Monday, February 23, 2009

Supporting Beggars

When I first came to Madrid, it was my first time living in the big city. I had to learn a lot of new things like taxis, the subway, getting groceries home without a car, street performers and beggars. Beggars took me the longest to learn.

“Oh, they just need a helping hand. Look at this poor women sitting on cardboard with a cup out. She must be sixty years old. And cold. How sad. I will give her some money so she can buy some food.”

“Poor guy. Sitting on his heels with just his hand out and a forlorn look on his face. Clearly a mentally ill person who has fallen through the cracks.”

“That is an enormous homeless person. She doesn’t look too bright but it’s smart sitting outside a church so the pious will give her some change.”

Of course there are many types of beggars. And by beggars I mean people who rely on the kindness of others and have no guarantee of income for the way they spend their time. Like the pleasant black guy standing outside the Corte Ingles handing out newspapers, opening doors for old women and even helping people lift their carts up the steps. Wendy tells me it’s like a job, sort of. The papers are for sale for two dollars apiece but many people just give him loose change and don’t take a paper. I don’t know who the agency is that gives them the papers to sell, but I have never seen anyone but a black man selling them.

Other types would be street performers which come in all varieties. The simple musicians that play in the street. Usually accordions, sometimes crystal glasses, sometimes whole bands with accordion, flute, guitar, and bad songs or even groups with violins, cellos, portable keyboards playing classical music. There are also the living statues, people in make-up and costumes who try to stand stock still, without blinking, until someone drops a coin in their cup and then they’ll do a little flourish or a wave or allow a picture to be taken with them.

When I first came here I used to give money to all of them. The old woman sitting on a chair with her hand open by my dentists office. The fat woman swaddled head to toe sitting by the church. The thin mentally ill guy with the glasses sitting on his heels. The nice black guy at the Corte Ingles. The living statues that covered themselves in clay and dirt and looked like unfinished sculptures and even the accordion players. My savings were fat, they needed money and it made me feel good to “help” them. One of my favorites was the little angel dressed all in white, face and hair also painted white, little wand in her hand who stood near the palace. I would actually bring change along on runs because our route went by here and I wanted to give her a little something.

And now I’ve been here nearly two years. For one thing you start to realize you’re living on a set amount of money that isn’t going to last forever and… you’re giving it away to people. And you start to realize those people don’t need a hand up, they need you to keep supporting them forever. That black guy at the Corte Ingles? He’s still there. Selling papers, of which I have never bought. Crazy guy? Still there. Large woman by the church? She’s still there. Old lady sitting on a chair near my dentists office? All of them still there. And they will be there long after my savings are gone and I have become one of them.

And those musicians? You’re sitting outside on a nice spring day in the sun and they come along and play one song and then walk through the crowd with their hand out. It doesn’t matter if you were in the middle of a nice conversation and their annoyingly loud (and bad) music called a halt to that for a few minutes. It doesn’t matter that you hated the song they played. It doesn’t matter that you’re a captive audience. They want some cash. A few times of that and you stop giving money to musicians unless they’re on the street, as the crowd passes them by, not a captive audience, and playing something you appreciate with skill.

On top of that, Wendy and I have a terrace over a restaurant. Spaniards LOVE to sit in the sun. On any sunny day the terrace in front of the restaurant will be packed with Spaniards and tourists and about once an hour musicians come along and play “I did it my way”, “Tequila”, “Rock Around the Clock” or “Hello Dolly”, you know; all the Spanish classics.

“We’re gonna rock! Around! The…”

“Wendy, get the hose!”

Living statues are the same. The little angel still dresses all in white and stands on her white box in front of the palace but now she doesn’t even hold a wand. Or smile. And her pose is just standing with her arms bent at the elbow with her hands curled into loose fists, fingers up. Not too tough to hold that pose. She blinks a lot. She’s become the saddest little angel. And after you see some amazing street performers, you start to realize the mud and dirt living statues really are just dirty people sitting on a box. With their eyes closed. It’s not only lazy to be sitting but how much skill does it take to keep your eyes closed?

After a while you come to the inescapable conclusion that you can’t support everyone. Your beggar change becomes much more discriminating.

