Did I tell you already I'm freakin' cold these days, all day?
This is not normal. Sure, those cold waves from freezing airmasses coming from Antarctica are not uncommon at all. Just not like this, in mid-autumn, and lasting a week, and featuring those lovely sub-zero temperatures every day. It's almost 10:00 PM and we're still under freezing point, and it's terribly humid, and yet this weather is so ill-behaved that it's not snowing as predicted. It hasn't happened in Rosario since 1973, but it may this winter, though. It's already snowed in places of Córdoba Province and in Mendoza — both on the same latitude as Rosario. So, no adorable pictures of snow-white parks for you.
People are dying as a result of the cold, and there are serious problems with the power generation and distribution, and the supply of natural gas. Those who don't live in Argentina may not fully appreciate what that means for us. Electricity, except for lighting, is comparatively expensive, and so are most fossil fuels. Natural gas (as a real gas, or compressed and liquefied) is employed for home heating, to heat our bathwater, to cook, and to power cars (Argentina has the greatest absolute number of LNG-powered vehicles). Industries use loads of natural gas for all sorts of processes, and power stations burn it to generate energy. When there's not enough, they have to use fuel oil, which is four times the price (and that, only thanks to Mad Hugo up there).
Now, we produce a lot of gas and export a lot of it to Chile, but when demand is high the flow is stopped so as to supply internal consumption first. Since this is the case now, the Chileans are mad at us. Chile made the mistake of planning its energy future based on Argentina's abundante supply of cheap gas (we all know you can't pin your future to Argentina's anything!). Interestingly, Bolivia, which sits atop a veritable ocean of liquid and gasseous hydrocarbons, provides us with a lot of extra gas, and has more than enough for Chile too, but due to a territorial dispute they refuse to sell it to them (and only sell to us on the condition that we don't re-route it to Chile!). The dispute could be solved if only Chile gave back to Bolivia a strip of land that reaches up to the Pacific Ocean, which it stole ages ago; but that won't happen soon.
Back to Argentina and to Rosario and to me: I'm cold (did I tell you already?) and I also officially have a nasty cold as of today, which is a pity since these days are so sunny they motivate you to go outside, but I can't risk catching something worse. On the other hand, better get some antibodies now than during my winter vacations.
30 May 2007
29 May 2007
28 May 2007
The Ministry of Defense hasn't been looking all that well lately, with what military-supervised airplanes being always late and/or missing each other by inches, and Minister Nilda Garré unsuccessfully trying to bend reality with her mind to negate the problem... but here's a good one for her. Also late, but you can't have everything. The MoD is changing the curricula of military education, and more: not only will there be humanistic subjects, but also new teachers and instructors coming from (civilian) universities. The pupils will learn about human rights, international law and Latin American integration, as well as a more current version of Argentine history.
If this doesn't make many a dead general spin in his grave (deservedly), I don't know what will. The notion of human rights has never been popular with any military force, ever, anywhere, but in Argentina just speaking aloud in favour of human rights has literally taken people to the bottom of the sea. Latin American integration, too, sounds positively misplaced in this context, where the usual teaching has been patriotism = nationalism = xenophobia... no matter how much our national heroes supported such an integration; today that sounds dangerously close to the "Bolivarian alternative" sponsored by Hugo Chávez or, if we're thinking of the religious side, the typical discourse of those irresponsible lefties of the Liberation Theology movement, which our most Catholic generals have always abhorred and our Holy (and Conservative) Father has so rightly condemned.
A few months ago, in one of those K-style spasmic bursts of decission-making that we've come to love and dread, there was a government idea of closing down all the military lyceums, which are colleges that give military instruction along with the common curricula and produce reserve officers. The plan was scrapped, and they came up with this, more sensible and less drastic measure, which will be implemented starting in August.
Thus far, the main report in La Nación, and a good one it was. Yet if you were starting to wonder whatever happened to the venerable paper's hypocritically ambiguous pro-dictatorship slant, a sub-article linked from this one will clear your doubts. It's called "A fractured ministry", it's written by María Elena Polack, and it comments on the internal conflicts of the MoD, where Minister Garré is (allegedly) trying to solve the structural problems of the military while the human rights department (the one in charge of the education curricula) is actually planning on "dismantling the very heart of the spirit of military education" by selecting instructors (committed to human rights, one guesses) that will teach the future officers, instead of letting the military themselves transmit the "values" they've been receiving from the previous generations.
about the moral value of sports (and how you
mustn't pay other teams to lose in the World Cup).
The rhetorical question near the end of the article cannot pass as innocuous to anyone with a mild grasp of Argentine political discourse: "Has anybody measured the impact of re-introducing in the military quarters the political debate that has caused so many pains for the country?". To my knowledge, the military have never debated whether violating the Constitution they swore to defend, start a programme of ideologically-motivated extermination of dissidence and state terrorism, and plunder the country's coffers for personal gain, was right or wrong or even justifiable; they've only made up excuses for not cleansing their own ranks in time. Moreover, this debate is not political, in the sense that it's not a matter of whose politics is popular or what politicians want — it's an ethical debate (what do we want our soldiers to believe in?) and it's a debate about justice (who deserves to be punished for the organized criminal group that called itself a government back in 1976?) and many other things.
The "forgive and forget" camp, the supporters of "reconciliation", have always been the same people: the right (not really the extreme right), the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, and the dictators and their accomplices; claiming that this uncomfortable debate is a pain for the country is like saying that speaking of cancer surgery is a pain for the patient... or, we can infer, that ignoring the cancer is actually better than removing it.
The long weekend was fairly quiet. I got out with the gang on Thursday for some unhealthy fun and slept through all the glorious morning of Revolution Day. Patriotic celebrations don't really do much for me anyway, and after watching how President K turned the commemoration of the (bloodless, burgeois and porteño-centered) revolution of 25 May 1810 into a political meeting, busloads of hired voters included, I was pretty much satisfied that I didn't get up earlier. K went to Mendoza this year, ostensibly to reinforce his pro-federalist stance again, though as before, there were many who guessed he didn't want to go to the Te Deum at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires, where he would've had to listen to the de facto intellectual leader of the opposition, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio; and then Julio Cobos, governor of Mendoza and K Radical, is a likely candidate for the vice-presidency along with First Lady Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, or, as some like to abbreviate her, CFK.
