27 September 2007


El viejo cirueloSeptember's almost over, and on one hand it feels like it's been a breeze. Maybe it's because of the weather — not quite spring-like, cool, sunny, unchanging afternoons, and the same cold mornings that seem to be repeating themselves since May. Spring Day went by, and then it was my birthday and it also went by. I'm not saying this was a bad thing, only unusual. I tend to pay more (excessive?) attention to such dates and events, but I wasn't in that mood this year.

On Spring Day (last Friday) I stuck to the basics and just had mate with friends, lying on the grass in a park, like several hundreds of thousands of other Rosarinos, even though it was chilly and cloudy at times. On Sunday, I celebrated "the last day of my third decade" with an asado with friends, at home (they say it's bad luck to celebrate your birthday even one second before the actual day, so that's my excuse). Monday I took off work and spent the day in deep meditation, or, as some would have me confess, digesting Sunday's copious meals.

On the other hand, September was a long month. The outcome of the election was a factor — I wasn't personally involved in the campaign or anything but, as I told you, I knew the result could change my life. I'd become so fed up with my job as a state employee that I was thinking of getting a different one if there wasn't a change. The change is already noticeable; things are moving in the high places and also very close to me, though I can't give you precise details. There were also several issues on the personal side that got me thinking hard, others that have been falling into place for some time, and a couple of realizations that (excuse the cliché) hit me like a ton of bricks. All that, next to the symbolically important birthday — you can imagine.

I'm speaking to new people. I'm hearing the weirdest confessions from drunk friends. I'm reading a book with a complicated, metaphysical/metaphorical plot where the main characters are in their own ways trying to regain time — time they lost for reasons they don't understand — and I completely get them. My mother, despite my protests, gave me a big wooden trunk for my birthday — for my new apartment, whenever I finally get to move there. I got a website and I'm filling it up, at my own pace, with nonsense and practical advice, as if I could give advice to anyone, and not worrying about that kind of inadequacy. I'm writing this, for God's sake.

It'd be rather stupid of me to suppose that time is beginning to pass differently only because I'm a year older, or that I've gotten wiser specifically this month. It must be true in some sense, though. Maybe it is the spring!

26 September 2007

Political silence... of the graveyard?

Did you notice there's almost no political campaigning going on? On TV and the radio, I mean. You see posters and such, and the president appears here and there to make those awful speeches he's so fond of, but today's exactly one month to campaign ban and only a few very short ads are airing. Nothing from the Most Righteous Blonde, nothing from the Castaway Minister, not a peep from One-Week President's brother, just a few seconds of the Teacher Killer saying he's "100% ready". And nothing from the Iron Fi(r)st Lady, or, as they call her in certain circles, Kristina.

That's sad and refreshing at the same time. Refreshing, because nobody likes political ads. Sad, because it's rather clear that not one of those who may end up ruling the country has anything to say that can convince us that they're not more of the same. Natural, you might say, because almost everybody knows Kristina will win, and because the government has all the money and the resources for the campaign and the opposition has none. And quite possibly also because politicians know, deep down, that all Argentinians have already decided whether they'll vote for Cristina Kirchner or against her.

I mean, really, how many people do you think will vote for anybody? Cristina relies on the robber barons of the Conurbano (Greater Buenos Aires) to gather votes for her, and the rest of Buenos Aires Province is sure to follow, especially with wishy-washy Daniel Scioli campaigning for governor. Half of Buenos Aires City will vote for her as well. City + metro area + province = 40% of the country's total vote count. Add the places where opportunistically Kirchnerist Peronist caudillos cling to power — mostly poor and depopulated places, but many anyway. Among the larger provinces, Córdoba might or might not react to the scandalous fraud perpetrated in the last election, but then remember that the two candidates are Peronists, both backed by Kirchner until months ago. Mendoza's governor is Cristina's vice president candidate. Entre Ríos is still safely Peronist.

The question might be Santa Fe. Governor elect Binner's right hand is Rubén Giustiniani, vice president candidate of Elisa "Lilita" Carrió. Giustiniani has about the charisma of a park bench, and Lilita really needs to check her dopamine level. But they chose to launch their campaign in Rosario, now viewed as the bastion of moderate progressive political thought. Both Rosario and Buenos Aires are large cities where candidates on a platform of moderation and non-ideological urban management ("I come to solve your problems with transparency and involvement"), but Buenos Aires is more like the bastion of moderate conservatism right now, with the Spoiled Brat and the Iron Nun ready to take office. So Carrió came to Rosario and seemed quite certain that she'll be the next president, and if it were for Rosario, I'd be tempted to agree.

