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Our Higher Prices Vs. INDEC's Lower Prices

October 30th, 2007 | 10:18 PM

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Typically my posts are not very personal in nature. I'm making another exception this time to illustrate a point about inflation. On Monday I went to Aroma to have a sandwich, a cup of orange juice and free WiFi. I paid 11 pesos for a “Roll Carne Asado,” which is a tasty little burrito-like sandwich. Satisfied with the experience, I returned Tuesday for another round. This time, however, the same sandwich cost 15 pesos.

That's a 36.4% increase in less than 24 hours. “What happened to the price of this roll?” I asked an Aroma employee. “The price went up,” she said. “I know,” I responded, “but why?”

“I don't know,” she replied. “It just did.”

It did, indeed.

We know that Nestor and Cristina have sent Argentine “technicians,” including the woman who oversees the government's consumer price index, to the US to look at how the US government elaborates its own CPI. Let's hope they come back convinced that lying about economic data is not in the country's 's long-term interest. For those of you who missed it, INDEC 's most recent data indicated that prices of many goods actually declined last month. (See graph below)

Naturally, weather, tourism and other seasonal factors can – and often do – push prices up or down in a cyclical fashion. This is to be expected in any country. But I'd be curious to see if anyone other than Cristina, Nestor and a few of their cohorts really believe that the following items actually became cheaper last month compared with prices from a year ago.

According to INDEC, “tourist hotel” rates declined by around 20% while ice cream prices dropped about 7% compared with a year ago.

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Argentina: A Beacon To The Middle East & The World

October 30th, 2007 | 07:38 AM

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Analysis of the Argentine election has been abundant. Local pundits have done their job. So have international media, with everyone from Time Magazine to China's Xinhua News Agency pitching in with comments ranging from fluff to more profound insights.

By far the most interesting commentary, in my view, came from Al Jazeera's Arabic language anchor, Mohammed Alami, who covered the election for millions of viewers in the Middle East. Alami is an impressively experienced journalist. He is also a very intelligent man whose roaring laugh is both contagious and disarming.

For Alami, who is based out of Washington, D.C. , the election itself was in some ways a boring one. The main problem: predictability. The outcome was never really in doubt. This kind of certainty is the antithesis of interesting, especially for journalists who prefer covering stories whose endings are unpredictable.

This wasn't a last minute, come-from-behind victory for Cristina Kirchner. The game was over before it even started. Pollsters unanimously agreed Cristina would win. And she did, trouncing her competitors after four years of rapid economic growth gave her and her husband, President Nestor Kirchner, all the support they needed to remain in the Casa Rosada.

But while most observers talked about Argentina's political history, its quirks, its previous experience with female leaders, and the Kirchners' alleged desire to rotate indefinitely through the presidency, Alami was figuring out how to make the election relevant for Middle Eastern viewers – people who have little experience with democracy and even less experience electing female leaders. What follows is a paraphrasing of comments Alami made about his presentation of the election to Al Jazeera's Arabic-language viewers.

“This was really a remarkable election,” said Alami. “In less than 30 years you've gone from a dictatorship to open elections – open elections in which a female is elected president. This can be a real example for people in the Middle East. It should be inspiring. You had 30,000 people disappear here. Thirty thousand! You had a dictatorship. And now you have open elections. Here you can criticize the government and still sleep at night. They're not going to come after you for being critical. This is part of what I tried to share with our viewers in the Middle East.”

Considered this way, and viewed in the context of Middle Eastern history, Argentina's election was nothing short of incredible. It was a remarkable display of political progress from a nation that has evolved impressively in a very short period if time. In the history of nations, thirty years is a relatively brief span.

It is easy to criticize Argentina for its past sins and present problems. Much of this criticism should be welcome. An informed and critical citizenry is a sine qua non of effective government. This is necessary to constrain overly ambitious politicians and their overarching policies. It is necessary for progress. But for criticism to be effective, it must be constructive. It must not be cynical. There is a difference between being critical and being cynical. One can be critical while also being hopeful and faithful. Cynicism, however, is the mark of a critic who has lost his hope and faith.

Despite Argentina's problems, there is little reason to be cynical about the country or its future. This is especially true considering how much Argentina has accomplished in recent years. Of course, there is room for improvement. Corruption abounds, as does poverty, inflation, injustice and crime. Congress is docile and populated by too many people who neither represent their constituents nor intend to do so. But for the most part, Argentina is a country of remarkable achievement, enviable natural resources and relatively strong political institutions. Argentines themselves are hardworking, smart, persistent and creative.