We have statues like wind-blown guy that looks as if he’s fighting a storm, clothes starched back and umbrella looking like it’s about to blow out of his hand who stands in an exhausting pose with eyes open. And tiny, beautiful women that sing opera in the streets and draw a circle of people around them they have such talent. We have the old couple that not only plays the accordion in front of the palace but sing and sway back and forth, arms around each other looking like they still have the same amount of love for each other as they did on their wedding day.

These people still garner some change when we pass.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Thank you for a well thought out and intelligent post.

"That said, poor governance by the republicans in the past does not excuse the same poor governance being continued by the democrats in the present. Do you think that the stimulus bill is a good one, Jamie?"

In response I have to say I think the democrats in congress are doing a fucking awful job, which is why they have a 10% approval rating.

I do think the revised stimulus bill is a good one. From what I have read, the initial bill had too much pork in it.

I am of many minds concerning this. In the past, I thought it was dumb to just put money back into the tax-payers’ pockets. How is putting three hundred dollars into someone's hand going to stimulate the economy? That's not going to do anything! But I believe we are in a unique situation. For one thing, we're not talking three hundred dollars, we're talking three thousand. For another, it's not just that the economy is bad, it's that banking, lending, mortgages, car sales, etc are all down. We have tons of businesses failing.

Give me three thousand dollars and I can pay off my mortgage for months. I can catch up on my defaulted car loan. I get the money, the banks get the money, everyone is saved. Give it straight to the banks and I still lose my house. What good does that do?

Still, something needs to be done. I think spending almost a trillion dollars on infrastructure is a good start. Unlike tax breaks, this actually has been shown to work in the past.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

I knew I was right.

Not as right as I would like to be, but still right.

Wendy and I have had this discussion before, and I was sure I had posted it here, but not in the way that I had hoped.

Here's what I said on the blog.
"Likeability – A lot of people think that the Republicans will hate Hilary and do anything they can to obstruct her progress once she gets in office. A nice wake up call by a columnist at the NYTimes pointed out it doesn’t matter which dem gets into the White House. The Republicans will hate them and do anything they can to obstruct any progress and bad mouth the President at every opportunity. Bill Clinton ran on a platform of bipartisanship, invited Republicans to dinner and meetings and got kicked in the face for his trouble.
What? You think Rush Limbaugh and Hannity are going to treat Obama fairly if he gets the nomination? You think they will treat him with any more respect than they do anyone? Don’t kid yourself."

And in the past month I have been proven exactly right.

A lot of people pulled for Obama because they actually thought bipartisanship was possible. It isn't with today's Republicans or pundits. They do not care if the country is suffering, they will do anything they can to get back in power and obstruct the president. As has been shown already in Obama's Presidency.

(You can't say the same about the democrats who, disasterously, supported many of Bush's bills.)

You think Hilary would have lobbied hard for Republican support for her stimulas package? She would have been out there with a whip and speech. She would have been quite happy to let the public know long ago that the Republican senators not passing this bill are only doing so for political gain. She knows how they work. Bipartisanship my ass.

That's not going to work buddy.

Hilary wouldn't have had republicans at her super bowl party (like Obama did, trying, like Bill Clinton, to reach across the aisle) thinking they were going to make nice with her in the days ahead. No matter what Obama does, republicans will do everything they can to undermine him, and Hilary learned that lesson long ago.

The sooner Obama learns this lesson the better.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

We all have our causes.

I just received a funny note that mentioned the McDonald's coffee case. For some reason, I always feel it is my mission to inform people about the facts of this case. I don't know why, I just want you to know it was not a frivolous lawsuit. I just like facts, okay?

The full story is here. I think it's a good read. If you don't want to read the whole thing, below is the part that's most important.

During discovery, McDonalds produced documents showing more than 700 claims by people burned by its coffee between 1982 and 1992. Some claims involved third-degree burns substantially similar to Liebecks. This history documented McDonalds' knowledge about the extent and nature of this hazard.

McDonalds also said during discovery that, based on a consultants advice, it held its coffee at between 180 and 190 degrees fahrenheit to maintain optimum taste. He admitted that he had not evaluated the safety ramifications at this temperature. Other establishments sell coffee at substantially lower temperatures, and coffee served at home is generally 135 to 140 degrees.

