03 August 2009

Primary election results

A few weird numbers came out of yesterday's election. The main thing was that the opposition represented by the Justicialist Party (that is, the Peronists) won in Rosario, where it usually loses by a wide margin, and the Progressive Front won in Santa Fe City, where it usually doesn't do that well and was vanquished in the latest legislative election. What happened?

You need to remember this was a primary election and, although it was compulsory, many people didn't turn up. It was a local election and in Rosario, also, it was a local election pitching a diverse (some would say promiscuous) opposition party against a fairly monolithic government party whose administration is showing some wear after 14 years in office. People who are more-or-less OK with the Socialist administration didn't vote for it because the main list of candidates was seen as a bunch of yes-people ready to raise their hands on the mayor's command. I myself voted for Nire Roldán, one of the minor, dissident candidates of the Progressive Front, instead of the "loyalist" Clara García (currently a top municipal official), because I don't want a Deliberative Council with an absolute majority of the government's faction.

In any case, the Progressive Front had differences in opinion among its factions, basically regarding the closeness of the candidates to the mayor's power. On the other hand, the Peronists are profoundly divided, and so they went to the primary election: a Kirchnerist faction led by extra-partisan, former Socialist and Menemist sell-out Héctor Cavallero, with the explicit support of the now disgraced Kirchnerist mouthpiece Agustín Rossi; a faction led by one Diego Giuliano, a political unknown who answers to formerly fervent Kirchnerist, now right-wing anti-Kirchnerist Carlos Reutemann; another one led by Osvaldo Miatello, the only one with a current and established legislative career, backed by former governor Jorge Obeid; and an assortment of no-names. These will have to get along somehow — they'll all be together in a single ballot in September.

My analysis is that many people just took the Progressive Front for granted and refused to show extra support for the mayor's faction (that's what I did after all) as a way of letting them know they'll have to work harder to stay in power, while each of the various competing Peronist candidates conducted an aggressive campaign just to make themselves noticed, and their wide differences encouraged their supporters to go out and vote.We'll see what happens with those figures in September. I really can't see a traditional, conservative Peronist voting for a former Socialist with Kirchnerist backing, or viceversa.

The flu

I haven't written about the influenza A(H1N1) epidemic in Argentina. Everyone else has, though, so I'll leave it at that. For me, it had its good and bad sides. The good side was that children and teenagers cleared the streets, buses, and other public venues for us grownups, leaving us room to enjoy our city without being bumped into,  or bombarded with trashy music out of MP3 players. Oh, some people died. Not many, certainly an insignificant number compared to the people who die of other preventable diseases or in traffic accidents caused by drivers' carelessness. Several acquaintances of mine fell with the flu, but it was nothing serious.

The bad side was the hysteria and the paranoia. I'm sure you've seen your share of this. What happens here is that as soon as, let's say, an outbreak of a disease is announced, society divides itself into two main groups: those who panic, go to ridiculous extremes to protect themselves, and generally bother the rest of us, and those who just dismiss it all as an invention of the government, the media, or both to make us forget of the really important matters, and place the rest of us at risk because of their carelessness. You may have noticed there's a third group, what I've called "the rest of us" — make of that what you want.

As the first wave of the flu subsided, many people have started to forget the cautionary measures against contagion. This may or may not be OK. Others continue to be hysterical, in both the usual and the figurative meaning: they remain fearful and paranoid, and they're very funny — tending towards the "pathetic" kind of funny. At work, I've had perfectly healthy people, who usually offered me their cheek to kiss every morning, refuse to come even close to me. During the initial phase of the epidemic, one of my co-workers first became very agitated, then tried to force her daughter's school to shut down, and then basically locked her up at home (this was a few days before the Ministry of Education finally decided to shut down the schools). There's still alcohol gel everywhere, and by the looks of it, some people think it's an all-powerful, virus-proof barrier against the flu.

The cold, and with it the flu, will be gone in less than two months. I can't wait to tell you about the upcoming dengue epidemic...

02 August 2009

Just voted

I've just voted on the (arguably) most boring election ever — a primary to select candidates for the city's Deliberative Council.

Not only did most people not know exactly who the candidates were, what general views (as opposed to nice specific ideas) they had, or even which party they belonged to, but also, as a result of the flu epidemic, the election should have taken place a month ago and didn't. It was postposed, but the legal ban on political advertising wasn't reset, so it's been more than a month since any of the candidates was allowed to appear on TV or be heard on the radio to explain the citizens what they intend to do if they're elected. Now I don't really love politicians broadcasting their promises along with catchy, unsubstantial slogans every ten minutes on the radio, but I do appreciate those things have a purpose.

Some of the major candidates evaded the ban by campaigning through Facebook. I think this is a very nice idea. It was pioneered, I think, by mayor Miguel Lifschitz, and spread quickly to other candidates, who apparently saw that just having a website was useless if nobody noticed it. The digital divide makes this practice a bit problematic, though.

I'll be posting the results here as soon as I have them, but nobody expects a surprise. The real election, with the candidates from each party already selected, will take place on September 27.

31 July 2009

Does God exist?

I don't like translating my own writings, so I won't subject you to a translation of my review of ¿Dios existe?, whose core is a public debate between then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and the atheist Italian philosopher Paolo Flores d’Arcais (which, as far as I know, hasn't been published in English). The book in fact doesn't deal a lot with that ancient, ever-present topic, but has more to do with the mode of the affirmation of God by the believers and how it relates to the grounding of moral principles and the law.