Argentina has produced five Nobel Prize winners. Compare that with China, which accounts for 20% of the world's population but just six of its Nobel winners – five of whom are “Chinese Americans” who were either born in the US or emigrated to it. Since 1963, Argentines have also registered more patents (per capita) with the US Patent and Trademark Office than residents of any other Latin American country. Meanwhile, educational achievement in Argentina is unmatched in many other parts of the world. The average Argentine spends 16.4 years in school. That's more than Italians (15.7), Israelis (15.6) or Mexicans (12.5). And Argentina's adult literacy rate is among the world's highest at 97.2%. Even Argentina's homeless people can be found reading the newspaper.


All of this means that while Argentina has issues, as Argentines readily – even eagerly – admit, the country has an impressive degree of social capital and competitive advantages that go beyond a 3-to-1 exchange rate. Argentina's missteps are well-known. But its ability to evolve despite them is noteworthy and merits acclaim. Sometimes the progress has been slow. Consider the case of Christian von Wernich, the 69 year-old Catholic priest who was found guilty earlier this month of direct or indirect involvement in the murder, torture or kidnapping of 49 people decades ago during Argentina's dirty war. Nonetheless, justice was finally delivered. Argentina's effort to overcome its past should be an inspiration not only to the Middle East but also to other developing nations.

If Argentina's accomplishments are controversial, Al Jazeera's are all the more so. Many people associate the network with terrorism and Osama Bin Laden. During an interview last week in Buenos Aires, I introduced an Al Jazeera colleague to a local analyst for an interview. The analyst said jokingly, “Ah, you're the network of Bin Laden.”

As it was explained to me, Al Jazeera, in Arabic, means “another voice.” The network has been kicked out of Iran and Iraq for seeking to operate as an independent media outlet. It has sought to speak truth to power in a part of the world that has had little tolerance for this. In that sense, the network is revolutionary. It has unprecedented potential to influence thinking in the Middle East. This makes it all the more interesting to ponder the value of Al Jazeera's election coverage. It also provides added reason to reflect on Cristina's victory and what it means to Argentina.

Since 1983, when Raúl Alfonsin helped restore democracy to Argentina, the country has been engaged in a quiet, non-violent revolution. It has been a revolutionary effort to overcome dogmas, distrust, stereotypes and habits that have hindered progress and stifled growth. Like her or not, Cristina's victory Sunday was the culmination of a fair election devoid of the kind of physical violence and emotional intimidation that still plagues much of the world. It was an election that allowed people of all socio-economic, religious and racial backgrounds to influence their future and pass judgment on the current government. To this extent, the election was not just a personal victory for Cristina. It was a political victory, even if a subtle one, for people around the world who are pushing their countries to evolve from the kind of political system Argentina had 30 years ago to the one it has today.

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Buying Votes In Argentina’s Election

October 29th, 2007 | 05:41 PM

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I spent the past week covering the election for Al Jazeera English here in Buenos Aires. The Qatar-based network is just a year old, but it’s already the third-leading international TV news organization behind CNN and the BBC. It’s massive effort to cover the election, which included simultaneous live reporting from various parts of the country, was unrivaled by anyone in international news.

For those of you who’ve been in Argentina for a while, the idea that votes are bought will not come as a surprise. People openly talk about this and it certainly wouldn’t be news to Argentines. But it’s one thing to hear about such practices and another to see them in person.

Al Jazeera’s Teresa Bo and the local production team captured all of this in the video posted here. AJ doesn’t yet have a signal in Argentina, but they put some of their videos on YouTube. The video is a fascinating look at how votes were bought on the verge of Sunday’s election.

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The Legality Of Prostitution In Buenos Aires

October 22nd, 2007 | 09:14 PM

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Most evenings at around 8pm I exit the subway station at Congreso de Tucuman in northern Belgrano. When doing so, I often pass a scruffy young man who stands atop the station steps. He usually thrusts his hand in front of my chest, indicating he wants to give me something. It’s a folleto, a little rectangular pamphlet. It has a photo of a voluptuous, scantily-clad woman on it, as well as phone numbers and sometimes even a colorful map on the back.


