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Potato Prices, Crime & Confronting Reality

September 30th, 2007 | 03:31 PM

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Psychology 101.

One of the challenges alcohol and drug counselors face is getting their patients to admit they have a problem. Sans such recognition, progress is impossible. If you don’t know or can’t acknowledge that you have a problem, it’s extremely unlikely you’ll be able to solve it.

Politics 101

Politicians, many of who seem almost genetically inclined to avoid confronting problems, are in a category of their own in this regard. When politicians fail to acknowledge problems, the issue morphs from an epistemological matter into a moral one. Just as priests have an obligation to members of their parish, so do politicians have an ethical duty to their constituents. They have a moral obligation to help solve problems that affect society at large. When they fail to do this, they betray not only their own interests but also those of the entire society.

Manejando El País

Just as a drunk shouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car, a politician blind to reality shouldn’t be in the business of governing people. Sadly, this is exactly what we have in Argentina under President Nestor Kirchner. Consider Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernandez’s recent comments about inflation:

In Argentina inflation doesn’t exist because inflation assumes that there is a generalized increase in prices and nobody is willing to recklessly affirm such a thing. People see that the price of a potato goes up and they talk about the potato, but we don’t have a generalized increase in prices just because potato prices go up.”

Strictly speaking, this much is true. If in all of Argentina, the only prices to rise were those of potatoes, it would be disingenuous to say inflation was affecting the whole economy. But the notion that only potato prices are rising is patently ridiculous. Prices of virtually all products and services – from ice cream to avocado and used cars to movie tickets – have risen consistently, and often abruptly, since the currency devaluation in 2002. Increases this year have been particularly painful for consumers and many economists say real inflation is likely around 20%, or double what the government says. Fernandez is either mendacious or grossly out of touch with reality. Neither option is appealing.

Acknowledging Reality

Polls show Argentines are more concerned with inflation than anything except crime. They worry about inflation not because they fear it may hit them someday, but because it is pinching their pocketbooks right now. Crime is a big worry, as well. But here too the government has had trouble with reality. Consider what Interior Minister Anibal Fernandez said in a radio interview last year:

“The…level of crime in Argentina is more similar to that in Europe than in (Latin) America,” Fernandez said, noting that crime was down measurably. When asked to disclose crime data so journalists could confirm this, Fernandez balked. “I’m not going to deal with the statistics because doing so would show a lack of respect for families of the victims. But I’m very aware of what is happening.”

Democracy, Information & Counseling

Come again? Since when did proving that life is getting safer become an offense to anyone? Fernandez later said he had “put his foot in his mouth,” but he never did release comprehensive data. People have a right to know if their government is doing its job. And those in the government have an obligation to share the progress of their work so people can make informed decisions about whom to vote for. The very functioning of a democracy depends on this access to information. If citizens don’t have access to accurate information, how can they make wise decisions in an election?

Since at least last year, Kirchner’s government has been tight-lipped about the real nature of crime in Argentina. Moreover, according to fired officials who job was to measure inflation, Kirchner has been lying since January about the nature of inflation. It is bad enough to manipulate inflation data, thus trying to con people into thinking the economy is stronger than it is. But it is an even more egregious insult, and a sorry abdication of duty, to flat out lie about reality and pretend that inflation doesn’t exist.

Perhaps we could all pretend that the government itself didn’t exist, and that the country had better leaders. Wouldn’t that be nice? But that’s not reality and to really believe it would be a problem, the type of problem that requires counseling. To overcome a problem, you first have to acknowledge that you actually have one.

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Potato Prices, Crime & Confronting Reality

September 30th, 2007 | 03:31 PM

Share


Psychology 101.

One of the challenges alcohol and drug counselors face is getting their patients to admit they have a problem. Sans such recognition, progress is impossible. If you don’t know or can’t acknowledge that you have a problem, it’s extremely unlikely you’ll be able to solve it.

Politics 101

Politicians, many of who seem almost genetically inclined to avoid confronting problems, are in a category of their own in this regard. When politicians fail to acknowledge problems, the issue morphs from an epistemological matter into a moral one. Just as priests have an obligation to members of their parish, so do politicians have an ethical duty to their constituents. They have a moral obligation to help solve problems that affect society at large. When they fail to do this, they betray not only their own interests but also those of the entire society.

