits.) And who am I to prevent people from keeping up with the times? So, a fresh coat of paint on the old HHLDPH, and thence to the Cur for a similar refresh.

Speaking of HAL 9000 (and we were, about 83 paragraphs ago), did you know that HAL is the NYSE symbol for Halliburton? Now there’s a useless piece of information for you. And THX is Thor Explorations Ltd, which I gather is some sort of mining company. NCC is National City Corporation, whatever that is; presumably they buy and sell cities. But forget all that; you’ve got to get a load of this: Need I say more?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Viva Las Ripon (including bonus extra: "Where's my BF?")

A tournament that takes an entire week, being held during a crucial (and mandated) exam period, and ultimately in competition with graduation—what’s not to like? While I’m not as hard on the Riponwegians as CP, I certainly agree with him that their organization is simply not as important around here as either they think it is, or as it is in other areas. I run a tournament a month under the auspices of the MHL, plus I run LD for 3 or 4 other events under the auspices of the NYCFL, and if we just went around and did some name changing, I’d be running 10 or so events a year for the NFL, and I’d have enough stripes on my NFL sleeve to command a battleship, but to what end? We’re a small district in a relatively busy forensic area because there’s no reason for us to be otherwise. If going to the big party is not a realistic goal, why spend a lot of time at the tux rental store? This doesn’t criticize the people who can and do go; it’s just that we mostly can’t, so we don’t. In our battles over our district’s redness, we kept trying to make this point, but Ripon really didn’t want to hear it. It was their way or the highway, to the detriment of those few programs in our area that, for whatever reason, actually can and therefore do. Fortunately the Wunn and Only helped us out of our Ripon-induced funk—I think he’s a good egg—but officially, we were road kill. And the only ones suffering as that road kill were the ones who most wanted to run across the highway. Something was, and is, definitely wrong somewhere.

Sigh. The World’s Worst District Chair strikes again. What can I say?

Curiously enough, I noticed a spike in the size of the VCA specifically for the post I did on the NatNats rez. It hardly provided arguments, but it did attempt to outline the conflict. I would imagine that, by now, those brevet VCAers who folded it into their cases have been eliminated from the tournament, and are able to spend their entire days at Circus Circus. Sorry about that, folks. Nobody reads this blog to improve their cases. At best you might pick up some gossip about O’C, but that’s about the end of it. Did I ever tell you about the time he didn’t get arrested in Tijuana?

Last night I did indeed begin chipping away at my summer chores, starting with getting reimbursed for some of last winter’s expenses. With my wallet filled to underflowing, I will next embark on something less tangible, like an update of the Cur. And a few more Nostrums wouldn’t hurt, I guess. I do feel a little sorry for the small circle of yabbos who were listening to those podcasts, having cut them off as I did. But then again, how many of them bothered to slip me a Ben Franklin under the table every now and then for my efforts? This stuff doesn’t grow on trees, you know. For that matter, if you’re reading this blog, you probably owe me at least thirty or forty bucks by now. Where’s my money, eh?


Monday, June 16, 2008

"Have it your way"; bidness as usual; honoring the undead

One thing in Spain that I didn’t understand were the ferreterias. There weren’t a lot of them, but every town seemed to have one or two. I couldn’t figure them out from their windows. I guess they were places where you could get ferret cooked however your little heart desired. But how many ways are there to prepare ferret? I mean, after your basic boiled, broiled, baked and braised, I’m sort of done. Oh, yeah. Ferret tartar; I forgot that one. Anyhow, send in your favorite recipe for ferret, if you have one. Maybe we can put together an online cookbook.

The new TOC bid info is out. There’s nothing particularly surprising about it. It’s good to see Big Jake at the Quarters level; given that O’C plans on running it for 8 days straight (3 days of which will be devoted entirely to ceremonial events), anything less would be a bit of a blow. Bump maintained itself in both LD and Pffft. I would like to see our attendance numbers a bit higher on the latter, but I’m not quite sure how that would happen, as most schools didn’t even come close to the quota. I’m still sanguine about the little activity that could, however, and maybe this year more people in the region will take to it naturally, and it will be their thing, rather than some forensic skeleton in the closet that only gets rattle when the rest of the family has gotten a little too raucus. [Now you see why I ask you to insert your own metaphors.]

(I’ve got to get this out of my system.
Receptionist: There’s an invisible man in the waiting room.
Doctor: Does he have an appointment?
Receptionist: No.
Doctor: Tell him I can’t see him.)

I see that O’C has gotten a service award from the NFL. I do hope they had a long ceremony to give it to him. The Rev BA got his 10th award (!), which is hard to achieve except posthumously. Mine will come when they institute World’s Worst Chair category. I am good at some things though. I just tidied up the Sailor’s schedule for next year, with the updated TOC info. And I started on some of my real summer chores. So, I’m back in (off-season) business.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Farewell to the Bahamas…

So I’ve decided to stop recording Nostrum podcasts. I did a lot of them, roughly two years’ worth, and I feel like enough is enough. I will post the rest of the episodes as pdfs over the next few weeks, though. There’s no reason to let the work of Jules and the Nostrumite fall through the internet cracks. The story never does end, but it does go on for about as much as has already been published. And the ones I did record will remain available for anyone interested.

And so as the sun sets in the West, we bid a fond farewell to beautiful, exotic Nostrum.

Meanwhile I feel I do have to get cracking on the summer chores I’ve set for myself. So far all I’ve been doing is playing with photos and music and generally entertaining myself. But I have a full and rich to-do list in Remember the Milk, and I would like to be able to erase something off of there before the summer is over. Next week. Definitely next week. Or so.

I guess now we all settle back and watch the NatNatters go at it. I haven’t heard of any meetings to renovate LD or PF, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some. I certainly liked what they did to LD a couple of years ago, although I was a little disappointed that it had no specific effect outside of the literal NFL universe. But at the same time, there has been a lessening of tension in the LD universe lately. I don’t get the sense that enemy armies are facing each other from their dark and muddy trenches as they seemed to be a couple of years ago. I’m not quite sure why the tensions have eased, but dedicated soldiers of the VCA will recall that back in the day I was of the persuasion that many mountains were being built out of molehills, and we seem to have retreated from explosive-change-or-die back to evolution. LD, or any activity, should be allowed to evolve if that evolution makes sense. If we believe in the value of what we are doing, then testing it against other ways of doing it is a noble venture. To paraphrase Mill, either we’ll prove we were doing it the right way, or we’ll learn a better way of doing it. Either end is fine by me.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