It’s a map of my neighborhood, but not one that gives directions to a nearby restaurant or supermarket. Instead, it details the path to the neighborhood whorehouse. The pamphlet advertises “promotions” starting at 30 pesos. What do you get for that? I haven’t tried to cash-in my “coupon,” but it’s not hard to imagine.

Depending on your mindset, you might think this is shameful – an outrage and an affront to family values and residential hygiene. But not everyone thinks this way, particularly those who grab the pamphlet and head straight to the house of pleasure. “Dude, I wanna live in your neighborhood,” a friend jokingly said last week.

Whatever the case, this commentary is not about the morality of prostitution. It’s about the legality and marketing of it. I have lived in Buenos Aires – and in many of its neighborhoods – for the better part of 12 years. Never have I seen a more pervasive proliferation of prostitution publicity than what I’ve seen over the past few months. It’s nearly everywhere, it seems. Though not in all barrios, my guess is that it would be hard for a male to walk the city from day to night without encountering at least one – and perhaps many – ads for paid sexual services. In my neighborhood there are many such ads and many such places.

Of course, there is nothing new about escort services or male entertainment clubs in downtown, in Recoleta or in any other part of the world. After all, it’s the oldest profession in the world, right? But based on my own (admittedly unscientific) observations of street-level propaganda, it appears that similar clubs – and even full-blown bordellos – are becoming somewhat more common in other areas, too. This is not even to mention the proliferation of “massage” parlors or “relax” services that are advertised in various parts of Barrio Belgrano, downtown, Nuñez, Palermo and elsewhere.

Journalist and Curious George that I am, I took my questions about this matter to the district attorney’s office for an interview. I’ll soon post the full interview, as well as a broader look at prostitution, on Scooping Argentina. For now you can see some of my questions – and the answers to them – here:

Scooping Argentina: Is prostitution legal in Buenos Aires?
Assistant DA Luis Jorge Cevasco: Yes, though there are certain ways of working as a prostitute that are illegal. There are no laws that sanction people for charging money to have sex. But it is illegal to carry out sex acts in whorehouses.

SA: Do you have an official estimate of how many prostitutes there are in Buenos Aires?
LJC: I don’t. But I would say that for a city the size of Buenos Aires, which has around 3 million people, the number is not excessively high. I would think it’s not more than 1,500 people, and even that number is probably exaggerated. Perhaps the number is that high or higher if you’re talking about clandestine brothels.

Strip clubs, strictly speaking, are legal in Buenos Aires. So is prostitution, as long as it doesn’t occur in an organized fashion in a whorehouse, said Cevasco. Whorehouses per se are illegal in the city. But women can voluntarily sell themselves at strip clubs, so long as they consummate their sexual acts at another location. Cevasco said that “The of Law of Prophylaxis” bans houses of ill repute or “casas de tolerancia” as they’re known in Spanish legalese. The same law also bans prostitution in certain public places, namely in areas within 200 meters of schools, religious institutions or residential homes. In addition, the law bans “obscene sexual displays” that could “surprise” people who don’t appreciate such sights.

This law has led to controversy regarding the well-known area of La Rosedal in Palermo. There, between the hours of 9pm and 6am, transvestites openly market their services to prospective clients. Anyone who has been to La Rosedal at night knows it is not a place for the prude or tame-hearted. Transvestites commonly stand naked as they market themselves or, more accurately, their bodies. But while some neighbors complain about these activities, legal authorities defend them, saying it is reasonable to assume that anyone who steps into La Rosedal after dark knows what he’s getting into. As a result, visitors can’t reasonably claim to be “surprised” by what they see there. “Because of this, it’s very hard to imagine that any judge would condemn anybody for this type of act in this place,” Cevasco said.

Cevasco said brothels such as those advertised in my neighborhood are illegal. Moreover, he noted that a recent law makes even the mere marketing of prostitution illegal. “The Buenos Aires Legislature just passed a law that imposes heavy fines and up to 90 days in jail for people who facilitate access to these kind of places,” he said.

That is true for anyone who tries to market prostitution, he said. But this part of the law leads to an odd contradiction: A hotel clerk or taxi driver who advises a prospective John on where to find prostitutes can be punished for promoting behavior that is itself legal.