Enough of politics... After a few much-needed glasses of water and an aspirin, I sat down with my folks to eat some extremely heavy empanadas, as tradition demands, and then set out to my next task — going to the movies. Pirates of the Caribbean III was a very good movie. Mind you, I liked the first two issues, but they weren't exactly earth-shaking for me. I don't quite understand the fanatic devotion of many people for these picturesque characters. But PotC3 was different: much darker, more dramatic, longer, and more complicated and complex (those two are not the same). The characters were less cartoonish, more developed, more troubled, and at the same time they didn't lose their freshness; the movie was still clearly an adventure-comedy, not a depressing personal drama. If you haven't seen I and II, go get them and then see this one (you won't get a thing if you don't).
Well, a couple of misunderstandings later, I was left without suitable plans for the Saturday and Sunday, so paradoxically, I took the greatest advantage of the long weekend on Thursday night and Friday afternoon... Saturday afternoon, however, was not a complete loss. The sun again came out in full glory and the freezing cold abated a little. I took my bike and went first east, then north, then a bit west, to reach an old train station I was determined to photograph, the last one: Sarratea Station.
Sarratea Station is in the north of Rosario, in what I think is still Barrio Alberdi (though the area looks definitely poorer than the typical middle-upper-class Alberdi), about 1.5 km west of the river's shore. The railway was part of the Ferrocarril Mitre company, back when the state-owned railway covered all of Argentina. This line ran north–south. Sarratea was closed down and more-or-less abandoned in 1977, like most other passenger stations. After talking to a lady who was doing her sobremesa (post-lunch relax time) inside, and who came out to see what I was doing (possibly), I learned the building is now the home of railway personnel of the Nuevo Central Argentino. I'm not sure if any trains are still going down this line, but it looks well-maintained. Of course the train, if there's one, doesn't stop here anymore. The old station sign is still there, but rust and the trees' shade make it very difficult to spot:
I've been reading up a lot on railway history, as I told you once already, and I tell you the nostalgic, bittersweet feeling that I get from unearthing these old stations is very special. If this country needs something, it's a renewed railway system. Cheap, safe, spacious, comfortable trains — not bullet trains that plunder your pockets and blur the landscape and seem a bit ridiculous in a country where millions are starving, and not buses, no matter how luxurious. It's very difficult to explain where this feeling of mine comes from, since I've never travelled by train that I can remember. Sure, I went on the Rosario–Buenos Aires line several times with my grandpa, but that was ages ago and I have no recollection of it. I don't live near a train station either; I have never had the rhythm of my activities marked by the noisy arrivals or departures of trains. Must be some sort of preternatural memory, even though I don't believe that's even possible.
24 May 2007
Just a thing... Only because I'm not writing or taking comments, it doesn't mean I'm never coming back. The rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.
I've been called a hyena, a sissy, a liar, and doubts about my mental health and my moral stature have been put forth. I can't deny it's been hard for me to read so much filth about myself, but in the end I find it very amusing that, aside from insults you'd rather expect from 14-year-olds, nothing of that has been shown to be true. It cannot be, since it cannot be true that I'm a liar when you can read it all in Mercedes's blog's comments. Verba volant, scripta manent.
I'm a bit tired of all this but I'm not going to stop blogging. I'm taking this time to calm down and get this out of my system, so I can come back and post good, clean posts rather than succumbing to the temptation of answering to the insults on every other line.
To those in Argentina, have a nice Revolution Day and a wonderful long weekend!
22 May 2007
Somewhere else I told someone I don't like "blogger politics". I generally don't comment on other blogs, though I may link to them, and I don't comment on other bloggers. Professional journalists, big media, they're all fair game, but people who just want a little room to voice their issues (or whatever) are not. Generally.
Well, I'm about to break my own so-far-unstated rule. I've been treated badly by another blogger and I'm mad.
Imagine this situation. One person, an Argentinian, decides to write a blog reviewing (most often, criticizing) expats' blogs about Argentina. Since those blogs are usually in English, she feels Argentinians who don't speak English have the right to know what foreigners are saying about our country. So she takes expats' posts and translates them, with brief introductions and conclusions. So far, so good. Only she calls expat bloggers horrible things, doesn't tell them what she's doing (just in case they might want to answer to the criticism), forbids non-Spanish comments, and doesn't intervene when commenters bash the unsuspecting victims even more.
The very first post is a bitter attack on a certain expat blogger that seems to find fault in almost every aspect of Argentine culture (she's arguably right on some accounts, and quite possibly wrong on others... but that's not the point). The Argentine blogger, so we're informed, has previously had a long exchange of comments with the expat blogger, to no avail. Neither part seems very diplomatic.
Around that time, anonymous and fake-signature comments deriding or insulting the Argentine blogger, the bloggers she links, the bloggers that often comment on her blog, etc., appear in multiple blogs. Disinformation and outrageous accusations are spread. Even I get comments; I'm linked and recommended by a well-known expat blogger that also highly recommends the Argentine, Spanish-only, expat-bashing blogger. Up to this point, note well, I haven't had any interaction with said blogger. In fact I've only read the first post, feeling disgusted by it — again, not because of it being right or wrong, but because of how the matter was handled.
However, as the Argentine blogger decides to take on yet another poor temporary expat's blog post featuring a generalizing, somehow naïve, but clearly well-meaning view of Argentina compared to the United States, I feel compelled to comment. I suggest she could've dealt differently with it. I like that blogger and I liked that post about Argentina even though I saw the mistakes. The expat basher assumes the worst, I tell her.
There's no response from the blog owner. Instead, several of her habitual comment-leavers get nasty at me. One particularly angry-sounding woman starts letting out venomous paranoid denunciations of me supposedly imposing my etiquette on other bloggers and dictating other people's behaviour. I feel like I'm in a different dimension. I check what I wrote to see if there's a place where I could've been (grossly) misinterpreted. I acknowledge I may sound imposing and I try to clarify. No way. The angry woman calls me "unbearably pedantic" and other things. I back off and tell the blog owner that I'm not reading her blog anymore because of this woman, but "I guess you don't care". The blog owner, who hasn't said anything thus far, pops out now to tell me "You guess right" and sends me off.