No, I don't own any White Stripes albums

I just spent some time with a friend who has moved from a PC to a Mac. Before he realized he needed someone versed in the ways of this particular world to hold his hand during the treacherous journey, he managed to turn his relatively full Windows-oriented iPod into an interesting technological curiosity empty of any content yet registering as half full. Or half empty. I guess people aren’t born downloading Senuti… On top of that, for reasons that elude me, he believed back in his PC days (last week) that he should rip his CDs as Apple Lossless, which turns out to save each song at about 22mgs, versus 2mgs or so for regular MP3s. Anyhow, I went down into to his cave, and by the time I finished sorting him out, if nothing else he was going to have 20 times as much space on his now Macintosh-based iPod. He was able to import his old music library as is, but unfortunately, as far as I could discover, there was no way to batch-process what he had already ripped down to the smaller versions, which has to be done one tedious file at a time. So what lessons did we learn from this?
1. Buy a Mac in the first place.
2. If you own even one White Stripes album, you probably don’t have the hair cells to hear a difference between Apple Lossless and MP3, so don't kid yourself. The point of an iPod is convenience, not high fidelity. If you want high fidelity, hire an orchestra.
3. The first thing to do when you buy music on iTunes is to burn it to a disk, which removes the DRM, provides a backup, and also allows you to play the music on any old CD player. And when your iPod goes to iPod heaven, you have all your purchased music available for easy reload. (Since you already know my thoughts on stealing music, we won't even discuss that option.)
4. Don’t use a Windows keyboard on a Macintosh Mini; it just annoys old Mac dogs like me. Pay the extra $50.
5. Buy a Mac in the second place, if you were too obtuse to do so in the first place.

In other news, I’ve been listening to an audiobook of one of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels. Never heard of the guy before, and I’m loving it: it's the perfect drive-to-work accompaniment. If all his books were on Audible, I’d have signed up for an account today. I still might. I enjoy audiobooks, especially for things I wouldn’t ordinarily find time to read, like fantasy and SF. But I am also up to here in podcasts, which are not the same but are akin in that they are both talk on an iPod, and one has just so much time in one’s life for that sort of thing. If I set aside commute time for audiobooks, however, and morning exercise time for podcasts, I can probably work this out. I don’t think I could ever just sit in a comfy chair and listen to either, to tell you the truth. If I’m sitting where I can read something, I will, unless I don’t feel like reading, in which case I don’t want somebody else reading to me or yapping me over the pseudoradio. That’s why the DS was invented.

We do live in complicated times.

Since we’re in a technical mood today, I will point out that I just realized that my little cell phone can access the internet. It does this with the grace of [insert humorous metaphor here for some really graceless thing doing something that takes a lot of grace], but the miracle is that it does it at all, as Dr. Johnson might say. I don’t think I have any reason to do it, but it’s nice to know that I can. If I could seriously access my email from it, that would be rather sweet, which is why the iPhone is so theoretically attractive; God knows the phone part doesn't interest me much. Given that the new iPhone is figured to cost $100 or so a month, versus the $5 or so I’m paying now, I really don’t see one of those in my future, although that would solve the problem, such at it is. I was sort of thinking that the Touch would upgrade too, but that doesn’t seem to be happening, and how many iPods does one person need, anyhow? The Touch remains in the back of my mind, though, as the perfect way to watch Diggnation episodes on school buses. But I do need to upgrade my headphones. I’ve got the ones you stick in your ear about as far as the medulla oblongata that block ambient noise but make you feel as if your brain is in a vise; I want some Boses. Of course, everyone wants some Boses. Maybe some day… Provided we still get school buses next year. The price of fuel being what it is, we’ll be lucky if they give us maps.

What looms largest for me on the Man versus Machine front in the short term is a new espresso maker that is now in our kitchen. It came with a big, thick manual, and it looks suitably stern and forbidding. Real espresso, any time of day or night! But I understand that you don't just turn it on and there you are. There's real work involved in the learning. And if it ain't got the crema... You spend your weekend your way and I'll spend mine my way.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Some comments on Care and Feeding

I have not lost my interest in the issue of newspaper reading. Far from it. It is something I have spent a lot of time sorting through, for an obvious end: If I am going to coach students who need a certain knowledge of current events, I need a way to provide that knowledge. And at the same time, an expectation on my part that that knowledge should be provided by physical newspapers is, at best, wildly optimistic. I do come from a generational bias, of course. When I was coming up the ranks, reading the newspaper was the only way to conquer current events. There was no alternative. And I should add to that the idea that reading the newspaper smacked of adulthood. Kids didn’t read the newspapers, but kids believed that one day, when they were adults, they would. Reading the newspapers was a mark of adulthood, much like getting a mortgage and listening to Sinatra and eating olives. All adults seemed to do these things, but no kids. If you wanted to be an adult, you would have to train yourself. So, you did your best. You started to read the comics and the movie reviews, you opened a bank account with a little book that told you you were earning $1.23 interest a year, you didn’t grimace when “High Hopes” came on the transistor radio, and you kept trying to eat olives no matter how icky they tasted. Through this cloud of initiation, somehow, someday, you’d be a grownup. And, I will add, it worked for me. I can read the paper while simultaneously listening to Sinatra and eating olives, and my mortgage is paid automatically out of my checking account. You can’t get any older than that!

What we need to do in this discussion is cut through to the goal, then decide the best way to achieve that goal. That is, we have to get past the idea that students need newspapers to get to the idea that students need a broad base of information on current events—a general knowledge of the news—that they can draw on when they analyze resolutions. You certainly wouldn’t want to be in a position of never knowing anything that’s going on, and always having to begin research at a point of total ignorance. But if you know, say, the general political picture in the hottest African hot spots, like Zimbabwe, and a resolution comes along about African hot spots, well, at least you’ve got a clue about one horror story, and maybe more than one (in this case, how Zimbabwe has fed into South Africa’s problems). Mere intellectual curiosity is reason enough to want to know, a driving need to acquire knowledge plus maybe a concern for one’s fellow humans, but my goal is not creating that concerned, intellectually curious individual whole cloth, because the education system as a whole has that responsibility. I have only one part of that responsibility (and an extracurricular one to boot). I’m a debate coach; I’m just trying to save some steps when resolution analysis time comes up.

One of the things I’ve been touting about the physical newspaper experience is its serendipity. Serendipitous discoveries of stories lead us where we weren’t expecting to go, and we learn things we weren’t expecting to learn. But again, my goal cannot be the transmittal of all information, serendipitous or otherwise, or the total responsibility for molding the concerned citizen. I’m the debate coach; I’ve got to stay on that track. Still, there is more to debate information than the news per se. There is also, at least in LD, schools of thought and analysis that operate outside of specific events. Ethical concerns can be about some specific item, or can just be about ethics per se. If I can get that sort of information across to my students in addition to the news, that is a good thing in general but more importantly, a part of my job. So what I’m beginning to see is that the serendipity that I can provide is of this nature, so if I’m not attempting to replicate the newspaper, I can still nonetheless provide more than just a cut-and-dry news-clipping service. You can get that anywhere.

So I took on the idea of the Feed a month or two ago with the idea that I’d see how it went, and see if it fit the goals I was setting, which was to provide some material access to information akin to what I had been previously relying on newspapers for. At the same time, it would have to be something that was literally accessible to a plugged-in student, entertaining enough but mostly because of its continuing relevance, good enough to draw back the student despite other demands on his or her time.