Further, McDonalds' quality assurance manager testified that the company actively enforces a requirement that coffee be held in the pot at 185 degrees, plus or minus five degrees. He also testified that a burn hazard exists with any food substance served at 140 degrees or above, and that McDonalds coffee, at the temperature at which it was poured into styrofoam cups, was not fit for consumption because it would burn the mouth and throat. The quality assurance manager admitted that burns would occur, but testified that McDonalds had no intention of reducing the "holding temperature" of its coffee.

Plaintiffs' expert, a scholar in thermodynamics applied to human skin burns, testified that liquids, at 180 degrees, will cause a full thickness burn to human skin in two to seven seconds. Other testimony showed that as the temperature decreases toward 155 degrees, the extent of the burn relative to that temperature decreases exponentially. Thus, if Liebeck's spill had involved coffee at 155 degrees, the liquid would have cooled and given her time to avoid a serious burn.

McDonalds asserted that customers buy coffee on their way to work or home, intending to consume it there. However, the companys own research showed that customers intend to consume the coffee immediately while driving.

And now you know - the rest of the story. I'm going back to work.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Thank You.

For those of you who have responded with feedback about "Marilyn's Story", I want to say "thank you." Most of you say the same thing and that is the advice I have taken. The story has been changed based on your feedback and it's clearly better because of it.

I am approaching agents (again) this week and I think some of your comments really demonstrate why they should represent me. Other people's words sell me better than I can sell myself. They hold more weight. I just feel so good about this work and your comments mean so much to me. Thank you for taking the time to read it and taking the time to write feedback. It brings me confidence and joy.

Self publishing is still an option. The book publishing industry is in a spiral right now, but I am hopeful. An agent and a publisher is still the Holy Grail but there are other options. Right now, "Quest for the Pro Tour" will be republished under a company owned by Amazon so it will be listed there, which is not half the battle, it is ALL the battle.

I continue to hone my craft of magazine article writing but have received no more acceptance or rejections since the last time you read. I am still batting .500 but I have a lot of articles out there waiting for a yay or nay. Every time Yahoo alerts me to a new email I get excited... but no, just more porn spam. Sigh.

In other news - After countless hours searching we found me a new coat. No, we didn't buy the one in the Corte Ingles for eight hundred and seventy-five Euros, thank God. The one we did buy we could have bought five more copies of it and still not matched the price. I think we checked six stores before we finally found one that gave Wendy a twinkle in her eye when she looked at me.

"That is a hot coat."

I don't buy anything unless Wendy gets that twinkle in her eye that says "You look hot. Take me now or lose me forever." (Ten points to whoever can name what movie that quote comes from.) I dress for her and only care that she desires me in what I wear. Oddly enough, this was the least expensive coat we found, but is of thicker leather and better construction than all of the other coats we saw. This is a man's coat. I could ride herd in a blizzard with this coat. Every time I put it on I feel like I need a horse and a cowboy hat. Maybe a gun. And a swagger.

I love it.

All I need now is some black-hat to insult the town whore and I'll bust him in the mouth.

That was Saturday. Sunday was Wendy's birthday party and the participants are still recovering. We would have liked to invite twenty people but our table is only so big and we like to host. As in, here.

We bought some Lagavulin for the event, a Scotch-whisky that was introduced to me by my brother in law "Prince Todd" a man I am an endless fan of. My nickname for this drink is "Smoky-Peaty." It was a huge hit at the party and people could not stop telling me how great it was.

Benjamin summed it up thusly - "It tastes like I'm sitting in a log cabin, a roaring fire in the hearth with Strother curled up in my arms on the couch."
Me- "With a snowstorm outside."
Benjamin - "Exactly."

It is like nothing else I have ever tasted. You sip it very gently and it warms you all the way down and leaves a smokey, wooden, ashen, caramel fire in the back of your throat that is incomparable to anything else.

Filed under random things I feel like telling you, I slept like a drugged monkey on Saturday night. I haven't been sleeping well; don't know why. I was under the ocean that night I was so deep. My subconscious went on a binge, I had dreams that were wild and insane. My brain was starving for this it had been so long and I woke up in a pile of drool with a halleluiah! Sleep at last, praise the lord sleep at last!

Sunday night Wendy tells me I got out of bed and started punching the wall, then moved over to the window and punched that, hard, twice, before she could stop me and get me back into bed. I have no recollection of such an event and asked her "Really?" three times before I could believe her.