I'm told by other bloggers to check this blogger's repository of anonymous comments. Sure enough, there's a lot of trolling there. But what does it have to do with me? Again, I'm told to check. I'm to believe, it seems, that the expat blogger who was attacked by the Argentine blogger in her first post has returned the attack this way. It's plausible, indeed very likely; only nobody has explained this to me before, of course. This very same expat blogger is linked from my blog — as this expat and I have had pleasant exchanges and she has even recommended my blog in the past. I guess (ridiculous and twisted and paranoid as it is) the Argentine blogger that let me be insulted in her blog, that told me to get off her blog, thinks I'm somehow sympathetic to this troll. Only she never told me that directly. No, I must conclude; she's just a bitter intolerant woman who never got a "no" for an answer and doesn't like my criticism of her criticism.
To cut a long story short, the expat basher is Mercedes Stuart, aka MS, and her blog is called "Lo que dicen ellos" ("What They Say") [http://quedicenellos.blogspot.com/]. The other woman who took on me in Mercedes's comments is called Mia. The expat who got bashed — well, read Mercedes's blog to find out. She's not in my blog links anymore. And I'm feeling not only mad, but a bit sad as well, that certain people in my blog-hood didn't have the balls to stand up for me (and the other people who got insulted and derided as well) and tell Mercedes and her troupe of bullies that they just can't insult anybody gratuitously. If asking for this minimum of common decency sounds uptight or outdated, so be it.
I'm going to take some time off this.
21 May 2007
This year is the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of the National Flag Memorial (Monumento Nacional a la Bandera), so there will be lots of cultural activities related to it, peaking at the official celebration of Flag Day (20 June). One of those activities is the exhibition of the original plans of the Memorial by architect Ángel Guido, which were found along with many other buildings' blueprints, abandoned in a wet hidden room at the National Direction of Architecture, Littoral Region, among furniture 70 years old, beside the old Customs Office building. Researchers and restorers have been at it for two years, cataloging and filming.
History and historical landmarks are getting popular lately. Tonight at 9 PM there's a documentary about Rosario on History Channel (Historia Secreta: Rosario). This must be a first — HC has been doing localized documentaries for its Latin American division, but I don't remember Rosario being featured anywhere in world TV. This is supposed to be broadcast to the whole continent. If you can record it, I'd be grateful.
I've always loved history myself, though I didn't have the chance to study it formally (that might happen in the future, though). The history of Argentine railways and of Rosario's railways, in particular, and their tragic decline, is one of my special interests. It's difficult to ignore the influence of the train when you walk around certain areas of the city. At the most unsuspected spots you see half-covered old rails embedded in the streets. The old stations are still there, abandoned, restored or modified; there are people who still remember the time when it was easy to cross the whole city in less than 20 minutes by train, comfortable and safer than today's bus, reaching stations that helped whole populous neighbourhoods prosper and grow.
The trains continue to come only to Rosario Norte, at long intervals; the short-distance interurban system was destroyed by decades of bad administration, negligence, union corruption, and ill-advised privatization (the Former Presidential Cuckold was not guilty of the whole mess, but he did finish off the railways).
I've been reading up on railway history (follow the links above) and working on the Wikipedia articles that cover the stations, so I'll keep inflicting the subject on my readers for a while. Moreover, history is something to be told, and I have a possibly interested partner for that. We're talking about a student of European history and culture who happens to be young and quite easy on the eye..., but she's Japanese! She's the daughter of my calligraphy teacher in Japanese school and understands almost no Spanish or English. She lives, coincidentally, almost across the street from the former Rosario Central Station. Myself, logically, haven't devoted my time to study expressions such as "nationalization", "right-wing nationalist government", or "Italian-style neo-Gothic clock tower", so last Saturday (as we went along the Flickr photographers' group Rosarigasinos doing a photo safari), I had a hard time conveying all these interesting data to her...
Interestingly enough, Europeans brought railways to Japan as well as to Argentina, and they did it at about the same time. Japan made the best out of them; we lost them over the years. There are plans to revitalize the system, but that still seems a dream.
18 May 2007
Nice morning, today's morning. I was sitting all the time typing numbers that don't matter to anyone and trying to explain that to my boss without actually saying those words. But that wasn't important. Small things can brighten your day.
Well, first of all, it's Friday. Whatever it brings, weekend means no work.
Then the radio, which we keep on at the office, started receiving calls from people around the city, reporting they'd seen a bright light and a solid white trail of smoke in the sky at around 7:05 AM. Some said it was blue light; one claimed it had lit up the sky briefly. The radio news and variety programme on Radio 2 has a funny staff. As they read out the ridiculous calls and messages left by the audience, others, even more bizarre, came in. Was it a giant firecracker? Some sort of UFO? "Could it be one of Menem's rockets that got stuck in the stratosphere?", said one, bringing back a memorable speech of Carlos (may he never find peace) Menem where he promised to build a platform for some kind of super-airplanes before an audience composed of school kids in the poorest part of the country. It was a meteor, and as it turned out later, it was seen in several provinces. A guy from the Ibero-American Astronomy Guild (LIADA) was consulted, and explained that it must have been a space rock about the size of a fist or a potato that passed through the atmosphere at high altitude at a speed of at least 100,000 km/h (28 km per second!), since that's the speed of Earth moving in its orbit.
I was already at work when it happened, so I couldn't see anything, but it was kind of magical. We don't get to see many astronomical displays like that — in the big city you barely get to see the stars.
As this funny story unfurled, a picket was blocking one of the main accesses to the city in the northwest, near the municipal limit. The picket had been there for days, and it was organized by neighbours of some of the poorest areas of Rosario, affected by the Great Rains, who demanded assistance from the government. As usual, the picket was not dispersed by the police. The road in question is needed for trucks that bring goods and cargo to the city and its port; there are only a few alternatives, and they're not well maintained or prepared to receive more heavy traffic. The result was chaos, a lot of tension and road rage. A truck driver who arrived in Rosario at night, unaware of the blockade, tried to find another route and ended up in the middle of nowhere; his truck was assaulted and robbed, and he was killed. Many citizens called out to the government, demanding that the picket be dissolved by police force. Unlike Buenos Aires, it's only recently that Rosario has had recurring road blocks disrupting traffic; the city is smaller and the people's patience is thin.
During the morning, the provincial government announced that they were waiting for a judge's authorization/command to send the police in. (That sounds a bit awkward, but the K policy is that anything short of shooting people in the street is allowed in a protest, and this is an election year, so the government first asks a judge to evaluate whether the general interests of the public are being hurt by the protest, before moving to suffocate it. This way, they're also covered if a policeman kills someone — the judge ordered it, not them. It's cowardly and unpopular, but then the police are not angels and they tend to overdo things a bit — loading lead instead of rubber bullets "by accident", for example.)