Although I had followed the odd feed before, I had never attempted to create one. So I did have to figure that out as I went along. The temptation to throw in too much, to throw in interesting stuff outside the realm of the debate world, was initially strong. This might have been due partly to starting off with relatively limited resources of RSS material, and a feeling that I had to fill things up. Over time, however, I’ve refined my sources, and found plenty of new ones, so that the stuff that’s coming to me raw is at the very least potentially LDish (or, of course, Pffftish). Lately I’ve had no problem coming up with all sorts of articles, almost all of which would be valuable to the debater, even though I hardly expect every debater to want to read all of them, just as I personally don’t read the entire newspaper cover to cover. But even to the casual glance, the Feed should look relevant enough for someone to visit it regularly, and to be more likely than not to get hooked on it. And since there would be no point in my continuing to create it if I didn’t think it had value, I decided I would ultimately assign it officially to my own team if I thought it was working out, so it did really have to deliver.

The feed itself, in the final analysis, would tell us if it were worth reading. So, slicing into it at any moment ought to tell the tale. So let’s look randomly at the last few items and see if we’re doing what we need to do.
1. Giraffes are now kosher. Okay, that’s just interesting, and highly unlikely to come up in a debate. But it’s only one sentence. And Jews on safari may need to know this.
2. A think piece on the essentialist aspects of race. Unquestionably valuable analysis in our multicultural universe.
3. A map of the universe conceived by Homer. Totally useless, but again, interesting. I usually resist the temptation on these sorts of useless yet interesting things, but sometimes… I should have fewer of these in the long run.
4. Article on Apple’s business vis-à-vis the iPhone. It’s a good business article, and the sort of thing a Pfffter should have in the Pfffting head.
5. News article on (bad) farm outlook for the year. Given the international food shortages, we need to know this.
6. Opinion piece on unemployment on underclass youths. Obviously useful.
7. Transcript of Rowling’s Harvard commencement address on the imagination. Interesting but hardly essential.
8. What gay marriages say about gender roles in marriage. A news item, very useful given the gender politics themes of many cases nowadays.
9. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” going to the Supreme Court? Always a chestnut.

And that’s the top page, taken at random. 3 of the 9 could go, but they are serendipitously interesting enough to break the monotony. 3 of the 9 are essential. 3 of the 9 are useful. Overall, that’s a pretty good count. Any serious debater looking at this page (all the articles were added within a few hours of one another) would pick up at least a couple of important headlines, and maybe read one or two of the articles at length. And I think it’s been like that regularly.

So, yeah, I’m touting what I’m doing, looking at my handiwork and declaring it good. But it is good, and it keeps getting better as I refine the RSS feeds I get on my end, and curb my silliness instincts (and my taste for kosher giraffe). As I said in an earlier post, I am an editor by trade, after all. I’m simply plying that trade in a different medium than normal. And more importantly, I am achieving my goal of providing useful general knowledge for debaters. Does it replace the newspaper? Well, to tell you the truth, it’s a different sort of beast altogether, so the original issue of newspapers doesn’t matter anymore.

What I’m hoping for is, beyond the students to whom this will be a mandatory assignment, that others will have it in their bags of computer tricks, and consult it. If only half of the VCA looked at it fairly regularly, it would have an effect. So I will be sticking with it. And I hope you will too. Even if all you do is glance at it every day to catch up on the latest entries, I guarantee you will find something useful that you might not have otherwise seen, or gotten to so readily. If not, I will give you double your money back.

Good deal, eh?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Palmer, Chumps, Gaudi, Dewey, Updike and Goy, Attorneys-at-Law

Ensign Palmer and I have been agonizing over the 2009 Chumps date, and I was just studying a calendar a bit more, trying to suss it out. The problem, as with any new tournament, is finding somewhere to put it among all the pre-existing tournaments. Throw in that March and April teem with qualifiers and holidays and state events, and the soup is overflowing with depth-charge crackers. I will round up the usual suspects shortly (although many will be wilting in Las Vegas) and see if we can figure out the least egregious possibility. No date will be perfect; it will be a matter of finding the least imperfect date.

I’ve posted links over on the right to the Spain pictures I posted on Facebook; my understanding is that people without a face can gain access to them (but I’m too cookied up to know for sure). Then again, who isn’t on Facebook these days? I mean, if I am, who isn’t? Anyhow, check them out, if you’re interested, especially the Gaudis, some of which are extremely haunting.

I should point out that I’m RSSing (it’s amazing how something like that so easily becomes a verb) the various blogs I know of among Sailors, mostly just out of personal interest, but also to cross-post to the Feed if there’s anything of transcendent value. If anyone of the debate persuasion has a blog that is non-debate-oriented, let me know, because I’d love to track it (and Feed if, if warranted). I’ll read anything, as ought to have become apparent by now. Speaking of which, I ultimately bailed from Dewey’s Art as Experience. I got a bit of value out of it, but art has gone to such odd places since its writing that, while it holds worthwhile truths, its relevance is, at best, off-and-on. Ultimately I think that my reading needs on the subject are more objective, for instance the lecture Updike just gave on American art (which I probably should have fed but didn’t). I’d like to read his art books, although the first one seems to be out of print. Shocking though it may be, he’s a better writer than Dewey, hence more accessible to me, plus he’s deep into the details. Whatever. I’m just breezing through short stories at the moment, casting about for something meaty. To be honest, it’s too hot to read anything serious. It’s too hot to do much of anything. But you don’t need me to tell you that, because it’s been hot everywhere. The good news is that it will cool off everywhere soon enough. Except in Vegas. Hey, you’re the one who wanted to qualify. By the way, the usual NYS suspects were reelected to the District Committee, plus new Usual Suspect Sabrina Graham from Monticello (a right addition). Which means I once again get to be the world’s worst district chairman. At least the Goy will be all improved, including the requests for error-fixes I requested. Oh, wait. No one ever acknowledged my requests. Whatever. It was free, and you get what you pay for…

So I guess that, slowly, we’re getting back into the swing of things. Not a hundred percent yet, but close.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Anonymous makes a name for himself; Under the Sea; more Chumps is better Chumps; "All hands on deck!"

Well, that’s enough of that, eh, sports fans? Well, don’t worry. Chico is closing up the piano, Groucho is lighting his cigar, and once again we can get back to business as usual. Why a duck? Why not a chicken? I thought you’d never ask.

It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my home— No, wait a minute, that’s not right. It’s been so long since I’ve done this I’ve almost forgotten how.

