Archive for March, 2012

Cato — Patrick Basham: Tax on sugary soft drinks

March 31, 2012

In an op-ed on the Cato Institute site here, Patrick Basham writes:

A sugar tax also has undesirable social and economic consequences. This tax is economically regressive, as a disproportionate share of the tax is paid by low earners, who pay a higher proportion of their incomes in sales tax and also consume a disproportionate share of sugary snacks and drinks.

Patrick, please explain why a regressive tax is socially and economically undesirable. It is paid by those who consume the product, rather than being a transfer of wealth from one group to another. Even better, a regressive tax encourages a majority to vote against increased government intrusiveness.

Think about it.

Barcelona — Playing hookey

March 30, 2012

The hardcore meeting delegates are endlessly debating the fine points of the recommendations, but I am adding no value to the discussion. Nor is Tom. We decided to play hookey from about mid-morning until about mid-afternoon.

First stop, Sagrada Familia, which Tom had not seen for many years. There was a long line waiting to buy tickets, so we decided not to go in. I noticed a statue that I hadn’t seen on Sunday’s visit.

We took the subway to the Universitat station, wandered along from there. Eventually came parallel to a very long food market in semi-permanent canvas tents. We discovered why when we reached the Mercat de St Antoni, below. Under massive construction, probably for several years, so they relocated the market stalls for the duration.

From there, we walked to La Rambla and down to the water. My Catalan is non-existent, but I understand the second line, painted at a street crossing.

From there, we explored a bit further, ended up at a restaurant in the Pl Reial, the large courtyard I had come across earlier. Pretty, pretty good.

We thought to go past the cathedral, and passed some interesting things along the way, including a St George who looks as if he can hardly be bothered with the dragon, much less with shooing away the pigeons.

The cathedral itself cost E6, and we are both cheapskates, so we skipped the inside. Just across is an old archive repository, however, quite picturesque in its own right.

I liked the bell tower on the cathedral.

Evidence of vandalism by yesterday’s strikers. The space to the left had been completely cleared out, pending replacement of its window, whose glass we see at the side of the building.

There were a number of street musicians, including this one at the Arc de Triomf. Most of them were quite good, and many avoided electronic amplification (an important criterion for me).

Back to the hotel, where Tom rejoined the meeting, and I picked up the needs of the workday from my room.

Barcelona, strike day

March 29, 2012

There is a general strike today. The hotel has dimmed the lobby lights, drawn blinds over the windows and locked the doors. There is a security guard at the door, letting (selected) people in and out. The waiter at breakfast explained that they don’t want people on the sidewalk to see employees at work inside. Thus do the strikers intimidate the large companies.

One of the local colleagues explained that the strike is about changes in the labor law that make it easier (but by no means easy) to lay off workers.

Our group ate lunch in the hotel; the food court in the shopping mall just down the street was closed due to intimidation.

I went out walking after work. All of the small companies are closed, too. Only a very few bars and restaurants are open; a smashed plate-glass window could bankrupt a self-insured small business. Thus do the strikers intimidate the small businesses.

Every security guard and cop in the city (in the country) was on duty today. Off out of the way, I saw a dozen commandos ready to intervene if things got really nasty.

I went past the smoking ruins of what looked like several bags of garbage and maybe a couch or mattress that had been lit afire. Later, I saw several other plumes of black, filthy smoke here and there. Streets blocked everywhere, emergency vehicles responding in all directions, a helicopter hovering overhead.

Thus do the strikers intimidate everyone!

Near the Arc de Triomphe was a parade, people marching one direction up the centre of the street, turning and marching back down the sides. One popular emblem is a scissors in a red circle with a red diagonal: No cuts!

The taxpayer is not at the negotiating table.

Thousands of people were out on the streets, and everything was closed. If civilization consists of producing and trading, today was the day of the barbarians: no one was going to produce anything today, and no one was going to trade (do business). Not if the strikers could prevent it.

I once went to a rally for capitalism, and it was a really strange experience. I understood then, and emphasized today, that capitalism is not something you rally about: you don’t need slogans, shouts, mobs. The slogans, shouts and mobs are for causes that could not survive on the basis of rational evaluation.

Whence my view that a mob is always wrong. No matter what they advocate, the mob is always wrong. Even in the rally for capitalism: the mob was wrong.

Well, I found two Indian restaurants, but they had been intimidated into remaining closed. Back to the hotel to eat there. As night came on, I began to see a few trams, busses, taxis, as the local world accepted the fact that whining about loot does not improve their lot.

Barcelona — Not getting my pocket picked!

March 28, 2012

I finished my conference call before 5 and decided to go out walking. The hotel is on Avenida Diagonal (only the last syllable accented), and I angled away from it to walk directly down to the shore, which was popular but not wall to wall people, as we might speculate that it becomes during the summer.

I mentioned Bicing before; I have seen these vans with trailers full of bikes before. Today I stopped and watched the guy. I think what he was doing was replacing all of the bikes at the rack with the freshly maintained bikes on his trailer, and hauling the previously racked bikes back for maintenance. Good idea.