After negotiations and promises, fortunately, officials of the municipal government got the picket to free up one lane of the road, and an agreement was reached — the municipality and the province will work together with the neighbours to assess their needs, see what they lost in the flood, and replace it. They won't hand out cash, which is what the neighbours wanted. But that's OK with them, they say.
Finally, as I left work with a tired look of satisfaction ("it's Friday after work!") into a squeaky-clean-skied sunny afternoon, I caught a new prey for my collection. I swear I wasn't looking for it, but it was so glaringly, so unspeakably wrong that I had to snap a couple of pictures (front and back). I give you license plate UVJ641 (one traffic ticket on record), "parked" in the middle of 9 de Julio St.
17 May 2007
This just out — though not news for anyone who has looked for a place to dwell: rents are sky-high! According to a survey by an independent organization led by Rosario councilmember Nire Roldán, renting an apartment or a house is on average 35% more expensive than last year. If you have to renew a 2-year contract you signed in 2005, you should expect paying 87% more. And if what you're looking for is a commercial spot, you can expect to pay 3 times what you paid in 2006.
As I said, this is not news. That's partly why I'm paying for my own apartment. I'll have to wait at least a year and a half to move out, but the installments I'll have to pay will be much below any rent. In fact, the monthly cost of renting a 1-bedroom apartment like the one I'm buying, in a comparable location (20–25 minutes from downtown), would be enough for me to buy a fancier, 3-bedroom apartment in the city center's busiest area.
Back in March, this same organization conducted a study that showed that 7 out of 10 businesses in the downtown area which were renting a shop space said they wouldn't be able to renew their contracts. A premium space in a commercial corner in Rosario (for example, the intersection of the pedestrian-only Córdoba St. and San Martín St.) can be worth more 12,000 pesos a month. If this goes on, some say, by mid-year the commercial downtown will begin to look empty.
16 May 2007
Strange things happen all around us.
Last night I was checking the news for late updates before going to bed, and upon getting to Rosario3.com, I found it had been hacked! Being so stupid, I didn't save the page, except as a snapshot of the screen (which I've edited to conceal a few details about my browser — though you can see it's Firefox). The hacker is someone called "JaCKal", and there's a long text in (what I believe is) Turkish, and an embedded sound file.
If someone can read Turkish, I'd like to know what it says.
Then today (with Rosario3.com back online), I learn that a family in Granadero Baigorria (a city north of Rosario, part of the metropolitan area) is pushing their child's school to make him repeat the 1st year... because they feel it would be best for his education. This wouldn't be nearly as weird if it weren't because last year, after unsuccessfully trying to get the teachers to make up for the classes lost due to strikes, the Ministry of Education of Santa Fe decided that no child would be forced to repeat the first year, as this is bad for the pupil's self-esteem or causes adaptation problems or something like that. Well duh! I can imagine, but being unable to read or count to ten is not good for those things either! The parents say the child has barely the minimum notions, and that they complained to Minister Adriana Cantero by letter before. Cantero said no, and again this time when interviewed. The child was supposed to receive extra courses during the summer to prepare him for 2nd year. Right... Like you're going to make teachers work in the summer...
Next. It's not unusual for Carlos Menem to be in denial, or else to pretend that everything's fine when it's not (though being half-senile helps). But when your wife, the mother of your youngest child, appears worldwide in paparazzi's pictures, sunbathing topless beside a well-known Italian businessman, you can't just say "for some time we've had an agreement that we'd make our lives what we believe is most convenient". As Página/12's Sandra Russo says, the expression is one of those euphemisms that you use when you don't know to utter the word "sex" (as in "not getting any"), only in this case Menem tried to keep another word unmentioned: cornudo — cuckold. Russo speculates that Menem's wife, former Miss Universe Cecilia Bolocco, will now initiate a new career, like a mature Britney Spears, and if that were the case, her hit song could be something like "My Life After the Non-Reelected Old Man".
The last oddity for today is the reaction to the assault on the Constitución station in Buenos Aires by our fearless leader, who's giving more and more alarming signs that he needs urgent professional help. "There are some characters without shame (sinvergüenzas) and we're going to respond by kicking where it's due, because we've got compromises with nobody but the people." And then he went on one of those tirades against the 1990s and how the train system had been dismantled while nobody (of those who're scandalized now) complained. Hmm. The people in power back then were the same as today, give or take a few names — by any means they were the same party. No, no, I'm sure he didn't mean that.
Anyway, I don't get what he says. Kicking who? The state should kick itself for subsidizing a company that has already shown it can't manage a railway, and doing a general audit of the train system. The national state pays private companies 2 million pesos a day to keep the ticket at a ridiculously low price, so that the impoverished workers of Greater Buenos Aires can travel cheap (if bunched up like cattle) while the rest of the country pays ever larger public transport fees. And travel like cattle, mostly. I don't see the state doing much better than in the 1990s here.
15 May 2007
You may remember my recent rants about traffic and car driving in Rosario. I'm going to show you a bit of what I'm talking about. The following pictures were taken as I walked some 10 blocks from the office today. I was specifically looking for confirmation of my theory that most drivers are either retards who can't park, or retards who won't park right.
Exhibit A, parked just around the corner of the Hospital Provincial de Rosario, beside the associated church:
I don't know what this guy was doing, but he left the car there for more than one minute. I know because I went past it, then thought about it, looked around, took my camera out of my backpack, waited until other cars were not present, and grabbed a couple of shots. There's nothing there. The entrances to the church and the hospital are around the corner. There's a supermarket in the corner opposite the one you see (not visible here, on the left), but that's not close. Anyway, the license plate seems to be CSB832 — and thanks to the (recently installed) marvels of technology, the Municipality lets me know that this particular car had five recorded traffic violations in 2004 and 2005, including parking in a forbidden area. None since then, so either the owner during those years sold it to another person, or learned how to escape detection.
Exhibit B, found a few blocks afterwards, is even worse:
In case you were wondering, that wreck of a blue box is a wheeled plastic garbage container covered in graffiti. This guy left the car (license plate VIF788) practically in the middle of the street. You can see there's easily half a metre between the container and the vehicle. Again, this car stayed there with the back lights interminently on for at least two minutes.