There now seems to be a national movement afoot to break the contestant codes at NatNats. Like CatNats, for some reason the people in charge prefer everyone to go by numbers rather than names. This is always a curious process at small venues where everyone already knows who everyone is, and you have to wonder what is gained by the illusion of anonymity. Given that the usual suspects inevitably rise at the national events, those become virtual small venues, so one wonders what is gained there as well. I mean, it sounds good I guess, that no one will be in the slightest way swayed by knowing whom they’re judging, but how often is that the case? We’re not that big a community, and while NatNats may be humongous compared to other events, it’s still going to have the same old familiar cream rising to the top, for the most part. Even I usually know the players without having to have a scorecard, although I will admit that occasionally I’ve judged someone unfamiliar to me at a $ircuit event and afterwards someone has told me that so-and-so is the number one rated debater in the known universe, a fact of which I was completely ignorant. (As a rule, one does inevitably and for obvious reasons pick up so-and-so in those anonymous situations, but my favorite incident of this nature was back in the Dark Ages when so-and-so, a senior who had won the previous year’s NatNats, was in a bid-level break round. So-and-so was one of those debaters who liked to argue with the judges, and he just couldn’t believe—at great length—that he hadn’t won. It was a 3-0 against him. How much more convincing did he need? To be honest, if we had known who he was, it would have been 5-0 against him, he lost so badly.) If you are going to NatNats, check out these code-breakers. I’ve seen postings from both Georgia (I’ve published that to the Feed) and NDCA, and I gather they’re all connected. Unless you want to remain under the radar. By the way, they’re predicting a high of 99F in Las Vegas for today. Tomorrow it will creep up to 101F. You’re the one who wanted to go to Vegas, bub. Try to find an air conditioner, regardless of what name you travel by.

Meanwhile, there are issues with next year’s calendar that we’ve been working on. First of all, the traditional CFL on Halloween weekend, simultaneous with Manchester-Under-the-Sea, cannot transpire this year because of a conflict at the venue. So a couple of changes, first, a debate CFL earlier in October, on 10/4, including a varsity division (why not?), and secondly, I’ll have no earthly reason not to visit Manchester for the first time in ages. O’C and I are trying to convince Jonathan P that novice divisions in debate would be a good idea for him, rather than JV (sophomores can go varsity). We’ll see what happens. It is a bit early for novices, but then again, only because we have MHLs. I like the idea of throwing novices into the tank and seeing how many survive the sharks. Then again, how many sharks are there during their first month? In any case, I probably won’t need to corral the usual poor parent chaperone for the Manchester, so there’s one less begging session I’ll have to put the Sailors through.

There’s also some moving on the Mass front that conflicts with the Northeast Championships. That’s more complicated to solve (taking minors across state borders being a federal offense), so I’ve got to get shaking on that. An early resolution of TNC is important to keeping the numbers up. And we do want Mass Chumps to be part of the overall Chumps picture.

At least we all do talk about this stuff nowadays, as compared to creating calendars in secret and hoping they don’t conflict. Sometimes things are beyond our control, but they shouldn’t be beyond our knowledge. Of course, when I have an issue I prefer vilifying people in my blog to actually talking to them, as CP would be happy to report. He’s now referring to me in his blog as Admiral Menick, so I must be getting through to him. Of course, the usual term is #^$*@ Menick, which I guess means I haven’t annoyed him enough yet. But there’s a new year coming, and plenty of time to catch up. The way he’s been beating me in Scrabulous allows me no alternative; there ought to be a rule that you can’t use a word in the game that you haven’t used in conversation sometime in the last seven years. Being good at crosswords is no great leg up for Scrabble, either. I always think I should be winning all my games without any sweat. Good luck with that one…

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Spain, Part Eight

It’s taken me forever to sort out the travel pictures, although by the time you read this I should be done, and a nice selection should be on Facebook (the iPhoto-Facebook interface is peachy, although I hate admitting I use iPhoto when all the grownups use PhotoShop). Mostly it’s been pictures of Barcelona that have been slowing me down; it’s a truly photogenic city.

There’s a main thoroughfare called Las Ramblas which is packed with tourists and those who feed on tourists, including a lot of street performers, if you call dressing up like a car or a plant or a gorilla a performance. I will give them credit for remarkable outfits, although you have to wonder what mental processes led them to the decision to choose dressing up as a pirate and standing on a box and going Aaarrgh when someone tosses a coin in their hat as a career path. I mean, it’s a real commitment, because some of these outfits are incredibly detailed, and give you a sense that the choice of this way of life was both insane and irreversible. And there’s not just one or two of them, there’s dozens, each with presumably their own spot on the street, day in and day out. Anyhow, this street is the first magnet of the place, but one quickly learns to be attracted elsewhere. It’s like walking down Fifth Avenue. It’s the first thing that comes to mind, but there are better places once you find them. And, if you’re in town for any length of time, you will.

Occasionally our paths which were not beaten were exceptionally unbeaten, especially given their overall closeness to the middle of things. We’d be walking along some back street and we’d see nothing but people in Middle East or African outfits, and feel as if we’d somehow jumped continents. Cultural identities remained strongly original rather than melted in, apparently, a thoroughly non-American immigrant experience.

In terms of art, aside from the Gaudi and Modernist stuff, which is pervasive, you have the Catalan museum in the 1929 fair palace, which once again was wonderfully revelatory, plus the Miro and Picasso museums. As for Miro, this is one of those acquired tastes, and his career spans all sorts of styles, culminating in quite minimalist works about the gesture of the brushstroke, and there is no question that he challenges you and makes you think. If art can be about the moment of its creation, then Miro and Velasquez have very different things to say about what that means. In any case, Miro has to be one of the least accessible artists who nonetheless one believes is probably a good artist; I enjoyed the exposure (especially as I was reading the Dewey at the time; still am, for that matter). The Picasso museum concentrates mostly on his early work up to cubism, which means that it is his most esthetically accessible material, and I learned a lot about him. He was sort of born with a sketchpad in his hand; I hadn’t realized that he had been such a prodigy. And almost universally I love his early work, including much of the cubist stuff. And he did a whole series, which I mentioned before, of theme and variation on Las Meninas, which is great fun, because the man is such a chameleon and as he comes on this repeated subject he does so in so many different ways. Needless to say, this museum is a hot draw, but they keep the crowd manageable, so it’s easy to enjoy it. Realistically, the works that make Picasso Picasso are elsewhere, in major museums around the world, but this museum at least makes Picasso human, and that’s a very good thing indeed. You can even by a striped tee shirt, if you’re so inclined, so that you can look like the man himself. I’ve got the hairline, but I did manage to skip the temptation.

We did take one day trip to Monserrat, which among other things is where Parsifal/Percival is supposed to have found the Grail. It’s a great mountain structure, very photogenic (again) and you take a train up, and then a funicular, and then shank’s mare, until you get to the peak and you can see people in Florence waving at you from the top of the Duomo and people in Paris waving at you from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Given the weather (it is generally one cloudy or at least hazy country, especially in the spring) you get about three clear days a year; we were fortunate enough to be there on one of them. Fabulous stuff.

I’m sure other things will occur to me over the next few weeks, and I’ll mention them when they do, but that’s the main story. We can now get back to the business of being off for the summer, which means NatNats, Camp WTF, calendar juggling (which has indeed been going on with some interesting results), personnel changes (I’m waiting to hear about a couple of spots especially), gossip (I have to get together with O’C before he heads for the hills and updates every three minutes on who had the hot dogs in the institute cafeteria), and all the usual stuff that concerns us here. Meanwhile I have been keeping up the Coachean Feed, and once again I urge you to check it out. You need to know everything that’s in it. Really. I wouldn’t bother otherwise.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Spain, Part Seven

Barcelona is a feast for architecture buffs, especially turn-of-the-nineteenth-century architecture buffs. Antoni Gaudi is the key name, introducing all sorts of great ideas into the architectural dialogue, including the study and incorporation of organic shapes and designs. Some of his stuff is downright spooky, some of it is silly, all of it is fascinating.