SA: Let me see here. You’re saying it’s illegal for a taxi driver to tell a tourist where he can find prostitutes even though prostitution itself is legal?
LJC: That’s right.
SA: Isn’t there a paradox here?
LJC: Yes, there is. Constitutionally, one can’t prohibit people from using their bodies as they please. What the law tries to do is prevent the mass commercialization of this type of activity. I’m against prohibiting this kind of activity because doing so generally leads to legal and cultural contradictions, and ends up fostering corruption. These kind of places (whorehouses) tend to exist anyway. And when they do, they end up working under the auspices of police corruption. This is indisputable.

SA: Anything else you’d like to say?
LJC: When you have an increase in this kind of activity, it’s because there are unresolved social problems behind it. You can’t solve social problems with punitive laws. Prostitution rises when poverty rises. To reduce prostitution, you have to focus on improving social and cultural factors and not on penal processes that historically haven’t rendered positive results.

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The Photo Cristina Doesn't Want You To See?

October 15th, 2007 | 02:57 PM

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Take a good look at this picture. What do you see? Anything out of the ordinary?

Keep looking.

See anything odd yet?

If not, you either have bad vision or you're not the kind of person who is obsessed with appearance and aesthetic propriety. Apparently, what Cristina Fernández de Kirchner sees in this photo is a pair of XXL-sized legs – hers. Compare her legs with those of Karolina Rabolini, the ex-model and wife of Argentine Vice President Daniel Scioli.

Are Cristina's legs extra large or Rabolini's extra small? Perhaps both. But who really cares? Apparently, quite a few people. The weekly news magazine Noticias placed this picture in a recent article about the cost of Cristina's election bid. Reportedly, her campaign has cost taxpayers around $130 million pesos, more than any other for a non-sitting president.

What's frustrating about this picture – and the fact that, according to Noticias, so many people have paid attention to it – is that Cristina has given us little reason to talk about anything else. Cristina is clearly a very bright and passionate politician. As a presidential candidate, she must have many thoughtful ideas about how she would change the country. Right?

What does Cristina think about the state of affairs in Argentina today? If elected, what kind of policies would she pursue? Does she agree with her husband, President Nestor Kirchner, on all things political? Does she approve of the way he has handled inflation and the controversy at the national statistics office, INDEC?

Earlier this month a group of protesters – or piqueteros – blocked access to a bridge in Corrientes Province. The group does this every Tuesday, reported newspaper La Nacion. But this time the protesters blocked access to an ambulance, which was

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rushing to deliver blood to a hospital patient battling Leukemia. Border guard agents stood by as protesters blocked the path and assaulted the ambulance driver.

Raúl Gaúna, the 28 year-old patient who needed a blood transfusion, died. Similar incidents have occurred in other provinces, yet protesters have paid no consequences. What does Cristina think about this? Her husband's policies encourage law enforcement officials to avoid “repressing” social protests. They have a right to protest, so goes the view. But didn't the dying patient also have a right to live, even if for just another minute? Can the government better balance the rights of piqueteros with those of people whose lives are disrupted – or even ended – by protests?

Polls show Cristina will likely become Argentina's next president. Ideally, she would openly address this and other questions so voters could decide if she deserves to run the country. But she continues to remain silent. Why?

Cristina is often compared with US Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton. The two have a lot in common. They're also quite different. Consider even their web sites. Hillary's has a picture or two here and there, but mainly her site is devoid of photos. A born wonk, her site is filled with information about policy goals and detailed plans for reforming health care, education, the economy and foreign policy. Cristina's site, meanwhile, is largely a photo gallery, with video and a few speeches here and there. But where Cristina has a tab for “Fotos,” Hillary instead has a tab for “Issues,” where she lays out policy proposals.

Of course, none of this means Hillary would be a good president or Cristina a bad one, but perhaps it indicates that Cristina doesn't mind so much if the focus during this election is on her pictures.

She may not like the photo highlighting her comparatively large legs. But when people are talking about the girth of her legs, they're not talking about crime and thousands of unpunished kidnappings; they're not talking about the never-ending cycle of theft and bribery at the country's airports; they're not talking about inflation or the credibility of the government's rosy poverty data; they're not talking about Argentina's energy crisis.

They're not talking about Raúl Gaúna.

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Racism In Argentina

October 9th, 2007 | 10:24 PM

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TV Show: Duro de Domar
Channel 13
Text:

FIRST JOKE:

Host: How are you doing, Old Cat?
Cat: Good. How are you?

Cat: I'm going to tell you the first joke. Do you know who would drown first?
A white guy or a black buy?