The fines for bad parking are highly variable, but I guess if the municipality paid me to walk around with the camera like this, they could afford my salary for free in one or two days.
Regarding this, the head of the Municipal Traffic Secretariat, Hebe de Marcogliese, was interviewed several times in the past weeks. The larger context is the study of what to do with the access of cars to the microcentro, i.e. the area of downtown that is most commercially and socially active. Until 2002, this part of the city was off-limits for private vehicles; then, with the economic crisis at its peak, the businesses of the central area asked and got a suspension of that restriction, and the microcentro was opened for everyone.
Today, with many new cars rolling and a growing economy, it's a nightmare. Cars circulating or stopping where they shouldn't, many bus lines along the same streets, and utility companies' repair teams blocking those streets as well, have turned the microcentro into a chaotic scenario. To those who want the area shut off completely as before, Marcogliese tells that, prior to any drastic measures, we have to comply with traffic rules. If every car was parked correctly and respected the other rules, it'd all much more orderly.
Moreover, the fines will have to rise. Right now, parking in the wrong place can get you between 70 and 800 pesos (US$23–260) if a judge has to decide; much less in other cases. Marcogliese mentions, almost in desperation, that some parents who block the traffic in front of schools at exit time, when faced by a municipal inspector, simply dismiss the problem: "OK, just give me that ticket and leave".
There's an expression, hijos del rigor, that describes the attitude of these people. "Children of severity" would be a translation. Most of us are hijos del rigor, like children who only do what's right when their parents tell them to obey under harsh penalties. Ask any Argentinian about this topic (that is, why we disobey laws that are in place for our own good), and s/he'll end up there eventually. Now, do I have to go draconian on your car?
14 May 2007
It's a bit late given my usual blogging hours, so I'd rather be organizing an extermination campaign targetting the heads of utility companies (private, mixed and public), but that seems complicated. So here I am. Power went out twice at home, once in the morning (when I wasn't there), once just minutes ago. You'd think power cuts are not something to make a big mess of, since this Argentina, but at least EPE had an excuse back in the summer. A balmy autumn night is not a time for high electric power consumption. Unless everyone suddenly decided to turn on their split air conditioning with "HEAT" at maximum power, I suspect this was the fault of some poor rat or cockroach getting stuck inside a transformer or something like that.
Anyway, even a small blackout is an opportunity to see the city without all the usual light pollution. If there's one reason I'd like to live in the countryside, this must be it: that you can see the stars. (That's the one and only reason indeed; I'd die of boredom outside a big urban setting.) This power cut, however, was restricted to a few blocks, it seems. I managed to take a few pictures of my street, with traffic going on as usual despite the lack of visibility.
The telephone company (I have Telecom) would also deserve being targetted for extermination... I've been having a lousy Internet connection since the Great Rains. When I call my ISP, Ciudad Internet, I have to go through several minutes of corporate crap, pressing one number, then another, then being greeted by an undoubtedly well-meaning assistant-person... who's been apparently turned into a robot... and then manage to convey my problem without insults of any kind. Tests are done, notes are taken, waiting muzak is heard at intervals, and then I'm told Telecom has the complaint on file, and they'll be working on it. Telecom, of course, throws the complaint into a (virtual) trashbin. A couple of days afterwards, I'm told by a recorded voice that my Internet connection problem seems to be solved now, and that if I'm still experiencing trouble, I should let them know. Repeat.
Argentina teaches you patience, or it kills you.
12 May 2007
A couple of weeks ago I spotted an article about the Argentine version of the infamous "War on Drugs", the laws that govern the personal use of illegal drugs. In the best tradition of Página/12, it was called "Mejor el remedio", a pun-reversal on the first part of the saying "es peor el remedio que la enfermedad", i.e. "the cure is worse than the disease". It noted that the Argentine Penal Code gives you 1 to 6 years in prison for having illegal drugs (any drug, in any amount) on you. If the amount is small, you may get less because it's understood that you have it for yourself, i.e. you're not a dealer. But how small — that's decided at the judge's discretion.
Because it's obvious that a few grams of marijuana or cocaine cannot be the basis for a drug-selling operation, and it's ridiculous to arrest poor sods caught with such small amounts, more and more judges are turning to an alternative, which is forcing drug users to attend courses to fight their addiction. But still a person who consumes drugs will not be left alone. This has not always been so; in 1974 a law mandated punishment, but it was overturned in 1986 by the Supreme Court; in 1990 the Supreme Court (now more conservative and dominated by the infamous "automatic majority" appointed by the Master of Lies) reinstated the prohibition. The legalization of certain drugs for private therapeutical use, and possibly the liberalization of the laws for general personal use, is now winding its way up the tortous Argentine judicial system, after a recent pronouncement of the Federal Chamber, which must be ratified by the Cassation Chamber and will probably end up, again, at the feet of the Supreme Court's current, more progressive justices.
Well, that was very nice, but I let it pass and forgot about it. Yet today I'm brought back to this subject by another article, this time on the strategies that can be employed to help, rather than punish, those who abuse drugs.
There are, we learn, two NGOs working here in Rosario to do what they call "damage reduction" in the field of drug abuse. Put simply, these fellows look out for people who, through abuse of illegal drugs, put their own lives in danger, and supply them with the proper equipment, raising their awareness of security concerns. This is neither a new idea in the world, nor surprising for Argentina; this country has always been a vigorous source of organizations with great ideas that go ahead of their time, or rather, ahead of the unbelievably outdated social dogmata enforced by most lawmakers. The government seems to be always lagging behind, as if its reflexes were numbed; in the face of a failing "war", they keep on fighting unsuccessfully, with useless weapons.
The NGOs, called Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Drogadependencias y SIDA (CEADS, "Center for Advanced Studies of Drug-dependencies and AIDS") and Asociación de Reducción de Daños de Argentina (ARDA, "Damage Reduction Association of Argentina"), have launched a "sniff kit" — a sterile instrument that can be used to safely inhale cocaine or ketamine. "If we're really concerned about the health of those who cannot or will not stop consuming drugs, we need to achieve the goal that they do not die from contagious diseases or [victims of] trigger-happy [police]", says the lady in charge. The article notes, quite obviously, that "the war on drugs turned, long ago, into a war against [drug] users". CEADS also notes that all drug users are treated alike and referred to as addicts, whether they're actually addicted or not, and the penalizing the possession of drugs works for the illegal sellers and for the corrupt police.