There’s a great walk that begins a little out of the old part of town. You take a subway a couple of stops to Hospital St Pau, designed by Lluis Domenech i Montaner (everybody in Spain has a lot of names). Domenech was rather revolutionary, believing that bright and pleasant surroundings would make for a healthy environment as compared to the current breed of hospital (read Foucault if you want to really get a sense of old medicine). And that’s exactly what you get with St Pau, early Modernism (as its referred to in Spain; Secession in Vienna, good old Art Nouveau most other places), incorporating lots of natural motifs in the designs. If you must be in a hospital, you’d want to be in this one.

Then you walk down to Sagrada Familia, which is the Gaudi-designed cathedral, probably one of the most famous buildings in the world. Now, Gaudi started building this in the 19th Century, so I expected that, even though it’s not yet finished, it would be sort of finished. No way. What is completed is the first phase of the exterior; there are plenty more spires to go up. As for the interior, well, they’re working on it. Which means that when you go to it, you are seeing a classic cathedral very much under construction, the kind of cathedral you thought was a thing of the past, taking multiple generations to build, a construction of such magnitude and complexity that it may not be completed in your lifetime. Yes, you. If you’re in high school now, you’ll probably be around for the first mass (predicted now for the late 2020s), but you’d better get some seriously clean living habits if you want to see all the final exterior put together. Nevertheless, there’s plenty to see now. The exterior is literally encrusted with more artwork than you can absorb. There’s storytelling sculptures, symbolic sculptures, multiple sculptors in multiple styles—chiefly the Passion to the rear behind the altar (presumably the East, if it’s a traditional cathedral) and early years above the main doors on the other side (you know, it may have not been on the traditional east-west axis, which allows the most light through the windows). I’ll post some pictures. Seeing Sagrada Familia (which includes a large informational display in the basement) is an amazing experience. It alone is worth the trip to Barcelona.

From here you stroll back to the main part of the city on what is called the Modernism walk, because it’s a part of the city that has an abundance of these wonderful Nouveau buildings, mostly apartment houses or, originally, one-family houses. Among these are a couple of Gaudis, one of which we went into. The incorporation of shapes and structures from the natural world at times makes the building seem like a living thing, like that spaceship from Farscape. There are still people living in the building, but one apartment is open for a walkthrough, so you get a nice feel for upper middle class living back in the day. The high point of the building (no pun intended) is the roof. If you’re going to have vents, why shouldn’t they be fun? Again, I’ve posted pictures to Facebook.

So there’s one whole day in Barcelona devoted just to Modernism, if you’re so inclined. We certainly were. We definitely walked our legs off in this city, which is what I love doing on vacation. But don’t worry. We did stop regularly enough for coffee, tapas, gelato, etc. The mind can’t function when the body is out of fuel.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Spain, Part Six

I think I come to my interest in world’s fairs honestly, if not necessarily uniquely. When I was a kid, the Disney TV show was a Sunday night fixture, and I trundled off to bed immediately afterward (it was a school night, after all). Walt was talking up Disneyland (the original name of the TV show) from day one, and the show was structured along the same lines as the park, so how many little kids weren’t pulled in by the whole thing? Of course I wanted to go to Disneyland, which was on the other side of the country, and seemed some combination of Paradise and Eden and eternal summer and quintessential kidness. Even Nikita Krushchev wanted to visit Disneyland, and he was some old Commie apparatchik, while I was a little kid, the absolute target audience. Walt had no trouble hitting that target.

And I did go. My mother insists we went the year it opened; I demur and claim it was a few years later, but I was a kid, so what do I know. In any case, the target having been hit, the bell was rung, and Young Menick (a concept not unlike Young Indiana Jones) went to Disneyland. A few times, off and on, as it turned out. My father worked for an airline, which meant free travel, usually first class. Nowadays most of my travel is on school buses. My just desserts, I guess.

I was a teenager in the 60s, so if I was ripe for the quintessential kidness of Disneyland a decade earlier, I was just as ripe then for the quintessential futurism of the 64-65 World’s Fair in New York. Instead of being far away in California, it was right across the street from (its contemporary) Shea Stadium, an easy trip for a Westchester kid. (Same site as the 1939-40 Fair, by the way, and same site as the garbage dump in THE GREAT GATSBY; eliminating the dump was one of the infrastructural goals of that earlier event). I went, I don’t know, maybe a dozen times over the course of the fair’s two years. Saw everything over and over. There was, of course, a Disney connection, so the two ideas are clearly united in my mind, and I still look forward to the Carousel of Progress as some sort of teenage nostalgia, while I do demur a bit from claiming that It’s a Small World or the Lincoln robot evoke quite the same sense. World’s Fairs of the 20th Century often talked about the future, and usually they attempted to provide a blueprint for it. Sometimes those blueprints are amazingly accurate (1939’s blueprint for 1964 was right on) and sometimes they’re totally inept (1964’s blueprint for our times missed almost all the boats completely, including the internet, atomic energy and the environment in general). Historically World’s Fairs have also acted as barometers, allowing us to collect all the stuff we have as nations to show it off and share it. The 19th Century fairs were boasting exercises to a great degree: Look at our technology. Look at our art. Look at our exotic colonial natives. They were not so much forward-looking as present-proud and pointed toward whatever future might arise. The Smithsonian in Washington used to house a recreation of the 1876 Philadelphia fair, the closest you could probably ever get to the sense of the real 19th century thing, and it was all machinery and tools, the arrival of the last blast of the industrial revolution, where everything was possible thanks to engineering. Futurists of the 20th century kept to that idea, claiming that future engineering would solve all our problems, but went further and attempted to describe that future. Disney was certainly that kind of futurist himself, and that kind of futurism was rife in the 1964-65 fair, and simultaneously in Disney’s original plans for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. The EPCOT that actually came about, while no longer a city, did still reflect that brand of futurism. (That kind of thinking today is long past its expiration date.) One can visit EPCOT with a nostalgia for the future, if you will, not as with Tomorrowland (The Future that Never Was) but as with the old World’s Fair promises that never came true.

One thing I like about fairs is their aspiration. In their attempts to stake a claim on either the present or the future, they have always made big statements in their physical presence, either symbolically or in toto. The Crystal Palace of 1851 (Prince Albert’s idea) was grand in its execution, its exhibition hall itself symbolizing an architecture of modern times. The White City of Chicago in 1893 is a classical revivalist version of Christmas morning. The Eiffel Tower, the Tryon and Perisphere, the Unisphere, the Atomian, the Space Needle—they are all symbols that (mostly) still stand long after their fairs have gone, symbols that have taken on new meanings; signifiers with new significations, if you will. Talk about grist for the Caveman mind! The original reason for the Spain trip in 2008 was the possibility of going to the fair in Zaragoza, but that just didn’t work out. However, there was a fair in Barcelona in 1929, and the grounds are still there, looking very world’s fairish. The picture above, from the period, could almost have been taken yesterday. Additionally, there was the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, much of it taking place in the same area, and Olympics infrastructure is a close aspirational cousin to fair infrastructure.