I can tell you that Carrió is not a president I'd like to have. She's unpredictable and she has this tendency to alienate her allies (which amounts to suicide here). On top of that she's a Catholic fanatic. Giustiniani is a mystery to me. He's a well-trained Socialist Senator and seems to be OK, but what he might do next to Lilita is difficult to imagine. Lilita can be extremely good at speaking — hearing her the other night I almost believed for a second that she could actually turn the election and bury the Kirchners and their troupe of adept bootlickers. Then I remembered — this is not Europe. A coalition of moderate socialists, social-democrats and Christian progressives can win an election but it can't rule for long. Not with millions of poor people surrounding the capital, ready to be roused by the barons of old Peronism, which have brought down two presidents already since 1983.

So an empty envelope awaits me in the voting room, a month from now... unless somebody convinces me otherwise.

25 September 2007

There is no inflation in Fairyland

"There is no inflation in Argentina." Alberto Fernández dixit. As the uproar began, the Chief of Cabinet pointed out, in the measured, academic tone we've grown accustomed to, that inflation is "a generalized increase of prices", and that's not what's happening in Argentina. Only potato is a bit more expensive these days; and if you buy from the grocery store where INDEK's officials, gun pointing to the grocer's head, measure the sample prices, then not even potato. Just a couple of cents, at most, because of the frost.

One has to wonder if Fernández is pathologically loud-mouthed or merely delusional. I can't believe he's just lying upfront. I mean, politicians lie, but after a while they learn that they can't lie all the time, that they need to learn how to make up excuses, and that sometimes you just have to accept reality and your best bet is trying to look puzzled and frustrated. Back when there were no price controls, the government resorted to being publicly angry. Anger is not as dignified as simple frustration, but it worked for a while. Then the government decided it was better to deny reality and be done with it. Recently, when Martín Redrado, the president of the Central Bank, said in a meeting that he was worried about the creeping inflation, Fernández lashed out at him like he'd insulted his mother or something.

President Kirchner apparently doesn't know that it's not a good idea to surround yourself with people who always tell you you're right. One of these days I'll try to explain what his style is, but right now he's behaving like a cross of spoiled child with the infamous patrón de estancia — a rich countryside landlord accustomed to treat everybody as stupid obedient workers, a caudillo. That worked when he had to rule a province with 200,000 residents scattered in the desolate Patagonian plain, but you can't boss around a country of 40 million.

For those not living in Argentina: we do have inflation. We don't have lots of it, but it's noticeable, and it's worse on the basic items. Prices go up unreasonably and then tend to come down, but they do so slowly and they don't return to the previous levels. Months ago, bell peppers were 4 or 5 pesos per kilo. During the winter they reached 15 or 20 pesos per kilo — more expensive than prime-quality beef. Now they're 7 or 8 pesos per kilo. Tomato, as per my latest visit to the supermarket, is about AR$9/kg. With nice beef going at AR$14, throwing an asado party and filling up your guests with a tomato salad is no longer an option. And the dreaded potato — around AR$5, three times the price recorded in Fairyland Market.

Rents and real estate are also terribly expensive. Travelling, eating out, coffee in cafés, clothing and footwear are climbing. You could buy nice shoes for 100 pesos last year that you won't find at less than 125 now. You could have a beer and a cup of peanuts in a bar for 6 pesos last year; now they'll charge you 9 (and you'll have to ask for the peanuts). In January 2006 I paid 100 pesos for a round trip to Mendoza; in January this year I paid 160.

INDEK says there was 0.8% inflation in August. In Buenos Aires and the Metropolitan Area, only 0.6%. This is no wonder, since price controls are only enforced there, and the government only cares about Buenos Aires — that's where most voters are. In the provinces, recorded inflation was invariably higher, because independent provincial state organizations do the stats — 1.5% in Mendoza, 3.3% in San Luis. And Mendoza's figures were retouched, they say, because they had come in at over 3%.