Host: No, I've never thought about that.

Cat: The white guy would. Because shit floats.

SECOND JOKE:

Cat: Do you know how many times it takes to run over a black guy?

Host: No

Cat: It's very strange. You have to run over him three times.
The first time is an accident. The second is when you backup
to see what you've run over. The third is when you realize
it was just a black guy (so you run over him again).

Argentina's racial makeup is remarkably homogeneous. This is visibly manifest in Buenos Aires, which for a city of 3 million people has very little diversity. There is almost no sign of the city's more diverse, African-influenced past. This contrasts sharply with other major cities in the Americas and Western Europe.

It wasn't always so. Researchers say that in the early 1800s Afro-Argentines made up as much as one-third of the population of Buenos Aires. What caused them to disappear? Some cite a devastating Yellow Fever epidemic in 1871. Others say the government sent a disproportionately high number of blacks to fight in 19th century wars, including the War of the Triple Alliance. Others point to low birthrates and high mortality. Some say the black population gradually blended into to the broader Caucasian one, which grew dynamically thanks to European immigration. Paulina Alberto, an Argentine professor of Afro-Brazilian history at the University of Michigan, thinks it was likely all of the above.

Another observer had this to say when reviewing a book on the topic:

“In 1838…black people still made up approximately one quarter of the inhabitants of Buenos Aires. Yet within half a century the number of Afro-Argentines was said to have dropped to less than 2 percent of the population – a startling decline which apparently continued into the twentieth century, earning Argentina the designation: 'Land of the Vanishing Blacks.'”(1)

In 2005 Washington Post reporter (and friend) Monte Reel addressed the subject in a story. He noted that based on recent DNA samples some researchers believe “as many as 10 percent of Buenos Aires residents are partly des

cended from black Argentines but have no idea.”

As a white male, I can offer no comments about the role of race in Argentina from the perspective of a minority. Friends of different racial backgrounds have reported mixed experiences here, though most have been positive. I have heard many locals say, “Argentina is not a racist country. We don't even have black people. How could we be racist?” Apart from the odd nature of that statement, how should one think about race in Argentina?

What exactly would it take for a country to be “racist” in nature? Is the US a racist nation? How about the UK or Brazil? Clearly, racism exists in these countries. What percentage of a country's population needs to be bigoted for the country to be racist? Every nation has bigots and probably every human heart has at least some discriminatory tendencies. Is it fair to generalize how an entire country feels about anything at all, let alone race?

These questions are worth pondering when reflecting on this video. The segment I've clipped and subtitled comes from Duro de Domar, one of the more popular shows on Argentine TV. It brings to mind Michael Richards (“Kramer” of Seinfeld) and his tirade against black people during a stand-up performance last November.

It is not often that I hear racial pejoratives spoken in Argentina. But my impression is that such rhetoric seems to be voiced more openly here than in the US. This is not to say that Argentines are more racist than are people in the US or any other country. It does mean that racial pejoratives (which almost always relate not to blacks but to Bolivians, Paraguayans or Jews) are voiced with a nonchalance that seems less common in the US. If this is true, can anything be concluded from it?

At the very least, it indicates that many people here feel free to use racial epithets publicly. Undoubtedly, racism exists in the US, but it seems to be accompanied by a degree of opprobrium that does not prevail in Argentina. Earlier this year, US radio legend Don Imus called a team of black female basketball players “nappy-headed hos.” He was fired almost immediately and his $40 million contract with CBS terminated. Mel Gibson encountered a massive backlash after making disparaging comments about Jews.

Duro de Domar (or Hard to Tame) is a comedy show that some consider to be one of the funniest on television. Comedians often live on the edge of what is acceptable discourse. They frequently walk a fine line when trying to make people laugh. Many get as close to that line as possible to maximize the punch of their jokes.

It is to be expected that comedians will sometimes cross the line. This usually results in tasteless or simply unfunny jokes. But sometimes the line in crossed in a way that does more than offend the senses. That is what happened in this case. Not only is there nothing funny about these jokes, but there is something grotesque about them.

They are pure invective. Moreover, the reaction from the audience in this video is noticeably different from that in Richards' auditorium. Here, despite some apparently uncomfortable reactions, many people laugh and continue to enjoy the show as the jokes are told. Of course, Richards was on a tirade; he wasn't joking when he spewed his vile epithets, so this is not a perfect analogy. But there is something else to consider: Here there hasn't been a national reaction to Duro de Matar that parallels the outcry over Richards' comments in the US.