Manejando El País

Just as a drunk shouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car, a politician blind to reality shouldn’t be in the business of governing people. Sadly, this is exactly what we have in Argentina under President Nestor Kirchner. Consider Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernandez’s recent comments about inflation:

In Argentina inflation doesn’t exist because inflation assumes that there is a generalized increase in prices and nobody is willing to recklessly affirm such a thing. People see that the price of a potato goes up and they talk about the potato, but we don’t have a generalized increase in prices just because potato prices go up.”

Strictly speaking, this much is true. If in all of Argentina, the only prices to rise were those of potatoes, it would be disingenuous to say inflation was affecting the whole economy. But the notion that only potato prices are rising is patently ridiculous. Prices of virtually all products and services – from ice cream to avocado and used cars to movie tickets – have risen consistently, and often abruptly, since the currency devaluation in 2002. Increases this year have been particularly painful for consumers and many economists say real inflation is likely around 20%, or double what the government says. Fernandez is either mendacious or grossly out of touch with reality. Neither option is appealing.

Acknowledging Reality

Polls show Argentines are more concerned with inflation than anything except crime. They worry about inflation not because they fear it may hit them someday, but because it is pinching their pocketbooks right now. Crime is a big worry, as well. But here too the government has had trouble with reality. Consider what Interior Minister Anibal Fernandez said in a radio interview last year:

“The…level of crime in Argentina is more similar to that in Europe than in (Latin) America,” Fernandez said, noting that crime was down measurably. When asked to disclose crime data so journalists could confirm this, Fernandez balked. “I’m not going to deal with the statistics because doing so would show a lack of respect for families of the victims. But I’m very aware of what is happening.”

Democracy, Information & Counseling

Come again? Since when did proving that life is getting safer become an offense to anyone? Fernandez later said he had “put his foot in his mouth,” but he never did release comprehensive data. People have a right to know if their government is doing its job. And those in the government have an obligation to share the progress of their work so people can make informed decisions about whom to vote for. The very functioning of a democracy depends on this access to information. If citizens don’t have access to accurate information, how can they make wise decisions in an election?

Since at least last year, Kirchner’s government has been tight-lipped about the real nature of crime in Argentina. Moreover, according to fired officials who job was to measure inflation, Kirchner has been lying since January about the nature of inflation. It is bad enough to manipulate inflation data, thus trying to con people into thinking the economy is stronger than it is. But it is an even more egregious insult, and a sorry abdication of duty, to flat out lie about reality and pretend that inflation doesn’t exist.

Perhaps we could all pretend that the government itself didn’t exist, and that the country had better leaders. Wouldn’t that be nice? But that’s not reality and to really believe it would be a problem, the type of problem that requires counseling. To overcome a problem, you first have to acknowledge that you actually have one.

(0)
 

El Tren Cartonero

September 29th, 2007 | 02:11 PM

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Jonattan and Nahuel

Plenty has been written about the dilapidated trains that haul cardboard recyclers or cartoneros to and from Buenos Aires everyday. The term, of course, is a reference to the men, women and (very often) children who scour the city everyday looking for cardboard and other items that can be recycled for cash at factories an hour or two away in Buenos Aires Province.

The trains run at different hours in different parts of the city. But for the most part they run in the dark of the night, without any interior lighting or police protection. They are, passengers like Jonattan and Nahuel say, “dangerous and depressing.” I boarded one of the trains recently and thought I’d post some of the photos.

 

Nahuel & Jonattan working for cash at the Obelisco, 7:14pm, Sunday.


They’ve just gotten into town from Varela in the province. Every night they wash windows until around 11pm. The next train back to Varela leaves at 3am, so until then they hit the streets collecting cardboard and other things before heading home.

Once they’re ready to go home, they line up their their goods and get ready to board the train. According to a policeman I spoke with, some passengers travel as many as 100 kilometers through the night to reach the recycling centers. The centers pay about 15 centavos/kilo for cardboard and up to 30 centavos for newspaper. Glass bottles go for as much as 60 centavos/kilo, say the passengers who talked with me.