Private measurements give an inflation rate of about 15% for the last 12 months, where INDEK gives 8.7%. And that rate includes items with regulated prizes, and items that have no relevance at all for many middle-class and most lower-middle-class and lower-class homes, such as dog grooming.

Update: Mendoza's Minister of Economy and the head of its Statistics Bureau have jointly announced that they reported an inflation rate of 3.1% directly to INDEC, and that that number was deliberately modified. Mendoza's weight in the national inflation rate is only about 4%, so the overall difference would've been minor, but the thing is that Mendoza and San Luis, which are neighbouring provinces of the Cuyo region, have been consistently (and logically) reporting similar rates that are significantly higher than INDEC's national figures and closer to public perception, so they were taken as an indication of the real inflation. INDEC released their monthly inflation report at 11 PM, seven hours past the usual time, and it seems likely that the tampering was ordered at the last moment.

21 September 2007

Catholics and evangelicals and the power of words

If you remember, yesterday I was talking about a conversation I had with a friend, about language. The same day, after that, I also got to talk with a friend about the poverty of language, specifically in religious discourse. It was quite an interesting chat, so I thought I could share some of it.

My friend has the perception that evangelical preachers (in Argentina, and especially TV and radio preachers) have lowered the level of discourse to a crude minimum, and people sadly respond to it because they, too, have had their vocabularies shrunk, and their thought (and their ability for abstraction) as well. What he means is, you turn on the radio or the TV and you find pastors basically selling Jesus as a miracle product, or preying on the vulnerable without any kind of subtlety. We're talking of "ARE YOU IN PAIN? COME TO JESUS AND HEAL!" in big block letters across the screen, literally or figuratively.

My own contention is that the preachers are giving the people exactly what they want (a wind-up machine called Jesus who provides you with money and health and a comfortable house once you know the magic words) and that people might have a smaller vocabulary but do not necessarily have less ability to think and reason; that is, the preacher's speech is so plain, and so lacking in spirituality, and so incoherent at times, that you only need a basic command of language to see through the scam. That is, I don't believe that exposure to grossly simplistic religious language can be used to bring down your ability to think about deep spiritual matters, unless of course you accept that degraded language on your own volition and then become accustomed to it, which is what most people do.

On the other hand, my friend said, Catholic priests were still using "higher" language at times: less concrete, more superficially spiritual, possibly popular but not vulgar. I contended this was as bad as the evangelicals, only more weaselly. "Jesus will give you financial stability if you receive him and praise him in the assembly" is straightforward; "God takes care of all His children" is almost completely empty, although being empty it allows for the hearer to fill it with meaning, and is only useful for the hearer once completed with the warning that, in order to be a good child of God, you must go to church every Sunday.

I had the feeling that my friend was either not conveying his ideas wholly, or he lacked experience in a Catholic community, because if you've had that you know that most people in church are just there to gossip about their neighbours, and not to hear the priest using spiritual or abstract language. Moreover, they'd go straight to the evangelical preacher if they weren't culturally accustomed to being Catholics in an overwhelmingly Catholic country.

The real difference between those sects is the level of commitment they require. In order to be a Catholic you have to do... well, nothing. If you want to be an active Catholic, you're only required to attend church and sit there. It's all a social community experience, no more. You may get something spiritual out of the priest's rambling, but you can safely ignore it and believe yourself to be OK most of the time. Catholic spirituality is based on suffering, self-abasement and mortification, but understandably they don't insist on those things too much; they remain safely in the abstract plane. On the other hand, evangelicals (in line with Weber's analysis of protestantism, I believe) see suffering and poverty as an indication that you're doing something wrong, and so try to correct it, actively. They call on you and insist that you have to turn around your life, through the use of Jesus, and if you dare tell them that you're fine, they tell you, emphatically, that you're not. You're filthy. You're addicted to money, sex, Internet porn, alcohol, dancing and parties, and all sorts of foul social intercourse with the unsaved — mundane stuff that you've got to get rid of.

The Evangelicals are proactive — they're in the minority and they need to make you suffer so they can save you. They'll dig up whatever is rotting inside you and show it to you, and describe the feeling and the smell graphically to you. The Catholics are in the majority, and they'd rather keep their ninety-nine sheep happily in the fold than go out of their way to look for the missing hundredth. They do the sensible thing, as expected from an old well-established sect. I can't guess what will happen to those two.