Last night I was awake from three to six a.m. before finally falling back asleep. (I read, looked at lolcats and leveled my enchanting in WoW, the first time I've played in months.)

It was hard to get started today because of that, but I have had an amazingly productive afternoon and know that this is the year I get a book and many magazine articles published.

Thank you all for your support.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Eat the Rich!

I'm going to embarrass myself with history, not my strong suit. Bear with me.
- (see this dash here? Blogger is AGAIN refusing to recognize carriage returns. So much hate. Aren't you guys one of the smartest, best paying companies in the world? And still Google Blogger is riddled with flaws. Notice how my pictures are never centered? Good reason for that. Notice how my text isn't fully-justified? That's not by design but necessity.)
I've never understood some revolutions. American revolution, I understand that. Revolutions where class disparity gets so bad that the poor rise up and slay the ruling class are the ones I don't understand. Redistribute the wealth? Has that ever worked? Unless you have a leader of the revolution who finds the evil landowners' treasuries and doles out an equal portion to an entire nation of people, how do you redistribute the wealth? The only thing that happens is the wealthiest get slain (usually for good reason) and the leader of the revolution and his best friends get rich.
And then I read crap like this and I don't really care about logic.
Companies that have gotten bailouts continue to make a mockery of taxpayers.
Until it came to light Tuesday, Wells Fargo, which received $25 billion in federal funds, was blithely planning a series of “employee recognition outings” to Las Vegas luxury hotels this month.

As ABC reported, Bank of America took its $45 billion in bailout funds and sponsored a five-day carnival outside the Super Bowl stadium, and Morgan Stanley took its $10 billion in bailout money and held a three-day conference at the Breakers in Palm Beach. (Morgan Stanley had also still planned to send top employees to Monte Carlo and the Bahamas, events just canceled.)

The New York Post revealed that Sandy Weill, former chief executive of Citigroup, took a company jet to fly his family for a Christmas holiday to a $12,000-a-night luxury resort in San José del Cabo, Mexico. No matter that the company just got a $50 billion federal bailout and laid off 53,000 worldwide.

The interior of the 18-seat jet, as described by The Post, is posh, with a full bar, fine-wine selection, $13,000 carpets, Baccarat crystal glasses, Cristofle sterling silver flatware and — my personal favorite — pillows made from Hermès scarves.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

I hate Windows 7

Apparently, I am one of the few.

It doesn't appear to be any faster than Windows Vista so I have no idea why everyone says it is.

It's as much as a memory hog as Vista. With almost nothing in my start bar my memory says it is 41% used up. In fact, when I just went to check that number, the gadget that is supposed to be on my right hand side of the screen is actually missing. It didn't load on startup.

Many programs don't work. My Iphone wouldn't sync. WoW refused to start saying that I needed a newer version of DirectX. Hidemyip won't start at all. Utorrent wouldn't work, I needed to switch to Bittorrent.

I couldn't download programs from websites. When I tried to download bittorrent it would get to 99% and stop. I tried random programs from all with the same result. I had to reset all my cookies and internet settings in order to get downloading to function again.

The way the taskbar works now is insane. All my Internet Explorer windows open under one icon. If I have seven windows open, you would not be able to tell looking at my taskbar. All the windows are under the icon you use to open them. If I want to look at my already open Word document, it's under the word icon at the bottom of my screen. Have I opened it already? Who knows! Click the icon to check if you have zero or ninety word documents open.

Folder's won't open. I have two folders on my hard drive that won't open at all. "Internet Explorer has stopped working, checking for a solution to the problem" whenever I open those folders. I did a disk check yesterday that took two hours and I still cannot open those folders without the whole computer locking up on me.

There is no longer the option to set up your start-up menu like Windows98. You have to have it set up like Vista's default option. Which sucks.

Can't be activated. Whenever I try to activate my beta copy it tries communicating with the server and then tells me the operation timed out. Which means this thing is going to stop working entirely in ten days.

This website doesn't even work. If I want to see the picture of Todd doing the red carpet over the shoulder pose, I have to click on a blank space where the picture is supposed to be, and then it shows up.

No uninstall. I'm going to have to reformat my hard drive to set things right again.

I'm used to having SOME things not work in a beta, but the number of things going wrong with this is insane.