So you get to walk down the boulevard of a real World’s Fair from eighty years ago, which is, for me, an absolute thrill. It still feels like a World’s Fair. The big castle on the hill housing the Catalan art museum is from that fair! Mies’s pavilion has been recreated, one of the very first Modernist buildings! On weekend nights, the fountains play water games for hours (take that, EPCOT). Plus there’s a Calatrava sculpture from the Olympics towering over the mountain, plus an entire Triumph of the Will looking stadium to go with it! There’s even a simulacrum sort of SpainWorld where all of Spain is shrunk into one little walking park!

In other words, reason number 132 why Barcelona, for me, was hog heaven.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Spain, Part Five

While our possession of a language does not limit us from ideation beyond the extent of that language, language does certainly provide certain cultural parameters for individuals, a shared pool if you will of often unconscious connections that help define and separate cultures from one another. Often even closely related languages don’t sound alike, and for that matter, occasionally even dialects, which are simply subsets of a language like breeds of dogs are all still dogs, can be incomprehensible to speakers of that same language. Just try listening to a full-on Yorkshireman: if he’s in a movie, you’ll want to turn on the subtitles. The French famously have their official academy that guards their language from non-Gallic invasions, and presumably the gendarmes will pull you in if you start ruminating about “le weekend” or the like, but for the most part, language is a living thing, and no amount of fretting about it can overcome the fact that actual usage trumps orthodoxy. The word momentarily, for instance, means “for a moment.” This is its age-old meaning, the first in the dictionary. But common usage has virtually eliminated this meaning, replacing it with “in a moment.” I will do something momentarily used to mean I would do if for a while, whereas now it means I will do it a short while from now. No amount of grammarian tooth-gritting can stop this tide of redefinition. Hopefully? Lost cause. At this point in time no longer makes one wonder about different kinds of points in other things, like this point in chocolate pudding or this point in lycanthropy, as if all concepts like time can be boiled down to points the way all matter can be boiled down to atoms. Not too long ago—in the last couple of weeks, in fact—the combined speakers of Portuguese languages have, miraculously, dumped the Portuguese language. Brazilian, an offshoot of Portuguese, will henceforth be the official version of the Portuguese language. The Portwegians in Portugal will lose all their accents (there’s one or two on just about every letter, which the Brazilians wisely eliminated, probably because their typewriter ribbons were wearing out too quickly in the jungle), but in return the Iberians will gain two new letters, bringing their alphabet up to 26 characters. Remarkable stuff. Needless to say, there was much gnashing of teeth over this in Portuguese cultural circles. Usage, as it will, apparently trumped orthodoxy, however; to those of us in the cultural analysis business, a price will definitely be paid for this. Whatever cultural conflict may or may not exist between Portugal and Brazil, it is our friends in South America who have emerged victorious.

This is prologue to the fact that Barcelona does not speak the same language as Madrid. The latter speak Spanish, the former speak Catalan. When you’re traveling in the same country, a change of language can be rather disorienting. Just when you get used to ordering a couple of cups of coffee and a sticky bun and receiving from the server a couple of cups of coffee and a sticky bun, all the rules change. Literally, in the case provided, since café con leche becomes café amb lett. The separateness of the Catalans is hard-won, and worth your own private research. It isn’t easy surviving the tendency toward cultural hash, especially in an authoritarian regime. For the casual observer, i.e., the tourist, you might as well have gone to a different country where Spanish is now the second language. The menus are Catalan, the signs are Catalan, the maps are Catalan. But Catalan is a romance language, and in some ways, if you know a little French, more accessible than Spanish. I love the way languages work. Italian piazzas become English plazas become Spanish playas become Catalan placas (with a cedilla under the c, pronounced plah-thas). If language is a function of culture, or culture is a function of language (take your pick), then you know you are in a different culture when you travel from Madrid to Barcelona. The former seems determinedly Spanish, while the latter is determinedly Catalan. The former is obviously a business center that tourists might go to while the latter is a tourist haven with plenty of business. Aggressively so, always pushing World’s Fairs and Expositions and Olympics, all that sort of big-idea thing that builds international recognition and improved infrastructure. At the same time, its core of old city is large and vibrant, and you instantly get a sense from the place that this is the arty part of the country, which is underscored by the collection of artists who have historically gravitated there. It’s jaunty fun as compared to Madrid’s seriousness. It’s a great place to vacation provided you like to eat and drink (which was certainly also true of Madrid) and just generally roam around discovering stuff. And, especially, if you love architecture. Madrid has plenty of interesting architecture, but Barcelona has Gaudi, who is a touchstone of the art form. Madrid has Velasquez, Barcelona has Picasso and Miro. Madrid has a palace, Barcelona has a beach.

I’m glad we started in Madrid, because it was strict and formal and very nice, but it was a pleasure afterward to let go a bit and relax. Barcelona is a let-go-and-relax kind of place. I wouldn’t tell you to put it at the top of your travel list if you’re new to European travel, but do get to it eventually. You’ll like it. No doubt about it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Spain Part Four

Nick the Greek. I mean, I guess that’s what El Greco’s name boils down to. Domenikos Theotokopoulos. That’s the kind of name I dread reading aloud during an award ceremony. If he were a Sailor, he’d be The Greek from day one. Of course, every time I see one of his paintings I want to turn to the artist and say, “Hey, Nick, why the long face?” but that’s the kind of joke that has no place in this blog, so I’ll skip it for now.

In one’s Spanish travels, one quickly comes up against El Greco, especially in Toledo, his home town. His work is relatively easy to spot; as I say, all those long faces. There’s something rather modernist about it, or at least he’s influenced a lot of modern Spanish artists. One thing about seeing one after the other of his works is that you realize he had, maybe, about five models that he used over and over. The painting of Saint This looks exactly like the painting of Saint That which looks exactly like the painting of Saint Whosey Majoosey. The only thing that separates them is the iconography, at which point one remembers that, A, literacy was far from rampant at the time, and B, every saint or angel seems to have a symbol set attached. You can recognize St. Jerome a mile away, for instance, by the book (he translated the Bible into Latin), the lion (he removed a thorn from the poor dear’s foot) and the red hat (he was a cardinal); often he’s also looking like quite the hermit. The evangelists each have their special icon (eagle, lion, angel, bull). And so forth an so on. And, of course, an El Greco would not be painting all his pictures for the same venue, so no one would notice the repetition of faces. But when one does, one does remark on the unremarkableness.