One of the things you never see on rental bikes is headlights and taillights — but these bikes all have them, and they work. I eat breakfast before the sun rises, and I notice Bicing riders going past, nicely illuminated.

This is one of the two sailing ships that are still in the water and that are associated with the maritime museum.

There are three towers carrying cables across the waterfront. The inland tower is well up in the hills, hardly a loading dock area. See I have seen no evidence of activity, however, on the several occasions I have been past here. The tower we see below is obviously the centre one.

And in the distance, the one to seaward.

La Rambla actually refers to a floating pier, but the street has the same name. At the foot of the street is the famous statue of Cristoforo Colon (Columbus), standing vertiginously atop his tower, looking to seaward and pointing west.

The maritime museum, an old fortress of some kind. Probably a story, if I were to take the time to research it.

And La Rambla itself.

As always, I turned down the side streets.

A block off La Rambla, a large plaza, full of sidewalk cafes.

Well, what about the pickpocket? On one of the tiny side streets, this kid comes up and walks beside me, wants a light, strikes up a conversation, gets me off my guard. Grabs my hand, puts his leg up to trip me, simultaneously grabbing at my wallet. No, I don’t think we play that game.

He even had the nerve to continue walking with me after we had broken off our physical relationship, and I decided it would be prudent to go into the heavy traffic street, not down the next turning into another tiny deserted side street. This jerk might very well have another go at me, if I give him a chance.

Walked back up La Rambla, happy to be surrounded by crowds for a change. By the time I reached Pl Catalunya, I was ready to keep walking, so I walked back to the hotel, rather hoping to come across an Indian restaurant. No such luck; I ended up eating at the hotel.

Where in the world is Dave this time?

March 25, 2012

All day long, as I wandered the city, I kept feeling as if I were somewhere else. Could it be Disneyland?

No, although if a king of Bavaria were to build something like this, he would surely be certified mad!

Much later, it came to me! Not Disneyland at all. This is Dr Seuss country!

Before we critique her skill as an artist, let’s have a look at the real thing…

 All right, it’s Barcelona.

Going back to the beginning: I had a window seat, spotted this egg from the plane as we made our approach. Looks like Tokyo, doesn’t it, Shinjuku area. It turned out to be only three or four blocks from my hotel.

Really easy through passport, customs, ATM in the lobby. A pleasant sunny morning, around 9:30 by the time I found a taxi.

The taxi driver didn’t recognize the hotel from its name — it’s a Sheraton, but only mid-size. I had printed out a bumpf sheet; it’s on Avenida Diagonal, and the driver told me (her English was only slightly better than my completely non-existent Spanish) that the Barcelona marathon was on today, and it would be difficult getting to that area.

She was right. We faffed around for a long time, being turned back at all boundaries. Saw the wheelchair athletes leading the pack, then the first of the runners.

The meter was ticking, and I finally told her to stop. I would just walk! She had a book-map of the city and showed me where I needed to go, off one page, all the way across another pair of facing pages and onto yet a third page — something like 2 km, I imagine. Good thing I pack with a view to carrying my luggage.

I had grokked the map well enough to even make a slight shortcut at the end. Had to wait to slip through a gap in the line of runners in front of the hotel, still almost all of them men. The picture below is from half an hour later, after I had checked in (no room available yet), dropped off my bags, and gone out to see the town.

A pleasant day. Just a little crisp in the morning, but I’m glad I didn’t take along a jacket; it would have been a nuisance.

Well, the first thing the tourist Must See is of course Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. Although I had not intentionally set off with that specifically in mind, it was indeed the first of the attractions I came across.

They even advertise the fact that it is never finished. All this complexity must be costing someone a boatload of money.

As I explored further, I decided that Gaudi was by no means the originator of these excesses (as a well-mannered Auslander, I can hardly call it Kitsch, and certainly not suggest that it descends into poor taste). Gaudi appears to have simply been the gaudiest of the lot, if I may say so.

If religion requires words, well, put the words right there on the building. This is one example of many; the letters are ceramic mosaics.

I didn’t queue up and pay to go in. Maybe I should have.

From the Sacred Family, I wandered past a hospital that was on the tourist route map I had picked up at the hotel. The Park Guell was the next stop, the half dozen pictures at the beginning. At the top of the hill, grades steep enough to catch the respect of a San Franciscan. It was apparently originally intended as a residential community, but the money ran out.

A digression about the map: it shows a green tour and a red tour; I had been following the green tour because that’s the one that goes past the hotel. I was impressed at their level of ambition for the pedestrian until (this evening) I discovered that it’s the bus tour, not the walking tour. Oh, okay, then I’m less embarrassed at not having completed the whole thing.

Came upon a poster for the UC Davis symphony orchestra, which will be performing here in early April. Small world, and all that.

Not everything here is bizarre.

Despite the picture above, there were lots of people out enjoying the Sunday. Lots of dogs here, and most of them seemed to be in the process of relieving themselves. You watch where you step in this town.

The other unpleasantness is that people here have not yet gotten the idea that smoking is no longer cool.

But on the bright side, there are bicycles from a take one, drop one off arrangement called Bicing, and pretty popular. I saw a lot of riders today wearing the standard cycling clothing, and many of those who were not were still wearing helmets. Good for them.

