Spanish class, airplanes, and politics

Just finished day three of my Spanish homework… “En futuro, yo voy a dormir toda la noce… ¡Victimo!” I feel like I keep falling a little more behind every day — I have literally over five thousand images in the queue (although you can expect an image update tomorrow, I've been working on it this evening) — but still I'm really enjoying Spanish class. To be honest the problem isn't so much the work as my mind and brain still working on learning how to sleep again without drugs (and crappy pillows). I'm sure it's worth it, but seriously, it's not fun.

I found out today that the kids (and I mean kids) doing bagging at the supermarket don't get paid at all — in fact, it would be illegal for the supermarket to pay them — so it's important to tip them a few pesos. But what's interesting is that they can only get the job if they're maintaining an A or a B average at school (ie. the reward for working hard at school is getting a job). It's an interesting way of structuring the youth job market; I wonder what long term effect it has on people's philosophical views of work and so on.

One of the other things when learning Spanish that interested me is the lack of egoism… There are a lot of statements you can make in English like I grow vegetables that you just can't make in Spanish — the structure of the language simply doesn't allow it… It's the plants that grow — people can set it into motion by planting them, and they can reap the benefits by harvesting, but they can't actually do it as you could in English. There have been quite a few little things like this…

By the way, when you're reading all this, take it with a grain of salt because I'm a dude with a total of three days of Spanish under his belt!

Another thing I find interesting is that the Americans in the class (Rachel included, although she's fine with Spanish accents because she grew up around those) have enormous trouble understanding foreign accents — things that (to me) sound like perfect Enlish, just with odd pronunciation, are totally incomprehensible to them. I'm not sure why that is… maybe it's because there are so many dialects of English in America, and America is such an “inward looking” society, that people just learn to hear all the different US pronunciations but never really get exposed to others.

Cold seagulls

One of the guys in my class is, as I think I mentioned, an ex-airline pilot. After hearing that Rachel and I were both part way through our private pilot's licenses, he mentioned to us that the Baja used to be a wonderful place for private pilots, because even most of the small hotels up and down the coast would have landing strips behind them so pilots with small planes and ultralights could hop up and down the peninsula without needing a car. Unfortunately the US government paid the Mexican government a small fortune to come in with massive plows and destroy all the runways.

Yay for the war on drugs, right?

I love hearing pilot stories… He's really a Boeing guy I think — loves the 747 — but also flies the Airbus A320, which I assume many of you have been on. He didn't seem to like that plane at all. It's a high tech fly-by-wire system (“the French love having the best technology”) which forces the pilot to really trust the plane's computers a little too much for the comfort of many pilots, although some enjoyed it for the challenge — even with hundreds of hours of flight time you'd still look down at the controls and panels from time to time and ask yourself what the hell the plane was doing!

Anyway, one time as he was getting ready to go he saw that it was noted in the maintenance log that the landing gear computer was having intermittent problems. Now, in a Boeing 747 the landing gear's pretty basic — pretty much just a big switch. You open the system, the gear drops, and you hydraulically lock it into place… but on the A320, you tell the computer to lower or raise the gear, and it then makes sure you're safe to do so (so you can't, say, raise the gear if you're sitting on the runway, or lower it if you're doing 500 knots). That said, there's two computers, and really the French insisted, how could two of them fail at once?

So he's about an hour into the flight, and the first landing gear computer fails, and then half an hour later, the second one goes out. In the 747 this would have been no big deal because you can just crawl out to the gear (inside the plane — ever seen Commando?), use a hand crank to lower it, and then look down a little observation tube to make sure everything is in place. But he's not in a 747.. he's in an A320… So he's got no way to lower the gear.

A Boeing 747 is a tank — you can land it on its belly, gear up, and do surprisingly little damage to the airframe. The A320 on the other hand is a composite-laden plane that's designed to be light and efficient, and the slightest error on that type of landing destroys the plane — so things weren't looking good. He called the tower and they recommended that he pull the circuit boards in an attempt to reboot it. Luckily that worked, and both landing gear computers came back online.

And thirty seconds later they'd crashed again.

Another reboot, another thirty seconds.

The tower had only one not-very-reassuring recommendation. Come in for a normal landing, and when they were about two minutes from touchdown, reboot the computers and try and lower the gear in that brief period it was going to stay online… and the kicker is that because the A320 is totally fly by wire, only a small microswitch — part of the failed computer no less — could even tell them whether the gear was down or not. Luckily the gear did lower, and the landing was uneventful… but you really have to wonder how often these things happen, totally unbeknown to the passengers?

Underground tongue splitting in communist China

The photos above are from a friend in China — a “human artist” as he puts it in English. I figured this went with the other photo recently posted in terms of illustrating the universality, not just of the basic urge, but of the activities themselves. I have no doubt that the Internet is largely to blame. But the next time you hear someone complain about Western laws on body modification, try and appreciated the political risk this dude's taking. My hat's off to him!

Anyway, before I crash out, can I just say how deeply disturbed I am that half of all Americans believe that Bush has “united” America over the past four years. You know, it's one thing to believe Bush, and support Bush, and vote for him and be into his policies. But what kind of cretaceous-era moron do you have to be to believe that he's united America? Seriously, if this poll is accurate, it's absolute proof that at least have of Americans are full on delusional.

Seriously, WTF.

It gets even crazier. 30% of Americans believe that the three day-long $40+ million Bush inauguration party — complete with Goebbellian military-themed events such as the “Commander-in-Chief Ball” and the “Salute to Service” — is actually going to be celebrated by all Americans, and 20% believe that watching the spectacle will convert the remaining Democrats to Republicans. Again: WTF?

A number of politicians, Republicans included, have suggested now — in the midst of a war and a budget and deficit crisis — might not be the time to be blowing $40 million dollars on a victory party… hell, how about giving some of that money back to the troops in Iraq who've had their salaries cut under Bush's watch? But Bush insists that it's wrong to criticize him — “It's important that we celebrate a peaceful transfer of power” he says… Um… peaceful transfer of power?


This story [via] in the LA Times is rather disturbing as well — I don't like the idea of a bunch of uneducated religious nuts being armed with nukes. It just doesn't seem like a good idea.

The sociologist Peter Berger once remarked that if India is the most religious country in the world and Sweden the least, then the United States is a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes. Not anymore. With a Jesus lover in the Oval Office and a faith-based party in control of both houses of Congress, the United States is undeniably a nation of believers ruled by the same.

Things are different in Europe, and not just in Sweden. The Dutch are four times less likely than Americans to believe in miracles, hell and biblical inerrancy. The euro does not trust in God. But here is the paradox: Although Americans are far more religious than Europeans, they know far less about religion.

In Europe, religious education is the rule from the elementary grades on. So Austrians, Norwegians and the Irish can tell you about the Seven Deadly Sins or the Five Pillars of Islam. But, according to a 1997 poll, only one out of three U.S. citizens is able to name the most basic of Christian texts, the four Gospels, and 12% think Noah's wife was Joan of Arc. That paints a picture of a nation that believes God speaks in Scripture but that can't be bothered to read what he has to say.

Well, enjoy the party tomorrow I suppose.

Scary world.

Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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