But when it comes to repetition, Velasquez is the one who takes the cake, because over and over again as official court artist he painted the members of the royal family. The portraits all bear a family resemblance, and I hate to say it, but if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. He’s hard not to love, though. His other portraits are much more varied, and all of them are full of life and vigor, and the whole set had a very direct influence on Manet (who had a very direct influence on everyone else in his day, up to our own), who traveled down to Madrid to check them out, and whose own work is a strong reflection of what old Diego was up to a couple of hundred years earlier. Compare the two when you get a chance. On top of that, the moderns claim that the painting “Las Meninas” may be the first great modern work in its attempt to capture the moment, much as a photograph does (or ought to). Draw your own conclusions, but if there was ever a picture that at least captures the imagination, and that you want to see in person (at the Prado), this is it. Meninas is something of the icon of Spain, or at least of Spanish art. You can buy the Infanta’s image (the little girl in the middle) on everything imaginable of the souvenir persuasion, which I have to admit I resisted until I came upon Picasso’s Meninas series in Barcelona—he did innumerable theme and variations on it—where I finally succumbed to a postcard.

The third of the Big Three, historical division, is Goya. I’m afraid that we didn’t get very Goya’d up because a lot of work that one would normally come upon was removed to a special exhibit that we didn’t get to. But I know enough about Goya to ultimately come down as a Velasquez kind of guy when given my druthers about which artist to pursue.

My favorite museum in Madrid was not the Prado, however. Sure, there’s plenty of important work there one wants to see, but to a degree there’s a sameness to it, as in, all major capital cities have some big mother of a museum with collections amassed by their royal families at some point, and here’s another one. Nothing wrong with that, but it sort of transcends nationality, beyond the obvious (i.e., more Velasquez in Spain, more Rembrandt in the Netherlands). The place that blew us away was the Thyssen. Lots of good stuff, but especially the late 19th and early 20th stuff collected by the Missus, which was room after room of surprises, art you’ve never seen before by artists you love, or artists you’ve never heard of and instantly fall in love with. I want her collection for my house. If I get it, I’ll let you come over and see it, much as she does. (

Finally, the third major Madrid museum is the Reine Sofia. Lots of modern stuff, including most notably Picasso’s Guernica. When I was young, Guernica hung at MOMA, and you saw it easily enough, and it was one of many. At Reine Sofia, it is something of a tourist magnet, much like, say, the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. You can’t get near it, and it’s surrounded by nattering chatterers and you just thank your lucky stars you already know it well from your youth because this is just no way to see art.

You can do worse than Madrid, obviously, for seeking out great art. Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” will amuse the most art-hating type, while Velasquez will get the blood and brain boiling, plus there’s all your usual Renaissance and Middle Ages stuff, a startling Antonello da Messina ("Cristo morto sostenuto da un angelo": look at that angel's face; this is right up there with his Annunciate) all the way up to some amazing Monet and Van Gogh… It’s worth a trip. I’m glad I took it.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Spain, Part Three

I have never before been so flummoxed by food. The Spanish simply don’t eat like everybody else.

The monkey wrench in the peninsular digestive system is tapas. Tapas is small plates of food that one consumes at bars, presumably while drinking. But it’s much more complicated than that. There seems to be about four different versions of tapas relative to plate size, from a couple of bites to a pile o’ grub, with various stations along the way. You can pay by the toothpick inserted in the food, or by the plate, like a normal restaurant. Tapas range from a little bowl of olives to various fish prepared in a myriad of ways to (very occasionally) vegetables to pretty much anything that can be served with a drink. But the thing is, it is not hard to scope out what tapas are, and which ones you’ll like or not like. They are not particularly complicated. I mean, a meat ball is a meat ball is a meat ball. The problem is, when is one supposed to eat all this stuff?

In examining Spanish food, let’s start with lunch, perhaps the most standard dining experience. Businesses shut down from 2 to 5 in the afternoon, which is when people are supposed to eat a big meal. You go to a restaurant and have whatever, like any restaurant. Often there’s a menu of the day, offering three courses at a reasonable price. So, when in Rome… you have a big meal in the afternoon. Followed by a little siesta, if you can swing it.

Now the next thing is, the Spanish like to eat a big nighttime meal at around 11:00. 11:00 at night. (In debate terms, that’s round 2 of CatNats Saturday.) If you stumble into a restaurant at 9:00, my friend, you stumble in alone. They’ll serve you, but the place is deserted (unless it’s a tourist joint, in which case it will be packed with Brits and Germans, which is even worse than an empty restaurant). So you have big meal #2 at 11:00 pm. Figure that from this you’ll go to sleep, at the earliest, at 1:00 or 2:00 a.m.

Now in the morning, you got up, after a long night’s digestion, in time to have that first eye-opening cup of cafe con leche at around 10:00 a.m. Maybe a sticky bun at most, and maybe another café at around 12:00 to keep you going till lunch. So that’s breakfast.

So where do the tapas come in? I mean, you've pretty much had a normal three meals by this point. Well, tapas are available all day long. And it is misleading to refer to where they are sold as bars, because it seems as if everyone selling practically anything sells liquor and tapas. While you’re having your first cup of coffee on some morning when you had to get up early for a day trip to Toledo, the yabbo standing next to you is on his third beer of the day. There are some breakfasty foods like tostados (great toasts) and tortillas (which are like Italian frittatas) and the like. But after the sun is over the yardarm, the real tapas come out, everything from sandwiches to every version of cod and anchovy the human mind can conceive, right up to those bowls of meatballs. But at 1:00 you don’t really want much in the way of tapas before your big lunch at 2:00, so maybe you have the tiniest plate of something, as an appetizer. But traditionally, I am told, tapas is what is supposed to get you from the big meal in the afternoon to the big meal at night. I mean, the collective roar of Spanish stomachs growling at around 8:30 in the evening does, I understand, block out their ability to hear who’s going for what on their version of Deal or No Deal. (Every country has a version of Deal or No Deal. It’s in the U.N. Charter.) So once or twice between the first big meal in the afternoon and the second big meal late at night, there is a trip or two to the tapas bar for a drink and some snacks. Honestly, looking into the windows of the tapas places in the early evening, it’s lots of drinks and lots of snacks.

And, as I say, it’s hard to get one’s naively American stomach around this paradigm shift in eating. It’s easy enough to slip into a light breakfast, and a big lunch, but for the rest of it, it seems like about three meals too many, too late. We tried everything. Lighter lunch simply meant starvation before the restaurants opened at night. Tapas, or alternatively sweets between meals, were overkill. And as you start bloating out you start to wonder why every single Spaniard does not weigh at least five hundred pounds. At which point you begin to suspect that it’s a trick, some sneaky Iberian plot to confuse the French, and you’ve just gotten caught in the undertow.