Deep stuff, especially for one (like me) who has never studied philosophy. I'm missing most of the references that the author takes for granted... But I think I'm getting it, mostly. This guy Flores d’Arcais has some very clear ideas and he knows how to convey them. This unlike Michel Onfray, who's fascinating but excessively florid and elliptical (I just finished a book by him about the Cynics, by the way), and very, very unlike the one contemporary atheist philosopher I've read within the Anglo-Saxon materialist tradition, Daniel Dennett. Popular English-language atheistic thought is, understandably, almost completely devoted to refuting Protestant fundamentalism and creationism, on one hand, and denouncing the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism on the other — and it all seems a bit shallow and pointless after a while. I've been overexposed to that lately (I'm still trying to finish Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea, which has very engaging ideas on the origin of design). So for me Onfray and Flores d’Arcais are a door into a different world of thought.

I'll leave you with something to get an idea of what Flores d’Arcais thinks about religion in the public sphere, his Eleven Theses Against Habermas. The condition he sets for a pluralistic democracy are echoed in the arguments he presents in the book — namely, that all of us, believers of all faiths and nonbelievers alike, must renounce to claim that we have reasonable, unassailably objective grounds for our principles, because such a thing does not and cannot exist.

28 July 2009

Amado Boudou

I'm being asked to come back and write something. So instead of apologizing (again) for doing something else instead of writing, I thought I'd share short snippets of my thoughts that might interest my readership. Here comes one: did you know (or notice) that phonetically, the name of our latest Minister of Economy, Amado Boudou, means Beloved Voodoo?

Voodoo seems an appropriate subject to relate to the minister. Our economy, with its ups and downs, is faring surprisingly well given the crisis, but since Néstor Kirchner decided to get rid of Roberto Lavagna, the office of the Minister of Economy is like a periodically revived zombie. When someone alive steps into the post, or she or he's promptly bludgeoned into an undead state by the Kirchners' requirements of absolute loyalty. Felisa Miceli was an undead from the start, as was Miguel Peirano; his successor, Martín Lousteau, like him a promising, independent young minister, made the grave mistake of proposing Resolution 125 and the fatal one of disturbing the government's inflation denialism, and lasted very little after that; Carlos Fernández was barely seen or heard, an undead without even the redeeming features of romanticism or tragedy, and passed without a sigh.

Argentine governments tend to burn economy ministers fairly quickly. Boudou has just started and he's half wasted already, having had several members of his work team vetoed or hand-picked by Néstor Kirchner on the basis of personal loyalty. Want to bet how long he'll last?

02 July 2009

In a pause

I'm having trouble connecting to the internet at home, due to a chronically failing telephone line, so I'm writing from the office and I'll have to keep it short. I'm working at the very place where the statistics of the influenza A epidemic for the south of Santa Fe are reported and analyzed, so you'll understand.

I really have no idea what's going on, except what everybody knows: the schools are closed for July, though other public places are so far deemed OK, and it seems the government might postpone the provincial primary election to be held next Sunday (July 5) for a month. Pregnant women will be given a couple of weeks off (with pay) until the peak of the flu epidemic passes. And there's a lot of paranoia around. It's tiring sometimes.

I haven't even caught a cold this winter (knock on wood), so I'll be back soon, I hope!

30 June 2009

After the elections

The legislative elections are over, and if you're following the news, you'll be surely aware of the big picture: Néstor Kirchner has lost, the government's power in Congress has been cut down, and several presidenciables (that is, likely presidential candidates) are already lining up (or have been lined up by the media) for the 2011 election.

So I'll just concentrate on the small things and the analysis. First, let's get Kirchner out of the way... Néstor Kirchner lost to Francisco de Narváez by a handful of votes, a lot of votes actually, but only about two-and-a-half percent of the Buenos Aires Province vote. Of course, what happened is that the list of candidates headed by NK got a few votes less than that led by FDN; in formal terms it was a tie, but Kirchner's insistence on the paramount importance of this election worked like a self-fulfilled prophecy: almost everyone assumed positions as if it were the one and final battle of a war, and the election turned into an opportunity to bash the government. And bashed it was: Kirchner, who had achieved record levels of popularity during his term, lost to a group of the strangest bedfellows politics has inflicted on us as of late, led by a right-wing Colombian-born multimillionaire with an image constructed hastily by the media in a matter of months. Many of the so-called "barons" of Greater Buenos Aires, who rule the poorest and most densely populated parts of Argentina as virtual feudal lords and are keen observers of reality, betrayed their alliance with Kirchner, unnanounced.

In any case, after what must have been a very long night and a terrible day, Kirchner dutifully resigned from the presidency of the Justicialist Party. He released a short video accepting the defeat and I swear he looked mildly drugged.

Yesterday in the afternoon, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner gave a press conference. First she started out by reciting highly optimistic figures for the composition of the new Congress, and feigned not to have the exact numbers of her husband's defeat on hand (while, as everyone knows, she probably had the figures down to the least significant digit painfully etched in her short-term memory). Then she tried to turn the whole thing on its head, pointing out how an awful lot of people had still voted for the government's party. When a journalist pointed out that she'd gotten 45% of the vote when she was elected and now her husband got only 31%, she was upset and accused the media of having a double standard because they hadn't gone and asked that to Mauricio Macri and his candidate Gabriela Michetti (in the City of Buenos Aires, Michetti got 30% of the vote, only half of what Macri and her had gotten two years ago). She also resented the petitio principii of a journalist who asked about the manipulation of INDEC's figures of inflation — which did beg the question, of course, because the government has never admitted to that manipulation, although everyone, including some of the president's favorite economists, is certain of it.

At that point, approximately, I stopped watching the press conference. It was pointless. Either Cristina has learned nothing or she needs a few days to let it sink in, but based on previous experience, the latter is unlikely. We're left with the hope that she won't attempt something funny before December, when the new Congressmen will take their seats.

28 June 2009

I have voted

I've just come back from my old primary school, where I voted. My DNI (Documento Nacional de Identidad) now has one more stamped-and-signed square near its back. Now to wait until evening...