A couple of weeks ago, coincidentally, federal judge Laura Cosidoy publicly denounced several members of the Santa Fe Provincial Police of having a well-oiled association with the drug dealers and of selling illegal stuff themselves, and noted that the very head of the local anti-drug department was in charge of doing the night rounds in certain entertainment facilities to collect bribes. Everybody from the governor down reacted with a pretense of astonishment and outrage, as if this wasn't public knowledge. Judge Cosidoy had said more or less the same (though without names) last November, on TV. The governor dismissed the provincial drug department and had a meeting with Cosidoy, but nothing else happened, since, like she herself said, "there's no political will to investigate". The accused cannot be really fired without proof, and nobody seems willing to follow Cosidoy's pointers, so the dismissal was symbolic, just for the cameras. Governor Obeid is a lame duck and it makes sense he'll try to display interest for this issue, even though he hasn't done anything about it in the last 3 years, since he's got nothing to lose and can make his party look good... We all know this'll end up getting nowhere.
I don't have an unmoveable position on this. There are arguments against de-penalizing drug use, but in general I think punishing addicts for doing what they can't help doing is unethical. Sending a person to jail in Argentina means exposing him or her to mental and physical (including sexual) abuse, inhumane living conditions, and of course, even harder drugs. The Argentine Constitution, moreover, specifically says that you can't legislate anyone's private life ("Art. 19: The private actions of men which in no way offend public order or morality, nor injure a third party, are only reserved to God and are exempted from the authority of judges").
Of course many simply want to punish drug users out of self-righteousness or a sort of moral outrage. They feel drugs are "dirty" and degrade morality. They don't seem to have learned from history. Nobody likes a junkie happily hallucinating besides oneself on a bus seat, but that junkie is a person and, as long as he doesn't try to rob you or abuse you, your arguments against his use of drugs have the same value as arguments against the colours currently in fashion.
The so-called "yuck factor" is undeniable — but you can't outlaw a thing because it offends your taste.
I've never used illegal drugs (I've never even tried cigarettes!), but I've been with people who do on occasion — pretty articulate people, most of them; people who work and function OK in society. Some did have problems, and it's quite possible that the drugs made them worse, but drugs were not the original cause. These were middle-class people with access to good-quality recreational drugs, not helpless addicts who would smoke or inhale anything. I think a combination of this access to quality drugs (for occasional users) and a strategy of damage reduction (for otherwise helpless addicts), plus full freedom for therapeutical use, would be nice to have, on a temporary basis. It can't be worse than it is now, anyway.
10 May 2007
I let two days pass without posting, in part because I was busy, but mainly because I didn't want to report news that everybody can read about and that I'm tired of watching on TV. I'm particularly referring to the situation in Santa Cruz... but sadly, it's time to say something.
For those not aware of it, Santa Cruz, a large but underpopulated province in Patagonia, is the birthplace of president Néstor Kirchner, who ruled it as governor since 1991 (he'd previously been mayor of Río Gallegos, the capital, since 1986) . Quite logically in feudal Argentina, and given the small-town environment of Santa Cruz, Kirchner exercised a lot of power there, and still does — so much that a political opponent of governor Carlos Sancho recently claimed the province is ruled "by remote control from Buenos Aires". Most officials of the K administration are from Santa Cruz, allies and buddies and political minions he acquired during his years at the top.
Well, regardless the fact that Santa Cruz is floating on a sea of oil and earning billions in royalties, plus the national government is being especially generous with its funding for the province (a coincidence, I assure you), public teachers in Santa Cruz have ridiculously low basic salaries. That's the part of the salary that serves to calculate bonuses and influences your future retirement wage. A very common tactic of provincial administrations is giving their employees these low basic wages and augment them with "extras". The extras are usually much larger than the basic, and they may take the total amount to an acceptable level, but they don't really count — they're almost handouts, and they can be taken away; a rise in the basic salary is something much more permanent.
So the teachers of Santa Cruz began a strike, and supported it with increasingly potent demonstrations and protests. And the government of Santa Cruz used the police and (later) the Gendarmerie to suffocate and disperse the protests. This is against the policies of most provincial states, which, following K at the national level, refrain from using violent repression even against proven dangerous agitators (such as Quebracho) and let protestors of all stripes block streets and roads, throw paint against public buildings, and generally do anything short of mobbing passers-by or burning down houses. This policy, which is highly controversial, is intended to avoid clashes between largely unarmed citizens and notoriously brutal, ill-disciplined, trigger-happy police forces; it's a bother most of the time, but at least it doesn't lead to casualties.
So governors who align with Kirchner, mostly not due to a commitment with human rights but out of political opportunism, don't send the police in to charge against teachers. When governor Sobisch of Neuquén did it, his police force murdered Carlos Fuentealba and the backlash was terrible. Nobody understands why, now, a governor that is practically Kirchner's maid used the police against the teachers and, lately, against Río Gallegos's municipal employees. The last episode ended with 15 wounded, 2 gravely so. Last Tuesday, the police and the Gendarmerie violently dispersed teachers who'd gather to protest before the home of Marija Ostoic, the mother of president Kirchner. The provincial government says the opposition municipal government of Río Gallegos is propelling the protests, and everyone in the national government denies that there's such a thing as violent repression.
The most ridiculous part of it is that Kirchner, always paranoid about himself, sees everything as a plot to discredit him by proxy. When recently a man drove a truck and ended up almost inside Kirchner's house in Río Gallegos, he said it was an atentado (roughly, an attempt on his life, or in this case, his possessions). The man was detained and examined by doctors, who declared him insane, a madman behind the wheel that only by chance got near K's home, but the government ignored that — "this is not some crazy guy, this is an attack against the president", said Ministry of Interior Aníbal Fernández. Regarding the teachers, Fernández (Kirchner's bulldog, notorious for his rude language and his contempt for anything opposed to his master's will) went so low as to claim that they were injuring themselves to make us pity them. Kirchner called them "cowards".