Still, best foods: roast suckling pig, cocido (a stew, where you get the broth as a first course), Iberian ham (like nothing you’ve ever tasted), good paella (there’s plenty of bad paella, which is okay, but a really good paella will make you happier than the proverbial clam), every kind of fish. We didn’t succumb to the avant garde foods—infusions and essences, foods faux-cooked in nitrogen, all that stuff at $1000 per person—because, well, who’s got $1000 per person? We also had some good Middle Eastern food (some of the Moors are still around). And gelato (because Spain is Spain but Italy is Italy and if you want ice cream, you’ve got to know how to get it). And chocolate (although we never went the hot chocolate and churro route; churros are these sausagey looking donutty things that get dunked in the chocolate in aid no doubt of an instant heart attack). Fresh foods from the market, including wonderful cheeses. Overall, you can eat pretty well, but you’ve got to parse the meal system out for yourself and work your way around the arcana of their unique hours of operation. If you’re on vacation, you’ll probably figure something out eventually. But you can’t help but wonder how people who live there manage. It’s just too much food and not enough sleep. Or maybe I’m just not the sybarite I used to be.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Spain, Part Two

Madrid feels like a very big city into which a fairly manageable touristy MadridLand has been plopped into the middle. You feel there’s a straightforward boundary to where you will be, and while it’s not a small amount of turf, it’s circumscribed enough that you know it pretty well after a couple of days. To the west, there’s the palace, which, I gather, is still occasionally used as such. There’s also a rather new cathedral over there, and the opera house. I guess you could visit any or all of these, but the timing of their open hours did not agree with the timings of our rambling over there. To the east, there’s a large park and a bunch of museums, including the Prado, and we were much more inclined to head in that direction. In the middle there is the old city, and a number of squares, one in particular (the Plaza Mayor) which seems to be the main people magnet, filled with restaurant tables and street performers and in the middle, an open-air theater. The Spanish have a sort of operetta called Zarzuela. One night we were strolling around the plaza and at the crack of 10:00, the program began, with orchestra and lights and the people standing behind me singing along, much as I would have if it had been Gilbert & Sullivan. This serendipitous free performance is the sort of thing that endears one to a place. Free music on a warm spring night. What’s not to like?

To suggest, however, that there is only one people magnet in Madrid does not do the city justice. In that middle of the old city there are a number of squares, any and all of which are especially packed in the early evening, the time of strolling around. One night, May 15, was some sort of local festival where everyone dresses up in native attire and no one stays home, which meant that at one point, every street in the area was almost impassable. This flood of quirkily dressed humanity is swirling around you at Force 10, and there’s not much you can do but hang on and hope. For the record, little kids look very cute in old-fashioned Spanish clothes. Older people, on the other hand, make you wonder what you would do if we had a similar tradition in the US. Would I dress up in my native attire once a year and go parading down the boulevards? If so, what would be my native attire? One spends so much time in our parochial academic world disentangling from stereotypes and prejudgments that it’s hard to get one’s mind around people who embrace, if not stereotypes and prejudgments, at least a core essence of their history and whatever that entangles so that, say, if you photographed them, ninety-nine people out of a hundred would respond, Oh, look, Spanish people.

Because Madrid is a big city, it was the least affected by the shutdown between two and five o’clock in the afternoons. While there were certainly some charming little shops all about, there weren’t whole neighborhoods of them, with tourists pounding the spider-web pavement staring into the windows (which was true of Barcelona). It was more like main shopping streets in the middle with rather large stores (one of which had the most fantastic collection of Meccano toys, which if you are not familiar with them are building sets for kids who like to build things like working miniature nuclear power plants and the like; these are not for pikers like me who like to randomly assemble Legos). To the sides, smaller shops indeed, but not in what seems like totally medieval streets closed to traffic. For that matter, traffic seemed to be everywhere, no matter how unlikely the streets on which it was passing. This was especially true in some of the smaller towns we visited, where every truck that passed us by, usually scraping off a layer of skin in the process, caused us to once again comment on whatever possessed these drivers not to just give up and drive a mule. This sort of narrow street leads to a vast population of motorbikers, even more in Barcelona than Madrid, all of them weaving in and out and generally challenging death every moment of their lives. They were not as bad as Italian bikers, however, who insouciantly challenge your life every moment if you attempt to cross the street, or French bikers, who insouciantly challenge your life every moment by ignoring la difference between street and sidewalk and driving anywhere that happens to be in the direction they wish to be going.

Of all the European cities we’ve been in, I would have to say that Madrid is the least welcoming. Which doesn’t really capture what I mean to express. It’s not that they are unfriendly or rude, or that some other people are wildly friendly by comparison. A better word might be a-friendly, or dis-friendly. Even the tourist venues don’t seem to get particularly excited about foreign visitors. Given that EU tourists travel all over Europe all the time (it costs about 8 euros to fly anywhere it seems nowadays), the idea of menus in multiple languages tends to be fairly common, but not in Madrid, where menus were as often as not in Spanish, and there you were. I’m not insisting on English, mind you. I know the names of what I want to eat in French and in Italian (and now, in Spanish), but I wasn’t given much of a choice. I don't really believe that if you wake a Spaniard up in the middle of the night, he automatically speaks English (this is, on the other hand, true of the French), and I don't mean to sound like a xenophobe, but I guess I'm used to a certain touristy norm in which Madrid does not participate. As I said, I don’t offer this as a value judgment, but more of a curiosity. I’m not sure why it would be. I only say that it is.

As with any trip, it pays to learn a little history first. Key things to know about Spain would be the Moors (their influence is stronger in the south of the country, but its seen at least as far north as Madrid) and the Jews (kicked out in 1492, if I remember correctly), which meant that finally the Spanish could drink alcohol and eat pork with abandon. (You will never see so much pork anywhere in the world. Iberian ham—the best—is fed on acorns. One menu listed, precisely:
Iberian acorn-fed ham
Iberian acorn-fed chicken
Iberian acorn-fed lettuce
So you have to wonder, do they force-feed the lettuce? I'm not making this up.) You need to know about all these really inbred royal people that Velasquez painted whose mouths appear anatomically incorrect but they all look the same, and since the non-royals V painted don’t look like that, you figure it’s maybe what happens when the Austro-Hungarian empire ventures too far east. Queen Isabella might ring a bell; there’s a pivotal statue of Chris Colon (as he is known to the locals) in Barcelona. One should also remember the husband of Mary Tudor, and then 1588, if one wants to take an Anglo viewpoint. Nappy, of course, came through these parts. And then, of course, the Civil War of the 1930s, and Franco’s rule, and finally the restoration of the Bourbons (yes, those Bourbons, I gather) not all that long ago after Franco's death. It helps you understand what you’re looking at if you know where it’s been. The Civil War especially keeps coming up, because it wasn’t that long ago. Nor was Franco.

I have to admit that I got completely lost in trying to piece together which King Philip/Charles/Whatever was which, and who married whom, and when exactly they were part of what, especially faced with all those look-alike Velasquez paintings. Fortunately when you travel there is seldom a quiz at any point, and you absorb what you absorb, and you’re that much the better for it. I try to absorb what I can, and I do read up on things. But I do admit that my perspective on Spain is American. I can rattle off all your explorers, where they went, what they wanted, what happened where they were. But the Spanish back in Spain are something else again. But I know more now than I did when I started out. That has to count for something.