My friend is actually preparing a thesis about the exercise of power through language, and this is part of it, so I'll keep you updated.

20 September 2007

Languages: doin' it as they do in the Discovery Channel

I was chatting with someone from the U.S. the other day about an assortment of topics, and the evolution of language came up. This is one of my favourites, as many people know. We discussed how the younger members of our societies seem to be losing certain finer distinctions of language, how this makes us (both in Spanish and English) feel we're experiencing a kind of degradation of our respective languages, and how this is, after all, a natural and even desirable consequence of change.

We both had a problem, truth be told, with young Americans using the past tense instead of the past participle and saying for example "I had went" (gasp!), as well as forgetting there's a subjunctive mood, and with Argentine teens (and so-called professional journalists) using the conditional/potential mood in place of the subjunctive in conditional clauses ("Si lo sabría te lo diría" instead of "Si lo supiera te lo diría").

One of the myths of language is that of purity. And it's a dangerous myth, like any ideal involving purity or perfection, especially when in reality they're nowhere to be found. If there were such a thing as "pure" in language, there would be no Spanish or English. Spanish has a ton of words from Latin, of course, but it's not Latin — the original words have been mangled, lost, redefined, their sounds changed and merged into other or split into different sounds, the grammar being greatly simplified, the vocabulary supplemented by thousands of foreign elements.

There's a sizable contribution from Arabic in there too, from alcohol and azúcar (sugar) to café and zanahoria (carrot), and Germanic words from the time when the Visigoths took over, and words from French, English, Basque, and many Native American languages from Nahuatl in Mexico to Quechua in the former Inca territories and Guaraní along the littoral of the Paraná and Uruguay rivers, and of course technical terms reborrowed from Latin and Greek (often recognizable in many other languages). English, well, you know about English. So if you listen to some purist claiming he or she speaks "the good ol' language" and chiding the youngsters for polluting it with foreign words and degrading it with neological grammar, you know that's all ridiculous.

I had an interesting conversation with another friend later, also about language, but in a philosophical/religious setting. I'll tell you about that tomorrow.

19 September 2007

Haunted swing not haunted that we know of

The news today: remember the "haunted swing" in the city of Firmat? The swing that swung itself? Well, a group of qualified professionals from Buenos Aires, called Visión Ovni (yes, that means "UFO Vision"), after intensive field research, has concluded that the swing does not move due to any known physical force. That means, they explain, that there are no measurable electromagnetic fields or alterations thereof, and the swing is made of normal material, the ground under it is just the same as in the rest of the neighbourhood, the wind is not doing it, etc. It doesn't mean, they remark, that there's a paranormal phenomenon involved.

I wouldn't really trust a group of people with a name like that to do scientifically serious research of anything, but at least they seem to be honest and to the point: they've found nothing. Of course, the twisted little minds of the paranormal freaks will turn that innocuous statement into "This is something outside the purview of science and of normal human experience! We were right! Let us dance and praise the Beings of Light from the fifth dimension!". Or something like that.

Again you'll have to forgive me for not writing more... not that I feel really guilty or anything. I've been putting my effort (including the collection and commentary of outrageous news) into my website. I reckon that it may become what I want, structure-wise, in a couple of weeks. Much of the difficulty lies in making the structure solid and the support mechanisms behind it as automatic as possible, so that I can care about content and forget about the little quirks of HTML and CSS. Not to mention the major quirks of PHP and the sometimes mysteriously erratic behaviour of MySQL.

In case you didn't know, my website can be reached also by an alias domain — just spell out the names of my initials (in Spanish) and add the top-level components. If it were in English, you would just go to PeeDeeEff.com.ar, for example. Again I ask, let me play my little game.

17 September 2007

Bye bye cheap credit

The weather last weekend continued to be horrible for anything beside staying home with a mug of hot chocolate (or a hot... well, you can imagine). It drizzled almost the whole time, and gusts of chilly wind blew away what had seemed like a prelude of a nice spring. I had dinner with friends on Saturday, then went out, and miraculously I didn't catch a cold.