The protests increased: cacerolazos, marches, demonstrations before the president's house. There were strange attacks with Molotov cocktails against party offices of the Radical Civic Union and the seat of the teacher's union; a lighter with an inscription Compromiso K was found nearby. The shit is flying everywhere; after a priest of Río Gallegos denounced the violent tactics of the local government, Santa Cruz's Minister of Government accused said priest of hiding weapons in his parish and inciting the protests. Anything goes, and nothing is too low, it seems. Old-style mobs and shock groups that answer to local political (or para-political) leaders are not rare in Argentina, but one would think they'd be less obvious and more of an embarrassment. The reaction of the national and provincial governments has been denial and farfetched accusations.
Well, governor Carlos Sancho eventually resigned, and now a guy in K's circle, Daniel Peralta, will be in charge until the elections in October... And the teachers are still on strike.
07 May 2007
The gang returned to roleplaying last Sunday. It was sunny and clear, becoming cold, with gusts of wind that blew away the clouds that had been pouring down rain during Saturday afternoon and the whole Sunday evening; a relief, even as I don't like cold. I'd rather roleplay when the weather is hideous; a bright Sunday motivates me to go out in the sun instead. Anyway the chances for that are fewer and fewer every day that passes; after the rains and weird weather of April, this is high time for winter to begin insinuating itself.
So it wasn't an afternoon well-suited to roleplaying, especially Vampire: The Requiem. I'm not freaky enough to force my players to wear plastic fangs or dark capes (which Vampire, well played, isn't really about), but I do like playing at night or during grey days, with candles and motif music. I'm not mastering this table, though, so I can't choose the environmental details, but the GM did at least provide a classical musical background, and topped it off with mate and facturas. It was a nice session, if a bit too focused on combat — near the end it felt like an old-fashioned dungeon scenario. And there was a guy with a chainsaw as well.
The RPG scene is not terribly popular in Argentina, as it is (for example) in Spain. I mean, there are probably a lot of occasional hobbyists and more than a few full-time freaks, but 95% of the people you run across in the street wouldn't know what a role-playing game is if it hit them with a +4D bonus. There are no big RPG conventions or people wearing Dungeons & Dragons T-shirts (in public, at least). There never was a tradition of university students gathering in someone's basement to roll dice behind a screen ornamented with swords and pseudo-runes. A few RPG-themed websites and forums exist, as well as some small fan organizations. It's difficult and extremely (extremely) expensive to get RPG rulebooks, least of all newer games, least of all in Spanish — so you can imagine how we manage to acquire them.
I met roleplaying when I was just entering university; my brother introduced me to a group of fellow players, mostly acquaintances from highschool, and we played Lord of the Rings squatting in the shade on the school's yard during the summer break. After that our sessions were irregular and spaced.
I started playing seriously only a couple of years ago, upon meeting a truly wonderful game master — the only person, so far, that's been capable of actually scaring me in a face-to-face fictional encounter. The GM would reinforce our fictional ignorance of story facts with actual ignorance, taking us individually aside for questioning, torture or startling revelations, or handing us pieces of paper; his non-playing characters (i.e. the ones he himself portrayed as part of the plot as necessary) were well-thought, precisely drawn, and as horrific or bizarre as needed. We'd play for long hours, ending up mentally exhausted.
When those sessions stopped, after a hiatus I got the idea of directing. It shouldn't have been too much of a problem, but I was a little afraid. I soaked myself in rules and tips for plot creation, and slowly wrote a basic story. A group of players that had vowed to attend the session postponed it, and then again, and so on — until I decided I'd only deal with people who had an actual interest and a minimum of commitment. I ditched them and, as the occasion arose, I began directing for another group — a couple of friends, a girl I knew from Japanese school, and my brother.
I feel pretty satisfied about those games; I consciously adopted and adapted the style of my previous GM to provide the players a detailed environment for their characters to move in, and requiring them to be actual characters with depth — rather than the standard two-dimensional cardboard stereotypes that populate most RPG sessions thanks to over-tolerant GMs and to players unaccustomed to deal with personalities above those of videogame characters. I even used pictures of actual places and partially fake newspaper clippings.
Roleplaying is a fascinating experience, and mastering a game is especially rewarding for me. In the old times I made languages and wrote about fictional scenarios; having actual people living and acting in those settings, when they work OK, is like seeing your own work of art develop before your eyes. When they don't work OK... well, we still have mate and facturas!
04 May 2007
Matt asks whether (and if so, why, I presume) I vote, given the appalling choice of candidates and the fact that politics seems to go on as usual no matter what.
Just to clarify: in Argentina, voting is compulsory between the ages of 18 and 70, and optional above that. You're exempt from voting if you're sick or more than 500 km away from your legal address, but you must prove it — with a doctor's certificate in the former case, or with a certificate issued by a local police station in the latter. Convicts and public servants in essential places don't vote.
So if you're staying where your DNI (National Identity Document) says, and your health is OK, you just have to check where you vote. The government issues lists; these are displayed in certain public places, and many local party groups also set up desks on sidewalks where you can consult the lists. They're also available on the web, of course. Regardless, of course, many people don't bother to check until the very day of the election. Typically, you vote in a school in your neighbourhood. The polls open at 8 AM and close at 6 PM.
Once you're there you need to find which mesa (table) you belong to. A "table" is a physical desk with a vote box (a cardboard box with an opening for an envelope; in Spanish, urna... ominously the same word used for the container of dead person's ashes), staffed by a president and a vice president (common citizens, appointed by the government — yours truly served as one once) plus a number of watchers (fiscales) sent by the parties. You hand the authorities your DNI, they check everything's fine, and they give you a signed envelope. You go into the "dark room" and find yourself alone surrounded by piles of ballots. You choose the ones you want, tuck them into the envelope, and then get out and insert the envelope into the vote box. The table president returns your DNI, with a stamped mark, and off you go.
Now this is all compulsory, so how do you choose not to vote for any of those corrupt politicians? Well, you can vote en blanco (blank). A blank vote is the envelope with nothing in it. Since your vote is secret (and making it public during the election is a minor offense), you have to get into the dark room, spend some time there, and then come out again with your empty envelope.
You can also make your ballot void. A ballot is voided by the table authorities when it's torn or has marks or is defaced in any way. A vote is also void if something other than the ballot, or two ballots of different parties for the same post (i.e. mutually exclusive) are found inside the envelope. So some people write over the ballot, or substitute letters with insults, or return a ballot in pieces.
The phenomenon of intentionally voided ballots is called voto bronca, i.e. "anger vote", and it's common in times of public discontent, supposedly as a message to the political establishment, though politicians never seem to get it.
