25 April 2009

Salamanca!

I am now in Salamanca, Spain, and I must say I'm enjoying every moment of it! The weather is hot and toasty, like the warmest summer days in Sweden, and the town and surroundings are beautiful! The architecture of the old buildings in Salamanca is quite interesting and very different from anything in Sweden. Many of the buildings are built with large bricks made from Villamayor sandstone. This is a unique kind of stone that comes from a quarry in the nearby village Villamayor, and the golden glow that this stone has in the sun has given Salamanca its nickname, La Ciudad Dorada - the golden city.
There are two old cathedrals in Salamanca. The new one, Catedral nueva, was built between 1509 and 1734, and the old cathedral was founded in the 12th century. The new cathedral is quite enormous, and very impressive on the inside. The style is an interesting mix of late Gothic and Renaissance architecture.
Salamanca is also home to the University of Salamanca, one of the oldest universities in Europe, founded by Alfonso IX of León in 1218 as a "General School". This foundation did not last and the university was refounded by Alfonso's son, King St. Ferdinand III in 1243. The university, which has about 36000 students, has a famous facade with detailed engravings, among other things a small frog hiding somewhere among the figures of the facade. According to popular legend, travelers who can spot the frog will come back to Salamanca.
The food here is great as well. One of the delicacies include "jamón ibérico", a special kind of salty cured ham made from black iberian pigs. The ham is salted and then dried for several weeks. After this, the meat is cured for 1 - 3 years, depending on the producer. There are many versions of jamón of varying degrees of seriousness and quality, based on how long the meat is cured and what the pigs ate before they were slaughtered. I tried both the jamón ibérico and one of the more generic jamón, and it's tasty stuff! Most bars have tapas, small plates of various types of food to be eaten like a snack. I especially like the "pulpo a la gallega", which is made from octopus, and "croquetas", which are small bundles of a thick bechamel sauce with small pieces of jamón, ham or tuna in them, covered in bread crumbs and egg and then deep-fried. Yummy! I was kinda hoping that Spanish food would be more healthy and wholesome than my regular slouch-around-at-home diet, but I'm afraid I won't be losing any weight anytime soon...

The language is fun to listen to. I don't speak very much Spanish yet, but many words are very similar to English words, so you can sometimes guess what they mean, though not well enough to be able to follow a conversation. People also tend to speak very fast, which adds to the challenge. Listening to a conversation, I'm able to recognize some words here and there but not enough to understand the meaning. It's weird, but Spanish feels kind of like you could *almost* understand the language if you listened closely enough, but it's just far enough beyond your reach to make it incomprehensible. This complete immersion in Spanish (you don't really hear anything else than Spanish here, everything on TV is dubbed to Spanish too) is a pretty efficient way to learn the language, I think. Between a dictionary, grammar book, frequent questioning of my fiancée for the meaning of words, and just listening to people, I think I have improved my Spanish a bit already.

18 April 2009

España

So the Pirate bay trial is over and the guys were found guilty and sentenced to 1 year in prison and $4,5 million in fines.
It's insane. If you kill someone in Sweden you might go to jail for a few years and maybe pay $20 000 in fines. Except if you're a cop. Then you can pretty much beat a person to a pulp with your stick in front of a video camera and still walk away a free man. Not too long ago during a riot, three cops were caught on video discussing in obviously racist terms how they wanted to castrate and hurt an immigrant, whom they called "the fucking monkey". The police investigated the matter and decided that there was nothing wrong with this, so the cops were allowed to keep working normally. But I digress.

If you put up a website where someone else posts a link to 9 copyrighted movies, you go to jail and have to pay more than 200 times the amount you would for murder in fines. It paints a nice picture of what the priorities of the Swedish legal system are, doesn't it? This trial had nothing to do with actual law and justice, but was yet another example of Sweden being the lapdog of whoever yells at them the loudest. The US looks at the Swedish government sternly, and *poof*, all of a sudden a CIA airplane lands in Sweden and the Swedish government shoves over a bunch of prisoners who are then taken away to be "questioned".

There was no real evidence of much of anything in this case. The prosecutors had to basically fill in the holes in their case by guessing and speculating. The four guys on trial have broken no law, since there has never been any laws against what they did. They did not share any copyrighted material themselves. According to the prosecutors, they were guilty because they provided a web service where people could link to copyrighted material, and the court pretty much ignored the defence and sided 100% with the prosecutor.

Now, think about that for a moment. It's their fault because they provided a site where people can link to copyrighted material? Doesn't Google do that too? And Youtube? And pretty much every single search engine and major website on the internet? Wouldn't that kinda make the entire internet illegal? What's next? Is the Swedish copyright lobby going to start dishing out lawsuits against the internet service providers because they provided people with the means to share things online? This whole trial is just so idiotic it makes my head hurt... It's another painfully obvious indication of the fact that the Swedish government has no interest in working in the best interests of its population, but rather for sucking up to whatever political or commercial organ that has the most money. Why the hell else would the government decide that its OK to introduce mass surveillance of the entire population? It does not benefit the people. It only benefits the companies that have something to gain from it, i.e. the copyright holders, who are now free to slap anyone they want with a lawsuit and basically force them to pay insane amounts of money with no interference from the law or anyone else.

"Pay us, or we will make you pay even more. You are guilty because we say so, and you'll have to prove yourself innocent to get out of this, which you can't because we have frozen your assets since we think you are guilty. So pay up, or else..."

A free country? Yeah, right... Not even the police has the authority to do this! But a company with copyright interests does! A corporation has more power than the police to bully people! Am I the only one who thinks this is so fucked up it's not even funny any more? This kind of stuff belongs in nihilistic sci-fi novels, not in a modern society that is supposed to be democratic!
If a person did this, rather than a corporation, it would be called extortion and organized crime. So thanks a lot, government, you incompetent cowards who not only allowed this to become possible, but actually made it reality. I can't think of anyone who deserves a 40 000 kr + /month salary less than you guys.

I'm leaving town for a while. Tomorrow morning Gin and I are going to Stockholm for a few days to see my brother and some other people. After that we fly to London for a day, and then on to Spain to meet Gin's family. I've never been to Spain, so I'm looking forward to it. I'm bringing my Spanish grammar book and dictionary, and I intend to improve my Spanish quite a bit while I'm there.