The news, today, is the economy. You know that the real estate bubble in the United States has finally burst. As a result, the international markets went crazy and have been coming down for some time. Interest rates have soared, and financial investment options have become riskier. The problem in the particular case of underdeveloped countries ("emergent economies", they call us) is that what we offer in terms of financial investment (i. e. our debt bonds, the equivalent of Treasury letters and such) is rather risky to begin with. And there's this tiny stain in our payment records from the time when we defaulted on US$93 billion and paid back a quarter of the original debt years past due... So everywhere people are getting rid of Argentine bonds as if they were flaming potatoes, and it's more difficult to get loan money, and interest rates are climbing here as well.

This kind of thing goes unnoticed often, but not now. To the common citizen, the result which is already apparent is that we won't be able to buy so many things on cheap credit. Since the economy stabilized a bit, it became customary for department stores and shopping chains to offer goods cheap and expensive in installments with little or no extra charge. Many offered their own credit cards. It came to the point where buying a fridge or a computer in 12 monthly installments with the store's private card was actually cheaper than buying it in one payment, even in cash. In other cases the interest was simply insignificant. But that, we're told, is no more.

I personally haven't done any large purchases lately, and whenever I can avoid it, I pay up front with my debit card or in cash (if you pay with the debit card, the government returns 5% of the VAT-free net price to you the following month). So the news doesn't worry me. But I'm moving out one day, and that may be sooner than expected, say, at the beginning of next year. I'll suddenly need (at the very least) a fridge, a stove, and some furniture beyond a table and a chair (my bed I'll take with me!). So maybe I should be concerned... Damn the butterfly effect in economics!

15 September 2007

Photographers' plague reloaded

Rosarigasinos (in Japanese katakana)I'm just back from a meeting (somebody pompously termed it an assembly) of the Rosarigasinos photographer group (the ones I went to Granadero Baigorria with, and to the boat tour before that).

We've been planning to hold a modest joint exhibition (only 3 pictures per person), and today we wrapped up most of the issues. It'll be held on the 1st and 2nd floors of the Faculty of Biochemistry of the National University of Rosario, which lends the space at no cost to such things, starting on October 8. Matte paper, 15×21 cm, mounted on 3 mm high-impact plastic sheet. The topic is the city, and the name is Mirada Rosarigasina. Not that this advertising will get through to many, but I do what I can.

(I could do some more advertising in the relevant place in my new website, the one you don't know where it is yet, even after I told you specifically to join my three initials —which are the same as the name of a Popular Document Format— with hyphens and add .com.ar.)

After the meeting I had to run to Japanese school to write a composition for a contest. You get dictionaries, a couple of sheets of paper divided into 300 large squares (one per character), and 2 hours to write about some topic. They give you 2 topics to choose from, on the spot. I wrote about "current trends", mentioning the widespread use of mobile phones and computers, the poverty and rudeness of the young generations' language, and the fact that, fortunately, some customs, such as grabbing a quick cup of coffee with a friend, never get out of fashion.

I was relaxed given the occasion — last year I was terribly nervous and made a lot of mistakes, but this time I simply let it flow out without caring too much about using complicated expressions. Better being correct and sound just a bit simple than using a lot of learned words and get them wrong (and let me tell you, Japanese is an irresistible tempter in this regard — for every simple, common concept, the formal register has two or three obscure equivalents that you can misuse horribly without even noticing).

So I wrote, I gave it to my sensei, and now she's sending it to Kyoren in Buenos Aires to be graded. I don't think I'll win a prize, but I came out satisfied with I'd written, so I don't care.

14 September 2007

Catholic bastards

I won't make an apology for the title to any Catholics out there — if the shoe fits, wear it, as the saying goes. I'm as mad as I'm sad to write again about this. Another mentally handicapped girl raped, once more the bigotry, the religious fanatism and the hypocritical despise for life of a few people in power keeping that poor girl from having a safe abortion. I wrote about abortion in Argentina once, of the stories of some girls who went through the same horror, and several other times, about why this seems not to change, ever.

A very poor 19-year-old girl in Entre Ríos, with a severe mental disability, is carrying a baby. She was raped and, through the person in charge of her care, in this case her mother, she's entitled to request an abortion, which must be done without any delays, for free, in any public hospital. But the doctors didn't want to do it, the hospital delayed the procedure, and then the inevitable: like so many other times before, some Catholic freak in the hospital staff calls some fanatic Catholic judge or whoever, and gets an injunction, a ban, or, as in this case, decides to put the unborn child under judicial custody, as if it were a minor in a risky environment.