 

Loading the train.  

 

 

Inside there are no lights, no seats and often no doors or windows. Just darkness and an unsettling combination of humor and desperation. “It’s ugly,” says Alan, a 13 year-old from Varela. “I don’t like it.”

The train stops long enough for people to load their stuff, not all of which easily fits. But there are no weight limits on this train. Whatever fits goes.

A moment of relaxation for some and a demonstration of anger from another as the train starts moving. (Look closely and you’ll see somebody giving me the middle finger. ) As the train moves, it leaves behind the light of the train station and the police protection that comes with it. This is the most dangerous part of the night.

Alan will get home sometime after 3am. “I get home and sleep till 7am. Then I get up and go to school till 11am. Then I go back home to sleep until I have to catch the train, to be in town again by 7pm. We come everyday. It’s a long ride.”

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La Casa Rosada

September 28th, 2007 | 08:41 AM

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Those of you who’ve been in Buenos Aires over the past year may have seen the work being done on the Casa Rosada. The last time the place got a fresh coat of paint was at the end of Menem’s term in 1999. The building, made internationally famous by Peron and Evita’s (and Madonna’s) theatrical flair, has been in sorry shape for too long.

After all, this is, or at least should be, the people’s palace. It’s also one of the country’s most prominent and memorable buildings. It’s among the first stops on every tourist’s agenda. It’s an iconic symbol of Argentina and everything that is good and bad about the country’s past, present and future.

But the Casa Rosada has been in less-than-splendid condition since at least the Plaza de Mayo bombing in 1955, when 34 Argentine Navy planes dropped nine tons of explosives on the plaza. The bombings, which preceded the eventual overthrow of Peron’s government, killed more than 350 people, leaving indelible scars both on surrounding buildings and the Argentine psyche. Look close enough today and you can still see bullet holes and other marks around the plaza.

Preoccupied by more pressing problems, De la Rua’s government let the building fall further into disrepair until December, 2001, when De la Rua abandoned the presidency (not just the building) in a roof-top helicopter. Painters later doused the facade with a fresh coat of pink, lending an air of respectability to the noticeably faded edifice. But nothing else was done until last December. For years the facade, which faces the Plaza de Mayo and its visitors, remained a perfect metaphor for Argentina: It was beautiful on the surface but a deeper look revealed uglier truths.

But now Oscar Parrilli, a Casa Rosada official under President Kirchner, is reforming the building. Parrilli ordered not only that it be repainted but also that the whole site be renovated from top to bottom. That includes replacing burned-out lights, oiling squeaky doors, cleaning up a smelly kitchen, polishing floors and replacing windows, among other things. It’s about time.

In April newspaper Clarin ran an article that detailed problems at the Casa Rosada. Its title? The House Is Not In Order. It took years for the government to start getting its literal home in order. With a presidential election just weeks away, is it too much to hope that this house-cleaning may serve as a new metaphor for a country in which there isn’t such a contrast between the facade and what lies beneath it?

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I took the picture last month.

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Morcilla

September 27th, 2007 | 08:31 PM

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Today for the first time since coming to Argentina in 1995, I ate morcilla, or blood sausage. It was disgusting, vile, and nearly caused me to vomit. But it was also surprisingly tasty and had a pasty texture that was almost appealing.

Nonetheless, it was cooked blood. And it had nasty chunks of God-knows-what in it. What are those? Is there any need for them? The same chunks can be found in bad chorizos. What is the appeal? Why do people put up with them? They look like fat. Once they get into your mouth, you have to go finger diving and extract them with all deliberate speed, lest they scurry down to your stomach and cause emotional, if not physical harm.

When these chunks brush up against unsuspecting teeth, they can feel like cartilage or even bone. It’s been said that blood sausage is good for the digestive tract. But is there really any evidence for that? Perhaps the chunks are good roughage?

Argentina is one of the planet’s leading food producers. It’s deservedly famous for its fine, grass-fed beef. But in a country where great food is abundant, and where citizens prize what is aestheticlly pleasing, why do so many people enjoy eating dark purple-colored blood sausage – especially when it’s stuffed with unidentifiable chunks of questionable origin? I just don’t get it.

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