Many people have the completely unsubstantiated belief that "blank votes go to the victor", so this also contributes to intentional ballot spoiling. Depending on the situation, of course, it may be advantageous for a given candidate that many people vote blank. There's an important difference between a blank vote and a void vote — blank votes are correctly counted as votes for no party, while void votes are excluded from the count. This can influence the outcome of a legislative election where seats are assigned by proportional representation, and also the outcome of the first round of a presidential election.
I'm part of a generation of citizens who have voted on every election whenever they had the right and the obligation to do so. This is true of everyone born after 1965 (more or less), since those who turned 18 before 1983 missed at least one election while the country was under military rule — which has been on and off always since the 1930s.
I voted for the first time in 1995, and every two years since. I don't spoil the ballot, and so far I've never voted blank. I still feel a faint solemn satisfaction at fulfilling this right and obligation of mine, even while also feeling a bit stupid (or horrified) afterwards. I believe one doesn't have the right to complain about a process if one doesn't participate in it.
So when's the next election? The provinces and the country as a whole elect their authorities independently, even if the general rule is that both elections are typically held on the same day. That's been changed this time. Santa Fe has a new law mandating "simultaneous compulsory primary elections", that is, every party must present their candidate lists and we must go and vote. That's scheduled for 1 July. Then there's the main provincial election (for governor and vice governor, provincial legislators, and municipal authorities where applicable, choosing from the candidates selected in the primaries), on 9 September. And then the national election, sometime in October. I've never voted three times in the same year... My DNI is going to be stamped all over!
03 May 2007
I've been having less and less time to write posts lately for a variety of reasons. For example, I took May 1st off — I slept all morning, then had to eat asado with certain members of the extended family that I didn't want to see, and then found relief in the form of an improvised mate-and-chick-spotting picnic with some friends at Parque Urquiza. And yesterday, I wasted the whole afternoon calling the service hotline of Ciudad Internet, my ISP, since I asked for a 1.2 Mbps ADSL service, I'm being charged for a 2.5 Mbps one, and I'm getting 480 Kbps since March. As expected, nothing was accomplished, except a promise that Telecom will look for the problem and a 50% reduction of the fee for three months as a compensation, to shut me up for the time being.
Now I'm leaving aside important politics news... but bear with me. That politics is dirty and corrupt is not news; yet the background of all these news that I'm letting unreported is sheer corruption, plus the general knee-jerkiness and lack of sophistication that are probably the single most definite mark of politics in the Kirchner era. And before you say anything else, Kirchner is only one of the culprits; it takes two to tango, and it takes a very stupid opposition to reply to Kirchner in his own terms.
And this is still better than the Menem era, where political debate was inexistant — at least now the politicians are flamboyantly showing their true colours. I have the distinct impression and the fervent hope that many who are now speaking their minds, displaying utter contempt for their own public image or for simple common decency, will regret having opened their mouths in the future.
Anyway, that's not really a motivation for writing, and I feel I may be repeating myself. The ridiculousness of politicians is reaching unprecedented levels but that's only a matter of degree. Of note, the presidency accuses the Radical Party of sending a guy with a truck to crash it on president Kirchner's home in Santa Cruz, despite the fact that this guy has been declared insane and looks exactly like a garden variety madman with driving skills slightly worse than the average Argentinian; and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, de facto head of the Argentine Catholic Church, emphatically denies that he's doing politics when he speaks of the state of the country and such, even as the press notes that he personally hosted a summit of the opposition leaders to coordinate their efforts to bring down Kirchner. And he's a Jesuit, for Ignatius of Loyola's sake!
02 May 2007
Yesterday (May 1st) was Labour Day in most of the world, except the United States, where commemorating the murder of workers demanding better working conditions is still deemed a bit too Communist, and May 1st seems to be turning into Immigration Day or something.
Here in Argentina, salaries and job quality have jumped to the front of social debate as of late, now that most companies are making tons of money (that's not ironic; they actually are — and they're lying if you hear them claim otherwise), so May 1st is not that different from the rest of the days, except ongoing strikes and demonstrations are suspended so that everybody can relax and resume protesting on May 2nd.
Since the beginning of the impressive macroeconomic recovery, unions and other labour organizations have begun reclaiming the territory lost during the nefarious Neoliberal Era (1989–2001), through negotiation or shows of strength, trying to look good to their constituencies..., no matter that they all sold out to the government when the labour market was deregulated and the hard-won laws protecting workers from virtual slavery were "flexibilized" to please Big Business. The same fat mafia leaders who never protested the right-wing Peronist Carlos Menem's destruction of Perón's legacy of workers' rights are now happily staging impressive, but orderly and quickly subdued protests against their employers with the assent of the left-wing/corporatist Peronist Néstor Kirchner, after which everybody gets together behind closed doors, and moderate pay rises are negotiated.
Other, smaller unions are more combative; they're less capable of creating national disruption (such as paralyzing food transport and supply) but they're also not so easily controlled, since their leaders are not up for sale and they don't adhere to the same partisan codes as the current administration. Of these unions the government demands "caution", and the conservative media depict as irresponsible, troublesome and a danger to the economy. Even worse, they're lumped together with piqueteros and, like them, accused of extorting society to get money (for a sizable proportion of Argentinians, "society" and "the people" include only from the middle class up).
In this view, the problem with blue-collar workers getting a good paycheck is that they may feel encouraged to stand up, demand further rights, and even (God forbid) get to consider themselves as equal to "the people". One immediate effect, according to certain economists (who do know better), is that more money in the hands of the unwashed masses means inflation, as of course these poor ignoramuses cannot understand that they need to save and invest for the good of the country, like responsible citizens. The idea that workers should have money to buy the products they manufacture, pioneered by Henry Ford, seems to have lost its attraction for modern capitalists; and the economists they buy to convey their opinions have made a custom of repeating the lie that higher salaries cause inflation. Higher salaries only redistribute the money — less net profit for the employer, more for the employee. This will also redistribute consumption and may cause temporary price raises in certain goods, which should adjust automatically by increasing offer. This would make sense if only the producers of said goods were real capitalists, willing to take risks and invest to take advantage of a higher demand; but most Argentine businessmen are extremely ignorant, greedy, and shortsighted — they'll cash in extraordinary profits, milking the over-demanded market dry, and then cry over it.