After another court order cancelled the fetus's custody transfer, the father of the girl, who for 16 years hasn't bothered to support his many sons and daughters or even go to check them every once in a while, suddenly popped up out of nowhere and, with a devout Catholic lawyer on his back, he demanded to have custody of his daughter and stop the abortion. The father is not a wealthy man, but now he has the Catholic Church on his side (the lawyer is a well-known militant member of a Catholic lay order), and together they'll do anything to deprive the girl from his right to rid herself of the fetus, or at least, to delay the procedure as much as possible, until it's too late. They'll promise (they have promised) they'll take care of everything. Such a thing has never happened, that I know.

Mind you, you can be pro-choice or against-choice (the self-righteous "pro-life" title I won't grant you), but this is the girl's right. It's clearly, unmistakably, concisely written in the damn Argentine Penal Code, under Article 86. It's been there for ages. The framers of the Code were probably very Christian and God-fearing, but they saw that forcing a woman with a mental disability to carry a fetus to term and then raise it was cruel beyond measure, and was sure to mean horrible suffering for both. This girl has the right, and the state, through the management of the public hospital that serves the area, has the legal obligation to terminate the pregnancy. Everyone trying to block the abortion (the lawyers, the judges, the doctors, the political administration of the hospital, everyone) is acting against the law.

So how come they're not challenged? How do they get away with this? Beats me. Justice is slow and corrupt, yes, but it does come some times. Will those lawyers and judges, who value their own religious prejudices over the law and even over basic human compassion, be judged some day in turn?

13 September 2007

Dubious honour

Yay! Rosario is, once again, Argentina's Capital of Unemployment. This title was first, informally, applied to the city during the Age of the Rat, even while most of the country (including Rosario) was busy enjoying the benefit of an economic model based on wishful thinking. The situation is much improved today — only a few tens of thousands of us are on the brink of starvation, and most of those who were hopelessly unemployed back in the 1990s are now happy exploited workers in fields ranging from the typical McJobs to construction works.

The city has 11.2% of its economically active population unemployed, that is, looking for work and not finding it. No other large town or city has a number so high. The wealth that you see in the streets (shiny new shops, luxury apartment towers) is real, but a lot of it comes from without, from the countryside, enriched by the exports of cereal, soybean and vegetable oils. Sadly, the production of such items is very mechanized and doesn't give jobs to many people.

We shouldn't worry about keeping this title for long, though. You can bet INDEK won't let that happen!

12 September 2007

Website incognito

My website (the one I'm not officially naming here) is up, and though still empty, some sections are already open and being filled in with actual content. Initially, I tried a CMS (content manager system) to organize it all in a standardized fashion with a minimum of coding, but I'm an old-fashioned geek and I missed the freedom that comes with writing your own HTML. Throw in a lot of PHP (chaotically written and rewritten), and I'm in heaven, although (or because?) it all takes four times longer to get done. But the result is exactly as I want, not as the programmers of PHP-Nuke, Joomla! or XOOPS would feel like.

As I said before, I'm trying to stay anonymous for a while, and pointing you directly to the site would defeat the purpose, but you could try some things to find it, such as — I don't know — joining my initials with hyphens, to begin with. (OK, that was silly, but let me play my little game.)

The weather's awful again, so I don't think I'll be able to go jogging this week. Argh! I was about to go yesterday, because at noon the sun had come out; I took a nap and when I woke up it looked like the sky was going to fall down. And I felt more tired than before the nap, though that must've had to do with the atmospheric pressure and the heat. So I stayed, and then it didn't rain at all. Today the sky looks even scarier, but I think I'm going to try a short run (I foresee that I will get soaked and catch a cold).

No luck for the photographer, either. With the website taking up my time, and the weather so menacing, I haven't been out there with the camera, seriously, for a week. Last Sunday I was invited to go on a photo safari to the south of the city, but I went out the night before and that killed the plan. I'm told it went very well. There's a whole sector of the city that I don't know — with old mansions surviving along certain avenues, dating back from better times (when in Rosario la Zona Sur wasn't yet a synonym of No-Man's-Land), and a huge park on the municipal border. Well, that won't go anywhere anytime soon.