Richards' outburst made news around the world. Of course, this was largely because of his worldwide fame. But word of his act also spread because the US tends to air its dirty laundry in public, for the whole world to see. To whit, many people around the world know about Jena, Louisiana. Two taxi drivers here have asked me about it.

This episode of Duro de Domar seems to have come and gone without much notice. Perhaps that says more about racism in Argentina than anything that happened on the show itself.

Then again, consider what happened at Colombia University in New York yesterday. There a hangman's noose was placed on a black professor's office door. I can't say I've heard of anything like this happening in Argentina recently.

1) See Leo Spitzer's review of The Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires, 1800-1900 by George Reid Andrews, The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 15, No. 4 (1982), pp. 781-783

Reel interviewed Professor Andrews for the Post article, which can be seen here.
Times story on the Colombia University Incident

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how do you know if your ex girlfriend wants you back teenageers

October 8th, 2007 | 02:10 PM

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get my ex boyfriend back after a bitter breakup
I miss my ex girlfrnd than girl im dating
how do i get back with my girlfriend
how to get my girlfriend back after i broke up with her
What the best way to get someone back you love alot

ways how to get back your boyfriend
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Straw Man

Urban Dictionary: “A logical fallacy involving the purposeful misrepresentation of an argument (or a person’s or party’s position) in order to strike it down.”

Kirchner & His Straw Men

Argentine President Nestor Kirchner sees himself as a people’s president. Since taking office in 2003, he has railed (often vociferously and with great vitriol) against those who he says seek personal gain at the people’s expense.

The targets of Kirchner’s discourse typically include the rich and powerful, farmers, ranchers, bankers, former presidents, big companies, CEOs, investors and the International Monetary Fund. Kirchner has also targeted economists who question his policies and journalists who expose questionable government actions.

For years Kirchner has presented himself as a morally superior politician who battles the forces of darkness to safeguard the people’s interest. He is the people’s David fighting the Goliaths of Argentina’s past and present. For years this approach has worked, endearing Kirchner to millions who have suffered at the hands of corrupt politicians, greedy businessmen and cruel dictators. Many believe the president is on their side, and this largely explains why he has remained popular.

Argentina certainly has had its share of miscreants. A glance at the history books confirms this. Moreover, nobody who has lived here for long doubts the abundance of corrupt leaders, avaricious businessmen or even journalists who write slanted and defamatory articles. There is a real need for politicians who stand up to abuse of power and fight for the underprivileged.

Argumentum Ad Hominem

Unfortunately, Kirchner’s discourse often goes beyond battling bad guys. He paints with a broad brush, attacking anyone who disagrees with him. When doing so, he often misrepresents their ideas. He turns their arguments into straw men and attacks distorted versions of them. He also regularly engages in argumentum ad hominem, another logical fallacy that involves the effort to discredit an idea by discrediting its advocates. Examples of this abound.

Here is one from Friday, when Kirchner assailed economists who question the veracity of the government’s inflation data. Given the gap between real prices and those provided by the government, private sector economists have begun measuring prices themselves and making their own inflation estimates. But rather than talking about why government data appear to be skewed or saying specifically why private sector estimates are wrong, Kirchner personally blamed the economists for causing extreme inflation in previous decades.

“In general (these estimates) are done by private sector (economists) who were responsible for hyperinflation in Argentina,” he said. “In Argentina, so that you all know, the (government inflation) index is perfect. It has been supervised perfectly. We have audited it.”

(Quick question: If the index is perfect, why is Kirchner firing the controversial person in charge of it just 10 months after hiring her?)

The Genetic Fallacy

Which of these unnamed economists caused hyperinflation? As usual, Kirchner didn’t say. But even if he had, this would have done nothing to address the validity of the national statistics office (INDEC) data or the private sector inflation estimates. The origin of an idea or argument has no relationship to its soundness. To argue otherwise, is to engage in the genetic fallacy. Yet Kirchner does this often. Last year he said cattle ranchers, who didn’t like government-imposed beef prices, had supported the military dictatorship in the 1970s. Even if some of them had, this would make no difference regarding their claim about the wisdom of imposing state-regulated beef prices. One thing has nothing to do with the other.