I heard music as I wandered down the street, thought it might be a post-Marathon celebration. No such thing. It was the whole neighborhood having a dance. Both dancers and spectators were having a terrific time. And so was I.

Beautiful textures on some of this stone.

Well, all right. I had had nothing eat, and only water from a streetside fountain to drink, I had had pretty much no sleep on the plane, and — yes, I admit it — my feet were getting sore. So I wandered back to the hotel, got my room.

I have been told that you dine late in Spain, and even the hotel’s restaurant closes between 5 and 8. So if I want to avoid fainting from hunger, I had better have a large late lunch (and then probably skip dinner). The hotel restaurant offered prix fixe with a choice that, for me, meant pear-roquefort-lettuce salad, a beef stew over rice topped with a papadam (that’s eclectic for you!) and tiramisu.

Long day, good day. There’s lots more to see, if I can get some time from the meetings.

Dubrovnik II

March 11, 2012

We woke up spontaneously about 5:45. Breakfast was available at 7, and we worked on various things until 10, when the first shuttle ran to Dubrovnik. We reserved a seat on the last return shuttle at 5:30 this afternoon.

A fairly clear day, chilly and breezy. Nice. The bus plaza is just outside the walls of the old town, where we of course went. We decided to buy day passes, one day for me, and seven days for Jacky. We’ll incur the pain of the expenditure up front, and then not feel as if we have to evaluate whether each attraction is worth it or not.

The main street through the old town is reasonably wide and leads straight through to a plaza. In the morning, there were considerably fewer people; this photo — still not showing a crowd, really — is from early afternoon, from the city walls.

The first place we stopped was a large open courtyard, below. A pianist was playing something nice when we went in, and the acoustics were surprisingly good. As we settled in to enjoy, she got up and left with her husband — just another tourist, one who happened to be musically talented. Nice.

The high point, so to speak, is the city walls. We spent at least two and possibly three hours doing the circuit of the walls. Well repaired, interesting, and nice views.


It occurs to me that, when you have a city built in the vertical, you can optimize space in three dimensions. This (below) would be very congenial.

There are a fair number of ruins around. I don’t know whether these are left over from the war damage of the 1990s, or whether they just reflect the ordinary turnover of any city. In any event, there are also signs of construction here and there. Feral cats everywhere; they don’t mind living in ruins.

Below: I have no idea! No idea whatever!

Jacky observes that it looks as if the rock is encroaching on the wall, rather than the wall having been built onto the rock.

I’m not particularly nervous about heights, but I would think twice about climbing that ladder!

The business of this town is clearly tourism, but there are a few people around who actually do real work. Harvesting seafood for the tourists, for example.

There are two bronze knights that strike the hours on one of the towers. We later saw their ancestors in one of the museums. Sculptured in considerable detail, far more detail than the observers in the street will ever see. Interesting to notice the wires and levers that actuate them.

I suppose you could hardly call this anything but a handrail!

And if you need a standoff to keep your cables from chafing against the wall, well, why not!

We decided to have a late lunch and skip the hotel restaurant. Doubtless we will have other evenings in the hotel’s restaurants. So we strolled around the old town until we came upon the Ragusa 2 restaurant, where we sat outdoors (wearing jackets) and enjoyed fish, a sea bass for Jacky and unspecified filets with peppery polenta for me.

Back to the bus plaza, where the shuttle was waiting to take us to the hotel. A great day. I’m glad I came a day early; it would have been a shame to have missed this.


March 10, 2012

Broadband Forum meets in Dubrovnik this time. Jacky came along, using my frequent flyer miles in business class. That lasted until London Heathrow, where we couldn’t book further travel on United, so we bought a separate itinerary on Croatia Airlines through Zagreb into Dubrovnik. I guess those aircraft have business classes, but it hardly matters.

It has been a long time since we have been in airports this small. Or aircraft this small, for that matter. Turbo-prop to Dubrovnik, where we walked down the portable steps and across the apron to get into the terminal.

My colleague Jaume was on the plane from Zagreb, and we shared a taxi to the hotel, the Radisson Blu resort on the coast about 10km south of Dubrovnik itself. It was mid-afternoon when we arrived.

We agreed to meet Jaume at 6, and went out to explore the immediate area. It is a rocky, steep coast, wonderful country for cycling or hiking. The resort advertises a beach, but they admit in the fine print that it’s a pebble beach, and indeed it is. Lots of islands out there in the water, more of the same rocky theme.

There is also some kind of mostly abandoned building that looks almost like a fortress here. No idea what it was, or what it is.

As to the rest of the area, there are apartments for sale, and the little resort map shows lots of restaurants and shops. Maybe this is all brand new and not yet in business, or maybe it’s after (or before) the high season, but it was mostly deserted. We saw more security guards than anything else.

Tried a local brew with Jaume, more flavour than Bud, but not an instant favourite. Then we went to the hotel’s Tartufo restaurant where we had a great dinner and a good evening of conversation, and greeting various others of the BBF community who are also here a day early.

It was a very long travel day for us, and we were more than ready to collapse into bed, where we did not awaken until Sunday at dawn. Another new city, another new country.