This blog will resume its usual boring news mode in a few days. Be patient!

10 September 2007

My news

If you're wondering why I haven't been blogging lately, the answer is: I've been doing other things. First of all, and most importantly, I got myself a website (a real, personal website, with a domain name and all). It's still quite empty, and I'm not revealing here where it is, since I'm trying to keep a low profile on that. I'll be dealing with sensitive topics (religion, politics — the kind of thing that ruins dinner tables when brought up) and I don't want to be immediately associated to them. You might say this is already what I'm doing here, but this is just a small blog hosted by a free provider, in a language that effectively isolates me from my everyday environment. My bosses and most of my acquaintances don't read this blog.

I've wanted a website for some time, and I wasn't really doing anything about it because I was busy with my blogs, and because I thought it would be expensive. Not prohibitively expensive, but then I'm not going to make money out of it. However, I was under a wrong impression. Web hosting, today, is available at a ridiculously low cost and with reasonable quality even in Argentina. And if you're content with a .com.ar domain, there are no additional costs.

Anyone with a minimum of imagination will be able to guess my identity from my website. Just going to nic.ar should suffice. (If you can't pick up that hint, well...)

Another reason why I haven't blogged as of late is that I started jogging again. The weather has been warm and wet, not a pleasure, but better than the cold, for me. So several afternoons I could've used for blogging were spent on jogging and stretching. I don't live really close to any suitable jogging circuits, so I have to spend some time going to and returning from it.

And finally, as I promised in my last post, I don't want to bore my readers to death with more politics, and since politics is all over the news these days... I'll do a summary of that soon.

05 September 2007

Santa Fe, Córdoba, Misiones

(I'll stop the politics after this. Promise.)

The election was Sunday
, today's only Wednesday, and everything already seems to be upside down. Some people who were overconfident to the point of hubris are desolate. The parachuted former candidate Rafael Bielsa is going to resign from his deputy chair because "it wouldn't be ethical to represent the city of BA after I was candidate for governor of SF" (what, you mean now?). Governor elect Hermes Binner met with governor Obeid in the government house and the employees left their posts to go and greet him. The factions of Peronism in Santa Fe are at each other's throats, as they see their power structure crumbling like a house of cards. The President hasn't uttered the words "Santa Fe" (or "Córdoba") since Sunday.

And Binner is already laying out his plans, which include giving more money and more power to the municipalities, avoiding the discretional management of funds by the central provincial state, fighting tax evasion without raising taxes, ensuring that school classes start on schedule next year, and cancelling the construction of a new provincial hospital only 10 blocks away from a municipal hospital (a project that vice-governor, councilmember elect and well-connected architect María Eugenia Bielsa made up and is now defending with such foamy rage that it seems rather obvious she was going to make dirty money for herself out of it).

The situation in Córdoba after the election is a mess. Only 17,000 votes (out of more than 1.5 million valid votes) separate the two main candidates. The vote count was abnormally slow, the handling of the information was horrible, and the fraud is obvious; the only issue is whether it was a general effort, planned from the top down, or just minor tricks on the local scale (the latter are a certainty).

And, thanks to the Ley de Lemas, the elections in Misiones next Sunday will most likely be even messier: besides the board-kicking effect caused by the rejection of the constitutional reform allowing the governor's re-election, the Ley de Lemas, which allows parties to combine the votes of any number of minuscule factions and candidates, means 18,000 candidates will be running for something — one every 36 voters.

Anyway, we're done over here for now. There have been many interviews and articles about Binner's achievement, and in most of them one can realize that the media have caught the general vibe of the people and, besides the natural journalistic interest for "the first Socialist governor in history", there's a serene awareness that change for the better is coming. Nobody expects a lot, but then everybody expects something — even those who voted for Bielsa, who (for the most part, if you ask me) aren't so sure that they should be sad about the loss.

03 September 2007

Election Sunday

What a weekend! I'm into politics, but I was waiting for this election in particular for personal reasons. I'm an employee of the provincial state of Santa Fe, so the governor election meant the citizenship was ultimately going to elect my boss, and the outcome could radically change my working conditions.