Kirchner has shown himself eager to attack groups of people from the safety of his lectern, where he is never subject to questions. Yet he virtually never attacks specific ideas. Nor does he even defend his own with any precision. He is argumentative but doesn’t like to argue, at least not with specific people about specific ideas. He prefers instead to generalize and (mis)characterize. As president he has never debated publicly. Nor has he held any press conferences. He is most at home creating and then destroying straw men.

Kirchner’s approach to argumentation is more akin to intellectual prestidigitation than to democratic dialogue. His refusal to engage opponents in legitimate debate shows a contempt for the kind of democratic process that Argentina needs in order to mature politically. But the president’s distaste for debate goes beyond a contempt for argument. It shows a certain disdain for the very people he claims to represent. Consider again his way of handling inflation.

When Economy Minister Miguel Peirano presented the 2008 budget to Congress last month, there was great expectation regarding what he would say about rising prices. At last, an opportunity to question Kirchner, through his proxy, about inflation. But Peirano, heeding instructions from Kirchner, refused to take questions. Not only did he not talk to the press, but he refused questions from the people’s representatives themselves. No public debate. Not a peep from a single member of Congress. In effect, Kirchner has muzzled the entire Congress and, in a sense, the entire population.

But the people will speak again later this month when they go to the polls to vote for a new president. Kirchner, Nestor that is, isn’t up for re-election. But his wife, Cristina, is. Like her husband, she hasn’t held any press conferences and has refused any kind of public debate. In fact, she has said almost nothing at all about what she would do if she were president. If elected, will she employ the same straw man strategy used by her husband? Only time will tell.

Illustrations by John R. Neill from The Scarecrow of Oz by L. Frank Baum.

*According to INDEC, a kilogram of tomatoes costs an average of 3.99 pesos. But on the streets of Buenos Aires, a kilogram of tomatoes is now selling for between 15-18 pesos. This is but a minor example of how government data fail to reflect the reality of consumer prices.

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Gluteoplasty Through Fat Grafting – Act Now!

October 3rd, 2007 | 01:43 PM

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Illustrating Absurdity

These are real ads for plastic surgery at the Plenitas medical tourism clinic here in Buenos Aires. The last promo expired a few days ago, but if you hurry you might be able to get your butt enlarged, or toned down to perfect size, at this special price. They even speak English. Just say Imagining Taos sent you, and you’ll get an additional 10% discount.

That’s not true, of course. I have no relationship whatsoever with Plenitas and I’m not advocating plastic surgery. I just found the packaging and marketing of this promotion both humorous and disturbing. Financially, this probably is a good deal compared with what you’d pay for such “combos” in the U.S. or Europe. Moreover, you may very well get good care at the clinic. And, heck, if you’re going to go under the knife, why not make a vacation of it and recover from your wounds while walking the streets of Recoleta and San Telmo?

But is it really a good thing that plastic surgery has become so readily available – and so widely accepted – that people can choose surgery combos with the same ease that they select meal plans at McDonald’s? I’ll take the the Tummy Tuck & the Abdominal Liposuction for US $3,680, please. Hold the Mayo and the pickle. Speaking of pickles, can you throw in a Penis Enlargement combo? Oh, and my dad would like a Chin Implant and the Hair Transplant with Unlimited Graphs for US $3,710, please. And can we get that to go?

Plenitas
Buenos Aires or Bust – A year-old Guardian article on medical tourism in Argentina

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Of Course There Is Inflation

October 2nd, 2007 | 11:35 AM

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A week after his cabinet chief said inflation didn’t exist in Argentina, President Kirchner Monday steered his government back from the land of make-believe, acknowledging what all of us know already:

“Of course there is inflation in Argentina,” he said during an event at the Casa Rosada.

The comment, a belated but nonetheless much-welcome recognition of reality, came only after Kirchner took a week-long beating in the press for his administration’s blatant disregard for the truth and public opinion.

Inflation clearly is a problem. Yet a brief look at the historical data shows that the current challenge pales in comparison to what Argentines have faced in previous years. The last time Argentina experienced inflation this high was in 2002, immediately after the devaluation. That year it totaled about 26%. A decade before that, in 1992, it reached 25%, according to the national statistics office, INDEC.

But that seems like child’s play compared with 1989, when inflation totaled 3,080%. And even that seems tame compared with March of 1990, when inflation soared 20,262% against the same month a year earlier.

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