Well, the short version is: Hermes Binner won the election against the Rosario-born, porteño deputy Rafael Bielsa with a 10% overall difference. In Rosario, mayor Miguel Lifschitz was reelected, beating the repeatedly sold-out former Socialist mayor Héctor Cavallero by such a wide margin Cavallero didn't even bother to appear in public to protest.

The Front for Victory (Kirchner's version of the Justicialist Party) lost the governor election in great part thanks to Rosario's votes. It also took several surprising hits, losing its grip on several important cities that had been ruled by Peronists for years or decades, such as Santo Tomé (near the capital, pop. 60,000), San Lorenzo (30 km north of Rosario, pop. 45,000) and Villa Gobernador Gálvez (right south of Rosario, pop. 75,000). The biggest and quite possibly painful surprise was the provincial capital itself, where the Socialist Mario Barletta beat both the Front for Victory candidate Martín Balbarrey (seeking reelection) and the "dissident Peronist" Oscar Martínez. Starting in December, five of the seven largest cities in Santa Fe and more than half of the population will be ruled by Socialists.

Those were the objective numbers. Now the impressions... What I got from most people was simply relief, the comforting realization that a dynasty of mediocre opportunists was ending, the sudden awareness of this turn of events. Binner is the first Socialist governor in the history of Argentina, but it's obvious to everyone that he was voted by many people who wouldn't call themselves Socialist. Others don't like him very much, and many outside Rosario surely don't really know him at all, but voted against something: the crude inability of the Peronists to do anything but clinging to power (even as they fight among themselves for it), the aggressive language and derisive manners of a candidate that tried to pass for one of us when he hadn't set foot in the province for two decades, the plain realization that anything but a radical change would mean four more years of flat, uneventful decadence or, at most, vegetative growth. Four more years, after 24 years of corruption, of judges on the payroll of the party, of a police force stained with a string of unpunished crimes, of friends turned government officials who have no idea to do what they're supposed to do, of fundamental laws delayed and then passed and ignored, of callous indifference to the suffering of millions, of the State turned into a section of the Party. That was too much.

Another impression I got was that Rosario was the lever that moved the election. With almost one-third of the population of the province, the landslide victory in Rosario was important for the overall result, but I'm speaking of comparisons and imitations. People are not stupid. Rosario serves as proof that, while unable to work magic, a good administration can improve the citizens' quality of life a lot, even without help from the provincial state, and beyond the mere recovery of employment and consumption that follows automatically from a high economic cycle. Thus it shouldn't be surprising that the two largest cities in the Greater Rosario area changed hands last Sunday. San Lorenzo, an industrial port city, has an enormous untapped potential and a government that wasn't up to the challenge. Villa Gobernador Gálvez, next to Rosario, could not but watch with envy as the neighbouring metropolis flourished while a mafia government led directly or by proxy by a violent, uneducated thug continued to win elections.

Last night, minutes before Rafael Bielsa spoke to acknowledge his defeat (which he took ages to do), a dozen of cars with people waving Socialist flags (red and white, with the fist and the rose in the center) raced along my street, throwing confetti and honking their horns. I went up the roof to wave at them. Bielsa spoke then, and rather predictably he assumed all the blame. He thanked all his political patrons, from the president down, for lending themselves to the campaign, but apparently forgetting the 360,000 citizens that voted for him. Well, at least he didn't imply the rest of us were stupid, like Filmus did in BA. Binner's speech came minutes later, after shorter admonitions by Lifschitz and by vice-governor elect Griselda Tessio. The guys with the flags were already in his headquarters at the Patio de la Madera. Binner spoke in measured tones, remembering historical characters of the parties of the Progressive Front, and attacking no-one directly; the young militants, though, booed governor Obeid's and president Kirchner's name when they came up (Binner was saying that both had politely called to congratulate him), and quite loudly told the Peronists to shove their purposefully biased pre-election surveys up their collective asses.

And then that was it. The numbers continued arriving, and as more data from the bigger cities were input in the system, the difference between Binner and Bielsa widened. It didn't matter anymore.

We now have three months to wait. Binner is meeting with Obeid today to talk about the transition. Obeid, I think, will listen, and won't do anything stupid. He's an old politician, and he's on his way out.

What can we expect? Well, first of all, autonomy for Rosario!

Media coverage in Spanish: La Capital, Página/12, Rosario/12, Rosario3, La Nación, Clarín; in English: CNN, Buenos Aires Herald